Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ice Ice Baby!

If you haven't heard, the East Coast is having a heat wave. I swear I don't think I've been able to open the windows in my beautiful new house more than five times since the beginning of June. So I COULD write about something that would require turning on my stove. Or...

I could write about ice!

Ice made out of anything but water, to be exact. I was inspired by an article I found in Food Network magazine about all the things you can use to make ice: juice, soda, coffee, flavored water (which, I mean, duh! How come this article took so long to come into my life?!) Because I'll tell you something - I hate ice. I mean, I love it for some purposes, but NOT in my drinks. For one thing, I feel like I have to maneuver around the ice to get my drink, and I hate picking through my food. Secondly, ice waters down the drink - there's no two ways about it. But ice made out of Coca-Cola doesn't water down my Jack and Coke at all. When it melts, it tastes like Coke. It's like magic!

We've learned a few things about making ice out of non-water liquids.
1) In order to make ice from things other than water, you need to have good ice cube trays. Because occasionally, if you are trying to pop out one ice cube at a time, you may need to use a butter knife to pry the ice cubes out and with cheaper plastic you can chip your tray. We had some from the dollar store that started to chip and put little blue pieces of plastic in our drinks. Ew. I bought mine at target for $1.50 each. It’s worth it.
2) Some ice trays aren't made well and when you try to stack them on top of each other, one falls into the other, squeezing the liquid out all over your freezer. I recommend cutting a piece of cardboard and laying that between the ice trays - I used the cardboard from the bottom of a case of water bottles.
3) Coffee is sticky when frozen. I have no idea why. I didn't sweeten it before I froze it. But I’m not going to do the research to find out why because you don’t really care and neither do I. Just trust me – it’s sticky.

These days, my own home-made iced coffee is the reason I freeze coffee into cubes. It saves me money, but it does add a few more minutes to my morning routine, which I'll admit I am not crazy about: I am running out the door with no time to spare in the morning just like everyone else. However, avoiding spending 4 bucks on an iced coffee and being able to control what goes into my latte makes it worth it. Here's what I do:

Bonnie's Faux Vanilla Iced Latte
1/2 cup Strong brewed coffee (or if you have an espresso machine, more power to you)
1 cup 1% Milk
Three Coffee Ice Cubes
Sugar-Free Vanilla Syrup (or whatever - even just sweetener would be good.)
16 oz. Stainless Steel Thermos

Prep coffee maker: I use Chock Full of Nuts brand and use 1 TBL per .5 cups water. Turn the coffee pot on, make yourself some breakfast. The coffee will brew quickly.
Once coffee has finished brewing, turn off the machine. If you have time, leave the coffee in the pot. If not, pour coffee into a glass or ceramic vessel, anything that will allow the coffee to cool quickly - stainless steel is NOT good for this. Coffee should cool enough in about 15 minutes in a regular coffee mug, although, without a spout, you will need to be creative about how you pour it into the thermos.
Add coffee ice cubes to thermos and chill the thermos with cap on for 10 minutes or more, if possible.
Add cooled coffee.
Add Milk
Add Syrup.
Shake or swirl as your cap allows.

Take that, Starbucks! Just kidding, I still love you. But as a lady on a budget, I love being able to enjoy a cold coffee drink in the morning and spending my money on other things - and I really enjoy this drink as much as an iced latte from a coffee shop. Honest!

A note on the stainless steel thermos: if you have a coffee mug that has a stainless steel veneer on the outside and plastic on the inside, I hate to break it to you, but you don't own a stainless steel thermos. With this drink, you'd probably enjoy it fast enough that you wouldn't need a thermos, but a word to the wise: stainless steel thermoses are awesome and WORTH the money. The model I own keeps coffee that I poured in at 6:00AM hot until 4:00PM - no joke!

A thermos, or "vacuum flask", must boast a stainless steel INSIDE as well as a thermal "vacuum" that makes a thermos, well, a thermos! Wikipedia let's us know what's up:
A vacuum flask, colloquially called a thermos after a genericized ubiquitous brand, is a storage vessel which provides thermal insulation by interposing a partial vacuum between the contents and the ambient environment. The evacuated region of the partial vacuum removes material that could serve as a heat conductor or carrier, enabling the flask to keep its contents hotter or cooler than its surroundings.

Sounds fancy, eh? Yet, so simple...

Two models we currently own, both with pros and cons:
Klean Kanteen Dishwasher safe, but the sippy cap is not also insulated, so your coffee will warm up or cool down faster than...
Nissan Thermos NOT Dishwasher safe so it's gotten some stains that can't be scrubbed off after two years. However, this is the model I use, and you really can't beat the insulation. PLUS, the lock is so durable that you can turn it upside-down or throw it in a purse, and it won't leak. The only time it's ever leaked on me is when I didn't dry the threads of the screw-top thoroughly before putting on the lid. It's pretty sweet. There are lots of models on Amazon, with varying prices and colors.

I apologize for the longer post but in the name of coffee and perfect mixed drinks, I feel we must be thorough! Now go make yourself some ice cubes of your favorite mixer and get ready to enjoy your drink from beginning to end, no matter how long you sip. :)

See you next time! And if you try to the "faux latte", post how you made yours in the comments!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Do Over!

I apologize. This blog sucks.

I don’t know what I was thinking, but whatever it was, it didn’t work. Too instructional, too long. I wasn’t inspired to sit down and write the posts – how could I expect anyone to be inspired to read them? A sad story, for sure.

But “if at first you don’t succeed…”, so I will try again! Welcome to the new face of “Feed Your Face” where I will narrate my adventures in eating. It’s the same basic concept but more casual and hopefully more successful.

I’ve been trying to change this blog for months now, always fiddling with new ideas in my head, but I was truly inspired when talking with friends about eating healthy and dieting while sharing a big bowl of cheese-and-bacon-smothered french fries. My friend said something along the lines of “Oh, well I just try my best to be active, because I love to eat” with a shrug. And I looked at her in wonderment.

Who ever says “I love to eat” anymore? What courage! What valor! What fine words in the defense of food! Because I love to eat, too! And better yet, SO DO YOU! We eat every day. When we’re happy or sad or for no reason at all. And, damn it, I LOVE to eat – may I never lead anyone to believe otherwise! And eat I shall, and I’m going to tell you all about it.

In the past year, I learned a lot about life as an adult. Life is hard and BUSY and I have a lot of obstacles in the way of splendid eating bliss: a hectic schedule, a long commute, a picky-eater husband, and oh, I don’t know, a MORTGAGE. Mortgages get in the way of my purchasing obscenely expensive epicurean cheeses. I don’t recommend them.

Hmmm, but I suppose that mortgage has also kept my waistline down by limiting my purchase of cheese, so nevermind, I take that back. Epicurean cheeses in moderation. Also, my mortgage changed my kitchen from this:

To this!

Beautiful, ain’t it? Look at that counter space! Look at the windows! Look at the stainless steel! I’m about ready to move a cot in and sleep there.

In conclusion, I hope that you will join me in this space as I attempt to post much more often. I am on a mission: to enjoy food to the best of my foodie obsession in spite of all of the obstacles that life throws at me. Hopefully we can teach each other how we eat because, besides loving it, we all have to do it, so we might as well be in on this together. Don’t you think so? Oh, good!

And now, just for the sake of eating, I want to share with you a tried and true recipe that I find both easy and impressive – and how often do you find one of those? I’ve entertained guests several times with this recipe and the reason it is so impressive is because of a few added steps which, I find, don’t really take up much time. Hooray! I give you the most delectable French Toast you've ever eaten.

French Toast
Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe

You will definitely have custard left over but that's okay - more is better than not enough!

2 cups half-and-half
6 large eggs
4 tablespoons honey (coat your tablespoon with cooking spray before pouring in the honey and it will slide right back out again into your custard!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 loaf day-old or stale country loaf, brioche or challah bread, cut in 1/2-inch slices to yield 11-12 slices total (no ends, please)
Butter to coat the pan


The night before, whisk together the half-and-half, eggs, honey, and salt. Store in the refrigerator in a tupperware container overnight. (If you are clever, you'll use a tupperware that's big enough so that you have room to whisk the ingredients inside it before sealing for the night, saving yourself a dish to clean. You are so smart!)

The next morning, pour custard mixture into a flat vessel with tall sides, such as a cake pan or large serving plate, and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Dip the stale bread slices bread into mixture, as many as the pan will allow for complete contact with the custard, and soak for 30 seconds on each side. Then remove to a cooling rack that is sitting on a sheet pan covered in foil, again for easy clean-up, and allow to sit for 1 to 2 minutes.

Over medium-low heat, melt butter in a nonstick frying pan. Place bread into the pan, again as many as the pan will allow for complete contact with the pan, and cook until golden brown, approximately 2 to 3 minutes per side. With two large burners, I actually have two of my largest pans going at once for speed. Once browned to your liking, remove from pan and place back on the cooling rack resting on the sheet pan. Don't worry about any raw egg custard remaining on the cooling rack - it will cook in the next step. Once all the slices have been browned and moved to the cooling rack, put the rack and pan in the oven for 5 minutes, which will give you plenty of time to set the table for brunch!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Skinny on Slow Cookers

As promised, my cousin Kevin gives us all some important information about slow-cookers and why you should buy one immediately:

Growing up, your mom probably called it a crock pot and used it to keep sweet and sour meatballs or hot roast beef warm when you had the family over for a party. But times, they are a changing, and these days, the slow cooker is all the rage. Whether you're prepping for an intimate gathering of friends or just cranking out dinners for the next few weeks, slow cooking can be a simple – and delicious – way to compliment your culinary arsenal.

These days, slow cookers (or if you insist, crock pots) come in all shapes, colors and sizes. They also come in a dizzying array of configurations with features great and small. Each chef will have to decide what's ultimately going to work best for them, and how much cash they want to lay out for a piece of the slow cooking frenzy, but regardless of your make and model, the core features remain very much the same. At the very least, a good slow cooker should come with three settings; low, high and warm. This seems frighteningly simplistic, but at the end of the day, these are all you will need to make 99% of the slow cooker recipes out there, or to Dr. Frankenstein your own tasty creations.

I've been a slow cooker convert ever since I moved out of the family nest. There are a host of reasons to fall in love with your slow cooker, but for me, it's about convenience. I love to cook, and thanks to blogs like this one, I'm not half bad. But it's a rat race out there, and – stop me if you've heard this one – who has the time? After a long day at the office, I often find myself reluctant to do much more than toss a frozen pizza in the oven and be done with it. This is where the beauty of the slow cooker comes in; you can easily do all the prep work the night before and refrigerate your chopped, sliced, etc, ingredients and combine them before you head to work in the morning. Your dinner will simmer away while you're at the office, and when you get home, you're greeted with the aroma of a hot, ready-to-eat dinner. You may encounter those who believe leaving a slow cooker unattended is a safety hazard, but if you take a quick trip on the Google, you'll find that these cookers are actually designed for this very thing and are quite safe.

Another advantage to slow cooking is the simplicity. The majority of the "cooking" in slow cooking is chopping, cutting and other prep work with veggies and meats. You may be asked to brown ground meats prior to slow cooking, but the effort is usually very minimal and the results can be outstanding.

As you probably surmised, I could go on and on about slow cooking. Instead, here are the five things you need to know to get starting on your slow cooking adventure.

1. Slow cooking is not baking. Baking is very much a science, with precise measurements and highly specific ingredients being crucial to the success of the final product. Slow cooking is very much the opposite. I'm not saying you can throw any combination of ingredients in there and expect a gourmet dinner, but slow cooking recipes are malleable. For instance, I like to maintain a low cholesterol diet, so any time I encounter a recipe that calls for ground beef, I substitute ground turkey or chicken instead. The same can be said for most veggies as well. If your soup calls for a lot of celery, but you're not a big fan, toss in some carrots or zucchini instead. Just be sure that your substitutions are like-products; putting in a head of lettuce in place of a pork chop is not going to end well.

2. Slow cooking is, well, slow. The process is great because it really draws the flavors out of meats, vegetables and spices. However, for this very reason, exercise caution when seasoning your slow cooker creations. It's very easy to over do it with a spice or seasoning and overpower the other flavors in the recipe. This goes double if you're using fresh spices or strong flavors, such as red pepper flakes.

3. The slow cooker can also be a help with your wallet. One of the advantages of the slow cooker is that it can turn inexpensive meats that are otherwise tough to cook into delicious dishes. If you've ever seen that package of meat at your local grocery store labeled "Stew Meat" and wondered what that was about, now you know. These cuts are tough and would not work for traditional methods, but the low, continuous heat breaks down the fats in these meats, making them tender and very tasty.

4. It's true what they – size matters! I'm talking about the capacity of your slow cooker, of course. As I mentioned, slow cookers come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 2.5 quarts all the way up to larger models at 6 quarts or more. When selecting a recipe, note the amount of servings it produces and be sure it will fit in your model. If a recipe is particularly large, cut back the full list proportionally and you should be good to go.

5. There are a million and one slow cooker recipes out there. When slow cooking, you will certainly never want for more recipes and ideas to whip up at home. I recommend searching the internet for recipes – it helps to start with a single ingredient and go from there, otherwise you'll encounter a sea of recipes that will be tough to sift through. There is also no shortage of slow cooking cook books out there. While I'm sure there are many good ones, if you're truly serious about mastering the fine art of slow cooking, locate a copy of "Fix-It and Forget-It" by Phyllis Pellman Good (aka the slow cooking Bible.) This collection of recipes is second to none, and comes from a wide variety of everyday folks, so the selection is fantastic. The book also comes in a number of variations, including an edition for cooking light and another for those with diabetes. If you want to really walk on the wild side, you can pick up "Fix-It and Forget-It Big Cookbook," which features a selection of 1,400 recipes from all of the published editions.

So now you're armed with enough knowledge to start down the road to slow cooking glory. Whether it's a hearty bean soup, a three pepper pasta sauce or a Tex-Mex corn chili, slow cooking offers a little something for everyone in a simple, budget-conscious and of course, delicious way.

Fav recipe (pefect for upcoming summer months)

Southern Pulled Pork

2 lb pork roast (leaner is better)
1 medium/large vidalia onion, chopped
1/4 cup of dark brown sugar
1.5 cups of BBQ sauce of your choice
Salt & Pepper to taste

Place pork roast in slow cooker with about 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of the dish and cook on low for 8-10 hours, high for 4-6 hours or until pork is tender. Once meat is tender, remove the pork roast and shred on a cutting board using two forks. Drain any remaining water from the slow cooker and place shredded pork and other ingredients into slow cooker - cook 1 hr on high and enjoy.

Bonnie's Notes:

For your information, Kevin owns the Rival 5.5quart, Smart-Pot Crock-Pot Slow Cooker, which was also rated the Consumer Reports "Best Buy" (meaning the best functionality at the best price). Here's what Kevin has to say about his model:
"It's runs about $50, and could be considered a 'higher end' model because of the timing feature, which is why I like it. Once it completes cooking on high or low for the set time, it automatically switches to warming (which is good if you set it up and then go to work.)"

Thank you, Kevin, for all your slow-cooking wisdom! If you have any questions for Kevin, please let me know and I will pass them along.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

One-pot Meals

Well, Jeffrey asked a very good question about one-pot meals to avoid washing lots of dishes at the end of the night and I can't blame him. Dan and I are notorious for making the biggest mess possible in the kitchen - we're never quite sure how it happens. And I will admit that doing the abbreviated mise en place I am so very fond is definitely going to accumulate more dishes and gadgets to clean once your delicious meal is in your tummy. I know Joe would love for me to make more one pot meals, as he is the designated dish washer at our house.

The thing is, a lot of "one pot meal" recipes that I've tried seem to be big fat lies. They'll seem like they're one pot meals and then it will say "serve with pasta." Well, where the hell did that pasta come from I'd like to know? Another POT perhaps? Besides the fact that you usually need to chop up a lot of stuff to make your meal, and then shouldn't the cutting board and knife be washed? I mean, I suppose you could cut your veggies and meat and whatnot in your pan, but I wouldn't recommend it - you'll ruin your pan and the gashes you create will never get clean, food will get stuck in there and then bacteria will form. It's not fun.

But, Jeffrey, I will give you some tips that may help you eliminate the amount of pots and utensils you use.

Tip 1: When you are already making a meal (and I'm assuming you're planning your meals ahead of time) and you have your cutting board out and you're chopping away, go ahead and chop some of the veggies for other meals in the week. Cut veggies will usually only last about a week in the fridge because they've been exposed to the air, but that's just enough to plan ahead. For example, last night the meal I was preparing called for two chopped up bell peppers, so I figured, while that's cooking and I already have the cutting board and knives out, I might as well cut up an onion for my Chicken Picatta later in the week. That will make things go so much smoother on a work night. I have kept a sliced onion in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for an entire week, with no noticable defects, and I was a lot happier for it. If your tupperware is dishwasher safe, you just dump the onion into your dish when you need them and you're finished! If not, a plastic bag will also work.

One vegetable that canNOT be cut up and put in the refrigerator is the potato. Once the inside of the potato is exposed to oxygen, it starts to turn pink and will spoil very quickly. You can, however, purchase already cut frozen potatoes in the grocery store. I don't know how they do it, but I can't seem to do it at home. Apples can be cut up and put into the refrigerator with just a spash of lemon juice to stop the oxidation. This can also be done with avocados.

But just try it yourself! You may find one or two veggies that it just doesn't work out for but I know onions are my worst time-suck when I'm cooking and this realization that they can be cut up and stored has saved me lots of time.

Tip 2: Think through the dish you're making and figure out which ones can be made in dishwasher safe plates or bowls. For instance, Joe doesn't see much difference in heating up frozen vegetables in the microwave instead of on the stovetop, therefore I make his green beans and other vegetables in a cereal bowl in the microwave with a little water and into the dishwasher it goes at the end of the night.

Tip 3: Anytime you roast something in your oven (or toaster oven), cover your roasting pan or baking sheet with aluminum foil. When the roasting is done, just toss the foil and put that pan back into the cabinet.

Tip 4: Just think ahead. A little bit of planning will go along way. Do you need both a spoon and a pair of tongs for this recipe or could you use your tongs to stir your sauce as well as flip your steak?

It's possible to make some meals in only one pot (I'll saute the vegetables, take them out and put them on a dishwasher-safe plate while I saute the chicken in the same pot) but this will take more time. Time cooking versus time cleaning up, really - you decide.

There is, however, a magical appliance that seems to make one-pot meals a reality. It's called the slow cooker and many of your have asked me about it but, alas, although I own one, I haven't used it yet! And I don't know anything about it... good thing I have a cousin and fellow-blogger who is a slow-cooker GURU! So tune in soon for Kevin's love song to the slow cooker.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stir Fry Success

Dear Sweet Readers,

I am very glad to report that my next cooking date with my brother Dan was a fantastic success. Dan had always wanted to do a stir-fry and we found a great recipe in one of our favorite cook books. I had gotten this cook book, Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks by Linda Carucci, from the library and I just loved reading it so I decided to buy it. (A REALLY great way to decide when to invest in a cook book - "The library is your friend," says the English Teacher's wife.) Linda Carucci gives fantastic, practicle advice for people who actually cook in a kitchen, not a restaurant or who have indispensable time to write recipes and experiment. I really recommend this book.

However, I will say that this recipe was the most high-maintenance that I have tried. She wanted us to use a wok and mentioned all these specific ingredients - but what's also great about Chef Carucci is that she gives a lot of substitutes, too. What she does recommend for sure is that you "velvet" the chicken. It takes a little more time and a couple more pots but gosh was it good - it is so called because the process gives the chicken a soft texture when cooked - I would call it more silky than velvet, but whatever. However, I think the trick was in the really fantastic and easy sauce so if you don't feel like doing that step, I would skip it and just make sure the chicken is pretty cooked through before you start. Also, we just used a big frying pan - no woks necessary. How would I even store a wok in my apartment? I don't need any more junk in there...

I apologize if the ingredients look overwhelming - these are things (broth, cornstarch) that are sure to be a good pantry item for you. I only cook rice with low-sodium broth, I wouldn't have it any other way. Also, you can't usually buy just three scallions, but you can use them in salads or sandwiches and they are really delicious.

Stir-Fried Velvet Chicken with Cashews


1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, white vermouth, or dry white wine (we used cooking vermouth which you can get in grocery store, which I don't usually do - I like to use the proper alcohol because any "cooking" alcohol is of a lower quality, but I must admit that it worked fine)

1 egg white

1 pound bonless, skinless chicken breasts (3 or 4 breast halves), cute into 1-inch pieces


1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

1/4 cup low sodium chicken stock or broth (I used to scoff at the low-sodium part, but it really makes a difference)

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1-1/2 tablespoons Shoaxing wine, white vermoth, or dry white wine

1 teaspoon Asian toasted sesame oil (DO NOT OMIT - this stuff is so good)

1 teaspoon sugar


2 tablespoons peanut oil (I probably would have used canola or even olive if I had been buying the ingredients)

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 red bell pepper, seeded, deribbed, and cut into 1/2-inch strips

1/2 pound pencil-thin asparagus, rough ends removed (by the snap method, please) and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces (asparagus is in season right now, so go get yourself some - it's perfect at this time of year)

3 green onions (scallions), green and white parts, cut into thin slices

1 teaspoon finely grated ginger (we used ground ginger, it worked fine)

3 gloves garlic, cut into thin slices

1/3 cup unsalted roasted cashews*

* a word about the cashews - we didn't get roasted ones, we toasted them in a dry frying pan. When you do this, you have to give the cashews, or any nut, your utmost attention because the oil in the nuts can go from roasted perfection to burnt in a second.

1 cup basmati rice (any short grain white rice)

2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (or vegetable)

1. Get your rice started first. Pour the rice and stock into a pan, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low to simmer, and put on a lid and let it cook for 20 minutes.

2. Marinate the chicken: Combine the cornstarch and salt. Add the wine and egg white and whisk vigorously until the lumps disappear. Pour into a gallon plastic bag with the chicken chunks, seal, pushing all the air out, and then toss chicken around in the marinade to make sure it's coated. Set aside to marinate for at least 10 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. (If refrigerating, let the chicken sit for half an hour to take the chill off.)

We marinate everything in a plastic bag - it's so much easier because then you can just throw it away and there are no worries about raw poultry. Because of this marinade, I would whisk it all up in a cereal bowl, then pour it into the bag with the chicken - that way you can just throw it in the dishwasher.

3. Cut up your vegetables. (If you're still feeling apprehensive about your knife skills, do this first. Rushed cutting never turns out well.)

4. Fill a pot with water and heat up - wait until the water is JUST forming bubbles on the bottom of the pot and steaming slightly. Then add the chicken for 60 seconds, or until the outside of the chicken turns white.

Remove the chicken to a collander and let sit.

5. Add the oil to the frying pan and get it warmed up, then add the vegetables in the following order and for the following periods of time

-red pepper flake - 15 seconds (WARNING, this stuff is strong when heated and may cause you to cough)

-red pepper and asparagus - 2 minutes

-scallions - 30 seconds

-garlic and ginger - 30 seconds

Push the veggies out of the way to the sides of the pan and then pour the sauce into the pan. Wait until it starts to bubble (ours did IMMEDIATELY) and then add the chicken. Turn the heat down to low or medium low and stir until the chicken becomes cooked through. Stir in your cashews so that they are covered with the sauce.

Serve with your rice.

Look how pretty. Easy (with the proper mise en place, OF COURSE), healthy, and delicious. I hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wandering Aimlessly Through the Grocery Store

Oh, stop pretending like you have never done this before. I see AT LEAST one person doing this at the grocery store every week. I have a silly theory (and Becca, tell me if your psychological studies agree with this) that because we grew up with food just appearing on the table (at least in my experience) without very much knowledge of how it got there or because we grew up being steered around in the grocery cart, not really paying attention to how the food was suddenly in bags in our car, that we feel this will be instinctive when we begin to cook for ourselves. We can just show up at the grocery store and it will just happen - we'll know exactly what to get and what to do. Hence, we go to the grocery store and wander aimlessly, buying too much, eating badly, and not having anything to make a meal out of.

How to solve it? Well, I know there are some of you who may be adverse to this but I promise you, I PROMISE YOU, that you will benefit from this, saving money and time and helping yourself cook better. We must organize ourselves.

George has asked this question, and I've had this conversation before with many people. First, what we must do, is figure out what we need in our pantry:

Step 1: Go through your refrigerator and cabinets and write down the items that you like to have every week. For Joe and I, this is Grape Juice, soup, roasted garlic bread, milk, eggs, etc. The things you love to eat every day.

Step 2: Let someone else do the rest of the work! Here I give you Rachael Ray's pantry list, which is what I used when stocking my kitchen in our apartment just months ago. And I'll give you a hint, I went through hers and crossed out half the stuff. Do NOT get the produce or the perishables, for example, unless it was on your own personal list and you eat carrots every day, like I do. It will only sit around and then spoil and make you mad. I found the spices very helpful though - it's nice when reading a recipe to say "oh allspice, I got that."

Step 3: Make your own list by combining the two. Here you will see the list Joe and I use for our house.

Grocery List

We have had to update it a number of times but the work at the beginning was worth it. I go through this list every week and check off what I need and add the things that aren't week-to-week. It's delightful, easy, and makes my life so much easier every week. And it only took about an hour of work one day.

Step 4: PLAN YOUR MEALS. This is definitely not as hard as it sounds - you can think of this when you're on your way to work or in the shower. Now, I know it's tough when you don't have an arsenal of recipes at your disposal like Mom did, but I am going to keep giving you my recipes here and I have some great resources for you to try:

You can enter ingredients in here and find a recipe that works around it. Like "chicken" and "scallions" and see what happens!

Let me show you how I do it for myself. You'll see it's not as hard as it looks.

I start by looking at the week: which days I need to plan for and which ones I don't. For example, this past week:
Monday - I would work late, so Joe would eat some leftovers
Tuesday - Joe would work late, so I made eggs and roasted asparagus.
Two dinners down already!
Wednesday - I would try one of my favorite recipes, parmesan cream sauce with peppered chicken.
Thursday - I have some ground beef and pork in the freezer leftover from my lasagna, so I would make some hamburgers.
Friday - Frozen pizza because DUH I don't even cook on Fridays.
Saturday - going to a party, so no dinner to make.

Week done! From there, you go through your recipes, make sure you have what you need, make your list, and you're on your way to a fast, easy trip to the grocery store. Three more tips, once you start to get the hang of it and, most importantly, when you get to know the layout of your grocery store.

1. Organize your list into the different departments of the store so that you are even more organized.

2. Give yourself a time limit. There are times when I'm walking down the aisle and I go "ooooooooh, look at all those breakfast bars. ooh, there are NEW ones. Maybe I should browse every single one and check the prices and nutrition facts COMPULSIVELY" and then it's an hour later and I've gotten nothing I needed. No, tell yourself "I will be IN the check-out line at 11:15" and when you get distracted look at your watch and make sure you can stick to your time.
3. Try walking just a little bit faster. I know this sounds goofy but frankly people are like SNAILS in the grocery store - steer around those slow-pokes, you have got other things to do!

I hope this helps, it sure helped me. Please share any other types of grocery store tips you've got!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Recipe Request!

Dear Readers,

My brother and husband have been giving me a bunch of crap because I did not respond to all your generous posts yet. Please don't hate me, I love you so much for reading this right now, I can't stand it! The thing is that I have been thinking over all your questions, trying to think of a comprehensive post. But screw it, I suppose. Completely throwing all fairness and first-come, first-serve rights to the wind, I am going to answer Katie's questions first, since she wanted a recipe for this weekend. Sorry Cara, Jeffrey, and all you other lovely people that responded via facebook - I promise, I will be getting to you very soon! Tell my husband to buy me a laptop so I can blog on my hour-long train ride to and from work.

Now, Katie asked about a recipe to prepare for her entire family. Well, when preparing for a crowd, even if they are your loving family, I have two suggestions: cook something simple and cook something you've DONE BEFORE.

Really, most people will appreciate a home-made dinner even if it isn't the most complex thing they've ever eaten. It's usually the fact that you made it for them and, of course, that you made it with love.

I should also include the caveat here that I make a lot of italian food these days because my husband loves it (I am pretty sure that he is 70% pasta) and frankly a lot of it is easy to make. Cut these vegetables, saute, add booze, serve! Cooking with booze (and drinking it, of course) completely changed the way my mother and I approach every recipe, but that revelation was so life-altering that it deserves it's own post. Or three.

Anyways, Katie, I would suggest that you do something you're already really good at - one of those recipes that you don't need to look at the recipe very much while you're cooking. You'll feel comfortable and you have much less chance of getting caught up by the timing issue.

However, if you really want to try a new recipe, I have a great one that I've made twice now, and it is SO EASY. And sure crowd pleaser. It's Penne Alla Vodka, Rachael Ray style.

Another caveat: this recipe really is easy, but I can't do it as fast as Rachael Ray does, even with my abbreviated mise en place. That woman has the best sense of time management of any human being alive - she's truly gifted. Still, there are limited ingredients, very little chopping, mostly measuring and stirring. Also, with this recipe, I let the sauce simmer probably for ten minutes after all the ingredients were in the pan, stirring often - it was just a little too thin for my taste and as you let it simmer, it thickens up.

With this easy recipe, I served some sauteed chicken. I took some boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded them out by putting two breasts at a time in a gallon plastic bag and beating them up until they were about a half-inch to three-quarters of an inch thick, seasoned with salt and pepper, and put them in my biggest frying pan (the same pan I am using to make my sauce, which is a 5.5 qt pan with high sides - if you don't have a big enough pan, I would use a large pot for the sauce and a seperate frying pan for the chicken) in just a bit of olive oil, maybe two tablespoons TOPS. Just enough to lube the pan. Leave the chicken in the hot pan until it forms a nice crispy brown crust - mine takes about 4 minutes per side, but every stove is different. Try this a couple of times (in different meals, not just this one) by checking the breast every so often. This isn't going to ruin the sear, and soon you'll learn how long it takes on your cook top for other recipes. The juicy, crusty chicken worked really well with the very decadent sauce.

And the great thing about the sauce is that it's cost friendly. I omit the basil leaves at the end, because if I'm not using the basil leaves in another dish that week they are just going to spoil in my fridge, but they do add a nice touch and lovely dimension of flavor at the end.

And that's it. I'll tell you, this is Joe's favorite dish so far, it doesn't take very long, and it really pleases - I'm sure your family will appreciate it.

If you're interested in making a vegetable side dish, which I often forget about, I recommend roasted vegetables. My specialty is roasted asparagus, the recipe I will include here, but you can roast broccoli or zucchini or peppers or pretty much anything you like with this recipe! Roasting is super easy and makes even some of the usually bland or bitter veggies taste good - I even like roasted brussel spouts (although with a fair amount of bacon, I will admit.)

Roasted Asparagus:
1 bunch Asparagus spears
olive oil (start at one tablespoon and add more if you feel you need it)
3 garlic cloves, sliced

Line a baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil (or two layers of the regular stuff) for easy clean-up. The amount of asparagus is relative to the number of people you're serving - I recommend about 1 bunch at the store for two people (I eat a whole bunch myself, I LOVE this stuff.) Bend each asparagus spear until it snaps in half naturally (or, snap one and then line up all the asparagus spears with the snapped spear and cut to the same size, like Rachael Ray does - that tends to work fine). Also, slice a couple of cloves of garlic into thin slices (I like a lot of garlic but you can use as much as you prefer.) Put the spears on the pan and sprinkle some salt and pepper on them and drizzle some olive oil JUST TO COAT. You don't want them drowning in olive oil. Line up the asparagus in lines so that they form what looks like rafts and then put the garlic slices on top - try not to let any garlic fall on the pan, it will just burn and add nothing to your dish. Drizzle the tiniest bit on olive oil on top of the garlic (OR, before putting the garlic on the asparagus, toss the slices in a little olive oil to coat.) Cook at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until the asparagus gets a little carmelized on the outside (that gorgeous golden brown crunchy goodness.) It's my favorite vegetable recipe ever, I make it several times a week in my toaster oven!

Now, for dessert, I will admit, I don't make dessert that often. But I wonder if you wouldn't be interested in this recipe that I made for Joe the other day. I saw similar recipes in two different magazines this month, and I made my own twist and I'll tell you, it's RIDICULOUSLY good. Not healthy, in any sense of the word, but amazing. It's Grilled Chocolate Sandwiches!

(Grilled in the same sense as a Grilled Cheese. Oh, you are SO intrigued, I can tell!! Joe made a suspicious face at this sandwich for a full 60 seconds before finally trying it, and the progression of his enjoyment was hilarious. "Huh, that's good... oh wow, that's really good. Bonnie, this is really good. Oh my GOD. BONNIE, MAKE ME EIGHT MORE!" Yes, it was sort of a food-gasm. I couldn't have been more proud. And I quite agreed. )

The recipe:
One loaf of Challah Bread (also excellent for French Toast if you have leftovers)
Thin chocolate bars in whatever chocolate you prefer, milk or dark or whatever (Hershey works very well)
Butter or butter spread, whatever you have around.

Cut the challah bread relatively thin, maybe to a half-inch thickness, and butter one side of each, just like a grilled cheese. Place one piece of bread in a frying pan, buttered side down and layer the chocolate bar pieces in one layer. Place the other piece of bread on top, buttered side up, and cook just like you would a grilled cheese, getting the buttered bread crispy and the chocolate melted. My chocolated melted fine, but if yours isn't melted at all by the time you flip, put a lid on top of the pan as the second side browns - this will trap the heat and the chocolate should melt by the time it's done. Because challah bread is usually narrow, you should be able to put several sandwiches in one pan at the same time. Put all these on a plate with a little powdered sugar if you want to be fancy. Then serve! This is untraditional but sure to interest your guests and sure to please - it is ridiculously delicious.

I hope this helps and that everyone else enjoys these recipes. Kate, if you try it, tell us how it works out!