Every two weeks, I sit down with a blank piece of paper, grocery store ads, my 3 ring binder of recipes (mostly printed from other lovely blogs), a list of the proteins in my freezer, and a promise not to curse to much during the menu planning process. An hour later, I have a menu filled with fourteen different entrees (most of which are commonplace in the weekly rotation), a shopping list complete with hieroglyphics reminding me of whichever store has the best price, and a headache from cursing too much. Immediately after finishing this tortuous task, we head to the grocery store so I can unleash my menu planning frustration on the world.

Why do I do this? Because in reality, it saves time and creates a harmonious and unstressful environment for dinner assembly. It’s a see the forest through the trees kind of thing.  However, my desire to end the menu planning torture usually results in what I call Swan Dives Meals. These are meals that make it onto the menu because I am running out of time and I have a recipe that matches some random protein in the freezer. So I become a carefree non-anal person that I am not and put it on the menu.

Then, the day to actually make the recipe comes and somehow the recipe miraculously swan dives off the menu and I make something else with the ingredients I have on hand.

If the story stopped there, you would perceive me to be a normal well adjusted semi-neurotic individual but it does not. I feel guilt. Often times, I am so guilty that the recipe did not have its chance in the sun, its opportunity to make my taste buds dance, or its chance to make it on Alex’s vegetables I will eat list,  I will put it on the menu again.

I am not going to tell you how many times recipes swan dive off the menu only to crawl their way back just to face elimination again. Just know that I cannot tell you what Kung Pao chicken tastes like but according to my menu plans I must love it because we have had it 20 times this year.

Asian Ground Beef Lettuce WrapsLettuce Cups

Recipes comes from Dine and Dish who found the recipe on Allrecipes

These lettuce wraps were one of those swan dive meals and even yesterday, I almost swapped it with baked ziti at the eleventh hour. I am so glad I pressed on and saw this recipe into fusion however. The Asian flavors were spot on. The ginger gave it the need kick and the filling was a great inside its lettuce container.

 Alex, who has lettuce on the inedible list, ate his filling with jasmine rice and enjoyed his meal as much as I did.

 Asian Ground Beef Lettuce Wraps, from Allrecipes

  • 16 Boston Bibb or butter lettuce leaves
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 teaspoons minced pickled ginger
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • Asian chile pepper sauce (optional)
  • 1 (8 ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, Lettuce Cups 2chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Asian (dark) sesame oil
  1. Rinse whole lettuce leaves and pat dry, being careful not tear them. Set aside.
  2. In a medium skillet over high heat, brown the ground beef in 1 tablespoon of oil, stirring often and reducing the heat to medium, if necessary. Drain, and set aside to cool. Cook the onion in the same pan, stirring frequently. Add the garlic, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger, vinegar, and chile pepper sauce to the onions, and stir. Stir in chopped water chestnuts, green onions, and sesame oil, and continue cooking until the onions just begin to wilt, about 2 minutes.
  3. Arrange lettuce leaves around the outer edge of a large serving platter, and pile meat mixture in the center. To serve, allow each person to spoon a portion of the meat into a lettuce leaf. Wrap the lettuce around the meat like a burrito, and enjoy!

 

Notes: I did not use the chile sauce; although Alex thought they could have used a little more kick so I definitely will next time. I also cooked the meat first and added the onions and water chestnuts to the meat mixture. After 3 to 4 minutes, I made a well in the meat mixture and added the liquids and the green onions then stirred everything together. My goal here was to keep as many plates as clean as possible. :)

When I was little, I had a restaurant. It was only open on Sundays and only opened for my mother. It had a fancy name, Chez a la Me and fancy décor. My sister and I hung a Strawberry Shortcake sheet set from the ceiling. When you were in front of the sheet set, you were in the front of the house and were whether a waiter or a hostess. It was easy to tell the difference between the two because not only did we have name tags bearing a man’s name (which was weird I know) but when you were the waiter, you were forced to don a construction paper mustache.

The back of the house contained the crazy chef, which was always me. I would often shout during the cooking process at my imaginary kitchen staff. I was heavily into Yan Can Cook and though screaming was part of the culinary process. We had a full menu, written in crayon, complete with all the fancy names of dishes I heard Julie Childs say; however, we were often out of everything except scrambled eggs. Often times they came with cheese and sometimes they remained un-scrambled and came in a buttery toast frame instead. That was our most famous dish.

We were very popular. Every table in our restaurant was taken, the minute we got my mom out of bed and sat her in it. Chez a la Me was open for many years. Eventually the décor changed, the mustaches were left behind, and the food got much better, but through the years, our mother and only customer (of course non-paying) remain constant. So thanks mom for sitting at our table and just as I promised at 8, I will never tack a sheet into the ceiling again unless we are building a fort.

Mother’s Day Brunch

This year for Mother’s Day, I opened the restaurant one more time and cooked for two important people in my life. And unlike the early years of Chez a la Me, the food was not only edible it was great. The recipes we served are listed below.

Fruit BruschettaFruit Brus

From the fabulous blog The Way The Cookie Crumbles; Her blog is an inspiration and her comparison posts are the greatest. You must check it out.

Makes 16 bruschetta

16 ½-inch-thick slices crusty Italian or French bread
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1½ tablespoons sugar
1½ tablespoons cinnamon, or to taste
4 Kiwis
2 banana, cut into fine dice
10 large strawberries, cut into fine dice

2 tablespoons of orange juice
3 to 4 tablespoons vanilla yogurt
honey for drizzling

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Arrange bread slices in one layer in a shallow baking pan and bake in middle of oven until golden, about 10 minutes. Brush toasts with butter on one side. Toasts may be made 1 week ahead and kept in an airtight container.

In a small bowl stir together 1 tablespoon sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over buttered side of each toast. Broil toast about 5 inches from heat under preheated broiler 30 seconds, or until tops are bubbling, and cool.

In a bowl stir together fruit, the orange juice and remaining ½ tablespoon sugar and mound about 1 tablespoon on each toast. Top each toast with about 1 teaspoon yogurt and drizzle with honey.

I did not eat these because of my texture issues with bananas but everyone who did really enjoyed them. The thought the flavors complimented each other very well and it was a semi-healthy way to start the meal.Hash

Potato Hash

This recipe comes from my boyfriend Tyler Florence. It was part of a whole recipe for salmon hash with a poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. The potato hash was perfect. The potatoes were crisp and the onion and the red pepper gave them dish some complexity. I made have also added some crumbled bacon to the mix.

About 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 russet potatoes, rinsed in water and cut into large dice

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 onions, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 green onions, finely chopped

3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Pinch cayenne pepper

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Once heated add the potatoes and shallow-fry for about 8 minutes until evenly browned on all sides. Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and place onto a paper towel-lined plate. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a large bowl.

Remove most of the oil, leaving only a couple of tablespoons. Place over medium heat and add the sliced onions, sliced peppers and garlic and allow to caramelize. Add the green onions, thyme leaves, paprika and cayenne pepper. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste, and stir to combine. Add the potatoes back to the pan and stir to combine.rolls

Honey Yeast Rolls

Come from Annie’s Eats. I cannot say enough about her blog. There are some many great recipes; hers is often one of my go-tos. These rolls were airy and delicious. The honey made them just sweet enough. I make them all the time and they are always a huge hit.

Honey Yeast Rolls
Ingredients:
2 ¼ tsp. instant yeast
1 cup warm water (105°-115° F)
¼ cup honey
3 tbsp. canola oil
1 ¼ tsp. salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 cups bread flour
vegetable cooking spray
1 tbsp. butter, melted
1 tbsp honey

Directions:
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the yeast and warm water.  Add the honey, oil, salt, and egg and mix well.  Add 3 cups of the flour and mix until the dough comes together in a sticky mass.  With the mixer on low speed, add the remaining 1 cup flour and mix until it is incorporated into the dough.  Switch to the dough hook, and continue kneading on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.

Form the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat.  Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk, about 2 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 30 seconds.  Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

Punch the dough down and divide into 12 equal portions.  Shape each portion into a ball and place into a round, lightly greased baking dish, spacing evenly.  Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 20 minutes.  Mix together the melted butter and honey, and brush lightly over the tops of the rolls.  Bake at 400° for 13-15 minutes or until lightly browned.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

FrittatasEggs

The last piece to this Mother’s Day puzzle were two types of Frittatas. I double them the Boy and Girl Frittatas.

The Boy Frittata

This was Giada recipe and was very good. Although, I thought some of the flavors, the ham and cheese, got lost in the eggs. I even cooked the ham beforehand and there was still nothing more than an undertone. Everyone loved them but I thought they could use a little tweaking.

Ingredients

Nonstick vegetable oil cooking spray

8 large eggs

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 ounces thinly sliced ham, chopped

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Spray 2 mini muffin tins (each with 24 cups) with nonstick spray. Whisk the eggs, milk, pepper, and salt in a large bowl to blend well. Stir in the ham, cheese, and parsley. Fill prepared muffin cups almost to the top with the egg mixture. Bake until the egg mixture puffs and is just set in the center, about 8 to 10 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, loosen the frittatas from the muffin cups and slide the frittatas onto a platter. Serve immediately.

The Girl Frittata

This came from my own mind and was very good. I thought the flavors of each element really shone through and created a great dish.

7 cups of fresh spinach

1 medium onion thinly sliced

6 slices of bacon

½  medium tomato

10 eggs

½ cup of whole milk

Salt

Pepper

¾ cup of Gruyere cheese

Butter

Note: Seasoning each element is important so remember to add salt and pepper to the onions and the spinach during the first phase of their cooking.

1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Add a half of tablespoon of butter to a 10 inch non stick skillet over medium high heat.

3. Add the onions to the pan and sauté until soften and caramelized about 6 minutes. Remove onions from the pan and keep warm.

4. Cook the bacon in the same skillet you cooked the onions in until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan.

5. Discard some of the bacon drippings but leave 1-2 tbsp in the pan. Add the spinach and sauté.

6. Cook the spinach until wilted about 6 minutes. Remove of pan and drain the spinach. Push on the spinach until most of the water is gone.

7. In a separate bowl, mix your eggs, milk, cheese, salt and pepper. Whisk until scrambled.

8. In the same skillet you cooked the onions, bacon, and spinach in, add the tomatoes to the pan. Cook about 2 minutes. Discard any tomato water that comes out of the tomato.

9. Add the onions, spinach, and tomatoes to the pan. Cook for 3 minutes until everything is warmed.

10. Crumble the bacon into the pan.

11. Add the eggs over the onion and spinach mixture.

12. Cook on the stove for 3 minutes, moving the eggs around slightly with your spoon. This is the time you want to make sure the onion, spinach and tomatoes are properly distributed.

13. Place the skillet in the oven and cook for 8-10 minutes.

14. If the top of your frittata is still loose (excess egg on top) you can put it under the broiler for 1-3 minutes.

15. Remove the pan from the oven and remove the frittata from the pan onto a cutting board. The frittata should come out whole.

16. Cut the frittata like a pizza into 8 slices and serve.

A Barbecue Blanket

May 7, 2009

My husband shares a disease with a large population of the United States. It is an ailment that I am not fond of and become very frustrated with from time to time. Alex has an aversion to all condiments with the exception of barbecue sauce. He wants nothing to do with mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, or salad dressings. No matter what I add to it or what fancy aioli name I call it, he knows and is unwilling to venture into the strange substance zone.

He will and does put barbecue sauce on almost anything. Carefully crafted flavor profiles get destroyed by that sweet tangy blanket of sauce. I die a little inside every time he does it. This week I made Thai Peanut Chicken Burgers with a Cilantro Lime Aioli. The burgers were perfect; there was a subtle peanut undertone that was a great foundation for the Thai flavor to build on. The meal was complete with oven baked fries and even though the meal was overall healthy, the flavors were causing culinary cherubs to dance on my tongue.

What was Alex doing while I was enjoying this symphony of flavors, pouring barbecue sauce all over every inch of it. I do not think he even tried some without the smoky smothering. His critique: “This is really good. You cannot taste much of the peanut butter though.” I am sure that most of you are rolling your eyes with me now, but that barbecue sauce protects another secret: the burgers were made with carrots, Alex’s arch-nemesis of the vegetable world. So go ahead honey, pour that barbecue sauce on anything you like; those carrots sure taste good now, don’t they?

 Peanut Chicken  Burgerchicken-burger

Adapted from A Good Appetite and Cara’s Cravings (one of my favorite healthy blogs)

1 medium carrot, julienned
1 scallion, chopped
¼  tsp ground ginger
1 tsp kosher salt
2 breast of chicken
2 Tbsp chunky peanut butter
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sriracha chili sauce

Place the two chicken breasts in the food processor. Pulse the meat until most of the bigger chunks are gone and you have a smooth chicken paste with some bigger pieces of chicken in it.

Place all the ingredients together in a bowl. Work with hands to mix but to do overwork.

Cook on a griddle (turkey burgers tend not to hold together well on a grill) until done, about 6 to 7 minutes per side.

Serve with lettuce leaves, more julienned carrots & Cilantro Lime Aioli.

Recipe Notes:

- I added the peanut butter, sesame oil, sriracha chili sauce, and ground ginger to food processor after I had pulsed the chicken a few times. This helps to blend the flavors.

-I finished the burgers in the oven after they got golden brown on each side. It took about 10 mins in a 350 degree oven.

 Nutritional Info- taken from Spark Recipes (not including the bun or the aioli)

Servings per recipe: 4

Calories: 218.4    Total Fat: 8.5      Cholesterol 71.6  Total Carbs: 4.9   Protein: 29.9

Cilantro Lime Aioli

1 ½ tbsp light mayo

½ tbsp of lime juice

1 tbsp fresh cilantro; minced

1 clove of garlic minced

Dash of salt and pepper

 

Mix well and top burgers.

 

Oven Baked Fries fries

This fries are amazing and they are baked so they are healthier than the alternative.

 Ingredients
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 large baking potatoes, 12 ounces each
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves –I omit

Other seasonings to your taste such as paprika, chili powder, Cajun seasoning, or cayenne powder

Directions
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Cut the potatoes into 1/4-inch sticks. In a large bowl, toss the oil, potatoes and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and spread the potatoes onto it in a single layer. Sprinkle with seasoning to your taste such as paprika, chili powder, Cajun seasoning, or cayenne powder. Bake until golden and crisp, about 35 minutes.

Remove potatoes from the tray with a metal spatula. Toss with parsley and additional salt, to taste. Serve immediately.

 

Nutritional Info- taken from Spark Recipes

Servings per recipe: 4

Calories: 283.5    Total Fat: 7.4      Cholesterol 0.0   Total Carbs: 50.0  Protein: 5.9

My Buttery Complexion

May 5, 2009

You will never hear the words, “When I cook I am…. clean, meticulous, wary, careful or non-destructive” come out of my mouth.  This is because I am none of those things. I am destructive and messy. I have covered myself in flour, dropped red food coloring gel into the carpet, and lost a tray of deviled eggs because of my two left feet. When I am done creating in the kitchen, Alex will jokingly take a match in the danger zone under the ruse that he is going to burn it instead of clean it.

So last week, when I got my first real cake order, I prepared myself for more of the same. But it never came. Sure, my first Betty Boop lost her arm and the first cartoon bubble was missing a word but those were minor mistakes and easily fixable. The fact that the recipe was missing instructions on when to add the sugar and the first layer almost went without, it was no match for my cunning skills. One lick of the spoon and I knew what happened.

I was on the home stretch with an almost flawless victory under my belt, and then it happened. My face was a little funky from the hours of work in the kitchen; there was a little of this and a smidgen of that splattered across my cheeks. I searched the kitchen for something to help with my problem and I picked up a damp paper towel from the growing pile of discarded ones on the counter. I wiped my face vigorously, excited about clean complexion that was coming. Around the thirty second mark, I realized my mistake. I had picked up the paper towel I used to grease my cake pans and had just greased my face with the buttery remains.

Gross. I felt gross. After 3 face washings, still gross. Telling this story now, gross. So maybe from now on, I will start paying attention. Or maybe not because, quite honestly without these stories to tell, life might become a little less gross, but it would definitely be a lot more boring.

German Chocolate Cake:  Inside Outimg_0259a

Inspiration and Recipe come from Sass and Veracity

For the cake…
2 c. sugar
1-3/4 c. all purpose flour
3/4 c. natural unsweetened cocoa
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 lg. eggs
1 c. whole milk
1/2 c. vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. boiling water

For the filling…
7 oz. sweetened shredded coconut (about 2 c.)
4 oz. chopped almonds (about 1 c.)
14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 T vanilla
1/4-1/2 c. heavy cream

For the topping…
2-1/2 sticks unsalted butter (1-1/4 c.)
10 oz. semisweet chocolate
3 T light corn syrup

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spread the coconut on one baking sheet, and the chopped nuts on another.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until coconut is just beginning to brown and nuts are aromatic.  Remove from oven, and stir, then set aside.

Turn the oven temperature up to 350 degrees F and prepare two 8″ x 3″ cake pans by lightly oiling, lining the bottoms with parchment, oiling again, then lightly dusting with flour.  Set them on a large cookie sheet if you can.  Heat some water to the boiling point — you’ll need to add it to the batter.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda and powder, and salt.  Whisk a few times to blend well.  Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla to the dry ingredients, and beat at medium speed for  2-3 minutes.  Pour the boiling water into the mixture and mix well.

Pour batter into the prepared cake pans and place them in the oven to bake for 40-45 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center is clean after removed.

Cool the layers in the pans on a rack for 15 minutes, then remove them and cool on the racks completely.  When the layers are completely cool, cut each in half horizontally to create four layers.  Remove all parchment.

To prepare the filling, after removing the cake layers from the oven, turn the temperature up to 425 degrees F.  Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a casserole dish that will fit inside a larger pan.  Pour hot water into the larger pan to reach half way up the sides of the casserole.  Cover the entire set up with foil and seal well.  Bake for 45 minutes.  At that point, remove the foil with extreme caution as steam will be released, and check the water level.  Add more hot water to reach half way up the sides of the casserole again, seal well with foil and place back in the oven for an additional 45 minutes.  The milk should be thick and the color of a rich caramel.  Stir,  and keep warm and covered.

To prepare the topping, melt the butter in a sauce pan.  Remove it from the heat and add the chocolate in small pieces, stirring until the chocolate is melted. Stir in the corn syrup.  Reserve 1 cup in a bowl and place it in the fridge to thicken, about 1 hour.  Stir well occasionally until it reaches a spreadable point.  Keep the remainder of the chocolate mixture at room temperature.

To assemble the cake, mix the dulce de leche, most of the coconut (save some for decoration if you wish), nuts and vanilla and stir well.  The mixture must be spreadable.  Pour in just enough heavy cream to achieve the desired consistency and mix well.new-imagea

Place the first cake layer on a piece of cardboard cut for the cake, or the removable metal bottom of a cake pan and place it over a baking rack set above a baking sheet to collect excess glaze when the topping goes on.  Divide the filling into three equal quantities.  Mound 1/3 of the filling onto the first layer and spread with an offset spatula that has been dipped in water.  Continue until all layers are assembled.

Cover the sides and top of the cake with the chilled chocolate.  If it’s too firm, put it in the microwave for 5 seconds and stir until it softens, but do not over use the microwave or you’ll ruin the chocolate.  Make sure the warm chocolate is pourable, reheating over an extremely low flame briefly, and then stirring until glossy and smooth.  Pour over the center of the cake, and with an offset spatula, gently push it to the sides and over, smoothing as you go as little as possible.  Warm water to dip the spatula in works wonders for this.  Allow to sit until the chocolate is finished dripping, and remove to a cake platter then refrigerate until serving.  To slice, warm a knife in hot water.a

 Tips:

-          I did not need all the coconut and almonds to make a filling for the cake. I used the remainder as topping.

-          The cake is very moist and was probably not the best for sculpting but it was very very very good.

-          The dulche de leche took longer then an hour and a half. I tripled the filling and it took about two hours to get to the right color.

-          I never added the vanilla to the dulche de leche. I am realizing that now while re-reading the directions but the filling was perfect. It was caramel rich and delicious without it. So it is up to you.

Assessment:

Cindy, Alex and I all tried the components separately. Cindy made a mini cake of the leftover pieces and claimed it ethereal.  I thought the cake was exactly as amazing but still very rich. Milk would probably be a requirement.

I have had nothing but glowing reviews from the party the cake was made for. The birthday girl was over the moon and everyone had more than one slice than night.

There are many elements to this cake but it comes together quite nicely. The chocolate ganache frosting was some of the best that has come out of my kitchen.

 

Betty Boop Instructions0502091152a

I bought gumpaste from our local Michael’s. The cake was a last minute kind of thing and I didn’t have time to make some.

I colored the gumpaste with Wilton’s color gel. I colored it to match her complexion. Then I rolled the gumpaste thin. I used my pasta roller to get the gumpaste as thin as possible. I took it to the 1 setting on my pasta roller.

I laid the gumpaste over the coloring page I had printed out and painted/traced her. I used the Wilton color gels to make paint. I took a half of teaspoon of the color and a couple drops of vodka and mixed it together. Once I painted the outline, I cut her out with an exacto knife. After she was cut, I painted the rest of her.

She dried within 2-3 hours (because she was so thin). Be very careful. Gumpaste is very fragile. The first Betty can tell you about that; I mean once she gets her arm back.

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