Tuesday, December 30, 2008

If Not For The Boost of Anti-Oxidants, My Kitchen Would Be Lost...

i dare to admit that i am a bit of a slacker during the holidays when it comes to cooking. i tend to make something for whatever big day, know i've still got work to do at work, for work, surrounding work, so i know i'm going to need to leave things for my sons to eat so they won't just go off and have cereal or lots of leftover dessert throughout the day and call it lunch and i know that i'm worn out from whatever big cooking i did for whichever big day. so, i leave notes saying how there are leftovers in the fridge, buy to go or prepared foods a lot so i don't have to face the stove in the midst of chaos. that's how i HAVE BEEN in the past. i'm not a big "let's spend the dough cuz i'm just too tired" kinda chick these days. nope. and, so, i have devised a way for me to be able to adjust my holiday slackerism so i can manage my non-existent budget. here it is... ya ready? okay...

green tea

did you see that? i'll say it again...

green tea

oh, and acai berry juice (thanks to my miracle nephew, the jord-man)

i know all about how good they are for you and i've been a pretty major green tea junkie since i can recall -- one of my fave desserts is green tea ice cream -- however, it has come to be my saving grace during these tricky and rather busy times. and my older son, nicholas, is the KING of creating taste sensations for me to add to my tea. oh, man. simply delicious and spicy concoctions that add just the right flavor and has gotten quite a few of my friends up in arms with its deliciousness. here's a sampling of one of them:

1 1/2 cups raw honey
1 heaping tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tbs. fresh squeezed lime juice

what to do:
place all of these in a 1 pint mason jar and shake until combined. add to your tea as desired.

there's such a simple pleasure to having a cup of really well brewed hot tea with just the right flavoring in it. i love sitting in the quiet of the morning and enjoying the fragrance of tea wafting from my mug. it's the epitome of peace to me. i have this chunky, flowered cup that reminds me of something winnie the pooh would use that i bought on the one trip i've ever made to walmart and no way am i ever giving it up. i bought two of them, one for my office and one for my home. i live in these freakin' mugs as if my life depended on it. weird, huh? these are my tea mugs. coffee has never touched them. actually, coffee hasn't touched any cup in my house for going on two years, now, and i used to be a major coffee drinker with a french press and everything. but, i'm all about tea now. oh, i've always loved tea. it was one of those things i shared with my mom growing up, moments i got to have with her. neither of my parents drank coffee and when my gee gee would visit, my mom would stock up on her coffee for her -- she drank sanka with saccharine tablets (does anyone remember those?). my dad finally bought a Mr. Coffeemaker when we got older, just because he and my mom realized their FRIENDS drank coffee and never had it at their house when they would entertain, so he gave in. but he and my mom never drank it. but, i'm totally digressing, so forgive me.

we were talking about the saving powers of green tea, at least for me.

and it's been a really great friend to me. i don't drink energy drinks anymore, because of my complete devotion to green tea and acai berry shots -- i love the almost creamy, chocolatey taste of acai berry straight up in a shot glass. it's heavenly and i feel all clean and fabulous inside. whether i am or not is anyone's guess, but it feels good to me, so i do it and i buy it from my nephew, even though it costs A TON OF DOUGH! mainly, cuz i'm worth it, i suppose. in my little bid to keep myself healthy, happy and on the planet in a positive way.

and, so, as i was working like a fiend last night to create these Scharffenberger Chocolate based recipes to enter a chocolate contest before 04 january and hopefully win $5000 -- keep your fingers crossed -- i was suckin' down green tea with nicholas' special concoction and feeling like i could do anything... even make a chocolate roasted leg of lamb that would wow anybody. hell, my sons liked it as well as the coconut mango brownie cake i made -- even nicholas liked the cake and he's SOOOO not a chocolate person. he wanted seconds, so maybe i've got a shot. at least i do with my kids, which, let's be honest, is all that truly matters...
and winning $5000 so we can save a bit...
and buy more green tea and acai berry juice...
so i can enter more contests and win more money for us...
and we'll move to tuscany where i will cook and my friend fern will be my gardener...
a girl can dream, can't she?
and i shall.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cooking My Goose

my grandmother came to visit us when i was a kid around the holidays. i remember she'd stay with us for a reasonably long period of time each time she'd come to visit -- which wasn't often, because she had a life of her own, ya know. she was a reverend in a very small town on west virginia and i didn't realize what a big deal it was for a small, compact, very fair skinned, grey-eyed black woman to be a reverend in a southeastern town until i grew up, but that's neither here nor there. back to my gee-gee (she was called gee-gee because my cousin, barbara, who was the first grandchild, couldn't say "grandmother" when she was a baby and called her "gee-gee" -- which is really pronounced "ghee-ghee" like a double dose of indian clarified butter, to which i can relate, for sure). she came to visit us and made us a christmas goose with saurekraut dressing. i had no idea there was sauerkraut in it until i grew older and asked my mom to make it for me, to which she replied she had no idea how and "gee-gee made it with sauerkraut dressing, and i have no idea how she made it". quite a drag, quite frankly, because it was delicious and wonderful. gee-gee is long gone, but that memory has stayed with me forever and my sons have come to appreciate and demand that christmas isn't christmas unless we cook a goose. amazing.

you might wonder how you cook a goose and it's rather simple, really. prick the fatty skin (except the breast, ya know, cuz the breast is dry enough without willing all that fat to go away from it -- yikes!). some people soak it in a salted brine overnight, some people steam it first then roast it and some folks boil it to get the fat off of it before they roast it. however you choose to do it, do it with frivolity and the knowledge that charles dickens is smiling down at you.

but, anyway, we're having goose and christmas ham, another tried and true recipe passed down to me by my mom's side of the family, this time from my mom herself. this was ages ago and i've made it many a time. my son, brandon, who doesn't like ham as a general rule, tends to ask for it this time of year. go figure.

we have a rule for both thanksgiving and christmas: we choose names out of a hat and whosever name is chosen gets to pick that year's thanksgiving feast and the next person to have their name chosen gets to pick our christmas feast. this year we are doing two fabulous traditions. every christmas, actually, somehow we get a choice of goose and ham. lovely.

and, so, in our fridge right now is a goose, a ham, some good ginger, a bit of... wait a minute! these are secret recipes i can't share with the world, but i promised some low cost things to get you through, didn't i? and you shall have them... and here they are for today:


i think you'll like these. they're a fave of ours through the years and something that's easy, fast and yummy. at least those kiddles of mine think so.

Egg Pie
2-9" deep dish pie crusts, frozen (oh, yes -- i said frozen, i like Pet Ritz or Marie Calendar's, but it's up to you -- you can also make your own butter pie crust which is a cost saver if you've got the ingredients around your house and you don't fear pie crust, which many do, and i do make my own, but when it comes to cost cutting and time saving, these frozen dealies are really handy)
1-dozen eggs
1 large jar fave marinara sauce -- me, i make my own (cost saving, truly), but when i do use jarred, i choose Newman's Own or Classico
1 package shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste

what to do:
1. pre-bake your two pie crusts on a baking sheet per the package instructions. if using a homemade pie crust, pre-bake for 15 minutes at 400ºF then let cool. turn the oven down to 350ºF.
2. crack 6 eggs into a bowl and a dash of salt and pepper then whisk until frothy. heat some vegetable oil spray in a (preferably) non-stick skillet until a drop of water sizzles and add the eggs. stir until just beginning to cook then transfer to one of the pie crusts, spreading across the bottom evenly. cook the rest of the eggs the same way and fill the pie crust. it will not come to the top of the crust, but should fit nicely on the bottom. note: you don't want to cook your eggs completely. you want them rather wet, but not completely raw.
3. pour about 1/2-3/4 cup of the sauce over the eggs, spread across the top. sprinkle with enough cheese to cover. continue with the other pie.
4. pop into the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and the eggs are cooked through, about 20-25 minutes. let set for about 10 minutes before serving.

okay, here's the cool thing about this: our family serves this every christmas morning with really good sausages my faboo sis-in-law gets from the butcher up the street from their place. we make about four or more pies, cuz there's a bunch of us when we all get together and it's one of those things you can eat throughout the day, reheat the next day, the whole deal. the boys and i have taken to adding stuff into the eggs while they're cooking and it's really yum. it's transformed into a lunch item and a dinner item. for example, the other night i made it for the kids -- made two more for work that morning, got snowed in, covered them up, refrigerated 'em and reheated them in the ayem and took them to my pals at my humble work space -- and i added some ground beef sauteed in garlic, herbs and mixed with sauteed potatoes and leeks. divine. the egg pies i made for work were also unique -- i made one basic one and one with leeks and potatoes (too many vegetarians or meat conscious people at my office to want to inflict beef on everyone). you could add whatever you like, in moderation, to create quite a dinner. this notoriously is to serve four people each, but you can cut the wedges smaller and get more out of each pie -- even eight pieces out of each. if you choose to add things like mushrooms, seafood, spinach or even cheese to your eggs, make sure you thoroughly cook the veggies and seafood and drain well before adding to the eggs, with the cheese, don't add too much because it'll make the eggs mealy if you do. i would use the ratio of 1/4 cup of anything you add to the eggs as they cook for each 1/2 dozen you scramble. too much is, well, too much, ya know? the versatility of this is why i like this as a cost saving alternative meal. a lot of folks already have this stuff in their fridge and if you don't feel like having to buy pie crust, then you can make it from scratch. i have another recipe we make for a lazy sorta strata, but that's for another time. you can serve this in the morning with sausage, bacon, fruit, lunch with a salad and crusty bread or soup, dinner with some great veggies like sauteed greens or zucchini, a nice viognier chilled to perfection or whatever. it's good.

this next is such a great cold weather cure all that takes no time at all, i fall in love and you can get two meals out of it. watch and learn, people. watch and learn.


1 package of chicken breast halves, skin and bones on and in
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 celery stalk (preferably with leaves still on), cut into chunks
handful of italian parsley, stalks included
1 garlic clove, smashed
enough chix broth to cover
salt & pepper, to taste
matzo ball mix -- follow directions on the package
1/2 package fine egg noodles -- cook per directions on package

1. clean your chix breast halves and place them in a dutch oven. add the onion, celery, parsley, garlic clove and cover with chicken broth. add salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil.
2. simmer for about 20 minutes then turn off the heat and let the chix sit in the broth until cool. take the chicken out of the broth, strain the broth of the veggies, put it back in the pot and set aside.
3. take the skin off of the chicken and pull it off the bone. set aside chicken from one of the half breasts and shred the rest into a bowl, adding in a bit of the onion and a splash of the broth. season to taste with salt and pepper, add mayo to your desired amount, some chopped celery (if you're into that crunch in your chix salad), a little pinch of garlic powder and keep in fridge until ready to use.
4. chop the reserved chicken breast meat from the one remaining half into cubes and add to the broth. set on low to heat up. add the cooked egg noodles.
5. make the matzo balls per package instructions. when cooked, raise the heat on the broth until it is simmering and add the matzo balls. bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer for about 5 minutes.
6. ladle the soup into bowls allowing 1 matzo ball per person and serve along with either crackers for dipping in the chicken salad or the chicken salad on sandwiches.

here's the deal -- cooking the chix with the skin and bones gives it more flavor. just take all of that off and out when it is ready. this is one of those all purpose, great on a cold night or afternoon dishes that can be made in pretty much one pot, if you like. you can add carrots to this (i, personally, despise cooked carrots, so it takes a lot for me to do that, although i do add carrots to my bolognese sauce, so, ya know...), float a poached egg in the soup -- which, of course, i do ALL THE TIME -- not add the chicken, add the chicken, whatever you like. i like serving the chicken salad with sturdy kettle chips or tortilla chips and dipping into it with that. i'm not much for potato chips, but i am a total tortilla chip whore and will do whatever i can to eat the with whatever i can. this chix salad is super yummy on it. yep.

and, so, here are some holiday time and money savers for you. i'll be back tomorrow, cuz it's christmas eve, dontcha know, and i have one last word on 2008, if that's cool.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Holiday Hangouts (or is it Hang "ups"?)

here's the deal, it's the holidays. and, to be quite honest with you, i'm a little stressed about them. food plays a huge part in the holidays for us as well as many of the folks out there and i've been sitting around my house, coming up with schemes to make it work for us in these "tough economic times", just felt like channeling NPR for a sec., sorry. anyway, i've been coming up with things that will be yum and not feel like they're low rent in anyway.

but, beyond that, there is this extraordinary feeling of warmth for those around me who have been my friends and support. i will admit that i have yet to embrace the midwest. and i don't mean in an idealistic way, but a genuine "where's a cute bistro?" way. i don't know where anything is besides the places i've met friends in the past and part of me feels like it's my way of maintaining my "L.A. STATE OF MIND" to revise a tad Billy Joel's song.

my friends, as i've said before, are true and wonderful and i've been lucky enough to cultivate some pretty awesome male friendage that makes me smile daily even when i think i won't. i'm far away from home, so i appreciate the friendships i've developed. and, in that, comes this desire to feed my male friends at a feast meant expressly for them -- l.a. based and beyond -- cuz, truth be told, i'm more of a "guy hang out" chick than a "female bonding" babe. and don't get all up in arms about the labels i'm putting on myself. it's me, true and simple. sometimes i'm a dame, a vamp, a bitch, a lady, a girl and on and on. aren't we all? and, if we aren't than i'm alone in this and that's cool. really.
but, i digress...

and, so, holidays have a certain sort of caste to them at the moment, and, yet, i'm looking forward to them. my sons are such extraordinary little souls of wild imagination, it's cool. they roll with me however i am and love me no matter what. i actually know that and it makes me want to cook for them, show them my love through sustenance. is that crazy? and it's the thing i like to do for my male friends when i want to show them how cool they are to me. i like to cook, i think i do okay at it and if it brings joy, so be it.

like, today. i had made this carrot cake my pals like. i did it for a specific reason and it worked out well. my friends ate it and felt yummy and that's what i want. i want to make other people feel like superstars through my food. wouldn't that be cool? to make someone you care about feel like they truly matter because you put such love into something you did for them?

i'm not talking about being in love, i'm talking about just love in the abstract and in the personal without the physically intimate. cooking does that to me. it makes me feel like what i'm doing is creating amazing emotions through food. which brings us back to holidays. they may seem amazingly manufactured to others, but to me? i just overlook the commercialism, give it a wide berth and give in to it in a way that works for me. i feel like they are these ultimate excuses to indulge and give of yourself TO yourself and others. i like that and stress it. i wish i could make the time as carefree as i recall it being for myself as a kid and i hope i will one of these days. i just know how the shit is these days and wonder if i'm capable of it.

for me, through food, i can.
a great homemade spiced cranberry sauce with orange zest.
a beloved christmas goose in our honey lime ginger glaze.
a cookie baking session that lends itself to true collaboration and creation.

ah, the holidays. yes, we're broke, it's true. i'm scraping by, like so many others, but we deserve a gift. a gift of us and the bounty, the food of love that defines us. i like christmas time, even though i haven't got any affiliation or commitment around it for myself, in particular. i grew up celebrating Hanukkah with friends and supporting my beloved sister-in-law's tradition more than my own. it's just how it laid out, truly. that's why, whenever we cook for Christmas, celebrate it, feel it, we make it something so vast in scope of diversity, even my darling sons can feel comfortable (which they do). even if all we can work up are some chicken nuggets, we can treat it as if it's foi gras and caviar. dress it up, make it look glamorous so we can dive in and feel special. it's that thing that makes me want to do something warm, fuzzy and totally not scary for my male friends. holidays, for me, are very male oriented -- hell, i have two sons, you figure it out -- and i like to do for my males what makes them smile. does that make me an anti-feminist? i don't think so. i think it makes me an independent female who digs guys a lot. and if you disagree, well, whatever. i'm cool with who i am, the food i prepare, the love i put into it.

nothing else matters this time of year, does it?
stay tuned for some holiday on a budget shtuff to save sanity. i hope.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Top Ten Reasons I Love Top Chef

i love top chef. i do. i love how it makes me jump up and run into the kitchen to see if it's ever going to be possible for me to stop being a mun-daily cook to a truly great artist in the kitchen. i guess if i had a couple of -30ish or so thousand bucks, i could go the Le Cordon Bleu route or just keep it simple and take my ass back to california where i got accepted to CSCA -- california school of culinary arts -- for pastry chefing only to realize that, hey, my credit SUCKS and i can't get a student loan or find a class time that will suit the fact that i have two children, no husband, and no one to really watch them while i'm in school. but just so's you know exactly WHY i love this freakin' show, here are my TOP TEN REASONS I LOVE TOP CHEF --

just for the record? this is pronounced "Pad-MAH" not "Pad-MAY" as in Amidala, as in Star Wars: Episodes Bad to Worse (no offense to natalie portman, whom i think rocks as an actress, for the most part, but, let's get real). no, no, no, this is my girl Padma, who is seriously cool, at least to me, has my younger son all in a tizzy with her beauty and makes me want to grow my hair long and be east indian, which, of course, i will never be. can't change races in mid-stream, or so i hear, but i like her style. she's smart, a little sassy, and kind of a biznatch sometimes, which works on her.

that little bald man has probably got a serious napoleonic complex and if i met him in person i might totally hate his guts. however, i do not hate him on the show. i like his little rolling of the eyes, the way padma will say something one way and he'll negate it, how he'll point out foibles with all the finesse of a viper snake, but makes incredibly good points and gives credit where credit is due. dig it.

can you say "plan, prep and serve a wedding dinner in less time it takes for caterers to even shop for a wedding dinner"? i mean, how freakin' CRAZY was that? as a person who has had to prepare individual wedding cakes for a wedding and ended up staying up for 72 STRAIGHT HOURS (can't you go to hell or lose your mind or something for that?) to finish it, i felt their pain. oh, did i ever. some of this shit is so off the hook, i sit there with my mouth open in awe. you've GOT to be kidding. but these peeps come through, well, most of them do. and when you've got someone who doesn't who usually does and thinks really highly of themselves, well that leads me to my next one...

marcel was my favorite whiny boy from season 2 -- although, trying to shave his head while he slept was, um, probably not the best way to make the american public like you or even stay on the show. then there was dale from last season, who drove me so crazy, i thought i'd die laughing (although, if he had just taken all that passion and chilled out a bit and put it toward his food instead of trying to be the bad boy of the house, he might have gotten further). i hate reality television for the sheer volume of whiny contestant type people on shows and i have a deeply scarring memory of dealing with really whiny contestants on a reality show, but, for some reason, this just sends me into gales of laughter when i see this amazingly talented chef-types get all bent out of shape instead of focus on their craft. LOVE IT!

OMG, they give these quickfire challenges, right? and you'll hear things like "go into a supermarket, talk to 50 people in 15 seconds and create a breakfast burrito that epitomizes those 50 personalities in 20 minutes -- go!" and you'll have these people, chefs, doing their little vo while they're cooking and you'll hear, "well, i had NO IDEA what to do, then i realized there was some ancient chinese secret quail eggs and butterfly wings packed in fairy juice and thought i would create a pomegranite creme brulee burrito with a touch of quail egg for color and the butterfly wings to add whimsy while dancing on the head of a pin." how they go from a to b with their ideas i would like to do someday. really. maybe not this intensely, okay, i'm SURE not like this, but KINDA like this. the spirit of this.

i love watching these poor people who find themselves on the receiving end of some of the most outrageous combinations in food history as part of a challenge. "take the typical chicken dinner at KFC and reinvent it." me? i'd add a sprig of mint and call it a day (okay, not really, you know that's not true, but you see my point). these guys think of ways to deconstruct the freakin' chicken, fill it with the souls of small children and deliver masterpieces and scary experimental shit that just blows the mind. then these wonderful tasters who are innocent bystanders are at the effect of it all. i sure hope they're being paid a shitload of dough, cuz you'd have to give me quite a hefty sum to get me to eat avocado ice cream -- and i like avocado. trust me.

these guys get to preserve their food in such great little plastic containers for FREE, i'm just salivating.

8) GE
this needs no explanation, only the acknowledgement that i covet each and every piece in that freakin' kitchen, which then brings me to

once again, a serious covet. i sit and watch this damn show and all i can think is "my electric stove isn't calibrated and i have no idea how i'm able to cook things that aren't burnt or underdone every single day." yeah, i could go for a kitchen like that. just in case anyone was wondering what i wanted for christmas. thanks.

and, last, but by no means least, and just so's ya know, i didn't put this in any kind of order, 'kay? good. but last is...

i go into my kitchen, i sit at my laptop, i pick up yarn and two knitting needles, whatever it may be, and i am inspired to do more than i normally would or i'm able to get beyond my food block, writers block, knitting block, whatever is tripping me up and just do. it inspires me to work harder, to be better and to have fun little top chef competitions with my kids. dinner: impossible used to do that for me and as much as i like Michael Symon, i miss my buffed boy, Robert. ah, i do. so sad.

anyway, i say all this because i was inspired enough by top chef for me to complete nanowrimo -- which, in case you've never heard of it, is National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in the 30 days of november and you give yourself a goal of writing 50,000 words by november 30. on 28 november, i uploaded my novel and it came in at 52,636 words. yep, i feel pretty good about that and, as you can see, i've got my winner bling to prove it. but, even more than that is the fact that as broke as we are and we had to rework our thanksgiving dinner to accommodate it, i was able to pull off what my sons and i felt was a pretty terrific thanksgiving dinner because i was inspired. partly by top chef, partly by my sons, but i was inspired.

so thanks, top chef. thanks for giving me a reason to watch television. even if it's just for one hour during a limited time of year and once a week.

thanks, tons.