Tag Archives: sauce

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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Snap

13 Jun

Want dinner in a snap?  I think it is possible to put a healthy dinner on the table in less time than going to the drive thru.  Yes, a healthy dinner can be on the table in about half an hour.  With planning.

Sure it takes planning.  But that can be done while standing in line, waiting for a dentist appointment, or waking up with that morning cup of coffee.  It can be as simple as jotting down notes.  I use my smart phone to make my grocery list, and that advance planning helps me get through the store in a snap.

Sometimes planning is just a simple trip to the freezer to pull something out in the morning to cook in the evening.  Let me tell you how simple planning helped me with a healthy home cooked meal last week.

In the morning, I pulled some chicken out of the freezer and popped in the fridge.  By the time I came home from work, the chicken was thawed.  I fired up the grill, lightly seasoned the chicken, ans tossed it on the grill to cook.  The chicken breasts were thinly cut, so I knew they would cook quickly.

In the meantime, I put a pot of water on the stove for some pasta.  Angel hair pasta cooks quickly, so I pulled that from the pantry. It would be perfect with the leftover pasta sauce in the fridge  I took some frozen asparagus from the freezer, and thought it would round out dinner nicely.

The pasta cooked in about 5 minutes.  I also tossed frozen peas (I warmed them with the sauce) into the pasta for a little color. The chicken was done in about 20 minutes.  I let it rest for a few minutes, then sliced the breasts thin.  (Culinary side note:  meat is more tender when allowed to rest.  I time my proteins to be done 10 minutes before everything else.  I then drizzle olive oil over the meat, cover with foil, and let rest). The asparagus went into the microwave.

With a little planning, I had a healthy dinner on the table on a weeknight in about 30 minutes.  what can you make with little time on a weeknight?

Dinner in a snap.  Grilled chicken, angel hair pasta with cheese pea sauce, and asparagus.  YUM!

Dinner in a snap. Grilled chicken, angel hair pasta with cheese pea sauce, and asparagus. YUM!

Naughty-again!

25 Apr

Naughty.  Last Friday night my home cooked meal was off the chain naughty.  Seriously.  The thing is…it started out innocently enough.  It took a turn to the dark side during a water cooler moment chatting with a coworker.

I wanted to make wild mushroom ravioli for dinner.  I like flavor with an earthy profile (some chefs call it a “dirt” flavor) like mushrooms, truffles, and beets.  And I was seriously craving some earth.  Wild mushrooms would be the food that was going to scratch that itch.  What could be the harm in that?  Enter stage left..my coworker Al.

Foodies get all excited when talking food and recipes.  Al is no exception.  He, like me, is a quirky foodie.  I am an amateur, he, as a certified chef, is a professional one.  I told him what I was making and wanted to pick his brain about a good sauce.  A creamy parmesan sauce? I wondered outloud.  Oh no!  Al had something else in mind.

“A brown butter sauce!” he loudly exclaimed.  Yes, that will be perfect for your ravioli, he said.  Brown butter, drizzled over the ravioli, along with fresh basil chopped, and a bit of fresh parmesan romano cheese.  Yes, he proclaimed.  That is the finish for your ravioli.  At this point my mouth was watering and I was mentally preparing for a much longer run on Saturday morning to counteract my naughty Friday night dinner.  That was that.  I couldn’t wait to try it.

Later in the afternoon, Al wandered into my office.  Clearly, as an eccentric foodie, my dinner was still on his mind.  “You need some acid on that dish, and a balsamic reduction glaze would be just the thing”.  Again, foodies are so quirky.  A “food moment” such as Al’s  hits like a flash, and you just gotta run with it.  And I did.

Here is the story, in pictures, of my naughty dinner.

Step 1...start the butter.  But remember to stir.  Burned butter is no fun!

Step 1…start the butter. But remember to stir. Burned butter is no fun!

The butter is getting brown and foamy.  The scent wafting from this dish is mmmmmmmm so creamy and luxurious!

The butter is getting brown and foamy. The scent wafting from this dish is mmmmmmmm so creamy and luxurious!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The butter is getting nutty, browning slowly and oh so rich!  I removed the milk fat  (the foam) making it clarified butter.

The butter is getting nutty, browning slowly and oh so rich! I removed the milk fat (the foam) making it clarified butter.

 

Here it is.  My dinner is all of its naughty gloriousness!   Wild mushroom ravioli with brown butter sauce and balsamic reduction, salad, and, of course, bread. Was it worth it?  Oh heck yes!

Here it is. My dinner is all of its naughty gloriousness! Wild mushroom ravioli with brown butter sauce and balsamic reduction, salad, and, of course, bread. Was it worth it? Oh heck yes!

Bland Beige

22 Mar

I love to cook.  But its hard to hit it out of the ballpark every time you go to bat.  I’ve had some famous flops.  A fallen cake.  A kale fail.  A burnt grilled chicken.  Even with my resources, a well stocked pantry, and a fridge and freezer with great leftovers, I blow it.  The other night was once such miss.

I think about a lot of things when composing a meal.  When meal planning, I consider nutrition content, leftover potential, budget, who will be at the table, and what the meal will look like on the plate. No one wants to eat something looking like dog mush, even if the flavor is fantastic.  But I had come home from work late and in a rush to get a good meal on the table.  Into the oven went some lightly seasoned chicken to bake.  It would be ready in about half hour.  Out came some leftovers to round out the meal.

Being busy and distracted, I didn’t go through my typical due diligence getting a meal onto the table.  What leftovers did I pull out to accompany the chicken?  Mashed potatoes, creamy mushroom sauce (perfect to jazz up the baked chicken) and roasted cauliflower.  Sounds good, right?  But put it on a plate, a beige plate at that, and its flat.  No panache or pizzaz.

I will show it to you, but promise not to laugh.  Like I said, everyone misses now and again.  What have your misses been?

My beige dinner.  Delicious but blah.  Especially on a beige dinner plate.

My beige dinner. Delicious but blah. Especially on a beige dinner plate.

 

Be Flexible

1 Mar

I like options.  I like flexibility.  Especially with cooking.  I am a busy mom.  I can’t afford to fiddle fart around during the busy work/school week, and don’t want to get locked into one option.  I am going to cook one thing that will last more than one meal, and that can be used in a number of ways.

Brown some ground italian sausage.  Yum!

Brown some ground italian sausage. Yum!

That said, this is what I made on a busy week night.  I started by browning a pound of italian sausage.  Next, I added some freshly chopped peppers.  I happened to have fresh peppers that I quickly chopped, but listen…you don’t have to take the time to cut peppers yourself.  Nicely cut peppers and onions are available in the produce section of the grocers.  Don’t let the label “fajita mix” fool you.  Those peppers are not seasoned yet, so if you want to throw them into a pot of browned italian sausage, you go right ahead.

Stir in some freshly chopped peppers. Layer those flavors!

Stir in some freshly chopped peppers. Layer those flavors!

So after my sausage was brown, I drained most of the fat, leaving about 1 tablespoon.  I tossed the peppers into the pot and stirred the mixture around.  That cooked for about 5 minutes, then I tossed in a can of diced tomatoes, parsley, basil, and some red pepper flakes.  I gave that a good stir.  Then I added a dash of salt and sugar.

 

Add these simple ingredients.

Add these simple ingredients.

But hey, did I mention I am busy just like you?  I don’t have time to sit in the kitchen and stir my sauce.  So into the oven it went.  I wanted it to simmer, and the oven is the perfect spot for that.  Side note.  Invest in a pot that can go from the stove top to the oven.  It will save you loads of time, and after all, time is money.

That sauce bubbled in the oven for about an hour.  Man oh man did the house smell great.  I pulled it out, removed the lid, gave it a good stir, and was pretty hungry for dinner.

Now what?  Did I mention that I like options?   Here is the beauty of this sauce.  It had protein and vegetables in it, so it was an “all in one” as far as that goes.  I did not need to make a separate vegetable.  We can go a couple of ways with this dish, depending on what is in the pantry.

We could:

1. Toss this with pasta-even throwing in a handful of spinach if available

2. Use as a pizza topping

3. Make pepper and sausage sandwiches

4. Load onto a baked potato

5. Make a quesadilla

How about that?  Love those options!  And the leftovers were divine.  Now that’s flexibility for you!

 

Quinn and I made open face sanwiches that night.  They were delicious.

Quinn and I made open face sandwiches that night. They were delicious.

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.

In the (Cal)zone

27 Oct

I grill my home made pizza.  I just feel that my grill is more like a pizza oven than my kitchen oven, and I have had great results with this method.  The exception, of course, is in the winter when I make my home town Chicago Style deep dish pizza.  That goes into the kitchen oven and is strictly a winter treat when weather socks us in for an extended period of time.

Home made pizza was a topic of conversation recently when my daughter was home from college for fall break.  When college kids come home, they want moms home made dishes to nosh on, food they missed at school.  My grilled pizza is a family favorite.  It came up when my daughter was rattling off the food she was craving.  But then our conversation took an unforseen twist.

Her: I am hungry for a calzone.

Me:  I haven’t made that in a long time.

Her: I really have a taste for one.  Please…..

(Cue the lightening strike…)

Me: Wait!  How about we try grilling a calzone like my grilled pizza?

And off we went.  A new journey emerged, one in which grilling a calzone became the destination.  Our stops along the way to our destination included technique discussions, filling options, and recipe timing.

Plans were finalized, the roadmap was taking shape.  The destination-grilled calzones-was coming into focus.  The first run down this path was going to be technique focused first, ingredient choice second.  Fine tuning would come after that.

Next stop.  The filling, it was decided, would be caramelized onions and mushrooms.  The cheese would be a combination of ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan.  Off we went.  As the succulent aroma of onions and mushrooms sizzling in a pan filled the kitchen, the dough was rolled out.  Nervous chatter about if we could really get this to work added to the cacophony of the popping onion mushroom mixture.

The dough was slathered with the cheese.   The onions and mushrooms went on as the  next layer.  The dough was folded over and pinched closed.  It glistened with an egg wash to give it a shiny coat.  Onto the grill it went.  As it grilled, excitement built…it hadn’t flopped yet.

The table was set, bowls of marinara sauce for dipping the calzone was placed on the table for that final stop before the anticipated bite.   Off the grill and onto the table it went.  Suffice it to say that our little experiment worked like a charm.  The outcome was delicious!  Fantastic!  A new family favorite is emerging!

 

Grilled Calzone!  Fabulous!

Grilled Calzone! Fabulous!