Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rain, rain DON'T go away !!!

We needed the rain- for alot of reasons !! Our yard and garden got a good long drink courtesy of Mother Nature rather than Xenia Rural Water and The Chef and I got to spend an afternoon sequestered in the house. We needed it :)

Of course, the trade off is we now have to endure a few more mid-90s days with high humidity (yuck) and surely, more vegetables !! We have been eating so many veggies and salads around here I'm starting to get the urge to wiggle my nose and hide Easter eggs. The Chef has been throwing together big bowls of fantastic chopped fresh veggies (different kinds of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumber, even fresh green beans) with olives and feta cheese and red wine vinegar and oil dressing and it's sooooo delicious. He decided to throw a veggie pizza in the oven for dinner tonight and after I made the dough he made his version of a Chicago-style deep dish pizza with the cheese on the bottom and sauce and toppings on top. Delicious isn't even the right word !!! It was SINFULLY yummy. We didn't take any pics and didn't note any recipe since, well, when I make dough I eyeball everything- dump in flour til it looks like enough, eyeball a palmfull of yeast, sugar, herbs, add warm water til the dough is soft and kneads easily. After it rises to his liking, the Chef takes over and does his magic- this time using up some sauce we had stashed in the freezer for just such an occasion, fresh mushrooms and green olives finished it off.

So now that the evening is winding down I'm thinking about tomorrow, and the hot days ahead, the yard work that needs to be done (ugh), the moutain of vegetables that surely will appear upon the kitchen counter again (we've been steadily whittling away at that.....), the worries that life throws our way I'm even more thankful for even just one small day in our cozy little coccoon.......

Monday, August 29, 2011

Get Him to (cook) The Greek !!!

As a typical Iowa summer goes, another day, another pile of fresh vegetables is sitting on the kitchen counter. What to do....what to do...... not quite enough to can, the dehydrator is full (10 packages of mushrooms for $10 !!!! Are you kidding me ??? The Chef and I will be in shroomie bliss all winter at this price....)......so we decided on a shortish road trip, hit the Hy Vee for the deal on mushrooms and a few other items we needed around the house and the usual "what should we have for dinner" convo ensued. Obviously, we are going to have SOMETHING veggie- how can we not ? But before we get to dinner, you are probably wondering what in the world this has to do with Greek ? So without further delay.... a little (like, mini) interview with the infamous Chef !

You have over 20 years of experience in a professional kichen, but how did you get your start ? One of my very first culinary experiences was a little Greek restaurant called Papou's.

What were some of your favorite dishes made there ? Flaming saganaki, souvlaki, tyropita, spanakopita, pastitsio and moussaka. Of course, gyros and some of the most mouth watering filet steaks ever. Steak and shrimp.....

What was the first dish you learned?  The first day, the owner taught me to make "horiatiki salata" or Greek salad.

And that's where the interview stops and dinner begins.......

Joe's Greek Salad (makes enough for 2 big side salads)

1/2 fresh cucumber, cut in matchsticks
1 cup tomatoes (mix of cherries and cut up tomatoes)
small handful olives (use what you like, kalamata are traditional but Spanish are ok)
1 cup large diced green bell pepper
small handful pickled hot peppers such as banana or jalapeno
small handful chopped red onion
small handful crumbled feta cheese (approx 4 oz)

Combine all in medium bowl.

Dress with olive oil, red wine vinegar and oregano to taste.

Let me tell ya, this German/Norwegian girl has never had Greek food of any kind other than a couple bites of someone else's gyro at the fair, and this salad was DELICIOUS ! Fresh and juicy, with a real "bitey" vinegar dressing, it was absolutely wonderful. And served alongside- what else, but a nice chunk of grilled kielbasa in a bakery egg bun with mustard, onions and more of those pickled peppers. Perfect summer dinner !!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Restaurant Review: Eating With the Undead

Who doesn't enjoy a little soylent green for lunch ??  If you're lucky enough to have an "inside connection" and scored a Friends and Family pass to Zombie Burger + Drink Lab, YOU probably do !!

What in the world is a Zombie Burger ?? Well, its a quarter pound "George's Grind" burger, smashed, served as a single, "Double Tap" or triple, with a CRAZY assortment of toppings and buns, along with some very creative zombie-themed names- such as the "They're Coming To Get You Barbara" burger, and if you get the meaning behind the name, you definitely will enjoy Zombie Burger.

My daughter, grandson, my chef and I arrived right before noon and got seated right below a very tasteful piece of art.

The restaurant is located in a brand new building in the East Village but the decor is "deconstructed" and pretty cool.

So what about the burgers ?? They were excellent !!! Crazy combos and things like grilled cheese sandwiches doubling as buns, it's not a health food joint by any means. I had the Planet Terror- quarter pound beef patty, cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, barbeque sauce and fried ranch dressing (yep, frozen balls of ranch, breaded and fried- they ooze when you bite into them) and some really good onion rings for my side.

My Chef had the Raygun Burger - triple !!! so he had 3 quarter pound patties, cheese, fried jalapenos, bacon, and guacamole.

My daughter had the Dead Moines Burger- burger, smoked gouda, ham and garlic mayo.

My grandson had a great big cheeseburger !!! No crazy combo for him but even the plain burger looked delish. The appetizers all had clever names and the salads are referred to as Soylent Greens (again, if you get the hidden meaning, you'll definitely think this is a cool place). We didn't try any but the Drink Lab features grown up spiked milkshakes and cocktails of all kinds, including a wild Bloody Mary that arrived at the table garnished with an radish "eyeball" and prosciutto "flesh". The drink itself had some secret ingredients to turn it into black zombie blood. I'm no Bloody Mary fan so I didn't try it. Zombie Burger + Drink Lab opens after they host a zombie street party which I'm sure will be amazing fun. We will definitely be back to try more of the crazy undead burgers !!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Best Part of Summer- Dinner From the Garden

Seems like we can't even use the dining table these days !!!! There are vegetables everywhere !!! The hot peppers are growing like weeds and every day, sometimes twice a day, we are picking peppers. Our herbs have all gone crazy as well.  Our "suffering" means you guys get yet another recipe using our garden vegs !! Sorry about that.......

The Chef's Stuffed Peppers
large bell peppers (he used 5, use whatever quantity you need, you may need to make additional filling)
1 lb ground beef
1/2 large onion, chopped
salt and pepper
The Chef's red sauce (use whatever spaghetti/marinara sauce you like)
additional small peppers and tomatoes
mozzarella cheese
pasta of choice, cooked
parmesan cheese for serving
Begin by browning ground beef and onion, season with salt and pepper. Drain off fat and set aside. Prepare peppers
by cutting off the top and removing seeds and membranes. If you prefer, cut peppers in half and stuff the halves. Arrange
in baking dish, fill with meat mixture. Surround with additional small peppers and small tomatoes (he used banana peppers, Jamaican yellow mushroom peppers, cherry tomatoes and small romas). Bake at 375 degrees for about 30-45 minutes or until the peppers are done to your liking (we like crisp/tender so 30 minutes is all we needed). Remove from oven and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, return to oven until cheese is melty and starting to brown. Serve peppers and roasted vegetables alongside pasta with red sauce over all. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese if desired.

Soooo delicious !! Made me wish I had baked some homemade bread to go with !! Now we're both just impatiently waiting for the weather to cool and the "winter food" season to begin.

Cooking is therapy and FOOD is the original "social network"

Some people use food as their source of comfort. In many ways, so do I. The big difference is, I'm not an emotional eater- I'm an emotional cook. I'll be honest, it's been a tough week so far in our little lake house. Things are not perfect, and the fairy tale seems to be coming apart at the seams. The stress of job hunting is wearing on me very harshly. Throw me a few cocktails, and over-indulgence takes place, and the meltdown begins. The Chef and I have been on eachothers' nerves lately. He is non-committable about everything, kind of a seat-of-his-pants guy and I'm someone who just needs a kiss and a hug and the occasional "I love you baby. Everything is going to be ok".  I need reassurance, not the uneasy feeling that if the going gets tough, someone is going to pack it up and move. And when I don't get that....... I turn to food. I don't make big pans of chocolate cake and mow my way through. I cook. I can. I bake. I sear. I pound out and saute. I pick herbs. I play with dried hot peppers that could scald my eyeballs out. Food is my therapy. Or rather, COOKING is my therapy. Seems like the kitchen has become my safety zone, because I know that no matter what happens in the cruel outside world, the cut-throat job market, no matter who hurts me, ignores me, excludes me or makes me miserable in any way....... I CAN excel at what I do in the kitchen. There is such a huge boost in self-esteem seeing the cake you worked on for 3 hours sitting on the display plate, looking like something you picked up at the bakery. It makes my heart happy. Seeing a perfectly browned roast turkey emerge from the oven just makes my whole day better. And let's talk about the smells....... slow roasted winter foods like roasts and turkeys and stews and homemade breads fill the home with aromas that are nothing but happiness to me. That is real aromatherapy to me !!

I think another reason cooking is therapy for me is because those smells and flavors take me back to much happier, simpler times. Thanksgiving at my grandparents' home in Minnesota. Picking blackberries in the thicket and then staying up late making blackberry jam with my neighbor at RAF Shepherds Grove in England. Making meatloaf with that same neighbor from a shared-ingredient dinner because as military wives, we had very limited budgets and sometimes you just don't have enough ingredients to make a whole dinner, so you got together with your neighbor, combined what you had to make one meal for both families. I can easily get lost in a bowl of cookie dough remembering what it was like to have little kids underfoot and always begging for raw dough and hot from the oven cookies. I equate all these good feelings to the psychiatrist saying "Tell me about your past".

For me, cooking is also a HUGE ego booster, especially if you're good at it and (usually) have good results. I'm no professional chef, and I won't even begin to sit here and say I can compete in a professional kitchen. I'm sure I don't want to !! I am not the person who wants to yell and be yelled at my entire worklife. But put me in a kitchen and I can confidently hold my own. I'm not a "church cookbook" cook, nor a casserole person, I like to stretch my skills and really put it all out there and make something fantastic- beef wellington, lobster ravioli with homemade pasta dough, desserts that are superstar quality, there is nothing I won't try to make. I read cookbooks like textbooks and am not afraid to experiment with flavor combinations. I am FEARLESS in the kitchen. That fearlessness HAS ended in a few total flops too- but that's ok. I got to work out my hurts and fears in the creation process, and my frustrations as I tossed the offending food item into the trash with much fanfare. A few weeks ago it was a gloriously beautiful and absolutely hideous tasting apricot galette. That's ok....it looked good in pictures anyway !!

It's so rewarding to me to walk over to a neighbor with a pie I've made and see the happy reaction when I give it away, or a jar of jam, or a bowl of tomatoes picked from the garden. Food is such a social experience- we meet friends for dinner, we have people over to grill, we share snacks on Super Bowl Sunday, offices all over the country have potlucks and food days, organizations have pancake breakfasts. Food truly IS the original social network. I'd rather share a pan of brownies with someone than "poke" them, which is such a silly meaningless gesture, but the act of SHARING promotes friendship and good feelings. "Let's meet for coffee".......... "Come over for dessert"........you get what I mean. Sharing food is such a social experience for many people.

I seem to be having some trouble trying to bring this to a close......maybe typing/writing is also becoming my therapy ??? Perhaps......

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Another Day, Another Vegetable, and Another Recipe

It's that time of year, when the garden is going into overload, giving us bowls full of beautiful tomatoes, crunchy hot peppers and green beans just when I thought the plants were on their way out. Sweet corn season is about over here in Iowa, and after about 8 dozen ears of corn, I'm ok with that.

 Today I managed to get 5 bags of beans blanched and in the freezer and did a little inventory of jars and lids- I have 9 small lids and 5 wide mouth jars with lids so it's either going to be 14 pints of something or 8 quarts and 6 pints. Unless, of course, I somehow manage to come up with more jars....... Looking at the pile of tomatoes on the counter, I'm thinking GALLONS might be in order (if only we could home can gallons !!!) I think we are pretty well stocked on "sun dried" tomatoes with 2 great big jars full. I've done many dozen trays of herbs (and those plants show no signs of slowing down either !!). I really wish I could have gotten my hands on some plums. I found a great recipe for asian plum sauce that would have been a marvelous thing to have on hand. And I've managed to save a couple jelly jars so when the hot hot hot peppers are all ready I can whip up some super hot pepper sauce- I've been poring over recipes like crazy !! Burn your face off hot wings might just happen this football season.

Now.......let's talk about dinner. With such an impressive amount of fresh veggies on hand we're eating some of the best and freshest meals we've ever cooked ! Tonight The Chef whipped up a simple fresh tomato sauce, tossed with some pasta and baked, alongside a fresh salad- get the details below. I didn't take a picture unfortunately !! This recipe is very flexible- you can go vegetarian or even vegan if you want to, or add meat and make it a more substantial dish. This is the perfect light summer pasta dish.
3-4 fresh tomatoes, any variety (The Chef used Lemon Boy and Rutgers from the garden)
1 cup fresh cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes, any variety
2 tb olive oil
4 or 5 fresh mushrooms, sliced
big pinch oregano- 1-2 tsp or so
1 tb chopped garlic
1/4 large onion, finely chopped (can use dried onion or sliced green onion if desired)
cracked black pepper
1/2 lb pasta, something cavatelli-like (The Chef used medium shells)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Cut up tomatoes, thoroughly wash and rinse cherry tomatoes. In large skillet heat the oil, saute the garlic ad onion briefly until softened but not browned. Add mushrooms,  stir. Stir in tomatoes, cook until tomatoes break down slightly and become juicy. Cherry tomato skins may pop. Add oregano and freshly cracked black pepper. Meanwhile, cook pasta al dente, drain and toss with tomato sauce. Divide between 2 individual baking dishes, cover with shredded cheese. Bake in 350-375 degree oven until browned and bubby.
*** Note- The Chef added a handful of pepperoni slices when tossing the pasta with the sauce. You could use sliced cooked Italian sausage if desired.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happy Birthday Julia Child

In honor of Julia Child's 99th Birthday I am sharing what is, hands down, my favorite of all her recipes, Boeuf Bourguignon. I have made the recipe many many times for my friends and family and her method is absolutely foolproof. So, happy birthday dear Julia !!


  • One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon

  • 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes

  • 1 carrot, sliced

  • 1 onion, sliced

  • Salt and pepper

  • 2 tablespoons flour

  • 3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy)

  • 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 2 cloves mashed garlic

  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme

  • A crumbled bay leaf

  • 18 to 24 white onions, small

  • 3 1/2 tablespoons butter

  • Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)

  • 1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered
  • Cooking Directions

    Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water. Drain and dry.

    Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

    Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.

    Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat fat in casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the lardons.

    In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.

    Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

    Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes.

    Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and coves the meat with a light crust).

    Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees.

    Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.

    Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.

    Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours.
    The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

    While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.

    Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.

    Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.

    Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.

    Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.

    Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms.

    Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.

    When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan.

    Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.

    Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or 2, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.

    If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.

    Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.

    Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.

    Sunday, August 14, 2011

    Foodie Idols - and no, it's not a singing competition

    Everywhere you look on tv these days there is a competition show of some kind- singing, dancing, even cooking. I'm not a fan of the Big Ones- American Idol, Dancing With the Stars- no thanks. But I am hooked on a couple food competition shows !! Food Network Star, which ended today, and MasterChef, which is winding down as well. I really enjoy watching the competitiors grow and learn and change within the course of the shows, and I've shed a tear or two as some of my favorites have been eliminated. 

    As usual, I'm getting waaaay off the track I intended to go down. Sigh.......So, Foodie Idol. Who are mine ?? I have a few. Mario Batali, because I think he is an amazing chef, I love watching old reruns of Molto Mario with the chef. We are both amazed at Mario's vast knowledge- not just food but facts about the regions he is cooking to represent. He's had a couple other series on tv as well, and I loved all of them.

    Another.....would be Ina Garten. She is The Ultimate Hostess. And what a life story she has ! One amazing career after another. Almost like a modern day Julia Child. I love her every-woman approach to cooking, ingredients I recognize and can actually find at the store I shop at. Homemade lime curd, yep, I can do that. Her pot roast recipe is something every cook should master. I have all of her cookbooks and cherish them.

    Julia Child, of course. What self-respecting foodie doesn't love Julia Child ? Ok, maybe not everyone LOVES her but surely any foodie can give her credit for bringing classic French food to the American home. The Smithsonian felt she made such an impact that the purchased her kitchen and recreated it at the museum- how cool is that ? I'm not much for chick flicks but Julie and Julia was so amazing and heartwarming and made me want to get back in the kitchen after struggling through some very major life changes.

    And because I'm a bit of a wine snob at heart, I must include a sommelier that I look up to for many reasons- Alpana Singh. I have her book and have read it through several times. What an inspiration she is !! She's made a name in a very veyr male-dominated field.  Her incredible knowledge of wine is just.......well, amazing. And she is often a judge on Iron Chef America........well if I had a genie in a bottle I'd wanna be her !!!! I'd love to be able to meet her and just pick her brain !!!

    Of course there are loads of others that I find interesting, entertaining and fun to follow. And as shows like Food Network Star and channels like Cooking Channel bring a bigger veriety of  chefs and personalities to the small screen, I keep "meeting" more !!

    Pico de Gallo with a KICK !!!!

    As you know, the Chef and I are growing a number of very very very HOT peppers in the garden and experimenting with using them in foods. This is the first thing we've actually used a ghost chili in as a seasoning and WOW was it delicious !

    To make this FIERY fresh pico.......
    2 small Lemon Boy tomatoes, finely diced
    2 Roma tomatoes, finely diced
    3 tb finely diced onion
    1-2 tb finely minced jalapeno peppers
    2 thin slices GHOST CHILE, finely minced
    big pinch minced chives
    big pinch minced cilantro or parsley
    splash of lime juice (I used Rose's sweetened lime juice from the bar dept)
    Mix everything together and allow to blend flavors for about an hour. Serve
    as desired, with chips or as a topping. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

    We used this as a topping on tacos and nachos and ate every last bit of it ! The longer it sits, the more the heat diffuses throughout.  I used two VERY THIN slices of ghost chile and finely minced these into teeny tiny lieces. Didn't get any seeds in the dish and I decided to use the sweetened lime juice as opposed to regular lime juice thinking I could use the sweetness to counter balance the extreme heat of the ghost chile. It worked out great, but of course, you can use bottled or fresh lime juice if you prefer. Don't go buy a bottle of the other just for this- you can always add a teaspoon of sugar to soften the heat a little.

    It's Salsa Time- and I don't mean dancing !

    Batch 1 of three is in the BWB as I type......I used a recipe from Washington State University's Extension office because it made the best use of ingredients I have and didn't require me to weigh everything and was very very simple .

    10 cups peeled, seeded, diced tomatoes
    6 cups diced peppers (see note below)
    4 cups diced onion
    1 cup vinegar
    3 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp pepper
    Combine all ingredients in large stockpot, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.
    Pour hot salsa into hot jars, fix lids and process in BWB 25 minutes
    **** NOTE**** The recipe noted that you should use whatever mix of peppers you prefer to acheive the desired heat level. My 6 cups of peppers contained gypsy peppers, 3 hot banana peppers, 2 Chile de Arbol peppers, 5 jalapenos, one Jamaican Yellow Mushroom Pepper, one Ghost Chile and one Trinidad Scorpion chile.

    Pretty orange, yellow and red tomatoes.

    This mix of sweet and hot peppers went into the salsa

    It looks so pretty but is deceptively EVIL and hot !

    Getting beat up by the Learning Curve

    UGH !!! I need to get serious about the transformation from Facebook blog to REAL blog and really spend the time to learn how to do this. Not so easy when the garden is throwing tomatoes at us left and right and I've been trying to get serious about the job hunt. I've spent alot of time lately picking, washing, blanching, peeling, canning tomatoes, salsa, jams, jellies, pickles....... and no sign of letting up !! Herbs are producing huge bowlfuls every day. Hot peppers are starting to ripen more and more each day. I've amost run out of canning jars ! It's state fair week in Iowa, summer is on the way out the door, football season is kicking in and pretty soon it will be time to start cooking all those wonderful winter foods I love so much- roasts, turkey, soups, stews........ I can close my eyes and smell it already.

    Now about this learning thing..... It's very frustrating to me, trying to get something new set up here, with our crummy and unreliable internet service out here in the boonies.....by the time I type something, or  copy it over from FB, add photos, preview (yep, looks great) then save and post it....... GOOD GAWD I go to look at it and the pics are all the wrong sizes, all over the place, overlapping, underlapping, just a nightmare. I find myself doing ALOT of going back and re-editing things. Because we live out in the country, we don't have access to a high speed internet provider or DSL, we rely on a mobile hotspot thru our cellphone provider, and while we almost always have connectivity, some days it's extremely slooooow, making uploading photos a very lengthy process. Days like this..... this City Girl really yearns for the hustle and bustle of city life, and all the convenience that comes with it.