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!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Bad Day For Crab Cakes: Why it PAYS to be organized in the kitchen

Every two weeks, my devoted brother and I get together at either of our apartments and practice cooking. The person hosting chooses the menu and buys the ingredients and we get together to cook. It's a lot of fun and a great way to practice on some more difficult recipes you've wanted to try, if you've got a cooking buddy around!

Anyways, last night we attempted crab cakes because Dan always wanted to try to make them at home. Crab cakes also happen to be one of my favorite dishes.

Dan was going to come over an hour later than we had planned because of work, so I decided I would use the new-found time to set up our mise en place, a french cooking term, as so many cooking terms are, which means "everything in its place". Essentially.

This is one of my favorite cooking concepts if you have ever developed Frantic Cooking Syndrome. This is when you start to cook a recipe you're not familiar with and one thing goes wrong, followed by EVERYTHING going wrong, followed by ordering pizza.

Mise en place means that you get absolutely everything in the kitchen ready before you apply a bit of heat to your meal. Such as last night, as I waited for Dan: I got out all the pots and pans and placed them where they would be, I measured out all the ingredients, such as the rice, the seasonings, the mayonnaise, and had them all sitting there ready to be used. This is especially important in such a small kitchen as we have:

See all the counter space? Right. It's hard enough to work in there in general without adding unpredictable timing on my stove that only gets hot when you put it on HIGH.

Now, getting back to the dinner last night, I did my best to set up everything as neatly as possible but I made two mistakes:

1. All the chopping that I had saved for Dan - chopping being his favorite part - was for the rice pilaf, which would take longer to cook than the crab cakes.

2. Somehow, I didn't read the recipe carefully enough. Alton Brown says that when attempting a new recipe you should go into another room, other than your kitchen, and read the recipe while sitting down to avoid such blunders. But I didn't do this, dear reader, and therefore I ended up adding A CUP of mayonnaise to the crab cakes, when there shouldn't have been any. At all. I mean, the recipe said HOLD THE MAYO and I said,"How about A CUP?" Needless to say, the crab cakes wouldn't form and when we put them in the pan they burned. Exhibit A, my friends.

So. What did Bonnie learn from this horrendous situation (although the pilaf was just lovely and the garlic roasted asparagus, as always, a triumph)? It PAYS to be organized, because (and I didn't tell Joe this before, but I guess now he'll know) the pound of lump crab meat I bought cost $18. THAT'S A LOT OF MONEY, especially these days, and it all went into my trash can, completely inedible.

I know what you're thinking. Here you are trying to find a fast way to cook yourself delicious, wholesome meals at home and I am telling you to add all these extra steps. But, no, I practice an abbreviated mise en place in my kitchen that really makes a difference in my cooking. 5 minutes at the beginning could save you 30 minutes at the end.

1. Before doing anything, read the recipe straight through in another room. Do this standing still, without any distractions.

2. Take out all of the pots and utensils you'll need and place them where they'll be used. The knife with the cutting board on the counter and the pot, with its lid standing by, and its wooden spoon next to it. This avoids your steak almost cooking to perfection in a frying pan and, as you lean down to get your next pot for your vegetables, you realize it's been buried in the back behind a thousand things, and by the time you wrestle it out, your steak is now overcooked.

3. Organize the tasks by longest-to-cook, to shortest-to-cook. Get that pot of water boiling for your pasta before anything else, or you're going to be waiting and annoyed later. Especially if your stove sucks, like mine does.

4. Know yourself - if you stink at chopping onions, as I do, chop them first, when there's not much else going on besides boiling water, perhaps. Then you can go slow and avoiding cutting yourself, which REALLY slows down the cooking process, I assure you. I also like to measure things like rice or spices that I have a tendency to spill in my small kitchen.

5. Have a patient spouse (Joe never gets annoyed with me about waiting to eat, even if it gets close to 8:00PM because I've messed up, which does wonders for the marriage...) and if you're cooking for yourself, be patient with yourself. You are learning how to cook and, like anything, you're going to make a mistake once in a while. Which is why...

6. Have a backup. If it's ordering pizza, so be it, but better yet perhaps is leftovers from the successful meal you made the other day.

Friends, my crab cakes might have been a delicious lunch for me today instead of sitting in the dumpster in the parking lot of my apartment complex, $18 of my hard-earned money down the drain. Now, you can't learn if you don't try, so it was all for a better purpose, but taking the time, just 1 or 2 minutes before I got started, could have very well saved me money for a tank of gas.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


If you've found my blog you've been invited by me or someone else (hooray!) and you clearly have some interest in food and cooking. Or you're just checking out what I'm up to and aren't you adorable for that. No matter what, welcome!

I suppose a little background on me would be appropriate. I am a 24-year-old woman who plans fundraising events for a theatre in Philadelphia. I've just recently gotten married and I live with my wonderful husband, Joe, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Joe, incidentally, is an English Teacher on the Jersey Shore and also has an intelligent and humorous blog called The Correct Opinion which you can and should visit at http://the-correctopinion.blogspot.com/

I've always been interested in cooking and food but it wasn't until I lived in an apartment and off my meal plan in college that I became completely and totally OBSESSED with cooking and food. No joke. Turn on any television in my home and you'll find the Food Network, not to mention 50% of our DVR programs consists of Food shows. I read cook books and food magazines in my spare time and practice cooking with my older brother as often as possible, which, unfortunately, isn't that often. I think about food and cooking all the time - seriously. If I am going out to dinner, I am contemplating the menu up to a week before. Most of my friends fear going out with me because I'm such a food snob, even though I don't think I'm so mean about it, thank you very much. No matter - so much the better for you, dear reader.

Because as much smack as I talk about cooking, I'm not really that great at it. Nor am I very experienced. But my passion to feed my face with delectable food, and the satisfaction I get from making it myself, is what makes me think I can do good for others in this space.

You see, when I first became obsessed with cooking and cook books, I searched far and wide for a comprehensive book that said "So, you want to learn how to cook for yourself your first time out on your own? This book is for you!" But no such book exists. Now, isn't that a damn crime? We need help, people! So it's been my goal to create such a resource, fueled by my own experiences in the kitchen and my own research, to help my friends and others out there to enjoy great food at home. Joe and I have been so pleased with our dinners so far and I know everyone likes to eat good food and I know YOU DO because you're reading this right now! And believe me, the pride you have when you cook a good meal - well, it's addictive, frankly.

But I will need your help. My experience will be specific to me and my kitchen and I couldn't possibly create a good resource without tackling problems specific to other people's experience. So please, post a comment, or write me an email (feedurface@gmail.com), and tell me what drives you crazy about cooking and what you'd like to do better or know how to do at all, and let me see if I can help! Like I said, I love to do this stuff, so I might as well put it to good use.

Thank you again for visiting and come back again soon!