Foodie Blog

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Potatoes for Picky!

Note:  And yet another post that I never published. This time with photos!

And soup for me.  I thought, maybe there was a chance Picky would like my veggie soup.  I should have known better.  But then again, it did have bits of broccoli in it.  I was hoping to put that one past Picky.  He must have known it was there since he said he wasn't crazy about it.

What to do?  Potatoes of course!  Picky loves his potatoes.  If he could, he would marry them. I had these cute little gold potatoes.  So tiny!  What I love to do with them is to slice them up small, but not thin.  Then I like to toss them in a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, or any other mixed herb seasoning you might have on hand.  Then I like to put a bit of grated parmesan on top.  Magical!

But really, the key to really good roasted potatoes is to properly roast them.  You want to see them get a little crisp on the top, and really crisp on the bottom.  You want them to get a really nice golden brown.  And the most important key is to make sure you have small-ish pieces.  Big pieces will get cooked, but I find their consistency to be kind of chalky and gross.

Oh, here I am going on and on about potatoes that I didn't even eat!  Ok, the soup is really simple.  Chop up a bunch of veggies.  The ones you really need are onions, celery, and carrots.  You can toss in zucchini and broccoli like I did.  And then you cook them a bit, add your broth or water, doesn't matter.  Add some herbs.  And it's done.  You can leave it as is, or use a hand blender to blend it up (to try to trick Picky).  Next time, I'll just leave the veggies as is.

Roasted Potatoes

However many Potatoes you can eat, halved, then sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
Olive oil
Herbs (any kind you want) chopped up or grinded up
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated parmesan

Preheat your oven to 350.
Throw your potatoes on a baking sheet.  Pour some olive oil over them.  Put your herbs and salt and pepper on them.  Toss your grated parmesan on them.  Then toss around the potatoes on the sheet until everything is equally coated.  Make sure they are in a single layer.  Put in the oven.  Around the 25 minute mark, start checking on them.  You want them to be golden brown on the edges.  When they have reached that point, take out of the oven, and while still hot, loosen the potatoes from the sheet with a metal spatula if you have one.

Vegetable Soup

3 carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 Onion, chopped
1/4 head of broccoli, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
3 tablespoons of olive oil
32 oz. of broth or water
Herbs, like rosemary, thyme, sage
Salt and pepper to taste.
1/2 cup of buttermilk or regular milk (optional)

Place a large soup pot on the stove over medium high heat, pour in your olive oil.  When olive oil starts to shimmer, add all of the chopped veggies.  Saute over the heat until slightly softened about 8 minutes.  Add the broth or water and bring to a simmer.  Add your herbs in.  After about 15 minutes, the veggies should all be softened.  Add your buttermilk or milk and let it come back to a simmer.  At this point you can use a hand blender to blend it up.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Bad Blogger - homemade Ricotta, lobster, pasta

Note:  I was going through posts and realized I had a draft of a post that I never published.  Unfortunately, I think I erased the pictures I took of the ricotta and other things but I thought it was worth it to post this at least for the recipes.  Oh, I wrote this back in June.

I know, I've been a bad blogger.  I haven't been inspired to post anything lately.  The sun seemed to be playing hide and seek here in New England, mostly hiding.  But now it's out!  So I cooked up a storm this weekend.  Lucky for everyone who reads this.  I hope.
Anyway, the first thing I was inspired to make it was homemade ricotta after reading about it on Smitten Kitchen.  I admit, I've never been a huge fan of ricotta.  I've always had the ones sold in the supermarket, in the tubs with all the water.  The ones the consistency of a rubber brick.  Now tell me, how can anyone be a fan of that awful stuff?  After seeing the pics posted, I knew I had to make it.  Plus, it only requires 4 simple ingredients and takes less than half an hour of active attention.  Anyway, I used it in my pasta that I made.  But first, on to the recipe!

Homemade Ricotta
Makes about 1  cup of ricotta

3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream (or you could use 3 1/2 cups of milk and 1/2 cup of heavy cream)
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pour the milk, cream and salt into a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan. Attach a candy or deep-fry thermometer. Heat the milk to 190°F (I found that when mine reached this temp, it was at the point when the milk starts to rise up like it's almost going to boil over), stirring it occasionally to keep it from scorching on the bottom. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice, then stir it once or twice, gently and slowly. Let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.
Line a colander or a strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl (to catch the whey). Pour the curds and whey into the colander and let the curds strain for at least an hour. At an hour, you’ll have a tender, spreadable ricotta. At two hours, it will be spreadable but a bit firmer, almost like cream cheese. (It will firm as it cools, so do not judge its final texture by what you have in your cheesecloth.) Discard the whey, or, if you like to make bread, I found several sources which say they've used it when making bread which I might try.  Eat the ricotta right away or transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

Obviously, with this softer and richer ricotta, I was inspired to make, as Picky liked to call it, an inside out ravioli.  I just called it adding the cheese to the pasta really.  There's not much to say about my pasta dish, except that or the cup of ricotta, I would only use about half the package of pasta instead of the whole package.

Pasta with Ricotta, tomatoes, basil and garlic

Serves about 2 people

1/2 a package of pasta (instead of linguini I would use something with nooks like rotini)
A couple tablespoons of olive oil
1 package of cherry tomatoes, preferably from a farmers market, cut in half
A handful of dried crumbled basil or fresh basil, cut into thin ribbons
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of homemade ricotta
Salt and pepper to taste
More olive oil to taste

Boil pasta according to package directions in salted water.  While it is boiling, add olive oil to a hot pan.  When the oil starts to shimmer, add the tomatoes.  After a few minutes, add the basil.  When the skins on the tomatoes start to wrinkle a little, add the garlic and cook for a minute.  Add the cooked and drained pasta to the pan and add the ricotta as well.  Add salt and pepper to taste and toss all together until well coated.  Add more olive oil if desired.

While Picky was eating his pasta, I had some lobster.  Living by the ocean, I can get a fresh live lobster for under $10.  So after living here for so many years, I finally bought one.  But I couldn't bring myself to kill it.  I made Picky do it.  Basically, you position the knife somewhere between the eyes and beginning of the tail and push the point of the knife all the way through, then bring the rest of the knife down through the front of the head.  Then toss it in boiling salted water.  The lobster was only a little over a pound, so I boiled it for 12 minutes.  After that, I removed it and let it cool.  I used a tenderizer to smash open the claws and the knife to crack open the tail.  Then I squeezed some lemon juice and ate the yummy lobster.  I wasn't prepared for the roe that came along with the female lobster, however, I might make a roe aioli the next time I come across it.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Grilled Chicken in Tapenade and Chicken sausage and veggie soup

What gives?  Yet another post in a week?  I guess this weather is finally inspiring me to share recipes.  Plus, I'm so excited for a cooking talk show that it has reinvigorated my passion for cooking.

Ok, I have two recipes for you this week.  One I got from watching The Chew and the other I got from ingredients I had laying around the house.  I guess you want the chicken first!  I know Peepers wants that one first! 
Yes, yes, enough talking and more food!  

Ok, I made the chicken for Picky while I was craving a delicious soup.  I can post whatever crap I feel like about Picky since he has informed me that he hasn't even checked my latest post!!  Picky has always turned up his nose at tapenade.  I know!  It never did anything to him!!  I think he just objected to the word tapenade in the first place.  He doesn't know what he is even objecting to in the first place.  Like if I was to say, "Picky, would you like some gelato?"  the word "no" would be out of his mouth before I even finished saying gelato.  If a word sounds weird to him, his motto is that the best answer is automatically no! 

I didn't tell Picky I was making a tapenade.  I just said I was making chicken.  And guess what?  He loved the tapenade!!  I just can't call it tapenade ever.  Ok, enough blathering.  On to the recipe!

Chicken Tapenade
Inspired by The Chew
This called for using anchovies, but you can imagine how Picky feels about anchovies.  I wouldn't be surprised if he called them Voldemort!
  • 1 cup Pitted Green Olives (or Kalamata will do as well)
  • 1/4 cup Capers
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
  • 3 tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil, divided
  • 1 lb Arugula Leaves
  • 3 tablespoons White or Red Wine Vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 3/4 cup Tapenade (made from above)
  • 2 teaspoon Fresh chopped Thyme Leaves (or 1 tsp dry)
  • 2 teaspoon Freshly ground Black Pepper
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (more if you like it spicy!)
  • 4 Chicken Breasts, sliced open like a book.
  • 1 lemon
 1.   Take your olives, capers, mustard, red wine vinegar, and 1/2 cup of olive oil and toss them all in a blender or food processor.  Process or blend until your mixture has a somewhat smooth consistency.  This is your tapenade.  Put the mixture aside.

2.  Preheat your grill or boiler.  I used a cast iron grill pan that you can put on top of the stove.  Take 1/2 cup of the tapenade and put it in a bowl.  Add 1/2 cup of olive oil, thyme, pepper, and red pepper flakes and mix well.  Add your chickens to this mixture (made sure you have patted dry the chicken with paper towels before this) and coat well.

3.  If putting on a grill, lightly oil your grill before placing the chicken on it.  If you're sticking it in the broiler, then don't worry about oiling.  Because you cut open your breasts, the chicken should take 10 - 15 minutes to cook.  Make sure your grill or broiler isn't too high.  Medium heat is good.  Remember to flip the chicken half way through.

4.  While your chicken is cooking, take your arugula and put it in a bowl.  Add about 1/4 cup of olive oil and one whole lemon, squeezed, and pour it over your arugula.  flavor with salt and pepper.

5.  Place a bunch of arugula on a plate.  Put a chicken breast on top of the arugula.  Place a dollop of the tapenade on top of the chicken breast.  Now eat!

Sweet Potato, chicken sausage and kale soup
Good for cold days.  I pretty much finished this soup in two days.  I had it for lunch and dinner both days.  It was that good!

2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
Olive oil
4-6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
1 sweet potato, chopped
2 links of chicken sausage, chopped
Two handfuls of kale, chopped (make sure to remove the middle rib)
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of thyme
6 leaves of sage
Pinch of red pepper
Salt and pepper for taste

1.  Pour a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a big soup pot over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the carrots, celery and onion.  Stir and cook for a few minutes until all the veggies get soft.

2.  Add 4 to 6 cups of vegetable or chicken stock to the pot.  Raise the temperature slightly.  When the mixture starts simmering, add the sweet potato and bay leaves to the mixture.  When the potato is starting to get tender, add your chicken sausage, kale and the thyme and sage.  Continue to cook over medium heat.

3.  When the sweet potato is completely soft, add your pinch of red pepper and the salt and pepper.  Turn off the heat and serve!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Is this thing still on? Or, How Picky learned to love Quinoa

Ok, I know I am a liar.  I didn't do an update like I promised.  So here it is now.  I have been taking pictures of certain meals and I will be posting them now, I promise!  So where was I?

Oh, I wanted to share this recipe for a great quinoa salad that I usually make.  I know, quinoa sounds like such a weird word.  But!  If Picky likes it then it must be good.  Plus it is super simple to make.  It takes less time than making rice (the regular kind, not the minute rice).  Do you have 15 minutes to spare?  You do?  Great!

Quinoa Salad

1 Cup of quinoa (either white or red)
2 cups of water or stock
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1/2 cucumber, chopped
1/4 cup of red onion or green onion, minced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 anchovies, minced (optional)
A couple handfuls of black or green olives, chopped (optional)
A bunch of basil, cut into slivers
1/3 cup of currants (also optional, but if you do add it, then don't add the olives)
1/4 cup of nuts such as pine nuts, sliced almonds, etc.
1 lemon, squeezed
1/2 to 1 cup of olive oil
salt and pepper for seasoning
a pinch of cayenne if you want spiciness
1/2 teaspoon of cumin

1.  Measure out your cup of quinoa and put it on the side.  Put your 2 cups of water or stock in a soup pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  Once your liquid comes to a boil, add the quinoa, cover, and bring to a simmer over low heat.  This should take 15 minutes to be done so set a timer so that you check on it.

2.  While your quinoa is cooking, chop up all of the remaining ingredients except the lemon, olive oil, and seasonings.  Put these ingredients in a large bowl.

3.  Hopefully, by the time you finish chopping, the liquid in the quinoa will be all absorbed.  Make sure the quinoa doesn't look soggy.  If all the liquid is gone but it looks soggy, then cover it and give it 2-5 more minutes.  Remove from heat and let the quinoa cool off for a few minutes.

4.  Once the quinoa is no longer hot (but it can be warm), add it to your bowl with all your chopped stuff.  Then add your lemon juice and olive oil as well as your seasoning.  Taste and adjust as needed.  Then enjoy!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bad Blogger!

Sorry!  I'm such a bad blogger.  The minute some sunshine and warm weather comes around and I'm basically like "what blog?"  No, I didn't forget I had a blog.  I do have some pics of things I made so I do have recipes to post.  I could post pics of things I'm making now.  But that might not be as interesting. 

Bascially, I'm doing Clean right now.  It is a detox program.  Yes, I heard the collective groan.  But seriously, this is the only detox I've tried and I probably wouldn't try any others because this one works.  I'm not deprived of food.  It's not all juices.  You have a smoothie for breakfast and dinner, and then lunch is basically your big meal.  You do have to cut out alcohol, all white and wheat flour, anything containing preservatives, all dairy, eggs, and caffeine.  Oh, and sugar, how could I forget sugar!  You are only allowed to have chicken, lamb, or certain kinds of fish with your lunch.  Or you can go vegan.  You also have to cut out certain vegetables and fruits.  Like no oranges.  The whole point of it is to get your body to go from an acidic state to an alkaline state. 

I know, this is already "tl;dr" but I'll tell you what happened when I did for the first time last year.  Initially, I felt like absolute crap the first week.  I had a headache, I was tired and cranky.  It sucked.  But then the second week comes along and you start to feel the opposite.  I had so much energy, I didn't know what to do with it.  Well, I did a lot of yoga, but I have to say this time around, I think the treadmill and elliptical are proving to be better outlets for my energy.  Plus it promotes sweating and that is good for detoxing as well. 

Anyway, my hair seemed shinier, my skin was way improved, I lost weight, and the whites of my eyes were so white!  So after the 21 days was over I had a cocktail.  Boy, what a headache that gave me!  But it showed me that I could feel better if I cut out things and  eliminated all things preserved.  Plus, I saw the value of eating organic and juicing.  This time around, I didn't get the headache although I do have a little fatigue.   It helps that I have Picky joining me on my detox.  I wish I took before and after pics because I think Picky has almost gone down a size and we're only 4 days in!  Maybe I'll take a pic now and post his after pic soon.  I don't think it will be as extreme with me since I had some things that were still off in my body thanks to some kind of virus which are being addressed now thanks to some quality supplements. 

I highly encourage everyone to check out Clean and see what it's all about!  Also, you can check here and here for some recipes to see what the recipes are like.

Ok, enough rambling.  I promise you some regular recipes and some yummy detox recipes are coming soon!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Yes, rhubarb.  I guess it's my turn to be the picky one.  I have never been drawn to rhubarb.  My whole life, I've never felt the need to try it.  Sure, it looks like celery, and I love celery.  But it looks like red celery!  Weird! 

Plus, I've never felt drawn to fruit based desserts.  I mean, I'll eat them.  But I don't crave them.  Chocolate, I crave.  I guess if you gave me a choice between a pecan, meringue, or some other type of pie and a fruit pie, I will always choose something else instead of the fruit pie. 

Ok, so this humble little strawberry rhubarb thing just proved how wrong I can be.  I guess Picky isn't the only picky one.  But I will say that I will no longer shun rhubarb.  I think with the right ingredients, and paired with the right complementary fruit, it can taste transcendent.  So call me a rhubarb convert!

More likely it had to do with the pecans and all the brown sugar though.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pecan Loaf
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

I didn't have any rum on hand so I ended up leaving it out.  But I imagine that adding it in would make this taste even more phenomenal!  Plus, this is one of the easiest recipes I've ever made.  Make it now!

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1  1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup diced rhubarb
1/2 cup sliced strawberries
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Topping (Optional)
1 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 to 3 1/2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Beat together the brown sugar, vegetable oil, egg, vanilla and rum. Combine the flours, salt and baking soda; stir. Add dry ingredients to first mixture with the sour cream. Stir in strawberries, rhubarb and pecans.
Spread into a greased 9×5-inch loaf pan — the batter will be very thick. Combine topping ingredients except the pecans, they should be thick and clumpy; add the pecans last and sprinkle over the loaf.
Bake at 350° for about 55 to 65 minutes, or until a wooden pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Brussels Sprouts

The last time I made Brussels Sprouts for Picky, it was Christmas.  Unfortunately, Picky came down with a fever just as we were starting to eat, so he doesn't remember whether he liked them or not.  I prefer to think that he did like them, whether he remembers or not!

I don't have the recipe that I made back in December, so I decided to look for another recipe.  I found one on Epicurious.  How could I not try a recipe titled "For people who think they hate Brussels sprouts."  That sounds like Picky to me!

Brussels Sprouts for People Who Think They Hate Brussels Sprouts

Adapted from Epicurious

This is a fairly simple recipe that was very tasty.  At least to me.  Picky didn't have a problem with the sprouts, but he did have a problem with the nutmeg.  I didn't hate them, but I do see his point.  I would make these again, but I would probably leave out the nutmeg since I do associate it with pumpkin pie, and it just didn't seem to go with the Brussels sprouts.

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, or to taste, preferably freshly grated (optional)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1.  Trim the ends off the Brussels sprouts and remove and discard any discolored outer leaves. If sprouts are large (more than 1 inch in diameter), cut them in quarters lengthwise through the stem end. If smaller, cut them in half.
2.  Bring 2 quarts of water to boil, add salt and the sprouts. Boil the sprouts uncovered until they are just crunchy-tender, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook them. Drain the sprouts well.
3.  Heat the olive oil in the empty pot. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the sprouts and nutmeg and sauté for another minute. Mix in the Parmesan cheese and toss the sprouts until the cheese melts.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Chocolate Pots de Creme

You know, when I was younger, back when my cooking and baking fascination was in its infancy, my mom had this big fancy cookbook with these creations that I really haven't seen created anywhere.  Now, I knew that there was no way I could re-create any of these things since I didn't even know where to find some of the ingredients.  But there was one recipe I knew was simple enough for me to make:  Chocolate pots de creme.  I remember it called for milk, sugar, and chocolate.  I'm not sure what else was required since that huge cookbook was sold many garage sales ago.

I do remember how incredibly frustrating that recipe was because I ALWAYS followed it exactly and it never ever came out how it should have.  It would end up more like chocolate soup, never firming up in the fridge like the pictures showed.  I just thought maybe I was doing something wrong.  Now that I'm older, I know that there are a million imperfect cookbooks out there which might leave out some small step or include an incorrect measurement.  Now, when I come across something that doesn't seem right, I know how to correct it.  But I do feel bad for those out there who follow these horrible things just to end up with disaster.
I know, this isn't a chocolate pot de creme, but it is a sneak peak of something I will make again in the future.

Anyway, Cooks Illustrated has never led me astray.  Neither has Alton Brown.  When it comes to baking, you really can't just throw together any combination of things.  It's kind of like chemistry.  Martha Stewart is someone that can kind of be trusted.  I know enough about making creme brulee and other custard like creations to know that some combination of cream, eggs, and sugar, baked in a water bath will produce a very creamy creation.  And also make you feel really guilty afterward.  But this recipe is worth it!  Plus, it's not really hard at all.

Chocolate Pots de Creme
Adapted from Martha Stewart

I didn't follow this recipe exactly since I didn't have whole milk on hand and was too lazy to go out and get some.  I also only had bittersweet chocolate on hand and was too lazy to get milk chocolate.  Besides, in my book, there is no such thing as too chocolatey.  It still came out good, I would probably just start checking on them when there is 5 minutes left of cooking time since the tops ended up a bit firmer than the inside.  But I wouldn't shove it off the dessert tray at all.  Oh, and I would say Picky, and his parents really, really enjoyed them.  Definitely add some fresh whipped cream to even out the chocolate.
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Boiling water
  • Whipped cream, for serving 
  • 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the lower third. Place a small kitchen towel in the bottom of a medium roasting pan.  Then place eight 4-ounce pots de creme pots or 4 ramekins in the pan; set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine cream, milk, and chocolates over medium heat. Bring almost to a simmer; remove from the heat. Set aside, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and salt. While whisking, add a little of the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture to combine. Add the remaining milk mixture, and whisk to combine. Whisk in vanilla. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large liquid measure.
  4. Pour approximately 1/2 cup of the egg mixture into each pots de creme pot. Transfer the roasting pan to the oven. Fill pan with enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the pots de creme pots. At the 30 minute mark, check to see if the center is set.  If still a little jiggly, bake until the custards are just set in the center, about 35 minutes.
  5. Remove the roasting pan from oven. Remove the pots de creme pots from the water, and place on a wire rack to cool. When completely cooled, cover, and transfer to refrigerator. Chill for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

    In a large bowl, pour in about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of heavy cream, then whip at high speed with an electric mixer.  When it starts to form soft peaks, add a tablespoon of powdered sugar and continue to whip until it reaches a whipped cream consistency.  Spoon on top of chocolate and serve.  You might want to eat half and save the other half for later.  

Monday, May 2, 2011

Jen vs. the birthday cake

Cake - 1, Jen - 0.5

I give this round to the cake since it did throw me for a loop.  I know, it doesn't make sense.  Creme brulee doesn't scare me, neither does cheesecake.  I laugh in the face of meringue!  And souffle doesn't intimidate me.  But cake!  It has always been my downfall.  It always ends up looking like some Frankenstein-inspired monster.  Not appetizing to the eyes at all.  I was extremely tempted to go the cupcake route.  Cupcakes are cute and innocent, nothing like the behemoth that is a cake.  But I was determined to conquer my long time foe.

I had the upper hand while combining the ingredients.  I forgot to soften the butter, so I stuck it in the microwave for 10 second increments until it was properly softened.  I used cake flour.  I shook the buttermilk.  And the pre-baked product looked gorgeous.  It tasted really really good too.

But my downfall came when it was time to pour it into the cake pans.  I had buttered, placed the buttered parchment rounds in the bottom, and then poured my mix in.  However, instead of searching for my tried and true cake pans, I chose to use the shorter cake pans that were within easy reach.  These had a 1 1/2 inch depth instead of the 2 inches required.  I beg of you, for all that is holy, please use the 9 inch cake pans with a 2 inch depth!  I suspected there might be some spill over.  So I placed a cookie sheet on the rack below just in case.  I was not prepared for the lava-like flow that came out of my poor cakes.

Luckily, I was able to salvage them somewhat.  Frosting covers everything.  But still, I would know about the folly that took place in the oven.  And now you know my shame.

We shall meet again cake.  You haven't heard the last from me!

Yellow cake with sour cream chocolate frosting
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Picky requested a yellow cake, so that is what I made.  This tastes almost like the yellow cake mix, except way better since it doesn't have that artificial taste.  I would definitely make this again.  Maybe in cupcake form though.

Yield: Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers

4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I like to drop mine a few times from two inches up, making a great big noisy fuss.) Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
Adapted from The Dessert Bible

Picky said he hated buttercream frosting so  I searched for a frosting that would appeal to him.  If you prefer less of a sugar taste and more chocolate, this is for you.  I didn't find it sour, just very rich tasting.

Only cooking note: Be sure that your sour cream is at room temperature before you make the frosting.

Makes 5 cups of frosting, or enough to frost and fill a two layer 9-inch cake

15 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons instant espresso (optional, but can be used to pick up the flavor of average chocolate)
2 1/4 cups sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 to 1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the chocolate and espresso powder, if using, in the top of a double-boiler or in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted. (Alternately, you can melt the chocolate in a microwave for 30 seconds, stirring well, and then heating in 15 second increments, stirring between each, until the chocolate is melted.) Remove from heat and let chocolate cool until tepid.
Whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the corn syrup and vanilla extract until combined. Add the tepid chocolate slowly and stir quickly until the mixture is uniform. Taste for sweetness, and if needed, add additional corn syrup in one tablespoon increments until desired level of sweetness is achieved.
Let cool in the refrigerator until the frosting is a spreadable consistency. This should not take more than 30 minutes. Should the frosting become too thick or stiff, just leave it out until it softens again.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Picky's Birthday - chocolate souffle

Choosing Picky's dessert was a bit more difficult than choosing what to make for his special dinner.  I thought about making a cake, but I also wanted to make him a souffle.  So I decided to make both!  I knew the souffle would be smaller and perfect for just me and Picky, so I made that the night of his birthday.  On Friday nights, Picky plays cards with a group of friends and I thought he could celebrate his birthday properly with his friends with a cake.

So on to the souffle!  I have made a cheese souffle before, but never a chocolate one.  The cheese one was fairly simple since I just followed Julia Child's instruction on how to make it.  Since I am in the middle of moving, Julia is currently packed away in a box.  I searched my favorite cooking websites online and then it hit me.  Martha Stewart!  Of course, she will have the perfect chocolate souffle recipe.  Hers was a bit complicated and involved many steps, but egg whites don't scare me.  Cake scares me, as you will see in my next post.  Anyway, on to the recipe!

Chocolate Souffle
Adapted from Martha Stewart

This produced a souffle that reminded me of the most chocolate-y brownie, but without the density.  It was so yummy!  I would probably serve it with whipped cream sweetened with a touch of honey next time.
  • Unsalted butter, room temperature, for dish and collar
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for dish
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2 ounces best-quality bittersweet chocolate (about 1/2 cup), finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting (optional)
  1. Position rack in center of oven. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut a parchment collar about 20 inches long by 6 inches high. Brush the top half of one side with butter. Butter sides only of a 1-quart souffle dish; coat with an even layer of sugar; set aside.
  2. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together 1/4 cup sugar and milk. Bring to a boil; remove from heat.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup sugar, the flour, and egg yolks. Slowly pour the hot-milk mixture into the egg-yolk mixture, whisking constantly.
  4. Transfer milk-and-yolk mixture to saucepan. Whisk over medium-high heat until mixture thickens, about 40 seconds. Make sure to whisk along side of pan to prevent scorching.
  5. Remove pastry cream from heat, add chopped chocolate, and whisk until melted. Add cocoa powder; whisk until combined. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  6. Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine egg whites and cream of tartar on low speed until frothy. Increase to medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add 2 tablespoons sugar. Increase mixer speed to high, and whisk until stiff but not dry peaks form.
  7. Whisk chocolate pastry cream to loosen and release steam, add 1/3 of the egg-white mixture, and whisk vigorously until mixture is combined and lightened.
  8. Using a rubber spatula, lightly stir remaining egg-white mixture to loosen; this will keep you from overmixing the souffle. Fold remaining egg whites into lightened chocolate cream.
  9. Transfer souffle mixture to prepared dish, and smooth top with a spatula. Secure parchment collar around dish with kitchen twine so that the collar extends 3 inches above the dish. Or you could do what I did, carefully place the buttered parchment paper inside the souffle dish, making sure it extends up above the souffle dish an then carefully pouring the mixture in.  This worked for me. Place in oven, and bake for 10 minutes; reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees, and cook for 20 minutes more for a creamy center or 25 minutes more for a slightly drier center.
  10. If desired, dust souffle with confectioners' sugar; serve immediately.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Picky's birthday dinner - tri tip steak, green beans with pesto, and potato cheese tart

Yesterday was Picky's birthday!  Yay!  I wanted to make him something special, something that he would like, so I didn't get too adventurous.  Picky didn't say anything in particular that he wanted, so I just started throwing out suggestions until he said sure.  Steak, or any kind of meat, is such an obvious choice.  He loves his meat a lot!  But I wanted to make it extra special, so I put my special rub on it.  Plus, at the last minute, I decided to make a red wine sauce.

For the green beans I didn't want to just toss them in olive oil and add salt and pepper like I usually do, so I looked online for some inspiration.  I found a recipe for a green bean, and potato salad with pesto and thought, well that's what I'll do.  Minus the potatoes.

The potato cheese tart was an obvious choice because it was the first thing I ever cooked for Picky and he loved it then.  I made some adjustments to the recipe, because I didn't have all the ingredients, but it turned out just as yummy.

Considering that Picky is currently in a food coma, I would say this dinner was a success!

Stay  tuned for:  Chocolate Souffle!

Note:  I am in the process of moving and will have to post the recipe for the spice rub that I used on the steak at a later date.

Red Wine Sauce for Steak

1/2 bottle of red wine
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 tablespoon of flour
salt to taste

Pour the wine in a sauce pan over medium high heat and then lower to a simmer when it starts to boil.  You will want to reduce it to half.  After it has reduced, turn the heat off.

In a separate sauce pan, over medium heat, melt the butter.  After it has started to brown, add the flour and whisk.  After the mixture has cooked for a couple minutes, add the reduced wine to the pan and whisk.  Whisk often for about 5 minutes.  Right before you turn off the heat, add the salt to your liking and whisk in.  It is now ready to pour over the meat of your choice.

Green beans with pesto
Please don't feel that you need to follow this recipe to a T.  I tend to wing it, every time I make pesto.
For the pesto:
One big bunch of basil (about two big handfuls) (or you can use spinach or arugula) 
About 1  cup of walnuts  or pine nuts
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
Olive oil
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese (or asiago) (optitonal)
Salt to taste

Toss all of the ingredients, except for the olive oil and salt in a food processor or blender.  Start the processor.  While it is processing, start pouring olive oil, slowly, and in a thin stream in the processor or blender.  When it starts to come together, stop pouring and stop the processor.  Put in a container and mix in salt to taste.  If you're not going to use it right away, you can stick it in the freezer.

I used frozen green beans and just followed the directions on the package when I put them in the microwave, except I put it for one minute less.  Then I threw the green beans in a pan with some pesto over low heat and mixed together until the green beans were hot.  Then serve!

Potato Cheese tart
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen who adapted it from Gourmet

I didn't follow this recipe exactly.  I didn't have small red potatoes on hand so I used the regular brown potatoes and one white sweet potato since that is what I had.  Plus, I didn't have blue cheese so I used what I had, which was Gruyere and cheddar.  It still came out very tasty!  I would probably not only slice the potatoes 1/4 inch thick, but I would also cut the slices in half to make them smaller.  The herbs that I used were fresh rosemary and fresh thyme (again, this is what I had on hand).  As long as you very finely chop them, it will be really yummy!

1 Savory Tart Shell, below, or recipe of your choice, in a 9-inch tart pan and ready to fill
1 pound any type of potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch slices, and then cut in half if using large potatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1 large egg yolk
1/4 pound Gruyere and cheddar, diced very small (about 3/4 cup)
1 tablespoons finely chopped herb or herbs of your choice, such as a mixture of thyme and rosemary
Fine sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium saucepan, cover potato slices with water by two inches. Simmer, uncovered, until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. If the potatoes don’t seem very dry, pat them dry with towels.
Arrange potato slices, overlapping slightly, in concentric circles around the tart pan. Sprinkle cheese over potatoes. Whisk cream and egg yolk together and pour into tart shell, then sprinkle tart with herbs of your choice and salt.
Bake tart on a baking sheet until bubbling and golden brown, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan on rack and serve warm or cold (I prefer it warm).  The cream/egg mixture will be custardy, so it is best to let it cool a bit so when you cut it, the cream doesn't come flowing out.

Savory Tart Shell
1 1/4 (5 1/2 ounces) cups flour
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) butter, diced
1 large egg
In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch and salt. Cut the butter in with a pastry blender, fork or two knives until it is in very tiny bits. Add one egg and mix with a fork until a dough forms. If this does not happen easily, toss it out onto a counter and knead it together. This dough is rather tough but with a little elbow grease, it does come together nicely.
This dough can also be made a food processor, or in a stand mixer, though I’ve only tried it in a food processor.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a 12-inch circle. Place the dough in a 9-inch pie plate or tart pan and press to remove any air bubbles. Level the edges, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Proceed with a filling of your choice, no parbaking required.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

So let me tell you about Easter dinner.

Hello's me Picky.
First just let me say that my "picky" food habits are really a "fear" of trying new, different, and unusual foods that fall outside my tried and true comfort foods. Unfortunately to an adventurous foodie like my own personal chef( and the love of my life), this is looked at as a challenge and not being willing to try something is out of the question. Luckily I know that if something doesn't agree with my super-tasting buds(cilantro and curry), then it will no longer be on the menu.
Getting to Easter dinner. My traditional Easter ham dinner is definitely what can be called comfort food: honey glazed spiral ham, potatoes and corn with bread and butter. But to the adventurous foodie this is way too boring. So goodbye potatoes, corn, bread with butter, and hello zucchini, asparagus, and ham with grape juice and ginger-ale. The ham and asparagus seemed fine, but the zucchini idea made me nervous. Stories my brother told me about how disgusting zuchini was ( my aunt tricked him into eating fried zucchini) were all I could think of. So I went to the driving range so dinner could be prepared (and to prepare my taste buds for zucchini).
As I returned home I was treated to the most delicious appetizer. One I couldn't believe I was eating. Zucchini, prepared as a fritter with feta cheese, and a Greek yogurt with dill for dipping. Absolutely to die for. You gotta try that recipe, you will not be sorry. Another victory for chef foodie( and me and my belly too). The only way to top the fritters was to serve up the juiciest and sweetest ham with a side of asparagus covered in a tomato bacon stew( can't go wrong with bacon). So dinner was a rousing success and I never once wondered where my potatoes,corn or bread were.

Easter, part 3 - ginger ale and grape juice glazed ham

Ham!!!!!  Just saying the word to Picky, I see the drool forming in the corners of his mouth.  During our "What will we eat for Easter dinner" negotiations, Picky was somewhat adamant about having ham.  He said every year he has ham.  Every time I mentioned lamb, I saw an expression on his face that probably saw a lot of action back when he was a toddler.  It was the equivalent of him pouting.  I wish I had taken a picture of it.  Here, let me see if I can draw it:
 Why, no, I don't have a creative bone in my body.  Why do you ask?

Anyway, I agreed to the ham, but said I would prepare it how I wanted to prepare it.  I didn't want the sugar encrusted, honey baked, spiral-sliced ham.  I wanted to do something different with it.  And I found a recipe on Steamy Kitchen that intrigued me.  Mostly because it seemed a little off the wall, at least to me.  But what do you know?  Picky loved it!  I loved it!  It still tasted like ham, it was just a better version than what I've had in the past.  However, the smallest ham Picky could find was for an 8 pound ham.  Anyone want to come over and have some leftover ham?

Ginger Ale-Grape Juice glazed Ham 

Adapted from Steamy Kitchen

Cook Time: 15 minutes per pound

11-12 pound bone-in ham with natural juices
2 1/2 cups grape juice, divided
2 1/2 cups cola, divided ( used ginger ale, but please, don't use diet!)
20-ounce can of sliced pineapple (you'll need both the juice and the pineapple)
2 cups brown sugar
Let the ham stand at room temperature for 90 minutes.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Set the rack at the lowest position. Rinse and pat dry the ham. Using a sharp knife, score the skin of the ham in a criss-cross pattern. Place ham in a roasting pan. Pour just 1 1/2 cups of the cola and 1 1/2 cups of grape juice into the pan and add additional water if necessary to bring the liquid level to 1/2 inch. Cover the pan tightly with tin foil. Roast in oven for 2 3/4 to 3 hours (about 15 minutes per pound) or until the internal temperature of the ham reaches 100 degrees F.
While the ham is cooking, prepare the glaze. Combine the remaining 1 cup grape juice, 1 cup cola, the juice from the pineapple (reserve the pineapple slices for later) and the brown sugar in a small sauce pot and simmer on low for 20 minutes, until it becomes thick and glossy. Let stand at room temperature until ready to use (as the glaze cools, it will thicken up, making it easier to brush on the ham).
Take the ham out of the oven when it reaches the first internal temperature of 100 degrees F. Turn the oven to 425
degrees F. Brush the ham with about 1/4 of the glaze all over. Use toothpicks to stud the ham with the sliced pineapple, if desired. Once the oven comes to temperature, return the ham, uncovered to oven. Bake for 15 minutes until the liquid is bubbly and the ham has turned to a nice, deep golden brown. The internal temperature of the ham should be 140 degrees F.
Remove ham to a cutting board and let rest for 15 minutes.
Return the remaining glaze to the stove on medium-low heat to warm the glaze up for serving. Carve and slice the ham, drizzle a bit of the cola glaze on each plate.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter, part 2 - asparagus and tomato-bacon stew

So, yes, asparagus.  Picky hadn't tried asparagus until he met me.  A few months ago, I made him try it.  He loved it!  He couldn't believe how good it tasted.  I think he just had this kind of mistrust of green vegetables because he assumes they are all going to taste like spinach.  Um, yeah, he now realizes they each have their own unique tastes.

Normally, I like to roast the veggies under the broiler because I feel that roasting brings out a really nice, almost caramelized flavor to the veggies.  Try it sometime!  The great thing about the broiler is that it cooks the veggies very quickly.  Something like asparagus takes only 8 minutes, which is huge because Picky may be patient when it comes to his job, but he is very impatient when it comes to other things, like food that should already be in his belly.

But this preparation of asparagus was something I hadn't tried before.  I have steamed asparagus in water before, but I had never used chicken stock.  And you know, it makes sense that cooking your veggies this way would add some flavor to your veggies.  I'm not sure why I never thought of it before.  I need to try this out on other veggies.

 Asparagus and Tomato-Bacon Stew
Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home

Picky was really expecting some green beans and maybe some sauce, but I switched it up on him!  Thankfully, asparagus and bacon are things that he loves, so I didn't worry about whether he would like it.  He actually loved it, and I loved it too!

3 ounces applewood smoked thick sliced bacon, cut into 1-inch lardons
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped leeks (white and light green parts only)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped onion
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
one 14 ounce can San Marzano whole tomatoes
Canola oil (optional)
2 1/2 pounds large asparagus, trimmed and peeled
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chicken stock
extra virgin olive oil

Pour 2 tablespoons water into a medium saucepan and set over medium heat.  Add the bacon, reduce the heat to medium-low, and let the bacon render its fat for 30 minutes.  The bacon will color but not become completely crisp.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain.

Pour off all but 1 to 2 tablespoons fat from the pan, reserving the extra fat.  Set the pan over medium heat, ad the leeks, onion, and garlic to the fat, stir tot coat, and season with salt and pepper.  Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the veggies are soft.  Add the tomatoes, with their juice, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 45 minutes.

Transfer the whole tomatoes and some of the juice to a food processor, blender, or use a hand blender and puree.  Stir the tomatoes back into the pan, return to a simmer, and cook until thickened, about 15 minutes.  Stir in bacon and reduce the heat to low.

Heat a large frying pan that will hold half the asparagus in a single layer over medium-low heat.  Pour a film of the reserved bacon fat or canola oil into the pan.  Arrange half the asparagus in the pan, pour 3 tablespoons of the stock over it, and sprinkle with salt.  Cook until the asparagus is tener but not limp, 6 to 7 minutes.  Season with additional salt to taste and arrange the asparagus on a platter.  Repeat with the remaining asparagus.

Spoon the sauce in a band across the asparagus.  Drizzle with olive oil.

Serves 6.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Dinner , part 1 - Zucchini Fritters

Ah, Easter.  Picky's Easter dinners have consisted of ham, corn, and mashed/boiled potatoes.  Mine have consisted of ham, lamb, and even a cajun theme one adventurous year.  Since I am in charge of most of the cooking around here, I obviously vetoed the normal ham, corn and mashed potato thing.  Not adventurous enough for me.  I kind of told Picky that we would have my version of ham, but that I would go ahead with the potato thing.  Um, I kind of lied.  I had no intention of making potatoes!

It wasn't until I started making the zucchini fritters that Picky had any idea that we would be eating zucchini.  He didn't seem horrified, but he didn't seem enthusiastic either.  Maybe wary.  I know Jon hasn't expressed his desire to try zucchini.  But I didn't care.

So, I turned to my friend, Michael Symon, for a great zucchini fritter recipe.  I've never made any kind of fritter before, mostly because I just try to stay away from frying in general.  But these were worth the effort, and the few burns I received from the splattering oil.  I really miss my splatter screen!!  I need to buy a new one.

Part 2 - Asparagus with bacon tomato stew

Part 3 - Ham with ginger ale and grape soda sauce (I know, just trust me on this)

Zucchini Fritters with Feta and Dill
Adapted from Michael Symon's Live to Cook 

Makes about 8 fritters.

I just have to say, that where it says to put the grated zucchini in a clean dish towel, don't think you'll use a paper towel instead because you're too lazy to find a clean dish towel (like me).  Because then you'll end up digging through  grated zucchini and picking out soggy paper towel.  And then you might miss a piece and up eating me.

2 medium zucchini
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (or 2 teaspoons dried dill)
1 large scallion, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 oz. feta cheese, coarsely chopped or crumbled
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Canola oil, for pan-frying
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
Coarse sea salt

Grate the zucchini on the large holes of a grater onto a clean kitchen towel.  Sprinkle with the kosher salt and let it rest while you gather and prep the remaining ingredients.

Wrap the zucchini in the towel and wring as much liquid out of it as possible, discarding the liquid (don't be impatient like me and figure you squeezed enough.  Just keep squeezing!).  In a medium bowl, combine the zucchini, mint, dill, scallion, garlic, pepper, feta, and all but 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest.  Stir in the egg and flour and mix until well combined.

Ad the canola oil to a large shallow pan; you want about 1/4 inch or enough so that when all the fritters are in the pan, the oil comes halfway up thieir sides.  Place the pan over medium-high heat.  Form fritters by hand and fry them in the hot oil in batches.  Cook until the fritters are golden brown on each side, 4 to 6 minutes.  Drain on paper towels.

Transfer the fritters to plates and garnish with a dollop of Greek yogurt and sprinkling of dill, the reserved lemon zest, an some coarse sea salt.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Few Words from Picky

Seeing how this blog is about my finicky eating habits, I thought I should have a little input. Yes I will admit that I have many food phobias. These have now somehow become cooking "rules" to live by, but as you will see my "rules" are being bent and manipulated, albeit in a good way, to satisfy the adventurous needs of my amazing girlfriend. Since each new and delicious recipe looks to debunk my tried and true "rules" that I have lived by for 40 plus years, I hope it will show other picky eaters that there is hope for them as well.
Baked macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite dishes. Made by mom with only the standard ingredients: macaroni and cheddar cheese. A picky eaters delicacy. Well this just wasn't good enough for my girlfriends sense of adventurous eating. Soon there were shallots (just a fancy onion), odd cheeses like Fontina and Gruyere, Panko bread crumbs (not real bread in my eyes), and god forbid Truffle oil( who knew mushrooms had oil). Lets just say that the use of mushrooms is a violation of one of my "food rules", and left me wondering if this version of mac and cheese would leave me making those happy eating noises. Well, wonder no more. This Mac and cheese will be a permanent fixture on my menu. It left me wanting more, even though I had already had 2 servings. The shallots being caramelized in bacon fat and the the truffle oil in the topping were a perfect touch and as is usually the case, caused me to edit my rule about NO MUSHROOMS. Hope you give this delicious recipe a try. See you next recipe.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Semi-Fancy Mac and Cheese

 Obviously, my picture taking skills are horrible!  I promise that the mac and cheese looks much better in person than in pictures.  The pictures do add those dreaded 10 pounds.  Poor mac and cheese!
 Anyway, this give me another opportunity to tell a Picky story.  This one occurred during the creation of this dish.  The mac and cheese was browning in the oven, and I had just finished checking on it.  The following exchange occurred:

Me:  "What are you doing?"
Picky:  *looking at me with the same expression I have seen my cat give me a million times.  It's the one where my cat is about to knock something over, but I catch him before he can commit his mischief, yet he looks at me and then knocks the thing over super fast and runs away.  So yeah, Picky had a piece of cheese in his hand, and looked at me the same way that my cat looks at me*
Me:  "Don't eat that!"
Picky: *he greedily shoves the piece of cheese into his mouth before I can take it away*

Yes, my boyfriend has now turned into my cat.  Now, I am not some cruel cheese mistress, who only lets Picky look at cheese without eating it.  He had already had some cheese on his egg sandwich this morning, plus, I had added 2 cups of shredded cheese to the mac and cheese sauce.  But no, I guess that isn't enough for Picky.  He acts like he has been cheese deprived!

 Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys this recipe.  I have to admit, this is probably one of the most delicious mac and cheese recipes I have ever made.  And the way Picky was attacking not only his serving, but also the entire vessel containing the rest of the mac and cheese, I would have to say he agrees.  But stay tuned for his review.
Semi-Fancy Mac and Cheese
Inspired by various mac and cheese recipes online

I looked at many mac and cheese recipes online.  Unfortunately, I didn’t keep track of all the ones that interested me, so I’m just going from the things I saw that seemed like a good idea and combining them in one recipe.  As far as cheese goes, I had Picky select three different cheeses and combined them.  Because of the wine, the sauce will be wine colored, unless you go with a white wine.  Or you could add beer instead, but then it would be only a quarter-fancy.
4 slices of applewood smoked bacon, or more if you really love bacon (reserve the fat for this recipe)
2 very large shallots or 5 smaller ones, sliced thinly
1 package of macaroni, or any tube-like pasta that you prefer

3 tablespoons of a combination of unsalted butter and/or bacon fat
3 tablespoons flour
½ cup red wine
1 cup low fat milk
1 cup half and half
½ cup of fontina cheese
¾ cup of aged cheddar
¾ cup of gruyere
Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups unseasoned panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons truffle oil or extra virgin olive oil(optional)
1 tablespoon rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon thyme

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter or oil a 9 by 7 inch baking dish.
Place the bacon in a skillet on medium high heat until the bacon is crispy, but not burned.  Make sure to turn it halfway through cooking (after 2 or 3 minutes).  Remove to a plate with a paper towel and allow to drain.  Chop when it is cool into quarter inch pieces.
After placing the bacon on paper towels, remove most of the bacon fat except for 1 tablespoon.  Lower the heat to medium, or medium low.  Add the sliced shallots to the pan, and stir occasionally until it is light brown in color, about 8 minutes.  Remove from the pan and set aside.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat (the water will boil faster if you cover the pot).  When it is boiling, make sure to salt the water, then add the macaroni, and boil for the 1 minute less than the package calls for.  The pasta should be a little more than al dente, just slightly.  Since you will put the mac and cheese in the oven, you don’t want the pasta to be too done.  Strain in a colander, but don’t rinse!
After you have started to boil the water, place your butter or bacon fat in a sauce pan over medium heat.  If you are using butter, wait until the butter stops bubbling, add the flour and whisk together.  Cook for a minute or two until the roux (flour and butter) starts to brown.  If you are using bacon fat, let it heat for a minute and then add the flour letting it cook for a minute or two.  Whisk in the wine until combined.  Let this cook for a 2 -3 minutes before you add the low fat milk.  Add a little at a time, alternating between the milk and the half and half, whisking after each addition. Your sauce should be the consistency of alfredo sauce.  If it is a bit thicker than that, add a half a ladle of pasta water to your sauce and wisk.  Add more until it coats a spoon, but isn’t the consistency of gravy.  After all the liquids have been added, add your grated cheeses, one at a time, making sure to whisk after each addition until melted.  Taste your sauce at this point.  You might not need to add salt because of the cheese and the salt contained in the cooked pasta.  Add pepper to taste.  Take the sauce off the heat.  Add the chopped bacon and the shallots.
At this point, combine the sauce and the macaroni in a large bowl and mix together until well combined.  Pour this in your greased baking pan.
Finally, combine the panko, the melted butter and your oil in a small bowl, along with the remaining herbs.  Mix with a fork until well combined.  Spread the combined topping evenly over the mac and cheese and place in the oven for 25-30 minutes until the top is browned.  Take out and enjoy with a loved one!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

No, I haven't made anything yet...

...but I thought a story would help those who are anxious for an update.  Before I go on with my story, I swear, tomorrow, I will have a real recipe for a very rich mac and cheese.  I might even throw in some truffle oil (don't tell Picky).

So, for our second date, I decided to cook for Picky.  During our first date, he ate some fried clams and he didn't mention anything about the many things he will not eat.  So, I thought, "It shouldn't be a problem if I make a rack of lamb, a potato blue cheese tart, and some creme brulee."   Well, I was right about two out of the three items.  It isn't like the menu was a complete surprise to him.  I told him what I was planning to make and he didn't say anything!  So, here I am, all proud of my delicious rack of lamb, which were cooked medium rare, so that he could taste their full flavor.  And he seemed lukewarm about them.  I encouraged him to feel free to pick them up and eat them off the bone so he could get every delicious morsel.  But, he didn't.  Instead, he nibbled at them like a frightened rabbit!  He did seem to really enjoy the potato tart and the creme brulee though.  I thought maybe he was full since there was so much meat left on the bones!  And he didn't want leftovers!  I think I ended up eating more lamb than he did. 

Finally, after we had dated for a few weeks, he finally confessed to me, after much prying, that it was the first time that he had lamb.  And then he listed the food rules I had violated in serving it to him:
            1.  It tasted game-y.
            2.  It was not well done (he has this fear that he will get sick from meat if it isn't cooked well done).
            3.  The most horrible of all, IT WAS STILL ON THE BONE! -  He does not want to eat anything, not even chicken, if the bone is still attached to it.  He will eat ribs, but he will leave the meat that is right next to the bone.

I was horrified that I basically had starved him that night.  And a bit worried that I ended up with someone who is overall, a wonderful human being, but seemed to have the opposite tastes in food.  I mean, this is someone who will never split a roll of sushi with me.  But through trial and error (and possibly blending up veggies and hiding them in his food), I have managed to broaden his food horizons a little at a time.  I mean, it truly is an accomplishment that he now loves asparagus!

I hope this story appeases the masses (heavy sarcasm).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hi and Welcome!!

I've always been someone who followed personal blogs since people keeping a journal of their personal lives for others was just fascinating.  But then I discovered food blogs!  And I have to admit, I was late getting on that bandwagon.  But now, I can't enough of them!

Well, after saying "Someday, I will have my own food blog" (in a very tiny voice), I have finally decided to start one.  And, thanks to Borders and their closing sale, I picked up Thomas Keller's ad hoc at home.  I was tempted to get French Laundry, but after flipping through it, I realized I would only be able to cook two things from it for Picky.  Oh, Picky is my boyfriend.  He doesn't like curry, probably because of coriander.  We figured it was because of the cilantro.  Unfortunately, he is a super taster and can pick up individual flavors in food where others can't.  Plus, he doesn't like seafood or fish because all he can taste is the briny fishy flavor, no matter how well prepared.  Plus he doesn't like game, because it tastes gamey.  So, this puts a bit of a damper on my creativity.

Anyway, I like to cook the complicated, to the not so complicated, healthy meals with lots of veggies, to really decadent desserts and meals.  I'm all over the place.  I hope you enjoy sharing in my cooking adventures!