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Friday, October 28, 2011

Fall Comfort Food Series: Macaroni & Cheese, Katie’s Way

I think most American’s would include some version of macaroni and cheese on their list of favorite comfort foods.  The mixture of tender noodles with creamy, gooey cheese is enough to make almost everyone melt. 

Please do not misunderstand me, not all mac and cheese recipes are created equal.  My grandmother’s recipe, for instance, leaves a lot to be desired.  Don’t get me wrong, my grandmother is a decent cook.  Her hamloaf is a specialty no one can touch, and her pie crust is a gift from the culinary gods.  But when it comes to macaroni and cheese, her’s is depressingly flavorless with mushy noodles.  The best part is the browned croutons on top, made from delicious gluten bakery bread. 

Grandma’s macaroni and cheese is boring and uninspired.  This can be contributed to her use of flavorless American cheese in her recipe.  Or worse yet, the dreaded “cheese food product”.  You all know the yellow log of imitation cheese found on store grocery shelves nationwide (not the refrigerated section where all proper cheese belongs) I’m referring to.  Sure, it melts beautifully and leaves a great texture to your macaroni and “cheese”.  But ladies and gents, IT ISN’T REALLY CHEESE.  This nuclear bunker staple should be limited to cooking when in an actual nuclear bunker, not in the safety of your own kitchen.  Whatever you do, however little time you have to make dinner, please PLEASE do not resort to using “cheese food product” in your macaroni and cheese!  I beg of you!!!  After all, your macaroni and cheese is only as good as the cheese you put in it.

When I was searching for a special recipe in the macaroni and cheese department, I came across this recipe from Ina Garten on the Food Network.  Her recipe has a wonderful flavor, but the sauce comes up a little dry and the noodles a little mushy for my tastes.  With a few tweaks to her recipe (doubling the sauce, tripling the cheese, undercooking the noodles during boiling, and replacing fresh breadcrumbs with crunchy buttered panko) I think I’ve found a new regular for our table. 

Yes, the cheese can be expensive making it prohibitive to make this dish on a regular basis, but please give this recipe a try at least for a special occasion.  You will be glad you did. 

Macaroni and cheese, Katie’s way (makes 2 large servings)
5 slices bacon
2 tablespoons salt
2 cups small shells or macaroni (I prefer the shells because they are like little cups for your cheese sauce, but you can use whatever you prefer or have on hand)

3 cups milk
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cup Gruyere cheese, grated
1 cup extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
¾ cup blue cheese, such as Roquefort, crumbled into pea sized pieces
Dash nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 400°.

Bake the bacon.  Place a baking rack on a rimmed baking sheet and arrange the bacon in a single layer on the baking rack.  Bake bacon for 15-20 minutes, until the bacon is crisp.  Remove the pan carefully from the oven and transfer bacon to a plate lined with paper towels.  Once cooled, crumble bacon. 

Boil the noodles.  Bring large pot of water to a boil.  Once boiling, add the 2 tablespoons of salt to the water and the small shells.  Boil pasta for 3 minutes. (Don’t worry that the pasta is undercooked, it will soak up moisture from the sauce while baking in the oven.  This technique makes for al denté pasta in the finished product, rather than overcooked, mushy noodles.)  Drain well.

Make the béchamel sauce.  Without boiling, heat milk in small saucepan.  Melt the butter in a medium pot over medium heat and add the flour.  Whisking constantly, cook the flour and butter for two minutes.  Add the heated milk to the flour mixture and cook until thickened (without allowing milk and flour mixture to boil), several minutes.  Once heated thoroughly, remove the pan from the heat and stir in cheeses, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.  Mix in your cooked pasta and crumbled bacon.  Pour into 2 individual size gratin dishes.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in microwave on high, about 30 seconds.  Immediately before baking mac and cheese, mix melted butter with panko (don’t do ahead of time or the panko will get soggy), stirring until the panko is well coated with butter.  Top mac and cheese with panko mixture and bake 35-40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the panko is browned on the top.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Last Minute Appetizers

Halloween is just around the corner and you may (or may not, like hubby and I) be going to a Halloween party.  If you want to cook something cute and Halloween themed, then you’re in the wrong place, unfortunately.  I have zero creative skills in making dishes cute.  (Cute and themed dishes can be found here.)  BUT, if you want to bring something delicious and easy, then I have a few recipes you will appreciate.

When I’m invited to a party or a potluck, I like to bring dips.  Usually the host of a potluck has the main dish and possibly some sides under control, but they tend to leave appetizers and desserts to their guests.  These dip recipes are sure to please at your next Halloween party or any holiday party.

Pepperoni Dip 

I know what you’re thinking, these ingredients don’t go together at all.  I felt the same way when I first heard the ingredients of this dip.  But once combined, this is definitely one of the best dips I’ve ever tasted.  Make it a day ahead and heat up in the microwave when it’s time to serve.  That way, all the flavors can meld in the fridge overnight.  Also, I use turkey pepperoni for this recipe because it isn’t as greasy, but feel free to use whatever pepperoni you prefer.

1 8oz. Package cream cheese, softened
1 small can cream of celery soup
1 cup turkey pepperoni, quartered

Combine all ingredients in large saucepan.  Melt and stir to combine over medium heat.  Serve hot with crackers, tortilla chips, or veggies.

Loaded Baked Potato Dip
When you combine all the ingredients of this dip and eat it with a crinkle cut potato chip, it tastes very much like a cold baked potato with all the fixin’s.  One of my favorites.

1 16 oz. Sour Cream
1 envelope Hidden Valley Ranch dry powder mix
1 ½ cup shredded cheddar
½ cup bacon bits
¼ cup fresh green onions

Combine all ingredients and serve cold with Ruffles or other thick potato chip. 

Shrimp Dip
This dip makes people think you went to a whole lot of trouble.  Only you have to know how simple and easy it really is!!!

2 8oz. Package cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ - 1 cup cocktail sauce (depending on how much you like)
1 can tiny shrimp, drained

Combine the cream cheese, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic powder.   Spread cheese mixture in a layer on serving plate.  Pour cocktail sauce evenly over cheese mixture.  Spoon shrimp over cocktail sauce.  Serve chilled with buttery crackers.  (Allow to warm up a few degrees from the fridge for easy dipping)

Hot Pepper Relish Dip
You’ve tried this every time you’ve been in the Harry and David store.  Easy and always a hit at the party.

1 8oz. Package of cream cheese
½ jar of Harry & David Pepper and Onion Relish

Combine cream cheese and relish.  Serve with crackers and/or fresh veggies.

Don’t forget the Party Cheese Ball

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fall Comfort Food Series: Pumpkin Parmesan Ravioli with Brown Butter Sage Sauce

This recipe isn’t traditional comfort food, but it’s definitely warm and comforting nonetheless.  I love pumpkin and to me, nothing says fall like pumpkin.  It seems like we’re drowning in sweet pumpkin recipes, but never really do much with pumpkin as a savory ingredient.  This recipe combines the sweetness of pumpkin with tangy parmesan cheese and fresh sage to give pumpkin lovers one more course to enjoy.  Hope it’s a hit at your house!

Pumpkin Parmesan Ravioli with Brown Butter Sage Sauce

1 cup solid packed pumpkin
1 cup freshly grated parmesan and/or romano cheeses (I like to use a combination of the both, but just parmesan works well too)
1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
½ tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
Salt and Pepper
Wonton Wrappers

Combine pumpkin, parmesan, sage, thyme, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Stir to combine.  Spoon filling by teaspoon into wonton wrappers.  Wet edge of wonton wrappers with water and fold over filling to seal.  Immerse ravioli in boiling water until done, about 2 minutes.  They will float at the surface when they are done.  Remove with slotted spoon to serving plate.

4 tablespoons butter
8-10 fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced
Salt and Pepper

Melt butter in skillet over medium heat until browned, remove from heat and add sage leaves, salt, and pepper.  Spoon over raviolis and serve immediately.  Top with additional shaved parmesan, if desired.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fall Comfort Food Series Sneak Addition: Beef Stroganoff

I recently experienced an unnatural craving for Beef Stroganoff, something (until now) I don’t even eat annually.  It has probably been fifteen years since I’ve had this Russian import turned American comfort food.  But when I saw this recipe in my new favorite cookbook, bon appetit: fast, easy, fresh I knew I had to make it for my husband.  It turned out, creamy, tangy, and delicious. 

This recipe is great on any weeknight as it requires nearly zero prep and only takes about 15 minutes to complete.  It’s going on regular rotation here at our house.  Try it today!

Beef Stroganoff (bon appetit: fast, easy, fresh Barbara Fairchild, pg. 386)
1 ½ lbs. well-trimmed beef tenderloin, cut into 2 x 1 x ½ inch strips (I used sirloin kebab pieces and left them as-is)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, divided
½ cup finely chopped shallots
4 garlic cloves
1 pound assorted fresh wild mushrooms (such as stemmed shitake, oyster, and crimini but button will work too), thickly sliced
1 cup beef broth
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons brandy
4 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided (or 2 tablespoons dried parsley)
12 ounces wide egg noodles

Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper generously.  Melt 1 tablespoon butter in heavy large nonstick skillet over high heat (don’t add butter until pan is fully heated).  Add half of beef in single layer.  Cook just until brown, about 1 minute per side.  Transfer to bowl.  Repeat with 1 tablespoon butter and remaining beef.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in same skillet over medium-high heat.  Add shallots and sauté until tender, about 2 minutes, scraping up browned bits.  Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add mushrooms.  Sprinkle with pepper and sauté until mushrooms brown and juices evaporate, about 4 minutes.  Add broth, cream, and brandy.  Simmer until thickened to sauce consistency, about 5 minutes.  Add beef and any juices.  Simmer over medium-low heat until beef is heated through but still medium-rare, about 2 minutes.  Stir in 2 tablespoons parsley.  Season with salt and pepper.

 Meanwhile, cook noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 8 minutes.  Drain.  Transfer hot noodles to bowl.  Add remaining 4 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons parsley and toss to coat.  Season with salt and pepper.  Divide noodles among plates.  Top with beef and sauce.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fall Comfort Food Series: Blue Plate Special Meatloaf

As I’ve said before, meatloaf can be a polarizing dish.  Some people love the stuff, channeling memories around the table with their family, thanking mom for the homestyle meal.  Other people won’t touch the stuff with a ten foot pole.

I used to be one of the latter; thinking meatloaf was an unnatural shape for meat.  (I had no qualms over meatballs or burgers… go figure.)  Maybe it had something to do with my grandmother’s disgusting version of the recipe; dried and flavorless.  When I got married I decided I needed to attempt a meatloaf recipe because hubby was hungry for it.  So began my search for a worthy recipe.

I was lucky to find success on the first try.  I had recently purchased the bon appetit: fast easy fresh cookbook by Barbara Fairchild and loved the easy weeknight recipes found between the pages.  Of course, I’ve been a fan of the bon appetit magazine for years.  Sometimes the recipes you find in the magazine include really expensive ingredients that are difficult to find in this military town and the recipes are just downright labor intensive, but this cookbook highlighted the easier, more economical cousins of those backbreaking (and bank breaking) meals. 

This recipe is super easy to throw together on a weeknight, or even the night before to store in the fridge for a quick dinner the following night.  It’s become a fairly staple meal in this house, and hubby loves the leftovers on white bread with Duke’s.  I dare any meatloaf hater to be so hateful after trying this recipe!

Southwestern Blue Plate Special Meatloaf bon appetit: fast easy fresh cookbook; Barbara Fairchild; pg.388
1 ¼ lb. package meatloaf meat mix (if you can’t find this in your grocery store, see if you can get the butcher to mix 6 ounces of ground beef with 6 ounces of ground pork for you)
½ cup finely crushed corn chips (like Fritos)
½ cup thinly sliced green onions
½ cup (I prefer Heinz) chili sauce, divided (I use more like a cup and a half)
1 large egg
1 ¼ teaspoons chili powder
Salt & Pepper to taste

 Combine meat, chips, green onion, ½ of chili sauce, egg, chili powder, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and mix with hands.  Divide mixture in half.  Shape each half into ¾ inch-high oval and place halves, side by side, on rimmed baking sheet.  Spread remaining chili sauce over loaves.

Preheat oven to 450°.  Bake meatloaves uncovered until cooked through and juices run clear when center is pierced with small sharp knife, about 20 minutes. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fall Comfort Food Series Sneak Addition: Buffalo Wings

Hubby begged me to make him some chicken wings this past weekend.  Wings are definitely a comfort food and I thought my readers might enjoy knowing how to make them at home!  They are kind of a pain in the ass to make (requires a double fry) but they turn out amazingly delicious and just as good (if not better) than your favorite wing joint.  

This recipe calls for cornstarch in lieu of flour to help the skin crisp up and fry to a beautiful brown.  I highly recommend using Frank's RedHot for the sauce instead of other brands; it makes a classic flavored buffalo sauce.  I like to fry in peanut oil because of the high flashpoint, don’t use olive oil or you’re just asking for trouble. 

So next time you feel like dirtying every dish in your kitchen, give these tasty little morsels a try!!!

Buffalo Chicken Wings
3 quarts peanut oil
1 ½ cups cornstarch
3 ½ pounds bone in, skin-on chicken wings
Salt & Pepper

1 cup Frank’s RedHot
2-5 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed (to your liking)
¼ stick of butter

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 200°.  Measure 2 inches of oil into a large Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat to 350°.  (Use an instant read thermometer that registers high temperatures or clip a candy / deep fry thermometer onto the side of the pan.)  Line 2 baking sheets with wire racks; set aside.

Place ½ cup of cornstarch into a pie plate.  Set a large mesh strainer over a large bowl.  Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Working with several pieces at a time, coat the chicken thoroughly with cornstarch, then transfer to the strainer and shake vigorously to remove all but a thin coating of cornstarch.  Transfer the chicken to one of the wire racks.

Whisk the remaining 1 cup cornstarch, water and 1 teaspoon salt together in a large bowl to form a smooth batter.  When the oil is hot, finish coating the chicken by adding half of the chicken to the batter and turn to coat well.  Using tongs, remove the chicken from the batter, one piece at a time, allowing any excess batter to drip back into the bowl.  Add to the hot oil.

Fry the chicken, stirring to prevent the pieces from sticking together and adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain an oil temperature of 350°, until the chicken begins to crisp, turn slightly golden, and registers about 90° on the thermometer, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the fried chicken to the second prepared wire rack, and set aside for 5-6 minutes.  Batter and fry the remaining chicken during this time.

Line a baking sheet with several layers of paper towels, and return the oil to 350° (if necessary) over medium-high heat.  Return the first batch of fried chicken to the oil and continue to fry until the exterior is very crisp, deep golden brown, and an instant-read thermometer registers about 160°, 3 to 6 minutes.  Transfer the chicken to the paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain and keep warm in the oven.  Repeat with the second batch; let the second batch drain for about 1 minute.  (The unsauced chicken can be held for up to an hour in the 200° oven.)

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add Frank’s RedHot and stir until combined.  (I make a double batch of sauce for hubby and I because we like our wings really drenched, but the single recipe should be enough to coat the chicken.)

Take chicken out of oven and place in a large bowl.  Pour sauce over wings, tossing to combine.  Serve immediately.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Your Fall Fix: Pumpkin Spiced Tea

I love me some Pumpkin Spice Latté from Starbucks.  However my body apparently can’t handle caffeine like most people.  When I last got a latté from Starbucks (and neglected to order decaf), I was moving full speed ahead for 2 days. 

In order to ensure that I get the good night’s rest I need, I decided to attempt my own version of this delicious little drink - DECAF. 

I tend to be a tea drinker instead of a coffee drinker.  I’m not sure why my taste buds tend to prefer the subtle taste of tea as opposed to strong coffee, but my tea drinking goes back to childhood when my mother would fix me a cup of herbal orange spiced tea with breakfast.

Next time you’re craving a Pumpkin Spice Latté from Starbucks, try this instead and save yourself some money!!

Pumpkin Spice Tea

1 cup boiling water
2-3 tablespoons sugar (to your liking)
1 tablespoon pumpkin puree
½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon cream or 2-3 tablespoons milk
1 tea bag (I used Twinning’s Irish Breakfast Tea (decaf, of course) but you can use any tea)

Put sugar, pumpkin puree, and pumpkin pie spice in coffee cup or mug along with tea bag.  

Pour boiling water over ingredients and stir until pumpkin puree is dissolved, about 1 minute.  

Allow tea bag to steep, 2-3 minutes.  Remove bag and pour cream or milk into tea. 

Add more sugar or milk to taste.  Enjoy!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Fall Comfort Food Series: Momma's Torcher Texas Chili

I don’t know about you, but when the temperatures start to cool and football season starts, I crave some soul-warming chili.  And not your everyday tomato, ground beef, bean concoction.  I crave my Momma’s Torcher Texas Chili.  Hearty and filling with ample heat kick, this chili won’t leave you hungry.  

There’s something about tailgating and chili that just seem to go hand-in-hand.  You’re getting ready for your favorite team to meet its rival.  You’ve had a few beers.  The smells of the stadium food vendors are wafting into the parking lot and you feel that familiar rumble in your midsection.  You’re suddenly starving and only something hearty and homemade will do.  In steps the well-prepared tailgater with a big pot of chili heating up on the portable grill.  You’ve been saved from tailgating catastrophe!  Bowls of piping hot chili are passed out and everyone gobbles in gastronomic ecstasy.   

Surely you have found yourself in a situation like the one above.  Well, you can be that well-prepared tailgater!  Or church luncheon goer.  Or family picnic attendee.  Or screw all that, and just make this chili for your family.  Either way, you will be the talk of the picnic or dinner table when you serve them my Momma’s Torcher Texas Chili.

There are as many chili recipes as there are chili lovers; and just as many opinions on how to serve that chili.  My family always served chili in true Irish fashion, beside whipped potatoes.  I never knew this wasn’t the norm until I went to college.  The creamy whipped potatoes gave a balance to the spicy, acidic chili offering a delicious hearty meal.  I also like to top mine with a grated sharp cheddar cheese.  Some people like crackers.  Others swear by sour cream.  To each his own. 

Spice and heat are often a part of a chili recipe, but this aspect of the cuisine doesn’t have to scare you away if you are heat sensitive.  The recipe below makes a medium spicy chili.  To reduce the kick, make sure you leave out the ribs and seeds of the jalapeno and reduce the amount of hot pepper sauce.  Do the opposite for a fiery chili, keeping ribs and seeds and increasing hot pepper sauce.  Or, if you’re my beautiful cousin, add a little sriracha. (I know you’re going to do it!)

Momma’s Torcher Texas Chili
2 ½ lbs cubed beef stew meat
Beer to marinate (1-2 bottles, I prefer a lager but just about any beer will do)
½ cup cooking oil
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup chopped onion
4 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 ¾ cups tomato sauce
5 ½ cups pinto beans, cooked and drained (2 cans)
2 tablespoons chili powder
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ cup chopped jalapeno
5 teaspoons hot pepper sauce

Marinate beef in beer for at least 8 hours.  Drain beef.  Pat dry on paper towels.  Brown in hot oil in a large kettle.  Add green pepper, onion, tomatoes, tomato sauce and beans.  Cook on medium heat for 1 hour.  Add spices, jalapeno peppers and hot sauce.  Cook two hours longer.  Yield about 4 quarts.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

6 Kitchen Items I Can't Live Without

Besides large appliances like the refrigerator, oven, range, and microwave, every cook has her favorite gadgets and tools in the kitchen.  These gadgets streamline the cooking process and make our lives easier, reducing time spent in the kitchen while simultaneously increasing time spent enjoying your culinary creations with family or guests. 

Here are my 6 Kitchen Items I Can’t Live Without

6.  12-inch oven-proof skillet -  This should be the first pan you purchase when furnishing a kitchen, and they definitely get their fair share of use in mine.  I use my 12-inch skillets nearly every day.  Being able to transfer my skillet to the oven really increases the versatility of what I cook, which is a feature I value.  This means I can get a really good sear on my filet mignon on the range then bring it up to my preferred doneness in the oven (rare to medium-rare for this girl).  

My 12-inch oven-proof skillet is a non-stickCalphalon (Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick 10" and 12" Combo on sale for $49.99 at Macy's!) which is nice, but super heavy.  I think next time I’d go for a stainless model ($109.99 at Macy's), which is better for building sauces.  If you’re really lucky, you have both!

5.  InSinkErator - I never knew how much I love my garbage disposer until it was gone.  And when you're used to it being there, it can cause serious problems when you forget it isn't working.  This recently happened to us when I overestimated the ability of my garbage disposer and fed it peach pits.  ATTENTION HOME COOKS:  PEACH PITS ARE TOO MUCH FOR YOUR GARBAGE DISPOSER!  THROW THEM OUT INSTEAD!!!  Luckily, our disposer didn't break.  One of the blades instead got stuck on one of the pits.  Hubby was able to fix the problem easily by purchasing a disposer wrench.  I've learned my lesson.  No more abuse of my InSinkErator Badger 5 1/2 HP Continuous Feed Garbage Disposer ($99.96 at Home Depot).

4.  Wooden Spoons -  I once purchased a set of wooden spoons for a friend as a housewarming gift.  She couldn't understand why someone would use such a thing.  (She didn't do much cooking beyond Easy Mac.)  Wooden spoons won't melt into food if you accidentally leave them in the pot, and they don't add any flavor to your cooking.  My grandmother has wooden spoons that are older than I am.  Buy yourself a set and you're in good shape for years (Calphalon Wooden Utensils $3.99-$4.99 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, but you can often find a cheap 3-pack at your local grocery store which work equally as well as the Calphalon, heavier wooden spoons.  I tend to prefer my cheap ones to the heavy duty Calphalon ones).  Bamboo works well too.

3.  Small and Large Food Processor - When my mother bought me a small food processor, I never saw the need for it.    I didn't know how much I would use it in the future.  After I got married, I wanted to make good recipes for dinner including onions - an ingredient hubby and I aren't exceptionally fond of.  Using the food processor I was able to chop the onions smaller than I would ever be able to do by hand, allowing me to impart the flavor of the onions (a building block on so many recipes) without the crunch of a large chunk of onion.  And it only takes a few seconds to whip those onions into a paste.  Try the Cuisinart 4-Cup Mini Food Processor, $49.99 at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

I married a southern man.  My northern friends might ask what this means.  This means making biscuits.  And not Bisquick biscuits, but real biscuits - from scratch.  Using a food processor to mix the flour with the cold butter and/or cream cheese allows me to get a really good crumb and produce a delicious biscuit from scratch.  I use my Cuisinart DLC-10 S Pro Classic 7 Cup Food Processor ($99.99 at for the big projects.  

2.  Garlic Press - I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking "In these economic times, there's no way I need to be spending money on a fancy schmancy garlic press!"  You might be right.  If you aren't a big garlic fan and don't use a lot of garlic in your cooking, then this gadget is superfluous for you.  I even used to agree with you, even though Hubby and I are huge garlic fans.  Until my mom bought me my garlic press.  

When a recipe calls for 2 cloves or garlic, I tend to add 4 cloves.  When a recipe calls for 6-8 cloves...  Well that's a lot of mincing!   A garlic press allows you to streamline the process and reduces the mince to a tiny speck, which will disappear into the recipe while still infusing the dish with the flavor and aroma of the garlic.  I use the Oxo Good Grips Garlic Press, $15.99 at

1.  A Sharp, Well Balanced Chef's Knife -  I know you have found yourself in this situation:  You're helping a friend get ready for a party and she asks you to cut up the vegetables for crudites.  She hands you a flimsy, light, dull, dreadful excuse for a chef's knife.  Of worse yet, a steak knife.  This host clearly is guilty of either A. Keeping the good knife for herself, or B. not knowing a good knife when she sees one!  I have three chef's knives; two of which I like and use regularly, one of which I abhor and only use when the other two are dirty and I'm too lazy to wash them.  The first, and my favorite knife of all, is a Mundial Stainless Steel antique, given to me by my grandmother.  She tends to use paring knives for her cooking prep and happily gave me this amazing knife.  Well hefted, and slightly heavy to allow for easy passage through vegetables or meat, this is my favorite knife.  Coming in second is, believe it or not, an old Ginsu.  Lighter than it's Brazilian cousin, the Ginsu definitely keeps it's sharpness.  My least favorite knife is a cheap, light, flimsy (the blade bends when you're trying to slice raw carrots!) Faberware Walmart Special.  

This is one aspect of the kitchen where spending a little more money really can make a difference.  My Mundial knife (get a comparable knife for $34.95 at is probably at least as old as me, and the Ginsu (Walmart; $15.99 for two knives) is nearly that old.  The Faberware I purchased just out of college and only stays with me until I get a suitable replacement.  I'm saving my money for an 8" Wusthof Grand Prix II Cook's Knife ($135.00 at Macy's) because it fits well into my hand.  

If you're in the market for some good knives, don't purchase a cutlery set.  My mother purchased one for me and I almost never ever use it.  Instead, figure out what knives you need for your cooking.  I use my chef's knife for nearly all my prep.  I use a bread knife for splitting rolls, bagels, etc. and cutting bread loaves.  I have several paring knives for peeling potatoes, apples, etc.  And I have a set of steak knives.  All the other knives in my collection never get used, just sit there and collect dust.  Visit a higher end kitchen store and hold the knives in your hand before purchase.  A knife's weight and feel can determine if you will use it or not.  No sense in spending $100+ on a knife you won't like because you ordered it from Amazon without giving it a try first.

Whether inherited from a family member, given to you as a wedding gift, or picked up along the way, these tools and gadgets make our lives in the kitchen a little easier.  Take a look around your kitchen and give thanks to the hard-working items you use on a regular basis.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Life-Changing Culinary Moments

Have you ever had one of those life-changing culinary moments???  You're invited to lunch by your "sometimes" friend / work associate.  She's dying to try this new spot downtown everyone has been talking about.  You haven't heard anything about it, but no wonder, you haven't been away from your desk in eons because you have a fuckwit boss who chronically tasks you with menial chores, then belittles you some more when he asks you if you know how to cut and paste - throwing you into a blind rage - making lunches away from said desk next to impossible.  You decide to tell asshole boss to fuck himself for the day (in your head) after (imagining) you have stapled a note saying "kiss my fat ass" to his head.  You're going to lunch with your "sometimes" friend.  And you're taking your whole hour for lunch whether shitbag boss likes it or not.

"Sometimes" friend brings you to a tiny little hole in the wall.  Clean, bright, with seating for exactly twelve.  You're sure that you're in for a nice little bout of salmonella or botulism.  But you order a sweet tea and house specialty, shrimp and grits, and try to enjoy the office gossip.

The hipster waitress brings you your lunch.  It's a thing of real beauty.  You taste your first bite and instantly you're catapulted to the grand veranda of a beautiful plantation house overlooking a long Live Oak lined drive and you find yourself saying things like "Bless her heart."  You've had shrimp and grits before, but never this well presented.  Never this complex.  You hear "sometimes" friend chatting about the office banality, but it's like she's a million miles away.  The flavors of the dish meld with each bite.  The texture of the grits perfectly accompany the shrimp and sauce which is artfully prepared and expertly flavored.

As you're eating, you notice this huge guy gracefully moving around the small kitchen.  The brute of a man (in stature alone - I hear he is a charming guy) elegantly plates each dish with love and care.

This was my experience the first time I went to Catch, a sweet little seafood restaurant in Wilmington, NC.  I returned with anyone who would go with me as long as I lived in Wilmington.  My mother has been there and had preconceived notions (of the negative sort) regarding shrimp and grits.  She was a changed woman after her Catch experience.  My grandmother still talks about the "restaurant in a closet" we visited when she was my guest.  Though not quite a regular, I thoroughly enjoyed my food at each visit.  I miss the genius behind Catch, as there is nothing comparable here in Fayettenam.

I guess I wasn't the only one with this experience, as chef Keith Rhodes of Catch and Deluxe will compete on Top Chef this season on Bravo.  I know he will provide those celebrity chefs with the same life-changing culinary experience he did for me.  Best of luck to him this season.