10.29.2010

i still believe in frank turner

I can tell you the exact moment I fell in love with Frank Turner.

I am writing in this restaurant downtown on a slow Sunday night, and the playlist going on overhead is some of the weirdest that I've ever heard. If I recall, they go from Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" to Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" in less than three songs. It is my kinda joint.

Anyway, this song comes on, and I hear a man with an English accent sing about all the girls he's lost. He shrugs it off with this line: "Music is my substitute for love."

10.28.2010

what's good: roasted pepper and salami

I have two old peppers. And no, that's not a euphemism.

The Good Journal: Old Peppers

So wrinkly, this geriatric produce is almost done. Gotta eat it now.

I also have a pound of salami leftover from a dinner party dish I did last week. So the first thing I do is look up both those ingredients. Thank the Google gods, this recipe comes up: Baked Red Pepper and Salami Salad from @Cooking.com.

10.27.2010

because food is important

I think it's funny when people say, "You're really into food." I mean, isn't everybody? It's a biological need. But I see what they mean. I know a guy who lives off of cereal and protein shakes. The only way I'm eating like that is if I'm in the hospital, in which case, pull the plug.

While I loved food my whole life, I don't think I really understood it until I started to cook. How it truly has a life all its own. How it speaks to you. Reminds you who you are sometimes. For example, I could be 100 years old, but if I somehow get a bite of Grandma Boyd's apple dumplings, I am instantly 10 years old again and it's Thanksgiving.

Sometimes food simply brings chaos into order. My favorite line from the film Julie and Julia comes when Julie Powell is making chocolate cream pie and she says to her husband, "You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is sure and when I say nothing, I mean nothing, you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. That's such a comfort."

10.26.2010

recipe-ish: fried rice

I was almost embarrassed when I realized how easy it was to make fried rice at home. Really. Burn (or better yet, recycle) that tired Chinese take-out menu and make this super basic recipe tonight.

First, make some rice as you usually would. All I had was brown this time.

Brown Rice

In a skillet, heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil (and I add a teaspoon of bacon fat for fun). This is where you will saute whatever vegetables you'd like. I hate peas and carrots in Chinese food, so I don't use them, but feel free to. I add mushrooms and green peppers. The only must is onions. Gotta add onions. Also, this is when you add the chopped meat, if you want to.

10.25.2010

recipe: real simple's brown butter biscuits

The Good Journal: Brown Butter Biscuits

Many years ago, I took scissors to my growing collection of Real Simple Magazine issues, cut out their "Five Easy Recipes" and made a folder of my favorites. Now, out of all the cookbooks that I've received over the years, this homemade binder is the one I refer to the most. One recipe in particular I probably make at least once a month.

The Good Journal: The Making of Brown Butter Biscuits

10.23.2010

in pursuit of perfection

I have friends over for dinner all the time, but Friday night was the first time since April that I've entertained guests for a more intentional dinner party.

I worked on the music playlist for a week. I came up with a menu that I felt was ambitious while not overly complicated: cannelloni, prosciutto wrapped asparagus, garlic bread and white chocolate mint mousse. Truthfully, I'd only made the garlic bread before; everything else was brand new and that included making my own pasta.

Hopes were high. So naturally, I flipped out a little when things proved more complex.

White chocolate is a fickle mistress. It refused to melt, at least not like its dark counterparts. I ended up over-whipping the mousse to try to get the chocolate to blend. Then the homemade pasta became an epic fail, sticking mercilessly to everything in site (not even flour helped).



I could have cried and I almost did. I don't know what it is about cooking that can get me so emotional. It's like these dishes are a reflection of me. So if they fail, I fail.

Cooking is a lot about rules and proven techniques and knowing how certain foods react under specific situations. Perfection is prized. However, it helps to remember that there is an element to it all that is always out of your control, and the best you can do is roll with it. One recipe doesn't work; turn it into something else. Over-whipped the mousse? Scoop the chunky mess into a wine glass, stick some mint leaves in it and serve it anyway.

I scrapped the cannelloni idea, ran to the store, and made lasagna instead, using the same filling and sauce. It ended up being a unique take on the classic with the salami/prosciutto cheesiness between the layers.

Might I say, in the middle our evening I looked at the kitchen window and caught a reflection of our dinner party. Three girls laughing, eating, sharing stories about traveling abroad. I had to stop and take in the moment.

'Cause it's not about perfect food. It's about the good times and friends it brings together.

~jennifer.

10.20.2010

eat pray love's elizabeth gilbert on creativity

I'm a food nerd, I'll admit it. But I come by it honestly because I'm also a nerd nerd. Especially now that I'm five years out of graduate school and have regained my love of reading for pleasure, I love to learn. I enjoy lectures on topics of interest like food, art, film, and books. If more authors came to my small beach town, I'd go to readings. Big-time nerd. That's me. Out and proud.

So, I love Ted Talks and Google Talks and all kinds of lectures you can find on YouTube. I put them on, minimize the screen, and listen to them while I go about my day. And it's not just artsy stuff. These two forums welcome scientists, politicians, newsmakers, etc. There is something for everyone.

If you're not diving into these "conversations", you're missing out on valuable information. So yeah, I'm gonna subject you to them on occasion, because they're good. All kinds of noteworthy authors, filmmakers, and chefs come to these venues, talk about their books and give amazing advice. It's everything college should have been.

So today, I'm sharing with you a classic and a favorite of mine. Non-food related, but it is a brilliant talk on creativity from Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert. This is especially pertinent for writers, but I think any artist, culinary or otherwise, can find inspiration here.



~jennifer.

less assembly required cooking



I have nothing to eat.

No, that's not true. I don't have anything ready to eat.

Since beginning this culinary adventure, I've swept my house clean of processed foods. I mean, if I can make it myself, why am I letting someone I don't know make it for me, pump it full of preservatives and sell it to me at a heightened cost? No thanks.

Unfortunately in my quest to be my own personal chef, I unwittingly lost my ability to eat simple snacks. Seriously, everything in my house is a raw ingredient that requires sautéing, marinading or roasting. I came home last night in the mood for something quick and realized I got nothing. I'd love some potato chips, but I have none. I of course have peanut oil, sea salt and potatoes though. You see the problem here?

I gotta get it through my head that not everyday around here is an episode of Top Chef. Yes, I cook every day, three meals a day more often than not because I enjoy it. However, sometimes a girl just need a big, ungodly bag of Doritos.

~jennifer.

10.19.2010

leftovers: the dos and don'ts

As a kid, nothing brought down a good day like hearing we're having leftovers for dinner. Sure it was fine the first time around, but the second time? Ew. The stickiness of macaroni and cheese, the mashed potatoes that clearly lost their will to live... It just tastes old.

It's true some ingredients only respect freshness. So, a few rules of thumb:

Don't reheat things with dairy. I may be wrong, but all of the things I remember tasting gross the second day had cheese or milk or eggs in them.

Don't use the microwave unless you absolutely have to. You can reheat anything that comes in small pieces (like rice dishes) or anything that melts (like butter), but as a general rule, just don't. It torches food unevenly. I mean, how is it possible that an enclosed heating device can manage to burn the outer edges of food while leaving the middle frozen solid?

Don't reheat seafood. Fish, even shrimp, can be delicate and fickle. I don't trust it on the second go 'round. Besides, if it's been in your fridge for more than a day, it's a little suspect anyway.

Now certain things only get better the more "leftover" they are. You make it, you put it in the fridge and let the flavors get to know each other. The garlic, the pepper, the thyme, whatever you've used -- they all work the night shift to bring you something unique the next day.

Do enjoy your chili for a week or longer. Whenever I'm making food for new parents or anyone who will likely store it for a long time, I think chili. Nothing else has its extraordinary ability to get more delicious as time goes on.

Do take your time when enjoying a good homemade tomato soup or pasta sauce. Those Italian spices especially love to hook up in the fridge and create more flavor as the days go on.

Or try this...



This dish is a spiced carrot and butternut squash soup recipe I got from Gordon Ramsey. After putting in too much orzo, it's a little pasta-heavy. But I ate it for days and it was just as good as the first time... if not better.

What are your favorite leftover meals?

~jennifer.

10.18.2010

recipe: chicken cordon bleu with roasted vegetables




A good night always starts with my friends texting me:

"Are we still on for dinner? If so, what can we bring?"

I am blessed with friends who will bring all the ingredients if I promise to cook. They get a good meal. I get to flex my skills in the kitchen without going to the grocery store. Fair trade in my book.

One of my friends is a diabetic, and I love a challenge. The mission was a low-carb, no-sugar dinner, heavy on the protein and vegetables. Easy peasy.

I went with chicken cordon bleu with a swiss cheese white sauce and roasted vegetables. Here's how it went down:

Ingredients:

4 chicken thighs
4 slices ham (not that wimpy sandwich meat, something thick from the deli)
8 slices swiss cheese
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon bacon fat
breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon butter
1 and 1/2 tablespoons flour
milk
salt and pepper
1 to 2 slices swiss cheese

2 green squash or zucchini
a handful of mushrooms
1/2 of a small onion

Set the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the thighs on a flat clean surface and pound each of them to roughly 1/2 inch thickness. Thankfully we have a kitchen mallet, but in the past I have wrapped the bottom of a glass in plastic wrap and used that. Whatever you do, use some force. Think of your ex if needed.

Lay one slice of ham on each of the flattened chicken. Lay two slices of cheese on the ham. Roll them up with the seam of the chicken on the bottom. Place in a glass pan.

In a skillet, melt the oil, butter and bacon fat together. When it's nice and sizzling, pour it over the chicken in the pan. Use a spoon to make sure that each piece of chicken has a nice all-over glaze. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on the chicken (you could omit this or really coat it, but for this low-carb version, just a sprinkle will do... and of course you could always use mashed up Chex mix as a substitute).

Now for your veggies.

Slice your squash and mushrooms. Chop your onion. Throw it all in another glass pan. Drizzle it with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper (maybe some seasoned salt). Cover the top with foil.

Put both glass pans in the oven (I don't think it matters which is on top). Cook for 25 to 30 mins.

About five or so minutes before it's done, you need to prepare your sauce.

In a skillet, melt butter. Sprinkle in the flour, whisking with a fork the entire time. When it becomes frothy and foam-like, add milk very slowly -- again, whisking to keep it from clumping. You want enough milk so that it has the consistency of gravy. So pour slowly until you get there. Toss in a dash of salt and pepper. Pick apart your remaining slices of swiss cheese and put them in the mixture. Stir until everything is melted and somewhat smooth.

When you plate your chicken, spoon the sauce on top of it. This sauce thickens and gets cold quickly so use all of it on your chicken and serve the dish with the veggies immediately.



~jennifer.

10.17.2010

knife skills... as taught by jamie oliver

From an Iron Chef to those of us who just pretend to be, everybody needs to know how to handle a knife. Naked Chef and Food Revolutionary Jamie Oliver shows us how.



~jennifer.

10.15.2010

the grit cake debacle

Before I even started last night's dinner, the title for this blog popped in my head. Sometimes you can just sense when something is about to go wrong.

Things start out well. I make my cheesy grits as directed during lunch and chill them until I get home from work.



As usual, I follow a hodge-podge of recipes, borrowing the idea of adding caramelized onions from Edible Memphis.



I have my garlic ready to add just when the onions are perfect. As the onions caramelize, I heat up a second skillet to fry the grit cakes. The oil doesn't look that hot, but apparently it is. While a few cakes cook, it happens.

Grease pops up from the skillet on to me and more shockingly my camera.



Here's a problem they don't teach you about in food blogger school.

Ug. All my pictures are in a haze like I just woken up. This being my first real camera, I am at a loss and my roommate, who is a photographer, isn't home. I know enough about delicate machinery that you can't just wipe it down with anything. So, I hit the Internet and see what I can find.

One site suggests cleaning it with lighter fluid. My luck is poor enough tonight. No way am I messing around with anything related to fire. I decide to go with the rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball. Just a few dabs and thank the Lord, my lens is clear again.

In the meantime, my onions burn.



Grease splatters just about everywhere. And I'm so consumed with the camera and the burnt onions, that I completely forget to add the garlic, which sits patiently in vain still on the cutting board.



Not part of the plan.

Despite the debacle, the grit cakes turn out perfect! Golden and crispy outside, hot, gritty, cheesy goodness inside. Reminds me of potato cakes. Just a great way to use leftovers.



Let's just say all's well that ends well.

~jennifer.

10.14.2010

breakfast... quickly now: the bacon and eggs edition

I'm hurtin' this morning, because I had to fly out of the house without breakfast. These cooler autumn mornings make me want to curl up in my bed just a few more minutes. And sometimes that's at the expense of the most important meal of the day.

I always miss breakfast, if I haven't had it. People who don't eat breakfast are weird to me.

To balance both my love of sleep and food, I've been weaving cooking into the morning routine.

As you probably noticed in my last bacon post, I like to cook bacon in the oven. To me, it cooks more evenly and helps distribute that divine scent throughout the house. I use a glass pan to prevent burning.

So I set the oven to a low temp, like 350 or 375 degrees and pop a few strips in. Bacon getting those crisp edges and juicy middle usually takes about 10 to 15 mins, long enough for me to hop in the shower, pick out my 'fro and find whatever fashion-forward combo of t-shirt and jeans that is clean.

Back in the kitchen, I use a pat of butter and melt it in a skillet. I whisk in one egg and let it fry undisturbed for a minute or two. Take two warm tortillas, split the fried egg between the two and lay strips of bacon on them. After a drizzle of hot sauce (I love the Tapitio), I have breakfast on the run.

On a good day, I wrap it in foil and hit the road. Yesterday, I ate it while walking around the house looking for my wallet. Either way, it's hot, it's easy and it's way better than cold cereal.



~jennifer.

10.13.2010

sunshine anderson: heard it all before

4 Things I love about Sunshine Anderson's "Heard It All Before":


1. It's real organic rhythm and blues; an urban original, which is rare nowadays

2. For this line alone... "You have crossed the line to the point of no return / What you do from here on out I am no longer concerned"

3. The dude in this is rockin' a Redskins hat (go 'Skins!)

4. 10 years later, this song is still better than 95% of what's played on the radio



~jennifer.

10.12.2010

what's good: fettucini with butternut squash, sage and brown butter



I said I would take it easy this week, but last night, I found myself preheating the oven and chopping butternut squash to the tune of Dean Martin. I really don't know how it happened.

Okay, I have a slight idea. It all started with an empty stomach and a Google search.

I told my friends a week ago that I was in possession of a butternut squash for the first time in my life and needed some recipes. I got some great ideas, but seeing that I blew all my discretionary income on some hipster clothes from the Lucky Brand store, I couldn't get any additional ingredients from the market. Everything for this dish had to come from inside the house.

So I did some searching and landed on this gem from the kitchn (yes, without the "e") -- Fettucini with Butternut Squash, Sage & Brown Butter. It looked too good to pass up, so I got to work.



I had that bow-tie organic pasta, which served me just fine.

The recipe calls for real sage, but all I had was ground. Yes, I know from the looks of that picture that I put too much in. Eh, work with the kid.



This was a brilliant excuse to use the rest of my pine nuts. Lightly toasted, these little beauties are my favorite flavor enhancers. Often times, while cooking with them, I'll just start tossing back handfuls. Don't know what the cholesterol situation is with these nuts and really don't want to know.



As advertised, it took less than 30 minutes and after I ground up some cheese and sprinkled it on top, I had a sophisticated dish perfect for a balmy autumn night.

It's good stuff. See for yourself. Fettucini with Butternut Squash, Sage & Brown Butter

~jennifer.

10.11.2010

what's (not) cookin': honey and cheese

Today is a day of leftovers. Last tonight, I will feast off of my pork from Friday night (if my roommate hasn't finished it yet). Right now for breakfast, I'm warming up that decadent, over-sized apple dessert I got from Cracker Barrel yesterday.

As I focus on my writing and training for a 5K and half-marathon race, I see this week being one of warm-ups, standbys, go-to's, and easy recipes. Who says food has to be complicated? I don't know, but it wasn't me.

One of my new favorite easy dishes is one I got from the glorious Cooking Channel. I don't personally have the station, but any time I'm over someone's house who does, I make them sit through hours of hipster foodie shows like Chuck's Day Off, Everyday Exotic and Unique Eats.

My easy recipe of the day is Honey and Cheese from David Rocco's Dolce Vita. When I saw this on the show, I just had to make it for myself. It's so easy. Just cheese, walnuts and honey. I like to put little chopped bits of apple in it as well.



Between the no-cooking factor and it's natural sweetness, I can't think of a better go-to snack.

Now I know I just said I want to take it easy this week, but I'm just now remembering a Rachael Ray cooking segment that I saw yesterday. I might have to break the rules to make this prosciutto wrapped delightfulness.

~jennifer.

10.08.2010

recipe-ish: oven smoked pulled pork

They said it couldn't be done. You have to have an outdoor smoker to properly smoke pork butt, they said. You'll burn down the house first.

Ha!



Along with my bacon, I picked up one pound of pork butt from the farmers market this week. I was determined to do something new, and the first recipe to come up in my search was "smoked pork."

Yes, it is a lot trickier without a grill or smoker, and wisdom would suggest anything involving smoke should be done outside. However, that wasn't an option in the imperfect kitchen, so I improvised and used a combination of a few recipes that I found.

As I always say, you'll find lots of different ways to cook this, but here's how I did it.

First, brine your pork. I used this recipe from All Recipes: Basic Brine for Smoking. Super simple. I left mine in the fridge over night and through the morning.

Next, you'll need mesquite wood chips. Not very expensive at all. I spent maybe four bucks.



You need just enough to cover the bottom of a shallow pan, so scope out what you need and follow the directions to soak the wood chips in water for 15 minutes or more.

While those are soaking, it's time to macgyver your smoking apparatus. Get an aluminum pan (I used a metal one) and place a rack on top of it. The meat will sit on the rack; the wet wood chips will be in the pan. With the rack on top of the pan, it simulates a grill inside of your oven.



Set the oven to 200 to 225 degrees. Then I hope you have about six hours to spare. According to the other recipe I used (Smoked Pork Butt), it could take up to 18. My one-pound butt, cut in half, took six hours.

I did not burn the house down. It barely warmed the kitchen. However, I can't advise that you leave this unattended. Just the idea of wood and meat and heat over the course of hours just sounds like a recipe for a forest fire.

When it was done and I pulled it apart with a fork, it was tender on the inside and there was a slight crisp on the outside.



Even without a rub, it was highly flavorful. We put a little barbeque sauce on it and served it with a side of roasted vegetables. This little pound fed me, two friends, one roommate, and two dogs with some to spare.

~jennifer.

10.07.2010

take two: the return of bruschetta

Now, you recall I wrote about my bruschetta last week. Well, I'm trying it again with the roasted garlic bread that I got at the farmers market. I just have to share how they came out.



Sheer perfection. And so easy. I took a shower while the sauce was simmering.



This is starting to become one of my go-to dishes. The red and white make it look as good as it tastes, although, I got a little sloppy while I was plating. Eh, just more to sop up with the bread.



Here's the original post. Make this for someone as an appetizer and watch them fall in love with you.


~jennifer.

10.06.2010

bacon: i'm in love with a butcher

I try to diversify, but lately, all I want to blog about is breakfast. Today, it's bacon.



I am spoiled forever against grocery store bacon. I have been for quite some time. It started a few years ago, when my parents started buying pepper bacon from a nearby Amish market. Something about a lack of electricity gives these gentle people the golden culinary touch. Anything you buy from an Amish market will be the best you've had. Bacon is no exception.

Recently, I became a frequent customer at my neighborhood Farmers Market. Maybe Food, Inc. really got to me, but I just see such a value in pouring back into our local growers. And the produce is so good! I can count on one finger the times I've gotten something less than delicious.

Any how, this particular market has a butcher shop called, simply enough, Country Butcher Shop and Deli. They are ravenous Steelers fans with black and gold decor all over the place, but that's forgivable. Their meat is the thing of desire. From their glass display cases, I have made rockin' chili, ribs that just melt off the bone, and more. They have a wide and drool-worthy selection of cuts.

It's the only place I get bacon now. There is no need to go elsewhere. Their cherrywood and applewood bacon is... whew! It does no justice to write about it or even post these pictures (although I will), because you have to taste it. You have to experience how the aroma fills your entire house after just a few minutes in the oven. I don't know what Heaven smells like, but this bacon gives me a good idea.



If you live in the Virginia Beach area, check out the Country Butcher Shop. You won't be disappointed.

Country Butcher Shop and Deli
3640 Dam Neck Rd.
Virginia Beach, Va 23454
(757) 468-1583

I'll leave you with another fan of bacon, the great Jim Gaffigan.



~jennifer.

10.05.2010

what's good: paula deen's hash browns

This is one of the first things I learned how to make, and it is on my official go-to list when I'm too lazy, weary or hungry to come up with something new. I can make Paula Deen's Hash Browns in my sleep, which is convenient since that's usually the case before the coffee brews.

If you're not eating them, you should because they're easy, fool-proof and picture perfect every time.



Here's the recipe. Bon appetit, ya'll.

~jennifer.

10.04.2010

30 seconds to mars goes gaga

I'm quite embarassed that 30 Seconds to Mars released an album last year that I am just now getting hip with. Bad music lover, bad, bad (smacking my own hand).

While I was still grooving off of a non-stop repeat of "Kings and Queens" and "This Is War", YouTube suggested this video in its related clips menu.

I gotta admit, I didn't realize how truly disturbing this song is until this band stripped it down.

Still... a splendidly haunting cover taking the original where it was too pop to go.

30 Seconds to Mars Covers Lady GaGa's "Bad Romance"



~jennifer.

10.02.2010

recipe-ish: sweeter sweet potato fries

Whenever you're in someone else's kitchen, it's another excuse for experimentation. You're out of your element, without your usual tools and arsenal of spices. You can try new things, mostly out of necessity.

Staying at my parents' house affords me such opportunities. Grand example, tonight, I make sweet potato fries... slightly sweeter. Now, you'll find legions of recipes for this, but here's how we made it tonight. Hardly novel but delicious nevertheless.

You'll need:

1 sweet potato (cut into fries and blanched preferably)
coconut oil
a mix of cinnamon sugar (a little more sugar than cinnamon)

Heat oil over medium heat. Place fries into oil. Expect some splatter. Turn them over until they take on a yellow-ish orange hue all over (5 to 7 mins, maybe longer), then put them on a plate lined with paper towels to soak up the excess oil.

Now you can do one of two things: you can sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar on the fries or you can dip the fries in the mixture. We dipped. I think it gives you more control over the sweetness. And who doesn't love control in the kitchen?

I think a hint of nutmeg in the cinnamon-sugar might also be groovy.

I am without my trusty camera this weekend, but trust me, they're good.

~jennifer.

10.01.2010

paramore is the only exception

I hated this song the first time I heard it. I am intolerant of repetitive choruses.

But I love Paramore. "Misery Business", "Decode" and "Ignorance" get much play on my iPod. Plus, good music can never be denied, and after hearing it in restaurants and then again on Glee last Wednesday, well, I finally succumbed. I guess Paramore is the only exception.

This song makes me wish I were in love.



~jennifer.
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