Friday, October 2, 2015

Taking Stock

When the weather 'round these parts starts getting cooler, we make soup and stew and chili and all kinds of comfort foods.

One of the primary components of soup is a good stock.

These days, you can buy decent stock in aseptic cartons at the grocery store, but if you're properly motivated, you can make it yourself.

Me, I've been fairly motivated, but I didn't have the appropriate equipment to try Alton Brown's recipe, although I've had the requisite chicken carcasses, vegetables, and herbs in the house at various points this year. 

My mother, generous soul that she is, offered me the loan of her stockpot so I could actually clear the carcasses out of my freezer and turn them into stock.

Shopping List

  • fresh parsley
  • fresh thyme
I already had the 4lbs of chicken carcasses, leek, onion, carrots, and celery ribs prepped in the freezer and I always have bay leaves and peppercorns in the pantry.

Recipe Review

Ease of Preparation

This is very easy, but you do absolutely need the correct size stockpot. AB calls for a 12qt pot for stock-making, which is the size I borrowed from Mom. (My largest stockpot is 5qt.)

Collecting the carcasses is also time-consuming, but the munchkin had taken quite well to roast chicken for dinner over the last year, so I had plenty.

My sister could certainly do this if she put her mind to it.

Specialty equipment required?


In addition to the stockpot, you need a strainer - to remove the solids from your stock - and a smaller stockpot or large bowl to hold the stock you make. (Wouldn't want your 12 hours' work to literally go down the drain, would you?)

It's also suggested that a vegetable steamer be used to help keep the vegetables and chicken parts submerged, though I don't know if this is completely necessary. It is quite helpful, though.


Well, this is kind of sticky. 

It's not an every day or even an every week rotation type of recipe, but that's mostly because I haven't got chicken parts every day. I've got several quarts of stock in my freezer, which should get me through the winter without having to buy box stock (yay!) but haven't had occasion to make soup yet.

I did use some of it in a slow-cooker pulled pork recipe (16oz frozen stock, 1-2 thinly sliced onions, 2lbs bone-in pork shoulder, 1c apple cider; cook on LOW for 8-10hrs, drain, pull, mix with favorite BBQ sauce & serve) and it turned out nicely, so that portion of this batch was a win.

We'll see how it goes as the season progresses. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Welcome Fall!

OK, so it's a bit early and it certainly still feels a good bit like summer 'round these parts, but fall is assuredly on its way in the northern hemisphere.

The children have gone back to school, the New Jersey State Forests Facebook account reassures me that, in many of the inland and northern counties of New Jersey, the leaves have begun turning.

It's also pumpkin and "pumpkin spice" season. 

The latter has been subject to a bit of (nonsensical, in my opinion) debate about whether something that I think clearly highlights the spice and the subsequent evocation of pumpkin pie. Because, when push comes to shove, pumpkin as we know it today in the US is pretty flavorless. (NB: I'm seeing more and more this property of food being described as "tasteless," which bothers me. "Tasteless," in my opinion, refers not to the senses but the sensibilities. So, you'll see "flavorless" here.)

That's not to say I object to the use of pumpkin in other applications. Even if it's not particularly tasty by itself, it's fairly nutritious, and its lack of flavor allows it to be incorporated into everything from chili (purists may disagree) to pasta sauces and various desserts.

Anyway, today's use of pumpkin is in a dessert - the "Pumpkin Pane Pudding" published in the Fall 2015 issue of Wegmans Menu magazine.

Shopping List

This one was easy - all I needed was the fresh bread and whole milk!

Recipe Review

Ease of Preparation


I do think, however, I cut the bread cubes a bit too large - it calls for half-inch cubes.

My sister might be able to do this

Specialty Equipment Required?

Yes. Cubing fresh bread is much easier with a serrated bread knife. 
That's not to say one couldn't make this if one didn't have a bread knife, but it's certainly a lot easier.

Regular Rotation-Worthy?


I didn't realize the husband didn't like bread pudding, and the kid hasn't tried it.

But I like it fine. Special occasions only, then. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Pizza Cone Experiment

Yesterday, I was out of ideas and needed a dinner solution that was quick and relatively inexpensive.

So, lured by the siren song of the "pizza cone" video making the rounds on Facebook, I attempted my own.

Shopping List

  • 1 tube refrigerated pizza dough (I used Pillsbury brand)
  • 1 jar pizza sauce
  • 1 block mozzarella cheese (I used store brand, part-skim)
  • meat topping (like pre-cooked meatballs, sausage, or pepperoni; I opted for frozen, pre-cooked turkey meatballs, in a 1" dice)

Recipe Review

Ease of Preparation


My sister could do this, but she might want a bit of help.

Specialty Equipment Required?


First, you need to figure out a form for your dough-cones. I used heavy-duty aluminum foil; most videos will show wrapping a small paper cone cup (like the kind one might find near a water cooler) in foil. 

Second, it helps if you have a rolling pin, because you do want to roll your dough a bit thinner than it comes out of the can. Yes, OK, Pillsbury makes a "thin crust" pizza crust in a can, but I don't know that it would be worth it to use in this application. (I used a ginger beer bottle)

Third, parchment paper is a MUST unless you're big on greasing pans (I'm not.)

Last, many videos use oven-safe mugs for the post-filling melting step; the linked one uses a popover pan. I didn't and don't feel like there's anything missing - my fillings stayed inside the cone just fine, as the cones themselves were a bit misshapen, so there was a flat side. 

Regular Rotation-Worthy?

Yes, with a slight modification - I'll use less sauce inside the cone and provide (warmed) sauce for dipping.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Recipe Construction: Or, How Not to Put Red Sauce on Pasta ...

There are a lot of options for saucing pasta, but my "quick dinner" go-to is using marinara from a jar. 

We pause to allow the screams of horror from my Italian friends to echo fully in the vacuum caused by deigning to use something I didn't spend all Sunday tending on the stovetop.

I've said it before, and it bears repeating, I am not Italian. 

So, when tasked with making pasta "without red sauce" and remembering my husband could take or leave pesto, I found myself at a quandary.

But then the lightbulb switched on as I remembered a recipe for orichette with sausage & broccoli rabe that was lightened up by a celebrity chef ages ago on Food Network.

Broccoli rabe isn't my favorite vegetable to prepare at home (I find I need to blanch & shock it before sauteeing to leach out some of the bitterness) so I looked elsewhere in the same family to come up with ... spinach.

So, that's what I tapped into Google: pasta sausage spinach.

I read a few recipes and formulated a grocery list. All I needed to transform my lowly box of farfalle (a/k/a "bow tie" pasta) into a gourmet-inspired dish was a package of turkey sausage (casing removed, mild Italian seasoning), cheese, and spinach.

I keep garlic and olive oil on hand at all times. Pantry staples, so to speak.

While you boil the water for your pasta, break up the sausage into bite-sized pieces (should be roughly the size of apricot pits) and brown/render fat in a nonstick pan. Be sure to choose a pan with a well-fitting lid.

Scoop the sausage out with a slotted spoon & set aside. 

Drop heat to medium-low, add 1 Tbsp. olive oil to the pan with 1 clove of chopped garlic. Saute 'til garlic is fragrant (less than a minute on my stove; YMMV) and reduce heat to low. 

Add spinach (mine was in 9oz pre-washed packages; I used 2 pkgs, for 18oz), use tongs to coat in oil/sausage drippings/garlic mix at bottom of the pan. Add 1-3 Tbsp of water to the greens and cover.

While the pasta cooks, the greens should wilt. When the greens are wilted, add the sausage and 1/2 cup of shredded/grated Italian cheese (whatever you like; I used pecorino Romano.)

Cook pasta according to package directions for "al dente" or a little less. Before draining, reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.

Drain pasta, toss with greens, sausage, reserved pasta liquid, and cheese. Sauce won't be super-thick, but it will thicken a bit on standing as the pasta absorbs some of the liquid.

While the kid turned up her nose at it, the husband ate 2 portions.

OK then.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Recipe Review: Good Eats Chocolate Pudding

I don't know about you, but I really like chocolate.

So do the munchkin and husband.

The munchkin has been asking for chocolate pudding every time we're in the dairy aisle at Wegmans. While it's great to have it as a treat every once in a while, I'm not too keen on spending money on things I can make at home.

And, thanks to the Good Eats episode "Puddin' Head Blues," I've already got a couple of pudding recipes in my back pocket.

Including one for chocolate pudding.

Recipe Review

Shopping List

  • Instant, nonfat, powdered milk
  • heavy cream
  • whole milk

Everything else was in my pantry.

Ease of preparation

The mix bit was quite easy, though I did neglect to add the powdered milk. (Oops!)

This is a stovetop-cooked pudding, so I'm rating the recipe as "medium" overall.

Even so, my sister could do this if someone watched her kids.

Specialty Equipment Required?

Yes. AB gives the dry ingredient measures in ounces, which means he'd rather you added them by weight and not by volume. 

I have a kitchen scale; I bought it for $15 several years ago. It's great for things like this.

He also calls for the cooked pudding to be run through a strainer to remove any stray lumps from the starch's gelatinization. This is a worthwhile, though messy, step!

Regular rotation-worthy?

Rather a big hit, I thought, so, yes.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Recipe Review - Pork Chops with Sweet Onion Marmeletta

Today's recipe comes from Giada Di Laurentiis's cookbook Giada's Kitchen. The recipes are very well-written, easy to follow, and require a mid- to high- degree of kitchen competence, unlike the recipes in Everyday Italian, which are quite simple and won't crush a beginner's confidence.

That said, even a beginner who gives themselves a lot of time could certainly give these recipes a try. When I say Giada's recipes are "well-written," I mean it. I really enjoy cooking when I'm following Giada!

So, tonight we're going fancypants and serving up something that Giada describes as "the Italian version of pork chops and applesauce."


Shopping List

Since I already had the pork chops and pantry staples, I only had to pick up a few things:
  • fresh rosemary
  • fresh thyme
  • large onions (calls for 4; I got two very large Spanish onions)

Recipe Review

Ease of Preparation

Simple, though time-consuming - you need to caramelize onions, which takes a LONG time. (Though I have seen a method to do it in a slow cooker!)

It's also recommended to slice the onions Very Thin, so if your knife skills are still in the "beginner" stages, you might have trouble.

My sister might need help with this one.

Specialty Equipment Required

A grill pan or outdoor grill is nice for cooking the pork.

You'll need a larger pan than you think for cooking the onions.

And a plunger-style measuring cup is helpful for measuring the marmalade this recipe requires, but it's more of a "nice to have" than a "requirement."

Did my husband and daughter enjoy it?

While the kid wouldn't touch it (she knows where the peanut butter is, so she didn't starve) the husband enjoyed the pork, but not the marmeletta.

I enjoyed the marmeletta and would like to make a large batch of it ... and home-can it!

It's too much work to do the marmeletta on a weeknight, especially if I'm the only one eating it, but if I've got it pre-made (and canned!) grilling up some pork chops wouldn't be too hard.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Recipe Review - Pork Spare Ribs

It's coming up on summer, which, for a lot of families, means ribs.

Ours is no exception. The husband and I have shot video of the munchkin eating BBQ ribs from the New Jersey State Barbecue Championships food vending area every year since she's been on solid foods. 

Every year, we have to coax her to eat them, but, once over the hump, she decides she loves ribs and ends up with several bones on the side of her plate and sauce all over herself. 

Recently, having no idea what to make for dinner and a very helpful sous chef, I stumbled on a recipe from Alex Guarnischelli's Old School Comfort Food for pork spare ribs that looked easy ... and something I could assemble using ingredients I already had in the house.

Shopping List

  • 3 pounds of pork spare ribs 
  • tamari (recipe called for "dark soy sauce," I figured this would do nicely)

(Really. I had everything else on hand.)

Recipe Review

Ease of Preparation

Could not be easier, though I recommend having a good chef's knife so you can cut a rack of spareribs into the smaller pieces you'll need in order to fit them into a pot.

My sister could do this. 

Specialty Equipment Required

Not really. A good chef's knife and a large, heavy pot (or Dutch oven) for braising your ribs, but these should be part of your everyday kitchen equipment anyway.

After getting through this recipe, I'd like to use a larger Dutch oven, but that's not a requirement. (For example, I could always switch to the pot I use for pasta and some soups because it's a bit wider at the bottom than my cast iron.)

Did my husband and daughter enjoy it?



Also, if the other recipes in this cookbook are this easy, I think I know what to put on my WishList for Christmas.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Recipe Review - Nemo's No-Fish Tofu Tacos

Yep, we've gone Disney again.

After months of asking, I finally broke down and agreed to make the Nemo's No-Fish Tofu Tacos recipe from Dishes Inspired by Disney.

I always have panko on hand (for AB mac-and-cheese, among other things) and, of course, I had olive oil and garlic in the pantry, so the only ingredients we needed to purchase were tofu, cilantro, Asian slaw, tortillas, and limes. All of these are fairly inexpensive where we live, so even if the kid didn't eat one, we wouldn't have blown the grocery budget on the meal.

Recipe Review

Ease of Preparation


Even pressing the tofu was easy (you need to press the water out of it for the slabs to take up your marinade) because I've had several years to consider the best way to press tofu.

If my sister ate tofu, she'd be able to make this dish with no difficulty.

Specialty Equipment Required?

Yes and no. 

The recipe notes that one may use small cookie cutters to cut fish shapes out of the pressed tofu slabs - so they're no-fish fish shapes. Because this is fun, and small tin cookie cutters are relatively inexpensive, we bought two small whale-shaped cutters for $2.

Aww, they're so cute!

If you cannot get cookie cutters, you'd be fine marinating the slabs of tofu as-is, and then cutting them into smaller pieces before pressing them into the panko.

Did my husband and daughter enjoy it?

I already know my husband has given tofu several tries and he simply can't get past the texture. That's OK; more for me.

The kid, on the other hand, found the side of Star Wars shaped macaroni more appealing. But, she did ask to eat no-fish tacos this morning, so maybe there's hope.

Regular Rotation-Worthy?

I don't think so. It's not a lot of work to put in for just me, but I prefer not to have to make multiple dishes for a single meal.

It's not a fail, but not a win either.

Tasty, though!

Dinnertime. Yum!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Recipe Review - Pork Chops with Peaches & Almonds

This recipe came out of Michael Symon's excellent 5 in 5 cookbook, which (technically) belongs to my husband ... and in which we've flagged a lot of recipes.

I did modify the recipe, though, and for that I apologize - nectarines looked better than peaches at the grocery store; I didn't have sherry vinegar on hand (substituted rice vinegar); and I totally forgot to buy parsley - but I think it turned out OK.

Plated meal - pork chops with stone fruit & almonds, side of salad & pilaf.

Shopping List

  • pork loin chops (calls for 6; I used 4)
  • unsalted slivered almonds 
  • 2 peaches (nectarines)
  • unsalted butter

Recipe Review

Ease of Preparation

Very easy - the most complicated thing is pounding the chops, which my daughter helped me do.

My sister could do this.

Specialty Equipment Required?

None. While I used a meat mallet to pound the chops, you could use a heavy skillet to similar effect.

Speaking of skillets, though, I should have chosen a wider one.

Did my husband and daughter enjoy it?

The husband liked it; the kid refused to touch it.

Regular rotation-worthy?

Yes, I think so. The kid will come around.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What to Do With Chicken Legs?

Letting the munchkin pick the recipes to try in any given week can sometimes get interesting.

Like the ratatouille she begged to try a few months ago, but refused to touch after it had been made. (I still like it; maybe I'll make it for my mom next time.)

Tonight's dinner is another one of those "Dishes Inspired by Disney" recipes:

Shopping List

  • chicken legs (recipe calls for 8; we used 12)
  • orange (we used a tangelo because that's what looked good; you need juice AND zest, so choose what makes sense for you)
  • no sugar added orange marmalade
  • rosemary sprigs
Everything else (salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil) we had in the house.

Mise en place

Ease of Preparation

Pretty simple, which is great for a recipe that's being plugged by a kids' cable channel.

My sister could definitely do this ... well, if the idea of pulling the skin off the chicken legs doesn't make her gag.

Chicken legs in the pan, skin removed.

Specialty Equipment Required?

A fine grater to zest an orange; this is easy enough to find. Mine's a long MicroPlane brand, but you don't need to spend a lot of cash on one if you're not sure you'll use it.

A citrus reamer would be helpful in extracting the juice from the orange, but not 100% necessary.

Did my husband and daughter enjoy it?

The kid liked it, but the husband wasn't overfond of the citrus-balsamic glaze. He'd prefer it with plain barbecue sauce.

Reducing the balsamic vinegar-marmalade-rosemary mixture.

Regular rotation-worthy?

If we mix it up a bit, and don't pick a super-hot day to make it, sure.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Scratch-Made Meals ... With Help

It's been a slow week for me, creatively. My allergies (tree pollen, thanks) have been absolutely crazy, and I've been dealing with a bit of a sinus infection on top of that.

But, we had steak, chicken, and a small ham to make before they went bad.

So, on Monday, we had "Island Soyaki" marinated grilled strip steak with wok-steamed vegetables and rice noodles. (The "help" was the linked sauce ... and the pre-cut stir-fry vegetables.)

Yesterday, for Cinco de Mayo, we had tequila-lime cilantro marinated chicken fajitas. 

I made the marinade myself on Monday with about a cup of fresh cilantro, the juice of 3 limes, a smashed garlic clove, salt, pepper, and some olive oil. (Toss everything except the oil in the blender & blend; while blending, drizzle about 1/4-cup of olive oil into the mixture, 'til everything is smooth. Place chicken in a zip-top baggie & empty blender into the bag. Massage to coat & marinate 12-24 hours.)

Today, we had baked glazed ham with box mac & cheese and steamed broccoli. 

Tomorrow, we'll probably have leftover ham & cheese pocket pies. (I'll likely use refrigerated biscuit dough for the pie crusts.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Soda Bread - Not Just for St. Patrick's Day!

Because I'm on a bread-making kick, I decided to try making soda bread this past weekend.

I found a lovely recipe, courtesy of a back-issue of Bon Appetit magazine online.

It was fairly easy to assemble, I had almost all of the ingredients in the house already, and the only change I made was to add a generous handful of golden raisins (because I hate caraway seeds) ... which was unnecessary.

Now, if you like your soda bread sweet and more like a scone than like sandwich bread, this recipe isn't for you.

However, if you simply want an excuse to eat lots of Irish butter on toasted brown bread, this is a good option.

I simply want an excuse to eat lots of Irish butter on toasted brown bread, so this recipe was perfect. Just don't add raisins; they don't enhance it.

However, I'm still in the market for a sweeter, more scone-like recipe, where raisins would be more welcome. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Yeast, Dough, and Homemade Bread

I could probably make this a series, because there's a lot to be said about that staple of civilization, bread.

Among my early, very happy, childhood memories are ones spent with my mother in our dim, 1940s-relic kitchen, baking or sewing. One of my favorite times to spend with my mother was bread day, even if I couldn't stand the bread she made (it included orange zest, to which I don't object in certain applications, buuuut ... not in bread) I'd wash my hands, grab one of Mom's aprons, and we'd both knead the dough on the breadboard.

The smells of yeast blooming, dough proofing, and bread baking are so comforting!

These days, it would appear that the "in" thing to do among certain types of food people (and some kinds of diet-overhaul people) is to bake one's own bread. So there are an abundance of no-knead bread recipes in cookbooks and online.

I tried one of these the other day, because I wanted bakery rolls to go with reheated meatballs and sauce, though I departed from my normal "follow the recipe exactly the first time" procedure to try and incorporate white whole wheat flour into the mix for a bit of extra fiber and nutrition.

While the dough turned out fairly well, the resultant rolls and boule loaf were a bit more dense than either my husband or I wanted, and the kid wouldn't touch it.

I'll re-make it at some point, but I'll happily follow the recipe exactly for a lighter texture.

If I'm going to work with the whole wheat flour again, I'll simply have to look into a kneaded dough recipe.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spring Has (Finally!) Sprung

This past Sunday was designated by the folks who decide such things as "National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day."

So, of course, it made perfect sense to serve grilled cheese.

But what kind of sides should we pair with it?

It was a lovely, warm day and I thought that something with acidity would be a great foil for the richness of the buttery, cheesy goodness that is a grilled cheese sandwich.

Naturally, my thoughts turned to tabbouleh. (Don't yours?)

Now, making this decision at 3pm and having the intention to serve dinner by 6pm doesn't allow for the use of bulgur, which needs to be soaked prior to use, so I opted for quick-cook couscous.

I also omitted the tomatoes that usually add color to an otherwise Very Green dish in favor of cucumbers, because they pair well with mint.

Parsley (1 generous bunch, finely chopped), mint (1 sprig, leaves only, finely chopped), couscous, the juice of 1 good-sized lemon, two diced Persian cucumbers (they look like seedless pickling cucumbers) and 1/4 cup of olive oil later and I had a nice couscous salad resembling tabbouleh.

And, yes, it paired very nicely with grilled cheese.

Friday, March 27, 2015


When I was a kid, my mother made a version of ratatouille with chicken.

I hated it. 
My dad used to refer to it as "chicken rat's tail." 
That didn't help.

The flavors were muddy, the chicken was rubbery, and, inevitably, there would be an alcoholic residue in the stew (I'm going to assume her recipe called for white wine ... and Mom doesn't really drink) and I just plain could NOT get past the way everything stewed together.

So, when my 5-year-old saw "Remy's Ratatouille With Poached Eggs" on Disney Junior and insisted we were going to cook it "for Daddy," I have to admit I had a kind of Proustian moment thinking about that childhood experience and comparing it to the dish we saw on screen. 

Seeing as how it's Friday, and I'm on a no-meat-on-Friday kick, I figured it wouldn't hurt to try the recipe.

Please note, this isn't a version of the one from the animated film, Ratatouille, which uses mandoline-sliced vegetables in kind of a gratin method, but rather a variation on the actual peasant-stew.

In other words, it's closer to my mom's than Pixar's.

And ... 

... I like this one fine.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day

Yep. It's that time of year again. The time of year an old buddy of mine used to call "amateur night." When young folks make excuses to drink themselves silly, bagel shops dye perfectly good bagels green, and bars dye (really cheap) beer the same shade. 

For Americans, this also means corned beef and cabbage.

For my husband, this means ... corned beef and some kind of potato, because he's not fond of cabbage.

A few years ago, we started cooking ours in the slow cooker. Water doesn't add any flavor, so we used ... beer.

Irish beer.

And pickle juice. (Really.)

This year's is simmered in Smithwick's with a dose of Claussen kosher dill pickle juice.

And I'm having mine with sauerkraut. And a nice, foamy, Guinness.

What could be more American?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Happy Pi(e) Day!

To those of us who (a) are mathematically inclined and (b) write our dates in MM/DD/YY format, today, March 14th, is "Pi Day."

For double the geek-cred, it's also Princeton's celebration of Albert Einstein's birthday

At any rate, in case you didn't know, pi (or π, if you prefer) is an irrational number that represents the ratio between the diameter of a circle and its circumference. Expressed as a fraction, it's 22 which is 3.1415926 ... in decimal. Short-handed, it's 3.14.

So, this unofficial celebration of geekery leads to a lot of people making (and eating) pies and a lot more making (bad) puns.

I'm less inclined to do the math and more inclined to make bad puns.

And make pie.

Since we celebrated the munchkin's birthday today with her cousins from my side of the family, it seemed a great way to dish up some quiche ... er, refrigerator pie.

By request, I've also got some blueberry pie in the works.

Shopping List

  • frozen pie crusts (4)
  • refrigerated pie crusts (2)
  • asparagus
  • leeks
  • bacon
  • ham
  • spinach
  • Gruyere-Cheddar Melange cheese
  • half-and-half
  • lemons (yes, I realize the recipe called for orange, but I wanted lemon)
  • frozen blueberries
  • tapioca flour

Recipe Review - Good Eats Refrigerator Pie 

Ease of Preparation

Couldn't be easier, though I did make things a wee bit more complicated for myself by making all the fillings on the same day as I assembled each quiche.

AB calls this recipe (and a few like it) "refrigerator Velcro," meaning it can be a great way to use up random leftovers in the fridge.

I opted to make 3 - bacon-leek-Gruyere; spinach-ham-cheddar; and asparagus-smoked salmon. 

Assembly couldn't be simpler - follow the package instructions for your frozen pie crust to put them into the pan, evenly distribute your fillings of choice, being careful not to overfill, mix up the royale (custard), pour, and bake.

My 5-year-old helped me make the royale. She could probably help fill each pie shell if I'd let her!

My sister could totally do this. 

Specialty Equipment Required?


I bought disposable pie tins to make cleanup and leftover distribution easier, but there's really no need to do that. Most people will be fine with their own pans.

Did my husband and daughter enjoy it? 

My husband tried the bacon-leek-Gruyere and didn't hate it, but I was also providing other food to make things work out - 7 adults with varying palates plus 5 children with varying degrees of pickiness means I also provided fruit and mini pastries.

My daughter wouldn't try it, but it's only because it's eggs, cheese, and whatever in an unfamiliar presentation.

Regular rotation-worthy?


I'll keep this in my back pocket to make again for brunch.


Recipe Review - Good Eats Frozen Blueberry Pie

Ease of Preparation

It's rated "intermediate" at Food Network for a couple of reasons, mostly because it involves a lot of patience (you assemble the filling & then freeze it) and more than a little work (weaving a lattice from a pie crust, a step which I skipped in order to carve a π into the top crust. 

But, I think my sister would be fine with the steps.

Specialty Equipment Required?

Yes - you'll need something to mash half your blueberries with (I used a potato masher) and you'll need a 9" pie tin that can be put in the freezer. 

Did my husband and daughter enjoy it? 

I'll answer that question after dinner! The pie is currently cooling in the kitchen. 

Regular rotation-worthy?

Yes, but seasonal - while the thawed berries seemed to work out OK, I think it would be better with fresh.

And I'm waiting for June/July to pick some Jersey Fresh blueberries!!


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Let's Talk Comfort Food

When the weather reports that it's colder in some states than in Fairbanks, Alaska, we kind of want to curl up under a blanket, with a cup of tea and a bowl of something hot (and probably calorically dense.)

Comfort food.

For some people, it might be chicken soup. Others' version might be chili. Still others might prefer lasagna. Or whatever. 

Me, I'm partial to Babu's halubke. (For those of you who don't transliterate Slovak, halubke is "stuffed cabbage." And "Babu" is what my daughter has been invited to call my maternal grandmother.)

However, since I haven't got the how-to, cabbage, or Babu's recipe (we're supposed to make time to make it together), I'll have to go a different direction.

Today, I've got Slow Cooker Chicken and Dumplings working in the kitchen.

Tomorrow, we're doing chili. (With box-mix cornbread.)

Over the next few days, I'll be checking my cookbooks for comfort food recipes. Spring can't come soon enough!!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Recipe Trial - Black Bean Enchiladas

It's Lent and, although I'm not observant, I still feel weird eating meat on Fridays in Lent. (Eighteen years of consistency is a hard habit to break.)

So, I decided we'd try a new vegetarian recipe to see if we could add it to the regular rotation.

The munchkin and I were already out & about, so I whipped out my smartphone to consult my Wegmans app for vegetarian recipes ... and to automatically generate a shopping list from the ingredients list.

I took a peek at the Black Bean Enchiladas and decided they were worth a shot.

Fortunately, I only had to pick up a few things because I've already got garlic (whole heads of garlic, but I don't mind peeling it), olive oil, cumin, chili powder, and AP flour in the pantry. 

Shopping List

  • 1 16-oz container "Caribbean Black Bean Soup" (if you're not near a Wegmans, they do have a recipe to scratch-make it)
  • 1 16-oz package shredded "Mexican blend" cheese (combination of Cheddar, Monterrey Jack, and queso quesadilla cheeses)
  • 1 8-oz package shredded "Mexican blend" cheese
  • 1 15.5-oz can tomato sauce (store brand is fine)
  • 2 15.5-oz cans black beans (again, store brand is fine)
  • 1 jar Better Than Boullion brand vegetable base (yes, I know the recipe called for "no-chicken" but my store didn't have any, so I got the vegetable kind)
  • 2 10-oz pkgs stone-ground corn tortillas

Recipe Review

Ease of Preparation: 

I think that this recipe is one of the more complicated new recipes I've tried, even when compared to the Ted Allen Belgian Beef Stew I took on for week 1.

I had a sinkful of dirty dishes when I was finished the pre-oven steps, and there were a lot of complicated steps to get there - this involved making a roux (not a problem, as I've done this before - it's a major component of AB Mac & Cheese), ensuring my mise en place were fully "en place" before I started cooking, and grabbing the appropriate blending tools before I could move to the next step.

So, no, it's not easy, but my sister would never try it - it's got too much "spice" for her palate. 

Specialty equipment required?

I needed two 9" by 13" casserole pans (which I do not have, but I do have a 9x13 Pyrex baking dish ... and an oval ceramic baking dish roughly the same size), a "stockpot" (I used a 3-qt saucepan), a large mixing bowl, a non-stick skillet, and a plate (I used a Pyrex pie dish; this, I think, was a stroke of genius.)

It can be a bit of a hassle to get all this stuff out for a single recipe, but it's not as complicated as getting my mini-prep food processor or coffee grinder, which are stored above my fridge. 

Did my husband and daughter enjoy it?

While the kid wouldn't touch it, the husband did.

He likes the flavors, but gave his typical comment to vegetarian dishes I prepare - "it's missing something." 

*sigh* He's a carnivore, no matter how much I try.

Regular rotation-worthy?


It's too much work to prepare a dish like this and be the only one happy to eat it.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Recipe Review - Rosemary Flank Steak with Balsamic Grilled Onions

So this recipe was supposed to be part of a Valentine's Day feast, but it kept getting pushed off due to conflicts in schedule.

On Valentine's Day itself, I actually improvised heart-shaped pizzas with some store-bought dough, jarred sauce, and fresh mozzarella. I think they would have been perfect if I'd remembered to drizzle a little olive oil over the top ... and had picked up some fresh basil. Oh well. Next time, right? (For those of you whose Nonnas would rather die than use bought dough & jar sauce, please remember I'm Slovak, Irish, and German, not Italian, so I take the help where I can get it, though maybe I'll learn some sauce-making secrets this year. I do have a couple of Giada cookbooks, after all.)

Please keep in mind that I also served this with two aphrodisiac sides - garlic mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus spears. (Yes, garlic is an aphrodisiac - for its effects on the circulatory system.)

Review Checklist

Ease of preparation:

This one's not too bad - the marinade calls for a half cup of good olive oil (I use extra-virgin because I've found a very nice, very fruity oil that I like in marinades and for drizzling), bruised rosemary leaves (they suggest using a rolling pin to do the work; I had an empty wine bottle), chopped garlic (smash and chop!), cracked peppercorns (stick 'em in a zip-top freezer baggie & smash with your meat tenderizer!), and some good balsamic vinegar.

I'll admit that good balsamic is a little on the pricey side of things and a lot of people don't keep whole peppercorns in their pantry like I do, but, in general, these are not ingredients that require a lot of hunting.

After the steak marinated, I did miss the point where I was instructed to brush off the solids, so it went onto my grill pan with rosemary leaves, peppercorns, and garlic bits still sticking to it. Oops! 

Bottom line: my sister could totally follow the instructions even if I couldn't!

Specialty equipment required?

Yes and no. 

This is a grill (or grill-pan) recipe, so it means I could make it again during the summer when we're grilling things more frequently ... or I could pull out my double-burner, cast iron, grill/griddle pan because it's a wee bit nippy here on the East Coast.

As I mentioned above, a rolling pin is also called for, but I haven't kept one easily accessible for years, so ... I used a wine bottle.

Did my husband and daughter enjoy it?

Well, the kid didn't touch it, but the husband really enjoyed it, so I'll be making this again at some point.

Regular rotation-worthy?

Yes, I think so. The kid will come 'round eventually. 


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Recipe of the Week

With it being Valentine's Day on Saturday, I've put off trying a new-to-me recipe 'til then.

Looking over my pantry ingredients, and checking out the ease-of-preparation, I've settled on Grilled Rosemary Flank Steak with Balsamic Glazed Onions from the Sur La Table "test kitchens."

I already have garlic and extra virgin olive oil in the pantry, so I'll have a fairly short shopping list tomorrow - flank steak, red onions, and fresh rosemary.

According to the cookbook, Intercourses, rosemary and garlic are aphrodisiacs, so they're perfect for use any time you want to show a little love!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Trying a New Technique

Because I'm still adjusting to being home, I'm keeping things rather simple this week.

So, rather than try a new recipe today and tomorrow (I'm probably putting that off 'til Saturday for Valentine's Day), I'm trying a new technique.

Poaching is defined as "cooking something in a small amount of liquid." 

I have never successfully poached chicken, though I've tried in the past.

Today, I want to make chicken soup so I can use up some box-stock (yes, I know, AB has a stock recipe, but I don't currently have a 12-qt stockpot in the house, though I think I do at least have one) and broth, but I haven't roasted a chicken recently. 

The hubs suggested I use canned chicken. Thanks, honey, but if I'm going out anyway, why don't I just get chicken parts?

I'm OK with canned chicken in certain applications, like buffalo chicken dip and the spinach-and-chicken flatbread recipe from last week, but not so OK with it in soup. It can taste a little artificial if it's not slathered in cream ... and I'm not slathering anything with cream.

For today's experiment, I got a package of "organic" split chicken breasts and a package of bone-in chicken thighs, some fresh ginger, garlic, and a large onion, in addition to the ready-to-use "soup starter" and "soup greens" pre-mixed packs in the Produce section at Wegmans and a bag of organic lemons from TJs. (Most times, I find this is cheaper than to buy everything separately.)

Poaching doesn't exactly follow a recipe, but there's a method, so I followed the one I linked above from The Kitchn blog. 

Those instructions are very clear and they give both a "how to check if your chicken is done" and a "how long should I simmer my chicken" instruction, which I find very helpful. I do wish, however, that I had a deeper pan because my poaching liquid did run over a bit onto my stovetop. (I'll have to clean it again.)

As the chicken is cooked, all I'll need to do to prep it for soup is ... remove it from the bone & chop it before I add it to the pot. Easy-peasy!