Sunday, January 30, 2011

An Ode to Steak Fajitas!

I love Mexican food as much as I love Italian food.  If I had to pick two types of cuisine I had to live off of the rest of my life those would be it. Though I don't remember, my parents tell me about how they would take me to ChiChi's in King's Plaza in Brooklyn when I was little and how I loved it. The last time my parents visited Savannah we made 3 trips to Jalapeno's, a locally owned Mexican restaurant not far from my house.  Three trips all in one week, might I add (can you see where my love of Mexican food comes from?).  I don't think I have found Mexican food I don't like, with the exception of a few ill-fated Taco Bell meals.  Whenever I make my meal list, there is bound to be at least one Mexican/Tex-Mex meal on there and this past meal list was no exception (in fact there are 2- this is the first one I will be sharing)

I have been lucky enough to experience Mexican food at its finest when I went to El Paso and New Mexico this past October.  My best friend is stationed out of Fort Bliss in El Paso and I was finally able to go out there for a week long visit.  I was excited about this trip for many reasons: I hadn't seen my best friend in almost 2 years, I was going without the kids for my first week away since they were born, I got to travel out to the Southwest for the first time and I knew I was in for some of the best Mexican food I would ever get short of crossing the border.  And I was right, the food was absolutely amazing.  My best friend appeased my Mexican food love and we had Mexican three times that week.  We went to a small Mexican restaurant up the block from her house where I was able to get a feast for about 7  bucks, a combo platter with an enchilada, a huge chili rellenos, fried taco and a tamale, served with a heaping portion of rice and refried beans.  Then there was our shopping trip the the outlets where not only did I get to feed my Coach and Bare Escentual addictions,  I got to experience the most amazing flautas smothered in sour cream and salsa verde from a Mexican snack booth.  The piece de resistance of Mexican food during my trip to the beautiful southwest was when my BFF took me to Olde Mesilla, NM and I got to experience La Posta. 

As soon as we got out of the car I could smell the steak cooking from half a block away.  Right then I knew I was getting steak fajitas.  First, we walked around Olde Mesilla, as I took in the sites.  I now understand why they call New Mexico the "Land of Enchantment", it is absolutely beautiful.  We then went to La Posta, an old trading post Ponce de Leon and Billy the Kid once stayed at. The old adobe style building has been converted to an amazing restaurant and artisan shops.  We went for lunch and it was the best Mexican meal of my life.  I didn't really need to look at the menu, I ordered their steak fajitas and they were the best fajitas I have ever had in my life.  Period.  Words really can't express just how delicious they were and how I crave La Posta to this day.  After eating, I stopped in their chili shop to load up on food goodies, like red pepper enchilada powder, and green chilis (which I will be using in my green chili black bean chili this week).

I left El Paso with fond memories of the great times I had with my best friend and of the food I got to experience while out there.  One day, hopefully soon, I will go back but until then I have to satiate my Mexican food cravings through my own cooking or by going to Jalapeno's for their deliciousness.  Last night I made steak fajitas that were delicious and easy.  They definitely quelled my latest La Posta craving.

Steak Fajitas
1 marinated Flank Steak*
1 large onion, sliced
3 bell peppers sliced into strips, I used red, orange and yellow peppers
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp  adobo seasoning
1 tbsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
1 pack of flour tortillas

toppings (all optional)
shredded cheese
pico de gallo
sour cream (I use low fat)
guacamole ( I had left over from earlier this week, Keeping it well wrapped, along with storing it with the avocado pits help keep it from turning quickly.)

* Mike made the marinade since I was at the mall with the kids.  He said he used Worcestershire sauce,  a dash of balsamic vinegar, ground mustard, ground coriander, cumin, adobo, steak seasoning and s&p.  He just informed me that he gave it a rub down too. I am starting to get concerned since he seems to have enjoyed rubbing down the steak a little too much in a way that is not fitting for a piece of meat that would become our dinner; the freak.

  • Preheat your broiler.
  • In a large skillet, add olive oil.  Once hot, add onions and start to sautee for a minute or two.  Then add peppers and spices and give a quick stir.  Allow to sautee til the onions are brown and caramelized and the peppers have caramelized (about 15-20 minutes).  If peppers and onions start to stick, add a little more olive oil

  • Once oven is pre-heated put flank steak on broiler pan and broil 5-6 minutes per side for medium rare.  I don't cook flank steak to well done, it becomes too tough for my taste.

  • Once steak is done, allow to rest for 5 minutes to allow juices to redistribute.  Once rested, cut desired size slices against the grain.  Add slices (and steak drippings if you like) to peppers and onions on the stove and give a quick toss to incorporate flavors.
  • Serve with warm tortillas and desired toppings.

Baklava, Kofte and Tzatziki Sauce Recipes.

I know I promised these recipes the other night and I am very sorry I never posted them.  I have been letting other chores in my house slide, like my floors and the room where we store our dirty laundry, I finally had to bite the bullet and start tackling them.  Since I am having a semi-lazy Sunday at home (semi since I am still tackling our dirty laundry storage) I figured I would post them real quick.

This baklava recipe is fantastic, and simpler than I thought it would be.  If you have had baklava and you loved it then definitely make it.  I honestly believe this is the best baklava I have ever had.  If you never tried baklava, I, again, suggest that you make it.  You will be in for a real treat.  And mille grazies to Rob's aunt for getting Rob this recipe.  I planned on making it again when my parents came for Easter, but my husband has requested that I make it earlier than that.  That is saying a lot when we still have a little bit left.

Rob's Aunt's Baklava (courtesy of Rob Callas)
1lb phyllo dough, defrosted (make sure you don't be like me and forget to defrost the phyllo, it takes about 1.5-2 hours)
2lb chopped walnuts
1 C sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp cloves ( this wasn't in the original recipe, I added it.  So if you don't have ground cloves it isn't a                 big deal)
1lb sweet butter, melted (I told you this wasn't dietetic, Paula Deen would be proud)

2 C water
2 C sugar
1.5 C honey

  • Mix walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and cloves in a bowl.  Set aside
  • Spray a 13 x 9 in casserole dish with pam.  Lay a 4 sheets of phyllo and brush each sheet with butter.  
  • After every 4 sheets, sprinkle walnut mixture.
  • Continue til you use all he phyllo dough.
  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Cut phyllo into squares (traditional Turkish presentation) or diamonds (traditional Greek presentation).  Bake baklava for 1.5 hours or til brown on top.
  • Once done baking allow to cool,  with my baklava there was still liquid butter on the sides of the casserole, the baklava will reabsorb the butter)
  • To make the syrup, in a heavy bottom pot add water sugar and honey.  Bring to boil and then drop to simmer for about 10 minutes til sugar is dissolved and it forms a thin syrup.
  • Pour over baklava and serve. 

Kofte are those amazing turkish meatballs.  My husband absolutely loved my version, I still think Troy's were better but no matter what, I will definitely make them again.  My mom loves my middle eastern fare (she says I make a killer homemade falafel) so I think I will be testing these out on her when she and my dad come to visit.

Kofte (modified from
1.5 lbs ground beef ( I used 93% lean)
1 bunch of parsely, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
2-5 cloves of garlic ( they said to add more garlic if you like it and that's exactly what I did, but if you aren't a fan I am sure 2 will be fine)
1.5 C bread crumbs
1/4 C olive oil
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili pepper paste
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp harissa (if you are lucky enough to find it)
s&p to taste

  • Mix all ingredients, adding bread crumb 1/2 C at a time til the mixture is workable, but not sticky or tough.  (the original recipe called for 2.5 C of bread crumbs but I found 1.5 C sufficient).  I use my hands to mix but a stand mixer will do the job for you if you would like.
  • Preheat an electric griddle to 350 degrees (or you can use a frying pan).  Drizzle with olive oil and fry for 3-4 minutes per side, until cooked.  
  • Serve with tzatziki and pita bread for a simple dinner.
Tzatziki Sauce (pictured above)
1 C plain yogurt
2 tsp of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic chopped
1 medium cucumber, diced (I like chunks of cucumber, but you can dice it to your pleasing)
1 tsp cumin
1-3 tsp of lemon juice, to taste
s&p to taste.

  • In a storage bowl, mix all ingredients til well incorporated.
  • Let sit in refrigerator for 3-4 hours to marinate.  Taste to see if any flavor needs to be adjusted..
  • Use as condiment for falafel, kofte etc.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kofte, Baklava and the Search for Harissa

For me, the ideal date night with my husband is when we go out to a fabulous restaurant and order like we are rich.  Because we live on a budget these date nights are few and far between, but the food is always worth it, even if I have to quell my husband's sticker shock.  These meals can cost up to 120 bucks, which in our world is just below my average weekly grocery budget.  That is just a small price to pay for some fabulous food and one on one time with my husband.

  Almost two weeks ago, my husband and I went out on one of these dates.  This date night was what finally inspired me to start my food blog, an idea I have toyed with for years.  I question whether the friends on my Facebook really get as excited as I do over food, and if they get sick of me posting about it so much. Sometimes 140 characters isn't enough space for me to express my food love.  So you can all thank the wonderful folks at Troy Mediterranean Restaurant in Savannah for finally giving me the push I needed to start writing almost daily about one of my great loves in life.  They are also the ones who inspired the recipes I will be sharing in this post since our dinner last night was based on the scrumptious dinner we had there.

Troy is a small Greek/Turkish restaurant located in a non-descript shopping mall right around the corner from our house.  I wonder if people realize the delicious food they are missing while driving past it on Abercorn .  We had went there two years ago for Valentine's day and I think my husband has been craving their lamb chops ever since (a meat I have yet to tackle).  So when it came down to us decided what we wanted to do for date night this past month, we chose to go there again, knowing we were in for a real treat.

When we go out on these date nights we usually order 3-4 courses and literally pig out.  That night at Troy was no exception, we started off with kofte and a salad that we shared.  Both these items were off the specials and I think I ordered them to make the waiter feel better about having to list off the 10+ special list for that night. I had never heard of kofte before that night,  surprising to me since I used to frequent a Turkish place in Staten Island before we moved to Georgia.  But God, I am glad I now know what this funny sounding food is.  They are turkish meatballs that are grilled and served with tzatziki sauce.  Troy's kofte were made with beef and lamb fat, so good that they had me using bread to sop up the drippings from the plate. For entree, Mike had his lamb chops and I had seafood risotto which were both excellent.  What topped of the night besides the kofte was my dessert, homemade baklava.

Having grown up in NYC, I grew up with baklava, whether at the Greek owned diners my parents frequently took us to the times I would go to Astoria (a huge Greek neighborhood located in Queens) and visit local Greek bakeries for a piece.  Baklava is actually a Turkish dessert with variations being made in Serbia all the way to Armenia and Uzbekhistan.  It is butter brushed phyllo dough layered with nuts, baked  and once cooled, a honey syrup is poured on top.  Troy's baklava was out of this world but now after making my own, I think mine takes the cake with Troy a close second.  It is buttery nutty sweet goodness that is heaveny.  After writing this, I think I just might have a piece..

So after having this awe inspiring meal, the next day I came home and searched for recipes on the internet.  The kofte recipe I will be posting is from an internet site.  The baklava recipe is from my friend Rob Callas in Staten Island.  He is Greek and when he saw I had linked a recipe to baklava from an on-line source he went to his aunt and rallied for her baklava recipe since he wanted me to have an "authentic" version.  I totally understand this feeling of food pride, Greeks just like Italians live through their  cuisine.  I am especially grateful to Rob for doing this for me because this recipe has now become my go to baklava recipe.

So yesterday, I had it planned to make this turkish inspired dinner.  Mike was at school all day and I try to ensure he comes home to a really good meal after 8 hours of classes.  So during Nate's nap I decided to start my baklava, but sometimes I am a real ditz and forgot that I needed to let it defrost.  So as it defrosted, I made my tzatziki sauce, this is one sauce that really needs to come together flavor-wise before serving.  I also advanced 4 levels in Angry Birds on my IPad so believe me, the time wasn't wasted.  Once the phyllo was defrosted I started working on the baklava.  Before I even get into the recipe, I am just going to put it out there that this dish is not health conscious at all.  I double checked Rob's aunt's recipe and saw it called for a pound of butter, melted. Since I am not Paula Deen, I shook my head but still proceeded along.  I have always worried about working with phyllo dough since it is fragile and can dry out easily.  Now that I conquered that fear, it is definitely easier than I thought (is making spanokopita in my future?).  Baklava is definitely a forgiving dish, any pieces that were cracked got smeared with butter and another piece of phyllo was put on top.

I baked the baklava before I left to pick up my daughter for school.  Before leaving, I placed a shoebox around the casserole pan filled with baklava goodness. Our Boxer, Rex, has been known to get on the counter and eat whatever food was left out.  This dog ate 6 cupcakes, wrappers and all, one night so I definitely wasn't trusting him around my baklava.  I made a list of last minute items I needed for dinner and I questioned if I could even find harissa in Savannah, since the kofte recipe called for  middle eastern pepper paste aka harissa.  After getting Lil, I took the kiddies to World Market (one of my favorite, favorite stores) in search for harissa.  They didn't have it.  We moved on to Publix (my favorite grocery store) in search of the elusive harissa.  Nothing.  Out of desperation, I picked up a tube of chili pepper puree and called it a day, I even had an out-of-commissary experience with a senior citizen, making me reevaluate my thoughts on old people and grocery stores. We finished and and rushed home, I had been gone over 1.5 hours and I imagined my baklava half-eaten on the floor with Rex passed out next to it. I even imagined how I was going to salvage the baklava if it met it's end at Rex's paws.

When we got home, the baklava was still intact so it didn't even phase me that Rex had gotten into the left over phyllo dough I had forgotten on the counter.  I was just happy to be home with a baklava in one piece.  I prepared dinner and it was a smash hit with the kids and though my kofte wasn't as tasty as Troy's (Mike begs to differ), you know it's a good sign when your husband tells you that you are going to make him fat.  After the pieces of baklava Mike has eaten, he just might be right.
coffee and baklava, the lunch of champions

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Holy Guacamole and Other Thoughts

Before I start going off I have to list the three things I learned today:

  1. There is absolutely no point to get a manicure if you will be constantly doing dishes.
  2. When cilantro turns towards the dark side it smells like wicked-bad halitosis.
  3. Steve Jobs has definitely sold his soul to the devil so he could create must have gadgets like the IPad.  
My husband, bought me an IPad.  Just add this to the list of the reasons why I love him.  It was a late Christmas/ I love you gift.  I guess he got tired of me fawning every time I would see one, whether on TV or at my local Target.  I also think he bought it to quell my feverish longing for the Verizon IPhone (February 10th can't get here fast enough).  Whatever the case, my inner Machead is giddy.

 My favorite app so far (besides Angry Birds) is Epicurious: The Cook's Companion.   With a simple finger sweet, I can scan categories of recipes, from Super Bowl to I Can Barely Cook.  Thanks to the IPad's compact size and the available cookbook mode, I am sure following these recipes will be easier than finding a space on my counter for my cumbersome Macbook - something I have done one too many times when I needed to follow an electronic recipe.  The recipes available are from major foodie magazines like Bon Appetit and Gourmet with pictures and user reviews.  You can even download a $1.99 add on you can sync your favorite recipes to's recipe box to save for later.  And for those who don't have an IPad, you can download this app for the IPhone and IPod Touch.

So after a day at home playing with my new IPad, it came time for me to cook dinner.  Some nights I just don't feel like cooking a full meal so I keep it simple.  Since I had a substantial amount of pulled BBQ chicken left, I decided to rework into BBQ Chicken Nachos.  This fresh take on nachos is tasty, hearty and simple.  In fact, it would make a perfect Super Bowl dish. If you make the pulled BBQ chicken a day or two beforehand, the flavors have a chance to incorporate which I think makes the nachos tastier than the sandwiches I made the other night.  I also made guacamole, one of my all-time favorite dips.  I topped my BBQ chicken nachos with guacamole and it was a pretty tasty combination.  The best part was I barely spent any time in the kitchen preparing dinner.  

I just want to add, before I go into the recipes and obligatory food porn, that I use Rotel in my guacamole but you are more than welcome to use fresh tomatoes and green chilies.  I prefer to use all fresh ingredients whenever possible but I have a bad habit whenever I buy tomatoes.  I am the only one in the house that eats them and most of the time they become penicillin before I get a chance to use all of them.  I even bought a nifty tomato saver to prevent this from happening but my kids now use it to store trinkets. I have found it easier just to use Rotel and call it a day, but the choice is up to you.

3 ripe Avocados with 2 of the pits reserved
1/2 medium onion, chopped (I usually use red onion, but white is OK too)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
juice of 2 limes
1 can of Rotel, drained (I used tomato, green chili cilantro and lime juice)
2 tsps of Adobo
1 tsp of cayenne pepper (optional)
handful of cilantro, chopped

  • In a mixing bowl, add onions, garlic, avocado and lime juice.  Mash with potato masher til desired consistency (I like a chunky puree consistency)
  • Once mashed, stir in Rotel, Adobo, Cayenne pepper and Cilantro (or 2 chopped tomatoes, seeded and juiced,  and 1 can of green chilies).  
  • Adjust seasoning if necessary and serve with your favorite Tex-Mex dish.
  • To store, add the 2 pits back to the Guacamole to prevent browning, cover and refrigerate.  

BBQ Chicken Nachos
2-3 C of Pulled BBQ Chicken (see January 24th's entry)
Tortilla chips
about 2-3 C of 4 cheese Mexican Blend Shredded Cheese
sour cream (optional)
guacamole (optional)

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Spray a cookie sheet or 13"x9" casserole with non-stick spray.  Make a bed of tortilla chips, spreading them out evenly.
  • Top tortilla chips with BBQ chicken and shredded cheese (enough to cover  all nachos)
  • Bake for 20 minutes til chicken is heated through.
  • Serve with sour cream or guacamole if desired.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Put Some South in Your Mouth: Slow-Cooker Pulled BBQ Chicken Sandwiches

Words aren't enough to describe how much I love my slow cooker and I am glad I have the opportunity to find and try out new recipes to share with all of you.  I know a lot of you have requested slow-cooker recipes so I tested this one out and I must say, it's a keeper that I can't wait to share.  I found the original version of this recipe in The Fix It and Forget It Cookbook, but I altered some of the ingredients to suit my tastes. Simple, healthy and delicious, this recipe will definitely be added to the rotation in this household . Last night, after dinner, I asked my husband and kids what they thought of the sandwiches and they all agreed in unison that they were excellent, well Mike and Lil did.  Nate just shook his head and smiled, and I took that as a yes.  I am sure if he had a better grasp of the English language he would have emphatically agreed with his dad and sister.

Anyways, I have made pulled pork before, but I have never made pulled chicken BBQ and I think I actually like it better than the pulled pork.  I try limit my pork consumption, with the exception of bacon and sausage then it's game on.  I can't get enough of either and of course it has to be the "healthiest" cuts of pork.  This BBQ chicken recipe was the perfect meal for a day spent at the circus, gorging on everything from cotton candy to snow cones to french fries.  The bbq sauce is not heavy like bottled sauce, it is a homemade bbq sauce and we used boneless chicken breast for the meat. You are more than welcome to substitute dark meat for this dish, if you like.  I didn't even bother making side dishes, the sandwich was plenty after a day of stuffing ourselves silly with circus food-fare.

 I hope you all enjoy it as much as we did!

Pulled BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
2-3 lbs of chicken breast, trimmed of excess fat
1 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 tbsp  butter, cubed
1 C water*
1 C chicken broth*
2 C ketchup (we use all natural heinz)
3 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp ground mustard
kaiser rolls or steak rolls
corn starch (optional)
water (optional)
cheddar cheese (optional)

(* when it comes to the liquid component of the sauce, you can use either all water, all broth, or half of each.  I chose to use half of each because I wanted to add some flavor to the bbq sauce but I didn't want it overpowered by the chicken broth.  This choice is completely up to you.)

  • In a slow cooker add chicken breasts. In a bowl, mix onion, green pepper, butter, water, broth, ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard and s&p.  Once combined, pour over chicken.
  • Cook on low for 6-8 hours, or on high 4 hours.
  • Once done, if sauce is thin (like ours turned out) mix 2 tbsp of cornstarch with 2 tbsp cold water.  Add cornstarch mix to slow cooker and let cook for 5 more minutes.  The bbq sauce will thicken.
  • Shred chicken with two forks.
  • Serve on rolls and top with cheddar cheese if desired.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bad Fish, Bad!

Before I get started, I just wanted to thank all the readers that made it a point to tell me how much they have enjoyed this blog so far.  It means the world to me <3  It has also kept me motivated to write while experienced pangs of self-doubt.  I promise to continue bringing the food-love, whether it be reviews or recipes always with a side of snark.  I just had to show my gratitude for these kind words.

Anyways, this blog is dedicated to the times things go wrong.  Every good cook just has a day where nothing comes out right and it follows through to their cooking.  Friday was that kind of day for me.  It started when my daughter had a fever for the second time that week and had to stay home from pre-k, missing her field trip. Then my Boxer, Rex, decided it was a great idea to drink two cups of coffee left unattended while I attended to the kids.   When my husband came home from school we discovered the shoe website he ordered me a pair of Uggs from is not legit and we had to call our bank and contest the charges, fearing identity theft. (Side note: never order from BLUEFLYBOOTS.COM). Friday was a day that I wished I could just go back to bed, wake-up again and pull a do-over.  Now if only life worked that way. 

While my husband was on the phone with our bank, I started preparing dinner.  A dear friend of mine asked me for a salmon recipe since she was looking for different fish recipes to prepare for her family.  As soon as she asked, I knew I had a great recipe for a simple salmon dish coupled with an aioli.  I hardly ever prepare fish in my house since my husband refuses to eat it, but this week I put it on my menu.  Needless to say, it had been a while since I prepared this dish but it was so simple I didn't even worry about it getting screwed up.  But with my luck that day, life had other plans and I ignored the warning signs.

I had bought a salmon filet from the commissary and it's sell by date was Friday so I figured I was OK.  When I opened the fish and sniffed it I should have known not to even bother.  The salmon smelled fishy, which I know is a warning sign that the fish has already went the way of the dodo.  I persevered on though, figuring that since the flesh was still firm and clear that I was OK.  I also didn't want to believe that my cooking would follow the pattern of this ill-fated Friday.  So I prepared the fish for the oven using olive oil, lemon juice, paprika and a sprinkling of dill.  I preheated my oven and put the fish in to bake (350 degrees for 25-30 minutes).  I had planned on making roasted garlic couscous and sauteed green beans for my side dishes. I use frozen vegetables quite often, for their convenience.  If the smelly fish wasn't warning enough,  I should have known that things were swiftly going down hill when every bag of string beans I had were either too frost bitten or frozen to use.  I had already started my pan with olive oil and garlic before discovering my string beans were not usable.  I managed to salvage the sauteed garlic by adding it to my couscous.  

I believe in balanced meals, and I always prepare a veggie dish to go along with my meat and starch.  So I now found myself scrambling in my pantry for some sort of veggie, what I found was a can of beets that I had bought to make a beet-orange salad.  Score, things were finally looking up.  I had a box of clementines in my fridge and I had stuff to make a quick vinaigrette. All this scrambling occurring in between asking my husband if our identities were stolen and whether all the money in our bank account was at risk to shady Chinese "entrepreneurs". I wasn't in the best of moods, becoming more and more frustrated in the kitchen as my husband was becoming more and more frustrated recounting his tale to different bank representatives.

Anyways,  if you like beets you should definitely try this salad, this is the only dish that came out right. I don't know what it is about citrus fruits but they just had something special to a can of plain old beets.  I had lime and cilantro in the house so I decided to take a southwestern route in making this beet salad.  You could top hearts of romaine with the beet-orange mixture or you can eat it as is, like we did.  The most surprising part of this whole debacle is that my kids like beets. The three of us (my husband refused to try it) devoured most of it before the salmon was even done. Below is the recipe:

Beet and Orange Salad with Lime- Cilantro Vinaigrette 
1 can of sugar beets, drained
2 clementines, peeled and segmented (or you can use mandarin oranges, about 1/2 a can, drained)
2 cloves of garlic roughly chopped
juice of 1 lime
1-2 tbsp of olive oil
small bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped.
In a small serving bowl make vinaigrette with the garlic, lime juice, olive oil, cilantro and s&p.  Whisk until emulsified.
  • Add drain beets and stir into vinaigrette, then add segmented oranges and gently stir til lightly coated with vinaigrette.
  • Let stand about 10-15 minutes to allow flavors to incorporate
  • Use as a topping to salad greens or eat as is.
Once I was done with the beet salad (literally, it was 2/3rds gone by this point), my oven timer started beeping, alerting me to my salmon being done.  I checked the flesh and it was firm and flakey.  Still concerned over the freshness of the fish, I decided to taste it before serving it to my kids.  It tasted horrible!  The fish had definitely moved on to a better place before I even cooked it and I blatantly ignored all the warning signs.  I rarely have kitchen mishaps so this was a blow to my ego. I also found myself whining to my husband that I write a food blog that, so far, has been given a great reception from my readers, what was I going to write about now?  And what was it going to do to my credibility as someone who seemingly knows her way around the kitchen?  All along, I knew I shouldn't have prepared that piece of fish but my stubbornness won out and in the end I lost.  My wonderful husband suggested I write about the mishap and that is what I chose to do.

So after relishing in self-pity for a few minutes, I thought back to my childhood and the kitchen mishaps my mom and grandmother experienced.  I remember my parents smoking a duck in the backyard that caught fire, nearly burning down their deck.  My parents hadn't thought of the amount of sub-cutaneous fat ducks have that could turn it from a delicious poultry dish to a fire bomb in a matter of minutes if left to close to the heat source. Then there was the time my grandmother made turkey soup for Thanksgiving dinner, and her brothers compared it to tea water.  And there was another Thanksgiving incident where my mom's homemade gravy turned into a chunky, gelatinous mess instead of liquid-y goodness to pour over turkey and stuffing.  It helped me remember that sometimes things just don't go according to plan and it is what it is.

This experience also made me think of Julia Child, the penultimate TV chef.  How many times did she have screw ups in her kitchen all while being filmed for viewer consumption?  She never got flustered, she just went along with the missteps with dignity and persevered til she got it right.  I am sure the glasses of wine she imbibed while cooking helped with her laissez-faire attitude, but no matter what, she never let it get in the way of her message.

So, instead of having a tasty salmon dinner, I submitted to an Arby's Roastburger.  The salmon got tossed, the beet orange salad was devoured by me and the kids, and all through this I found my calm and carried on.  In the manner of my mother, grandmother and Julia Child I found the resolve to keep doing what I love and whatever bumps that lay in the path, I will surmount.  I just promise not to whine (too much) when they occur.

And it goes without saying that I won't be buying fish from the commissary ever again.  

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Quick Tip: Ripening Fruits

I just had to post a picture of my fruit tower.  Though visually stunning with different shades of green represented, there is a method behind my madness.  The avocados and bananas aren't ripe yet so I arranged them above the apples.  Apples give off ethylene gas that causes them (and any fruit around it) to ripen.  This is part of the reason I don't store apples in the fridge, the ethylene gas will build up and cause them to over ripen (aka spoil).  Since gas rises I arranged my avocados and bananas above the apples allowing them to ripen faster than if they were left to their own devices.  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Next Time, A Retiree is Getting Hit in the Head with a Gogoz...

So after a week of procrastinating and brainstorming, fueled by coffee, I made my grocery list and meal plan.  I had promised my 5 year old, Lily, that I would take her to the commissary after school so she could come food shopping with me.  It is one way that her and I bond on a 1:1 basis since her brother arrived and she enjoys coming with me.  I really think it's because she likes adding goodies to the shopping court like today's bounty of strawberry pocky, chocolate pudding, fruit snacks and dora the explorer yogurt.  I wish I could blame the pack of double stuffed oreos on her too, but my husband knows me too well.

After I was done with my grocery list, I called my best friend to wish her a happy birthday.  Though we have known each other since we were teen-agers, we both lucked out and married into the Army, and unfortunately the Army took her to Texas while we found ourselves stuck in Georgia. As soon as I told her I was going grocery shopping today and I planned on blogging about the experience, she started laughing saying that I should definitely write about the retirees in the commissary.  I started laughing because those were exactly my intentions.  If you have never been involved with the military and experienced the retirees in the commissary then I must give you insight on what it is like.

I know part of me shouldn't smack talk about retirees, since my husband is a medically retired sergeant thus making us retirees too.  The retirees I am referencing are geriatric retirees, so old that sometimes I question if the last war they participated in was WW1. I respect AARP card-carrying senior citizens but military retirees are a whole different breed.  They hog the aisles with an air of "I belong here because my husband served under General Custer" (I kid, they actually served under Washington), they take 20 minutes to select items and they get huffy when someone else (usually younger) tries to grab something that may be in the general vicinity of what they are looking for.  The worst is when the retirees decide it is imperative to go food shopping the same day as  military pay-days.  It is bad enough that everyone and their mother is at the commissary trying to food shop, but throw in a bunch of holier-than-thou retirees and a simple commissary trip becomes reminiscent of your average horror movie, patrons making mad dashes to grab items while avoiding collisions with numerous shopping courts and the retirees that stand in one's path. Unfortunately, there is no knife-wielding psychopath.  At least a knife-wielding psychopath would take out some of these retirees on his rampage (I kid, I kid).

OK, maybe I am being too harsh.  Hell, I should be lucky we still have our commissary privileges. Shopping there is significantly cheaper than regular grocery stores.  We are newly retired military and the retirees just irk me to a point where I just might become that knife-wielding psychopath.  I even had an experience today with one especially immobile retiree in a scooter.  I was looking for mouthwash in the hygiene aisle when she rolls up, notices me and decides to park right in front of the mouthwash I was about to grab.  She then peruses the different types of fixodent, making sure to read the label on every type.  Lily and I were waiting for her to finish patiently, me silently marveling at the various types of denture fixative, when she finally decides she has had enough, doesn't even take a fixadent and scooters off.  Now, I didn't time her but she probably took a good 5 minutes.  This is typical retiree behavior, I would love to see a senior citizen pull this off in my local Publix without someone losing their mind and going on their very own rampage.

Needless to say, by the time I got home I was exhausted and it was dinner time.  When I made my menu I added a family favorite (and the recipe I will be sharing today) that is super simple to prepare and delicious.  This is a recipe that my grandmother would often make for me when I would come drop in.  She was a typical Italian grandmother and you couldn't say no to her when she tried to feed you, she was too stubborn to listen.  Now that she is gone, I am grateful that she never listened, because I still have the memories of her cooking especially for me, and this was one of my favorite dishes that she made.  We would talk while I ate and just thinking about those times makes me tear up.  Fortunately, she lives on in my cooking, the recipe is exclusively hers, and it's spaghetti and gogoz (zucchini).  It is a true Italian peasant dish (as most of the good ones are), utilizing very basic ingredients that come together to make something special.

Oh, and I think it's fitting to add that my grandmother was a military retiree dependent.  I can only wonder the hell she gave the "young'uns" when she visited the commissary. I bet she would have taken a full 20 minutes to decide on what type of fixodent not to purchase.

Spaghetti with Gogoz (zucchini)
1 lb of spaghetti
4 medium sized zucchini, sliced
2-5 cloves of garlic, chopped(depending on how much you love the stuff, I adore it so I add alot)
olive oil
red pepper flakes (optional)
grated cheese, such as romano (optional)

  • Smash cloves of garlic with the back of a knife.  This allows the garlic to be easily peeled.

  • Finely chop garlic.
  • Using a food processor, finely slice zucchini.  You can also finely slice them in thin slices if you don't have a food processor.  I chose to use my food processor since the slices are uniform allowing for even cooking time. 
  • In a heavy bottom large skillet, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom.  I know this seems like alot but this is the base of your macaroni topping.  The way I look at it is olive oil is really good for you, so you can afford the splurge.  Heat on medium high heat.
  • Once olive oil is hot, add in garlic and quickly sautee for about a minute.  Make sure the garlic doesn't burn.  You can also add some red pepper flakes at this time if you like some heat.  I did, but it's completely up to you.
  • Add sliced zucchini into the oil and stir to get the zucchini coated with the oil.  Add some salt and pepper, the salt will help draw out the zucchini's moisture.  It may look like alot of zucchini but it wilts down to almost nothing by the time you are done.

  • In a separate stock pot, bring 4-5 quarts of water to a boil for the spaghetti. Once boiling, salt water and throw in the pasta.
  • Sautee the zucchini til it is lightly golden. This should take about 15-20 minutes for the amount of zucchini I used.
  • Once spaghetti is done, drain and toss with the zucchini.
  • To serve, top with grated cheese and some hot red pepper flakes if you like.  It is Italian comfort food at it's finest.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

For the Love of Cookbooks

I am a bibliophile, no ways about it.  I am the kind of person who will drop 100+ bucks on books without a blink of an eye- like my husband and I did when we were on a weekend getaway in St. Augustine, Fl and found an amazing second-hand bookstore.   I got giddy when I found out I was able to take out more than 5 books from the library.  We have 5 bookshelves filled to the brim in our home, and countless boxes of books in our shed.  I don't think I can express enough how much I love to read and this obsession crosses over to cookbooks.

I probably have over 30 cookbooks.  The previous owners of our house must have had some insight that the subsequent owners (us) were going to need a lot of room for cookbooks and when they redid the kitchen, they put a 3 shelve corner piece under the counter in lieu of a larger cabinet.  This is where I store my most prized cookbooks, the others are socked away in the cabinet above my fridge. A bunch of these cookbooks were gifts from my mom or from friends, others were ones I sought out myself.  I'll always remember when I was a kid how I would love going through my mom's Frugal Gourmet cookbook, we often watched him on PBS and he was as much a part of my childhood as Rainbow Brite and New Kids on the Block.  The name of the cookbook was The Frugal Gourmet On Our Immigrant Ancestors.  I don't actually remember my mom ever making anything out of this cookbook and a few years ago I was lucky enough to inherit it during one of my mom's kitchen purges.  I have to admit that I haven't made anything out of it yet either, but one day I will.  My mom knew how much I loved this cookbook so she made sure to put in on the side for me without question.  This is one of the cookbooks I proudly display on that shelf, ever-reminding me of my childhood.

I make a a meal plan along with my grocery list so I have an idea of what I will be making in the next week or two.  I find that if I go shopping without a list I have a massive brain fart in the grocery store or commissary.  Needless to say, on these shopping expeditions I never get anything that I need and everything I want.  Often when I am meal planning I will turn to these cookbooks for inspiration on what to make.  I get bored making the same things over and over again and this helps keep my weekly menus fresh.  One of the cookbooks, I turned to frequently is the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook.

This cookbook, cited to be "American's #1 Cookbook Since 1930", has an indispensable place in my kitchen.  My mom still has a copy from the '70's that she often refers to and when we moved to Georgia one of the first things I bought was this cookbook.  I often refer to it for baking recipes, meat cooking times and easy meal ideas.  The recipe I am going to share now is from this cookbook, though altered for my tastes.  This is one thing I learned about recipes (with the exception of baking, since that is more of a science), is that you can add or take away ingredients depending on your tastes  I often look at recipes as a jumping point for what I want to cook and I often tinker with them to make them more my own.  This is exactly what I did with this minestrone recipe:

Easy Minestrone (based on Minestrone from BH&G New Cookbook, pg 569)
3  cans of beef broth (I use low sodium)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 can of kidney beans
1 can of garbanzo beans
I can of italian seasoned diced tomatoes
1 1/2 C of V8 vegetable juice
1 can of italian seasoned tomato paste
2 tsp of sugar
1 tsp italian seasoning
1 1/2 C frozen soup veggies  (Or you can use fresh such as string beans, carrots, etc, it's up to you.  Just remember to adjust cook time)
2 C - 1 lb of pasta like ditalini or elbow.  ( we made a whole box of ditalini because I love macaroni)

  • In a large stockpot combine all ingredients except frozen/fresh veggies and macaroni.  
  • In a separate pot boil water for desired macaroni according to package directions, once boiling salt water and cook macaroni til al dente.  
  • Once the soup starts boiling add frozen/fresh veggies.  Drop temperature down to a simmer and simmer for about 10 minutes.  If using fresh veggies simmer til veggies are tender but not mushy. Add cooked macaroni. Top with grated cheese if desired (I use romano or pecorino romano but whatever you like to use is just fine.

I just wanted to add this note, if you make a whole box of pasta like we did, the pasta will absorb alot of the soup's liquid over night (see picture below).  I don't mind the minestrone being this consistency since I am a big fan of pasta fagioli.  But if you want your minestrone to stay soup-like then use less macaroni.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Oh New York Pizza, How I Love Thee...

Since I am procrastinating with meal planning and food shopping this week my husband decided to order pizza last night.  I am sure his decision was coupled with the fact I wouldn't be home for dinner time and he  was stuck home with two hungry kids that he had to feed.  So when I called him to let him know I wouldn't be home until after 9 pm he told me he was dealing with two hungry kids, a barking boxer and the Domino's delivery guy at the door and he had to go.  Domino's is alright pizza and, unfortunately, the regular pizza place we have been relegated to using since we moved to Georgia 4+ years ago, but for this native New Yorker it still leaves something to be desired, namely my desire for true NY pizza.

I was born in Brooklyn and partially grew up in the Gravesend, a section of Brooklyn bordering Coney Island and Bensonhurst.  My grandmother lived in the 3 family house I was born into until I was 16 years old and I spent a lot of time in Brooklyn during my formative years, even after my family moved to Staten Island .   My grandmother's house was a quick drive to the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn which, in my very humble opinion, harbors the best pizzeria this side of Italy.  This pizzeria, which is Brooklyn, and NYC institution, is L&B Spumoni Gardens.

My family would often go to L&B's during the summer where we could sit outside on the picnic tables and enjoy pizza that could only be described as other worldly.  We wouldn't go for their neapolitan slice (traditional NY slice ), we would only get one type of pizza of their menu, which was their sicilian slice.

I am drooling looking at this picture right now, for I haven't had L&B's in years.  But I can still taste that slice as if I had one only yesterday.  Trust me, there is nothing like it.  A sicilian slice differs from traditional pizza and chicago style pizza, it has to deal with the dough they make for it.  It is also baked in a cast iron pan in a pizza oven.  I have had my fair share of sicilian pizza in my life, especially since I worked in two pizzerias while in High school on Staten Island.  What makes L&B's so special is what is on top of the pizza crust.  The mozzarella is under the sauce, and once you taste the sauce you will realize why it is the forefront of this pizza.  It isn't a traditional pizza sauce, it's a full on chunky homemade marinara seasoned to perfection.  And if that wasn't enough, they sprinkle just enough grated cheese (not sure if it is parmesan or pecorino romano) to add a salty dimension to the tangy sweet marinara.  If you find yourself in Brooklyn, go to Macdonald Ave and experience this pizza.  There is nothing like it in the world.  And don't forget to follow it up with a paper cup of spumoni, the italian creme ice that is the perfect accompaniment for this pizza and hell, it's what the pizzeria is named after.  Their spumoni is off the charts but that's topic for another blog.

L&B's is not the end all when it comes to my pizza fetish.  Like I said earlier, I worked in two pizzerias located in Staten Island while I was a teen-ager and pizza is one food that I can eat everyday of the week.  I am sure my work experience in the pizza industry lends to this, since there were many days where I do just that, eat pizza at least once a day.  The other pizza that I dream of is Brother's Pizza, located on Forest Ave in Staten Island, just a hop, skip and a jump away from the house I grew up in.  Brother's is unique as they don't deliver the neighboring area of Staten Island, forcing people to make a pilgrimage to their pizza counter to experience the deliciousness Brother's has to offer.

Whenever we go home, we always make a pilgrimage to Brother's.  My husband grew up in Brother's neighborhood so this was the pizza that brings him back to his childhood. We usually take my brother with us since he loves their food as much as we do.  Their regular slice is amazing but I find myself getting their chicken roll (think chicken parmigiana wrapped in pizza dough), homemade mozzarella sticks and their grandma slice, which is like a thin crust sicilian topped (again) with marinara, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil.  

Can you start seeing why Domino's just doesn't cut it when it comes to my pizza cravings.  It is a good substitute but it still leaves something to be desired.  But all hope is not lost, for we have found a pizzeria located in downtown Savannah that quells my cravings when they strike the hardest.  It's Screamin Mimi's.  They describe themselves as a Jersey style pizza joint.  I know the owners are from Jersey and I don't feel like getting into an argument over Jersey not having their own style of pizza.  "Jersey" pizza is NY pizza that migrated to the bowels of the Garden State. So I keep my opinionated New Yorker mouth firmly shut when we go there.  I do not want to cause any ill-will with the only pizzeria within driving distance of me that brings me back to the tastes of home.  Unfortunately, it is a decent 20 minute drive from us and we usually go there to eat for by the time we order take out and get it back to our home, located on the Southside of Savannah, the pizza is cold. Needless to say, we don't get a chance to go their as often as I would like, leaving us to order from the local Domino's on a weekly basis.

I know no matter where I travel, I will always be searching for a slice of pizza that brings me right back home.  And when I manage to get back to my hometown, I know where I will stop off to relish the tastes of my childhood.  Now off to heat up a slice of Domino's and fruitlessly wish it was something tastier, and more New York like.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Anthony Bourdain: The Airport, The Oyster and The Chicken Heart

Since I haven't figured out what I am cooking for dinner, I have decided to go on a diatribe over my love for Anthony Bourdain.

I don't know if it's because he is a fellow New Yorker (though he grew up in Jersey) or because he specializes in French cuisine (I am a francophile) but I have a special affinity in my heart for him.  I think it's his NY attitude that I can definitely relate to coupled with the fact you can just tell by his cocksure manner about all things food that he is more than just an amazing chef.  Plus, I am part jealous, part overly voyeuristic watching as he gets to travel the world trying new cuisines on a whim all while being recorded for a hit TV show while I get to enjoy this errant display of food porn from the comforts of my couch.

 I have even seen Mr. Bourdain in person and we had a special moment that I'll never forget.  If his eyes could talk they would have said "don't make a fucking big deal that you have seen me".  There was pleading in his eyes, behind the tough NY exterior most true NY'ers proudly sport. I totally respected what he was trying to tell me because I knew what the consequences would have been.  We were in one of the largest airports in the world and it would have been a fiasco.

I was in line for security check at Newark Liberty International Airport about to fly to Florida to see my in-laws. Since I was flying alone with my then 6 month old daughter, Lily, I was struggling to get all my crap onto the X-Ray scanner.  In the midst of struggling with a cumbersome umbrella stroller I turned around and saw him, standing with his wife waiting to get through this amazingly long line.  It was also about 8 am in the morning, too early to tolerate the TSA and the post 9/11 rigamarole airports put passengers through.  This was way before TSA freely serviced passengers with happy endings, so you know there was nothing "good" to look forward too.  So I looked, thought I recognized him and then look back again to stare at him.  This is when the exchange between us occurred and respecting his wishes, I continued about my business.  I could only imagine the nightmare it would have been if I lost my shit like some star-crazed fan and the commotion it would have caused in the line, the way too long line, too early on a June morning, at one of the US's busiest airports.

As soon as I got through security, I called my mom to let her know I had seen him.  Just because I didn't lose my shit asking for an autograph I still had to relish in the fact that I had seen someone that I respected in person.  I was living with my parents at the time since my husband was in training for the US Army and "No Reservations" was a show that my mom frequently watched.  So in my world this would rate as kind of a big deal.

It wasn't until my husband deployed about a year later that I started watching "No Reservations" regularly on Monday nights.  No longer was I relegated to Monday night Raw.  I also bought his book Kitchen Nightmares and absolutely loved it.  Not only does he prove he knows his way around the kitchen, but he is an amazing writer.  I had grown up working in pizzerias and Italian bakeries in NYC so I can understand the restaurant business and the craziness that comes along with it.  I just didn't know that the higher entree price correlated directly to a crazier kitchen staff.  I also bought his Les Halles cookbook and one day I plan to make something out of it.  But for now it sits on my cookbook shelf stating my allegiance to this renegade chef.  I can directly attribute Anthony Bourdain as the one who inspired me to be gastronomically adventurous, though not  on the grand scale like Mr. Bourdain suggests. I am still proud of the baby steps I have taken.

In his book, Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain writes about his summer in France where he tried raw oyster for the first time and how it changed his life, leading him to a career as a successful chef (and hopefully not to his rampant drug use in the 80's).  So when the opportunity struck for me to try raw oysters for the first time I jumped at the chance.

My mom was down to visit during the spring of 2007.  We decided to head out to Tybee Island, an island about 15 minutes from Savannah known for it's beaches (and that crappy Miley Cyrus movie filmed there).  On the way out to Tybee, off of Rt 80 is Uncle Bubba's Oyster House.  Bubba is Paula Deen's brother and his restaurant supersedes his sister's by a long shot (don't worry, a blog will be coming on what I really think of Lady and Son's).  My mom and I decided to stop to get lunch, where we were seated outside on the deck.  We perused the lunch menu and my mom saw the raw oyster platter.  She has always loved raw oysters but for some reason I never was interested in trying them til that faithful day.  Thinking of the life-changing experience Mr.  Bourdain had with his first raw oyster, I decided to have my life-changing experience.
                        Can someone pass me the tabasco and horseradish?

Though I didn't run off to become a celebrity chef, the taste of the raw oyster definitely changed my life.  They were delicious in a way that captivates the senses.  I thought that they would be slimy and taste overly fishy, but they weren't.  A good raw oyster tastes like the ocean, the liquor tasting of salty sweetness with a texture that can be best described as al dente.  Needless to say, my mom and I devoured the dozen we ordered before our po' boy entrees came out, she even let me savor the last one.

A few months later, I had another chance to expand the tastes of my inner gastronome, inspired, of course, by Anthony Bourdain.  My husband was home after a 15 month tour to Iraq and we went home, to Staten Island on his leave to visit family.  One of the last nights we were there my parents made reservations at Seabra's Armory, a Portuguese restaurant located in Perth Amboy, NJ that specializes in Rodizio, or Brazilian BBQ.  If you are a carnivore you will want to experience rodizio once in your life.  Skewers of different grilled meats coming around, one after the next allowing the patron to experience everything from grilled sausage, to filet mignon, to pork loin, to chicken heart, all grilled to perfection in the rodizio manner.


This is where I experienced chicken heart for the first time.  Before I start, I want to state that I am not a big fan at the thought of organ meats.  The smell of calf's liver cooking in the oven ruined all organ meats for me as far as I am concerned.  My mom would make it for my dad while I was growing up and she wouldn't even touch it.  Anthony Bourdain, on the other hand, loves every entrail and innard from cows, pigs, etc.  My only experience with these meats have been when they have been ground up to make my hot dog.  But that day, when the Portuguese waiter came to the table offering tiny chicken hearts off his skewer, I accepted.  I figured what's the worst thing that could happen.  So I tried it.  It wasn't horrible, I expected the texture to be tougher being that it was, well, the most important organ a chicken could have.  If they could run around without their heads they surely didn't need their brain as much as their heart.  It did taste like iron and that was the part I couldn't get past.  I did manage to finish the chicken heart, and while I am proud to say I tried it, I don't think I will be running back for seconds.

So, in short, this blog is dedicated to Anthony Bourdain for inspiring a fan like me to go out of my culinary comfort zone and enjoy what I never thought I could enjoy.  Or, the ability to retell a really cool story about how I have eaten grilled chicken heart.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Peas Porridge Hot, Peas Porridge Cold - January 16th's Recipe

Last week, my husband made an amazing spiral ham for dinner.  I should mention now that he is also a fantastic cook, just wish he would do it more often (love you honey :) ). Since we bought a decent size ham for 4 people (really 3.5, my 19 month old son doesn't eat a lot) we had a lot of ham for left overs.  So one night this week I mad ham and eggs on my electric griddle and tonight I made pea soup in the slow cooker using the ham bone.  I am not a big fan of  left overs, but I do enjoy reworking food into new meals so it doesn't feel like I am eating left overs.  This pea soup is no exception.

Before I even delve into the recipe, I am putting this out there right now.  If you don't have a slow cooker, buy one.  They are relatively inexpensive and allow you to prepare dinner (or any food, really) hours before you need it.  They are perfect for busy mom's but they are also great for singles or busy couples who may not want to come home and race to cook dinner.  I spent 30 bucks on my slow cooker 4 years ago and I can't tell you how many slow cooker based meals I have made. It was definitely worth the 30 dollar investment. There is nothing like coming home to dinner already cooked for you, plus they fill your home with a delicious smell.  Nowadays you can get slow cookers with digital displays that let you program cook times, once the the timer is up it will automatically set to warm so your food will be the perfect temperature while serving.  I am still using a slow cooker with 4 setting knob, it works for now but once it is kaput I will be upgrading.

Anyways, pea soup is a food I had often when I was little.  I remember being sick with the chicken pox and my mom made it especially for me, knowing it was one of my favorites.  It is tasty and a perfect way to make use of a ham bone after making a holiday ham.  You can make it with sausage, ham hock, etc but I prefer it with ham bone that still has some meat on it.   The choice of meat (or lack there of) is yours only, this is just my version of this delicious cold-weather dish. So here is the recipe:

1 Bag of dried Split Peas
1 ham bone, trimmed of excess fat but with some meat reserved on it.
2-3 carrots sliced (or 2-3 handfuls of baby carrots, I leave them whole)
1 medium onion sliced
2 cans of chicken broth
2 cans of water (use chicken broth cans to measure)
2 bay leaves
A trusty slow cooker.

Add ham bone, peas, carrots onions and bay leaves to the slow cooker.  Add chicken broth and water to the slow cooker. Add enough so that the water levels reaches about halfway up the slow cooker.  Set on low and cook for about 8 hours and serve.

That's it, seriously.  The pea soup comes out perfect and the meat falls right off the ham bone, making this a perfect one-dish dinner.  I usually season my food with s&p while cooking but since ham has a lot of sodium I didn't even bother and frankly, this pot of soup didn't need any added seasoning.  I hope you all enjoy it!

Michelle :)

Popping the Proverbial Cherry

The Beginning
Some people just eat to live, I live to eat.

I can't tell you when this fascination started.  It has been so ingrained in me since I was a child that it now has become a part of me.  My styles may change, my interests may change but my love for food is here to stay.  I have been meaning to start a food blog for a while now and this is my maiden voyage into my love (and the world) of gastric delights.

Food was a huge part of my life growing up.  Coming from an Italian family, food was a way of life.  Celebrations in my family were about food first, family second.  When I think back on my childhood the memories that stand out the most are Sunday dinners, either at my grandmother's or at my house.  Pots of Gravy, antipasto, italian pastries these are my comfort food for they bring me back to my childhood faster than anything else that tickles my sense.  My love for food though doesn't stop at the Italian peasant cuisine I grew up with.  Oh no, it expands to all regions on this planet.

My mother is not Italian, she is of Irish, English and German descent.  Growing up poor in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, food in her family was a commodity that sometimes wasn't available.  When she became an adult, cooking and baking was something she excelled at, out of necessity from being on her own at the young age of 19 and also, I believe, because of the fact she grew up hungry. Her love of cooking brought her to try new foods and to cook new foods.  In fact, before she married my dad my Italian grandmother would have cooking lessons to teach my mom the basics of Italian cooking so my dad wouldn't have to go without his comfort foods.   Growing up, I remember her cooking every night and the food was always good.  Money was tight at times as I was growing up and we couldn't always go out to eat, but my mother, if she had to, could put together meals from scraps out of the annals of her pantry.  But we always had food in the house, something my mother and my Italian father made sure of because they both loved to eat.

Because they loved to eat, I learned to love eating.  As I got older, I also learned to love the art of eating out (not that you pervs).  Going to nice restaurants growing up was a rare but welcome treat.  One of my favorites is Real Madrid on Forest Avenue in Staten Island.  They specialized in Spanish cuisine but when I think of Real Madrid, I think Lobster special - (2) 1 1/4 lb lobsters for about 20 bucks which was a steal. Lobster is a food that was usually reserved for Christmas eve in my house - we celebrated the 7 fish like true Italians and lobster was always the piece de resistance.  Lobster is also on the top of my favorite food list.  Keep reading this blog and I am promise to share with you a lobster recipe that you will love.  It is the way, the only way, my family will serve lobster and it is delicious. Back to Real Madrid, if you ever find yourself in Staten Island and want a fine dining experience that is pocket book friendly, go there.  The food is amazing, from their paella, fried potato chips, black bean soup.  For me though, lobster was the dish to get off their menu especially if it is lobster festival time.

As I got older, I found that I loved cooking.  I really didn't help my mom growing up, most of the time she would shoo us out of the kitchen while she cooked.  When I was younger it bothered me, as I got older I realized it was because cooking was her release.  She would get focused and it became a methodical form of therapy for her.  My mom would become zen-like while cooking, the art of lovingly preparing food for her family was her thing so to speak.  Now that I am adult, I get to help my mom cook.  Usually I am her sous chef or clean up crew but cooking together is something I enjoy doing.  Being she now lives in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania and I am in Savannah, we phone each other regularly, and most of our conversations are about food.  What we are cooking, what we had when we went out to dinner or new recipes.  Food has bonded me with my mother in ways our mother- daughter relationship couldn't and I can't think of cooking a great meal or going out for a nice dinner without thinking of her.  I have to admit I am a pretty good cook myself, my husband even says that I am better than my mom (but don't tell her that).  When I cook I find that zen-like state that my mom always found in cooking and I love preparing meals for my family.  Nothing feels better than trying a recipe and realizing that you like your own food better than the food you get at some restaurants.  Sometimes convenience wins out and we go out to eat more than we should, diet wise and budget wise.  In the end, I am always left with the thought that I should have just cooked that night.

My Mission Statement
So here I am, finally writing the blog that I talked about starting for months, even years.  When I realized most of my Facebook statuses had to do with food - the food I was preparing, thinking of preparing or eating - whether at home or a restaurant - I realized I needed to expand on my food based love.  One of the things I love doing is sharing recipes with people.  It astounds me how many people don't like to cook or think that they can even cook.  Like most foodies, I want to evangelize cooking to those who don't think they can do it, it isn't hard.  It just takes some focus and patience, faith and most importantly, love.

  I often take pictures of my food while cooking it and then share the recipe. I feel this helps people visualize a dish through the steps, kind of like a check system to make sure one is doing it right. Mike (the hubs) bought me a really nice camera (a Canon Rebel t1i) for our 7th date-versary so I can finally have a hobby (he doesn't believe shopping and collecting designer handbags is a viable hobby,  I still disagree) and I often find myself taking pictures of my food.  This blog will be an outlet for my food themed photography along with the recipes of what dish I am preparing du jour.  But most importantly, this blog will be a place to celebrate food in every aspect and from most (if not every cuisine)

I hope you all enjoy this blog, and to those who just eat to live, I hope you find that you will want to live to eat, striving to try new foods and foreign cuisines..  Food is something that universally defines the human condition, all I ask is that you step out of the boundary and try something different.  You may just like it (and then want to cook it).

Michelle :)