Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hello! Katelyn’s mom here. I love to cook, especially Italian food. I am a horribly messy cook—I use every bowl, every pan, every wooden spoon and measuring cup in the kitchen when I cook. It looks like a war zone when I am done. I thought I’d write about a few of my favorite things and then end with my best recipe. Enjoy!
The Best…

…eating experience I ever had was at a Cuban restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale. The food was really good, but what made it such a great meal was the personal attention showered on us by the owner. We’d never had Cuban food before and sort of threw ourselves at his mercy. We told him we weren’t really sure what to order and he brought us an array of appetizers, main dishes and desserts. I think my favorite part of the meal was the delicious homemade sangria we started with and the flan (Mmmm, flan) we finished with. This was the first time I really understood the importance of hospitality when serving others.
…meal I ever ate in a restaurant was in a specialty restaurant on a cruise ship. I know the food on a cruise ship is free, and we had to pay extra for this meal, but it was worth every penny. It was fabulous! It was a steak house. The service was impeccable—we had a person who brought the bread, another who kept our water glasses full, a sommelier to suggest the best wines to compliment our meal. In my opinion, a filet mignon is one of the best things to spend serious cash on!
…dessert I’ve ever had is the Chocolate Dream at Carrabba’s (A rich fudge brownie brushed with Kahlúa, and layered with chocolate mousse, fresh whipped cream and homemade chocolate sauce). I believe the best time I ever had that was when we were celebrating my son’s engagement to his (now) lovely wife. She earned her way into the family that night ($5 bets anyone?)
…meals I eat with my kids are Kentucky Fried Chicken with Michael and Moo Shoo Pork at North Garden with Katelyn.
…tool in my kitchen is my kitchen shears. I use them to snip herbs, cut chicken wings and pie dough. I even use them to cut paper in a pinch!
…time I have ever had cooking was with Michael, Beckah and Katelyn for my 50th birthday. They planned the whole thing as a surprise. We made homemade raviolis in my kitchen. We made dough on the marble countertop (the eggs tried to get away from us). It was before we had a ravioli press, so they were all different shapes and sizes. Michael made a quick tomato sauce and meatballs while we fed the dough into the pasta machine—again and again and again. Michael also made a cassata pie (Italian cheesecake) for dessert, which is one of my favorites.
…meal I make is sausage cacciatore. It is my “go to” meal for company. It ALWAYS comes out delicious and makes the house smell so good as it cooks. Here is my recipe:

 Sausage Cacciatore

6-8 Italian Sausages cut into bite-size pieces (with my kitchen shears) (Preferably homemade sausages from your local Italian store)
1 lg (28 oz) can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 15 oz can tomato sauce or puree
2 medium peppers chopped into bite-sized pieces (I like to use one red and one green)
8-10 whole mushrooms cleaned and sliced – you want them to be chunky
1 lg onion, chopped
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp dried basil
Salt & pepper to taste
¼ cup Olive oil
½ cup  red wine

In a very large frying pan heat olive oil, add cut up sausages until just browned and remove to a bowl. 

Add garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add onions, peppers and mushrooms. Cook until they just start to soften.

Add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce/puree, herbs, salt & pepper. Add a little bit of water—maybe a ¼ cup. Add in the sausages, including the juices left in the bowl. Bring to a boil. Cook for 30 minutes covered at a low boil. Add the wine. Mix well.

Slant the cover so steam can escape and let simmer for 1 ½ hours stirring occasionally. If it seems a little watery at the end of that time, take the cover completely off and let it simmer away the excess liquid. Serve over pasta.  


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Long time no see!

The thought of blogging pops into my mind at the most inopportune times... like when I'm in the shower in the morning, or when I'm visiting with a client at work, or when I'm laying in bed half asleep.  I think about it constantly yet constantly wonder what there is to blog about as I am not cooking for the Lake House any longer.  I did recently cook at my house and bring it over to the abandoned house that most of the guys have commandeered for the time being, but it wasn't really newsworthy and I find myself disenchanted with the idea of blogging about cooking for the time being.
My food consumption has been relegated to fast food, or eating food fast, with little to no regard for the community aspect food elicits.  I do, however, make a point of eating with people and still spending time with the guys in an effort to maintain the community I've formed with them.
The other night I was thinking about my family dinners growing up.  My brother and I were always expected to be home for dinner every night regardless of what after school activities we were involved in, the only exception being if we were working.  My mom would cook dinner when she got home from work and would time the completion of dinner preparation perfectly for when my dad got home from work.  We would have a different meal every night and it would always be mostly from scratch.  I am still envious of my mom's creativity and dedication to our family dinners.
We would sit down, as a family, say grace, then eat dinner.  My brother and I were expected to use manners, we would talk about our days and anything else that popped into our minds, and we would wait until everyone was done eating before getting up from the table to do the dishes.
It's not that I didn't enjoy family dinners, but I never realized how much I appreciated sitting down and eating with people I love.  To commune over food fosters relationship and creates a forum for conversation that is unmatched to any other activity.  People need to eat.  People need each other.  So why not eat together?
I am fortunate to have people in my life that either value community or food (or both) and will therefore sit down to a meal with me.  I am grateful for these people for helping me preserve my family's tradition of the family supper and for providing me with the opportunity to commune and build relationships with them.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


I cooked my final meal at the Lake House this past week.  The guys, in an act of complete humility and selflessness, have decided to leave the Lake House to give Jon and Natalia the space needed to work on their marriage.  As such, the house they'll be moving into is currently lacking a stove.  I'm crafty and creative, but there's not a whole lot I can do without a stove.
Greek food is always something that brings good memories of my time at Pizza Market, a small chain of pizza shops owned by a Greek family up in New Hampshire.  My boss, Sam, was from Greece and brought so much of his family and culture to the little hole-in-the-wall in Manchester, NH.  I can always be wooed by baklava, feta, and spanakopeta.  But dolmades, stuffed grape leaves, were never something I tried.  Recently, my friend David suggested I make them.  He doesn't ask much of me and always, when I ask 'What should I make for dinner tonight?' his response is, 'It'll be good, no matter what it is,' so I decided to take his advice.
It was far more labor intensive than I anticipated, but just getting to the point where I could make them presented a challenge in itself.  Finding un-stuffed grape leaves was its own obstacle.  Then, finding that the rice container at the Lake House was full of bugs, and that all the mint that was previously over-taking the entire landscape at the Lake House miraculously disappeared (you can't get it to go away if you tried), I was beginning to think that the cosmos were trying to tell me something.  I persisted, though, and ended up making 60 or so stuffed grape leaves and tzatziki sauce.
I wasn't a huge fan of the grape leaves, they were too salty for me.  If I could do it over, I would rinse and soak them in not pickly water.  The tzatziki was good and easy enough to make and I'd eat that on absolutely anything I could.

Here's the recipe for the dolmades:
1 lb. of rice
1.5 lbs of ground meat (the suggestion was lamb, I used beef)
1/2 chopped fresh mint
juice of one lemon
1 medium onion
4-5 tbsp of chopped garlic
salt and pepper
1/3 c of pine nuts, chopped
olive oil
beef or chicken broth
Here's what to do:
Remove the grape leaves from the jar, rinse them and let them soak in cool water.  Heat 2tbsp olive oil in a frying pan.  When it's warm, add the garlic and onions.  Cook until soft and brownish.  Then add meat and fry it up until it's cooked.  Add salt and pepper to season the meat.  (I added a sprinkle of Greek Seasoning, something only found down here.)  Let the meat cool for a bit.  When the meat is cooled off, add the uncooked rice, the mint, lemon juice and pine nuts.  Stir together until evenly mixed.  Get your empty grape leaves ready.  Using a spoon, add about a couple table spoons of mix to the grape leave.  You'll have to look up how to fold it into a tightly compacted little nugget, it's hard to explain.  Then pack them tightly into the bottom of a large sauce pan or pot.  Put them as close to each other as possible, this will help keep them together.  Once you've used up either all the stuffing or all the grape leaves, add enough broth (or water) to the pot to cover the dolmades.  This broth will cook the rice.  Put them on the stove and let the water boil.  Let it boil for 5 minutes then turn it down to simmering.  It's going to take quite awhile for the rice to cook inside the little rolls so be patient.  It took me an hour and 15 minutes!  Make sure to keep an eye on them and make sure they don't burn.  If the water steams out before they are done, add more water.  I just taste-tested them to see if they were done.  The rice should be fully cooked.

The tzatziki:
32oz of plain Greek yogurt
1 cucumber, de-seeded
5 tbsp chopped garlic
juice of 1/2 a lemon
Instructions: Grate the cucumber or chop it into tiny pieces.  Mix all ingredients together.  Let sit so all the flavors can mix together.  Voila!

I slathered the dolmades in the tzatziki to cut the salty-ness.  I also dipped pita bread in them.  I also ate it with a spoon.  Don't judge.  There are no pictures, I was so hungry by the time they were done (almost 3 hours later) that I just devoured them.  I was also watching the season finale of Glee, which may have been a bit of a distraction.
OPA!  (Broken plates and wasted paper napkins omitted)

Monday, May 21, 2012


I was cultured long before I even knew it!  It wasn't until I went to Guatemala that I realized how my mom exposed us kids, at such a young age, to Latin flare!  It was always such a special treat when my mom made yellow rice and chicken.  It was one of the few acceptable dishes in which it was acceptable for the different components of the meal to mix.  I normally loathe casseroles for this reason; Shepherd's pie is another story.
Now I realize how simple it was and how grateful my mom must have been when I asked for this dish.  It's cheap, it's quick, and it's super easy!  It's also gluten-free!
I recently made this meal for the Lake House and you would've again thought that I made some 5-star meal.  I have adamantly avoided rice since my time in Guatemala 6 years ago because that was my sole sustenance while there.  I exhaust foods pretty quickly, especially if it is all I eat for a month straight.  Anyway, since moving to Tampa, I've had to adjust my taste buds and release some of my stubbornness with my vendetta against rice.  I'm eating more of it now and try to stick with brown or yellow rice, to at least give me the illusion that it's not the same grain I'd eaten daily in Guatemala.
Just following the epic catering event of the century, I was kind of burned out from intricate cooking so I racked my brain to come up with something simple and tasty for the guys.  And, Ole!  Yellow rice and chicken!

Here's the very simple recipe:
3 pkgs of Vigo yellow rice
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 can very young, small early peas by Leseur (this is negotiable to others, but I don't like any other peas)
2 tbsp olive oil
pepper, garlic, cumin, chili powder
Instructions: Cook the rice as directed on the package.  While the rice is simmering, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.  Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add the spices to the oil while it heats.  Add the chicken to the hot oil and cook thoroughly.  When the chicken and rice are done, open the can of peas.  Mix them all together and pan-fry it all for just a couple minutes, making sure it's thoroughly and evenly mixed.
Ta da!

I made this again last night and used lentils instead of peas, because that's what I had available.  I expect to be eating it all week and I am so excited about it!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Everything tastes better stuffed with cream cheese.

The guys at the Lake House are each responsible for cooking one night a week and Momma takes a night too.  Most of them double up or get outside assistance.  Last November, I offered to take a night of cooking, which was eagerly accepted.  When my friend Matt came back from the Philippines, he and I decided that we would cook together.  This could either be disastrous or a great exercise in humility for both of us.  Well, in order for it to be either of those, we actually have to cook together.  Most Thursdays Matt is fulfilling a family obligation and I am left cooking on my own.  Don't get me wrong, I don't mind cooking alone.  In fact, it's easier.  But it's always nice to have input and help (of course when I ask for it).  This week, Matt told me he was available to cook with me and this is how the conversation went:
Matt: French toast for dinner tonight.  What do you say?  I'll pick the stuff up on my way home from work.
Me: Sounds good, get bacon too!  Do you need a list?
Matt: Isn't it pretty easy?  Eggs and bread?
Me: Yeah, but I want to check some stuff out to make it extra awesome.
(I'm grateful Matt puts up with my neurosis and is far more humble than I when it comes to cooking.  I should learn from him)
And so this is what happened:

Have you ever heard of something so delightful??
It was surprisingly easy and makes me second-guess all those fancy restaurants that serve it where I am in awe.  They are respectable in their own right, but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of tastiness considering the amount of work put into it.

Here's the ree-sipe:
2 loaves of fresh Italian bread
2 pkgs cream cheese
frozen strawberries in their own juices (with or without sugar added)
7 eggs
3/4 C half and half
1tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp vanilla

Instructions:  Get the cream cheese to room temperature and defrost the strawberries.  Slice the loaves of bread into 1.5" slices.  Using a small paring knife, make a slit in the slice of bread.  We did it on the bottom for appearance sake.  Mix about 3/4 cup of the strawberry mix in with the cream cheese.  Mix it well, you don't want to be chewing on chunks of straight-up cream cheese.  The sweetness of the strawberries cuts the savory-ness of the cream cheese.  Using a spoon, stuff the heck out of the slices!  You don't want to put so much in that it's spilling out the bottom... it'll compromise the look and integrity of the stuffy-ness.
Once all your slices are stuffed, whisk the eggs, half and half, cinnamon and vanilla together.  Dip each slice, on both sides, in the raw egg mix.  Let them sit for a few minutes.  We had to let them sit for awhile because we took great care in frying them in a smaller pan.  This allows them to soak up the flavor of the mix and makes it more delicious.
Set your pan to medium to medium-high.  You need to be careful to not make your pan too hot because it'll cook the outside of the bread and you'll have to remove it before the egg-soaked insides are finished cooking.  This creates mushiness and grossness.  Put a tablespoon of butter in the pan before each batch to prevent sticking and make it so much healthier.  When it's cooked on one side, flip it over.  Duh.
We served it with bacon and syrup.  It probably didn't need the syrup but, being the sugar-fiend I am, I included it.
For the record, this does NOT feed 7 hungry men and me.  I should've gotten another loaf of bread.  But it was a hit!  It's not for the faint of heart or the dieter, but it sticks to your ribs and makes you smile.  I promise.

Monday, May 7, 2012


I've cooked multiple times since my last post and have been so negligent in my postings.  Life has gotten in the way, and as much as I love writing, I'd much rather be living my life than writing about it.
Anyway, last week I made a very simple dinner of steak with rice salad.
Of course no one knew what rice salad was and everyone was reluctant to try it but, again, I rode on the reputation of producing good food and shared this French dish I first tasted while visiting a friend in France 8 years ago.  I had yet to make it nearly as delicious as the first time I had it until last week.  I called in some recruits (in the way of websites) to find some decent recipes that I could meld to form something that would appease both my appetite and the ravenous appetites of the guys.
First things first, you can never go wrong with feta cheese.  My cheese repertoire is pretty limited so I rarely use it in cooking.  The cheeses I like are feta, goat, fresh, raw mozzarella, and American, occasionally.  If you catch me on a good day, cheddar cheese or pepper jack with crackers are also an option.  But feta is a good stand-in and so pungent and flavorful that it quickly makes even the most bland things (such as rice) quite flavorful.
It's blurry and doesn't look appetizing, but it's good!
Then, you add vinegar, oil, tomatoes, and some other seasonings and you have yourself a cool, tasty side dish for anything on the grill.
Here's the recipe:  (which, in my head, I read 'ree-sipe)
3 C brown rice
1/3 C olive oil
3-4 T lemon juice
3-4 T apple cider vinegar
garlic powder
6 tomatoes the size of my fist, diced (if you don't know how big my fist it, try tomatoes the size of a tennis ball)
6oz feta cheese crumbled
How to make it:  Make the rice how you normally would.  Then soak it in cold water to cool down the internal temperature.  Separately, mix all the wet ingredients and the seasonings.  Put that aside until the rice is cooled down to either fridge-temperature or room temperature.  When the rice is finally cooled, mix your liquid-y mixture and the feta and tomatoes.  Put the rice salad into the fridge while you grill, or even for longer, so that all the flavors can mix.  Voila!

For those of you who don't know, in 2010 I was diagnosed with insulin resistance.  It causes some other issues in my body that make me need to eat and live a healthier lifestyle.  I often falter because I love carbs and I love sweets.  Every now and then, though, I become inspired again and try valiantly, for about a week, to eliminate all these things that are essentially toxic to my poor little body.  You see, I should be eating a diet reminiscent of a diabetic to maintain steady glycemic levels, so this is really the elimination of carbs altogether and multiple small meals each day.  But recently I've been feeling really under the weather and was advised, yet again, by my mom to try eliminating the toxins from my body. I did some research and found that of the people that are insulin resistant, with the other manifestations of the poorly functioning pancreas, 85% are gluten intolerant.  WHAT?!!
Thankfully, I am not like other gluten-intolerant folks or Celiac peeps who are immediately affected by the intake of gluten.  But I have learned that consistant consumption of glutenous things have a serious affect on my intestines.  I will spare you the details.  But it is advisable to significantly reduce the amount of gluten I ingest to spare my body the toils of processing the high levels of carbohydrates.
I spent a week experimenting with my food and felt pretty steady throughout the week.  No intestinal distress and no calling out sick (except because I had bronchitis).  I was pretty pleased with the results but am actually horrified at the thought of giving up sweets, pasta, bread, and other tasty gluten-filled delights.  It's going to be slow-going and I am extremely reluctant to abstain altogether, but this information and my gluten fast have given me insight into foods that can and do trigger upset in my innards.
Anyway, all this is to say that I probably will continue to cook gluten-laden foods because they're delicious and filling and cheap.  And one can only eat so much rice and legumes before other gastrointestinal issues start to pollute the earth.  I'm gross, I know.  I'm sure I make my parents very proud.  :)  But the more I learn about the impact of diet on my body, the more compelled I feel to share it with ya'll.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

My First Catering Gig

Before I even get this blog started, let me tell you that this meal resulted in both chefs sleeping for nearly 24 hours straight and I want to take a nap just thinking about writing about the meal.  For two entire days, my life revolved around a meal that took its consumers only about 20 minutes to eat.  The meal was this: prime rib with a red wine reduction sauce and a horseradish cream sauce, mashed potatoes, candied carrots, caesar salad with homemade dressing and croutons, French bread, and tres leches cake.  For 70 people.
Jon squirreling away at lunch
About two weeks ago, Jon asked me to assist him in the preparation of the dinner for Jesus Encounter, a retreat put on by the Tampa Underground.  I've had the privilege of helping with this meal two times before and I've loved it.  It reminds me of my time at the Inn and so I jump at every chance I get to be back in the kitchen and serving others.  This time, though, Jon either offered or expected (I'm not sure which) that I take the helm on some pretty main aspects of the meal.  His skills were lent to the meat and the carrots while I managed the mashed potatoes and bread things.  We graciously accepted the generous offer to prepare dessert for the participants by one of the ladies of the Underground.  While it was hard for me to relinquish that task, I'm so glad we did.
Let me confess, I do not have recipes and the meal absolutely could not be replicated.  I'm sorry to disappoint but at the forefront of my mind was not keeping track of measurements-- it was getting a decent meal out on time.  Our mission was accomplished with plenty of accolades from volunteers and participants alike.
This was the French bread recipe I used, which I tripled to make 12 loaves of bread: http://www.food.com/recipe/crusty-french-bread-101476  It's delicious and easy, even for a novice breadmaker like myself.  I also used this recipe to make loaves of bread earlier in the week with which to make croutons.  I baked the loaves of bread normally, let them sit out overnight, then chopped them into tiny cubes to make croutons the next night.  I lightly drizzled olive oil over all of them and put them in the oven at 300º for 40ish minutes.  When I took them out and let them cool, I used a grocery store bag filled with Romano cheese, salt and garlic powder to coat the little bread nuggets. I'm not a huge crouton fan because they're too crunchy (I also don't like kettle chips for the same reason) but I heard they were good and they smelled pretty amazing.
The dish layout for 70 people
So Friday I made bread, Jon got the meat, and we used very generous volunteers to clean potatoes and carrots while I chopped in preparation for the meal the following day.
Two helpful hints: as long as you wash carrots, you don't need to peel them.  This will save you time and it will save your fingers from the throes of the peeler.  And, if you plan to prepare your potatoes the night before, be sure to put them in water otherwise they will turn black and be inedible (I learned that lesson the hard way one time in Philly).
And so we get to Saturday... Jon sent me a schedule for the day earlier in the week, broken down to allot enough time for all that needed to be done.  I'm not entirely sure that we stuck to the schedule at all but the meal got out on time and it was all hot and delicious!
Our very helpful volunteer
mashing potatoes
The day started really early (6am!) for Jon when he took the meat out of the refrigerator to start getting it towards room temperature.  By the time I arrived, Jon was getting antsy to start cooking so we boiled the potatoes and then the carrots.  We jumped the gun a bit on the potatoes and they were made just after lunch time and kept warm.  Once we were done mashing, we made a giant bowl out of the potatoes and used our hands to mix all the ingredients!  We added chicken broth, half and half, cream cheese, sour cream, garlic, butter, salt and pepper.  The measurements aren't even worth writing but the potatoes came out really good!
We then made the horseradish cream.  We whipped cream and then dried out half a gallon of horseradish then folded it into the whipped cream.  We also added white pepper.  I was really reluctant to combine the delicious, fluffiness of whipped cream with the savory, potent flavor of horseradish.  But, Jon forced me to try it (along with the candied carrots, which I'll get to) and I'm glad he did!  The whipped cream cut the intensity of the horseradish and made a nice garnish to the prime rib.
Finally, we boiled the carrots.  Now, I hate cooked carrots, in fact most cooked vegetables, especially when they're mushy.  So when Jon said that he was going to make them, I wrinkled my nose and he promised me that I'd like them.  What can I say, I'm a sucker for brown sugar and butter.  I'm not sure that I'm convinced of the cooked carrot part, but if you soak anything in brown sugar and butter, it's going to taste good.
The wreckage after getting the meal out
So now that each component of the meal is described (mostly) and now we get to meal time!  Jon took the meat out of the ovens and still says that it was over cooked.  I thought it tasted delicious, but there's no convincing him.  We developed a system for dishing out the appropriate amount of food onto platters given the table size and frantically got the meals out on the table, family style, all around the same time.  We were excited that there was PLENTY of mashed potatoes, just enough meat and carrots, and the sauces were a big hit.  It was crazy but the moment the meal was served, Jon and I collapsed and certainly employed the rule that was borne from all the many meals my mom cooked... if you cook, you don't clean.  Gratefully there were plenty of Jesus Encounter volunteers that worked for about 2 hours cleaning up after us.  I sat motionless for quite awhile after the meal was served before ending the night hanging out with the Jesus Encounter guests at the Lake House.
...and was in bed for the next two days.

Big Brother

I am Katelyn's favorite brother, so I grew up just like her. I live in New Hampshire with my wife and we have a lovely dog named Brandi, in our home in a small town. Kate and I grew up eating the same food and doing a lot of the same things. I do most of the cooking in my house, my wife does make a pretty mean baked Brie. Growing up in the early 90s gave me a lot of things, but the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gave me a love of pizza. Now, I have had a lot of different types of pizza. When we lived in Florida, there was a place in Tampa called Hungry Howie's that had flavored crust and Kate and I both worked in a local pizza place when we were in high school. My wife's first job outside of college was at a Pizza Hut. I owe a lot to pizza, which is why I am writing about it. Also, this is the only thing that I can remember both of my grandfathers making. They both cooked, but didn't really make the same things. I can remember my father's father getting a pizza stone and telling me that I have never had pizza until I had it on a pizza stone.
All good pizza, no matter whether you are in New York or Chicago, starts with the crust. You have to have a good crust, it is close to half of what you are eating when you eat pizza. I got a cookbook a few years ago and when Mario Batali tells you how to make pizza dough, don't argue, just do it. Now this is a process, but you will thank yourself for the time you put into it.
 Pizza Dough: Mario Batali Style 
3 1/4 cups AP flour
2 teaspoons of instant yeast
1 tbs salt
1 tbs sugar
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tbs olive oil
Instructions: As with most doughs, combine the dry ingredients together (flour, yeast, salt and sugar), then make a well add the wet ingredients (water, wine and oil). Mix together until the dough comes of the side of the bowl. Knead it on a floured surface for about 5 minutes and let it REST for 1 hour covered in a oiled bowl. The resting part is most important, because the flour needs to be hydrated by all the liquid and it won't have the proper elasticity it needs to stand up to the rolling. Punch it down at the end of the hour. Preheat an oven to 500 degrees with the pizza stone in it. Roll out your dough onto a floured surface, some people like circle, some people like square. It doesn't matter, it will just taste good. I use a pizza peel to transfer the dough to the oven, but you can use a upside down baking sheet to move it around. Put whatever you want on the dough (my favorite: fresh mozzarella, chopped seeded tomatoes and fresh basil). Put the pizza in the oven. Take it out when the crust is brown.
 You really can put whatever you want on pizza, I once did Nutella, graham cracker crumbs and marshmallow. If you ever wanted to taste heaven, that is pretty much it. I will admit that my wife does make a pretty good pizza as well, and we didn't even get to grilling it (really quite delicious). I promise I will add some more posts as time goes on.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hold on...

I attempted to start the blog for the cooking extravaganza this weekend but I'm still too exhausted to even think about it.  So, if you'll be patient with me, I will post sometime this week.  But, we can all look forward to a guest post from my big brother, Michael!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

So much cooking, so little time to post!

I told you I wouldn't be good about posting regularly!  It's not because I don't like to write or I want to neglect my blog, it's because I am usually on the go and don't have internet at home.  So when I finally settle in for the night (which usually happens around 12 midnight), my first order of business is not to sit and write a blog.  And even if I wanted to I couldn't.
Anyway, last week I made the best dinner I've made in quite a long time.  Matt and I made mushroom risotto and chicken piccata with green beans, which don't really matter because they added nothing to the meal except color.  I did all the prepping of the ingredients so that Matt and I could cook, cooking show-style.  Despite my best efforts, I couldn't follow a recipe for either to save my life and just kept adding ingredients until it tasted and looked how I wanted.  And I got so excited to eat that I forgot to take a picture.  Oops!
I've heard terrible things about cooking risotto because it's so time-consuming and requires so much attention.  But I actually really enjoyed the whole process and it took about 35-40 minutes to cook.

Here's the recipe:
2 pints of mushrooms diced (I bought the sliced ones so I had to do less dicing)
2 cups of risotto
6-8 cups of broth-maybe more (I used both veggie and chicken)
1/2 cup of white wine
1/4 white onion diced
2 T butter
black pepper to taste
Instructions: Melt butter in large frying pan at about medium.  Sautee mushrooms and onions in the butter.  When cooked, add white wine and reduce liquid by half.  I'm sure my impatience got the better of me and I only reduced it by maybe 1/4, but it still came out delicious!  Add 2 cups of the broth then all the risotto.  As the risotto starts to cook, it'll look creamy (or phlegmy, depending who you ask), that's a good sign.  The broth will be absorbed or cooked out as you go.  Once the initial 2 cups is absorbed, you'll do the same thing, adding one cup at a time and stirring while the broth gets absorbed.  You'll keep repeating this step until the risotto is fully cooked.  This is where the tricky part comes in because I used what seemed like a TON of broth and it took maybe 4-6 times of adding broth and cooking it down before the risotto was completely cooked.  It's a rice-like pasta thing so it should have the same finished texture as rice but it'll be more like sticky rice.  One of the most important things is that you MUST stir the risotto constantly otherwise it'll burn or stick to the bottom of the pan.  But it is delicious and worth the concerted effort, I promise!

The piccata... oh, the picatta.  There were a couple summers in my childhood when my Italian grandfather came to visit my family and both watch over my brother and I and cook like crazy.  His version of babysitting us consisted of us helping him cook all these labor-intensive meals.  I think I know where I get it from.  :)  I remember making homemade pretzels, gravy (tomato sauce for you non-Italians), homemade pasta, and the most memorable, piccata.  I think he made it with pork but every time I eat it I think of him.
Now, what's funny about piccata and my taste for it is that there are no other circumstances in which I like fruit and meat to be combined.  But somehow piccata defies all reason, logic and consistency and deserves the exception it gets from me.
Here's how we did it:
8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half laterally to make cutlets
3 eggs, whisked and a splash of milk added
bread crumbs
3/4 c of butter
1 cup olive or vegetable oil
2/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup capers (I got big ones because they were cheaper and chopped them up)
1 cup chicken broth
Instructions: Bread the chicken breasts by dipping them in the egg solution then plopping them, one by one, in the bread crumbs.  Be sure to completely coat the whole chicken breast.  Then melt 1/4 cup of butter in a large frying pan with 1/2 cup vegetable oil at about medium heat.  When the fatty mixture is heated, deep fry the chicken breasts.  3-4 minutes per side should suffice, but check the chicken to make sure it's completely done before removing it from the mixture.  You will probably need to add more butter and oil as the first round of chicken most likely soaked up a lot of it and you want to be sure there is plenty of greasy stuff to fry the chicken.  So, as needed, add more butter and oil, using the same-ish ratio as the initial fry.  Repeat until all your breasts (haha) are fried.  I usually put them in the oven on a very low temperature to keep warm while I finish the rest of the meal.  Once they're all done, you'll use the juices and fats from the chicken frying to make the sauce, unless you burn the butter because your fry-man gets distracted and walks away.  If that's the case, make him clean the pan and start over with new juices.  In any event, the way it's supposed to work is that you add the broth and the lemon juice to the existing juices in the pan.  You then add the capers and reduce the sauce until it resembles more of a sauce than a lemonade juice mixture.  We started to get impatient so we just added about 1/2 a tablespoon of flour to speed up the process.  We whisked the hell out of it and voila!  Then you take the warm, fried chicken breast cutlets out of the oven and put them on a nice serving platter then drizzle the sauce over them, making sure to cover them evenly, otherwise the cutlets get jealous.

I know they both seem pretty labor-intensive.  To be honest, the whole thing took about two hours, but that was with prepping and chopping on my own and it was made for 10 people.  I wholeheartedly believe that if you cut it back and cooked for less people, the risotto would still take 30 minutes but the rest of the meal would happen a lot quicker.  And, believe me, it was worth it.
So as much as I attribute my love for cooking to my mom, I think if we trace it back a little further, we both have Grampy to thank, at least in part.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I have to go 'pea!'

Let me start by saying that I'm sparing you by not having a picture of my most recent creation.
Pea soup does not ever look tasty and is not something that one would look at and say, "Mmmmm, I can't wait to eat that!"  In fact, just by its looks alone, pea soup gets a bad rap.  It is only the brave souls that can put looks aside and go for the deeper, truer essence of the soup that actually get to experience the wonderful comfort food-ness of pea soup.
Sunday night I made a ham.  A very large ham that was only going to be for me.  I figured it was a special occasion and could justify eating a little bit of ham for the holiday, even if I was going to eat it alone.  (Now before you start to pity me for having Easter dinner alone, I did have the pleasure of joining some friends for a Passover dinner earlier in the day.)  I also made my Auntie Mary's cheese potatoes, a family favorite for as long as I can remember.
But with all the ham that remained, as I am a pretty sparse eater, I had to do something creative and delectable with it.  "Mush," as my mom calls it, crossed my mind, but I didn't make a boiled dinner so it wasn't quite an option.  Ham sandwiches from now until I die also crossed my mind, even though they do remind me of every flight I would take after leaving my mom because she would always make ham when I went to visit and would pack me a nice little lunch for the flight.  There was always a note included that said, "I love you, xoxo."  I digress.  Even so, I wasn't quite up for ham sandwiches for the rest of my days.  And then I remembered pea soup.  I know it's not always the biggest crowd-pleaser, but I figured I would ride on the reputation I have for making good food.  It worked, I came back tonight and all that remained was about a cup of it.
So here's my recipe-
2 12oz bags of dried split peas
3 T of chopped garlic
1 t of pepper
leftover ham bone
4-ish cups of diced ham
1 yellow onion

1. Cut the ham you want to use in the soup off the ham bone.  Put the ham bone in a pot of water so it is covered and the boil the crap out of it for about 20 minutes.  This will infuse the water with the flavor of ham.  After 20 minutes, take out the ham bone.  Feed it to your dog or something.
2.  While the ham bone is boiling, chop the onion.
3.  You will now use the ham-infused water to flavor the soup.  Add the dried split peas, the garlic, the pepper, the onion and the ham.  Let it boil for about 10 minutes to make sure the peas get a good jump start on softening.  After 10 minutes of boiling, turn the soup down to medium-low.
4.  Now the peas will start to disassemble and everything will start to look like a mess of green with chunks of grossness.  Do not be alarmed, this is what it's supposed to look like.  Let it do its thing for about 30 minutes, checking it every now and then and stirring it up to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom.  Because the soup was still pretty liquidy, I turned it back up to just about boiling and took the lid off to boil out some of the water.  (more on this later)
Your final product should look like a mush of peas.  Their original shape should actually not be distinguishable any longer and it should look like baby food (or poop).  Once this has happened and it has reached its desired consistency, which should be pretty thick but not guacamole-like, you're ready to be let into the very essence of the pulverized pea and ham extravaganza.  My mom suggests you add macaroni to it but since I don't like that and never have, I didn't even consider it.  Do as you like.

Back to the boiling out some of the things--- when I have too much liquid or something is too liquidy for my preference or as the recipe calls, I never know whether to turn the heat up and boil it out or turn the heat way low and simmer it out.  Any suggestions or wisdom you'd like to share with me would be most appreciated!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Little Donkeys

Tonight was my attempt at burritos.  When I went into the grocery store, my list of groceries remained neatly nestled underneath a pile of papers in my car so I had to shop from memory.  Luckily I was able to recall all of what was needed, minus the Ro-Tel, a tomatoe-y concoction that comes in a can and makes all things delectable.  I realized it as I was walking out of the store but was too lazy and hungry to go back inside to get it.  So I decided to flavor the chicken with seasonings rather than store-bought, canned junk.  I'm abstaining from meat as of late so I'm not sure how the chicken turned out, but a friend that stopped by kept picking at it until she left, I guess that's a good sign.
The spread was flour tortillas, white rice, black beans, seasoned chicken, homemade pico de gallo, homemade guac, sour cream and Mexican cheese (which is cheddar and colby jack cheese with some taco seasoning).  I had a hand in the chicken, guac, and pico.
As I said in the previous post, I will try to remember the ingredients I used, despite the fact that it goes against my very cooking nature to do so.  And this will be a work in progress.
Sometimes I have to make an action plan to make sure I don't leave anything out and to ensure that things finish cooking at relatively the same time.  This was always a gift of my mom's that I never quite understood until I started cooking more on my own.  I believe my mom's actual words of advice were, "You'll figure it out."  Thankfully I did, otherwise I could spend the rest of my life making terribly temperature-imbalanced meals.
So, first, make some rice.  I would use saffron rice if I were to make this again, it just has more flavor.  As the rice is cooking, you'll get the other things going.  Second, start the beans.  I used canned beans because they're quicker.  I used 3 cans of black beans and added 1/2 an onion and some salt and garlic to season them.  They're already cooked but it's good for the flavors to fuse together.  Then start working on the chicken.
To make the chicken, you'll need:
vegetable oil
cayenne pepper
chili powder
cayenne pepper

To prepare the chicken: get as much as you think will feed as many people as you have.  I got 6 breasts and it fed 8 people. Cut it up into small, bite-sized pieces.  Put about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pan and put the chicken in to fry it up.  As it fries, excuse me, sautees, add about a 1.5 tsp of cumin, salt, pepper, a dash of cayenne, if you can handle the heat, 2 tsp of chili powder (of course, this is also according to taste), and whatever other taco-y seasonings you have.  Something that might be good would be coriander (which is the seed of cilantro) but there wasn't any available to me.   Cook the chicken completely and set aside.
Finally, start the fresh things.  I made the pico de gallo first.  I had 800 plum tomatoes (maybe like, 10, but it feels like 800 when you're cutting them up), 1 jalapeno, cilantro and the other half of the onion from the beans.  Dice all of them, be sure the jalapenos are really small otherwise you'll be eating tiny fire bombs and won't be able to taste the rest of your delicious tiny donkey.  I would also caution you against cutting the jalapenos with your bare hands as my hands burned for two days afterwards.  (If you forget or don't have gloves, it's ok, you'll just want to soak your hands in milk for the rest of your life.)  Just mix it all up and let it sit while you finish getting everything else ready.
Be sure to be checking on the chicken to cook it evenly.
Finally, the guacamole... this is my most favorite thing that can be done so poorly but when you have it done authentically, you'll never want to eat anything else in your life.  Growing up my mom would make it with a mix and sour cream and it wasn't until I was living with a guy from El Salvador that I learned that it can be just as delicious without the added sour cream and that seasoning mixes are actually just combinations of seasonings that are around your house, usually.  I had two avocados so I removed the mushy, green goodness from the confines of its rough skin and put it in a bowl.  I mashed it with a fork to make it slightly chunky but mostly creamy.  I added fresh cilantro and about a quarter of a yellow onion diced really small.  I added chili powder, salt and pepper.  I know it's not very fancy but it works for me!
Check your chicken, rice and beans.  The beans will be done, as long as they're hot.  As soon as your chicken and rice are done, you're ready to build the most beautiful creation called a burrito (or little donkey... I like little donkey better because it's funny).
Now I would definitely not say that this was my best creation yet.  Far from it, actually.  But men are so easy to please when it comes to food that they went like hot cakes (which is a recipe for another day, maybe)!
On the particular burrito shown, there is no meat or cheese.  And I also don't like lettuce on much except in salads so that wasn't included.  But feel free to put on them whatever makes your burrito bray (hahaha, sometimes I just crack myself up!).  And enjoy!

Here is a list of all the things you'll need for this recipe:
flour tortillas, chicken breasts, rice, black beans, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, jalapenos, avocados, sour cream, cheese, cumin, salt, pepper, garlic, and chili powder.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Faith like a mustard (seed) chicken

A few weeks ago I made mustard-y chicken with a light salad of greens and other salad-like veggies.  You see, one of the guys happened to mention that he loves mustard and is trying to figure out how to incorporate it into everything he cooks.  I'm not quite as passionate about mustard as Jon, but I do really like mustard and I like cream so I figured I'd embody Jon and create something with mustard, cream and chicken.
The problem with me following recipes is that I don't.  I look at a variety of them then look at what is available and figure out how to adapt the recipe to fit what is accessible.  I also am somewhat of a picky eater so I adjust things to suit my own taste and expect that others have the same particular opinions about food as me.
So I loosely based this recipe on The Pioneer Woman's recipe of the same name but when I infuse it with my love and tears (a la 'Like Water for Chocolate'), it takes on a whole new form, flavor, and place in my heart as my own creation.

Here's the recipe (keep in mind that all my meals are designed to feed 10-15 people, you should adjust accordingly, unless you like eating the same food left over a hundred million times):

8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (cut in half laterally to make them more cutlet-like)
3 T olive oil
4 T butter
lots of minced garlic, then add 3 T more (really, it's more like 6 T of garlic)

1.5 C of white wine (I used really cheap, I mean a $3 bottle of, Pinot Grigio)
5 big tablespoons good mustard (you can mix it up and use dijon and grainy mustard, I wanted to keep the cost down so I just used dijon mustard because it was in the fridge)
1/2 C heavy cream
1/2 C chicken broth (we had boullion so I made my own chicken broth)
salt and pepper

The road to delicious is in these easy steps:
1. Melt the butter in the olive oil in a deep-ish frying pan.
2.  Dry off chicken and salt and pepper both sides.  Then pan-fry the chicken in the oily/buttery mixture, either until just under completely cooked or completely cooked, if you're like me and are paranoid about salmonella, and then remove from the pan.
3.  Leave juices in the pan and throw the garlic in there.  Let the juices enjoy the garlic for a little bit then add the booze.  Reduce the wine/garlic/butter/oil/chicken juice mixture by about half.
4.  Add the mustard(s), heavy cream and chicken broth.  Let it simmer for a little while so all the flavors can happily symbio-size.  (It's not a real word, I just made it up.  Clearly.)
5.  Taste the sauce.  It should be creamy but not heavy and the mustard should not knock you off your feet or be so faint that you can't taste it and its only purpose was to color the sauce.  If you are more of a mustard fiend, like Jon, add more.  If it's too thick, thin it out with a little bit of broth.  This is the time when you get to stray from my recipe and make it more your own.  Be adventurous and courageous!
6.  Finally, add the chicken back to the sauce.  I let it sit for about 15 minutes so that the chicken can somewhat absorb the mustardy goodness.

I suggest you serve it with something light like steamed veggies or a side salad because it's kind of a heavy dish, and you'll feel like you should eat something healthy with it anyway because it's quite the artery-clogger.  But that's what fasting, yoga, running, and cookies are for!  Ok, maybe the cookies only balance the savory flavor, but they're a nice addition, to any meal, really.

We may all quickly discover how not good I am at sharing recipes because I just make them up as I go.  I will try much harder to pay close attention to what I do and try my hardest to remember the steps and improvisations when I sit down to write.

My First Post!

I was really reluctant to start a new blog because I know my penchant for forgetting things and for finding many things to fill my time, but I have been encouraged to share my recipes in a more public venue and to share more of what I do to fill my time.  Believe me, it's not that I think that my life is so spectacular or unique that I think the whole world should read about it, I don't even have a Twitter account.  But I do love cooking and I love to share what I create with others, so I finally caved to the peer pressure (thanks, Alissa), and we'll see what happens.
I can't promise that this entire blog will be about food, in all its stages, but I can assure you that I will make it the most reflective of my daily life as possible.  Sometimes you'll be blessed with my inner thoughts, sometimes you'll get recipes, and sometimes you'll just get a snapshot of things I like, but you'll always be getting me.
Two nights a week I get the opportunity to cook dinner for a house of eight men (and whoever else comes around) that live around the corner from me.  It's a challenge and a gift to be able to cook lots of food, lots of delicious food, and lots of delicious food on a small budget.  I have been cooking for them since November and can confidently say that I have yet to cook the same meal twice.  I cannot confidently say that they've all been delicious or cheap, but I try and they appreciate my effort.
I try to use what is grown in the garden around the house, in which I also have a hand, and try to come up with healthy (though not always) meals that are filling and appealing to some 'meat and potatoes' kind of men.
At the request of a friend, I will post some recipes that I've already created, though without their pictures.  From here forward, however, I plan to photograph what I make so you can decide if it is aesthetically pleasing enough to attempt.
Your recipe and modification suggestions are welcome!  I'm a bit stubborn and may kick and scream at your suggestions, but eventually I'll take heed and modify.
Happy reading/eating/growing/sharing/loving!