Monday, March 29, 2010

hot n fresh out the kitchen

Look what my family just removed from the oven.


Meet Vivian Inez. She was born just yesterday. Can you even imagine being that new? I have a lot of stuff to teach her about, mostly involving complex carbohydrates and how to make a proper cocktail. Viv is the fourth child of my brother and his wife. They are extremely good at making babies. Me, I'm good at making food. Who wants tabbouli?


Quinoa, is pronounced "KEEN WAH." Isn't that kind of obnoxious? I called it "ki noah" for about a year probably. Der. I had a hankering to make tabbouli but the store did not have any bulger wheat. But I did have some keen wah in my pantry, so I figured I would give it a go with that. It came out great. I highly recommend this substitution. I have no photos because the memory card reader for my borrowed camera isn't working (insert your favorite swear word here).

Prepare quinoa according to package directions. I upped the recommended amount from 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water by 1/2. So I made 1 1/2 cups quinoa with 3 cups water. Do not do this unless you are completely committed to eating tabbouli for the next month of your life. Just make the normal amount.

Next, chop up equal parts:

Diced purple onion
Cherry tomatoes, cut into halves or quarters
Freshly chopped mint and parsley

Once the quinoa is slightly cooled combine with the veggies and herbs. Use a lot of herbs. I used a generous amount of both mint and parsley and about 1 1/2 cups of diced tomatoes and onion. Dress with the juice from one lemon and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Salt and pepper. This is great over mixed greens with some feta and a dollop of good hummus.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I'm an eater not a fighter


I spent many St. Patrick Days past gassed up pretty good, bedecked in Kelly green mardi gras beads with bud light logos on them, chugging back Guinness in a bar full of New York firefighters (that was a fun one), or drinking green mimosas and mixing shots before noon at East 7th Street between K and J (that’s South Boston to the non-native). These St. Patrick’s revelries were fun, I mean, I had a really good time. However, because March weather in Massachusetts is historically manic and unpredictable, parade attendance would result in either (a) a mild case of hypothermia or (b) sun poisoning. And drinking before noon usually meant by 3:00 p.m. I was on a one way trip to Bedsville with an extended layover in Calzone City. Additionally, more often than not trying to get a cab in South Boston on Parade Day would result in a belligerent fleece jacket wearing couple who was fighting in the street taking a few moments to shift their anger towards me and my friends over what appeared to be the only cab in Boston at the moment. I wish I was joking, but I think this happened to us two years running. It’s not that it wasn’t all good fun I mean I love almost getting punched by strangers just as much as the next guy, it’s just that a couple of years ago I simply decided I was OVER it. Over braving the swaying crowds of Irish knit sweaters, the unpredictable weather, the right-hand wrist drenched by beer (an unavoidable result of walking down the street with a full keg cup). I was over the scene, but still, I am a large percentage Irish and I do love St. Pat’s and the fun it brings. I wasn’t done observing The Holiday, I was just done with The Parade.

Last year, we did a “bar crawl” with my mom and aunts in Brighton Center. The crawl lasted only as far as three establishments. Trust me with this crowd, three was enough. We tossed back some black and tans and some poorly poured Irish flag shots and then the aunties started to get fresh with Paul. We then retired to my aunt’s house for boiled dinner and malarkey pie. Which is a “traditional” Irish pie that my mom completely pulled out her you-know-what because she’s full of malarkey. Hence, the name. So this year when no plans on tap, I started thinking I would like to make a nice dinner inspired by Irish cuisine. I wasn’t about to make boiled dinner because I am not into corned beef and I’m certainly not into boiled cabbage. If I wanted my kitchen to smell like farts, I would just invite my brother over. I wanted to make something comforting and delicious and definitely something with booze or beer in it. Honestly, I just wanted a good excuse to buy some Kerrygold and Baileys for my house.

So I made a shepherd’s pie with Guinness and some chocolate stout cupcakes with Baileys frosting. My mom, who I put in charge of a side dish, made lobster mac and cheese (you know, a nice light side dish) and the most picture perfect Irish soda bread you have ever seen in your life.


We had a lot of food, plenty of beers and a lot of laughs. I rigged an old spoon so I could pour homemade black and tans and we sat around after dinner drinking Baileys and listening to records. I ate two cupcakes and we left the dishes to do until the morning and the best part: I didn’t have to fight anybody for a cab ride home.

Drunken Shepherd’s Pie
(I found this recipe a couple places, but most closely followed the one I found on The Hungry Housewife, because it was delightfully simple and unfussy)

1 ½ lbs. ground beef or lamb (I used half of each)
1 medium onion, minced
1 ½ c. carrots, diced
1 package frozen peas
1 package frozen corn
Worcestershire Sauce
1 tall (16 oz.) can Guinness
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 packages brown gravy mix

3 lbs. potatoes
1 stick butter
Whole milk

2-3 cups shredded cheddar cheese


Peel and slice potatoes and set them to boil in a large pot of water. Heat large skillet over medium heat and sauté onion in a bit of olive oil until translucent. Raise heat a bit and add ground meat to brown. Once meat is browned drain off the liquid and add a couple splashes of Worcestershire, the tomato paste, 1 ½ cups Guinness and a few cranks of salt and pepper. Raise heat a bit to allow the beer to reduce. Meanwhile, prepare two packages of brown gravy with 1 cup water and 1 cup Guinness (a large can works perfectly for both. If you use bottles, you will have to drink the leftover Guinness. Chef’s rules). When gravy is sufficiently thick pour it into the skillet with the meat. Lower heat a bit and let simmer. Your potatoes will probably be done by now. Drain potatoes and return to their pot with a stick of salted butter and a few healthy splashes whole milk. Mash potatoes, but don’t annihilate them. They should be thick and almost on the drier side of normal mashed, a little lumpy even.


The directions for most shepherd’s pies I saw indicated you were to layer the veggies over the meat and then the potatoes over the veggies. My mother, who was acting as my Sue Chef (because her name’s Sue, get it!) was like “that seems unnecessary, they’re all going to mix together anyways.” Where I tend to be fussy and follow directions when cooking the unknown, she tends to be no nonsense and wise, working by instinct. We make a pretty good team. She also advised me rather than using two baking pans that I should just bake the whole dang thing right in the skillet I was using. Another ace trick. Not only did it save dirtying extra dishes (a huge plus for those of us dishwasher-less cooks) it also saved me the headache of trying to slop the massive quantities of gravied beef I had prepared into my two puny baking dishes (FYI, I used 2 ½ lbs of beef and lamb and upped the ante on everything else, because I was serving 11 people that’s why these photos show a LOT of beef). Add the vegetables* to the beef mixture and then slowly spoon the potatoes over the top. I worked slo-o-o-w-ly to avoid two things: uneven potato distribution and potato sinkage. I was convinced my spuds would just sink right into the beefy gravy mixture, but they ended up nicely suspended on top. Top potatoes with shredded cheddar and bake in a 375 degree oven until the cheese is slightly browned and everything is bubbling.


This was the easiest thing I have ever prepared for a dinner party. It took about 40 minutes start to finish to make (with the assistance of my Sue Chef) and then once in the pan it’s going to be baked in, it can just hang until everybody has arrived. This is hearty pub fare, not a light meal but let me tell you, the dudes (and my friend Kerri) loved it. People had seconds. My favorite! Happy belated St. Patrick’s Day. “May you live as long as you want and never want as long as you live.”

*A note about the carrots, I would advise pre-cooking. Mine stayed a bit crunchy because I didn’t. Blech.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

best laid plans

So I did go home last night and whip together a delicious meal. And I did have every intention on photographing same. But of course, due to a previous week’s thievery, I no longer have a camera. Luckily, my new roommate has a camera and he’s a pretty good sharer. However, when it came down to chopping, dicing and photographing time last night, my roommate’s camera was completely uncharged. So no pictures. SIGH. I really miss my camera more than I ever thought I would. The thing is, is that I am an extremely dedicated camera owner. Rarely would you ever find me without the camera in my purse and in addition to the camera, I would have handy the battery charger as well as the cable used to connect it to the computer.

So anyways, my camera-less life plods on, but the kitchen is in full swing. Thanks, in no small part, to some generous benefactors. A while back my notoriously generous Aunt Barbara told me that in an effort to support my cooking and writing she wanted to gift me with some good knives. I told her that her gift was entirely welcome but really, if I just had a good chef’s knife and a paring knife I would be good to go. What resulted was sort of like if someone who had asked for a new BMX received a Bentley with a bow on top. She gave me a full block of J. Henckels knives. Do you know what they are? Yeah, I didn’t. See, these knives are so freaking fancy I didn’t even know what they were, but I know now that they are big pimpin. The one chef’s knife I have been using up until this point has been an $8 Chicago Cutlery number, that my Ma picked up at Ocean State Job Lot. Don’t get me wrong the Cutlery number and I have been through some nice business together. She’s been a workhorse and I appreciate every slice she has provided me with. But she also was a little dull. Not in the boring sense, but in the dangerous sense. As in I nearly lopped my wrist off trying to hack a butternut squash open one time. See they say a dull knife is more dangerous than a nice sharp one. The jury is still out on this but I will say I have now prepared three breakfasts, packed three lunches and made one full dinner and thus far, no major bloodletting has occurred with my Henckels at the helm. I may have jabbed the tip of my left pointer finger this morning and a little speck of hemoglobin came out, but otherwise (knock wood) no injuries! Even though my mom, boyfriend and friends are all terrified. I KNOW what I’m doing guys, mmkay?

And these knives? Are they worth the hubbub? Holy good god, are they ever. Last night as I was preparing dinner I had the honor of dicing my first onion. Heaven! I paused, signed, smiled and did a little dance while exclaiming “holy sh*t these knives are something else!”

In addition to my new cutlery, my Aunt Jean (I have wicked good aunts) gifted me with a giant stainless steel sauté pan with a lid. This is HUGE for me, because I currently only have a 12 inch stainless skillet and I also have severe, heavy duty jealousy whenever my mom uses her giant skillet that has a lid. It’s capabilities are just much better than my kitchen skillet. Not that I don’t love it. I love all my children equally. So this newest skillet got her test run last night and she works like a dream. And what depth! What diameter! This thing is a monster. I might have to build a shed out back to house it but seriously, it can make up a whole meal nested inside its curvy stainless edges and I’m in love, I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it. Accompanying the gift from Jean was a note which may well be my favorite part of the whole gift. It said that my Nana would be very proud of everything I’ve done with her old pots and pans. You see, my whole set is a hand me down from my Nana’s old kitchen. I am proud to work with her old beat up pots. In fact, I’m quite sure just having been through the paces in her kitchen makes them more successful at everything that they do. It makes me very, very happy to think that I am cooking with the same pots she used to feed 5 kids and all of the rest of us each Christmas and Easter and all the dinners in between. I am also reminded that she did this with no dishwasher and if she can do it, well, so can I.

So in the spirit of giving. Despite the fact that I have no images to share…I am going to continue the cycle. Because the best fortune cookie fortune I ever got said “if you constantly give. You constantly have.” So despite the fact that this post isn’t quite yet up to Porky snuff, I want to give you the recipes for the first two things I made with my new kitchen swag.


The perfect thing to do with leftover grilled or roasted chicken. This isn’t so much of a recipe as it is a suggestion. I didn’t measure any of this, so the measurements are fudged a bit, but as far as I can judge, work with these, and if you want to add more of anything after tasting, please do.

2 grilled chicken breasts, diced or chopped, as big or little as you prefer
¼ finely diced onion. Yellow or purple works equally well.
¼ cup chopped walnut pieces. Any old nut will do here; you might also add sliced grapes or golden raisins, if you’re feeling fancy. I just used what I had on hand
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons curry powder
Salt and cracked black pepper

Combine chicken, onion and walnuts in a bowl. Salt, pepper and curry powder generously. Add most of the mayo and combine. Add more if it’s a bit dry for your taste, and more curry powder, if you’re me. As far as the mayonnaise goes, I like to add a bit (like a big tablespoon) stir it up, and add a little bit more until it’s reached the consistency that I like. I prefer it to not be drowning in mayo, but however much you prefer is between you and your cholesterol level.

This is best prepared the night before you eat it so the flavors really meld together. Serve on toasted multigrain bread, in a pita pocket or over some lightly dressed mixed greens.


So last night’s dinner was sort of delicious, but sort of a fail. First of all, I wanted to make lamb chops, but they didn’t have any at the store. Against my better judgment I bought steak tips instead. Even though for someone who doesn’t cook steak all that often, I know that attempting to just whip something up with steak tips when I had no grill and no time to marinate was inviting a world of hurt. So the tips, they were meh. But the mushrooms I cooked with them, they were something else. I sort of just made it up as I went along and it was kind of chaotic because I was simultaneously sautéing some Brussels sprouts and honestly, if I had it to do over I would have just made this a mushroom sauce and spooned it over some pasta. Instead, we had baked potatoes. Would you believe I had to call my mom to find out how long and at what temperature to bake a potato? Shhhh, don’t tell the food police, they’re liable to lock me up in a pantry filled with Lean Cuisines and canned vegetables. Seriously though, I don’t think to date I have ever baked a potato and good lord, do those mofos take a long time to cook. I started the potatoes as soon as I walked in the door and I was still waiting on them after everything else was done. And even then, we had to microwave them for another 4 minutes, because they were a tid bit crunchy. Disgusting. You do not want an al dente potato, I’ll tell you that much. After all was said and done, they were good, but they were entirely not worth the effort. Baked potatoes are one of those things best left to restaurants. Same with steaks. But mushrooms, you can get funky with those right in your very own kitchen, maybe using your boss new knives to dice em up and maybe using your boss new skillet to sauté them to perfection.

I advise you to make this as a mushroom sauce and serve it over some nice pasta, with generous shakes of parmesan cheese. Or it would be great with ravioli or tortellini. Or, if you want to be just like me you can make it with some dried out steak tips and serve it with a baked potato. If you want to be like Paul, you can spoon it over a baked potato, add sour cream and proclaim dinner Baked Potato Sundaes. Whatever fits you best.

Any combination of button, baby Bella and shitake mushrooms (1 used all three), diced
½ large yellow onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
Soy sauce
Marsala wine
Salt and pepper
Fresh chopped parsley

Heat a generous drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onions, sauté until translucent (about 6 minutes), add garlic and mushrooms. Cook down for about 10 to 12 minutes, as the mushrooms start to release their liquid. Add a pat or two of butter, just for good measure. Turn heat up a bit, add a few generous splashes of soy sauce and then approximately a half cup of Marsala. Crank heat to reduce the Marsala. Reduce heat to medium and cover. Allow to simmer together for another five minutes or so; the sauce will start to thicken a little bit. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss with fresh pasta and lots of parmesan cheese. Serve immediately. This makes a lot of mushroom sauce, probably enough to serve four or five. There were two of us eating at my house last night, am I my mother’s daughter or what?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

stay tuned


I know I completely skipped blogging last week. Trust me the guilt is seeping into my soul. But last week was kind of packed. I did a lot of things. I celebrated two years of heart throbbin' love with my main squeeze. By taking a boss date to El Sarape, followed by dine-in (yup) sundaes at Friendly's and a viewing of Napoleon Dynamite. I decorated the fridge with magnets and photos (fridge+visual appeal=priorities), successfully taught my first full length yoga class to a room of about 35 strangers (high kick!) and survived the first full week of cohabitation (thus far, no fatalities). So it was busy, busy. I did NOT however cook one meal in my new kitchen. I know, epic FAIL. But tonight I'm planning on whipping and chopping and searing and tasting, so stay tuned.
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