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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Breakfast Club. Like, Totally.

I know this blog is primarily for food, and food "stuffs" but sometimes you guys just need a little more, right? You might already know that my shop is actually housed in the lobby of a live performance theater in the area, The Acorn Theater. The place is incredible, and has seen performances from Jefferson Starship to Richie Havens and many more, and I'm very much involved with the theater on a day to day basis. Last night (Saturday) I hosted a Brew and View at the theater. It was our first one, and I thought it was a perfect way to get through the January Blues that seem to wreak havoc on my neck of the woods. Anyway, more than just a brew and view (you know, a place where you watch movies and drink, a la The Vic in Chicago) I really wanted it to be a theatrical performance. A night of fun and hilarity, of just letting go and being silly. After all, it was being held in the theater! So naturally, my thoughts went RIGHT to the 80s, John Hughes, and to the classic of all classics, "The Breakfast Club."

I would be lying if I said I wasn't more than excited about planning this. I knew I wanted a "Rocky Horror" type experience, with costumes, dancing, talking back to the screen, etc. I knew we would do drink and snack specials, and REALLY make it a fun night. But, in all truth, we blew it out of the water. My partner in crime, BT, and I worked double time trying to make it a super fun night for all. We spent an hour yesterday making up the "Allison" snack. A lunch bag with, yep, you guessed it, captain crunch, buttered white bread, and pixie sticks. (We contemplated Olive Loaf, but come on--do you really want Olive Loaf?)

We came up with specialty cocktails, some of which were great (Bender's Blender, Brian's Brain, and Arcadia's "Cereal Killer" for the beer special) and some of which were good, but needed some tweaking.  I even dressed up--only one photo exists (I believe) and I don't have access to it. But my outfit was "totally 80s" including one very large earring. J dressed up as Bender, and I don't mind telling you he looked FANTASTIC!

We wound up doing an impromptu costume contest winner because so many people got in the spirit. You literally couldn't count the number of authentic Members Only jackets. And the neon. And, quite literally, the amount of Aqua Net that went into last night actually has me feeling a bit guilty for the ozone. I won't babble on with all the particulars about the evening. but know that it was a great time, and I'm in the midst of planning the next one for February. We're thinking "Cocktail" or "Karate Kid." "Fast Times" perhaps?
Any suggestions my friends?

In a large pitcher, combine the following:
1 part vodka
1 part OJ
1 part Peach Iced Tea
1 part Sprite
Serve over ice

Friday, January 29, 2010

Wine Fridays

So I've been yapping to you folks for a few weeks now, about food, and recipes, and occasionally some wines or beers. I have a wine shop, as most of you know. It's really a wine shop with a ridiculously amazing selection (if I do say so myself) collection of craft beers. I pride myself on the selection of wines under $20 and love that my shop almost always has the most up-to-date beers I can. I created a mix-n-match table in the shop, so you can come in and get a 6-pk of all different beers, allowing you to try the newest and "hoppiest."

How do I FIND all these things? It's a chore, I won't lie. I spend hours a week reading, researching, and scouring websites like Beer Advocate. But I owe a lot of my amazing inventory to one, special, incredibly wonderful day...Wine Fridays.

On Fridays, from around the hours of 12 and 4, my distributors and sales reps come into the shop for me to taste things. Sometimes wines, sometimes beers, sometimes both. It has become a ritual for me and the other people who happen to be at the theater on Fridays (you know who you are) and, well, we love it. Don't get me wrong--not everything tastes good. My oh my the stories I could tell you about ChocoWine. But most often, I find one or two things I love, and I order them. We sit with the sales rep, pour glass after glass, swirling, smelling, and of course, tasting. No spitting here--at the very most I'll pour out the remainder of the glass into a large vessel of "wasted wine."

Most of why I do this, aside from inventory purposes, is to know tasting notes so that I can sell my clients on things. A Cabernet is NOT a Cabernet always...wines do not all taste the same. I know we all think "Eh, I really only like Pinot Noir." But do you know how many different STYLES of Pinot Noir you can find? It's insane!

Today, I have no idea what most of my purveyors will bring me. I do know that I am tasting a few beers from Bell's Brewery, which excites me  (and my cohorts) to no end! My advice to you is to try, if you can, to have your own version of Wine Friday (probably not during the work day, unless your job allows such exciting events.) But taste things. Seek out a new "under $12 wine" at your favorite discount store and give it a whirl! At the worst, it won't be good, and you can use it to cook with. If you're lucky enough to have a beer store that sells singles, try a few new things, recommended by the owner/manager/kid working behind the counter who hopefully knows something. You will most likely be super excited for having found a new wine or beer to brag about in the office on Monday.

I will supply you with two recommendations today, maybe you can find these in your area:

Terra Andina Carmenere 

A Chilean red wine, at an unbelievable value. When I blind tasted this wine in the shop, my rep asked us to guess the wholesale price. We all guessed $25 (remember, wholesale price.) I was shocked when he told me how inexpensive it was. Chilean wines are most often a great value, but not always a great taste. This Carmenere is oaky, full-bodied, and delicious. Super drinkable, with food, or after a hard day at work!

Cucapa Obscura Reserve
$9 (6-pk)
This is a new craft beer from Mexico. This is one of the best dark Mexican beers I've had, and ranks laterally with Negra Modelo. There are three beers (so far) from this brewery: a Pale Ale, a Honey, and this. This is my favorite. It's created in a Californian micro-brew style, with Mexican influences. Give it a whirl! We drank it the other night with steak tacos, and mmmmmm!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Love Affair with Bourdain

Once you start talking about food, people always seem to ask you, "Who's your favorite food network star?" Mine always differs. Used to be Bobby, at one time it was Tyler. And I always love me some Ina. Right now I'm in LOVE with Alex Guarnaschelli. Love her love her love her. But for those of you who only gape at food stars on the Food Network, I beg you to venture on over to the Travel Channel and hang out with Anthony Bourdain for a bit.

My husband got me in to Bourdain, I won't lie. At first I was only interested in watching episodes of "No Reservations" that took place in locales I might actually visit someday. I mean, though I'm fascinated by all things travel-food-related, there isn't exactly a great chance I'm going to be visiting some remote location in Panama anytime soon. But as we DVR'd the show, and as I watched more and more, I fell in love with him. I love his style, I love his "F it all" sense. I love the fact that most often he openly discusses how much he doesn't understand anyone who won't eat pork. He drinks, he smokes, he talks about drinking and smoking dope all the time. I just LIKE him. I do. I can't help it.

I have favorite episodes of No Reservations, the Christmas episode of 2007 ranking high up there. (If you haven't seen it, hulu it. It's amazing.) "Kitchen Confidential" is on my must-read-when I have time list. But last night, J and I watched the newest episode, Brittany, France. It was amazing. And I have no idea why. Something about his undying NEED to eat and experience the "Tower of Shellfish" and the incredible way he dove into it with such gusto. Maybe it was the introductory segment where he discussed how a glass of wine would make it more "Frenchy." It made J and I really want to investigate GOING to Brittany, just to eat the only-found-there variety of jarred (standing up, of course) sardines.

Anthony Bourdain reminds me of an old-school, kind of mafia type of chef. He makes no apologies for what he likes, or doesn't like. And while I'm not running out to eat organs with the kind of zest and zeal that he does, I will say that he has made me appreciate food in a whole different way. He makes me want to TRY anything, at least once. Even if that something contains tongue, heart, or brains.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A "Non-Dinner-Party" Dinner Party in Several Parts: White Bean Dip

We had friends over for dinner on Sunday night. Just a casual dinner for friends while watching the Vikings lose to the Saints in an incredible game. It was the first time we have really had people over for dinner since acquiring our stock of cool-wedding-gift-kitchen items, and I was excited. Plus, with all the cooking I've been doing, it was fun to try out some new recipes--knowing I'd get the chance to share them all with you.

For those who know me well, you know that I used to joke about just wanting to get married because I wanted a Cuisinart food processor. We got one as a gift, and I swear I'm often shocked that I was able to cook "well" before it. I love it. It's the massive, 14 cup, chefy-style version, and I literally worship it. It's by far my favorite (and most used) kitchen gadget, squeaking by my old favorite, my Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

I used the Cuisinart a LOT in this meal on Sunday night...again, how the heck did I ever cook without it?

Let's start with appetizers, shall we? I struggle with apps, unless it's acceptable for me to put out hummus or make my amazingly awesome guacamole. But this dinner was more casual, winter, comfort food, and I wanted to actually make some apps that would fit the bill.

I've been wanting to create a white bean dip (cue the Cuisinart) and figured that would work. See the recipe below--it was awesome. I served it with thinly sliced (really thinly sliced) baguette and a chili pepper jam I purchased. The white bean dip was so easy and I still have a good amount left to use on sandwiches and whatnot this week. Mmmm, mmmm, good.

I only had dried cannellini beans, so I quick soaked them. Follow the package directions, but basically you put 1/2 lb of the dried beans in a pot, cover with 4 cups of water, boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand about 2-2 1/2 hours. They should be tender--like if you opened a can.
Or, of course, you could just use a 15oz can of cannellini beans. Whichever you like. Just make sure you drain and rinse the canned beans.

Part of what I love about this recipe, besides the fact that it takes almost no time to make, is that it's extremely versatile. You could change up the spicing, add a ton of fresh herbs, or even toss in some roasted peppers. It's also super healthy--the only added fat it contains is the olive oil (a good fat, of course) and the beans are so high in protein and fiber. I fully intend to put this on anything I can this week! It would make a killer panini condiment...hmmmm.


White Bean Dip


2 tsp minced shallot (about 1 small shallot, or 1/2 a shallot that contains 2 in one skin)
2 garlic cloves, chopped (I actually grated it, makes a nice paste)
2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves or ½ tsp dried (but use whatever you'd like!)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 can  white kidney beans, drained and rinsed, or 1/2 lb dried, soaked
zest and juice from 1 lemon
salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
chicken stock (or vegetable) to add if needed

Over medium heat, saute shallot, garlic and rosemary for 2-3 minutes. Let cool--about 2-3 minutes.

Place beans, shallot mixture, lemon juice, salt and pepper in food processor and blend till mostly smooth but with some texture. Taste. If it needs "thinning"slowly pour in stock while processor is on until you reach desired consistency. Mine was just the tiniest bit chunky, not quite as smooth as hummus.

Serve with thinly sliced baguette and any other condiment you choose--I definitely recommend trying a good quality jam. (Stonewall Kitchen makes some amazing ones!)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Double Chocolate Stout Brownie: Is there such a thing as TOO much?

 If you follow me on facebook or twitter, you know I've been working on perfecting the Chocolate Stout (yes, as in beer) brownie. It's something I've been thinking about a lot, mainly because I've always wanted to bake the Guinness cake I've known about, but do not have enough cake pans.

When these first came out of the oven, I knew I would need to do some tweaking. I need to pull an egg from the recipe (which I'm doing for you in the recipe below.) I needed to dust the chocolate chunks with flour so they didn't settle to the bottom. (Also included for you below). However, forgetting to dust them made for this kind of awesome gooey chocolate chip crust. So, feel free to try it either way!  We had people over for dinner last night, to watch the games, and the brownies were a total hit. I think I ate two...oops! 

They are also really easy to make. I had the whole thing prepped in about 15 minutes, and then they bake for about 42-45. That's it. Almost instant gratification, especially since you should have most of the ingredients on hand all the time. 

**Important note: I would not call these healthy. I'm going to work on making them a little less "unhealthy" but part of the reason they are so delicious is because, well, they are made with butter and sugar and chocolate. Be reasonable when you eat them, i.e. do not eat the whole batch at once, and you'll do just fine.

And without further waiting, I give you the ability to make these RIGHT NOW! Go for it. Talk about a way to circumvent the need to eat a tube of the yellow stuff after a bad day! Such a better option.

Double Chocolate Stout Brownies

12 ounces chocolate stout -- I used Young's Double Chocolate, which was awesome. But any chocolate stout would work. The more chocolatey, the better!)
1 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened -- I used Hershey's Special Dark, but would love to try using something a bit deeper in chocolate flavor. But the dark chocolate part is key, so use whatever you have.
2 cups sugar -- I used 1 cup granulated white and 1 cup organic raw sugar. I will use all raw sugar next time, or try to work out an agave component
1/2 cup butter, melted -- just melt it in the microwave. 30 seconds at first, and then 15 second intervals.
2 TBSP vanilla extract 
1 TBSP instant coffee/espresso powder
3 eggs -- I used 4, and it needed 1 less
2 cups all-purpose flour , plus 1 tsp for dusting chocolate chips - I would like to try 1/2 whole wheat next time
3/4 teaspoon salt 
1 cup white chocolate, chopped --Used a Ghirardelli white bar, chopped up
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate, chopped -- I used a Ghiradelli 60% cocoa bar, chopped up

 Preheat oven to 350°F Line a 13x9x2 baking pan with 
aluminum foil, letting foil extend 2 inches beyond each 
short side of pan. Grease foil (not extended edges) with cooking spray or butter

In large bowl, whisk together stout and cocoa powder until 
blended and smooth. With an electric hand mixer (or whisk) beat in sugar, butter, vanilla extract, coffee, and eggs, one at a time. Blend well. Add flour and salt; whisk until batter is smooth. 

Dust chocolate chunks and half of white chocolate chunks in remaining flour, and fold into batter

Spread mixture in prepared pan, leveling surface with a spatula. Bake 42 to 45 minutes in preheated oven, until top is shiny and dry, and a wooden pick 
inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs 
attached. -- It took my oven 42 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool completely in pan on rack. 
When COMPLETELY COOL lift out brownie from pan by foil ends; transter to cutting 

Melt the remaining white chocolate chips either slowly and quickly in the microwave (10 second intervals) or over a double boiler. Stir til they are smooth.
Drizzle melted white chocolate over entire brownies with a spoon or fork.

I cut them smaller than I would normal brownies, because they are super intense. But go your own way.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Destination: Pittsburgh

So, as you know, I recently got married. J and I did a LOT of driving in the month or so after. And of course, we kind of planned our road trips around, um, food. More importantly, restaurants, dives, and beers...with some good friends and sporting events thrown in to keep us well rounded. Since I promised this blog would deliver MORE than just recipes, I thought I'd share a few of our favorite road trip stories along the way, and I'm starting with the most epic. Pittsburgh. 

Yes, that's right. I said Pittsburgh, PA. 
Where to begin? (Warning. This blog is a bit long, but so, so worth it!)
When J and I decided to hit the road a bit early (before heading to NY for the 2nd incarnation of our wedding), it was inevitable that we would eat. I mean, everyone has to eat. But post-wedding dieting and working out had left us both (even him) starving for something new, exciting, and yes, freaking delicious!

Philly came first in our minds, mainly because we have very good friends there with an adorable 1 year old son who we did not get to spend nearly enough time with at our wedding. (I say mainly, but I'm wrong. It was 50% about the Duffy clan, and 50% about J FINALLY taking me to Ishkabibble's for a cheesesteak. Since we've known each other, he has been singing the praises of Ishkabibble's. No Pat's/Gino's war for J. It's Ish, or nothing. And looky-loo, it's 2 blocks from our friends house!)
So, Philly, check. drive straight through to Philly? Nah. Where to stop? Cleveland? A definite thought. And then J..."Pittsburgh for Primanti Brothers." Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes. I pricelined a great rate/great room in Pittsburgh, and we were on our way. A road trip was born. (By the way, you'll notice that through reading my traveling posts to come that I am OBSESSED with Priceline. It's genius.)

Neither J nor I had been to Pittsburgh in years, and were both excited and straight up geeked to eat at Primanti Brothers. Yes, the famous, always featured on the food network/Travel channel/PBS Primanti Brothers. You see, my brother in law went to college at Pitt, and I had heard tales of the legendary sandwich. And every time it's featured on a food or travel show, we drool. You know the one...the sandwich with the coleslaw and the fries RIGHT ON THE SANDWICH? How could it NOT be good! 

Sidenote: my genius new husband stubhubbed amazing tickets for the Pirates game the night we were in town. We love baseball, we love stadiums, and we'd never been. 

So...armed with some vital text messaged info from my brother-in-law dictating directions to immediately order an "Imp and an Iron", we made our way through the streets of Pittsburgh to the ORIGINAL Primanti Brothers. You can eat Primanti's at the stadium, or another "branch" of the restaurant. Not for us. We wanted it real, raw, and all the way. Upon entering, you immediately both fall in love and feel slightly intimidated. It's history smacking you in the face--you can almost see the ghosts of the steel workers sitting at the counter, chomping down on a mean sandwich with an Iron City beer. We immediately asked the very burly (yet sweet as a kitten) man behind the counter " we need an Imp and an Iron--is that a beer?" He chuckled and explained that it is a shot of Imperial Whiskey and an Iron City beer, and told us to sit down. It was 3pm, we had been driving all morning, and we had a game to go to that night. But yes, of course we'll have the shot of whiskey and the beer. 

The menu at Primanti Brothers is on the wall, both above and opposite the counter, and calls the Pittsburgh Cheesesteak the Number 2 seller. But there's no number 1. There has to be a number 1! Again, we called over our amazing new friend and asked him.  "Iron City is the number 1." Of course!

We ordered a Pittsburgh Cheesesteak and the Pastrami with a fried egg on top. Our friend said that was a close second to the cheesesteak, and J is slowly introducing me to the theory that everything tastes better with a fried egg on top. We also got fries with cheese on the side (as directed by the aforementioned brother-in-law.) We downed our shot, started sipping the Iron City, and waited. Mere minutes passed before we were greeted by a stunning display of culinary wonder. Italian white bread, dripping with vinegar-based coleslaw, beautiful fries, and meat. Lots of meat. 

The Pittsburgh cheesesteak is actually a patty--very delicious, I must say. But in all honesty, the Pastrami was where it was AT!  We split the two sandwiches, assuming J would eat 3 halves and I would eat one. After all, I'm a delicate wisp of a lady who would never dare to eat a full sandwich. PSHAW! I put those 2 halves away like I was getting paid, and downed my beer in enough time to order a second. 

And the fries. You would think that if your sandwich HAD fries IN it, you wouldn't need fries on the side.'d be wrong. Delightful, crispy, dipped in a cheese sauce I NEVER want the recipe for. We ate, and ate, and ate.

The whiskey must have gotten to both of us, because we were convinced that Iron City was the best beer Pittsburgh could have to offer. (In the home state of Yuengling? We should be ashamed of ourselves.) We wanted to buy cases of it, bring it back to Michigan for all of our friends to enjoy and love! (This soon passed, for the record.) We left Primanti Brothers with our bellies full of food and beer, knowing that we had just eaten a piece of history, and being thankful we had 19 blocks to attempt to let the food settle before heading over the bridge to the game.

A quick nap and a shower, and we were back in business! Now, having never been to either a Pirates or Steelers game, I had no idea how amazing the walk to the stadium was. You walk over a bridge, and there they are, in all their glory. Beautiful pieces of sports nirvana, perched just over a river. At sunset, with people all around, it really was gorgeous. We bought some water (because you can buy it cheaper OUTSIDE the stadium and bring it in as long as it's unopened) and slowly walked across the bridge, listening to a busker play Beyonce's 'All the Single Ladies' on the sax. (Hilarious, yes.)

The stadium is owned by PNC, and upon walking in, I had a feeling like I was walking into Disney World. As a Cubs/Yankee fan, it was a bit much for me. I like the dirt, the grit, the old-timeyness of Wrigley, and the grime of the old Yankee stadium. But, neon aside, it was architecturally very cool to see. It's a small stadium, filled with a small number of fans, sadly. We were there to see the Phillies play the Pirates, and the red jerseys far outnumbered the black. 

After finding our ridiculously good seats (again, the Pirates, not a sell out crowd) we embarked upon the task of finding a beer that didn't cost $10. Not that possible. We started out with a draft pour of an Iron City dark, that neither of us liked particularly. We got to our seats (seated between die hard Phillie fans and die hard Pirates fans) and BAM! We saw the most heavenly sight a midwestern couple can see. A stadium worker, selling 20oz cans of YUENGLING, right there. Just like Old Style at Wrigley! Right there. Sigh. We chugged the beers we didn't enjoy (come on, they cost $10 each!) and decided we needed to make friends with the Yuengling dude. And we did. 

3 beers later, the game was over. The Pirates lost, though in extra innings with a good fight. We learned that Pittsburgh fans are adamant that they don't care about baseball, since they've got championship football and hockey teams. They feel very strongly about this. But more importantly, we walked back over that bridge feeling like kids. Slightly drunk, having eaten an amazing lunch, and wondering what kind of food options we'd find in the hotel. 

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mexican Penicillin

If Matzoh Ball Soup is Jewish Penicillin, than Chicken Tortilla Soup HAS to do the same. For those of you that know me well, you probably have this recipe, or have already made it.

I'm kind of famous for my chicken tortilla soup. I have no idea how it happened, but it just did. (Probably because I facebook and talk about it non-stop from October through May.) It is my go-to food, so very often.

It's a soup recipe that I've cultivated and changed over the last 3 years or so. I make it, generally speaking, about 3 times a month. Sometimes I add different peppers, sometimes I make it a bit thicker or thinner. It's so good, and it is phenomenally soothing, both cooking it AND eating it. There has to be some health correlation of the chicken soup to spicy pepper ratio that always makes me feel better. Even if I've got a stomach bug, I've been known to drag my sweatpant-covered-behind down the stairs to make it. It just makes me FEEL GOOD.

I've been thinking a lot over the last few days about what recipes have a good, long, life, and this is one of them. This soup can (though it never does) sit in the fridge for about a week, and you just know it's there, ready to be reheated, and loved. It's just made to be a go to, and made to edit to your liking. Vegetarians could EASILY make it, substituting beans or another form of protein, and vegetable stock. You could add chorizo (I have before) and it's a completely different soup. At some point, I should do an experiment where I make a different pot of it every day for a week, and see just how DIFFERENT they really are.

The recipe I'm including below is my latest--the ancho chile version. Anchos are an AMAZING dried pepper--they taste like spicy raisins. And yes, I stole that description from Bobby Flay. Sorry Bobby.
This one also includes beer, and masa. If you don't have masa, feel free to use flour of any kind.

(I've included some maybe correct caloric number below. I don't know if it's bogus, it's what my iPhone app "Lose It" says it is. So take that for what it is.)


1 medium onion (white or spanish or yellow is great), chopped
3 cloves of garlic (or 5 if you're me), chopped or grated
1 large bell peppers, chopped
1 poblano pepper (or jalapeno, if you can’t find a poblano)
2 chicken breasts, shredded or chopped (already cooked)***
1 TBSP cumin
1 TBSP Coriander (if you have it)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup tortilla chips, crushed
hot sauce
1 TBSP masa, or flour
1 quart chicken stock
1 pkg dried ancho chiles
1 medium bodied beer (I recommend something smoked, if you're up for it, or a dark Mexican beer like Negra Modela or my new favorite--Cucapa)
zest and juice of 2 limes

***I buy rotisserie chicken most of the time, and just shred that. However, you can also just chop up 2 chicken breasts, and brown them up, and then continue with the recipe as follows, on top of the chicken. Another FANTASTIC METHOD is to roast the chicken breasts (or dark meat) on the bone, and then pull the meat.***

In a small sauce pot, place the ancho chiles and the quart of stock, and simmer at med heat until the chiles are softened and reconstituted. Usually takes between 5-15 minutes.

In a large soup pot (preferably heavy bottomed), cook the onion, peppers, and garlic on medium heat or so in a little olive oil, for about 5 minutes or until softened. 
Season with the cumin, coriander, salt and pepper, and let cook for another 2 minutes.

When anchos are softened, puree in food processor (or blender) with a splash of the stock—do NOT throw the stock away!

In the meantime, crush up tortilla chips (just eyeball a cup). I put them in a ziploc bag and pound the heck out of them until they almost resemble large bread crumbs. It's quite good therapy after a long day.

Add tortilla chips, stir the mixture. It will be THICK! Add hot sauce. If you like it spicy, add about 2 TBSP. If not, go smaller. J is, as you all know by now, a fire-eater, so I usually add a lot and it's not too intense for little old me.

Deglaze the pan with the beer—pour in, and use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the stuck bits from the bottom.
Add pureed ancho chiles, stir.

Add chicken stock from the anchos, stir. Bring soup to a boil. 

Add zest of two limes, save juice for serving.

Add chicken (if you are using shredded rotisserie)

Reduce heat to low, and keep soup covered at a very low simmer for about 30 minutes (I've done it up to 3 hours, and it's delicious no matter what.)

I serve it with a little chopped cilantro, a little lime (if you want), and Jayson PILES ON the sour cream and shredded cheese (preferably mozzarella or a good Mexican cheese like Chihuaha or even a Monterey Jack.) For my dish, I tend to use non-fat greek yogurt, or just regular non-fat yogurt. It has such a similar taste and consistency.)

WITHOUT TOPPINGS: If my calculations are correct, it’s approximately 365 calories a bowl. And that's for a decent sized bowl. But who knows if that's actually correct? And who cares! It's super healthy and delicious! 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"It's In There..."

(Was it Prego or Ragu, that had the commercial for pasta sauce that said "...It's in there!")

There are few things in this world that I love to cook more than sauce. It is one of the most calming, comforting, relaxing experiences for me. Though I came to cooking later in my life, I do have memories of watching my mom make sauce. She didn't make it from scratch, but I remember LOVING watching her make meat sauce for spaghetti. It was one of the first things I remember cooking, and remember aching to perfect it.

I'm not an Italian girl, as we all know. I'm a Jewish girl, who makes a ridiculously mean pot of sauce. I can't call it gravy, but I can call it awesome. It was one of the first things I cooked for my husband's family. It was the first Sunday dinner I made in our house after our stove was installed. It is the first thing I gravitate toward when I don't care at all about eating but just NEED to cook. It's methodical for me, and all seems right with the world while I'm making it.  I swear, wars have been fought over how to make the perfect sauce. When I feel lost in my day, or lost in whatever stress is affecting me most in the moment, I long to stand at the stove, mixing, grating, chopping, and watching. Tasting and stirring, adjusting. It's catharsis personified.

*Please excuse the not-so-flattering picture. But there is no better picture of me cooking than this*

There are no amazing secrets to my sauce, except time and love. I LOVE my sauce. J loves my sauce. I change it up here and there, depending on the actual dish I'm making, but it all basically contains the same things. I almost never open a jar of sauce. Not because they're not tasty (they are) and not because I'm too cool for jarred marinara--I'm not. There are days when that's all J craves, and if I'm not in the mood/don't have the time/don't have anything else in the house, I'm all for it. But honestly, making sauce is ridiculously easy and the sense of satisfaction is on par with very little else in the world.

I'll give you the basic recipe below, mainly because so many of the recipes I want to share with you contain sauce, and I can't even begin to describe those dishes without discussing the most important component.

The most important thing I can teach you about making sauce is to know what you love in a good sauce. I use the same idea for meat sauce and marinara alike, but I have a strong sense of exactly HOW I like sauce. I like it a little on the thick side (most often) with a good balance of spicy and sweet. I tend to like it "rustic-looking"--not like I just opened a jar of Newman's. I like a long-cooked taste, even if I haven't had time to cook it all day. Most of all, I like a sauce (especially a meat sauce) that I don't mind eating WITHOUT anything else. Give me a crusty piece of whole grain bread, a small bowl of my sauce, and a giant salad, and I'm in heaven.

Do me a favor and share your favorite sauce memories or recipes below.



1 TBSP olive oil, or enough to very lightly coat the bottom of the pot
2 medium spanish or yellow onions, chopped (any onions you have will do, I promise)
6 cloves garlic, minced (or grated) (I use a coarse grate microplane hand-grater)
1 large carrot, grated (also use a large hand grater)
1-1/2 C good, dry red wine (I will use whatever is around, but if I can use something big and bold, and Italian, all the better!)
1/2 C chicken (or vegetable, if you're going vegetarian with it) stock
2 TBSP crushed red pepper (we like it spicy--you can adjust to your likes!)
1/4 C chopped parsley
1 TBSP dried oregano (or fresh, if you have)
salt and pepper
2 TBSP honey (or 1 TBSP agave)--balances the acidity of the tomatoes
2 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes (or diced, or whole and crush them in the pan)
fresh basil (if you have it)

In preferably a large, heavy bottom pot (or deep skillet) heat the olive oil on medium-high heat.
Add the onions, a small pinch of salt, and saute for about 6-7 minutes, until they are slightly browned and smell wonderful
Add the carrot, cook another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally
Add the garlic, and stir. Cook for another minute.

Turn the heat down to medium.
Add in tomato paste, stir. Cook for about 2 minutes.

Add crushed red pepper, oregano, parsley, another hefty pinch of salt, and a great amount of fresh cracked black pepper. Stir, and cook another minute or so.

Turn the heat up to medium-high, and add the red wine. (This is called deglazing, fyi.) Stir the mixture, scraping up any bits of deliciousness that have stuck to the pan. That is flavor-magic.

Let the wine cook out a bit, about 2-3 minutes. (FYI, this will cook all the alcohol off, so this is safe for pregnant people, kids, etc.) Add the chicken stock, and cook another 2 minutes.

Add in the canned tomatoes and the honey/agave and stir. Bring the mixture up to a boil, and then lower the heat as low as it will go. (This is when I move the pot to a smaller burner, if need be.) 

Place a cover on the pot, almost all the way covered. Leave it a bit askew. Every 30 minutes or so, give the sauce a BIG stir! Scrape up anything that is sticking to the bottom. Let cook as long as you want. If you need to eat it immediately, let it simmer about 15-20 minutes, then serve. If you can let it cook for hours, GO FOR IT! 

After it has been cooking a few hours, check the consistency. IF you want it thinner, leave the lid on completely. IF you think it needs to be a bit thicker, take the lid off, and let it reduce down a bit. Check the seasonings. IF you think it needs more salt or pepper, go crazy and add it in! If you want it spicier, add in some more crushed red pepper.

When you're ready to serve, turn off the heat, and toss in some torn (or sliced) basil.

Serve however you like.

Some info to remember:
If you're making a meat sauce, I brown off the ground meat FIRST, then add in the onions and start from there. If you're using a "fatty" ground meat, drain off some of the fat before beginning the sauce portion--unless you don't worry about the amount of fat you've got going on. :)

Don't be worried if you think it's sticking to the bottom. It probably is. It's not burned, it's just sticky. Give it a good hefty stir and work it all up. There are Italian sauce recipes where they let it cook ALL DAY on the stove without stirring once, and then just scrape that all up before they serve.

Adjust the flavors as you like. The carrot gives a bit of sweetness, so does the honey/agave. If it seems like it will be too much for you, try using a bit less. You can always adjust.

Sauce is insanely forgiving, so just go for it!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mmmm, Lunch

You know, lunch is important. I mean, it's one of the most important things you eat all day. And, if you're like me, it can be the meal that almost always falls prey to forgetting about it, or eating something crappy or easy on the go.  Or you remember too late, and consider a late afternoon Starbucks run your lunch. As for me, I tend to call a giant spoonful of natural chunky peanut butter lunch. 

I'm lucky enough to work from home most of the week. That doesn't seem to help. Sometimes I try to cut calories by NOT eating lunch. That, for the record, is dumb. I know it's dumb, you know it's dumb, we all know it's dumb. But, yet, it happens. I'm absolutely FANTASTIC about lunch when I have to be at the Wine Shop on the weekends, though. I know I get hungry, and don't want to spend money, and always remember to pack a (usually kick ass) lunch. Leftover soup, wraps, or an amazing hearty salad...I always seem to remember then!

Lunch is such an easy way to be healthy--you can have a salad, you can have a well proportioned sandwich. Heck, you can eat veggies and hummus and a slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter and feel DELICIOUS about yourself. Today was one of those days where I felt like really taking the time to make something. This morning I cooked off two flank steaks (for later meals) and though I didn't EAT those flank steaks, my body was craving something green, healthy, and not-red meat. I opted for a panini-press quesadilla of sorts, and am STILL satisfied 3 hours later. 

A note: I LIVE for my panini-press. Live for it. My mom bought it for J and I for my birthday 2 years ago, and at first, I wasn't so into it. J, on the other hand, is a sandwich MASTER (a guest blog from him on that someday soon) and took to it right away. I was in one of my "carbs are bad, mmmmkay" periods, and couldn't think of any way to make a panini-grilled lettuce sandwich. However, in the months (and now years) that followed, I have embraced it in a way that would make you think it was made out of 80% dark chocolate with no calories or fat. It's not JUST for bread. Use a whole grain wrap/tortilla/flatbread and it makes an awesome healthy sandwich. Pop an already cooked veggie burger in some sprouted wheat bread and you have a rockin' melt. Don't even get me started on the tuna possibilities! So if you have one, and don't use it much, change that up! It rocks, I promise! 

I hardly reinvent the wheel for lunch, but thought I'd share the super simple thing I ate this afternoon. Take the method, the idea, the concept, and add whatever is in your fridge. Chances are, it would make a great dinner, too. 

And remember, a Special K bar is NOT a lunch, I don't care what anyone says! (Those that live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, but I'm a rebel, so I'm throwing.)

1 whole grain garlic and herb tortilla (literally what was in the fridge)
1 cup baby spinach, torn in pieces
1/4 C grated sharp cheddar cheese
sliced turkey (I use the no antibiotics, happy turkey kind)
Strong mustard

Place all ingredients (start with mustard, then cheese, than spinach, then turkey) on one side of tortilla.

Heat panini press (or sautee pan) and place in machine, folded in half. (If using a pan, try placing a brick wrapped in foil or a heavy pan on top of the folded wrap, to keep it flat.)

Remove when the cheese is all melty and gooey (and if you're me, a bit burnt on the sides.) This usually takes about 3 1/2 minutes or so in my press.

Serve with any kind of deliciousness you have in the fridge. Today, mine wore a mango and pomegranate salsa (homemade).

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Tale of the Drunken Flank

J and I served grilled steaks at our wedding, as part of our enormous experiment in the gastronomy of a buffet. (By the way, our wedding menu was ridiculously amazing.)
Anyway, our caterers were friends, the wedding was at our house, and they left us some leftover products to freeze for later use. One of these products was a package of 6 gigantic, vacuum-sealed flank steaks. They have sat in our chest freezer, in our basement, ever since.

As we are living in post-holiday economic times, and always looking to save a buck, my brilliant husband decided it was time to break those suckers out. We defrosted them, in the fridge, over a 4 day period. Yesterday was finally the day they were thawed, and we needed to put them to use. Being "us" it was pretty much a no-brainer. Mexican. More specifically, mini-steak burritos. (I'm going to use the others to make some kind of slow-cooked bbq thing, and then possibly a beef stew. Both later this week, to be eaten NOT this week. I can't eat that much red meat in one week--it might send me into a major case of the meat sweats.)

I am very proud of my marination abilities. Seriously--when I first started really getting into cooking, one thing stood out among my skills. I make a MEAN salad dressing. And really, a marinade is just that--a salad dressing, with stronger flavors and the ability to worry less about the balance. When marinating a piece of steak like flank, something that is a bit tough and can stand up to some strong flavors, I say go big or go home. Yes, I know you can BUY marinades in the store. But I find those have a TON of sodium, sugar, sometimes MSG...and making one is so easy, why buy?

I'll give you the recipe below, but let me first give you a few pointers. If you're grilling a piece of meat like that, tenderize the heck out of it. Seriously. It can take it, and you'll have a much nicer result. You can tenderize with your marinade, but I like to give mine a head start by getting out major aggression with the "bumpy" side of a meat mallet. Wack it, hit it, and you don't necessarily need to be gentle. Bad day at the office? SMACK! Got a ticket on the way home from work? THWACK! You get the idea.

Then, think about what you're marinating with. Acid will help to break down the fibrous nature of things, and that's a great choice. I choose not to add oil to my marinades for meat. I have heard that it prevents the meat from taking the full effects of the marination process. That may or may not be true, but since I believe it...that's how I roll. Acid can be obvious, like lemons and limes, or vinegar, or a strong alcohol. And make sure to season! Salt and pepper, spices, herbs, garlic. It's really hard to over-flavor your marinade, in my opinion. 

WITH REGARD TO A TOUGHISH PIECE OF MEAT: Feel free to marinate long and hard. Yes, you don't always need to, but I love the flavor and texture of a piece of meat that has been well-marinated for hours and hours. Do it before bed at night the night BEFORE the dinner. Do it before you leave for work in the morning. Or, just make sure to give it a couple of hours. This isn't true for all meats, but for the recipe below, it helps in so many ways.

If you're grilling, make sure your grill is at a good medium-high heat, and well pre-heated. Let your meat come up to room temp before slapping it on a grill (or in a pan, oven, etc.) Take it out of the fridge about 30-60 minutes before cooking. Once you put the meat on the grill, let it sit there, and well...chillax. Don't move it around, don't play with it. When it's ready to be turned, turn it. That's it. Don't push down on it trying to get it to cook faster. You want juicy, delicious meat, after all! 

If you're cutting the meat on a wooden cutting board (and you should), oil the board with a drizzle of olive oil and rub it in. It helps keep the meat juicy while you're slicing it. And lastly, let it rest. I'M SERIOUS. We all know it's true, and yet we all rush. I know I do--all too often I just get so excited and then there goes all that flavor right out the first cut. Don't do it. Let it sit at least 10 minutes before you cut it. And for this recipe below, cut it super thin on an angle, with a sharp knife. Mmmmm, so good. 

Now, I'll be honest. A LOT of these tips (aside from the marination genius) come from my husband. He is the man with meat, especially when throwing it on a grill--outdoor, or the phenomenal cast iron huge flat top grill pan we got as a wedding gift. But I've watched, and learned, and together, last night, we made beautiful grilled meat music together. 

Wow, that's quite a statement...


Flank Steak (or skirt steak)
About 1 large piece for 4 people (probably about 2 lbs.)
3/4 C tequila, plus 1 shot glass full. (Doesn't have to be good quality at ALL!)
Zest and juice of 1 lime, plus the leftovers from juicing
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 TBSP ground cumin
2 TBSP ground coriander
2 TBSP salt
2 TBSP fresh cracked black pepper
2 TBSP hot sauce (I used Valentina last night--if you haven't had it, run to the Mexican Market and buy it!)

For Burritos/Tacos:
1/2 spanish onion, thinly sliced
1/2 avocado, diced
1 cup baby spinach, cut very thin
chopped tomatoes (if desired)
cheese (we used feta and grated sharp cheddar)
1 lime, sliced in half
salsa (of your choice)
hot sauce
Any other garnish you like!
tortillas  *A special note about the tortillas. WE had planned to make tacos with this, and would use good quality corn tortillas. Those weren't available to us, and we haven't quite           mastered making them ourselves, so we used large flour tortillas and made mini-sized burritos

Trim any unwanted fat off of steak, and then, using the bumpy side of the meat mallet (or just a heavy skilled) pound the meat  on each side. You want to tenderize it, not pulverize it, so be aware of how hard you're hitting. You'll be able to tell when it feels a bit less tough.

In a large freezer bag, combine all marinade ingredients and steak. Massage the meat WELL and place the bag in a bowl or pan and place in the fridge. TRUST ME ON THIS--you want to store the marinated meat in the bag IN something else, in case it breaks. Try and massage it once every hour or so, or as often as you remember. Your meat will love you for it.

Several hours later (hopefully!) take the meat out of the fridge and let it sit, in the marinade, for about 30-60 minutes, to come up to room temperature.
Heat a grill (we used our grill pan) to medium-high and let it get nice and hot. REALLY.

Remove meat from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Place meat on grill and cook for about 8-10 minutes per side, only flipping once. For this preparation, we like the meat medium--like carnitas in a Mexican joint.

Remove meat from grill, let rest on an oiled cutting board. Slice super thin, on an angle. Should be almost like gyro meat, or cheesesteak. Very very thin.

Cut up any or all of the remaining ingredients to use in your taco or burrito. 

Sautee the onions a few minutes, to get some good char on them. We did this on the flat side of our grill pan (a cast iron griddle basically) but you could do it separately in a pan. Add the sliced meat to the onions and cook together for a few minutes. This will get a nice final char on the meat. Juice 1/2 remaining lime over the meat/onions while cooking.

Assemble your burrito/taco. I put all the ingredients above in, along with a last squeeze of lime. (A tip straight from the mouth of my husband: always put the cheese in FIRST! Then add the meat. The heat of the meat will melt the cheese--yummers! 

IF you're making burritos, assemble everything together, and fold 'em and roll 'em. 

Set them back on the flat top grill (or on the pan), seam side down--this will help keep it closed. Cook it enough on that side to get a bit of brown, and then flip. This shouldn't take more than 2 minutes, total. 

Serve hot, with chips and salsa, and possibly a nice cold beer or margarita, if you're in that kind of mood. Drink the remaining shot of tequila.