The white ones are lava

February 1, 2009

I had a lot of idiosyncrasies when I was a child. I believe childhood actually lends itself to them. I mean how many of us have skipped around the grocery store avoiding cracks to keep our mothers safe from harm or only stood on the brown squares because the white ones are death traps of fiery magma. A child’s imagination is a constant flow of neurotic thought followed by an illogical physical response, in hopes of avoiding such a fate.

These idiosyncrasies reared their head in every area of my formidable years including meals. To this day my favorite thing about mashed potatoes is the gravy lagoon contained inside its starchy valley, which eventually overflows and kills the villagers (corn) down below. Of course, I don’t like gravy so instead I watch Alex’s plate like a hawk until the inevitable destruction happens. Then, the four year old inside of me laughs with maniacal glee.

Waffles also come with their own irrational rule. I had to fill each individual square with syrup to the top of the depression and then, stop the sugary flow so as not to taint the containment wall until I reached the next golden hole. This process continued with impeccable precision until all the holes (including the triangles ones on the side) received their sugary deposit. I would have been brilliant on an assembly line. After completing this methodical process, I would then break the sections apart and stack them as high as I feasible could, pretty much destroying all of my painstaking work from before. My reasoning: they were more fun to eat this way; sounds completely reasonable to my 7 year old self.

Most of these ticks have been abandoned for more convenient, logical, and rational thought. However, this “maturing” also makes life a little more mundane, rigid and ordinary. So this morning, I chose to eat my waffles this way and later in the car, I will try to control the traffic lights with my mind.

Note: Alex apparently cannot relate with this entry. So two theories can be made:

1.      Boys are different than girls and did not do any of these things

Or

2.   Alex is a robot sent here to eventually destroy me. I will be doing research on this and will report back later.

Buttermilk Wafflesimg_0064a

Comes from the Domestic Diva Martha Stewart

The waffles were perfectly golden and crispy. You can taste the cinnamon in the waffles and it gives them a depth of flavor. Alex rates them an 8 and I am refraining from rating because it would not be fair to the waffles. I am getting over being sick and cannot taste flavors. But, they sure looked good.

Ingredients

Serves 4 to 6

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) melted unsalted butter, plus more for waffle iron
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs, separated, room temperature
  • 2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Grease waffle iron with a small amount of melted butter, and heat. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks, buttermilk, melted butter, and vanilla. Pour into dry mixture, and combine.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold whites into batter.
  4. Ladle about 1/3 cup batter onto each section of the waffle grid; spread batter almost to the edges. Close lid, and bake 3 to 5 minutes, until no steam emerges from waffle iron.
  5. Transfer cooked waffles to a baking sheet; place in an oven set to low heat, about 200 degrees, while using remaining batter.
img_0003a

The worst part about waffle making

I am normally a delightful person. Some adjectives I have heard that describe me are charismatic, loveable, kind, funny, or an example from which all other humans should live. However, I will admit that there are certain microscopes under which I am studied, that I do not come out looking so lovely. One of those lenses would be when I become a victim of the common cold, the flu, or any other illness with the potential to cripple me.

I am not a nice sick person nor am I a mean sick person that sleeps when she is sick. No, I am a bored, whiney, bow to my every whim, don’t want to take medicine, I can’t believe you made me cry sick person. I am always surprised that I still have a husband after the snot departs, the medicine fog dissipates, and the what did I do to deserve this feeling goes away. And even though I might physically being feeling better, my guilt over my behavior is another story.

For example during my last bout with the flu, Alex was preparing my shot of Nyquil in the hopes that the monster would drift off into slumber.  The monster had other ideas though. I roared and thrashed in the bed when attempting to turn over and knocked the bottle right out of his hands. I knocked the full Cherry Nyquil bottle from his apparently weak grip onto him, myself, and our brand new white down comforter. Then, I promptly blamed him, began to cry, and fell asleep.  I am quite the catch I tell you.

So today, I prayed to the laundry gods,  bleached the duvet cover and set out to make it up somehow. The easiest way to do this: food. I made Jambalaya for my doctor and it worked. Somehow I am forgiven, I think it helps that I am cute and Alex realizes that monster only comes out once… three… maybe five times a year.

Everything Jambalayajambayla-017a

A Rachel Ray recipe

Alex rates this recipe an 8 because he has had real jambalaya with rue and this is not that. I rate it a 9 because I love the spice and flavor in this dish. My only issue is all the prep work (chopping) it requires. Definitely not a 30 minute meal; well maybe if I had a fully staffed prep kitchen it would be.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups enriched white rice
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, once around the pan
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless white or dark meat chicken (I used boneless white)
  • 3/4 pound andouille, casing removed and diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
  • Several drops hot sauce or 2 pinches cayenne pepper
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons (a handful) all-purpose flour
  • 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1(14-ounce) can or paper container chicken stock or broth
  • 1 teaspoon (1/3 palmful) cumin
  • 1 rounded teaspoon (1/2 palmful) dark chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon (1/3 palmful) poultry seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, raw, deveined and peeled (ask for easy peel at fish counter) (I normally leave it out to make the dish cheaper; I have made it both ways and don’t miss the shrimp at all)
  • Coarse salt and black pepper
  • Chopped scallions, for garnish
  • Fresh thyme, chopped for garnish (Did not use)

Directions

Cook rice to package directions.

Place a large, deep skillet over medium high heat. Add oil and butter to the pan. Cube chicken and place in hot oil and butter. Brown chicken 3 minutes, add sausage, and cook 2 minutes more. Add onion, celery, pepper, bay, and cayenne.

Saute vegetables 5 minutes, sprinkle flour over the pan and cook 1 or 2 minutes more. Stir in tomatoes and broth and season with cumin, chili, poultry seasoning, and Worcestershire. Bring liquids to a boil and add shrimp.

Simmer shrimp 5 minutes until pink and firm. Remove the pot from the heat and place on a trivet. Ladle jambalaya into shallow bowls. Using an ice cream scoop, place a scoop of rice on to the center of the bowlfuls of jambalaya. Sprinkle dishes with salt, pepper, chopped scallions, and thyme leaves.jambayla-004a

He is a fruit killer

January 22, 2009

We use to have a mini shopping cart on the counter that stored our “keep out of the fridge” fruits and vegetables. I say use to because it has been deemed an unsafe zone for the perfect, innocent, not harming anyone produce. It turned anything that lived in its metal cage was turned into prey waiting for its killer. The tomatoes, avocados, apples, banana, and even potatoes would spend their lives in fear being taunted by their would be assassin. spike-012a

He had no concern for their livelihood, no care for their perfect unblemished flesh; he thought only one of thing: their destruction. He would torture his victims, throw them on the floor, rip open their skin, and carry their carcasses around the house leaving their pulpy juicy goodness in his wake. Yes, many a piece of produce has been carried home so thoughtfully from the store to only then be destroyed by the menacing horror that is Spike.

Even when they are under my watchful protection, it is still not enough. I lost one of these beautiful apples while trying to turn them into warm, buttery apple dumpling goodness. I turned my back for one second to get a peeler and it was gone. I found it lying next to Spike on the floor. Three perfect teeth marks, into its crown, oozing juice. And the murderer, he just sat there, completely stoic, licking his lips.

I think Alex put him up to these mindless massacres in an effort to make this a vegetable free house. I will not yield to their pressure. The fruits and vegetables have a new home now and the shopping cart will serve as a reminder of these tragedies.

Apple Dumplings apple-dumplings-032a1

This recipe comes from the amazing Pioneer Woman. If you have not checked out her blog, you must I promise you will enjoy.

While the ingredients for these dumplings may not be traditional, the taste of this dessert is amazing. The croissants get nice and toasty on the top and the bottom become this mixture of buttery, sugary awesomeness that you will want to spoon over everything.

I rate this a 9 (because it is not friendly to the hips) and Alex a 10 and that after he realizes there is fruit in it so it must be good.

Ingredients

apple-dumplings-002a1

One of the lucky ones

2 Granny Smith Apples

2 cans of Refrigerated Croissants

8 oz Mountain Dew

2 sticks of butter melted

1 ½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cinnamon

1. Peel and core the Granny Smith apples.

2. Cut the apples into 8 slices.
3. Butter a 9x 13 baking dish.

4. Roll the croissants around each apple slice. I like to make sure the apple slice its covered by its doughy cocoon but it is not necessary.

5. Place the covered apple slices into the buttered dish. Arrange in a single layer in rows. apple-dumplings-012a I made half  a recipe and placed in a round baking dish.

6. Melt two sticks of butter.

7. Add the sugar to the butter and barely stir.

8. Add the vanilla to the butter/sugar mixture and barely stir. You want the mixture to be bumpy and grainy.

9. Pour the mixture over the apples. You want to make sure all the apples are covered.

10. Pour the 8oz of Mountain Dew around the outside of the pan. Just covering the edges of the apples.

11. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes.

12. Top with ice cream if you like and enjoy the heck out of them.

A Haze Inducing Dish

January 18, 2009

There are some dishes in life that you have to commit to making. They require you complete devotion and attention throughout the cooking process or the entire dish is subject to becoming a culinary disaster. Risotto is the quintessential dish of this category. You can imagine with my “Oh Look Shiny” syndrome that I am amazing at these dishes. Incase you are missing the sarcasm, I am not. After a few minutes, my eyes glaze over and I am somewhere else completely. And usually whatever day dream I have ended up in, is much more interesting than stirring a pot of rice for 30 minutes.

But this is why Alex and I make such a good team; he is a master of recognizing the haze. He can even recognize it out in public when I am listening to someone drone on and on while I make the customary nods and “Oh really’s”. Alex’s muffled laughter from across the room can usually snap me back to reality. This skill comes in handy at the Risotto pot. When the haze takes over so does Alex, he gentle removes my hand from the now stagnant spoon and begins to stir. I will then skip off and indulge in me newest magazine, an episode of The Office from the DVR, or making Spike chase a laser around the house (he likes shiny too). Five to ten minutes later, I realize that I am suppose to be making dinner and take the spoon back from Alex and the dance begins again.

Somehow when this process has been completed two to three times, we have this perfect pot of risotto that is rich and creamy. I am certain that is because of my excellent cooking skills and has nothing to do with my husband’s haze identifying ability.

Fontina Risotto with Chickenrisotto-068a1

This dish comes from my Food Network Magazine but you can also find the recipe here.

I found this dish to have a really nice texture with all the creaminess you would expect in Risotto. I also thought it may have been a little too cheesy. Alex thinks that nothing is too cheesy and the dish should remain the same. I would probably reduce the Fontina to ¾ of a cup.

I also pan fried cubes of chicken instead of buying deli chicken. I cooked the chicken in some butter ( you could also use olive oil) and seasoned with salt, pepper, red pepper flake, basil, parsley, and de-glaze the pan with a little bit of white wine. I thought this added another dimension to the Risotto. Overall, I would rate the dish an 8 and Alex rates it an 8.5.

  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme ( I used 1 ½ teaspoon dried)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup coarsely grated fontina cheese, plus more for garnish ( I would change to ¾ cup)
  • 8 ounces deli-smoked chicken breast, diced (about 11/4 cups) (I used pan fried chicken)risotto-033a
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Bring the broth and 4 cups water to a simmer in a saucepan; keep warm.

Meanwhile, melt 4 tablespoons butter in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion; cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the rice and thyme; cook, stirring, until the rice is glossy, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until the liquid is absorbed. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Ladle in the hot broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly, allowing all of the liquid to be absorbed before adding more. Continue until the rice is just tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove the thyme. Stir in the parmigiano, the remaining1 tablespoon butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Gently stir in the fontina and chicken. Divide the rest among bowls; top with parsley and more fontina.

The leftovers for this dish can be turned into Risotto cakes.

Hide and Seek

January 6, 2009

My blog might self destruct with all the posting I have been doing lately, but for the sake of my audience I shall persevere without a second thought to my safety.

For most of my life, I have been a sneaky hider of food. Much like a pirate burying their treasure across the Caribbean, I would hide tasty morsels throughout the house. When I was little, this was not because I was afraid the food would disappear but more because I was not supposed to have it. Of course, I would always hide the food in my clothes and then laundry day went very badly for me.

In my teenage years, my food hiding turned into Coca Cola hiding because my father decreed that I could not consume sugary caffeinated soft drinks under his roof and I had already become addicted. Unlike the cynical chef of younger years, I now had my own money and my own bedroom, which had the ultimate insurance of privacy: a keep out sign. Turns out, the sign doesn’t really keep people out and I would be subjected to watching my father pour my beloved and self-purchased soda down the drain. My sister used to like to tell people her sister had a coke problem. My mother was not so amused.

Then, I got one of those live in boyfriends who later turned in my beloved husband and I realized my food hiding skill was the only way I could enjoy baked goods in this house. My first attempt went awry when I hid my famous chocolate chip cookies in the cookie jar. I thought I was cunning. I thought I was sneaky. I thought surely a boy would not assume there are cookies in the jar when there is a plate of fresh cookies available. I was wrong and I was also a sad little girl without a cookie.

But, do not feel sorry for me, I have since mastered this art of food hiding. I learned that things kept in the vegetable drawer have no interest to Alex. And even though they might be a little chilly, they are all mine.

On a semi- unrelated note: My favorite food pirate joke

What’s a pirate’s favorite fast food restaurant?

ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRby’s

My Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies (They taste just like the Double Tree Ones)cookies-013a

Original Recipe can be found here

1/2 cup rolled oats
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
2 eggs
3 cups semi-sweet, chocolate chips
1-1/2 cups chopped walnuts

Directions:

chocolate-chip-cookies-013a

Oats All Ground Up

Grind oats in a food processor or blender until fine. Combine the ground oats with the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl.

Cream together the butter, sugars, vanilla, and lemon juice in another medium bowl with an electric mixer. Add the eggs and mix until smooth. Stir the dry mixture into the wet mixture and blend well. Add the chocolate chips and nuts to the dough and mix by hand until ingredients are well blended.

For the best results, chill the dough overnight in the refrigerator before baking the cookies.

Spoon rounded 1/4 cup portions onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Place the scoops about 2 inches apart. Bake in a 350°F oven for 16-18 minutes or until cookies are light brown and soft in the middle. Store in a sealed container when cool to keep soft. Makes 20 cookies

Note: There are occasions I have to cook the dough longer than 16-18 minutes. But, you want to err on the side of caution. I take these cookies out when they are not done and let them finish on the pan. The cookies are golden but the insides still a little gooey. This will create a dense cookie with a soft, chocolatey center. It took a few years to get the timing right.

Chill the dough. It makes a world of difference and be prepared to make this cookies all the time. I wouldn’t make any substitutions or leave anything out; it changes the whole cookie. Trust me.chocolate-chip-cookies-019a

I have also scooped the balls of dough and frozen them for up to a month. We made 6 batches for our wedding as their favor. They got bakery bags and a little carton of milk. Huge Hit!!chocolate-chip-cookies-a

Time Out Food

January 5, 2009

In this house, there are some meals that are referred to as “Time Out” food. This is for the simple reason that my lovely, adorable, and slightly psycho kitten ends up in time out before the preparation of the meal is over. You may think it is a little silly to put a cat in time out, but most of you have never met Spike. He is lucky he does not live in time out especially after the banana in the Christmas tree incident of two weeks ago. But, I digress.

These shells are amazing. They were the first dish to succumb to the hungry masses at Family Dinner and have since been made twice because someone had to have them. They are one of those dishes that will be forever in protective plastic sleeve of the sacred three of binder of my recipes. But, this recipe is not without its downside and that downside’s name is Spike.

You see, I make one change to this recipe; I do not throw the chicken into the food processor with the other filling ingredients. No, I shred the oven roast chicken and then fold it into the creamy, cheesy filling. This is where it happens. Every since Spike got a taste of poultry on Thanksgiving (by his own means of scaling the cabinets and settling next to the resting bird in perfect ninja execution) he cannot get enough of it.

So we play this game, the shredding gets done on the kitchen table (because of my inadequate counter space) usually by Cindy, my sister and Spike waits. He lays at the other end of the table and twitches his tail back and forth almost counting down the seconds to his attack. You watch him with one eye because you are aware of the carnal terror that is coming. Then, your brother in law starts doing a impression of a penguin and you are distracted by the laughter caused by his waddling and Spike attacks. Chicken goes flying and by the time you look up Spike has returned to his previous place on the table, but now he has this smug look of victory. What he does not realize is, it is this look that lands him in time out. I can handle theft and deception but I cannot handle mockery.

Another note: Do not attempt to sample the shred chicken your sister is producing after Spike’s stunt or you will find yourself in time out with him. She is a mean kindergarten teacher.

Stuffed Shells stuffed-shells-024a

Courtesy of Blogchef.Net

Ingredients:
1 box jumbo uncooked pasta shells
6 garlic cloves (minced)
2 chicken breasts (cooked and shredded)
1 (30 oz) container ricotta cheese
1/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1 ½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 ½ teaspoons dried parsley
6 basil leaves (torn)
1/3 cup half and half
28 oz pasta sauce
¼ cup parmesan cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese

Step 1: Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta shells according to package directions. Rinse with cold water, separate and set aside.


Step 2:
Combine garlic, chicken, ricotta cheese, bread crumbs, half and half, salt, pepper, parsley, and basil and parmesan cheese in a food processor. Process until combined. If you don’t have a food processor, mix well with a spoon.


Step 3:
Pour half of the pasta sauce into the bottom of a large baking dish. Stuff shells 1 by 1 with the chicken/cheese mixture and place in rows into the baking dish on top of the sauce. Top the shells with shredded mozzarella and pour the over half of the sauce over the top of shells. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.
(Makes 4 servings)

Notes: Every time I have made this, the recipe has produced more than 4 servings and that is with Alex’s appetite. Also as mentioned, I do not put the chicken in the food processor. I fold the shredded chicken into the ricotta mixture.

I will be submitting this recipe to Joelen’s Foodie Films: Big Night-Italian Blog event

doughnuts1I know that my negligence of this blog, for the month of December, will probably result in my lynching, but I implore you to hear my plea: I was lazy. December was a blur of co-worker goodie baskets, quick bread gift baskets, and our Annual Family Dinner party (which contained many a stories that will be shared later). And while I have pictures to remember it all including pictures of the glorious, mouthwatering, talked about for days food, I just could not bring myself to sit down infront of the computer and share it with you. Instead, I slept. December and the holidays were filled with merriment and joy but mostly sleep.

I do have a post for you today though, to start the year off right. And while you are virtually lynching me, I will try to pacify you with the strife these doughnuts caused.

My family, aka Alex (my husband) and Cindy (my sister), are very supportive of my blog. They think my OCD nature in regards to my pictures and food is “cute” (I hate that word) and are quite proud of their cynical chef. They enjoy reaping the benefits of my labor and are usually quite content with waiting the extra few moments to dive in. Usually.

However, there are some meals like the aforementioned doughnuts, where their calm and appreciative demeanor melts away and they morph into a four year old that has just had their lollipop snatched away.

The promise of fresh yeast dougnuts was made early in the week. Thinking back that might have been where it started; the anticipation was too much. After days of thinking about the doughnuts, they were drooling with glee yesterday morning. Then, they realized that these were yeast doughnuts which meant rising time. It was then I saw the first signs of annoyance. Then, the doughnuts were cut and place on a sheet tray; “Surely, they have to be ready soon”, I saw the words of their thoughts floating above their heads. Nope, time for another rise. This time, I was met with mild irritation.

Then, the precious, airy rings of dough were fried and then cinnamon/sugared and were left to cool on an upside down cooling rack (thanks Alton) and I went to get my camera. I came back to find the little one (my sister) hovering over them. She had a look of maniacal destruction on her face. I stopped dead in my tracks and said “Not yet. I need to get the pretty ones”. She looked at me with crazy in her eyes and goes “Ohhhhh your FOOD BLOG! Too bad”. She then picked up one of those suckers, shoved it into her mouth and laughed with glee.

I am still scarred from this incident. Cindy will tell that I have used creative license on this story but I promise you this is exactly how my mind remembers it. Infact, I am not even sure how many doughnuts this recipe made (I halved it) because by the time I got back with my 3 photography doughnuts, the rest were gone. It was a New Year Day Doughnut Massacre. I think I need to think twice about my livelihood when I choose what to cook from now on.

Raised Doughnuts doughnuts2
Adapted from Betty Crocker’s Old-Fashioned Cookbook and Erin Cooks
Yields approximately 4 dozen doughnuts

5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt

2 packages active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups very warm milk (120º to 130º)
1/3 cup shortening
2 eggs
Vegetable oil
Sugar

Mix 2 cups of the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt and yeast in large bowl. Add milk, shortening and eggs. Beat on low speed 1 minute, scraping bowl frequently. Beat on medium speed 1 minute, scraping bowl frequently. Stir in remaining flour until smooth. Cover and let rise in warm place 50 to 60 minutes or until double. (Dough is ready if indentations remain when touched).

Turn dough onto generously floured surface; roll around lightly to coat with flour. Flatten dough with hands or rolling pin to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with floured doughnut cutter. Push together scraps and gently knead 2 or 3 times. Flatten dough to 1/2-inch thickness; cut with floured 3-inch doughnut cutter. Cover doughnuts and let rise 30 to 40 minutes or until double.

Heat oil (1 1/2 to 2 inches) in Dutch oven to 350º. Slide doughnuts into hot oil with wide spatula. Fry about 1 minute on each side or until golden brown. Remove carefully from oil (do not prick surfaces); drain on paper towels. Roll or shake in sugar. (My note: Or alternatively you can also dip the tops of the doughnuts in glaze. See recipe below).

White Doughnut Glaze
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4-6 tablespoons milk (depending on your desired consistency)

Combine all of the ingredients into a bowl with a fork. If the glaze is too thin, add more confectioner’s sugar. If the glaze is too thick, stir in a little extra milk.

We were having trouble making the inner hole. I had three biscuit cutters and the little one was just to big; so in a momendoughnuts3t of genius, Alex suggested one of my piping tips (the circle part of course) and it worked perfectly.

And in this corner….

December 6, 2008

We have a tradition that some may think is a little dorky. But since I embrace my inner dork, I am happy to share the fruits of this laborious tradition with you. This tradition was born out of boredom, my love for my sister, and my sister’s love for the holidays. You see, December is Cindy’s favorite time if the year. She embraces all things Christmas then holds onto them in her viselike grip until mid January.

I enjoy this time with my sister because it is impossible not to love the holidays when you are around her. Sure, watching the Grinch 47 times can get old and of course, one year we had to throw a Halloween party just so she wouldn’t put up the Christmas tree in October, but her love for the holidays is contiguous and I love every minute of it.

So this contest, the Gingerbread-Off, was thought of one night after dinner when boredom was setting in and Cindy had picked up the Grinch to watch again, my instincts kicked in and as I desperately searched for another holiday avenue to pacify Cindy’s needs the Gingerbread-Off came into existence.  By the end of the night, we had a gingerbread Mack truck and a realization that the rules next year would have to include no hot glue.

Today, the tradition continues. This year, there were two teams, Alex and I  and Cindy and Wendy, each fought a great battle and each brought something unique to the table. Cindy and Wendy are putting up a train and station for consideration and it seems that a penguin community has taken it over. Alex and I have made a gingerbread scene called Santa’s Summer Home. Santa is taking the day off and his elves are doing the dirty work; trimming the hedges and mowing the lawn.

Train and Station

gingerbread-off-007ab1

gingerbread-off-049ab

gingerbread-off-060ab

gingerbread-off-051ab1

Santa’s Summer Home

gingerbread-off-001abbgingerbread-off-039abgingerbread-off-040abgingerbread-off-042abmisc-082abgingerbread-off-038ab

Details about the contest:gingerbread-off-033ab

We used regular in the grocery store tube gingerbread and added some flour to the mix. The royal icing consisted of powdered sugar, meringue powder and water. The characters are made out of different colors of fondant, which you can find at your local craft store. To paint the white fondant, gel food coloring was mixed with a small amount of vodka and paint as normal. The alcohol dries and the color is left behind. Shrubs were made from rice krispe treats with green gel color mixed into the marshmallow. If you have any other questions about how anything was done, send me a email at thecynicalchef@yahoo.com. Happy Holidays!!!

I have a feeling that my husband must have had a traumatic experience with vegetables in a past life. Perhaps he was a little green frog, who suffered from a chaotic relationship with a pig and spent his days singing about how it is not easy being green while canoeing down the bayou. Or maybe he roamed the hillside as the Jolly Green Giant and the years of ridicule that stemmed from living life as the color of grass has kept Alex from embracing vegetables in this life.

Nevertheless, I am forced to convince the vegetables to masquerade as other things in hopes some might stumble in Alex’s mouth. I find this method works best with meat and cheese. For some reason, if the onions, spinach, green beans, sugar snap peas, or whatever else is in the dish is wrapped in the cheesy or meaty exterior, the chance that it will actually be consumed rises exponentially.

Tonight’s dish is a great one for this. Alex is put on sensory overload by the ground beef, parmesan cheese, and garlic toast that he fulfils the vegetable segment of the food pyramid without noticing and better yet, not caring. Try it on your loved ones today I promise that no matter what vegetable tragedies they have experienced, they will love it.

Pasta Fagioli
Adapted from Brown Eyed Bakerpasta-fagioli-014ab

2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 package sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (I used a 1 ½ lbs of ground beef)
½ large (or 1 medium) onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 carrots, thinly sliced
4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can white cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
64 oz. beef broth
28 oz. can tomato sauce (I used 42.5 (3 small cans) of tomato sauce)
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
4 oz. small dry pasta (I used ditalini) (I par cooked the pasta before adding it)

Few dashes of Tabasco sauce

1. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large stockpot over medium high heat, and brown the sausage, crumbling it as it cooks. Once brown, remove sausage from pot with a slotted spoon and discard any grease that remains in the pot.

2. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the same pot, and add the onion, garlic, carrot, and celery, and saute over medium heat until vegetables are soft, about 8 minutes. Add sausage back to the pot, add the can of diced tomatoes (do not drain), stir briefly, and simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Stir in the beans, and add the beef broth and tomato sauce. Add in all of the seasonings, stir well, turn the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil. Once it boils, turn down to low heat, cover, and simmer for at least 30 minutes.

4. Add the dry pasta and continue to simmer on low for another 30 minutes. Serve with your favorite bread or crackers.

Garlic Toast- Recipe by mepasta-fagioli-025ab

A loaf of your favorite bread; I used French Bread

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Garlic- Cut in half

1.      Cut the bread lengthwise.

2.      Sprinkle the olive oil over the bread. I usually put my finger over the spout and pour on the bread maybe 1-2 tbs on each half.

3.      Place under the broiler.

4.      Cook until toasted not burnt. Usually 3-4 minutes

5.      The minute it comes out of the oven rub the bread with the exposed side of the garlic bread. The warmth of the bread will cause the garlic flavor to adhere to the bread.

6.      Enjoy the garlicky goodness.

I am not sure where the requirement to have something green on your plate came from. I am sure it was born out of the minds of June Cleaver and Mrs. Brady. I know I do not have to adhere to this archaic rule but when writing the Thanksgiving menu, there was a nagging thought in my head. “You don’t have anything greeeeen” the sing songy voice mocked. Fine, I gave into Mrs. Cleaver and put creamed spinach on the menu. I had something green alright but it was bathing in a sauce of creamy goodness and topped with crispy shallots. Not your mother’s idea of fulfilling the healthy requirement but so good.

Creamed Spinach

Recipe courtesy of my tv boyfriend Tyler Florence. Tyler if you are reading you are on my 5 people list. Wink wink.misc-012a

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds spinach
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Wash the spinach in several changes of water to get rid of any grit. Drain the spinach but keep some of the water clinging to the leaves. Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the spinach and garlic. Cook, turning frequently, until the spinach has wilted down evenly. Remove the garlic and put the spinach into a colander and let it drain well. Press out as much liquid as you can from the leaves and chop them coarsely.

Heat the skillet again over medium-high heat and add the cream and nutmeg; cook until it reduces a bit, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach and parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the spinach is hot, about 5 more minutes. Serve immediately.

Crispy Shallots

  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

To prepare the shallots: Fill a deep saucepan with about 2 inches of vegetable oil. Heat over medium heat until a deep-fat thermometer reads 360 degrees. (Alternatively, use an electric deep-fat fryer). Toss the shallots with the flour in a large bowl, to coat. Transfer to a strainer and shake to remove the excess flour. Add the shallots to the hot oil and cook until golden