Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow and Soup for the First Time....

I realize there has been a pause here. I intended to document a number of things this holiday season, but instead just wanted to enjoy them and not worry about them becoming posts. That happens sometimes. You know, real life.

As many of you know, the Northeast was pounded Sunday with a crazy blizzard, causing us all to have a transit-free snow day. No better way to break in the southerner than blowing snow and up to 4 feet deep drifts (I'm also learning new terminology from the hubby; don't laugh at me people from the middle :)

Outside my window

The occasion called for the hearty and healthy kale and potato soup I had planned. I discovered a version of the recipe in the new Cooking with Trader Joe's Book, of which I have a small mention for my "Pico-de-Gallo salsa and avocado make a great instant guacamole" idea.

Anyway, this is an excellent way to take in warming liquids and kale that is ridiculously good for you. I added kielbasa to mine, just because.

It also gave me the perfect opportunity to use my handy new toy (thanks Don)

Here is the link to the recipe for Kale and Potatoe Soup

I also served this with my favorite new cream biscuits to keep around in the freezer for just such an occasion.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Keeping a Recipe Binder

I don't know about you, but I come across recipes I intend to try all the time. For a while, I was just bookmarking them or tearing out the pages, but all those ideas spread out in many different places just left me even more overwhelmed and confused. 

Being the ever-diligent organizer I am, I started a recipe binder and I highly recommend you do too. Whether you are just starting out and want to keep it all tidy, or are a seasoned pro and need multiple binders for your kitchen, a recipe binder is an indispensable addition to your arsenal. Mine sits alongside my cookbooks, getting overstuffed by the day! 

How to get started:

1. Pick any old binder, at least size 2"

2. Grab some dividers*, or make your own for the following sections (feel free to take your own liberties here, these are what I use):

  • Appetizers/Entertaining
  • Sides/Vegetable Dishes
  • Mains 
  • Breads
  • Desserts
  • Breakfast

My Mains tab will eventually become it's own binder with subdivisions like:

  • Meat
  • Casseroles/Piles O' Food
  • Healthy
  • Pasta/Salads

3. Get a pack of plastic page protectors (then say that three times fast)

4. Print out recipes from the internet or tear out from magazines that you want to try. Double them up in the page protector back to back to save space. 

*I have to say it's nice to have the dividers with pockets so you can slide in odd-sized resources, like the Food Network Magazine's 50_____s inserts.

It's especially helpful when you want to try a recipe, to be able to just take out the page instead of keeping an entire cookbook open on the counter. That way, if you liked it, it goes back in the binder, if not, leave it out and fill the space with a new one. In the end you are not committed to them, and the ones left will be your tried and trues that you know you enjoy. 

My Favorite Sources for Recipes:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving for Two

As I hear about the overwhelming stress of cooking for Thanksgiving, and all the dishes and all the prep and blah, blah, blah, I'm truly thankful to have a quiet dinner at home with just me and the hubby. This has been our little tradition for a few years, since we live away from our families and often find ourselves alone on some holidays. But don't be sad for us! Sometimes it's just nice to bypass the traffic and hectic run-around and relax with all the comforts of this time of year. 

I'm going to confess something: I don't like turkey. I'll eat it, but when was the last time you really craved turkey? Besides a fried turkey leg that that makes your mouth water. 

Anyway, I've taken to preparing little game hens. They're just so damn cute and easy to work with. I usually marinate them for at least 24 hours ahead of time in a variety of concoctions. This year it was decidedly simple being that my kitchen is, as you know, not fully stocked. 

The main components here are olive oil, red wine (a Cab Sav), soy sauce, crushed garlic and fresh sage and thyme. I just eyeballed it all into a bowl, but it's about equal parts of all the liquids, maybe a little more soy sauce. Excuse me if I'm not always that precise, this is cooking after all!

Rinse and pat the hens dry with paper towels. And then, and this is very important....

You must make them dance. This is why I say they are so much fun! Try making a turkey dance. Not fun.

Then lay them together in the glass bowl with  marinade and make sure they are all covered and cozy. Put plastic wrap over top and keep in the refrigerator, turning them a couple times before cooking. 

Here they are before the big roast ready to go. I've stuffed them with hunks of celery and onion, and trussed them. I realize this is not a proper roasting pan with a metal rack, but it works just fine. Maybe I'll get one for Christmas? :)

And voila! They look beautiful after an hour in a 400 degree oven. They're ready when you prick the leg and juices run clear. I also don't have a meat thermometer right now, so this is a good trick to know.

On to....Cornbread Stuffing

The reason I love Thanksgiving so much. I could eat just this for the rest of my life and not care too much. It wasn't until I moved out of Texas that I realized cornbread stuffing was a certain type and not the only one out there! It's a staple in every southern household and it should be in yours too. 

I'm just sayin'

I take a shortcut and make a batch of Trader Joe's cornbread the day before. It's sweet and moist enough. If you have the time and the propensity, go ahead and make it from scratch. I commend you. 

When it's cooled, I break it up into pieces and let it sit out overnight in the casserole to dry out, stirring them occasionally. 

The next day, before you start, toast the heals of a loaf of bread, then tear it into pieces and mix in with the cornbread. The reason I don't do this earlier is because I've found the moisture from the cornbread will just soak into the toast. The idea is that the toast is stickier and will help everything hold together, since cornbread is crumbly. 

Next chop up some fresh Sage and Thyme, and melt a stick of butter in a skillet. Cook the herbs a few minutes before adding in chopped onion and celery to make a yummy base for the stuffing. Cook a few minutes more until everything is soft and looks like this:

Then mix it all in with the bread...

Then add in 2 beaten eggs and enough chicken broth to just moisten it, you don't want it soupy. I believe it's close to a cup, but be the judge.

 Mix it all up and flatten the top

Cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes and you should have something like this. 

Life is good. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Full Menu: Roast Game Hens
               Cornbread Stuffing
               Green Bean Casserole
               Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Survival Food: Lasagna

Moving into our first Brooklyn apartment hasn't been without it's share of ups and downs, alot of downs, mostly in the financial area. Just getting into a place can drain any and all assets you accumulate! 

In times like these when we are playing catch-up, there is not reason to eat depressing dinners (Ramen anyone?).   I made a vow to never feed us junk in place of something delicious and hearty, regardless of lack of funds. 

To remedy our temporary situation, I fell back on an absolute classic of lasagna. My method when cooking comfort food is to keep the savory attributes but insert some healthfulness as well. In this instance, I added spinach to the mix and made sure all ingredients were organic. 

I also began a habit of using a creamy Bechamel or white sauce instead of the traditional ricotta cheese. I saw Julia Child do this (yes, they are syndicating The French Chef on the Cooking Channel!) and immediately gave it a go. My father-in-law taught me how to make a white sauce with an emphasis on the science behind the process (he's a microbiologist), but I'm cutting it down to a simple explanation, and plan to do a more detailed post about this amazing base sauce at a later date. 

Simple Bechamel Instructions:

Start by melting 1 stick of butter (1/2 cup) on medium heat

You want to cook the butter a bit, but don't burn it! Swirl it around with a plastic whisk as you watch it bubble for a few minutes. Then, add in a little at at a time, 1/2 cup of white flour (always use equal parts fats and flour for sauces). The idea is to cook the flour in the butter a bit, so this is why you should go slowly, stirring almost constantly until...

You get a creamy, yellowish base like this! Turn the heat down a bit, and start adding in about a cup of milk, again, a little at a time. It will hiss at you and you will get chunks, but don't worry, it will all turn out fine! Stir, stir, and stir some more as you work it into a velvety texture: 

Add more milk if it's a little thick. 

Here I added in some pressed garlic, shaved parmegiano reggiano, dried basil and oregano. 

So there is your simple tutorial to a lovely Bechamel. I use this as a base for so many things, like yellow curry (add curry powder at the end) or mac & cheese (add shredded cheeses at the end). 


Before the Beschemel, I made a meat sauce by chopping and sauteing 1 yellow onion, then browning  italian sausage in the same pan. After draining off fat, I put in in a bowl with 1 jar of marinara. I also defrosted and drained 1 bag of organic frozen spinach. 

Layer in  a 9 X 13 casserole: a little meat sauce, no-boil lasagna noodles, 1/3 of meat sauce, 1/3 of Bechamel, 1/2 spinach, 

Then lots of shredded mozzerella and more grated parmegiano reggiano.
Repeat layers, ending with Bechamel and cheeses on top. Bake covered with foil for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Take off foil and bake an additional 15 or 20 minutes until,

it's bubbling and looks like this! Let it sit for about 10 minutes before cutting into it. Any casserole is better if you let it settle before eating. 

Now I realize leftovers is a negative word to most households, and it used to be in my thinking as well! But when you take time once to create a dish of gooey goodness, you actually look forward to the subsequent meals you get from it. Many dishes are better the second or third time around, as some of you know (who really likes spaghetti on the first day?). 


Spinach Lasagna with Bechamel

Bechamel Sauce: 


  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup + more milk
  • Parmegiano Reggiano (about 4 tbls.)
  • dried oregano and basil
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed


  Melt the stick of butter in a deep skillet on medium heat. After melted, cook and stir for a few minutes. Start adding in flour, a couple shakes at a time, while you continuously stir and incorporate the two together. When there is a nice yellow base, turn heat down just a bit, and start adding in milk a little at a time, while stirring constantly, until you get a velvety texture. Add in garlic, Parmegiano Regiano, oregano and basil. 



  • 3 links pork italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 15 oz. jar basic marinara sauce
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 16 oz bag frozen spinach
  • 9 no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 1 package shredded mozzerella

   Saute onion in  a deep skillet with extra virgin olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add in sausage and brown, breaking it up as you go. Drain fat. Put sausage mixture in a large bowl along with jar of marinara. Set aside. Defrost and drain frozen spinach*. Set aside. Make Beschamel. 


   In a 9 X13 in. casserole dish, layer a little meat sauce on the bottom (so it won't stick). Then put 3 noodles across, then 1/3 of meat mixture, 1/3 beschamel, 1/2 spinach, 1/3 mozzerella and some more shaved parmegiano regiano. Repeat layers. On 3rd layer, put only meat sauce, beschamel, cheeses. 

Cook covered with foil at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Take off foil, bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes until it's bubbling. Let sit for 10 minutes. Enjoy now and later in the week!

*The best tip I have for draining spinach is to defrost it completely, then put into a cheesecloth and squeeze into a bowl or the sink a couple different times. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Building a Kitchen from Scratch

You'll have to excuse my slow start as I'm quite literally building my kitchen arsenal from scratch!

We've finally moved into our awesome Brooklyn apartment with a huge kitchen and many possibilities.  One of the most difficult parts about moving across the country from Seattle has been to literally give up any collection of food, condiments, and pantry staples. So now is a time to slowly rebuild, which is both cleansing and a bit frustrating at times (we don't even have flour in the house at this point!).

What I've been super excited about since we found this place in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn is the sheer size of the kitchen, meaning I can finally have a real pantry instead of sharing cabinet space with dishes.

I get excited about nerdy things, namely organization, so get used to it!

The next step however, is filling said pantry with the staples we need on a daily basis as well as items that are nice to have around for those "in a pinch" times. This can be accomplished by a one fail swoop shopping trip, but what I like to do is pick up a few non-perishable items each time your at the store. Before you know it, your pantry/refrigerator/freezer will be full with ingredients to throw together and never have one of those "there's no food in the house" realizations. This keeps you from ordering take-out one too many times!

So as I make my shopping list of kitchen staples for myself, I wanted to share with you my foundation for a well-stocked, modern arsenal.


  • Sea Salt Crystals
  • Black Peppercorns
The raw form of salt and pepper are leaps and bounds more flavorful than their processed counterparts we've all known. Get these and fill your own grinders. Simple and affordable way to add more flavor to anything on a regular basis.
  • Flour: White and Whole Wheat
Don't get me wrong, I'm an advocate of substituting whole wheat flour almost anywhere, especially when baking, but you need white flower to make creamy sauces and gravies. I even use whole wheat white flour when I can find it to get the best of both worlds. 

  • Organic Sugar 
Also leaps and bounds more tasteful than the processed counterpart. Must be evaporated cane sugar, not that white stuff that reeks havoc on your system. I've found you actually need almost double the amount of white stuff as the organic to get the same amount of flavor. But even then it doesn't compare. Do yourself a favor and spend a little more on the organic. Your taste buds and thighs will thank you!

  • Baking Powder
  • Baking Soda 
  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • Fresh Herbs 

    I have not found a more flavorful or healthy way of punching up almost every dish than having fresh herbs around. I used to be afraid I wouldn't use them and they would go bad, but when they're there, you find ways to incorporate them. I haven't had room or enough sunlight (Seattle does not afford you much) to grow my own garden indoors before, but that will change come springtime. My favorites are Parsley, Dill, Thyme and Cilantro. There will definitely be more posts in the future on where and how to use these.

    In The Pantry
    • Pastas: Spaghetti, Bowties, Penne, Lasagna, Angelhair, etc.
    • Grains: Brown Rice, Cous-Cous, Quinoa, etc.
    • Beans: Black, Pinto, Kidney, etc.
    • Canned Diced Tomatoes
    • Canned Tuna (organic, not Starkist, Trader Joe's has awesome versions)
    • Pasta Sauces: Marinara and Alfredo
    • Salsas
    In The Freezer
    • Frozen ready made rices (again, TJ's has great frozen brown and jasmine rice)
    • Frozen Vegetables and Fruit
    • Tortillas (I always have these around for quesadillas and the like)
    • Frozen Cooked Shrimp (easy,add-in protein for almost anything)
    In The Fridge
    • The usual suspects: Ketchup, Dijon Mustard, Mayo, Relish, etc.
    • Preserves: Strawberry, Rasberry, Fig, Apricot, etc.
    • Shredded Cheese (few things are not made better with this, am I right?)
    • Eggs (easy and cheap protein)

    Keep in mind this is just a starter list and by no means complete! I will be posting regularly about items to keep around and the meals to make with them.

    What can you not live without in your kitchen?

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010

    Hello and Welcome!

    Where to begin? There are so many reasons I wanted to start this blog. It's been a seed of an idea for a long time, but a few things needed to happen in my life first. Namely moving to the capital of the universe, NYC.

    I've been married for almost 4 years now, and I never would have called myself domestic even 5 years ago. Funny how things change. I started thinking of us as a family unit, even if it was just the two of us, and before long derived great pleasure from being able to feed us. Enjoying the food that fed us is even better and quite exciting. It seemed like magic when I actually got it right.

    I started along this path of learning to cook in a very rudimentary and frustrating way:

    "easy" cookbooks, which didn't provide enough explanation or guidance for a true novice
    "budget" cookbooks which relied on ingredients laden with chemicals and, while cheap, terrible for you
    "organic" cookbooks that were against anything remotely modern to help out flavor or technique

    Because of all my pitfalls, I want to share what I've learned so far and demystify the process of preparing food. Something that should be common knowledge has become more complicated than it needs to be. My approach to food is simple and I always try to follow certain guidelines when creating a menu. Therefore you can expect the focus of this blog to be:

    As economical as possible-but not annoyingly so
    Health conscious- but not annoyingly so
    Slight leaning towards Southern/savory cooking (have I mentioned I'm from Texas?)
    Information on meal planning, using leftover ingredients, kitchen tools, etc.

    I also want to be a voice for my specific generation, I'm 28 years old, so we are sort of caught between Gen X and Y, an odd place to be. Not exactly latch key kids but not inherently narcissistic either. I'm not sure how many of us are cooking out there, but it makes it less attractive when most cookbooks are written by and even directed at an older set. Not that I don't respect the wisdom of anyone older than me, I welcome it!

    My attempt is also to make having some sort of domestic life cool and not hokey or something you should hide. A dichotomy in life is essential to balance, I feel. To illustrate my point, a good chunk of my time and career  is spent on my minimalist, avant-garde fashion blog where I search out the edgiest, most alternative designers and professionals in the industry. Anything clean, black and odd elicits a cerebral response that I cannot deny and must tell other like-minded people about.

     And when that is all said and done I like to make a hearty casserole or stew for my little "family" with the best possible ingredients. Then we eat the leftovers (and maybe freeze the rest) because it's the smart thing to do. I'm also annoyingly organized and make tons of lists so I meal-plan for the next week or more, being careful to carry over any leftover ingredients into the next night's dinner and so on. I hope I'm painting a clear picture here!

    So this blog needs to be created for me to share what I have learned, my tactics for eating well on a budget, and document the continuing process of becoming a modern domestic.

    Wont' you join me?