Friday, March 8, 2013

As many of my friends and family know, I have struggled off and on with a depression and anxiety disorder for the past several years.  I have always had problems with anxiety, even as a child, but as I've gotten older, it's gotten worse.  I was always a "worry wort" and worried about the stupidest things.  I didn't realize that it was "abnormal" until it started adversely affecting my life here recently.  Every night, I would try to go to sleep as I was exhausted, but my mind would keep racing, and I couldn't "settle down" enough to go to sleep.  I'd be wide awake for hours, then I would finally fall asleep right around the time that Hubs would get up to go to work and the boy had to get up for school--around 5 a.m.  Then, of course, being so tired, I'd sleep all day long, and not get anything done around the house.

I tried all sorts of different medications that my doctor prescribed to help with the anxiety and nothing seemed to work.  Out of sheer desperation, I turned to alcohol to try and get some sleep.  Yes, it did work at first, but like most addictive substances, I found that I needed more and more to "function" each day.  I was careful to make sure that I stayed home when I was drinking and never left the house.  Even in my addled state, I was worried about possibly hurting others if I left the house.  Oddly, I never thought about how I was hurting my own family by staying IN the house and spending my days in bed away from them.

On January 9, 2013, everything came to a head. I had been drinking that night, got confused and thought I hadn't taken my anti-depressant pills that day (I had, in the morning) and so I took them again.  Apparently, the presence of too many anti-depressants in your system drastically heightens the effects of alcohol, making you "drunker" than you would normally be.  I saw one of our cats heading down cellar (presumably to pee where he shouldn't) and so I tried to catch him.  I got very dizzy and the last thing I remember is waking up at the bottom of the stairs.  I was lucky in the fact that I only broke a toe, I could have broken my NECK!

My Hubs and sister found me a few hours later and called the paramedics.  The only thing I remember about that was some guy yelling my name and slapping my face to try and wake me up.  I barely remember the ride to the ER, just the wiggling of the gurney with the movement of the ambulance.  I woke up in the ER when they stuck an IV in my arm to administer fluids to me.  The young doctor they had looking after me was very dismissive and condescending of me when he told me I had a .3 blood alcohol level, but I guess I deserved it.

I was completely sober and extremely contrite a few hours later.  After talking with the psychiatrist, it was agreed that I would be admitted to the Maryland Behavioral Health Unit in Havre de Grace to get some help.  Apparently, when you mix alcohol with your mental health meds, it wins you a trip to the loony bin.  I was terrified, and as it turns out, rightly so.  Budget cuts and lack of funding means that people with depression/anxiety/substance abuse issues get housed with schizophrenics and the full-blown psychotics.  It was the scariest thing I have ever been through in my life.  I didn't fly over the cuckoo's nest--I landed right smack into it.

There were some "normal" people like myself, who had depression/anxiety issues, so I did make a lot of really good, close friends in just the week that I was there.  My roommate was a lovely woman who just had life dump on her over the past few months, so she was feeling really overwhelmed.  Another one of my friends whose spouse flipped out on her and left her face and eyes black and blue, was such a strong person, but I think it was almost a relief for her to be in a safe environment, even though she missed her kids terribly. One of my other friends there was a lot like me--life seemed to have just to become overwhelming and the depression was debilitating.

I kind of became that ombudsman/chief's wife/mother hen to some of the younger patients while I was there. I had no withdrawal symptoms at all from the alcohol, so I was pretty much 100% physically the first morning I was there.  I never drank EVERY day, just would "binge" when things got rough.  The psychiatrist there said I was "alcohol susceptible" but not "alcohol dependent."  So, I didn't have the DT's or seizures like some of the other patients there who were alcohol dependent.  I was clear-headed and looking forward to getting myself back to a normal life.

My heart really went out to some of the younger patients who had no support system or hope for the future.  One of the young men there really reminded me of some of the sailors on my Hub's last ship--he had no hope for the future and the reason that he was there at the BHU was that he had tried to commit suicide.  Another young man was a college student who had a heroin addiction and had (like me) fallen down a set of stairs.  The only difference was that my stairs were carpeted, while his were cement, so his face was all torn up with cuts, scrapes, and scratches.  He had a good family support system, so I think he will do well.  I do still worry about my young friend who tried to commit suicide; I'm afraid that I will open the local paper one day and find his obituary in it...

The following is the letter I wrote to my boy from the BHU.  Looking back on it two months later, I really realize how substance abuse doesn't just affect the addict, it affects the entire family.  I am extremely lucky to have such a compassionate, understanding, and forgiving son.

"Dear son,

I hope you are doing well.  I miss you so much.  I am very sorry that I have ended up here at the psychiatric hospital.  I never meant to scare or embarrass you.  I am doing a LOT better now that the doctors have adjusted my medication and I am not full of alcohol in my system.  For the first time in a long time, I actually feel "normal."  I am looking forward to a life where I am not mixing alcohol with my anti-depressants to try and solve my problems.  It was wrong of me to do that as it really made a problem for our family.

I am sorry that I haven't been the mother that you deserve to have.  You are a good person--smart, talented, and you have a wicked sense of humor; all of this, I took for granted.  I love you so much.  I am sorry for ever embarrassing you in front of your friends.  I wish I could be with you and Dad right now, but I have to concentrate on how to live life without turning to alcohol, that way I can be the mother you need and deserve.

I will probably see you in a month or so.  Until then, I hope you have fun practicing with your band.  I am so proud of you for teaching your friends how to play music--even if you did make Shelby use a cardboard guitar. :)

Hug Brady, Sox, Harvey, and Jasper for me.  I miss a good kitty cat cuddle in my bed.  I would write more, and sorry for my messy handwriting, but here in the loony bin, they only give you a tiny pencil to write with, so it's hard to write and I'm getting a hand cramp.  I guess they don't want us to stab each other with bigger pencils, ha ha.

I love you so much, son, and I miss you every day.  I can't wait to see you again when I'm finally well and back to my old, normal self.

Love, Mom

xoxoxoxox  (you owe me these when I get home :)"

I spent seven days in the BHU.  During my time there, my doctor discovered that I had a severely underactive thyroid which definitely made my depression a lot worse.  I had been wondering why my skin was so dry this winter and why my hair was falling out in clumps; now I know why.  They also found that I was extremely malnourished (due to the alcohol, I guess) and was severely depleted of Vitamins D, B, B12, and Folic Acid.  So, I got put on a pretty hefty vitamin regimen right away, along with a thyroid-correcting medication.  After about three days, I felt completely different than I had over the past few months.  Suddenly, I had energy and I was actually interested in reading again and doing activities with other people.

I was still worried about the alcohol problem though.  I was scared to go home after my week was up; I didn't trust myself NOT to drink.  So, after much discussion with my psychiatrist and my social worker (I was considered a "vulnerable adult" in the state of MD due to where I was, so I was required to have a social worker to look out for my best interests) I made the decision to go to an in-patient rehab center up in northern Pennsylvania for 21-28 days.  At the time, I was really looking forward to it.  My social worker showed me the website of the place and it looked like I would be able to get a lot out of it.  My psychiatrist said that I would be able to learn the coping skills I needed to learn in order to deal with conflict and of dealing with situations when other people tried to take advantage of me (I've pretty much been a doormat and a dumping ground for other people's problems my entire life) and that was what I was hoping would happen while I was in Rehab.

Stay tuned for my next post when I find out what REALLY happens when you go to a "Rehab for Regular People."  It was a real eye-opener for me.  The only things I knew about Rehab, I gleamed from the "Passages of Malibu" commercials on TV that show people swimming, getting acupuncture, and walking by the seaside.  Boy, was I WRONG....

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Marvelous Meatloaf

I have to admit, I make a kick-ass meatloaf.  I took a little bit of different family members' meatloaf recipes and incorporated them all into my own recipe.  What makes it extra special is the strips of bacon lovingly layered on top.  After all, what is a good meal without bacon?! 

Bacon Meatloaf with Piquant Glaze

1 lb. ground beef (I use 80/20 so it's not too dry)
1 lb. ground pork
2-3 slices of bread (I use the "white" wheat bread from the grocery store), shredded into small pieces
1-2 eggs

1 onion, small dice
2 carrots, scraped, small dice
2 stalks of celery, small dice
5-6 shiitake mushrooms, diced into small pieces
1-2 garlic cloves, minced (I like garlic so I use two, some people, not so much)

a small palmful of "garlic/herb" spices--I get a jar of it from Wegmans, but if you don't have Wegmans, use a palmful of Italian seasoning mixed with a little salt and pepper, or Mrs. Dash Italian Herb mix, also adding a little salt and pepper.

1/2 C. ketchup
1 T. dijon or brown mustard
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

4-5 slices of center cut or thick cut bacon

I use my KitchenAid stand mixer to mix up the ingredients, but you can always use your hands to mix it up.

Prepare all the vegetables and saute them in a large heated saute pan with a few teaspoons of olive oil and sprinkle them with salt to bring out the liquids in them.  Saute vegetables until they are nice and tender, set aside.  Then, add both meats to the bowl of the stand mixer and mix together on a very low speed until they are combined.  Then, continuing on low speed, add in the bread.  Once the bread has been incorporated, add one egg at a time, until you see the meat has reached a "moldable" consistency--you may not need to use both eggs, depending on how moist your meat is.  Keep the mixer on low, and add in spice mix, then slowly add in vegetables.  Continue mixing until all vegetables are incorporated.  If mixture still seems dry, add in another egg or a little water. 

Remove meat mixture to a baking sheet.  Using your hands (yes, your hands!) mold meat into a loaf shape onto the baking sheet.  Brush with the piquant glaze with a pastry brush and top with bacon slices, lengthwise down the top of the loaf.

Piquant glaze:  whisk together ketchup, mustard, and nutmeg.  If mixture seems too thick to spread, add in a little vinegar or water to thin it out.  Brush on top of loaf.

Your loaf should be about 4" wide and about 8-10" long so when you stretch the bacon out over the top of the loaf, you should be able to fit 4-5 strips of bacon lengthwise.  Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes, or internal temp reads 155 degrees. 

Remove from oven and let loaf rest for about 10 minutes so it can "set up."  Carefully slice into 1-2" slices, trying to keep bacon on the slices (I usually secure the ends with toothpicks so I can be sure to cut the bacon evenly). 

If I have time, I'll whip up a brown gravy to go with the mashed potatoes, but if you take a bite of meatloaf with a bite of mashed potatoes, you get the same effect!


I discovered this trick by accident--we're trying to use up all of our leftovers ASAP because we're getting ready to go away for a few days for the holidays. 

I had about a half a loaf left of the meatloaf.  I decided to use them in a pasta dish last night.  I cut each slice of leftover meatloaf into 1" squares to use as "meatballs."  I sauteed a diced onion and some garlic in a braising pot, then I added the "meatballs" to brown them a little bit.  When the veggies and meat were nice and browned, I added in a jar of marinara sauce, a can of diced tomatoes (with juice), a palmful of Italian seasoning, a couple of teaspoons of sugar, and two teaspoons of basil pesto from a jar.  I served it over bow-tie pasta, which is what I happened to have on hand.  Good choice though, as all the nooks and crannies really held up to the sauce.

Long story short, it came out really good.  The boy kept commenting on how tasty the meatballs were, even though he had turned his nose up at having meatloaf the night before.  Ha!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

More Culinary School Fun

The past month has been crazy/busy, between school and some personal problems, along with my contracting pneumonia, a sinus infection, and an ear infection--the triple threat.  I'm just now feeling back to normal, thanks to a new antibiotic and a rearranging of my priorities.  I saw something on FB today that sums up the month I've had.  It was a quote that said, "I may be strong, but every now and then I need somebody to hold my hand and tell me everything's going to be all right."  I am lucky to have my husband and son to support me over the past several difficult years.

Now, enough with the soapbox, on to the recipes!

I really enjoyed my Introduction to Kitchen Techniques class.  Basically, the Chef had us read the recipes the night before class, write out recipe cards for the next day, and then just start cooking the next day.  Each day had a theme, such as salads, sandwiches, entrees, veggies, etc.  Makes me look forward to my new class Soups, Stocks, and Sauces that I'll be taking after my mini break, starting in January.

Now, a disclaimer up front.  I don't have pictures of every single recipe this time because my phone kept acting wonky from time to time, so I wasn't always able to get a photo.  But, the recipes were all pretty straightforward and you shouldn't have a hard time replicating them.

First up, homemade mayonnaise.  It can be complicated but if you take your time or use a food processor or blender, you will really be pleased that you tried it.  For our practical exam, we had to do the recipe by hand, with a whisk.  It took about 15 minutes to do it and I had a terrible cramp in my arm by the time I was done, but I was successful in getting my mayo set up.  Secretly, I was pleased to see that the students who are the "teacher's pets" in the back of the classroom all had their mayo curdle because they rushed adding the oil to the emulsion.

All of them had to do it again, one even had to do it a third time.  For once, they didn't finish their other recipes before the rest of us and my partner and I were actually done plating way before they were.  Normally, I don't rejoice in the misfortunes of others, but these three guys drove us crazy.  They would rush through their work to finish plating, (they all work in restaurants already) and then leave the rest of us to clean the kitchen and do the dishes. 


1 egg yolk (I found that by setting my egg out so it could get to room temperature, it made the mixing a lot easier)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dry mustard (we used Colman's, an English yellow mustard powder)
2.25 T. red wine vinegar
7 oz. vegetable oil (I had to use a mix of olive/vegetable oil because the teacher's pets got to the regular oil before I could)
lemon juice and white pepper to taste

1. place egg yolk in mixing bowl and whip until frothy.
2. Add the salt, mustard, and the vinegar, whisk to combine well.
3. Begin to add the oil, literally a drop at a time, until mixture begins to thicken and emulsion begins to form.  (This is the step that my fellow students messed up on; they got too eager and added way too much oil at this step).
4. Add remaining oil in a slow, steady stream, thinning mayo if need be with the lemon juice.
5. Continue mixing until all oil has been incorporated into the mix.  Add white pepper to taste and refrigerate.

Dijon Vinaigrette

8 fl. oz. wine vinegar
2 tsp. salt
black pepper, to taste
24 fl. oz. salad or vegetable oil
4 oz. Dijon mustard

Note:  this is a restaurant-sized recipe.  You can either make the whole recipe and keep it for a couple of weeks in the fridge, or you can size down the recipe.

Combine vinegar, salt, pepper, and mustard and whisk together well.  Whisk in the oil gradually.  Bring to room temperature before serving.  You can also do like I do:  mix the wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and mustard in a canning jar or other tight-fitted lidded jar, add the oil and then shake the jar well until dressing emulsifies.

Maple Glazed Carrots

2 lbs. baby carrots
2 oz. butter
salt and pepper to taste
2 oz. maple syrup
1 T. fresh parsley, chopped.

Wash and trim baby carrots if needed.  Parboil the carrots in salt water and refresh in ice water (carrots should be very firm, but bright orange in color).  Saute the carrots in the butter until nearly tender.  Season with salt and pepper and syrup.  Cook briefly, toss carrots to coat with syrup.  Garnish with parsley.

Next up was two days of Salad Prep.  We got to make several different salads from different backgrounds/ethnicities.  A couple of the recipes had shrimp, which I don't eat, but it looked like the salads could do without the shrimp if need be.

Thai Salad with Shrimp, Beef, and Rice Noodles

2 Thai peppers, seeded/minced (wear gloves!)
1/4 C. fish sauce
1/4 C. soy sauce
1 T. molasses
1/4 C. lime juice
1/4 C. rice wine vinegar
1/4 C. sugar
1 T. red chili paste

These first 8 ingredients make up the sauce base.  Once mixed, you will need to measure out 1/2 C. of the sauce base and set it aside, reserving rest of sauce for later in the recipe.

4 T. vegetable oil
1 C. shallots sliced on the diagonal
1/4 C. garlic, roughly chopped
1/4 C. lemon grass, minced
1/4 C. ginger root, minced

Heat the vegetable oil in a hot pan, add the shallots, garlic, lemon grass, and ginger root; saute until tender.  Then add:

4 oz. beef, finely chopped and mixed with 1/2 of an egg white
4 oz. shrimp, finely chopped and mixed with the other 1/2 of an egg white.

Saute until meat is cooked through, breaking up lumps with a spoon.  Add the 1/2 C. of the sauce base and stir to incorporate.  Taste for seasoning and remove from heat.

Prepare the following veggies and herbs in a large bowl:

2 C. Napa cabbage, shredded
1 C. carrots, grated
3 more scallions, julienned
1 T. mint, roughly chopped
1 T. basil, roughly chopped
1 T. cilantro, roughly chopped
1 T. lime zest, finely grated

Toss the beef/shrimp/sauce mixture lightly with the above vegetables in the large bowl, adding additional spoonfuls of sauce base if needed.  Toss to mix thoroughly and quickly.

Throw a handful of rice noodles into a deep fat fryer or a pan filled with hot oil at 375 degrees, until noodle are brown and crispy.  Toss onto salad and mix.

Creamy Coleslaw

This is pretty much how I make coleslaw at home, but I use cracked black pepper instead of the white pepper, and I add a good amount of celery seed.

8 fl. oz. mayonnaise (I used the mayo we made in class)
4 oz. sour cream/creme fraiche
1 oz. granulated sugar
1 fl. oz. cider vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 lb. shredded green cabbage
8 oz. shredded red cabbage
4 oz. shredded carrot
salt and white pepper to taste

1. combine the mayo, sour cream, sugar, vinegar, and garlic in a bowl; whisk together
2. Add the shredded cabbages and carrots to the dressing and mix well.  Season to taste with the salt, pepper, and celery seed if desired.

I served the salad on two cabbage leaves and two Napa cabbage leaves for color.

Buffalo Chicken Pasta Salad

Now, I didn't think I'd like this one as I usually don't "do the spicy," but to my surprise, it was really good.  You can add more hot sauce if you like it really spicy.

1/2 lb. boneless chicken, diced into 1" cubes
3 oz. buttermilk
3 oz. hot sauce (we use Frank's Red Hot here at the house)
2 T. brown sugar
7 oz. lemon juice.

Marinate the above ingredients in the refrigerator for about an hour or overnight.  Remove chicken from marinade and drain well.

Mix 1 C. cornstarch, 1 T. salt, 1 T. white pepper, and 1 tsp. cayenne pepper in a small bowl.  Dredge the chicken in the seasoned cornstarch mixture and fry it in a deep fat fryer or pan full of hot oil at 350 degrees until golden brown.  Drain chicken on towels and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan to the boil and boil 1.5 C. bowtie pasta until al dente.  (We had to use macaroni instead because once again, the goodie two-shoe students bagged the bow-tie pasta).

Drain, cool in cold water and put in a large bowl.  Add 3 oz. hot sauce, 3 oz. mayonnaise, and 3 oz. crumbled blue cheese, mixing well.  Add in chicken, then the following vegetables and herbs:

1/2 C. julienned red onion
1 stalk celery, finely julienned
1 T. parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper and additional hot sauce (if you like) to taste.

This would be a big hit at football/Superbowl parties, I loved it!

Taco Salad

1 flour tortilla
6 oz. ground beef
1 tsp. taco mix (I use Penzey's--the best in my opinion )
1 plum tomato, seeded and cut into wedges
1 C. lettuce, shredded

Garnishes:  shredded cheddar cheese, diced red onion, sliced avocado, black olives.  Additionally, for a dressing for the salad, I mixed equal amounts of sour cream and salsa together and added a pinch of cumin.

1. Deep fry the tortilla with basket mold (I want one!!  But, you can use a round fryer spoon to gently hold the tortilla down in the oil) until crisp (at about 350-375 degrees); remove from fat and drain on absorbent toweling, set aside.  You can also bake the tortilla in the oven by spraying it with cooking spray and pressing it on the back of a muffin tin in a 350 degree oven until browned.  Set aside to let cool.

2. Brown ground beef in saute pan over medium heat and drain off excess fat.  Season with the taco mix and mix well.

3. Assemble salad; place shell on plate, add lettuce and top with beef, garnishes, and dressing.

4. Serve immediately.

  Cobb Salad

8 oz. romaine lettuce
4 oz. green leaf lettuce
4 oz. watercress (or micro-greens)
4 hard-cooked eggs, diced up
4 avocados, pitted, peeled and sliced into wedges
16 bacon slices
1 lb. Roquefort or other blue cheese, crumbled
1 lb. turkey breast, roasted and julienned
1 lb. plum tomatoes, diced

Use the basic Dijon vinaigrette listed above for the salad.

1. Tear, wash, and dry the lettuces. Pick over and wash the watercress.
2. Hard cook the eggs, then peel and chop/dice them.
3. Pit and peel the avocados and chop into wedges.
4. Dice the bacon up into 1" pieces and saute in a pan until crisp.  Remove and drain well.
5. Todd the salad greens together, and arrange the eggs, avocados, bacon, cheese, turkey and tomatoes on top of the salad in an artistic fashion.  Serve the Dijon Vinaigrette on the side.

Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing

3 C. fresh spinach, picked and rinsed
2 eggs, hard cooked, and chopped
6 red onion rings
6 oz. hot bacon dressing
8 plum tomato wedges

1. Clean spinach and take off all stems.
2. Arrange salad with eggs and red onion rings.
3. Top with hot bacon dressing, just before serving.

Hot Bacon Dressing:

6 slices of bacon
3 T. sherry vinegar
1/4 C. onion, diced
3 oz. water
5 tsp. brown sugar

1. Cook bacon in a large skillet in a large skillet until crisp; remove bacon and rest on paper towels, reserve bacon drippings.  
2. Carmelize onions in bacon fat; drain off the fat.  Crumble the bacon and set aside.
3. Add vinegar, water, and sugar to onion and drippings in the skillet and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat.
4. Pour hot bacon dressing over salad and garnish with the bacon.

Rice Salad with Shrimp

1.5 T. salad or vegetable oil
3 T. onion, diced
2/3 C. long grain rice
1 tsp. turmeric
salt to taste
1 1/3 C. chicken stock (omit salt if making stock from a chicken base or bouillon)
1 bay leaf
black pepper to taste

1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. Old Bay
5-6 large, peeled and deveined shrimp
Water to cover shrimp

3 1/3 T. balsamic vinegar
1/3 C. vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste

Mix above ingredients, whisking to combine--this is the vinaigrette

3 T. raisins
3 T. shredded carrots
3 T. scallion, green part only

1. heat oil in a sauce pot; sweat onions in the pot, until transparent.  Add the uncooked rice, turmeric and salt.  Stir until mixture begins to turn yellow and rice becomes shiny.
2. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cover for approximately 30 minutes or until done.  Cool, then refrigerate.
3. Make the vinaigrette dressing while rice is cooking.
4. Also while rice is cooking, combine bay leaf, pepper, cloves, coriander, salt and Old Bay with enough water to cover the shrimp.  Bring mixture to the boil 5 minutes and add shrimp, cooking for 3-4 minutes or until shrimp are cooked.
5. Drain shrimp, then cool them, and add to vinaigrette.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.
6. Just before serving, combine the rice, shrimp, dressing, carrots, raisins, and scallions.  Serve on a platter on a bed of lettuce leaves (I used endive).

New Potato Salad with Mustard and Dill

Note: I make a really good loaded potato salad that has bacon, eggs, and chives in it.  You can find it here:

4 lbs. new potatoes
4 fl. oz. mayonnaise
4 oz. sour cream
1 1/2 tsp. chopped garlic
salt to taste
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 T. fresh dill, chopped
2 T. dijon mustard
1 green pepper julienned
1 red bell pepper, julienned
6 oz. red onion, julienned
4 oz. celery, julienned

1. Boil the potatoes in salted water until done but still firm.  Chill well and cut into quarters.  Combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, garlic, salt, pepper, dill, and mustard; mix well, mashing potatoes slightly.  Fold in peppers, onions, and celery, season with additional salt and pepper if needed.

I don't have a photo of this one, but you can imagine, it was really pretty with the red and green of the peppers in it.  I don't normally like peppers in my potato salad, but this wasn't too bad.

Watermelon and Cherry Salad with Fresh Mint Syrup

Fresh mint, 1 bunch
8 fl. oz. water
3 oz. granulated sugar
3 lb. watermelon, scooped out with melon baller or cut into 1" wedges
2 lb. fresh cherries, pitted
Additional fresh mint sprigs as a garnish

1. Pick the mint leaves off the stem and wash them.
2. Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan.  Blanch mint leaves in water for 20 seconds.  Remove the leaves and refresh them in ice water and set aside to dry on paper towels.  Reserve blanching water.
3. Add the sugar to the blanching water, bring to a boil and cook for two minutes.
4. Finely chop the mint leaves and the chopped mint to the sugar syrup.  Refrigerate syrup until cold.
5. Mix the melon balls, cherries, and mint syrup in a mixing bowl.  Transfer to a platter, then garnish with the mint springs.

I don't have a picture of this one either, but it was really pretty, and the sugar syrup made the watermelon taste like a fresh melon eaten right at the peak of summer.

That's going to have to be it for tonight.  My next blog post will be on sandwiches, then the one after that will be on pasta, then shish kebabs, green beans, and a few other yummy goodies.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

New England-Style Grilled Cheese, with Home-Made Honey Viniagrette Salad, and Tomato Soup

Since the weather is cold and clammy due to the Nor'easter, I decided to make one of my favorite "rainy night" meals--grilled cheese and tomato soup.  I also decided to do my weekly chicken baking at the same time since I would be using the oven for the grilled cheese.  What I mean by "weekly chicken baking" is, that each week, I buy the "club pack" size of chicken at Wegman's (usually around 12 boneless, skinless, chicken cutlets) and I cook up 8 of them in the oven with some herbs and spices, let them cool and either shred them or cut them up into smaller pieces and put them in Ziploc bags in the fridge.  This way, I have cooked chicken already on hand for busy nights when I have school--I can just take a handful, add taco seasoning, or sloppy joe seasoning, to make a quick meal. 

I also take the chicken and use it as a topping for various types of salad that I bring to school in my Bento box (that's the subject of my next post, btw!).  For instance, for a "Tex-Mex" salad, I sprinkle the chicken with cumin and lime juice and top my salad with the chicken, rinsed black beans, diced purple onion, and a little sprinkle of cilantro.  For the dressing, I mix sour cream with some of my salsa, and add a few drops of hot sauce.  Voila, instant Tex-Mex.  For my sides in my Tex-Mex box, I put some more black beans, mixed with a little lime juice, and some of the purple onions.  In the bottom box, I put some salsa and bring some chips in a baggie.  I make myself a rice ball and sprinkle it with cumin for a snack.

That's just a teaser, I'll post the rest of my Bento box salad ideas in the next post.  :)  Back to the grilled cheese!  Now, being a New Englander, the only way I make grilled cheese is with either white American sliced cheese or sharp cheddar sliced cheese.  I'm not a cheese racist in the least, the white American just melts better and tastes creamier in my opinion.  And, it's a long-standing tradition handed down from my grandparents, so it works for me.

Here's how I do grilled cheese.  There are three of us in the family, but Jeremy doesn't like tomato soup so I make him two grilled cheeses instead. 

New England-Style Grilled Cheese
8 slices of whole-grain "white" bread
4 slices (or more if you like it really cheesy, like the boy) of white-American cheese
"real" Mayonnaise, for spreading (now, for those of you who are going "eww," relax, it will turn out great, trust me.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Place a pizza stone or cookie sheet on the middle rack.  Spread each slice of bread with the mayonnaise on one side.  Open the oven, pull out the middle rack.  Place 4 slices of the mayonnaised bread, mayo facing down, evenly spaced apart.  Place a slice of cheese on each piece of bread, then top with the 4 remaining slices of bread, mayo side facing up.  Close the oven and let the sandwiches bake until the down facing side is golden brown, about 5-7 minutes, depending on your oven.  Flip the sandwiches over, then bake for a further 5-7 minutes, or until also golden brown.  Let sandwiches cool slightly, then slice them diagonally and serve with the tomato soup.  Now, this is where you'll notice the difference between using softened butter and mayo.  The egg in the mayo causes the bread to crust up really well, so the sandwich is nice and crunchy and the oil leaves a nice shine on the bread.  I accidentally stumbled across this when I forgot we were out of butter when I was making grilled cheese and didn't want to use oil.  I saw the jar of mayo on the counter, and had a lightbulb moment. 

Tomato Soup

1 can of Campell's Condensed Tomato Soup

Open can of soup and empty into a saucepan, add a can of.... who am I kidding?  If you don't know how to make tomato soup, I am so, so sorry.

Finally, on to the salad.  I wanted to serve a protein with my meal as I knew Hubs would be starving when he got home from work so I decided to take four of the chicken cutlets left over from my club pack and flatten them out and roll a couple of salami slices up in them to make mini-pinwheels as a garnish for our salad.  (Here's the thing with me that my Hubs and son sometimes find really anal about me, my insistence on the fact that there must be a protein and a vegetable or fruit with every meal).   I also love making my own salad dressings and viniagarettes, it's a lot cheaper and there are no preservatives.

Honey-Mustard Viniagarette Chicken Salad with mini-Chicken Pinwheels  

4 boneless, skinless chicken thigh cutlets
6-8 slices of Genoa salami (from the deli counter)
Penzey's Shallot Pepper seasoning (or, just use a lot of pepper)  (
Onion powder
Garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste

Get out a cutting board.   Open each cutlet out onto the board, evenly spaced apart.  Cover the cutlets with a sheet of waxed paper, making sure the cutlets are completely covered.  Press the waxed paper firmly into the chicken.  Take a meat mallet (I actually use my old wooden rolling pin that the handle fell out it, hold it vertically and use it that way as a mallet.  I find it's faster as it covers more surface area) and pound out thinly to a 1/4" thickness.  Take off the waxed paper, and cover each cutlet with one or two slices of salami until surface of the cutlets is completely covered with salami.  Starting at one of the short ends of the cutlet, tightly roll up each cutlet, securing with toothpicks if needed (I didn't).  Place rolled cutlets, seam side down on a greased baking sheet.  Sprinkle each roll with the spices and salt and pepper.  Place in a pre-heated 375 degree oven and bake until chicken reaches 160 degrees with a meat thermometer, or until juices run clear.  Let chicken cool cocompletely, then slice into 1/4" wide slices, starting from one of the short ends.  Add more salt and pepper to the sides of the pinwheels if desired.  Place the chicken over a bed of lettuce, spring mix, or other desired salad greens.  Drizzle the salad, especially the chicken pinwheels, with the honey-mustard vinaigrette.  Recipe follows.

Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette  Also makes a great marinade for chicken wings or baked chicken breast/thighs.

1/3 C. red wine vinegar
1/3 C. vegetable (or olive if you want a stronger tasting oil) oil
1 tsp. McCormick Italian seasoning
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Colman's English mustard (I LOVE this stuff, Jamie Oliver turned me on to it) or, any other yellow mustard and add a little extra vinegar to counteract that Colman's has a high vinegar content than regular yellow mustard.
1/4 C. honey
1 TBSP of sugar, or a little less to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all of your spices with the mustard and let stand for 5 minutes, so the dried herbs can reconstitute.  Next, add the honey and combine.  Add the vinegar and whisk in the oil so it emulsifies.  Or, you can just do what I do, which works like a charm every time for oil & vinegar dressing--mix the honey/mustard/spice mixture into a clean jar with a lid, then add the vinegar and oil to the jar.  Screw on the lid and shake until dressing emulsifies.  This used to be the boy's job as a younger kid before supper.  He loved shaking the jar up and down.  Drizzle the dressing over the salad, especially the chicken or store refrigerated to use later as a marinade.

Here's a photo of the finished meal.  Toddy thought my plating looked professional looking.  Enjoy!

New England-Style Grilled Cheese, with Home-Made Honey Viniagrette Salad, and Tomato Soup

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Free Books! And Things I've Learned on My Commute, or a Handy Travel Guide For People Traveling I-95 Through Baltimore

Free books!  No, sorry, not for you, for me!  As many of you know, Stratford University, where I attend as a Culinary Student, recently took over the old Baltimore International College, which lost its national accreditation.  Stratford is a modern, progressive university and they are cleaning house, literally.  They consolidated two lumbering college buildings, several miles from each other (a real pain, I tell you) into one modern, updated building.  This included renovating the library and moving it to the other building.  They also wanted to update the library so they are literally vomiting out boxes of free books in boxes in the hallways for students to take.

You know me, I am a complete bibliophile.  Both of my parents were voracious readers and my childhood home was lined with bookcases EVERYWHERE.  My friends used to joke that our house should be called "The Library."  Both loved their books and couldn't bear to throw them away, so they'd keep them and reread them from time to time.  My sister and I never had to buy a book for ourselves, we'd read theirs, and if we wanted to get a new book, we were never told "no" when it came to books.  We've each collected a "Library" of our own over our lifetimes.  This was in the days before e-readers, so we physically had a lot of books on our shelves.

So, when the boxes were put out there again today (this is the third time they've purged as they got more new books for us) you know I was right there, picking through the books like a fiend, not unlike the tag-salers I used to get at my yard sales in Puerto Rico.  I made a "pile" and kept my eagle eyes open for any cookbooks.  I ended up with (ahem) ALL cookbooks, except for one tiny tome on what life was like during the London Blitz for the various writers and playwrights.  Here's a pic of my haul:

Okay, so maybe some of these may be circa 1978, but they HAD stoves back then, people.

Mind you, I missed out because it was my Hospitality Supervision class tonight so I only had my cute, little Japanese vinyl tote with the kokeshi dolls on it that barely holds my textbook, a 1-subject spiral notebook, and if I squeeze it in the right way, a pen.  If I'd had my backpack with me for Culinary classes, I could have filled that sucker right up.

I ended up getting home early tonight as we only had a mid-term and some library research, so we left at 8:15.  I got home at 8:45 (no, I wasn't speeding, I got lucky and there was no traffic) and Hubs and the boy were still up and sitting in the living room.  I had my arms full of books, so I had to kick the front door with my boot instead of ringing the doorbell.

The boy opened the door, saw my books, and like all teenagers do when they feel their parents are ridiculous, rolled his eyes at me and said, "'Sup."  Then he put his earbuds in and proceeded to pretend that he had ever seen me.  I then saw some suspicious bruises on his neck (after he'd spent all afternoon at his girlfriend's house) and proceeded to go off on him about the white-trashiness of hickey necklaces and then my volume button seriously went up...  OMG, you're not going to that girl's house anymore, obviously you're not being supervised over there, I don't want to be a 43-year old grandma, I raised you better than that... OKAY, whew!  I think he got my point.  Back to normal blood pressure and blogging.  (Seriously?  Hickeys?  W.T.F).

So, after normalcy had returned, and Hubs stopped looking at me like I had turned into a Lycan in front of his eyes, I set my pile of books down on the table.  Warily, he eyed my loot and said, "Um, I do hope some books are going to be leaving the house to make room for these new ones."  "Well, these are for my CAREER," I replied, smiling sweetly at him.  "They're considered to be Professional Gear when we do our final government move."  "Huh." he said and resumed watching the election results.  (Silly man, I know half the crap in your <air quotes> Professional Gear is actually arty photography books and photos from your period of being obsessed with photographing mannequins--I can play that game, too).

Seriously though, I DO plan on using these books in a professional capacity.  Hubs and I had been looking into the idea of starting with a food truck, but after I got a couple of books on how to operate a food truck business, he practically had to scrape me off the floor when I found out that these so-called "roach coaches" now cost a tidy sum--around $50,000-$70,000 just to buy the truck and basic equipment.  Whoa Nellie!  The Cheapo Chicos can't afford that.  So Hubs, being the resourceful ex-Senior Chief that he is, had a lightbulb moment and said, "DRMO!"  I was like, "Was that English?"  What he was referring to, for you non-Navy types (and twits like me) is the government's liquidation program for stuff they no longer need.  Turns out, they have a huge website of all sorts of discarded equipment they no longer need, most of it barely used, and you can buy it on the cheap.

Hubs found some mobile kitchens on the website from both the Army and the Marine Corps--probably they'd been used in Iraq or Afghanistan, and they no longer needed them with the military troop drawdown.  He went down there tonight to look at them and he is confident they will meet our needs.  They have coolers, freezers, steam tables, steam kettles, flat top grills, 6-burner stoves, dishwashers, prep areas AND ALL OF THE POTS, PANS, AND UTENSILS.  It's like a complete restaurant in a box.  We are going to put a bid on a couple of them this weekend when the auction opens.

For those of you who don't know, our plan, when we move to Maine, is to buy some property in a rural area near the numerous snowmobile/4-wheeler trails and park ourselves right near the end(s) of the trails to serve all the hungry people who've been in the woods on the trails all day.  Hot soups and hot comfort food in the winter for the snowmobilers, and gourmet sandwiches, salads, and refreshing drinks in the summer for the 4-wheelers.  Sounds like a win-win to us.  Plus, we'd be selling produce, herbs, and honey from Hubs, the Gentleman Farmer which we'd grow on our land.  I can't wait!!!

Of course, to achieve this dream, yours truly has to get through and graduate from Culinary School.  To do so, I have to commute 20-something miles to downtown Baltimore several times a week on I-95 to do so.  I thought I'd share some of my observations I've seen on my commute and also provide a sort of "Travel Guide" to those who might repeat my journey.

Things I've Learned on My Commute, or a Handy Travel Guide For People Traveling I-95 Through Baltimore

1. People in MD don't know how to merge.  They think the acceleration lane to get onto 95 means you must slow down and then pull out at the last second, never mind there is a semi in the right lane.

2.  People automatically turn into sheeple when they get within two miles of the White Marsh or Towson/Essex exits.  You really can't blame them; those areas were complete messes for years until they rearranged the traffic patterns so it's natural that they'd be idiots.

3. Toll collectors at the Ft. McHenry tunnel do not appreciate being handed a twenty dollar bill for a three dollar toll.  They will let you know this by sighing loudly, taking their time to count back your change--usually all in one dollar bills--and thrusting your change back at you.  Conversely, they do not appreciate being blasted by Linkin Park or inadvertent cigarette exhalations.  Noted.

4.  Remember to roll your windows up before going into the Ft. McHenry tunnel, otherwise you will go temporarily deaf and you will experience a ringing in the ears for awhile after.  (Also, your teacher will not be pleased when he has to call your name several times for the attendance).  Roll your windows back down so your ears can pop from the altitude difference from the tunnel.

5.  Even though you are a die-hard New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox fan, DO remember to stop by the Beverage Barn to pick up the pocket-sized Baltimore Ravens and Baltimore Orioles schedules.  That way when you are coming off I-395 into the city by Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, you can avoid going down Conway St., bypassing both the traffic and the rabid Baltimore "Birds" fans.

6.  When you have gone past the Inner Harbor and are getting into Little Italy where Stratford is located, roll your windows up again, so when you are stopped at the numerous stoplights, you can avoid the people trying to wash your windshield for you, or the people who brazenly walk up to you and ask if they can buy a cigarette for thirty cents.  Click. Doors. Locked.

7.  Upon parking in the lot at Stratford, grab your 150 tons of Culinary gear (my textbook actually weighs 10 LBS.--I weighed it) and head in for class, locking your doors so no one steals your toll money again, forcing you to give the toll collector the $20 bill in your wallet.

8.  Ah...4.5 hours later, your class is over!  Check all around your vehicle and make sure you have the pepper spray out.  You can't take any chances, a woman jogging in Fell's Point was dragged into an alley last week by a man with a knife and sexually assaulted, and that's literally right.around.the.corner. Quickly unlock and leap into your car, locking the door immediately.  Set radio to 98 Rock, knowing they will play Linkin Park right when you are getting to the toll booth, yay!

9.  After going through the tunnel & toll again (this time, deciding at the last minute to be considerate and turning your radio down) race out of the toll lane in low gear, knowing you've got to outrace all the semis barreling along next to you.  You push your 12-year old, valve-challenged car to its limits, but yes!  You've managed get up the steep hill without being squished between two semis.

10. At the top of the hill, roll down your window and breathe in through your nostrils deeply.  Suddenly, the pungent smell of Old Bay hits your olfactory senses and you are in heaven.  You've just gone over the factory where they still make it.  Mmmmm...

11.  Still enjoying your Old Bay buzz, lazily look out your window to the left to view the beautiful neon artistry of the Natty Boh sign and the Dominos Sugar signs.  Pure artistic bliss...  Okay, eyes back on the road!!!

12.  Cackle to one's self as all the through-staters barrel past you in the left lane, going 70 in a 55 mph zone.  Ha ha, through-staters, the rest of us with MD plates know about the Staties hiding up the road and of course, the locations of the speed cameras.  Yep, you can have my ticket, New Jersey!

13.  The stretch of interstate after the Towson/Essex exit is nice and dark, perfect for picking that surreptitious annoying booger.  (C'mon, admit it, we've all done it).

14. Warning!  Bears in the trees at mile markers 69.2, 69.9, and 72--almost ALWAYS.  Hey, Smokey, we're not that stupid.

15.  Getting ready to go over Gunpowder Falls and it's nice and dark.  Good time to rearrange the bra (or, to take care of any remaining boogers).

16.  ACK!  Fallston Exit.  Bright...lights...cannot...see.  Quick check in mirror to make sure boobs and boogers are where they should be, lest any other drivers see me in this prison yard lighting.

17.  Exit 77B!  You've made it.  DO turn on your hi-beams to avoid nature's creatures.  I once almost clotheslined a deer and scared the shit out of a godzilla-coon coming off the exit.  I like to hunt deer, not hit them with my car.

18.  I hope you enjoyed experiencing my commute with me.  Oh, and if you're ever in MD and you cut me off, I will roll down my window and flick a booger at you.

(Seriously, the booger thing only happened to me once.  I blew my nose into a tissue and had a hitchhiker that would not for the life of me, come off the end of my nose.  Then again, I've seen so many people drilling their noses for gold around here, it probably was mild compared to that--love y'all, Beck)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New Recipes from my Taste of Home mag--can't wait to try these!

So, I subscribe to a couple of different magazines and love getting them in the mail.  One of my favorites (besides my naughty little guilty pleasure, People Magazine) is when I get my Taste of Home in my mailbox.  This issue is a "special" edition (meaning it would cost like $10 if you just bought it at the grocery store checkout) so it's chock full of some really neat recipes, so I thought I would share some of the ones I found interesting with my family and friends who don't have the pleasure of getting this magazine.  Note:  I tweaked the recipes slightly from the originals in the magazine to improve them, ie. when they called for "chopped" veggies, I changed it to "diced" as huge chunks of green pepper, for example, sounded unappetizing.

Warm Chicken Fiesta Dip

1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 TBSP olive oil
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
1 10 oz. can of condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted
1 10 oz. can of Ro-Tel (a combo of canned, diced tomatoes with chilis) undrained
1 jalapeno (or other hot pepper), finely chopped
4 cups of cooked, shredded chicken (or the leftovers from a rotisserie chicken)
2 C. (8 oz.) shredded cheddar
1 green (spring) onion, sliced thinly
Tortilla or corn chips to serve.  You could also use fat-free Wheat Thins if you're watching your calorie count.

Marinated Mozzarella Cheese Cubes

1/3 C. good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 TBSP oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped finely
1 TBSP fresh parsley, minced
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp chives, minced
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 lb. mozzarella cheese, cubed into 1" squares

In a large Ziploc bag (gallon or quart sized), combine the first seven ingredients, then add cheese cubes.  Seal bag, and shake to combine ingredients.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before transferring to a serving dish and serving with toothpicks (I usually put a handful of toothpicks in a shot glass to serve).

Bacon Bleu Cheese Appetizer

1 8 oz. wedge of bleu cheese
1 TBSP honey (you KNOW I always use honey from Naughty Toddy's Honey Pot!!!)
3 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
assorted crackers (I use Carr's Rosemary Water Wafer Crackers--they are also delicious with baked Camembert, hint hint).

Place the cheese on a platter or serving plate.  Drizzle with the honey and sprinkle the bacon "bits" all over cheese.  Let stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes so the cheese can "ripen" and develop its full flavor.  This recipe is so easy, my dog could make it.  Well, that is if he doesn't eat the cheese or bacon first...

Beef Roast with Onion Cream Sauce (you could also use a venison roast if you're lucky enough to get your hands on one.  I have one in the freezer right now :)

1/2 C. red wine vinegar
1/4 C. ketchup
2 TBSP vegetable oil
2 TBSP soy sauce (I prefer Kikkoman's--it's the one that reminds me the most of Japanese soy sauce)
2 TBSP Worcestshire sauce (say it with me, people--"Woost-a-sheer" it makes me cringe when people say "Worst-er-shire" ha ha)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp prepared mustard (I admit, I'm a bit of a mustard snob--I prefer Colman's English Mustard or Grey Poupon's original Dijon Mustard)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 3-4 lb. beef sirloin roast (chuck, rump, or tip)


2 TBSP butter
1 TBSP flour
1 C. milk
1 C. heavy whipping cream
1 envelope Lipton's onion/mushroom soup mix

Get out a large Ziploc bag.  Combine the first nine ingredients and put them in the bag.  Sear the beef on all sides (if you like; I do) let cool slightly; place in Ziploc bag with other ingredients.  Seal the bag and squish all of the ingredients around the beef to coat it.  Put the beef bag in the fridge for 8 hours or overnight.  Drain the marinade and discard.  Place the roast in a roasting pan and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 1.75 hours to 2.5 hours, or until meat reaches your desired doneness.  If using a meat thermometer, resulting temp should be between 145-170 degrees for safety.  Let roast stand for 10 minutes before carving; in the meantime, make the sauce.

Melt butter in a saucepan; whisk in flour until smooth.  Gradually add the milk, cream and Lipton's soup mix.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 2 minutes or until thickened to your likeness.  Serve over roasted beef slices.  If you like, add a TBSP or so of cooking sherry when you add the water to the saucepan--it adds a little zing to the sauce.

Mushroom Swiss Macaroni and Cheese

1 16 oz. package of mini penne pasta
1/2 lb. baby portobello mushrooms, chopped finely
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 TBSP butter
1 TBSP olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced finely


5 TBSP butter
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, cubed into 1" pieces
1.25 C. whole milk
1.25 C. half & half
2.5 C. (or 10 oz.) shredded Swiss cheese
1.25 C. grated Parmesan/Romano cheese blend
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
6 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled


1/3 C. Panko bread crumbs
2 TBSP fresh parsley, minced
2 TBSP melted butter

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile, in a large skillet or saute pan, saute mushrooms and onions in the butter and olive oil until tender.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer.  Set aside to cool.  In a large saucepan, melt the 5 TBSP of butter.  Stir in the cream cheese until smooth.  Gradually add in the milk and cream; heat through.  Stir in the cheeses, salt & pepper and bacon until blended.  Drain the pasta and toss with mushroom mixture and sauce.  Lay out in a rectangular casserole dish.  Combine the Panko, parsley, and melted butter and sprinkle over casserole.  Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Garlic-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Mustard Sauce

1/5 lbs fresh Brussels sprouts, each cut in half
2 TBSP olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 C. heavy whipping cream
3 TBSP prepared mustard (Colman's or Dijon mustard)
1/8 tsp white pepper (you can use black pepper, but it won't be as spicy--add a little more black pepper than what the recipe calls for)
a pinch of salt (to taste)

Place Brussels sprouts in a greased full sheet pan.  Combine oil and garlic, drizzle over sprouts and toss lightly to coat.  Bake uncovered at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until tender, stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the cream, mustard, pepper and salt.  Bring to a gentle boil and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until slightly thickened.  Serve sauce over roasted Brussels sprouts.

Swiss Potato Bake

5 large uncooked baking (Russet) potatoes, peeled and shredded with a grater (or, if you're lazy like me, just cut the potatoes up into small pieces)
1 C. shredded Swiss cheese
3/4 C. sliced green (spring) onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 C. (16 oz.) sour cream (not skim or fat-free)
1/4 C. melted butter
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 C. sliced almonds (you can find these in the baking section of your grocery store)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the potatoes, Swiss cheese, onions and garlic, then place the mixture in a casserole or baking dish.  In another mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, melted butter, salt and pepper.  Pour over mixture in baking dish, then sprinkle with sliced almonds.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 55-65 minutes, or for safety, until a thermometer reads 160 degrees.

Garlic/Bacon/Stilton Mashed Potatoes

6 garlic cloves, peeled, covered in 1 TBSP olive oil and wrapped in foil or put in garlic roaster (I love mine!) Bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until softened.  Let garlic cool for 10-15 minutes after roasting.
2.5 pounds small red or "new" potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
4 oz. or half of a regular-sized package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 C. melted butter
1/2 C. warm milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/3 lb Stilton (or bleu cheese) cheese, crumbled
6 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
3 TBSP parsley, minced and divided

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover pot and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.  Drain, and transfer potatoes to a large mixing bowl.  Squeeze the garlic out of the foil into potatoes, mashing it well.  Add cream cheese, warm milk, melted butter, and salt and pepper.  Mash potatoes (I use an electric mixer to get rid of the lumps and to make the potatoes more of a whipped consistency).  Stir in the cheese, bacon and 2 TBSP of parsley.  Once mixed, sprinkle the rest of the parsley on top of the potatoes as a garnish.

Enjoy, fellow "foodies!"

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tonight's Lesson - Pate a Choux, Pastry Cream, Chocolate Ganache, Churros, and Puff Pastry

Today's lesson was a real doozy and the recipes are kinda long, so I decided to put the recipes on my blog.  Today we learned how to make Pate a Choux, which is French for "cabbage paste."  It's because of what the shape of the pastry looks like after it's baked--like a little cabbage.  You can use Pate a Choux for making all sorts of pastries including eclairs, Napoleons, churros, and other delights.

I have to admit, it was a little intimidating at first, but my Baking class Chef is a really careful and considerate teacher who walks us through all the steps and comes by every so often to check our work and give us tips and suggestions.  He's very patient with all of us and never makes us feel as if we can't ask a question.  The best thing is, he's a professional chef who has worked in the industry for over 20 years, so he knows what it's really like to work in a professional kitchen.

If you live in the Baltimore area and are interested in learning culinary skills (for professional reasons or if you just want to brush up on your skills) I highly recommend Stratford University, my school.  Every one of my teachers is a professional chef, usually with an average of 15-20 years of experience.  We get brand new textbooks as part of our tuition and we get to keep them when we're done with our classes to use as reference books--they call it "building up your professional library.

The tuition includes all of your uniforms (2 chef's jackets, 2 pairs of checked pants, 2 neckerchiefs, 2 side towels, 2 aprons, and 2 chef's hats).  You also get a huge black knapsack for carrying all of your gear.  Our knife kits include a chef's knife, a bread knife, a boning knife, a paring knife, a honing steel, metal measuring cups and spoons, a rubber spatula, an off-set spatula, whisk, microplane grater, metal spatula, melon baller, a peeler, a measuring plate (kind of like a cheat sheet--a metal ruler that has all of the different types of knife cuts listed on it) a nice pair of scissors, and a digital thermometer.

The only things I had to buy myself were a bench scraper, a pair of work boots, and a $50 parking pass (for the year).  The VA pays for EVERYTHING else, plus I get the housing allowance.  The tuition is very reasonable for people who have to pay for it themselves and the training I'm receiving is invaluable. 

Okay, on to the recipes!

Pastry Cream (make before anything else so you have time to chill it before use)

1 pint of milk (16 oz. liquid measuring cup)
4 oz. sugar
1.5 oz. cornstarch
4 eggs
2 oz. butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

(This is a half recipe, meaning the original recipe is double these amounts)

Bring milk to a boil on the stove, watching to ensure it doesn't boil over.  Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and eggs in a bowl.  Take the milk and slowly add to cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly.  You don't want to add too much in at once or you'll end up with scrambled eggs!  Return the mixture to the stove and bring to a bowl--constantly whisking, until mixture thickens up until it's a little thicker than pancake batter.  Remove from heat, and add butter and vanilla, stirring to combine.  Strain through a sieve, then put in a bowl set on top of another bowl filled with ice and water.  Stir custard every few minutes or so to cool mixture down and to remove heat pockets.  Once custard has cooled, lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard, pressing down lightly.  This will ensure your custard will not develop a "skin."  Put bowl in fridge until you're reading to fill your pastries.

Pate a Choux (to make eclairs and churros)

8 oz. water
4 oz. butter, softened
a pinch of salt
6 oz. bread flour
8 oz. eggs (about 5-6 eggs, depending on size)

Combine water, butter, and salt, bring to a boil.  Add flour all at one time, stirring constantly until the mixture pulls away from the side of the pot.  Place mixture in a mixing bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment attached.  Mix to cool mixture slightly.  Add eggs one at a time to form a medium stiff paste.  Fill a pastry bag with a medium tip, then pipe out long, oval shapes on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  Leave spaces between eclairs.  Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 to dry out pastry.  Bake until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.  Using another pastry bag, filled with the pastry cream (using small icing tip), poke a hole in each eclair and gently squeeze in the pastry cream, trying not to overfill.  If you have to, you can poke a hole in each end and fill from both sides to get more of an even fill.  After filling all of your eclairs, take each one and dip it in the chocolate ganache (recipe follows), shaking off the excess chocolate.  Set aside and continue dipping eclairs until done.  Let chocolate set about 10 minutes before eating.

For churros:  heat vegetable oil in a large pot to 350 degrees.  Put a star shaped icing tip on a pastry bag and fill with pate a choux dough.  Carefully squeeze out long tube shapes into the hot oil.  Fry until golden brown, then remove churros from oil and drain for a few seconds on paper.  Mix together equal parts of cinnamon and granulated sugar in a bowl, then add the warm churros to the mixture, tossing lightly to coat.  Ole!

Chocolate Ganache Icing (for dipping eclairs)

10 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
8 oz. heavy cream

Bring cream to a boil.  Pour cream into chocolate in a mixing bowl and let mixture sit for 3-5 minutes before stirring with a rubber spatula.  Start stirring by making small circles in the middle of the bowl and working your way out to the edge of the bowl.  Mix until mixture is smooth.  Start dipping eclairs immediately.  If you find your chocolate is starting to set in the bowl, put the bowl on another bowl filled with hot water and stir briskly.  You can also add a little more hot cream if you like.    This icing is also good on cakes or a pan of brownies.

Puff Pastry

8 oz. bread flour
8 oz. pastry flour
1 lb. cold butter
1/4 oz. salt
8 oz. cold water
softened butter

Cut butter into quarter-sized pieces.  Sift together bread flour and pastry flour into the mixing bowl of a stand mixture.  Stir in the salt.  Add the cold butter in, and using a paddle attachment, turn on low to cut the butter into the flour mixture.  End product should look like little pea-shaped balls.  Add the water and attach a dough hook.  Put mixer on low speed and mix the pastry until dough ball forms.  Remove ball from mixing bowl and let dough rest in fridge for 15 minutes.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough into a large rectangle.  Spread the softened butter all out over the dough.  Fold dough over itself in thirds, until you end up with another rectangle shape.  Roll out the dough into a large rectangle shape, spread with some more softened butter, and repeat the folding/rolling/buttering process again for 4 more times.

This folding/buttering process helps to create your flaky layers that everyone loves about puff pastry.  If you're going to use puff pastry right away, place on top of cobbler, pot pie, or other dish immediately, cut vent holes with a sharp knife and bake.  I use puff pastry in my chicken pot pie.  Everyone has said they love my pot pie, so I'll share that recipe with you too. :)  I take puff pastry, cut it into strips, then weave them back into a square shape, over/under, like weaving cloth.  I use a little egg wash (egg mixed with a little cold water) that I brush all over the surface of the puff pastry with a pastry brush.  I then bake it on a greased sheet pan at 400 degrees for about 10-15, or until golden brown.  After I mix up my pot pie ingredients, I put the mixture into a square casserole dish and lightly press the puff pastry square on top before serving.  Yummo!

Chicken Pot Pie

5-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cooked, cooled and cut up into small pieces (or you can use the leftovers from a cooled rotisserie chicken)
3 carrots, scraped and cut into thin round slices
2 celery stalks, finely diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced finely
2 C. heavy cream
2 TBSP all-purpose flour
2 TBSP butter
2 chicken bouillon cubes (or 2 tsp. chicken base)
2 TBSP vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. black pepper
salt to taste

Heat a large pot or braising pan on stove until it starts smoking slightly.  Add the vegetable oil and turn the heat to medium.  Add the onion, carrots, and celery, and saute until veggies are soft.  Add garlic and cook until soft.  Add butter to pan and melt.  Sprinkle the flour all over the veggies and stir to coat.  Slowly add in cream, stirring constantly.  Bring mixture to the boil, add chicken bouillon cubes, nutmeg, black pepper, salt, and reserved chicken pieces.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is to the thickness of your liking.  You can let the mixture reduce on the heat if your mixture is too thin, or add a little chicken stock if it's too thick.  Place mixture in a square casserole dish (the size of your puff pastry) and let cool slightly before lightly pressing your baked puff pastry sheet on top.  Serve immediately.

So there you have it, Pastry 101.  Sorry no pics this time (I'll post them at a later date) I flaked out and forgot to pay my Verizon bill so I can't use my cell to upload any pictures. :(  I'll post the pics on Friday when we get paid and I can get my phone turned back on. :)

Enjoy!  More baking to come on Thursday and Friday, and Hubs and I are FINALLY going to use our McCormick & Schmick's gift card to go out on Friday night after school/work to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary!