Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Last Minute

As you may have noticed, I have not blogged in a bit. I apologize, I have been swamped with work. I had a week where I was just too tired to do anything. The idea of cooking was too tiring to even be attempted. Plus, I don’t know about you, but when I get busy dishes are the last thing on my mind. Yes, I am still doing dishes to catch up on my lack of housework last week. So you don’t feel like cooking and all your dishes are dirty, What do you do?

Now adays people are pinching every penny they can therefore eating out every night for a week is not really an option. Or at least, I am watching my spending. Eating out adds up quickly!!!!

If, I was not too tired to make it to the food store on my way home, I am a fan of buying the grocery store roasted chicken. I would just serve this with a pre-mixed bag of salad. TA-DA dinner is served. It is not fancy or sophisticated but it is healthier than pizza if you take the skin off.

In my house, I am only feeding two people. That means leftovers and an easier dinner the next night. First, I pull all the chicken off the bones and rip into fork size pieces. Though not exactly scientific, it is a great way to release some tension. Ripping is theraputic…..Trust me !!!! If I was super tried, I would throw the chicken on top of the left over pre-mixed salad. Then add a ton of parmesan cheese (which I LOVE) and grated is fine. I normally have grated parmesan cheese in my fridge at all times. Dress with Caesar dressing and then call it a night. I know Caesar dressing is not the healthiest thing in the planet, but I tend not to care much when I am tired. If you are super concerned with the calories, use a reduced-fat Caesar. I personally LOVE the Ken’s Caesar dressing when I don’t make my own from scratch.

Now if I have a little more energy, I make chicken salad. Instead of tossing the chicken onto lettuce, I mix the chicken with mayo, a clove of garlic, a little lemon juice, sun dried tomatoes, parmesan cheese, whatever nuts are around, and avocados if I have them. Lemon juice, sun dried tomatoes, mayo, and nuts are kitchen staples for me like the parmesan cheese. Then I serve this with saltines or on bread.

Of course this is assuming I was not too tired to go to the store. There were nights last week where all I wanted to do was go home, take my shoes off and melt into the couch. On those not too pleasant nights last week, I wanted comfort not tuna fish or something frozen. I want tomato soup with grilled cheese. There is something about the warmth of the soup paired with melty cheese that makes me happy. Now, I use a can of tomato soup, but I doctor it. I add milk to make the soup creamier. I would say cream or half and half however, I normally only keep milk around I throw in a can of diced tomatoes or fresh if I feel like dicing, to give chunkiness along with dried basil, garlic, and chili powder. You could add an onion, though that involved a lot more effort. I stir and let simmer while I make grilled cheese with whatever cheese I have in my fridge. As, I have written, I love cheese. In my frig last week was Swiss, Jarlsburg, cheddar, provolone, mozzarella, and parmesean. I just butter the bread on all sides then use whatever cheese I am in the mode for. If I make the soup spicier I use cheddar in the sandwich. When I finish with the grilled cheese, I pour myself a bowl of soup and proceed to relax in yummy goodness.

Overall, I have learned if you tweak pre-made things like tomato soup a little, they taste homemade, without all the effort. I am not saying that they taste better than recipes made from scratch, but they’re not too far from it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Maria- the basil plant lives on!!!!!

I am happy to say that Maria, my basil plant and pesto inspiration, is still alive and well.  That is right; Maria has survived over a month in my care.  Miracles happen!  Despite the constant Georgia rain and my regular leaf harvests,  Maria is doing well.  She/It.. continues to grow at a prodigious pace, but not too fast that I can make basil the star ingredient every day.
With having my own private source of fresh basil, I have been using the basil to garnish my dishes.  This only requires a couple leaves at a time as opposed to the cup of leaves I use to make tomato soup.  I julienne (cut into strips) the bright crisp green leaves.  Depending on the dish, I may generous sprinkle the strips around the plate to add a pop of color or stack the emerald ribbons neatly in the center of the plate for a more structured effect. 
Recently, I have begun an initiative to enhance the presentation of my food.  Maria adds a functional garnish to the plate.  Instead of simply tossing a sprig of parsley on the dish that no one is meant to eat on a plate like many restaurants do, basil actually adds flavor and beauty to the dish.  I think I can attribute my love of artful presentation to watching too much of Bravo's Top Chef and the years of art classes have finally catching up with me!  (To see my experience with an Atlanta Top Chef contestant's restaurant, see my previous blog on Flip Burger.)
I spend quite a bit of time plating my food and she has proved her worth.  I guess I must continue praying that Maria avoids the curse of my black thumb!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Cheap Wine Review

Like most people, I am watching my pennies and dimes.  This applies to everything from my clothing choices to the wine I drink.  I decided to include reviews for cheap wines I have tried this week.  All the wines listed were bought at my local Trader Joe's for under $10.  You do not have to spend a lot of money for a great meal with great wine!

Worst Pick of the Week

This was a California White Wine that was okay.  The wine tasted cheap and it sold for $8.99.  The bad after taste was strong.  I would recommend getting any of the Two Buck Chuck white wines (this is the Trader Joe wine that is always under $3)

Best Pick of the Week
This wine pairs great with meat pizza.  This Sangiovese was $4.99 and tasted great!!!  It is a nice, basic Italian red wine that pairs exceptionally well with food.  Normally you hear about beer and pizza going into football season.  This wine is a great substitute for your normal party fare.  It can even  make your party seem a little more refined!!!

Other great wines

This Montepulciano pairs perfectly with steak and mushrooms. Many wines that pair well with Steak and mushrooms can get pretty expensive.  Barolos are can run upwards of $40 for just a basic bottle.  This wine cost $5.99. I use the wine to saute the mushrooms while the steak cooks.  Wine adds great depth to the mushrooms that enhance their natural earthiness.

Fun bottle of the week!!!

This bottle is super fun and the perfect conversation starter.  I recommend bringing this bottle to a party with non-wine snobs!!!  This bottle was $5.99.  The wine itself was a nice light fruity red.  According to the label, it is a mystery combination of grapes.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Steak Tartare

After eating steak tartare last week at Flip Burger, I was inspired. I have previously eaten raw beef before in beef capriccio, but I have never prepared raw beef on my own. I read about tartare, in “Beard on Food.” Also, Publix had some great ribeye on sale, so tonight, I decided to be adventurous.

I should warn that eating under cooked meat and eggs has some risks. Please be aware, these risks are very small and unlikely, but shouldn’t be taken lightly. To decrease the risk of food poisoning, I suggest purchasing the freshest ingredients from a store you trust.

Now that I have finished with my FDA approved warning, I feel confident that I can continue. The first thing to do is chose the right piece of beef. You want a good cut of meat. Please do not buy pre-ground meat if you plan on consuming it raw. I chose rib eye because it was on sale and looked fresh. Please don’t be afraid to ask your butcher or meat counter attendant which meat is freshest. Even at Wal-Mart, there are people you can ask. Freshness isn’t the only consideration. You want a steak with appropriate fat content and good marbling. You will need to cut off any large fat strips. Please keep these criteria in mind when selecting your meat.

Before you start cooking, please sample a small piece of the raw beef. The texture is similar to raw fish and definitely not for everyone. Plus, the dark meaty raw color can be a turnoff. I recommend trying the meat first before you waste a piece of perfectly good steak. If the texture, color, or look is not to your liking, it isn’t too late to toss the meat in a pan and have steak for dinner. No money lost!!!!

For me, the color and texture were a little weird, but still edible. If you can stomach the sample, then proceed!!!

Like the beef, please select eggs that are fresh and from a grocer you trust. If raw eggs concern you, you can par cook the eggs for two minutes in boiling water, then place them in an ice bath. This will eliminate some bacteria and make you feel like the eggs are not raw. I personally don’t see the point, but to each his own.


2 raw egg yolks
½ cup Olive Oil
8oz of raw beef with the fat cut off
½ tsp Worsheshire Sauce
½ tsp Dijion Mustard
Pepper and Salt to taste
1 tsp Lemon zest
2 tbps Capers
If the beef is a little tough, when you do your beef tasting, please pound out the meat with a mallet, rolling pin, or your fists. Once, the beef is tender, cut into very small pieces..

Whisk the 2 raw egg yolks together, the slowly start drizzling in the olive oil . When all the olive oil is added, the mixture should be a light pastel yellow with the consistency and texture of mayonnaise.

Add yellow emulsion, dijion mustard, capers, lemon zest, and ½ tsp Worshcester Sauce\ to the finely chopped raw beef. Mix gently. Taste the rosey pink mixture than season to taste.

I recommend serving with bread but this is great with lettuce or cucumber slices. A nice sparking dry rose would be the perfect pairing. You can also garnish with microgreens to help hide the pinky red rawiness.

You can substitute the Worcheshire sauce for a little apple cider vinegar. The acidity of the vinegar will “cook” the beef/eggs similar to a ceviche and give it a little bit of a different texture and flavor profile.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009



Today marks my basil plants three week birthday!!! That is right; I, Allison kept a plant alive for three whole weeks. . I know it’s sad to be celebrating a plant surviving 21 days in my care, but I like to celebrate the little things!!! Normally, I have a black thumb. Many herbs have perished under my care within only a couple days. My last herb garden succumbed to disease. I am not kidding

To celebrate the birthday of my basil plant, whom I loving call Maria, I decide to harvest her to make pesto. (I don’t like tomato sauce and yes, I am quite serious.)

One of the things, I enjoy about this dish is you can prep the dish to be ready in 8-10 minutes. With little notice, it can be prepared for your loved ones. You can even precut the tomatoes and mozzarella, precook the asparagus, and make the pesto all in advance. Once your friend or roommate comes home, the hard work is finished. All that remains is to boil the pasta.

½ cup fresh basil
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup of parmasean cheese
¼ cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 clove of garlic
Salt to taste

Place all ingredients into a blender and thoroughly blend

Pesto Pasta with mozzarella, tomatoes, and asparagus
Yes, this recipe is vegetarian. That is simply because I did not have time to go to the store for protein. However, I find the multiple servings of vegetables and cheese exceptionally filling.

Serving for 2

8 oz of fresh mozzarella
8 oz of pasta (I like Barilla Plus)
5 small tomatoes
1 cup of asparagus
Pesto from above
Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350

Cut the asparagus into inch long pieces and then place them on a cooking sheet. Drizzle with a little Olive Oil and freshly ground sea salt. Cook for 5 minutes for crisp asparagus. Increase cooking time for softer asparagus.

Dice the fresh mozzarella into bite-sized cubes or strips. (You want the cheese cut small, so when mixed with the warm pasta it will get gooey and yummy)

Dice tomatoes into fork size pieces.

Cook pasta and drain. Mix pasta with pesto, diced mozzarella, tomatoes, and cooked asparagus. Place on a plate and serve. To spruce up the presentation, try garnishing with a few pine nuts and fresh basil leaves.