Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spicy Sweet Potato Fries, New Toys, and No Tomatoes

This morning a friend of mine, who I will be very generous and just say is known for having a "colorful" sense of humor, informed me that he was bringing my belated birthday gift to me.  I will confess, I was more than a little concerned.  The possibilities of what this could be were pretty much endless and ranged, in my mind at least, from the slightly profane to the totally obscene.  However, what he brought me was a 1950's Cookie Cookbook written by his mother with a personal inscription to me.  I promptly sat there and looked at all the pictures and then flipped back through to read through all I could.  What a terrific gift.


I love fries.  Fries don't love me like they used to.  Or maybe they do and that's why when I eat them they promptly take up residence on my thighs.  However, these are a great, low-cal/low-fat alternative that is maybe better than the real thing.

Maybe I should have called these sweet potato chunks.  Slices.  Wafers?  Nah, fries.
What you need for two big helpings:

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
EVOO or cooking spray
*some* of the following: salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, cayenne and anything else that strikes your fancy, there, Fancy.

What you do:

Preheat the oven to 350.

Peel and slice the sweet potatoes into relatively uniform slices.  This makes sure that they are all done at about the same time as opposed to having one that is an inch thick that is raw and one 1/8 of an inch thick that is charred.  If you have a mandoline slicer, especially one with a crinkle cut blade, that would be the easiest way.  However, if you are like me and have a new set of knives that you got for FREE and want to play with them, you will bypass the mandoline and use those.  Yes, all of them.  On two potatoes.

Spread the potatoes out in a single layer on a large baking sheet or cookie sheet.  Either brush on a little extra virgin olive oil or spray them with cooking spray.  Yes, yes, yes, I know.  It sounds gross.  It's not.  It's good and saves you a crapload of lunges.  Then sprinkle on the spices in whatever proportion you prefer.  I like to use a lot of fresh cracked pepper.  Plus, some of it falls off during the process.

Because my psychic abilities are not intact, I cannot predict how thickly you will have sliced them.  Start with baking them for 8 minutes.  Flip them all over, give another spray, and sprinkle on some more spices.  Bake for an additional 5 or so minutes and then pull one out.  It should be forkable.  ((Forkable is Julia Lingo for you should be able to stab it with a fork easily.))  I actually like mine a little firmer ((quiet)) so I don't bake them as long.  If yours aren't forkable yet, put them back in for another 3-4 minutes and then check them again.

Spicy Sweet Taters
Nutritional Info:  You got this.  If you consider one large potato a serving and you use the cooking spray, it is only about 150 calories and 1 gram of fat.  Using EVOO would add about an additional 120 calories if you use a tablespoon.


Want to see my new toys?  I thought so.

By Tuda Libby Crews
Don't break into my house.  I'll cut you.  

Lots of big, big, exciting things going on that I can't quite talk about yet.  I know.  I hate when people do that.  Trust me, y'all will be the 300th or so to know.

Tomorrow, I'm planning a menu and shopping for a dinner for 50 on Saturday.  50 teenagers.  Italian food.  No tomatoes.  It is going to be a dairy-filled, cream-sauced party.  With absolutely no tomatoes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Strawberry-Spinach Salad with Almonds, Allergens, and Shallots v. Onions

News flash that is interesting to probably exactly no one:  I am no longer allergic to nuts.  I have always gone through streaks where I have MASSIVE food allergies where if I even think about the current poison I break out in hives and develop something I can only relate to a goiter on the outside of my foot.  ((It's usually when I know I'm in trouble first, the "foot lump" comes out and I can barely walk.))  Usually the streaks last at least a couple of years, then I get detoxed from it, and I'm cured for several more years.  Weird, right?  Apparently in seven year cycles, every single one of the gzillion cells in the body is replaced.  There is a theory about how once a sufficient number of those cells have been detoxed the allergy retreats because those newer cells haven't been poisoned  and overloaded by it and can tolerate it again.  Or something like that.  I'm not really sure because at the time I was being told about this I was fixated on how much the person looked like Loralei from Gilmore Girls and how I really admired the writing on that show and the comedic pacing so I might have some of that wrong.  Anywho, close enough.  I'M CURED!  Let's eat some damn nuts then.


Let's do a spinach salad.

What you need to serve probably 6-8:

4 cups of fresh spinach
2 cups of fresh strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup of sliced almonds
An additional 3/4 cup of strawberries
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp canola oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp minced shallot  ((I'll explain, remain calm))
2 tsp dijon honey mustard
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper


Wash the spinach thoroughly and then tear it into bite-sized pieces.  ((Whistle the Popeye song if you must.))  Slice the strawberries and make them look pretty.  Throw both of them in a large bowl with the almonds.

For the dressing, puree together the additional 3/4 cup of strawberries and the chicken broth in your blender.  Yes.  I know that sounds awful.  Like really, really disgusting.  Just trust me.  It's good.  If you are doing this vegetarian style, use a little bit of water, just so they puree more easily.  Puree means to blend the living hell out of it.  AKA: get the chunks out.  ((I know, such a way with words, again.  Sorry.))

Then whisk the strawberry puree with the canola oil, apple cider vinegar, shallot, mustard, and salt and pepper.   ((Do I have to use canola?  Nope.  Can you use some other kind of vinegar?  Sure.  Use whatever you have, but apple cider is better.  WTF is a shallot?!))

That is a shallot.  Well, several.  Shallots.  Plural.  Shalli?  Never mind.
Shallots are kind of like onions except for they aren't.  Since I have already given you my totally intriguing scientific discussion of human allergy conditions, just suffice it to say for our purposes, shallots are fucked up onions that aren't onions.

Anyway, pour the dressing over the spinach-strawberries-almonds and shake it around.  Easy, right? Right.

Dressing recipe adapted from Weight Watchers magazine.  Yes, I read that magazine.  I don't judge what you read-- Like the fact that you read this blog!

Nutritional Info:  SAINTHOOD.  Approximately 150 calories and 6 grams of fat per 3/4 cup.


Must run...  I have more conspiring on my plans for world-domination to do as well as seeing how much it would cost me to get the entire Gilmore Girls series on DVD.  I don't even watch TV.  This seems like a wise purchase.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Pasta, Can-A-Rama, and Gargamel

What is a step up from burning the candle at both ends?  Burning it from the middle?  Just melting the bastard down to wax?  To the extreme, nuking the entire candle factory?  I might be at that point.  I have eleventy thousand and twenty-eight things going on at once which is fracking fantastic, but I will confess that last night I thought, "I don't know what in the hell I am doing.  With anything.  At all.  <<High-pitched scream here.>>"  I then realized, um, yeah, I do know what I'm doing, that isn't the problem.  I just don't know where I'm going.  I then decided that while I may not know where I am going, as Bowie said, I know it won't be boring.  And that is way more than good enough for me.  I hate boring.  Boring is my mortal enemy.  Boring is my Gargamel.  ((I wonder if anyone has ever referenced David Bowie and the Smurfs in the same paragraph before?  Doubtful.))  


Let's make something.  This isn't complicated but I would eat this every single day for the rest of forever.  No, I'm not exaggerating.  Well, not much.  Pasta with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and Parmesan.

For two:

1 cup of uncooked pasta ((As previously discussed when I first started writing here, I prefer orecchiette, which I still have trouble spelling.))
2 tablespoons of pesto  ((I provided instructions on how to make your own pesto in that same post or you can use a prepared kind.  I like Progresso's best if I don't make it fresh.))
4 tablespoons-ish sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons-ish toasted pine-nuts
1 tablespoon-ish of fresh-grated Parmesan


Boil the water for the pasta and follow the package directions.

Slice the tomatoes into small pieces, after draining the oil.

Toast the pine-nuts in a small sauté pan for 2-3 minutes over a medium-high heat, just until they get a little bit browned.

When the pasta is done, drain it well, and shake the shit out of it to get the extra water out ((particularly with orecchiette which tends to hold water in the little cuppy-things)).  In a small bowl, mix together the pesto and the pasta.  Remove it to a plate and top with the tomatoes, pine nuts, and some Parmesan.

Seriously, every day.

Nutritional info:  Approximately 400 calories and 8 grams of fat if you go easy on the cheese and don't use a lot of oil in the pesto.  When I buy prepared pesto, I actually spoon out the oil that has floated to the top.  I usually get like 2-3 tablespoons out of a really small jar.  Hey, every little bit counts dammit.


There is a LOT of goodness coming up around here...  Lots, lots, lots.  But I have to say I am really excited for what I am calling the Can-a-Rama next week.  We have ordered FIFTY POUNDS of Roma tomatoes and will be saucing up a storm.  My kitchen is going to be a bloody disaster!  Ooh I can't wait.  Prego can suck it!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Italian Sausage-Sun-Dried Tomato Egg Bake/Quiche/Frittata/Casserole/Hot Dish/Something or Other

A recipe just in time for Easter Brunch!  Oh wait.  Whoops.  Okay, so I'm a day late and probably more than a dollar short...  however, this is more than timely for your Mother's Day brunch.  You have a whole month to practice, not that you will need it.  ((You know, someday, I will have my shit together enough to actually plan these things out.  Well, maybe.  Unless and until that happens, we are all just going to have to adapt.))

Anyway.  This breakfast/brunch dish is undoubtedly one of the most popular things I make.  I made it for the first time for a brunch party about a year ago and it essentially evaporated into thin air.  When I grabbed the pan to rinse it out, I got yelled at not to so that my lovely friend D could pick at the stuff left on the edges.  It is just that good.  It, however, does not photograph well.  Sorry.  You're just going to have to trust me and about 25 of my friends that I have made it for on various occasions.

I don't really know what to call it.  ((I referred to this previously and still don't have the answer.))  What I call it is Italian Sausage-Sun-Dried Tomato-Spinach Egg Bake.  I don't know that the term "egg bake" is used in any other part of the country than where I am from because I've drawn a lot of strange looks from people when I say it.  I don't think it is a quiche.  It might be a frittata?  A casserole?  A hot dish?  ((It doesn't get any more Midwestern than a hot dish!  What the fuck is a hot dish anyway?  There's no such thing as a "cold dish."  Well, I don't think so anyway.  Maybe there is.))  Semantics aside, this is really good and you should make it.

What you need to serve 6-8:

1 lb. Italian sausage ((you will find this in a tube-like thing by the bacon usually))
4 cups frozen hash-brown potatoes, thawed
4 oz. (1 cup) shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup fresh spinach
1/4 cup sliced marinated sun-dried tomatoes  ((you find these by the condiments, usually by the pickles))
4 oz. (1 cup) shredded mozzarella cheese
4 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/8 teaspoon Pepper
2 tablespoons shredded fresh Parmesan cheese

Before we move on, let me say that I ALWAYS double this.  Occasionally, I double it and put it into one large glass baking dish to make one monster one or you can make two smaller ones.  Up to you.

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a glass baking dish with cooking spray.  ((You can use whatever size dish you want.  I say go big or go out to brunch.))

Brown the sausage in a large pan on the stove over medium-high heat.  You are going to want to continually keep crumbling it so it is in small pieces.  Uncooked sausage is disgusting.  Sorry.  I occasionally have used turkey sausage which makes this lower in fat and no one has ever known the difference.  Brown it until it is ... well... BROWN.  Meaning get the pink out of it.  Take it off the heat and drain off the excess fat.  ((Don't put grease/fat down your disposal or sink.  Trust me, the Queen of Kitchen Sink Problems on this.  Put it into an empty margarine container or something like that and then throw it away.  Your pipes can't take it.))

Mix together in a medium bowl the thawed hash browns and the cheddar cheese.  Take HALF of that and put it in the bottom of the baking dish.  Layer the cooked sausage on top of that.  ((All of it.))  Then layer on your sliced up sun-dried tomatoes and your torn-up spinach ((you could use frozen spinach that has been thawed but for the love of God, just use the fresh stuff-- just wash it well.  Spinach tends to be dirty.))  Regarding the tomatoes, these come packed in oil.  Drain them and then put them on a paper towel and blot them to get the excess oil off.  Then put the rest of the potato and cheddar on top of that.  The final layer at this stage is all the mozzarella cheese.  I'm not going to judge you if you use more than a cup.

((At this point you should probably say, "Excuse me, Jules, but this "egg bake" has a disturbing lack of eggs." Under your breath you will probably say,  "This idiot should call it a cheese bake.  Potato bake.  Not-enough-eggs bake."  Yeah, well, hold on, we are getting there, smart-ass.))  In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, milk and salt and pepper.  It is not going to look like very much, it's okay.  Pour that over your layered concoction and try to do it evenly.  Cover with foil and bake for an hour.

After an hour, uncover and spread on the Parmesan.  I actually laughed when I saw it said two tablespoons.  I usually use a handful.  Put it back in the oven and bake it UNcovered for another 15 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean and the edges are brown and bubbly.  ((Keep in mind that if you doubled it in one pan it is going to take longer, but NOT double the time.  You just need to check it every 5 minutes if you double it.))  Let stand for 5 or so minutes before cutting and serving.  It would be pretty if you put some parsley on top, but let's face it, at this point you're starving.

You can also make this the night before, refrigerate it, and then bake it the following morning...  This keeps amazingly well and is definitely better the second day.


Let me say one thing about measurements with this kind of thing.  It really doesn't effing matter.  Use more cheese.  Use less.  Leave out the sausage.  Add more tomatoes.  Double the spinach.  Do whatever you feel like.  If you screw up and don't put the layers on in the listed order, who cares?  ((I did that...  I forgot to add the sausage and then put it on top of the second hash brown and cheese layer.))  It just doesn't matter.  Quit trying to be so damn perfect and just try something.  <---Might apply to the rest of your life outside the kitchen too.   #Endgrouptherapy.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mango-Banana Bread, Campaigning, and Artistry

Last night's fundraiser was a big success...  It was held at my dear friend Amery's art gallery and was made extra-entertaining because a number of the people who attended all worked on a painting together under Amery's guidance and then everyone then signed the back.  ((This is the point at which I got covered in paint.))  It will be a great reminder to the candidate of all the support of his wacky friends he has received.  The painting actually turned out really well ((thanks to Ames' instruction and perhaps a little of her fixing...))

Teaching is made easier with wine...

Lord, help this woman trying to paint!

Today I catered a Bachelorette Hangover Brunch.  Well, that's what I'm calling it!  Their menu was sun-dried tomato egg bake, spinach-strawberry-almond salad, fruit salad, coffee cake, and mango banana bread.  This was a little extra challenge because at least one of the attendees was vegan.  In googling and googling and googling, it was hard to come up with many vegan recipes, particularly for a brunch.  Well, let me restate that:  It was hard coming up with something that I could predict how it would turn out because a lot of the ingredients were not things I had used before.  I need to expand my horizons.  However, my friend Angie had made this recipe and gave it a huge thumbs up, so I went with it.

Very Vegan Mango Banana Bread

Original recipe from "Joy the Baker."

What you need for one 9x5 loaf:

3 medium or 2 large ripe bananas
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 ripe mango, sliced into chunks
granulated sugar for topping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

In a large mixing bowl, mash the bananas well by smashing them with the back of a wooden spoon. Add the sugar, oil, and vanilla extract, and whisk the hell out of it.
Sift in the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. ((I can hear you... WTF is "sifting?!"  Read this.))  Then use your wooden spoon to mix just until the wet and dry ingredients are combined.  You don't need to over-do this.  Then throw in the mango chunks and "fold" them in ((just move some of the batter around the mango.))

Put the batter in your loaf pan and sprinkle with extra sugar on top if you’d like.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. The top should be lightly browned and a knife inserted
through the center should come out clean, or with just a few crumbs.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes before transferring out of a pan and
onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Banana bread will last, wrapped at room temperature, for up to 5 days.  I prefer to keep it in the refrigerator and then nuke it ((my term for microwaving)) for 30 seconds prior to eating.

Good and good for you!
As promised, here's a pic of the cinnamon-swirl coffee cake discussed here.

Coffee-less Coffee Cake

Here are a few more pictures from last night.

 I just did a very simple cheese array with lots of beer and wine:

I set it up in front of her current major piece which you should totally buy:

Here are a couple of pictures with a few of my friends who attended because apparently I like posting pictures of myself.


So there you have it.  Happy Easter weekend...  I'm off to work out the details for a dinner I'm making tomorrow.  They want a Mexican Seafood Feast.  I'm all over that request!  Yum.