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Personal Chef - Too Indulgent?

comfort food, musing Comments Off on Personal Chef – Too Indulgent?
Jun 142011

On a recent flight, I had way too much time to myself to think. The first thought – the seed thought, if you will – was that I really wanted fresh guacamole. Knowing I could not get this on the plane, I began thinking about how I’d get my hands on some at home. As kind of a food snob, I ruled out stopping at taco bell or baja fresh and began thinking about some of the local eateries and whether they would do carry out, but this would be kind of a pain in the ass and also expensive. I also ruled out making my own because I was tired and because selecting fresh avocados from our crappy local grocery stores would be a challenge. So, I began thinking, “Boy, I wish I had a personal chef whose job it was to buy the ingredients and prepare me fresh guacamole at my beck and call.” I then laughed at myself, at the outrageousness of paying someone to make my food, and put the thought out of my head.

But today I was having a conversation with my lovely friend Carrie about the demands of work and life and extracurriculars and we were both complaining about how difficult it is to work a full eight (often more) hours, sit through traffic, and then prepare a fresh, healthy, nutritious meal that is ready to be eaten at a reasonable hour. I personally fail at this frequently, often ending up either going out or making the easiest and carbiest possible choice. Even if I did get home with enough time to put together a great dinner, I’m usually too tired to do much more than drop on the couch.

So why shouldn’t I consider hiring a professional to do the hard stuff for me. Sure, I love to cook (well, really I LOVE to bake, and just like cooking), but I hate prep work and enjoy clean-up even less. What if I had an employee whose job it was to buy my food – carefully selecting only the best meat and produce – prep it all,  cook it up, and clean up? How much would my quality of life improve? I think it would be great.

I have not done any research, and probably won’t because my whims are exactly that. But just noodling the idea, I imagine I could reach out to the Art Institute’s culinary program to see if there’s a young, talented aspiring food network star who wants to work cheap and maybe get some internship credit as well as experience preparing some domestic cuisine. This delightful young entrepreneur can build some specialties, working within my specific limitations (no mushrooms, mayo, or bananas – weird, right?) and probably collect delightful vignettes about his/her quirky employer. I think it’s genius.

I don’t pay a cleaning service, or a gardener (yet), so why not allow myself this one strange indulgence?

Brownies

Chocolate, comfort food Comments Off on Brownies
Jan 292011

I told my husband I would make him a treat this weekend – whatever he wanted. He requested brownies. I asked, “cream cheese brownies?” He said, “nope, plain brownies.” Alas, he likes to keep things simple. So I tried to make him plain simple brownies. But couldn’t help myself from dressing them up a bit. He consented to letting me frost them, and I threw in some chocolate chips without asking. Either way, these were easy to whip up and taste good still warm or cooled.

You will need:

1 cup butter
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 0z bittersweet chocolate
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt

Making it:

Heat oven to 350. Grease bottom and sides of 13×9 inch pan.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat. Stir until melted and remove from heat immediately – let cool for 5 minutes.

In stand mixer bowl, beat chocolate mixture, sugars, vanilla, and eggs on medium speed until well combined (about a minute). Scrape sides of bowl well (it gets sticky). Start mixer back on low and gradually add the flour and salt. Scrape sides again and then mix on medium until smooth, about another minute.

Spread batter in prepared pan (sprinkle with chocolate chips, if you like) and bake for 40-45 minutes.

What’s that you say? You want to frost it like I did? Well, here’s how you do it.

You will need:

3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter (softened, but not melty)
2 tsp vanilla
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
3 to 4 tbsp milk

Making it:

In electric  mixer bowl, beat powdered sugar and butter until blended. Beat in vanilla and chocolate. Gradually beat in milk until frosting is smooth. I prefer a thinner frosting, so I use a lot of milk, but for thicker frosting, use less.

Most people suggest letting the brownies cool before frosting them, but I am impatient and went ahead and frosted immediately. This melted the frosting into the brownie, making the top all warm and chewy, plus, it gave the top a nifty swirly, almost marbled look that is kinda pretty. Do as you wish, though.

This is the same recipe I use for my cream cheese brownies, but without the frosting and with a little cream cheese dessert mixture blended in. I’ll share that recipe another day.

Also, just asked my husband for the verdict on the brownies, he said, “f@!*ing delicious!” Nuff said.

So I’ve pretty much been sick with a horrible cough and cold since my last post and have not been able to muster up the energy to cook or bake anything. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been able to eat. No, I’ve pretty much been taking a soup tour of the town and you, dear reader, can benefit from my expert analysis of quality:

Chicken Noodle Soup:
Sabatinos Italian Restaurant, Baltimore MD – This is the best chicken noodle soup in the world. Seriously. No vegetables to detract from the tastiness, just delicious broth, chunks of white meat chicken, and little bow-tie noodles.

Corner Bakery – Yummy. Especially in the bread bowl.

Panera Bread – Pretty classic bowl of soup from that type of place. However, if you’re at Panera, you might as well just order the mac&cheese, which is much better.

Healthy Choice  – So it’s microwave soup, and altogether not that interesting, but it gets the job done, especially for work lunches.

Chicken Tortilla Soup:
Coyote Grill, Fairfax, VA – Spicy and savory, this has chunks of great vegetables and chicken. They do the right thing and serve it with sour cream, but it’s worth asking for some shredded cheese, too.

Red Robin – Served perfectly with lots of sour cream, tortilla strips, and melty cheese. And they’ll usually bring you fries, even though soup’s not supposed to come with them.

Safeway Signature – By itself, not so great, but dump a big scoop of sour cream and another of guacamole into it and you’re in business. You can also crumble tortilla chips and add shredded cheese. Definitely good for a dinner in.

Rio Grande/Uncle Julios – Gross. Yucky chunky vegetables that haven’t been cooked enough and broth with no real flavor.

Guapos, NoVa locations – Seriously gross! And also no actual chicken in the soup. Such a colossal disappointment.

Tomato Bisque:
Zoe’s Kitchen, NoVa locations – Rich and flavorful with just a bit of queso fresco, and it’s from the healthy place, so it must be good for you.

Corner Bakery – Totally serviceable, but doesn’t feel like enough of a meal.

Chicken Pot Pie:
Jason’s Deli – Ok, technically not a soup, but close enough and so tasty (the soup and the eye candy behind the counter).

Stay tuned for actual recipes coming soon.

Pink Velvet Cupcakes - A Baking Failure?

Uncategorized Comments Off on Pink Velvet Cupcakes – A Baking Failure?
Jan 162011

I had a baby shower for my dear friend noey, yesterday, and she requested pink velvet cupcakes. I have a solid red velvet recipe that I think can compete with a lot of the fancy bakeries, but I wasn’t sure about the transition from red to pink. I ended up subbing out the regular cocoa with white hot chocolate mix and using pink gel food color instead of red liquid. The batter looked great. It was hot pink and a very nice consistency. But they didn’t bake up quite right, and the color ended up being almost a coral color. It tasted good, but not as delicious as the red velvet. What could I have done differently?

Penne Vodka

dinner, pasta, spicy Comments Off on Penne Vodka
Jan 122011

This is my favorite dinner to make. It is spicy, creamy, hearty and almost obscenely indulgent. I like to serve it to company because it’s deceptively easy for how delicious it is. However, I often make it for just a regular dinner because it reheats well and can feed us three times in one week.

You will need:

1 cup vodka (use good stuff, it makes a difference)
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 lb chicken breast, cubed
olive oil
2 Tblsp butter
1/2 onion (Vidalia sweet preferred), chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
kosher salt
italian seasoning
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
2 cans (15 oz each) diced tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
1 package penne pasta

To make:

Combine vodka and red pepper flakes and refrigerate for at least an hour.
In large saute pan or stock pot, brown chicken in olive oil and butter over medium heat. When browned, add onion and garlic (and more olive oil, if needed) and continue to saute until onion is transparent. Add kosher salt and italian seasoning as desired. Reduce heat to low and stir in tomato paste, then add diced tomatoes. Simmer over low heat about 25 minutes, stirring often, until mixture is reduced to about half.

bubbling

After mixture is reduced, return heat to medium and add vodka-pepper mixture and heavy cream at the same time, in a steady stream.

swirling

Cook the sauce over medium heat for eight to ten minutes, stirring occasionally. While the sauce cooks, boil the penne according to the package. Add parmesan cheese to the sauce (I like to grate it directly over the pan). Cook another 2-5 minutes.

Drain pasta and put in a bowl. Pour the vokda sauce over it and stir to coat completely.

eat me!

Plate and serve. (Pair with a salad to feel less like a glutton).

plating

This is a great meal for the winter, and can easily be made vegetarian by ditching the chicken. The vodka cooks out, so don’t worry about alcohol content, but the carbs will straight up put you to sleep, so I wouldn’t plan on going out after chowing down.

Greek and Granola

breakfast, healthy Comments Off on Greek and Granola
Jan 092011

Want a quick, easy, healthy breakfast with lots of protein and a good amount of fiber? Try Chobani Greek Yogurt (I like strawberry or vanilla) and Safeway Select Almond & Honey Granola. You know this is good because it has comfortably replaced my far less healthy habit of chocolate croissants and soda. (For now.)

Quinn Caramels (aka Baltimore Caramel Fudge)

Chocolate, Family Recipe, Gluten Free Comments Off on Quinn Caramels (aka Baltimore Caramel Fudge)
Jan 072011

I never met my grandmother, but I have a few small connections to her. One of them is her fudge recipe, and I am proud to be using it to debut this new project. On paper, it’s pretty simple – just a few simple ingredients, melt, mix, and mold. However, in practice there are so many nuances to getting it justright that I will try to capture below. If done right, the end result will be sweet dark chocolate squares that are great snacks for parties. And as an added bonus, they are one of my few desserts that are gluten-free and still seriously delicious.

You’ll need:

ingredients

9 inch pan, buttered (stick it in the fridge while the fudge cooks)
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 stick butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

melting

In  a medium saucepan, heat chocolate, sugar, and milk over medium to low heat. Stir continuously, about 20 minutes, as chocolate melts and boils. Boiling makes it crystallize, which makes it that lovely fudge consistency in the end. The continuous stirring keeps it from burning. As it’s bubbling, add a stick of butter to the mixture and stir continuously to incorporate it. At this point, lower the temp a little bit, but keep on stirring (you’ll have nice strong forearms by the end). The mixture will start to thicken and the sides will get a little crusty. The mixture will be thick enough when it’s roughly the consistency of pudding – you’ll want a fair amount of resistance as you stir. Once you’ve reached this stage, remove the pan from heat, add the vanilla and salt, and use a handmixer to beat on high until the mixture begins to stiffen (huh-huh, I said hand, beat, and stiffen).

mixing

Then pour into prepared pan.

cooling

Allow to cool about 15 minutes and cut into squares. Allow to fully cool and then serve.

serving

Yum. Thanks, Grandma!

PS. If you don’t like super-dark chocolate, as a variation you can switch out 2 oz of unsweetened chocolate with 2 oz of bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate.

PPS. Did you know I also <3 rocknroll? Or at least I did about a year and a half ago, and probably will again, soon.

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