Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tomatogeddon ((Tomato Sauce)), Good Sides, and Previews

I'm taking another cop-out this evening.  Here's why:

1.  In the past 36 hours I have made 4 loaves of zucchini bread, 4 loaves of banana bread, 2 dozen apple muffins, 2 dozen corn flake muffins, 8 dozen peanut butter cookies, a rum cake, a coffee cake, a casserole, 500 dog treats, 2 pitchers of sangria, half a fruit salad, and made 25 lbs of tomatoes into sauce.  As of this moment, everything is packaged except the sauce which is still simmering on the stove and smells AMAZING.

2.  I did the filming today for the journalism project I was drafted for...  I gave them two rules: make sure the kitchen doesn't look dirty in the shots ((the floors are well, well-used in the kitchen area)) and get my good side assuming I have a good side.  It was definitely fun and I can't wait to see the finished product!  I suspect I was talking too fast in the interview portion though...

3.  I have like 25 people coming over here tomorrow and if you reference Point #1, you can imagine I have some cleaning up to do.  I think I may have to issue an ultimatum:  Do you people want brunch as promised or would you like me to vacuum?  That's what I thought.

4.  Speaking of food, here's tomorrow's menu: green chile breakfast enchiladas, the sun-dried egg bake referenced a couple of weeks ago, Mexican breakfast potatoes, coffee cake, and fruit salad with dip.  I've also restocked the bloody mary bar and have strawberry basil white wine sangria marinating.

Okay.  I really must get the sauce finished so it can cool enough to package prior to midnight.

25 lbs of romas.  And SOMEHOW that reduces to one stock pot.  Tragic.

Bake sale preview
Gotta run.  I will have something with some semblance of sense to add tomorrow.  Maybe.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Really. Don't bother reading this. Stream of consciousness at its best.

No time, nor energy for a real post today, but I will give you the following information in bullet point format that you may or may not find useful:

  • When a plumbing disaster breaks out in the kitchen sink in the midst of a bakeathon, just surrender and call the plumber immediately.  Do not wait, do not pass go, just call.
  • If the plumber has to snake the drain 3 times and keeps saying, "Wow, this is really plugged" and then does an actual happy dance when the drain finally clears with that weird sucking sound, don't be afraid.  He enjoys his work.  This is a good thing.  
  • Be aware that every disaster is also an opportunity:  The plumber's wife is an event planner and he left with a stack of my culinary business cards for her and a loaf of banana bread.  
  • If you have heard a nasty rumor that I am "lazy," those people are full of shit.  Today I made 8 loaves of zucchini and banana bread, 4 dozen apple oatmeal muffins, 8 dozen peanut butter cookies, 2 dozen corn flake muffins, and 5 lbs of organic dog treats which is probably over 800 individually cut out treats. I have stalled only because I have gone through 18 eggs and 10 lbs of flour AND the dog treats use a different type of flour.  There were also a series of kitchen dance parties, primarily to Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers.
  • The "more supportive" ((read: ugly)) shoes do not appear to be helping.  I finally resorted to moving my super squishy ((and overly expensive)) bath mat into the kitchen.  I need an opportunity to register for gifts so I can request one of those gel standing mat things.
  • If you are a moron and set out to make bran muffins and discover you do not in fact have bran, but have already started mixing stuff, corn flakes are a viable, but not preferable, replacement.
  • Practicing what you are making for a segment that is being filmed without swearing is not as easy as originally thought.  The cooking part is easy.  The not swearing?  Not so fucking much.  Shit.
  • Be careful when you send text messages that it is actually going to the correct recipient or you might find yourself trying to explain yourself and finally giving up and saying, "I have a totally reasonable, rational, and innocent explanation but you aren't going to believe me anyway so I'll just be a client and say, "These aren't my pants and the cops are lying."  ((Said text had nothing to do with either pants or police contact...))
  • It will scare the hell out of your family who all have the initials JBS that you have discovered that Julia Beth Steele also fits the profile.  ((My brothers are actually half-brothers and have a different last name.))
  •  Writing really disjointed posts is surprisingly liberating.  
  • Your mom went to college.
Okay, friends.  I give up for the evening.  I have to hit the ground running tomorrow to do the shopping for the cooking segment, make sure the house and myself are film presentable, figure out what the frack I am going to wear, shop for the Brunch and Trunk Show on Sunday, and oh good Lord, I can't think about it anymore.  

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sopapilla Cheesecake, Pronunciation Guides, and Time Outs

As I mentioned yesterday, last night I delivered dinner to a friend and for dessert, I made a sopapilla cheesecake.  I was googling around looking for unusual Mexican-style desserts and this practically jumped out of the screen at me from amidst eleventy billion recipes for flan.  This comes to us courtesy of

Sopapillas ((soap-a-pee-yas for you Gringos)) are fluffy pastries with cinnamon and sugar and that are typically drizzled with honey.  In this recipe, they are layered with a more traditional cheesecake.

I posted this picture on Facebook and it blew up with various levels of begging for the recipe or for me to deliver either a piece or an entire pan to their home/office/secret-away-from-the-kids-eating-place.

What you need:

3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 (8 ounce) cans crescent roll dough
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Preheat the oven to 350.

Using your mixer, combine the three packages of cream cheese ((I actually used the reduced-fat version which now seems vaguely ridiculous)), the sugar, and the vanilla.  Beat it until it is totally smooth, being sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl.

Lay out the crescent rolls on a piece of waxed paper.  Each tube contains a long sheet that you would normally divide into eight separate rolls, but instead, roll out the dough with a rolling pin to make it the same size as your pan.  ((I used a 9 x 13 glass dish.))  It's a little hard to work with because it is kind of sticky and it doesn't help that it was 82 degrees in my house when I was doing this, but I REFUSE to turn on the air until this weekend when we hit 100 degrees.  ((UGH.))  This isn't going to be perfect, it doesn't have to be.  Don't sweat it.  Repeat with the second tube of dough.

After spraying the dish with cooking spray, lay one of the rolled out crescent dough sheets in the bottom.  On top of that, spread all of the cream cheese/sugar/vanilla concoction.  Put the other layer of dough on top of that.

Pour the melted butter over the top of the whole works.

In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon and sugar.  Sprinkle this into the butter.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes until the dough is golden brown and fluffy.  Let it cool completely before cutting ((yeah, good luck with that.))  Keep the leftovers ((if you have any)) in the refrigerator, tightly covered.


I finally had to declare myself on hiatus for a couple of days.  I've been running around like a maniac and needed to call a time out!  I have a brunch and trunk show this Sunday at the house and let's just say, my cleaning lady?  She doesn't exist.  I also need to do a bunch of baking for that, get my vendors organized, hopefully make the sauce for canning if these effing tomatoes ever ripen up, and figure out the menu.  Add in that I am filming on Saturday for a cooking segment ((SQUEEE!!)) and I really needed a day or two to get prepared.  Now what the hell am I going to wear for Saturday?!  How am I going to keep myself from goddamn swearing?!  This may go straight to youtube.  I'm thinking it will be quite entertaining.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cheeky's Pear Pie, Dinners for Two, and Sensibility

Today was crazy jam-packed.  I feel like I say that, or at the very least think that, every day.  I think the pace I am keeping is catching up with me because my back is KILLING me.  My lower back in particular which I quite fabulously broke in gymnastics about a million years ago.  So, I decided I would finally be a grown-up, accept my lot in life, and *gasp* buy decent flats.  I reluctantly hauled myself to DSW, aka my one true home, turned my throbbing back on the stilettos which were crying out my name, and wandered up and down rows and rows of "sensible" shoes.  UGH.  It almost killed me.   I managed to get out of there with 4 pairs of shoes with a combined heel height of zero.  The experience was only redeemed when I approached the cashier with my expired rewards points and managed to convince her that I am in fact a very good customer and maybe just this once could they accept them?  She says, "You must be a good customer to have that much in reward certificates and wait...  You have an Elite Card?  We don't even issue those without a yearly sale total of REDACTED."  In other news, once I figure out how, you can find a gallery-worthy assortment of size 9 stilettos on eBay.  They all come with my own tears and love notes written to the shoes in the box.


You know what will dull my separation anxiety?  Cheeky's Pear Pie.  My friend D ((I'm using initials for people so they aren't google-able to this corner of weirdness)) has a little boy who fell in love with a pear cobbler I brought to their house.  He kept asking if he could have more pear pie and his nickname is Cheeky, sooooo, Cheeky's Pear Pie was born.  

Double Pear Pie
What you need for just one pie:

2 to 2 1/2 cups sliced fresh pears
2 cups sugar, divided
2 ounces butter
3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1 egg

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 325.  Take a square baking dish and put 2 ounces of butter in it.  Stick it in the oven and let it melt.  

Dice up the pears ((you don't need to peel them)) and place them in a small bowl with 1 cup of sugar.

I used fancy pears because I am fancy.

Mix together the dry ingredients, including the additional cup of sugar.  

Whisk together the milk and the egg and then slowly add them to the dry ingredient mixture to make a batter.  Don't over-mix.  


By now, the butter should be melted in the oven.  Take the pan from the oven and pour the batter on top of the melted butter.  DO NOT STIR.  Seriously, leave it alone.  I know it looks weird.  It's fine.

Don't stir me!

Pour the pears with the sugar on top and again, pay attention, DO NOT STIR.  It will look like this:

Unstirred and unshaken

Bake at 325 for 50-60 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  I swear to God, it turns out looking like picture number one.  The crust on this is absolutely glorious.  Serve with ice cream, preferably cinnamon ice cream if you know what's good.  

Serves probably 6 or 4 and one Cheeky.


Tonight I delivered a Mexican dinner for two, but it turns out that Person #2 was being ordained to officiate at a wedding or something really confusing like that, so I was invited to stay to eat.   It turned out really well...  Sopapilla cheesecake is my new drug of choice.  If you are nice, I might post the recipe tomorrow.  I recommend being nice.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Barbecue Chicken, Grilled Pineapple, and Fan Mail

Well, well, well...  Somehow, over 3,000 times, people have been silly enough to come back for more of my inane ramblings.  When I started playing around here, mainly as a cooking journal for myself, I never IMAGINED that anyone else other than maybe my mother and a stalker or two would care to read along.  So, you.  Yeah, you.  Thanks for playing!  ((I even got hate mail.  I was so excited!!  Um, don't send me hate mail though.  Send me massage gift certificates.  You can even tell me to go to hell on the card.  I don't care.))


Some times the best things are the simplest things.  After scaring everyone ((including myself)) with the bechamel yesterday, let's do something easy and accessible, shall we?  Barbecue chicken and pineapple on the grill.

I have been told on more than one occasion that people have trouble getting chicken to still be tender when they have grilled it; either it is totally dried out or not done or just kind of generally effed up.  There are a few little tricks that I use, but this is, as usual, totally unscientific.

First off, use decent chicken!  I personally buy Trader Joe's* organic/free range boneless/skinless chicken breasts.  They aren't pumped full of chemicals/hormones and have less "filler" ((typically water)) added to amp up the weight.  However, typically, you need to re-trim them to get some of the extra fat off, but that's no big deal.   ((*I have sadly most definitely not been compensated by TJ's for my endorsement.  But their people can contact my people--shit, I have no people--me to work out a very favorable agreement to me.))

Once you have cleaned up the chicken, stab it with a fork a few times all over so the marinade can soak in.  Throw it into a gallon baggie with a big squeeze of marinade.  I usually make my own, but some days are just not conducive to that, so let's cheat.  I like Lawry's Mesquite 30-Minute Marinade.  It smells smoky and like a bottle of yum.  I would probably drink it.  The Jack Daniels' marinades are quite good as well, but you will definitely think you should drink those, so just be forewarned.   Throw the baggie ((tightly sealed, please and thank you)) in the refrigerator for at least a half hour, but longer would be better.

Heat up your grill for about 5 minutes on BLAST <--a real setting.  This will burn off any leftover crap and make sure the actual grill part is good and hot.  Remove the chicken to a small plate and just this once take your brush and put some of the marinade from the bag over the chicken.  Seal up the bag and throw it away. I don't care how much is in there.  It's garbage.  It has raw chicken juice in it.

Put the chicken on the grill, still on blast, and flip it after 60 seconds.  In another 60 seconds, flip it again to the original side.  Now reduce the heat to medium and leave it alone.  Keep the cover closed and wander off for 4 minutes.  In 4 minutes, you can flip it again and let it go another 3-4 minutes.  You do not need to keep basting it and re-basting it.  It has plenty of the marinade already!  If you must, you can do it once after you flip it, but you had damn well better be using a different brush and marinade from a different, clean bowl.  But seriously, it isn't needed.  ((Obviously, the times may vary based on the size of your breasts -- had to, sorry -- and how medium your medium is on the grill.  I'm talking about a pretty standardized 6-8 ounce piece.  You should probably test it with a meat thermometer or at the very least, cut into the middle to assess doneness.))

Remove the chicken to a new, clean plate.  If you put it back on the plate you took it out on, you just dunked it in raw chicken juice.  Even if it looks clean and dry, that's just not good enough.  Seriously, quit doing that.  I'm rarely picky about things, but this, this is enough to get me all riled up.  ((Side note: that is striking me as funny because I have used a meat thermometer exactly four times in my life and here I am preaching about salmonella.  I'm a hypocrite.  Disregard.))

One other thing I like to do, which I, of course, discovered by accident, is put the pineapple slices on the rack directly above the chicken.  They both get done at about the same time ((assuming you use pretty thick slices)) and the pineapple juice drips down for a little extra something on the chicken.  More free deliciousness!


All right, I'm off.  I have a couple of minutes of work-work yet this afternoon ((which is feeling less like work-work now that it isn't really my work)) and then making The Best F*cking Chicken Ever, Parmesan risotto, and maybe roasted brussel sprouts for a dinner delivery this evening.    

Monday, April 16, 2012

Rigatoni with Bechamel and Proscuitto

One of the dishes I made for Saturday's party, I keep hearing about...  Rigatoni with Bechamel and Proscuitto, by Giada again.  A few moments ago, I was informed that one woman who had gotten some of the leftovers was on her second helping and contemplating just going and laying down in the pan.  I followed this recipe pretty closely because, well, I didn't really have a clue what I was doing.  I'm sure I sound like a rank amateur right now, but this scared the shit out of me.   BUT, if you can read directions, and follow them closely, you can totally pull this off.  I readily admit that I threw myself a little coronation when I managed to pull off the sauce on the first try, but just go slowly and you can do it.  

What you need:

1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces)
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 quart whole milk, at room temperature
Pinch fresh nutmeg
Sea salt and white pepper
1 cup grated fontina
1/2 pound thinly sliced prosciutto, julienned
1 pound dry rigatoni
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced

Remain calm:

Preheat the oven to 425.

Right now, go throw the fontina in the freezer so it is easier to grate.  ((Grating soft cheese is kind of annoying.  It gums up the grater, it gets stuck, and is a general pain in the ass.  Freezing it for about 15 minutes makes it a LOT easier.))  While that is cooling off a bit, julienne the proscuitto.  Proscuitto is, of course, the very thin, fancy ham.  ((That's the professional foodie definition.))  Separate the slices from the lining paper ((also frustrating)), pile it all together, and then cut through the pile with a very sharp knife in long, thin strips.  Repeatedly.  ((I nearly turned into a vegetarian during this process, I'm warning you.))  Pull all the little pieces apart.

Next, pull the fontina from the freezer and grate it, using a mandoline with a cheese blade if you value your skin.  Set it aside for the moment.

In a 2 quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Keep an eye on it, meaning don't wander off and do something else because if it turns brown, you have to start over.  A stick of butter is a terrible thing to waste.

I hope you are rested up, because this is about to get slightly aerobic.  Add the flour to the butter and whisk until it is totally smooth, about 2 minutes.   ((I was whisking the hell out of it to get it so it wasn't lumpy.))  While continually stirring, gradually add the room temperature milk and continue to whisk until the sauce is smooth and creamy.  ((I have no clue what being room temperature has to do with it, but it was stressed a couple of times so I'm copying it.  I have to admit, I got a little squeamish about having nearly warm milk sitting on the counter.  But I figured Giada has never killed anyone that we are aware of, so go with it.))  Simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, meaning when you pull a spoon through it, the back has a layer on it that doesn't run off immediately.   This will take approximately 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in the nutmeg, the grated fontina, and prosciutto and season with salt and white pepper. Set aside.

In a large pot, bring 6 quarts ((more or less)) of salted water to a boil. Add the rigatoni and cook for about 5 minutes. The pasta will be cooked a second time in the oven, so don't be concerned that is seems really not at all done.  Drain the pasta then return it to the pot and pour in the sauce. Using a wooden spoon, mix well until all the pasta is coated with the sauce.  ((Do I have to use a wooden spoon?  Yes.  Why?  I don't know, just do it.))

Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish and pour the the whole works in.   Smooth out top and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup fontina.  Scatter the additional butter that you diced on top and bake uncovered for 25 minutes or until it is bubbling and the top is golden brown.

This didn't photograph well, but trust me, it is rich and creamy and full of delicious.

Nutritional Info:  Seriously, don't ask.


Busy, busy week around here...  2 private dinners, meeting with a doctor who is interested in partnering up to use my services and knowledge of chronic pain, food allergies, and fitness nutrition to help her patients, perhaps cooking for a grand opening Friday ((it may have to be pushed back)), filming a segment on Saturday, and getting ready for the brunch and trunk show I'm hosting on Sunday which requires a whole bunch of cooking, baking, canning, and hopefully, cleaning so I don't just do what I do now which is to apologize to everyone who walks in for how the floors look.   I know.  It's crazy.   Don't worry.  I've got it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Italian Wedding Soup

The moment I commit to daily posting, I fall off the internet.  Oops.  I have a good excuse...  I did a dinner that was planned for 50 last night.  3 hours of shopping, 12 hours of cooking, 4 doubled pasta dishes, huge Caesar salads, antipasto salad, bruschetta, and Italian wedding soup-- CHECK.  I also successfully made Bechamel ((a cream sauce)) for the first time without having to throw it out, so--  DOUBLE CHECK.


The Italian wedding soup I made last night is actually a mash-up of two different recipes: the broth by the Barefoot Contessa and the meatballs by Giada.  The original recipes can be found on The Food Network's website, but here's what I did.

For the meatballs you need:
1 small onion, finely diced

  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic, about two garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup of bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 8 ounces ground beef
  • 8 ounces ground pork
  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • Ball them:
  • Start by beating the egg.  Add the onion, parsley, garlic, salt and bread crumbs and stir it around a little.

  • Drop in a half pound of ground beef and ground pork, the Parmesan, and the pepper, and prepare to get really messy.  Using your hands, knead the crap out of it until it is all uniform in appearance.  Yes, this is slightly unpleasant and pretty cold.  You will be happier if you take your rings off first.  Shape them into approximately one inch round balls.  They totally don't have to be perfect, so let it go.  

  • You have a couple of options of how to cook them.  That crazy Giada just cooks them in the soup itself.  However, given that there is ground pork in these, it is pretty fatty...  I thought that seemed like a bad idea.  I elected to throw them all in a crock pot on high for 6 hours.  ((I quadrupled this recipe.))  Once they were done, I drained a *significant* amount of fat off.  I later re-skimmed the soup a couple of times, so I can't imagine how fatty it would be without the initial draining.  

  • Another option would be to brown them in a large skillet on all sides and then finish them in the oven by baking for 25-30 minutes on a cookie sheet.  Your choice.  
Dimly lit meatballs
This isn't the way I typically make meatballs...  but it might be the new way I make meatballs.  Really, really good.

For the soup:
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 cup minced yellow onion
  • 1 cup diced carrots (3 carrots), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup diced celery (2 stalks), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 10 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 12 ounces escarole, washed and trimmed

  • To make the soup:
  • Heat the olive oil in a large pan and then add the onions, carrots, and celery and cook them until softened, about 8 minutes.  Give them a few stirs in the process just to make sure nothing is getting stuck.  Add your broth and wine and bring to a boil briefly.  Add the escarole ((which is I think a variety of lettuce)) and allow it to wilt.  Turn the heat down and let it simmer.  Add in the meatballs ((I hope you are using a really big soup pot, oops, shoulda mentioned that earlier)) and allow it to simmer as long as you want if your meatballs were previously cooked.  If you are cooking them in the soup, then add them after the broth and the wine and allow to cook for 8 minutes prior to adding the escarole.  

  • I let this simmer for several hours and it kept getting better and better.  Add salt and pepper as you think it needs it.  I did skim the top a few times to remove excess oil/fat.  

  • Next time I make this, I am going to use ground turkey.  It is much leaner and would avoid this skimming and draining issue.  
Here is the picture borrowed from Recipe Girl because due to the time of night this was finished, the pictures are not cute.  

  • *****
Okay, I need to run to grab some more dog food ((damn dogs both need to get jobs, now)), pick up the catering stuff from last night, and then get ready for an afternoon party I'm doing at 2.  Happy cooking! 


Let me add, Blogger is not cooperating with me today so if there are weird formatting issues, it is totally not my fault.  I fought with getting the pictures to place properly for far longer than reasonable or necessary.  ((Shakes fist at computer-y stuff.))