Sunday, January 31, 2010

January 30 & 31 - Chocolate Orange Cookie Stacks


WOO HOO!

I did it!  One month down, eleven more to go!  (Excuse me...let me just reach back here...and, uh, pat myself on the back.) Although keeping up this blog is a lot of work, I feel like this project is definitely helping my cooking skills stay sharp.  This past month, I've been trusting my culinary (gut) instincts more and I feel more confident in my decisions (I have a bad habit of sometimes second guessing myself in the kitchen, which I shouldn't because I know what I'm doing).   My multitasking skills are incredible and my kitchen is uber organized!  Super bonus = Now, I'm really good at saving money at the grocery store!

And thanks to all of you reading this blog.  I really like seeing the comments.  Sometimes, I don't get a chance to respond, but I do read all of them.   Here is the link to the actual book online at amazon.com just in case you'd like to try the recipes:


So, for the upcoming months, I will not only try to be a little more humourous, but I will try and make some other recipes (and take pictures of them) outside of this calendar project.

THE RECIPE

Ingredients:

Whipped Cream: $1.39
Cookies: $1.79
Orange Juice: $1.29
Orange zest:  Had 

Total: $4.47

When I saw this recipe, I was a little disappointed.  It sounded like it would be a little too simple and therefore wouldn't taste very good.  Boy was I wrong!  Sometimes, simplicity is the best.  The whipped cream/orange juice concentrate mixture tastes like orange creamsicle (or orange push-pop if you're around my age).  That got me thinking, what if I freeze the cookie instead of refridgerating it?  What would happen?

For the wafer cookies, I used chocolate pizzelle cookies.   They are VERY delicate, so use a light touch, but I think they really make the dessert look nice.  Obviously, if you use pizzelles, they'll take a little more filling than the 1 Tablespoon as the recipe states for the wafer cookies.  Helpful hint:  if you put your cream in a piping bag, it'll make for easier construction. 

Just in case your like, "What's a Pizzelle?"  Pizzelle's are Italian waffle cookies.  They come in a variety of flavors and can be found at your local Italian grocery store.  Sometimes they will have them at your larger grocery stores, but the best quality pizzelles usually come from the Italian markets.  They are delicious and a better alternative calorie-wise than most cookies.  (I'm still trying to track down a pizzelle iron so I can make them!)

Another tip with this recipe is to make sure that you really whip the whipped cream and orange juice to a stiff peak.  If you under whip this just a little, the filling is going to ooze out of the cookie stack and make a hot mess.  When it looks like it's ready, whip it for 20 seconds more...just in case.

And now...drumroll please....


THE RESULTS

Fast:  From start to finish this recipe should only take you maybe 20 minutes tops (depending on how many stacks you make).  The whipping of the cream and o.j. mixture will take the most time.  I don't see why you can't just serve the stacks right away.  Although the recipe says to chill in in the fridge (which I don't think accomplished anything but making the cookie soggy)

Easy:  Not too difficult.  If your not good at piping and decide to use a piping bag, that might prove to be a little difficult.  This would be a great recipe to make with kids.  I think they'd get a kick out of whipping the cream and o.j. and building the stacks (although I would get a sturdier cookie then pizzelles).

Fresh:  Not so much. It's just orange juice and whipped cream.**

**As I've been going through all of these recipes this past month, I think this fresh category has been really tough to critique.  To me, fresh means lucious, flavorful garden vegetables or just picked herbs.  The more I ponder the use of the word "fresh" by the author, I wonder if they meant it to mean "a new take".   So in the future, I'll try to judge that category by both "fresh tasting" and "fresh take"

Overall:  This is actaully a really good recipe that you can do for company.  The whipped cream can be made ahead of time and put in the fridge, then you can just pipe and serve.  I didn't care for the "letting it sit in the fridge" part of the recipe.  The cookie got soggy and the whole thing was a (delicious) orange mushy mess (I like a little texture in my desserts). 

I loved the frozen cookie stack.  You do have to let it sit out for 5-7 minutes before serving, otherwise you are not going to be able to cut into that thing!  Not only do you have whipped cream frozen like ice cream (and tasting like push-pops), but the cookies stay crisp as well!  If you use the chocolate pizzelles, they'll taste like chocolate waffle cones with orange creamsicle ice cream on top.  Yummy!!

Tomorrow is Tip Day!  I'm going to re-post my original blog entry explaining the calendar project, so newer readers to this blog can understand how and why this all started.

Friday, January 29, 2010

January 29th - Pepper Martini


I Wonder If Einstein Worked Like This?

Today, I have a guest in my kitchen.  My friend Nikki and I spent the day kibbitzing, scouring through thrift stores, and waiting for my stupid car to get done getting an oil chage at the dealership.   She was curious about this pepper martini recipe, so I invited her to help with the experiments.

THE RECIPE

Ingredients:

Gin: (Had, I used Sapphire not Plymouth)
Dry Sherry: $6.99
Pepper Jelly:  Had, bought at the farmer's market last summer
Orange Bitters: $3.50
Olives: $1.29

Total: $11.78

THE RESULTS:

Fast:  Took about 2 minutes to make.  I sucked this thing down quicker than that.

Easy:  Can you shake a cocktail???  No?  Really, what's wrong with you??  This has to be, by far, the easiest recipe yet.

Fresh:  Nikki says "Sure".  I say "meh..not so much".  It tastes like booze with pepper jelly.  How fresh can that be?

Overall:  Let the experimentation begin!!! The recipe as it is written is pretty good.  The gin works well with the sherry, the bitters, and the pepper jelly.  We did think it could use just a touch more orange, so tried to add some orange segments into the martini glass (after we squeezed them into the cocktail).  When it sat a little while, it got better.  You really have to like gin to like this martini.  The gin flavor is so dominant with the pepper jelly playing second fiddle. 

So then, we thought...hey, let's try this with vodka.  So we followed the exact same recipe but substituted vodka for the gin.  It made for a much mellower martini, but it seemed to lack something.  We sipped the gin one again, and realized how complex the original (gin) recipe was.  If only we could find a middle ground....but alas we didn't.

I like gin and therefore I really like this recipe.  Your overall flavor is definitely going to depend on the quality of your pepper jelly.  Nikki thought it was "meh".  She didn't dislike it, but she doesn't drink a lot of hard alcohol.  Since I do drink A LOT of hard alcohol, I would recommend that if you want to make this with vodka, use Absolute Peppar.

Well, we're going to continue sipping and talking.  Here's to friendship.  Cin Cin!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

January 28th - Pork Medallions with Chili-Maple Sauce



FAIR WARNING

Well folks, we're dealing with the first major issue affecting this little project of mine and it hasn't even been a month yet.  I will actually be unable to cook/blog for most of next week due to an out of town engagement.  What to do??  I never thought of a plan B for cases in which I couldn't blog (such as vacation or emergency or unconsciousness).   And, sorry, on this trip I don't want to drag along my laptop either.

My solution = I'm going to make and post those recipes (Feb 4th through the 7th) ahead of time for you.  Granted, these post won't be as witty and as entertaining as most, but they should get you through the worst of your withdrawal.  In the meantime, I will be on the lookout for extraordinary cuilinary delights and uncomfortable situations I can share with you all when I return.

Now lets get to this recipe.  It's actually pretty good...

THE RECIPE

Ingredients:

Pork: $3.99
Chinese Five Spice Powder:  Didn't have, I had to make it...I'll explain
Oil: Had
Chicken Broth:  Had
Maple Syrup: Had
Chili Garlic Sauce:  Had
Green Onions:  Had

Total $3.99

First off, I didn't buy pork tenderloin because it was too expensive.  So I bought a Loin End Pork Roast instead.  I figured since we were taking the meat, slicing it, and then pounding it with a meat mallet, I could use a cheaper piece of meat. 

Second off, I didn't have Five Spice Powder.  But, I did have the 5 spices in order to make it myself.  Why buy it when I can make it?

FIVE SPICE POWDER
Source:  Some Internet recipe (can't remember)

2 tsps Szechwan Peppercorns
8 star anise
1/2 tsp cloves, ground
1 T cinnamon, ground
1 T fennel seed, ground

Toast the peppercorns in a dry fry pan for 3 minutes.  Take out and put in spice grinder.  Add star anise (and in my case fennel seeds since I didn't have ground).  Grind until powdered.  Add cinnamon and cloves and fennel.  Viola!  Five spice powder.

I ♥ szechwan peppercorns.  They have this very interesting mouth numbing quality to them.  Yes, they numb your mouth (or sometimes lips)!  If you've never experienced it before, I won't be able to describe it to you and do it justice.  All I can tell you is that it's like you ate an extremely hot pepper only without the pain involved.  Really, if you can, I suggest trying them.  I used to top chocolate truffles with crushed up szechwan peppercorns.  The combination of sweet and numbing is quite different and pleasurable.

THE RESULTS

Fast:  Took me about 15 minutes (plus an extra 5 minutes to make the 5 Spice Powder) total.

Easy:  There really isn't much too this recipe.  The hardest part is pounding out the pork.

Fresh:  Not so much taste wise.  The sauce is pretty much just bottled stuff.  A fresh take on pork?  Yes, definitely.

Overall:  I really like this recipe.  I like the combination of sweet and spicy.  The chili and maple really play well off of eachother.  The five spice gives it a little darker flavor (which cuts the sweet) as well as a small mouth numbing effect.  This would be great with chicken too.  I would serve this with some rice (like it suggests) but maybe some stir fried vegetables as well.

Tomorrow...I am so excited...I cannot wait.  IT'S COCKTAIL TIME!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January 27th - Broccoli and Rapini with Lemon and Shallots



....LIKE A HOLE IN THE HEAD

I totally wasted my whole night last night reading this stupid book.  Have you ever done that?  Have you ever put yourself through the torture of reading a book that you didn't like just to get through it?  Maybe...just maybe... all of a sudden it will get better?  It got to the point that I started skimming through sections of paragraphs to get to the end.  And my god...what a stupid ending! 

So the books are The Golden Compass Series.  There are three.  I compare them to a series of novocaine shots at the dentist office.  Painful at first, then quite numbing, and then just annoying.   I read the first book and was like..yeah it's okay. Let's go on to the second book to see what happens.  Ugh.  It was not good.  Since I must be some kind of glutton for punishment, let's read the third book because it has to get better! AWFUL! 

This is why I don't like to read.  I prefer books on CD.  The physical act of reading makes me invest time and effort in a book.  So if I don't like the book, I feel like I've made this huge committment only to be let down in the end.  If a book on CD sucks, I blame it on the person narrating it. 

Before We Move On, Let's Clear Something Up

I mistakenly wrote that my friend Jen painted the flowers on the carrot/looks like a present/wedding cake I talked about last week in one of my blogs.  That was not Jen. It was my assisant LAUREN who painstakingly painted all those little flowers on.  Sorry Lauren.  The blog states the correct information now. 

The Recipe

This was my first time cooking with rapini.  I have seen it in the grocery store and have eaten it at restaurants, but never cooked with it. 

Make sure you wash it well before using.  Mine was quite dirty (filthy, if you will).  I took off all the really thick stems and kept the thinner leaves and the broccoli looking tops.  Rapini is slightly bitter, but not as bitter as mustard greens (thankfully).  I ate this with the leftover Wisconsin Mac and Cheese from yesterday.  They went quite well together.

Ingredients:

Butter: Had
Shallots:  $0.79
Lemon: $0.50
Broccoli: $1.79
Rapini:  $2.79

Total:  $5.87

THE RESULTS

Fast:  The recipe took me 10 minutes at most, due to cooking time.  Prepping the veggies is quite quick.

Easy:  There really is nothing to this recipe.  Can you put stuff in a skillet and occasionally cover and uncover it with a lid?

Fresh:  Oh heck yeah.  It's veggies with shallots and lemon.  A.K.A Deliciousness

Overall:  This was good.  I actually would probably make this again, but cut down on the butter and lemon zest and mix this into the Mac and Cheese recipe from yesterday.  I ate them side by side; but mixed together would be quite nice too (and fancy enough for guests).  It takes the Mac and Cheese from "blah blah blah" to "ooo la la"! (How's that one, Joy?)

Tomorrow...PORK IN THE HOUSE Y'ALL!  BRING IT!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

January 26th - Wisconsin Mac and Cheese



I TRIED TO DO SOMETHING NICE

I'm in line at the library yesterday returning some CD's I had borrowed for the Polish dinner (Titles Include: Yan Yanick's Mega Folk Hits,  Polska Polkas, and The Best of Swetgorski).  I also had to clear up the fact that one of the books I returned last week was still on my account saying I never returned it. 

A lady gets behind me.  She only has 3 books in her hand.  I figured that my issue might take a while because I have a history of breaking technology.  I kid you not, everytime I need to do a return at a store or look up a book title at the library, either the cash register goes down or the computer starts on fire.  It must have something to do with the negative magnetic waves I exude.  So, I figured I'd spare this lady 10 minutes of wasted time by letting her skip ahead of me (being the nice guy I am)

I turn to her.  "You can go ahead of me if you'd like?".

She gives me a suspicious look "Why?"

Not wanting to get into it I say, "I have got to talk to the librarian about a fine."

"You have to talk to the librarian about a fire?"

Okay, I guess I have to get into it.  "No.  A fine.  The library says that I didn't return a book that I did return last week.  I have to get them to research it and it might take a while."

"Mmm"

"So I thought you might be in a hurry and I didn't want you to have to wait."

She says to me with a sarcastic tone. "Yes.  I'm always in a hurry."

Okay what's that suppose to mean?  "I'm just trying to be polite," I say.  I look down and see she has kids books in her hand.

So the librarian calls "Can I help you?" and I look at the woman.  She humpfs and goes to the counter.  Then, she chats up the librarian for about five minutes and keeps glancing over her shoulder at me.  Is she doing it on purpose??  I'm just trying to be nice.  She leaves.

I get up to the counter and tell her my story about the book and how I returned it.  I tell her how it says in the computer that it's still checked out.  She looks in the computer and says "I don't see a book.  I just see the CD's your returning today."  Oye Vey. 

THE RECIPE

After making this recipe, I looked around my kitchen and saw a slew of dirty dishes!  What the frick?  How could I have managed to use so many bowls and pots and utensils?  I'm so ashamed of myself.  I felt like a culinary school student. 

Ingredients:

Noodles:  $1.29
Wheat bread:  Had
Butter & Flour:  Had
Milk: $2.79
Broth:  Had
Green Onion:  $0.79
Cheddar Cheese $3.99

Total: 8.86

The Results

Fast:  Actually this recipe took about 30 minutes.  So I guess it's fast-ish.

Easy:  Yeah, somewhat.   The thickening of the milk and broth is probably the hardest part.  The recipe is kind of putzy.

Fresh:  Not really.  If there were some fresh herbs in it, I would say yes, but there aren't..so no.

Overall:  It's your typical Mac and Cheese that needs to be doctored up.  I would like fresh basil in it.
It's pretty...meh...just like this blog entry.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

January 23rd & 24th - Coconut Rice Pudding


SUCCESS....Well Almost...
So the Polish dinner went pretty well last night.  We had 50 guest (and about 14 students helping).   Luckily everyone there liked Polish food (or they woudn't have come).  Shall we get right into it?? 

Appetizer:  Potato Perogi's
This was the hit of the night.  People could not stop talking about these!  Everyone was like "can I get the recipe?"  And normally, I would, but this is a super secret family recipe, so no.  They tasted exactly like my mom's.  Go me!  (And yeah, I made all 150 of them by myself.  No student's helped..that's an issue I don't want to get into right now)

The Soup:  Mushroom with Mushroom Pillows
(NOT PICTURED)
I didn't forget to take a picture of this soup...I just didn't want to.  In my opinion, this was the low point of the whole meal.  Some people really liked it, some people did not.  I personally don't like this soup, but I thought it would be better than serving borscht. 

The Salad:  Pickled Beets with Sour Cream Dill Cucumbers
Traditionally us Polish people don't eat a whole lot of salad, so I kind of just threw two recipes I knew together to make a salad.  People loved it.  The beets were very good thanks to my friend Jon the kitchen manager at school (he pickled them for me).  And you can't go wrong with sour cream, dill, a little lemon juice, and cucumbers.  Yummy!  Presentation was a little sloppy.

The Main Course:  Polish Hunters Stew

This was a sauerkraut stew that had duck, smoked ham hocks, ham, bacon, and kilebasa in it.  It also had apples, potatoes, garlic, onions, peppercorns, red wine, veal stock, and vodka.  I cooked this stew every day this past week (very slow and low) for at least 5 hours each day.  Then I served it with dilled potatoes and some grainy mustard.  It was really good (people liked it).  And it wasn't overly sauerkraut tasting.  The flavor had mellowed out a lot. 

Dessert:  Assorted Polish Cookies and Pastries

Pictured:  On the left, rogaliki (a nut filled rolled cookie).  Top, Krustichiki (a deep fried dough cookie).  Right, Kolachki (apricot and cream cheese).  Bottom, Makowiec (a poppy seed roll).  Middle, Bobka (apple)

The dessert was very traditional.  Everything was good except for the kolachki (I didn't like the apricot jam...I wanted raspberry..but we won't get into that either)  and the poppy seed roll got all soggy (cause I baked them and froze them...but I think they were a little too warm when I put them in the freezer).  By this time in the meal, everyone was full so a lot of people took their dessert home.

So of course kudos everywhere (no, not the granola bars) when I visited the tables.  It was fun talking to the guests.  One table (we dubbed it the Polish Table) brought Polish Beer, Wine, and after dinner liquor.  They gave me a taste of the honey liquor and it was good (strong, but good).  Very nice people!

And that's it...it's over.  (Thank you Jesus).  However, in a month I have the French Dinner for 72 people.  Yikes!  This will be the most we've ever had for dinner at our campus. (Normally the limit is like 60.)   Thankfully, this will be my last dining series event for this school year, so I'm going to go out with a bang and make it super classy. 

The Recipe

I was kind of disappointed to see rice pudding for the dessert.  BOOORING!  I'm not a big fan of rice pudding either.  I always think "old people" when I think of rice pudding. 

Ingredients:

Milk: Had
Basmati Rice: $2.49
Sugar:  Had
Flaked Coconut: $2.29
Coconut Milk:  $2.99

Total:  $7.77 (Lucky Day!)

THE RESULTS

Fast:  NO.  It takes about 1 hour to cook and at least 4 hours to chill.  Sorry, no instant gratification on this one.

Easy:  Yes.  Just dump and go.  It's basically mixing everything in a saucepot on top of  the stove.

Fresh:  Not really.  How fresh is canned coconut milk and flaked coconut? 

Overall:  This recipe definitely needs fresh fruit with it.  Bananas, mangoes, kiwi?  It's pretty blah without.  The coconut flavor is terrific...but it needs more life.  I would use it as a filling for a yellow cake along with crushed pineapple, cream cheese frosting, and served with a slighlty sweetened mango puree sauce on the side.

Okay.  Tommorrow is tip day.  I may or may not blog.  I haven't decided...depends on if I'm feeling lazy or not.  Otherwise...I'll see you Tuesday!

Friday, January 22, 2010

January 22nd - Marinated Olives with Tangerine and Rosemary



Cheater Cheater Pumpkin Eater

Okay...so as I made the grocery list for the recipes earlier this week, I noticed this recipe had to marinate for at least 2 days.   To be honest, I made these olives Monday night.  So techincally I didn't make "the recipe for today" today.  Yeah I cheated!  But in order for me to taste the final product I had to.  Don't judge me.

What you don't see in this picture is the wonderful brandy old fashion that I made myself and am partaking in right now.  DEEE-licious.  I figured I deserve it (after this crazy week).  And, I don't feel like cooking so I'm going to get some Chinese take out from this new place that just opened up down the street.  Holler!  Orange Chicken y'all!




How disappointing... The orange chicken is mediocre at best.  The eggroll is okay and the fried rice is good..but I'm not wowed (it's no "wow to pow", more like "hype to tripe") Oh well.  Someday I will find you orange chicken.  You and me all the way.  (Shhh..don't tell Brian.)

The Recipe

Ingredients:

Assorted olives: $4.99
Tangerine:  $0.89
Rosemary $1.99
Fennel seeds: Had
Coriander seeds:  Had -from the salmon recipe
Crushed red pepper: Had

Total: $7.87

I didn't get the olives from the deli (like I should have).  Jewel doesn't have assorted olives in their deli case.  Again.. last time I shop there.  And the tangerines are pricy as hell because of the frost that Florida had!  Oh woah to me!

Snobby Chef Tip:  I learned that you should keep your crushed red pepper in the freezer.  It keeps it fresh (and spicy) longer.  I keep mine in a Ziploc freezer bag (Glass in the freezer is a no-no).  As a general rule you should refridgerate any red spices (such as cayenne pepper and paprika) to stretch out their shelf life.

The Results

Fast:  NO!  This recipe takes at least 2 days to make.  Hello, that's not fast.  I was surprised to even see it in this calendar entitled "FAST, Easy, & Fresh".

Easy:  Yes!  Now this recipe may not be fast, but it is easy.  Just throw everything in a jar (I did it in a tupperware container) and shake it once in a while for the next two day. 

Fresh:  The orange and rosemary really give the olives a nice flavor.  It's different.

Overall:  I like it.  I would try this again with fresh olives from the deli case.  (I'm not a big fan of jarred olives.)  The combination of spices, rosemary, and orange really pep them up.  The use of the coriander seeds in this recipe is much better than the salmon from yesterday. 

Tomorrow = Polish dinner at school.  I will try to take some pictures and post them on Sunday (with the dessert recipe for the weekend).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 21st - Pepper and Coriander Coated Salmon Fillets



I'm So Excited...and I Just Can't Hide It....I'm About to Lose Control and I Think I Like It!

So some very exciting news...  I was asked to do a dessert for a very prominent Chicago culinary society's annual fundraising event.   They are getting some of the most popular pastry chefs in Chicago (like Gale Gand and Keli Fayard) to do it as well.  I'm going to be showcased with people like that!  Could you just die??  People will actually be bidding on my dessert!  That's so freaky. 

The pressure is on now.  What am I going to do?  I feel like I have amnesia all of a sudden.  The theme of the dinner is fashion.  Ughhh...  It's got to taste great (that's no problem), look spectacular (yikes), and be very hoity toity (ummm). 

I've got three months to actually do it, but only 1 week to let the organizer know what I'm going to do.  I'm making such a tzimmis out of this.  I need to relax.  I'm not going to worry about it today.  In fact, I've got to keep my head in the game for the Polish dinner on Saturday.  But isn't that exciting???  

The Recipe

I'm always looking for recipes that feature new spice combinations or highlight a spice I don't use regularly.  When I saw this recipe, I was excited.  I haven't really used coriander seed before (except for pickling things).  Then, I went to the grocery store and found that a small bottle is $6!  That's crazy!  So now, the expectations where high.  This better be good.

Ingredients:

Italian Parsley (Had - chopped and frozen)
Orange Peel: $0.89
Coriander Seed: $5.99
Dark brown Sugar: Had
Black Pepper:  Had
Salmon: $7.99
Butter and Canola Oil: Had

Total:  $14.87

NOTE:  I should tell you that when a recipe says it makes 6 or more servings, I usually scale it down to just 2.  Otherwise, the food is going to go to waste.  (I'm practically cooking every day of the week. So we have meal upon meal in our fridge.)  Plus, I'm trying to stick to a budget, so I just make enough for Brian and I and maybe a little extra for him to take for lunch at work.

The Results


Fast:  I didn't use a spice grinder to grind the coriander and the pepper; instead, I used my mortar and pestle.  So, it took me longer than it should have to grind the spices.  Otherwise, this is a recipe that should take you less than 15 minutes (including the cooking time of the salmon).

Easy:  Yes indeedy.  Just coat the salmon with the spice mixture and saute in a pan.  That's it.

Fresh:  The orange and parsley add the freshness to this dish.  It really perks up the fish.

Overall:   



This recipe sucked! I did not like it at all...sorry, Bon Appetit. The recipe sounds good in theory, but does not execute very well. The brown sugar melted into this caramel like coating which gave a funky texture to the whole dish. The coriander was good, but the coarse pieces were annoying. The salmon flavor took better to the parsley and orange rather than the pepper and coriander. Maybe if the spices were ground finer (the recipe says coarse) it would have meshed better. But in the end....not so good. Don't waste your $14 on making this.


Tomorrow...I kind of cheated.  I'll explain next entry.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

January 20th - Szechuan Sesame Noodles



As Promised...

So yesterday was a long, bad day.  (It felt like one gigantic panic attack.)  But today, went much smoother.  Took some Valum and luckily didn't have to stay at school as long.  The Polish dinner on Saturday is really shaping up...I'm mildly excited. (Valum is wonderful).

I've decided to share with you some pictures of wedding cakes I did (with the help of my assistant and my friend Jen) at my last job (as a Pastry Chef at a private club) to make up for the lack of content yesterday.  So enjoy it...or else!

The story:  A bride wanted three completely different wedding cakes with three completely different flavors for her reception.  Yup, that's it.  That's all the instructions I was given.  Oh and she said I could pretty much do whatever I wanted.  Yeah...I know...cool, but kind of scary.  

I have to tell you that these three cakes were my second attempt at wedding cakes..ever.  I had only made one before (luckily no pictures of it exist).  The only training I ever had was observing and helping the old Pastry Chef when I was her assistant.  That's it.  I have to say that I did a pretty good job (pat, pat...that's the sound of me patting myself on the back).

Cake # 1.  Chocolate cake with chocolate fudge frosting (inside) and chocolate buttercream outside.  The tiles are individually cut from sheets of fondant and then left to dry.    The brides last name was Love (hence the theme). [It looks like it was leaning..but it wasn't.  It's the angle of the photo.]



Cake #2.  White cake with white chocolate mousse filling and regular butter cream on the outside.  I figured she may want a traditional three tiered cake.  However, I think white cakes are boring, so I did yellow instead. 



Cake #3.  Carrot cake with cream cheese filling covered in fondant.  This is my least favorite of the cakes (cause I'm not a fan of fondant).  It looked much better in person. My assistant Lauren hand painted the flowers on the fondant to match the invitation.  It looked really cool in person.  I have to say, from a distance, it did look like someone left a present on the table.



Of course the bride loved them all.  She asked to see me and gave me a great big hug.  I "totally blew her away".  They tasted fantastic too (I had to stay to cut and serve them..it was a very long day!). 

I think this was the day that I vowed never to do wedding cakes again.  This was sooooo much work.  And to think what I could have charged had I been working for myself?  It's a shame.  Screwed over again!

The Recipe

I was really excited to make this recipe today.  I LOVE Asian food!!  My dirty little secret is that I am absolutely obsessed with Orange Chicken.  It's so bad for you, but it tastes so good!

Ingredients:

Noodles $1.99
Sesame Oil:  Had
Peanuts: $1.99
Ginger:  Had
Garlic:  Had
Teriyaki Sauce:  Had
Lime Juice:  Had
Chili-garlic sauce:  $2.49
Green onions:  Had

Total: $6.47

The description says you can turn this from a side dish to a main meal by adding shredded chicken.  Since I had chicken in the fridge (and this was going to be dinner tonight), I decided to add it to the noodles.

You can pretty much find all of these ingredients in the Asian aisle of your supermarket.  Or better yet, if you have an Asian market by you, you can pick from a bigger variety of Asian noodles and teriyaki sauces (only it takes you twice as long to shop because you can't really read Chinese).  And as a bonus, you can get the grocery store owner to follow you around because he thinks you're stealing stuff...nevermind you have a shopping basket in your hand.

The Results

Fast:  This recipe took me about 20 minutes from start to finish (including the time to cook the chicken).  Most of the time was spent chopping and boiling the noodles.  I didn't chop the peanuts...I left them whole.  Whatever... I do what I want!  You're not the boss of me.

Easy:  Basically boil some noodles and throw the sauce together and you've got a quick delicious dinner (or lunch).  It's a lot healthier than take-out.

Fresh:  It would be a lot more fresh tasting with some pea pods, onions, carrots, and/or broccoli.  I think the extra veggies would have taken this recipe from Wow to Pow!  (Trying that one out to see if I like it...not sure yet.)

Overall:  If you love Asian food, you will love this recipe.  It's super easy and super good.  If you want to keep it vegetarian, leave out the chicken and add tofu or scrambled eggs.   Scrambled eggs??  Are you crazy?  Yes...but it's really good. 

Alright meine lieblings...tomorrow is Salmon and a day for me to catch up on school stuff.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January 19th - Chicken and Mustard Green Sandwiches



I'm Tired and Crabby

I'm tired... I'm crabby...and poor Brian is taking the brunt of Hurricane Mark.  I've been at school going non-stop since 8 a.m! Saturday is the big Polish dinner and I spent today making pierogi's and the start of the hunter's stew (by myself...thank's students).  I didn't get home until 7 p.m. and I whipped up this sandwich quicker than a virgin on his wedding night.  I'm just going to get right to it.   (I'll make it up to you later this week).

THE RECIPE:

Ingredients:

Mayo (Had)
Mango Chutney (Had...surprisingly)
Baguette $2.99
Butter (Had)
Chicken (Had)
Mustard Greens: $2.99

Total $5. 98

So I swear I've bought mustard greens in the past in bunches for only 99 cents.  All of a sudden I go to Jewel (a grocery store here in Chicagoland) and they only have it cello bags for 2.99.  What the frick?  And since when did a stupid loaf of bread cost 2.99?  Stupid Jewel.  I'm never going there again. 

Mango chutney used to be hard to find.  You can get it in the condiment aisle.  It's usually near the mustards.  It is a great all-around condiment.  I've done a turkey spread with that and a little curry powder.  Yummy!

The Results:

Fast:  Yes.  Cooking the chicken is the longest part at 10 minutes.  Overall it was about 20 minutes from start to finish for this recipe.

Easy:  Yes.  You mix the chutney and mayo together and spread it on the bread.  Then you broil it.  While that's going, you cook the chicken (and I did the mustard greens in a separate pan). 

Fresh:  So-so.  The main flavors are sweet from the chutney and bitter from the greens.  The chicken is pretty non-descript.

Overall:  It's an okay recipe.  It's good for a throw together lunch (if you have mustard greens just lying around).  I probably won't make it again. 

Tomorrow is Asian noodles.  I'm looking forward to that.  Hopefully I'll be in a better mood tomorrow! Oh ...and for those of you that asked, I'm going to get you those recipes.  I haven't forgotten...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

January 16 & 17 - Fruit and Cookie Crust Pizza



PARTYYYYY!

Yesterday (Saturday) we had our "Christmas" party for the retail store I worked at over the holiday.  So, I got a call yesterday morning at 9 a.m. from the managers asking if I could make Chicken Saltimbocca.  (The place they were going to order it from was going to charge way too much.)  So for less than the price they were going to pay, I made 30 individual Saltimbocca breasts and a huge pan of baked mostaccioli.  I was pretty proud of myself.  I kept thinking of that Food Network Show "Dinner Impossible"... although I didn't really do much running around and there was nobody to yell at.

(And, because I'm sure someone will ask, the saltimbocca recipe was loosely based on Giada's recipe from her Everyday Italian cookbook and the mostaccioli I just threw together.)

It was a potluck party, so Brian and I had already planned on bringing a dish.  He made a savory cheesecake:



Spicy Spreadable Cheesecake


Recipe courtesy Firefighter Bill Hubbard

Prep Time:25 min
Cook Time:1 hr 0 min
Serves:10 to 12 as an hors d'oeurve

Ingredients

Crust:
• 2 cups flaky butter crackers
• 4 tablespoons butter, melted

Cheesecake:
• 6 ounces sharp cheddar
• 1 teaspoon lime zest
• 1 tablespoon flour
• 2 tablespoons cornstarch
• 1 tablespoon lime juice
• 24 ounces cream cheese
• 2 large eggs
• 1/2 cup minced white onion
• 1 tablespoon horseradish
• 1 1/2 teaspoons hot red pepper sauce
• 1/2 teaspoon oregano
• 1/2 teaspoon cumin
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
•1/4 teaspoon pepper
• 1/2 cup sour cream

Topping:
• 1 1/2 cups sour cream
• 2 tablespoons lime juice
• 1 teaspoon lime zest
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce

Garnish:
• Shredded cheddar
• Tomatoes
• Green Onions
• Salsa, optional
• Crackers
• Tortilla Chips

Directions

For the crust: Crush the butter crackers and mix with melted butter. Press into a 9-inch spring-form pan.

For the Filling: Finely shred cheddar, add lime zest. Toss cheese mixture with flour and cornstarch; set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In electric mixer, cream lime juice and cream cheese until fluffy. Add 1 egg at a time while mixing on low speed. Add minced onion, horseradish, pepper sauce, oregano, cumin, garlic powder, salt, and pepper and mix only until incorporated. Fold in cheddar mixture, then sour cream by hand. Pour the batter into the prepared crust. Bake for 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, for topping, mix all ingredients together and refrigerate until cheesecake is baked.

Remove cheesecake from oven after 60 minutes (do not overbake). Spread cold topping over warm cake, return to oven, shut the oven off and allow to cool in oven (oven door may be open a crack to speed up the process), this will prevent any cracking. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight then decorate as desired with shredded cheddar, tomatoes, green onions, and salsa. Serve with crackers or tortilla chips.

NOTE:  Brian added 2 de-seeded chopped jalapenos and one 7 oz jar of roasted red peppers (drained) to the cream cheese mixture.

and I made a sweet cheesecake:




Japanese Cheesecake
(Adapted from Red Vanilla)

Ingredients:
250g (8 oz) cream cheese
50g butter
100 ml fresh milk
60g cake flour
20g corn flour
1 tbsp lemon juice & 1 tsp vanilla extract
6 egg yolks
6 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
140g sugar

1. Preheat oven to 160C. Line the bottom an 9 inch springform pan with parchment. Wrap the outside of the pan with 2 layers of aluminum foil to prevent water seeping in later.

2. Melt the cream cheese, butter and milk over a double boiler until smooth. Cool. I reckon it would be much easier to melt the butter and pulse the whole mixture in a food processor. In this way, you will get a very smooth consistency. Sift the flour mixture.

3. To the cooled cream cheese mixture, add the flours, egg yolks, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Mix well and set aside.

4. In a large bowl, whisk egg whites until foamy. Add in cream of tartar and whisk until thick. With your electric mixer on, slowly add in sugar. Whisk until firm and glossy (but not stiff) peaks form.

5. Add one third of the egg whites into the cream cheese mixture and stir to combine. Fold in the remaining egg white in two batches quickly.

6. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Using the lower third of your oven, bake the cheesecake in a water bath for 55 minutes at 160C. Lower to 150C and continue to bake for another 15 minutes. The top of the cake should be golden brown. Tent it with aluminum foil if it browns too quickly.

7. Turn the oven off and leave the cheesecake in the oven (with the door closed) to cool slowly. Cheesecake will shrink slightly. Remove to room temperature after 30 minutes and let it cool completely.

8. Slice with a long serrated knife, wiping down your knife after each slice. Store, covered in the fridge. It’ll turn a little denser after being chilled.

NOTE:  I topped it with lemon curd and whipped cream.  It is NOT a layered cake.  I just made it look like it was.

I really like both of these recipes (they went over really well at the party).  My assistant and I used to make the Japanese cheesecake all the time at the restaurant.  It is such a different take on the classic.  And the texture is like I died and went to culinary heaven...No wait, I used that one already.  The texture is so killer it's homicidal!  I hope you try them.  I'd love to hear your comments.

TODAY'S RECIPE

Ingredients:

Sugar cookie dough: (made my own, cost me $2.00)
Cream Cheese: $1.50
Marshmallow Creme:  $0.99
Fruit:  $2.39
Caramel Sauce: (made my own, cost me $1.99)

Total: $ 8.87

I ended up making my own cookie dough for this recipe.  I don't like the store bought kind because of the extra stuff they put into it.  Have you ever looked at the list of ingredients?  My recipe is basically butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, salt, and flour.  I would give you the recipe, but it is super secret. 

For the caramel, I decided to make a dulce de leche.  I read online about how you can use your slow cooker to make it safely from a can of sweetened condensed milk.  I just had to try it.  Basically, you take your can, take off the label, and put it in a slowcooker (a.k.a crockpot) on low for 8 hours.  This is what you get:



THE RESULTS

Fast:  Yeah, it's pretty fast.  Baking the cookie takes about 15 minutes and then cooling it takes another 10 min.  While that's going on you can make your "sauce" for the pizza and cut up the fruit.   So, this would take maybe 30 minutes tops? 

Easy:  The hardest part of the recipe is rolling out the cookie and making it circular. (I didn't have a 12" pizza pan, so I improvised).   I took my dough and rolled it out on a sheet of parchment.  Then I took a big bowl, flipped it over, and used it as my cookie cutter (just cut around the edge of the bowl with a knife).  You can easily transfer the cookie to a sheet pan by picking up the parchment and placing it onto the pan.  

Fresh:  The freshness of this recipe would depend on the fruit you use.  I would make this again during the summer with fresh berries. 

Overall:  I like the concept of the cookie pizza.  The cookie part of it is good (because my dough isn't super sweet.  It's more of a butter cookie).  The "sauce" is way too sweet with the marshmallow fluff.  I would have rather just added some sugar and vanilla to the cream cheese and used that.   I can see this whole dessert being way too sweet with a pre-made cookie dough.   I like the dulce de leche, but it would be better with a less sweet "sauce".  I would make this again, but with a little tweak here and there.

Tomorrow is tip day (a.k.a. free day), but I will not be posting any tips.  (Instead, I posted those cheesecake recipes today).  After I attend a meeting at school in the morning, I am playing Ferris Bueller's Day Off in the city with my friend Nicole.  See you Tuesday!

Friday, January 15, 2010

January 15th - Calamari Fritti with Creamy Ponzu Dipping Sauce



I'm Not a Cake Decorator

This morning, I ran into someone I haven't seen in years.  (Five to be exact).  So we chatted the usual small talk. "Where you living?  What are you doing?  How's everyone?"  I told her that I went to culinary school, graduated, and became a pastry chef.  Her response: "So do you do those cakes like on food network?"  I gritted my teeth and told her NO.  It's funny because I don't like telling people I'm a pastry chef for that very reason.

I just want to take this opportunity to state that a pastry chef and cake decorator are two different things.  Pastry chefs make desserts like pie, tarts, puff pastry, cookies, creme brulee, and sometimes cake.  Cake decorators make wedding cakes and usually that's all they do.  Yes, every once in a while a pastry chef will make a wedding cake, but they have many more responsibilites than just that.

Now don't get me wrong.  This isn't a snobbery thing.  This isn't a cake decorators vs. pastry chefs things.  I think cake decoratoring is a highly skilled art that takes a creative eye, patience, and a lot of training.  I just want to stress the difference between the two titles.  Personally, I don't like making cakes.  I think its a bit boring (and tedious).   That's just me.  I'd rather make some other kind of dessert like a tart or charlotte.  

And getting back to the food network cake competitions...have you watched them recently?  People, they aren't even cake anymore! They're using Rice Krispie treats and covering them with fondant.  Hell it could be Play-Doh for all we know.  Yes, they're pretty, but they are not edible.   (I'm sure you've been to a wedding where they had a awesome looking cake, but it's tasted like poop...or a restaurant that had a beautiful presentation on their dessert, but it tasted like burnt tootsie rolls?)  I wish we (the culinary community) could focus more on flavor and not asthetics.  (Yeah, you eat with your eyes..yada yada yada.)  Lately, it's been hard to find a good tasting (different) dessert.

Okay.   I'm done ranting. 

THE RECIPE

I took a drive to my local Asian grocery store to look for Ponzu.  Really, if you don't have Ponzu, you could do a substitution of low sodium soy sauce with a little lemon juice in it.  (It's close and works in a pinch, but isn't really the same).  I suggest going and buying the Ponzu.  And, don't worry about it sitting in your fridge for the next five years.  You can use it in place of soy sauce in a lot of recipes.   Ponzu is becoming more popular now and you may even be able to find it in the Asian section of your bigger grocery stores. 

Ingredients:

Mayo (Had)
Ponzu $3.29
Cilantro $0.60
Ginger $0.32
Lime juice (Had)
Cayenne Pepper (Had)
Calamari $3.99
Flour (Had)

Total: $8.20

I really like calamari.  It's one of my favorite seafood choices.  However, it's really easy to screw up... so here are some tips I've learned over the years working in the industry.

1.  Soak the calamari in milk with a little salt and white pepper.  The milk not only helps to take the "fishiness" out of the calamari, but it helps tenderize it as well (because of the lactic acid).  The salt and white pepper helps to season the squid.

2.  Instead of coating the calamari in just all purpose flour, mix in a little corn flour as well.  (Corn flour and corn meal are not the same thing).   Not only does the corn flour add a different flavor, but it gives it more color as well.

3.  After you are done frying your calamari, immediately sprinkle some grated parmesan cheese over it and toss.  The parmesan will melt because of the retained hot oil in the squid and add more flavor and dimension to your calamari.

Results:

Fast:  The dipping sauce took me 5 minutes (the chopping of the cilantro and grating of the ginger was most of that time).  The calamari prep and frying took about 10 minutes total.  It could take you longer if you have to do a lot of small batches.   So you're looking at 15 -25 minutes total.

Easy:  Somewhat.  I don't like frying food in the house (I hate that smell it gives off) and clean up is a pain.  Otherwise, the dip part is a matter of just mixing ingredients in a bowl.

Fresh:  Yes.  This dipping sauce is a different spin on the classicfried calamari.  The ponzu and cilantro add the fresh element to the recipe.

Overall:  This recipe is so-so.  I would let the dipping sauce sit in the fridge for a little while to let the flavors meld a little more.  Definitely toss the just fried calamari in the parmesan cheese (and some finely chopped cilantro).  I didn't and regret it.   If you're in the mood to stink up your house with the smell of frying oil, definitely give this recipe a try.  It's actually not that bad.

Tommorrow is dessert day!  I may have a bonus for you??  NO, it's not a wedding cake!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

January 14th - Hungarian Style Beef with Bell Peppers and Caraway



Memories, or How I Got Obsessed with Food

So after getting up at 7:00 a.m. to make the recipe for today, I headed back to school to finish baking my bobka's (which were in the fridge over night proofing).   As I started kneading the dough, the smell of the lemon-yeasty bread totally reminded me of my grandmother's kitchen growing up.  It got me thinking about my obsession with food and how that developed. 

Growing up, both my parent's worked.  My dad worked during the day and my mom at night.  There was a gap of about 2 hours in which neither parent was home.  Luckily, my babcia (Polish for grandmother)  lived (well, still lives, she's not dead) about 5 houses down from us (we've moved away since then).  So, I would spend my afternoons at my babcia's watching her cook in her basement kitchen.   It was strange because between the ages of 5 and 10 I thought everyone had two kitchens in their house (one on the main floor and one in the basement).  

During holidays, I would "help" her cook.  (Really I was just stirring stuff and keeping her company).   My babcia always encouraged me to ask questions.  She took the time to explain what she was doing, why she did the things she did, and what all the ingredients were.  I especially liked when she baked because that meant using the big Kitchen Aid Mixer (I got turn the handle to make the bowl go up and down).  It was always an adventure and an opportunity to learn something new.

I credit her (and my mother) for making me the adventurous eater that I am.  I grew up eating blood sausages, head cheese, tripe, and all sorts of wierd things.  Of course, I didn't know any different.  Food was food (and that's why we had to shop for husky pants).

So I really have to thank my babcia for making me the chef I am today.  I suppose had I not spent all that time with her and had she not been so patient, I could have ended up a football player or a dentist.  (Probably not).

The Recipe


Ingredients:

Sirloin Tip Steak - $4.76
Sweet Paprika - $2.99
Olive Oil - (Had)
Garlic - (Had)
Caraway Seeds - (Had)
Bell Peppers -$3.75
Beef Broth - (Had)
Tomato Paste - $0.65
Balsamic Vinegar - (Had)

Total = $12.15

Again, I had to substitute a sirloin tip steak for a rib eye roast.  The price difference was way too much and I couldn't justify spending a lot on a piece of meat for a quick recipe I wasn't too sure about.  (I'm really glad I went for the cheaper meat.)

The Results

Fast:  It was pretty quick.  It took maybe 20 minutes all together.

Easy:  It was basically just slicing up stuff and sauteing it in the pan.  So, yes, very easy.

Fresh:  Not so much.  The tomato paste made the recipe taste too heavy and cloying (for lack of better words).   The only "freshness" in the recipe were the peppers.

Overall:  I did not like the recipe.  It lacked dimension and flavor.  If I would try this recipe again, I would  add onions and red wine to it.  Also, I'd skip the tomato paste and make a fresh tomato puree and add some thyme.  The caraway seeds in this recipe got old fast.  I would probably only add half the amount or just sprinkle toasted seeds at the end as garnish. 

Sorry Bon Appetit.  This one needs to go back to the drawing board...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

January 13 - Three Cheese Garlic Bread



Jestem nauczycielem

So I just got home (4:30 p.m.).  I've been at school since 9 a.m. testing out my Polish cake and cookie recipes for the dinner next Saturday.   At school we have a Fine Dining Series that is open to the public.  It's $40, five courses, and BYOB.   Every month is a different theme and next month is...you guessed it...Polish cuisine.  And it's perfect, since I Polish.  Only problem is, I don't cook Polish....ever!  So, I went in today to try out some cake recipes I found on the internet.   (Yeh, I forgot my camera.  I'll bring it with me next weekend). 

In Novemeber, I went up to Wisconsin to visit my parents and my mom gave me the recipes/showed me how to make a majority of the food that will be on the menu.   Only problem is we never got to the desserts.  I did get one cookie recipe from her, but I'm flying blind on the rest.  So to satisfy my need to always be prepared, I went in today and did a test run on the pastries.   And...it wasn't too shabby!  I'm pretty proud of myself.  (Pat..Pat)  Although I realized that 90% of the pastry doughs have sour cream in them.  Who would have thunk it?

Here's the menu (just in case you were wondering):

Institute of Culinary Arts
Kuchnia Polska (Polish Cuisine) - Fine Dining Series
Saturday, January 23, 2010

APPETIZER
Babcia’s Pierogi Kartofel (Grandma’s Potato Pierogi)
Grandma’s traditional Polish dumplings stuffed with a potato onion mixture, boiled and then lightly fried. Served with sour cream on the side.

SOUP
Zupa Grzybowa z Uszkami (Wild Mushroom Soup with Pillows)
A typical Christmas Eve dish, this soup consists of tiny mushroom filled pillows floating in a delicate wild mushroom broth

SALAD
Salatka Buraczki Marynowane z Mizeria (Pickled Beet and Cucumber Salad)
A composed salad of pickled beets, mixed greens, and cucumbers tossed in a dill sour cream.

ENTREE
Bigos (Polish Hunter’s Stew)
The national dish of Poland, a savory braised stew of cabbage, meat, fruit, and vegetables served with dill potatoes

DESSERT
Ciastko (Assorted Cookies and Cake)
Kolaczki (jam pastry), Placek (Polish bobka), Rogaliki (almond cookies), Makowiec (poppy seed roll), & Chrusciki (fried bowtie cookies)

Okay as well as not cooking Polish, I do not speak Polish, so I'm sure that there are a lot of spelling mistakes in there.  And yes, I was lazy and didn't put all the squiggles in.  I know...BAD POLISH BOY, BAD POLISH BOY! 

So, thankfully the recipe today was easy and quick because I'm tired of baking/cooking today.  I just want to veg out in front of the T.V. with a bottle of wine.

The Recipe



 Ingredients:

Mayo: (Had)
Butter: (Had)
Garlic:  (Had)
Feta Cheese: $1.86
Parmesan Cheese: $2.45
Monterey Jack: $1.99
Green Onions: $0.67
Bread: $1.89

Total: $8.86

To kind of repeat what I said yesterday, you should really check out what your local grocery store has in their deli case.  I ended up getting the Feta cheese there instead of buying it pre-packaged and saved myself $3.  And, in my opinion, it tastes much better.

I also wanted to show you how to cream garlic.  Its a technique I learned in culinary school and show my students all the time.  It's great for those times when you don't want chunks of garlic in things (like garlic bread).


First, begin by rough chopping up your garlic (make sure you peel it first).  Then take some salt and sprinkle it over your garlic pieces.  Finally, using the side of the blade mush the garlic into your cutting board.


The salt helps to break down the garlic into a paste.  Notice how I have my left hand (My right hand is not in the picture.  It is holding the handle of the knife).  It is providing firm pressure on the knife to help mush the garlic.  Then I smear the garlic on the board by bringing the knife towards me.  Be sure to keep your fingers away from the blade edge! Keep doing this until it makes a paste! 

In the future, I'll try recording videos of different techniques.  That might be easier then me trying to describe it to you.

So once you cream your garlic, you basically take all the ingredients (except for the bread) and mix it into a paste.  Top it onto the bread and bake for 12 minutes.

The Results

Fast:  Took maybe 18 minutes total (including baking time).  I shredded the cheese myself so that took a couple of minutes.  I don't care too much for pre-shredded cheese.  To me it seems a lot drier than freshly grated/shredded cheese and doesn't melt as well.

Easy:  If you choose to cream the garlic, that may make this recipe a little difficult (especially, if you've never done it before).  Otherwise this is a snap.

Fresh:  Yes...surprisingly.  I didn't think cheesy garlic bread could taste fresh.  However, the combination of the feta cheese and green onion really takes this recipe from drab to fab!  You like that?  Drab to fab?  Can you tell I watch way too many home decorating shows?

Overall:  I like this recipe.  I would use it as an appetizer.  Cut the bread into smaller pieces and crumble a little cooked bacon on top (after it comes out of the oven) and presto...you're ready for cocktails!

Speaking of which...I'm ready for my wine.

Tomorrow = Hungarian Goulash!