Archive | August, 2009

Bottled Un-Dressing

31 Aug

I love salad. There’s something about the contrast of textures and the unrestricted combinations of sweet and sour, soft and crunchy, and spicy and cooling. A salad lets you combine things that are not always found together in ways that other recipes can let you do. Salads can be very healthy, but can also be as fatty and heavy as a hamburger. I’ve even been to a restaurant that makes a hamburger into a salad!

The icing on the cake for a salad is the dressing. A bad dressing can ruin an otherwise perfect salad. For me the number one offender is fat free dressing. Let’s review a culinary basic… Fat = flavor. Fat free dressings are then carrying what? Not flavor my friends that’s for sure. So what is it then? Well that is a great question. It’s mostly chemicals, or flavor enhancers, or the “real” products have been altered to be fat free, even if they aren’t. Need an example? How about fat free raspberry walnut vinaigrette? There can’t be real walnuts in the dressing otherwise there would be fat from the oils in the walnuts. Catch my drift? They are using walnut flavoring… and honestly I’d rather eat real food that has a little fat than all those mystery chemicals.

Here’s my solution make your own dressing. You can make fat free dressing at home. I prefer the full fat kind but here are two recipes that you can make at home that will blow the top off of any bottle on the shelf.

Low Fat Buttermilk Ranch

1/2 cup fat free Greek yogurt
1/4 cup low fat buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh tarragon,minced
1 tablespoon shallot, minced
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
salt to taste

combine all ingredients and serve chilled

Balsamic Vinaigrette

1/4 cup good balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
salt and pepper

Combine the mustard and vinegar and the wisk in the vinegar. Slowly drizzle in the oil to combine. Serve chilled.

Happy salad making 🙂

Always thinking of the next meal


Birthday Cake… yum!

29 Aug

Happy Birthday Susan! My mother-in-law had her birthday today. I won’t reveal her age as she was not too happy my sister-in-law spilled the beans via facebook earlier today. But let’s be honest, at any age the best part of having a birthday is the cake. Whether your favorite is vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, or funfetti, you know that one that one special day of the year, you can have whatever you want.

My dilemma was that the cake was to be a surprise. I think I know my mother-in-law pretty well, but this one was tough. How fancy should I go? I know she likes lemon, but would everyone else like lemon? I know she likes Elvis, but would a banana and peanut butter cake go over well? My solution was to play it safe. Yellow IMG_0774butter cake with milk chocolate buttercream icing.

Here’s the recipe:

Yellow butter cake, care of Martha Stewart

Makes two 9-inch cake layers.
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
1 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-by-2-inch round cake pans; line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter parchment, and dust with flour, tapping out excess; set aside. Into a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour; beat until combined after each addition.
  3. Divide batter between the prepared pans, and smooth with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until cakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 20 minutes. Invert cakes onto the rack; peel off the parchment. Reinvert cakes and let them cool completely, top sides up

Chocolate Buttercream Icing

Makes one 9-inch layer cake.
24 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon boiling water
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
Pinch of salt
2 layers of Yellow Butter Cake
Colored sprinkles (optional)

  1. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water. Turn off heat; stir occasionally until chocolate has melted completely, about 15 minutes. Set bowl on countertop, and let chocolate cool to room temperature, 25 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine cocoa powder and boiling water in a small bowl; stir until cocoa is dissolved.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, confectioners’ sugar, and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add melted chocolate; beat on low speed until combined, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in cocoa mixture.
  • Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level; brush off crumbs. Place four strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy Susan. Place the first layer on the cake plate, and spread top with 3/4 cup of frosting. Place the second layer on top, bottom side up, and spread top with 3/4 cup of frosting; repeat process with the third layer. Place the remaining layer on top of the third layer, bottom-side up; insert a dowel into the center of cakes if necessary. Spread entire cake with remaining frosting. Decorate with sprinkles, if desired.
  • I used fresh strawberries layering in with the chocolate icing. It gave the cake a little unexpected something and cut through all the sweetness of the chocolate. Everyone loved the cake too! Especially my little nieces, who despite not finishing their dinners, still managed to each a whole piece.

    It’s always nice to make someone feel special on their big day. It doesn’t matter if you are 4 or 94 you can still get a kick out of sticking your fingers in the corner of the icing and stealing the first taste 🙂

    Happy Birthday Susan! Cheers to many more

    Always thinking of the next meal


    The wonderful cut, london broil

    26 Aug

    So I don’t know about you, but my local grocery store has london broil on sale about every other week. The deal is usually a BOGO (buy one get one free.) I love london broil, but marinating and grilling or marinating and broiling does get a bit dull. For argument sake london broil is similar to a flank steak. Although the london broil is NOT flank steak, it just looks like one. There is no specific area that this cut comes from per say, but it is usually cut from the top round. Not sure what that is? It’s OK. Top round is typically used for roasts and slow cooking. So why is this cut mostly thrown on the grill as if it was a quick cooking cut? As with a lot of culinary questions, no one seems to know the whole story.

    While a good grilled london broil can feed an army, it has to be thinly sliced to not taste like meat flavored bubble gum. It also tends to be dry since it is a very lean meat and the muscle fibers are thick and long. My solution to this culinary mystery? Cook the london broil the way you would cook any top round roast… low and slow.

    I’m making an Italian pot roast with my london broil. Because it is typically trimmed within an inch of it’s life at the store, we have to compensate the lack of fat with BIG flavor. IMG_0772I used a whole head of garlic, thyme, rosemary, oregano, carrots, onion, and celery to give the sauce the big flavor. I also used 2 cups of cabernet sauvignon. The wine reduces and gives the whole dish depth and body.

    There really is no recipe to post for this one. Again this comes down to technique. The slow cooker, although not a traditional culinary tool, is quite a help for this. It takes less energy to heat the slow cooker or crockpot than it would to heat the oven for the same amount of time. So the technique…

    The technique used here is braising. First thing to do is sear the meat in a little fat. Make sure you get a nice brown crust on both sides. Put the meat in the slow cooker. In the same pan that you brown the meat in, add the vegetables. You might need a little more fat which is OK. Sauté the vegetables until they are just soft. Add the wine to the pan to deglaze. Put the wine and vegetables into the slow cooker with the meat and turn it on to high. At this point you can add any herbs and spices that you like. I also like adding a large can of whole tomatoes and garlic, but you can add beef stock or even water if you don’t want to use the tomatoes.

    You’ll know the meat is ready when you can shred it easily with tongs or 2 forks. Typically I make this dish in the fall as a wonderful warm up, but what can I say, I was just in the mood tonight.

    On a final note. You can use this technique of braising on just about anything. The only real difference is the cooking time. If you are braising chicken it will probably only need 2-3 hours before it’s ready. You can braise vegetables too. Turnips, carrots, bok choy, and leeks all take to this cooking technique. Just make sure to monitor your time so you don’t over cook or you’ll wind up with a mushy mess.

    Always thinking of the next meal


    Congratulations… you failed!

    24 Aug

    Ok, I just want to preface this blog entry by saying I love soy milk. That’s why it’s in my refrigerator. Let me also share with you one of my favorite quotes which will give you a head start on the tone and hilarity of the following post:

    “Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

    – Walt Disney

    So tonight’s dinner was a glorious failure. I attempted to make one of Ryan’s favorites, Bleu Cheese Mac and Cheese. Sounds good right? Well it usually is. I great rich indulgent dinner. Since we hadn’t rewarded ourselves from yesterday, I figured it would be a great meal to toast our success. The key words here are “usually” and “figured.”

    Here’s the normal recipe:

    1/3 box of pasta. I like cavatalli, but shells, penne, or any hollow pasta will work
    2 tablespoons butter
    2 tablespoons flour
    2 1/2 – 3 cups milk, (please use cow’s milk)
    1  cup shredded cheese (Italian blend)
    6 oz crumbled bleu cheese
    salt and pepper to taste

    Cook pasta and set aside to drain. Melt butter in a separate pan. When the butter stops foaming add the flour and wisk until fully incorporated. Slowly add the milk in 1/2 cup portions wisking quickly to avoid lumps. Once all the milk has been added bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Wisk in the cheeses and stir until they are completely melted. Add pasta back into the pot and stir to combine. Serve hot. Feeds 2-3 people.

    So why did it turn out so poorly? Please refer to my earlier statement. I didn’t have any regular milk and since my soy milk was “unflavored” I thought it would be OK. Let me be the first to tell you “unflavored” soy milk still tastes like soy. Yes soy marketing team, soy milk does taste good, but it’s not milk. It will never be milk and to all you foodies reading this, it can not always be used as a substitute for milk.

    I followed this recipe as I wrote it, but subbed the soy milk in for the regular milk. I knew it was a mistake right away. The roux which usually smells nutty and buttery was quickly masked by the first addition of the soy milk. As I continued to add the usual mild smell of butter and warming milk, smelled more like roasting soy beans. I thought that it might be OK if I added the cheese. You know bleu cheese is a pretty potent cheese so my logic seemed to make sense. WRONG! I tried to salvage it, boy did I try. I seasoned and seasoned. I added more cheese, but the soy flavor was just too overwhelming.

    I did serve it… Oh I did. But I couldn’t even eat it. Ryan was very gracious. He took a few bites, but I know the truth. It was just bad. It’s not all a sad story. I did learn something. I learned that sometimes if you don’t have the right ingredients substitutions can lead to a new revolutionary dish, and other times it can lead you to take out.

    Always thinking of the next meal (in this case dreaming of the next meal)


    Daily Grind Fitness Gig

    23 Aug

    So today was our first official, non family related gig. It was for the great people at Daily Grind Fitness ( We were asked to provide breakfast and lunch for 30 people during a personal trainer certification session. We arrived and didn’t realize that the gym was on the second floor of the building. We were destined to get our exercise today. After a lot of help carrying things upstairs, we started setting up the tables for breakfast. Here’s what was on the menu:


    with strawberry honey butter, herbed cream cheese, and orange cinnamon cream cheese


    Lowfat Maple Oatmeal, Lowfat Apple

    Almond Poppyseed Scones

    Fresh Fruit

    Strawberries, Pineapple, with fat free yogurt dip

    Orange Juice, Cranberry Juice, and Freshly Brewed Coffee

    IMG_0761 While the morning seemed to be sailing by, it was not without its bumps. I had ordered bagels at Panera, specifically asking for them to be arranged on a black tray (to match with the color scheme of course!) When I arrived at the bakery they had my order in a large box. Not only was there no tray, but I was told by the manager they stopped using trays years ago. I know it was only a minor set back, but at the time I was frantic. Thank God I had extra serveware at the gym.

    Another lesson that we learned was to always have extra tongs/spoons/knifes and just about anything a guest could want, whether or not you were asked to bring it. That means, if coffee is ordered you must have: half and half, sugar, creamer, sweet and low, splenda, equal, skim milk, 2%, decaf, half caf, regular,  regular strong brew, regular weak brew, and a lot of patience. Ok so I’m exaggerating but you would not believe how much coffee we went through!

    IMG_0768We rented the plates, linens, mugs and silverware and everything worked out great. I got everything at Taylor Rental and it couldn’t been easier. Everything looked beautiful and seamless. It was actually kind of funny that everyone kept saying how nice the plates were. The clients were the ones that suggested the rentals and although I was a little skeptical at first I think they did add a lot of class to the event.

    Before we knew it the event started and Ryan stayed at the gym to maintain the food and make sure there was enough coffee. I ran home to assemble the wraps for lunch. Here’s the lunch menu:

    All American Wraps

    Turkey wrapped with tomatoes, lettuce, light mayonnaise, cranberries, and sharp cheddar cheese

    Niçoise Wraps

    Tuna, tomatoes, olive tapenade, hard boiled eggs, spinach, lemon caper dressing

    Italian Chopped Salad

    Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, roasted red peppers, chickpeas,
    Balsamic dressing

    Sweet Potato Chips

    Sparkling water and Arnold Palmers

    (iced tea and lemonade mixed)

    IMG_0770By far the biggest hit of lunch was the turkey sandwich. People were surprised by the cranberries. I thought the tuna was really good, but I think I made a marketing error. I put “pan bagnat” on the name card. All that is a Niçoise style tuna, but well, not everyone knows that. Although people ate them, they were no where near the popularity of the turkey. The salad was good. A bit on the boring side for my tastes, but the clients seemed happy. Oh, and my biggest surprise was how well the sweet potato chips were received. Ryan thinks that I’m just used eating them so they don’t seem that different to me, but it was cool to see something so simple make such an impact.

    I think the event was really great. I met a lot of people who will hopefully give me a call and want have me cook for them. I’d love to cook for the Daily Grind crew again too. Maybe next time we can shoot for the first floor 😉

    Always thinking of the next mealIMG_0765


    P.S. if you want to know what a nerd I am look at the timeline I put together for the event. For the record this was the original timeline and we did not stick to it entirely, but it was a good starting point:

    5:45 – wake up
    6:00 – coffee/breakfast
    6:15 – load car
    6:40 – leave for gym
    7:00ish – Arrive at gym
    7:05 – unpack car
    7:15 – start set-up
    7:30 – pick up bagels at Panera/get ice
    7:45 – Continue set up
    8:00 – brew coffee/ice beverages
    8:15 – put out food


    9:30 – go home
    10:00 – arrive home
    10:05 – assemble salad
    10:30 – Assemble wraps
    11:00 – Load car
    11:15 – leave for gym
    11:45 – arrive at gym
    11:50 – set up lunch
    12:00 – lunch is served
    1:00ish – break down and leave

    If I die a cheesecake related death… this is why

    20 Aug

    Cheesecake. You hear its delicious name roll off the tongue of your server at the restaurant and instantly you start to fantasize. You imagine the rich, creamy, tangy cheese. Maybe it’s covered in super bright, unnaturally sweet cherries, or maybe it’s teasing you with dark decadent chocolate dripping down the sides. You try to resist, but it’s a guilty pleasure you don’t mind punishing yourself at the gym for later.

    Oh yes, this is what dessert can do to us. Why is it that food can have such an emotion hold on us?I think whoever coined the phrase, “the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” was wrong. The truth is, the fastest way to a man’s heart is with cheesecake. Featured here is a picture of the cheesecake I made yesterday.IMG_0759 Oh yes, I made it. If cheesecake alone wasn’t sinful enough, this one happens to be a creme bruleé cheesecake. Oh don’t thank me. Thank the people at Disney cruise line for putting this recipe in the Disney cookbook. I know, they are evil (in the best way of course.)

    I’ve made this cheesecake before. The first time I made it for my friend Luke’s birthday. It was so good, and got such a good reception I tried making it for Thanksgiving. For some reason (a different sized pan a suspect) the cheesecake just did not turn out the same. The outside was perfect, however the middle was runny and uncooked (yuck). But, now that I have baking troubleshooting skills under my cap, this cake turned out beautifully!

    It’s a shame that it has to wait until Saturday to be eaten. It sits in my fridge taunting me with its creamy richness. The sugary, crunchy crust calling my name. It’s saying, “Katie…I’m so delicious and you’ve been so good and working so hard, you deserve a piece.” No cheesecake… the anticipation of Saturday will make you taste that much better 🙂

    Always thinking of the next meal


    Dinner, Provençal style

    20 Aug

    Tonight’s dinner was a turkey cutlet grilled with summer vegetables and herbed lentils. My friend Megan came over for dinner and I wanted to wow her. Megan and I used to live together in college. Our former idea of gourmet was ramen noodles and, sadly, macaroni and cheese from the box.

    Now that we are a little older (just a little older) and a bit more worldly, our palettes crave more sophisticated things. I started by marinating the turkey in red wine vinegar, honey, olive oil, and herbs de Provence. I let the turkey marinate for 4 hours. The food from Provence is simple, and emphasizes the quality of the food. The region is in the Southern part of the country and is highly influenced by the Mediterranean lifestyle. There is a lot of use of lemons, olives, and fish.

    The dish I made for dinner tonight highlights the treasures of Provence. The turkey came out juicy and flavorful. The vegetables were soft, but still had texture. But the key was the lentils. The only time I’ve made lentils in the past was in soup. But I’ve been missing out.

    Recipe for Lentils

    1 cup lentils to 4 cups water, 1 cup red vinegar, 1/2 cup minced onions, 2 tablespoons garlic, and 1 tablespoon herbs de provence. bring to a simmer and stir occasionally. You’ll know when they are done when they are just al dente.

    IMG_0756The greenery that you seen in the picture is watercress. The peppery bite that you get from the watercress helps to balance the sweetness of the grilled vegetables. I tossed it in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.

    Give this recipe a try. Something new to wake up your taste buds 🙂

    Always thinking of the next meal


    French Macaroons… my favorite

    18 Aug

    IMG_0754So when I was in Paris there were these delicate little cookies that were called macaroons. Now the macaroons that I was familiar with were the sweet, dense, coconut ones that I make at Christmas and see at the beach.

    The French macaroon is a light, egg white base, which is made into a sandwich. In France, they are commonly filled with hazelnut, raspberry, coffee and pistachio. The cookie part is made with ground nuts, powdered sugar and egg whites. The filling is traditionally made with a ganache or jam. My version, is filled with nutella. Why? Well, just like peanut butter, nutella is ready to use right out of the jar. Oh and it’s delicious!

    French Macaroons

    yield: Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies

    active time: 45 min

    total time: 1 3/4 hr

    For macaroons

    • 6 oz sliced blanched almonds (not slivered; 2 cups)
    • 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
    • 3 large egg whites
    • 3/4 teaspoon salt
    • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
    • Red or pink food coloring


    • Special equipment: parchment paper; a gallon-size sealable plastic bag (not pleated)

    Make macaroons:
    Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

    Pulse almonds with 1/2 cup confectioners sugar in a food processor until very finely ground, 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a bowl. Sift in remaining cup confectioners sugar, stirring to combine.

    Beat egg whites with salt in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Add granulated sugar, a little at a time, beating, then increase speed to high and continue to beat until whites just hold stiff, glossy peaks. Add drops of food coloring to reach desired shade and mix at low speed until evenly combined. Stir almond mixture into meringue with a rubber spatula until completely incorporated. (Meringue will deflate.)

    Spoon batter into bag, pressing out excess air, and snip off 1 corner of plastic bag to create a 1/4-inch opening. Twist bag firmly just above batter, then pipe peaked mounds of batter (the size of a chocolate kiss) onto lined sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart. Let cookies stand, uncovered, at room temperature until tops are no longer sticky and a light crust forms, 20 to 30 minutes.

    Meanwhile, put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 300°F.

    Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until crisp and edges are just slightly darker, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely on sheets on racks, about 30 minutes.

    Assemble cookies:
    Carefully peel cookies from parchment (they will be fragile). Sandwich a thin layer of nutella (about 1/2 teaspoon) between flat sides of cookies.

    This recipe is not the easiest. You have to be quick and patient. It sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s the truth. If you try to spread the nutella too soon it will melt all over the place and the cookies might crack under the pressure of the spread. Never the less, these macaroons are worth the effort. Takes me right back to the Champ-Élysée!

    Always thinking of the next meal


    Sentimental shrimpies

    16 Aug

    I love when food transports you. Tonight, at my brothers request, we had broiled shrimp for dinner.

    Billy, his girlfriend Heather and myself all ate a pound and a half of fresh gulf
    shrimp. None of us were sure if it was the bay seasoning, the spicy cocktail sauce or the fact that none of us had been to the beach this summer, but it tasted like magic. When my brother took the first bite, Heather and I giggled as the look of total enjoyment washed over his face. I think it was the same look that a kid gets when he tastes ice cream for the first time.

    And if polishing off a pound and half of shrimp isn’t enough, I made a black bean and corn salad to go with it. The salad was full of summer flavor. The lime juice and sweetness if the corn paired well with the spiciness of the shrimp. It was a quick meal to make too. 35 minutes for everything including a 20 minute marinade of the shrimp.

    Here are the recipes:

    1 1/2 pounds deviened shrimp (shells on)
    1/2 cup olive oil
    2-3 tablespoons old bay seasoning
    Combine the oil and old bay and toss with the shrimp. Marinate shrimp
    For 20 minutes. Spread shrimp onto a sheet pan and put under the broiler for 7 minutes or until the shimp turn opaque and bright pink.
    Serve with cocktail sauce (bottled or
    Homemade is fine)

    For the salad:
    1 can black bean, rinsed
    1 small bag frozen corn, thawed
    Juice of 1 lime
    1 large red pepper, small dice
    3 small-medium tomatoes, small dice
    6-8 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
    1 teaspoon tobasco
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    Salt and pepper to taste
    Toss all ingredients together and let sit for at least 15 minutes before service.

    I love the flavors that this meal gives you. Every aspect of the meal speaks to summer and the beach. I can’t wait for next year when we can eat this again together while we listen to the waves.

    Always thinking of the next meal

    Open for Business

    13 Aug

    So I’ve been working on my business a lot recently. I did a job for my mom to cook for my  brother. The menu was fairly simple. Eggplant Parmesean and Straw and Hay (which is basically fettucini in a light alfredo sauce with peas and Italian sausage.)

    I’m hoping that with the fall coming up that more people will be having football parties or need a little extra help with dinners. My mom gave me an idea of doing parties like a pampered chef party, but with cooking. You would invite some of your friends over for a cooking party and they would leave with dinner for their family!

    So let me break it down…

    1. You call me and we decide a menu or menus and a date and time (sounds like a party already)

    2. You invite your friends and let me know how many people are coming

    3. I show up at your house an hour before your friends with the ingredients and prep for the party

    4. You pour the wine and your friends come over

    5. We all cook a fabulous meal together

    6. Your friends leave with dish and recipe(s) in hand

    7. I put the kitchen back to the way it was when I arrived and head home

    8. You call me to schedule another fabulous party!

    Doesn’t this sound like fun? There’s nothing better than eating and cooking with friends and family! I can also follow this format and make cookies, cakes, breads, desserts, etc. Let me know if you’re interested!

    Always thinking of the next meal