Monday, August 30, 2010

How to start the weekend on a good note :)

I have been meditating on what I need to do to improve my quality of life lately, and to all the guys out there, I have come to one very simple conclusion. Make pancakes (from scratch) for your better half on Saturday morning, and life is just better. It guarantees a good, if not great (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more) start to your weekend, and at the very least will get you some sympathy for whatever else it is that you were supposed to accomplish that weekend that fell through the cracks. I.E. What do you mean you didn't "insert your own chore/duty here", oh well those pancakes were delicious. As a side bonus, you also get to enjoy delicious fluffy pancakes to start your day.

Now, admittedly, even after much meditation and personal soul searching, I have still only solved 1/7 of a weeks happiness, but that is still better than any other blog I've ever read.

I'm going to give you a basic recipe that you can use a a jumping off point for your creativity, but I'll also put in some of my better combinations to see if they inspire you. As with many things, there are endless possibilities for pancakes, and most of them work pretty well.

2 Eggs
1.5 c Flour, ap is fine, but try whole wheat flour sometime, nice flavor
2.25 tsp Baking Powder
3 tsp Sugar
3/4 tsp Salt
1 c Milk
1 Vanilla Bean, scraped - I was not going to put this into a "basic recipe", but it makes all of the pancakes taste better, whether your adding crumbled bacon, or raspberries and white chocolate to your batter, so it's in there.

1)Sift together your dry ingredients
2)Break eggs into seperate bowl, and beat till frothy
3)Mix eggs with other wet ingredients, then mix into dry ingredients with a fork. Don't overmix, it doesn't need to be cake batter smooth, just mixed.
4)Cook over medium heat, in melted butter, 1 dollop at a time.

Now, on to some variations that have worked well for me
#1 The Bacon Pancake - Fu^$#*g delicious
Cook 4 strips of bacon till really crisp. Crumble into batter. Reduce milk in batter recipe by 3 oz, and replace with maple syrup
#2 Blueberry and Sour Cream
Replace 1/2 c of milk from the recipe with sour cream, and add 1 cup Fresh blueberries. I like to mash them up first, but it's up to your taste. The sour cream gives them a little tang that it, as Borat would say "NICE".
#3 Raspberry & White Chocolate
Stick with the same batter, but add 1/2 c white chocolate chips, and 1/2 c Fresh raspberries. Once I again, I mash, you don't have to.
#4 The Jack Johnson
Use whole wheat flour for these ones. Crush up 1/4 c of walnuts or pecans till very fine, and add to batter. Then mash 1 large, very ripe banana into the batter as well, and finish it off with the zest of an orange. This would be Danielle's (my wifes) favorite
#5 Mixed Berry Buttermilk
I do this one when I have just a few of a couple of different kinds of berries in the fridge, and want to use them up. Replace 1/2 of the milk in the recipe with buttermilk. Before mixing the buttermilk into the wet ingredients, pop it in the blender with a cup of mixed berries, and then fold the whole mix into the batter. Delicious flavor (tangy from the buttermilk and sweet mix from the berries), but also a good color for presentation.
#6 Pina Colada
I love this one, Danielle....not so much, but hey, to each their own right? Dice up 1 cup of pineapple very small, replace 4 oz of milk in the recipe with coconut milk, and 2 oz of the milk with sour cream. Follow the recipe the same as before. I use guava jelly on top of these instead of syrup, but do as you please.

Trust me guys, it's worth getting up 30 minutes earlier for a little marital (or non-marital, we here at stuff my sister can cook do not judge) bliss, or just a good excuse to laze around because you're both now too full of pancakes to be motivated to do anything much else.

And now, I leave you with a few amusing quotes about our topic, just because I think they're funny.

The laziest man I ever met put popcorn in his pancakes so they would turn over by themselves.” - WC Fields

He who goes to bed hungry dreams of pancakes.” - Anon

In a big family the first child is kind of like the first pancake. If it's not perfect, that's okay, there are a lot more coming along.” - Antonin Scalia

Saturday, August 28, 2010

REVIEW - El Indio Restaurant & Taqueria

2066 Beaver Ruin Rd, Norcross, GA 30071

So, on a recommendation from a fellow enthusiast, I went and tried El Indio Restaurant & Taqueria the other day. I must say that I have mixed feelings after a few visits to this restaurant.

Lets start with the positive
1)$.99 tacos - These are actually fairly good depending on what variety you get. I would recommend going for the lengua(tongue), cabesa(head), and birria(stewed lamb). They are all topped with cilantro and onions, and for $3, you actually get pretty full. The lengua particularly was nice. Well cooked, tender, seasoned right, and tasty. The birria has a nice texture, but is, suprisingly, a tiny bit bland for a lamb taco. The cabesa has been good & bad, so I guess it's a bit of luck of the draw on when you go.
2)Nice salsa bar - a good selection of fresh, housemade salsas - verde, rojo, molcajete, habanero, and pico, as well as pickled onions, jalapenos, radishes, carrots, and lime wedges if you are a purist for your taco. The salsas were all pretty solid, nothing earth-shattering, but very tasty.
3)Good quick service - walk up, place your order, and within a few minutes, you're eating.
4)Decent tamale - definitely homemade, good amount of filling, and pretty tasty once covered in salsa verde from the aforementioned bar.
5)Pozole - good, classic recipe. Nothing suprising, but a well made rendition

....and on to the not so positive
1)the menu while big, is very hit or miss. Even if you just stick to tacos, order the "safer" choices of asada, pastor, barbacoa, or pollo, and you might feel a little disappointed. The asada & pastor especially were pretty lackluster. Dry, pretty flavorless meat, not much of it, and just overall, disappointing.
2)The prices once you leave the taco portion of the menu, simply aren't justified by the quality. $8 for enchiladas that are no better that at El Azteca. Bland refried beans, overcooked rice, mealy shrimp? When I eat at a taqueria, i'm looking for fresh, simple, tasty, uncomplicated food, and frankly, a lot of the menu doesn't hit on all these points.
3)Menudo - I will admit, it's not my favorite dish, but I do like to try it. This version....not so much. While it's difficult to match Paulinas (the lady who used to work in the bakery where I worked, and would bring in pozole, menudo, and mole for her "ninos blancos" every week), this doesn't come close. Improperly cooked tripe, and oversalted broth.

Overall, two stars, but I will return because it is one of the better tongue tacos I have tried, and 3 of them for $3, why not?

Friday, August 27, 2010

NEW FEATURE - How to make a great meal on a tight budget -------- Installment 1

Ok, with just about the wholeworld suffering from a tightening of the economic belt, I thought it might be a good idea to start highlighting great ways to use inexpensive ingredients to make delicious dinners. I definitely am a fan of the "economy cuts of meat", as well as some of the less sexy seafood options (Tuna and Crab are great, but so are skate wing and mussels). Usually these items have great flavor, but may take a little more work, either on the prep side, or on the length of cooking. Totally worth it.

Now on to installment one ---------------- LES MOULES
I love mussels. My wife loves them even more. When I make them the Nick to Danielle consumption ratio is generally 1 to 2, if I'm being generous. No matter, they are cheap and easy to get, so I just make lots. I'll include my 3 favorite mussel preparations here so that you have some options, but if you take the basic techniques to cooking mussels, there are endless flavor combinations that you can create. They work in french, italian, thai, japanese, american, and many other flavor profiles, so play around.

I usually use PEI mussels because they are nice and sweet, and readily available, but use whatever mussel looks, and smells the freshest and you'll be doing well.

Before cooking mussels, there are a few steps we must go through to get them ready. First, cover them in very cold, salted water for 5-10 minutes. This is called purging them, and without getting into too much detail, it will guarantee you don't have any grit or graininess in your mussel or sauce. You don't want to skip this step, trust me. Second, we must "DEBEARD" them. Not every mussel, but most will have a small, wispy, twine looking thing sticking out of their shell about half way up. Simply hold the mussel securely, and pull up and away to remove this. It may take a little tugging, but usually comes fairly easily. Lastly, look through your mussels. If any are open, and don't close up after being handled, discard them. They have already passed from this mortal existance, and as Alton would say, are no longer "good eats".

The classic - Mussels in white wine sauce
1 lb mussels
1 lg shallot, sliced
2 cloves, garlic, sliced
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 head italian parsley, chopped, reserve a tblsp or so to garnish
1 thai chile, diced, this is optional, and really not classic, but I like a little heat
6 oz white wine, I prefer it to be a drier white, but whatever you have'll probably work
2 1/2 tblsp butter, mmmmmmm butter
1 large roma tomato, diced
4-5 large basil leaves, chopped rough
S + P to taste

1)Melt 1 tblsp of the butter over med-high heat, add shallot, garlic, chile, and thyme and saute until shallot is translucent.
2)Add mussels, add toss to coat with butter. Saute 30 seconds.
3)Add remaining ingredients, except butter and basil, cover pan and let simmer for 5 minutes (ish), check and see if most of the mussels are open. This can be 2 minutes, it can b 8.
4)Uncover pot, and add butter and basil. Swirl in pan, moving constantly, so that reduced wine and butter emulsify. Season with salt and pepper, and serve

I serve this a number of different ways: over a soft polenta with parmesan cheese, over crispy oven "fries", over fresh pasta, or most often, and most simply, over grilled crusty ciabatta. It's delicious with all of them. If you want to make moules mariniere, simply add some home made pasta sauce to this recipe when you add the butter, and voila!!!

Wine Pick - I really like an albarino with my mussels. The minerality of both go really well together. A good, easy to find one is burgans, but there are a lot out there.

#2 Chilled Mussel Salad
I really like this dish for a summer dinner, or a picnic, or dining on the patio, or whenever really.

1 lb mussels, steamed in salt water for 5 minutes, or until opened, then chilled
6 cloves roasted garlic, (to roast garlic, simply cut the top of the heads of garlic off, cover in oil, cover container in foil, and bake @ 225F for 90 minutes) I always keep some around, it's good in just about everything
3 oz mayonaisse, I would say make your own aioli, but that's another post
Juice and zest of one lemon
1 carrot, grated
1/4 english cucumber, julienned (cut into thin strips)
1/2 red onion, shaved super thin
1 thai chile, sliced thin
2 strips of bacon, cooked super crispy, & crumbled
1/4 head fennel, shaved thin
1 tblsp basil, chopped
1 tblsp italian parsley, chopped
S + P to taste

1)combine zest, juice, carrot, cucumber, onion, chile, and fennel in a bowl. Season lightly, and marinate for 30 minutes.
2)Mash garlic cloves into a paste, and combine mayo, mussels, and bacon with it
3)Drain excess liquid from veggies, leave just a little bit for flavor, but not too much or the mayo binding will become runny, and mix veggies with mussel mixture and herbs
4)Serve with crusty grilled ciabatta or the bread of your choice

Wine Pick - Sancerre? I think it's a perfect pairing, but there are a lot of different ways to go on this one. I, personally, don't love chardonnay, but it would work here. A crisp SB. A Verdejo. Ahhh, choices.

#3 Beer Braised Mussels
Braised is a bit of a misnomer, since they still don't cook for very long, but I think it sounds more appetizing than "Beer Simmered", so we're going with it

1 lb Mussels
1 good beer, I use IPA or brown ale. If you cook with pabst, it'll taste like it
1/2 red onion, diced
1 tsp molasses
1 jalapeno, diced
1 tblsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
2 1/2 tblsp butter
juice and zest of 1 lemon
S + P to taste

1)Melt 1 tblsp of the butter over med-high heat, and add red onion, garlic, jalapeno, & rosemary and saute until onions start to color. Add lemon juice and molasses and cook 30 seconds.
2)Add beer, and reduce by 1/3. Add mussels and don't cover. Simmer for 5 minutes
3)Whisk in butter. Season with salt and pepper.

I prefer this over mashed potatoes, or oven fries, or just with a crusty piece of bread.

Wine Pick - I would probably drink a beer with this one, but if I was going for a wine, probably a juicy red, zin or primitivo, or something in that vein.

ENJOY, and let me know what you think.

AT LONG, LONG, LONG LAST.....Noush's Response

Okay Nick, you’ve been asking for my desert island post for weeks now and I finally sat down last night to write it up, old school, in Word – since we’re now going on Week Fecking 6 at my house with no Internet. I don’t think I’ve ever met a customer service so incompetent as that of our (for now, unnamed) service provider. Deep breaths.

So I’m on a desert island. (Is it desert island – or deserted island? By dint of the fact there’s water around, it wouldn’t be “desert,” right?) No matter – we probably don’t need to get into semantics.

The point is I’m on an island and there’s not much around in the way of a supermarket, but thankfully, the Power-That-Is (a cross between Buddha and Elvis) has seen fit to grant me a small, but essential request – my favourite five foods (and only my favourite five) in plentiful supply for the rest of my life. I must choose quickly, but carefully. Not to be melodramatic, but this is Fo-eh-vuh.

So here goes:

Tomato-Fennel Soup: I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting my mother’s tomato-fennel soup. If you have, then you already understand why it’s top of list. If you haven’t yet tried it, well…I’ll just say it’s a revelation. I could happily eat it for dinner for the rest of my life, accompanied by:

Pita Bread: So practical, so tasty. What a perfect pocket for stuffing all your favourite “stuff “ into. Assuming that if I leave it out on a rock in the hot, desert island sun, the process will act as a toaster, crisping and breaking it open – ready for all the delicious extras, like:

Goat Cheese: I know what you’re going to say: “ew, goat cheese – it smells like old socks.” Whereas, I think it’s the most perfect cheese ever blended. As fundamental as “you say potato, I say pot-ah-toe.” Let’s just agree to disagree on this one, eh?

Avocado: My favourite thing about you, Avocado, is your versatility. I can fill you with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and you’re a meal in yourself. I can mush you on top of pita bread with a little salt and pepper and you’re better than butter. I can slice you up with goat cheese and boiled egg (see below) inside a pita pocket and you’re my perfect lunch. For this reason, you must accompany my desert (ed) island existence.

Eggs: The weird thing is, I couldn’t stand the taste, texture or smell of eggs until I was about 15. I actually used to tell everyone I was allergic to egg when I was a kid because this seemed the most sure-fire way to make sure no one ever served them to me, in any pure form. (On a side note, this caused consternation at more than a few birthday parties, when, proclaiming my “allergy” after Slice 4 of birthday cake, the supervising mother in question would stare in horror, awaiting the closure of my throat and other such “allergic” reactions, which obviously never materialized.)

But I digress: Eggs -- I love them now. So versatile, so edible. An omelette for dinner, boiled for breakfast or lunch, scrambled in a pita pocket for…whenever. And poached, for a treat.

Wow, I can’t believe that’s five. There are so many things I’m conflicted about leaving off – the biggest one being tomatoes. I debated having them as a straight-up on the list, rather than as part of a soup. Suffice to say, it was a very hard choice that kept me up nights. I’m still a little teary-eyed at the thought of never having an Insalata Caprese again – I love you basil, tomato, mozzarella. Guess I’ll just have to hope I’m rescued from the island at some point and the full world of food re-opened to me? Insalata Caprese, I’ll make you a deal: if I ever make it off this tropical, magical, godforsaken, tomato-free island, you’ll be my first mainland meal. Agreed? Agreed.

In the meantime, I’m off to cook my goat cheese omelette with avocado salsa.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Dilemma - How do I make this boneless, skinless chicken breast interesting QUICKLY

Pictured above is the face, or type of face as I admittedly have never cooked for Simon Cowell, that I get pretty much every time I tell my lovely wife, Danielle (pictured above), that we are having grilled chicken (also pictured above, and I think fairly tasty looking) for dinner. As a side note, I don't think I'd want to cook for Simon because 1)I hate his show and everything to do with it 2)He probably wouldn't have anything nice to say about the food anyway, and 3)I don't need that kind of negative aura in my life, but that's really neither here nor there.

Back to task, Danielle usually says something like "AGAIN?" or "Really, chicken?", at which point I get huffy and tell her she's more than welcome to cook for herself, but I don't know if the microwave is currently operable. Just to define this, I don't condone microwave use, but to suggest that she use anything more culinarily challenging would be foolish. I cook, but can't organize anything more complex than the silverware drawer. She is a disaster (literally fires, explosions, unplaceable smells) in the kitchen, but can plan/organize our entire life on our Mac. What can I say, we play to each others strengths, and happily. My God, I'm rambling today. Anyway, this post is to help you avoid such disparaging remarks when you inform your dining companion that you are having grilled chicken. Below are five delicious marinades for chicken. Simply follow the instructions, and let the bird marinate overnight, ie think a little ahead. If you want chicken tomorrow, marinade it tonight and you will have something flavorful. Try to do it for only 3 hours, and you're really just wasting your $$$$. Last tip before the recipes, when ready to cook, let most of marinade drip off of chicken breast, and season with kosher salt, and FRESH ground black pepper. If you throw it right on the grill, slathered in marinade, it'll probably burn or char, and all of your hard work will be for naught. Not to mention, you will probably hear more disparaging remarks about your chicken, which is exactly what we're trying to avoid. So now, with no further ado:

All recipes are for 2 Lb chicken
#1 The Greek
1 cup plain yogurt, i like greek
1 tblsp toasted cumin seeds, cracked (to toast any dried spice, just put it in a dry pan over medium heat until you can smell it)
2 lemons, juiced
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tblsp oregano or marjoram, chopped rough
1 jalapeno, chopped - you could sub dried chili flakes here, but I prefer the fresh chile taste
2 tblsp tahini paste - you could just sub toasted sesame seeds, but as above
1 tblsp caper, chopped

#2 The Far East
2 tblsp corn oil
1 tblsp sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 stick lemongrass, whacked - lemongrass is hard to chop through, but just give a good whack and bruise it, and it'll release it's oils
1.5 tblsp ginger, grated - use a microplane
1/4 c rice wine vinegar, unseasoned
1 tblsp thai chile paste, srirachi is the best, but I don't know what's available on your pond side
1 tsp SWEET soy
1 tsp miso paste
1 bunch of scallions, sliced thin

#3 The Middle East
2 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp fresh chili paste - make your own, just grab a blender, or coffee grinder, and mix fresh red chiles and a handful of garlic cloves with enough oil to puree them. Cheaper and better than store bought, just keep it thick
1 tblsp toasted cumin seeds, ground
1 tblsp toasted coriander seeds, ground
1 tblsp toasted mustard seeds, black or yellow, ground
1 tblsp toasted cardamom, green or black, ground
2 lemons, juiced
1 tsp turmeric

#4 The Italiano - possibly the easiest, and also, possibly my fave
3 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp white wine vinegar
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 stick fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tblsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 tblsp fresh oregano, chopped
2 tblsp fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp chili flakes
zest of 2 lemons

#5 The South
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tblsp molasses or cane syrup
1 tblsp tomato paste
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 tblsp fresh thyme, chopped
6 oz coca-cola, or your preferred soda
3 oz apple juice or cider
2 tblsp mustard, i use whole grain, but your choice
1 tsp paprika

Give these a try, and see if they lessen the groans next time you say "grilled chicken tonight".

As a disclaimer, please use all-natural chicken. I have been to poultry plants, and seen the horror of hormone and other insanity pumped chicken. Not only is it not good for you, but it's not right to do this to an animal. Also, if you don't have a grill, you could easily pan-sear these, or even broil them in a pinch.

Since I have given you 5 recipes, a wine pairing is a touch difficult, but I would say that for most of these a citrusy New Zealand or South African Sauv Blanc would be a good choice. If that's a little boring, try a gavi or maybe a greek assyrtico. Play around with it, these are pretty versatile flavors.


Sunday, August 22, 2010


Not to be a downer, but I don't actually think this should be.

I attended the memorial service of a man that I have a lot of fondness and respect for this weekend. He was an amazingly jovial, effortlessly positive, and generally a fun person to be around, and his service, thankfully, focused on these points. He lived a very full life, and I think we could all learn a bit from his example. His eulogy, readings, and service were fully centered around how devoted he was to his family, how much he enjoyed life, and how much he gave of himself to others. I think if we could all strive to be remembered as such, the world would be a better place to be.

The quote on the back of his service literature was absolutely fantastic, not only as it relates to him (though it captures him as few words probably could), but also as words we could all probably take to heart.

"You cannot deal with the most serious things in the world unless you also understand the most amusing" --- Winston S. Churchill

Godspeed, and Farewell Neville. Judging by your service, you will be missed, and remembered by many.

Stock - the easiest way to cook like a pro

Hello again all,
Today we're going to be talking about stock. It really is a simple process, and is the quickest route to add a "restaurant" flavor to your home cooking. I think one of the main differences between home cooks and chefs is that home cooks use bouillon. It is easier, it is quicker, but it just doesn't come close to the depth of flavor, or the delicacy that stock has. For one, most of them, even "low sodium" ones, just taste like seasoning salt. No offense knorr, but I can just buy lawrys if that is my goal. Stock should add a layer of delicate flavor to whatever you are cooking. It should be savory, complex, deep, rich, and delicious. Combine that with the fact that it's absolutely simple to make, and it's a no brainer to add it to your culinary arsenal.

First off, there are many types of stocks, but we, today, are going to be outlining the basics of three: shrimp, poultry, and vegetable. Let's start by talking through a few principles.

1)There are two types of stock when you really break it down - roasted and unroasted
These variations exist because, in my mind, there are two end goals to using stock. One is to add that deep, roasted, savory, umami flavor to a dish. The other is to just add the essence of something, or just some extra flavor to the dish. For a braise, you want all the flavor you can pack in there, so roasted. To make a shrimp bisque, if you roast everything, the flavor and color may be too aggressive, so unroasted. Just think of your end goal and it should answer which one you should use.

2)I will give a recipe for each of the stocks below - for roasted, simply place all the vegetables, and the bones/shells in the oven at 400 degrees for one hour, or until nicely caramelized. We want a lot of color, just don't burn them. For unroasted, simply combine the ingredients in the pot.

3)Whatever the recipe is, follow the above instructions, then these:
1)place all ingredients in large deep stockpot, cover with COLD WATER (I even add ice, doing this ensures that your stock comes up to temp gently, and won't be cloudy), add wine (if you decide to use it), bring just to a boil, reduce till barely bubbling, and cook for a minimum of four hours. You don't need to stare at it, so don't feel this is a huge commitment. Just get it at the right simmer, and let it be. Following this, strain it through a fine sieve, or chinois if you want to be fancy. Store in freezer in 1 qt containers, and pull as you need it. I promise, your soups, braises, sauces, and risottos will never be better once you ditch the "cubes" and make it "in house".

4)TIP - Do you roast chickens once a week? Do you make scampi, or peel and eat shrimp ever? Just wrap your carcass or shells tightly in plastic, and freeze until you build up enough in the freezer to make a stock. Saves you money, and improves your flavor. WIN WIN. By the way,
have no fear, the below picture is not meant to suggest K9 stock. It is a picture of Houser, formerly my, now my parents dog. She eats two rotisserie chickens from Costco/Kroger a week, thus my mom makes a LOT of stock. Just thought I'd give House her 15 minutes.

OK, now to the recipes

4-6 chicken carcasses
4 onions
3 carrots
1/2 head celery
1 head garlic
2 sticks rosemary
3 bay leaves
1/2 c wine (red for roasted, white for unroasted)
2 large tomatoes, only use for roasted
1 tblsp peppercorns
water to cover

Shells from 3-5 LBS of shrimp
1 head of fennel, optional
1 head of garlic
1/2 head celery
3 white onions
1 parsnip
1 head parsley
1 tblsp peppercorns
3 lemons
1/2 cup wine, always white
2 bay leaves
water to cover

5 carrots
5 onions
1 head celery
2 head garlic
1 head parlsey
3 tomatoes
1 head fennel
3 lemons
1 tblsp peppercorn
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup wine, always white
water to cover

I know it sounds a little simplistic, but you'd be amazed at the difference this will make to your cooking. You can get all of these made on one rainy Sunday, freeze them in qt containers, and just pull them as you need them. It will have a huge impact on your cooking, just make one risotto, and then try to argue with me. :) ENJOY

Friday, August 13, 2010

WTF America ----- this is just f$*%#in ridiculous

Alright, I am not a USA hater in general. There are many amazing things about this country.....our freedoms, our rights, our abilities, our gifts, our openess, but we are also a bunch of lazy fatasses. Please don't take this the wrong way. I don't feel that I am a lazy fatass, most of the time anyway, and I know that there are a huge amount of people here that are the antithesis of one, but there are some truly disturbing things going on in this country right now as well.

1)This new KFC sandwich. Who needs bread, let's just make a cheese and bacon filled sandwich and use fried chicken as the two buns. SERIOUSLY. Who thought this was a good idea? It's no wonder we're the fattest country on the planet (although I read something that the UK was giving us a run for our money, but that is counter to my arguement, so I'll ignore it). This is not only disgusting, it is corporately irresponsible to encourage people to eat in this manner. I mean at least throw a fricking tomato, or some shaved onions on it and let people get some nutritional value out of it. Gross.

2)As if that wasn't bad enough, I was in a burger king this week (for the record, I was just with someone who was eating there, and I just had a diet coke) and there's this sign on the wall. It's title is "Your word is BACON", and went on to describe the characteristics of a bacon lover. It read about like this ---- "You're a man, one meat isn't good enough for your sandwich, better make it two, in fact if they could make the bun out of meat, you'd probably be good to go". Now far be it from me to criticize bacon, I love the stuff. It made my list of the 5 foods I would eat for the rest of eternity (see earlier august post). It's the rest of the content that's disturbing. Not only is this once again kind of disgusting, but obviously someone at BK thought that the KFC sandwich was such a good idea that they'd better capitalize on it now. So they're not only killing the american public via heart disease, but, even worse, they are unoriginal about it.

3)Finally, although I could go on with more, I'll cite this amazingly horrible obsession america has with eating contests. If I have to see one more guy soaking hot dogs and their buns in water, and then choking them down at a rate of 70 in like ten minutes, I'll puke (let alone the fact that he can do it without puking is also kind of disturbing). Not only that, but he's depicted as an american hero for beating a japanese guy. Really???? Even worse, (actually I'm not sure that it's worse, but it's at least equally bad), there are women who do these contests as well. Call me sexist, but it's even more grotesque watching a 125 lb woman do this. I saw one where a guy ate 16 lbs of funnel cakes in one sitting. 16 pounds????? WHY? For another point, look at the guy who hosts MAN VS. FOOD on the travel channel. He travels the country seeing if he can beat the countries hardest food challenges. First of all, food is a joy, not a challenge, but I digress. Go back to the first season....he weighed about 190. Look at him now. He's like two more seasons removed from looking like Jabba the freakin Hut (sorry if this is mispelled Star Wars fans). He is undoubtedly cutting years off his life by doing this show. And as a side note, any meal where the term "The Meat Sweats" even comes in to play is probably one that is best skipped. You should sweat from exercise, or maybe eating chile peppers, but not because your body is shutting down due to the fact that you just ate 11 pounds of bratwurst, 3 lbs of potato salad, and god knows what else.

I could go on, but I wont. I love eating. I eat fried foods. I could probably stand to lose a pound or twelve. I am human. But these are just getting a little ridiculous. You should enjoy your food. You should love the taste of a radish just as much as a country fried steak (well, almost). Appreciate your food, don't just gorge yourself. There is joy in eating, but it doesn't come from a drive-thru or from eating more chicken wings in one sitting than anyone else in history (the exception to this may be downing a few dozen oysters with a couple of beers at the beach, but there are other benefits to that, placebo or not :).

I'll leave you with a quote from Virginia Woolf
"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well"

Do you think that the guy who just downed a burger that weighs 12 lbs in one sitting is "loving" anyone anytime soon? I don't, probably himself least of all.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Good, quick pasta sauce - The whores' spaghetti...Interested?

I don't know exactly why I have decided to post this recipe, at this time of year.....maybe it was the god-awful Italian food I had to eat in Houston a few weeks ago. The lasagna there actually was served still in the shape of whatever box they bought it in, but that is a whole different story. Actually, I do have to mention one other thing about it. Who the F#*K serves "mozzarella ala caprese", the simplest, easiest to make, most delicious salad ever, with half green roma tomatoes, processed SQUARE pre-made slices of a mozzarella like substance, one basil leaf, and no vinegar/oil/flavor. Seriously disappointing. I will leave out the name of the restaurant for Karma's sake, but UGH. Anyway, back to topic.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca, literally translated to "whore's spaghetti" or harlot if you want to be a little softer, is a great, comforting, easy to make, delicious dinner. It could also come from the italian word puttanata, which means garbage, but really refers to the fact that most of the ingredients can be found in an italian pantry, and thrown together to make a meal on short notice. It is a tangy, slightly spicy, slightly salty, and utterly delicious sauce. I usually make it in colder months, but it works whenever.

Feeds Two
8 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into a large dice
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1/2 red onion, diced small
2 tsp chili flake
3 tblsp capers, chopped coarse
(i like salt packed capers, but make sure you give a very quick rinse to get some of the excess salt off. Otherwise, non-pareil will work just (almost) as well)
6 oz fresh basil, torn
6 good sized anchovy filets, chopped into a puree, or pureed if you have the equipment
20 or so Mediteranean olives, traditionally black, but I like to use a mix, pitted & chopped rough
4 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp fresh oregano, chopped fine
4 oz stock, chicken or vegetable usually
S & P to taste

Garnish:a little chopped ITALIAN parsley, and some grated parm

1)Heat olive oil over medium heat, add onion, garlic, and chili flake. Saute until onions are translucent, or just starting to brown. Add anchovies and saute for 1 more minute, moving constantly.
2)Add tomatoes, capers, 1/2 of stock, and olives. Cook over medium heat until the tomatoes break down and achieve a sauce (almost creamy) consistency. Add more stock as needed if pan starts to dry out before you get this consistency
3)Remove from heat, and add fresh herbs, stir through, season with salt and fresh black pepper to taste, and let sit for 5 minutes or so, so that they can release their flavor

Serve over whatever pasta you like, but I think it works best with spaghetti, bucatini, or linguine.
I like to match it with some goat cheese crostini - mix a little olive oil into fresh chevre, and add a little fresh herb or lemon zest, spread on thick sliced baguette, and broil until cheese starts to brown. It is also great if you want to serve it with some sauteed shrimp, seared scallops, or even as a side for a grilled chicken dinner.

Wine pairing - For a red, I would say a chianti, nero d'avola, or a dolcetto. Just make sure it isn't too tannic of a chianti, or too juicy of a dolcetto. For a white, sauvignon blanc, or maybe a grillo. Both would be nice compliments to the spice, and acidity of the dish.

Enjoy your "streetwalker sauce", and let me know what you think. :)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sisterspeak: A Few Clarifications

Hello Internet. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Chef Nick’s sister – of the title “Stuff My Sister Can Cook.” When he asked me to help him set up his blog, perhaps he wasn’t aware I would keep posting rights for myself also? Haha. As if I’d let him malign my cooking abilities to all and sundry without right to defence. (It was only canned corn! The way he’s going on – fainting et al -- you’d think I’d ordered a well-done steak in Peter Luger's. On a Friday.)

But I digress…

So a few things you should know about me before we go any further:

(1) I live in Ireland. This has no real bearing on food or cooking, but might help explain references in future posts.

(2) I like cooking and am actually not that bad at it. But I will allow that I am sluttishly lazy overall when it comes to the vast majority of domestic arts (dusting, mopping, polishing silver, scrubbing toilets and yes… cooking. Sorry Mom.) So yes, I occasionally slip and use tinned corn, not the golden, sweet, freshly-shucked niblets hewn directly from husks bought off the local farm stand. But! I agree the fresh is far superior to the tinned. So I’m glad of my brother (my little brother), in his infinite foodie wisdom, pushing me in this direction. I have no excuse not to eat fresh – all it takes is a bit of planning, a good recipe and a proper food shop twice a week.

(3) My Flexitarian-ism: I’ve come to my discomfort over what I eat and how it made it to my plate, slowly but surely. I’ll continue my journey, most likely, in the same manner. The thing that complicates this road is that…I don’t hate meat. You know how there are some vegetarians, who can’t stand the taste or texture of “flesh?” Well, I’m not one of those. I’m also not entirely convinced (depending on the day) that it’s “wrong” to eat meat. What I do think is wrong is the way we’ve created huge factory farm apparatus, with true crimes against animal humanity, to get those chicken breasts to our table at the cheapest price. But I’m not the best informed on this front, so I’ll leave it to the Michael Pollans and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstalls of this world to make more convincing and fact-backed arguments, for and against, than I could ever make. My personal rules, in flux and subject to improvement, are as follows:

  • I eat meat sparingly (once a week/every 2 weeks)
  • When I eat meat, I buy only organic (I know it’s not the perfect guarantee, but I choose to leave it to trust on some level)
  • When I eat fish (again sparingly), I eat Marine Stewardship Council-certified or sustainably farmed specimens. Again, I’m aware there are arguments for and against both these measures, but…as above
  • I try to buy organic and/or locally farmed produce as often as I can. But most of all, I really try not to buy vegetables shrink-wrapped in plastic or arriving in Styrofoam/thick plastic trays. WOW! Veggies in plastic really annoys me. More on that later…
  • If I’m over at someone’s house and they’ve lovingly prepared something I wouldn’t normally eat, I don’t ask questions about provenance – I just go ahead and eat it

And yeah, so that’s about it. Me in a nutshell (pun intended.) I’m game to try it all and report back. Looking forward to the food journey. Chef Nick – get posting!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

SALMON TARTARE - Quick, interesting dinner idea

Alright, recipe time. Today's recipe is Salmon tartare crostadas. I, personally, don't love cooked salmon. I think it gets very fishy, and oily when it's cooked. However, I love salmon in either it's raw or cured state. It has a great, fatty/oily texture, and I think it's flavor works much better this way too. So, that being said, this is a REALLY quick, really easy, really flavorful recipe that is fun to make and fun to eat. It gets you away from that protein/starch/veggie formula, and gets you a tasty, relatively healthy dish in about 20 minutes

Feeds two
1/2 lb FRESH salmon, whatever kind is in works, just don't use frozen
2 shallots, diced fine -- sub in 1/2 red onion if you don't have shallot
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1 tblsp sesame oil
1 green thai chile, diced small
2 tblsp cilantro, chopped
1 tsp white sesame seeds
1 tsp black sesame seeds
1 tsp thai chile paste, such as srirachi (my favorite)
juice & zest of 1 lime
zest of 1 orange
salt and pepper to taste

1) Dice salmon into small, EVEN pieces about 1/8 inch square
2) Mix salmon with all other ingredients and let marinate for 15 minutes
3) Serve with crispy wontons to spoon tartare onto, and eat with your hands :)

****If you dont have crispy wontons, sub rice cakes, good quality crackers, crostini, or even pita chips.

As a variation, add 1/4 cup of coconut milk and diced avocado for a creamier, richer tartare. This recipe can really be used a base. If you like coriander, add some. If you like basil instead of cilantro, go for it. Tartare can be great with any number of flavorings, so let your creative juices flow.

Wine Pairing...either a:
Sauvignon Blanc from South America - dry, crisp, minerally
Unoaked Chardonnay - if you get an oaky one, it'll be too buttery with the fattiness of the salmon


So this is basically just my favorite discussion on the face of the planet, not only because it's subject is generally my favorite, but also because it tells you a lot about the people you are having it with.

Here is the general idea: What 5 foods would you choose if you were stranded on a desert island to eat for the rest of your life?

After having this discussion many times, I feel the need to lay out some ground rules for everyone to save y'all some time, and if you are around passionate people, possibly arguments.

1) God, or whoever your higher power is (Buddha, Mother Nature, Elvis) provides an endless supply of whatever 5 things you choose

2) For ease, let us assume that there is a supply on the island of some basics: salt, pepper, fresh herbs, butter, and oil. I have found that if you don't include these, and happen to have a chef in your discussion panel, then it will invariably descend into a fracas over proper seasoning, flavor, etc, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah

3) No cheating - ie: you can't say cheese, because it is too broad, you can't say pork for the same reason

4) Yes, you are on an island, however, that doesn't mean that you will instantly become Tom Hanks, and be feasting on all manner of crab, lobster, and reef fish, so if you will want seafood, you gotta pick it. Otherwise, I will have to change the discussion to just a desert, which won't look as nice as the island I hope to be stranded on (pictured above), and will be far less pleasant of an experience to discuss.

5) Leave out beverages - that is a whole different discussion entirely, and actually one that I haven't had yet, but if I ask people to choose between beer and food...

Alright, I'm done being a stickler and after much reflection, and soul searching, my five foods are as follows

1) Tomatoes - hard to pick among the wide world of vegetables, and I will sorely miss my brussel sprouts, and mustard greens, but the world would be a sad place to live in if I never again got to bite into a juicy, delicious tomato just picked of the vine.

2) Oysters - the seafood pick was much easier, they are without a doubt the most delicious little piece of briny goodness that the oceans have to offer

3) Fresh French Baguettes - Choosing a bread was a no brainer, but picking the type was harder. No more cheddar-jalapeno biscuits? No more pumpernickel? Very sad, but ultimately I guess I am my francophile mothers son, and since I have my endless supply of butter (see above) this would happily serve as lunch for me for the rest of my life

4) Pork Belly - I chose this one because I could cure it and make my own bacon, without which I would probably just throw myself into the ocean, or braise it and delight in it's fatty, savory goodness. I like options. I will miss my ribeyes, whole roasted chickens, veal cheeks, et al, but I not as much as I would miss my bacon

5) Mangoes - I had to choose a fruit because sometimes I just have unsatiable cravings for it, but this was probably an even harder choice than veggies. Figs? Bananas? Plums? Asian Pear? Georgia Peaches? All worthy choices, but in the end, I just picture myself eating a mango on the beach, watching the waves, and it seemed a pleasant way to spend every morning for the rest of my life

My Wife's five are
> Sourdough bread
> Figs
> Chocolate
> Tomatoes
> Brie - I think it's brie anyway, she always has a cheese on the list when we have this discussion (yes I have had the discussion more than once), but the type varies. I think brie was the most recent.

I'd love to hear what y'all would choose. Noush, I'll expect you to add your list to the blog soon. Happy thinking.