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?