I live to eat and love to cook. Welcome to my life!

September 30, 2009


Shortly after my last post re: the change of seasons (the next night), I came home with visions of comfort food in my head. Calling Mom for ideas we tossed around split pea soup, chicken noodle soup, chowder, stew and finally hit upon the winner.

Albondigas. Mexican Meatball Soup. Which I am told my Bapa (moms dad) can live upon as long as he rotates in Clam Chowder & Wonton Soup on occasion.

Everyone that has eaten at a Mexican restaurant has likely had this soup as a starter at one point or another. If not, I will totally spoil you for life. In a restaurant you are likely to get 1 meatball, some nice beefy type broth, a carrot chunk, a zucchini chunk, a few onions and possibly a potato. Garnished with some lemon & tortilla strips it makes a very nice starter. This Albondigas is a meal hearty enough to fill the beefiest of men (meat & potatoes please....) and filled with enough veggies that you don't have to mess with a side salad and again can camouflage the goodness that is a veggie in something that your M&P man or uber picky kid will hopefully love. It is a mix of a few recipes and there are myriad variations you can make if you want to get creative. Add corn, hominy, peppers, round turkey, whatever you like, it will most likely still be terrific.

The best compliment I got came from my sweetie as he was leaning over the steaming bowl complaining that it was so good, but too darn hot to eat as fast as he wanted to. I like to think I have spoiled him for any future restaurant versions. :)

First we make tha meatballs......from scratch!

Oh yeah! Did I mention that Brock got me the grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer for Christmas???? So not appropriate for 70+ pounds of sausage (another story....), but so convenient when you want to grind a little pork in to your meatballs!

1# ground Beef, 15% fat is perfect
1# (ish) pork roast, excess fat trimmed (the ONLY time you will hear me tell you discard pork fat!)

You can buy the pork already ground if you do not have the attachment, are not as industrious as me or just don't give a crap. :)

Mix in 2 eggs (from dads farm if you are so blessed)
1T Cumin
2 T Garlic Powder
3 T Salt, Kosher is preferable
1/2 cup cooked white rice (perfect meal for those Chinese food leftovers!)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Make them in to pretty little 1-1/2" balls and bake on a sheet pan @ 425 for about 25-30 minutes.

I made alotta meatballs :) Leftovers are good!

For the soup....

Chop in to 1" chunks:
1 onion
3 celery stalks
4-5 carrots, depending on size and how much you like them
1 large white potato

Saute this in a little olive oil in a soup/stock pot with 1 tsp chile powder.
Add 3 minced garlic cloves & 4-5 rough chopped tomatoes.
(You can substitute 1-28 oz can of plum tomatoes in juice if you wish, just smush up the pieces a little bit before adding)

Stir for a minute and add....
3 Cups beef stock or broth (watch your salt if using processed broth or bouillon)
3 Cups Water

Turn to Medium/High and let it cook for a while until veggies & potatoes are tender.
Adjust seasoning with S&P and chile powder and add meatballs in to the pot.

Dice up some tortillas in to strips (corn or flour depending on your preference), lay on a sheet pan and bake @ 425 for about 20 minutes, flipping every 5-7 minutes or so until they are browned & crispy. Serve up the soup with the crispity strips and enjoy. And yes, I said crispity....just like the Butterfinger commercials. :)

It should look kind of like this and taste sooooo good.

One of my lovely friends tells me that she loves my "leftovers" and that I am welcome to bring her some anytime. She got some meatball soup today, I hope she enjoyed as much as Brock & I did last night!


September 28, 2009

The last summer supper

It's official....fall is here. Not just the date of the first day of fall, which passed us last week, but now it actually feels like fall in the city that I spend most of my time. The leaves on the trees in Ojai are starting to turn brown and dry up, the ones fallen on the ground are crackly under my feet as I walk up the road to my office. Some of the liquid amber trees are making the glorious change from bright green to amber, orange and cranberry. And blessedly, the heat has been replaced today with temperatures that don't make me want to weep when I take a step outside my chilly air conditioned office. For weeks and months I have endured triple digit heat at work while my loved ones on the coast are semi cranky at an 85 degree high...no sympathy from me my friend....Some people love the heat, embrace it and can bask in the rays on a daily basis like lizards. Not me. I do love summer for so many reasons, but fall is definitely a preferred season for me when it comes to the weather.

Tonight I think we will be cooking our last summer meal and saying good bye to dining on the patio. Soon it will be too cool to cook everything on the barbecue and enjoy the last bit of sunshine at 7:00 at night. The sun starts to set earlier, the chill sets in and all of a sudden I find myself no longer craving fresh from the garden vegetables and sweet corn with our grilled meats. Instead I get to open the door to my house or moms house and the aromas of slow cooked chowders, soups and stews will greet me at the threshold. Football season has started and instead of chatting outside on the patio, we gather in the living room around the fireplace and big screen rooting for our favorite teams.

Tonight we light the barbecue when it is already dark, throw on some brined & later sauced chicken legs & thighs, boil up some sweet corn and toss up a chopped salad full of fresh veggies including the last of the sweet 100 cherry tomatoes from the front yard. Good bye summer, it's been nice, but I am ready for the autumn.

As dinner was a rather simple affair, the recipe for BBQ chicken, chopped salad and boiled corn is not really necessary, therefore I will just share a method of preparing the chicken for the grill that I think is pretty awesome!

Chicken can be good, great or just so so....it is not always my first choice when reaching for protein. I have found the trick to moist flavorful chicken is to brine it before cooking to keep in the juices and infuse the meat with a sweet and salty taste that brings a rather boring bird to a new level. You can infuse the brine with herbs, spices, peppercorns and alternate liquids such as apple cider, but your basic brine is 4 cups water, 1/2 cup packed brown sugar and 1/2 cup kosher salt. Bring the water to a slight boil and let come to room temperature. Pour over meat and refrigerate-how big the meat is is going to determine how long you should brine it. Chicken quarters are good for 1-2 hours, a whole chicken can be left in the brine for a full day. Make sure there is enough brine to completely cover the meat. If you are in a hurry and need your brine quick, increase the salt & sugar a bit and chill with ice cubes.

Drain and rinse the meat and pat dry thoroughly. Your bird is now ready for the BBQ, oven or saute pan-the skin will be crispy and golden and the meat will be moist and plump.

We fancied up some bottled barbecue sauce with Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, cayenne and garlic salt and slathered it on once the chicken was completely cooked. It was definitely a good way to see the summer come to an end!

September 16, 2009

Vanishing Risotto

On slow day in the office my friend Tiffany and I sat at our respective computers, google-ing recipes in our quest for "what's for dinner". Risotto was the theme of the day and after muddling through 500 recipes, half of which were wild mushroom or butternut squash, we found 2 different recipes that piqued our interest enough to print and share with each other.

Tiff opted for the Champagne Risotto with Seared Scallops which she says was fabulous. One of the best things about the recipe was that it is actually scaled to a 2 guest serving size, which is rare in recipe world and very useful when you have a household of just 2. Going to save that recipe for the next time I have a risotto craving...My recipe was one for shrimp risotto with seared scallops, however I changed things up just a bit so I didn't have to go to the store at all.

I made the recipe similar to the one found on Epicurious, but had to gussy it up a bit with my homemade shrimp stock (no pre portioned mire poix for me, no siree!), the addition of sauteed fennel and mom's ingenious idea of brightening it up with some of her preserved lemons. After portioning out the boys dinner and sending them off to the living room and football game, us girls made up our plates and before we could even carry them in to the table, my dad was back with a clean plate (tongue tracks baby!) asking if there was more for him to have seconds. Now visualize moms head and mine swelling to semi large proportions :)~

This was seriously good, no BS. I make risotto a lot as it is one of those dishes you can make fabulous without a whole lot of effort and most often with the random bits of goodness that occupy your kitchen & fridge. My only sad moment was this morning when mom told me she was polishing off the leftovers.

Hope you enjoy as much as we did, I can't wait to make this again!

Shrimp Risotto with Preserved Lemon & Truffle Oil

1 ½ pounds shrimp with shells on
½ onion, rough chop
1 large carrot-rough chop
3 large celery stalks-rough chop
7 cups water

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion-small dice
1 Fennel bulb-small dice
2 garlic cloves, minced

1 ½ cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 of a preserved lemon-rind & pulp cut in fine dice
¼ C grated Parmesan cheese

Truffle oil
4 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Shell the shrimp and slice shrimp lengthwise. Add shrimp shells, onion, carrot & celery to the water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes and then strain, set aside.

Heat olive oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shrimp; saute 1 minute, using slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl. Add onion & fennel to pan; saute until translucent, about 1 minute. Deglaze with wine if needed. Add garlic; saute for a few minutes, add rice; stir 1 minute. Add the rest of the wine; simmer until absorbed. Add 1 cup of shrimp stock to rice; simmer until liquid is absorbed, stirring often. Continue adding liquid 1 cup at a time and stirring often, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding next, until rice is tender but still firm to bite, about 20-30 minutes. You may not use all of the stock. Add salt little by little until seasoned to taste…be very careful not to over salt! Add in preserved lemon to taste, stir in butter, Parmesan and shrimp. Season with salt and pepper if needed

Divide risotto among 4 plates, drizzle lightly with truffle oil, sprinkle with chives, and serve.

September 14, 2009

Holy Chocolate Cake Batman!!!

Many many moons ago, after dropping out of several community colleges and having no luck in figuring out what I "was going to be when I grew up (arg!)", I had a light bulb flash off in my head and I decided "that since I loved to cook that I was going to be the next Julia Child!"....and proceeded to enroll myself in culinary school. Not much forethought went in to this, one foray into the Cordon Bleu styled schools in LA were enough to convince me that neither my pockets, nor my parents were enough to get me through that. So I opted for the next best thing.

Santa Barbara City College, Hotel Restaurant & Culinary Program, circa 1997. John Dunn and his merry band of teacher chefs taught us how to chop, dice, slice (fingers sometimes), purchase food & supplies, account for our $$$, scrub a hood (blech!), flip a burger, serve our clients in a college cafeteria and a fine dining restaurant and try like hell to manage those who came after us. This over-simplifies the 2 year program, but many of my friends who survived can attest that when you graduated, you could pretty much do any damn thing in a food service capacity. Front or back of house, it doesn't matter, if it had to do with catering, hotels, restaurants or the local In 'n Out burger stand...we would rock your world.

Insane moment #1....when I graduated at the tender age of 21-3/4, I bought a restaurant. With my parents help I obtained a 50 (ish) seat restaurant in Ventura and jumped in feet first, eyes closed and hands clasped in prayer.

OK, I lied, I don't pray. But I did have very high hopes.

Long story short, I had the restaurant for a year and a half, worked my ass off and worked my ass in to the ground. Slept a little, worked more, drank too much and learned a whole hell of a lot. When people ask me about my experience I focus on the best parts of it as opposed to the worst as I have blocked much of the crappy part out. I met incredible people there, whom I am lucky enough to still have in my life....sat on my front porch composing limericks over bottles of wine with one of the funniest most wonderful men I have been blessed to meet...learned SO much about being "the boss" (had the sweatshirt to prove it)...especially when the boss is younger than almost all the employees except the dishwasher....found out about the mountain of paperwork and taxes that it takes to own and operate a business (serious yuck!) and best of all, I learned that I love to bake.

Coming from a family on both sides that loves to cook, I can attribute my love for baking to a few ladies...Sorry Mom, this time you are not on the list. :( Grandma Kenton, my Dad's mom, makes the best damn pie crust ever and the pie fillings are insane...cherry, strawberry rhubarb, lemon meringue...the list could go one for a full paragraph. She is also well known for making a pie called "Sex Pie". Truly delicious and who the hell would not buy a pie called "Sex" from a sassy 80 something year lady???? Every time she makes it, it disappears in no time flat! My Nana, Marie McKaye-Mom's Mom, made a number of desserts that are in my arsenal and I channel her spirit every time I get in to baking mode (um...Special Treats anyone???). Lastly I give props to Chef Mayuri, our pastry teacher at SBCC who is a super slim, Taiwanese pastry cooking mother effer.

Too much salt? Chef knew it. Kneaded your bread to much? Chef ridiculed you. Added salt instead of sugar to your scones? God help you...you would never hear the end of it. Seriously, the woman is badass.

Since I have sold the restaurant and got away from the freedom of being able to bake whatever the hell I wanted on a daily basis, I have unfortunately gotten away from baking in general. I get the obligatory request for a dessert on occasion when someone wants to splurge or has a birthday. Not to mention, everyone and their mom is on a fricking diet nowadays (including me) and can't afford to splurge on the calories. I have honestly let my "skills" get a little rusty and it makes me sad to even write that when it is one of the things I really love to do.

And now we get to the point of my rant....Brock's dad, Bill, turned 66 this last week and had us over for dinner. As always, I asked what I could bring or contribute and Bill requested a Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting. My immediate thought was...that's it??? No fanciness?? German Chocolate? Caramel goodness? Fruit flavors layered in???? Nothing!!!! Turns out that this request turned in to a personal quest! I make everything fancy...can't make a simple dish without trying to "make it better" with some other fun and fabulous ingredient. So I made a Chocolate Cake with Chocolate (Buttercream...hello heart attack!) Frosting. It was seriously good and reminded me of how much I lovelovelove to bake and that I am damn good at it. Please enjoy...the buttercream is a bit of work, but so very worth it! I also made a couple of cupcakes with some remnants...testing out ideas for future baking forays. :)

Dark Chocolate Cake

2 cups boiling water
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Ghirhardelli please!)
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 1/4 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease 2 - 9 inch round cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper.
In medium bowl, pour boiling water over cocoa, and whisk until smooth. Let mixture cool.
Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at time, then stir in vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the cocoa mixture. Spread batter evenly between the 2 prepared pans.
Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool.

Slice each cake in ½ lengthwise and trim top if you want a flat topped cake.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

8 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate (the good stuff please!)
7 sticks (3 1/2 cups) unsalted butter
12 tablespoons water
1 1/2 cup sugar
6 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
12 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (prefer Ghirardelli or better)

In a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate, stirring until smooth, and let cool. Cut butter into pieces and soften to cool room temperature.

In a heavy saucepan bring water and sugar to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil syrup, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 248°F.
While syrup is boiling, in a bowl with an electric mixer beat whites with a pinch salt until foamy and beat in cream of tartar. Beat whites until they just hold stiff peaks and beat in hot syrup in a stream (try to avoid pouring onto beaters and side of bowl). Beat mixture at medium speed until completely cool, 10-15 mins. Beat in butter, 1 piece at a time, beating until mixture is thickened and smooth. Beat in cocoa powder, melted chocolate, and a pinch salt, beating until smooth.

The frosting may need to be chilled a bit before frosting the cake….depending on how hot or humid it is, you may need to adjust. When frosting the cake, spread frosting on a layer, set in freezer until stiff, repeat until you are ready to frost the outside.

Decorate as you wish…I drizzled melted chocolate…it was easy :) And delicious! Happy Birthday Billy Boy! XXOO

September 8, 2009

Labor Day food love

Holiday weekends just to me scream food...they beg for us to eat, drink & be merry amongst our friends and family. To celebrate the folks that are fallen, the fighting, the working and the fact that we are here, healthy & happy.

Having held a job in restaurants, bars, catering companies & hotels since I was 18, holidays tend to mean that you are working your rear off serving the folks that actually get the days off. This is one of the first Labor Day weekends I can remember that I have not really had to work. Sure, I went in this weekend for a few hours for a couple of sites...but no huge weddings, no events that require me to miss out on the multiple nights of family and friends gathering to celebrate the holiday.

I've been invited to Mom & Dad's house for three nights running, and beyond some kitchen wench assistance & clean up duties I have pretty much been spoiled with awesome meals all weekend long. After posting my Friday night meal on Facebook and getting responses from friends like "My invitation must have gotten lost", "If it wasn't for Chinese takeout, I'd be knocking on your door" and "Can I move in with you?" I decided to share the whole darn weekend and include a few recipes of Moms' since they are so darn awesome. :)

** means the recipe has been shared :)

Friday night-Mom, Dad, Brock & I

Fried Green Tomato Salad with Grilled Shrimp & Ancho Chile Mayo **
Grilled Ribeye Steaks
Emerald Double Stuffed Potatoes **

Saturday night-Same, + Uncle Brian, Aunt Laura & Awesome Cousin Delany

Kick a** salsa & chips
Cheetos-both crispy & puffy (family tradition, we can't not have them at a party)

Cucumber Mint Mojitos **

Bratwurst & Sauerkraut
Sweet Bi Color Corn from Underwood Family Farms
Green Salad with Dad's Tomatoes & Avocados and Hearts of Palm
Angel Food Cake, Sliced Strawberries & Whipped Cream

Sunday night-Mom, Dad, & I + "The Gang". Couples my parents have been friends with for 30+ years, considered part of the family. As you will see it is a communal effort as everyone contributes!

Cocktail Hour (or two)
Prosciutto Wrapped Melon
Balsamic Glazed Mushrooms **super easy awesome hors d' oeuvre
Terry's 50's style Spinach Dip
Ron's House Smoked Salmon


Gourmet Burgers on the grill with ALL the fixing's (MJ & JB's Tomatoes-gorgeous!)
Potato Chips
Riki's Crunchy Asian Cole Slaw
Susans "to die for" Rocky Road Cake **No recipe included, it takes about 2 days to make so I will let her keep making it for us :)

Obviously not all the recipes are needed as they are everyday items that you will find in almost every household on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends. The ones that I am sharing are the out of the norm, fun and different and I hope you enjoy them as much as we do! If there is something you want that I neglected to share, feel free to ask and I will share it with you!

Cheers, hope your weekend was as great as mine!

Fried Green Tomatoes with Grilled Shrimp & Ancho Chile Mayo
Serves 4

2 Medium-Large Unripe Green Tomatoes, sliced about 1/2” thick
(should give you about 2 slices per person)
16 Medium Shrimp
Field Greens

About 1 cup Dixie Fry
2 Eggs, beaten with some water for egg wash
Vegetable Oil for frying

Dressing-mix it all together
1 C Mayo
1 T Lemon Juice
½ T Paprika
¾ tsp Ancho Chile Powder or Cayenne Pepper
¼ C Honey

Dredge tomatoes in Dixie Fry, then egg wash and then cornmeal (all on separate plates/bowls) and fry in a large nonstick skillet until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels (I recommend you keep them warm on the BBQ while you grill the shrimp). Speaking of which….season the shrimp with S&P, spray a BBQ grill rack with non stick goodness and heat on medium. Grill shrimp until perfectly pink.

Place greens on a salad plate, top with tomatoes & shrimp and then drizzle, drop or plop some of the mayo mixture over the salad.

mmmmmmmmm………Baja meets the South courtesy of my Mama!

Emerald Double Stuffed Potatoes
4 Servings

2 Large Russet Potatoes, Baked and split in half lengthwise (do I need to tell you to poke them before baking?)

Scoop out the insides to a big bowl and add:

1/4 C Milk
1 T Butter
¼ C Non Fat Sour Cream or Non Fat Yogurt
6 Slices of Bacon, Cooked & Crumbled

2 Small Zucchini, Shredded Fine and Squeezed DRY
1 Green Onion, Chopped
1/8 T Dried Dill Weed or ¼ tsp Fresh Dill
1/8 C Parsley, Chopped Fine

Salt & Pepper to Taste

Mix everything together and refill the potato skins. Sprinkle with parmesan if you wish…we do because we love cheese. Reheat in a 350 degree oven. Super tasty and a great way to get veggies in to the diet in disguise.

Cucumber Mint Mojitos
Makes 3 or 4 depending on how big your glasses are. :)

Peel & Slice ½ of a Cucumber

Muddle in a bowl and then add:
2 T Sugar or Splenda
Generous handful of fresh mint on the stem

Muddle again
Add the juice of 1 lime
Add 1 cup of Rum (white)

Let this sit in the fridge or on the counter for a few hours

Strain into a bowl or cup and the squish the cucumber/mint mixture down so as to extract maximum flavor & alcohol from it.

Fill a rocks glass 2/3 with ice. Fill a martini shaker 2/3 with crushed ice and pour Mojito mix in to it and shake until super cold. Strain in to the glass leaving about an inch from the top. Squeeze in some lime juice & top with club soda. Garnish with peeled cucumber ribbons & fresh mint springs. Sooooooo refreshing!

Balsamic Glazed Mushrooms

16oz Buttom or Crimini Mushrooms
3 T Butter
¼ C Balsamic Vinegar (may need more to deglaze)
1/8 C Brown Sugar
Salt to taste

Sauté Mushrooms in a large pan (do not “crowd the mushrooms” a la Julia Child)

When the mushrooms start to release their water, add the Balsamic and stir over medium heat until the balsamic starts to get syrup-y. Add the brown sugar and stir until mushrooms are glazed, beautiful and shiny. If you need to add more vinegar to coat, feel free, the syrup will get a little less thick as the mushrooms continue to lose their water. Salt to taste and serve with nothing more than a toothpick.