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

April 24, 2010

Cooking with my Cuz

For an only child, I am surprisingly lucky enough to have a HUGE family. My mom comes from a family of four, my dad from a family of nine....so I currently have (as the number is changing rapidly) 32 first cousins and 14 second cousins....and counting. Some I see every 10 years at weddings and funerals and some I get to see a little more regularly.

Delany is one that I am stoked to get to see on a VERY regular basis....she is my moms youngest brothers daughter and comes not only on holidays and birthdays, but also just for fun....a day, a few days, a week...whatever the time frame may be we get together, go see a movie, fly a kite at the beach, go to museums, get pedicures, hang out at home and we always, always cook together.

As my Del is a bit of a picky eater (she is getting better sloooooowly), we have made an effort to not only acquiesce to her tastes (because we don't want to scare her off altogether!), but to try and expand them if at all possible. She does, however, love to hang out in the kitchen with us girls and help us prepare meals for family gatherings. My mom (Genius!) gave her a cookbook a few years ago to help get her more involved than ever in our kitchen. Bonus for her is that she gets to pick dinner when she comes over simply by marking a spot in her Rachel Ray cookbook.

First off I will tell you that I can't stand RR....her voice drives me batty, her over perky "yumm-O!" and squeaky "EVOO!" drives me to drink. Brock knows to turn the channel quickly whenever her squeekiness comes on the food channel. BUT.....she wrote a kick ass kids cookbook. Probably with help from a lot of other less annoying people. BUT, it is easy and fun and diverse...I recommend it especially because you get her tips without having to listen to her.

One of Del's favorite things to make is the BBQ chicken pizza, which also happens to be one of my Mom and Dad's favorites too. And Brock and Dad both have "pizza" as one of their favorite food groups so we are always good to go with this meal.

There are a few options for the dough....You can go old school and by the Bridgeford Frozen Bread Dough and roll it out to the thickness you want. Or you can go to Trader Joe's and get their ready made pizza dough. Or you can one up it and make your own, which is actually pretty darn easy if you have the time.

Us? We went for the Bridgeford, it is a family fave and it is easy to keep a spare in the freezer for occasions that require pizza. :) This is a great meat for a quick fix and everyone loves it.

BBQ Chicken Pizza

1 Loaf Bridgeford Frozen Bread Dough, thawed
BBQ Sauce
2 Chicken Breasts, cooked and chopped
1 medium Red Onion, sliced
2 Cups Jack Cheese
1 bunch Cilantro, stemmed & chopped

Roll out dough to the thickness and shape you want. One loaf will generally make one half sheet pan. Spray your pan with non stick spray and sprinkle a little cornmeal on the pan and then lay out your dough. Invariably one of the kids always wants to roll the dough out, so it tends to turn in to an oblong, kind of rectangular....blob. But whatever, stretch or pinch it as needed to make it fit the pan you have selected. You can brush the edges with olive oil and sprinkle with herbs and Parmesan cheese if you wish, it adds good flavor to the crust with much effort. Poke the dough with a fork and par bake for 10 minutes or so.

Saute the red onion in a little olive oil until tender and set aside.

Toss the chicken with a little BBQ sauce to coat it. Spread BBQ sauce on the dough evenly. This is Del sprinkling the herbs on the crust edges.

Top with chicken, red onion and cheese. With a smile on your face of course. :)

Bake until golden and bubbly. Top with chopped cilantro.


April 20, 2010

You never forget your first...

First love, first best friend, first time driving a car, first raw oyster, first time you tasted truffles, first alcoholic beverage....

OK, maybe you forgot that one! But the rest....think about it for a sec!

Whether it be food or drink, experience or emotion we tend to remember our "first" things in a pretty rose colored light. You might forget that your first love was also a faithless schmuck who pledged his love to you and only a week later you find another girls love note to him in his ashtray. You forgot that your first drive behind the wheel of a car was not on a straight road in an automatic vehicle with the wind in your hair, but backing out of a garage in a stick shift with your dad yelling at you to watch out for the dog! You forgot that the first oyster came from a restaurant that served nigh on 10,000 of the things on a Sunday brunch and they were of inferior quality.....you only remember it as the "wow" of that briny ocean flavor and the rather "interesting" texture followed by the realization that you just swallowed a whole live being.

I have too many good food memories to share all of them in one post, so I will share with you one that occurred about 17 years ago exactly (dating myself here...) during the spring break of my junior year in high school.

You know those big pickle jars that hold about 5 gallons of gigantic dill pickles? We had one of those in my Dad's office that he would pretty faithfully toss his extra coins in on a daily basis. One year it was pretty close to the top and he set me to sitting on the living room floor rolling coins in those little paper rolls, counting out 50 pennies, 50 dimes, 40 nickels and 40 quarters per roll, occasionally coming across a half or silver dollar to add to the pile. This is, of course, before the Coin Star machines and when the banks required you to have all the change rolled before redeeming it for bills. I worked on this project for weeks, the tips of my fingers stained with grime from hundreds of dollars in loose change (ugh!) and finally hit the bottom and Dad then went and redeemed the money.

How much, you ask? I have no freaking clue. All I know is that it was enough to take my Mom and Dad and I to Europe on a spring break vacation spanning three countries for about 9 days.

And while I would jump at the chance for a 9 day European vacation these days, I was not so thrilled at that time. 16 years old, spring break and I was stuck in a car with my parents in countries that spoke languages that I could only count to 10 in and call someone an asshole in German, thanks to my Nana. Think National Lampoons European Vacation without Rusty and you'll get pretty close.

It wasn't a horrid vacation, it started out kind of foreboding.....no reservations for a hotel on our first night and drove around from town to town with no luck, Easter Sunday in the north of France-bad idea....none of us spoke French and they are not what you would call "in love" with Americans over there....me with jet lag so bad I slept the first few days in the back of the car. By the time we got our bearings and figured out what the hell we were going to do and where we were going to go it got a lot better.

In France we toured Versaille and the Eiffel Tower, ate escargot at a sidewalk Paris cafe, almost ordered Evian but then realized wine was cheaper, got to walk through Leonardo DaVinci's Castle in Amboise, had real french crepes stuffed with beef and mushrooms, saw the church in Rouen where Joan 'd Arc was burned and generally acted like a bunch of tourists. We bought cheeses from the markets, pate and salamis from the charcuterie, croissants and eclairs from the patissieries and fresh baguettes from the boulangerie which I smeared with Nutella as we toodled cross country taking in the sights.

In Germany we stayed in one small town called Offenburg on the France/Germany border that you had to park outside and walk in to as it was all cobblestones and walking paths. It was a cute little town with little or no real attractions that I recall...I only remember eating at a restaurant where we all ordered the Weinerschnitzel because it was the only thing we thought we recognized. It was giant slabs of breaded and friend veal, a pile of French fries (German fries maybe?) and a salad. One order would have been enough to feed all three of us, but we did them proud!

Switzerland found us on the shore of Lake Geneva in the town of Vevey whose claim to fame is that it is the headquarters of Nestle and milk chocolate was invented there in 1867. I don't think we knew this then, we were just trying to cram as many places as we could in in our short time and my dad and I were pretty set on getting ourselves some Swiss chocolate at some point.

By this time we had figured out how to ask where to go and what to eat and were directed to a restaurant on the shore of Lake Geneva. If memory serves correctly it had giant plate glass windows overlooking the lake, but I couldn't tell you the name if you put a gun to my head. The waiter recommended the local perch as one of our items and we all agreed to order the fondue, once again because it was something we all thought we recognized. I know now that that was really my first time eating fondue....How simple and how brilliant? A pot of cheese and crusty bread to dip in it. You can get it with meat and veggies, fruit and chocolate, but oh the bread and cheese. I could live on it if my body wouldn't get so mad (or so fat) at me.

The funny note about that meal is that really all we had was the perch and the fondue, the bread and cheese variety. And when the bill came, my parents eyes bugged out and they flipped. Apparently we were at one of the nicer restaurants in Vevey and the price tag on our meal reflected that.

I got an electric fondue pot for one of my housewarming gifts and have used it only occasionally. Too bad for me as it really is a pretty fun way to eat. If you are lucky enough to have 2 fondue pots (or a friend with an extra) you can do one with cheese and one with hot oil or broth to cook raw meat in.

The simplest recipe I have found is as follows-I have nixed the traditional 1 T of Kirsch as it is one of those liquors that you only buy for this meal and buying a $ 30 bottle of liquor for 1T to add seems a little ludicrous to me. Therefore, I do without. This recipe makes enough for 4-5 people, I think we are having fondue for dinner tomorrow night too.....

Cheese Fondue

1 Garlic Clove, split lengthwise
1 1/3 Cup Dry White Wine
8 oz Gruyere Cheese, shredded
8 oz Emmenthaler Cheese, shredded

1 T Cornstarch
3 T White Wine

Dipping items can include, but are not limited to....

Chunks of French Sourdough or otherwise crusty bread
Black Forest Ham
Chunks of cooked Chicken Breast
Steamed Asparagus
Steamed Broccoli
Roasted or Boiled New Potatoes
Sliced Pears or Apples

Pretty much anything that goes with cheese is good, use your imagination!

Rub the inside of a non stick pan with the open side of the garlic clove, you can leave the clove in or take it out if you wish. Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Mix the cornstarch and additional wine together and stir in to the pot. stir for a moment until it starts to thicken. Add the cheese a little at a time, stirring in a zig zag pattern. Don't stir in a circle or the cheese will ball up. Cook for about 10 minutes on low until the mixture is thick and smooth, Transfer to your fondue pot. If you have the electric variety like me, keep it on low to just keep heated, too much and it will boil and separate.

Then dip to your hearts delight....Brock likes to get as much cheese as possible on to his dippers. :)

Fondue Notes:

Because it is a group dining experience, double dipping isn't allowed unless you swap spit with the person you are eating with and you both agree to it before hand

This also means you should not lick skewer when taking your item off to eat it.

If you drop your food item in the pot you owe a kiss to someone at the table (Brock told me this one). I kind of like this rule :)

Salud! Here's to good memories!

April 16, 2010

Thank you, my friends, for dinner!

How lucky are we to have good friends? And in addition to being good friends and keeping us amused and entertained, Brock and I are also fortunate enough to have friends that share.

With the weather holding steady and the sun shining regularly I was feeling a little summer-ish tonight and opted to take a couple of steaks out of the freezer. I paired this with the first corn of the season and a sassy little veggie salad.

In addition to the pig that is gracing our freezer in the form of sausage and loins (we've pretty much eaten everything else) we also have deer and elk in both ground form and a few steaks that our friend Tim gave to us.

To season the steaks I brought out a goody bag from another friend (Sarah!) who works for a food service distribution company. She recently met with some folks who were kind enough to give her samples (Love samples!) of some flavored oils and vinegars and some dry rubs and spices from a company called Char Crust. http://www.charcrust.com/

I *heart* Char Crust.

When I owned my restaurant it was all we seasoned our dry aged steaks with and we ordered the stuff by the 5 gallon bucket as we were known for our steaks and blew through it like crazy. It is a Mid-west company that started out inside of a restaurant that has now branched out in to a huge company. We always used the "original" flavor, but after Sarah gifted me with all of the samples, I found out that they have about 8 of them. Yay!

I chose the Garlic Peppercorn, which was delicious....I only forgot that with this stuff, you really have to dredge and pack it on to your steak/chop/rib as it is light in flavor otherwise. This rub really seals in the juices and creates an awesome crust on the outside of a steak....just sear on a high heat until it is done to your taste. The outside of the meat just caramelizes and is mouthwateringly delicious.

A little shallot & mushroom chopped up for a saute to top the steak with.....

Chopped cucumber, cherry tomatoes and sliced jicama tossed with pomegranate vinegar and arbequina olive oil from my local olive oil shop (WeOlive on Main Street in Ventura!) and a little salt and pepper.

Boiled corn on the cob with a little butter (just a smidge!) and a sprinkle of salt.

To the friends that contributed, thank you, we truly enjoyed dinner tonight!

Summer is almost here....I can just about taste it!

April 13, 2010

They call it fishing, not catching

Sitting in a boat with a hook and some bait on your line is generally called fishing (or it's an excuse to pop a beer early in the day). But it is in no way a guarantee that the fish is going to swim up and gobble your hook, and then hold on long enough for you to haul him in to the boat.

A day off in the middle of the week generally finds me running errands, hitting Target or the grocery store and spending my day in solitude. Today, however, I had plans with my Papa to go hit up Lake Casitas for a fishing date.

Or as I refer to it, Lake No. As in No Fish. Because in 30 + years of fishing at that lake, I had never caught a fish. I drowned a lot of worms, soaked plenty of power bait and soaked up the rays. But never a fish for Jeni.

Every time my Dad has come home from this lake in the last year he is filled with tales of big mouth bass, blue gills, crappie, carp and trout. He takes his buddies and his workers out on the lake and they come home with 2-4 fish apiece. Hell, my cousin Delany caught a trout there when she was 7 years old.

Me? Nada.

Bitter? Yes.

Moving on.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day at the lake, the water is as high as we have seen it for years, smooth as glass, sun shining and very few boats and fishermen to compete with. I even got a little sun on my winter whitened legs. Our bonus to this lake is the wildlife that is so tame you can all but drive up and pet it. While stalking a turtle perched on a floating log....

We encountered a family of deer making their way around the perimeter of the lake. One was kind enough to stop for a head shot.

White swans were gliding across the center of the lake, that two weeks ago was a small island inhabited by white pelicans. Now the water is so shallow you can see the big mouth bass and blue gills sitting a the bottom just waiting for you to drop a worm in their face.

So we did. We dropped worm after worm right smack dab in front of their dumb ass stubborn fish faces. And did they bite? No.

Dad tried a lure with a rubber minnow (with glitter even!) and had a bass pick it up and spit it out a half dozen times before he set the hook. Well, he kind of set the hook, because the bass jumped up and threw the hook out.

Damn it. Move to another spot.

Did I mention that we had a bet going? First fish = $5 winnings or loser buys lunch. Not big stakes by any means, but you have to understand that I have a little bit of a complex when it comes to fishing with my dad. He always catches the first and biggest fish....not just with me, but darn near any time he fishes. So just having him get the first bite just irked me.

Then as I was reeling in one of my poles to check bait and re-cast in to an area that we had seen a fish jump, my other pole bent at the tip and my heart sang! All I had to do was keep it on and get it to the boat.

I'd like to tell you an "Old Man and the Sea" type of saga, but really it was just me and Dad's cheap rod and reel set sitting on a bass boat on the shore of a lake. :)

Long story short, I hauled up about a 10# carp on a rod strung with what I think was 2# test and landed the beast!


I won $5, which I promptly reinvested in lunch for my Dad and Grandma and I. But best of all I won bragging rights and was able to witness what happens to Dad when he isn't the first one to catch a fish. It was kind of funny.....not foot stomping, whiny baby, green eyed monster like some people would get...my Dad is anything but a whiner. More along the lines of statements like "I hope I don't get skunked" and "Maybe our luck changed!".... I could all but hear the hope and desire dripping out of his mouth.

And he finally caught a fish....and then he caught another one. So he had two to my one. We are actually bringing one home to cook as opposed to mine which is pretty much inedible. Please note the size of his hand to the size of the fish....the trick to make the fish bigger in a picture is to hold it as far away from your body as you can. But mine was bigger than both of his put together and the first fish, so I still win.

Competitive much?

After cleaning his edible fish, which happened to be about a 15" trout with beautiful pink flesh, I promptly brined it in lemon zest, salt & brown sugar and then took a nap. I love naps.

We smoked the fish very lightly and made a spread out of it to serve on little rye crackers. So simple and so very delicious.

Smoked Trout Spread

1 fresh caught pink fleshed trout, about 15" long
(or you can use salmon if it is easier, about a pound of meat)

Brine the fish in

3 cups water
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
zest from 2 lemons

Bring the brine to a boil and then cool with ice cubes. Pour over fish and let sit in the fridge for at least 4 hours, up to 24. Drain and rinse.

Smoke in cooktop smoker over alder wood chips for 45 minutes over medium heat. Remove from heat and let it sit and think about itself for about 10 minute.

Then go through the tedious process of skinning and de-boning the damn thing. This is the only part I hate. Pick as many of the little bones as you can from the meat, the rest you will be able to pick out when you make the spread.

Put the trout in a bowl and add

3T Whipped Cream Cheese
2 T Dijon Mustard
1 T Lemon Juice
1 Chopped Green Onion
1 tsp Dill
Salt & Pepper to taste.

Blend well. While stirring you may notice some more of the infernal bones that were missed in the first go-round. Be sure to pick these out so as not to choke your dinner guests.


April 10, 2010

Who's so smart?

Yesterday while at the grocery store I was shopping not only for last nights dinner, but also for tonight's I had a revelation. We are really a lazy culture.

I know it's been said before, but what really struck me was that being lazy is also contributing to being broke.

Knowing that I was making a chicken Caesar Salad for dinner last night, I automatically went to the part of the produce section and stood in front of the pre washed, chopped and bagged salad mixes. $3.99, $3.29, $2.99 for a bag of lettuce that would probably feed the two of us. Then I sidled down the aisle at Albertsons and looked at these beautiful heads of romaine lettuce, whole tied up with a big blue twisty tie for $.99. All I had to do was take it home, chop it and run it through my salad spinner. I had enough for 2 healthy salads last night and enough to take to work with me today for lunch.

Then on to the meat aisle....boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 3# package for $16. OR I could buy a 3# package of skin on, ribs attached breasts for $6. Same brand.

The skin came off, the breasts and tenders detached from the ribs and the bones saved and frozen for the next time I need to make chicken stock. 2 breasts frozen for future use, about a pound chopped up for chicken skewers tonight and the remainder seasoned and pan seared for dinner last night.

I have to figure that for a little effort on my part in the kitchen dinner last night cost me all of $6 to feed both of us a very healthy and delicious dinner. And now I have the means to cook additional dinners without going back to the store. That, in my way of thinking, is smart shopping, smart cooking and smart eating.

I think a lot of America has forgotten to shop smart and eat smart. Brock and I were talking about it and he thinks I could do a Food Network show on it to help remind them...what do you think?

April 4, 2010

Dedicated to my craft....

Quick post on Easter Sunday with my family.....Dinner tonight is at David and Riki's....one of two "other" sets of parents I have. David is trying something new and is going to BBQ a prime rib for our meal this evening. Being that there will be no drippings with which to make au jus with, Riki asked that I contribute to the meal with au jus and horseradish sauce for our main dish.

Au jus was a breeze....roasted neck and rib bones and some veggies made killer stock which was reduced to 1/4 last night.

Today, Brock and I tackled the horseradish. Tackled you ask? Yes, tackled.

First you wash the root and scrub all the dirt off.....

then you peel and slice in to chunks big enough to fit in the food processor.

Then you put on your respirator.

And then you hit the switch.

And if you don't have a respirator at hand (Brock has 2, he is so prepared!), then you hold your breath and run away. Far far away. Then take a deep breath, hold it and go turn the machine off and run away again.

If you don't, you'll be sorry.

Then add about a cup of vinegar per pound of horseradish to neutralize it (keep holding your breath), add salt to taste and store in the fridge. You can also add sour cream to it to make it the creamy variety. :)

Bon Apetit and Happy Easter!

The best of all worlds

How do you not love a meal that combines all of the best things to eat, made in one pot?

Every culture or cuisine has one that embodies the best that you have to offer regionally while using the staples that you have at hand. Minestrone, Fried Rice, Gumbo, Pot a Feu and Cassoulet are a a few that come to mind. Mix up some veg, some starch and some meat in one pot and you have delicious, well balanced meal.

But even if you do settle on on one of those "recipes" you are going to find a thousand variations. Every mother, aunt and grandmother will have her own version and the gentlemen in the family will most likely have their own opinions to interject. Each region has it's own specialties and each family its own traditions to add to the proverbial pot. It is truly a never ending journey on the quest to find the best. Fortunately for me, I am not stuck to any one road and am always up for the next road that looks interesting.

With dinners on prior nights weighing on my mind and future dinners looming, I didn't want to overload on any one protein so I was kind of hoping for a combo of sorts that would satiate my current craving for something.....else. You know what I mean?

When I think of these types of meals, I personally thing of two different dishes that I can go face down in....Fried Rice, which is a catch all for anything you have in the fridge and can handle pretty much any vegetable or protein and then the more lavish dish from Spain called Paella, which requires just a bit more forethought and possibly more shopping effort.

When I googled recipes for Paella it seemed like there were a thousand different variations, traditional Chicken, Vegetarian, Squid, Rabbit....and the bases vary as well as the proteins. Some have an extra heavy serving of paprika to make it red, some use a tomato base and add in sofrito, which is a grated tomato, onion and spice mixture. I even found versions that were curry based-but that just sounded like a step in a very odd direction. The one thing the do all have in common is the base of saffron, rice and olive oil.

Saffron is, by weight, the most expensive spice on earth, ranging from $500-$5,000 per pound. Its distinctive smell is an automatic food "turn on" for me, it can be one of a few dishes that really use it as a base. It is also used in the dying industry as it has the ability to turn not only your food, but fabrics an intense yellow. Enough trivia for ya? Moving on!

As today is Easter Sunday, when I hit the store yesterday to grab some meat, I found that there was not a single chicken (whole, cut up or otherwise) left on the shelf, leaving me to veer off in a different direction. I grabbed shrimp and clams and then scored with some spicy andouille sausage (decent substitute for Spanish Chorizo in a pinch) and a half rack of baby back ribs.

The one thing about this dish is that it is almost impossible to make a small batch....dinner for 2 with Paella tends to turn in to dinner for 2 with leftovers or dinner for 6 quite easily. I have to continually remind myself to hold back and not over do it in any area. Because there are so many ingredients, they tend to all of a sudden pile up until you have enough for an army. So I was a very good girl when I only grabbed 6 clams, less than a half pound of shrimp and used less than half of the half rack of ribs.

Paella a la Yennifer (es mi nombre en Espanol)

Spanish Chorizo (hard sausage) or Andouille Sausage, sliced in half & sliced on the bias
6 Baby Back Ribs, seasoned with paprika, cumin, salt & pepper
2 T Olive Oil

In a large high sided pan, saute sausage until brown, remove and drain on paper towels. Bring oil up to temperature and sear ribs on all sides until brown, drain on paper towels. These do not need to be fully cooked. Wipe pan clean of any burnt particles.

1 Onion, chopped
1 Red Bell Pepper, Chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
1 Yellow Bell Pepper, Chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
3 cloves Garlic, minced

Sweat the Onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil and then add peppers and garlic until tender.

1-1/2 cups rice
3 Cups hot Chicken Broth with....
Saffron, 1 Tsp-ish....use your best judgement based upon the quality of the saffron, it should be PUNGENT!!!

Add the rice to the veggies and stir for a few minutes, add all the chicken broth and saffron and stir for a second until it is blended. Arrange ribs on top of the rice and cook for 10 minutes.

6 Large Clams
1/2 pound Shrimp, raw and shelled
6 oz frozen peas.

Add Clams to the top and cover the pot. Cook for about 10 minutes, covered

Add Shrimp to the pot and arrange so it looks pretty. :) Sprinkle Peas on top and cook for a few more minutes.

At this point you need to use your best judgement about when things are done...the clams need to be open (if they don't open, steam the super quick...but if they don't ever open don't eat them!), the shrimp should be pink and tender. The rice may browned/crispy at the bottom of the pot, it's really no big thing, crispy rice is actually pretty damn tasty. :)

Your two biggest dilemmas? How to make it small enough for 2 or who to invite for dinner.