Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Feelin' Fruity

Its getting to be that time of year, and even though Mother Nature is clearly trying to piss me off, Spring is still on its way. One sure sign of spring (at least around here) is the arrival of strawberries in the local stores. I do love me some strawberries.

I picked up a quart box the other day, intending to eat them immediately for breakfast and got sidetracked. I re-discovered them in my fridge yesterday morning, starting to look, well, less than appealing. Still quite edible, just not quite so pretty. You know what I mean, I know you do. And, very often, berries like this get wasted.

Not in my house.

All this means is that its time to make Strawberry Upside-Down Cake. And, shockingly, my husband loves it. Go figure.

I picked up this recipe years and years ago, in the land-of-my-former-life from a co-worker in my directory assistance operator days. It fits in quite well with my repertoire of ever-so-easy recipes. Plus, as a bonus, it lets me use up aging berries from the fridge. I have also done this with other fruits, but strawberry is by far my favorite, as the berries break down very nicely and practically absorb into the cake.

Strawberry Upside-Down Cake
1 boxed white cake mix, batter prepared according to directions on the box
1 quart (more or less) strawberries, cleaned and halved or quartered (depending on their size)
1/2 pint heavy cream (or one cup if you keep a giant carton in the fridge like I do)

Here's the hard part (can you sense the sarcasm?): put the strawberries in the bottom of a baking pan.... 8x8, 9x13, or somewhere in between. Use whatever size pan is the right size to accommodate the amount of berries you have. In this case, my pan was an odd size, about 8x11. Just try to spread them out so its a nice, even layer. You do NOT need to grease the pan.
Pour the prepared cake batter evenly over the berries.

Drizzle the cream over the cake batter, so that it is evenly distributed over the cake. If you pour slowly, it will just sink right down into the batter. Don't stress out if it doesn't look gorgeous, or if you slop it around a bit. It will be fiiiiiine. Even if you just dump it all on top in a puddle. It will still be ok.

Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. You'll need to leave it in longer if you use a smaller pan (because the batter is deeper). When you check it for doneness, just give the pan a jiggle and if it doesn't wiggle in the middle anymore, its probably done.
Here's the important part. Let the cake REST. You can eat it hot, but it will be more like strawberry cake pudding because the hot berries that have been stewing in their juices will slosh all over the place and the cake will fall apart. Still tasty, but not pretty or easy to serve. I have, however, spooned this over vanilla ice cream before, and it is quite nice.
If you let the cake cool down, even leaving it in the fridge overnight, the berries will gelatinize (is that a word?) and absorb back into the cake. And it will look like this:
Serve this with a nice dollop of whipped cream and you have one wonderful (and easy) springtime recipe. And you don't have to waste those ugly berries. You can't tell they were starting to turn now, can you?
Here's the funny part: The hubs very excitedly asked if this was for him to take to work the next day, and I said yes. But this morning, he forgot to take it. Guess what I'LL be having after lunch today.....BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAAAAAAA!!!!

Wanna-be Potato Ho

Ok, well, if I could find the link right now, I'd link back to the Potato Ho story, but basically, its about a bunch of us that just looooove potatoes. Technically, that's my husband, and not me, so I'm not going to intrude on the Ho-down.

Also, apparently I picked this idea up from a blog I was just skimming and don't follow, because I can't for the life of me find it now, but I would gladly give credit where credit is due if I could.
(I know, I'm such a slacker!)

If you've gotten to know me, even the littlest bit through this blog, you know that my husband drives me crazy - at least as far as cooking for him goes. (ok, maybe sometimes for other reasons, too, but that's a whole other post!) He is a meat and potatoes kind of guy and believe me, I get tired of making the same old side dishes night after night, whether I eat them or not.

I ran across this idea yesterday on another blog and decided to give it a try. I mean hey, its potatoes, and cheese. How could the hubs not like it, right? Right. So here we go. I altered the recipe slightly, as it called for russets, and I had some nice reds. It also added some other seasonings in the oil, but I went for simple. With the hubs, when trying something new, that's the best way to go.

Oven Fried Potato Slices
5-6 red potatoes
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Paula Deen's House Seasoning (except I am cheap and I make it myself. If you know Paula, its just a glorified way of saying "salt, black pepper, and garlic powder all mixed up")
1 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar)

Slice the potatoes up, about 1/4 inch thick, leaving the peels on. Toss them with the oil in a Ziploc bag to get them all evenly coated. (Yes, you could just drizzle the oil on and rub it around if you are feeling green and want to save the plastic, but the recipe I saw suggested this method, to ensure all surfaces were evenly coated, as well as leaving the excess oil in the bag instead of letting the potatoes sit in a pool of oil on the pan, and it worked quite nicely for me) Layer the slices on a baking sheet, overlapping just slightly so that air can get around them, and sprinkle with House Seasoning.
Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until they are nicely done, and starting to crisp up. If you like your potatoes crispy, leave them in longer. My husband likes his more on the mushy side.
When the potatoes get to the "done" stage (according to your preference), pull them out and sprinkle lightly with cheese. Then pop the pan back in the oven and turn the heat off. Let the cheese melt and serve!
It was a hit with the hubs last night, and I served it along side some barbecued pork steaks. Speaking of which, don't be surprised if you start seeing a lot of pork chop and pork steak recipes. We just got a half a beef from the locker, and I still have a ton of pork leftover that I need to use up!


Friday, March 20, 2009

You Coulda TOLD me....

Ok, really, SOMEBODY could have told me that I forgot to include the recipe for the green beans...seriously. I scanned it and everything, before I even posted about it! Here it is!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Chicken Fried

From the time I started dating my husband, he talked about his grandma’s cooking, and how I should learn to make some of her dishes. Her famous “One Pot”, her peanut butter cookies, and, his favorite, her Fried Green Beans. Yep, that’s right, my husband actually WILL eat a green vegetable…. as long as its fried.
We all know how life can get away from you, and sure enough, his Grandma passed away just a month before we were married. I never did get the chance to ask her about any of her recipes, which I honestly figured she had never written down anyway, as most old farm wives cooked that way.
I tried to make the Fried Green Beans on several occasions based on the hubs’ memory, and he enjoyed them thoroughly, even though there was definitely something missing.
Last summer, I was looking for another recipe, and remembered that Matt’s sister inherited Grandma’s recipe box. A large plastic contraption jam packed with newspaper clippings and scrawling notes on scraps of paper and envelopes. We sat down at the kitchen table and scoured the collection for a certain “Custard Pie” recipe. Hidden among the pages was a newspaper scrap, yellow with age (the reverse says it is from “The Workbasket”, August, 1986), holding this heading, “Chicken Fried Green Beans”. Hallelujah! This scrap of paper now resides in MY recipe box, and when the hubs has been especially decent, I dust it off for a special treat.

Now, this is far from the battered version of Fried Green Beans that you will find at restaurants like TGI Friday’s, but even I have to admit, there is something kinda tasty about them. The recipe just calls for a can of green beans, but Grandma always made them with French Cut Green Beans, so that’s what I do, too. Also, I would bread these immediately before frying. If you let them sit too long after dredging them in the flour mixture, the moisture in the beans is absorbed into the coating and they start to clump together. These are best if they stay separated. Add a little extra flour, if necessary.
Last night I served this on the side of Chicken Fried Steak. I figured I might as well stay with the theme.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My Baby is not a Baby Anymore

(Atually SMILING for a picture with his birthday cake)

It seems like just yesterday that I was trying to break Little Man of drinking from a bottle, and now he is a full blown, potty-trained preschooler. Saturday was his fourth birthday, and we celebrated twice.
(Ty's classmates singing "Happy Birthday to Ty")

Friday, we had a little party for him at school, with ice cream for a snack, crafts to do with the kids, and treat bags for everyone to take home. All the kids had fun, I only wish I had gotten a picture of them all in their new craft aprons that they made.
Saturday, We had the party at our house for the family that could be there, complete with dinner, and cake and ice cream.
Ty had a great time, opened lots of presents (the big winner this year was the new Big Wheel, courtesy of Grandma La-La).
Considering that I spent the vast majority of the weekend either cleaning FOR the party, or cleaning up AFTER the party (including using the Rug Doctor on my carpets yesterday and this morning), I think I need a weekend just to recover from my weekend. Hopefully I’ll get that this weekend, when all I have going on is the International Bead Show in Collinsville! We had a great time last time we went.

That’s all for now…gotta get back to my regularly scheduled week! Here are a few more pictures to get you smiling!(Blowing out the candles...and yes, that is a piece of garlic bread in his hand)(Licking the "dubloons" from his Pirate cake)

Baked Tortellini….for a Crowd?

When I have the family over for an event (and I mean the in-laws, not MY family), it isn’t always easy to come up with a meal to serve them. Although my husband is the worst, they are still a fairly picky punch of eaters, so instead of making something I would consider fun or tasty, I cater to their tastes.
This Saturday was Little Man’s fourth birthday and we had the party at our house. Since the apple never falls far from the tree, he is a little picky eater, himself. SO, what is always a winner with picky eaters? Pasta. Dripping with sauce and cheese, of course, and garlic bread. Naturally, since we had people over, Little Man had to make me look like “mother of the year” by refusing to eat anything but garlic bread and the frosting from his cake, but what the hell. I’m use to it!

Something else that is always difficult for me is determining how much food to make for the occasion. I mean, I need enough for everyone, plus second helpings if they like it, plus a plate to take to Grandpa later, plus leftovers for the hubs to take to work for lunch on Monday. In this case, I made 2 9x13 pans of pasta and two full loaves of garlic bread. Everyone loved the pasta, except for my husband, who complained that the sauce tasted “different”, meaning it wasn’t exactly the same as the one time in his life where he actually liked pasta sauce, and complained that the cream I put in it made it “tangy”. WTF? Can you say “looking for excuses to complain?” Yeah, I knew you could.
So, needless to say, he won’t be eating any of the leftovers. In the end, I still have a full pan leftover, although I haven’t made a plate for Grandpa yet. I’ll do that later today. Suffice it to say, my co-workers won’t need to buy lunch today. For this post, I’m going to give you half the recipe, enough for one pan of pasta.

Baked Tortellini
1 bag of meat filled tortellini
1 bag of cheese filled tortellini
1 LARGE jar of your favorite pasta sauce (in this case, Ragu Parmesan Romano, because its what the family will eat), not sure how many ounces that is, but it’s the big plastic jar with the indents to make it easier to hold onto. Not the giant, Duggar-family size jar, but bigger than the regular one. Runs about $3.67 at Walmart)
½ cup heavy cream
2 cups shredded mozzarella

Boil water in a large stock pot and cook the tortellini just until they float to the surface. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, warm the pasta sauce gently, and stir in the cream, making a nice “pink” sauce. When the pasta is done cooking, drain it and add it into the sauce. Pour the mixture into a 9x13 pan. Top with the shredded mozzarella. Cover the pan with foil and bake 20 minutes or until nice and bubbly. (Or, in this case, until the family arrives.)
**NOTE: If you have ever made anything baked with cheese on top and growled at your oven when you peel the foil back and most of the cheese comes off with it, you will love this. Reynolds Release Foil. I am usually skeptical about new products like this, but a while back I bought a 3-pack of foil, and didn’t notice until I got home that one of the rolls was the new “Release” foil. It has a "dull" side that is supposedly "non-stick". I decided to give it a try on this dish. Lo and behold! The cheese did not stick to the foil. Not even a little bit. And yes, it was touching the foil. I am impressed enough that I’ll use it again.

I served this with a huge pile of garlic bread and a nice tossed salad, but try explaining why you’re taking pictures of your food to a family that doesn’t understand blogging….so, I snapped a couple of quick shots of the pasta and that’s about it. Enjoy!

Friday, March 13, 2009


Oh How Time Flies

Tomorrow is my son's 4th birthday. FOURTH.
I can't stand it. Where did my baby boy go? Heck, where did my TODDLER go? HE is officially "all boy", and quite the grown up little kid. The only thing saving my sanity is that he still loves to snuggle me, and give me those sweet little-boy kisses that every mommy craves. It won't be long now until he belongs to his daddy. There will be fishing trips, hunting, dogs, and just general "daddy time". I'll be chopped liver. I used to think that would be a good thing, because I'd have more time for my hobbies and housecleaning. Now, I want a re-count. He's growing up too fast...I want my baby back.
And yet, I am so excited by everything he is learning! Every day it is something new, and he is growing smarter and smarter all the time. He is truly finding himself and developing his own personality. I am finally seeing more in him than just the cloned-genes of his daddy. (We're pretty sure the doctor just put me under and implanted a mini-Matt clone.) Every once in a while, I see a glimpse of me. The stubbornness, the determination, the sensitivity, and, oh yes, even the vengeance gene (as seen at preschool when he pulled the chair out from under an unsuspecting classmate in retaliation for a wrong done upon him earlier that day). He is my boy, too, and I'm not giving him up just yet.
This afternoon we're having a birthday party at school for him. As usual, I went a bit overboard with the activities, but after all, it IS his first "School birthday party".
Tomorrow we will have the immediate family (the local ones at least - we'll miss you this year Grandma and Grandpa G, Auntie Anne and Uncle Roger!) over to the house for baked tortellini and cake and ice cream. And, of course...the presents. He is really looking forward to the presents.
So, until next week, send birthday wishes his way - I'll post pictures soon!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Girl Time

I can’t believe it has taken me this long to post about my weekend!

This weekend, I had the pleasure of having my MEF come visit me! Syl and I have been friends since we were about 12, and even though we rarely get to see each other, we are still as close as ever.
We didn’t do much of anything exciting this weekend, in fact, we spent a good chunk of Saturday just hanging out in front of the TV, watching the entire Season One box set of Burn Notice. We did cook a little bit, making some lovely asparagus and red pepper scrambled eggs for breakfast Saturday, Creamy Fire Roasted Tomato Orzo for dinner Saturday night, and a Fluffy Pancake with pineapple sauce for breakfast Saturday. Did I get pictures of any of this? Nope.

What I did get pictures of was our lunch on Saturday. I took Syl down to Alton, Illinois for a quick shopping trip and lunch at Fast Eddie’s BonAir. Fast Eddie's is reputed to sell more beer than any other venue in the country, and, particularly since they added their new outdoor smoking area (which, frankly, felt more like a beach party in the sunny 70 degree weather we were blessed with this weekend), I wouldn’t doubt it.
The other thing Fast Eddie’s is known for is their food. It’s a small menu, only about eight items, but they are all fantastic, and very, very cheap. There is no carry out available, you’ve got to eat it there, which is kind of the point, so you’ll stay and drink more beer. They have 99 cent cheeseburgers, $1.29 pork kebabs, fries, brats, steak on a stick, hot chick on a stick (chicken drummies seasoned, skewered, and grilled), and, my personal favorite – SHRIMP. They have jumbo peel and eat shrimp for 29 cents each. You wait your turn in the eternally long line and when you get in front of the huge vat of ice and shrimp, you just shoot them a number.
“30, please!”
There you go. For less than ten dollars, you have a plate full of beautiful shrimp and cocktail sauce. For me and Syl, it started with 30, and then we had to get back in line and get 30 more. We probably would have been fine with 20 more, since we struggled to get the last few down, but it was so worth it. Wash it all down with a cold beer and it makes for one wonderful afternoon.
We did do a little bit of beading as well, finishing off a four strand necklace I’d been working on, and making a beaded lanyard for her work ID badge.

All in all, it was just a nice, refreshing “girl weekend”, getting caught up and playing. I intended to scan some of our old pictures that we spent Friday night laughing at so I could do an “US: Then and Now” post, but that never happened, so I guess you’ll just have to settle for “Now”.
Love ya, Syl!

Easiest. Dinner. Ever.

I am sure that most of you already have a recipe for Italian Beef in your recipe boxes, but then again, I could be wrong. I had never had Italian beef until I moved to Illinois, so I have always wondered if it was a regional thing, like Toasted Ravioli, or the Horseshoe.

So, here we go.

  1. Get a nice Sirloin roast, with as little fat as possible
  2. Throw it in a crock pot
  3. Sprinkle with one package of Good Seasons Italian Dressing mix, and 1 TB of Italian seasoning
  4. Pour one or bottle of beer in the pot (I like a nice dark beer, maybe Schlafly's Octoberfest, or even an Oatmeal Stout, but there is never a shortage of Bud Light with my husband around, so that's what usually gets used.)
Cook the sucker on Low all day while you're at work. When you get home, pull any excess fat off the meat, shred it or chunk it up, and serve it on nice big rolls with a slice of pepperjack cheese.
**some people I know like to throw a jar of pepperoncinis in the mix, too.

This is a meal I like when I either find beautiful roasts on sale for a good price, or I just need a really easy dinner idea.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tool Review (aka: NV is gonna love this)

I realize that most of my blog posts focus around food, crafting, or my little boy. I do, however, have a fair knowledge of tools. After all, I was raised by a seamstress/crafter and a carpenter/plumber/electrician/jackofalltrades. I picked up a few things along the way. (PS, thanks Mom and Dad!) So, it should come as no surprise that I have held a number of different jobs, ranging from seamstress to bus driver to bartender, and a number of others in between. I have done two separate tours as a picture framer. I have to warn you, it is not an easy craft to give up, but one that is very difficult to maintain due to both the price of the implements and their relative size. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have room in my house for an upright glass cutter, a mat cutting system, a framing vice and a dry mount machine, not to mention an open, lint free, work space. I will still periodically do framing projects for myself, or as a favor to someone else, using what tools I have available to me, and it isn’t always fun.

Recently, I had occasion to put a project together for a co-worker that was meant for his wife’s Christmas present. He ordered all the materials, and I brought in my framing kit, and I nearly impaled myself trying to force the glazier’s points into the frame to finish it. I HATE glazier’s points. Always have. They are the folly of the devil, they are. For years I have been wanting to buy a handheld point driver, but could never justify the expense, as I do these projects so infrequently. But this time, I had had enough. As it turned out, the company that cut the mat for him, cut it wrong. We put the project together anyway, so he could give it to his wife, but then he talked to the company and they promised to re-cut it and send him a new one. In the interim, I did my homework. I picked a point driver (not my ideal choice, but come on, do I have an excuse to buy a $130 point driver? No.) and compared prices. Lo and behold! Not only did Hobby Lobby carry the model I wanted, but that week it was on sale for 30% off. I drive my happy ass up to Springfield and bought one. Now, this is definitely not the model I was spoiled enough to be able to use at the frame shops where I worked, but it’s a darn good option for the home framer. I finally got to try it out today when he brought in the replacement mat. I gleefully plucked out the glazier’s points (that were barely holding in place anyway) and assumed the position. (You know, the position where you are poised over an object, gun in hand, ready to pounce?) Carefully, I adjusted the position of the gun against the inside of the frame, and squeezed. Ahhhhhhh the soft “pop!” of a rigid point easily penetrating solid wood. Wonderful, just wonderful.

So, ladies and gents, should you ever have the need for a point driver, I can recommend this one. The Logan Dual-Drive Point Driver.

Pasta e Fagioli

This soup is a long time favorite, made popular by the Olive Garden chain. Traditional Pasta e Fagioli is not so much a soup, as a hearty bean and pasta dish you could generally eat as a fork. This recipe is a close match to the more americanized soup served in restaurants (minus the chickpeas, since I really don't like chickpeas). I made this soup for a friend's birthday today and had a little "girl luncheon" here at work. I was sure to snap a couple of pictures before gulping it down. I usually prefer the "petit diced" tomatoes, as I don't care for large chunks of tomato in a soup, but I found FIRE ROASTED diced tomatoes at my local grocery yesterday, and, that being a small miracle, I couldn't resist using them today, which naturally, gave the flavor of the soup a slightly different cast.
Pasta e Fagioli
1.5 pounds ground beef

1 large carrot, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 small onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced (or to taste)

2 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes
1 can (15 ounce) tomato sauce
1 12 ounce can V8 (or Bloody Mary mix if you have that handy, which I did last night)
1 can kidney beans (I usually don't drain the beans, but last night I did and the soup was much thinner. Not a bad thing, just different)
1 can cannellini or great northern beans with liquid
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon basil
1 teaspoon thyme (or just use an italian seasoning blend for all 3)
½ teaspoon black pepper

½ pound pasta (tubettini, ditalini, small shells or any other small pasta will do)
10 –12 cups beef stock

Cook beef in a LARGE stock pot until just cooked. Drain well and add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Cook about 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes, sauce, V8, both cans of beans, herbs, and 2 cups of the beef stock. Allow to simmer one hour, covered. After 50 minutes, cook the pasta separately (1/2 pound equal ½ box), drain well and add to the stock pot. One cup at a time, add the remaining beef stock until soup reaches desired consistency. Taste for flavor and add any additional herbs needed. Simmer 10 more minutes.

Makes approximately 9 quarts. NOTE: You are going to need a BIG pot for this recipe!
TIP: If you are going to do what I did and cook it the night before, then reheat it for a function the next day, cook the pasta until it is almost done, then rinse it in cold water, toss it with a little olive oil (to keep it from sticking together) and put it in a ziploc bag in the fridge. Add it into the soup before serving. This will keep the pasta from overcooking in the soup and getting mushy.

As seen in the Hobby Lobby parking lot....

REALLY? Cuz I kinda LIKE the mold....

Seriously, do any of these points indicate the "slightest" sign of spoilage? Really?

Geeked Out!

Ok, at the risk of over-flattering my MEF, I'm going to do this anyway. I'm so EXCITED!!! MEF is coming to visit on Friday! Syl is my oldest and dearest friend (disclaimer: I do have older friends, and I have friends I've been closer to at certain points in my life, but Syl is different.) and I wouldn't use anything less than the word "soulmate" to describe our bond.
Our lives have always run parallel to each other. even when she was stationed in Japan. Her teenager is my godson, and I take that responsibility more seriously than I can even verbalize. Syl is my confidant, my shoulder to cry on and a brick wall to throw things at when I am at my wit's end. She's the part of me that I wasn't born with. (Awwww I know, she's reading this right now and sticking her lower lip out with her brow all furrowed. Its so cute.) Even though we have spent large chunks of our lives apart, when we get back together, we pick right back up where we left off. We've married, divorced, married again, had children, jobs, tragedies, struggles, and unsurpassed joys, together and apart, and one thing never changes - she is my best friend.

And she's coming to see me Friday! (did I mention that already?) As she told me on the phone yesterday, and I couldn't agree more, "I'm so geeked out about coming to see you!"

Me, too, honey, and I can't wait til you get here!!!

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Happy Place

(Kobe Beef on the grill)

I hardly know where to begin with this one. As you can see, I had lots and lots to blog about this weekend. Ginny and I are old friends. Whenever we visit, there is never any shortage of fun things going on. Almost always our plans revolve, in some way, around cooking. We’ve been trying to work in a cooking class for quite a while, but it just never seems to work out that something we are interested in is available at the right time.
This visit was different.
A few years ago, my mom, sister and I took a cooking class at the Viking Culinary Center while they were visiting over Christmas. It was a blast. I couldn’t wait to do it again! And, as a bonus, my sister asked if she could sign me up for a class as my birthday present that year. Well, that was THREE, count ‘em, THREE years ago. Until now, I’ve never been able to arrange it. So, when my sister asked me last month if there was anything she could get me for my birthday that I didn’t receive, I knew just what to tell her:


She signed me up, I got Ginny enrolled as well, and we were on our way.

If you are a foodie, you hear about Japanese Kobe beef all the time. But, have you ever SEEN it? Let alone, TASTED it? Well, this “class” (which was actually a demo, but I’m not nit-picking) was a steak and wine pairing experience to match no other. Lou Rook, executive chef for Annie Gunn’s in St Louis, and his wine director, Glenn Bargett, put on a nearly four hour demo, educating their audience about high-end cuts of beef and the wonderful wines (and side dishes) that complement them. Ginny and I may be foodies, but it is hard to steer us away from a nice bottle of wine, too, let alone SIX.

Here are the wonders that we beheld:

Piedmontese Beef Tenderloin (Montana)
USDA Prime Dry Aged Strip Loin
USDA Prime Wet Aged Strip Loin
Akaushi Strip Loin, Natural Breed Kobe (Texas)
Japanese Kobe “Tajima A5 Grade” Strip Loin (Kobe, Japan)

Our wines:
Mionetto il Prosecco del Veneto, Italy
Bouvet Brut Rose, Loire Valley, France
Riesling (Dry) Pannotia 2007 Rheinhessen, Germany
Dolcetto d’Alba, Sori Paitin “Estate Bottled” 2007 Piemonte, Italy
Merlot, Trefethen “Estate Grown” 2005 Oak Knoll, Napa Valley, California
Chambourcin, Augusta “Estate Bottled” 2004 Augusta, Missouri

We started with an education on the different kinds of beef, how they are produced, where they come from, and their attributes, including a side-by-side display, so we could actually see the differences in the raw meat.
(Left to right: Dry aged and Wet Aged Strip Loins, Japanese Wagyu Kobe Beef, Akaushi Texas Bred Kobe-Style beef, Piedmontese Strip Loin)
(Compare the American Kobe to the Montana Piedmontese Strip Loin)
Our first course was a Classic Steak Tartare (or Carpaccio) on toast points, made with the Piedmontese Tenderloin. I had never had Carpaccio before, but I’m not scared of raw meat and I was eager to taste it. The beef just about melted in my mouth. Next, we tried the two USDA Prime Strip Loins together, with a cabernet steak butter and a lovely olive tapenade, and had the chance to compare the two. For my money, I have to go with the dry aged beef, combined with the olive tapenade. It was just divine. We were also treated to a white bean and shrimp salad with fresh Maine shrimp, that just happened to be in season and Chef Rook (god bless him) couldn’t resist bringing some to us.
(on the left, the Dry Aged Strip Loin, on the right, the Wet Aged)
After that, it was on to a course in Kobe and Kobe-Style beef. We sampled both cuts side-by-side with a potato risotto. To everyone’s delight, Chef also brought some black Colorado Truffles along, and shaved slivers on top of everyone’s risotto. Ok, if you know me, I know what you’re thinking. “Beth Anne! You are ALLERGIC to mushrooms!” Yeah, I know, but you know what? How often does an opportunity like this present itself? Seriously! I popped a Benadryl and said, “Bring it!” I have gotta say….it was very, very nice. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it. And yes, I did give about half of my share to Ginny rather than throwing caution completely to the wind, but I tried them.
(according to the chef, this piece of Japanese A5 Kobe alone runs about $1500.00 retail!) (on the left, the Japanese Kobe, on the right, the American Kobe. See the difference in the marbling?)

Now, about the Kobe. I don’t even have words for it. "Amazing" falls pathetically short of describing the taste and texture of the meat. I found a little piece of heaven right there in that kitchen. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a good chance I’ll never have it again, based on the prices that the chef quoted to us (unless someone else wants to pick up the tab thankyouverymuch!), but believe me, I would if I got the chance!

Please pardon the crudeness of some of my photos…..we were a little consumed by the experience and couldn’t wait to try what was placed in front of us, so please, pardon the bite marks….and the drool…..and, yes, the rareness of the steak, if that offends you. Which reminds me, to all you pansies who requested a “more well done cut” or left unfinished wine on the table….what is your problem??? Live in the moment, people! You did not come to this class to stay in your safe little comfort zone! Try something new! Trust the judgment of an expert and give it a chance! And, at the same time…..more for me! I got to have a bite or two of what you left on the serving plate. HA! And I’d do it again. And I WILL do it again! Soon, I hope. This will not be our last visit to the Kitchen Conservatory, and the next one won’t be soon enough. Did I mention the wonderful store they have as well? Ahhhhh heaven for a foodie like me.

Finally, thank you to Chef Lou Rook, Glenn Bargett, and the staff at the Kitchen Conservatory. It was phenomenal. I only wish we could have joined Lou and Glenn on their restaurant-hopping foray after the class. I am now officially “spoiled rotten”. I fear that ordinary steak will just never be enough again. Thank you, Sister, it was the best gift I've had in a very long time.

Creamy Leek Risotto

I asked for (and received) the Silver Spoon cookbook last year for Christmas. This is the quintessential Italian cookbook that had never been translated to English before. I cannot tell you how much I love this book. The first thing I tried from it was amazing, and I keep making it, or a version of it, on a regular basis.
Again, I'm sorry that there is not lovely steaming picture of this after it was finished....did I mention our trip to the ER last night? Yeah, I did, a couple of times...

Creamy Leek Risotto
2 TB Butter
4 small leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and thinly sliced
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups Arborio rice
¾ cup heavy cream
Salt & pepper
½ cup Parmesan cheese

In a saucepan, warm the stock gently. You don’t want the stock to be cold when you add it into the rice. Melt butter in a large sauce pan, add the leeks and cook about 5 minutes. Add a tablespoon of water or stock and simmer about 20 minutes, until the leeks are tender. Stir the uncooked rice into the leeks and cook, stirring in 1 ladle full of stock at a time. After each addition of stock, stir the rice, allowing it to absorb the liquid before adding more. When all of the stock has been absorbed, stir in the cream, parmesan, and season with salt and pepper, if necessary.
NOW! When I make this as a side dish for a meal, I plan on having leftovers the next day. Why? Well, for starters, because it is heavenly. But also because it makes for one hellaciously tasty breakfast treat. Here’s what you do:

You’re going to need at least a couple of cups of leftover risotto for this. Brown one pound of your favorite breakfast sausage and drain all the grease off. Mix the sausage into the leftover risotto until it is well combined. Form the mixture into patties. Mix together 1 cup of Italian seasoned breadcrumbs and ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese and gently coat the patties in it. Heat butter in a large skillet and gently fry the patties until golden on both sides. Serve hot with (or without) whatever else you want for breakfast!

NOT Diet Food.

You know, as I'm composing this post, I am thinking to myself, DAMN! I sure do say that a lot. Yep. I make a lot of food that is most definitely NOT diet food. Believe me, this is not because it is my favorite, but because I am married to a country boy who refuses to think anything that has color in it could taste good. Good FOR you? Doesn't matter. Not to him.
I know, I hear you saying it, "Just introduce things to him a little at a time", or "In my house, you eat what's put on the table." Yeah, yeah, I know, I hear you, and believe me, I TRIED. But, in my house, with my stubborn man, it just. doesn't. work.
So, I have come up with quite a repertoire of countryboysatisfyingarteryclogging meals that make him happy, and have added 30 pounds to my waistline (among other places) that I am now struggling to get rid of. So, I now eat a lot of steamed and sauteed veggies while I make smaller versions of M's fatty dishes to avoid the mountain of leftovers we would otherwise have with me not eating it.
I know this isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for my cooking, but I don't get any complaints from M and other similarly minded folks, which there are a LOT of around here. SO, if you feel my pain, and know someone like M that you have to cook for, you might find some good recipes here on my blog! But I will warn you.....if you don't want to start LOOKING like a pan of chicken enchiladas, you might want to think twice before you put some of my recipes on your own plate.
NOW! Back to our regularly scheduled blog post...
I make this recipe occasionally for my husband. When we first started dating, and I stated cooking for him, he gave me a list of ingredients he didn’t like. One of those ingredients was sour cream, but given that the list (my husband being the picky eater that he is) was quite lengthy, I forgot about the sour cream when I made this dish for him for the first time. He looked at me skeptically when I put the dish in front of him (as he does ANY time I serve him something new), but after the first bite, he scarfed the rest of the plate down in a flash. Afterward, he asked me what was in it and I listed off the ingredients. When I got to the sour cream (and not just a LITTLE sour cream, but 16 OUNCES worth, he looked like he was going to choke. Then he said, “Wow, I guess I don’t hate sour cream as much as I thought!”
He looks forward to this dish now when I make it, which isn’t often considering that I am not usually good at prep, and taking the time to poach my chicken ahead of time so I don’t have to do it on a busy weeknight. When I made it this weekend, I halved the recipe and baked it in an 8x8 pan instead, since I knew it was definitely NOT on my diet and I wouldn’t be eating any of it. I also didn't get a picture of the finished product looking all gorgeously melty when it came out of the oven, because, well, we weren't home. As stated in an earlier post, we made a run to the ER last night and left the boy-child and supper at home with Ginny while we were gone.

Chicken Enchilada Bake
Poach 3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and shred the meat. Set aside. In a saucepan, saute one onion, diced and 1 tablespoon minced garlic in 2 tablespoons butter.
Once the onions are soft, add:
4 TB flour
16 ounces sour cream
1 teaspoon coriander
2 cups chicken stock

Mix well to form a sauce. Bring to a gentle boil to give the flour a chance to thicken the liquid.
Reserve 2 cups of the sauce for later, and add the remaining sauce to the shredded chicken.
Lay out a flour tortilla, sprinkle with Monterrey Jack cheese, and top with chicken mixture. Roll the tortilla tightly, and put it in a 9x13 pan. Repeat this with 7 more tortillas, or until you run out of ingredients (or space in your pan!). Pour the reserved sauce over the tortillas, and top with 2 cups shredded Monterrey Jack Cheese.Sprinkle the top with a little paprika (for color), if you like. Cover the pan with foil and bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly. If you like your cheese to brown up on top, take the foil off and bake 5-10 minutes more.

In other news….

The main reason for Ginny’s visit this weekend was to complete a rather large jewelry project that has been in the planning stages since her last visit.
See, there is a bead store in my area that will take your dried flowers (from a funeral, or a wedding, etc.) and turn them into beads that you can turn into wearable memories (aka, jewelry). They also provide the jewelry making service (for a fee), but yeah, like I’m not going to make my own? I have had this done with funeral flowers for both myself and my SIL, so I knew how it worked. When Ginny was here on her last visit, we took her flowers in and ordered what we needed. In the meantime, we ordered the other supplies we would need to go with them and planned to put everything together on the next visit, which was this weekend.
We managed to get everything finished, with a few changes to the original plan/design, except for her own necklace, as we ran short on flower beads. So we will be ordering a few more so that I can finish her necklace and send it to her.
Here are the finished products, which she will be gifting to several family members and friends.
I also managed to get several of my own “in progress” projects completed, including a few necklaces I had been asked to fix for a friend.

Tabasco Teriyaki Seared Sea Scallops

Probably my all time favorite seafood item is Sea Scallops. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t catch me turning down Lobster, Crab Legs, or even Shrimp, but there is just something about a nicely seared Sea Scallop that really works for me. Whenever I have the opportunity, I try and have some. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I found some at my local grocer. Not the largest I’d ever seen, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right? With Ginny here this weekend to appreciate them with me, we made one of my favorite scallop dishes, Tabasco Teriyaki Sea Scallops. Unfortunately, they sat in the fridge longer than I would have liked and we ended up cooking and eating them at 9:00pm last night because of an unexpected run to the ER to get some stitches in the hubs’ hand. (He’s fine, just cut his hand pretty bad on a piece of tin and I didn’t think leaving it to close on its own would be a wise idea. As it turned out, the doctor agreed with me even though the hubs is still not convinced.)

SO, without further ado…..SCALLOPS!

Tabasco Teriyaki Seared Sea Scallops
8-10 Large Sea Scallops
Bottled Teriyaki Sauce
Mixed bell peppers, chopped or sliced
Sugar snap peas

Defrost the scallops, if necessary and dry thoroughly with a paper towel. The scallops will not sear well if they are wet. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Season the scallops on both sides with salt and pepper.

Gently place each scallop in a HOT pan and let it sear. Resist the urge to turn it. If it hasn’t seared yet, bits of it will just stick to the pan and you can tear them apart. Gently nudge them and when they move easily, you can flip them and repeat on the other side. This won’t take long if you have nice scallops. Mine had been frozen a little too long, so they weren’t very cooperative. Once they are seared, remove them from the pan. Scallops aren’t meant to be “well done”, so if you remove them after they are seared, they should be wonderfully tender inside.

Meanwhile, in the same pan, add the vegetables, several dashes of Tabasco (to taste) and a large splash of your favorite bottled teriyaki sauce. Sauté the vegetables until the y are crisp/tender, then add the scallops back into the pan to coat with the sauce.
Normally, I would serve this over some nice noodles, but since we’re dieting, I opted for no carbs. Beautiful, no?