Archive for the 'Recipes' Category

Work cramps my style

June 23, 2007 on 7:10 pm | By | In Recipes, Work Musings | 7 Comments

Ovens to Betsy license plateMy poor blog has been woefully ignored of late. On one hand I feel guilty, but my darling keeps reminding me it’s not quantity that’s important, it’s quality. I’ve had a lot of ideas for posts (some of which will eventually make it here), but my schedule has put writing on the back burner. Besides, I can’t say I’ve cooked anything of note lately (although I’ve tried several recipes from Heidi’s new book and hope to do a few more before posting). We’ve either gone out or I’ve thrown together the most simplest of meals: pizza (natch), baked tortillas with refried beans and salsa and whatever green veggie we have on hand, stir-fried veggies and chicken over pasta — you get the idea.

It all started a few weeks ago when the ServSafe book arrived in the mail. Although I have my Washington state food handler’s card (for which you need to sit through an hour-long class before taking the test), ServSafe — a much more comprehensive food safety training course — is required to re-certify through the U.S. Personal Chef Association. So instead of cooking and blogging I got to read about such nasties as clostridium perfringens, staphylococcus aureus, vibrio vulnificus and other food bacterium and toxins. We’re havin’ some fun now!

I’d be lying if I said I diligently studied. Basically it consisted of skimming the first seven or so chapters in the weeks leading up to the test, then cramming in the last 6 chapters in the 45 minutes I waited for the class to begin (to my credit, I took meticulous notes during the class portion). But it’s all common sense stuff: 1) Wash your hands, 2) Cook food to appropriate temperatures, 3) Wash your hands, 4) Make sure food spends minimal time in the temperature danger zone (40-140 degrees), and 5) Wash your hands. Because I had a client later that day I sped through the test (I’ve always been a speedy test taker). I’m happy to report I passed with flying colors (91% — woo hoo!).

Then, in addition to my regular client schedule, I had parties on June 9 and 16. The former was a buffet dinner for 25 (the hostess had been to another party I catered) and the latter was a 40-person graduation buffet for the son of one of my weekly clients. I now have the luxury of picking and choosing what parties I do. My regular schedule keeps the mortgage paid, so I don’t HAVE to give up my nights and weekends if I don’t want to (believe me, that hasn’t always been the case). But I knew both of these would be rather casual, and besides, we have a trip to France to pay for.

The final big project of the past two weeks was a presentation on “A Day in the Life” for the USPCA’s Philly conference in August. It didn’t need to be the final final (in fact, my actual presentation will look drastically different than what I sent in), but the organizers wanted some semblance to put into the conference notebooks for those who were attending other classes (I know what you’re thinking: who WOULDN’T want to partake in the wit and wisdom that is Ovens to Betsy?)

Anyhoo, this has all been a long and rambling way of saying I’ve been crazy-ass busy. (Oh, and did I happen to mention I’m also training for a marathon?)

Continue reading Work cramps my style…

Best laid plans

June 21, 2007 on 8:08 am | By | In Food Styling, Recipes | 1 Comment

Grilled veggiesI had it all planned: grill up some veggies, make a pot of red quinoa, place on a plate and take a beautiful picture. But reality has a funny way of intruding. We just couldn’t resist sneaking a bite (or five) as each vegetable came off the grill (fortunately we still had some left by the time the quinoa was ready, but by then the Kodak moment had passed).

Who-cares-if-they’re-piping-hot-I-want-them-NOW Grilled Veggies

Minced garlic
Minced fresh oregano
Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Red pepper flakes

Portobello mushrooms
Bell peppers

Whisk the marinade ingredients together. Trim the woody ends off the asparagus, remove the gills from the portobellos, sliced the zucchini lengthwise into 1/4″ slices and stem, de-seed and halve the bell peppers. Marinate the veggies for at least 20 minutes (and up to an hour). Preheat your grill to high. For easier turning, thread the asparagus onto a wire or bamboo skewer. Grill veggies until slightly charred (I remove the skins from the bell peppers before serving).

If you have any left, serve the veggies on top of quinoa or grain of choice.

For Mom: Fiddlehead Fern & Leek Tart

May 4, 2007 on 4:58 pm | By | In Recipes | 5 Comments

Tart sliceWhen I saw Allen of Eating Out Loud was hosting a food fight featuring moms’ favorite dishes, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. There’s relatively little my mom doesn’t like, and a call to her confirmed even she couldn’t name her favorite food (although when pressed she said chicken and mussels are at the top of her list). She’s gotten much more adventuresome in her cooking, so she couldn’t even be nailed down on a particular ethnic cuisine. Indian, Thai, Greek, Italian, Moroccan, Southwestern, Chinese, French — she loves ’em all!

I obviously had to rethink my game plan.

But before I tell you how I came up with the idea for my entry, I’d like to share with you a bit about my mom. She has such a passion for food and cooking, and I am blessed she passed this passion on to me. Even before I decided to make a career out of food, it was always an important part of my life.

My fondest memories of food growing up were less about specific dishes my mom made and more about the experience of preparing those dishes. Back then her culinary creations were rather basic; she had to feed a family of seven on a school principal’s salary, so we ate a lot of hamburger, chicken and pasta. However, pretty much everything was made from scratch, and we always sat down together at the table. Once we heard her dinner bell we had to be at the table within minutes. Television during the dinner hour was verboten; dinner was the time for conversation.

She also was adamant about serving a “complete” meal — salad, entree, side dish — with a glass of milk, of course (we NEVER drank pop at home and were only allowed one glass on the rare occasions we ate out). She fretted if the meal wasn’t visually appealing and full of color (I think we’ve both made all-white meal disasters!). If she served something new and we didn’t think we’d like it, her rule was “just three bites.” If we still didn’t like it then we wouldn’t have to finish it, but she wanted to open us up to new tastes. As a result there’re very few foods I don’t care for.

So, back to the tart.

Continue reading For Mom: Fiddlehead Fern & Leek Tart…

A runner’s breakfast

April 21, 2007 on 5:26 pm | By | In Recipes | 4 Comments

Pancakes w/strawberriesI’m set to run almost 13 miles in tomorrow’s Mt. Si Relay (first leg is just under 6 miles, second leg is just over 7), so I wanted to make sure I consumed enough carbs today to keep me energized throughout the race. Pancakes seemed a perfect choice for breakfast; they’re fast and easy to prepare and would pair wonderfully with the fresh strawberries we just picked up at Costco.

I’ve made multigrain pancakes in the past, but this morning I wanted to make things even simpler. There’s nothing easier than my darling’s buttermilk pancakes, but this time I substituted white whole wheat flour and oat bran for the all purpose flour. They truly hit the spot.

Whole Grain Buttermilk Pancakes
(makes 6 4-inch pancakes)

3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (can also use regular whole wheat)
1/4 cup oat bran
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon EACH baking soda and baking powder
Butter or oil for pan

Gently whisk the flour, bran, buttermilk, egg, baking powder and baking soda until relatively smooth (I start with the whisk, then switch to a spatula). Let batter sit for 10 minutes.

Heat a skillet over medium high until hot. Brush with butter or oil and drop in 1/4 cupfuls of batter. Bubbles will start to form on the top of the pancake; cook until they break and do not fill in. Flip over and cook on the second side for about a minute, or until golden brown. Serve with toppings of choice (I tossed the sliced strawberries with some maple syrup and topped with a dollop of plain yogurt).

Mmmmm…. bacon

April 21, 2007 on 8:29 am | By | In Recipes | 4 Comments

Stilton cheesecakesEvery month I get together with a group of foodie friends to try out new recipes based upon a particular theme or ingredient (we’ve dubbed the group The Guinea Pigs). Past themes include Cinco de Mayo, Oktoberfest, tailgating, lavender and chocolate, as well as a couple of free-for-alls. The rules are simple: your dish must reflect the theme and be one you’ve never made before.

My creations have run from the sublime (roast lamb stuffed with garlic & lavender, Asian-style braised beef ribs), to the acceptable (seared foie gras salad, grilled shrimp salsa), to edible (hot pretzels), to the downright weird (empanadas with beef marinated in Southwestern spices and chocolate liqueur, wrapped in a whole wheat savory chocolate dough. They actually weren’t that bad!)

Last weekend I added another to the sublime list: bacon and stilton mini cheesecakes. I was inspired by a Saveur recipe, however, those required no baking and I was eager to try out my new mini cheesecake pans. I adapted the crust from a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheesecake recipe that uses ground Triscuits and dried sour cherries. The crackers provide a wonderful whole wheat crunch and the sweet-tart flavor of the cherries balances out the richness of the cheese.

The key to a smooth cheesecake batter is to have your ingredients at room temperature. Otherwise you’ll end up with small blobs of cream cheese that no amount of processing will smooth out. I followed the directions on the back of the cheesecake pan box for baking (375 degrees for 15 minutes), however, next time I’ll bump the temperature down to 325 and check them at 20 minutes. As you can see, the cakes fell immediately coming out of the oven (some spilled over, so I pushed the filling back in with a knife). I’m thinking a more gentle bake will minimize the shrinkage (although I rather like the rustic look).
Pan of cheesecakes
While the cakes are delicious on their own, they’d make a wonderful starter course served on a bed of wild or micro greens.

Bacon & Stilton Mini Cheesecakes
(makes 12 cakes)

25 Triscuits (I used Trader Joe’s “woven wheat wafers”)
1/3 cup sour cherries
1 tablespoon brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Cream cheese filling:
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/3 pound Blue Stilton, crumbled
1 egg
6 slices thick bacon

Preheat oven to 325.

Place crackers and sour cherries in a food processor and process until crackers are fine and cherries are in small bits. Place mixture in a bowl and stir in brown sugar and melted butter. Divide crust evenly into mini cheesecake cups and tamp down (a shot glass with a flat bottom works great!).

Cook bacon until crisp; crumble into small bits. Place cream cheese, Stilton and egg into food processor and process until smooth. Place in a bowl and mix in bacon. Divide evenly among cheesecake cups.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until cheesecakes are almost set (they will continue to cook as they cool). Cool to room temperature and serve.

Devil’s Food Cake with Chipotle-Raspberry Buttercream

April 9, 2007 on 8:26 am | By | In Recipes | 11 Comments

Easter CakeI’m not much of a baker, but I enjoy experimenting. However, given there’s only two of us in our household, I limit my experiments to large holiday gatherings where I don’t have to worry about leftovers tempting me with their siren call.

We always spend Easter at my darling’s dad’s house, which presents the perfect opportunity to ply my decadent offerings. Three years ago I made my first layer cake — a coconut concoction from the pages of “Cook’s Illustrated.” Since my father-in-law is not a cake enthusiast, the next year I prepared his favorite — blackberry pie. Last year I thought I’d lighten things up and made mini cheesecakes adapted from a recipe by CI’s “The Best Light Recipe.” I normally don’t tinker with desserts — I’d rather just have a small piece than resort to using ingredients deemed “diet friendly” — but you’d never know these were lower in fat and calories.

This year I contemplated baking another layer cake, and when I saw that Julia of A Slice of Cherry Pie was hosting an Easter Cake Bake, the deal was sealed. But what type of cake should I prepare? I found a piña colada one that looked promising, but I also considered carrot cake as that’s my darling’s favorite. Then the imp in me took over: Devil’s Food cake; what could be more perfect for Easter? (Okay, so perhaps it’s a bit blasphemous).

Continue reading Devil’s Food Cake with Chipotle-Raspberry Buttercream…

Panko-crusted chicken, three ways

April 5, 2007 on 8:50 am | By | In Recipes, Techniques | 1 Comment

Panko ChickenWhen it comes to preparing dinner for my darling and myself, I tend to be a thrower- togetherer (you’d never guess I have a degree in communications, would you?). I’m often too wiped to put a lot of thought and energy into our dinners during the week; I typically just peer into the fridge for ideas for a quick and easy meal. The other night it was chips with my darling’s homemade salsa (using up the 2 pints of grape tomatoes our neighbor gave us) and a small bowl of canned refried beans heated in the microwave. Another night it was Trader Joe’s roasted red pepper soup with cheese and crackers. Many nights it’s pizza with whatever we happen have on hand (fortunately our fridge tends to be well-stocked).

While these meals are certainly nourishing and relatively nutritionally sound, they aren’t what I consider a “true” dinner — a well-balanced and visually appealing meal of protein, vegetable and starch. They’re most definitely NOT blog-worthy (although I guess I’m contradicting myself by writing about them, aren’t I?)

At any rate, a few weeks ago I had a hankering for crispy panko-coated chicken and sauteed spinach (both adapted from Cook’s Illustrated). For the chicken, I combined a couple of techniques from CI’s “Best Light Recipe” cookbook. Rather than pan-frying, you coat the chicken with toasted panko crumbs, then bake it at high heat. Normally I dredge the chicken in flour, dip it in egg whites and then the panko, but since I wanted more flavor I used the technique from CI’s oven-fried chicken where you coat the breast in Dijon mustard and then the panko crumbs (no need to dredge in flour first).

For the spinach, I pre-heated my wok over my new turbo 16,000 BTU burner, added a bit of oil, some sliced garlic and about a half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. I quickly threw in about 10 ounces of fresh spinach and some halved grape tomatoes and stir-fried until the spinach was wilted and glistening. After plating the spinach I squirted it with some fresh lemon juice. Some prepared tri-color cheese tortellini completed the dish.

Continue reading Panko-crusted chicken, three ways…

A Night at the Improv

March 31, 2007 on 4:06 pm | By | In Recipes, Work Musings | 2 Comments

With my current personal chef client schedule I don’t have much time to teach cooking classes or cater dinner parties. That’s fine with me, as the latter can be much more stressful. With my personal cheffing gigs, I don’t have to give up nights and weekends, plus I don’t have to be “on.” I’m typically in the home alone and my meals get packaged for the refrigerator or freezer. The client then heats them up long after I’m gone.

With catering and cooking classes, however, I’m on stage. The host/hostess and guests often mill around the kitchen as I’m preparing the food, and timing is crucial — side dishes and entrées must be ready at the same time, and ideally there should be no more than 15 minutes between courses.

If I forget an ingredient during my day job, it’s not a problem; I just head back to the store. (Unfortunately these “senior moments” happen all too frequently; I once had to hit the store THREE additional times during a cook date). Whereas with catering/cooking classes, if I realize I’ve forgotten an ingredient once the event has started, I have to wing it and hope either 1) the host doesn’t notice, or 2) is too tipsy to care.

Last night, fortunately, I had the latter in my favor.

Continue reading A Night at the Improv…

Erin Go Argh

March 15, 2007 on 9:05 pm | By | In Food Musings, Recipes | 3 Comments

Irish Soda BreadI hate it when people steal my ideas.

With St. Patrick’s Day upon us, my plan was to post about my corned beef — which I must say is the best darned corned beef I’ve ever had (I’m SUCH a modest chef). Thinking it would be the perfect après Dash treat, I prepared it this past weekend. I snapped a few photos of the process, but by the time the brisket was fall-apart tender, I was too famished to waste any time being a shutterbug.

The next day, while everything still was delicious, it was far from photogenic. Besides, I now had eight famished runners waiting to scarf everything down. With no photo, I felt I should change the direction of my post. Granted, if you’ve seen one photo of corned beef, you’ve seen them all; most comfort food won’t win any beauty contests. But I feel if I’m to blog about a particular food, it should include photos of said food.

Back to the cutting board.

I did, however, manage to take a quick shot of the Irish soda bread. Although I recall we always had corned beef and cabbage each St. Patrick’s Day, what sticks in my mind was my mom’s Irish soda bread. Frankly, I always felt it was best hot out of the oven (left to sit it got rather dry), but it still brought back such fond memories. I’d never attempted to make it myself, so this year I decided to give it a shot. I found a 4-fork recipe on Epicurious that sounded promising and got to whisking. My only deviation from the original recipe was to use currants instead of raisins.

Let me tell you, this bread is to die for. Tender, moist and sweet enough to be dessert, it no where near resembles the soda bread of my youth. My darling and I tried to use some restraint (I intended to save some for the next day), but we gobbled down half the loaf. I was thrilled to find out that our hostess for our gathering already had a couple of loaves, as that meant I could keep the rest of my bread for ourselves.

Continue reading Erin Go Argh…

Now THIS is what I call a meeting

March 1, 2007 on 8:30 am | By | In Recipes, Work Musings | 4 Comments

Back in my PR days I was compelled to attend the monthly luncheon meetings of the Public Relations Society of America under the guise it was best way to “keep my finger on the pulse” of the industry. In reality I just wanted to bag off work for a few hours, even though I had to endure rubbery chicken while listening to someone blather on about “connecting to their publics” (yes, that’s really the term many used). I’d listen with feigned enthusiasm, hoping the PR muckety-muck at my table would be impressed with my dedication and offer me a job (I was ALWAYS looking for a new job).

Thank God I gave that up.

While I still view membership in a professional organization a terrific way to stay involved (I’m a member of the U.S. Personal Chef Association), I no longer have to put up with insipid meetings. Take our recent chapter function: eight personal chefs trying to out-yummy one another with our resident wine connoisseur, George Marinovich, on hand to pair our treats with an appropriate wine. I love my job!

Our wine & food pairing meetings (this was our third) are always a favorite. It’s so much fun to see what other chefs whip up — not only the food but also the presentation (I’ve stolen many ideas). George has an incredible knack for choosing the most complementary wine for our dishes, despite the fact we’re a flighty lot who changes our respective minds at the last minute about what we’re to prepare.

Continue reading Now THIS is what I call a meeting…

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