Monday, October 27, 2008


Now that the weather is starting to get colder, and the days are starting to get shorter, it only means one thing: it's time to start making soups and stews in the house again.

I try my best to be a "seasonal cooker", not just in trying to use ingredients that are in season, but cooking techniques as well. During the summer, I refuse to turn my oven on, and I barely use the stovetop. However, now that cold weather is creeping in, I *love* making soup. One of my favorites is old-school, no-nonsense chicken and sausage gumbo. There's nothing more satisfying than a delicious bowl of gumbo with some fluffy rice...I'm so happy I have some waiting for me in the refrigerator (leftovers from last night).

One of the simplest recipes ever. Just make sure your arm is rested.

2 tbsp oil
3 chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 lb smoked sausage (andouille is best, but it is too spicy for Steph's taste so I use kielbasa), cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour
4 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped green pepper
8 cups chicken stock (at room temperature)
cayenne pepper
sliced green onions (for garnish)

Film the bottom of a heavy Dutch oven with the 2 tbsp oil over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken, then brown the sausage in the pot. Remove the meat from the pot, and wipe with a paper towel to clean out any excess moisture. Add the 1 cup oil and heat over medium for 2 minutes. Add flour and stir, stir, stir until combined. Do not stop stirring! This is making the roux, which is the thickening agent for the soup. DO NOT burn the roux! It will be shiny and should be "like sand at low tide" (according to the CIA), and will darken in color and become nutty in aroma. Keep stirring until the roux is the color of a penny, then add the vegetables and keep stirring until they are completely coated in roux and softened nicely. SLOWLY pour in your stock and stir continuously until all your stock is added. Increase heat and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for an hour (or more). Serve with fluffy white rice.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Panini Wednesday

Tonight, I made chicken with bacon, rosemary and lemon, and it was just as good this time around as it was the last time. I was able to save some time by making cutlets out of breast halves, and it was still delicious. I also added more bacon (is there any other 2-word combo better than 'more bacon' in the English language?) so it was even more delicious.

However, I want to talk about last night. Wednesday night is usually grad school night, and this semester I've fallen into the habit of making panini for dinner. This time around, I picked up "panini rolls" from Wegmans to use, as opposed to the traditional peasant-style boule I'd snag. I was picking up some roast beef and provolone for Steph's, but then I saw they had some roast pork and all I thought was "cubanos". So I helped myself to some sliced roast pork, ham and swiss, picked up a jar of dill pickles and was on my way to tasty deliciousness. We've become fans of the Kettle Brand Lightly Salted potato chips - not greasy and not overtly salty, but still a tasty accompaniment.

Seeing that I want to add more pictures to my blog, I had my wonderful wife Stephanie (who was not eating yet, and therefore free) snap some pictures as I was preparing dinner. Here we go.

Here's me spreading some sun-dried tomato relish onto both sides of Stephanie's panino. Sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and some McCormick Italian seasoning in the Cuisinart Mini-Prep.

This is Stephanie's sandwich, before closing and pressing.

This is my cubano, layered from the bottom, with mustard, ham, roast pork, dill pickle slices, swiss cheese and mayo. Absolutely delicious.

This is my "panini press". I've gotten into the habit of using a heated quarter-sheet pan, with all my pots stacked on top. It's honestly alot easier than pulling out the Le Creuset. It makes a great sandwich, that's for sure.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Melted the Ice Queen

So yesterday, Mom and I trekked up to Short Hills Mall (or The Mall at Short Hills for you snobby folk) to meet up with Katya and get some cookbooks signed by Martha Stewart. First off, just to get the sappiness out of the way - it's great when you're friends with someone, you don't see someone for, literally, years, but when you hang out again, you can just pick up where you left off without a hitch. So glad to see Katya last night, can't wait to meet up again!

So we're standing on line, BSing about food and constitutional law and cake decorating and other randomness, and all of a sudden there were carts with refreshments getting wheeled up and down the line. Shortly after, they brought around a snack - creamy tomato soup (recipe from the new cookbook) for all to enjoy. It was better service than I've ever had on an airplane - so friendly...and delicious soup!

So finally, after like 1.5 hours, the moment arrives, and we head into Williams-Sonoma to get our books signed. I walk in, Mom goes first and says something to Martha about how all her recipes come out great and what not, then it's my turn. I tell her it was great to meet her and how happy my wife is going to be that I'm going to have new recipes to cook - she responds that it's great that I do the cooking in the house, and then asks if my mom (pointing over to Mom) is a good cook...I respond "she's good...but I'm better!" At that point...I get a wink and a chuckle...from Martha Stewart. Talk about shocking, I was not expecting emotion! I melted the ice queen!

So after getting our books signed and ogling all the cookware we don't need/can't afford/don't have storage space for, we went off to California Pizza Kitchen for some tasty pizza. We had the Roasted Pepper and Goat Cheese Pizza and the Mango Tandoori Chicken Pizza. The first one was pretty good, but the Mango Tandoori was UNREAL. Spicy and sweet and delicious - I'd definitely order it again.

Eating tasty pizza and hanging out with an old friend, and meeting Martha and making her chuckle. All in all, a great night.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Katya > Martha

I got a Facebook message from my friend Katya, asking if I wanted to go to a Martha Stewart book signing. Like she needed to ask - I'm always on the lookout for additions to my collection of autographed cookbooks. She replied she figured I would say yes, and she had picked me up a ticket when she had stopped by to get hers before she even asked me if I wanted to go. Talk about a great friend - THANK YOU KATYA! Tomorrow I'll be the proud owner of a brand-new autographed copy of Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook. Totally wicked - can't wait to use it.

So here's my list of autographed cookbooks - yes, I am a huge nerd:
  • Louisiana Real and Rustic - Emeril Lagasse (Mom got this at a local B&N book signing some years ago)
  • Fork in the Road - Paul Prudhomme (this was my grandmothers', it's addressed to her)
  • Express Lane Meals - Rachael Ray (no personalization - I HATE YOU - this is a story for a for a whole different post)
  • Williams-Sonoma Mustards - Chuck Williams (wandered into the opening at the Short Hills mall when I was 14 years old, walked away with this!!!)
  • Farallon - Mark Franz (from Farallon in San Fran, a gift from the parents when they were out that way a few years ago - still haven't made anything from it yet)

Almond-Fruit Balls with Coconut

I'm home sick with the gout today, so I'm not doing much in the way of walking around. Fortunately, I've got flank steak marinating in the fridge (2:1 lime juice:soy sauce, chopped garlic, ginger and scallions) and Steph is going to stop for some Wegmans premade potatoes (she likes their roasted yams or their sweet mashed, but I like their garlic mashed.) Good time to write about my Sunday morning.

So I had this recipe that I can't remember where I got it from, but it was intriguing to me because A) it required no cooking and B) it was full of tasty and relatively nutritious stuff and C) I've been looking for something tasty to nosh on when the sweet tooth comes calling. Hence, Almond-Fruit Balls:

1 cup almonds (the recipe called for raw, I only have roasted and salted)
1/8 tsp salt (I omitted this since the almonds were salted)
1/4 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (I used, 3/4 tsp extract)
4 oz dried pineapple, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
4.5 oz soft Medjool dates, pitted (about 1 cup)
2 tbsp dried cranberries
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut (I only could find sweetened at Wegmans)

Pulse the almonds in the Cuisinart until finely ground (you're supposed to add the salt and the vanilla seeds at this point. Obviously, I did not follow Bonnie's #2) Add the pineapple and dates (I added the vanilla extract) and process until the mixture holds together. Transfer to a bowl, stir in cranberries, roll into 1" balls and roll into coconut. Enjoy.

What worked: The final product is absolutely delicious. They're chewy and 2-3 are very satisfying in terms of flavor and sweetness. They have a texture that is similar to a dense DD chocolate Munchkin.

What didn't: After the processing of the dates and pineapples into the almonds (which took longer than I thought it would, I had to keep the processor going), the final 'dough' was VERY oily. As I was rolling them into balls, I had oil literally dripping off my hands. I don't know if maybe I overprocessed, or if it had to do with the fact that I was using roasted almonds as opposed to raw almonds. It was just something I wasn't expecting - although my hands were super-soft when I was done and all cleaned up. Also, the coconut did not stick to the outside of the balls as well as I'd have liked, another symptom of the excess oil on the 'dough'.

What I'm planning for next time: Raw almonds, vanilla bean (not extract), lower processing time, chopping up the cranberries before stirring them in.

It's definitely a repeat recipe, and they'll last a while since I don't have to worry about Stephanie noshing on them - she's not the biggest fan of dates or almonds.


Steph said I should have more pictures on my blog. I think its a great idea. I just don't know how to take pictures while cooking at the same time. Help?

Saturday, October 18, 2008


How can you go wrong? It's easy - you can't with this awesome recipe I made earlier (again, courtesy of my favorite source for recipes)

15-Minute Fudge
16 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
1 tbsp vanilla
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped

Toss the chocolate with the baking soda and salt. Add the sweetened condensed milk and tha vanilla and stir to combine. Melt over a double boiler, while stirring until most of the chocolate is melted*. Remove from heat, and keep stirring until all the chocolate is melted. Fold in the nuts, then pour and spread into an 8" baking pan, lined with foil w/ overhangs. Refrigerate for a while, then serve.

*Be careful here. If you overheat the chocolate (like I did), some of it starts to break and the oil separates out, leaving you with a greasy top on your fudge. I ended up having to blot the top of the fudge with paper towels to drain off some of the oils from the chocolate.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chris Kimball GOOD, Bowties BAD

I think if I ever met Christopher Kimball, I'd probably give him a big hug. The man sure knows how to run a company, and that company sure knows how to write a cookbook. The bow tie, however, has to go...I'm a huge nerd and I don't wear bow ties regularly.

Anyway, tonight's culinary delight was another offering from the Best of America's Test Kitchen 2007, which was Chicken Breasts with Bacon, Rosemary and Lemon. Honestly, you had me at bacon. As always, I followed Bonnie's Rule of Cooking #2 (since I was making it for the first time) but I halved this recipe. I'll give the method I followed, with the recipe halved, then reflect (oooooh! reflective practice!) on what I'm planning on doing differently next time. Here we go...

2 slices thick-cut bacon
1/8 c flour
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1/2 tbsp butter
2 garlic cloves, sliced very thinly
1/2 tsp dried rosemary, chopped (the recipe called for fresh, so much for the rules!)
dash red pepper flakes
1/2 c low-sodium chicken broth
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (NEVER EVER use the bottled stuff!)

In a non-non-stick skillet, fry up the bacon over low until crispy and the fat is rendered, about 5 minutes, and transfer it to a piece of paper towel to drain off the fat, and chop into small pieces. While the bacon is cooking, season the flour with salt and pepper and dredge the chicken in it, shaking off the excess. Pour off all but 1 tbsp of bacon fat, add the butter and heat to medium-high. When the butter stops foaming, add your chicken, and cook 5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken, tent with foil. Lower the heat to medium, add the garlic, rosemary and red pepper, and cook until the garlic is golden brown, about 1 minute or so. BE CAREFUL not to let your garlic overcook - it will turn disgustingly bitter and ruin the entire dish. Add the broth and lemon juice to the pan, scrape off all the tasty fond from the bottom of the pan, and simmer for 3 minutes until thickened. Add the chicken back to the pan and cook until the sauce is thick, another 3 minutes, while turning once or twice. Serve (we had egg noodles).

What I'm going to do differently the next time I make this (and there will be a next time):
1) Chicken cutlets - the time you put in on the prep end by cutting the breasts into cutlets gets realized on the cooking end with quicker cooking times. As always, cutlets need to be monitored carefully to make sure they don't dry out.
2) When the chicken came out of the original saute, it had a bit of a crust from the flour, which turned soggy when it was put back into the sauce to simmer. I think next time I'm just going to saute off the chicken, make the sauce, then add the chicken back to the sauce *right before* I'm about to serve.
3) More bacon. Can't go wrong by adding more bacon (as Stephanie just reminded me)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pork w/ Apple-Sage Sauce

In preparation for writing this post, I say to Steph "Hon, can you go get me my cookbook from the kitchen?" Needless to say, I could feel the look of incredulity burning itself into the back of my head before I appended "Hon, can you go get me my America's Test Kitchen cookbook from the kitchen?" I am so smrt. (Note: Steph just asked me "you're rooting for Tampa?" before quailing under my look of incredulity. We're both smrt.)

So the exact recipe name from the cookbook is Roast Pork Tenderloin with Lowfat Apple and Sage Cream Sauce. Here's the full recipe (I halved it because I'm cooking for 2):

2 12 oz pork tenderloins, trimmed (and halved crosswise if it doesn't fit into your saute pan)
salt & pepper
vegetable oil
1 Granny Smith, peeled, cored and sliced thinly
1/2 medium onion, sliced thinly
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup apple cider
3 tbsp brandy
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp fresh sage, minced
3 tbsp light cream cheese
2 tsp cider vinegar

Preheat to 450. Pat the tenderloins dry and season with salt and epper. Heat enough oil in a saute pan to film the bottom, and brown the tenderloins on all sides, about 8 minutes. Be careful to watch your heat so you don't burn the fond! Remove the pan from the heat, put the tenderloins in a baking dish and roast for 12 minutes, flipping the tenderloins halfway. Transfer the pork to a cutting board and tent.

While the pork is in the oven, add the apples, onions and salt to the saute pan and heat, covered, over medium-low heat until the onions are soft and the apples are tender, about 8 minutes. Off heat, add the brandy* and cider, then return to heat and scrape all the tasty fond from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the broth and sage, raise the heat to medium-high and simmer, reducing until thickened, about 5 minutes. Pour any pork juices from the pork into the pan, reduce heat to medium-low, whisk in the cream cheese and cook until thickened. Off heat, stir in vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Slice the pork thinly, spoon the sauce over the pork, and serve.

I was trying to figure out what to serve this dish with, and sweet potatoes is usually my go-to starch with pork, but I figured that it would compete with the flavor of the sauce. Instead, I went with wide egg noodles, which was a great choice because they were delicious when I spooned some of the sauce over them on the side. I caught Steph wiping extra sauce from the pan with her fingers - proof positive this recipe was definitely a keeper!

*Even though the pan is not hot enough to ignite the brandy, I've gotten into the habit of always adding brandy off-heat, just in case.

Busy Saturday

Just got back from Wegmans, the greatest supermarket in the world, ready for a full Saturday afternoon of culinary delight. I'm fixing up freezer rations of soboro, mini-chicken burgers, onigiri and rice portions. I'm also trying a new recipe from Just Bento, which is for savory pumpkin-miso mini-muffins. I'll definitely let you all know how those come out. In case you all hadn't figured it out, I'm a huge fan of Just Bento and everyone would do well to check out that amazing site. It's full of great recipes for bento lunches, and is an excellent source for all things bento.

Dinner tonight is pork tenderloin w/ apple-sage cream sauce (courtesy of America's Test Kitchen). Tasty.

I'm also planning on whipping up a batch of white-chocolate chip cookies, straight from the back of the Nestle bag, if I have the time later.

All in all, should be a good afternoon/evening!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Never Thought This Day Would Come

My mother's mother (aka MaMa) was amazingly talented in the kitchen. A child of the Depression, she knew how to take the cheap parts and the leftover pieces and turn them onto something magical. Even though I was never (and still am not) a fan, when she used to fry up chicken livers before a family dinner, everyone would just stand there with a fork and eat them right out of the pan (she used to get them for like 8 cents a pound). She used to buy skirt steak and flank steak when it was the cuts the butcher would try to sell off cheap, before mainstream eaters realized these are two of the tastiest parts of the cow. She ran a kitchen in a bar when my mother was growing up, and eventually became the head of catering for Weil, Gotshal and Manges, which is one of the largest law firms in the United States. Even though at that point she was outsourcing to NYC caterers, she still did some things on site (in a kitchen that had more square footage than my house) and still kept her touch, even after her retirement.

Some of my fondest memories growing up were helping MaMa in the kitchen. I learned at an early age that those who did the cooking did not do the cleaning, and I also yearned for an escape from the cousins and my sister and whomever, so I'd go and ask what I could do to help. I started with washing food, peeling vegetables and stirring pots. As my skills improved, I graduated to measuring ingredients from the spice jars, chopping up veggies, and eventually was allowed to man the stove (usually cooking chicken livers with hungry adults hovering over me - BLECH).

Why am I getting all nostalgic about my grandmother? One of the greatest things she made was rice pudding, and I've never had any rice pudding that compares. The only record of her rice pudding recipe is in a folder at my mother's house, which consists of my grandmother's handwritten ingredient list. Just ingredients, no method. Talk about old-school. She taught my mother how to make it, and I used to beg my mother to teach me how, and I'd always get a vague explanation that was spit out in about 2 seconds. Come on!

Why is this the day I never thought would come? Last night my mother typed up and printed me out the method on how to make MaMa's rice pudding. Oh man. One of the greatest desserts ever, and now I have the recipe. Life today is good. The deliciousness, the creaminess, the sweetness of the greatest rice pudding on the planet! All mine!

Needless to say, don't expect to see THIS recipe posted anytime soon :-D

Monday, October 6, 2008

I Can't Believe I Tried That...

...or "How to Completely Screw Up a Perfectly Good Recipe".

I went to an earlier muay thai class tonight so I could make a quick dinner afterwords - I decided on my recipe for sesame chicken with peanut noodles. I figured it was quick and easy and tasty and I'd have enough to pack tomorrow for lunch for both Stephanie and I. Seemed like a good plan, huh?

Everything was going swimmingly until I decided that I'd try the "original" recipe and add 2 tsp of hot sauce as opposed to 1 tsp. BAD IDEA. I also went with ground ginger since I didn't have any fresh ginger. BAD IDEA. The sauce was all wrong, and I tried to compensate by adding a boatload of more peanut butter. This made the volume of sauce increase quite a bit, and made it extra sticky, extra heavy...just generally AWFUL. I was severely disappointed, and so I will be having a sausage and pepper mini-calzone tomorrow for lunch instead (Steph gets the chicken w/ some rice).

The moral of the story: sometimes you don't need to play with the recipe.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Helping the Environment

I'm not usually one for being "green" but one of my fellow teachers is having a positive effect on me. We eat lunch together, and she has her really swanky and eco-friendly Sigg water bottle. Inspired, I picked up one for Steph and I this weekend at Wegmans. Here's what I got, here's what she got. Aren't we cute.

My karmic aura is that much brighter today.

Char Siu Pork

As I have said before, I am a big fan of America's Test Kitchen and the recipes they come out with. Not only are many of them designed to be relatively easy for the home cook, but I always like reading about just how the recipes were conceptualized, developed and tested. I'm pretty sure there's no recipe that I have made from them that hasn't come out excellently.

To that end, their recipe for char siu pork (aka Chinese BBQ pork) is one of the most unreal things I've ever eaten. Sweet, spicy and tender, it's everything you'd expect when you order from the Chinese food restaurant, only 20x better. I'm not concerned about copyright stuff - here's the recipe:

4 lb boneless pork shoulder roast
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c soy sauce
6 tbsp hoisin sauce
1/4 c dry sherry
1/4 ground white pepper
1 tsp five-spice powder
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c ketchup
1/3 c honey

Cut your pork shoulder in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 4 strips. Trim away the hard fat, but leave a little to render when you're cooking. Poke each strip with a fork 10 times per side then put in a Zip-Loc. In a bowl, mix everything except the ketchup and honey together until smooth. Take 1/2 c of the sauce and put into the Zip-Loc, then seal it up and throw it in the fridge for 2 hours or so. Put the rest of the sauce into a saucepan, add the ketchup and honey, and simmer until reduced and thick, and glazelike.

Preheat your oven to 300. Foil a baking sheet, put a rack on the sheet, then place the marinated pork on the rack. Add 1/4 c water to the bottom of the baking sheet, and cover the whole thing tightly with foil. Put in the oven for 20 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 45 minutes. Take the pork out of the oven, turn on the broiler. Broil the pork 7-8 minutes until crispy, then brush with the glaze. Put it back under the broiler for 3-4 minutes, until the glaze turns deep brown (BE CAREFUL. You do not want this stuff to burn). Flip the pork and repeat the process on the other side.

Let it rest 10 minutes, then slice and serve with rice and stirfried veggies. This is also a great recipe because I can make a TON of the stuff on Sunday and have enough leftovers to be able to bring for lunch for Monday and Tuesday. That's what my application of bento is all about - lunch-size portions of meals I made the night before. It's efficient and it's economical and it's somewhat healthy.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hot Dog "Calzone"

I totally lifted this idea from Not Exactly Bento, which you should definitely check out for great ideas on bento recipes and lunch construction. Her pictures are WAY better than mine will ever be, too. I'm also jealous of some of her bento boxes and feel a big splurge coming on in the future.

Here's what I used:
4 hot dogs, parboiled and cut in half crosswise
1 yellow pepper
1 red pepper
1/2 red onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
cheddar cheese, sliced thin
1 package of Wegmans whole wheat pizza dough

Preheat your oven to 375. Slice the pepper and onion into 1/4" strips. Saute the garlic, onion and peppers w/ a sprinkle of salt and pepper over medium heat until crisp-tender, max 3-4 minutes. Flatten out the dough and cut it into 8 equal pieces. On each piece of dough put a hot dog half, some cheese and some peppers and onions. Roll up the whole megillah, sealing the sides and placing it on a parchment-lined baking sheet, seam-side down. Do this for each hot dog. Brush the top of each roll with some olive oil. Bake until golden brown, 25 minutes or so. Let cool then enjoy.

Next time, I'm going to make it with green peppers and I'm going to parboil up some sweet sausage. Talk about an awesome thing to pack into my lunches, that is filling and tasty and somewhat healthy (as I'm intaking some vegetables, for a change).

...and just so everyone can see what sort of effect my bringing smaller lunches and watching what I'm eating has done...I'm down just about 10 lb since the beginning of September. Not bad at all.