Thursday, December 29, 2011

Food is love.

I had started a holiday post regarding my Mom's always perfect bouillabaisse- it's about the only "holiday tradition" my family really has. It's the most requested meal she makes. It is heaven in bowl. I even included Alton Brown on the fun ...

He gets me every time.

But then the holidays hit and the blog took a (brief) break.

Be it a blessing, or a curse, my birthday falls the day after Christmas. My father's falls on the 28th. There is little break in the celebration gap that falls between the 25th and New Years Eve. The marathon eating ensued. And it all started on the 23rd.

I was under the impression that I would be consuming scorpion bowls on the 23rd with Allie and Casey. A nice double date before the holiday mayhem ensued. Much to my delight, those were not the plans. My crafty husband and my equally crafty tight circle of friends devised a surprise party in my honor. To say I was surprised would be to understate my bewilderment. I never saw it coming. I was flattered and touched. I even teared up. The real brains behind the operation were my Clean Plate Cook Book Club cohorts- Allie and Hannah.

And the spread was beautiful!


It was a wonderful start to the deluge of celebration that lasted the entire holiday week. Mark and I spend most of the holiday with his side of the family. First Grammy and Grampy's house, then off to Reggie and Cecile's. Every house was full of family and amazing food. It was such a joyful Christmas Eve!

That evening my sisters and our significant others met up at my folk's house for the first of our newest tradition. We spent the night there ... I woke up first and made some coffee and Mom followed closely after. Little by little the whole family made their way to the living room. Melody made brioche sweet rolls. Mom had her spin on meat pie waiting in the oven. A few short hours later we had to part ways, but we all agreed that our new tradition was solidified. 

Monday was a lot of fun. We did a laundry run, played some of the new Legend of Zelda game, had a few friends over in the evening ... I threw together some pizzas to feed the large group and by 6:30 everyone was gone! A birthday well spent, if you ask me.

My Dad's birthday is the 28th- Melody and Matt hosted a birthday meal at their new house. I brought garlic mashed potatoes as my offering. Matt made a spiral ham and Mom brought a delicious, fresh cole slaw (no mayo in this one). Our family friends Sue and Pete came along, too. They brought a huge tray of mac 'n cheese. All of this and a delightful antipasto and shrimp cocktail to start? We rolled out the door to go home.

Before we knew it, New Years Eve arrived. Mark and I spent some time with our cousins Brian and Melissa and their son Evan- a NYE tradition for sure. Hannah and Josh hosted us for dinner that night- an amazing vegetable stew that used Coca Cola to temper the tomatoes in its base with a corn bread/Johnny cake along side. Prosecco and St. Germaine was the toast of choice. 

Mark and I rung in the new year at home by ourselves. We were in bed shortly after, grateful for a beautiful 2011 and looking forward to the love and excitement of 2012.

And here we are ... the year is off to a great start. Great meals, walks in the woods, games in the evening. Our lives are full and blessed. January is a busy month for me. The first big event falls this coming Saturday- a 70th birthday party with 70 guests ... poetic, isn't it? Our dear friend Deb is the mastermind behind all of this and working with her to make this party amazing has been satisfying and exhilarating. Mark will be coming along to photograph the whole event. I can't wait to show all of you the photos!

And in other news, I just gave the green light to print our Forever Feasting T-shirts! Check them out:

The photo is small, but the impact is there, yeah? I'm so excited! It's all coming together ... slowly but surely!

I'll keep you updated. Thanks for waiting over a week for a new update. It's been fun, but balanced with a serious cold. No worries, health is on the way, as is a beautiful future!

I hope your new year is off to a magical start. I'd love to hear all about your favorite holiday meals- please share in the comments section!

Happy 2012, everyone!

Monday, December 19, 2011


Behold. The Le Creuset Tagine (or Tajine).

A gift. Of course. From Hannah- who has maintained her Le Creuset connections up until the end of this year. Bless her heart and foresight. This was my birthday gift, given prematurely in expectation that it would come in handy over the holidays. And it certainly has already.

For a bit of background ... according to these folks ...

"Traditionally the tajine was used by nomads in north Africa as portable ovens for making stews over charcoal fires. It would sit above an open fire and meats and vegetables or fruit would be cooked slowly over a very low heat."

Well said. My first foray into tajine cooking needed to be vegetarian (for our guest of honor didn't eat the meats). Another helpful tool I picked up this weekend helped me out big time:

photo courtesy of gizmodo

The application. This thing is brilliant. Reference hundreds of recipes, save your favorites, create shopping lists from the recipes you want to use .. this thing is money. So, I found a potato based tagine recipe that called for lots of spices, some lemon, olives, a whole lot of goodness. It slow cooked on the stove top for a few hours and I ladled it over whole wheat couscous. It was one of those nights that made dinner hit the table a bit late, but when we did eat everyone was satisfied. I'm a tagine believer.

A few other recipes that knocked my socks off this weekend? A regular of mine that I never sick of: Herb Biscuits. It's a traditional biscuit recipe, but added to the flour, baking soda, baking powder, butter milk, and butter I threw in some dry ground mustard, thyme and some celery seed. Savory and crumbly, they went great with some over-easy eggs and a hot cup of coffee. SO good! 

And then there was Sunday night dinner. Mom and Dad were out of town, our roommates were watching football at a friend's house, my other sister and her fiance were spending their night preparing for the holiday. I was still planning on a big meal, so we invited some friends over for Southwest Burgers (which I kinda just threw together from what I had in the fridge). I added a chipotle spice blend to some grass fed ground beef and a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce (I add a bit of that to just about every ground beef dish I make- a nice secret ingredient for you that's no secret anymore!). I hand formed the burgers and seared them in a grill pan. I topped them with sauteed mushrooms, onions and jalapenos, then a mixture of cheddar and gruyere cheeses. I broiled them before placing them on sandwich sized scallion focaccias. The condiment of choice was barbecue sauce. If I can say so, they turned out pretty awesome. It had been a while since I had eaten a burger and this recipe helped me use up a handful of veggies I needed to use, as well as the bread. Success, I must say.

This week will be a crazy busy one. Lots of meetings for some new gigs I'm nailing down. Lots of prep for the holidays, seeing family members that we haven't spent time with in months ... The holidays fly by every year. I wish I had a remote control for life sometimes, just so I could hit the pause button when I wanted to. I like to revel in those times when we're all sitting around the table, smiles on everyone's faces, good food on every plate. It is a sight to behold. One that I wish I could linger in just a bit longer than fate or time allows.

I guess if I could live in those moments all the time, they probably wouldn't feel as special when they came around. Such is the gift of the holidays. It's the gift I'm most looking forward to.

I hope all of you enjoy a beautiful holiday season. I know I will. xo

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Testing ... testing ... taste testing.

ServSafe. ::sigh:: What an interesting venture that was. I did as the instructions said, "Read the entire book before you come to class." It was good advice. The whole 6 hours of instruction were meager review for the 13 chapters I forced my way through over the previous week. I'll get my results just after Christmas. I have a good feeling about my score, but I would hate to jinx myself by being overly cocky (which I certainly can be on occasion).

So, seven hours later I was sitting in the Market Basket parking lot thinking to myself, "What the hell am I going to make for dinner?" Mark had requested baked fish. Haddock or something. Normally I'm all about fish baked in butter and Ritz crackers, but I wanted something a bit healthier ... Maybe with a Caribbean flair.

Enter ... the smart phone. I love that damn thing. A little Google and- WAM! Cuban style baked whole fish ... which I altered. I always do that- not out of desire, but out of need. I don't have Spanish style olive oil. And I'm not buying any. Not until a client needs some. For my own purposes? Forget it. Money is tight. Basic olive oil is the only one that makes the cut.

So, there was some wild caught Cod available, which I nestled in a roasting pan on top of some sauteed onions and peppers with a few bay leaves, smothered the fish in a garlic, oregano and salt paste, then drizzled with a mix of tomato puree and white wine vinegar. I threw a few more onions and peppers on top, poured some white wine on there, then in the oven at 375 until it flaked when I stuck a fork in it. [Such a run-on sentence.] The whole thing came out SO GOOD!

I paired that with some wild rice that I threw a lime vinaigrette on. I also made an easy cabbage slaw with red onions, olive oil, white wine vinegar and an awesome salt and herb mix that Hannah got me as a gift not too long ago. Easy meal. Crazy delicious.

My friends Jeff and Darlene joined us for dinner. What an amazing time we had. Gracious friends, lots of laughter, lots of wine (and Baileys!). It was wonderful to have them over, spend some quality time. It feels like the whole lot of us are in a period of transition. Scary as that is, it's also exciting. The world, it seems, is our oyster. And who doesn't like oysters?! I'm a huge fan.

The weekend is almost here and I'm going to be making a few solid meals for friends. Nicole is visiting from Massachusetts- she just nailed a job as an architect for a new firm in Boston. Her designs are brilliant and this is clearly the beginning of a bright and lucrative future for her. We will celebrate her new venture. Ed will be coming over early on Saturday for breakfast. He's finished his most recent semester at my alma mater (New England College), the pursuit of which has been very successful for him. He requested any dish that involves eggs. Okay, Ed. Game on.

As the new year approaches I've been thinking about how I want to feel at the end of 2012. Hopefully I will still be doing this; updating you on my business ventures and sharing the work I love to do. I'm hoping for more clients. To breathe a sigh of relief, that all of the talk and all of the work paid off. I have a good feeling, but life is what happens while you're making plans... the best I can do is plan for anything to happen at any time. Ha! Good luck with that, right?

At least we can eat well while we wait for the universe to make its next move. Okay, powers-that-be.

Game on.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Shooting for the (blue) stars

Big gig on Saturday. A full day of cooking for a crowd- a room full of people who were made aware of the menu ahead of time. Curious foodies with amazing kitchens, who watch Hell's Kitchen, subscribe to Cooks Illustrated, have opulent dinner parties, and know food well. I was intimidated, to say the least, as I drove to Lebanon. My purpose was not only to feed some very food aware people, but to use a specific oven range to do all of my cooking: Blue Star. I will admit, it was the best range I have ever had the pleasure of using. That gave me some confidence, but I was in plain site of everyone who would be eating what I made. They asked a lot of questions and they were simply delightful. Bob Gerlack, the owner, may be one of the few people I know who's passion for food rivals my own. We shared recipes all day. A better situation could not have been created by my own hands.

All of this wouldn't have been possible without the help of my friend Katie Farrell. Katie designs kitchens and bathrooms and she excels at this. She also recently turned 30 and I had the pleasure of catering her shin-dig. After that day-long fete, Katie had been gracious in sharing the news of my talents with her co-workers and clients. It wasn't long before Bob called me, curious if I was free to do a customer brunch at their location. I jumped at the chance. We had a great seasonal menu with varied tastes for all palates:

Apple Stuffed French Toast

I made the French toast with cinnamon raisin bread. The egg mixture had some light cream, cinnamon and nutmeg in it. I put them on the griddle and when finished, layered them with the next two elements.

I sauteed some McIntosh apples in unsalted butter and cinnamon. Simple. 

For the syrup, I went super sweet. Equal parts corn syrup (not *high fructose* corn syrup) and brown sugar. Then I added some chopped pecans. Once it hit temperature, I poured it over the toast. Then a layer of apple, then more toast, then more syrup, etc. This was a huge hit and the layers made for a very pretty presentation. Be sure to keep this offering warm, or the syrup might turn to candy!

Sweet Potato and Turkey Hash

I love this combination. So simple, but so delicious! I diced some onion and garlic and sauteed that in just a bit of unsalted butter. Then I added cubed sweet potatoes and let them sit and steam themselves for a while. when they were getting close to soft, I threw some turkey breast on the griddle seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic. When it was just about done, I chopped it up and threw it in to the potatoes and let the two make friends for a few minutes. This dish went the fastest and I wasn't too surprised by that.

Pumpkin Bisque

I love pumpkin bisque and it seems like everywhere I get a chance to have some the end result is drastically different than any other I've tried. The formula, however, can be really simple. Some onion and chicken stock, pureed pumpkin and heavy cream. Cinnamon and nutmeg add another level of flavor. For added effect, I mixed up some creme fraiche with more cinnamon and a table spoon of brown sugar. So easy, but so fun to make and even more fun to eat.

Mini Cannolis

My little cheat with these is that I buy the mini shells. I could make them, but they're so labor intensive. Instead, I make the filling- that's the best part, anyway. Ricotta cheese, I add mascarpone cheese, confectioners sugar, some vanilla, and BANG! Filling. I like adding some cocoa powder to a separate batch for a nice chocolaty option. I dumped the filling into two gallon plastic bags so I could pipe it into the shells. These are fun to scarf down with a group of people. They carry well and mean minimal mess- kind of important in a kitchen show room. 

We had Mexican food when I got home. We had some friends over, Allie made chorizo nachos, for which she *made* her own blue corn tortilla chips, and Hanna made a phenomenal maple cake that I couldn't stop eating. My darling husband did the cooking on our behalf and knocked some grass-fed beef quesadillas right out of the park. All of that coupled with LOTS of champagne? That's a great Saturday night. 

It's a beautiful life. I'm thrilled for all of this to really get rolling. Need a chef? Don't hesitate to reach out to me. I love what I do and I love to share it. Great food is meant to be shared.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Little Shoe

photo from the Houston Press

Anthony Bourdain. I'd be remiss if I didn't at least say something about him. Just this once. I've spent a lot of time watching this guy complain about globe trotting for a living- eating lavish meals at elBulli or weaving in and out of street food vendors in South East Asia. I wouldn't want his job. It's a lot of flying and being away from your family, staying in hotels (or motels, I don't know what their budget looks like). Anthony lets his viewers know, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn't always like what he's doing. And in that spirit I understand why American foodies love the guy. He talks like us, eats like us, drinks like us. And if he's uncomfortable, he tells us. I have yet to watch a cook that can complain as well as Bourdain. I like that. At first I found it annoying, but then I thought about the person I would be if I had his job. I'm glad I don't. Traveling is lonely. I've traveled for work. Even with a camera in your face and your meals paid for, it isn't traveling for pleasure. I would bitch a lot, too.

Why does Bourdain come up today? Hannah and I spent a fair amount of time watching his new show ("The Layover") last night. We ooh-ed and ahh-ed over his cynicism. We laughed at the cocky chefs he shared meals with. We admired the food he got to try- the endless amounts of pork he swallowed. Bourdain carries a torch for the armchair chef. He allows us, for a time, to feel like we know exactly what he's talking about. Like we're the ones smoking a cigarette alongside him, staring out over the vast expanse of some exotic landscape while his gritty narration floats over our heads. It's a nice escape. It's food porn at its low-fi best. And I have to watch it when it's on. I can't help myself.

Fun note, I was reminded that Scarpetta means "Little Shoe" in Italian, and is the action of mopping up your plate with a piece of bread. I am a serial scarpettan.

And for dinner last night, I came up with a sweet little dish that satisfied everyone at the table. I'm not sure what to call it. It's like steak and eggs. With cheese. And bread. I'll create a name out of that somehow. Anyways, here's what went down:

Cheesy goodness.

I made a few loaves of sourdough bread yesterday. I like to do that a couple times a week. Fresh bread goes a long way in our house. I took one of the loaves and cut it in half and dug out the insides. I had some left-over beef roast that I cubed up, then I added some Gruyere and Parmesan, some thyme, a few eggs mixed with a splash of milk, salt and pepper. I mixed it all together with the insides and poured all of that back into the bread shell and sprinkled some more cheese on top. Baked it at 350 until the egg was done, then broiled it a bit to make the top golden brown. Man alive- it was SO good! I paired it with a baby greens salad with some shaved carrot, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Oh, and a frosty pint of Highlife. 

The other half of the bread I did pizza style and used up some chicken that needed to get eaten. Tasty, but not as good as its counterpart. It was a good food night, for sure. It's no street food from Singapore, but it works for me. I don't need to eat the native dish of Fiji. I want to eat the food that comes out of my fridge. I want to my own native food. I'm satisfied with the food I can create and I'm happy to watch others get thrown around the planet. I'll live vicariously through them.


Eat well, ya'll. Love. xo

Monday, December 5, 2011

May every day be a feast

I've spent most of my day letting various home professionals into our mechanical room. Propane specialists, water tank installers. It's put a slight kink in the way I normally operate on a Monday morning. Our current visitor won't be done working until 2, so I've been biding my time with ServSafe studying, playing with Bear and making a few loaves of bread. For having so much energy, Bear has really been great about waiting for a run. I can't say I've been as good- slightly annoyed, for sure.

We had a great family weekend, which I'm sorry to see end so quickly. My sister Melody found her wedding dress, we had a full house for Sunday family dinner at my folk's place, and we celebrated Grammy's 80th birthday. It was my mother-in-law's idea to throw a dinner party for Grammy. She's had a really long year and we all agreed she needed a day to be waited on. We had a great menu:

This is a Bon Appetite recipe that I will do differently next time. I already altered the recipe as I found it to make it a bit easier on myself. I omitted some ingredients and added others. All in all, I'd say it came out alright.

It tasted a lot better than it looks. I swear.

Appetizers were bacon wrapped scallops and chicken livers. Livers are rare for me, but I was happy for the change. Bacon makes everything taste awesome and liver is no exception.

After that came a family favorite: Beet and Red Potato Salad. It's the easiest thing in the world to make.

Peel and cut a few roasted beets (they take about 40 minutes or more to roast, with a brush of oil on them).
Cut and boil some red potatoes, so they are good for biting, but not so mushy they fall apart.
Mix together with some olive oil, cracked black pepper and a heaping helping of Gorgonzola cheese. It's a perfect mix. Sweet beets with salty, tangy cheese ... a little starch and that's a meal in itself!

I also roasted some squash and did a basic greens salad (dressed with lemon juice and olive oil and shaved Parmesan). My bread came out horrible. Not enough rise; I rushed it in order to get to Grammy's on time. Small sacrifice, I guess. I had made the mistake of going out the night before and sleeping in an hour later than I had intended the next morning. I was scrambling the entire day. It was well worth it, though. I got to hang out with my Cook Book Club gals, Allie and Hannah. When we get together there's always a little too much food and a little too much wine. The result is a lot of fun. They keep me on my toes and make me want to be a better cook.

Dessert was a home-made trifle. I had every intention of making the chocolate cake for it from scratch, but I'm glad I didn't. I took Devil's Food Cake and layered it with home-made vanilla whipped cream and Grammy's chocolate pudding recipe. I threw in some chocolate chips for a little flair. I think the whole thing turned out alright. More like a chocolaty bread pudding, but scrumptious for sure.

Despite the hurried frenzy on my end, dinner was enjoyed. Would I have done some things differently if I had the chance? Of course. I was glad for the practice run with family. These valuable meals that celebrate the ones we love are crucial to our well being. I was so happy to help provide some great memories that we can all share. That's really what this whole venture is all about. I want everyone to get to feel like that.

So, the week is starting off sluggish, but it's bound to pick up. I have a big gig on Saturday, thanks to my friend Katie and her being a huge cheerleader of mine. Glad I have that gal in my corner.

I hope all of your have a fantastic week. Hang in there- the weekend will be here before you know it! 


Monday, November 28, 2011

More with less.

There's a mantra for you. One that I have been contending with for several years now. During that time, though it has become cliche, it has also come to define how I'm forced to operate.

Right down to left-overs.

Starting my own personal chef service hasn't come easy- especially from a financial standpoint. Taking the time off to devote all of my focus to my passions has been invigorating, but financially risky. Mark and I are planners and all of this didn't come without lots of open-hearted conversation, but the fact of the matter is I'm not making the money I used to. It is what it is. Grocery shopping is always a fun adventure for me. It's a hunt for great ingredients. It's research and desire rolled into one. These days I can't indulge in ways I have previously. The meals that I make have to make it a long way. I must say I've done a somewhat decent job of giving meals longevity at our table.

I made a great batch of beef stew a few days ago that had some left-overs in it; vegetables from a batch of sweet pork ribs. Once the stew was mostly gobbled, what was left in the fridge got turned into a sloppy-joe like sandwich. I added fresh cabbage slaw for crunch, some cheddar and red onion for flavor and texture. Man alive, that was a satisfying supper.

Turkey proves to have even more longevity. Soups, casseroles, sandwiches, tacos, omellettes; poultry has what it takes to go the extra mile. Thank goodness we've had such an abundance of it due to the recent holiday.

Caramelized onions go a long way in our house, too. Any bit that's left over after making a flat bread waits for its next incarnation, be it soups and stews or eggs in the morning.

Of course, in order to re-invent your left overs you need to still add to them. A well stocked pantry is the key to this. Rice, flour, sugar, vinegars, salts and spices, pastas, canned vegetables and beans. Having some healthy and easy to add ingredients at your command makes all the difference. There are also some great publications out there that take all the guess work out of what to do with what's left. Here's a great list, many of them available on the web.

Every Day with Rachel Ray Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a huge Food Network fanatic, but this woman's revamp of her famous publication made my eyes bug out. Hundreds of recipes in every issue. Literally  Hundreds. If you're always at a loss for what to make, check out this wealth of information. Rach has a great track record for giving you ideas on what to do with all those left overs. May nothing go to waste!

Bon Appetit Magazine Yeah, kind of a no-brainer there. You want to find a classic and satisfying dish? The bon is a go-to in my house. Impressive set-ups for folks who just LOVE to cook (and impress). I'm not sure how well the new editor is doing with keeping up with old statues, but there used to be some great monthly menus available, complete with left-over recipes as well. If you're familiar with this site, good. If not, just take the time to browse. Great site. Wealth of information. Worth bookmarking.

The Flavor Bible This is a link to Amazon, though I know it's available just about everywhere, including (a favorite site of mine for impulsive book buying on the cheap). This book was recommended to me by the executive pastry chef at the Bedford Village Inn. Davide (pronounced Dah-vi-day) swore by it and from a quick review of his work I knew that any endorsement this man would give was well worth paying attention to. I also highly recommend the BVI. I had the privilege of working in their kitchen once and I learned a great deal! A wonderful group of committed staff, a pristine kitchen, a top notch eatery.

That's all for now, folks. I have a ton of work to do. Right now I'm studying for my ServeSafe exam- it isn't mandatory that I complete a ServeSafe course, but I feel it is essential to giving my clients confidence in my operation. After that, more marketing materials to work through and insurance to quote out.

Funny, it seems that while I was working with less I ended up getting so much more than I ever expected.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Oh man, it's a giddy thing.

I am officially unemployed. Completely jobless. Except, that is, for finally focusing full bore on the future I've been planning for years now. There is a freedom in not having someone to answer to besides yourself. I would like to live an existence like that. One where I dictate the outcomes. Where I do not fear that someone else is weighing my worth (outside of my clients). So, as of this past Wednesday, I am without a steady paycheck. Time to put my money where my mouth is.

Funny all of this strange change happens the week before Thanksgiving. My whole family is viewing what we are grateful for from a different perspective lately. I have no doubt this is a cultural phenomena and not limited to just my social sphere.We are not giving gifts en masse this year. Just one gift to one couple; like Secret Santa/White Elephant, only less conspiracy. And with this we are content- no, we're relieved. Our true holiday will surround all of us sharing a meal together- a few meals, even ... Grateful for the fact that we can celebrate all the countless meals we've had together. That we can look into each other's faces and thank God for each and every person at that table. And those that couldn't make it to our table, but remain in our thoughts.

I am grateful for my family. For my incredible husband. For my delightful friends. For opportunity; the fact that it still knocks for me every once in a while. That I do not struggle for shelter, water, food, or education. Such a beautiful life that swirls around me. I am so deeply blessed. Thank you for your part in that. Because you are a part of a beautiful reality- whether you believe me or not.

So in the nature of Thanksgiving I've recently helped my former employer host their third annual "Thanksgiving Gobble Cook-off". The whole company gets into it. Normally turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes are provided by an outside source. Harts Turkey Farm usually held the torch for us, but this year they decided to close their Manchester location for repairs the week before Thanksgiving. Poor planning? Maybe. Diabolical scheme to make their regulars anxious for turkey feast upon their return? Possibly. I can't be sure what their thinking was, but it worked in my favor. Audrey asked me if I wanted to bring the Thanksgiving haul to Goffstown and I agreed without hesitation. Turkey can be very easy if you let it. It's a basic formula, one that holds true for all poultry:

Bake on 350 for 20 minutes for each pound ...

My equation went like this: 17.97 lbs. x 20 minutes = 359.4 minutes / 60 minutes makes an hour = 5.99 hours. I rounded up to 6.

I put the turkey in the oven at 5 am to get to the office on time. And it came out GREAT! I was so happy with it! I wanted to brine it, but the well water where we live isn't all that awesome. In the mean time, we're using store bought jugs. I couldn't justify using two gallons of potable water for a brine solution. SO, I salted the bird and let it sit in the fridge overnight. The next day I did a compound butter of thyme, rosemary, sage, garlic, salt, and pepper. I rubbed the entire bird, top to bottom, under and over the skin. The result was a golden skin, flavor through out and a highly concentrated gravy that had some powerful flavor to it! Also, lots of butter fat. Delicious!! I was so happy with the results.

My family time during the holidays is split, so we're celebrating with Mark's family on Thursday and with my family on Saturday, heading up to our house at Pike Pond after Thursday's feast is done. A nice long weekend celebrating my entire family. I am so pleased! Especially since we have a new family member in the mix!

I'll explain.

On Saturday, Mark and I helped my sister Melody and her fiance Matt move into their beautiful new home in Candia. It's historic and fully restored, just a wonderful place. We're very happy for them. We spent all day helping them set up camp, but in the back of my head I remembered that there was an adoptable dog meet and greet at Pet Smart in Concord from 12 to 3. We didn't leave Candia until 2. I was sure we had missed our window to meet a dog. We got to Pet Smart at 2:45. There, lying at the feet of one of the volunteers, was a little black dog that was clearly exhausted from meeting so many new people and animals. He was all that was left. A lonely little Shepherd cross named Black Bear. I believe it was fate that he was brought to the meet and greet as the only older dog among two litters of brand new puppies. Puppies always get all the attention.

Happy Dogs of New England was the volunteer foster group that brought Bear that day. What a wonderful group of women. Informative and eager for us to give Bear a try. We walked him around and I watched him interact with children, adults, other dogs. When I say he's LAID BACK, I mean to do so in all-caps. And he had such a sweet face! Who wouldn't love this little dog? It didn't take Mark and I to figure out that he was meant to be ours. 48 pounds and from Tupelo, Mississippi- our friend Casey says he must have a musical soul if he hails from there.

We've had the little guy for two days now. He is afraid of cars, doesn't like riding in them or hearing them start, but beyond that he's perfect. We start obedience training at No Monkey Business Dog Training in January. In the mean time I'm doing my best to train him on my own, between chapters in my personal chef studies.

What a wonderful holiday season we are coming in to. Our family is blessed beyond belief. It is my hope that I can pass along some joy to others ... to give out infections/contagious grins that fall from ear to ear.

I wish you the happiest of Thanksgivings. As I say this, I wonder what you're thankful for? I know all the usual hallmarks of such a question, but what is it about this year that stands out for you? Would you mind sharing?

Signing off for now, forever thankful, forever feasting. xoxo

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Brown Butter

I spent the bulk of my day going through my chef studies. The bug has taken hold. I blew through the first chapter with ease ... now on to regulations, insurances- the scary stuff! This whole venture is new, but thrilling to say the least. In the end I'll be able to nurture bodies and minds for a living.

Doesn't that sound fulfilling? I'm beside myself with excitement. I made sourdough bread ... two loaves- my first baking endeavor in the new house. I want to plug King Arthur Flour for a second ...

During the move, I broke the cap to my sourdough crock that I keep in the fridge. It happened in the car-port as I was trying to juggle too many things (there's a metaphor in there, I'm sure of it), the cap slipped off the crock and smashed into pieces at my feet. There was no one else around to see it and share in my displeasure, so I just stared at it for a minute. What a horrible turn of events! My crock went into the fridge with an omelette pan as a cap. This just wouldn't do. So I wrote to the fine customer service folks over at King Arthur and explained my dilemma. Did they have a spare cap I could buy from them?

No, they don't sell caps separately, but they do get them in the mail from time to time from people who have received broken sets in the mail. MaryJane double checked with the warehouse. Melanie let me know that they did have one and put it in the mail for me right away. Both ladies were quick with responses and so delightful! My new crock top is on its way at no cost to me. King Arthur has a customer for life.

That said, there is more baking in my immediate future. Grampy's birthday is on Saturday and from what I've learned he has one mighty sweet tooth. Mark proposed we make him a batch of cookies as a gift and I couldn't agree more. Nothing says love more than food created with the individual in mind.

Recently I stumbled upon a concept that's fairly new to me... browned butter chocolate chip cookies. I could taste them before I even started making them! Warm, gooey, nutty, sweet ... I could get used to the birthday cookie concept. I found this recipe via ... One of those "food porn" sites that leave you drooling over your keyboard. It was this photo of scrumptious stacked cookies that gave me hunger pangs.

Isn't that just lovely?! Clicking that photo brought me to this great blogspot blog: The Little Red House. I felt even more encouraged to cook. I loved the writer's cadence. What's not to love about someone who professes to be grateful for cookies? Me too, sister. Me too.

With all the moving we've done recently and the need to cap out at my folk's house, I haven't been cooking much at all. My body and mind have both felt the change ... Creating a meal is something I thrive on. I enjoy being cooked for (especially when it's my mother doing the cooking), but a little creative, nutritious release is something I crave on a regular basis. With this being just my fourth day in the new house, the first of which the kitchen has been equipped enough for me to cook, it was about time I got to it already!

For our first "community" dinner in the house, Melissa took the lead. Chicken meatballs and Fra Diavolo sauce (thank you to the late Paul Newman for that one), over spaghetti squash. Mark and I have always been fans of spaghetti squash instead of pasta when we're looking to eat easy. It's way faster than making spaghetti from scratch! We paired it up with one of the sourdough loaves I made while studying today. A few cookies for dessert to go with a Kona Brewing Company Pipeline Porter? Heaven, my friends. Pure heaven. Melissa did a great job with the chicken balls. Very proud of her culinary efforts.

I'm pretty transparent. I'm excited about the new house. I'm excited about my roommates. I'm very happy with how life is panning out these days. Thanks so much for reading.

Before I sign off for today I want to mention that tomorrow is Veteran's Day. I want to thank our service men and women for making the ultimate sacrifice. I want to thank their families for enduring separations and losses- your sacrifice is greater than I have ever given my country. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I wish I could invite all of you to dinner.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rally 'round the table

I've said it before- and I'm happy to say it again- family meals make all the difference.

I've been stagnant on updates for the past few days for good reasons. Mark and I have moved out of our apartment in Concord to a new house in Bow that we've been renovating with my family for the past few months. We consolidated our belongings over the course of several weeks and heaved all of our stuff into a pile in the new house. It isn't quite finished yet, so we're crashing at my folks house while the final touches are done. I haven't lived with my parents in years, but I'm happy to be there for a little while. I'm blessed to have a great relationship with both of my parents, as does my husband.

Saturday night was our first stay over- we had just finished moving out of our apartment and were exhausted that evening as snow fell all around us. We had no idea how much was to fall- a record 18" (we think more) on October 28th ... such a strange way for Autumn to come to a complete end! The following morning my siblings poured into the house, partners and roommates in tow, to huddle around the fireplace and take hot showers. Much of the state is still being plagued with power outages as I write this. To my friends living off of generators or camping out with friends and neighbors, I wish you good luck and God speed.

That night my mother made the swarm of us a delicious meal- comfort food at its healthy best. It's something she's done thousands of times before and never bats an eye at the task. Feeding ten hungry adults is no small feat, yet it is something my mother does with great joy and pride. This time it was a chicken dish:

Theresa's Welcome-Home Chicken:


Assorted chicken thighs and legs, skin on, bone in (figure two per person)
Flour, salt, pepper and garlic powder to coat chicken
Olive oil ... a few table spoons
Chicken broth to cover
A few heads of broccoli, the amount is your call
Sliced Crimini mushrooms, the amount is your call
Spices to taste- garlic (diced cloves), salt, pepper, etc.

What I love about my mother's cooking is that there's no map. She has a craving for something and makes exactly the flavors she desires out of whatever is in her fridge. This recipe follows that methodology. I'm also guessing at her ingredient list. From what I saw and could decipher while I ate, this is how the magic happened.

Start by heating the olive oil a large skillet, then coating the chicken in your flour mixture and browning it on all sides. When browned, place in dutch oven or roasting pan to rest. All those brown bits at the bottom of the pan? You want those. Add a bit more olive oil, bring it to temperature and add your mushrooms and broccoli for a quick toss or two- then add a bit of the chicken stock and scrape up the brown bits. Dump all of that delicious right on top of your chicken and add a bit more stock (til everything is just shy of covered) so the whole mess can braise in the oven. I would throw it in at 400 degrees for an hour or two, until the meat falls off the bone when provoked.

[Note, if you want a thicker end result, try adding a bit of roux or a bit of corn starch slurry to coagulate the lot.]

Ladle your end result over garlic mashed potatoes and pair with a fresh green salad and some whole grain bread or rolls. Everyone will want seconds. We certainly did.

As a grand finale to the meal, my sisters and I devised home-made cannolis. We weren't ambitious enough to make the shells- we bought those- but we certainly made some amazing filling!

Three Sisters Cannolis (Two ways)

1 cup Ricotta cheese
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
3 Tbs. confectioners sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract (if you have real vanilla beans, use that!)

Mix the cheeses first, then add sugar to taste- you might not need that much. Then add your vanilla. Let this stuff chill for a few hours before piping it into shells.

Follow the above recipe, but at the end add 2 heaping tablespoons of ground chocolate (we used Ghirardelli ground semi-sweet chocolate). Cocoa powder won't have the added sweet you're looking for for this recipe. Let chill for the same amount of time before piping.

We piped mini shells a little while after dinner, coating the ends of the regular ones with mini semi-sweet chips.A few cups of decaf coffee, mini cannolis and some Dawn of the Dead (the 2004 version) finished our night. As I looked around the living room at all of us huddled under blankets, sharing jabs at the film characters making horrible decisions, I was happily content. Families that share meals remain strong, well after the children have become adults and started families of their own. We didn't need an historic blizzard to prove that, but it was a wonderful affirmation.

Wishing all of you a warm, cozy and comforting winter season. xo

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sometimes, your souffle just won't stand up.

I made mulled cider at 5:30 am today. Senator Jeanne Shaheen is coming to one of my job's offices today for a press conference. One of my part time jobs is for a company I adore, I worked in marketing and inside sales here for a few years before the cooking bug got the best of me. To omit a very long story, I'm back here part time while I get my own culinary affairs in order.

So, Senator Shaheen has always been a decent advocate for local energy production, especially biomass. Debating the legitimacy of biomass in our lives here in the Northeast is not the point of this post, however.

It's fall in the Shire and everyone has a craving for all things Autumn-ish, including the staff here. Wouldn't it be nice if we had some fall-fun waiting for the gang when they get here? And so, while working on the job site I got a call from the office enlisting me to this task ... I did some quick browsing online and found that every recipe I came across was pretty consistent. Recipes for this kind of thing are as consistent as apple pies. Cinnamon, all spice, clove, nutmeg. There it is. To think, I had all of these sitting in my "spice rack" in their whole forms. In fact, spices stay usable longer when stored in their whole forms. That's pretty much the lay of the land for all ingredients.

My friend Kyra and I picking apples last year.

As it turned out, the cider was a big hit. Everyone loved it- at least, several people told me they did- and I felt accomplished and a tiny bit proud. 

I got home around 4-ish and decided to throw something together for our cook book club tonight (Mondays are our thing.). I have a pretty raging ear infection- that whole thing is a long story- that was bothering me most of the day and my mind set upon creating something for the gals was along the lines of, "Oh shit, I have to make something fast. What's fast?? Apple Gallette? That's fast! How do I make that again??" I dug out the recipe and read it too quickly. The crust is easy:

1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter
a pinch of salt
three table spoons of ice water

I at least pulled that off, to some extent. It was fairly rough and my counter space these days is reflective of the fact that we're moving- there's crap everywhere. I had a limited space with which to roll the dough out (and it showed in the final results). The apple portion I got down, but neglected to remember/read the part about the apricot preserves that are supposed to go underneath the apples. Yikes! I assembled the damn thing and read farther down into the instructions. Nope. No preserves. Oh, well. I crossed my fingers and popped the thing in the oven. The apples went like this:

1 1/2 lbs. apples
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
1 Tbs. brown sugar
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest

I pretty much pulled all of this out of some no-man's land in my brain. Once I reread the recipe, it barely looked anything like what's written above. I was too concerned with timing and baking temperature. I had set myself up for unexpected outcomes, which in the cooking world is never a good thing. ESPECIALLY with baking!

A few years ago I got to see a woman speak about Kitchen Witchery. Yeah, witch craft in the kitchen. Yes, it might sound kind of hokey, but her rationale was on the money. Her business is called Cucina Aurora and what a riot ... fun to listen to, engaging, interesting. Really worth checking out.

There is a point to all of this. Stay with me.

Intention was the magic word. Whatever your intention is while you're preparing a meal is what dictates the outcome. The cider I made was awesome because I gave myself the time to think it over. I had all the ingredients I needed; I created a space for myself to make it with success. My mind set said, "I'm going to kick this cider's ass and everyone is going to love it!"

My apple-gallette-turned-mound-of-dough-and-fruit was the complete opposite. I didn't have everything I needed, I was rushed and my mind set was detrimental. My intention wasn't to make something amazing, it was just to make something. Tada! I made something, alright. It's still baking as I speak and though it smells pretty awesome, the looks of it scream otherwise. 

I will be bringing my Franken-pie and I know my foodie friends will laugh along with me. I also know they'll eat it with me and let me know their honest opinion of it. These women keep me on my toes and remind me what my intentions should be ... at the end of the cooking process is a meal. That meal is important for sustenance, but it's also important because [most] meals are shared. They are a celebration of the people around the table. If I was more concerned about celebrating than not showing up empty handed, my results would be different.

Remembering that when in a rush is true magic.

Happy Monday, everyone. May all your souffles rise and inspire awe in those that eat them. xo

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Chicken Dance

Let's talk birds, shall we?

When I was little ... let's say, 4 years old or so, my family lived in Weare, NH- a spacious and lesser populated town somewhere between Concord and Manchester. We had a large yard and no neighbors for miles, the closest of which kept turkeys. Now every once in a while those turkeys would break out of their respective pens and wander the woods nearby ... which eventually let to my parent's yard. On one sunny Autumn afternoon, while my sister Melissa and I were playing with a pink Barbie convertible on the grass, we heard a warbling off in the distance. We instantly knew what was coming. We have no idea why they were notoriously violent birds. Chasers. They were chasers. Like fat, squat, feathered demons. And when we heard them coming we started to run for the house, sacrificing our toys for our own safety. Damn those birds were fast. They chased us up to the green house that lead to the living room. They chased us into the house. Melissa made a b-line for our bedroom and hid beneath her bed. I cowered in a corner of the living room. My mother was startled by the commotion and came running from the kitchen to see the most brazen of the feathered mob perched precariously close to our baby sister, Melody, asleep in her baby chair on the couch. Mom probably grabbed a broom, a shovel, a spatula- I can't remember- but she went into Mama-Bear mode and shooed the offenders back through the green house and on to the granite steps. Once they were safely outside I grew brave enough to peer at them beyond the large glass doors. I have a visceral memory of placing my hand against the glass and watching the largest male peck violently at it.

So now you can understand why I don't like turkeys. Or really birds in general. I like hens; docile, well handled hens. I have no doubt that when I someday own chickens I will have no problem killing them for meat. All I'll need is some instruction on safety, the rest will come from somewhere in my subconscious.

What's the whole point of this, you might be saying to yourself right now?? I like cooking birds. For myriad reasons. The primary of these being that they are delicious. They are also multi-faceted. There are few foods that can go as far as a chicken or turkey can. I recommend roasting them when possible. I did so this week and have finally used the last remains to create some healthy chicken soup with wild rice. Here is the evolution of my chicken conquest:

1) Roasted. Rubbed in olive oil and whatever spices I feel like tasting- the chief of these is garlic. I like to roast all birds with a combination of potatoes (both russet and sweet), onions, carrots, and garlic cloves. Then I'll add some chicken stock to keep the bird moist and add more flavor without wigging out on sodium.

2) After devouring most of that as dinner, I'll take the meat off the bones (which I save in the freezer until I'm ready to make more stock) and separate the veggies. I like to make a curried chicken salad right away, save a bit for sandwiches, always saving some for soup later.

3) Those veggies go a long way. I like a nice mash out of them to eat as a side with another meal later.

4) SOUP! Glorious cold fighting, digestion warming, memory invoking soup.

A roasting bird is the hallmark of a kitchen owner that knows how to stretch a dollar in the healthiest of ways. When you can get a free-range, humanely raised and organic bird. You'll find that they're slimmer than their agro-business cousins, but that's a good thing. They're healthier in spirit as well as constitution. And that means tasty results.

The weekend is finally here and we're faced with packing up our lives and moving to a new house. It's all very exciting, but slightly exhausting. Wish us luck! Happy weekend, ya'll!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cheese, Gromit!

Cheese. I think it's my favorite food. Well, it's in my top five. Cheese was the first food that brought me out of Veganism. I like cheese the way Wallace likes cheese. 

Has anyone seen A Grand Day Out? If not, please do. I'm a huge fan of this pair. Classic cheese loving right there. [Spoiler alert: They fly to the MOON. For CHEESE.] So awesome.

Why a cheese posting? 

A) My cousin John posted this on his facebook page today: Cheese or Font?
      Cheese or font is a game. A fun one. Working in both journalism and culinary fields makes this an ideal geek-out for me. Thank you, John, for being so on top of things. 

B) I had a meeting with my friend (and current client) Katie regarding the menu for her 30th birthday, which is right around the corner. We decided some cheese fondue would be a nice middle-of-the-evening appetizer. Because it is both fun and delicious. 

C) I was planning on sharing a fondue recipe. With the nights getting colder and our cravings for comfort food growing stronger (I mean, c'mon, that's all I've been writing about lately!), it seems fitting to talk about warm, gooey, cheesey, veggie-dipping delight!

In doing some research about cheese fondue, I came across - a great little site with lots of classic recipes and a little background on fondue for all my fellow cheese junkies.

All cheese is not created equal, by the way. Fondues require melting cheeses. Gruyere is the primary cheese in traditional fondue. It's oh-so melty, with a flavor that's reminiscent of Swiss cheese (also known as Emmental cheese across the pond). If you don't have Gruyere, it isn't real fondue. Cheddar is a fine cheese for most applications, but it isn't great at melting. There's a high oil content in Cheddar that makes it a poor fit for our purposes today.

So, with no further adieu ... fondue:

1 cup Gruyere cheese
1 cup melting cheese of your choice (Swiss works, brie is a nice twist, get creative!)
1/3 cup dry white wine (I like chardonnay) 
a splash of lemon juice (around one tablespoon)
1 clove of garlic
 2 tsp. corn starch
1/2 oz. Kirsch (Kirsch is a clear liquor from Germany, made from black cherries. Kirsch is NOT sweet, so any replacement should omit sugars. I would try a pinch of almond extract instead.)
Spice ... this is per your taste ... I've used nutmeg before ... some folks like paprika ... Don't use too much, just enough to add a hint of flavor.

How does it work?? Rub the inside of your pot with the garlic clove. A cast iron pot would work really well for this. Add your wine and lemon juice. When that's hot, add your cheese and stir like a crazy-person. When it's starting to melt, add the corn starch and Kirsch (you can just use a water/starch slurry instead). Let all of this cook for a few minutes, then transfer to chafing dish. TADA!! That's a meal right there! Dip bread cubes, your favorite vegetables, meats, whatever you want covered in cheese! 

I think some fondue is in order this weekend. With a glass of that chardonnay. :-)

Happy hump day- we're halfway to the weekend, ya'll!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Gnocchi is not pasta, it's squash

I love carbohydrates in all shapes and sizes. Pasta is one of those culinary treats that aren't frequent in our household because I like to make it from scratch. That process has been made MUCH easier with the gift of a Kitchen Aide pasta attachment (thank you, Mom!). Despite even this, pasta is a labor of love. There is a fine line between good and bad pasta dough. Too sticky, too stiff ... a change in the weather can mean a lot when it comes to your pasta. Regardless of that caveat, pasta is one of the easier things in life to put together. Flour, eggs, salt, POW- pasta.

And then there's Gnocchi. 

Anyone familiar with the Ronnie Johns show? The Aussies out there must ... it's like SNL, Downundah'.

I love that damn show. Watching it reminds me of John and Sharon back in Manitou Springs, CO. I laughed so hard and loud the neighbors complained (granted that neighbor was our friend Erik, but that's beside the point). 

Paulie is right. Gnocchi is actually an Italian dumpling, but goodness me does it taste great with pasta sauces. Rich, dense and decadent, gnocchi is a favorite of mine. And it's hell to make.

But, I had to try it anyway.

"Ricing" potatoes (which is really just mashing them, but to a smoother consistency ... a Ricer is a piece of equipment made to get potatoes to the perfect texture- I just use a regular food mill) is no easy feat, but when you need an ingredient to be "just so" ... you have to just roll with it. A food processor works alright, but nothing compares to a food mill. Nothing. 

My first foray into gnocchi had less to do with potatoes than squash. Butternut squash. I've pulled this recipe out of the vault (courtesy of an old school Bon Appetit issue) because this time of year there is nothing better for an intimate dinner for two than hand made "pasta" ... or dumplings ... whatever. You get the point.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter
Note: It's okay if this is a sticky dough, that works in favor of the end result.

1 pound butternut squash
1 Tbs olive oil
1- 12 to 14 oz russet potato, peeled and quartered
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups (or more) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 Tbs chopped fresh sage (some whole leaves for garnish looks really nice)
More cheese. You can never have enough cheese!

Special tools:
Potato ricer (but a food processor or food mill will do)

Roast that squash (cleaned and quartered, then rubbed with the olive oil) with the cut side up. Really roast it, until it practically falls apart (some brown spots will indicate that you're almost there). After that cools for a bit, blend it or food mill it. Whatever gets you to a smooth consistency. At that point you have to further reduce the squash. A medium sauce pan should do it ... on medium heat for a few minutes. Measure one cup of that stuff. You can save the rest for all kinds of dishes.

In the mean time, cook the potato. Boiling, salted water for 20 minutes will get you there, then rice the crap out of it. Measure two cups of that stuff. See, gnocchi really IS potatoes ...

Next mix squash, potato, 1/2 cup parm, egg, nutmeg and salt in large bowl. Gradually add flour. Knead dough until it holds together, then divide into 8 pieces.

Now comes the tricky part. First line two baking sheets with parchment and sprinkle them with flour. One piece at a time, roll those 8 dough balls into 1/2 thick ropes. Cut those ropes into 3/4 inch pieces. One piece at a time, roll the gnocchi along the back of a fork dipped in flour. This makes those famous ridges on the dumplings. Cover all of these little beauties loosely with plastic wrap and chill them for at least an hour ... they can be made up to 6 hours ahead.

When they're ready, cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling salted water- the gnocchi will float to the top of the water, but they may not be done ... 15 minutes should do it, don't be afraid to taste test! When they're done, use a slotted spoon to put them back onto those lined baking sheets. Now, let them cool again, this part can be done 8 hours ahead of time.

Now the sauce! Cook all that butter over medium heat, until golden. Add your sage and stir for a minute. Then add the gnocchi and let them heat through (about 5 minutes or so). Season with salt and pepper. Dust with the extra Parmesan. Pair the whole thing with a floral white wine. Let your dinner companions oooh and ahhh over your gnocchi accomplishment.  Ask them to make dessert.

It is a bit of work, but there is nothing quite like gnocchi. Great, now I'm hungry. And I'm craving pasta ... or is it dumplings?! 

Wishing you all a fantastic week full of love and wonderful food. xo

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


It's been interesting trying to balance my new working situation with life at home, trying to pack up an apartment, helping to renovate the house we're moving in to, and studying for my chef certification - all simultaneously. My text book came in yesterday ... a whole 3 inches thick. It gave me goosebumps. Mark and our friend (my sister from another mister), Nicole, have been helping me devise marketing tools like business cards and postcards for my future endeavors. She had me buy the URL for my future business at 1am the other day while she was visiting. A few drinks at the bar, some lofty conversation about our futures and *poof!* I was paying GoDaddy for the pleasure of a name.

This whole experience is teaching me about balance. What things in my life hold precedent? What needs to get done NOW? What can wait a few days? Balance is a fine skill that I am weakly trying to master. It's balance that will let me have a family and a career at the same time. And balance is what will help me be a better chef.

Mirepoix is the term for the "holy grail" of French cooking. Carrots, celery and onions. It seems so simple end yet it is the balance of the flavors in these three ingredients that gives layered flavors to stock, soups, stews, roasts. If you do not have these items in your kitchen, I ask that you consider stocking them on the regular. There is little that can replace them. Garlic should also be included in this equation, but it isn't necessarily called for in all recipes. As a garlic grower I'm quite fond of the stuff. I put it into everything I can.

photo courtesy of Wikipedia

I'm finding that just as in life, the best food has balance and harmony. None of this, however, is achieved instantly. A balanced diet and menu is what keeps our bodies (and our minds) healthy and vibrant. When our diet is out of balance everything else could follow suit. Nature has great ways of reminding us how harmony can be achieved by utilizing our own skills and the resources around us. I like to think of the "three sisters" concept of gardening as an example of this ...

Corn. Beans. Squash. These three vegetables provide all of the nutrition and energy a human being needs. When grown together, they produce an alliance that helps them with pest and disease resistance as well as appropriate room to grow. Native Americans have grown these three "sisters" together for hundreds- thousands- of years. Besides helping each other, the plants aid in healthy soil maintenance. The bean plants climb the corn, making them sturdier in times of harsh weather. Beans also provide nitrogen (which is why they're just a fantastic plant to use at all times ... legumes are powerful nitrogen fixers). Squash grows low and spreads out, creating a healthy weed barrier that allows all three to grow freely without competition. Squash also discourages larger pests from invading your garden and ransacking that lanky corn.

Nature is full of these examples. There is no "silver bullet" when it comes to our diets, or our lives. There is no magic berry in the rainforest that will make us instantly thin. There is no supplement that will solve our aches and pains by itself.  Success is never achieved alone. Greatness is accomplished when we recognize our strengths and the strengths of others- and when we use these to elevate those around us, as well as ourselves. Community brings about health and wellness when we utilize it the way we should.

There is still so much more to learn, so much more to do ... and I couldn't do it without the help and support I've received from family and friends. This is a beautiful life and the future is bright.

I know folks have had some trouble leaving comments on this blog. I'll run a few tests to see what's going on ... Please don't give up on trying to add your two cents- I would love to hear from all of you!

Be well, love much, dream big!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Food as medicine

They say chicken soup is perfect for a cold. I agree, to a point ... what I agree with more is that food can be powerful in curing what ails us.

I had a stomach ache this morning after breakfast- there was no reason for it, just felt nauseous. Our home remedy for such things is ginger ... luckily we had some ginger chews in the cupboard. A few minutes later, I felt just fine!

And so came about my inspiration for today's post. What are your home remedies? What are the tried-and-true things you do at home to stay healthy and comfortable? I could write a novel about this, but I figured I would share just a few with you as a starting point. I also want to share some books that Mark and I invested in that have changed the way we look at getting healthy.

1) Ginger Tea
     *Ginger has a way of making everything right in the world. When a cold is lurking, a stomach ache is rumbling, this is the stuff to turn to. We boil some water and add a strainer full of freshly ground ginger, a slice of lemon and a spoonful of honey. It's a delicious brew that warms you from the inside out. Should help nausea, congestion, respiratory rattling, etc. This tea is also helpful when having trouble getting your extremities warm on a cold winter morning (New Englanders, you know what I'm talking about).

2) Apple Cider Vinegar
     *I am a huge fan of this stuff as both a health supplement AND as an ingredient. Slightly briney, super delicious, you can't go wrong. Two teaspoons full of apple cider vinegar added to 8oz of water (1 cup) is said to help promote healthy bacteria in the digestive system, boost your immune system and help you loose weight. I use BRAGG Organic, which you can learn more about here.

3) Clove Oil/Lavender Oil ... extracts in general
    *Using Clove Oil was a no-brainer after a friend used it directly on a sore tooth to cure his toothache before going to the dentist. His testimony was all we needed to try it ourselves. Mark has used Lavender Oil to help ease my migraine symptoms. When we feel a cold setting in, we start adding some Grapefruit Seed Extract to our juice in the morning. It helps boost our immune system and keep harmful colds at bay. When helpful foods are present in a high concentration they're incredibly effective. Our go-to-gal on the subject of such things is Rosemary Gladstar, the mother of modern herbal-ism and food as healing. We keep a copy of this book within reach at all times:

The woman is a genius. We've been able to watch her speak and create some of her more famous remedies when we went to a Samhain (pronounced sou-wain) festival in Peterborough, NH last fall. Come to think of it, it is that time of year again. Time to get my kitchen altar in working order. :-)

I could go on and on about using food as medicine, but I think by now you get the point ... A lot of food remedies lean toward prevention rather than resolution. Eating right and keeping tabs on your homeostasis is important in keeping your healthcare costs low. Before we go to our doctor we try to find an at-home remedy that might alleviate symptoms. If we do, we are richer for it. 

**Just a caveat, I do not advise that you not see your Personal Care Provider should you have a medical ailment. We use these remedies for conditions that are not serious. If you have a serious health problem, see your physician immediately.**

I hope everyone enjoyed their "holiday" weekend. It's nice to have the day off, but we all know Columbus was a jerk. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

The whole is a sum of its parts

I love making bread. Big giant loaves of it. Sourdough, French, Dinner Rolls, Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread ... There is little in this world that rivals the first slice off of a fresh loaf of bread right out of the oven. It's heaven.

My in-laws gifted me a sourdough starter a few Christmases ago ... It's the ancestor of a 250 year old yeast culture, which means there's a good chance that one or two grains of yeast in there are at least that old. Back in the early days of bread making (we're talking hundreds of years ago), yeast wasn't really an option for baking. Most historical (and now culturally significant) breads were dense and unleavened. Then one fine morning some baker left his flour and water mixture out overnight, as the oral history goes ... maybe he was being lazy? Maybe it had been a really difficult week and he threw his hands up and said to himself, "That's it! I'm going home for a glass of wine." The next day he noticed that the pre-dough he left out had doubled in size. So he baked some of it. And it was delicious. 

What he had done is capture a wild yeast. Yes, they exist. No, I haven't caught one. I keep my starter fed in a clay crock in the fridge. You can get sourdough starter from all sorts of places. If you get in good with a baker at your favorite high end restaurant, they might throw you a tablespoon of starter - and that's all you need to begin. There's a process of feeding, cutting down the mixture, feeding it again. It seems complicated at first, but it's as simple as tossing a cup of flour and a cup of water into the container and letting it do its thing. 

We've come a long way since starters were the norm for leavening breads, cakes and other baked goods. So why keep up the practice, especially if it requires so many steps and keeping a microscopic organism alive? 


The flavor of a rustic sourdough bread is hard to compare. So, I figured I would share my favorite recipe for sourdough bread. Don't have a starter at home? You can catch a batch of wild yeast at home, if you're so inclined ... or you can buy some online (the MUCH easier route). I recommend this website, Sourdough Home, which is pretty comprehensive on the subject. They have links to help you buy a reputable starter from a few different suppliers. They'll come to you in small amounts and it's up to you to feed it and keep it alive until it's ready to bake with. Think of it like an edible chia pet? Or a guppy or spider plant that feeds you after you feed it. Now that's a pet worth having in the refrigerator. 


[I told you I like King Arthur ... my starter comes from their original batch, caught 250 years ago. My mother-in-law, Dianne, noticed I was baking a lot at home and decided this was a perfect gift- and was it EVER. Their guide is comprehensive, but not overly-so. The rules are simple with starter and once you have it  nailed, your bread will never be the same.]

1 cup "fed" sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups luke warm water
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
5 cups all purpose, unbleached flour

Mix all of that together and knead to form a smooth dough. Put your dough ball in a greased bowl, covered, and let it rise until doubled ... that'll take around 90 minutes- give or take- depending on the temperature of your kitchen, etc. You'll know it's doubled when you go to press your finger into it and the dough doesn't bounce back to shape. If you leave a dent, it's ready to knock down.

At that point, divide the dough in half (unless you're like me and feel daring enough to make one, GIANT sourdough loaf .. the result is huge, but just as good) and shape into two oval loaves. Let these rise again, for about 60 minutes, until doubled. Slash the tops and bake at 425 for 30 minutes. For a nicer crust I like to put a baking dish of water in the oven while the bread bakes. It creates steam that cures the crust and adds a great bite to the bread.

I'm sure you noticed how simple the ingredients are for a baking bread. Artisan bread really is that simple ... there are no preservatives (so you should eat it quickly!) and no chemicals. If you buy bread at the grocery store, have a gander at the ingredients on the label. If the consist of just flour, water, salt, sugar and yeast- that's awesome. Please share which bread you buy. I'm sure it's awesome. Sandwich breads add eggs and milk for protein and to create a different crumb, but outside of that breads shouldn't vary much. I decided to stop buying manufactured bread when the healthiest loaves were twice the price of others. Making bread at home costs just a few cents. We haven't bought a loaf since ... and it's been a great way to eat healthier.

I know not everyone can bake their own bread, but you should consider that most of the work is just waiting for the damn thing to rise. I hope to have bread as part of the menu I can offer clients. I have quite the arsenal of bread skills. And there's just something special about sharing bread fresh from the oven. 

In coming posts ... less about baking, more about cooking. It's this change of seasons that's got me all baking happy. Our apartment is small and baking anything helps us supplement our home heating. Ha! 

I think a braise should be next. Something that falls off the bone and melts in your mouth. With sweet and savory roasted vegetables.

Now I'm hungry again ... and I just had breakfast! (Muesli to be exact. Love that stuff.)

Be well, enjoy your Friday!