January 31, 2008

A Scrambled Eggs Experiment

A few years ago, after I bought Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen, I began making scrambled eggs the "French" way.

In his book, Tyler includes a recipe for "soft" scrambled eggs...about which he says: "I first tasted 'real' scrambled eggs while traveling through Paris as a starving college student. Cafe et des oeufs was just about all I could afford for breakfast. It was simple, but it was magic."

Julia Child also writes about French scrambled eggs in her memoir and includes the "master recipe" for Oeufs Brouilles in her cookbook. She says the chef at Le Cordon Bleu briefly beat eggs with a little salt & pepper, then poured them into a cold buttered skilled. The eggs were cooked over moderately low heat while being stirred slowly and continually. As the eggs thickened, the chef stirred rapidly, moving the pan on and off the heat. When the eggs reached the desired consistency, he removed them from the heat, then stirred in a bit of heavy cream.

So, I tried Julia's version of scrambled eggs yesterday morning. It took a long time--nearly 20 minutes--for the eggs to thicken. Even then, they had a consistency more like custard than scrambled eggs. Not for me.

While I have come to appreciate soft scrambled eggs more than the high-heated, puffy, over-cooked American kind of scrambled eggs, I think I'll stick to Tyler's recipe. It takes a bit longer than most people want to spend making eggs, but it's worth it.

Soft Scrambled Eggs

4 eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt
  • Crack the eggs in a bowl. Add the cream & whisk until the eggs look foamy & light.
  • Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter until it foams, then turn the heat down to low & slowly pour in the eggs.
  • Using a heat-resistant spatula, slowly stir the eggs from the outside of the pan to the center. Once the eggs begin to set, stirring slowly will create large, cloudlike curds. This process takes about 10 minutes.
  • Season the eggs with a few cranks of black pepper and good salt...like fleur de sel.
  • Serve with a few slices of avocado & smoked salmon...maybe a little chopped chives.
Tyler writes, "It sounds easy, but perfect scrambled eggs that are soft and custardlike with no brown color are the sign of a really good cook. Once you perfect these, you'll never order eggs at a diner again."

January 29, 2008

Shopping, Science, a Sandwich, & Sustainability

My yesterday started with a trip to The Wine & Cheese Place in Clayton, where I bought some new beers to try (like a blueberry lager & a sparkling ale!), a French rose wine (2006 Commanderie de la Bargemone), some Prosciutto di Parma, and a wedge of L'Edel de Cleron cheese.

Then, I was off to the St. Louis Science Center to see the Body Worlds exhibit. I couldn't help but notice how the thin cross-section slices of brain tissue looked remarkably like the prosciutto that I had just purchased. I also kept thinking about how tasty some of the exhibits looked. Sick, I know. But I've had food on the brain a lot lately, and I guess I was in a weird Hannibal Lector sort of mood. Still, it's not hard to understand that our bodies are not physically that different from the animals that we eat. Muscle is meat, no matter the species. And--I just couldn't help it--those muscles reminded me of steak.


I wasn't very shocked by the bodies on display, but it was interesting to see the differences between healthy lungs and a smoker's lungs. The fetal development display was the most intriguing part, but I was disappointed to noticed that it was hidden behind a black curtain. I guess those conservative right-wing pro-lifers had that put up so as not to offend anyone. I am staunchly pro-choice, but if there's anything out there to make someone question the beginning of life, it's seeing how completely formed an 8-week old fetus is. Crazy. Amazing.

My next stop was lunch at Iron Barley, a place I've been wanting to try for a while. (Check out my review.) Though I was craving steak (go figure!), they were out of prime rib. So, I went with "7 greens" soup, a "peppered pork" sandwich, and "pear crunch blaster pie" for dessert.

Afterwards, I drove out to St. Charles to visit Benne's Best Meat, an organic farm where you can drive right up to purchase beef, pork, chicken, & eggs. I discovered this farm through the Slow Food St. Louis website, because I've been interested in finding places to buy fresh, local foods. I bought a 4 1/2 pound chicken, 2 pounds of bacon, and 2 dozen eggs. Jolene, the owner, greeted me outside as I pulled up. She didn't have enough eggs in the fridge, so I walked down to the barn with her to get some of the eggs she had collected that morning. They were still a bit warm when I brought them home. My total bill was about $30. Not cheap, but I'm going to see if it makes a difference in taste, especially with the chicken.

I had planned to roast the chicken for dinner last night, but it was frozen. Instead, I boiled a couple of the eggs, which had more orangey yolks than store-bought eggs, and ate them warm. I prefer a medium-boiled egg:

  • Put the eggs in a small sauce pan. Don't stack them.
  • Add enough cold water to cover them.
  • Place on medium heat and bring to a rolling boil.
  • Let sit 8 minutes.
  • Immediately drain and rinse with cold water.
  • When they are cool enough to handle, peel under running water.
  • Dab dry, slice open lengthwise, & sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.

The eggs did taste somewhat richer than store bought eggs. They are also much larger, barely fitting in the carton.

A few hours later, I made a platter of pinata apple, anjou pear, procuitto, the new cheese, aged gouda, dried figs, & rosemary crackers to enjoy with the rose wine...which was dry but light-bodied. I don't think I would drink it alone, but it went perfectly with the fruits and cheeses, particularly that L'Edel de Cleron. It is a creamy brie-like cheese with a rind thicker than brie. It is so soft that it is aged with a wood ring around the outer-rim to keep it from oozing. It is not as pungent as brie, but has an earthier taste.


This morning, I ate a fried egg with a few strips of the farm's bacon. It is thick bacon, so that it doesn't curl up when you cook it. It is also leaner than some grocery store varieties.

Are these foods worth the price and the drive? We'll see on Thursday when I roast that chicken!

Armed & Dangerous

Meet my newest addition:

He cuts through raw meat, sushi rolls, crusty bread...like buttah.

January 26, 2008

Dinner to Go: Spelt with Crab & Spicy Tomato Sauce

I worked the evening shift at the winery last night and decided to make myself some dinner to take with me. Even thought I like the restaurants in Grafton, I get tired of eating at the same places every weekend.

So, I foraged around in my kitchen and whipped something up. I had actually intended to make this recipe, but at the last minute I changed my mind and started creating my own dish. I wanted something spicy and salty. Here's what I came up with:
  • Put on a pot of water to boil some spaghetti noodles, then cook the pasta as directed. I used about 8 ounces of spelt, a whole grain wheat pasta with a deep, nutty flavor.
  • Meanwhile, in a large, non-stick skillet, heat 5 tablespoons of olive oil (extra virgin, please) with 2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped). When the garlic just starts to sizzle, add one small onion (diced). Let the onion get soft, then add 2 vine-ripened tomatoes (diced), 2 tablespoons capers (and a bit of their juice), 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more if you want it hotter), 1 teaspoon dried oregano, salt & pepper (don't over do it on either). Simmer the sauce until the tomatoes have broken down and it's all juicy. Taste for seasoning.
  • Turn off the heat and add the cooked noodles & 8-10 ounces of crab claw meat to the skillet. Stir to combine.
It's also good cold the next day!

January 25, 2008

Dinner Plans: Wine Braised Chicken with Garlic

The Beef Bourguignon I made earlier this week was my first braised dish. It's perfect for a cold winter evening, like we've been having around St. Louis. In fact, it's been in the single digits & teens for the past week. Frigid enough that my pipes froze last weekend. So, a steaming pot of fragrant & hearty slow-cooked stew was just the thing for a comforting, warming dinner.

It's cold again today. I've been huddled upstairs in bed with my laptop, because the first floor is chilly. Big, old houses tend to be a bit drafty in winter. But, the second floor is nice and toasty. So, I'm hibernating with my kitty and a pot of peppermint tea...planning some meals for next week.

I think another braised dish is in order, so I am going to make a recipe I found in Wineries & Bed and Breakfast Recipes of Illinois, a cookbook by David Alan Badger that we sell at the winery. This particular recipe was actually created by Bridget Kelly of the Kelly Twins.

This is my submission for the Think Spice event over at Sunita's World.


1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil
16 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 cups dry white wine (I'll use a chardonnay)
2 cups chicken stock
1 sprig thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
2 sprigs rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1/2 cup heavy cream


Preheat oven to 400.

Season chicken with salt & pepper. In an oven-proof skillet or large dutch oven, brown the pieces in olive oil, skin side down first. Remove.

Saute the garlic in the same pan until golden. Pour off oil. Add wine & bring to a boil. Lower the heat & simmer until reduced by half.

Add stock & herbs. Bring to a boil. Return the chicken to the pan. Place in the oven for 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove chicken from the pan. Reduce the sauce left in the pan on the stovetop. Add cream.

Serve chicken over mashed potatoes or greens, with sauce poured on top.

Divvy up the garlic cloves with each serving. Or hoard them all for yourself. Mash them into the potatoes, smear them on crusty bread slices, or just savor them alone.

And try to stay warm.

Allez Cuisine Sushi!

Last Saturday, I went to a sushi party with some of the winery people. I made miso soup & the sushi rice while Jerad and Ian rolled some delicious and beautiful sushi!

I did the shopping for the party, and after a trip to Bob's Seafood in St. Louis, I came back with tuna, crab, and shrimp. So, we made a variety of rolls...including spicy tuna, spicy crab, & shrimp tempura rolls. We rolled the seafood with avocado, asparagus, and green apple. The tuna-topped roll is drizzled with balsamic syrup (my idea!):


The spicy sauce is simply a mixture of mayo and sambal (or Thai chili sauce) to taste with sliced green onions.

Spicy Crab with Asparagus & Green Apple

Miso Soup (for 4)

Bring 6 cups of water to a simmer.

Soak 3 tablespoons of wakame (a dried seaweed) in cold water for 10 minutes. Then, add the drained wakame to the water & simmer for 1 minute. Turn off heat.

Dissolve 3-4 tablespoons of miso paste in some of the broth, then add it to the pot. Allow to seep briefly before serving.

Add a few sliced scallions & diced soft tofu to each bowl and spoon some of the soup on top. Add a few dashes of soy, if desired.

NOTE: I used "Hacho Miso", a dark brown paste that made the soup richer & meatier tasting than the kind you get in restaurants.

January 23, 2008

Boeuf Bourguignon

I just finished reading Julia Child's autobiography My Life in France. I didn't think I would like it, because I kind of think she's annoying. I always wondered what the big deal was with Julia Child. However, now that I've read her book, I get it. She was one amazing woman!


What I find so inspiring about her is that she was 36 when she and her husband moved to Paris, where she learned to cook at the famed Cordon Bleu cooking school. After her graduation, she and two of her friends began teaching their own cooking classes. Together, they wrote Mastering The Art of French Cooking, the first publication in either French or English to feature classic French recipes.


I was inspired most by Julia's passion. She absolutely loved France and the food there. She was determined to create a masterpiece of a cookbook, testing each and every recipe diligently and lovingly.

My own passion for cooking borders on obsession. In fact, a friend recently pleaded with me to "please stop talking about food" and asked me if all I thought about was cooking. The answer is YES. When I go to sleep at night, I drift off thinking about recipes I could make. I read through cookbooks so fast the pages smoke.

Julia had a similar appetite for cooking and learning, which--along with unwavering support from her husband and friends--lead to a career of successful cookbookery, television shows, and a cult-like following.

So, in honor of Julia Child--and since I had a whole day off--I made Boeuf Bourguignon...which is Frenchy-speak for beef in red wine sauce (aka Beef Burgundy).

I learned from the Eggs Sardou disaster that it is essential to use fresh ingredients and to take the time to prepare them correctly. So, I took 2 days to cook this stew.

I started by making beef stock Sunday night...the easiest beef stock! I roasted four soup bones and a couple onions, carrots, & garlic cloves in the oven (at 350) with a little olive oil, salt & pepper for 30 minutes, turning the bones after 15 minutes. All of this then went into the crockpot with celery, peppercorns, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, salt, & enough water to almost cover everything. I set the crockpot on low and let it simmer overnight (at least 12 hours).

In the morning, I strained the stock (saving the tender beef for open-faced sandwiches later!) & let the stock sit so that the fat came to the top. I spooned off as much grease as I could before I used the stock.

Beef Bourguignon
(recipe adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris)

Why, you might be asking yourself, didn't she use Julia Child's recipe?Well, to be quite honest, her recipes are very dense and step-intensive. I did lots of research and decided that Ina's recipe is very close to Julia's original but seems to be a bit updated.

You'll need:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 ounces good bacon, diced (I used Schnuck's brand thick-cut bacon, which is surprisingly delicious!)
  • 2 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 yellow onions, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic (2 cloves)
  • 1 (750-ml) bottle of good dry red wine, such as Burgundy (I used Smoking Loon Cabernet Sauvignon, not the Decoy as pictured)
  • 2 1/2 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 pound frozen small whole onions
  • 1 pound white mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thickly sliced



Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned (about 10 minutes). Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon.

Make sure the beef is dry, then sprinkle with salt & pepper. In single-layer batches, brown the meat on all sides in the hot bacon grease (about 5 minutes). Remove to a plate until all the bacon is seared.

Toss the carrots, sliced onions, 1 tablespoon salt, & 2 teaspoons pepper into the same pan and cook until the onions are lightly browned (about 10 minutes). Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute.

FIRE HAZARD NOTE: At this point, Ina says to add a 1/2 cup of Cognac or brandy, "stand back, and ignite with a match." I didn't want to buy an entire bottle of cognac for this--and I didn't think to get a couple airplane bottles--so I had planned to just skip this step. However, as I was cooking I wondered if this was a crucial step in the bourguignon process, and I worried about leaving it out. Since I didn't have either cognac or brandy, I decided to use bourbon. I turned off the flame, poured in the liquor, stood back, and lit a match. The fumes instantly ignited and shot up way passed the microwave over the stove. I screamed and tried to blow out the flames. Bad idea. They whooshed even higher! I finally had enough sense to put the lid on the pan. Whew! (I am guessing that bourbon has a higher alcohol content than cognac, which accounts for the scary flameage and awful burning stench.)

So, skip that part if you don't want to burn your house down.

Next, put the meat and bacon (with their juices) back into the pot. Add the wine (yep, the whole bottle) and beef stock (add more stock if needed to almost cover the meat). Add the tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a boil, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, and place in the oven for 1 1/4 hours (or until the meat and veggies are very tender when pierced with a fork). Remove from the oven & place on the stove.

Combine the flour with about 1 tablespoon of water to form a thin paste & stir it into the stew. Add the frozen onions.

In a medium skillet, saute the mushrooms in the butter for about 10 minutes. Add to stew.

Bring the stew to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Season to taste (I added a bit more salt, pepper, & thyme).

Serve with crusty French bread (a must!) or boiled potatoes (the classic accompaniment), and a glass of red wine. I also had a salad of baby greens, pears, walnuts, feta, lemon juice, balsamic syrup, & pepper with mine!

All in all, I think Julia (and Ina) would be proud.

January 21, 2008

Eggs Sardou Redux

For breakfast today, I did Eggs Sardou the real way...no canned artichoke hearts or frozen spinach like last time. Even though I decided to forgo the hollandaise sauce for the sake of my heart & my waistline, breakfast was well worth the extra effort.

Eggs Sardou, for those of you who aren't familiar, was created at Antoine's Restaurant in New Orleans (the same place that invented Oysters Rockefeller) and named for French playwright Victorien Sardou. The recipe originally consisted of poached eggs topped with artichoke hearts, ham, anchovies, truffles and hollandaise sauce. The popular version today includes creamed spinach, artichoke bottoms, poached eggs, & hollandaise sauce...which is how I had it at Commander's Palace in New Orleans & which I tried to recreate.

For the artichokes:
Steam 2 artichokes until the leaves are pulled out easily. I did this yesterday afternoon and ate the leaves (dipped in lavender butter!) for lunch. I then cleaned the choke out of the bottoms and refrigerated them.

For the creamed spinach:
Saute one small chopped onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until just soft. Add about 6 cups of spinach (fresh) to the pan and cook until wilted. Add 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese, salt & pepper, and cook on low until the cream thickens.

For the poached eggs:
Bring a deep skillet of water (with 1 tablespoon white vinegar) to a simmer. One at a time, crack eggs into a small dish & slide them into the water (use one egg for each artichoke bottom). Cook 2-2 1/2 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and drain.

For the hollandaise (if using):
Blend 3 egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt & pepper in a blender. With the blender running, slowly drizzle in 1 stick of melted butter.

Assemble the Eggs Sardou by spooning some creamed spinach onto a plate, topping it with an artichoke bottom, then a poached egg, and finally some hollandaise.

Since I didn't use hollandaise, I spooned a bit more of the creamed spinach on top of the egg.


January 18, 2008

Gentle Melancholy & A Carrot Cake

Yesterday, I signed divorce papers. And iced a carrot cake I had baked the night before.

One thing destroyed. One thing created.


Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups canola oil
4 eggs
3 cups peeled, grated carrots
1 1/3 cups chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350.

Butter & flour two 8 or 9-inch round cake pans.

Mix flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, & ginger in a bowl.

In another bowl, whisk sugar & oil. Add the eggs, one at a time. Then, gradually add flour mixture.

Stir in carrots & nuts. Pour into prepared pans.

Bake 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes in pan before removing cakes to a cooling rack. Cool completely before icing.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup (use the "real" stuff)

Beat cheese & butter together. Add sugar, mix well. Add syrup.

January 16, 2008

Curried Split Peas w/ Veal Meatballs

Sam, one of the Port Clubbers, is always raving about his split pea soup.

"Oh," he bellows with his arms outstretched, "it's so good!"

He won't give me the recipe though. He says it's not really a recipe at all, that it's too simple, that it's something only he really likes. All I've gotten out of him is that he cooks the legumes in vegetable stock. Beyond that, he's all hush-hush.

So, I had split peas on the brain when I saw The Well Seasoned Cook's "My Legume Love Affair" event and decided to try something with those little green buggers.

Sam's soup? A possibility. But, the smooth green soup just didn't appeal to me. It seemed too...

... (you know what's coming) ...

... (wait for it) ...

... Exorcist:



I was thinking more of a split pea stew or something. Curry sounded good.

However, I didn't find any recipes that had just what I was looking for. So, I just made one up.

Here's what I did:

I put a package of dry split peas in the crockpot with one onion, two carrots, & two cloves of garlic (all roughly chopped). I added one can of chicken stock (fat free, low-sodium) & enough water to just cover everything (about 6 cups). I also added some salt, pepper, dried oregano, & 1 tablespoon of curry powder (though, I think it could have used more).


I set the crockpot to high and let it cook 4 hours, until the peas were tender. (Note: I did have to add about a cup or two more water after a couple hours).

Meanwhile, I mixed one pound of ground veal (lamb was my first choice, but the supermarket didn't have any) with 1/2 finely chopped onion, 1 cup of crumbled feta cheese, salt, pepper, & dried oregano. I shaped meatballs about the size of a golf ball, browned them in a non-stick stick with just a bit of olive oil, then finished them in the oven (350 degree for about 10 minutes).


I put a few meatballs in a bowl, ladled the split pea stew on top, then sprinkled on some shredded parmesan.


The result? A pretty tasty supper!

My first attempt with split peas was just okay...good but not something I'd make again. I think I cooked them too long, as they were breaking down into mush.

My first homemade meatballs, however, were very juicy and flavorful, with a nice tangy kick from the feta (and really good the next day with a bit of marinara sauce on top!).

January 14, 2008

Beer Haiku

This weekend, during a slow day at the winery, I came across Beer Haiku Daily.

Since I love haiku, I decided to submit one...

...and it is today's Haiku of the Day!

January 12, 2008

Carbonara: Italian for "Fuck it, let's eat"

I've got the blues today. For a few reasons.

First, my holiday break is almost over. School starts on Monday, and I am not looking forward to starting a new semester. I am currently an adjunct at two colleges where I teach composition. That means that I am technically a part-timer at each school, even though I usually teach 5 or 6 total classes a semester. The life of an adjunct is a tiresome one, especially since the low income usually means the requirement of another job. Anyway, I work my ass off, don't get paid enough for it, don't receive benefits or tenure, and haven't had any prospects of a full-time position. *sigh*

Each semester I apply for a full-time job, and each semester I am passed over by someone who has more education (that PhD who can't get a professorship anywhere), more experience, more publications, more presentations, more kissassiness. Applying again and again and being rejected again and again is demoralizing, depressing, embarrassing, frustrating, and exhausting.

Second, I am having cat problems. My beloved Oliver, who I've have for fourteen years, has been having some litter box issues...as in refusing to use the litter box. As a result, he is quarantined to a small bedroom (one with no carpet, thank god) for most of the day. I took him to the vet last week; apparently he has another urinary tract infection. This is an on-going problem. Now, he is taking two medications for 30 days. And still pissing on the floor.

The kicker is that I am trying to sell my house (a 100-year-old Victorian in Alton, Illinois...if you're interested), and we all know that odor of cat urine does not help the resale value. I have a few other things to try to remedy the situation, but some of my friends are telling me to put the cat down (even though he's otherwise healthy).

Let's see, what else?

Oh yeah, that damned diet idea. No good. It lasted about a week, then the Prices invited me over for wine, then I broke down and ate toast (eek!) for breakfast, then I had fondue for dinner last night.

And, Tuesday marks the 12th anniversary of my mother's death.

So, in an attempt to avoid cleaning up cat piss again or thinking about other miserable shit, I spent the afternoon browsing around TasteSpotting (aka Food Porn Heaven). And I came upon this picture: Photobucket from CookThink.

At that point, I said to hell! with the diet and decided to make carbonara for dinner (a dish I'd never made before).

But, just to make myself feel a little better about that, I washed a few loads of dishes beforehand.

Then, I cut up three slices of bacon. Crisped them up in a pan. Boiled some macaroni noodles (because I didn't have spaghetti). Beat up an egg with some cream. Added the cooked noodles to the bacon. Poured in the egg (off the heat). Added salt, pepper, garlic, & parmesan....

Voila! Macaroni & Cheese alla Carbonara

Just as I was sitting down with my bowl of pasta con bacon & happiness, my friend Ashby called and asked me if I was having a shitty day, and I replied in the affirmative, proceeding to tell him Oliver's pee-pee troubles. And my culinary prescription of "eat a bowl of carbonara and call it a day." According to Ashby, that was a perfect remedy since "carbonara" is Italian for "Fuck it, let's eat."

Upon hearing my tales of woe, Ashby invited himself and his wife (and their two friends) over for wine. How could I say no? He offered to bring tasty treats from Whole Foods and a "hilariously naughty CD to listen to while we get drunk." Their mission: To make me have fun.

All the carbonara in the world couldn't beat that.

January 10, 2008

Afternoon Quickie: Cream of Asparagus Soup

1. Saute 1/2 of a small onion (chopped) & 1 garlic clove (crushed) in a tad of olive oil until just soft.

2. Add a bunch of asparagus stems (leftover from the tips you cut off and ate with dinner a couple nights ago) and a sprinkling of salt & pepper. Cook about 10 minutes.

3. Add 1 can of chicken broth (fat-free, low-sodium). Simmer until asparagus is soft.

4. Blend with immersion blender (or in counter-top blender).

5. Simmer on low another 10 minutes to thicken.

6. Add just a splash of fat-free half & half and a bit of grated parmesan cheese.

7. Slurp loudly from a big spoon.

8. Curse even more loudly when you burn your tongue because you are too impatient and want to eat this gloriously easy, tasty soup now.

My Bitchin' Kitchen

Here are some new toys I've gotten for my kitchen over the past several months:

Mario Batali Panini Grill & Press, Chianti

Lodge Logic 5-Quart Pre-Seasoned Dutch Oven

Circulon Elite 8- and 10-Inch Open Deep Skillets, 2-Pack

Wine Table

Triangle Serving Plates

Three-Tier Serving Bowls

Three-Tier Serving Trays

I christened the panini pan recently during an afternoon of sandwich experimentation. I made ham & swiss panini with buttered Texas Toast, with French bread, and with a sandwich roll. The buttered bread didn't really work, because the bread stuck to the pan, broke open on the bottom, leaked melted cheese. The roll was also a bit too soft. I think the crustier French bread worked the best. Next time, I'll try getting the pan & lid really hot, wrapping the sandwich in foil, then letting it cook under the lid until it's done...no flipping, no sticking.

Look for Cuban sandwich recipes in the next month or so. I plan to make soups, stews, & even bread in the dutch oven, too!

January 9, 2008

Huevos Rancheros (Viva las Breakfast!)

I've never really been a big breakfast kinda gal. That's because I usually run late in the mornings, cursing and fumbling as I rush out the door. For the past year, however, I've been making a point to get up earlier and enjoy lazy mornings, complete with big breakfasts, with the idea that a happier morning will make for a happier day, and eventually a happier life. (I really don't mean that to sound as grim as it seems).

There is some soothing, almost artistic, about making a good breakfast...like the Eggs Benedict I made last August. Since I am still on vacation (four 5 more days), I've been making (healthy) breakfast every morning. So far this week I've had a veggie frittata, egg muffins, eggs sardou, huevos rancheros.

The sardou & rancheros were new recipes for me.

I first had eggs sardou at Commander's Palace in New Orleans, and I hastily tried to recreate that breakfast this week. I totally flaked out by using canned artichoke hearts (too vinegary), frozen creamed spinach (too bland), and over-easy eggs (instead of poached) sans hollandaise sauce. It was so awful that I couldn't even eat it. I plan to redeem myself by making authentic eggs sardou this weekend...diet be damned!

The huevos rancheros were pretty tasty, though...even thought I chose to forgo the corn tortilla in the name of good health. Instead, I put some canned fat-free refried beans (warmed, of course) on a plate, topped it with eggs sunny-side-up, a homemade ranchero sauce, and shredded cheddar jack cheese.

For the sauce, I sauteed half of a small onion (chopped) with 2 vine-ripened tomatoes (blitzed to a pulp in the food processor) and 1 garlic clove (crushed). When the onion was soft, I added 2 chipotle peppers (chopped) and 2 tablespoons of adobo sauce (the sauce the canned chipotles come in). This simmered on the stove until it was thick and most of the watery liquid had evaporated.

So good! I have some sauce left in the fridge and plan to mix it into cheesy scrambled eggs tomorrow. (I think it would be good slathered on cooked meats, too.)

January 6, 2008

Creamy Lemon "Tart"

A few years ago, I followed the South Beach Diet pretty faithfully. The menu was easy to follow, except for those horrid recommended desserts...flavored ricotta, bland custards, popsickles & all that Jello. I don't normally have a sweet tooth--I crave crunchy, salty snacks more--but when I am carb-deprived I want lots of sugar.

I looked for some good SBD-friendly dessert recipes online last week and came across a few on the Kraft Foods website. One was for a "Crustless Tangy Lemon Pie" made with yogurt and Jello. I altered the recipe slightly, and the result was a delicious lemon dessert that is similar in taste to a lemon merengue pie!

It was so good--and guilt-free-- that my friends had more than one piece!

You'll need:

32 oz fat-free, no sugar added vanilla yogurt (I used Dannon Light & Fit)
2 small packages sugar-free lemon Jello
8 oz Cool Whip Free
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (or gingerbread syrup)
1 tablespoon graham cracker crumbs


1. Combine the yogurt & jello is a microwavable bowl. Nuke for 2 1/2 minutes to dissolve the Jello. Stir well.

2. Pour into a 9-inch pie plate that's been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray (don't use butter or olive oil flavored).

3. Refridgerate at least 3 hours.

4. Mix Cool Whip and ginger (or syrup). Spread on top of chilled lemon mixture. Sprinkle on crumbs.

This would, of course, also be good with lime Jello (minus the ginger)...I think it would be like a mock Key Lime Pie. I can only imagine the possibilities with different Jello flavors and toppings!

January 5, 2008

Lavender Curry Hummus

I've been browsing around Kalyn's Kitchen a lot lately and decided to post a recipe for her Weekend Herb Blogging round-up.

I love eating lavender, thanks to my friend Sue, who introduced me to lavender "better butter" a few years ago. As I wrote in my
Christmas Cookie post, if you've never eaten lavender-laced food, you must try it.

Lavender makes fragrant and tasty breads, drinks, and desserts like cookies, cakes, or custards. It goes particularly well with chocolate or green veggies. I like lavender mixed with melted butter then used as a dip for steamed artichokes and sprinkled on roasted asparagus or sauteed peas.

According to What's Cooking America: Flowers and leaves can be used fresh, and both buds and stems can be used dried. Lavender is a member of the mint family and is close to rosemary, sage, and thyme. It is best used with fennel, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, and savory.

English lavender has the sweetest fragrance of all the lavenders and is the most commonly used in cooking. [...] Lavender has a sweet, floral flavor, with lemon and citrus notes. The potency of the lavender flowers increases with drying. In cooking, use 1/3 the quantity of dried flowers to fresh.

Note: Adding too much lavender to your recipe can be like eating perfume and will make your dish bitter. [...] A little goes a long way.

Here is a recipe from The Lavender Cookbook (by Sharon Shipley) for Garlicky Lavender Curry Hummus:

You'll need:

2 (15 ounce) cans garbanzo beans, rinsed & drained
2/3 cup tahini (sesame paste) or creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons dried culinary lavender buds, finely ground.
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
paprika (optional)
chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves (optional)


In a food processor, combine the beans, tahini, water, lemon juice, oil, lavender, curry, salt & garlic. Process until smooth, adding more water as needed to reach desired consistency. Season with additional salt & lemon juice, if needed. Transfer to a shallow serving bowl and dust with the paprika & parsley (if using).

Serve with pita chips and raw veggies.

January 3, 2008

On a roll...

I've joined the Foodie BlogRoll, a list of foodie blogs created by Jenn DiPiazza (aka The Left Over Queen). Check it out...I've added the list to my sidebar.

Stuffed Peppers

While I was browsing online for some tasty, comforting, healthy recipes, I came across a recipe for stuffed peppers on Kalyn's Kitchen, a blog devoted to low-carb South Beach Diet friendly cooking.

I decided that since I'd never made stuffed peppers, it would be a good recipe to try. I tweaked Kalyn's recipe a little. I used:

6 bell peppers (3 red & 3 yellow)
1 pound ground venison (beef or lamb would work, too)
12 ounces reduced fat pork sausage (Jimmy Dean)
1 large onion
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
28 ounces crush tomatoes (Rold Gold)
2 ounces capers, drained
2 cups mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup feta cheese
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
salt & pepper, to taste

I made the filling by browning (& draining) the meats separately, then sauteeing the onion & garlic in the olive oil just until soft. I mixed it with the meat and added the crushed tomatoes, capers, half of the mozzarella, the feta, herbs, and seasonings.

I packed that into the raw peppers, stood them upright in a square stone casserole dish, and baked covered at 375 for 30 minutes. I removed the foil, topped each pepper with the remaining mozzarella cheese, then baked it for another 20 minutes.

The peppers were still a bit crunchy (which I really didn't mind) & the filling was a tad wet, but the flavor of the meats with the capers, feta, & herbs was rather good.

If I make stuffed peppers again, I'll either par-boil the peppers first or maybe cut them in half & fill with a raw meat mixture before baking.

January 2, 2008

Best of 2007

Nupur, another St. Louis food blogger, recently posted her top ten recipes of the year and challenged others to do the same. So, I thought this would be a good time to reflect back on the evolution of my own food blog.

When I started this blog in July 2005, I had no intentions for it. I simply created it as an example for my Writing Camp students. I posted pictures, rants, things I thought were interesting. I was really enjoying writing online...until December of that year, when my in-laws discovered my blog and got mad about my "12 Days of (things I hate about) Christmas" posts. All hell broke loose and so I started censoring everything I posted.

In 2006, my marriage collapsed and I moved out of our new house in December of that year. I didn't want to share what was happening with the world, so I rarely posted.

Then, in April, as I was reading Julie & Julia, I was inspired to begin my own cooking project. I was living alone again after 7 years of marriage and needed something to occupy my time. I had always loved to cook. I read cookbooks cover to cover. I collected recipes from magazines and the Internet. I decided to challenge myself to cook something I'd never made before, at least once a week. I would write about it all on my blog.

Except for a brief lapse this fall when I was overwhelmed with teaching 6 college classes, I have been successful with my challenge. I have many other things that I want to cook, but I am happy with what I've tried so far...the things that turned out well, and even those that didn't.

So, for my "best of," here are my favorite things I've cooked for the first time (in no particular order):

1. Potage Parmentier - My first "new recipe" is still my favorite. It was simple, but not easy, and comforting. I've made it several times since.

2. BLT Cheesecake - So full of bacon and cheese, so rich, so naughty.

3. Spanakopita - This labor-intensive recipe is the one I'm most proud of.

4. Soft Boiled Eggs - While it doesn't take a genius to soft boil an egg, I love the lazy ritual of eating one, complete with my pretty antique egg cups!

5. Fried Green Tomatoes - I ate A LOT of these this summer.

6. Red Velvet Cupcakes - My first homemade cupcakes & the reddest thing I've ever cooked.

7. Blue Goose Pie - I am not a baker. Most of the time, my baked goods don't turn out so well. This pie, however, was so tasty and easy that I made three of them this summer.

8. Curry Lime Chicken Wings - This recipe is from Tyler's Ultimate cookbook, and like everything else in that book, these are spectacular.

9. Eggs Benedict - This is another thing I am very proud of...my first hollandaise & poached eggs, both of which turned out perfectly.

10. Caramelized Onion Toast - I crave salty, crispy foods, so this toast laden with onions, anchovies, and olives really hit the spot!

11. Spiced Pear & Caramel Trifle - While I've made trifle before, this is the first one I invented. And it's by far the prettiest thing I've ever made.

12. Cheese Souffle with Lobster Sauce - The most perfect meal I've ever cooked.

Looking back at my posts, it's no wonder I've gained 20 pounds in the past 8 months!

Here are my favorite posts:

Finally, here are some pics--some good, some not--I never got around to posting: