Sunday, February 28, 2010

February 27 & 28 - Chai Spiced Almond Cookies


So the French dinner has now come and gone.  YIPPEE!!  That means I am free to lounge around and...I look for other opportunites to supplement my income. 

The dinner went really well.  The dishes didn't look quite like what I had planned, but they were good nonetheless.   I brought my camera with me, but got so busy in the hubbub that I didn't take any pictures.   I know that some of the students did take some pics, so I will post them once I can round them up. 


Butter: $1.89
Powdered Sugar: Had
Vanilla extract: Had
Almond Extract: Had
Allspice: Had
Cardamom: Had
Cinnamon: Had
Salt: Had
Flour: Had
Almonds: Had

Total: $1.89

Okay, the first thing I noticed about this recipe is that there is no egg or baking soda or baking powder.  No leavening agent what-so-ever.  So, what we're dealing with here is a basic shortbread cookie of some sort.  I'm thinking these will go good with a mug of hot tea. 

Also, 25 minutes of baking is way too long for these!  I hate burnt cookies (or even slightly burnt).  Yuck.  You'll only need about 15 minutes (maybe 18) in total.

The Results:

Fast:  Anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes depending on whether or not your butter is softened.

Easy:  Really really easy.  Cookies in general are not hard, but these are just dump and mix.

Fresh:  I'll give it a yes...although I was on the border here.  I like the idea of chai cookie because of the spices, but the texture is a little off-putting.  A little too dry to eat by itself.

Overall:  These cookies are good.  If you're going to serve them with tea, skip the coating in powdered sugar.   Make sure you use a neutral flavored tea too because these cookies pack a chai punch. 

MAD SCIENTIST TIME:  I only baked 8 cookies in order to take the picture you see above.  I wanted to see what would happen if I mixed an egg into the rest of the cookie dough batter.    The cookies turned out a lot softer, but they lost a lot of the chai flavor.  So, I guess, leave the egg out. 

Alright.  I'm taking a much needed day off tomorrow to recollect my no post.  But I'll be back on Tuesday with a red meat recipe!!

Friday, February 26, 2010

February 26th - Pamplemousse Cocktail


I don't think that there is anything more embarassing than being a chef instructor and cutting yourself in front of your students.  It's mortifying.  I've done that only once...thank god...along time ago.  I was chopping up some onion and tried to talk to a student at the same time and...OUCH!   Now the lesson goes from 'how to chop an onion' to 'how to stop the bleeding'.  Embarassing!

Today, I was prepping for the French dinner (which is tomorrow) and had 6 students helping me.  I decided, in my attempt to make things easier for the students, that I would move the meat slicer to a more conveinent location.  No, no....I didn't cut myself on the blade.  Instead, I cut myself on the underside of the meat slicer as I was moving it.  Apparently there is a broken piece of metal underneath it which acts like a razor blade.   SLICE!  It got me pretty good.  So, I tried to slyly (and without drawing attention) go to the paper towel to stop the bleeding.  Of course, a student sees what's going on and at the top of their voice yells.  "DID YOU CUT YOURSELF?"

And of course, all of the students stop what they're doing to see who's the idiot who cut themselves.  It was me!  Without thinking, I say.  "Yeah, on the meat slicer."   On cue, they all make the "wince in pain" facial gesture.  No, no...I reassure them...It wasn't on the blade, it was on the underside as I was moving it.  Then I get the obvious question "why were you moving the meat slicer" (that weighs at least 20 lbs)?    "To make it easier for you to use".  And I swear I saw them all shake their heads in the "what a moron" head gesture.  And of course, for the rest of our time in the kitchen, I get the snicker and the "how's your finger?" from the students.  Last time I try to do anything nice for them!!


Pomegranate Juice: $3.99
Honey:  $3.29
Vodka:  Had (of course)
Grapefruit Juice: $3.49
Lime juice: Had
Mint: $2.99

Total: $13.76

Pamplemousse is the French term for grapefruit.   I didn't use fresh grapefruits and instead opted for the bottled juice (cause I'm lazy).  Also, I just happened to have some left over Absolut Ruby Red from my grapefruit and vodka phase that I went through last month, so this worked perfectly.


Fast:  Unfortunately you have to make a syrup from teh pomegranate juice, water, sugar, and honey.  So, you're not going to be able to make a cocktail until it cools.  :(  So, you're looking at a good 20 minutes to a half hour before cocktail time.

Easy:  You don't even need to bust out the shaker!  It's put it in a pitcher and stir.   How easy is that?


Overall: LOVE IT!  My favorite recipe so far this year!  This is a great cocktail you can mix up by the pitcher full!  It's got a great balance of sweet (from the syrup you make) and sour (from the grapefruit juice).  Just the thing I need to nurse my war wound from today! 

Highly recommend this cocktail!!!  Try it out!

Tomorrow I won't be around, but luckily I have Saturday and Sunday to make the dessert.  So, check back on Sunday to see my blog entry for the weekend!   Also, I will take pictures of the French dinner and get them uploaded.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

February 25th - Chicken Breast with Prosciutto and Sage


A colleague and I were having a conversation today about what we'd love our ideal job to be.   It came about because we were discussing the fact that I still don't have a real-full time job...just two part-time jobs (which unfortunately DO NOT make a full-time job!)  I thought at this point in my life, I would have already "grown up" and  decided.  But, after pondering this question, I've realized that I'm still no closer to solving this childhood dilema.

It got me thinking about the days of long ago (or not really so long ago) when I was a banker.  The money I made was really good, although I wasn't quite happy or challenged in my job.  Would I go back, just for the money?  On the one hand, it would be nice for a change not having to worry about how I'm going to scrounge up the money for the mortgage.  But on the other hand, do I sacrifice the love for what I do?   I gave up money to persue a passion, now do I have to give up the passion to persue money?

My days of working 60 hours a week in a kitchen to make someone else rich are over.  I don't think I'd ever go back to late nights, weekends, and holidays.  It's fine for some, but not me.  I don't want to be yelled at by some executive chef who thinks I'm not talented because I haven't spent 20 years in the industry.   I don't want to get paid $12 an hour to make a wedding cake that's going to  make someone else $600-700.

Then I think,  I should open my own business.  I could spend 60 hours a week working for me.  I could charge people a lot of money for cakes or desserts or meals.  However, that would mean I would have to take a financial risk that not only affects me, but Brian as well.  Can I put someone else through that just to make myself happy?

The Facts Are These:  I have put myself into a field I love working in.  I would never want to deal with anything that's not food related.  I'm really glad I went to culinary school and have had the experience to be a chef and pastry chef.   Now, I just need to find my realistic dream job within this field (oxymoron?).

I've decided my ultimate dream job would be a buyer for Williams-Sonoma.  How awesome would that be?  Still culinary related, but I'd get to travel, and pick out some cool stuff for W-S to sell, and keep the store ahead of the trends.  (Sorry W-S, you're just now getting into the donut craze?)  Notice, though, that realistic and ultimate are two seperate things.  

Ugh...ramble ramble ramble.  This is an issue that isn't going to get resolved tonight. Let's get to the food. 

Chicken: $4.50
Oil: Had
Onion: Had
 Carrot: Had
Celery: Had
White wine:  $5.00
Prosciutto: $1.57
Sage: $2.49

Total:  $13.56

The Results:

Fast:  It took about 20 minutes total from prep to cooking the dish (a little longer than I thought it would after reading the recipe).

Easy:  Your basic saute and simmer.  The chopping is the hardest part.

Fresh:  Yes.  Definitely fresh.  The combination of the veggies, the sage, wine, and prosciutto work well together to make interesting flavors.

Overall:  I did think that this recipe was missing something.  I've learned throughout my cooking experience that usually when you taste a dish and it's "missing something", it's usually an acid (such as lemon juice or apple cider vinegar).   Since the wine was already acidic enough, I added a  tablespoon of dijon mustard to the sauce.  It totally pepped up the recipe. 

I'm excited to report that tomorrow is cocktail time!!!  It actually sounds very tasty.  I will definitely need it after my full day of prepping for the French dinner with a boat load of students.   Calgon, take me away!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

February 24th - Spiced Carrot Salad

The Most Awful Ride Home

Really, I'm going to have to make today's posting short. Sorry.  I just got home (its 10:30 p.m.) from  teaching and had the worst time in traffic.  I'm still  a little shaken, up.  Wouldn't you know it, it's snowing again here in Chicago?   Go figure.  But this time, there were NO plows out on the road, so driving was terrible (that's an understatement).  Plus, you've got those knuckle heads who think just because they have an SVU, they can go normal speed (if not faster) right past you.  There's at least 2 to 3 inches of snow on the road, you can't be driving like that, it's reckless!  I almost skidded off the road at least 4 times.  It was one of those, oh shoot (PG here)  moments when you can feel the car skid out from under you and you just start going off diagonally.  Luckily, I had the sense to take my foot of the gas and compensate with steering.  It was awful.  I don't know how I didn't hit another car.   Plus I'm teaching at our western-most campus (which is about 45 minutes away from my house) so it was going to be a long car ride anyway.  Then, tack on the extra 30 minutes because of the snow.

I'm plum-tuckered.  So forgive the brash, let's-get-straight-to-the-point attitude. 


Garlic: $.39
Cilantro: $.79
Olive Oil: Had
Lemons: $.79
Ginger: $.99
Cumin: Had
Carrots: $1.25

Total: $4.21


Fast:  Will probably take you 15 minutes tops.  Peeling the carrots and cooking them takes the most time.

Easy:  The hardest part will be using the food processor.

Fresh:  Yes.  Although, don't over cook the carrots otherwise, you'll lose the freshness and end up with a blah salad. 

Overall:  This salad is pretty good.  It will give you stinky breath though because of the garlic and spices.   Also, it's not the prettiest looking salad.  (All the pictures of it turned out quite blah no matter what kind of light I used).   

Okay,  I'm so exhausted.  Time for sleep... Pleasant dreams!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February 23rd - Baked Halibut with Orzo, Spinach, and Cherry Tomatoes


So, I finally got those pictures from the chef's auction last Thursday.  You're welcome!  The pictures aren't the best, but it'll give you some idea of what the desserts looked like.

The Hit of the Night:
Spicy Peanut Butter Mousse Truffles with Potato Chip

Lemon mousse profiterole with lavender glaze

Coffee Mousse French Macaroons


Olive Oil: Had
Lemons: $0.60
Fish: $6.24
Orzo: $1.49
Garlic: Had
Spinach: $0.33
Cherry Tomatoes: $2.69

Total:  $11.35

Once again, I substituted talapia for the halibut because halibut was way too expensive.  This looked like such a bland recipe, so I figured a cheaper fish would be okay.


Fast:  Not too bad. Twenty minutes, tops.  While the fish is going, you can do the orzo.  Then, it's just throw everything together.

Easy:  Super easy!  It's broiling fish and boiling pasta. 

Fresh:  Yes.  I got some really good cherry tomatoes so that made all the difference.  The fresh spinach had a nice flavor as well.

Overall:  This recipe was good and the flavors simple, but I would have liked a little more zip.  The recipe suggests adding Kalamata olives and pine nuts.  I'd try that next time.  Maybe some crushed red pepper flakes to add a little heat.?  I think bufala mozzarela would be good too (or even a nice ricotta cheese) to give the orzo a little creaminess.  This is definitely a recipe that can serve as a good jumping off point for creativity. 

How's your eyesight?  Tomorrow is carrot salad day!

Monday, February 22, 2010

February 22nd - Tip Day

The French Dinner Menu

Viva La France! (French Cuisine)
Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pâté de Campagne
Cornichons / Grainy Mustard / Baguette Croutons

Whitefish Soup
Roasted Cauliflower Flan / Chive / Chervil / Garlic Frites

Poached Egg / Bacon Lardons / Black Pepper Tuile

Plat Principal
Braised Short Ribs
Celeriac Puree / Beet Chips / Carrot Powder / Sauce Bourgogne

Lemon Mousse / Candied Fennel / Lavender Crème Anglaise

I have an amuse bouche that starts this whole thing out: a roasted pear tart topped with roquefort cheese and onion marmalade, a palate cleansing course of sparkling berry water, and I'm ending things after the dessert with some chocolate truffles (they're a bit crazy flavored).  These three "courses" aren't printed on the menu because they're to be a surprise for the guests.

So, as you can see, a lot of work to get done!   Plus, I start a whole new quarter of school.  I'm teaching an International cuisine class (how appropriate).

There are some interesting Bon Appetit recipes this week, so I'm looking forward to the them..I hope you are too!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

February 20 & 21 - Caramelized Walnut Tart

The Queen Herself...

Being the food nerd I am, I rented Julia Child's PBS cooking series "The French Chef" on DVD from my school's library on Friday and have been watching it all weekend.  Ever since I read her autobiography "My Life In France", I have developed a fascination with that woman.  I can't get enough Julia Child.  She is just so amazing to me.   I really admire her spirit and passion for food.  I need to be a little more "Julia" in my mindset:  Having fun with food, enjoying the simple things in life, and not sweating the small stuff!

What's suprising to me is that there are a lot of chefs out there that absolutely hate Julia Child.  I don't understand why.  Someone once told me that Julia Child's recipes are not REAL French recipes.  She lived in France for years, how can they not be real French recipes?  Apparently this person was a real master of French recipes without even stepping foot in the country...hmmm...go figure.

Anyway the DVD's are quite enjoyable.  You can tell she's a little nervous in the first episode "Boeuf Bourguignon".  But you can see she's totally having fun and wants you to so badly try and make this recipe.  BTW, you've got to try her chocolate mousse recipe.  It's to die for.

If anyone is bored, I highly recommend picking up a copy of "My Life in France".  It's a fun, pretty quick read, that will make you fall in love with Julia.  And for those of you wanting to improve your cooking skills, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume 1" is a great book to do just that! 

The Recipe


Crust:  Made my own (See Note)
Whipping Cream:  $1.89
Brown sugar: had
Dark Corn Syrup: had
Vanilla Extract:  had
Cinnamon:  had
Walnuts: 3.99

Total: 5.88

Note: The recipe calls for a refrigerated pie crust, which totally works if you want to make this recipe very quickly.  My own person opinion, however, is that if you're going to make a tart, you should use a tart dough (a.k.a. pate sucree).  Otherwise, you're just making a caramelized walnut pie.  You can find a lot of different pate sucree recipes out there on the internet.  (My dough is simply just butter, powdered sugar, eggs, vanilla, almond extract and flour.) A lot of them are just variations of  sugar cookie recipes, which work great!  If you're going to do a pate sucree, then you really need to make sure the dough is frozen really well.  If it isn't, the sides will melt down and collapse and you'll get a hot mess in the oven. 

If you're not a walnut fan (like Brian), you're not going to like this recipe.  The filling (minus the walnuts) is really good and can be used for any kind of nut.  I'm going to try and make this again, but use almonds.  I think that might be tasty.  Pecans would be good too, but it would be too close to a pecan pie tart for me, I'd rather just make a pecan pie.  Cashews would be totally different (if not a little pricey) option. 


Fast:  If you make your own pate sucree, this recipe could take you a while.  If using a pre-made pie crust, this recipe should only take you about 45 minutes from start to finish.

Easy:  Really easy if you use the pie crust.  The hardest part will be putting the crust in your tart pan.  The filling is super easy.

Fresh:  Fresh take on the recipe?  Maybe.  It's a variation of pecan pie using walnuts, that's somewhat original.  A caramelized walnut-orange tart would be a really fresh take.  Fresh taste?  Not really.  It's pretty sugary-sweet.  The walnuts do give it that earthy nutty taste, but that flavor isn't crisp and clean.

Overall:  This is a good recipe.  If you love walnuts, you'll love this tart.  I would serve this slightly warm with a nice healthy scoop of vanilla ice cream.   Make sure you check on your tart after 20 minutes of baking.  I ended up having to pull it out of the oven early because it was on the verge of getting too done!  Also, make sure you spray your tart pan with some sort of cooking spray before putting your dough in and try and remove the tart from the pan while it's still somewhat warm.  If you don't do these two things, you may have trouble unmolding the tart when it is completely cool.  (Just a head's up!)

Tomorrow begins the insane week of prep for the French dinner.  Since tomorrow is a no cook day, I will post the menu for y'all to see. 

Friday, February 19, 2010

February 19th - Garlic and Anchovy Dip with Vegetables

All for Naught and Naught for All

Y'all were right.  The worrying about the mini desserts for last night's fund raiser was unnecessary.  And wouldn't you know it, the spicy peanut butter truffle with potato chip was the hit of the night.  Word spread fast and we ran out of them at 8:00 (event went until 9)!  I made about 175 of them.   The folks there did like the other two desserts as well, but the potato chip and spicy peanut butter shocked them.  Which was good because I like making people leave their comfort zone to try new foods and flavors.

Also want to give a shout out to my partner in crime for the event, Jon, and the students Cassi, Pat, Matt, and Rachael.  They all did such an outstanding job bringing my dessert visions to life.  Thank god they remember to bring cameras because my nervous nelly butt forgot!  So pictures will be coming as soon as someone e-mails them to me.

We ended up getting $600 for our school's auction package which was 8 tickets to our fine dining series.  Not bad.  Although later on in the auction, some chefs started adding cases of wine and boosting up their number of participants to increase bids.  One package went for $1700.  Had I known, I would have thrown in a free cooking class in there.  Oh well...$600 for the American Cancer Society is better than $0. 

So next week Saturday is the last of my fine dining series for this school year.   The French Dinner will be tres magnifique!  Yes, I will make sure to bring my camera with me for this one!  It's 8 courses of sheer French mayhem.  I've got to start prepping for it on Monday cause we've got 72 people and a ton of components to make.  (I'll post the menu on Monday.)


Okay, the first thought that went through my head when I read the title of this recipe was "oh my god, I'm going to have stinky breath".    My second thought, "this is going to be horrible". 

Apparently this is based off of an Italian dish called bagna cauda, which I never heard of.   So I was quite intrigued by it.  Traditionally it served with vegetables in a big communal pot in the center of the table.  Cream is often times added to the oil, butter, garlic, and anchovies.   That sounds like a stomach ache!

Weird and random fact:  According to wikipedia (the end all and be all of truth on the Internet) "bagna cauda is especially popular in the central Illinois region, south of Joliet, and can be found served in local restaurants and bars. Rather than cream, milk is used, often with a blend of mushroom soup".   Well, who would have thunk it?


Olive Oil:  Had
Garlic: Had
Butter: Had
Anchovies: $1.85
Veggies for dipping: $5.99

Total: $7.84

I actually don't mind anchovies.  I know a lot of people hate them.  But, with the garlic in it, the fishy flavor gets mellowed out.  If you're not an anchovy fan, then I say skip this recipe, I won't try and convert you.  For the more adventurous among the group, try this recipe!

Fast:  About 6 to 10 minutes in total.  Cutting up the vegetables to dip in the sauce is the hardest part.

Easy:  Very, very, very simple

Fresh:  Okay.  Let me re-iterate that when I think of "Fresh", I think of garden fresh vegetables, flavorful fresh herbs, and overall bright crisp flavors.  Oil, cheese, butter, and meat are not fresh on their own.   So this dip, I don't consider fresh.  The vegetables you dip in the bagna cauda would be fresh, but that's not what I'm judging.  So, Bon Appetit and Nikki on this one.  I throw down my empty anchovy tin somewhere in your general direction. 

Overall:  This was different and surprisingly quite good.  Probably not the most healthy thing to eat, but I would serve it at a party.  Sometimes its the simple recipes that are the best.  I think I'm a banga cauda fan now! 

Alright kids, dessert tomorrow.  Time to break out the tart pans!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thursday February 18th - Cajun Meatloaf

Fair Warning...
Really nervous about today.  A while back the Associate Dean of the culinary school asked me if I would participate in a local chef's auction (representing the school) to raise money for the American Cancer Society (it's tonight).  So I of course dragged my friend Jon into it (he also works at the school) and we spent a good portion of yesterday with a student, getting some of the stuff ready.  I have this impending doom feeling though that I can't shake.....

I decided we should do a trio of little mini (bite sized) desserts.  (I had helped with this event last year and saw that none of the booths really had desserts).  They're really simple, but I think they'll be good.  It's a mousse theme:

Cream puff filled with lemon mousse and lavender glaze
Spicy peanut butter mousse truffle with potato chip topping
Coffee mousse French macaroons

Now I'm thinking that they (the desserts) are almost too simple.  People will be expecting really fancy desserts from a culinary school.  However, I had to thing logistics on this one because its an off campus event (and I knew that I wouldn't get a ton of student volunteers).  But I remember last year some booths had things like tacos and egg rolls.  So will they be expecting fancy?   I don't know where the self doubts are coming from.  I think it's just nerves.  AHHHH!! 

I'll bring my camera with me and take some pictures.  Wish me luck!


Butter: Had
Onions: $.89
Bell Pepper $.99
Cayenne: Had
Cumin: Had
Ground Beef:  $4.78
Egg: Had
Breadcrumbs: Had
Ketchup: $2.99

Total $9.65

I found one of the greatest pans in the world at Williams-Sonoma.  It's a meatloaf pan and I love it.  It looks like a bread pan, but has a little insert with holes in it that keeps the meatloaf from sitting in its own grease.  It works great.  I believe it's non-stick too, so it makes clean up a breeze.  When I first bought it, I was skeptical, but now I can't go back.  I use it every time I make meatloaf.  Plus, you can take the insert out and use it as a loaf pan.   Highly recommend it.

The Results

Fast:  Not really.  This recipe will take little over an hour.  Closer to an hour and a half from start to finish.

Easy: Yes.  Chop, saute, mix meat, shape, bake. 

Fresh:  No on this one.  It's meat loaf.  Unfortunately a little bland as well.

Overall:  I LOVE meatloaf (the food, not the singer).  It is one of my favorite things to make.  Meatloaf sandwiches are the best!  (It definitely has to do with my childhood).  I'm somewhat of a meatloaf snob.  I love a good, flavorful meatloaf.   When this recipe came up today, I knew the moment I read it that it would be blah.  I'm pretty disappointed that because the recipe uses cayenne and cumin the author immediately classifies it as "cajun"?  I don't think so.   If you're going to call it cajun, then add things like onion powder, garlic powder, thyme, chili powder, and basil.  Two spices and a bell pepper don't make something cajun.
This recipe is in desperate need of a boost in flavor.  

So I say go ahead and try the recipe, but don't be afraid of adding your own spices to the mix.  

I'll give you all the details on the chef's auction tomorrow!! 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

February 17th - Roasted Radicchio with Balsamic Vinegar

The Easter Bunny's Coming....
It's Lent people!  That means soon it will be time to bite some heads off of chocolate rabbits!  I can't wait.  In the meantime, my catholic upbringing says it's time to give something up.  Well, being the rebel I am, I am refusing to "give up" anything for Lent.  Instead, I'm going to "add on" to my life.

Last year I gave up alcohol for lent which ended up in a very drunken Easter night.  I can barely recollect anything after my second gin martini.  (Thank god for my friend Lauren).  This year, I've decided that I'm going to "add on" at least 30 minutes of exercising every day (this includes pilates/yoga).  It's going to be a struggle for me, I know...but I can do it.

Brian thinks I can't.  He's convinced I won't be able to do it.  Umm..who gave up drinking for 40 days last year after you said I wouldn't be able to?  Who ended up getting totally blasted and drunk-dialed your butt while you were in Texas on Easter to tell you that you were wrong?  ME..that's who.  And I'll do it again (but this time I'll be drunk dialing local and not long distance!)

Plus, I have to get into shape for the chocolate rabbits.  Sweet, delicious, melt in your mouth, preferably dark chocolate, and not filled with some gross filling but left hollow, chocolate rabbits.  I'll be seeing you in 40 days mon petit lapin!


Radicchio: $2.79
Balsamic Vinegar: Had
Thyme: $1.29

Total: $4.08

WARNING:  The recommended 20 minutes of roasting is ENTIRELY too much time!  Seriously, you only need 12 - 15 minutes tops.  My radicchio almost when ablaze in the oven.  I had to peel off a lot of the outer leaves because they were Charo-ed ("cuchi-cuchi").  It was a waste.

Fast:  Again, this only should have taken 15 minutes tops. 

Easy:  This recipe has only 4 ingredients and basically has you throw wedges of radicchio in the oven.  My 5 year old nephew could make this (and probably a heck of a lot better than I did).

Fresh:  No.  Not when it's all burned tasting.  However, seeing as it's Ash Wednesday, it's quite appropriate. 

Overall:  Okay, I much would have liked the radicchio grilled.  (I love grilling heads of romaine in the backyard during the summer...YUMMY!)   Even the parts that weren't burnt of my radicchio didn't taste very good.   Maybe if the radicchio "marinated" in oil with more herbs, it would be much better.    This one is a big thumbs down. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Februrary 16th - Baby Eggplant, Olive and Herb Cheese Frittata

I'm Pathetic
Sorry, I'm going to get right to the recipe because Lost is on tonight.  It's the only show I watch on television.  (I've been getting into reading more.  Yes...actual physical books.  I decided I shouldn't be lazy anymore and so I'm weaning myself off books on CD). probably feel jipped, but we've got the whole rest of the week for smart-aleck comments.

The Recipe

Olive Oil: Had
Eggplant:  $0.89
Olives: 2.49
Basil: $1.19
Salt: Had
Boursin Cheese: $5.99

Total: $ 10.56

First off, I couldn't find the baby purple eggplants at my favorite grocery store and I wasn't going to trek it over to the Asian market (because I was feeling lazy), so I used a regular eggplant.

Second off, I thought the Boursin cheese would be hard to find.  It actually wasn't.  I REALLY like it.  The herb and garlic one is SO GOOD.  I've never had it before, but I will definitely be using it again for cheese plates or chesse type appetizers.  Yummy! 


Fast:  Will probably take you about 20 minutes in total (that's with prep and cooking time).  The eggplant makes it putzy because it has to cook for 10 minutes by itself. 

Easy:  You're basically making an omelet that you don't have to touch.  Heck ya it's easy. 

Fresh:  Yes.  The cheese, olives, and basil really pep up the recipe.  The eggplant gets kind of lost in the shuffle.

Overall:  It's okay.  It's not my most favorite frittata and I've definitely had worse.  I'd like to try it with kalamata olives next time.  Also, I'd skip the eggplant and use some nice diced fresh tomatoes. 

Okay...sorry, I'm off to see if Sayid is going to go all postal and what the heck Claire has been up to.  Tomorrow is some roasted radicchio (never thought of roasting it..hmmm..)

Monday, February 15, 2010

February 15th - Tip Day

Welcome To The Funhouse....

Hey swap-boters.  Welcome to my blog project.  Have a look around.  There are some great recipes you should look at (like the February 6th and 7th-Ice Cream with Currants and Marsala & January 28th - Pork Medallions with Chili Maple Sauce).

This project started off with a daily calendar I got for Christmas ("Bon Appetit Fast, Easy, and Fresh").  I didn't know what I was going to do with it (I'm not a calendar person), so my first inclination was to just put it in a box somewhere in the garage.  But, as I started looking at it, I noticed that each day had a different recipe:

Monday = Tip Days, No recipe which means no cooking!
Tuesdays = Main Course
Wednesdays = Side Dish
Thursdays = Main Course
Fridays = Cocktails or Hors d'oeuvres
Saturdays and Sundays = Desserts

So I immediately thought I could do a total rip off of the Julie & Julia thing and cook my way through the entire year and rate the recipes on how Fast, Easy, and Fresh they actually are.  Not only would I be able to try new recipes and hoan my chef skills, but I would actually use the calendar I was given!   Honestly, it's only February and it's been a lot of hard work!

I've been balancing this project with my teaching job at a culinary school and a retail job.  Pepper in all the different activities I've been doing at the school (their fine dining series, symposium projects, research papers, and other catered events) and I've been one busy guy.  But I'm glad I've started this.  This project gives me an opportunity to tell some stories, give cooking tips, and share my chef life with all of you. 

So enjoy.  Oh and happy President's Day (hope you found a good deal on a mattress).  Come back tomorrow for some frittata!

To all my regular blog followers:  As you can tell, I did a little face lift on my blog.  Since spring will be coming soon, I thought it was time to spruce it up with a little greenery (to get into the mood).  Plus, the black was starting to depress me.  And sorry, Carly, I took your picture off my page.  It'll return at some point. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

February 13 & 14 - Chocolate Raspberry Cakes

Happy Valentines Day!

Don't worry, I'm not going to get all preachy about love or take the stance that this "holiday" has been poisoned by the greeting card companies.  Instead, I would like to talk about chocolate cake. Yes, unassuming, delicious chocolate cake.

There are about as many chocolate cake recipes out there as there are Valentine's Cards in your local Hallmark store.  Chocolate pound cake, chocolate fudge cake, chocolate angel food cake, chocolate butter cake, chocolate sponge cake, chocolate layer cake, molten chocolate cakes, flourless chocolate cake, chocolate souffle cakes...and on and on.

I have spent the past two years looking for a good, basic chocolate cake recipe with a great fudge frosting. Sorry chocolate buttercream, you're going to have to sit this one out.  So after experiment upon experiment, I think I've finally decided on a delicious moist cake and a fudgy, rich frosting.

from:  The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

1/2 cup + 3 tbsp (lightly spooned into cup) unsweetened cocoa (Dutch-processed)
1 cup boiling water
3 large eggs
2-1/4 tsp vanilla
2-1/4 cups + 2 tbsp sifted cake flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter (must be softened)
Cooking Instructions
Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl whisk together the cocoa and boiling water until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

In another bowl lightly combine the eggs, 1/4 of the cocoa water mixture, and vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl combine the remaining dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and remaining cocoa mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1-1/2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake’s structure. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans (spray coated with a round of parchment on the bottom) and smooth the surface with a spatula. The  pans will be about 1/2 full. Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center.

Let the cakes cool in the pans on racks for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and invert onto greased wire racks. To prevent splitting, reinvert so that the tops are up and cool completely before wrapping airtight.

from Hershey's Cocoa Cookbook

1 Cup sugar
1/4 Cup a good cocoa powder
1/2 Cup milk
1/4 Cup butter or margarine
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
dash of salt
1 1/2 Cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In medium saucepan, combine sugar and cocoa. Stir in milk, butter, corn syrup and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a full boil. Boil, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Remove from heat; cool to lookwarm. In small mixer bowl, place confectioners' sugar; stir in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Beat until spreading consistency. About two cups frosting.

Tip:  Spend your money on a good cocoa powder.  It's going to make all the difference in the world.  I am not a fan of Hershey's (sorry Hershey''s just too processed).

Enjoy these recipes, they're my valentine's gift to you!



Chocolate:  $3.99
Butter: $1.79
Raspberry Preserves: $3.00
Eggs: Had
Sugar: Had
Vanilla Extract: Had

Total: $ 8.78

Whenever I make a chocolate dessert using either the choice of bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, I always go with the bittersweet option.  It tends to have a touch less sweetness and a "darker" chocolate flavor.  It always seems to make the desserts taste richer than if using semi-sweet.

Fast:  Not fast enough.  According to the recipe, you'll have to wait at least 1 hour from start to finish to get your chocolate fix.  Although, the 30 minute waiting period seems a little overkill.  Just let it sit for 10 minutes and serve it hot. 

Easy:  If you cool the chocolate mixture to lukewarm before adding it to the egg mixture, you'll be fine and this recipe will be a snap.  However, if you're in a rush for chocolate goodness, you could add the melted chocolate into the eggs while it's still hot, but you'll have to add a little at a time while whisking to "temper" the eggs.  (If you dump all the chocolate into the eggs all at once, you'll scramble your eggs). 

Fresh:  Since it's valentines day, spring for the fresh raspberries to put on top!

Overall:  I like this recipe.  It's very good and very easy.  You could play with the different types of preserves to make different flavors (orange, apricot, strawberry).  The raspberry taste is very subtle, that's why I recommend the fresh berries.  Also, I would have taken these cakes out of the oven 3 minutes sooner.  The center wasn't as oozy as I would have liked it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

February 12th - Three Cheese Fondue with Champagne

Cheese Puhleeze

I love cheese!  Whether it's imported or from the U.S., I could eat nothing but cheese for the rest of my life and be fine.  However, cheese does not like me.  I think it has something to do with my being lactose intolerant??  So it was exciting, but sad, to see this recipe today.  I knew that I could only have a bite or two or I'd be paying for it the rest of the day.   

WARNING:   The combination of these three cheeses, for some reason, is very messy.  Make sure you clean your pot right away after finishing.  DO NOT let it sit.  The cheese becomes almost impossible to get off.   


People keep asking me how August: Osage County was.  I have to tell you that it was a long (a little over three hours to be more specific) and somewhat boring play.  Yeah, there are some parts that are good (especially acts two and three), but most of it is a snooze fest.  And the theater is way too big for an intimate show like this.  The most memorable line:  "Eat your fish, bitch".

Cornstarch: Had
Lemons: $0.69
Champagne $10.99
Shallot: $0.79
Gruyere:  $4.29
Emmenthal: $3.49
Camembert: $4.29

Total:  $24.54


Fast:  Should take you anywhere from 15 to 18 minutes tops

Easy:  Grating the cheese was probably the hardest part of this recipe.

Fresh:  The cheese itself isn't very "fresh".  It's going to really depend on what you use to dip in the fondue. 

Overall:  I like the fondue, especially with green apples.  I also tried it with potatoes and left over foccaccia bread, but that was pretty meh.   Really, the apples make this recipe pop.  My chef brain is now trying to think up some kind of cheese soup with apples in it.    Mmm...cheese soup. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

February 11th - Braised Chicken with Green Peppers and Tomatoes

A Letter to My Most Hated Nemesis...

Dear Green Pepper,

Why do you continue to bother me?  What did I do to deserve this continued harrassment?  I'm letting you know that I'm not going to take it anymore.  Once and for all, I'm kicking you out of my life.

I want you to know that I never liked you from the beginning.  When you showed up for the first time at dinner on family pizza night, you scarred me emotionally.  I was just 6 years old and your awful taste turned my stomach.  You then kept coming back to our house every pizza night and ruined that special time for me for the next 10 years.  Occasionally, you would drop in on chicken cacciatore or stir fry nights and stare at me.  I did my best to avoid you, but I could smell your evil stink even after you were gone.  

I thought I finally escaped you when I was 18.  I had the courage to tell my parents what you did to me and thankfully they kept you out of our house.   Yeah, you saw me once in a while at the grocery store.  (Did you see me flip you off?)  You tried to come bother me at restaurants, but I had the waitress escort you out.  Sometimes, I'd see you at friends houses, but I disposed of you quite quickly. 

I was able to avoid you for most of my adult life.  Sure it was startling to see you at my culinary school, but I refused to get involved with you again.  I got in trouble from my chef instructors, but it was worth it.    

Last month, you tried to invite yourself over to take part in my Bon Appetit Project.  I wouldn't let you in the house.  But alas, green pepper, today you have outsmarted me and found your way back into my kitchen with this god awful recipe.  It took a lot for me to let you back into my life.  I thought maybe you had changed.  I WAS WRONG!

I just wanted to let you know that I think you are disgusting.  I don't care that people keep telling me how great you are and how much I'll like you once I get used to you.  I NEVER, EVER WILL!  You are vile and putrid and evil.  This will be the last time we meet.  I'm not that 6 year old child anymore.  I am old enough to make my own choices and my choice is....BUH-BYE.

Have a great life with someone else,



Oil: had
Chicken: $3.49
Onion & Garlic: had
Italian Parsley: $0.69
Bell Peppers:  $1.29
Canned Whole Tomatoes: $1.69
White Wine $5.00

Total: $12.16


Fast:  Not really.  This recipe took close to an hour with prep and total cooking time.

Easy:  Yeah.  Braising is a pretty simple technique.  The hardest part of this recipe was trying not to drink the rest of the bottle of wine. 

Fresh:  Yes, but again, could have been better with some fresh herbs.

Overall:  I thought I would give green peppers another shot with this recipe.  I shouldn't have.  This recipe was terrible.  It was plain and bland and had that awful green pepper taste.  It needed some fresh basil or thyme or some other spices.  I like chicken thighs, but will never make them like this again.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

February 10th - Onion and Poppy Seed Focaccia

No time to chat today.  Brian and I are heading into the city to see August: Osage County.  (We got some cheap seats).  I'm running behind today as it is.  THANKS STUPID SNOW!


Olive Oil: Had
Onions: $1.19
Frozen Bread Dough: $3.99
Parmesan Cheese:  Had
Poppy Seeds:  Had

Total: $5.18

First off... Good luck finding refrigerated French bread dough.  I searched 3 grocery stores and the closest thing I could find in the refridgerated section was Pillsbury crescent rolls.  I decided to change tactics and look in the frozen section.  Sure enough I found some frozen whole wheat bread dough there.  They only had one kind and the ingredients on the back horrified me.  Partially hydrogenated oils, enriched wheat flour, and high fructose corn syrup...oh my!    I should have just made my own bread dough, but I wanted to stay as true to the recipe as possible.  

Second off.. This recipe is crunked up.  After you roll out the dough and put it on the oiled sheet tray, make sure you let the dough rise again before putting it in the oven.  (Traditionally when you make bread, you let the dough rise at least two times).  This recipe does not tell you this.  If you just put the bread in the oven without letting it rise again, you won't get a nice fluffy focaccia.  I know they're trying to make this recipe fast, but don't skip this step.


Fast:  Yes, but it shouldn't be.  Snobby Chef Rule #221:  DO NOT RUSH BREAD!  (The only exception to this rule is during Thanksgiving when you thaw and bake the traditional "brown and serve" rolls.

Easy: Yes...but honestly, you're just putting lipstick on a pig with this one.  If you get an awful bread dough, ain't no amount of onions and poppy seeds going to save it.

Fresh: Yes, but could be fresher with some fresh rosemary, basil, or thyme.

Overall:  This recipe sucks.  I attribute it to the bread dough that I bought.  Maybe if I found the refridgerated French bread dough, it would have been better?  Plus poppy seeds?  Really?  They don't have that much flavor! 

Truely there is nothing better then bread made from scratch.  Yeah, it's a long process, but in the end it is really easy (especially if you have a Kitchen aid mixer with the dough hook attachment).  The best bread book ever is called "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart.   I highly recommend it. 

Check out this and other books at your local library!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

February 9th - Broiled Veal Chops with Mustard Sage Butter

Snow Anyone?
Second day back in Chicago and already having flashbacks of my time in Philadelphia.  Although 10 inches is much more manageable than 28". (tee hee...) 

The Most Entertaining Folk
Why is the library full of so many ...ahem... interesting people?  I could sit there for hours and people-watch.  The mean librarian giving dirty looks to everyone, the unsupervised child who accidently runs full force into the wall, the elderly man with the puzzled look on his face as he reads the back cover to the movie "Superbad", and the gamer guy who I think lives at the library.

Sometimes I can get pretty nosey.  Brian calls me "Mrs. Kravitz" (a character from Bewitched for all you young folk).  I don't know what it is, but people just fascinate me.  Their motivations, their backgrounds, the way they dress and talk.  To me, everyone is just a character sketch away from being on a television show. 

So here I am at the library, yesterday, to pick up stuff that came in over the weekend.  (I really am addicted to the library now.  No...still not reading, but borrowing tons of books on CD.)  I happen to be checking out when I over hear an argument between a library patron and the librarian.  Apparently this lady checked out a DVD (some TV show...I don't know which one) and it was skipping.  She wanted to let the librarian know: 1. that it was skipping and 2. she got it that way.   I don't know what bug got up the librarian's butt, but she starts laying into the woman telling her she shouldn't have tried to clean the DVD because she could have made the problem worse. (Seriously?  I don't think the lady tried cleaning the DVD with broken glass, librarian lady. )  So then the lady is trying to be all patient with the librarian telling her "You know, I didn't have to tell you this.  I could have just returned the DVD and not bring it to your attention."  The response from the librarian "I wish you would have".  HA!...Oh library, you're ever so much fun.



Sage:  Had
Garlic: $0.88
Veal:  $3.49
Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil: Had
Butter: Had
Dijon: Had

Total $4.37

Surprisingly my sage that I bought almost 2 weeks ago, is still fresh.  Go figure.  I also have Rosemary in there that is still good.  It surprises me because either everything in the fridge freezes or goes bad quickly.  Could it have found a happy medium?

As far as the veal goes, I went with a shoulder chop instead of the loin chop.  It was a difference between $3.49 and $10.99.  I love me some baby cow, but not that much.  Plus, veal is pretty tender in general, so you can save yourself some extra $$ by purchasing a cheaper cut.


Fast:  Yes and No.  The prep takes no time at all.  Microwave the butter to soften it instead of waiting for it to come to room temp.  The meat has to sit out for at least 30 minutes to develop some flavor.  (Plus, it's better to grill or broil red meat when it's at room temperature.)  Cooking time took me 12 minutes.  I did a high broiler and did about 6 minutes on each side.  And don't forget to let the meat rest covered in foil to let the juices redistribute (about another 5 minutes).

Easy:  A snap. 

Fresh:  Yes.  The fresh sage definitely adds a great flavor to the meat as well as the dijon butter.  I wouldn't recommend dried sage.  It will have a totally different flavor.

Overall:  I like it.  For a quick way to prepare red meat, it's good.  I could see doing this for steaks on the grill (chicken...not so much) especially in the summer.   Except for the sage, it's pretty much stuff you should have in your house.  You could experiment too with different types of mustard and different types of herbs.

Okay..looks like I'll be stuck in the house today, so I should get some stuff done for school.  (I'll be teaching an International Cuisine class next quarter.  I'm excited.  It's one of my favorites).  Ciao for now.

Monday, February 8, 2010

February 8th - Tip Day

Tip # 88: Nor'easter is not a holiday.

Well I survived my first ever Nor'easter, and let me tell you, 28" of snow sounds more exciting on T.V. then it is in real life.  Brian and I headed out to Philadelphia last Wednesday to go to my friend Sarah & (her husband) Dan's baby shower (which got cancelled due to that considered irony?).  Don't get me wrong, we had lots of fun on Wednesday, Thursday, and most of Friday checking out the city, hanging out with Sarah and Dan, and pigging out on cheesesteaks.  But the fun machine ground to a halt from 9:00 p.m. on Friday until 4:00 p.m. on Saturday when it snowed 28" (I believe that was the final total).  Luckily we packed hats, scarves, and mittens..but no boots (wah wah wah wah...waaah) .  We did venture outside during the blizzard, but Philly was a ghost town.  The entire city was pretty much shut down.  Not even a Starbucks was open.  We ended up hanging out in Macy's for a while before freezing our butts off in the snow.  Eventually we ended up back at the hotel because our feet were soaked and starting to get numb.  So on our final night there, we ended up sitting in the hotel room and watched the movie Precious (seriously, that movie made me want to jump out our 16th story window..totally depressing).

But luckily, we were able to leave on our scheduled flight on no missed work...oh darn.

This was a great dessert we had at a place called Naked Chocolate.  It was a white chocolate and dark chocolate mousse atop a little piece of chocolate cake.  Yummy!!  They had really good hot chocolate as well. 

The black and white picture at the top is from Independence Hall. 

But I'm back in Chicago ready to bust out these recipes. (It's good to be home)  BRING IT Bon Appetite!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February 3rd - 7th The Rest of The Recipes

Here are Wednesday through Sat/Sunday's recipes in order.  Enjoy!

February 3rd - Winter Salad with Hoisin Dressing

Total Cost $4.74


Fast:  Takes about 5 minutes from start to finish. 
Easy:  Open a can, cut some onions, make a dressing, and throw it together.  Really easy!
Fresh:  No.  The hoisin makes the flavor really dark.  Adding a touch of orange juice would brighten up the flavor and make it fresh tasting.

Overall:  I don't like it.  The dressing tastes like your typical Asian dressing you would make for a Chinese Chicken Salad.  Like I stated before, the hoisin makes the flavor too dark and heavy.  It needs to be lightened with some citrus.  And, I'm really never a fan of raw onions in a salad.  Hello stinky breath...

Februray 4th - Shrimp with Fennel, Dill, & Feta

Total Cost:  $20.41  (The most expensive recipe to date)


Fast:  Takes about 20 minutes total.  Not bad.

Easy:  Trying to thinly cut the fennel could be a little difficult.  (Don't worry if they are a little thick, it'll take a bit longer to saute, but they'll be okay.)  People get freaked out when cooking shrimp.  They're scared they'll overcook them.  Don't be's okay.  First, make sure you can devote time to just watching them (I swear if you step away, they'll overcook)  Second, just make sure they only get 1 minute on each side (unless they are really big). 

Fresh:  Yes.  Finally!  A honest to goodness fresh tasting recipe!  It's been a long time coming

Overall:  I like this recipe minus the feta cheese.  I don't know if its the combination of the shrimp and the feta, but it causes a reaction in my mouth that ain't good (I can only explain it as a metallic taste).  Take it out and enjoy a dairy free meal.  Would be great with an orzo salad.

Februrary 5th - Bresaola with Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Horseradish

Total Cost:  $6.41

Bresaola was really hard to find.  I went to an Italian Deli that has tons of deli meats, and they didn't even have it.  I ended up finding it at Trader Joe's.  You can definitely substitute thinly slice prosciutto or even a salami.  Don't kill yourself trying to find it.  Same thing with the fresh horseradish.  Just use bottled.

I don't like raw Brussels hurts my tummy.  So I threw them in boiling water for 3 minutes and then tossed them in ice water for 1.  Dry in on a towel and then cut. 

Fast:  Since the bresaola was already cut, I just had to make the Brussels sprouts salad.  That took maybe 10 minutes tops.  I didn't use a mandoline (which are more of a hazard then a help).  Just cut thin and watch your fingers!!

Easy:  Not bad.  Blanching and shocking the Brussels Sprouts (if you choose to do so) will be the hardest part.  Throwing it together is pretty easy.

Fresh:  It's good.  Not as fresh as the fennel with shrimp, but close.

Overall:  I am really starting to get into Brussels Sprouts.  I would rather have cut them raw, then roasted them (no oil) in a really hot oven.  (There is just something about that carmelized cabbage flavor that speaks to the Polish in me.)  Then I would have continued making the slaw like the recipe says.  I think it would have added a great dimension of flavor to the overall dish.   The horseradish is a throw away ingredient.  You don't need it. 

Februrary 6 & 7 - Ice Cream with Marsala and Currants

Total Cost: $6.37

Yes, the currant.  A relative of the dreaded raisin.  However, these are rehydrated in syrup, so they are actually tolerable. 

I'm actually lactose intolerant, so you'll notice in the picture how much ice-cream I actually ate.  It's tiny.  Enjoy this recipe my lactose tolerant friends!  My eyes are burning a hole of jealousy in each of your faces! 


Fast:  Will take about 20 minutes.  Ten minutes to cook and then ten minutes to cool down enough to pour over the ice cream.

Easy:  You ain't making ice cream here, just the you should have no trouble with this recipe.

Fresh:  The orange makes this recipe go from wow to KA-POW!

Overall:  Okay.  You have got to try this recipe!  Really.  It's super easy and nothing like you've ever tasted.  Treat yourself to some good vanilla gelato (or the expensive vanilla ice crean) and pour it on.  Amaretti cookies are a must!  You can find those at an Italian grocery store!  I would gladly spend time being sick from the milk to enjoy this recipe.  I'm surprised no one has made this an ice-cream flavor yet.

Alright kids....I'll be back on Monday.  Hopefully with some fun pictures and cool stories.  Don't miss me too much.