Geek Chef


March 3rd, 2012

Chicken Soup Can Go to Hell: What My Soul Needs is Tom Yum Goong

A while back a few friends had us over for a dinner party. After spending a few weeks in different areas of Indonesia and Thailand, these friends had picked up different local recipes they wanted to try out on their home turf. Delan was kind enough to share one of the recipes on to me, and I’ve finally built up the guts to make it myself.

It’s Tom Yum Goong, a spicy and sour soup served with lemon grass and shrimp. From the first bite (or slurp), I realized this soup was what my life had been missing. I had had cravings for the multi-layered flavors in this soup my entire life, yearning for the freshness, the sweet, the nasal clearing spice, and never even realized it until that first moment of taste.

Chicken soup can go to hell. What my soul needs is Tom Yum.

To make this soup even more special, most of the ingredients must be purchased from specialized Asian markets – especially when you live in Texas. Ironically, the closest one to me is a place called MT Market. The first time I heard of the place, I wondered why anyone would name their shop “Empty”.

Here’s the shopping list:

1lb prawns/shrimp cleaned and deveined. I like a larger shrimp, but what ever your preference will work.

7-10oz. stalk mushrooms. When you get enough of these deliciously thin stalk fungi swirling around in the broth, they act just like noodles.

3 stalks lemon grass cut into 2 inch segments.

4 lime leaves, torn.  I couldn’t find these any where, but if you can find it don’t chop these suckers. Just tear them.

1/2 cup galangal in slices. This is from the ginger family and the stuff we get here is usually grown in Hawaii.

1 cup cilantro. The recipe actually calls for a bunch of coriander. Do you know what fresh coriander leaves are? They’re cilantro.

3 TBSP chili oil/paste. Normally I’d use Srirachi, but this particular recipe noted Nam Prik Pow. I couldn’t find that, so I used 2 TBSP of chili oil and 1TBSP of srirachi. And it was spicy. Burn-your-lips spicy. So keep your own heat tolerance in mind when you make this.

1/4 cup lime juice. Limes are cheap – Get your self 4-6 limes and use the fresh stuff!

1/2 TBSP lime zest. I used this because I couldn’t find lime leaves, but the original recipe does not call for it.

5 tsp fish sauce. If you don’t have fish sauce you can use salt, but fish sauce is available everywhere, even Walmart, and it’s flavor in this is worth it.

1/2 cup coconut milk

4 cups water. Austin water is pretty questionable what with the mold and all. I don’t mind using it for pasta, but for this I used bottled stuff.

Put the water on to boil. Once it’s rolling, throw in the galangal, lemon grass, mushrooms, lime leaves (if you found them, other wise use the lime zest), and the fish sauce.

Bring back up to a boil and toss in the shrimp and coconut milk.

Bring to a boil again; this all doesn’t take long at all. Once it reaches a boil again, turn off the heat.

Add the chili oil/paste and the fresh chopped coriander-better-known-as-cilantro. Just before serving, add the lime juice.

The lime juice must be added right before serving to create the fresh and sour flavor.

I love the way the chili oil dances around the edges and top of the soup. You can make it with chicken, but if you follow the directions you simply can’t cook the shrimp wrong and they go so well in this. Make it when you’re sick to perk you up and clear your sinuses. If it’s too spicy for you, drizzle an additional tablespoon or two of coconut milk over your serving and stir to quell that fire right down. Chip actually dumped his rice right into the center of his bowl, making it a bit like a gumbo. And I looooove the mushrooms; they’ve got the perfect texture and are like uber healthy noodles.

This amazing, fresh, sour, and spicy concoction stands beautifully on it’s own or serve it with a bit of sticky rice and a beer on the side to quell the heat.

Also, don’t eat the galangal or lemon grass; I suppose you could, but they’re really just for flavor and quite woody.

 

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February 21st, 2012

Hot Wings at Home – The best thing since sliced bread!

I’m a glutton for punishment. Okay, maybe I’m just a glutton, but after hours of hardcore Ultimate frisbee in the morning (I have 2 – TWO bruises!) I really only wanted to eat what I was craving. When I want something bad I want to make it at home. More punishment. This way, though, I get to be part of the process, I get to save money (sometimes), and the tweaking – oh, the tweaking! I love it. Sometimes I need to have a dinner that screams immaturity and irresponsibility. In this instance I’m talkin’ ’bout hot wings. A whole dinner of hot wings. Screw salad, screw even cole slaw. I mean a whole dinner of wings and wet naps and beer.

Making chicken wings at home is seriously cheap and makes for wicked deliciousness.

1.5 – 2 lbs Chicken Wings, about about 14 wings (which when cut up equals 14 drumettes and 14 wind segments)

1 cup Franks Hot Sauce

2 TBSP melted butter

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp white pepper

3 TBSP flour

First step: cut up yo’ wings into three segments, the drumette, the middle wing part (the less favorable non-drumette), and that end pointy bit that has no meat and it just a waste all around.

Find the joint in each area, line your knife edge in the joint, and slip through. It’s not hard. Chuck the lame little pointy ends, the farthest left in the above picture. Then rinse the remaining pieces, dry them really well, and set them aside in a bowl.

Pour about 3 inches of oil in a stock pot or deep dutch oven and heat to about 325 degrees. I used a pasta pot. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, cayenne, peppers, and salt. Then toss the dried wings in the mixture. Once your oil is up to heat, gently -gently -drop the flour coated wing pieces into the oil and let fry for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown. If you’re oil doesn’t look like the below picture when the wings are dropped in then it’s not hot enough.

And after 12 minutes they’re all beautifully golden brown like this…

Now, I’m not going to lie: These are awesome just as they are and you’re going to want to eat them, but don’t do it. Don’t give in. I mean, I guess if you have kids that can’t handle the extra spice or you don’t want sauce finger prints everywhere – and I do mean everywhere – then serve them like this. But if you sauce them, it’ll be like Dorthy stepping out of Kansas into Oz. I mean freaking amazing. So don’t be a coward: Stay strong, wait 4-5 minutes to allow them to cool, and sauce ’em.

In a big bowl mix together your Frank’s, the melted butter and any other flavors you’re craving. Extra cayenne? Sure. Chili paste? Go for it. Then throw in your slightly cooled chicken and toss away, either literally toss if you have the kitchen skills or toss with your hands – but then immediately wash them. And definitely don’t touch your eyes or lick your finger tips for the duration of this recipe. Then open a beer and eat away. I recommend in front of the TV. Notice I didn’t say “sports”. I don’t care for sports.

I’m hardcore: I have my wings with a beer in front of Antiques Roadshow. Ahhh, yeah.

Okay, so I have to be honest with you: These are not health food. Are they good for your soul? Fo’ shizzle. Are they good for your heart? Absolutely not. Enough of these will be the direct reason you go into cardiac arrest while on the treadmill one day. So, in an effort to just be plain bad rather than ridiculously bad, I also made a grilled wing that honestly was just as tasty as the above Buffalo wings.

Alternative sticky, spicy Asian grilled hot wing:

1 cup La Choy Orange Ginger sauce

1/2 TBSP srirachi

1 tsp black pepper

1 cup Spicy citrus sauce, cooled (from my chicken tender recipe)

Combine the La Choy sauce, srirachi, and black pepper. Toss the rinsed and dried chicken, and let soak in the coating for about 20 minutes. Heat your grill to medium – high. Once you grill is ready to go and the chicken has marinated a bit, grill with the lid closed for 12-15 minutes or until an internal temperature of 160 has been reached, turning once half way through. Let cool about five minutes once you remove them from the grill. Once they’ve cooled a bit coat them in the spicy citrus sauce. These are messy, but very delicious, and a welcomed healthier twist on traditional fried Buffalo wings.

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February 20th, 2012

Pork Chops in Marinara Sauce

I like creating something new in my kitchen, but sometimes I figure out a tasty recipe that’s a cinch to make and I just get stuck in a habit of making it regularly. In other words, new excitement has been leading to regularity. I decided to make an old family favorite to reignite the spark in my kitchen.

I’m not a big pork fan. I love a good banh mi, and ribs here or there, but that’s where my interest stops. Growing up, however, we had pork most Sunday’s at family dinner. My grandmother would make her usual marinara sauce (something I can make with my eyes closed and both hands tied behind my back), but she would a sometimes add fatty, bone-in pork chops and let them simmer low and slow for a few hours, cooking in the sauce while the sauce absorbs the delicious porkiness to make the usual Sunday meal a little more special.

I figured I’d give this a shot. Besides, cooking sauce on the weekend is great, because you have it for pasta and pizza for the rest of the week.

3 TBSP olive oil

5 large cloves garlic, minced

1 large shallot, thinly sliced or 1/2 cup diced onion

1 very ripe peach, diced into 1/2 inch pieces

1/2 cup wine, your favorite

1 28oz can crushed tomatoes

1 28oz can whole or diced peeled tomatoes

1 cup cherry tomatoes

8 large button mushrooms cut into 1/4’s or 1/8’s depending on your own bite preference

1/2 cup chicken stock

1 TBSP fresh chopped basil

1 TBSP parsley

1 TBSP kosher salt

1/2 TBSP black pepper

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 1/2 tsp oregano

1 tsp sage

1 TBSP tomato paste

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2.5-3 lbs center cut, bone-in loin chops

Juice of 1 lemon

Like most Italian recipes, this one starts with a shit ton of garlic. If you can’t get a shit ton, a butt ton will do. Or five large cloves. Which ever works. In 2 TBSP of the olive oil over medium heat, warm the minced garlic cloves, the shallot or onion, which ever you decide to use, and the peach. You want to sweat the garlic and onions a little, but don’t allow them to brown. After about 5 minutes add the wine (because of the pork I used a white wine I like, but anything that’s good will work), and stir. Add the tomatoes, both canned and cherry, mushrooms, chicken stock, and the spices. Sprinkle in the salt, stir, and incorporate the tomato paste. Once the paste is dissolved into the rest of the mixture, toss in the parm and mix well. Congratulations: you got yourself some marinara.  Also, just as a side note, you can make this as thin (for pizza) or as chunky (for anything else) as you want. Add green bell peppers or chunks of fresh tomato to cook down and swap the crushed canned tomatoes for a second can of whole. If you want a smoother sauce omit the mushrooms and do a second can of crushed.

I like making entrees over baking because baking is exact. Dinner is whatever the hell you want it to be.

Bring the stock pot of tomato magic up to a bubbling simmer. Then turn the heat to low, so the sauce is still very hot, but barely bubbling, and add the pork chops. Cook these on low for about 2-2 1/2 hours. You can sear them before hand, but I chose not to, simply because I was too lazy to dirty another pan. The slower you cook the chops the more juice they will retain.

After about two hours, or when the chops reach an internal temperature of 160-165 remove them from the pot. Add the lemon juice to the tomato sauce. Stir and taste; add any additional salt or pepper. And viola!

I served mine with penne & salad. Classic Italian dinner.

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February 13th, 2012

Bitch Slapping Bland Primavera to the Curb

hosting a few friends for dinner to watch the Oscars this year. While I except the award show to be filled with mediocrity, my dinner will not. I wanted something bright, filling, delicious, and cheap. Feeding a lot of people adds up fast, so I like to keep costs down where possible.

Normally, I would not choose Pasta Primavera as an exciting meal, per se. More of a pathetic meal would sound more apt to its usual description. America’s Test Kitchen, however, inspired me, as the always do, to look at the usual in a different light. Cook the pasta like risotto and -BAM – awesomeness in every bite. Use the pasta’s own starch as a thickening agent – BOOM – creaminess without the heaviness.

It’s like Alfredo and Primavera had a baby. A delicious, delicious baby.

Now, most of this is directly from America’s Test Kitchen, so I don’t really deserve any credit. I made tweaks here and there to make it even more delicious, but I couldn’t have done it without ATK. I love this recipe because you can really plan ahead and do many of the steps far in advance to make serving a group of people even easier.

3 Leeks

1 bunch Asparagus

1 cup frozen peas

4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed in a garlic press

1/2 TBSP red pepper flakes

1 TBSP ginger

4 cups vegetable stock

1 1/2 cup water

1 TBSP mint

2 TBSP chives

1/2 TBSP rosemary

zest of 1 lemon

5 TBSP olive oil

1 box pasta, penne, cavatelli, or campanelle recommended. This won’t really work with spaghetti or a strand style pasta.

1 cup white wine. I used a pinot grigio and it was fantastic.

Juice of 1 lemon

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

3 TBSP heavy cream (optional)

Salt & pepper to taste

Leeks! Leeks are the sandiest thing ever next to a beach. Chop off the top two inches of outer leek area and cut off the bottom inch. Then roughly chop the top half, the darkest green area, and rinse 3 cups of it in a bowl and set aside. Then cut the remaining light green parts into 1/2 inch pieces, throw in a separate bowl, and rinse. So much easier to rinse once the leeks are in chunks.

Saute the light colored leeks over medium heat in 2 TBSP of oil for about five minutes or until the leeks brown a little, stirring periodically.

While the leeks are sauteing, snap off the ends of the asparagus. Take a stalk of asparagus and start bending from the end; it will snap naturally at the freshest point. You want to eat from the natural break to the tip. Chop the ends that you would normally discard into 1/2 inch pieces and dump into the bowl of darker leek slices. Cut the edible pieces of asparagus into 1 inch bites.

Once the leeks have cooked a bit, let go of some of their moisture, and browned a little, add the i inch asparagus pieces and crushed garlic, and stir. Continue to cook until asparagus is just tender, 2-3 minutes. Add the frozen peas and saute for an additional minute until the peas are just warmed, 1-2 minutes. Turn off heat and set the cooked veggies aside.

In a deep stock pot or sauce pan, heat up the veggie stock, water, dark leeks, asparagus, red pepper, and ginger. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.

While you’re doctoring the stock, chop up the chives, mint, and rosemary, and combine with the zest of a lemon in a bowl. Set aside. Once the stock has simmered for 10 minutes, strain into a bowl. Discard the strained vegetable remnants. This step and the vegetable cooking step can be completed a couple of hours in advance if necessary. You want there to be 5 cups of rich, doctored and strained stock left. If you’re going to immediately cook the pasta, place the strained stock back into the saucepan and set over medium heat. Keep the stock warm, as it will be added to the pasta in a few minutes. 

Once you’re ready to cook the pasta, heat 2 TBSP oil in a pasta pot over medium heat. Toss in your pasta of choice and brown a bit. This is similar to cooking a risotto, which gives each bite tons of flavor. This only takes about 5 minutes, but you want to stir the pasta regularly to get each piece to brown a little. once the pasta is showing signs of golden deliciousness, add the cup of white wine to the pot and stir until the pasta has completely absorbed it, about 1-2 minutes. At this point the pasta is still raw, but tastes like magic, richly buttered bread. It’s amazing.

When the wine has been absorbed, add the stock and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook for an additional 8- 10 minutes or until the pasta is done stirring every . I used Simply Smart pasta, which takes closer to 12 minutes to reach the correct texture.

At that point, turn off the heat and add the juice of one lemon. Stir. Add the 3 TBSP of heavy cream, 1/2 of the herb mixture, and grated parm, and stir well. Once the sauce has reached your desire consistency, dump in the cooked veggie mixture. I like my sauce a little thicker so I put the pot back over heat to stir for an additional 4 minutes, just until it was rich and creamy. Add the cherry tomatoes and – you guessed it – stir. You want the heat of the sauce & pasta to just warm and wilt the tomatoes. Plate each serving and sprinkle on a little of the remaining herb mixture. It’s a beautiful thing.

I topped mine with shaved parm and had a side of steamed broccolini with lemon juice as a side, because one can never have enough veggies. It. Was. INCREDIBLE. It can serve 6 reasonable people or 4 hungry ones.

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February 5th. 2012

Clam Chowdah in Austin

I’m not a fan of football. I’m more of a super fan of eating.

And that’s exactly what Super Bowl Parties are for.

I generally enjoy entertaining, but football is just not my thing. I let other people get this one. Besides, since the world is apparently forgoing winter with exception to areas that normally rarely get it (like Rome), my lawn is entirely too long to have guests to the house and our lawn mower takes forever and is easily distracted.

As the New England Whatsits are playing in today’s little game against Madonna or whoever hell the opposing team is, I have decided to make Clam Chowder. To clarify: New England Clam Chowder. Because Manhattan Clam Chowder is like choosing to have a grilled cheese with Kraft singles when you have the option of Gruyere. It’s a joke.

I’ve offended my husband.

Chip likes Kraft singles. Oh, well.

After the last year or so of warm to deadly hot temperatures, Austin is finally experiencing a day of pseudo winter: the high temperature is expected to be a low 54 degrees with skies overcast and a wee bit rainy. Yeah, it’s not “winter” per se, but when seasons have been phased out due to global warming you learn take what you can get. What I’m saying is that today is as close to a perfect Austin day for Chowdah as one could ask for.

The Cliff House in Maine serves incredible clam chowder and has since 1872. My father, inspired by their famous dish, worked to create a simple, but truly delicious version of creamy clam chowder to make at home. And Dad likes good food. While I strive to make things lighter just as my preference, sometimes I like to play after dinner and don’t want to feel weighed down, I know I can always depend on Dad for something rich, something perfect for winter, something to induce a completely content food coma. So…the plus side: this recipe, which feeds 8-10 hungry people, contains only a single tablespoon of butter. The not-so-plus side? It also calls for 3 cups of heavy cream. You heard me.

NOTE: The spice blend is very important and use chopped clams from a fish monger, as opposed to canned, if at all possible. You will have extra spice blend left once you mix it all together, but you can put it in a ziploc baggie and freeze it – yes, freeze the spices, until the next time you want to make clam chowder. All in all, this recipe costs about $30 to make and when you consider the amount of people it feeds, we’re talking peanuts in terms of cost.

Spice blend

4 tsp dried oregano                 2 tsp dill weed              1 tsp sage

4 tsp dried parsley                   4 tsp thyme                   4 tsp rosemary

2 tsp marjoram                         4 tsp basil                     2 tsp tarragon

1 TBSP flour

If possible, blend everything in a mortar & pestle. If not, mix everything in a bowl and mash together with the back of a metal spoon (wood would absorb some of the oils you want to go into the chowder).

The actual Chowder Recipe:

9 Slices bacon, minced

1 TBSP butter

3 yellow onions, minced

3 medium to large cloves garlic, minced

1 medium to large shallot, minced

4 teaspoons of the above spice blend (Seriously, freeze the remainder. It’s tasty.)

6 TBSP all-pupose flour

3 – 4 cans clams (6.5 oz.) or 1.5 – 2 lbs previously frozen chopped clams

3 cups clams juice

3 cups heavy cream

1  cups milk

1 1/2 tsp white pepper

1 tsp black pepper

1.5 lbs potatoes, diced and boiled. You can peel your potatoes, too. I’m using smallish buttercreams, so I’m leaving the skins on.  Mash 1/2 of the potatoes for a richer Chowder consistency.

Over low heat in a stock pot, soup kettle, or – in my case – a wide pasta pot, saute the bacon and butter, allowing some of the fat to render from the fatty pork. Once a good bit of fat has eeked out, but the bacon is still a bit uncooked, add the onion, shallot, and garlic. Add the spice mix and don’t allow anything to brown. Continue sauteing over low heat, stirring periodically, for about 10 minutes or so, until the onions have softened a bit, but aren’t quite translucent.

Add the flour and clam juice. I whisked the flour and clam juice together in a bowl so I wouldn’t have to worry about flour clumps and added it to the pot. Once everything is mixed well, bring the temperature up to a boil. When a boil is reached, turn everything down to a simmer and throw in the heavy cream and milk. After that’s been simmering for 20 minutes or so, add the pre-boiled potatoes.

Do not add the clams until just a few minutes before serving.

If you are making this at your home to be served in right then and there then:

Toss in the clams after the potatoes, sprinkle in the white pepper, and turn heat up to reach desired serving temperature, but do not bring to a boil. Over cooking the clams or cooking them at too hot a temperature, say a boil, makes them tough and chewy rather than tender and flavorful. I like to top mine with a little sprinkling of the greens from the tips of fennel. I love the color and look, and it’s not as strong as dill would be (similar in look) and adds a delicate new flavor that’s only just noticeable, but very delicious.

As I will be bringing this dish to a friend’s home, ideally I would bring the chowder mixture to their house, covered and on a towel on the floor of the backseat,  commandeer a burner on their stove top, reheat, and throw in the clams and white pepper, and bring to serving temperature at that point.

My recommendation: Don’t travel with hot clam chowder. Just eat it at your house.

And don’t share.

I wish I had a better picture to share, but once the food hit the table everyone dug in. The chowder was rich and flavorful, the clam chunks abundant. It was excellent on a cold, wet day to celebrate New England! Go sports!

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January 30th, 2012

Science in the Kitchen: Fennel, Red Beans, & Chowdah 

This week was incessant. Stressful, disappointing, overwhelming. It’s been months since I’ve written so little, but time keeps passing and life goes on. At the same time I’m writing so little, my brother is writing more than ever, hysterically documenting his trip to Thailand and parts beyond. The pictures are great and the writing very sarcasticly funny. I recommend it.

So after a shitty, no good, very bad week, the weekend arrives in an attempt to break me out of my funk.

Saturday morning grocery shopping reminds me that weekends are for experimenting!

Tomorrow is game day! I have no idea what that means! All I do know is that most of the thirteen original colonies are so bad at American Football (a sport I abhor, by the way) that many of them had to apparently band together to form a single team: The New England Patriots. And what an intimidating mascot that is. A guy who really likes his country can defeat a Giant, no problem. I guess they operate under the power of positive thinking. Yeah, that’s totally super cool and masculine.

Sorry, bit of a rant there. So for this weekend, my husby is making a new red beans and rice recipe and I’m making clam chowder and sauteed fennel.

Today I’m going to post the fennel and beans.

My It’s So Good That It’s like Salty Candy Fennel:

2 TBSP olive or vegetable oil

2 heads Fennel, sliced in 1/4 – 1/3 inch slices

2 medium to large garlic cloves, sliced thinly

2 small or 1 medium shallot, sliced thinly

1 TBSP ponzu

freshly ground black pepper

Growing up in a stereotypical Italian-American family, meant much of my youth was spent in or around a kitchen. My grandparents had an impressive garden, and as a kid bouncing around with a million cousins amongst the many legs of mother, aunts, and grandparents it was common for a hand from above to drop slices of fennel, tomatoes, figs, or hunks of other veggies in our paths. The flavors of ripe fruits and vegetables were abound, building a deep respect of their versatility in me at an early age, yet I didn’t have cooked fennel until I was a teen.

Often the flavor of fennel is described as a more delicate version of black licorice. I happen to like black licorice, but not because I like fennel. Fennel does have a unique flavor, but when it saute’s, it caramelizes, becoming sweet and a little smokey, much like an onion does. Generally when cooking, the first thing that hits the pan once the oil is hot is garlic, but in this super simple and quick recipe, garlic comes last. And this recipe is so quick that the longest part is the prep in slicing everything.

Heat the oil over medium high heat in a skillet. Once the oil moves around the pan easily toss in the fennel, trying to keep the slices in one layer. Let them sit for 3 -4 minutes and then stir – or toss if you’re skilled – to continue caramelizing. After the fennel has been in the pan for about 5 minutes, add the shallots. After an additional 1-2 minutes, add the sliced garlic. You want the garlic to warm, but not brown. Add the Ponzu and continue cooking for an additional minute, stirring to coat. You want the fennel to be just tender, caramelized on the outside, but with a good bit of bite in the center. There’s nothing worse than mushy vegetables.

This is crazy delicious. It’s sweet and salty, it has bite, it’s just a little spicy from the barely cooked garlic, and it’s got great texture. It’s the dish that changes a dissenter’s mind about fennel. Now this as it is makes an excellent side dish and if you’re on Weight Watchers it’s next to Zero points. Immediately upon diving into this for lunch all I wanted was to have thrown in some shrimp the last 2-3 minutes of cooking and served with brown rice. Perhaps even a dash of Srirachi. That would have been a mega simple, quick, filling, and healthy dinner!…In fact, stay tuned for that recipe later in the week.

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My husband has a bit of a man-crush on John Besh. And who can blame him. It’s impossible not to fall in love with all things N’Orleans and Besh is certainly an integral part of their current food culture. Chip likes to make his lunches for the week on the weekend prior and as I’ve gotten more interested in new recipes so has he. What used to be his standard Yakisoba or hummus and veggies lunch, has evolved to include homemade bean salads that change with the seasons, and now red beans and rice.

But this is serious red beans & rice. Chip choose to double the amount of red beans, added an extra ham hock, a little extra water and bacon grease, but otherwise his loyalty remained intact. Rendering bacon fat is easy, but it does make you house smell strongly of bacon. I only like to smell bacon right when I’m eating it. Then I need all evidence of it being cooked to disappear. This is because of one time when we were house hunting a few years ago. Chip and I walked into the most claustrophobic, messy home and it just reeked of bacon. We took one look at our realtor and read each others mind at once: Get Out! Ever since I just can’t stand the smell of that stuff, but I put the dislike to the side for today.

Rendering bacon fat is easiest if the bacon is cut into 1-1 1/2 inch chucks and cooked over low to medium-low heat. I did not cut up the bacon ’cause I didn’t want to smell like bacon for the rest of the day. No matter how many time I wash my fingers I swear they’ll smell of bacon for hours. You want all the fat to cook off, but you don’t want the grease to cook into brown bits.

John Besh’s  Red Beans & Rice with “Chip Tweaks”

2 onions, diced

1 green bell pepper, seeded & diced

1 stalk celery, diced

3 TBSP rendered bacon fat

2 pounds dried kidney beans

3 smoked ham hocks

3 bay leaves

1/2 cayenne pepper

3 green onions

salt and pepper

3 cups rice

In a heavy stock pot, Chip sweated the celery, peppers, and onion until the latter was translucent over medium high heat. Then he threw in the kidney beans, ham hocks, bay leaves, and dash of cayenne, and gently stirred everything together. After a few seconds of stirring, Chip poured water into the pot until the beans were submerged by 2 inches of liquid. Some items may float to the top, but that’s cool, let them do their thing. Just do you best to measure 2 inches above the beans.

At that point he cranked the heat to high and water for a boil. Once there was a good boil going, Chip turned the heat to low and covered to simmer for 2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes or so. Everything needs to be covered by at least an inch of liquid at all times, so adding water periodically might be necessary, though I’m sure you could use chicken broth or low sodium stock as well. When the beans are crushed to a creamy consistency easily with the back of a spoon, everything was done. Chip removed the ham hocks, easily pulled the meat off the bone, roughly chopped it into small chunks, and then added it back to the pot.

He continued to reduce down the mixture until it was the consistency Chip wanted. You can make this as souped or thick and creamy as you want. And, yes, red beans are healthy for you, but when they’re cooked with ham hocks in veggies that were sauteed in bacon fat, I make no promises of their diet power.

For a final touch he added chopped green onion, salt and pepper, and hot sauce to his liking.

Red Beans & Rice finished and very tasty, rich and hearty without seeming too heavy. An excellent alternative to the usual winter stews and chicken soups.

Clam Chowder tomorrow!

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Monday January 23, 2012

I made shrimp scampi last weekend and it was A. May. Zing. This is not that recipe, but I will add that soon.

Since the shrimp, however, I’ve been craving scampi again, but my husband isn’t much of a seafood guy. So, I relent: I get to make scampi and he gets to eat it with chicken.

The thing about Shrimp scampi is that it’s lighter to accentuate the natural flavor of the shell fish. Chicken is versatile because it’s natural flavor is next to nil. The simplicity of the basic shrimp scampi sauce is too delicate and and dry for chicken, so I decided to make a bit of a creamy base and a dash of red pepper to give the chicken a bit of an oomph.

My first pet peeve of standard chicken scampi: ghostly chicken. I like my chicken browned.  On top of being more visually appetizing, browning the chicken will leave delicious brown bits in the pan that I can add to flavor sauce. This doesn’t cook the chicken through!I I’m just browning it. As I’ve mentioned in other recipes, I also don’t like when things are needlessly oily or fatty. Yes, butter is totally marvelous, but that doesn’t mean we have to drown in it. I’m not even referring to this in a healthy way; too much is just not appetizing. With this recipe I reduced  the oil and butter significantly: Your average scampi calls for 2 cups of butter or 1 cup butter with a 1/4 olive oil. This recipe uses a mere 4 TBSPs of butter and 1 TBSP of olive oil. And it was freakin’ awesome.

I took…

8oz chicken tenderloins, rinsed and dried

2/3 cups flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1 TBSP olive oil

I mixed together the salt, pepper, and flour, and dredged the chicken tenders in it, shaking off an excess. I then browned the chicken over medium high heat in oil, about 2 minutes per side.

After my chicken was golden and piled high, it was time to start on the sauce!

1/3 cups milk

4 TBSP butter, tossing two TBSPs in the left over flour dredge

3 cloves crushed garlic

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp parsley

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 lemon

salt

black pepper

I Then deglazed the pan in a way I’ve never done before: Turning off the heat I poured 1/3 milk into the pan, whisking constantly – I wanted to deglaze, not cook my milk. Once the bubbling subsided, about 30 seconds, I whisked in the butter coated in flour. This was the start of my sauce. Turning the heat back on to medium I added the rest of the butter. Immediately followed the wine, stock, garlic, red pepper, and parsley. Then I reincorporated the chicken to continue cooking through while in the the tweaked scampi.

After 7 minutes, I removed the chicken, now cooked through, and reduced the sauce. I whisked in the Parmesan cheese, squeezed in the juice of 1/2 lemon, and added salt and pepper to taste. Served with 8oz pasta, garlic bread, and steamed asparagus, this was an exciting, flavorful, and filling twist on basic scampi. It was so delicious, I’m not sure I’ll have scampi with with shrimp again.

*Side note: Seriously, this was fantastic. It came out so good that even 24 hours later I can’t stop thinking about it.

*T-Rex also enjoyed the scampi

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January 29th, 2012

Honey Butter Almond Pancakes

This all started because I woke up wanting waffles. We have no waffle iron and I find most experiences of getting waffles out at a restaurant ultimately disappointing. Be that as it may, I crave waffles no less than 164 times a year. I eat them maybe once a year. And, generally, only in the lobby breakfast area of a Holiday Hotel Inn “continental” breakfast nook.

Inevitably, I wind up making pancakes for myself at home approximately bi-monthly. It soothes the rage of Waffle-Want, but only for a brief period. So, low and behold, before long I wake up wanting waffles.

“I want waffles!” I demanded, sitting straight up in bed.

“Make pancakes…” moaned my ever patient husband, used to the tumultuous need for waffles ever present in our marriage.

I padded down the hall to the kitchen, threw open the cupboards and found – NO Bisquik.

Shit.

I stomped back to bed and crawled under the blankets, defeated.

“Why don’t you just make pancakes from scratch?” My smart ass husband interjected into my moody undercover bitching.

“What am I : a lumberjack?!” I snarled back.

“My father used to make pancakes from scratch all the time,” Chip defended.

“YOUR FATHER WAS A LUMBERJACK!” I roared. His dad really was a lumberjack, I wasn’t kidding.

“So? It can still be done,” answered my husband quietly smiling, like the personification of The Little Book of Calm.

Well, since he put it that way, I thought maybe it can be done. And so that’s what I did: I bucked up and made some pancakes from scratch.

Fluffy Honey Butter Pancakes

The trick to fluffy, light pancakes to to leave your batter void of any eggs. You want thin, dense pancakes? Good for you; add an egg or two. Me? I like my pancakes about as dense as I like people, i.e. not at all.

  • 1  cup milk
  • 2 TBSP white vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 3 TBSP honey
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla or almond extract
  • 1 TBSP Almond butter, if you got it/want it. It’s totally optional.
  • 2 TBSP butter, melted

Combine the milk and vinegar and set aside. In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking powder & soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Then whisk in the milk and vinegar mixture, butter, honey, extract, and almond butter if using. If the mixture seems to dry, add milk at a tablespoon at a time, up to an additional 1/4 cup. It should be relatively thick, but smooth, and pour slowly, but smoothly off the whisk. Heat a pan, skillet, whatevs, over medium-medium high heat. Spray with non-stick cooking spray even if the pan is non-stick. Once bubbles appear on the surface of the pancake and the first few pop, check the underside with a spatula. If the bottom is golden brown, flip and continue cooking an additional 1 minute to 1.5 minutes.

This will feed two ridiculously hungry adults, but they will have to take a serious nap in order to digest it. I recommend making this for 3-4 people.

Then keep your breakfast classy by serving with bacon and Aunt Jemima, but only if you’re out of Mrs. Buttersworth.

Please excuse the poor quality of this photo. As I was setting it up, I noticed my super chubbs kitty (Polly) suddenly hiding behind our mini plant in an attempt to score some bacon and maple syrup.

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Sunday January 22, 2012

Spicy Sugar Cookies

When I need something to do I write or cook. I’m not a big baker, but every once in a while I try a new kind of cookie, because….well, why the hell not.

Sugar cookies can be a bitch to make. Too crunchy, sometimes flavorless, a good, chewy, and creamy sugar cookie can be harder to achieve than you might think. So, I looked at this as more of an afternoon science experiment than a baking endeavor.

The flavors I picked are what I gravitate toward on a perfect autumn day. Naturally, I picked an 80 degree day in January to bake them. You see, Austin no longer has seasons; I just have to pretend that there’s fall and winter. It’s been years since I made a good stew, because I struggle to see the point. Sometimes I think I gotta move back to New England…and none of that has anything to do with cookies.

So for this I just took a very basic sugar cookie recipe, blended it with tips from America’s Test Kitchen, and added some spunk in the form of flavors I personally like.

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 oz. cream cheese

6 TBSP butter, melted

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp lemon zest

1 egg

1 TBSP milk

An additional 1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp ginger to roll onto cookie dough

The beginning was the usual mundane of baking cookies: I preheated the oven to 350.

I mixed the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. I threw  the 1 1/2 cups sugar, the cream cheese, and spices in a large mixing bowl with the melted butter. The warm butter helped breakdown the cream cheese. I stirred this together and then added the egg and milk and blended until incorporated. Finally, I dumped in the flour mixture and stirred everything until it formed a smooth dough.

I then rolled the dough into 24 balls and rolled those into the 1/2 cup of sugar mixed with cinnamon and ginger. I placed 12 on a cookie sheet sprayed with cookie spray, and pressed the cookie dough balls down evenly until they were about 1/2 inch thick and 2 inches in diameter. I sprinkled just a little more of the sugar mixture over the top of each smooshed cookie and baked for 11 minutes. I made sure not to allow the edges to become golden brown; I wanted enjoyable cookies, not sugary crackers.

The cookies came out perfect. Sweet without being too sweet, flavorful, crunchy on the outside and just soft enough in the center. And they’re perfect with a cup of tea or coffee, like an American biscotti or biscuit without the over abundance of crumbs. Excellent for pretending it’s fall or winter when global warming is totally against you.

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Sunday January 15th, 2012

Zucchini Fritters

Me an’ zucchini are like this.

We work well together and always have. I respect Zucchini’s freshness, beautiful color, versatility, and moisture content. And Zucchini respects that I eat him all the time.

I first met Zucchini when I was a child and he was nothing but a deep fried stick. We knew almost instantly that our love affair would be anything, but brief. Growing up in an Italian household, Zucchini was always grown in backyards and used in abundance in everything from snacks, salads, sautes, and sauces. Naturally as I child, my favorite of his forms was when he was crispy and fried, but as I grew up I found my tastes and needs changing. The fried sticks no longer worked for me when I craved him fried; thick crusts and undercooked vegetable were a turn off, I needed layers of flavor that aided only in enhancing the natural flavor of the deep green squash.

Ever understand Zucchini was happy to accommodate.

As an adult I’ve settled – for the time being – on zucchini fritters. A pinch of red pepper flakes and a hint of sweet sauteed onion adds new depth to fresh flavor of the grated, drained zucchini.

I used:

2 zucchinis

1/2 yellow onion

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 flour

2 TBSP panko bread crumbs

2 TBSP fresh chopped parsley

I shredded the Zucchini with a regular cheese grater, tossed it with a 1/4 tsp salt, and placed the zucchini in a colander to drain for 10 minutes or so. While I was waiting for it to give up its excess water, I finely chopped 1/2 an onion and sauteed it over medium heat in 1/2 tbsp butter, 1/2 TBSP olive oil, and 1/2 tsp salt, until the onion was translucent and just beginning to brown. The bit of butter adds a little richness to the sweet onion while the olive oil keeps the butter from burning while sauteing.

In a large bowl I mixed together the egg, cheese, flour, panko, red pepper, and 1 TBSP of the parsley. The mixture was very thick. I then squeezed out any excess liquid from the zucchini and added it to the mixing bowl. Just between straining and then squeezing, I got over a 1/4 cup and 1 TBSP of bright green liquid from the Zucc. Again, the mixture is very thick so I found ti easiest to mix everything with my hands.

I love the flavor of olive oil, but when it comes to frying – even pan frying as these fritters are – I find it to just be too heavy. In a medium skillet over a medium high flame, I heated 3 TBSP of vegetable oil. Once the oil moved freely around the bottom of the pan, but wasn’t smoking, I placed heaping tablespoon dollops of the zucchini mixture into the pan and flattened each to about 1/4 inch thick. They took 5-6 minutes, about 2-3 minutes per side, to brown nicely. The key was getting them to cook through, crisp, and yet not linger in the oil so long that the fritters absorbed it rather than cooked in it.

Once golden, I placed the fritters on a plate with a paper towel to drain, sprinkling each with salt while it was still hot.

Served with merely a sprinkling of lemon juice, these zucchini fritters were the perfect lunch, though not necessarily the healthiest, and would make an excellent appetizer.

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Monday January 9th, 2012

I Want Eggplant in Garlic Sauce, Damnit!

It’s my ultimate geek dream to one day work for America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Country, but without a culinary degree I may be shit out of luck. I am, however, a huge fan of their work and find their recipes simply the tastiest and – most importantly – fail safe.

There are times, however, when a craving I have lacks a recipe through them. Undeterred, I simply make up something myself because it is my personal belief that one should never fear the kitchen.

Here’s my one simple kitchen rule:

Keep a fire extinguisher and a take out menu within reach, and nothing will go wrong.

With that in mind, I dove into creating Eggplant in Garlic sauce.

I took 1 eggplant chopped in roughly 1 inch wedges. Wedges, not cubes, because it’s cylindrical. Duh. And I minced 3 huge cloves of garlic. This is Eggplant in Garlic sauce, not Galickish sauce. I find this dish at many Asian restaurant to be oilier than I would like it to be; making this at home meant I got to change that aspect of it.

The sauce itself went like this:

1 1/2 TBSP low sodium soy sauce

1/2 TBSP brown sugar

2 TBSP white wine (I was out of rice vinegar and cooking sherry, either of which would have probably made this better, but sometimes you just have to improvise.)

1 TBSP Sesame Oil

1 tsp cornstarch (as a thickener)

a pinch of red pepper flakes

And 1 of large garlic cloves, minced.

I whisked everything together. I wanted to get my eggplant going first. I left the skin on because I’m hardcore, but you certainly don’t have to. I tossed the chopped eggplant into a cast iron pan over medium-high heat with a tablespoon of oil. I wanted it tender, a little brown, but not mush, yet I knew to sauce would take mere minutes to become a rich, syrupy coating over the eggplant, so the eggplant had to start first. Letting it sit on the hot pan for 2 minutes before stirring ensured the golden brown color I was looking for. I then added 2 of the minced garlic cloves, and stirred allowing them to warm and release some oils, an addition 2 minutes.

At that point I added the sauce, which, thanks to the cornstarch and brown sugar, thickened almost instantly. Stirring constantly for an additional 2 minutes I let everything mix and mingle in beautiful garlicky harmony. Then it was time to plate and eat.

The eggplant was sweet, spicy, smokey, and, of course, garlicky. It was tender on the outside and just firm enough in the center. Thanks to that little bit of brown sugar parts of the skin on the eggplant had even become crispy and caramelized. This was a super quick recipe to appease a craving.

I did have to sprinkle a little salt on top, once it came out of the pan; I had thought the soy sauce would add enough salt, but, as mentioned above, I used low-sodium soy sauce and the difference was noticeable.

Over all I was very happy with the way the eggplant turned out. It was the perfect lunch with half a grilled cheese and I’m already excited to use the leftover eggplant on a white pizza at some point later in the week!

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Sunday January 8th, 2012

Ribs, Ribs Everywhere, So Let’s All Sit & Eat!

I love ribs. I love eating them so much that it’s been many a year since I’ve been able to see my own, if you catch my drift. And after two hours of hitting the ultimate frisbee field I want to gnaw on ribs a whole hell of a lot more.

I maintain my love of ribs by having them once every two months or less. As we all know, absence makes the heart grow fonder…or less clogged with rib fat, one of the two. The real problem with ribs is that from the moment you decide you’re going to cook them, you hunger for them, and they are not the fastest meal to be had. And there’s a million ways to flavor and cook them!

Should I baste with beer? Apple juice? Cider?

To mop or not to mop?

To grill or use ye olde oven?

What’s a girl to do?!

Well, this girl likes her ribs differently than her husband, so it’s easy. Every time my husby and I make ribs, we make two racks and cook them completely differently. And then we share because that’s true love.

I love St. Louis ribs. This is a particular cut that’s a little less fatty than the spare rib cut, but still thick and meaty. Chip, the aforementioned husband, prefers spare ribs, but today he decided to go with a baby back rack. I like my ribs moist but not sauced so I use a mop. Chip prefers his ribs juicy, but likes a smokier flavor, so he sticks to a grill and periodically uses a spray bottle to wet his ribs, using less liquid and frequency than my mopping.

These are my ribs (in the rub) versus Chip’s naked baby backs.

We’ll start with the break down of my St. Louis cut ribs:

Rub:

1 TBSP Paprika

1 TBSP Garlic powder

1 TBSP salt

1/2 TBSP ground pepper

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 TBSP Ginger

2 TBSP brown sugar

To prep my ribs I washed and dried them. I did not trim them at all, choosing to leave the silver skin on the bottom of the ribs keeps the ribs together while I slowly cook the crap out of them. I then rubbed every last molecule of the spice mixture over the back and top of my ribs; I want a nice crust.

After the rub, came the assembling of my mop.

Playing off the Asian theme the ginger in the rub adds, I went with…

The juice of one lemon

The juice of one lime

1/4 cup Rice vinegar

1/4 cup white wine

To cook my ribs I went with a fairly unorthodox method. As I mentioned, Husband does his ribs on our gas grill. I’m not anti-grill, but I do like slow and low ribs – slow cooked at a low temperature. I don’t want to meat to fall off the bone; I want it to pull away. But I also like a dark crust. Remedy: I got my ribs all rubbed up and put them meat side down on a hot, hot grill for 5 minutes. That’s all it takes. Put those ribs down, close the lid, and don’t touch for 5 minutes.

Once they got a char I pulled them, put them meat side up in a cookie sheet on a flat rack and mopped away, about 2 tablespoons of my mop to coat the ribs. This means I’ll have char, I’ll have a crust, and the rib coating will be glossy and tasty. I put an additional 3 tables spoon of my rub onto the cookie sheet and covered in tin foil in order to maintain a moist cooking environment. You can also use beer or apple juice; either, like my mop, will add extra flavor.

After the 5 minute stint on the grill I baked my ribs at 500 for 15 minutes and then turned the oven down to 250. I continued cooking for an addition 1 1/2, mopping every 20 minutes. You want the internal temperature of the ribs to be 180-200 degrees. Yes, I spent the afternoon being a slave to my ribs.

And it was worth it.

And then there were Chip’s ribs, the man ribs. Chip cooked his baby backs on a hot gas grill. Prep went the same way: wash, dry, and season; he seasoned, meaning he sprinkled each on top of the rack, rather than making a thick rub. Chip season with…

1/2 TBSP of the following: Paprika, salt, black pepper, and garlic.

Then Chip made a moisturizer:

1/4 cup apple juice

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

3 TBSP yellow mustard

1 1/2 TBSP ketchup

He whisked everything together and poured into a spray bottle. To create a moist and smokey environment on the grill, Chip put mesquite chips into a small tin pan and soaked them in red wine, which he placed on the bars directly above the burners at the back left of the grill. The grill was heated to 500 and he placed his ribs meat side down, closed the lid, and let them go for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, Chip turned the heat down to 400, flipped the ribs meat side up, sprayed them with the moisturizer and closed the lid. Every 15 minutes Chip sprayed.

…And there was one flare up, but he kept the paparazzi at bay.

Chip is no stranger to fire. Below is a picture of a tater tot from the last time he made them with dinner. It was honestly glowing red hot when I found it.

Because Chip’s baby back rack was smaller and he used a higher heat, they were only on the grill for 1 hour and fifteen minutes. Again, he went with internal temperature over a specific cook time.

So, that’s it! We cooked the crap out of our ribs, two separate ways, both came out delicious. We ate entirely too much with salad as a side, and beer for refreshment.

Saturday December 31st, 2011

Putting the Ass in Class: Champagne Jello Shots

It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m hosting!…but I’m also cheap. I’m not as young as I used to be, but I still like to have a good time. This year to stretch the food spread and the booze budget I will be making Champagne Jello shooters.

This is a no-brainer: Jello is made of one part boiling water to one part cold water. Simply replace the cold water with chilled white wine, champagne, or other bubbly. Yes, you can also use vodka, but using champagne is far less Frat Boy esque. That being said I did once try watermelon jello made with coconut rum and, other than being so sweet that your could only keep down one sample of it, it was very tasty. You can get some decent tasting super cheap champagne nowadays (I assume the grapes are from the Champagne region of New Jersey, but it works, none the less). You can also use white wine or prosecco; red wine would be just too intense if using a flavored jello, which I am.

And, yes, you can use sugar free jello. But the fact of the matter is that if you’re drinking so much one night that you’re doing jello shots, than the last thing you’re really doing is calorie counting. And even the regular jello has only, like, 8 calories per serving. It’s just nil, so get over it.

So, jello shooters. Why the hell not? Let’s do this.

You will need:

*Jello/Gelatin. If using red wine you can use unflavored gelatin, which has no flavor, but smells like a wet dog when you add water. Tonight I will be using Lime jello to go with a spumante champagne, and strawberry flavored to go with a pink blush I picked up…because sometimes I’m girlier than other times.

*Boiling water. Follow the directions on the box. I purchased two of the larger sized boxes of jello; they call for 2 cups boiling water per flavor and that’s what I’m using.

*Chilled Champagne/Wine/Booze. A 750ml bottle will yield 3.5-4 cups of chilled liquid for jello. And it must be cold. You use equal parts cold drink as you use boiling water, exactly as specified on the boxed jello directions.

*Mini serve cups. I’m using paper dixie cups, but I would have really preferred something plastic or wax coated, which these are not. Not good for have a congealed liquid sitting in them for hours, but they will work just fine.

*A tray to hold all your mini serve cups. I’m using a pyrex baking pan and a cookie sheet.

*A fridge. Duh.

Boil water. Boil more than two cups; you never know how much will evaporate. While you’re waiting for your water to boil, pack your glass baking dish or cookie sheet with mini cups. Having them edge to edge means that if you get a little sloppy when pouring the mixture into the cups to chill, the drips will wind up IN the surrounding cups rather than around their bases.

Once boiling, measure 2 cups of water (if using the large size jello box or if making a double batch of the regular size packages. Again, follow the directions on the box.), preferably into a glass, pour spout measuring cup. Pour the the water into a heat proof bowl and stir with a non-stick spatula until the jello is completely dissolved. Don’t use a wooden spoon for this unless you want a permanently jello-dyed wooden kitchen utensil as a constant reminder of your clASSy jello shots.

When you go to open your bottle of champagne, wrap a towel around the cork so it doesn’t fly off, and slowly, gently pull. Sometimes it won’t even make that huge popping sound, but you’re guaranteed not to waste a drop of champagne this way or hurt an innocent bystander.

Once the jello has been dissolved in the boiling water let it cool for just a minute or two. Then measure equal parts champagne to your boiling water, in my case 2 cups. The measure is after the foam has subsided, so measure it out slowly. Again, a glass measuring cup with a pour spout is best for this and you can pick those up cheap any where if you don’t already have one.

Pour the champagne into the bowl with the hot water and dissolved jello and gently mix. Gently! Then pour slowly into dixie cups. They will foam up quite a bit so fill them each only about 1/2-2/3 of the way full and move onto the next cup until the foam settles. You can top them off later if you’d like.

Once your cups are full or you’re out of boozetastic jello mixture, refridgerate for at least 4 hours or over night.

Then enjoy!

I thought that the champagne bubbles would become transfixed in the jello making an almost Pop Rocks-like sensation when you’d suck one back. It doesn’t, not completely…so, sorry to – wait for it – burst your bubble.

Sunday December 25th, 2011

Christmas Day Dinner: Braised Short Ribs & Yorkshire Pudding

Finally.

Dinner time!

Tonight’s entree was braised short ribs with a red wine reduction. And because that’s simply not fattening enough, my husband made Yorkshire pudding out of the drippings. A meal so dripping in its own fat that the eaters will have shiny faces by the time the plates are empty.

This recipe takes 3 – 4 hours, so start a while before you want to eat.

3 1/2 pounds short ribs. Debone those suckers and brown ’em.

1 large onion chopped, white, yellow, or sweet. I don’t recommend red.

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Lots of fresh minced garlic. I used 8 or 9 cloves, at least 4 of them rather larger.

3 cups red wine (And one for the chef!…I mean just finish off the bottle by pouring it in a glass and drinking it. Do a little something for you in all this.)

1 cup low sodium beef broth

6 carrots sliced into 2-3 inch pieces

2 – 4 sprigs of Thyme if you got it. I did not.

1 bay leaf

1/2 Tbsp ginger

1/4 cup cold water

1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

I bought 3 1/2 pounds of short ribs, cut them off the bone, and browned the meat. I chose to debone to cut out a ton of greasy fat I didn’t want to have deal with later. The gelatin in the recipe will retain the bone flavor, however, and makes for a silky, smooth sauce in the end.

Once I browned the meat I poured all, but about a tablespoon of the drippings out of the cast iron pan into a separate bowl for Yorkshire pudding. We’ll get to this later on. It’s best to use a dutch oven for this recipe, but I don’t own one, so I used a regular stock pot. In the stock pot I browned 1 large, chopped onion in that last remaining tablespoon of drippings I mentioned two sentences earlier. I didn’t want the onion to brown too quickly so I sauteed, stirring quite a bit, for 10 minutes or so. Next came the tomato paste, which browned fairly quickly. I added the garlic cloves, stirring until they were just aromatic. At that point I preheated my oven to 300 degrees. I then poured in the red wine over the onion, tomato paste, and garlic and deglazed the pot. I let the red wine simmer away and reduce to about half.

Once the red wine got nice and thick, I added a cup of low sodium beef broth, the bay leaf, ginger, and, finally, the boneless and browned short ribs. Once this mixture was at a simmer, I covered it and slipped it into the preheated oven for 2 hours. While waiting I read most of The World According to Clarkson while Chip put together the LEGO White House.

Those 2 hours took forever. I took the stock pot out of the oven and set it aside while I bloomed the gelatin. In the 1/4 cup of cold water I sprinkled the gelatin and let sit for 5 minutes or so. Gelatin needs to bloom in cold water for at least five minutes, other wise the consistency won’t be as smooth. While the gelatin was doing it’s thing I removed the short ribs and carrots from the pot, plated them and tented the dish with aluminum foil. I then strained the remainder of the stock pot contents in to a large pyrex measuring up and placed it into the fridge, chucking the solids left in the mesh strainer. I let the fat rise in the pyrex for about 10 minutes. After straining the fat from the liquid I poured the liquid back into the stockpot and heated it over medium high heat until it reduced to about 1 cup, just a few minutes. Removing from heat, I whisked in the gelatin. This is a perfect time to taste the sauce and make sure it has enough salt and pepper to your liking.

While I was making the sauce, Chip was making the Yorkshire pudding from a family 2-2-4 recipe.

2 cups milk

2 cups flour

4 eggs

1/2 – 3/4 cups drippings, what ever you got

a pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Beat together the milk, flour, eggs, and salt. In a 3 quart rectangle glass dish pour the meat drippings and place in the oven. Get those drippings smoking hot – super, sizzling hot, about 8 – 10 minutes. Remove the pan frm the oven and Carefully pour the custard mixture of milk, flour, and eggs into the sizzling hot drippings.

Replace the rectangle dish back into the oven to cook at 450 for another 10 minutes or until it reaches your preferred pudding texture. You can make it as chewing or as crisp as you like. When it’s done it’ll look like…

Once the yorkshire pudding was out of the oven, we de-tented the short ribs and carrots, poured the reduced sauce over the top, added basic mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus to the mix, and sat down to an awesome Christmas dinner.

Sunday December 25th, 2011

Christmas Day Appetizer: Prosciutto, Pear, & Brie Magic

After a nice hunk of leftover chocolate cheesecake for breakfast the task at hand for Christmas Day was to prepare dinner: Short Ribs in a red wine reduction. But you’ll hear about that later.

Of course we’d need something to nosh on while cooking the ribs, so I made some prosciutto bites. A combination of sweet pear, with sharp brie, and salty, delicate ham, makes for a snack no one can resist. As a lover of prosciutto, it was not hard for me to play around with combinations until I came up with something just right. A sacrifice of time I was happy to make and it was never hard to find willing taste testers, either.

Kayto’s Prodigal Prosciutto Pear Peaks

1 baguette, sliced into 3-4 inch thick long, 1/2 inch pieces on the diagonal

1 8oz Brie wheel, sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices

1 jar Pear preserves

12 oz Boar’s Head Prosciutto Picollo

I go with the Boar’s Head Piccolo here, because it is a very tasty prosciutto at just about half the cost of the prosciutto de parma. And it’s significantly less expensive than the pre-packaged containers of 3-4 oz of Columbus brand prosciutto and far better tasting.

Make sure the brie has been well refrigerated otherwise it’s just a total bitch to get into slices. Once sliced you can leave at room temperature until your bread is toast. Lightly toast the baguette slices on a cookie sheet in the oven under the broiler until they’re just golden brown, about 3 minutes. Take the sliced baguette out of the oven and lay a piece of brie onto each serving of bread. The brie will get warmed, but not super melty. If you want a gooeyer offering, feel free to throw the slices of brie onto the bread for the last minute or so that it’s under the broiler.

On top of the brie smear about 1 – 2 tsp of pear preserves on each. This doesn’t sound like much, but it is very sweet so a little goes a long way. Take a single slice of the prosciutto and tear in half. Fold or curl gently onto the pear preserves.

Then shove the entire thing your mouth before somebody else tries to take it from you. Then lament that you have to make a full tray of them that other people get to eat.

Saturday December 24th, 2011

Christmas Eve Dessert: Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake

I wanted something special for holiday dessert this year, but I am not normally a treat maker. I often have prewrapped chocolate in my house, a box of Skinny Cows, or, if I’m really feeling an indulgent dessert, I’ll make cookies, but it pretty much stops there. I tried twice in my life to make pies and both ended terribly: At high altitude I couldn’t get my apples to cook after being in the oven for two hours, and on a torrential downpour day, my pecan pie came out as mere ice cream topping rather than anything even close to solid.

So, naturally, I choose Christmas Eve when I’m hosting guests to try an intermediate level recipe I’ve never tried before. No practice, no nothing. If it didn’t work out, we’d be having Rolos for dessert.

I have to admit, I’m not super clear on the whole rating the level of difficulty in a recipe thing. I mean, you follow the directions. Tweak it if you’re gutsy. There’s either less directions or more directions and all you have to do is follow them. Really, I think recipes should just be based on time, such as less time or a crap ton of time. Because you’re supposed to refrigerate a cheesecake for a while, this would get a Crap Ton Of Time rating.

This is more of a chocolate mousse cheesecake; it has cottage cheese in it. That’s not the norm, no, but I hate eating a slice of cheesecake and then immediately feeling like I’m about to have a baby because I’m so full and fatty-fat  fatfat.

Like all good cheesecakes, this one begins with water. I preheated my oven to 325 and placed a roasting pan filled with about 2 inches of water on the second to last rack level. I went out (prior to heating my oven), bought a spring-form pan, took it apart, played with it, struggled to put it back together (I’m no winner), and then coated the inside with cooking spray. I also wrapped the outside bottom edge in aluminum foil to stop any of our cheesecake filling from leaking out.

Next came the crust:

1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs, about 10 full sheets. (The recipe called for chocolate graham cracker crumbs, but I wasn’t on the ball or paying close enough attention to the recipe when I went shopping.)

2 1/2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp water

2 1/2 tbsp melted unsalted butter

Crushing the graham crackers is a great task for kids to do. Or, if you harbor any ill will toward mankind, it’s a great way to work that angst out, as well. In my case I improvised a giant pestle and mortar and worked out regular holiday tension.

Wine bottles: Not just for Boozing it up any more. They make good rolling pins & great pestles.

I mixed everything together until moist and pressed it into the bottom of the spring-form pan. The recipe then called for the crust to be frozen for 15 minutes, and who am I to argue? I was doing this while watching Ancient Aliens on Netflix anyway, so it’s not like I didn’t have other things going on.

Next was the filling:

2/3 cups Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips. The recipe called for 2 ounces of semisweet chocolate, but I like bittersweet and who the hell knows what the measurement of and ounce of chocolate is? (I do. It’s about 1/3 cup to every ounce.)

24 oz container of cottage cheese.

8 oz room temperature cream cheese

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

I’m starting to get bored now. Someone put on the Never Ending Story.

2 tbsp flour

1 egg

2 egg whites

2 tsp instant espresso powder

2 1/2 tsp vanilla (I like things extra vanilla-y

I pureed the cottage cheese with an immersion hand blender. I then poured it into a kitchenaid mixer so that could do the rest of the blending for me. Often you can use a food processor to really make your cheesecake SUPER smooth. I am neither smooth nor the owner of a food processor, so I used a stand mixer. To the cottage cheese I added the cream cheese and then all the dry stuff. Once that was blended smooth, I added the egg & whites, the vanilla, melted the chocolate in the microwave and added that, too.

I poured the mixture onto the crust in the pan and into the oven it went (with the roasting pan of water still in there) on the upper third rack and baked about 50, until the center jiggled like my gut. Then I let it sit in the oven for an additional hour with the heat turned off.

After that time I plated the cake and poured a ganache over the top.

Super simple Ganache topping:

1/2 cup semisweet Ghiradelli chips. Yes, I used semi-sweet instead of bittersweet for the ganache and there is a difference.

3 tbsp unsalted butter

Microwave the butter and chocolate together until melted and smooth. Pour over cheesecake. Viola.

After I let cool at room temperature for an additional hour, I put the cheesecake into the fridge. The final step, according to the original recipe, which I’d long since ditched, was to refrigerate for 8 hours or over night so it could really setup.

I let it chill for about 7 hours before it was time to dig in. When plating I topped it with beautiful, sweet fresh raspberries and a dusting of powered sugar.

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Saturday December 24th, 2011

Christmas Eve Dinner: Banh Mi Pork Sandwiches

Banh mi’s are delicious Vietnamese pork sandwiches. The pork loin, hot off the grill, sweet and spicy, is topped with crisp, cool slaw and layered on a fresh baguette with mayonnaise. Each bite is filled with different complimenting flavors and the heat of the pork is cooled perfectly with the creamy mayo.

I’ve tried these sandwiches at three different restaurants in town, each serving very authentic Vietnamese cuisine. I took what was traditional, what I liked from each, and brought those flavor ideas home to create this recipe. That’s the fantastic thing about cooking recipes like this: You taste it as you go along and can tweak it so it is uniquely you. And a person should never be afraid to try new recipes. The worst case scenario is that they don’t come out properly and you have to get take out.

Get 2 fresh baguettes and 3 hungry friends. Then cook away. This is easy, super quick, and easy.

First assemble the slaw.

3/4 cup julienned carrots

3/4 cup julienned radishes

1/2 cup julienned cucumber

1 cup thinnly sliced red cabbage

1 1/2 tbsp sugar

1-2 tbsp fresh chopped cilantro

1/4 rice or white vinegar

a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Next I marinate pork loin for an hour or two. The marinade varies and, again, this is all up to your personal tastes, but what I do is based on the flavors of the pork from the Vietnamese sandwich shops here.

2 pounds pork center cut loin chops, pounded thin

1 tsp sesame oil

3 tbsp teriyaki glaze

2 tbsp sriracha chili sauce – this is the heat

1 tbsp minced garlic

Tonight I cooked these on high heat in a cast on pan; it’s December, it’s cold, it’s rainy. This caramelized the sweetness of the teriyaki perfectly into charred deliciousness on the edges of the pork loins. Once all the pork was cooked to perfect, spicy, and juicy perfectness, I allowed my guests to make their own sandwiches, piled high with pig, slaw, and Christmas joy. I served this with bacon and shallot braised Brussels sprouts and baked sweet potato fries. The perfect very relaxed, very delicious Christmas Eve dinner.

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Saturday December 10th, 2011

These Ain’t Yo’ Mama’s Chicken Cutlets

One thing I make once a week are chicken cutlets. A crowd pleaser for both kids and adults alike. These were a staple in my house growing up. Skinless, boneless chicken breast dipped in egg, breaded in doctored Progresso bread crumbs (garlic powder would be added) and fried in an ancient pan purchased all the way back in the ’70’s. Once I got my own place I started making cutlets as well, filling my apartment with the smell of my mother’s and grandmother’s kitchen. As I got older I tweaked and updated the recipe. By the time I owned my own kitchen I had gotten my own cutlet recipe just right for my tastes, and it was a fair departure from what I’d been taught.

First things first: I chucked the Progresso to the wind. Swapped them for panko. Next, I stopped serving them as a partner with pasta or marinara and cheese. And finally, inspired by Americanized Asian fare, I created my own sauce, which is what we’ll start with.

1 cup of water

The juice and zest of 1 lemon, 1 lime, and 1 orange (not pictured)

1/2 cup Rice vinegar

1 tbsp ginger

1-3 cloves of garlic based on what you’d like

1 tbsp soy sauce (or 1/2 tbsp fish sauce)

Red pepper to taste

Throw everything into a medium sauce pan and boil down until it’s about 1/3 of it’s original volume, nice and syrupy. Be careful with this; you’re cooking down a liquid containing red pepper, so the thicker it gets, the spicier it is. You can pour this over chicken, toss veggies in it, or be a super adult and use the sauce for dunkin’.

Now for the chicken.

3/4 to 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken or raw chicken tenders

1 cup panko

1 cup flour

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan

1 tbsp dried parsley

2 eggs

Vegetable oil

Kosher salt

I don’t use a deep fryer, just a cast iron pan filled with about 1 1/2 inch of oil. Beat the two eggs in a small bowl or tupperware container. In a flat, edged container (I use an 8in. X 8in. pyrex, but even a plate will do) mix the flour, panko, parm, and parsley. Rinse, dry, and cut the chicken how ever you’d like. This evening I cut my chicken into half tenders, large nuggets really, but anything is fine. Dip the chicken in the beaten egg, let the excess drip off, coat both sides of the chicken in the panko/flour mixture and set aside. Here, I’ll show you.

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I start heating the oil once I have the chicken coated. The coating needs to sit on the chicken a moment to better stick anyway, so waiting for the oil to come to 315-320 degrees is the perfect time to do so. Also, gives you a mo’ to clean up. Tonight was the first time I ever took the temperature of my oil. Prior to this I checked my heat the way my parents do and the way my grandmother did before them: Turn on the heat, wait ten-ish minutes, throw a small bit of chicken in, and make sure it sizzles just right. Like this:

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My tenders were roughly 1/2 inch thick and 3 inches by 2 inches. They took about 3-4 minutes per side. In the right temperature they won’t brown too quickly, but will turn to a beautiful light golden brown gradually. Once the chicken is out of the fry pan, place them on a plate layered with a paper towel to help drain the excess oil. Sprinkle immediately with kosher salt. This MUST be done while they’re still warm. Let them sit at least five minutes before you start gorging your face; I promise – those few minutes will feel like an eternity, but they’ll be worth it.

This time around I decided to serve the chicken with oven fried dumplings. I steamed a bunch of the grocery store bought frozen chicken dumplings, while heating my oven to 500. Super hot. I tossed the dumplings with 1/2 a tablespoon of sesame oil, sprayed a cookie sheet with cooking spray, and placed the dumplings in the oven for about 8 minutes, turning once. The perfect veggie for this dish, not seen on the plate, is crisp, bright, green beans, sauteed with garlic and sea salt. Delicious and a wonderful pop of color. All in all, it’s great for a pseudo Chinese food dinner at home and beats the hell out of paying P.F. Chang’s for what would wind up being a less satisfying meal.

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Thanksgiving and Black Friday 2011

I don’t do hectic holidays. I only spend time with people I like, which is a very, very limited list, and I don’t put on pants unless I absolutely have to. So when it comes to Thanksgiving, I have two goals: eat a ton of junk and have a freakin’ good time. I want to be as relaxed as Sammie. Nothing gets to him. He sleeps, eats, and ruins all my nicest crap. He is one cool customer.

For the last 10-12 years I’ve been doing Thanksgiving on my own. I don’t do turkey. It’s dry. It makes you sleepy. And if you cook the stuffing on the inside of the bird, one could contest that the bready delight is, in fact, a health hazard. I make prime rib. It’s awesome and delicious. And you get to make Yorkshire Pudding instead of stuffing, which is a million times better. Don’t know what Yorkshire Pudding is? You take the drippings, the liquified fatty fat fat-fat, from a prime rib and you heat it to 500 bagillion degrees. Then you pour a mixture of flours, eggs, and milk in the searing hot heart stopping grease and it sizzles up to make a thinish, soft bread. It’s awesome. And is absolutely awful for you. I normally eat the left overs for breakfast the next morning. Totally cold. Ahhh, yeah.

I invite any of my friends and all of my family to join. Normally, my parents have to host on Thanksgiving for other parts of my family so they’re always out. It also doesn’t help that I live 1800 miles from them (not an exaggeration). This year we had our friends Tim, Angie, Nick & Tania, over along with N&T’s two kids, Nicco (5 months old and slept the entire time, except for the 5 minutes that Chip made her cry) and Dexter (a super awesome, laid back, and independent 2 year old). How many toddlers do you know that can both recite the alphabet and ask for prosciutto? He’s awesome.

And the food was a breeze. On top of the prime rib, Chip made ice cream to go with Tania’s amazing salted caramel almond brittle tart, which I would have taken a picture of, but we inhaled it at the speed of light, and I made my family’s greens recipe for a side.

First the good stuff. We made 2 batches of ice cream: Madagascar Vanilla bean and Coffee Vanilla bean. Two batches are roughly equal to two quarts and take EIGHT egg yolks per batch, for a total of SIXTEEN egg yolks. 1 cup each of brown and white sugar gets whipped with 8 egg yolks. You just cream them together until you think your arm is going to fall off. In a sauce pan over medium heat mix 3 cups of half & half, 1 cup of heavy cream, and the inside of a vanilla bean to 170 – 175 degrees, stirring constantly. It’s best to do this with two people. My attention span is nil and this is quite the process.

Then you temper the egg and sugar mixture into the warm milk. Slowly – SLOWLY – add a little milk to the eggs and stir. Little more milk, little more stirring. Once the eggs are warmed enough so that they won’t cook if added to the milk mixture, completely combine the two. Again, over medium heat and stirring constantly, bring the egg-sugar-milk mixture to 170 – 175 degrees. Then remove it from heat and strain through a sieve into tupperware. This makes for velvety smooth ice cream. Once the strained mixture has cooled, place it in the fridge to be thrown into an ice cream machine on another day. For our coffee flavor, we mixed a couple of tablespoons of decaf instant espresso into about 3 tablespoons of hot water, which we then added to the milk mixture. Yes, we could have just added the instant espresso to the hot milk mixture, but we wanted a little bit more control over it and wanted to make sure the crystals dissolved completely. So, that’s pretty much it. Toss the custard mixture into an ice cream maker (we have a Cuisinart), let it go for 20 minutes, and then throw it into the freezer. On Thanksgiving we had fresh home made ice cream and french toast for breakfast. Perfect.

Not for nothing, but the above picture is Chip. I am an Italian American lady, so I am certainly not without hair – the darkest, thickest fur you’ll ever see on a being that is neither man nor Sasquatch – but that hairy hand there is Chip’s.

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Sure, we roasted potatoes and had the Yorkshire Pudding, but the side that took actual work was Greens. My whole life I’ve only ever called this dish “Greens”. “You want some greens?” “What’s for dinner? Pasta and greens?” “I have the world’s worst gas – it must be from the greens!” Greens are easy, delicious, and make great leftovers. You take one or two clean bunches of swiss chard and a bunch of escarole and roughly chop them. I couldn’t find escarole any where so I finally settled for a bunch of endive leaves, which the checkout lady ironically rang up as escarole.

Toss the chopped leaves into a big stock pot that has been filled with 3 inches of water, one potato that’s been cubed, and 2 tablespoons of salt. Add a can of Cannellini beans to the top and cover.

Boil away for 10 minutes, then add a bag of spinach; I used a bag of baby leaf spinach you can find with the rest of the salad mixes in your grocery store.Continue boiling for another 5 minutes. Then chuck every thing into a strainer and sprinkle with salt. Put the stock pot back over medium to medium high heat and add 1/2 cup olive oil, 3-4 cloves of garlic roughly chopped, and red pepper flakes to your heat tolerance. Saute for 3-5 minutes. You’re infusing the oil, but you don’t want to brown the garlic.

After a few minutes add the greens, beans, and potatoes back to the stock pot and stir. Continue cooking for an additional 3-5 minutes and then remove from heat. The greens should be fairly moist. Feel free to add olive oil as needed if you feel they’re too dry. Add 1/4-1/2 shredded Parmesan cheese and stir. Finally, add 1/4-1/2 cup of bread crumbs, stir, and call it a day. You’re done. Those greens are good right now; they’ll be even better tomorrow. You want serious awesomeness? Take some chiabatta, a chicken cutlet and provolone. Make a sandwich and before you put the top piece of bread on, add a scoop of greens. Crazy good.

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Friday, November 25th

I got up, got out, and got all my Christmas shopping done. I even got my father is birthday gift. He was born on Christmas day and his name is Chris. Reeeeeal original there, Grandma. When I say that I got up, got out, and shopped what I mean is this: I went to the gym at 9am, went home, and went to Amazon.com. Speaking of which, their site was SO NOT PREPARED for their own Black Friday deals. It was crashing for hours. I was shocked. So, in that sense, my shopping spree was a little annoying. Not so annoying that I had to put on pants, look at people, or mace anyone, but slightly annoying. On Thanksgiving day, I had had ice cream for breakfast, prosciutto and melon for lunch, and was so tired of cooking that by the time the roast came out of the oven, I couldn’t even stomach it. I pretty much just munched away on steamed broccolini in fresh lemon juice. Even still, I managed to eat enough that on Friday I didn’t really want to eat anything. I had a lot of coffee, put Christmas lights up on my house for the first time ever, went to play with dogs at the new Austin Animal Shelter, and enjoyed a quiet house. To commemorate a calm evening in a clean house after a successful holiday, Chip and I decided to let loose, get loaded, and watch a ton of BBC& TNG over homemade pizza.

The man child rarely strays from his old standby of pepperoni. I, however, like to change it up. I like experimenting with sweet sauteed onions, sharp cheeses, and smokey chicken or bacon. Sometimes I bake a crust with just olive oil, parm, and garlic. Then I top it with salad lightly tossed in honey and lemon juice and add slices of pear and crumbled blue cheese. I like little to no sauce on my pizza, good cheeses, and different levels of flavors.

Man. It sounds like I eat super pretentious pizza, huh? Well, what are ya gonna do?

If you’re interested in making pizza at home here’s the best tip you will ever get: Buy dough from your favorite pizza place. Seriously. I haven’t walked into a place yet that wouldn’t sell me their dough without question for $3 or $5. In Austin I’ve purchased it from Mellow Mushroom, Central Market, and Home Slice, but really, if you want awesome pizza in the capital of Texas just eat in at Home Slice or Red House. Home Slice is by far my favorite, awesome pies and great staff, but Red House not only has great slices, but also the best fried calamari I’ve had since the last time I ate in NYC. Lots of tentacles, my favorite.

Anyway, I thawed some dough, I stretched it out, and I started prepping it. I do not use a roller. You can cheater, if you really want to quitter , but it’s really not that hard to delicately stretch it using your fists and I find the dough just bakes better so stop being a baby and use your hands. I prep my dough by rubbing olive oil over its surface, add garlic, parm, and a sprinkle of kosher salt and cook on the lowest rack of a 450-500 degree oven for 5-10 minutes, just until parts of the bottom become golden brown. Then I add the toppings. For the pizza last night I sprinkled mozz and provolone cheese of Chip’s side with a smattering of pepperoni. On my side I did mozz, smoked Gouda, provolone, blue cheese, sauteed red onion, and bacon, with most of the fat removed.

On Thanksgiving our dryer broke when all of our kitchen towels were in the washer. And, ironically, it’s been raining for the first time in months. I’m explaining this because between the vodka&coke’s and the lack of napkins during cooking, I improvised my own wipe cloth, much to the amusement to Chip.

Listen: They are large and in the way of everything, so when I’ve been drinking and don’t have kitchen towels, my set o’ twins become nature’s napkins. I don’t know why I didn’t use the paper towels you can see over my shoulder. Ask Three Olives Vodka. All that matters is that dinner the night after Thanksgiving was great. An excellent evening all around.

We even broke the tree out of it’s exile for the last two years in the garage (we didn’t decorate last year), much to the enjoyment of the brat cats. I really don’t remember the tree being so pathetic…Oh, well.

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11/20/2011

I don’t hide the fact that I truly enjoy food. It’s part of the reason I have an all American waistline. I believe that what and how people eat can be very indicative clues to their culture and lifestyle. Two of my friends were recently able to go to different parts of Thailand. Part of their trip was a culinary experience and, after some digging around on the internet, they found a woman who would teach them to cook real Thai food in a very honest setting while in the slums of Bangkok. They brought these recipes back to the states with them and cooked them for us last night.

Needless to say, all the courses were beyond wonderful. The evening started with roasted silk worm larvae in sesame oil and cilantro. I can tell you that they tasted a bit like roasted tomatoes with the texture of steamed edamame. I can tell you this because that is what I was told. I’ve eaten crickets before and enjoyed them, but I could not bring myself to eat worm larvae. It was poor of me to at least not try it and I should have.

Next up was Pomelo salad. A Pomelo, also known as a “Citrus Maximus”, is a giant grapefruit. Friggin’ huge. And delicious. Thai Pimello salad is a dish normally called Yam Som – O; it’s fresh, flavorful, and filling on it’s own. The salad was made of pomelo, shrimp, coconut flakes, shallots, hot peppers, cilantro, and garlic with a dressing of lime juice, coconut milk and a dash of fish sauce. It was fantastic, the shrimp perfectly done, and the pimello adding both sweetness and a bit of tartness that made the entire dish spicy and, yet, refreshing.

The third course in our evening was easily one of the tastiest things I’ve eaten all year. It was, to put it simply, amazing. The levels of flavor were such that I rarely, if ever, had experienced them before. It was a soup called Tom Kha: creamy coconut soup, with thin, small mushrooms that acted more like noodles, lemon grass, perfectly tender shrimp, and hot chili oil. This soup cleared your sinuses, but not in an unwelcoming way; I’m generally a coward when it comes to heat, but I could have eaten this until the cows came home. It was so flavorful that the spiciness was only secondary, though it helped that I had a beer to quell some of the heat. I wish I could have a big, heaping bowl of this soup right now and I’m not even hungry. It’s something that I know I will search for whenever I visit Thai restaurants in the future.

The main entree of the evening was classic pad thai, served with sugar, as it is the usual accompaniment to this dish in Thailand. Also, everything was eaten with forks and spoons, as it is not customary to eat these meals with chopsticks. Needless to say, dinner was fantastic.

Dessert was vanilla ice cream with fresh blended mango poured over the top. I don’t have a picture of that because I inhaled it. We ended the evening with excellent conversation and the Vice Guide to North Korea. I highly recommend watching it. It is on Netflix Streaming as well, so you have no excuse to miss out. Hey, have you watched Troll Hunter yet? I’m thinking of watching it again…

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Cookies Make a Baker a Better Person

So, I’m super picky about chocolate chip cookies. Often times I found recipes result in bland, merely sugary sweet crackers, and, all too commonly, these baked treats seem to come out of the oven flatter than Kate Moss’s chest. A few months ago I decided I’d had enough. I wanted to make a cookie that was just as delicious to look at as it was to eat, something fluffy and chewy, and just all around awesome. This led me to the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I have yet to find any cookie recipe that even comes close to matching the quality of this one and every batch earns me accolades as a chef to those munching away on them.

First thing: This ain’t no TollHouse guide. Take everything you’ve ever learned about baking cookies and chuck it out the window. Fire it out of a canon into the sun, because it’s that worthless. Then preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a big bowl mix together 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1 3/4 cups flour. Then put it in the corner and forget about it for a while. Now comes the fun part: Take 10 tablespoons unsalted butter and melt it in a sauce pan. Melt it and then start swirling the pan, over heat, until the butter is browned and nutty smelling. You want your house to smell AMAZING? Bake these cookies. Just like the look and taste, even the aroma goes above and beyond in mouth watering goodness.

You then take this gorgeous, transformed butter and pour it over – you guessed it – more butter. In a heat proof bowl, mix the melted 10 tbsp butter with 4 more cold tbsp unsalted butter. Stir or swirl until everything is melted. Add 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar to the butter. Have you figured it out yet? The base of this cookie batter is a caramel! I know, your mind is blown. Take a minute. Regroup. Then let’s get back to baking.

Once you stir in the sugars, the mixture will look pretty gritty. That’s okay, the magic of adding eggs changes everything. Remember, though: we’re essentially making a caramel, so one egg is okay, 2 yolks is better. To the butter & sugar mixture add one full large egg and one additional yolk, a dash of salt, and vanilla extract. I generally also add a 1/2 tsp of almond extract; I find its flavor helps keep the cookies from seeming too sweet and adds a little something unexpected to a well known snack food without getting too far from the basics. When it comes to the eggs, separate them with your bare hands. Do it. We all have sinks and soap. Use your hands. I bought a fancy egg separator from Crate & Barrel for $4 that is just shit. Doesn’t work at all. It would have been a better use of money to buy lottery scratch-off tickets. See the useless uni-tasker below. Just use your freakin’ hands.

After the addition of the eggs, the directions get a little picky. Whisk the mixture for 30 seconds. Then let it sit for 3 minutes. Do this 2 more times, so that you whisk a total of 3 times, 30 seconds each time. The batter will completely change from dark brown and gritty, to thick, golden, smooth, and shiny. Also, make sure you don’t taste the batter at this point. It tastes just like a gooey, somewhat liquified Werther’s Original candy and you may not be able to stop guzzling it once you start.

Now you can add the caramel mixture to the flour and baking powder. Try to incorporate everything together without over mixing. Limit your stirring with a spatula or wooden spoon for right around a minute. Finally, add 1 1/2 cups of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips. It really is best to use these. The different in cost between those and any other brand is minimal. They melt much better in the cookies as they’re flatter, thinner, and larger, and have a better flavor. They really make a difference in these cookies.

You may find the batter to be so buttery that it is difficult to get the chocolate chips to stick to it. I find that essentially cutting the chips into the batter and gently folding everything helps embed the chocolate into the batter without over mixing anything. After trying this recipe with regular chocolate chips, I can tell you first hand that the shape of the Ghirardelli stick much butter to the batter. You may have to get pretty handsey in forming these and it really does seem like a lot of chocolate. And there’s a good reason for that: It is a lot of chocolate.

At this point, the original recipe states to divide the batter into sixteen servings to make rather large cookies. I don’t like my cookies that big, so I generally make 20, 8 per cookie sheet, and 4 on the final. They’re still very large cookie, but not crazy in size. I bake them for 5 minutes, then rotate the cookie sheet in the oven and cook for an addition 5 – 7 minutes, just until the edges are barely turning brown. If you can master pulling them out of the oven at the right point, you wind up with a chewy cookie with a bottom that is crunchy due to being caramelized and crisp. It makes for an amazing treat and added punch to an already fantastic treat. And, like a child, I enjoy mine with milk.

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Recipe: Butternut Squash Bisque   11/13/2011

I love lobster bisque. After attempting to make it at home I decided I hate the cost of the ingredients and cooking lobster and shrimp shells down into stock makes my home smell like low tide. Recently at a cafe in Austin I had out-of-this-world Tomato Bisque. It was truly great, much better than I ever thought it would be. If I hadn’t been eating lunch with the CEO of my company I would have totally stuck my head in that bowl and licked it clean. The thing about tomato bisque, however, is that it’s too similar to the tomato based sauces I make and it’s not Autumnish enough for me. I live in the capital of Texas, a place that – thanks to global warming – is now completely void of all seasons. There’s Lesser Summer during November through March, and then Seventh Circle of Hell Summer April through October. Take today for example. It’s November 13th and it’s 87 degrees out. Awesome. Yes, I mean that sarcastically. The leaves that have turned color have only done so because we’re experiencing a multi-year long drought and all plant matter turns brown and shrivels when it dies. There’s no romance about it.

In an attempt to relive the New England fall weather of my wasted youth, I try to make Autumn occur in other ways. I burn Apple Cinnamon candles, I hang my dust covered fall coats in easy to reach areas, I obsess over brown leather boots. And I begin a half-assed love affair with the butternut squash.

Butternut squash is….meh. It’s okay. It’s no fennel. But, you know, it tries and it’s very Fallesque. So, I decided to make Butternut Bisque.

All the recipes I read were all very sweet or too plain: Butternut Squash & Brown Sugar Bisque, Butternut Squash & Cinnamon Bisque, Mother’s Basic Butternut Bisque. I wanted something that emulated the Tomato Bisque flavor, but used Butternut squash as it’s base. So I started with bacon.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I started by roasting the squash and then half way through adding carrots to roast with said squash. One decent sized squash peeled & cubed, which made about 4 cups, and, roughly, 1 cup carrots.

Please excuse my half eaten lunch in the back round of the above picture. Austin, like most major US cities, has quite the “China Town” area and we found a little Vietnamese place that does AMAZING pork buns. So good.

I roasted the squash for 45 minutes at 500. After 25 minutes, I added the carrots. Once the 45 minutes of roasting was up, my house smelled fantastic – like Mega Fall – and my squash/carrot mixture looked like this:

I suppose I could have roasted the squash and carrots while prepping the other parts of the recipe, but I finally found the minikit detector in my Lego Star Wars video game and was just flying through levels. Once the squarrots were out of the oven, it was time to get down to business.

What makes everything better? Bacon. What makes everything even better-er? Cooking everything in bacon fat. I took 2 strips of center cut bacon, threw them in the bottom of a heavy pot and rendered the shit out of them. It looked like this:

Once I felt enough fat had cooked out of the bacon, I removed what was left of the strips. I then added 2 large, finely chopped cloves of garlic, 1 stalk of roughly chopped celery (something I’d leave out in the future, truth be told), and half of a white onion, chopped. I cooked those over medium heat until they were tender. It took about 8 minutes, so I had a cup of tea. It looked like this:

That’s my favorite mug. It was free and had some website name on it. I scraped all the letters off accept for the “O”, which I edited into a “C”, for the first letter of my married name. Love it.

Anyway, once the other veg was tender, I sprinkled 2 tablespoons of flour over everything to help absorb all those fabulous flavors and to act like a thickening agent, stirring continuously for about three minutes. I then added only 3 cups of chicken stock. What I should have done was mixed in 2 cups chicken stock and 2 to 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock, but hindsight’s 20/20. I added the squash and carrots and let everything just hangout to reach a boil. Upon hearing the boil, I sprinted down the hall from my bedroom video game fest back to the kitchen, and I added 1 bay leaf and about 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley. I turned the heat down to a simmer, and left the bisque there to think about what it had done. About 30 minutes.

Once the half hour of sensational simmering had passed, I removed the pot from the heat to let it cool.

It’s not glamorous, I know. Like in war, these are simply what the realities of making a bisque look like, and it’s not pretty. Once the bisque cooled I blended the ever loving crap out of it with an immersion hand blender. I love that thing. Of course, it splattered most of my kitchen orange, but it worked like a charm. I probably could have kept things cleaner if I wasn’t also watching Troll Hunter on Netflix, a fantastic import from Norway that I highly recommend. Super entertaining. Yes, there’s subtitles; I don’t want to say what I think about people who won’t watch a movie just because there are subtitles. Troll Hunter is great. Watch it.

Once the bisque was at a smooth, bisque-like consistency, I added about 2/3 cup of heavy cream. Sure, this is optional, but when I say “optional” in reference to heavy cream, I don’t really mean it. I also like to swirl in a little more cream, or even just regular milk on top when I sit down to a bowl ‘o’ bisque, so I didn’t go throwing a full pint of heavy cream in all at once, like I had read on many recipes. I then garnished with a sprig of parsley and a piece of the uber cooked bacon.

It was good, it really was. You can tell from the picture it was a bit on the thick side, and when I reheat the rest I may throw in that extra cup or so of veggie stock I’d mentioned, but other than that my husband loved it and I…liked it…You know what? I’m just not a huge fan of butternut squash. Probably because it’s not a lobster.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
AUGUST 17, 2010 OpenSalon Editor’s Pick

Raccoon: It’s what no one knows is for dinner.

I was once the absolute definitive example of a New York-Italian child. I grew up just outside the Big Apple with an extended family that rivaled the population of Rhode Island and dark frizzy hair that could blot out the sun. As I lacked a Long Island (or Long Islant, as they would say) accent and plastic on my mother’s couch, I was just shy of a guidette. If you’re thinking of MTV’s Jersey Shore be aware: those people are a representation of New Jerseyites, not Italian Americans. As a youth, I spent an inordinate amount of time with my cousins, aunts, uncles, and Nonni and Popi. Due to the whole Catholic thing, there were a lot of family members to hang with; hundreds, maybe even millions. It was kind of like an Olive Garden commercial, only significantly less campy and far more tan.

My grandparents were from hardy stock; they came here separately from their small towns in Italy to a world they struggled to understand for the rest of their lives. My grandmother came from a teenie tiny village in which a woman who wandered the streets and spoke with the dead was revered and laundry day was a neighborhood affair in the local river. When Nonni came here, to Massachusetts specifically, she was put to work as a waitress in a family restaurant. She didn’t speak English, she liked people about as much as I do, and had left everyone she knew behind. Eventually my grandfather, who had come to America to find his fortune in New York, the unexciting stereotype, found my grandmother and put in a bid to marry her. When I asked Nonni about romance when I was a nosey teenager she looked at me in this “stupid American” sort of way and grunted a “Yeah”…or it could have been “nah”. I could never really decipher her grunts. When I asked my mother or aunts and uncles about it, they thought for a moment and then nodded slowly: “Sure, there must have been some kind of romance. Pop would drive all the way from New York to Mass to see her in a time when cars maxed out at, like, forty miles per hour.” “Really?”, I beamed. “He’d drive all the way to see her? How often?” “Like, twice,” Pop replied. I don’t think he was kidding.

Nonni and Pop bought this big old, drab farmhouse, as intimidating and large as an old Victorian with none of the flare, built in 1905. Sure, a passerby might say it was painted white, but I’m sure my grandparents never even considered the color. It was as if the house could have been a vibrant rainbow of light and excitement from the color spectrum, but as soon as my super focused hardworking grandparents moved in, the house suddenly had no time for the nonsense of color. The upstairs consisted of three bedrooms, one bathroom with a sitting room, small kitchen, and an undersized dining/living area for a family of seven. It was set up like a glorified shotgun or railcar apartment: long, narrow, with all its rooms off an even narrower hallway. The house was separated into two apartments by previous owners in the 1930’s, one upstairs and one downstairs. I don’t know how the downstairs apartment was laid out during my childhood. I mean, I know its layout from when I lived there in my early twenties, curiously enough I was also conceived in that apartment, but it had been restructured so many times that it was unrecognizable from its upstairs counterpart. To add excitement to the downstairs apartment, I will also add that a lady died in it. When I was old enough to rent that space, I would have friends over and bring them traipsing through my grandparents home because the difference was like stepping back in time. My grandfather prefers it that way still.

By the time I was old enough to have memory Pop had gotten rid of the pool in the backyard and had turned the chlorine sodden ground into a garden. This was in Stamford, Connecticut, mind you. The suburb-turned-city just outside of New York City. He was as apt to find squirrels in his garden as beer cans and lord knows what other kind of trash. It wasn’t a farm; it was a lot not a half mile from the center of a very bustling and cramped budding metropolis. The house was on Cold Spring Road which, by the time I was born, was four lanes with a median divider and a speed limit of forty five miles per hour, but you’d think it was Mach ten. There was a big old garage in back of the house that looked like it would collapse at any moment and dry salami hanging from its ceiling pretty much all the time. Lots of spiders, rusted tools, jars with nails and twine, and a big, blue Cadillac. My grandfather’s success was due to the fact that he owned a liquor store. The Package Store. Kind of like calling the local market the Milk and Fruit House. One day my grandmother was working, leaning on the bar with her arms folded. In walked a man who took out a knife and stuck it straight through the meaty part of her forearm, right down to the wooden counter. That was before I was born. I guess that’s learning the hard way that your family shop has become part of the bad neighborhood.

The thing that really killed me about my grandparents moving to America were the little things, the traditions they didn’t view as traditions that they didn’t drop. For example, my grandfather would eat anything he caught, which was all fine and good for the wilds and majestic beauty of Italy, but that didn’t change when he moved to Stamford. It didn’t matter if it was a gopher with two tails and a nervous twitch from heroin withdrawal: if Pop found it in the garden it was dinner. As kids we had all seen him kill animals. His children and their children, I mean. And the killing wasn’t ever in a cruel or lustful manner… though I distinctly remember him holding a vendetta toward the same rabbit or other woodland creature that was eating his garden, because he didn’t see it as eating for survival, but just to piss him off. It was with a morbid, but entirely childlike curiosity that I watched him step on the back of a lettuce-eating groundhog and drive a shovel into the back of its neck. More humane I suppose then the drowning pool (a 50 gallon drum he kept at the garden gate) and less buckshot then a gun. In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing my grandfather with a gun, as he seemed more of a finder-feeder then hunter.

When the family swelled and grandchildren (my cousins) started popping out left and right, Nonni insisted on having Sunday dinner at their place. It was Nonni, Pop, their five kids and their children’s children, so this cramped dining area for seven miraculously became a table for twenty. Catholics, man. My family was the original Anthony Bordain or Andrew Zimmern, trying exotic foods as character building exercises and larks. Most people have words of wisdom in their heads from their childhood. I merely have the all too constant comment “Eat that. It’ll put hair on your chest.”  Delightful.

Every Sunday the same meal: really good homemade bread, home made meat sauce over pasta, ending with salad, fruit, and poker. And the meat was always beef or pork. Always. I was the youngest child of the youngest child and quite possibly the most annoying. Be that as it may, my older cousins and brother were not above using my youthful cuteness as scapegoat extraordinaire. If it’s one thing you learn even before puberty, it’s that youth is fleeting, younger means cuter/more valuable. That’s why manipulation is one of the first things, almost instinctually, that children seem to catch on to.

One Sunday we were all there, huddled around the table, food in bowls and baskets and any other vessel that can be found, mismatched silverware getting chucked on the table along with glasses, jugs of wine and plates, more limbs and voices then there seems people on the earth. Somewhere in the house a Yankees game was on, the noise and clamor of twenty people and children akin only to the Whos down in Whoville on Christmas day. Dinner wass called and you never had so many people find seats so fast. Spaghetti and sauce got doled out, bread slices were grabbed and we dug in with gusto, the same meal we’d all had a hundred times and never tired of!…except this time something was different.

Something was wrong.

My cousins’ gulping and chewing began to slow as they stared into their plates and bowls, their eyes relaying all our thoughts in unison: Ewwwww. I got nudged by my older brother who is sitting next to our older cousin Cristina, sitting next to still older Cathy and even older still Paul.

“You have to tell Mom this is gross.”

They were all looking at me. I gulped, not from food intake, but from fear. To talk ill of Nonni’s food was to be banished or, worse, yelled at. I looked at my mother chewing; I couldn’t tell if she knew. Had she realized something isn’t right? Was she continuing eating only because the sudden dip in food meant her own mother had lost it and she was coming to terms with the demise of the family? Had Nonni gotten so senile that she’s dropped boogers and fingernails into our food? What was happening?!?

“Mom, I don’t like dinner.”

“Katie, you do this all the time. Eat it.”

To be fair, I did not, do this all the time.

“Mom, it tastes funny.”

“Katie, it tastes exactly like it always does! Look, your cousins are eating it!”

I turned to see them beaming at my mother and nodding as if to say ‘Yeah, we have no idea what she’s talking about, and we would never throw her to the wolves.’

My grandmother never sat during these meals. She was forever bringing us water and more food and filling empty plates, the usual Nonni stuff. It was at this time that she brought in the giant sauce pot. I mean, huge. Le Crueset had nothing on this thing. She stood with it, teetering on the corner of the table next to my grandfather, who always sat in an Italian dinner jacket at the head of the dinner table.

“Do ya wanit now?” she asked him.

“No, no! I have enough. Just leave it there!” Pop replied, food bulging from inside his cheek, as he motioned a fist full of bread toward a small empty bowl in front of him.

“Okay,” sayed Nonni. She then proceeded to draw a ladle from the pot containing the biggest meatball I had ever seen. Only it wasn’t a meatball. Though it was an entirely new sight to me, I knew instantly what it was:

There, hairless and cocked slightly in the spoon, staring eyelessly right down the table, its lips peeled back and teeth gleaming through drips and globs of tomato and basil, was the head of a rabbit, its face meat and brain cooked ever so slowly out into our pasta sauce.

Plunk! Into Pop’s bowl. Much like being in a car accident, I only remember forks hitting porcelain plates then silence, a dull hum, everything in slow motion and everyone forgetting that exhibiting shock at dinner is breaking table manners.

My smart ass cousin Joey broke the silence with a nervous chuckle.

“Pop, what is that, raccoon?”

“No,” groaned Pop. “The raccoon’s ova there,” he said this still chewing, not joking, fist apathetically waved, roughly pointed to the bowl of meatballs.

This second wave of shock and nausea was shattered only by my mother, who leaned over and gasped “You’re excused!” At least I think that’s what she said. My memory is determined to tell me she turned to us children and screamed “RUN!”, but I simply don’t think that can be true.

But I do remember quite clearly the Hershey bars we had for dinner in lieu of Nonni’s cooking that night.

And to this day I just don’t really like Hershey bars.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
NOVEMBER OpenSalon Editor’s Pick
And as featured on the front page of Salon.com November 2010

Snacks on a Plane

We’re all going to travel soon, all on top of each other and full of holiday cheer, though “cheer” may be the wrong term. Here’s a little something to keep that Hanger (hunger induced anger) at bay while on the road or in the skies.

I love having your elbow jammed unceremoniously into my love handle.

I don’t know you, but I already feel like you’re moving your way to second base, every time you squirm in your seat or take over the corner of my tray table.

I hate you and I hate being stuck on this plane. There’s nothing do to, movies aren’t offered any more, people feel more entitled then ever, and here we are sharing air for hours. The magazines have long lost any allure, and the crossword puzzle in People is pathetic.

That leaves one thing to do:

Eat.

Here Comes the Aeroplane!

I’m a firm believer in treating others the way you would like to be treated. I may be one of the last people on earth that lives that way. It even affects how and what I eat, especially when I travel.

I refuse to be that stinky person. You know the one I mean.

When I get on a plane I generally have celery and carrots on me, maybe a sliced apple. If it’s a particularly long flight I have successfully brought along peanut butter, but I generally do not eat my veggies with any kind of salad dressing as salad dressing can be smelly and I refuse to be that person on a plane.

And of course everything has to include a chaser of an Airborne & Advil cocktail, especially if I’m going to visit my parents.

My favorite Get Through Security & Get On With Your Life snackage that won’t stink up a plane:

‘You Wish You Had My Snack’ trail mix

1/3 chocolate chips (milk or dark)

11/4 cup Kashi Go Lean Crunch

1/3 cups Craisins

1/2 cup cashews
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup marshmallows

1/2 cup dried apricots

1 pack of M&M’s (optional)

Melt chocolate chips and pour over 2 cups Kashi Go Lean Crunch Cearal that has been mixed with craisins. Let set, break into pieces, toss with nuts, apricots, marshmallows, and anything else you feel like. Place mix into any size ziplock bag and jam into a purse or carry on. You don’t have to worry about this stuff getting crushed. Go to airport.

Feel Fresh and Less Disgusting Upon Arrival crudités

1/2 cup celery

1/2 cup baby carrots

1 red pepper, sliced

3 string cheese things or Baby Bon Bell Cheeses

1 sliced and cored apple sprinkled lightly with lemon juice.

½ cup Green Olives (rinsed to help odor)

This may be a bit loud to eat, but the protein and fiber will keep you full without causing a sugar rush. Also great for those way over-priced wine pairings as offered by airlines. The lemon juice will add flavor and keep the apple from turning brown and the cheeses are low-smell and a decent replacement for salad dressing. I’ve found this little snack is the one from which I earn the most jealous stares. People seem to use a day of flying as an excuse to eat crap; by the end of it all that’s exactly what they feel like. I break out veggies and they glare at me like I won the lottery and won’t share. And I don’t share.

The sizes on these are all relative and easily changed based on the people eating and what you like.

It’s amazing what foods you can bring on planes. Provided it’s not a liquid or a nail clipper, security allows more through their gates then what people generally believe is okay. The last trip back to Austin I brought 2.5 pounds of different cheeses and a 1 pound link of sopresata, though, as per my refusal to be the smelly person, everything was triple wrapped and kept that way for the duration of the flight. The trip before that I took 6 eggrolls and a couple 3oz. cups of duck sauce (neither of which you can get in Austin, well, not good ones at least) and steamed dumplings without a problem.

Hopefully by sharing that with you I didn’t just jinx anything for my next trip back east…

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4 thoughts on “Geek Chef

    New Post to Pages! | GeekFat said:
    November 12, 2011 at 9:07 am

    […] Main menu Skip to content HomeAboutFashionFind the Bad KittyGood EatsPop BytesStory Time […]

    Shameless Plug: Help Me Get Buzz! « Chic Geek Daily said:
    January 13, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    […] Geek Chef […]

    adventuresinamandaland said:
    March 12, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    This food looks delicious. I’m starting to get in shape, too! I can’t wait to try a few of these!

    adventuresinamandaland said:
    March 12, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Seriously.. my mouth is watering. I’m so hungry.

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