Tag Archives: cheese

Epicurean Evenings

29 Oct
My education and career trajectory is in clinical nutrition, dietary management, and healthcare business strategy, but cooking is definitely my passion. I love the creativity of decadent ingredients, plate presentations, fresh flavors, and lingering over home cooked meals filled with spirited conversation.  My enthusiasm for food, at times, mingles with my love of writing, and that dwells in the core of my spirit.
I have several outlets to feed that need, and at one point I spent time writing for a food and wine magazine. Sometimes my editor (and friend) Katherine would come over to chat about upcoming assignments. I was not inconvenienced by having to answer the door when Katherine stopped by. Always welcome and with a quick “hello I’m here” knock, in she came.

A few years ago on a cool fall afternoon she popped in. A few steps in the door she stopped, her head slowly floated back as her eyes closed, and drew in a deep breath. Then her eyes slowly opened and she said “I just love coming into the house of an epicurean. It always smells so good!”

At the time I wasn’t completely sure what an epicurean was. When I finally understood what it meant, the comment from Katherine turned into an intuitive compliment-one that I savor to this day. What is an epicurean? If you go to the dictionary you will find something like this:

adjective
1. fond of or adapted to luxury or indulgence in sensual pleasures; having luxurious tastes or habits, especially in eating.
Yup, that describes me. I am an epicurean. But what was I cooking on that cool fall afternoon that elicited such a reaction from Katherine? I was teaching myself how to make a brown butter sauce. Dinner that evening included wild mushroom ravioli, and I had decided to stretch my skills by learning a new sauce.
Want to know how to make a brown butter sauce? You’ll be happy you did-it has endless possibilities! High quality European butter is the key here. I always use unsalted for 2 reasons: Salt is a preservative, so unsalted butter is fresher, and I like to adjust my own seasonings.

So here is what I did. Into a heavy bottomed sauce pan, I started melting a half pound of lovely french butter on low heat.


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Soon the butter started to brown. I began removing the foam to clarify the sauce. The aroma that began filling the house was amazing. Warm, nutty, rich!

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My sauce continued to deepen. The flavors were concentrating. And the scents wafting around the house were incredible. I kept stirring.

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Do not walk away from this sauce, as it can burn quickly. Let it deepen slowly and keep your eye on it. But that is it. Simple.

The real beauty in this sauce is the ability to adjust it to any taste. You can add garlic, herbs, salt, pepper, almost anything to customize it to your taste. Add it at any point while browning the sauce. How easy is that? Fabulous!!

The first time I made the sauce, I drizzled it over wild mushroom ravioli and sprinkled it with some fresh parmesan cheese. Since I like acid, I also drizzled a balsamic reduction over the ravioli as well. A garnish of fresh basil perfected the balance. I added a salad and some crusty bread. It was a decadent dinner.

I continue to use the brown butter sauce for a variety of finishes. What can you do with it? Send me an email and let me know!

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Zucchini-Grilled

30 Mar

I really like vegetables. Even more than fruit.  Eating seasonally and taking advantage of farm fresh vegetables all year long not only provides great flavor and variety, but eating seasonally is budget friendly. My kids and I are adventurous when it comes to food, so I am challenged to find new ways to cook veggies.

Since it is winter, root vegetables have been the staple lately.  Luckily, my family enjoys carrots, potatoes, squash,beets…all the delicious colorful winter vegetables.  Did I say all?  Um, I meant most.  My kids aren’t crazy about one winter vegetable…brussel sprouts.

My kids tend to delight in normal kid stuff like, well, farts.  Brussel sprouts, closely related to cabbage, are notoriously gas producing.  Shouldn’t that be my number one selling point in adding brussel sprouts to our dinner repertoire?  I mean, what could be more fun than that for my kids….seriously.  With their competitive nature, I see this as a win win food offering, if you catch my drift (waft, hang time…).

And that’s how I tried to sell it to my kids. They know enough to know what a cruciferous vegetable is, and what that produces.  Slow roasted fresh brussel sprouts gently browning in the oven smell, well, cabbage like.  Rats.  That wasn’t going to sell my kids on these delicious sprouts.  Of course my mouth is watering, but the kids are scrunching their nose up.  So in the interest of family peace, I now reserve brussel spouts for when I dine at a restaurant.   So I took the sprouts out of the family dinner rotation, but continue on a quest for a fresh seasonal change.

Still wanting variety, I reverted back to another inexpensive vegetable…zucchini.  I like to roast these with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, with perhaps a few shreds of fresh parmesan.  But on this particular night, I was pinched for time and looking for a quick veggie option.  I still used zucchini, but took it in a super quick and easy direction.

Splitting the zucchini down the middle, I then pulled my cast iron grill pan out and heated it up.  I drizzled with zucchini with olive oil, and onto the grill pan it went.  I seared it much like a piece of meat, not quite knowing how it would end up.   After searing one side, I turned it over and seared the second side.  I then put a bit of fresh parmesan cheese on top.  The result was fantastic.

Grilled zucchini in my (very inexpensive) cast iron grill pan.  It was sizzling and searing.  Yum!

Grilled zucchini in my (very inexpensive) cast iron grill pan. It was sizzling and searing. Yum!

I flipped the fleshy side of the zucchini up and put a little freshly served parmesan on top.  Ooh!  So good!

I flipped the fleshy side of the zucchini up and put a little freshly served parmesan on top. Ooh! So good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a keeper.  It was super quick, hardly any ingredients, and oh so tasty!  It was beautiful on the plate as well.  So look for variety not only in your food, but in ways to prepare them.

Oh, and  you may want to take a page out of my book and order your brussel sprouts out at your favorite place Saturday night!

 

 

Cheese, butter mayo…

8 Nov
How are these items related?

How are these items related?

 

This is a recent conversation between myself and my teenaged son.  In literary terms it is known as a drama.  Why? Because everything with teenagers has the potential to be a drama…

Quinn: Why do we only have hard butter in this kitchen?

Me: Because it is real butter and healthier for us than margarine.

Quinn: But I can’t spread it for a grilled cheese sandwich!  Ugh!  Stupid butter!

Me: Heat the pan up, melt the butter, and grill your sandwich that way.

Quinn:  Why can’t we just have the spreadable tub stuff?  Man! (insert a sarcastic cough/snort here).

Fast forward a couple of days.  I was chatting with a friend that happens to be an executive chef.

Me: My son was all ticked off because we didn’t have spreadable margarine for his grilled cheese sandwich the other day.

David: Just use Mayonnaise.  Its oil and egg.  And it makes a great grilled cheese.

Me: Do you mean use mayonnaise instead of butter on the bread grilling side?

David:  Yes.  Its simple.

Me:  Seriously?  (I realized my mouth was hanging open.  I felt a mixture of surprise at David’s suggestion and disappointment in myself because this did not occur to me unaided.  I was excited with the idea but mad at my big bad self for not thinking of this earlier…)

Oh yeah, this sent my mind spinning.  It made sense.  Mayonnaise is oil and egg.  So maybe, I thought, the grilled cheese would end up with a little “french toast” essence to it.  As far as chefs go, David has a fabulous palate with an opinion that I trust.  I couldn’t wait to try this!

Friday rolled around.  I grab a quick dinner on Fridays because my son is an athlete that plays varsity football on Friday nights in the fall.  I rush home from work, have a quick bite, and head out to the game.  It was the prefect time to make a quick grilled cheese sandwich before heading out.  It was time to go rogue!

Taste test in the making…one grilled cheese with butter and one with mayonnaise.  Yup.  I was going to try it.  I used the same pan, the same heat, the same bread and the same cheese on both sandwiches.  This had to be a true side by side taste test.

The results:  Both cooked up in about the same amount of time.  Both sandwiches browned nicely, and had a crisp outside bite with a creamy inside.  Surprisingly, the sandwich with the mayo on the grilling side was the favorite.  It had a “cheesier” flavor than the grilled cheese with butter.

At  first look at the picture in this blog, the food items do not look related.  But they are.   Try this.  Let me know what results and preferences come out in your household.  It is fun to experiment with food!

Next…

25 Aug

I am a single mother that is short on time.  When I cook, I have to make it count for more than one meal.  Time is my most precious commodity at the moment, so cooking bigger sure helps in a time crunch.  If I have a little wiggle room during the weekend to cook, I try to fill the fridge for the upcoming week.

Okay, it’s no secret that I love leftovers.  They can be easy to eat as is for a second meal, or used as inspiration for a new dish.  I use my leftovers both ways.  If I cook a couple of extra pieces of chicken, that goes either in school lunches or to work with me for a second meal.  Using that chicken as inspiration for another meal might mean a nice chicken casserole or chicken salad sandwich.  Need some ideas?  Let me outline my leftovers from the past few days.

Night #1.  Leftover: Quinoa.  Used the next morning as an addition to breakfast oatmeal.  Quinoa powered up morning oatmeal following an 8 mile bike ride.  It was a solid “recovery” breakfast.

Leftover quinoa added a nice nutritionally punch to morning oatmeal.

Leftover quinoa added a nice nutritionally punch to morning oatmeal.

Night #2.  Leftover:  Goat cheese.  It was leftover from a beet salad.  My high schooler used it to spread on his “gourmet” sandwich, adding delicious creamy flavor to a weekday lunch.

Leftover goat cheese not used for this salad added flavor to a sandwich.

Leftover goat cheese not used for this salad added flavor to a sandwich.

Night #3.  Leftover:  Home made vinaigrette.  I used this drizzled over roasted veggies going into the oven.  Homemade vinaigrette is super easy to customize ingredients and flavors to make even picky eaters happy.

Leftover vinaigrette.  This isn't just salad dressing.  It has a zillion uses.

Leftover vinaigrette. This isn’t just salad dressing. It has a zillion uses.

Night #4.  Leftover: Roasted veggies.  These leftover roasted veggies made the most amazing sandwich to take to work.  I wish I also had some of that leftover goat cheese too, but it was quite tasty as is.

Roasted veggies made an awesome sandwich, panini style!

Roasted veggies made an awesome sandwich, panini style!

Night #5.  Leftover:  Pesto, shredded chicken. (Nonleftover freezer item: frozen cauliflower). I actually pulled this from the freezer to make a quick pasta dinner.  Dinner was ready in the time it took for a pot of water to boil and pasta to cook.  The cauliflower was microwaved.  Everything was tossed together for a quick and easy one dish dinner for a busy night.

By now I am sure you get the picture.  Be creative.  When cooking, cook a larger portion than you need.  Toss leftovers in both the fridge and the freezer.  And start embracing the ease of the next meal using leftovers.  Let me know what you make with your leftovers!

Passionate for Pesto

30 Apr

Our winter was cold, snowy, and the weather was, well, dreary.  Spring has sprung, and it was a bit of a whimper, not a big bold leaping launch.  Rats.  I love spring, but our spring this year has limped in. Not with tulips and daffodils, but with gray skies and cold rain.  I am not complaining, mind you, just missing the beauty and newness of spring this year.  But darn glad that it is finally here.

With gray skies above, imagine my excitement when I zipped down to the back yard for something and realized that my parsley was absolutely bursting out of the garden!  I instantly forgot my purpose for having gone to the back yard and leaned over my garden.  I blinked and blinked again.  Yes!  Not only was the parsley happily standing up to greet me, but so was the mint, the rosemary, and rocket arugula!  Yum!  I could not resist bending over, pinching off some leaves even though there was no imminent culinary purpose, and putting the herbs up to me face.  I breathed in, my head went back, and it was a moanable moment.

I try to have pots of herbs growing in my kitchen all year long (once in a while one of my foodie friends may sneak one out of my kitchen, so I have to keep more than one plant around!). My favorite thing to make with herbs is fresh pesto. It takes moments to prepare and can be used in many different ways.  Flexible foods are my favorite, and pesto is super flexible.  How flexible?

Pesto can be liberally poured over pasta making a delicious side dish. It can be brushed onto fish, adding beautiful color and flavor to either delicate or hearty fish. I have doused chicken with pesto, adding flair to an otherwise bland weeknight dinner. Pesto can also be spread onto a sandwich as a savory condiment. I love the freedom to use my flavor packed pesto in or on most everything! It is simple and makes me look like a rock star in the kitchen at times. Who wouldn’t love that?

Pesto is very forgiving too. I have adjusted or substituted ingredients without having to sacrifice flavor. I will pass along my pesto recipe and let you have some fun with it too! It is a crowd pleaser, so make plenty. Bon appetite!

Basic Pesto:

2 cups fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup parsley leaves

1 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

1-2 cloves fresh garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

FYI- I have tried using toasted pine nuts as well as roasted garlic and it did not make a notable difference in taste. I have also substituted walnuts for pine nuts, and the flavor was great. I have used both the parmesan cheese in the green can as well as fresh parmesan cheese, and fresh makes a difference. Use it if you can, but if you only have the green can on hand, go for it! I usually add a little more olive oil if I am putting this on pasta. If you are using dried herbs in a pinch, you also may want to increase the olive oil. Go ahead! Play with this recipe! Have fun and enjoy the amazing flavors!  And don’t forget to make a big batch and freeze some for another night when time is short.

 

Food Foul

5 Mar

I was short on time tonight.  I dashed from work to the gym.  After my workout, I zipped into my grocery store.  They usually make pretty good sub sandwiches there, so I was going to cheat a little and get subs for supper.  I figured I would grab subs, a green salad and some fruit.  That would make an acceptable supper on a busy weeknight.

In the store I stepped up to the deli counter sweaty, rushed, and really hungry.   I ordered a sandwich for my son.  After that sandwich was made, the deli guy asked what else I wanted.  So I proceeded to place the order for my sandwich.

Me:  I would like turkey with swiss cheese on a whole wheat sub, toasted.

Him: (as he began getting the meat and cheese) And you want it toasted?

Me: Yes please.

Him: Okay.

Now this is where the major food foul occurred.  He got the 6 inch sub roll, sliced it open, put the cheese on it, and then the turkey on top of that.

Me silently screaming in my head: DUDE!  A sandwich being toasted ALWAYS has the cheese on top to get hot and bubbly!

Me for real: (Stifling my indignity) Excuse me, can you please place the meat on the bread and the cheese on top of that before toasting it?

Him: Um, oh, sure.  No problem.

I could not believe my eyes.  Who in the world puts cheese and then meat on a sandwich to toast in an open face manner?  I wondered if that is my food quirk or just plain proper protocol to put cheese on top of the meat when building a sandwich.  When I got home, I recounted the food foul for my son as we were eating dinner.  He too was incredulous.  “Everyone knows that cheese goes on top of meat when making a sandwich” he said with a snort and an eye roll (a somewhat innate response that all teenagers have perfected when stating the obvious).  There.  A teenager validated my position, so I must be right…right?

I am the first to acknowledge food quirks. Everyone has them. Eating involves preferences, and one can get…uumm…perhaps a tiny bit demanding  when expressing food preferences. It can, at times, be challenging to maintain proper decorum when observing a serious food foul with regards to a preference that has been expressed.  In the spirit of being a proper food fan, one must maintain good manners and control in food foul situations so as not to let our quirks get the best of us.

Basic sandwich building, for me, begins with the bottom part of the bread.  Depending on the toppings, an initial slather of some type of mustard is usually in order.  Next comes the sandwich meat.  Then the cheese.  (Toasting, if preferred, occurs now). After that, the veggies get piled high.  Then the top bread of the sandwich finishes it off.  This is appropriate sandwich order in my opinion.  And it is my layering preference.  It’s the order of a sandwich building system.   And it’s just how I like my sandwich.

So is this really protocol for building a sandwich?   Do I think that this is the way a sandwich should be made because this is how my mother taught me, and then I taught my kids?  Was this a major deli food foul?  Let me know what you think about proper protocol for sandwich making.  What is your order of ingredients?

The Art of Layering

26 Feb

Layering is important.  I grew up in the midwest and made it through countless winters there, so I know a thing or two about layering.  When it is so cold that the moment you walk outside your nose hair freezes (and it aint pretty!) you learn about the importance of layering.  That brings me directly to another point.  Fashion goes out the door when the temperature is below zero, the furnace doesn’t shut off, and it’s just plain cold.  Which works for me.  I seem to have missed the “fashion” girl gene anyway.  So I layer for reasons not related to fashion…my sister got that gene!  She always looks cute.   Me?  Well, lets just say I try.

I apply most of my sense of layering to food, of course!  As a (self proclaimed snobby) foodie, I like to layer flavors when I cook.  What does that mean?  I add ingredients slowly while cooking if the recipe and time allows, perhaps with a soup or a sauce.  When pinched for time, a sauce can be thrown together quickly.  However, if time allows, layering food flavors while cooking is worthwhile.

Secret tip: throwing a parmesan rind into a sauce or soup early on to simmer adds flavor.  I love this tip.  Not only because of the amazing flavor that this imparts, but the premise is wonderful when cooking.  Layers.  Like a cake.  And using every single part of food.