Friday, September 28, 2012

On Gordon Ramsay

     I am not kidding when I say that Gordon Ramsay is one of the main reasons why I cook. I'm not talking the FOX TV Gordon Ramsay. I'm talking the BBC Gordon Ramsay.  If you've only watched Ramsay on FOX, all you've seen is a Scotsman screaming profanity. Don't get me wrong, he screams profanities on the BBC as well. However, he also imparts a great deal of useful cooking knowledge there as well.

Like when to use a nonstick pan.
     While much of what he cooks is complicated, with expensive, hard to find ingredients, he does do quite a bit of far less imposing cooking. His Cookalong Live series of videos on the Channel 4 website offer outstanding tips for the aspiring home cook. These videos walk you through everything from making pastry crusts, to cooking whole meals, to simply sharpening a knife. I also enjoy his show "The F Word." The format is like a variety show. It's hugely entertaining and each season follows him raising some animal or another to eat at the end of the season.  Good times.

     So what's the point of this little diatribe? Mostly to fill in the Friday post. But really, I'm babbling on about  Ramsay because it appears that he's honest and passionate about his cooking. He wants everything to be just right. And then there's a quote you'll hear endlessly: "Simple, honest food, made from locally grown ingredients". That's what I'm looking to do here. It doesn't have to be spectacularly complicated to be spectacularly good. Whatever it is you're cooking, just use the best ingredients you can and cook it right. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Recipe Resources: Online

     I don't know about you, but I don't always want to try to come up with something new and original on my own. Sometimes I just want a nice recipe to make. Other times I'm stuck for ideas and need some recipes to use as a jumping off point.  Thanks to the Internet, there's about half a billion recipe sites available (I typed in "recipes" in the Google search bar and got 501 million results. Comparatively, "Justin Beiber" gives 598 million results, which speaks volumes about the state of the world).

There's a nightmare fanfic scenario for you

     Anyway, today I'm just going to give you a few of my go-to recipe sites. Here we go. Enjoy!
There are a lot of great recipes on this site. However, you must steel yourself against some of the horrifyingly lame names. Honestly, if you really have the World's Greatest Stew (brownies, pasta, chili, meatloaf. haggis, pork face comfit, etc.) I'd imagine you wouldn't have to resort to posting it on a massive public recipe site. If you're willing to poke around, there are some really good recipes. Several of my canning recipes are culled from here. I really like the comments on the recipes. The people on here are absolutely ruthless in their criticism.
You will probably see me link to this site more than anything. There is a reason for that. Their stuff, while occasionally expensive or complicated, is traditionally very good. They have an excellent recipe database, and the site is full of useful information. If you're willing to drop the cash, I'd recommend getting a subscription to the magazine.
Don't be fooled by the name. This isn't where you go to figure out what to make to bring to the pot luck at your 12-step program. This is very much like All Recipes, and you will likely find many of the same type of recipes here.  It's a bit rougher looking web site, design-wise, but is still a very good resource for recipes and inspirations.
If you're like me (fat) you're going to be looking for recipes that don't break the caloric bank. Needless to say, you won't find many (none) Paula Deen recipes. Go elsewhere for your pig head cooked in butter.

I can't say I'm surprised this wasn't a hard image to find. DAMN YOU, INTERNET!!!!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Tools of the Trade: Immersion Blenders

     I have found that there is a big difference between a kitchen gadget and a kitchen utensil.  Gadgets tend to be cute and not entirely necessary. They exist to simplify minor tasks, but mostly take up space in a drawer.  A utensil, by definition, is a useful tool. One of my favorite utensils is one I find myself turning to time and time again in the kitchen.

No, but it does get a lot of use.
     I'm talking about the immersion/stick blender.  This is such a ridiculously simple concept. It's just a little, whirling blade on the end of a stick. Fundamentally it's just a weed-whacker with a blade attachment (I do not recommend at all using a weed-whacker in the kitchen, but if you do, send pictures). The basic models have no features other than maybe a speed control.  The reason it's so useful is that it saves you from having to transfer ingredients to a blender or food processor. You simply blend right in the pan or pot (try to avoid using it in coated non-stick cookware as you might scratch the finish with the blender). It's a pain in the butt having to try to transfer hot soup ingredients back and forth when you're trying to make a cream soup. This saves you that step.

     There's all sorts of uses for a stick blender. I use mine for blending soups, sauces and milkshakes.  There's a ton of models to choose from, with a wide range of price points. I'll touch on a couple. At the lower end, is the Hamilton Beach 59738 "Proctor Silex" 2-Speed 150-Watt.

Hamilton Beach 59738 $20.00
     This blender costs a shade under twenty bucks. At 150 Watts, it's got a fair amount of power, but may struggle with heavier jobs like milkshakes and the like. It's got two speeds and will tackle most of the jobs you throw at it in the kitchen. It's a solid, bare-bones immersion blender. Moving up on the price scale is the Miallegro 9090 Mittuto 550-Watt.
Miallegro 9090 $70.00
     The Miallegro runs about fifty dollars more than the Hamilton Beach, but gives you far more to play with. It's a 550 Watt multi-speed blender. It's got more than enough power to do pretty much anything you ask of it. It has a whisk and blender attachment with multiple blades. It will do the job of a basic immersion blender, and electric whisk, and a small food processor. 

     My immersion blender of choice is the Braun model which is currently unavailable, which is a shame. It's an adjustable speed 400 Watt with two mixers, a whisk, and ice crusher attachment and a milkshake cup. I assure you it is awesome. And you can't get it. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Minor Kitchen Victories: Timing the Meal

     This is one of the hardest skills I've had to learn in the kitchen. It's one thing to cook a bunch of dishes over the course of a night. It's another thing entirely to cook them so that they all hit the table exactly when you want them to. It does not come easily. It requires organizational and juggling skills that don't always come naturally.

Sometimes, things can go wrong.
     So how does one achieve this goal of a perfectly synchronized meal?  One where all the courses come out at exactly the perfect times? I haven't found any hard and fast rule for how to make that happen. What I do know is that solid prep work will help everything go as smoothly as you can hope. For the jalapeno feast I talked about on Facebook, I made sure everything that could be prepped, was. I did the ice cream the night before.  I had the corn pudding batter poured and ready to go in the oven exactly when I needed. I had everything but the pasta done in advance for the mac and cheese. When the time came to fire it up in the kitchen, all I was really doing was simply applying heat. The chicken and cream sauce was the only thing I really made start to finish in once shot. What helped me was making sure I had plenty of time for prep. I started getting ready about 90 minutes before the dinner was to be served. The appetizer and a bottle of nice Pinot came out to start. That bought me the time I needed to make sure everything came out on target.

     The big trick is to make sure your mains and sides come out at the same time. Making sure you have appetizers and wine will make sure everybody is happy while you are staging everything for the remainder of the meal. You're not going to get it right every time. Sometimes the main is going to take longer to cook than you expected. You may forget that a dish needs to sit for fifteen minutes before serving. These things happen.  What can you do? Stay calm and open another bottle of wine. Enjoy.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Monday Meal: Teriyaki Salmon and Broccoli Packets

     Last week I promised I would post a simple, mid-week recipe. I will do that here shortly. I'm a huge fan of this type of recipe. There's a minimal amount of ingredients, it's super-easy to make, and cleaning up is a breeze. I need that from a mid-week meal. Most of the time, when I get home it's a battle to simply not pile the wife in the car and go out to eat. As awesome as that would be, it would get expensive. We'd also both weigh about 350 pounds each.

With our combined gravities, we shall control the tides!
       That's one of the benefits of this recipe. It is very low in calories, especially if you don't serve rice with it. The sodium is probably a bit high from the teriyaki sauce, but not bad.  If you're watching the money, any brand of teriyaki is fine. When available, I use Soy-Vay.  I find the flavor is better than anything else that I've tried.  As far as cost, if you're willing to buy frozen, it's possible to buy a pound of salmon for under five bucks. The packs usually come in four individually packaged fillets, which I find terribly helpful. Take what you need, everything else stays in the freezer. As for the broccoli, don't feel tied down to that vegetable. I often substitute slices of squash or zucchini. You could pretty much put in any vegetable and it would be fine.  I'm giving you the recipe for a single serving, since they're packaged in foil individually. Enjoy!


  • 4 ounce fillet of salmon 
  • 1 heaping cup broccoli florets (frozen is fine)
  • 3 tablespoons teriyaki sauce 
  • Square of tinfoil
  1. Preheat oven to 375F
  2. Lay salmon (if it has skin, skin side down) on a large square of tinfoil
  3. Spread broccoli over top of salmon
  4. Pour teriyaki over broccoli and salmon
  5. Fold foil into packet around ingredients, making sure it's going to hold in the sauce
  6. Cook 20-25 minutes or until fish flakes easily
  7. Serve over steamed white rice (if you want)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Meal Planning

     Shockingly, I've actually gotten a request for a post. A long time admirer of my work has asked me to talk about meal planning. We're not talking about diet or nutrition, though those things play a part. We're simply talking about putting together a schedule of meals for the week.  This is an important undertaking in our house, as the wife and I both work regular jobs (at least until somebody at the Food Network reads this and offers me a lucrative TV show where I get paid to wander around and eat stuff).  We generally don't have the time or energy to come home from work and put a meal together from scratch.

     Setting up your meals for the week isn't as hard as you might think. My good friend Rachel Ray (total fabrication)  usually features a little booklet in her magazine that shows how to plan for the week.  Her plan generally involves a series of meals planned around a common pool of ingredients. This is a great plan, except is still calls for actually preparing meals each night. This is generally not a problem for productive people, but I am not among that population. I need something easier and faster. So what do I do?

No, but not a terrible idea.
     What I do is turn to the trusty three station slow cooker. Sunday is slow-cook day in my house. As I mentioned in my dissertation on slow cookers, I like to set up a soup, stew or appetizer in one dish, an entree (or in the case of cold weather, another soup/stew) in the second, and a dessert in the third. Set timers for each and you're good to go. Once everything is done, it's just a matter of packing it for the week. On any given day, one of the dishes will be used as a lunch, the other is dinner. Eat the dessert as needed.

     The only issue here is repetition of meals. I'm not terribly fussed about the same thing for lunch a few days in a row, but I do like some variety for dinners. I fill in the gap with super easy five ingredient or less recipes. Mondays are half price pizza days at our local restaurant.


     Obviously, eating out isn't always an option, especially if you're on a budget. If you set up the slow cooker, and keep a couple super simple recipes ready for the week (I'll post one for Monday), it is no big task to have all your meals taken care of. If you only have one large slow cooker, you can consider just slow cooking meat and basic seasoning  and using that as a base for your food. You could slow cook some pork and work that into five nights easily. Tacos, stew, BBQ pulled pork, work it into a pasta sauce, and throw it on a big salad. See? Easy. Now go enjoy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Substituting Ingredients

     This week's recipe allowed for some substitution of ingredients. As I mentioned, creative substitution is one of the core skills in the MCK.  Many of the magazines and cookbooks I use have absolutely fantastic recipes that call for things I simply don't stock in my kitchen, or can't find at my markets even if I did want to keep them in stock.  If you're like me, you'll also make substitutions to keep costs down. Granted, there are times when you simply can not make a substitution.

Case in point
     I'm not going to waste time listing the myriad substitutions for ingredients. There are plenty of web sites and books out there that can do it better and faster than I can. In my recipes, I'll definitely list any substitutions I think might apply. I will give you a few of the ones I use a lot, though:

  • 1 teaspoon dried herbs = 1 tablespoon fresh
  • 2-3 tablespoons bottled lemon juice = juice of one medium lemon
  • basil = most herbs (If this substitution ruins your recipe, don't come after me. Anybody who knows me knows that taking my advice comes with a certain level of risk.)
  • red onion=close enough to a shallot
   Sometimes you may end up substituting nothing in place of an ingredient. For dinner last night, the wife made a vegetable pasta bake that called for fennel. Neither of us is a big fan of fennel. We left it out and don't feel the dish was lacking for it.   If you're familiar with a recipe, try changing it up. Start with a basic tomato sauce recipe. Add garlic next time. Leave out some onion. Throw in some neck bones (my folks used to do that all the time). Play. Have fun.

     Don't be afraid to experiment with substitutions. The second time I made apple butter, I substituted Jim Beam for 1/4 of the water asked for in the recipe. Now my apple butter is in high demand. If you're good, I'll post the recipe. Some of my greatest successes in the kitchen have occurred because I decided to swap out a few things here and there to cover ingredients I was missing.  Exercise some caution, however. Don't go making more than one or two substitutions if you can help it. Change too much and you run the risk of completely changing the nature of the recipe. This isn't always a bad thing, but at least give the original recipe a try as closely as you can the first time. Most importantly, enjoy.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday Meal: Honey-Roasted Onion Tart (via Bon Appetit Magazine)

     It's Monday, so that means it's time for another recipe. An appetizer, as a matter of fact. This one's a bit fancy, and asks for things you may not normally keep in your kitchen. That's fine. Creative substitution is standard operating procedure for a MCK. One item you may not have in your kitchen, or is simply difficult to find is: 

Yeah, I didn't know what this was, either.

     Creme Fraiche is basically a sour cream with butterfat. If you can't find it in your local store, you have a couple of options. Make it yourself. 

  •  Just use regular sour cream and don't tell anyone

     The other thing you may not have on hand is fresh thyme.  If you have dried thyme in the house, just remember that a teaspoon of dried is about the same as a tablespoon of fresh. If you don't have any thyme, maybe you should just order out. (See what I did there? You've been  a wonderful audience, I'll be here all week.) Seriously, you can get away with basil or oregano in place of thyme. Enjoy!



  • 1 sheet sheet frozen puff pastry (half of 17.3-ounce package), thawed
  • 3 bacon slices, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces (I used peppered bacon, it was wonderful)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 large sweet yellow onions (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 3/4 cup crème fraîche
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (regular salt is acceptable)
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves


  • Position rack in top third of oven and preheat to 375°F. Using lightly floured rolling pin, roll out puff pastry on lightly floured surface to 14x10-inch rectangle. Fold 1/2 inch of pastry edges in toward center on all sides, forming 13x9-inch rectangle. Transfer pastry to large rimmed baking sheet. Press firmly on pastry edges with fork to form rim. Chill crust.
  • Cook bacon in small skillet over medium heat until brown and crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Reserve 1 tablespoon bacon drippings from skillet. Whisk honey, wine, and reserved 1 tablespoon bacon drippings in large bowl. Add onions; toss to coat. Coat another large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Spread onion mixture in even layer on sheet. Roast 30 minutes. Turn onions over, allowing rings to separate. Roast until onions are caramelized, turning often for even browning, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven; cool onions slightly.
  • Increase oven temperature to 400°F. Mix crème fraîche, sea salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and nutmeg in small bowl. Using offset spatula, spread crème fraîche over crust to folded edge. Arrange onions atop crème fraîche. Sprinkle with bacon. Bake tart until crust is light golden brown and topping is bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Sprinkle with thyme and serve.
Honey-Roasted Onion Tart (via Bon Appetite)

  • Nutritional Information

    One serving contains:
    Calories (kcal) 334.4
    %Calories from Fat 56.9
    Fat (g) 21.1
    Saturated Fat (g) 9.0
    Cholesterol (mg) 36.3
    Carbohydrates (g) 30.3
    Dietary Fiber (g) 1.8
    Total Sugars (g) 15.0
    Net Carbs (g) 28.6
    Protein (g) 5.6
    Sodium (mg) 401.0

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tools of the Trade: Slow Cookers

     I can't imagine any MCK that doesn't have a slow cooker of some description stashed away somewhere. The slow cooker strikes me a definitive middle-class kitchen appliance. I simply can't imagine walking into some fabulous opulent home, strolling into their commercial-grade kitchen, and seeing a crusty old Crock-Pot bubbling away on a gleaming marble counter. Think I'm joking? OK, let's take a run-of-the-mill obscenely wealthy person. How about Mitt Romney? Let's take a look at the kitchen in Mr. Romney's beach home in California.  Your challenge is to find a slow-cooker:
Mitt Romney Kitchen
Hint: There isn't one
     I keep two slow-cookers on hand for my cooking needs.  I have a five quart dented monstrosity for big jobs, and an absolutely awesome slow cooker with three individually controlled 1.5 quart pots.  Why are they such an invaluable part of my MCK? For one, they're easy to use. For most recipes you just chuck everything in there, set it to low, and go drink booze and smoke cigars (or something more productive) for 5-8 hours.  The other big sell for the slow cooker is that you can put absolutely abysmal cuts of meat in there and render them fit to eat.  Got a roast of questionable quality? Throw it in with some potatoes, carrots, onion, some beer and *POOF!* You have yourself a meal. Several, actually.

     That's the magic of the slow cooker. If you are using a five quart unit, you're going to want to fill it. My three station cooker ends up providing food for a week. One pot gets a soup or appetizer, one gets the main course, the third gets a dessert. Those will become lunches and dinners for the week. This helps keep the food costs down during the week.

     Cost is the big sell here. The meats and veggies that go into slow cookers generally have to be of the sturdy variety. Carrots, potatoes, onions, cabbage, etc. These are wonderfully inexpensive veggies. Meat is also a value. Throw the dark meat chicken in there. Get the roasts with a suspicious amount of words in their names. You know what I'm talking about: "Beef chuck shoulder eye of round loin face." It's still always a good idea to avoid the packages labelled "Miscellaneous By Weight."

     If you don't already have a slow cooker, I can recommend two.
Crock-Pot SCR-500SS

     This is the basic manual slow cooker. Just set the dial to "warm" "high" or "low". That's it. You can get these at most stores for under thirty bucks. If you want to entertain or cook for the week I suggest the following:
Bella Cucina 13490
     This bad boy has three independently controlled 1.5 quart slow cookers. Basically three smaller slow cookers on a single chassis. People are endlessly amused by this when I use it at my parties. If you're willing to shop around, you can find these for under forty bucks.
     If you need recipes, there's a ton of slow-cooker specific books out there. There's also a lot of solid recipes floating around on recipe sites on the net.  Just Google it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Subsistence Garden

     I'm going to venture out of the kitchen (sort of) today to talk about subsistence gardening. What is subsistence gardening? Well, Merriam-Webster defines "subsistence farming" as: "farming or a system of farming that provides all or almost all the goods required by the farm family usually without any significant surplus for sale." So a subsistence garden is the same thing, on a much smaller scale. Basically, we have a garden that will produce crops for our own consumption. In the event of surplus, we can trade it, sell it, or just give it away.

It's very similar to this, but less intensely aggravating to your friends.

     Why do it? Produce is expensive. Plus, there's something really satisfying about growing a garden from scratch and reaping it's benefits. There's a really nice feeling you get when you decide you want a salad, and simply go out to the garden and get it. Maybe it's psychological, but produce you grow yourself seems to taste better. Granted, that might be due to the lack of horrifying pesticides or other sundry chemicals. 

     Each year, our garden gets a bit larger. This is nice because it means less lawn to mow. It also meant that we had about 50 assorted pepper plants, 50 assorted tomato plants, 8 zucchini, 8 squash, 16 eggplant, 6 green bean, 6 cucumber, some kohlrabi, cabbage, lettuces, chives, and green onions. Next year we'll expand a little more and maybe put in some corn. As the economy gets worse and worse, it is just more economical to grow it ourselves. 

     However, subsistence gardening can be labor intensive. Prepping the garden and getting the seedlings ready for planting is a lot of work. Keeping weeds out of the garden is a constant fight (made much easier by the wife putting down black landscape sheeting first). A few select bugs can decimate zucchini and squash. Rabbits love the garden, which is why we always plant a section of sacrificial cabbage and lettuce.  Then there's the work of harvesting and processing. You can't always eat EVERYTHING you harvest immediately. 

Which leads to this.
     I'm not going to go into the specifics of gardening. There are plenty of resources out there in print and on the internet that you can find and use. I will just break things down into a few pros and cons:

  • Fresh produce
  • Satisfaction of raising aforementioned produce
  • Less lawn to mow
  • Toads! I'm pretty sure they're good luck
  • Somewhere to put all your garden gnomes
  • Loads of stuff to jam into cans and sock away for the Barackalypse or Romneygeddon
  • Potentially backbreaking labor
  • Bugs could eat everything
  • Animals could eat everything
  • Neighbors could eat everything
  • Might not rain
  • Stuff might die for no good reason

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Curry Chicken Bake

     I think I'm going to make Monday my recipe day. It seems to make sense to start the work week off by having something good to eat waiting for you after a day of work. That being said, let's take a look at today's recipe: Curry Chicken Bake (from The Everything Quick Meals Cookbook by Barbara Doyen). 

     I use a  lot of chicken in my kitchen because it's one of the more inexpensive meats I can get. As I've mentioned before, I can get wonderful split breasts for about a dollar a pound. I always try to keep at least a five pound reserve in the freezer at all times.  

     I am a fan of this recipe for many reasons. First, it is extremely easy to make.  Second, it's incredibly inexpensive. Provided you already have lemon juice and curry powder in the house, you're looking at about $1.75 a serving.

    Most importantly, it is delicious. It isn't much to look at, but I have never had anything but complements when I serve it.  It is a warm, satisfying meal that goes well with most vegetable sides. Carrots go particularly well with this dish. 

    I'll provide the carrot recipe another day. Enjoy!

Curry Chicken Bake (via Barbara Doyen)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 10-ounce can cream of chicken soup
½ can water
1 ½ teaspoons curry powder
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
1 8-ounce package herb stuffing mix

  • Preheat oven to 350F
  • Lay chicken breasts in 9x12” casserole
  • Combine soup and water, pour over chicken
  • Mix remaining ingredients into stuffing mix, spread over chicken
  • Bake 1 hour. If stuffing gets too brown, cover loosely with foil

4 servings, 400 calories per serving.