Friday, August 26, 2011

Crafting up Cinnamon Chicken

Planning wedding is a real nuisance.  While my ceremony will be incredibly small, and I’ve finally found an amazing wedding planner (after working with one for several months only to have her stop contacting me completely), I keep finding myself hung up on all the little details.  Today’s detail is what to wear in my hair for my big day.  I think I’ve got a hairstyle nailed down, now it’s just a matter of containing my patience by letting it grow.  What’s more obnoxious though is how much it costs to find a pretty fabric flower hair piece that’s affordable.  All I can think is “I can totally make one of these on my own”.  This is both a perk and a pitfall in my life.  I would say that if there is any one thing I’m naturally really good at, it’s crafts.  I have a peculiar knack for creating things that I would never use for any reason.  My decorative tastes are less “cutesy” than most women but I really enjoy doing crafts, despite having no desire for them in my own life.  Today I’m going to try my hand at fabric flowers so I can make a lovely and affordable hairpiece for myself that I’ll only wear once.

I can’t help but wonder how many crafts out there I should be making and selling.  Ryan may have to tolerate a hoard of fabric, ribbons, pearls, stamps, scrapbook paper and so on for awhile so I can avoid getting a second job and make extra wedding cash off something that I’m naturally skilled at.  I wonder where this talent came from.  It’s probably the Mormon in me.

Moving on...
I took a big risk yesterday in my kitchen.
As I’ve mentioned before, Ryan and I have been bestowing ingredients on one another to create a meal with.  His latest assignment for me: cinnamon.  I can only suspect this was a ploy to get me to bake.  He failed in that regard but it did spawn some creative culinary thinking on my part that had potential to go really, really bad.  Had I known that it would actually turn out quite lovely, I wouldn’t have spent so much time apologizing to him beforehand about how terrible it was liable to be.  I basically made chicken breast marinated in a cinnamon mixture.

1/4 Cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 Cup fresh lemon juice
A bunch of ground cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
Skin-on chicken (legs, thighs, breast, whatever)

All the ingredients are pretty much a marinade for the chicken.  Mix it all together and toss it in a Ziplock bag for a couple hours.  I decided to roast mine at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes on both sides.  I boiled the leftover marinade with a bunch of sugar and spooned about a tablespoon on each piece of chicken just before serving.  
The skin gets a nice, dark crispiness to it and the chicken should be juicy and delicious.

In the end, the risk paid off and this easy, easy, easy recipe will be added to the regular rotation.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Finally Destined for Mac & Cheese

I’ve decided that the creators/producers of Final Destination 5 lack understanding of what the word “final” actually means. As if the plot of the first Final Destination wasn’t awful enough, they made four more just to get the point across, I guess. Maybe when they make the last one, they’ll call it Final Destination: Finally.
I’m over it with most movies these days. It feels a bit like Hollywood is lacking creativity in that they’re always remaking books, remaking older movies, or creating prequels and sequels to movies that were bad to begin with. As soon as they latch onto an idea, it’s immediately played out. Case in point: superhero movies. Batman, Spiderman, Superman, The Hulk, Dare Devil, Hellboy, Electra, X-Men, Captain America, Punisher, The Green Lantern, etc., etc., etc. In the past decade or so, I can think of nearly 20 superhero movies that have come out...and that’s just off the top of my head. I’m not even INTO these things.

As far as sequels are concerned, I’m glad they finally put an end to the Saw series and as for Final Destination 5, spoiler alert: at the end of the movie, they refund my money.

So, I made some macaroni and cheese last week. Well, it wasn’t macaroni exactly, it was really orecchietti and cheese. Pasta and cheese get it. It’s easy, it’s fast, it’s customizable and it’s delicious (despite being cram-packed with carbohydrates and fats).

Easiest Mac & Cheese EVER.

2 ½ cups elbow noodles
¼ stick of butter
1 ½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
¾ C milk
¾ can of vegetable broth
¼ C bread crumbs

1. cook noodles in boiled, salted water until tender but still firm to the bite. Drain & set aside.
2. Put bread crumbs in a small bowl and set aside
3. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add ½ Tbsp. of the butter to the bread crumbs and combine with your fingers, set aside
4. Add flour to the butter and whisk together. Once texture is even, add milk and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly.
5. Add green onions to milk mixture and remove from heat. Immediately add cheese and stir until it’s completely melted. Add noodles and stir until noodles are evenly covered.
6. Pour mixture into a baking dish and sprinkle bread crumbs on top. Broil dish for about 2 minutes, or until bread crumbs are browned.

I did my broiling in my toaster oven as I’m not a fan of waiting for my oven to preheat so I can put something in it for literally two minutes. This is one of the many, many reasons I prefer owning a toaster oven instead of a microwave.

Because this recipe is so easy, you can vamp it up as much as you want with proteins and veggies. I added a fair amount of cayenne pepper to my bread crumbs for that muy caliente appeal that I’m so fond of.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Babies in my Shepherds Pie

Most girls have the same life goals: date a boy, get voted Homecoming Queen (popular & electoral votes), get married, take a picture of a Chupacabra, renew your vows, get divorced, renew your divorce-vows, eat a pie behind a middle school, get remarried, and have a baby. Call me crazy but no baby for me please! I want my life to be fun and easy, not, as Shakespeare might say, “done and queasy” (SOURCE: Oxford English Rhyming Dictionary).

Pregnancy is just a mess. It’s like you’re a Turducken: a woman stuffed with a fetus stuffed with the Turducken that you eat every day for breakfast. Your clothes stop fitting, and you have to start buying pants/Quinceanera dresses/Quinceanera tiaras with elastic wastes. You have to start eating and mainlining for two. Sometimes you can’t help but sample the cocoa butter that you’re putting on your stretch marks. And I want to keep my figure! (For those of you on the Internet who haven’t met me, I’m 5’10”, 120 lbs. 34DDD and my name is Heidi Klum, and I’m the model Heidi Klum.)

Have you ever SEEN a baby? Or, if you’re blind, have you ever touched a baby’s face and smelled a baby’s face and used echolocation to tell what color it is? They are crazy nasty-looking. Also, they’re passive-aggressive and love to give the silent treatment.

Pushing a baby out of your body is like pushing a watermelon through your yoo-hoo, and, trust me, that was NOT a fun Cancun Spring Break 2004 drinking game. The only thing I want coming out of my body is a contented sigh, when I’ve eaten an extra-tasty Toblerone in my baby-free bachelor/bachelorette pad filled with non-baby-proofed coffee table corners and sharp Toblerone vending machines.

How about the money issues? I can’t afford a child, let alone a kid. Diapers alone cost thousands of dollars each, if you prescribe to the Old Wives’ Tale that you should only use Gutenberg bible pages as diapers. I need all the money I can get for adult things like cars and taxes-themed Mad Libs. People with babies don’t get to be adults anymore. I would have to give up my right to my height-restricted dinner parties. Call me crazy and Heidi Klum, but I just don’t think it’s worth it.

Sure, sometimes I get bored and lonely without a baby. There are only so many times you can stage an intervention for your blow-up sex doll gal pal, even though she really needs to know that she doesn’t have to sleep with guys just to feel pretty. And there are only so many times you can buy three blow-up sex dolls and pretend to be “Sex and the City”. But, even though my biological clock might be saying “have a baby”, my biological cell phone voicemail message is saying “enjoy your 20’s and DON’T have a baby”, and my biological fridge is saying “eat that cottage cheese, it’s still good”.

Ugh – I’m supposed to give you a recipe now, huh?!
Ryan doesn’t know this so hopefully he doesn’t waste his time reading this blog but this week, I’m making a Shepherd’s Pie with Lamb.

1 tsp. Canola or Vegetable Oil
3 med. Yellow onions, peeled and diced
3 lbs. American lamb leg, ground or diced into ½” cubes
6 Tbsp. All-purpose flour
3 med. Carrots, peeled and diced
1 Cup fresh or frozen peas
1 Cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
3 Tbsp. Tomato paste
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
3 Cups lamb stock
½ Cup Chopped Parsley
4 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, washed
½ Cup Heavy cream
½ lb. Salted butter
8 oz. English Derby and/or Cheddar Cheese, shredded

Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add onions and cook until softened. Add lamb and cook until browned; dust with flour and mix thoroughly. Cook an addition 1 min. Add carrots, peas and corn; mix well. Add tomato paste and Worcestershire.
Gradually add stock; bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer on log about 10 min. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove from heat; stir in parsley. Set aside to cool.
In another pot, cover potatoes with cold water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are fork tender. Drain and steam dry.
In a large bowl, combine heavy cream and butter. Grate potatoes, skin on; gently mix into cream and butter until semi-smooth with small chunks.
Spoon the cooked lamb mixture into a large casserole pan. Spread a layer of the mashed potatoes over the lamb mixture; stop with shredded cheese.
Bake at 375 degrees until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

This is a huge yield (will probably make 10-12 servings) so vary quantities as needed.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

French Onion hackers

Apparently some asshole thought it would be a fun idea to hack my email and in doing so, send my life into a spiraling mess that was recovered in a day.
A regrettable calamity and absolutely pathetic attempt at trying to disassemble my business. My apologies though, to anyone who received a suspicious email due to my lack of creativity when it comes to passwords (surprising, no?).

One questions how the time to profits ratio works out for those who hack personal emails. Furthermore, what a fascinating line of work to try explaining to those you meet. I find it hard enough describing my job and have begun settling with “it’s an office job where I sit in a cubicle”...I wonder if they inhabit the same response. I bet hacking personal emails has some real perks. You can probably do your job naked or drunk and get to choose your own hours. I doubt there’s a lot of money in it but I also doubt that there are any taxes taken out of their wages. I could never be an email hacker because I’d spend all my time and money buying shoes online that I’ll never have a reason to wear.

Thinking of it though, the only place I wear irresistibly adorable shoes that I spend hard-earned money on is at work. Damnit, now I’m depressed and it’s all this mysterious hackers fault. If I find him, I’m going to put one of my zebra print, peep toe heels up his ass and find some irrational reason to tell him that it’s his own fault. Because THAT’S what I’m good at.

The other thing I’m good at: making French Onion Soup that tastes better than my Dad’s (even though I haven’t tasted his).

½ C unsalted butter
4 onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 bay leaves
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 C red wine (about ½ bottle)
3 heaping Tblsp. All-purpose flour
2 Q beef broth

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, salt & pepper. Cook until onions are soft and caramelized (about 25 minutes).
Add wine, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until wine has evaporated and onions are dry (about 5-10 minutes)
Discard bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Dust onions with flour and stir. Turn head down to med-low and cook 10 minutes (to get the flour flavor out).
Add beef broth and bring back to a simmer, cook for at least 10 minutes (I tend to let mine simmer for 30-40 minutes to ensure all the flavors are blended). Season with salt and pepper.

Obviously, being French Onion soup, this is traditionally served with Gruyere or Swiss cheese and croutons although, I sort of like mine as it is and don’t bother with the fuss of ladling it into a bowl so I can melt cheese on top. To each his own though.

Now, I'm going back to SLC for a few days over Thanksgiving this year. I suggest a taste-testing of Dad's F.O. vs. mine. We'll need ballots.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Starbucks meets Black Beans

Admittedly, being a grammar Nazi makes me kind of an asshole. I hate seeing things spelled wrong, incorrect punctuation or sentences ending in a preposition. I don’t, however, take photos of such malfeasance and post it to a ridiculous website like this one: This inexplicably popular website answers the question “Could the entitled, douchey, white people at Starbucks get any more entitled, douchey or white?” That answer being “yes”.

Making fun of how people talk or spell is usually arrogant and assholish, but it’s seldom as awful as these “hilarious” pictures of coffee cups where, for example, “Julie” is spelled “Joolee”. Ha! Ha! That’s a good one! These stupid baristas can’t spell! I am a genius for going to Starbucks and having a name.
This goes beyond first world problems or white person problems and takes it to new depths. Starbucks misspelling your name on your coffee cup is an ultimate douche problem. Congratulations are in order to my fellow Caucasian assholes for helping us maintain our firm, pasty claim on being the worst people in the world.

Anyway, wanna’ cook something?

I’ve gotten big on balanced meals and trying to reduce my meat intake (not an easy task). I came up with a super quick and easy recipe that was satisfying, healthy and vegetarian.

½ cup rice
1 can black beans
½ cup chicken stock
1 tomato
½ yellow onion
1 serrano pepper
Bundle of cilantro
1 Tblsp butter
Ground cumin

I started by cooking some rice – in the water, I added a bunch of pepper, paprika, ground cumin and a little salt.
While that was cooking, I chopped up one tomato, ½ of one yellow onion, one serrano pepper and a small bundle of cilantro. Add whatever you want but this is what I chose.
Next, I opened a can of black beans, rinsed them thoroughly tossed them into the mini food-processor along with a splash of chicken stock and a lot of black pepper.

Throw a little butter in your pan and caramelize the onions. Then add the other veggies and cook for a minute before adding the bean mixture. Add the cilantro at the very end to keep that light, refreshing taste. Once that’s warmed up and the rice is ready, just throw the rice in a bowl and top with the bean & veggie mixture. If you want to skip the rice, you can use this mixture as a dip for tortilla chips as well.

Total prep & cook time takes about 20 minutes, but only because you have to wait for the rice. Skip the rice and it shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes

Friday, July 15, 2011

Budgeting for Flavor

The funny thing about trying to save your money so you can do things like get married is that that’s when everything goes to hell. A couple months ago, my laptop died so I’ve been without computer other than my smart phone which isn’t really working so well anyway. So, obviously, without a computer, keeping up with a blog is pretty difficult.

Anyway, I’m sure it’s evident that I have been taking my eating habits a little more seriously lately. It seems I’ve hit a point in my life where I can no longer rely solely on my metabolism to stay thin. Everyone told me this would happen and sadly, everyone was right. I enjoyed eating what I wanted without consequence while it lasted but now I have to actually workout and eat right to stay trim. I would like to tell you how terrible it is but honestly, being at the gym on a treadmill before 6am makes me feel like I’m not wasting a moment of my life and eating healthier foods makes me less irritable and tired. I love living a healthier lifestyle and now that I’m doing it, I can’t believe more people aren’t.

I read an article the other day about some states considering removing super obese kids from their homes as a form of child abuse. I realize that when you first hear it, it sounds a little over-the-top but this is a measure I completely support. If a child were under-fed and therefore malnourished, they’d be taken away. I think if you’re putting children in a situation where they’re likely to have type 2 diabetes or a heart attack by 30, they should be taken away as they’re also being malnourished. My favorite part of the article was the reader comments at the bottom – most of which were from people who parent obese children stating that healthy foods are too expensive. This is an excuse that absolutely appalls me. For the cost of two meals at McDonald’s, I can make a pot roast with potatoes, carrots, celery, tomatoes and a side salad to feed four people. It’s NOT more expensive, it just takes more time. It painted a picture to me of just how lazy so many Americans have become.

Immediately after reading the article, I felt incredibly grateful for a mother who made sure we were fed fairly well. My mom was never fond of having to cook dinners every night particularly when she had more than a few picky eaters on her hands and she worked long shift so we could eat. Despite the workload, stress and general dislike of planning and preparing meals, my Mom did it anyway. Not to mention, I can’t remember a time that there weren’t oranges and granny smith apples in the fridge, free for the taking. Had she gone the fast food route every night, she’d have four fat, sick, unhappy adult children setting a bad example for her grandchildren but she doesn’t. In my mind, making sure your kids are healthy and safe is the epitome of being a responsible parent. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t have kids.
Mom, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU for always making me finish the “horrible” and “disgusting” quiches, lasagnas or whatever else you made me as a youngster. Your arguments have finally paid off.

As a “Thank You” to my Mom and in the spirit of health & wellness, I’m taking one of her most popular recipes and revising it. Our entire family was always fond of my Mom’s “Mexican Casserole” (the term “Mexican” is used loosely in this recipe). My Mom’s version is made with a tube of sausage, a bottle of tomatoes (home-canned), some elbow pasta, a bunch of chili powder (that’s the “Mexican” part) and sour cream. It’s incredibly easy, fast and delicious and I still occasionally make it like this. My version goes like this though....

1 lb. ground turkey
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 small can of tomato sauce
1 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 or 2 jalapeños, minced
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
1 or 2 carrots, minced
1 box whole wheat pasta
Black pepper
Olive oil
Ground cloves (if you have it)
Cilantro, chopped

In the largest skillet you have, cover the bottom with olive oil and heat to med-high. Add turkey, some salt, pepper, and ground cloves. Brown turkey, breaking apart with a fork. Meanwhile, get a pot of boiling water going for your pasta.
Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, onion, garlic, jalapeños, celery and carrots.
Add pasta to the boiling water and leave until slightly under-cooked.
Add pasta to turkey/tomato mixture and cover. Stir occasionally until pasta is fully cooked.
Add cilantro about 5 minutes before serving.

This recipe is SO easy and SO fast, it’ll quickly become a staple. It’s full of necessary vitamins, antioxidants, healthy carbs and fiber. Feel free to tweak as you want. Don’t be afraid to add different veggies, replace ingredients or throw in all the fresh herbs you can dream of! For a creamy taste, you can add sour cream or cream cheese (preferably fat free). I occasionally add fresh mozzarella and replace the cilantro with fresh basil. Tweak, play, have fun and most of all, enjoy!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Medicine of the Lambs

While I think Western medicine is an absolutely remarkable thing, I'm getting tired of all these doctor visits I've been making lately. In three weeks time, I will have had four separate appointments with four separate doctors. I'm beginning to think that the medical professionals are sort of like the mafia. Each one has a specialty. This one specializes in skin abnormalities, and steals credit card numbers. That one can get people to talk and is a skilled oncologist. They all refer to you one another so you can pay more money to the powers that be for appointments, tests, prescriptions, and "protection". In any sense, each follow-up call from these doctors adds just a little more stress to your already compiling list of problems. In my case, it started with a genetic mutation and is now taking a turn to thyroid issues which may be causing my dramatic eczema flairs. As a patient for so many specialists, I'm beginning to feel taken advantage of. What was I thinking trusting these people?

Anyway, I decided to take today off so I could hunt down good ingredients for dinner tonight. I'm making Agnello Scottadito con Fave Alla Romana, which is Italian for Lamb Chops with Roman Style Fava Beans. This is an Italian dish that is traditionally eaten in May and June when the fava beans are in season. Of course, finding this ingredient is kind of a pain (don't count on finding fresh ones). All I could get my hands on were canned favas.

I kind of winged this dish so hopefully the quantities are right.

1/3 cup Olive Oil
1 small to medium garlic clove
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig rosemary
2 or 3 lamb chops, approx. 3 or 4 oz.
1 lb. Fava Beans
1/4 medium yellow onion, minced
1 oz. pancetta, cut into small cubes
less than 1/8 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup water
slightly less than 1/4 flat leaf parsley, chopped

1. Mix oil, garlic, thyme, rosemary and some salt and pepper together in a small baking dish or a large Ziplock bag. Marinate the Lamb in this mixture for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.

2. To make the Roman Fava Beans, heat a skillet with a thin layer of oil in the bottom. Add the onion and cook for about three minutes or until onion is soft but with no color. Add the pancetta and let brown for two to three minutes longer, until well rendered.

3. Add the beans, season with salt and pepper and stir. Add the wine and let it evaporate, then add the water and let it cook for 10-15 minutes. (I was feeling impulsive with this step and decided to turn this bean mixture into a puree, which turned out lovely although you need to add a little extra water and oil).

4. Heat a grill to high temperature. Remove the lamb chops from the marinate and grill on direct heat, turning once, until browned on both sides and cooked to medium rare, about three minutes on each side.

5. Just before serving, add the parsley to the beans and serve hot with the lamb chops.

In plating, I made the fava beans kind of a bed for the lamb chop then I made a quick side of brussel sprouts for a protien-rich and fibrous meal. Given that it was lamb served with fava beans, I figured an homage to "Silence of the Lambs" was in order by pairing it with a nice Chianti. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Thankful For Pizza

Each year, Ryan and I like to make something unconventional for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas dinner. It's kind of the perk of not spending the holidays with family - you have more control over the menu. This year, we made pizza. As it turns out, having both of us prepare a meal together doesn't make for too many cooks in the kitchen, which is lovely.

I'm not a mother but I suspect that most parents want to put the best food possible into their children but also have to accommodate kids picky pallets. I've never known a kid (or adult really) who didn't like pizza. Of course, when you think of it, pizza is generally perceived as some greasy, cheese-filled dough with too much oil and sodium and not enough good stuff for your body.

Start with a wheat crust. Ryan is quickly becoming a dough expert so this is his very simple and very good pie crust recipe.

3/4 C Wheat Flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. yeast
1/2 C water
4 tsp. oil

1. Sift together flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. Once sifted, make a well or hole in the middle of your mixing bowl and pour water into it.
2. Mix and fold with your hands until it's just sticking together. Use a little oil to coat your dough. When putting back into the bowl, pour the remaining oil over + a little bit more water.
3. Let dough rise to your liking (1 hour - 24 hours). If you want it fairly dense, let rise for a shorter period of time. (We usually stick with 1-2 hours).

Once your dough is complete, pull it out of the bowl and mold into your pizza shape with your fingers (it really doesn't need a rolling pin). Add home-made or store-bought tomato sauce (now you know why I make it in bulk). Add whatever toppings you want. I like to keep shredded chicken in the fridge so we usually use that and whatever veggies we have around: broccoli, onion, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, jalapenos, etc., etc., etc.
Cheese is where the health end gets dicey. In all honesty, you can stop here. Believe me, with the style of pizza and all the vegetables, you won't miss the cheese. If you do want it though, feel free to pile it on either before or after the veggies.
Bake your pizza at 425 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Chicken Parm: Not From Jersey

Ryan and I got engaged about a week and a half ago. Our wedding is planned for October 2012 which is a ways out but we're planning our nuptials to take place in Italy. We've been learning to speak the language which pretty much makes us cultured and fascinating people. Come to find out that Italian much more poetic sounding than The Sopranos makes it out to be, although that could just be because we're learning it without a thick New Jersey accent.

I told Ry that I'd learn to make some classic Italian dishes and the first one I tried was chicken Parmesan (or "chicken parm" as Carmela Soprano says it). I started by doing a little research because I wanted to make it like the Italians do. What I learned is that, like pizza, chicken parm differs by region. In it's infancy it was called parmigiana and made with things like portabello mushrooms or eggplant. Leave it to the Southern Italians to make something hearty out of just vegetables. The Southern Italians continue to use earthy vegetables instead of meat for this dish. The breaded meat cutlets that we traditionally think of was popularized in countries other than Italy but where there was a lot of Italian immigration. Essentially the dish consists of chicken, tomato sauce, and cheese. Obviously there are other elements but that's the basic makeup of it.


2 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
4 Tblsp. good olive oil
Fresh Thyme
Fresh Rosemary
Fresh Oregano
Tomato Sauce (see below)
Shredded Parmesan Cheese
Bread Crumbs

1. Preheat oven to about 400 degrees. Remove leaves from fresh herbs and mix them in with the oil. Put chicken and oil in a Ziploc bag and make sure the chicken is well coated with both oil and herbs.

2. Combine bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Dredge chicken through, making sure both sides are coated.

3. Place chicken in an oiled, preheated skillet. Sear on both sides and place on a baking sheet. Put in oven and back for approx. 20 minutes.

4. Pull out of the oven and smoother with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese. Place back in oven for 5-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and just starting to turn golden brown.

My humble opinion is that no matter what you're making, the sauce is the most important element. If your sauce sucks, your meal sucks. End of story. I've become a big fan of concocting sauces although in my kitchen, it's a time-consuming project as I don't own a food processor. So, instead I spend a lot of time chopping until all the elements are properly minced. A basic tomato sauce is pretty simple as long as you don't over-salt it, which is easy to do. A few tips for tomato sauce:

  • Make sure your pan has oil and is hot before you put anything else into it.
  • Once your pan is hot, put your garlic in first and only let it be in by itself for about 20-30 seconds until you add the tomatoes. This allows the garlic to release that savory flavor that everyone is so fond of.
  • Tomato sauce needs sugar. Not a lot but definitely some. Without sugar, it will always taste like it's missing something.
  • It's near impossible to put in too many fresh herbs. Believe me, I've tried.
  • Less is more. Don't get caught up with adding a bunch of spices. Too many ingredients will make the flavor muddy. I generally stick with tomato, garlic, oil, salt, pepper and whatever fresh herbs I'm feeling like that day.

I like to make sauces in bulk, especially ones that I use a lot, like tomato sauce. Once created, you can freeze it for up to a year. However, if you don't have the time or patience to dedicate to homemade tomato, you can purchase some and add your own flavors to it or use marinara sauce from the store.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Steak Lovers

So....Valentine’s Day is mostly retarded, right?
I’m always amused to go shopping on Valentine’s so I can watch men feverishly trying to pick out the right piece of jewelry, the cutest stuffed animal, or the cheapest Valentine’s gift bag that Walgreen’s has to offer. While I think the logic and obligation that goes into Valentine’s is totally moronic, I have to appreciate that Ryan makes for a good Valentine...something I never thought I’d value.

This year, I was in charge of Valentine’s and because Ryan worked, I couldn’t make reservations so I cooked.
The menu was a 7oz. filet mignon (smothered in sautéed sliced mushrooms & sauce), grilled asparagus, roasted brussel sprouts, served a red blend wine.

Having never cooked filet mignon, I learned a few things that I figured I’d share.
Pull your steak out of the fridge about an hour before you intend to cook it. Cold steak on a hot pan will cause you to essentially steam your steak.
I’ve cooked steak on the grill and decided to try cooking it in the oven. Make sure you sear your steak on both sides before putting it in the oven.
Once a pan has been the oven, it’s easy to forget that the handle will be hot. Trust me, the handle will be very hot and your hand will have blistered the next day if you pick it’s pretty much the worst.
Because filet mignons are so thick, they cook more than most steaks do after they are taken off the grill. Mine ended up a little more done than I would have liked for this reason.
It’s worth the cost to get good steak from a proper butcher shop! Plus, you can feel good because you’re supporting the local economy...or whatever all the hippies are saying these days.
Don’t over-season your meat. A filet cooked properly should taste pretty amazing with nothing more than salt & pepper.

The last thing I learned is that the right garnish can make or break a steak. I debated between a couple different ideas for how to do the mushrooms but in the long run was glad I made the choice I did.

I started with 2 tablespoons of butter that I melted in a skillet. Then I added just a splash of red wine, salt, pepper, a few sprigs of fresh thyme, and a bay leaf before throwing in all my sliced mushrooms (I think I did about 8 caps). Keep the heat pretty low and stir occasionally. The mushrooms will absorb a lot of the liquid, which is fine. If you need to add more butter and/or wine, go for it. Just make sure to remove the sprigs of thyme and the bay leaf before plating.

The steak was okay but I’ll definitely make it better next time, especially now that I found a great butcher.
The mushrooms were phenomenal.
The asparagus didn’t get done.
The brussel sprouts were made from the easiest recipe ever.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts:
Cut bottoms of brussel sprouts off and cut sprouts in half.
Spread brussel sprouts out on a baking sheet and drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper.
Put them in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Toss and put pan back in the oven for another 20 minutes.

Some of the outer leaves fall off when you’re initially cutting them and that’s fine. The outsides of brussel sprouts will turn black while cooking, don’t worry, they’re still delicious!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Spring Fever Chicken Pot Pie

Yesterday marked my first day back to the gym after the new year. December and January are terrible times to be at the gym after work. Once February rolls around, it's noticeably less crowded, albiet still quite full.

In the spirit of getting back to my treadmill regiment, I'm back on my healthy eating decree as well. I always try to keep fresh veggies and fruits in the fridge, I drink plenty of water, etc. but winter always marks a time where my sodium intake probably triples due to my untainted lust for soup. Speaking of which, my Father decided that he was going to learn to cook the best French Onion soup there is. I respectfully disagreed as I decided that challenging him to a French Onion soup-off would be a good idea and mine will be the obvious winner. After one trial run of this soup, I feel confident that the tweaks I make next time will be all I need. Prepare for the worst, Dad.

So anyway, spring is on it's way in and that means healthy cooking but it's still cold out so it also means comfort food. Today: Chicken Pot Pie.

The beauty of this meal is that you can make it as lean and healthy or as rich and decadent as you'd like. Load it up with vegetables, use reduced sodium stock and substitute heavy cream with half and half or even milk.
You can make a pie crust from scratch or you can purchase a frozen pie crust or puff pastry. I tried the puff pastry which worked well if you're only covering the top. If you want a fully encased pot pie, use the pie crust.
If I can dig it up, I'll post my recipe for an amazing pie crust (the trick is the kind of butter you use).

Frozen pie crust or puff pastry
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast
1 Cup heavy whipping cream
2 Cups chicken stock
1 Cup potatoes, chopped
1 Cup carrots, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 Cup peas
1/3 Cup butter
2/3 Cup all-purpose flour
Olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Once up to heat, place puff pastry in for 5-10 minutes until it's risen and is golden in color. Remove from oven and let cool until you're ready to assemble.

2. Cook chicken in a skillet or in the oven by coating in oil, salt, and pepper. Once cooked and cooled, cut into bite-size pieces or shred.

3. Melt butter in a large stock pot. Slowly add flour, stirring until it's a thick, rich consistency. Slowly add cream, stirring constantly until you have an even consistency. Add a dash of salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.

4. Add vegetables and let cook until they're at a desirable texture. Add chicken and let simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste.

5. Pour contents of stockpot into your baking dish and top with the puff pastry and put into the oven for 5-10 minutes.

This makes a fairly large amount of pot pie so it's a great recipe if you're cooking for a family.
Leftovers are best warmed in the oven.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Stocked Summer Fridge

I walked out to my car after work to find that it wasn't pitch black outside yet. It was only mostly dark. That means that springtime is on the way which means I need to focus on eating healthier. The problem with home cooked meals is that while they're not usually as fatty as going out, when I'm in the kitchen, butter is a necessity. Particularly for the comfort meals that come along with the winter. This time of year, the hot peppers start coming back in season and I can find a half-decent selection of fruits and vegetables to snack on.
It's also getting to be sandwich season. I love cold deli sandwiches when the weather is warm. There's something divine about knowing you can stack that sandwich as tall as you want with fixin's and you'll never feel guilty eating it. I love a good pile of spinach and cucumbers on my sandwiches.

In any sense, fresh vegetables and cold sandwiches require dips and spreads. Enter hummus and pesto.

Hummus is very quickly becoming a year-round necessity in my fridge. It's incredibly easy to make, full of protein, versatile, tasty, and easily customizable. I sadly, don't think I had ever put hummus in my mouth until I moved to Oregon. It didn't take long to make an impression though.

1 can Garbanzo Beans, drained and rinsed
approx. 2 Tbsp. Tahini*
2-4 cloves garlic
juice from one lemon
olive oil

*Tahini is a paste made from roasted sesame seeds. It's rich in protein and can be used in a variety of applications. It comes in a glass jar with a screw top lid - I can usually find it in the health/vegan aisle of the grocery store.

To make, simply put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender. I like mine to be pretty creamy so I use a fair amount of olive oil and lemon juice but you can make it as chunky or runny as you'd like. I use hummus as a spread for sandwiches and wraps or as a dip for vegetables or flat bread.

Pesto is nothing short of splendor as far as I'm concerned. I love how refreshing it is when made from scratch. Pesto is great for dipping, used as a spread, or made into a sauce for pasta or chicken. Again, this is incredibly easy to make and easily customizable.

One large bunch of fresh basil leaves, cleaned and dried
3 medium cloves of garlic
One small handful of raw pine nuts
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
approx. 2 Tblsp extra virgin olive oil

Put basil, garlic, pine nuts, and olive oil in a food processor and blend well. Add Parmesan and blend. Done.
You can add or take away to your liking. I found several recipes that called for a pinch of nutmeg but after trying it, I'm not a fan. However, being a lover of spices, I do add a fair amount of freshly cracked black pepper.
Do whatever you want, just make it your own.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Once Upon A Banana Cake

A long time ago in a land far away, I was a baker. When I moved to Oregon, my cake decorating may have taken a back seat but my baking improved. I loved days off with a glass of wine and a set of clean measuring spoons that I could meticulously put to work. I never thought I'd make the switch from baker to cook but it happened. Now I feel bogged down by flour sifters and hand mixers. There's a lack of freedom in baking albeit a certain satisfaction that if you follow the recipe to a T, you'll end up with something delightfully fragrant and surely tasty.

Perhaps my transformation from baker to cook stemmed from my job. My office is always full of crappy baked goods (I call them bads) from the grocery store or local thrifty bakery. I've slowly been losing my lustre for pastries, cookies, muffins, etc. I have, however, never been unable to rid myself of a near passion for bananas in baked things.

Having said that, this is a super-easy recipe for Banana Cake that is always a hit.

2 tsp. Baking Soda
a touch less than 4 cups Flour
2 sticks Butter
2 1/2 cups Granulated Sugar
4 large Eggs
1 cup Sour Cream
1 Tbsp. Pure Vanilla Extract
6 very ripe Bananas

1. Sift together soda and flour. In a medium size bowl, peel and mash the bananas.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine butter and sugar until evenly mixed. Mix in eggs. Mix in sour cream and vanilla. Add flour mixture a little bit at a time. Add bananas.

3. Pour into a cake pan (9" x 13" or 9" round) and bake 1 hour at 340 degrees or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mexican Chicken Soup as Made by an American

My Dad was in town over the weekend. I see my Father more frequently than I do anyone else in my family. Fortunately, I'm fond of my Dad. Each visit he makes, I try to take him to a different restaurant so he can buy me a delicious meal.
Knowing my Father's priorities frequently makes taking him out difficult because he'll eat anything but food tastes better to him if it's cheap. A point I strongly disagree with. So, we've been waiting and waiting to take him to our new favorite place. It's a place called Maher's and it's an adorable little Irish pub with food that will encourage embarrassing displays of over-eating. Each time I go there, I think about learning to make some good corned beef hash or delectable cabbage. The problem is, I'm terrible at ethnic cooking - unless I'm cooking Mexican.

This recipe is for Mexican Chicken Soup and has made me pretty popular around my apartment. This is a time consuming meal to make, especially when you do not own a food processor and chop all your vegetables by hand. However, it's WORTH it! I like to start this soup at about 3:30 or 4:00pm. That way, I have time to cook it and it has time to simmer for a few hours before serving. It's not incredibly difficult, it's just time consuming. Like laundry.

2 whole chicken breast, bone in, skin on
1 whole yellow onion, diced
1 Cup celery, chopped
2 Cups carrots, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 1/2 Quarts chicken stock
1 can whole tomatoes in puree, crushed (28oz)
2 to 4 jalapenos, seeded and minced (unless you like the spice, then keep the seeds in)
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander seed
1/3 Cup fresh cilantro, chopped
good olive oil
6 (6-inch) fresh white corn tortillas (optional)

1. Place chicken breast on sheet pan, rub w/ oil, sprinkle w/ salt & pepper. Roast 34-40 minutes. When cooled, discard skin & bones, shred meat.

2. Heat 3 Tbsp. oil in a large pot. Add onion, celery, carrots, and garlic. Cook @ med-low heat for about 10 minutes. Add stock, tomatoes w/ puree, jalapenos, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, and cilantro.

3. (optional step) Cut tortillas into strips 1/2" thick and add to soup.

4. Bring to a boil the lower heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Add chicken and let simmer as long as you'd like.

You can serve this soup garnished with any number of things: avocado slices, sour cream, cheddar cheese, crushed chips, whatever - just enjoy it!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Let Them Eat Molton Chocolate Cake

I work in an office that is 90% women. This fact has both it's perks and it's downfalls. This morning, it had a major downfall. I arrived to the office to find a group of ladies crowded around one individual who was crying her eyes out over something that was hardly even noteworthy. It all seemed a bit dramatic for 7:30am on a Monday morning and I worried that the rest of the day would inhibit feelings of utter disgust and annoyance toward the ladies in my office. So, I mysteriously "came down" with something and came home. Fortunately, my boss is easier to fool than my Mother was in my childhood days.

I told Ryan months ago that I'd learn to make him molton chocolate cake. Promptly after saying I would do it, I forgot about it. He reminded me the other day of this fact and I felt wholly obligated to pay up on my promise right away. So, yesterday, I tried them only to find that they're much easier to make than I had anticipated. The longest part of the process was waiting for the oven to heat up.

2 3/4 sticks of butter (11 ounces)
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate
6 eggs + 6 egg yolks
3 cups confectioners sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
foil baking cups

1. In a double boiler (or a mixing bowl sitting on top of a pan with simmering water), melt together the butter and chocolate stirring occassionally. Let cool a bit.

2. Whisk together sugar, eggs, and egg yolks.

3. Combine chocolate mixture with egg mixture, then slowly add the flour.

4. Pour batter into greased foil cups. Bake at 450 degrees for 5 to 6 minutes.

Most the recipes I found called for 8-ounce foil cups which I was unable to find so I used the 4-ounce Reynolds cups and they worked just fine.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A New Year of Blogging About Chile Rellenos

My sister is a committed blogger. I think she treats blogs almost like a cyber-scrapbook. With a busy life like hers, I don't blame her. I find my simple life rather savory that way. I have no responsibility to chronicle memories for anyone other than myself. What little of my day-to-day life that I deem noteworthy is generally summed up in a picture, or a few sentences written in colorful, fine-point markers in my journal. If anyone found it, it wouldn't be embarrassing because I'm the only one it makes sense to. I prefer it this way. A healthy shroud of mystery is gravely underrated.
In any sense, reading through my sister's blog reminded me that I have one of my own about one of my favorite things: cooking. I've been gathering gangs of great new recipes that are either scribbled on splattered and smudged pages of a spiral notebook or their stuffed haphazardly inside the front cover. Now that Ryan works hard and works late, I'm more motivated to feed him well and I have more time to myself. So, perhaps I'll rededicate myself to cyber-recipe writing. Hopefully someone tries some of these sometime.

Last week I was feeling ambitious and decided to try making chile rellenos. A dish that I feel is rather easy to screw up. I was horrified to learn that Ryan has never had them. A disgraceful and tragic fact that needed an immediate remedy. So, I went for it. I think I came up with a pretty simple recipe.
For the two of us, I made six chiles which was just about the right amount.

6 Anaheim chile peppers, charred and peeled
about 1/2 lb. cheese, cut into strips (I used pepper jack for extra spice but cheddar is fine)
1 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. canola oil

1. Remove seeds and membranes from peppers. Stuff each pepper with a strip of cheese.

2. In a small bowl, combine milk, flour, egg, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and canola oil. Mix well to make a batter.

3. Pour enough oil in heavy frying pan (I used a cast iron skillet) to reach 1 inch in depth and heat over medium-high heat. Roll each pepper in the batter. Fry until lightly browned on both sides.

I served mine on a bed of freshly made salsa and topped it with salsa, freshly made guacamole, and a little cheese.