What I’ve Been Doing Lately…

Oh my goodness…..the last several weeks have been a whirlwind!  I’ve wanted to post so many times; however each time I wanted to write, it was about the surprise party I was planning for Jeff. And, of course, writing about it on the blog sort of ruins the element of surprise!

This year was a big birthday for Jeff – in fact, it was the Big Five-Oh! As in OhmygoodnesshowcanIbeturning50!?!  Although this birthday didn’t seem to hit him as hard as his 30th, he was still a bit mopey…throwing out phrases like, “this is my last shower (cup of coffee, work day, etc.) in my 40’s.”

As hard as this birthday was for him, it was hard on me too!  Just about every single sentence I spoke to him from January 15th through March 4th was a lie!  While that may sound easy [and to some it IS easy], it was pretty difficult for me.  I don’t know which was harder – thinking of the lies or remembering the lies!

And in the midst of the planning were Valentine’s Day (which isn’t that big a deal to us, but has to be acknowledged nonetheless), his actual birthday, class prep, a party for a friend, cooking for a bridal shower my niece Ashley was throwing for a friend [which happened to be the same day of the party], my regular schedule, and – oh yeah, just for fun – another kidney stone!!!  Additionally, I was trying to throw this party with 40 guests without raising suspicion that I was spending money – not easy to pull off when Jeff enters all the financial transactions into the computer!  If nothing else, I thrive on stress….

I’d like to say I took tons of pictures of the food; but that would be a lie.  I took pics of the party set up but by the time the party got underway, I was too involved in trying to surprise Jeff and hostessing.  Incidentally, the surprise part was a bit of a flop; but the party itself was a lot of fun!

Jeff’s good friend, Craig (you might remember him from my Something’s Brewing post) brewed two commemorative beers for the occasion and put together a killer playlist (which he and Jeff refer to as a mix-tape – those of you in my age bracket will giggle at this terminology)!  Having Craig take charge of beer and music was a huge help. That allowed me to focus on food and decorations.  So, I thought about what kind of food (1) goes well with beer; (2) can be prepared ahead and secretly transported to another location; (3) feeds a crowd and (4) is on Jeff’s list of favorite foods (or at least near the favorites list).

Chili bar was the obvious choice.  I decided to make my Chilly Weather Sirloin Chili (with ground beef instead of sirloin cubes as a time saver). After choosing the main food, the rest pretty much fell into place.  Rice, Fritos, Ranch Oyster Crackers (thanks, Ron), toppings (such as cheddar, pepper-jack, scallions, sour cream, and cilantro), a big salad [and not just any salad – MIMI’s SALAD], buttermilk cornbread with Honey-Cinnamon-Cayenne Butter, and for dessert – Jeff’s favorite – his mom’s chocolate cake with peanut butter icing and some s’mores bark for good measure.  Obviously, I needed to add some other beverages – wine for the non-beer drinkers, “middle of the road” beer for the less adventurous beer drinkers, bottled water and soda rounded out the beverage options.

Then came the theme – since it was a chili bar, I found some great printables on Pinterest and took it from there.  I designed the invitation and then created a burlap table banner to “match” the invite.  I also borrowed a previously used table banner reading ‘Aged to Perfection,’ which loosely related to the beer theme.  I wrapped “silverware” in brown bags and tied it with bakery twine, made some 50-related signs that I displayed in beer bottles and copied old photos of Jeff onto velum and wrapped clear candle holders with the velum for fun table decorations.  I used six-pack carriers as Frito “bowls” around the room, I put chalkboard stickers on wine and beer cups so people could personalize them and got paper plates and napkins to match the theme.  Throw in some bandanas and a Chili Bar sign and voila – a party.

Deciding where to have it was another challenge – it’s quite a complex undertaking to throw a surprise party for 40 people where the guest of honor lives!!!  I didn’t even try that.  A few places came to mind, but the clubhouse in my parent’s neighborhood was a great landing-place from a surprise perspective.  The challenge; however, was getting everything there without Jeff knowing.  For several weeks before the party I carted things from our house to my parent’s house – and I mean lots of things.  My parent’s living room was gradually getting smaller due to the pile of ‘party stuff’ I was making.

The day before the party, I prepped the food for the surprise and most of the food for the bridal shower (see above) – with help from a friend, thanks Tammy!  The day of, I had to get up early and head to my mom’s house to finalize the shower food and meet my niece for the food hand-off.  After that, Mimi and I set up the room and prepped the remaining food for Jeff’s party.  In the afternoon I raced home to get ready (there was barely time for a shower and some primping) and then met my sister to start carrying the pile from my parent’s living room to the party venue – thanks Laura!

We met up with Craig (my beer & music hero) and Chris (his lovely wife who was such a big help throughout the party). Then Laura and I raced back to my parent’s house to change our clothes in the living room – laughing and somewhat out of breath.  Then Laura went back to the party venue to greet guests while I waited for Jeff to arrive for our “night out to celebrate his birthday.”  On the way out the door, my mom asked if we could help her by delivering her food to a block party (yes, this was part of the lie to get Jeff to the party).  Jeff [carrying some the of food for his own party] and I walked through the door of the clubhouse and were about 5 feet from the door to the room in which the party was being held when he looked over at me and asked, “do you want me to ACT surprised?”

In that split second I thought about the ramifications of murdering him, but decided that 40 witnesses were too many so I did my best not to strangle him and proceeded to enjoy time with our friends and family.  Although the surprise was not a success, the party was.

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And, as it turns out, so was the bridal shower Ashley hosted.  For that I made Cornmeal Cheddar Scones (my friend Tammy’s recipe), Caramel Macchiato Scones, individual omelets in ham cups and fruit skewers with orange vinaigrette.

As I mentioned, in the midst of all this craziness I was also preparing for some classes. The first class – Perfectly Provencal.  The foods and wines were a yummy tribute to the Provencal region of France.  The menu:

  • Double-Baked Cheese Soufflé w/ Parmesan Cream
  • Grated Baby Beet Salad
  • Seared Halibut w/ Spicy Mussel Aioli
  • Luxe French Potatoes w/ Lavender
  • Tian Provencal
  • Blood Orange Sponge Cake

The second class – Bring a Friend to Spain.  The foods for this were from all different regions of Spain. The menu:

  • Coca (Pizza) w/ Candied Red Peppers
  • Festive Frisee w/ Pears & Honeyed Lardon
  • Comforting Chicken in Almond & Saffron Sauce
  • Smokey Spiced Spanish Potatoes
  • Asparagus w/ Tangerine Vinaigrette & Pistachio Dust
  • Quesada Pasiega (Spanish Catabrian Cheesecake)

Perhaps my favorite event of recent weeks was the Doljanchi for our twin great-niece and great-nephew.  The doljanchi is the elaborate Korean first birthday celebration with a very interesting ritual – the doljabi.  In addition to the doljabi were tables and tables of delicious Korean foods and unmatched hospitality from Justin’s family.  We had a wonderful time and best of all I didn’t have to make anything, carry anything or keep anything a secret!!!!  I was able to be a guest and enjoy a beautiful celebration of two very cool little people who have stolen my heart!

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I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t somewhat tired from the flurry of activity over the last several weeks.  However, reviewing it all has reminded me how truly lucky I am.  I have a great husband (who is older than me), family and friends who are quick to ask “what can I do” when I say I’m throwing a party (AND THEY MEAN IT), three beautiful littles who bring joy and hope for the future to our family, and so many people with whom Jeff and I can enjoy life…one bite at a time!

It’s Easier Than You Think…

There’s a misconception out there that I’m hoping I can help eliminate.

On Tuesday, while at an appointment, I was asked by a fellow food-lover (FFL) what I was making for Valentine’s Day.  When I explained that Jeff had made meatballs and I was making fresh pasta to go with them, I found it interesting that my FFL raised their eyebrows in amazement and said, “oh, that takes too long – like a whole afternoon.”

First of all, if you’ve ever eaten fresh pasta you know that no matter how long it takes to make the pasta it is worth the wait; but second, if you’ve ever made fresh pasta you know it really doesn’t take that long at all!!!!  If you haven’t made it, I’d urge you to give it a whirl.  It’s really quite simple and actually takes less time than driving to the store for a box of sub-par pasta, fighting the crowds in said store, and driving home.

I went to mapquest.com and found that it takes 11 minutes to get from my house to Wegman’s.  If I take 7 minutes in the store (which is a conservative estimate at our Wegman’s because it seems there are never enough cashier lines open), then round trip we’re talking 29 minutes for a trip to the store to buy pasta.

Why did I bother to look this up? Because I wanted to see how making a batch of fresh pasta compares to running to the store to buy one.

While I was making my pasta on Tuesday, I ran a stopwatch and photographed the process of making the dough.  The results are below….drumroll please……

First, I got out the tools that I would need including the food processor and lid, kosher salt box, flour, eggs and measuring cups/spoon.

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Then I measured the flour and salt into the food processor, broke four of the five eggs into a bowl and scrambled them with a fork, and added them to the food processor.

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I checked the consistency of the pasta and realized I needed to add the yolk from the fifth egg.  So I used my Yolk Out to separate the egg and I added the yolk to the mixture.  I gave the dough a quick whirl in the food processor after adding the egg yolk and then the consistency was just right.

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At this point I checked the stopwatch and here’s where I was….

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That’s right….6 minutes, 5 seconds to make the dough.

Next step?  Kneading.

I kneaded and kneaded until the dough was smooth and elastic and then wrapped the dough in plastic wrap to rest.

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I checked the stopwatch again and….

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During the resting period I went about my day doing things unrelated to the pasta.  Typically I rest the dough for about 30 minutes; however I wanted to roll the pasta and put it into the water just before we ate.  So I let the pasta rest in the refrigerator for several hours and pulled it out of the fridge about 30 minutes before I wanted to begin rolling it.  I also put a large pot of water on the stove to boil so that it would be ready when I had cut the last of the pasta.

When I started rolling the dough I started the stopwatch again and kept it going throughout the process of cutting the dough into quarters, rolling each quarter through the pasta machine on levels 1 through 6 and hand cutting the rolled dough into pappardelle (wide noodles).

Just before dropping the noodles into the boiling (now salted) water, I took a screen shot of the stopwatch on my phone.

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I dropped the noodles into the boiling water, waited for them to rise to the top and let them cook for 1 minute before removing them into a colander.

All total……..

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What did I learn?  And what do I hope you learned?  That while it does take slightly longer to make fresh pasta than it does to drive to the store and buy a box; the results of making your own are far superior to the results you’ll get from using boxed pasta and you’ll be proud you made it yourself when you hear your dinner companion ooh’ing and aah’ing over the meal.

Just a few notes:  A few seconds were taken up by fumbling with my phone for pics.  I didn’t include the resting time because I used it for other things like laundry, work, etc. And the 29 minutes for store-bought pasta doesn’t include the time to boil the water and cook it when you get home.  So, technically it takes less time to make it than to buy it – unless you live really close to the grocery store!!!!

The following is a fool-proof recipe for basic pasta.  If you want to get really creative (and add to your time) consider adding pureed spinach or other veggies/juice in place of some or all of the water/egg for beautifully colored and flavored pasta….but that’s a post for another day!!!

 

Basic Homemade Pasta

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: Pasta

Ingredients

  • 3 ½ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 – 5 large eggs (start with 4 eggs, beaten)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

Instructions

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, whirl 3 1/2 cups of the flour and the salt to combine.

In a small bowl, crack four of the five eggs and beat with a fork.

With the food processor running, slowly drizzle the eggs into the flour/salt mixture through the feed tube.

Stop the food processor and test the consistency of the dough. It should be moist but not sticky. If it is too dry, add the YOLK ONLY from the remaining egg, whirl and test again – only add the egg white if necessary. If it is too wet, add 1/4 cup of the remaining flour, whirl and test again – only add the remaining flour if necessary.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 – 15 minutes.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough into quarters, roll through pasta roller until it reaches the desired thickness and cut into the noodle shape of your choice.

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It Ain’t My Mamma’s Potato Salad

Picnic season is upon us…..the temperature and humidity are both climbing, the sun goes down later and it’s the season of long weekends, vacations, graduation parties, and other outdoor festivities.  That means it’s picnic food time!

This is the time of year – you know, between Memorial Day and Labor Day – that you can be out cutting your grass and jealousy slowly (or maybe not so slowly) creeps over you as you smell what ever deliciousness is on your neighbor’s grill.  According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) – this is peak hot dog season.  Between Memorial Day and Labor Day American’s consume approximately 7 billion (with a B) hot dogs – 150 million on Independence Day alone (that’s over 10,000 miles of hot dogs)!

What do we typically serve with our grilled hamburgers and hot dogs?  Some of the most popular options for picnic sides are fruit salad, cole slaw, macaroni salad, corn on the cob and, the star of today’s show, potato salad.

Although there are probably millions of recipes out there for potato salad, I will tell you quite confidently that my mamma’s potato salad is THE BEST!  It’s creamy and flavorful and both soft and crunchy – it has the perfect balance of flavors and textures……WHEN SHE MAKES IT.  That’s the sticking point – it’s only perfect when she makes it.  She has generously shared her recipe with me and I’ve made it and it has been good – even great – but not like hers!

Why am I telling you this?  Because we recently had a family dinner and, unfortunately, Mimi had to work so she couldn’t be there.  She graciously sent all the fixings, washed and prepped, for a delicious tossed salad (which in our family is not your traditional lettuce, tomatoes, croutons – it’s more a work of culinary art).  I had asked her to make the salad for dinner before I got the request that we have hamburgers and hot dogs.  Had I known that would be the menu, I would definitely have asked her to make potato salad!

But, these hardships in life [read this as it was intended – dripping with sarcasm and gratitude for my situation] teach us to adapt.  I knew I couldn’t serve Mimi’s Potato Salad to this particular crowd because they’ve all had it before and they’d know it was a sad imposter of the fabulous original.  So I decided to go an entirely different way (I know, surprising that I would do that).

I pulled out a potato salad recipe that I had developed for a class.  Here’s what I did:

The night before I assembled the potato salad, I:

  • smoked the potatoes
  • crisped and the bacon
  • hard-boiled the eggs
  • mixed the dressing

Before I continue, I should tell you a bit about a stove-top smoker, which is what I used to smoke the potatoes.  If you don’t have one of these in your culinary arsenal, you should! It’s a great tool for adding flavor without adding fat and is also a wonderful way of giving winter foods the taste of summer without grilling or smoking outside in the snow (which, of course, I have been known to do).

The stove-top smoker can be used on an electric or gas stove top, a grill or a camp fire/fire pit.  When you purchase it – and I just happen to know where you can buy a stove-top smoker –  the smoker is bright and shiny and pristine; however, the longer you use it, the more it will start to look like mine.  The smoker consists of four parts:

  1. Base (into which you add approximately 1 Tbsp of smoking chips, which come in a wide variety of flavors) 2
  2. Drip Tray (keeps your wood chips dry while smoking)
    3
  3. Rack (keeps your food elevated so that it is surrounded by smoke)
    4
  4. Lid (keeps the smoke trapped inside the smoker for maximum flavor)
    5

Generally speaking, you will add raw foods to the smoker and during the process of smoking they will become cooked.  What foods can you smoke?  The sky is the limit!  I’ve smoked chicken, seafood, veggies, cheese for pizza (you have to put it into a ramekin or you’ll have a mess), chickpeas for hummus, etc. etc. etc.

Back to the potato salad.  I assembled it the day of the picnic; however you could assemble it the day before to give all the flavors a chance to marry with a great result. Had i planned better, that is just what I would have done.  But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men….

So back to the assembly. Because I had prepped some of the ingredients the night before, assembly was a breeze.  I got out my cutting board, my favorite ceramic knife, and set to work.

First, I cubed the smoked potatoes, which had been refrigerated over night.

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I chopped the hard-boiled eggs, which had also been refrigerated overnight.

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I crumbled the crisped bacon, which again was refrigerated overnight.

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I minced the celery – including the leaves, which add great flavor and color.

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And I minced the sweet onion.

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I measured my shredded WHITE cheddar (I could go on a rant here about orange cheddar, but I won’t.  Suffice it to say it is my last resort).

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I diagonally sliced the scallions – both the white part and much of the green.  I stop where the green begins to get dry.

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And I whisked the dressing, which had been mellowing out in the fridge too.

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Finally, I put all the ingredients (except for a few of the sliced scallions) in a LARGE bowl and gently tossed it until it was well mixed.  I tasted it for seasoning and adjusted as necessary.

To finish, I scooped it into the serving bowl and scattered the top with the reserved sliced scallions and slid it, covered, into the fridge until my guests arrived!

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It AIN”T my mamma’s potato salad, but if you want a fresh spin on potato salad with unique flavors and textures, this should definitely make it to your picnic-side-dishes list!

 

Before all you fellow grammar-nerds ask or complain – yes, it damn near killed me to use the word ‘ain’t’!)

 

Loaded Wood-Smoked Potato Salad

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: Smoke salad summer

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, smoked and cut into large dice (see note below)
  • 1 1/2 lb sweet potatoes, smoked and cut into large dice (see note below)
  • 4 large eggs, hard-boiled
  • 8 slices bacon, crisped and crumbled
  • 4 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 small sweet onion, finely diced
  • 6 oz shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 6 scallions (white and green parts), diagonally sliced
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp yellow mustard
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground smoked black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp minced garlic

Instructions

Note: To smoke potatoes

Place approximately ½ to 1 Tbsp. smoking chips in the bottom of the smoker tray.

Insert the drip tray.

Cover the rack with aluminum foil and spray the foil with cooking spray.

Place rack in smoker.

Place the potatoes in a single layer on the rack.

Cover the smoker with the seamless lid.

Place over medium to medium-high heat until potatoes are fork tender – approximately 20 minutes (white potatoes typically need a few more moments than sweet potatoes).

Assembling the potato salad

Cut smoked potatoes and sweet potatoes into 1″ dice and place in a large bowl.

Peel and dice hard-boiled eggs and add to the potatoes.

Add the crumbled bacon, diced celery, diced onions, shredded cheese and all but a few of the sliced scallions and gently stir to combine.

In a separate bowl whisk together all dressing ingredients until well combined.

Pour the dressing over the potato mixture and gently stir to combine.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Top with reserved sliced scallions, serve and enjoy!

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Moroccan Kimchi!??!

If you’ve been reading for a while or you’ve known me for any length of time you know I’m always looking to try something new – so a few weeks ago when the Fermentation Creation food fermentation kit arrived at the shop and Dan gave me one to play with I was in heaven.

Fermentation Creation Label

The timing was no coincidence – although I didn’t know the Fermentation Creation was on the way, I have been doing a lot of reading about the health benefits of fermented foods and I had just purchased a delicious container of Kimchi from one of the local Asian markets and used it in a funky Kimchi Stirfry recipe.

I should confess that I’ve never made Kimchi before.  I’ve never made sauerkraut before.  In fact, other than beer, I’ve never made anything fermented before.  But I’m not one to let a little thing like inexperience stop me!

I unpacked my fermentation kit and here is what I found:

Fermentation Creation Kit Contents

Fermentation Creation Kit Contents Up Close

I visited Fermentation Creation’s recipe book online and took a trip to the grocery store for the ingredients.  I purchased Napa cabbage and daikon radishes.  I thought I had everything else I needed in the pantry, so I began washing, cutting and chopping the veggies.

Kimchi Veggies

A quick lesson in julienning daikon radishes and carrots.  First, peel the veg you wish to julienne.  Then cut it into pieces the length you desire for your finished julienne.

Cutting Daikon Radish 1

Since the daikon radishes and carrots are round, you want to create a flat surface so you can safely work with it.

Cutting Daikon Radish 2

Next, with the newly exposed flat side down, cut the halves into planks.

Cutting Daikon Radish 3

Finally, cut the planks into match sticks.

Cutting Daikon Radish 4

Cutting Carrots

After I got all my veggies cut, I salted them and put them in a colander (in the sink or over a bowl) to drain.

Napa Cabbage Daikon and Carrot

Salted Veggies Draining in Sink

While the veggies drained (for a very lllooonnnggg time) I prepared the marinade which included chopped red onion, kosher salt, Sambel Oelek Chili Paste, minced ginger, sugar, and lime juice.

Making Marinade 1Making Marinade 2

Sambel Oelek Chili Paste is an Asian condiment made of fiery red chilies, vinegar and salt.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Sambel Oelek – but I was too far into the process to be deterred.  I did have Harissa – which is a Moroccan condiment made from spicy chili peppers, paprika and olive oil.  So I threw caution to the wind and added the Harissa along with some rice vinegar.

Making Marinade 3

After the veggies had drained for the very lllooonnnggg time, I rinsed them, squeezed them dry and packed them into the jar.

Filling the Jar

Finally, I poured the marinade over the veggies and followed the instructions to cap the jar and place the airlock in place.

Airlock

Well, if I thought I had to wait a lllooonnnggg time for the salted veggies to drain, I was in for a rude awakening.  The hardest part of making my Moroccan Kimchi was waiting for the fermentation to happen.  Every day I stared longingly at the jar on the counter wishing I could open it and give it a taste.  However, I read that it is ideal to let your Kimchi ferment for two weeks.   So I waited a rrreeeaaallllllyyy lllllloooooonnnnnnggggg time.

Finally, today, I opened the jar.  I was filled with excitement, desire and a bit of reluctance – what if my Moroccan Kimchi experiment was a bust?  What if Harissa was the worst choice I could have made?  What if I waited two weeks only to find out my Kimchi was a failure?

Finished Kimchi 1

Finished Kimchi 2

Finished Kimchi 3

Fortunately, my reluctance was unfounded.  The kimchi is terrific.  IMO, it has just the right amount of heat – that is to say a lot, but not so much that it blows the top of your head off or scorches the roof of your mouth – and just the right amount of vinegariness (is that a word)!!!

To paraphrase Martha Stewart – “Moroccan Kimchi…it’s a good thing!”

 

Saturday’s Pizza on the Big Green Egg

I spent the day on Saturday at The Kitchen Shoppe hanging out with folks who were learning about the Big Green Egg.  I’ve written about the BGE in previous posts and believe I have explained that to call the BGE a grill is the understatement of the century.  Yes, you can grill on the BGE, but you can also do sooo much more – you can bake, smoke, and roast too.

On Saturday, I was cooking pizzas on the BGE.  My assignment from Dan, our BGE guru and my boss, was to do an INTERESTING pizza.  Other than those traditionalist who only eat their pizza with red sauce and cheese, the pizza was well received.  So much so that I was asked to post about it on the blog.

On the BGE

So here’s what I did:

  • The Dough – I used Gran Mugnano ’00’ flour in my old-favorite pizza dough recipe – Jimmy & Jeff’s Pizza Dough (see below)
  • The Toppings – Stonewall Kitchen’s Fig & Ginger Jam (replaced the sauce), julienned prosciutto, crumbled blue cheese, arugula (lightly dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper) and a few shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • The Temperature – between 600 and 700 degrees F
  • The Tools – pizza peel coated with a healthy layer of corn meal, pizza lifter (like a giant, round spatula), pizza cutter
  • The Charcoal – a mix of Wicked Good Jake’s Blend and Big Green Egg
  • The Time – about 6 to 10 minutes – until the desired doneness is achieved

Before Being Fully Devoured

In addition to the pizza, folks who came out for the Big Green Egg lesson with Dan also ate pulled pork, spice rubbed chicken, BBQ salmon, and 1 1/2″ thick steaks cooked at 700 degrees F.

The food was delish, the weather was cooperative and the company was wonderful.  What’s your favorite pizza on the Big Green Egg?????


Jimmy & Jeff’s Pizza Dough

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 tsp)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup warm water (115 degrees F)
  • 3 cups “00” flour
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 cup warm water (115 degrees F)

Instructions

Combine yeast and sugar in a bowl large enough to hold approximately 2 cups of liquid. Add 1/4 cup water, stir and let bloom (about 5 to 10 minutes).

While yeast blooms, place 3 cups of flour and 1 tsp sea salt in to bowl of a food processor. Whirl to blend.

After the yeast mixture blooms, add the honey, olive oil and 3/4 cup warm water. Stir with a whisk.

With the food processor running, add the yeast mixture through the feed tube.

Mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the work bowl and forms a ball.

Remove the dough from the food processor and knead for a few minutes to remove air bubbles. Dough should be soft and elastic.

Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.

Let rise for several hours. The longer the better. You can let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator with great results.

After the first rise, punch the dough down, divide it in half, form each half into a ball and let it rise again for about an hour (or more if necessary).

Shape the dough and top it with your favorite ingredients.

Bake in a hot oven (500 degrees F) or cook on the grill.

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The List

I’m crossing things off the list.  No, not the naughty list, although it is that time of year.  This is a different holiday list.

Since Jeff and I are hosting Thanksgiving for my family at our house, the list making began yesterday.  I can’t complain about the process of making the list – it was actually quite fun.  We each got a cup of coffee, snuggled under the covers with our Thanksgiving recipes and began THE LIST.

Thanksgiving 2015 List

What is The List……it’s our way of staying organized and not dreading holiday company and it has three major components.

First, the list of all the items we will serve for the meal. Some of the items are old favorites and some are new additions.  Some we will make and others have been assigned to other family members.  Here’s what the 2015 menu looks like:

  • Turkey (brined and cooked on the Big Green Egg)
  • Stuffing – Laura
  • Mashed Potatoes – Mimi
  • Corn Pie
  • Brussels Sprouts with Maple Bourbon Glaze
  • Cranberry Apple Sauce
  • Gravy
  • Sautéed Pears with Bacon & Mustard Dressing
  • Pumpkin Pie – Pop-Pop

It’s a carb-heavy menu I know – but you have to give the people what they want!!!!

Now for the second component of the list.  The daily tasks.  We write the tasks we will do each day – including calendar items from our “regular life” so that nothing is forgotten.  As we match Thanksgiving tasks with days, we work backwards, filling in things that can get done early where there is time available.  We also try to schedule some “me time” or “us time” on the list so we’re not completely burnt out by the holiday.

The following is the tasks section from The List:

SATURDAY:

  • confirm food assignments
  • buy small roller cover
  • make applesauce
  • 2nd coat of paint on bench
  • gym
  • call cuisinart
  • bathe Macy
  • state store
  • make chicken cordon bleu meatloaf
  • fix cords on bedroom television

SUNDAY:

  • hang hooks
  • wash sheets
  • clean upstairs
  • clean master bathroom
  • gym
  • grocery shop for all but perishables
  • make pizza dough for Barb’s party
  • make meatballs and sauce for Monday night dinner
  • bake sweet potatoes for lunches
  • make soup for tonight’s dinner

MONDAY:

  • J&J work
  • Jeff men’s ministry in p.m.
  • buy charcoal
  • take beer to KS for party
  • finish painting bench
  • iron napkins

TUESDAY

  • Jeff ear doctor
  • clean living room, kitchen, powder room
  • get pumpkin beer from Craig
  • corn out of freezer
  • chicken drippings and broth out of freezer
  • wax bench
  • pick up turkey
  • Barb’s party

WEDNESDAY

  • finish cleaning
  • walk with Macy
  • brine turkey
  • make corn pie
  • prep Brussels sprouts
  • crisp bacon for pears
  • prep gravy ingredients
  • prep sautéed pear ingredients
  • make dressing for pears
  • get BGE ready (chips, charcoal, drip pan, etc.)
  • set table
  • set buffet table

THURSDAY

  • 3:00 am – light BGE
  • 3:30 am – turkey on BGE
  • make gravy
  • make sautéed pears
  • last-minute straightening
  • fill water glasses
  • ENJOY company

Finally, the last component of The List is the groceries.  We make two grocery lists…..one we will use on Sunday when we purchase everything except the perishables and the other for those things that have to be purchased at the last minute.

To save time at the store – which we all know will be quite crowded no matter when we go this week – the list is sorted into categories.  I won’t share the entire list with you, but the categories are as follows:

  • Produce
  • Meats
  • Bakery
  • Dairy
  • Snacks
  • Baking
  • Dry & Prepared
  • Frozen
  • Liquor Store
  • Miscellaneous

I don’t always sort my grocery lists this way, but I’d say I do about 85% of the time and I miss it when I don’t have it sorted.  The days I don’t take the extra time to sort my lists are the ones I find myself wandering back and forth through the store because I’ve missed something in produce and don’t discover it until I’m in the frozen foods section.

If you’re new to hosting holidays, I’d strongly encourage you to find your version of The List.  Our way won’t work for everyone, but it is a great jumping off point.  Knowing what you need to do each day will keep you from panicking or being overloaded on the actual holiday.

A funny story from one of our early Thanksgivings – one that I’m sure is not unique to us, but from which I hope someone can learn.  I’m not sure it was the first time we were hosting Thanksgiving, but it may have been.  I didn’t realize Jeff had purchased a frozen turkey.  I didn’t discover that fact until Wednesday evening when I began thinking about what time I needed to put the bird into the oven.  Well, after many phone calls with my mom, I’m sure a few tears and some panic, Jeff and I were up most of the night changing the water in the bathtub to thaw the turkey (which was so large it didn’t fit in our kitchen sink).

I wish I could say that was the year that inspired The List; but we are slow learners.  It wasn’t until many more panicky holiday moments that we realized a list would save us stress, long nights and a more than one argument!  So from years of holiday experience, I present to you The List!

The Gift of Blue Apron

Several weeks ago a lovely couple came into the shop.  They were staying in a nearby hotel and were (1) looking to occupy some time and (2) hoping to get a recommendation for a good spot in Carlisle for dinner.

They explained to me that they were on their way to JFK to catch a flight to Paris and that the front desk clerk had recommended Hoss’s for dinner.  So what’s wrong with this picture?  Recommending Hoss’s to someone on their way to a Paris vacation is like recommending StarKist Tuna to someone looking for caviar.

So I asked what kind of foods they liked and what kind of experience they were hoping to have and then I recommended a few different places – none of them chain restaurants.  Now I know, there are those of you out there who will only eat at a chain restaurant when you’re travelling – I know you’re out there, but I certainly don’t understand you.  When I am travelling, I love to eat in one-of-a-kind restaurants that I cannot find at home.  Even when I’m at home I am not likely to eat at a chain restaurant – I like to experience a local chef’s riff on the food I eat and, even better, I love to eat local foods – you know, foods that you can only get or that are just better than “normal” in that place – like Maine blueberries when you’re in Maine, maple syrup when you’re in Vermont, etc.  That’s not to say that blueberries and maple syrup aren’t good in other places, but they’re bound to be spectacular in Maine and Vermont respectively.

Anyhooooooooooooo……

I talked with the couple about many things – the products in the shop, food and being foodies, travel, etc.  We had a pleasant conversation and then they went on their way with the names and addresses of several Carlisle restaurants.

The next day I received a lovely ‘thank you’ email from the wife for the recommendations along with the gift of three Blue Apron meals. If you’ve not heard of Blue Apron, (1) are you living under a rock? and (2) you can visit Blue Apron for additional information.

Prior to receiving this gift, I had heard about Blue Apron from several people and read about it on several blogs and websites.  The first person to tell me about Blue Apron was my orthopaedic doc.  Jeff and I were meeting with him and he told us he learned about it from his son.  He went on to explain how it works and told us about his experience.

Well, kind of like when you’re shopping for a new car and end up seeing that model of car everywhere you look, after hearing about Blue Apron for the first time I started seeing and hearing about it everywhere. And I wanted to try it.

Now, with this generous gift, I was able to try it at no cost – how sweet is that!?! And the timing was terrific – Jeff and I schedule our Blue Apron delivery for the week we returned from vacation, which meant no meal planning and very little grocery shopping when we returned from vacation!!!

The day after we returned home was filled with laundry and errands…and fortunately a visit from the UPS driver (or maybe it was the FedEx driver) with our Blue Apron delivery.

Everything was packed in a cardboard box that housed a cooler.  Each ingredient was individually packaged (in a zip top bag or clamshell or tiny bottle) and we received exactly the quantity needed for the recipe – for example, the recipe for Stir-Fried Ginger-Basil Chicken called for 2 Tbsp. of Ponzu Sauce.  We received exactly 2 Tbsp. in a tiny squeeze bottle neatly labeled and ready for use.

I unpacked all the ingredients, saved the packaging for later use and organized everything by recipe and by refrigerator vs. non-refrigerator items.  That way when it was time to make each recipe I didn’t have to go through all the ingredients again.

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The following are my impressions, in no particular order:

  1. Blue Apron is a great way to ensure that you don’t waste food because you only get what you need for 2 servings (or 4 servings if you specify and pay for 4 servings). I can’t tell you how many times we’ve wanted to make a recipe and had to buy wwwaaayyy more of an ingredient than we needed and ended up not using it before it went bad.
  2. Blue Apron is a great way to try new ingredients without having to buy a large quantity of them that may go unused.  Back to the Ponzu Sauce as an example.  If I wanted to try Ponzu Sauce in a recipe and had to get it at the grocery store, I’d likely have to buy a 10 oz. bottle – even if I only need 2 tablespoons of it.  With Blue Apron I was able to try cooking with Ponzu without buying a whole bottle and possibly never using again.  Some of the items I received from Blue Apron that I hadn’t previously used in my cooking include: Ponzu Sauce, coconut milk powder, and Shishito peppers.
  3. Although there is still some work involved in meal preparation, having the majority of the measuring and all the shopping done for you saves considerable time.  Now, I’ve talked to folks who aren’t as well-versed in the kitchen as Jeff and I are who think some of the recipes are complicated, but I have to say that I think they are mostly easy to follow.
  4. In spite of my comment in number 3, some of the directions could be clearer.  While I don’t think the techniques are difficult, I do think some of the instructions could be clearer.  For example, one of the steps in one of the recipes we made read, “cut the eggplant into 1-inch-thick rounds on an angle.”  Now, had I not had some experience in the kitchen I might have been baffled by this instruction – because when you cut the eggplant on an angle – no matter how you slice it (pun intended) – you will not end up with a round.
  5. Blue Apron can help with portion control and calorie pre-planning.  If portion control and calorie counting are issues for you (as they are for many, including me), Blue Apron just might be your answer  Each recipe tells you how many people it serves and the approximate number of calories per serving.  If you stick to one serving, you could look at the calorie count in advance and plan your other meals accordingly so as not to exceed a particular daily calorie intake.
  6. This next statement has to be couched because it will not be true for everyone when you factor in other things.  I find Blue Apron to be expensive when you calculate the cost per meal (of course, my trial was free so I’m certainly not complaining).  I can feed two people a nutritious meal for less than $20 and you probably can too.  However, if you’re not at the grocery store as much as I am and you have to make a special trip and you factor in the cost of your time, then you may not find it expensive at all.  And/or, if you hate meal planning or just don’t take the time to do it until 5 minutes before dinner and you end up eating the same thing(s) over and over again, you may think the expense is worth it.  Again – saying Blue Apron is expensive is not necessarily a fair statement when you consider other factors.  For me, it is.
  7. This is another impression that other people may not share; however I found it difficult to fit all three meals into a week because I also test recipes for future classes several nights of the week.  I know it’s a good problem to have, but I had to really be purposeful about cooking my Blue Apron meals before the perishables perished.
  8. Sometimes you get things you don’t like. While you can specify certain dietary restrictions, you cannot control all the ingredients you receive.  For example, one of the recipes Jeff and I made was Seared Salmon & Panzanella, which included cucumbers.  While neither of us is what I would consider a picky eater, we don’t particularly care for cucumbers…so I left them out.  It would have been nice to have something different in the salad, but without a trip to the store (or to the garden) a replacement wasn’t readily available.  Also, then I was left with a cucumber that I didn’t want to waste and for which I had to find a home.
  9. Each dish comes with an 8.5″ x 11″ “recipe card” with photos, instructions, nutritional information, special ingredient info, etc.  This is a very nice feature.  Particularly in that it allows you to recreate those recipes you really enjoy!
  10. This may sound nitpicky, but I couldn’t find an option on their website for odd-numbered families.  Having spent the last 20+ years cooking for two the majority of the time, worrying about an odd-number of people in the family isn’t an issue for me; but it is for some.  You’d end up spending more money than you had to and having leftovers or eating more than one serving.  For many this wouldn’t even be a blip on their radar, but I know there are those of you out there who hate leftovers!
  11. Although it didn’t take me long to separate the ingredients into piles by meal, it would have been nice if they had been grouped in separate bags within the larger package so that I didn’t have to spend the time separating ingredients. The “knick knacks” (or smaller ingredients) were separated by recipe, but the fresh veggies and meats were not.

The following are some pics of Jeff and I putting together one of the meals:

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While I am so grateful for the opportunity to try Blue Apron and the experience was surely a good one, in the end we decided that it’s just not the right fit for us in this season of our lives.  However, I can definitely see where it would be a great option for other people – people who don’t like to cook or plan meals, people with schedules that don’t have them at the grocery store and/or in the kitchen as much as my schedule does, people just learning to cook, etc.  My sister and her husband use and love Blue Apron – it fits well into their lifestyle. I do think Blue Apron would make a nice gift – particularly for folks in an especially busy season of life.

Blue Apron

So, a special thanks to the travelling-to-France-and-staying-overnight-in-Carlisle couple (you know who you are) for this generous gift.  I am grateful for the opportunity to try Blue Apron and will definitely keep an eye on their website from time to time to see what changes they are making that would make them a better fit for us. And who knows what kinds of changes may be coming down the pike in our lives that may make Blue Apron a good fit – what’s that old saying”? If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans!”

Have you tried Blue Apron?  What were your experiences and impressions?

 

 

Black Bean & “Red” Lentil Sliders

This is a recipe you’ve been able to find in the Recipe Box at mmm mmm mmm since 2012; however when I posted it, I didn’t write about it.  Since I started making them for Wednesday morning at 9:00 a.m. for Wednesday night’s dinner, I took some time to photograph the process so that I could share it with you.

I will tell you that I had to make a substitution from the original recipe because I didn’t have any red lentils on hand. Rather than letting a missing ingredient slow me down, I simply improvised with what I did have – brown lentils.  Because red lentils typically cook to a much creamier / mushier texture than brown lentils, I overcooked the brown lentils slightly to get the creaminess I like in the recipe.

Now there are those people who are organized enough on a regular basis to plan ahead and start their dinner early in the day.  True confession time: I am not one of those people.  And I’m not married to one of them either.  Jeff and I typically talk about what’s for dinner while we’re driving home from work and then we’re wishing we were more organized.  On occasion one of us will think ahead and remember to take something out of the freezer; but that’s the exception not the rule.  So in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I wrote this post poolside on Wednesday, which is the reason I made the Black Bean & “Red” Lentil Burgers for dinner that day.

Writing My Post

You see, our friends Lu & Mark are on vacation this week and before they left they asked us if we would take care of their pool while they are away.  The request for our help translates into them generously offering us the use of their pool without us feeling like we’re taking charity!!!!  But, they can rest assured that the Aquabot has been in the pool and done its job, the chemicals are at the right level and the pool’s been shocked! All this is a small price to pay for a relaxing retreat in the heat of summer!  But as usual, I digress…..

I was able to relax on my raft with my book in hand on Wednesday knowing that dinner was already made.  All I had to do when I finally decided I’d had enough lounging by the pool was hop in the car, drive a few miles and slide the burgers into the oven along with the partially cooked sweet potato fries that I started baking while I was forming the burgers.

So, what’s the skinny with the Black Bean & Red Lentil Burgers?  Well, they are a great meatless meal option, they’re high in fiber and low in fat, and are deliciously satisfying served with avocado arugula pesto (which is what I did the first time I made them) or with spicy lime mayo (which I did on Wednesday).  You can make them into full-size burgers or into slider-size appetizers.  You can serve them on a slider roll, a parmesan crisp (frico), or “naked.”

Oh, and the best part is, they’re easy to make.  Here’s what I did…..

  1. Mis en place – which is a fancy, French way of saying I got all my ingredients in place.  Taking the time to mis en place helps you determine if you have all the ingredients AND the right amounts of each ingredient before you begin cooking.

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  2. I rinsed, drained and, using a potato masher, lightly mashed most of the black beans.

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  3. I grated the carrots, squeezed out the excess liquid and added them to the black beans.
    Black Beans & Carrots
  4. I sautéed the finely diced onion in some olive oil for 5 minutes, added the minced garlic and cooked it for one additional minute.
    Sauteeing Onions & Garlic
  5. To the onions I added red pepper flakes, kosher salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste (I only had sun-dried tomato paste so I happily substituted it for regular tomato paste), lime zest and lime juice and allowed the mixture to cook for another minute or two.
    Aromatics
  6. I added the onion mixture to the black beans and carrots and also added the cooked lentils, chia seeds, beaten eggs, ground flax seed, and wheat germ.  I mixed the whole shebang until it was well combined.

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  7. Using a Metric Wonder Cup set to 4 Tbsp.; I formed the burgers, covered them with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge until I got home from Chez Shuey.

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When I got home, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees F and while it was coming up to temperature I dredged each burger in some breadcrumbs and sprayed them, using my EVO Sprayer, with a little olive oil.  The breadcrumbs and olive oil give the burgers a crisp texture on the outside (to mimic the wonderful char you get on a properly grilled burger), while the inside is moist and flavorful.

I served them on a Kings Hawaiian roll with a dollop of Spicy Lime Mayo.  To go with the burgers, we had sweet potato fries and some store-bought cole slaw.

Dinner

I spent the day on Wednesday floating in the pool, writing this post, reading, generally relaxing in the summer sun and waiting…..waiting for the yummy dinner I had prepared.

…..I guess if you have to wait, poolside with a good book and a tall, cold beverage is the way to do it!  Thanks Lu & Mark.  I will happily make this recipe for you when you return – that is if Mark can tolerate a meatless meal!

 

Black Bean & Red Lentil Sliders (or burgers)

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: sandwich entree black beans red lentils carrots chia seeds

Ingredients

  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup cooked red lentils
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots, squeezed to remove water
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 Tbsp ground flax seed
  • 6 Tbsp wheat germ
  • 1 Recipe Avocado Arugula Pesto

Instructions

1. In a bowl large enough to hold all ingredients, coarsely mash black beans.

2. Add red lentils and squeezed carrots and mix well.

3. In a small saute pan, saute diced onions for 5 minutes, until translucent.

4. Add minced garlic and saute for 1 minute.

5. Add spices, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, lime zest and juice and saute for an additional minute to toast spices and tomato paste.

6. Add the sautéed mixture to the black bean mixture and stir to combine well.

7. Add the beaten eggs, the flax seed and wheat germ. Mix well.

8. Form into burgers or sliders and place on a half-sheet pan that has either been sprayed with cooking spray or that is fitted with a non-stick mat.

9. Sprinkle to tops of the patties with a light dusting of bread crumbs and a drizzle of olive oil.

10. Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven for approximately 12 minutes for sliders or 17 minutes for burgers.

11. Top with a dollop of Avocado Arugula Pest, serve and enjoy!

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The Accidental Cheese Maker

Another installment in the exciting, crazy life of me!

On Saturday I was working in the retail section of The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School while two classes were being taught.  The first was a burger class and the second, Cheese Making for Beginners.

In between waiting on customers, answering the phone and keeping up with the general duties of the shop I was able to listen in on the classes as they progressed.  Of course, that means I was able to get 25% (or less) of the information being shared with the students.

At the end of the day, after all the students were gone and the staff in the cooking school was cleaning up the classroom and kitchen, I was presented with the following question, “Do you want to take the Halloumi with you?”

Remember when you’re mom told you, “if it seems too good to be true it probably is”?  Well, I should have thought about that before I answered the question.  Or at the very least I should have asked one or two questions in return before replying with a resounding, “Yes.”  (I mean, who doesn’t want fresh (I mean REALLY fresh) homemade halloumi?)

But, I didn’t ask any questions and I didn’t consider that old adage; so what did I get?  I got the demonstration batch of halloumi done only through step 5 of the 10 step process….in a large pot……..with a lid and a LOT of liquid…..that I had to transport home in my car. Oh, and I got the recipe so I could finish steps 6 through 10 too – and because I did, I knew I needed to buy some cheese forms before I left the store.

I drove home very carefully trying not to spill any whey in my car.  I did put a Pot Bra on the large pot of curds and whey (yes, I was feeling a little bit like Little Miss Muffet) before I put it into my car and then I hoped for the best.

Now mind you, I had worked Monday thru Saturday AND had a class to teach the next day, for which I had to get up early so that I could make a few things before class began. I tell you this not to complain, but to say in a round-about way that I was tired when I got home.  I was probably not in the best frame of mind to take on this cheese project, but alas I did.

So when I got the pot of curds and whey home, I washed my hands, rolled up my sleeves and looked to step 6 of the recipe for direction.  I drained the cheese, reserved the whey and put the curds into the cheese forms that I had purchased.  Then I had to find something to use to press the cheese for two hours.  After fumbling around the kitchen cupboards, I decided to use two small bowls and two cans of veggies – one of each for each cheese form.  I put the forms on a baking rack over a half-sheet tray and let the cheese press for 2 hours.

During the two hours, I ironed my clothes for the next day, did some laundry and made myself something for dinner.  I also began yawning from time to time.  When the timer rang, I turned to step 7 of the recipe.  I heated the whey up to the boiling point, put the cheese into the whey*, turned off the heat, and let it sit for 90 minutes.

*I wasn’t sure whether to take the cheese out of the forms or to leave them in the forms so I rolled the dice and put the forms containing the cheese into the whey.  This is where it would have been extremely helpful to have heard ALL the information presented in class!

During the 90 minutes, I cleaned up from dinner, read a little, surfed the web and began yawning in earnest.  But I pressed on (no pun intended).  And when the 90 minutes were up I moved on to step 8 of the recipe.  When I read step 8 – remove the cheese [from the whey] and allow it to drain on a cheese mat for 2 to 4 hours –  two questions immediately came to mind: (1) “What in the world is a cheese mat?” and (2) “How am I ever going to stay awake for 2 more hours?”

Again, I wished I had been paying closer attention to what was going on in class when they covered cheese mats….and what to do if you don’t have one.  But still I continued.

During the 2 hours, I read some more, took off my makeup, folded some laundry, surfed the web again and finally at 1 hour and 50 minutes, I gave up and made the brine solution according to the instructions on the recipe.  I put the halloumi in the brine and put it in the fridge where it had to sit for 24 hours and I promptly dropped into bed.

Now you would think this is the end of the story…..or at least the part where I tell you the halloumi was delicious and certainly worth staying up late.  But……it’s not the end and, in truth, I haven’t tasted the halloumi yet.

Yesterday after the class I taught – Girlz with Grillz, which was sooooooo much fun – I overheard my husband, who was kind enough to come and help with the cooking for class, saying to one of my co-workers, Sure, we’ll take some Feta.” Noooooooooooooo!

Little did he know that being offered feta didn’t mean FINISHED feta.  It meant feta that was at step 9 of 13 steps!  Now I am in the process of finishing a batch of feta too!

So, it’s really not fair to call myself a cheese maker – even an accidental one.  I’m more of a begrudging cheese finisher!  But perhaps when the cheeses are finished I’ll have the incentive I need to learn the whole process of making halloumi and the whole process of making feta.

But for now, I’ve got to run…I have cheese to drain, salt and refrigerate.  Do yourself a favor, remember the old adage, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is” the next time someone asks you if you want to take the halloumi [or the feta] with you!

“Don’t Play With Your Food”

Growing up I was repeatedly instructed, like many others were, “Don’t play with your food.”  Of course, me being me, that made me want to play with my food even more….you might say I was something of a stubborn child.  Now that I’m a stubborn adult I still love playing with my food! Perhaps this is why I loved Alton Brown’s show Good Eats in which he showed the sciency side of food.

Anyway….I don’t know if notes like this show up in your house, but I recently put a sticky note on the kitchen counter that read, “Experiment – Please do not discard!”  The note is next to a plate containing my current food experiment!

I’ve been thinking a lot about smoking (no, not cigarettes or pot) recently and somehow the idea of infusing “coffee smoke” into foods has taken root in my mind.  The hamsters on the wheels in my brain have been working overtime and thoughts about how to execute this idea of coffee smoke have been tumbling around.  My first thought was to use whole coffee beans; but I decided that the oils would probably make them likely to burn and smoke in an unpleasant way.  Then I went to the idea of grinding the coffee; but that didn’t resolve the oil problem.  Finally, I thought about soaking some mild wood chips in brewed coffee, draining them and drying them on paper towels.

So that is what’s been happening in my food lab (a.k.a. kitchen).  And today is the day I executed the plan. Since chicken is relatively mild, I decided to use chicken breast in my first test.  Surely something as mild as chicken would allow me to see if the smoke flavor tastes at all like coffee.

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After work today I got out my stove top smoker, took off the lid, took out the rack and the drip tray and added my re-dried wood chips to the bottom of the smoker.  I also added a little bit of espresso powder to potentially boost the coffee flavor.  I reassembled the smoker, put the chicken breast on the rack and slid the lid into place. Over medium heat, I smoked the chicken for approximately 20 minutes and then allowed it to cool in the smoker.

When I took the lid off, I was greeted by a beautifully smoky brown chicken breast.  The aroma was wonderful and the color was enough to get my mouth watering.  When I sliced into the breast I could tell the meat was wonderfully moist.

But the question was, “does it taste like coffee?”  The answer is, “No.”  It is delicious and smoky and will make a wonderful addition to the chicken quesadillas we’re making for dinner; but it does not taste like coffee.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the idea of using coffee/espresso in my smoking….I still have some ideas up my sleeve that I’ll try!  And it also doesn’t mean I wouldn’t use this method for smoking again.  The results, although not what I expected, were still yummy!

So was this experiment a success or a failure.  Resoundingly I’d say it was a success.  I was able to test my theory and produce a good result, even if it wasn’t the result I expected.  Trial and error – that is how we learn, not just with cooking but with many things in life.  So the next time someone tells you, “Don’t play with your food,” smile politely and promptly ignore them!

Please share some of your food experiments in the comments below – particularly if you’d had experience smoking with coffee!!!

 

Individual Baked Oatmeal: Success or Failure?

I was reminded yesterday that for some crazy reason we have an abundance (some would say “overabundance”) of steel-cut oats in the pantry.  If I’m being honest, which I suppose I am, I will tell you that Jeff and I can easily go on tangents with food.  We find something we like and then we make it repeatedly until we get sick of it.  That’s probably what happened with the steel-cut oats – we went on a tear (or perhaps “tare” would be equally appropriate) with steel-cut oats and burned out!

Abundance of Steel Cut Oats

Abundance 2

Well, regardless of the reason for having 4 bags/boxes of steel-cut oats, I decided to use them!

Breakfast is a difficult meal for me – I’m usually running late and “don’t have time for breakfast.” AND I’m not someone who likes sweet foods in the morning. Since I’ve yet to find a pizza flavored breakfast cereal and I don’t make time to make eggs for myself, I need fast but healthful options I can grab on the way out the door.

Keeping my personality quirks in mind, I decided to make individual baked oatmeal cups using steel-cut oats.  I looked at several recipes for baked oatmeal online and cobbled together my own ideas and those recipes that would work with the ingredients I had on hand.  I used very little sweetener, but added some peanut butter and jelly to the middle for flavor and protein.  I also added a few chopped salted peanuts for crunch and a nod to the savory.

So, was my experiment a success or a failure?  I guess that depends on your definitions of “success” and “failure.”

Out of the Oven

I haven’t tasted them yet so it’s difficult to say.  I wanted to taste my creation while writing this post (and I will), but before I do I will share some initial impressions with you:

I thought using muffin papers would make my baked oatmeal cups more easily transportable, but I didn’t consider that the oatmeal had to soak in the dry ingredients overnight in the fridge.  I lined the muffin tins with papers and filled them with the oatmeal mixture.

Next time I make these, and I will make them again to play with the recipe, I will soak the mixture in a large bowl and divvy it out among the lined muffin tins just prior to baking.  The papers got soggy and created a mess in the tins and made the individual servings difficult to remove from the tins.  Some came out easily and others were a mess!

However, I still think using muffin papers will make transport easier than not using them.

I also think some of the servings had more moisture than others and therefore baked differently.  Again, a viable solution is soaking the entire recipe in a bowl overnight and then divvying it out just before baking – after the dry ingredients have had a chance to soak up the liquid ingredients.

So, success or failure?  The moment of truth is upon us.  I will now taste my creation and let you know the final analysis!

On the Cooling Rack

Well….peeling the papers from the oatmeal made me realize that more testing is necessary.  I thought, just a moment ago, that continuing to use muffin papers was a good idea; however I lost a lot of my baked oatmeal because it stuck to the papers.  Of course, that could be because the oatmeal soaked overnight in the paper-lined tins and if I added the mixture to the papers just prior to baking they wouldn’t stick; but it could be that the papers are just a bad idea…..more testing is definitely in order!

As far as taste and texture go, for my money they were right on.  The oats were still just a bit crunchy, they were not too sweet but every now and then I got a little hint of sweetness from the jelly, and the chopped salted peanuts added an interesting element of savory.

I will keep working on the recipe before I share it with you.  But I will tell you that for a non-sweet breakfast girl (and one who is usually eating breakfast on the fly) these are a great option.

Cooling Rack 2

Success or failure?  For me, experimentation in cooking is part of the fun; so I prefer to think of this as Thomas Edison might have.  He is quoted as saying, “I have not failed.  I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Wheat Berries & Wheat Berry Salad

I’ve been on a bit of a wheat berry kick lately and thought I’d share it with you. For those of you who don’t know what wheat berries are, read on.  For those of you who do, read on anyway!

A wheat berry is a kernel of wheat with only the hull removed.  It includes the bran, the germ and the endosperm. They resemble barley and other whole grains and are quite nutritious.  When wheat berries are ground, they turn into whole wheat flour.

High in protein and fiber, wheat berries are delicious and healthy additions to salads, soups, and side dishes. When cooked in simmering water until somewhat soft, they hold their shape and add a bit of crunch to both sweet and savory recipes.

For a good nutritional explanation of wheat berries, visit Jillian Michaels’ site.

Take a look at what wheat berries look like raw:

Raw Wheatberries

Today, I used wheat berries to make a salad.  I cooked 1 cup raw wheat berries according to the package instructions and then added:

  • 1 granny smith apple, diced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 3 oz. grana padano cheese, diced
  • 3 Tbsp. salted sunflower seeds
  • 2 Tbsp. Gazebo Room Greek Salad Dressing
  • 2 oranges, segmented and juice squeezed over salad
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

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The results were terrific!  The salad made a yummy breakfast, which may sound strange to some of you.  I’m not really a “sweet for breakfast” kind of girl, so I’m always looking for savory and healthful options for breakfast.  This salad provided not only fruits and veggies, but also protein and healthy carbs.

If you haven’t tried them, consider giving wheat berries a chance.  Maybe you won’t want them for breakfast; but I’ll bet if you try them you will want to include them into your weekly meal plans.

Dinner, Quick & Delicious

Weather.com says it’s 15 degrees F in Central Pennsylvania, but feels like 4 degrees F.  So it’s the perfect day to work on snowflake cookies for a winter-themed baby shower.  The theme is “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and it sure is!

It’s the kind of day that “stick to your ribs” ooey, gooey comfort food sounds great.  But, ooey gooey comfort food doesn’t just stick to your ribs, it also sticks to your rear end and thighs!  So what’s a girl to do when she’s home alone for dinner, wants something that tastes delicious, but doesn’t want to break the fat-gram/calorie bank?

The answer is simple – soup.  I’m not talking canned, condensed soup – no offense to Campbell’s.  I’m talking soup that warms your hands, your insides and your soul!  For that, I turned to the freezer.

If you’ve taken any of my classes and/or read previous blog posts you know I’m a fan of making extra when I cook and freezing it for later AND a fan of making home-made chicken broth with all the leftover ends of veggies and parts of chickens.  In fact, there are those who know me that would say I border on weird when it comes to the “stock bags” in my freezer.

These “stock bags” are zip-top freezer bags in which I store bits and pieces of veggies I’ve cut for other meals, chicken bones and scraps, and rinds of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  I add to the bags when I cook and then, when I have enough parts saved (or as Jeff would tell you, sometimes LONG after I have enough saved) I let a HUGE pot of stock simmer for a whole day.  Then, I strain it and package it for the freezer to use in future meals.  It’s great for making soups, risottos, homemade mac and cheese, or in this case a wonderfully warm bowl of soup for a solo dinner.

And, not only did I have some recently made chicken stock in the freezer, I also had some homemade cheese tortellini.  I have a hands-on pasta class coming up on January 21st and have been working on the recipe for cheese tortellini, which means my freezer is well stocked in the tortellini department!

So my dinner this evening was a quick one to make.  I took a pint of chicken stock out of the freezer and popped it in the microwave to defrost while I continued decorating snowflake cookies.  When the stock was nearly defrosted, I put it into a saucepan and brought it to a boil.  Then I added some tortellini straight from the freezer and let them cook for about 3 minutes. (Cooking them in the stock – rather than cooking them in water – gives them great flavor).

While the tortellini were cooking, I grated some Parmigiano-Reggiano on the coarse side of a box grater.  When the tortellini were tender, I ladled the soup into a pretty bowl, topped it with some grated cheese and a grind of black pepper and sank into my favorite chair to enjoy my dinner.

Tortellini en Brodo

The homemade chicken stock and hand-rolled tortellini were a wonderful partnership.  And the sprinkling of freshly grated, salty parm was a perfect finish.  The stock was rich and flavorful, the tortellini were like little pillows of cheesy goodness and the parm melted a bit in the hot stock to give a satisfying stringiness that only cheese can give.

So yes, it’s cold outside.  But my quick and delicious dinner warmed me up and fortified me to finish the cookies for the “Baby It’s Cold Outside” baby shower.  I’m so glad I had on-hand everything I needed to make a quick and tasty dinner.  I strongly recommend cooking ahead when you can. You won’t be sorry you did on nights when you’re on your own for dinner and don’t want to fuss, BUT you want something really yummy!

 

Just for fun, the following are a few snaps of the snowflake cookies!

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Recipe Review: Bacon Bourbon Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts on CounterOur family is growing – a new baby and new or newish significant others for my nieces, including an impending wedding – and that means readjusting holiday schedules.  I’m sure you’ve been through it in your family and hope that you make it as easy as possible on those being pulled in multiple directions. Trying to make everyone happy can be exhausting and is difficult at best.

This year, our family Thanksgiving celebration was rescheduled for Black Friday, and then again for Sunday, 11/30. Rather than stress about it, I looked at it as a way to have an extremely low-key Thanksgiving day (which we sure did) and as extra time to decide what to make for our celebration!

My assignment was to bring a vegetable. And that is where the quandary began. First, the age-old question….”Does corn count as a vegetable?” Second, “Not even if it’s a holiday?”  Then the question of tradition presented itself….”Can we really have Thanksgiving dinner without Corn Pie?” And…”If not corn pie, then can we live another year without Diane Phillips’ Gulliver’s Corn?”  I’m not sure why there are dishes we only make on the holidays, but I know my family is not alone in this.  Finally…”If not a traditional dish, then what?”

The answer presented itself in the form of a cooking show.  I turned on a recent episode of Giada DiLaurentiis’ ‘giada at home‘ and the first thing she mentioned was Bacon Bourbon Brussels Sprouts.  Not only did the recipe sound fantastic, I knew Jeff had harvested a boat-load of Brussels sprouts just a few days earlier.  With the decision made, we purchased the bourbon (ok, technically we used Whiskey because Jack Daniel’s isn’t made in Kentucky, but you get the idea) and the slab bacon and waited for the 30th to arrive!

After church on Sunday morning, we set about following Giada’s recipe.  Jeff worked making the glaze while I worked on preparing the bacon and the Brussels sprouts to skewer.

Making the glaze:

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I cut the slab bacon into 3/4″ cubes and slid them into a 375 degree F oven for about 8 minutes so the fat would begin to render.  I blanched the Brussels sprouts for about 4 minutes, submerged them in an ice bath to stop the cooking, dried them with a kitchen towel, and tossed them with olive oil and kosher salt.

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I cut all the Brussels sprouts in half so that the glaze could seep in between the many layers of the veggies.  I’m pretty sure Giada did this on the show; although the recipe says to cut the Brussels sprouts in half ‘if needed.’

While I assembled the skewers, Jeff preheated the Big Green Egg (BGE).  Because we don’t have a stove top grill pan, we decided to use the BGE – and we weren’t even a bit sorry….not only did the Brussels sprouts end up with great smokey flavor; Jeff and I spent the rest of the day smelling of a camp fire, which is a scent I’m never sorry to inhale!

Skewered But Not Grilled

On the BGE

Hot Off the BGE

I’d give this recipe 4 1/2 M’s out of 5.  The flavor was wonderful, the ingredients were easy to obtain (particularly because I had a fridge full of Brussels sprouts), the instructions were straightforward (but I’m glad I had seen the episode of ‘giada at home’ because I knew to cut the Brussels sprouts in half), and there weren’t too many steps.  But I wonder if skewering is necessary.  Yes, the skewers looked nice; but they did take quite a bit of time to assemble.  This dish would certainly have been just as delicious if grilled in a grill basket and served in a plain, white bowl. And there’d be no flying Brussels sprouts at the table while trying to gracefully remove the veggies from the skewers!

4 and one half ms for bacon bourbon brussels sprouts

Overall, this recipe is a winner.  Judging by the reaction of everyone around the Thanksgiving table, I believe the Bacon Bourbon Brussels Sprouts will be a new traditional Thanksgiving dish!

What are the dishes your family only makes on Thanksgiving?

Greek-Inspired Stuffed Eggplant

One of the aspects of gardening I appreciate most is the social one.  I know, this may sound strange; but if you’re a gardener you know what I mean.  When you garden, you end up talking passionately with other gardeners and trading produce like young boys trade baseball cards (or at least they did when I was young).

If you’re lucky, you grow different things than your friends do….that way when the crops are really prolific, you end up with produce you didn’t grow and your friends end up with a harvest they didn’t grow.  It’s a wonderful way to build relationships!

“When eating fruit, remember who planted the tree; when drinking water, remember who dug the well.”

~ Vietnamese Proverb

Abundance of Eggplant 2

Over the weekend I came into an abundance of end-of-season eggplant; so I spent part of my day today making Greek-Inspired Stuffed Eggplant.  I’ve made this recipe previously; but never written down the process.  Today was a good day to take my time documenting the recipe and an even better day to share it with you!

Preparing Eggplant

Eggplants Cut in Half

Peeled Stripes

Gazebo Room DressingEggplant Boats

Eggplant Boats Drizzled with Gazebo

I began by preparing the eggplant……First I cut the stem end off and then I cut them in half lengthwise.  I used a peeler to strip away some of the peel (I left some stripes of skin on the eggplant because Jeff likes them without the skin, but there are important nutrients in the skin – so it’s my compromise).  Next I used a paring knife to score a “well” in each half and then a spoon to scoop out the flesh.  I saved the flesh in a bowl to add to the filling later.

After preparing the eggplant “boats,” I drizzled them with some Gazebo Room Dressing (about 1/3 cup total for all 7 eggplants) and roasted them in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes (some were smaller so I took them out sooner).

I cut the skinless boneless chicken breast into 1 1/2″ cubes and mixed it with 1/3 cup of Gazebo Room Dressing.  I set the chicken aside to marinate while I worked on the filling.

Orzo Cooking

Filling in Process

Then I boiled a pot of water to cook the orzo for the filling.  While the pasta cooked, I prepared the vinaigrette using lemon juice and zest, minced garlic, minced thyme, coarse Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and olive oil.  When the orzo finished cooking, I drained it and stirred about 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette into the orzo and set it aside to cool. When it was cool, I added 1/2 cup of currants, 1/2 cup of pine nuts and 12 oz. of Feta cheese that I had cut into cubes.

Eggplant Flesh for FIlling

I then set about making the filling.  I started by sautéing 2 medium diced onions in olive oil.  (To minimize dish washing later, I used the same vessel in which I cooked the pasta). While the onions cooked for about 5 minutes over medium heat, I diced the reserved flesh from the eggplants (I discarded the really seedy pieces) – in the end it was about 3 cups of diced eggplant flesh.

I added the diced eggplant to the cooked onions and continued to cook the mixture while I cut some Tuscan kale into ribbons.  When the onions and eggplant were softened, I added the kale and cooked it long enough for it to wilt.  When the veggies were finished, I transferred them to the bowl with the orzo to cool.

Cooking ChickenBrowning Chicken

Next I turned to the chicken.  In the pan I used to cook the veggies to cook the chicken (again, this would save me on dish washing later).  I cooked it in 3 separate batches – to avoid boiling the chicken – for about 4 minutes per batch until it was nicely browned and cooked through.

After all the chicken was cooked, into the filling mixture.  To finish the filling, I mixed in all but 3 Tbsp. of the dressing.

Eggplant in Oven

Stuffed Eggplant

I spooned the filling into the eggplant “boats” – filling them until they were nicely mounded with filling.  Finally, I topped the “boats” with seasoned breadcrumbs and a drizzle of the remaining dressing and baked them in a 350 degree F oven for about 35 minutes.

The result? Mmm mmm mmm!

 

Plated EggplantI hope you use this recipe and enjoy the delicious results. I recommend making extra and sharing it with friends or family.  As a matter of fact, the timer is just going off and as soon as I slide the eggplant out of the oven I’m headed to our friends’ house to drop some off.

Sharing the fruits of your labor – whether they’re veggies from your garden or a meal from your kitchen (or really, the result of any of your talents) – gives your friends one more reason to think of you and smile!!!

Greek-Inspired Stuffed Eggplant

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: entree chicken eggplant lemon feta cheese

Ingredients

    To Prepare Eggplant Boats

    • 6 medium eggplant
    • 1/3 cup Gazebo Room Greek Dressing

    To Make Vinaigrette

    • 3 lemons, zest and juice (about 1/2 cup juice)
    • 1 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme
    • 1 Tbsp. grainy Dijon mustard
    • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
    • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
    • 1/2 tsp. pepper
    • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    To Make Filling

    • 3/4 lb. orzo, cooked according to package instructions
    • 3/4 lb. chicken, cut into 1 1/2″ cubes and marinated in 1/4 cup Gazebo Room Greek Dressing
    • 12 oz. Feta cheese, cut into 3/4″ cubes
    • 1/2 cup currants
    • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
    • 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
    • 3 cups cubed eggplant (reserved when preparing eggplant boats)
    • 2 medium onions, diced
    • 1 large bunch Tuscan kale, chopped

    For Topping

    • 3/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
    • 3 Tbsp. reserved vinaigrette dressing

    Instructions

    To prepare eggplant “boats”

    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

    Cut the stem end off each eggplant.

    Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise.

    Optional – if you don’t prefer to eat the peel, peel each eggplant half or compromise like Jeff and I do and peel strips off each eggplant half, leaving a little of the skin intact.

    Using a paring knife, score a well in each eggplant half.

    Using a spoon, scoop the flesh out of the well. (Cut the removed flesh into small cubes and save 3 cups of the cubed eggplant for the filling. I discard any flesh that is really seedy.)

    Place the “boats,” well facing up / skin side down, on a rimmed baking sheet.

    Drizzle the “boats” with Gazebo Room Greek Dressing – dividing the 1/3 cup dressing among all the halves.

    Roast the “boats” in the preheated 400 degree F oven for approximately 30 minutes (you want them to be tender, but not mushy).

    Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

    To make the vinaigrette

    In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the lemon zest and juice, minced garlic, minced thyme, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.

    While you are vigorously whisking, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the lemon mixture. You want to whisk faster than you pour so that you create a nice emulsion.

    Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

    To make the filling

    Cook the orzo according to the package instructions.

    Drain orzo and transfer to a large, heat-proof bowl.

    Pour 1/2 cup of the dressing over the hot orzo and stir to coat.

    Set orzo aside to cool.

    When orzo is cool, stir in cubed Feta cheese, currants and toasted pine nuts.

    Set aside.

    Over medium-high heat, sauté onions in Tbsp. olive oil- stirring frequently – until tender but not brown, approximately 5 minutes.

    Add remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil and cubed eggplant and cook for an additional 5 minutes, lowering heat to medium.

    When eggplant is soft, add chopped kale and cook for approximately 3 minutes just to wilt the kale.

    Remove the veggies from the pan and allow to cool.

    In the same pan, sauté the cubed, marinated chicken – stirring frequently – over medium high heat – working in batches to avoid boiling your chicken rather than searing it – for approximately 4 minutes, until cooked through and nicely brown.

    Remove chicken from the pan and allow to cool.

    When veggies and chicken have cooled, mix them into the orzo mixture.

    Add all but 3 Tbsp. of the remaining vinaigrette and stir well to coat and evenly distribute ingredients.

    To Fill, Top & Bake Eggplant

    Reduce heat of preheated oven to 350 degrees F.

    Fill each eggplant half with filling, mounding the filling over the top edge of the eggplant.

    Place eggplant half on a rimmed baking sheet.

    Repeat with all halves.

    Distribute the seasoned breadcrumbs evenly over all the eggplant halves.

    Drizzle the remaining 3 Tbsp. vinaigrette over all the eggplant halves.

    Bake in preheated 350 degree F. oven for approximately 30 to 35 minutes. Filling will be heated through and breadcrumbs should be golden brown.

    Serve & enjoy!

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    A Day Away Travel

    Recently, I had the pleasure of teaching a class for some travel writers from MATPRA, the Mid-Atlantic Public Relations Alliance.  They were visiting central, PA to learn about all it has to offer travelers and they made several stops throughout the area, including the Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School.

    We had a fun morning, of course – I mean what’s more fun to me than cooking, eating, and entertaining? Not much!

    For MATPRA’s visit, I made:

    Bittersweet Chocolate Cinnamon Buns

    Bittersweet Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls with Coffee Cream Glaze

    Frittata

    Roasted Tomato, Pesto & Goat Cheese Frittata

    Napoleon

    Pear Napoleon with Ginger Thyme Pastry Cream

    Check out what Mary K. Tilghman from A Day Away Travel wrote about her experience:

    Cooking Lessons in Carlisle

    Thanks, Mary!  I hope you’ll visit us again at the Kitchen  & Cooking School when you’re in the area!!!!

    Monday MmmMmmMmm: Vegetable Lasagna

    Today was an unusual Monday.  Jeff and I both had off on the same weekday.  To celebrate, we cleaned the basement – or at least part of it!  I know, it’s not a very romantic way to spend the day together; but we both felt good – and HUNGRY – when we got done.

    Fortunately, I had some recipes to try.  I’m teaching two private classes in early December and some of the recipes the groups selected are new to me.  So I used my time today to not only familiarize myself with the recipes, but also to make a nice dinner for Jeff and I.

    We stopped our work in the basement at approximately 1:00 p.m. and I started cooking.  The first recipe I tackled was for Vegetable Lasagna with Fontina & Parmesan Sauce.  I put a pot of water on to boil (to cook the lasagna noodles) and then started slicing mushrooms, zucchini and artichoke hearts.  While the pasta cooked and the veggies sautéed, I gathered the ingredients for the parmesan sauce.

     

    I removed the cooked lasagna noodles from the boiling water onto a sheet tray covered in plastic wrap.  When the tray was full, I added another layer of plastic wrap and repeated the process until all the noodles were on the sheet tray.  I find this is a great way to let the noodles cool without sticking together.  I set the tray aside, turned off the flame under the veggies and made the parmesan sauce.

    Sauteed Mushrooms, Zucchini & Artichoke Hearts

    Parmesan Sauce

    Finally, I buttered the lasagna pan and then began assembly.  Sauce, noodles, sauce, veggies, cheese, noodles, sauce, veggies, cheese, noodles, sauce, veggies, cheese, noodles, sauce, and finally cheese.  It becomes kind of like meditating….I get lost in the process!

    Buttered Lasagna Dish

    Lasagna Layer 1

    I slipped the lasagna into the oven to bake for 30 minutes.  Then I cleaned up the mess from the lasagna and turned my attention to the salad – Field Green Salad with Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese and Pomegranate Vinaigrette.  Before I began making the salad, Jeff left to take Miss Kissy to the vet.

    I’ve previously written posts about cooking more of something than you need for one meal so that you have leftovers for another meal – for example Two Birds, One Stone – One Chicken, Three Meals. Fortunately, I follow my own advice and had roasted beets in the refrigerator, which made prep for tonight’s salad a piece of cake!  I simply cut some Romaine hearts, crumbled some goat cheese, cut the roasted beets, toasted some sliced almonds, and made the vinaigrette.  Since Jeff wasn’t home yet, I left all the salad components in separate containers to assemble just before sitting down for dinner.

    Salad Bowl

    Salad Toppings

    Finally, I picked up the recipe for the Chocolate Lava Cakes with Caramel Sauce.   I prepped the ramekins in which the cakes will be baked and then made the thick, “chocolatey” batter. I spooned the batter into the prepared ramekins – although not as carefully as I probably should have because I ended up with a little batter on the rims.  If I were cooking for company or for class, I would have used a damp dish towel to clean them up, but I decided to leave them with the rustic, homemade look!

    Messy Chocolate Lava Ramekins

    The recipe calls to let the batter rest in the ramekins for at least 30 minutes, which gave me time to make a simple caramel sauce with unsalted butter, light brown sugar and heavy cream.

    Just as I was finishing the caramel, my iPad “rang” with a message from Jeff letting me know he and Kissy were on their way home.  Perfect timing!  I turned the oven to broil, took the foil off the lasagna and slid it into the oven so the top would get brown and bubbly.  When the top looked beautifully golden, I took the pan out of the oven and covered it to rest.

    Brown & Bubbling Veggie Lasagna

    I heard the garage door open while I was cutting the lasagna, dressing the lettuce and plating the food.  I love it when a plan comes together!  I had just enough time to snap some pics of the food before Jeff and Kissy made their way into the kitchen.

    Veggie Lasagna & Salad

    As Jeff and I ate dinner, we critiqued the recipes…..the lasagna was wonderful – a great meatless meal in my opinion.  Jeff, not surprisingly, said he’d like the lasagna better with some meat in it!  We both enjoyed the salad, but thought the dressing was missing a little something.  I’ll have to give the recipe another try or two and see if I can tweak it a bit.

    No, you didn’t miss anything…..I haven’t said anything about the lava cakes yet.  In fact, as I write this post, they are still sitting on the counter unbaked.

    After dinner Jeff had a meeting at church, so I am waiting to bake them until he’s on his way home so the lava is still flowing when we eat them.  I hope they’re as good as I am imagining them to be!

    All in all, today was a great day.  We accomplished some basement cleaning, we have a new health plan for Kissy, and we had a Monday MmmMmmMmm.  Not only that, but we still have a tasty dessert to look forward to!

    What did you have for dinner tonight?

    A New Gadget – GEFU Spirelli

    Oh My Goodness! If you eat gluten-free, you are going to LOVE this gadget!!

    Let me start by saying that I have not been paid for this review.  The following are MY ideas about the product.

    Those of you who are regular readers know that I am not necessarily a “gadget person.” At least not just for the sake of owning gadgets.  Because I don’t have a lot of space in my kitchen, I only buy things that do more than one job – and only after careful consideration.

    I have owned this gadget for just over 24-hours and have already made a fabulous Asian Carrot Salad, Fried Sweet Potato Shoestrings, and a delectable Zucchini Pasta with Lemon Sauce.  For diversity of use, I give this gadget 5 M’s.

    The gadget…..The GEFU Spirelli.  With the Spirelli you can cut thin or thick “ribbons” of veggies that can be used in many different applications – including as a pasta alternative.  There are two cone-shaped ends (making it look sort of like an hourglass) with blades in them – one for thin ribbons and one for thick ribbons.

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    Let me warn you, however, that I had to go out to youtube and some other websites to learn the proper way to use it because the package instructions left A LOT to be desired.   The youtube video was helpful, but it wasn’t until I read a few users’ comments re: the Spirelli that I fully understood how to use it.

    Relying only on logic, it seems as though you should try to hold the vegetable you are Spirelli-ing at an angle against the blade and turn the gadget; however you insert your veggie straight into the cone and twist the veggie with even pressure.  The Spirelli comes with a guard/lid/food holder, but from my experience and from what I read it is not very functional.

    I tried a few carrots before I got the hang of it.  Once I mastered using the Spirelli I moved on to sweet potatoes and was able to get one ribbon of sweet potato that was 5-feet long.  I’m not sure when you’d ever need a 5-foot long ribbon of sweet potato, but it was impressive nonetheless!

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    I tried a zucchini from my garden that I had in the fridge, but it was (1) too wide in diameter to fit into the Spirelli and (2) a little too mushy.  I even tried cutting the zucchini lengthwise so that the width was right, but it was simply too soft to work.  So I texted Jeff and asked him if he would mind stopping at the grocery store and picking up a zucchini on his way home.

    Last night, as an accompaniment to pizza, I made Asian Carrot Salad by Spirelli-ing some rainbow carrots from the garden and adding a tasty peanut vinaigrette, green onions, sesame seeds and some chopped salted peanuts. Mmm mmm mmm!

    Tonight for dinner I made Zucchini “Pasta” with Lemon Sauce and it was delicious.  I used the Spirelli to cut my ribbons in under 60 seconds.  Then I sautéed them in a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil.  While they were cooking I looked up Giada DeLaurentiis’ recipe for Lemon Pasta and adapted the sauce to the ingredients I had available.  Can I just say mmm mmm mmm?  Wow.  Since I’m not eating gluten-free, I found that a light sprinkling of seasoned bread crumbs gave the pasta a nice mouth-feel.

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    For ease of use, I give the Spirelli 4 M’s out of 5; however for instructions to help you learn how to use it, I’d give it only 2 M’s out of 5.  If the instructions were more explicit, I would have been up and running a lot more quickly and would have avoided becoming frustrated with the product.  I must admit, the foot-stomping-brat in me was ready to throw it down and yell; but after a few minutes on the internet I was de-frustrated!!!

    Overall I’d say the Spirelli will remain in my gadget drawer for a long time.  I can see myself using it over and over again.  Although I own a mandolin, I have never had luck julienning carrots on it.  The Spirelli makes that task soooo easy.  And anything that helps me turn vegetables into a pasta substitute is a good thing.  As much as I LOVE pasta, it’s not something I want to (ok, well I DO WANT TO, but I know I shouldn’t) eat frequently.

    This is a terrific addition to your gadget drawer and overall I would give the GEFU Spirelli 4 1/2 M’s out of 5!

    Spirelli Review GraphicHave you tried the Spirelli?  What do you think?  What have you made with it?

    Asian Carrot Salad

    by mmm mmm mmm

    Keywords: salad carrots

    Ingredients

      For the Salad

      • 6 carrots, julienned
      • 6 green onions, sliced thin
      • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds
      • 1/3 cup chopped salted peanuts

      For the Dressing

      • 3 cloves garlic, minced
      • 2 Tbsp fresh ginger root, grated
      • 1/2 cup olive oil
      • 1 Tbsp sesame oil
      • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
      • 1/2 cup soy sauce (low sodium is best)
      • 3 Tbsp honey
      • 2 Tbsp creamy peanut butter
      • Sriracha to taste

      Instructions

      For the Dressing

      Mix together all ingredients EXCEPT the olive oil.

      When the dressing is well combined, SLOWLY drizzle in the olive oil while whisking briskly to create an emulsion.

      Check for seasoning.

      Add salt and pepper if needed (keep in mind, the soy sauce is very salty and the Sriracha will add heat).

      For the Salad

      Toss together the julienned carrots, green onions, and sesame seeds.

      Toss with enough dressing to coat (save remaining dressing for use on other salads)

      Sprinkle with chopped peanuts.

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      Zucchini “Pasta” with Lemon Sauce

      by mmm mmm mmm

      Ingredients (Serves 4 – 6)

      • 6 Medium Zucchini, julienned with Spirelli cutter

      For Lemon Sauce

      • 2/3 cup olive oil
      • 2/3 cup grated parmesan
      • 3 lemons, zest and juice (about 1/2 cup juice)
      • salt and ground black pepper to taste
      • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

      Instructions

      Saute julienned zucchini in olive oil over medium heat for approximately 10 minutes.

      While cooking zucchini, whisk the lemon juice and parmesan in a large bowl/ Slowly drizzle in olive oil while briskly whisking to create a smooth emulsion. Add a hint of salt and pepper and half the lemon zest and chopped parsley.

      Toss the pasta with enough lemon sauce to coat. Sprinkle with the remaining lemon zest and parsley.

      *If you’re not eating a gluten-free diet, a dusting of seasoned breadcrumbs gives the pasta a nice mouth-feel!

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      Recipe Review: Tomato Jam

      Last week I was paging through my recipe notebook looking for possible dishes to make for a friend’s party and I came across a recipe that Jeff printed from the internet for Tomato Jam.  Because we have sooooooo many tomatoes in our garden right now, the recipe really caught my attention.  I set it aside to revisit, but somehow it ended up back in the recipe notebook when I put it away.

      But, the recipe gods were not about to let me forget. Last Saturday morning, after taking a long walk, Jeff and I harvested about 30 pounds of tomatoes and various other veggies from our garden.  When we brought our haul into the kitchen, Jeff said, “You know, I printed a recipe for Tomato Jam that we should make.”  I giggled and knew it was meant to be!

      I got the recipe back out of the notebook and decided to make a triple batch.  I would have made even more, but I was low on sugar so I made as much as I could with the sugar I had.

      I carefully washed 4 1/2 pounds of Roma tomatoes and cut them into a large dice.  I added the sugar, lime zest, various spices, diced Hungarian peppers (the recipe called for jalapeno peppers, but I didn’t have any so I subbed from the garden) and set it on the stove to cook.  The recipe called for a cooking time of approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes; however mine took significantly longer – perhaps because I tripled the recipe or perhaps the fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes were juicier than the tomatoes used by the recipe author.  But it didn’t matter, I was working in the kitchen anyway, so I kept stirring and testing the jam on a plate to make sure it was the right consistency.

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      There are different ways people test the consistency or setting point, but I learned the saucer or plate methods so that is what I used.  Some ways to test include:

      • The Saucer or Plate Method:  Spoon a small amount of jam onto a plate and let it cool – if it is ready, it will wrinkle and feel firm.  When you run your finger through the jam (be careful that it is cool), the track from your finger will stay.
      • The Spoon Method: Stir the jam with a wooden spoon, turn the spoon over so the “wrong side” is face up, allow the jam to cool slightly, and run your finger through the jam.  The track from your finger should stay and when you hold the spoon sideways with warm jam the jam will form a thick drop.
      • The Thermometer Method: Test the jam with a sugar thermometer.  When the temperature reaches 220 degrees F it has hit its setting point.

      The recipe did not call for skinning and seeding the tomatoes so I didn’t; however once it reached the right consistency I wasn’t happy that the skins were in the jam so I pulled out the food mill.  I processed the jam through the mill, which was a big improvement; however, the jam seemed to get thin when I processed it so I put it back on the stove for a few minutes to thicken.

      Reduced Jammm mmm mmm

      OhMyGoodness!  The jam is incredible.  The first thing Jeff and I did with it was to put it on a pizza we were constructing for dinner.  We spread it on the freshly stretched dough, topped it with some shredded cheddar cheese, added oven-roasted tomatoes and some sharp provolone.  Finally we sprinkled on some fresh basil and slid it onto the pizza stone.  We pulled it off the stone when the cheese was bubbly and just beginning to turn golden brown.  Again, OhMyGoodness!  The pizza was terrific, due in part to the tomato jam.

      Hot Out of the Oven

      The next morning, Jeff made breakfast before church.  He sliced and toasted a parmesan pepper baguette, spread the crostini with tomato jam and topped them with scrambled eggs. Mmm mmm mmm!  Jeff proclaimed that not only was the jam great on a pizza and eggs, it also was great right off a spoon.

      I will play with the recipe the next time I make it.  I want to try making it slightly less sweet, but I don’t think I’ll mess with the spices – the combination is divine!

      Overall, I’d give the recipe 4 M’s out of 5…

      The recipe could have been more specific for a first-timer about how to test to make sure the jam had reached its setting point and I think it should have addressed removing the skins from the tomatoes.  But overall – with a few tweaks – the end result is fantastic. Had the resulting jam not been so good, I would have only given the recipe 3 M’s out of 5.   I’d highly recommend giving this recipe a try – particularly if you find yourself with 30 pounds of tomatoes!!!

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      Check out the addendum to this post!

      Tomato Jam

      Ingredients

      • 1 1/2lb good ripe tomatoes ((Romas are best) cored and coarsely chopped)
      • 1 cup sugar
      • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice ((mmm mmm mmm added lime zest as well))
      • 1 tablespoon freshley grated or minced ginger
      • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
      • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
      • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
      • 1 teaspoon salt
      • 1 jalepeno or other pepper (seeded and minced or red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste)

      Note

      Recipe by Mark Bittman, The Minimalist / New York Times

      Yields 1 pint.

      Directions

      1. Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan.
      2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.
      3. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
      4. Taste and adjust seasoning, then cool and refrigerate until ready to use. Will keep in fridge at least a week.

      Monday MmmMmmMmm: Pork Roast, Potatoes and Green Beans

      I am NOT a morning person.  I know this admission completely shocks some of you….not!  But what will shock you is that I was up at 6:38 a.m. this morning…and I had all my prep work done for dinner by 9:00 a.m!  I don’t know what happened; but I find it’s best not to question a morning of good fortune.

      When my eyes opened at 6:38, my first inclination was to slam them shut and go back to sleep for another few hours, but after drinking a few sips of coffee and reading a few pages of the book in which I am currently engrossed; I hopped out of bed and started cooking.  I started by slicing a bunch of potatoes (white, red and sweet) into very thin slices and stacking them in little piles like decks of cards.  I put the decks of potatoes on their sides into mini loaf pans I had sprayed with cooking spray and spooned about 1 Tbsp of butter over each one.  I then topped them with minced thyme, kosher salt and pepper.  I baked them about 3/4 of the way in the morning, knowing I would finish cooking them just before Jeff arrived home from work.

      Potato Decks in Mini Loaf Pans

      Potato Decks with Butter Thyme Salt and Pepper

      Potato Decks Baking

      Just before I finished prepping the potatoes, I set a large pot of water on the stove to boil.  After the potatoes were in the oven, I began cleaning green beans and by the time they were clean, the water was boiling so I slipped the beans into the water and prepared an ice bath to shock them after blanching.  I cooked the beans for approximately 4 minutes and removed them directly to the ice bath to cool – not only does the ice bath stop the cooking immediately, it also maintains the bright green color of the beans.  After they were cool, I spread them on a sheet pan I had covered with a towel, gave them a quick pat to dry them, and slid the pan into the fridge to keep the beans cool.

      Ice Bath for Green Beans

      Blanched Green Beans in Ice Bath

      Green Beans Drying

      With the green beans and potatoes prepped, I turned my attention to the pork roast I had pulled out of the freezer to thaw over the weekend.  The first thing I did was make parallel cuts across the top of the roast about 1 inch deep so that the seasonings I would slather onto the roast would penetrate deep into the meat.  I then dried the roast with paper towel, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and set it into a hot roasting pan containing olive oil to brown.  The sizzle of the cool meat hitting the hot pan was mesmerizing and the smell of the meat browning was heavenly.

      While the meat was browning, I raced out to the garden (don’t tell my mom I walked away from the stove) to pick some onions, which I washed, peeled and cut into wedges.  After the meat was browned on all sides, I dropped the cut onions and some cherry tomatoes into the roasting pan and slathered the meat with some sun-dried tomato butter I had in the fridge.  I had previously made the butter for another recipe and had some left-over.  In addition to butter and sun-dried tomatoes, the concoction also contained parmesan cheese, herbs, lemon zest, salt, pepper and garlic.  Like the potatoes, I slid the roast into the oven and cooked it part way, knowing I would finish it just before Jeff walked through the door.

      Browned Pork Roast Surrounded by Onions and Cherry Tomatoes

      Roast Slathered with Sundried Tomato Butter

      The rest of the day was filled with exercise, showering, grocery shopping, balancing the checkbook, uploading some photos from my camera to my computer, cleaning the kitchen, vacuuming the downstairs, etc.  By the time I got everything done it was time to reheat the potatoes and the roast.  While they were reheating, I cut the green beans into bite-sized pieces and made a light apple cider vinaigrette to serve over the cold beans.

      Everything was coming together nicely when Jeff got home.  He had just enough time to change his clothes before we sat down to eat.  My final step of preparation, which I did while Jeff was changing clothes, was to whir up the pan drippings and softened onions and cherry tomatoes with an immersion blender to create a nice sauce for the roast. The good news is there is enough sauce that we will also have some later in the week over the spaghetti squash I couldn’t resist buying at the farm stand yesterday.

      I haven’t had spaghetti squash in years and am already plotting how I will ‘love my leftovers’ when I make it!  I think there will be some beans for protein and some green veggies (perhaps the other half of the bag of green beans or some broccoli) added to the sauce that will top the squash.  We’ll see what inspiration comes….

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      Dinner was great – well-balanced, colorful, and filled with flavor.  Like my friend Marisa, I love Mondays – particularly when they include a Monday MmmMmmMmm!  TGIM!