Thursday, June 30, 2011

Let's Get Fresh!

Sometimes, women are so hard to figure out. For instance, the other night smokin hot wife and I were sitting on the couch while I worked on the computer and she watched the Casey Anthony murder trial when, suddenly, she says: 'Luv Muffin, let's get fresh'. I said: 'Now?' she says:'MmmHmm'. Well, I was engrossed in my work, but I do my best to be loving and accommodating, so I logged off the computer, slipped on my flip flops, grabbed my mini-mag flashlight, and headed to the garden. As the bugs swarmed to my flashlight, I remember thinking; 'She better appreciate this!' Soon I was in the midst of tomato bushes and cucumber vines picking whatever ripe treasures I could find to satisfy her late night fresh craving. It wasn't long before I was regretting my decision as wave after wave of mosquito descended in swarms of Kamikaze furor. I believe them 'skeeters' in my backyard somehow crossbred with falcons because it felt like they were not only sucking my blood, but trying to carry me away to the comfort of their own home. I'm sure the neighbors wondered what was happening as I ran back to the house with a flashlight in my mouth, one hand holding my shirt full of veggies, the other waving frantically over my head, and screaming AHHHHHH.  I busted through the door feeling like the first ever survivor of a Stephen King horror film; 'Skeeter's of Sparrow Swamp'.

Now, here's the part that confuses me. After risking my life harvesting fresh veggies and turning them into a delicious snack, all she did was pout and tell me odd things I could do with my salsa. Yep, women are just so hard to figure out.

Obviously, we all have different ideas of Fresh.  For some, fresh brings thoughts of clean sheets and clothes doused in fabric softener. For others, it means fruit from the garden at the peak of ripeness. Maybe some hear fresh and flashback to glory days of past when they were slapped (or slapped someone) on a date. When you hear fresh, what pops into your head?

For me, as summer swoops in with heat waves and parched throats, fresh means baskets of delicious fruit, locally grown and picked at the peak of flavor.  Fruit for ice cream, smoothies, granita, sorbet, etc. You've seen the posts and drooled in envy, just like me.  Well, I decided to make some individual treats that would showcase the flavor and freshness of seasonal fruit and give it a little elegant touch and eye appeal. They make great snacks, gifts, brunch items, or just regular ole family dessert.  They're simple and tasty, yet are sure to impress your company. I hope you enjoy these 'Sugar Cookie Tarts'.

Sugar Cookie Tarts:

Sugar Cookies 3"-4" round- Use your favorite recipe or slice and bake for super simplicity
White Coating Chocolate
Pastry Cream, Vanilla Yogurt, Whipped Topping, etc.
Seasonal Fresh Fruit
Apricot Jelly- Warmed and thinned to brushing consistency

These are the easiest 'Fancy' treats you'll ever make. I was rushed so I bought slice and bake sugar cookies. If I had made them from scratch, I would have used a scalloped cutter for a slightly fancier look, but I'm sure noone will complain about these =)  I can't remember the last time I bought slice and bake cookies, but since the focus here is the fruit, I figured let's make it easy enough for even a rank beginner.

Step1:  Slice and bake the cookies.

Step 2:  Melt white chocolate coating and apply to cookies and allow to harden. This prevents the cookies from getting soggy from the pastry cream and fruit.

Step 3: Apply Pastry Cream, Vanilla Yogurt, etc. Then apply fruit as you desire.

Step 4: Use a pastry brush and apply warmed and thinned apricot jam to the tops of tarts to create a nice shine and lock out air which turns them brown!!

Step 5: Eat and enjoy!

I had a cookie left so I decided to get off track a little and made a Nutella, banana, whip cream, and toasted coconut tart.  I haven't had this much fun getting fresh since the senior prom. Of course, I got slapped then!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Potato Salad Prose

I like vegans and yogi's, health nuts and gluten free's. I like people on Atkins and South beach Wannabee's. I like those who struggle to touch their toes, I understand the attraction to chips and Oreo's. I like those who scoff at food killed in the wild, even those who force Okra on their precious little child. I like people allergic to all kinds of nuts, and especially one's skilled at cooking Boston Butts. I like fruit lover's and hater's too. But, most of all, I like YOU!  Thanks for visiting =)

Heck, I like everyone. But, that doesn't mean I want to BE like everyone (and neither should you). I am who I am and that's a meat and potatoes man.  I don't do diets, and exercise regularly to offset my fat and starch filled cravings.  I know that's not the healthiest way to eat and may cause scorn among many, but I enjoy life and happily know where I'm going, so I'm content.  Don't get me wrong, meat and potatoes is not all I eat, nor is it all I like.  Trying new foods and sampling the fare of different cultures is one of my passions and pleasures in life.  I'll try any food once, and even eat healthy on a regular basis.  In the end, however, the soul of my innermost being is a meat and potatoes man. Maybe if I ever eat rice wrapped in seaweed that tastes better than a perfectly cooked Pittsburgh style Ribeye I'll change my mind.  Until then, pass me the charcoal. I also know that I'm not alone, so I offer one of my favorite recipes for summer picnics, cookouts, or casual pot luck suppers.  It's not real healthy, not low carb, and definitely not fat-free; but after you taste it, you'll wanna slap your momma. (sorry mom)

Some people call this German Potato salad, but I'm not sure if that's technically correct, and I don't want the German food mafia raiding my picnic, so I just call it Hearty Red-Skinned Potato Salad. By hearty, I mean it sticks to your ribs and leaves you feeling satisfied. After a long day on the lake or a hard day tackling a lingering honey-do list, I need more than a slice of fruit or a spring roll to quiet the ole intestinal orchestra.  It has lots of potatoes and my favorite ingredient, bacon.  Crispy bacon is what makes life worth living. Scientists coined the term meta-physics to mean 'beyond' physics. I'm coining the term meta-ingredient, and applying it to bacon. It goes beyond normal ingredients into the realm of culinary nirvana.  That's my story, and I'm stickin to it.

Beyond the three main ingredients, there are many variations that allow you to tailor this recipe to your individual taste. There is one rule, however, that I must insist you follow; Do NOT substitute Miracle Whip for Mayonnaise!  The label even says 'Salad Dressing' and anyone who claims they are interchangeable only makes a mockery of any claim they have to being a true 'foodie'.  The Good Book says there are four things too hard to fathom; 'the way of an eagle in the sky', 'the way of a snake on a rock', 'the way of a ship at sea', and 'the way of a man with a woman'.  I'm sure if Solomon were alive today he would add; 'why people eat stewed okra', 'why people eat well done steak', and 'why people use Miracle Whip in potato salad'.  Yep. Just too hard to fathom.

Red Skin Potato Salad:

2lbs Red Skin Potato's cut into bite size pieces
1/2 pound crispy bacon crumbled into pieces (7-8 pieces)
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
(For proper pronunciation refer to An Officer and a Gentleman  i.e. MayO-NAIZE )
1/4 cup wickles pickles pickle relish (a slightly spicy alternative to regular relish)
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp prepared yellow mustard
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
optional: fresh chopped basil, dill, or other herbs of choice to taste

Boil the potato's in salted water approx. 10 min. Don't overcook. Drain and allow to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine warm potato's with all other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Serve warm, or refrigerate. I prefer to refrigerate and allow the flavors to meld completely before eating. It goes great with fried chicken, baked ham, or hamburgers like we had tonight.

I hope you enjoy this delicious and hearty dish as much as we do. You're sure to dream of bacon afterwards. Oh, and feel free to feast on sushi for the next few days. I'll still like you!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I Ain't Grillin Empty Handed!

I'm not a nervous person. Having fun, enjoying life, and helping others is a much better way to experience life than being uptight, constantly on edge, and looking like you were weaned on a dill pickle. My pastor used to say;  'If you worry, why pray? But if you pray, why worry?' Well, it makes sense to me, so I ain't worrying if I can help it.  In fact, the only time I really get nervous is when I hear; 'You've just been served', 'We need to talk!' or, 'My Sexy Luver Duver, can I have the checkbook?'

Despite not being a "Nervous Person", however,  I AM what some would classify as a nervous eater. If food is on the table, I'm eating it. If appetizers are ready, I'm diggin in! Two of my biggest culinary pet peeves are people who stand around and ignore hors d'Ĺ“uvre's at parties (assuming they're tasty) and folks who cook you dinner and NOTHING is ready at the same time. Food has only one purpose, to be eaten, not stared at. And, if steak should be medium rare and pasta should be al dente`, then they should be medium rare and al dente` at the SAME time on your plate.

I know, I know, what's all this got to do with grillin? Lots! You see, the other night I was grillin a pork tenderloin (I know it's grilling, but Southerner's say grillin and trying to talk like a yankee makes me nervous) and the sound and smell of it was making me really antsy to stick some food in my mouth. I was fine during the searing process as it doesn't take long and requires vigilance to not overdo. However, once that beautiful crust was developed and the heat was turned down, my senses were deluged with an onslaught of sizzling pork fat that I was unable to resist.  I knew immediately that making it through the torturous grilling process would require an appetizer!

I thought getting a tasty fix to end the gruelling cries from my impatient stomach would be quick and easy, but I was wrong. Instead, it was like the perfect storm of snacking.  All the crucial elements of a snacking nightmare had converged on me at once and without warning.  No cheese, no crackers, no leftovers, the olive jar was empty, the 'emergency baguette' had been thrown out during 'freezer cleanse'. In short, there was nothing in the house worthy of snacking on. NOTHING, NADA!! I was nervous! It was then I vowed never to be caught having to grill empty handed again.

If you like snackin while grillin too, then you'll love this great dip/spread I'm about to share.  I whipped some up to make sure there'd be no storm during tonight's grillin.

Olive&Jalapeno Cream Cheese Dip
1 8oz package cream cheese (softened)
1 TBSP Mayo
1/3 cup olives finely chopped
1    jalapeno finely chopped
1    slice onion finely chopped
1    clove fresh garlic finely chopped
salt to taste
paprika to garnish

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a bowl and stir thoroughly to combine.
If desired, add salt to taste and mix again.

Transfer to small serving dish, sprinkle with paprika and serve with chips, crackers, or crostini.

This recipe was adapted from an old family recipe. It's a staple during football season and is always a favorite among party guests.  And ladies, if you get a hanckerin to go shopping, just put a bowl of this in your hubby's lap and say; "My Sexy Luver Duver, Can I have The Checkbook?" I promise he'll say YES!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Tale of Two Pies

This is a tale of two pies. Two pies that differ in nearly every way except in how pleasing they are to the palate. One is 'Sweet and Simple', literally. The other, savory and not so simple, yet both are rich, delicious, and satisfying in their own right.  In fact, they compliment each other nicely and could be eaten together if you're willing to toss in a sizeable portion of excercise to go with them!

The idea to 'blog' about pies came when I recieved a facebook message about an internet wide Pie Day coming up July 5th from my always in the know friend and blogger extraordinaire  Marnely Rodriguez.  It seems there was a day when lots of people on-line were in a mysterious 'Pie Alignment' and so talk began of each person making a pie, any pie, and posting it on facebook or twitter July 5th.  What struck me most about it was the comment; "...and how sad it makes us that people are too afraid of pie crust to make pie".  How sad indeed, so I decided to dive in early with the hopes of offering both inspiration and encouragement. Inspiration to those who are comfortable in the kitchen, and with pies. Encouragment to those who hear 'Pie Dough' and get so tense they could crack a walnut with their butt cheeks.

To encourage my piephobic friends, I'm going to offer a sweet, simple pie that can be in the oven in under five minutes but taste's wonderful. For the pie afficianados I offer a more challenging, savory 'pie', that uses a double crust made from scratch.

I always love a friendly smile, kind greeting, or uplifting word, so let's start with encouragement. This pie uses a store bought crust and easily prepared filling, yet produces crowd pleasing results.

Key Lime Pie
This is one of my favorites. So cool, rich, creamy and delicious, yet sooo easy to make. If you can't find authentic Key Lime Juice, just use the limes at your local market. The pie will still be wonderful!  In fact, the company in the Key's that boasts of making the world's best Key Lime Pie, adds pineapple in their filling! I've had it and, trust me, it ain't the best in the world!. But I digress. On with the show...

1- 9 inch graham cracker pie shell
1- 14oz can Eagle Brand condensed milk
5- egg yolks
4 oz fresh lime juice
zest of one lime

In a bowl, combine condensed milk, lime juice, egg yolks, and zest. Mix thoroghly and pour into pie shell. Bake at 350 deg F for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. SIMPLE.  Best if refrigerated overnight before serving.

Top with fresh whipped cream & toasted coconut or make meringue with left over egg whites. In fact, they're so easy, why not make several and give one away and put one in the freezer for a quick and delicious dessert when you're short on time!

And there you have it. Sweet and Simple. Easy enough for a child to make, yet fit for a King! Encouraged? I sure hope so! =)

For my Inspirational Pie, I decided to go outside the box slightly and get your minds off  round, fruit filled pastries.  In the South, there are as many pie dough recipes as there are barbeque sauces or brands of chewin tobacco, so I chose one that works for me, the family loves, and makes enough for a double crust on a large 'pie'.  Feeling inspired yet?

Chicken Pot Pie
Hey, The message said; "...make a pie, any pie..", So I did. And I feel sure that once you've tried this, you'll be glad you did too.  My family loves homemade chicken pot pie and when I pulled this out of the oven, they threatened me with physical violence if I took more than 5 minutes to photograph it.

Pie Dough Ingredients:
3 cups all purpose flour
8 oz (16 TBSP) chilled butter cut into 1/4 inch cubes
8 TBSP chilled vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
6 TBSP ice cold water

Sift or mix together thoroughly the flour and salt in your mixing bowl. (You can do this quicker in a food processor but you have to be real careful not to overmix and I'm just a mixer kinda guy)

Add the butter cubes one or two at a time making sure they get coated with flour. Then add the oil.

A special thanks to Smokin Hot Wife for modeling that cute butter cube!

Now add the cold water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough just starts coming together. Use slightly more or less water if needed.  Don't overmix. After it just comes together, take it out of bowl, knead once or twice by hand to form a ball, then flatten into a rectangle, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Chicken Pot Pie Filling
This is the real McCoy so put aside any hopes of canned cream of chicken soup or mushrooms in a jar. Around here it's Cooke'd With Luv so it's cooked from scratch!  I did vary slightly from the traditional pot pie filling in that I substituted chopped asparagus for english peas.  It was the first time and I did it on a whim, but it was quite good. Asparagus is in season, fresh, and delicious. Peas are....well....NASTY....but anyway, let's get to it...

1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken cut into bite size pieces
1 1/2 TBSP vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped onions (1 small)
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms (your fave)
1/2 cup chopped carrot (2-3 Med or handful of baby)
1/2 cup chopped asparagus
4 TBSP Butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 TBSP Sherry
1 tsp chopped basil
1 tsp chopped parsley
1/2 tsp chopped thyme
salt to taste just before adding to dish

In a large skillet, sautee the chicken in the oil until just done. Remove from skillet and set aside. Then repeat with the carrots, mushrooms, and onions. Don't sautee the asparagus or it will be overcooked and mushy.

In a large pot, melt the butter over med high heat, then whisk in flour to form a paste. Add the milk and whisk until this thickens. Next add the broth and stir in followed by the Veggies, chicken, and herbs. Allow to simmer a few minutes, then adjust salt and seasonings to taste.

Once the filling is complete, set it to the side (or let it simmer a bit if it seems too thin) while you begin preparing the bottom crust.

This recipe is for a 9 x 9 baking dish. If you wanted to make a round 8 or 9 inch pie for say two people, just half the recipe and use the pie pan of your choice.

Take 2/3 of the pie dough, knead it a couple of times to soften it up, then roll out on a floured surface into a large sqaure 12 x 12.  Fold it in half carefully and then gently pick it up and place over half of the dish and unfold over remaining half. Gently press the dough down into the sides and corner, then trim exces dough from the rim of dish. Add the scraps to your remaining dough, knead together and roll out another 10 x 10 in square to cover the top. Pour your filling into the dish (careful not to splash it on yourself, it's hot!)  

Cover with top crust, crimp the edges, and cut vent holes to allow steam to escape. And, since it's Cooke'd With Luv, we add a little special touch made from the scraps =).  Next, brush with a little egg wash (an egg beaten with a little water) and bake at 350 deg F for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool 5-10 minutes before serving (if your family will let you), then enjoy!

Oh yeah! That IS a wine bottle being used as rolling pin! Why? To show everyone that a little imagination can make up for lack of tools or fancy gadgets and because I felt my 18" commercial rolling pin would be a little out of place in those photos. ;)

I hope you've enjoyed my 'Tale of Two Pies', my family sure did. Until next time, whatever you cook, make sure it's 'Cooke'd With Luv'

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Easy Kitchen Life

"You always take the easy way out?" or  "Why do you always do things the easy way?" Did you ever hear that as a kid? Well, I did and remember always thinking;  'Duh, why would I intentionally do it the HARD way?' Of course, being Southern born and bred, I only said Yes/No Sir and definitely didn't back talk my Dad without instantly regretting it, so I kept my 'rebellious' thoughts to myself and continued on.

Don't get me wrong, my dad was a wonderful man and I love him dearly, but he said what he meant and meant what he said.  He battled cancer for over twenty years and I never heard him complain. That's right, three full rounds of chemo., radiation, part of a lung removed, etc., etc. but he was always trying to encourage and help others. He was a voracious reader, loved people and good conversation, but was never one to mince words when expressing an opinion he was passionate about. As he progressed in life, his favorite saying was; 'Al (as he affectionately called me), my give-a-shit-factor is at zero.' Needless to say, his life was not the easiest, but he met it head on and gave it his all to the very end.

I realize now that his comments about taking the easy way out or doing things the easy way weren't affronts to common sense but admonitions to not do things half-way or avoid challenges.  To strive to be the best and give life my all.  In fact, I'm sure he'd be proud of the tips I'm sharing to make your life in the kitchen, The Easy Life.

So, to kick off my journey as a food blogger, and to honor my dad, I'd like to share a few money and time saving tips that I've gleaned from my life as a professional baker and avid amateur cook. It kicks off with a trip to my local restaurant supply house. (This is my very first post and I only have a cheap camera at the moment, so please cut me some slack! )  :-)

1) Quilon Pan Liners - If you use parchment paper, and I'm sure you do, these make a much more cost effective substitute. They're readily available from local restaurant supply houses and a case should last the average cook a lifetime (hint: share with friends and split the cost!).

These are your frugal alternative to Silpat mats! They come 1000 per case and cost less than $60.00. They do everything parchment paper does but are much more cost effective than buying expensive little rolls of parchment at the cake/candy supply store. Consider that by cutting in 1/2, then again in 1/2 diagonally, you could get 4000 triangles for making decorating bags!! How much would 4000 parchment triangles cost from Wilton? See what I mean? =)
But that's just the tip of the iceberg, they can also be used to bake cookies, line cake pans, transfer pizza, roll dough on, protect your counter, etc.,etc.,etc. Truly, they are one of my favorite 'go-to' items in my kitchen and SO cost-effective.

2) Plastic Bowl Scrapers - These are also super verstile, multi functional tools. After working in a full line retail bakery for many years, grabbing one of these is like second nature when cleaning out a bowl, leveling brownie batter  in a pan, scraping a counter, or scooping up chopped items like onions. Also, they're much cheaper than spatulas. If you're a young homemaker or beginning cook, one of these for $1.50 can replace $20 worth of spatulas and metal dough scrapers. In fact, if you attend any kind of bakery workshop or convention, most of the suppliers give them away as advertising:

3) Plastic Squirt Bottles - Sure, fancy dispensers and gourmet bottles are pretty and wonderful to look at when company comes, but for pure practicality and functionalness (I might be making up words now!) these are hard to beat for $.75ea.  Just be sure to label them properly and never use the same style bottle for hazardous liquids!

4) Heavy Duty Oven Pads - STOP BURNING YOUR HANDS!! Buy some large, heavy duty oven pads. They don't have to be mitts that you stick your hand in, but a strap on the back to go around your wrist is a plus. Buy these from your local restaurant supply house and you'll spend less for twice the quality and versatility. I'd show you mine, but they need a good run through the washing machine right now =)

As I walked around the supply house, I realized this post could go on forever, so I'll leave you with the above tips to ponder.  In case you wondering, I went to Sam's when I left to compare what I could, and the supplier was cheaper. So, what you save over your local party shop is pretty substantial.

Now that you know a little about me and my frugal ways, next time I promise to cook up some fancy fare to tantalize your taste buds! Remember, everything I cook is 'Cooke'd With Luv' =)

If you have questions or would like to know more, feel free to comment or email. Thanks for visiting.