Simple day: Tomato, brie salad

Some days, I’m lazy.  Well, energy efficient as I call it.  Has that ever happened to you?

The biggest challenge is that even when I’m lazy, I still want great food.  So what can we do?  This is where it’s key to know simple recipes, things like salads that can be thrown together.  This is one of those ‘recipes’.

All you need for this recipe is a fresh tomato, basil, a soft cheese, and balsamic vinegar.  I put a cracker on the bottom for a little bit of texture, but you certainly don’t have to.  However, we do have to have a quick talk about quality.

The price of simplicity is that we can’t hide anything.  An under-ripe tomato or bruise basil will ruin this dish!   Because of this it’s really worth spending a little more for quality ingredients.  Of course, yu don’t need to go crazy.

For example, this balsamic is $40!  If you want to spend that much feel free, but I got mine for $3.99.  The only two things to watch out for are that the the balsamic doesn’t have any caramel (check the ingredients) and that it is PGI.  What’s PGI?

It basically means that it comes from the part of Italy that it is supposed to come from.  So, on to the actual recipe!

First, slice the tomato.  Not paper thin, not super thick, just about 1/4 inch thick is perfect.  Next, cut a similar slice of cheese, whether it’s mozzarella, brie, or some other soft cheese.  Next, pick a small basil leaf, and start stacking.

Slice of tomato, piece of basil, piece of cheese, and just a drizzle of balsamic finishes it.  Simple, but delicious.  Give it a try the next time you’re having a lazy day, and enjoy!



It’s Halloween time!

It’s Halloween time, my second favorite time of year!  Here in the midwest, this time of year means that pumpkins basically take over the world.

I’ll try not to go too overboard and alternate Halloween things with autumn things, but… pumpkins are yummy.  And cheap.

SO stick around for the good times!

India Week!

This is coming quite a few days late, but I’ll get into the rhythm of things.  Anyway:  India Week!  Super excited for this week because this is a food culture that is still coming into its own in America, much as Mexican food was a decade or so ago.

I think that when I was a kid, Indian food was a strange idea that no one executed well, and now that its finally becoming more commonplace I’m really trying to learn as much of it as I can.  Why?

Even if you don’t like Indian food, there is a lot to be learn about how to use spices from their cuisine.  Remember, spices have no calories; so for those trying to lose weight this is a great way to pack in more flavor.  However, this site isn’t on weight loss, so let’s start cooking!

Here’s what’s on the agenda for the week:

Roasted Chickpeas

These only take about 30 minutes to make and are an extremely healthy snack that even kids like.

Treasure Rice

A great activity for kids.

Tomato Mango Chicken

I know this sounds a little odd, but it’s delicious!

Saffron rice and curry soup

Simple and light sides or a refreshing meal.

Kheer and Spiced Crispy Treats (Rice desserts)

Some of my favorites and they’re both easy!

So stick around, find us on Facebook or Twitter, and enjoy!

Finding time!

I’ll be honest, I haven’t cooked as much as I’d like to in the last few weeks.  But I know why!  I haven’t planned to!

I’ve lazy planned (hereto referred to as ‘LP’).  What is that?  It’s where i buy ingredients that sound cool ‘knowing’ I’ll use them.  Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.   But if I look at my work schedule, pick which days I’m going to cook, which dishes, and when I’m going to have them; I always cook!

So I’m going to step up my game.  I’m going to make sure to share some awesome food with everyone on here every day, Monday through Friday, at least through the end of the year.  The ‘menu’ for the week will be posted Sunday, and videos of some of the recipes will be posted on Thursday.

So excited!  Please share this, tweet it, random other technology I don’t know about, but the more the merrier.  Let’s cook up some memories!

My 3 Year Old Got his hands on a kitchen knife

So as you know, I like to play with knives.  All chefs – all cooks, do; at least to some level.  You really have to if you want to do a lot of cooking.  Because of this, I have a lot of knives.  More than I can really justify to be honest.  And I have twice as many as that since, since my wife was also a chef.  Fish knives, boning knives… it goes on and on.  With that many lying around, it was inevitable that one of my kids would eventually grab a knife.

Not that this is the first time.  Toddlers always grab the most dangerous thing in the room, and since they see me use my knife all the time, they of course want to imitate.  But usually I just tell them to drop it; they do, we move on.  This time was different.

My son really wanted to help cook, but also to do something new.  He’s been adding seasonings and ingredients since he was 1, so it was time to step up.  Time to start chopping.

Obviously, I don’t particularly want to take my son to the hospital, give him stitches, or watch him cry uncontrollably from a wanton cut.  As always: safety first.

The butter knife it is.

Have you ever cut yourself with a butter knife?  Have you ever tried?  It’s basically impossible.  And yet, it can accomplish most cutting tasks, albeit slowly.

He was so excited!  He dragged a chair over and immediately asked what he was going to cut.  “Carrots” I said, wondering how he’d react (he doesn’t like carrots).

“Carrots?!”  he asked excitedly; “Dad, I’m really good at cutting carrots”.  And he started trying to cut.

Trying, not cutting.  Why?

Carrots are difficult to cut even with a sharp knife simply because they’re so dense.  To fix this, I just quartered the carrots longways and he was ready to go.  The result?  I think the video speaks for itself.

Want to cook more with your kids or family?  Check out our free Basics of Cooking guide; it has 9 secrets and tips to cook more without feeling a time crunch.  Enjoy!

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes: Keeping it simple

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Roasted yellow cherry tomatoes - dibs!

This particular dish was born of three things: laziness, my love of sweet tomatoes, and my son’s desire to cook.  Let me elaborate.

I have a thriving pear tomato plant that loves how rainy this summer has been.  Unfortunately, I was tragically born without patience.  Seriously; I hate when things take long.  Soooo I tend to buy these tomatoes at the grocery store anyway rather than wait for my plants to deliver, and I always have them around.

Anyway, I was playing with my son today while my daughter was sleeping; he decided he

Yellow Cherry Tomatoes

Yellow Cherry Tomatoes ready for snacking

wanted to help me cook.  Well, at 3 in the after there isn’t a lot of cooking to be done, so I wanted something quick, simple, and with very little clean up.  Plus, I was hoping he would actually try them if he helped make them.  He didn’t of course, but life goes on.  Here’s what we did:

Get a small sauté pan on medium high heat and add about 2 tbs of olive oil.  When it starts to shimmer, throw in a handful of cherry tomatoes.  Sprinkle salt and garlic powder, then leave on the heat, stirring occasionally, until they pop.

Now turn them into a dish, and enjoy.  See?  Short and simple.  Enjoy!

Time Travel: How to make Your Own Pasta

Made from scratch, can't go wrong

A lot of my friends joke that I was born in the wrong time.  I love doing almost everything the old fashioned way, and pasta is no exception.  Don’t get me wrong, I still use dried pasta; I even use it pretty often.  But… fresh pasta isn’t even really the same animal.

Dried pasta is made from flour and water whereas fresh pasta is flour, eggs, oil, and sometimes water.  This means that fresh pasta is much, much heavier than dried pasta, which is why they must be treated so differently.

Fresh pasta + heavy sauce = extremely heavy dish, so read carefully!  No one likes feeling like they ate a cannonball, so the recipes I’ll show you all have a pretty light sauce.  You worked hard to make the pasta, show it off!

But is it worth the work?  Making this is pretty easy, but it’s not as easy as making dried pasta.  Boil water, insert noodle; hard to beat as far as ease of use.  While I admit that there is more work, it is unquestionably worth it.  Not only is the texture completely different from the dry in a ox stuff, the pride of eating a pasta dish that you made every component of from scratch is a great feeling.  Somehow it tastes a little better than it should, know what I mean?

Plus, why not try out tradition?  This is not nearly as difficult as you might think, and like everything else; the more times you make it the easier it will be.   Ready to give it a try?

The super traditional way to make fresh pasta is on a cutting board, but I hate making a mess.  I seem to all the time anyway, but I try not to.  Anyway.  Instead of making the dough on a cutting board, I prefer to make it all in a mixing bowl.  Less mess, less cleaning, and I just let the dough rest in the bowl anyway.

Whether you choose the board or bowl, the recipe is the same.  Simply put two cups of all

Just getting started

purpose flour on your board or bowl in a mound, then make a well in the middle of the mound.  Crack 3 eggs into the well and add about a tablespoon of olive oil (no need for extra virgin here).  Sprinkle a little salt in, and we’re ready to mix.  Choose your weapon carefully.

What weapon?  What you use to mix the dough.  You can use a fork, a wooden spoon, a regular spoon, your hand; pretty much anything goes.  Of course, you could also do this in a mixer with a dough hook attachment if you have one.  I’ll call you a cheater though.

Whatever you use, begin by mixing the eggs and oil together in the center of well, try not to get any flour in just yet.  Once the eggs and oil are a little happy together, stir in a little bit of the flour surrounding the well.  Stir the flour until it’s mixed, then bring in a little more of the surrounding flour.

Continue this until all of the flour is incorporated.  Dough way too dry?  Add water about a tablespoon at a time until the dough comes  together.  If it gets too wet and sticky, just sprinkle a little flour on the surface.  Now, we need to knead.

Kneading the dough just works out all of the proteins in it to make it stronger as well as thoroughly combining everything together.  Good anger management too : “Work late?  I’ll show you working late…”

Nice and smooth

You don’t have to be delicate with pasta tough.  It’s tough.  So kneading it is much easier than some other dough.  Put the ball in on the table in front of you and flatten it out a little, then sprinkle with a little flour.  Fold the point furthest from you into the center of the dough, then press it down and forward til they merge.  Now, rotate 90 degrees and repeat.  You only need to do this for a few minutes, until the ball becomes smooth.  Once that happens, time for a nap.

Not for you, for the dough!  I mean, you can take one too if you want; it doesn’t really matter.  Put the dough (loosely covered with plastic wrap) in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.  Why?

If we try to work the dough too much at once, the proteins in it will get overdeveloped.  The dough won’t stretch properly and will eventually tear, which is always a bummer.  Luckily, 15 minutes in the fridge will prevent that from happening.  After its rest, we’re ready to rock and roll.

Actually just roll.  You’ll need a pasta machine for this, but they aren’t expensive and last

rolling with the pasta machine

forever.  Seriously.  Your great grandchildren can easily use the same one, and we all know how I feel about handing things down.  Sorry, back to making the pasta.

Pasta machines are extremely easy to use.  Cut the dough call into thirds and coat one third with flour, then flatten.  Coat the rollers with flour so nothing sticks, set the rollers to the largest setting (widest gap between rollers), and roll the dough through.  Go through one more time at that size, then decrease the size y one.  If you need to cut the sheet you’re working with, just cut it and set the rest of to the side.

Continue this process until the second thinnest setting, then roll the sheet through the cutters.  Congratulations, you have fresh pasta!  Still a little unsure?  Ask in the comments below, there will be a video of this process soon.

Graduations, Gallbladders, and Moroccan Carrot Salad

My cousin graduated from college last week, so of course my family went en masse to the graduation and to congratulate him.  Ceremonies, dinners, smiles, hugs, a whirlwind of taking in the massive step he was taking in life.  Of course, we went out to eat.  A lot.  Probably too much.  C’est la vie.  But if our biggest problem is eating too much, I’m never going to complain.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t our biggest problem.

My dad came home (it was an 8 hour drive) in extreme stomach pain.  My family tends to have a very high tolerance for pain and discomfort, so he wouldn’t go to see a doctor.  To be fair, it’s almost a tradition.  My grandmother once had a heart attack off and on for 3 days before she finally went to the hospital, then when admitted told them she had to leave because she “had a lot of housework to do”.  I had issues with my pacemaker for a month before I went in to get it check.  So, we can’t really say much about him not going.  Since he won’t go, he started trying to fix the pain for himself.  Of course, he had to know what was causing it.

My grandfather had gallbladder issues, so that was the primary suspect.  After a few hours of research on WebMD, he started drinking hot water with lemon once a day.  He cut saturated fats out of hit diet and stopped drinking coffee, by far his biggest vice.  He’s eating healthier now than he ever has in his life.  Seeing this, I asked him about it.

“Honestly, I hate to admit it; but I have way more energy, I don’t feel as tired or sluggish” was his response.  So that got me thinking.

Why don’t I eat healthier?  How hard can it be?  Will I feel a difference?  Thus began this journey.

I’m slowly weaning myself off of Diet Coke, something I drink obscene amounts of.  I’m learning what foods are healthy and why, and since I already cook most of our meals I have a huge advantage.  Additionally, I’m going to rank my energy level 4 times a day to track the differences.  There’s only one problem with all of this:  it sounds awful.

I mean seriously, it just doesn’t sound fun at all.  Why would I do something that isn’t fun?  I wouldn’t; I know me.  So let’s make it fun!

In the spirit of cooking travel, I decided to expand my horizons and try a new country whose recipes I hadn’t tried much of yet.  This is especially difficult for me because I’m terrible about eating vegetables, so I really wanted to make it new and different to increase the odds that I would… you know… eat them.  Where did I end up?

Morocco, actually.  Why?  No reason at all.  This dish is actually a carrot salad, and I chose it for a few reasons:

  1.  It takes less than 5 minutes to make
  2. It keeps well
  3. I can make large amounts of it
  4. It’s good at room temperature, which few things are (I tend to prefer hot food)
  5. It’s extremely healthy

Plus, the ingredients are quite cheap and you can easily put your own spin on the recipe if you want.  But enough jibber-jabber, let’s get to the recipe itself, shall we?

First, peel one pound of carrots and cut of the very top where the stem was.  Grate with the coarsest grater you have into a bowl, and give yourself a pat on the back.  The hardest part of this recipe is done!  Add a healthy sprinkle of kosher salt, one half teaspoon of paprika, one teaspoon of cinnamon, and one teaspoon of cumin.  We now reach the first of several choices: the garlic.

You can either chop fresh garlic into a paste (my preference) or just use garlic powder, which is slightly faster.  Use two cloves of fresh or a half teaspoon of powder.  Next choice: citrus.

You can either use an orange or a lemon, completely your choice.  I go with lemon, but use all the juice of whichever you choose.  Lastly, add a small handful of chopped cilantro and one third cup olive oil.  Give it a nice mix to introduce everything to each other, and you’re done!

You can easily make this the night before and it makes a great quick snack.  But that’s not what I like best about it.

What I like best is that because it’s so easy this Moroccan carrot recipe is fantastic for kitchen time with the kids.  Even my two year old can add the spices, help mix, or even help juice the lemons.  Not only does this give them practice making food, they are much more likely to eat something that they’ve helped make.  Anything that gets them to actually eat a vegetable is okay in my book for sure.  But what about you?

Do you try to eat healthy?  Are you a soda or coffee fiend?  Would you change your diet for more energy, or are you the ‘only live once’ mindset?  Let me know!

White Chocolate Risotto With Red Wine Honey Figs… and a Graham Cracker?

White chocolate risotto

White chocolate risotto with figs... yummy!

Sometimes, we all need a midnight snack. Sometimes, it needs to be sweet. Believe it or not, I’ve been dying to make this for about a week now. Tonight at around 9:30, it reached critical mass. It required a grocery run that my sister was nice enough to take me on (still can’t drive very well for a few weeks), but was totally worth it. May I proudly present my own creation: White chocolate risotto with red wine and honey poached figs and graham cracker crumble. It’s like a tongue twister, right? Don’t worry, it’s actually very easy to make. Less than half an hour in fact. So give it a try!

First, take some dried figs, cut off the stems, and cut them in half. Toss them in a small

Figs getting ready for a swim

bowl with a cup of cheap red wine and a tablespoon of honey, then ignore for a while.

Combine 3 cups of milk with 2 cups of water. Why? Traditionally, risotto is cooking with a broth like chicken broth or vegetable broth. Since this is a sweet risotto, the milk is the cooking liquid. Unfortunately, if the milk gets too dry the proteins in it can get… icky. So we water it down for a little insurance. Make sense? Anyway, put the milk/water mixture in a saucepan on low heat.

Everything's ready!

Lastly, measure out a cup of Arborio or risotto rice and yes, it does matter. Why? Properly cooked risotto is a creamy consistency that in Italian is called all’onda or ‘to the wave’. What gives it this wonderful, creamy texture is the starch covering each little short grain of rice. Try to just switch out a different kind of rice… a disappointing bowl indeed. Fortunately, Arborio rice is very easy to find in any supermarket now. The only other thing you need is a cup of white chocolate chips.

Figs getting poached

Pour the fig/honey/wine mixture into a small sauté pan and set to the lowest heat setting you can. We’re finally ready to start the rice!

Heat one tablespoon of butter in a new saucepan and add the rice, then stir until it is all coated. Let this toast, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes, before adding the first 2 cups of milk/water. Once you add the liquid, something important happens: the timer starts. What timer?

If you have the rice on medium high heat your rice will be done it about 27 minutes exactly. But that’s not all that happens. Once you add the liquid, you cannot stop stirring. Don’t get me wrong, you can for a minute or two, but not much longer. To explain why; Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Let’s say that the bottom of the saucepan is Romeo and the risotto is Juliet. Knowing their tragic end, you decide to save them from themselves and keep them apart. But they really want to be together, in this case the rice sticking to the bottom of the pan like a toddler to their blanket. The only way to prevent this? Stirring! So protect the young couple from themselves and stir, ok?

Simply add the liquid one cup at a time as it is absorbed until the rice is cooked. How will

Finished white chocolate risotto 🙂

you know? Taste it! Risotto, as pasta, should be al dente when properly cooked; that is it should have just a bit of bite to it. Now remove it from the heat and turn off the heat on the figs as well. Stir the white chocolate into the risotto, then serve into a bowl. Garnish with a few figs, their liquid, and a crumbled graham cracker, and enjoy! What do you think? What would you change?

How to Vacation in Your Kitchen

‘DELAYED’ flashed on the screen next to her flight number and she let on a groan. Now what? A 30 minute layover had just turned into a who-knows-how-long layover and this airport has exactly 3 shops. Airport math says 3 shops is only an hour and a half of entertainment at most, so she just hoped it wouldn’t be longer than that.

But it was. 4 hours later, she boarded the plane and managed to score a window seat. Not too roomy, but it came with a view. The view taking off wasn’t too exciting, but looking out over the clouds at cruising altitude – breathtaking. After her ears finally popped anyway. A bag of peanuts and two very small beverages later, the plane began its descent. Landing gear down, coming in nice and smooth, the plane hopped to a stop as the crew got ready. Finally, the doors opened and she followed the other passengers en masse to the baggage claim area.

Where she waited. And she waited. And finally found out that apparently, 4 hours wasn’t even time for her bag to switch planes. She tried to stay calm, breathed and thought to herself:

“I need a vacation from this vacation!”

We all love vacations, taking a break from the daily grind. But they’re not 100% relaxing are they? Hopefully 90%, but they can dip down to 50% relaxing quickly. The travel, the packing, the planning, the reservations…
Now I have a headache.

Fortunately, there is any easier way if you don’t feel like expending all the energy to travel to your destination of choice: bring it to you. It’s easier than you think, and costs far less. Just bring the destination to you!
No passport, no luggage, you don’t even need to be patted down – unless you have a close friend and too much wine. First step?

Choose where you want to go (or stay, as the case may be). If this is going to be a group trip, which I always recommend; get the whole group together to decide. I know; you’re afraid if you let all of them have a say then you’ll never be able to agree. Fear not, I have a solution.

Obviously, the old standbys like a coin flip or rock paper scissors are available to decide between two choices. But what if your group can’t narrow it down at all? There’s the draw straws method, names out of a hat, or just roll a die. Personally, I say just write all the ideas down and choose an order; that way you can get try them all. More food, more people, more fun, right?

Once you have a ‘destination’, let’s create some atmosphere, shall we? A quick trip to any music store will yield music from the area you chose, and if you want to simulate the flight you can get some really uncomfortable chairs as well. After the music, you’re dangerously close to starting the best part: the cooking.

Depending on how much you want to spend, I recommend decorating a little bit to spice up the ambience. Let’s say we were traveling to Spain as an example. Maybe hang some red drapes or curtains, a few pictures of bullfighting, or pictures of dancers to match the music that was chosen earlier. Or go for broke and just release some bulls in your neighborhood.

We’re finally to cooking! Clearly, every country and culture has its own flavors and ingredients. When people think of Italy, they think garlic, balsamic vinegar, parmesan, etc. What many don’t know is that within each country, the sub regions differ quite a bit as far as what ingredients they use and how their flavor profiles end up. Of course, how detailed you want to be is up to you.

Using my example of Spain, I’d use almonds, garlic, tomatoes, and onions to create a rustic dish that really brings out the area. A paella for example, or a simple Romesco sauce. Don’t panic if you don’t know the flavors of the area; just do a simple internet search for traditional dishes from that region and build a shopping list from that. Remember, the whole point of this is to keep it simple and easy.

We know where we’re ‘visiting’, we have some music, and we have some ingredients. Now for my favorite part: inviting as many people as possible, and cooking. So many people complain that they hate hosting a party because they feel like they’re in the kitchen the whole time, well… bring the party to the kitchen!

Make sure everyone has a drink in their hand, something to do in the kitchen, and someone to talk to; sitting down to eat will come all too quickly.