Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Love is a word I have to describe the avocado and that wonderful creamy dip we make with it. First of all I have to say while at my local mexican market I discovered these smallest of small avocados. The pits were literally the size of a marble. They were so cute.

When picking an avocado you need to know what you're looking for. Don't squeeze them in the store but put them in the palm of your hand and very gently press. If they are hard as a rock they are not ripe. If the skin is wrinkly and sunken they are over ripe. When I got these they were rock hard. I let them sit out for two days and they were perfect. Another indication of not being ripe is if the pit does not come away easily from the fruit/vegetable? Yes there is debate as to which category the avocado falls into.

So now to making our quacamole. I have had quacamole in many different restaurants, from home cooks, even tried the nasty stuff that comes in the grocery premade. Every one has a little different take on what makes the best. I have to say one of the best quacamole's I have had was from a Puerto Rican woman who worked as a kitchen helper in one of the photo studios I work at.

That brings me to an important point in cooking and learning to be a good cook. Whatever cuisine you are cooking ask someone you know or meet, of the ethnicity you are cooking, what they do. Chances are they will have the most knowledge.

When I was at my favorite mexican market I asked the owner how he does his quac. Everyone does it a little different. After years of listening to the real quacamole makers and doing it myself I have come up with what I think is best. Remember this is a guide do what YOU like. More or less of an ingredient. Add something different. Be creative.


1 small clove garlic, peeled
1/2-3/4  tsp salt, coarse
4 regular size avocados, ripe but still green no brown spots
2 Tbsps onion, chopped fine
jalapeno or hot sauce, to taste
cilantro chopped and for garnish

First and what I found to be key in a good quacamole is an authentic mortar and pestle from mexico. When I bought this from my local mexican market I was told to soak it for 24 hours in water to prevent the marble from entering the food. It conditions it and rinses it. I did it and he was right.

This thing weighs a ton and can also be used to workout. Just kidding.

The first think I do is to grind garlic in the mortar with coarse salt. Do this to taste. I prefer just a hint. I want the quacamole to taste like avocado not garlic.

When this is mashed put the peeled, pitted avocados in the mortar and grind. I like it with a few little chunks not perfectly smooth like baby food.

Next I will add chopped onion, chopped cilantro and hot sauce or chopped jalapeno. If you don't want heat leave these out. Do not grind them gently mix with wooden spoon.

There you have it a beautiful quacamole prepared simply and easily.
Serve it in the mortar and it looks authentic and less dirty dishes. I am all for that.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Silicone Not Just For Implants

Silicone is alive and well in kitchens across the planet.
Some of it I have embraced others I have not.

My recent purchase was a silicone pastry brush. I do like a bristle brush. But being the daredevil that I am, I thought I would give the silicone one a try. I am not a lover of plastic which silicone always looked like to me. My local crate and barrel sales lady told me that it is not plastic but made of bits of glass. Don’t be scared folks bits of glass will not be flaking off and entering your food.
What she was saying is true. Silicone products are made of a fiberglass mesh and food grade silicone.

Other than the fact that the brushes come in fun colors, what I liked most about them was the fact that you can clean it well. No bristles fall out in your food so that is good too.

When basting meats, I always felt that with the hair bristles were never sanitary. In the past I would label my brushes for pastry or for meat and that way you could be sure to keep them separate.

I do have a few silicone pot holders that I do not like. You can’t grip things with them. They do make nice trivets for the table though. For pot holders I use whatever is near me usually a kitchen towel or two. Be sure they are not damp as I have done in the past. Ouch! You will get burned.

I know many cooks/chefs use silpat which I saw on my first trip to Paris 16 years ago and it was revolutionary then. To me good old parchment works fine when I need it.

Silicone bakeware just scares me. Can't wrap my mind around it.

Creating Food Memories

The rain finally stopped and the sun is filtering through the haze. Kids home from school and starving. The cupboards swing open in unison looking for the right thing to eat. So cookies were in order. What kind? Hum.

Snickerdoodles. They remind me of being a kid. There is something about the cinnamon sugar and cream of tartar that gives them their unique flavor. I love the crisp outer part combined with the chewy center.

2 2/3 cups flour
2 tsps cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, slightly soft
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 ½ tsps vanilla extract
cinnamon/sugar mixture for rolling (1/4 cup sugar-1 ½ tsps cinnamon)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line sheets with parchment. Normally I don’t do this step when making cookies but due to the rolling in sugar step the sugar tends to melt and harden on your tray.

Like in every cookie recipe you will do. Take the butter and sugar and cream until light. The creaming step is important because this is where you give your cookie or cake structure. Creaming for cookies is done on low speed and that is why all ingredients should be room temperature. Even the eggs if you can remember. You need to cream until everything is blended. Low and slow.

Then you add the eggs and flavoring, in this case vanilla.

Next of course you add the dry ingredients, which have all been added together and mixed lightly with a whisk to lighten slightly.

For uniform cookies I use a metal, hinged, ice cream scooper about 1 1/2 inch across. Roll dough into balls and place in cinnamon sugar mixture and coat. Place on sheet and bake until golden. Don’t let them get too dark.

Note: These cookies store well. For extra freshness I take my cookies and freeze them in old Christmas cookie tins made of metal only. I try to avoid freezing in plastic. It affects the flavor and who knows what chemicals are being transmitted to our food. Better safe than sorry. 

So create some food memories with your kids. There is nothing like coming home from school and having the house smell of fresh baked cookies. They hunt for the dough and find it. The finger starts it's decent before it is stopped by the evil mother who makes them get a spoon. Or, I will give them their own beater to have at it. Yes, I let my kids eat cookie dough. I have been eating it too for all these years, won't say how many, and never got salmonella.
The kids have had friends over and they look at my kids eating cookie dough with a frightened look on their face like they are going to drop dead on the spot.  It is sad to me.
 I know we need to be safe but the risk is very small. The egg has to have salmonella in order for you to get salmonella. 

So although the  grocery store shelves are abound with more cookies than you can imagine, all very expensive I might add. Baking at home is better and cheaper. Take the time out to bake. You will create food memories for your kids and they will do it for theirs.

Basil Not Happy

If you planted your herbs like I did around Mothers Day and you’re not in Rome or Florida you may be looking at some VERY unhappy basil. Don’t worry blame mother nature. Everything in the herb garden is thriving except basil. It looks like the Charlie Brown tree. A stalk and one little shriveled brown leaf barely hanging on.

I just learned that Basil originated in India where it was considered sacred to the Gods. Spreading to the Mediterranean areas and now as we know strongly associated with Italian cuisine. Basil also is a member of the mint family, who knew.

I usually grow a few types of basil so I have different leaves to choose from. They do have differences in flavor as well. The smallest leaves are great for garnish. I like the bigger leaves to roll up and chiffonade for salads, sandwiches or pasta.

Basil as we have seen does not like cold Chicago springs. It wants to be at 70 degrees average during the day with no lower than 50’s at night. It will be the first herb to go this fall. OMG I can’t believe I mentioned fall. Let’s not even go there.

To get great basil all summer long be sure to use it often. Pinch the top leaves off above newer leaves. If you don’t, the basil grows tall like jacks bean stalk but does not produce many great luscious leaves and it will flower and turn to seed to quickly. This means no more basil for you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wherever You Go There You Are

Dog Walkin Boots
These words of advice are from my friend Cindy. Extremely talented prop stylist and all around fun human being.

We had an opportunity to work on a very cool project for 3 months styling food for a web site launch.  In that time we had many talks about our kids, food, and life.

Her saying I think she said she got from her sister who said “wherever you go there you are.”

We all think at times that if I were here it would be better or if I have this I will be happy. The truth is no matter where you are you still look in the mirror and find the same person staring back at you. Whether you’re on the Champs Ellysee or suburbia USA.
You are you.

I admit this was a hard one for me and still is. I don't think I'm the type to stay settled. Leaving urbania and our high rise in the sky was my choice because now it was not about us any more. We had a family and living in 1,000 square feet wasn't going to cut it. 

When looking for a burb to live in,  it seemed that the “cooler suburbs” were those closest to the city. OK not that I’m so into being cool but to me the suburbs meant strip malls, chucky cheese and olive garden. Yes I have been to both of those places in my life. Truth be told. 

You were going suburban but not too suburban. Ok this sounded good. We looked and found something in one of the “cooler suburbs” but after a year we had it. Not what it was cracked up to be.

Our next move left us farther from urbania and to a suburb that is 35 minutes with no traffic meaning early Saturday or Sunday morn!

We’ve been here for 12 years now. I still dream of other places though am learning to embrace what I have here and really appreciate the good things. Trying to take wherever I am and make it my own.

Advice to self: Embrace the stage you’re at in your life and enjoy.

Grilled Chicken Fajitas

This is a family favorite for sure. I just prepare all the parts and everyone makes their fajita the way they like.

I start with boneless, skinless chicken breasts that I marinate in a little lime juice, olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper. Just for an hour or so. Keep in the frig while marinating.

Get your grill nice and hot and grill peppers and onions. Keep them in large pieces or slices so they do not fall through the grate. Drizzle with a little olive oil so they do not stick.

Set aside grilled veges and start grilling your chicken.

While that is going start chopping some additional cold veges to add. Things such as avocados, tomatoes, cilantro, lettuce, jalapeno peppers, cheese, sour cream, etc.

Soften your tortilla in a pan on the stove or quickly on the grill being careful not to burn. Top with your chicken cut into slices or strips and other ingredients and enjoy.

For the fajita pictured above this was mine. Heavy on the veges light on the chicken. To the sour cream I added some chipotle sauce for a little kick. Yum.

Help I'm In A Food Rut And I Don't Know How To Get Out!!!

Scenes From The Kitchen-Orange Juice, Cream Cheese, Latte, Pencil and Sword

Been there done that. Call it a food rut or funk, whatever. The truth is I hit bottom. 

When I food style I’m creating great food with a team of people. Collaborating , creating and getting paid. At home I was feeling like Cinderella before the slipper fit. Wiping cinder from my face while attacking endless piles of dishes. 

Cooking 2-3 meals a day for 7 days a week. It can be exhausting and thankless. 

Dinner is the most trying. 

The minute everyone comes home from school/work I hear the words that make me cringe. What’s for Dinner???? 

When I was in my food rut I felt burned out. The kids are older now 11 and 14 and have opinions.  I have one gourmet eater, one picky eater, one carnivor, my husband, and I am mainly a vegetarian using meat as a condiment. 

Pleasing everyone, making nutritios foods, the shopping, the clean up-no paycheck equals burnout. I was tired. 

Ok so now what, well I tried many things. I got a book called the zen of housecleaning. I lit candles and put on music and tackled the dishes. It may have helped some but still tired. 
A lot of how this blog came to be got me out of the funk. I decided to change my attitude and make what I do fun. I picked up my camera and photographed things that were cool around me. Yes, my family thinks I’m weird but so what. I was finding my way to make something that was becoming monotonous and thankless into something that inspired me. When I cook meals I think of them in my mind. In food magazines they are always telling a story with the photos. Well, I am living a real life story so I capture it and tell about it on my blog. Fulfilling my creative spirit and feeding my family beautifully nutritious food at the same time.

 Before I was cooking what everyone wanted. Now I am being true to who I am and what I believe. There maybe an eyebrow raised if they don’t like what I’m servin up but hey they are not starving over here. I will try to accommodate the picky eater by leaving things plain for him before adding sauce. I will leave spice on the side for the kids, things like that. Do what works for you but think of others as well. It is a win win situation. 

Like they say if momma aint happy nobody bein happy!!
Ok I’m not from the south but that just sounded like it needed a southern accent.

Say goodbye to your food rut hello happy cookin!! 

Spring? Not Exactly....

Amy's Lilacs

Well I' m not a fan of people who revolve their life around the weather but being a Midwesterner all my life it is what we do.

Let’s face it we have a right. We have the winters which seem to last forever. Then we look forward to the anticipation of spring like we have never seen it before. And then when it never comes we get crabby.

This spring has been absent. We vacillate from 50 degrees to 90 in a day and then back to 50’s. Oh, and then the rain/storms. We have had our share.

Actually today is a day I am relishing. The rain is torrential. It feels like a scene in out of Africa where I’m in my cabin writing while the rain comes pouring down. A day when I am not inspired to pick up the camera but to reflect and tend to those thoughts in my head and make some sense of things. The perfect time to write. The leaf blowers are off duty, traffic is almost nil. Just the sounds of rain on the porch outside my window.

The dogs are all reserved to the fact that the walk will be post poned. The lab is hiding due to fear of thunder and anything resembling a storm. The puggle is curled on my son Michael's bed amidst camouflage sheets and matching comforter. The malinois is lying upside down on the leather couch in the living room where he stands or lays guard.

The kids safely in their classrooms for their last few days of the school year until summer vacation.

These beautiful lilacs come right after the yellow forsythia. These are from my neighbor Amy's tree that is between our houses. Every year we look forward to the smell out our kitchen windows. I cut a few too and I know she does not mind. She actually facebooked me yesterday asking me if I was enjoying their smell. Yes indeed I was!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Heirloom Tomatoes

This was lunch yesterday and it was delicious. I found these heirloom tomatoes at the market and was inspired to make a pasta salad. Very easy. I had some grilled peppers from the cookout the night before so they were perfect. That is something I always do. Whenever I'm grilling I will not let the coals go to waste so I look in the frig for any veges that would be great grilled. Peppers are fabulous grilled and can be used in salads and sandwiches. 

Pasta Salad Primavera

Pasta, lb your choice
bell peppers roasted, diced
heirloom tomatoes, halved
scallions, sliced
olive oil, extra virgin
splash white balsamic vinegar
coarse salt and pepper
basil, oregano, Italian parsley, fresh, chopped

Cook your pasta al dente and drain. Add remaining ingredients and serve with freshly grated parmiggiano.

This is where you can be creative. Use any roasted vegetables you have a taste for. Squash, asparagus, onions, etc

Rhubarb Berry Crisp

Here is the beautiful rhubarb from my gardener friends made into a delicious crisp. 
To me the perfect summer time dessert with any fresh fruit in season.

 I love the color of rhubarb with it's beautiful pink tones. The slightly sweet mostly tart flavor just calls for a sweet crispy topping and the creme da la creme topping of vanilla ice cream. I love when the ice cream starts to melt after being placed next to the warm crisp. It turns to cream, as in the lower photo, pure joy.

Rhubarb Berry Crisp


1/2 cup oats, not quick
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 sticks butter
1/3 cup sliced almonds


5 cups rhubarb, sliced about 1/2 inch thick
2 cups strawberries, halved or raspberries
2 Tbsps cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp grated orange peel
1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
2 Tbsps orange juice, fresh squeezed
1 Tbsp lemon juice, fresh

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. 

Place topping ingredients in a bowl except sliced almonds. With your hands mix together blending the butter into the dry ingredients. Add the almonds. The mixture should be crumbly and the butter in small bits.

Butter a casserole or ceramic baking dish. Toss all filling ingredients into a bowl and toss lightly to mix. Pour into prepared baking dish and top with crumb topping. Bake for about 40 minutes until topping is light golden brown and mixture is bubbling.

Monday, May 23, 2011

I Ate The Rhu Not The Barb!

Growing up in Iowa I had a pretty cool childhood. It was a time when kids played outside day and night and hung out in their neighborhood with the neighbor kids. No car pools, internet, play dates. You got to know the neighborhood pretty well. The field where we played sports, the woods where we climbed across broken down trees, the mulberry tree that we climbed and hung out in for hours eating as many mulberries as we could from the big fat dark sweet ones to the  greenish pink under ripe ones that made us pucker.

One place that we loved to venture was Mr. Pendergast's garden. It was on a plot of land enough to build a house on but he used it for a garden. It was prestine. He was not an overly friendly man and not a lover of kids you could say. We'll being kids with a lot of time on our hands we would occasionally pilfer a tomato or on this occasion a stalk of rhubarb.

After our late night garden raid I woke up feeling funny. As I put my feet on the ground the next morning my legs gave out. I was covered with hives and so swollen I couldn't  move. My whole body was covered. My skin felt tight and itchy. It was a nightmare.

I called to my mom and she was in shock. She called the doctor right away and he agreed to come to the house. They did that sometimes in those days.  Dr. Graves came to the house and of course was grilling me on what I had eaten. I went through a list of what I had eaten the day before one item being rhubarb. The rhubarb caught his attention. Apparently the leaves are poisonous.

I was so shaken my mom said I blurted out "I ate the rhu and not the barb!"
Meaning I ate the stalk and not the leaves. 

Well I did recover and the swelling went down. I do eat and love rhubarb today and have never had a reaction. 

The rhubarb  in the photo is from my nice gardner friends who give me a big bouquet every year. If your not a gardener yourself make friends with some. Getting fresh fruit and vegetables is a real treat. When you know the growers it just tastes better. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bury Me With My All-Clad

No I take that back I want my kids to use it! All Clad cookware is by far the best cookware in my opinion.

The wash up is a breeze and nothing burns because it is heavy duty. You cannot destroy it.

Another amazing feature of all clad is it can go into the oven. Even the lids. No plastic on it so it is totally oven proof.

Friday, May 20, 2011


You know when you have a craving for something and you just can't think about anything else. Well I had granola on the brain. Granola is not hard to make.

But today I felt like buying one of the gourmet granolas I have been eyeing while shopping for work. I added some diced dried apricots and it was delicious. This brand is called Oat Cuisine. There are so many cool granolas out there. Go on and splurge. Granola is good on yogurt, ice cream or just plain with milk. High in fiber and nutrition depending on the brand you choose. Some have bad oils in them and sugars so read the label.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In Search of Asparagus

Morels in the Wild

Ok so here is the story. I set off today with two of my three dogs down the Green Bay trail in search of this asparagus I had heard about from my gardener friends Nick and Amy. They own one of the secret gardens which line the walking trail. You will be hearing a lot about the secret gardens in posts to come. Anyway they gave me specific instructions on how to find this asparagus. It was to the north of their garden and fenced in but the fence was all rickity and sometimes you will find a pot hanging from a post. They said it was being tended by a 90 year old Russian woman. Sounded easy enough right. We'll I kept going past past their garden and no luck. I walked with the dogs until I realized I had gone to far that I had to have missed it.

So back I went and kept a better look out for anything resembling a garden. Finally across from Nick and Amy's garden I ran into an old couple who have owned a secret garden for 35-40 years. I forget their names but they gave me a bunch or rhubarb last year. So I stopped to chat and asked them if they had seen this asparagus I had heard of. They said they had not heard of the asparagus but the garden of the Russian woman was there and they pointed to an area that was fenced and rusted hidden behind trees. It had christmas lights intertwined with wire and for the life of me I could not figure out how to enter this rectangular wire mess.

I was intrigued by the stuff inside the garden area. It looked like a garden junk yard. I could'nt figure out how anything could grow in there. That is where Nick and Amy got the beautiful stalks of asparagus they showed me? I had never seen asparagus this long. It had to be 12-14 inches. They said it was not woody and would be up again in a few days. Ok so my journey did not lead me to my asparagus photo. However, my trip in search of asparagus was not for naught. My old couple who grow amazing rhubarb gave me a big bunch to carry back down the trail. I had my hands full. Two dogs pulling to sniff every which way, me with camera in tow and a huge bouquet of fresh picked rhubarb. So I am walking back down the trail to my car and my puggle starts sniffing towards the woods. I look down and spot the morel you see in the picture above. I could not contain myself. I dropped the rhubarb and tried to hold the camera still while putting my foot on two leashes and prayed a jogger did not pass by or they would knock me down. The light was perfect the mushroom was perfect and so the moral not morel of this story is that we need to be searching for things but be open to other things that come your way. If I never looked down I would not have seen this beautiful mushroom.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Never I Repeat Never Wash The Raspberries

Years ago while working in the kitchen of a well known Chicago caterer I was yelled at so severely for attempting to wash the raspberries! I had the raspberries in my hand and was just about to place them under the faucet then a loud voice from across the kitchen screeched. Her message was loud and clear. Never wash the raspberries!

Let's just say I got the point and never forgot this lesson.

Well if you have ever washes raspberries you will see what she meant.  They don't like moisture. If you ever notice them in their packs or at the farmers market. If one is wet it's all over. They all go.

When I do get berries from the farmers market I take them out of their pint containers and get a pyrex or tupperware container and layer them with paper towels between. This will help them last.

Or you could freeze them. If freezing berries lay them flat on a tray and when frozen hard they can be put together and not stick together.

Actually all berries are fragile. I don't wash strawberries or blueberries until I'm going to eat them. Never wash the container and put it back in the frig. The berries won't be happy.

Beauty in Decay

Occasionally I will let things sit on the windowsill to dry out. Ok I know I' m weird but I like the way things look when they age. However, MY aging process I'm not liking. Anyhow, this jalapeno half looked very cool as it dried. Turning red at the tip and the sides turning in. Dried peppers are good to use in sauces.

The citrus I love to watch dry and even sometimes dry slices by placing them on a cooling rack and turning them often so they don't mold. They look cool in dry floral arrangements or in centerpieces.

I Will Not Buy Garlic From China!

I'm kind of on a rampage with this topic. One of our local markets known for their produce has a nice garlic display. I read the sign above the bulbs saying GROWN IN CHINA! That's plain weird.

Why in the world do we need garlic that travelled that far. First of all it has no smell. Why? It took so long to get from China . It's old.

While writing this post I did a little research and found a great article about the very question I posed.

Apparantely, and not surprisingly the reason we are getting so much garlic from China is that they are selling large quantities of it for very cheap. Until they came along a town in California named Gilroy was the Garlic capital. Now they are suffering because they cannot compete with the price.

We need to support American farmers and buy garlic, and as much produce as we can, from USA!

Which brings me to our featured recipe that uses lots of fresh garlic. I adapted this recipe from Marcella Hazan a wonderful Italian cookbook author. Simplicity. This is a recipe where the ingredients are few so they better be good.

I have been to Rome and this dish reminds me of it. The food I had while in Italy was very simply prepared but with the finest ingredients. No Chinese garlic there.

Aioe Oio-Italian translation Roman Garlic and Oil Sauce

lb Spaghetti, cooked al dente
1/3 cup highest quality extra virgin olive oil
few sprinkles of red chili pepper flakes, or to taste
2 tsp finely mined fresh garlic
diced fresh tomatoes, seeded
basil, chopped chiffonade style
parmesano reggiano cheese grated

Boil the pasta in a large quantity of salted water. Use extra salt because the dish has no salt added.

While pasta is cooking put prepared garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil and cook on low heat swirling pan constantly until garlic is a light golden brown color. Do not burn garlic or start over. Burnt garlic is very bitter.

When pasta is done cooking drain very well. Toss pasta with olive oil garlic mixture and turn with tongs to coat all the pasta.

Serve topped with diced tomatoes, basil and parmesano reggiano.

Crusty bread is also a nice addition to mop up any extra garlicy oil that may be hanging out at the bottom of your dish.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

What Is Your Favorite French Word?

I have two parapluie and pamplemousse. Shown in the photo is freshly squeezed pamplemousse juice aka grapefruit! I guess this word in french also means "fatso" so it is used as an insult as well. Who Knew!

How did I get that deliciously looking froth to my juice you may ask? Well I have a little help from my Breville juicer. There are juicers and then their is the Breville juicer. If you are a serious juicer this is the one to get. The high power makes this froth. It is simply delicious.

I love to juice when I have odds and ends in the fruit drawer or fruit that is on it's last leg so to speak.

When the kids were younger and into it we would take different fruits and make our own creations. Then have a taste test usually using Dad as a tester. We came up with some cool combos. My fav is still straight pamplemousse.

Herbs Are In Their Pots-Finally

Took this shot of the oregano and sage sharing a pot for now until they get going. Used a yellow filter just  for fun.

This was the longest winter in history or maybe as we get older it just seems that way. Anyway last week the herbs went into their appropriate pots. I have to say this is a big deal here in the Chicago Burbs. For 8 months when we want herbs we have to get those expensive little plastic packages of herbs. Ok I am glad we have them but it is not the same as fresh from the garden.  The whole experience is missed. I love it when I'm cooking and I tell the kids to go get me some cilantro from the garden. There usual response is "which one is cilantro?" I kind of describe it and let them have at it. I may even give them a smell profile to go by. Such as for Rosemary "the one that smells like pine trees"! 9/10 times they get it right and it teaches them to know their herbs. Very important in life!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Is there Baby Bok Choy in Suburbia?

Ok yesterday at one of our local grocers while looking for a few more veges for the stir fry I grabbed my baby bok choy. When I got up to the counter to have it weighed I spotted these beautiful flowers inside.

When I got home and was starting to prep the dish I picked up the bok choy again and was blown away by how beautiful it was. Being the creative that I am I put it in some natural window light and wow.

That is how I feel about food in a nutshell. When we eat it should make us happy. It is about the experience of the ingredients, buying local when you can and appreciating the beauty.

So yes bok choy is living in suburbia and very beautifully thank you!

Quick Easy Stir Fry

What I love about stir fry. I love my wok first of all. It is a calphalon all stainless steel heavy duty wok. It cooks and cleans like a dream. Stir fry is quick and healthy and a good way to use your creativity in the kitchen. Here is my basic recipe. Feel free to do your own version.

Chicken Stir Fry

2-3 Tbsps canola oil
2 tsps toasted sesame seed oil
2 Tbps teriyaki sauce
2 Tbsps soy sauce
2 Tbsps stir fry sauce-trader joe's has a nice one
1 Tbsp cornstarch
ginger, fresh
chicken*, boneless, skinless breasts
baby bok choy
bell peppers, any color

Here goes. Get your wok hot on the burner. Add a few tablespoons canola or vegetable oil and a tsp or so of toasted sesame seed oil. First saute your onions then add garlic and ginger root. I mince the garlic and ginger and I leave the onions in med to large chunks.

You have to move quickly you do not want to burn the garlic. Next add the vegetables which have all been chopped roughly the same size. Hold back on the baby bok choy because this cooks very quickly and you don't want it to get soggy. The point of stir fry is to cook things on high heat very quickly. You need to move the food around a lot so it does not burn. When the veges are crisp tender I transfer them to a plate spread out so they do not steam. Next I add a little more oil if needed and cook my chicken which has been cut into bite sized chunks. Cook until golden brown in color. Next I take the chicken broth. The quantity depends on how much other ingredients you have. I would say 1-2 cups. Add the chicken broth to the wok with the chicken and stir. Be sure to scrape all the delicious bits of flavor that have adhered to the side of the wok. Next add the sauces which I have in a measuring cup near the wok. I combine the sauces with the cornstarch so I have one thing to add. Stir quickly and the cornstarch should start to thicken the sauce when this happens add the vegetables back in and give a quick stir.

*Is organic chicken necessary? We'll I believe there is a very big difference. If you have organic by you by all means get it. The flavor is better.

Mom Please Make Cookies Today!

The cookie of choice for my suburban kiddies is chocolate chip. These are a little flat for our taste but they were still delicious. The butter sat on the counter and being in the 80's it got a little too soft. I actually like the butter not real soft but not rock hard. The cookies don't spread that much when baked. I like to refrigerate my dough also after making, otherwise the butter melts to fast and you have thin cookies.

The recipe I use is on the Nestle Morsel package. I tweek a little sometimes adding a little more brown than white sugar and always increasing the vanilla to about 2 tsps.

My friendly suburban Williams Sonoma lady told me she adds a touch of almond extract with her vanilla and it just adds a little extra something. Have not tried this yet but will.

Oh on the subject of vanilla the only kind to use in my opinion and many other food professionals is Neilsen Massey. It is expensive but if you buy a large bottle it is more economical. I use vanilla a lot and it is worth it. They also sell almond extract too. There is not as much alcohol content and it has a pure flavor. Also the plant is local ,Waukegan, IL, so that is pretty cool.

Best Pancakes in the World

This shot was taken first thing this morning the sun was shining and it added great highlights to the syrup. After I took the shot fog rolled in off the lake and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees. Bummer!

Here is the recipe for these glorious cakes. I often add berries, blue or rasperries to the batter for extra yum.

Warm the syrup lightly on the stove for an extra special touch.

Best Pancakes in the World
1 1/2 cup flour
3 Tbsps sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Add dry ingredients together in a bowl.
1/2 stick butter, melted
1 1/4 cup milk
2 eggs
splash vanilla

Add wet ingredients to dry and make some cakes!

Greek Yogurt with Berries

The greek yogurt I love because it is thick and not sweet. Adding fresh fruit and for extra sweetness I add a slight sprinkle of brown sugar. It makes it a little bit more fun. Top photo shows the brown sugar. As it sits it melts into the yogurt, bottom photo, and makes a carmel looking swirl effect.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Favorite Spatula

This is my favorite spatula of all time. Many years ago my mother in law was in for a visit. She was helping me wash a mile high pile of dishes. After we were done I went to throw something in the trash. I noticed my spatula on top of the trash. I questioned why it was there. My mother in law thought it was old and belonged there. Inside I was fuming. Ok you have to know my mother in law. She was probably 86 at the time.  She is the sweetest lady you have ever met. She is the kind of lady boy scouts help across the street. A bingo loving sweet little gray haired polish woman. I have never been mad at her a day in my life. Except for 15 minutes the day my spatula entered the trash can behind the wooden door.

I dug it from the trash and washed it off and here we are blogging about it. Ok get over it you say it is only a spatula. What makes it so special? Well the new spatulas they make are actually thicker and do not bend. This is very thin and can easily get under things another spatula won't. To someone who works in a kitchen the tools we use are very personal. To Helen who grew up in the depression it was an old beat up thing. But to me it was something I used every day. You get attached to things that you like and you can't put a price on that. 

Blueberry Muffins

This recipe was requested by my daughter. It is Nick Malgieri's recipe from The Modern Baker.

I will print his recipe giving my suggestions at the end.

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
6 Tbsps unsalted butter
1/3 cup light brown sugar

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsps baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg, fresh
8 Tbsps unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 lg eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 pint blueberries, rinsed, drained, picked over

Set rack in middle of oven and set temperature to 375 degrees F

For the crumb topping, combine the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon in a medium mixing bowl and stir well to mix. Melt the butter in a small pan. Remove from the heat, then add the brown sugar to the pan of melted butter and use a small heatproof rubber spatula to stir them together.

Scrape the butter and sugar mixture into the flour mixture, stirring it into the flour mixture, stirring it in until the flour is evenly moistened. Set aside while preparing the muffin batter.

Combine the butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed for about 1 minute, or until well mixed and a little lightened in color. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating smooth after each.

Decrease the mixer speed to low and beat 1/2 the flour mixture. Stop the mixer and use a large rubber spatula to scrape down the bowl and beater.

On low speed, beat in the milk. After the batter has absorbed the milk, beat in the remaining flour mixture. Stop and scrape down the bowl and beater again.

Add the blueberries to the bowl and slowly fold into batter.

Divide batter among muffin cups. I use paper liners. Place crumb topping on top of each and bake until done. I look until top is no longer shiny and they are golden brown.

My Notes:

I used about half of the crumb topping. I do not like to bite into bits of sugar. So do as you like on this one.

I found it to make about 18 or so muffins standard size. I fill the muffin cups 3/4 of the way.

When baking and adding flour and a wet ingredient. Always begin and end with the flour. This way there are no lumps by having the liquid trap the flour. It makes the batter more uniform.

Never over-stir muffin batter. You will loose leavening power and your muffins won't be nice and tall.

Welcome to a suburban kitchen

Now when you think of a suburban kitchen you may get ideas of formica, shake and bake, jello molds and the like. Well when choosing a name for my blog I had some names in mind but when it came right down to it where I work is "a suburban kitchen."  That is when I am not working in photo kitchens around Chicago as a commercial food stylist. 

I must say I resisted the move to the burbs. Leaving the urban life and our 32nd floor, culture and good eats was hard to do. But as a mother of an 18 month old and another bun in the oven I decided I didn't want to worry about Chicago public schools or paying for private. So we headed to the burbs!

After naming the blog I started thinking about suburban and never really thought about the word. I guess it's translation is sub-urban SO this means less than urban? We in the suburbs are less than urban whatever that means. Oh I guess it means were not cool. I beg to differ.

My suburban kitchen is pretty cool and very lived in with two kids, three dogs, foster dogs that pass through on their way to forever homes, oh and a husband who works hard as a creative director to bring home that bacon, and I do mean "the maple kind"!!

I took years off of my career to stay home with the kids. During this time as a home cook I learned so much from having to cook for a family 7 days a week three meals a day. I made a LOT of recipes. We don't own a microwave we cook real food. It is from scratch and made fresh daily. While cooking for the family I did get in some major food ruts but I found a way to get out of that rut. One day in a suburban kitchen I was at the sink washing the dishes for the gazillionth time, a chore I do not enjoy by the way, when the light coming in got me excited. I had some lettuce in a colander and the way the light was backlighting the leaves. I got so excited. Where is my nikon? I shot some pictures and my kitchen has never been the same. I have transformed it into a mini photo studio and love my north light kitchen. Here I can use many creative parts of me photo taker, story teller, cook and baker.

So grab a latte, spot of tea, shot of vodka, glass of wine or whatever your desired libation is  and keep checking in. I will be posting recipes, sharing cooking tips from myself and other interesting cooks, and maybe even a podcast or video.