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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thai-Chinese Style Carbonara

These noodles are something to sing about. What started as a "raid the fridge and come out with whatever wasn't rotting" adventure led to a almost ceremonious dive into noodle heaven. The dish features a combination of Chinese stir-fry technique and beautiful Chinese rice noodles, accompanied by traditional Thai spicy chiles and an unexpected Italian twist on a classic pasta carbonara. Here's how I did it-

1 inch of fresh ginger
2 large cloves of garlic
1-2 Thai bird chiles (optional)

3 spring onions
1 peeled carrot
3 inches of daikon radish

2 slices of thick cut applewood smoked bacon

1 egg

1/2 packet of flat rice noodles (then drain and rinse with cool water)

Have ready:
1/2 cup frozen baby peas
2 tablespoons oyester sauce
2 tablespoons tamari
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil

a flat large skillet or wok on high heat. Add the chopped bacon and begin stir-frying until golden. Once the rawness is gone from the bacon, add the sesame oil and then add half the spring onions and the carrot. Continue to stir, preventing anything from sticking to the pan. After about 2 minutes, add the ginger, garlic and chiles to the pan. Allow to stir fry for one minute, then push the ingredients over to one side of the pan. Pour in your egg and scramble. Once cooked, combine it with the rest of the ingredients in the pan. Then, add your sauces (oyester, tamari and rice vinegar) to the pan. Stir into the vegetable-egg mixture to coat, immediately after, add frozen peas and the precooked noodles. Toss until all the noodles are evenly coated. Sprinkle remaining half of spring onions on top as well as the daikon radish, and eat hot. Be prepared for compliments.

This recipe is not only easy, but it tasted incredible. Let me know what you think!

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Simple, Sophisticated Meal

Tonight's meal was clean, classic and delicious. I had minimal time for cooking this evening, so I opted for a quick pan-roasted chicken breast with some sauteed kale to accompany it. The preparation was simple, and yielded wonderful results. Prepare four chicken breasts (trim fat, any undesirable bits) and liberally sprinkle with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Set aside. Wash and remove the stems from one pound of fresh kale. I prefer to rip the kale from it's stalky vein, as they can be tough and dont have a lot of time to cook down in a quick sautee. Mince one small yellow onion and four cloves of garlic. Add about three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a skillet, sautee the onions and garlic until golden, add a few sprinkles of crushed red chiles, and then, add the rinsed, destemmed kale. (I also roughly chopped the leaves before cooking.) Allow the kale to wilt down and cook through. When it's done, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper and set aside. In a separate skillet, heat two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on medium high heat. Add the prepped chicken breasts and allow to sear on one side, at least four minutes, until golden brown. Turn over, allow to sear on other side for about two minutes. Add the juice of half a lemon, and immediately cover the pan with a tight fitting lid (or tinfoil.) Allow to continue cooking for about four more minutes, remove the lid and add 1/4 cup of warm water, 2 whole cloves of garlic - lightly smashed, and a light sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper. Stir gently and allow the sauce to thicken, for about three minutes on medium high heat. To serve, add a nice large portion of the sauteed kale to the center of your plate. Place a chicken breast on top of the kale, and drizzle the lemon pan sauce over the entire dish. Serve with your favorite wine. We had a lovely cabernet. It's simple, minimal, and yet, completely satisfying. Enjoy! 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

This Little Lamb of Mine...I'm Gonna Let Him Shine!

There isn't a more perfect meat in the world than a juicy, succulent bite of lamb. Roasted, braised, ground, on a spit or on a kabob, it screams "eat me!" I was more than a little pleased when I found a small, hole-in-the-wall halal butcher not to far away. Ground lamb wasnt on the priceboard, but the butcher wasted no time walking me into his personal freezer where the beautiful babies were dangling from their hooks like ballerinas. A chop and a shave here, a quick dice and a push there, and out of his fancy grinder came some beautifully marbled reddish pink ground meat.
To honor the noble beast, I am making one of my favorite lamb dishes, kofta. Kofta literally meaning "to grind" or "to beat" hails from the Middle East, where typically egg and various spices and seasonings are combined with ground lamb (or another meat) to create a moist, flavorful meatball. While some are baked, I prefer to cook mine the old fashioned way, pressing the meat into a cigar shape and onto a metal skewer to cook over an open flame (or in my case, a gas grill!). From there, the eager eater can slide the juicy meat cigar off the skewer and into the warm, beckoning arms of a toasted pita. To dress it, I've made a tart yogurt, garlic and cucumber sauce typically associated with Greek cuisine, called tzatziki. On the side I will be simply grilling large slices of sweet eggplant, red bell peppers, red onion, and green and yellow zucchinis. To round out the meal, simple couscous with plump sultanas and saffron will do.

I'm already getting hungry - pictures to come!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dairy Whore

Forgive me for using one of the most over-stated words ever, dairy. I am a grown woman who has never had the pleasure of visiting a real dairy. Kids from my generation got their milk the good old-fashioned way, at the grocery store in plastic gallon jugs. I grew up never knowing what milk really tasted like, straight from the pail. That is, until I found Trickling Springs Creamery. They have this phenomenal product, Cream Line Whole Milk, that like a silken buttery life-affirming fluid should, makes me weak in the knees. I drank half a gallon by myself in a matter of one day. When I first popped the lid on the gorgeous glass bottle, poured a hefty swig down my gullet, a strange thing occured. A concentrated blob of butterfat socked me on the tongue and I'm pretty sure I had a mouth-gasm. More blobs followed, and I found them slightly adulterous. Scooped from the milk and spread on bread they were the definition of hedonistic. It wasnt butter, it wasnt milk, it was congealed cream and it played tricks on me that I havent seen since my wedding night. I want to roll around naked in it, I want to take dirty photos of it and post them on the internet, I want to turn my friends out and on to this seductress of mouthly delights. At least you could try some? They offer everything from cream, milk, cheese and ice cream. I rarely promote a product I dont make myself. However, I dont have any bovine beauties with overflowing cleavage at my disposal. I've included a link to their website, if you're able to, give them a try. Then, pay me my pimp fee.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Food Economics

I am always surprised when someone tells me they hate to cook. I understand that not everyone has a food-gasm over creating that "perfect dish" as I do. But, we all have to eat. And lately, what we eat seems to be a big, bold question mark over our heads. During a recent radio interview, a woman called in claiming "It costs more to eat healthy than not," and I was stunned. Was she right? Looking at the vast options of burgers, tacos,  pizzas and more, and comparing them to the fresh produce and meat, I realized, she is right. But it doesn't mean that cooking great food relies on having heavy wallets.

In fact, the vast majority of culinary delights come from "peasant food." From anchovy based pasta sauces, to the finest cheeses, the richest stews, the tenderest of greens, it is the "working poor" who have managed to transform the simple, and turn it into the unbelievable. Take the cheapest cuts of beef. Short ribs, chuck roast, flank steak - all tough, undesirable pieces of meat in many regards. Until, you put it into the hands of someone who knows what they're doing. Braising, slow roasting, pan-searing, all methods of bringing out the very best in taste and texture of these unwanted cuts. Recently while dining in Beverly Hills, I had the pure joy of eating one of the best pot-roasts I've ever had. Sure it was a $30 plate, but it was sincerely worth every bite. The meat had lost all knowledge of it's former life. Succulent, moist, soft, silky, rich, dissolving into a rapturous after-taste that kept me wanting more. Which shows that in the hands of the capable, magic is possible.

I think that eating well versus eating in a parking lot of a fast food restaurant has less to do with money, and more to do with time, knowledge and a willingness to try. While I cannot blame anyone for craving that double-stacked extra cheese and bacon burger with a side of curly fries, I do blame them for not finding some level of balance in between. Our society is creating a new food culture, not one that is backed by great-great-grandma's secret recipe, but one that requires instant gratification, larger portions and disposable containers. America is a melting pot, which means that identifying one single food culture is difficult in itself. I grew up eating a slew of mixed meals, from spaghetti to Spaghetti O's, from sushi to Top Raman, from a roast beef hoagie to a six pack of crunchy beef tacos. For me, having my own family was enough motivation to want to do better in the food department. However, like everyone else in our country, money is getting harder and harder to come by. Which has caused me to really take a good look at our food budget, our food goals, and our personal food identity. We don't want to eat poorly, while being poor. I don't want the lingering, greasy, MSG-after-tasting feel of eating take-out constantly, either.

So ingredients became my focal point. Did I need the $12 bottle of extra virgin olive oil, or could I suffice with the $4 one? Are organic, pasture raised chicken breasts the only white meat option I can buy, or would I be willing to experiment with the much cheaper thigh meat and even lean cuts of pork? Our family loves greens, and have always bought them prewashed, precut and prepackaged. I can by five times the amount of greens if I buy them loose, then wash and cut them myself. - That wasn't the funnest task, although it did provide a great opportunity for family bonding over the kitchen sink! Organic, pasture raised beef is a passion of mine. I love knowing where my meat came from, and how it was raised. However, $20 filet mignon's are no longer in budget, so I've therefore opted for the same farm-raised cow, just a few different, cheaper cuts. I've even found some delicious, all-beef natural hot dogs at my local butcher! Our family has even taken to incorporating more seasonal vegetables and fruit into our meals to reduce our overall meat intake. Not because we don't love meat, but because we cant afford it every night. I have found that dishes like Gigandes Plaki (Greek style giant baked beans in a rich tomato sauce) literally cost pennies on the dollar and feed my entire family well. Slow simmered Indian curries, rich in beans and vegetables are inexpensive to make, especially when you buy the pre-made spice mixes at a local Indian market. Casseroles, while not my favorite, are great ways to maximize minimal ingredients and save time by cooking everything in one pan. The same goes for slow-cooking roasts and soups. Cheap cuts of meat, long hours of simmering, a few slender veggies and you've got a meal.

When it comes down to it, eating well is a choice. And we all have a right to make our own choice. But we need to remember that eating well does not mean eating expensively nor outrageously. It means creating a food tradition in your home that warms your belly, and makes you smile, all while keeping a few extra dollars in your pocket.

Monday, November 8, 2010

How I Knew Food Ruled My World

When I hear talk of destiny, I wonder if mine was wrapped in prosciutto and dipped in Hollandaise sauce from the beginning. I have always, forever, and ever, loved food. My very first memory involves waking in the middle of the night to gobble fresh oranges, leaving the tell-tale peels across the floor. I graduated into cupboard raiding, stealing tiny palmfuls of whatever tasty treat I could reach. Once I realized that food was cooked, I wasted no time in creating "stews" made of fresh rose petals, grass and mud, stirred with my stick ladel. Our neighbors didn't like me very much, as it was usually their prized flowers I stole for my sidewalk soups.

Memories of wild blackberries, anise, fresh pomegranites, almonds, walnuts and crab apples grab hold of my senses and lavish me with whispers of taste. Broken montages of moments spent laughing over a great slice of pizza, an amazing candied walnut, goat cheese and arugula salad, my first unctuous bite of lemon-butter soaked lobster claw are not simply memories, they are what define me.

Some people are talented artists. They take a blank canvas, spatulas and brushes, oils and acrylics, and create something devastatingly beautiful out of nothing. Some musicians take sound and turn it into symphony, while some foodies take basic ingredients and turn them into a sensation of flavor. While I cannot claim to even stand close to the realms of the great creators, the Picasso's, the Dali's, the Bach's and the Mozart's, or even the Chiarello's or the Pepin's, I am not ashamed to say I am like them. I create.

Food rocks my world. It's my chance at artistic expression. It's my release from stress. It's my portal to pleasure. It's my opportunity to show love to others. I'm lucky to have found my thing. Have you?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

When "Dry" and "Age" Sound Delicious

If you've never heard the term, "Dry Aged Beef" then let me be the first to pop your fading beef cherry. Dry aging meat refers to, well, aging it in a dry cold environment. Generally speaking, it's prime meat that is dry aged, as dry aging lesser cuts of beef wont yield the same, intense, fantastically amazing results. Is there a better word to describe how delicious dry aging a good beefy cut of meat can be? Having dry aged steaks at an upscale restaurant is nothing short of a treat. Intense, meaty flavor, soft, dissolving on your tongue fat, a texture between filet mignon and butter, and the jealous admiration of patrons near your table.

It never occured to me that I might be able to dry age my favorite cuts of beef at home, on my own. In fact, it sort of happened accidentally. About a six weeks ago, I was at my local butcher shop (if you're in Fredericksburg, I highly recommend Old Time Butcher in the historic downtown district.) and saw the most beautiful, grass fed, local, center of the shoulder, two inch thick and fifteen wide, chuck roast. It had a thick, glorious layer of external fat along with some slight marbling throughout. Now mind you, this wasnt a prime cut of steak, but, it was very high quality, and because of this, what accidentally happened next was a good thing! As good butchers do, my roast was wrapped in butcher paper and handed to me with a smile. Upon returning home, I promptly threw it at the bottom of my freezer without thinking twice about it.

I kept meaning to get it out and cook it, but I would forget to thaw it the night before, so, it waited. Finally, last night, after a month and a half of frozen incarceration, I withdrew my meaty deposit and placed (him?) in the refrigerator to thaw. In the morning, I opened my slightly bloody package to find an unusual sight. The exterior of the entire roast was a leathery, jerky like shell. Worried I had somehow ruined my roast, I pulled the meat apart, to find an intensely red interior. The gelatinous fat had a viscous feel, and the meat smelled incredible. Suddenly it hit me, where I'd seen this look, this feel, this smell before. I had, inadvertantly dry aged my chuck roast.

So, I went with it. I seared the meat on both sides, (I cannot possibly describe in words how the heady aroma of that roast filled my nostrils with nothing short of erotic passion.) and placed it in a seductive bath of broth, onions and coffee,- if that sounds weird trust me, it's not.  Nine agonizing hours later, the roast, literally and figuratively falling apart in the ladle, was transcended. No longer a tough, semi bland piece of beef, it was now a silky, slightly gamy, morsel of delight. Potatoes and carrots and bay leaf and crusty baguette added, and dinner was a huge success.

Dry aging, doesnt necessarily sound like a good thing. It brings to mind images of flaky skin and saggy breasts, but trust me, in this case, nothing could be more beautiful.

*Blogger note: It's important for the reader to note that dry-aging at home is generally discouraged, as the bacteria growth can be dangerous. With all foods, please take caution and do your research before attempting this!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Like Sex

"When I eat, my dreams become reality. When I eat, happiness is mine." ~ Anonymous

I watched as Anthony Bourdain, in Chile, gorged on a footlong Chilean hotdog. His eyes squeezed tightly closed, his mouth a wide open door for the hotdog to walk through, the primal grunts of a truly happy human, all signs of guttural enjoyment. And the only thought that I had, "That looks like good sex."

Good food is like good sex. We moan, we sigh, we indulge, even when we aren't supposed to. Food and sex are of the few things in life that all healthy humans share a desire for. And like the best lay, we seek out the best taste, that once in a lifetime bite that sends us into a tailspin trying to retrace its salivary steps. Think about it. When's the last time you sunk your teeth into something so good, so damned delicious, that you entered "the zone," that place where we forget life's problems and worries and just enjoy the tasty moment? What's that food that causes you to stop in your tracks and reminisce on flavors of old? You know it's there, you have it in your mind. It could have been your mom's famous stew, your dad's delicately smoked bbq, your grandmother's spicy chutney, your cousin's tamales. Whatever the meal, whatever the ingredients, you come undone. Like sex.

If you're a foodie, that moment is a high, a sensation above all others that keeps you titillated and aroused. It's not just a momentary joy, it's a lifetime of desire. What makes good food? Is it the attachment to memories? Is it the neuroreceptors that tell our brains, "yes, good, more!"? Is it our culture that mandates what we like, and how we like it? Frankly, it's all of these things and more. Like sex.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Never Fail, Not Even on a Tuesday When It's Raining, Fancy Pants Dessert

Dessert may bring visions of sweet mouthfuls to mind, but for me, it's cause for a slight panic attack. So many times friends have found out that I can't bake, and their jaws hung open in disbelief. Surprising? Not really, baking is a scientific experiment in patience and consistency. Im not trying to hate on my baker-friends, but to me, baking is for people who like to color inside the lines. It's a controlled, factual, almost militant process, while cooking, throwing in a pinch of this, a dab of that, a sprinkle of whatever, is all about the intent of the person performing the task. It's like making music, plucking notes from thin air. So this leaves me with quite a dilemma. Since baking isn't my forte, I'm left with store bought goodies or ice cream. And since I enjoy hosting elegant dinner parties where I expose my friends to the possibilities of restaurant-style home cooked meals, those options just weren't cutting it. That's when my fancy pants dessert recipe came to me. It uses a pinch of this, a dab of that, and you can substitute quite a variety of toppings and still gaurantee a pefect dessert, each and every time. Even on a Tuesday, when it's raining.

Fancy Pants, No-Fail Dessert 

1 all-butter pound cake (I buy mine in the frozen bakery products section of the store, next to the apple pies and puff pastry!)
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 vanilla bean pod, seeds scraped and reserved
1/2 cup of your favorite sweetened liquor (I like Disarano Amaretto or Godiva Chocolate Liquor)
4-6 Fresh sprigs of mint

Nutella, slightly warmed
Macerated berries (strawberries, blueberries, rasberries, etc.)
Crystalized citrus zest
Ice Cream
Whatever tastes good on pound cake!

Take the heavy whipping cream, the vanilla bean seeds and the sugar and whisk with a strong arm until it becomes thick, rich whipped cream. (This can take anywhere from 2 minutes to 10 depending on your arm. Good luck!)

Take the thawed pound cake, slice it into one to two inch serving slices, and drizzle with the sweetened liquor. Top with whipped cream and a fresh sprig of mint. Your guests will ooh and ahh, and all you did was make whipped cream! If preferred, you can add other goodies, like nutella and/or macerated berries, as pictured below!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Curry Fried Chicken Hoagies, Anyone?

Fried chicken is great. But curry fried chicken is even better. Tonight's meal took fried chicken up a notch and to make it even more interesting, I stuffed it into a hoagie bun with a bright chutney sauce slathered on top. It was, phenomenal.

To start, I used boneless skinless chicken breast. I know it's not traditional fried chicken, where a whole chicken is cut into eight perfect bone-in pieces, skin intact, and soaked then coated and fried. It still is fried chicken, just on my terms. I blended my flour-curry mix by adding freshly ground cumin, coriander, garam masala, paprika, cardamom, ginger, chilis, turmeric, hing (asofetida), salt, pepper and paprika - among a few other special spices. Then I mixed a few eggs with milk, salt and pepper and whisked until combined. My chicken was sliced into even, thin strips, thereby changing it's fried chicken status to a technical "chicken strip" by definition. The chicken took a dip in the spiced flour, a wash in the egg mixture and then another dip into the flour. Then, I pan fried. I used my favorite cast-iron skillet, revved the bad boy up to medium high and filled it halfway with vegetable and olive oil, to add flavor but raise the smoke point. The chicken strips fried for about 4 minutes per side, and made the house smell like an odd combination of Curry House meets KFC.

My hoagie buns were split and toasted, followed by a lavish smear of hot mango chutney, mayonaisse, fresh english cucumber slices, spring mix lettuce, thinly sliced red onion and finally - the curry fried chicken strips.

We chased the internationals with an ice cold beer and a nice, spicy, burp!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I've Found the Secret Trick to Success!

My on and off again pursuit of homecooked pleasure has finally found a home. My home, to be specific. What has changed is finances. Apparently, the secret to stop eating out is to run out of surplus income. Like June and Lucy before me, I have finally found my coveted place in the kitchen. And quite frankly, I couldnt be happier!
I am proud to report that my family has not eaten out in almost two months. In that time, only three nights, I did not cook. Instead, we either ate left overs, or indulged in a reheated, frozen prepackaged meal. What I've learned during this time is that I love cooking even more than I thought. I make it simple by planning our meals two weeks in advance. I create a menu, itemize our shopping list, and prepurchase everything I need to make the meals. We've had everything from delicious Indian curries to spicy Thai salads and savory Mexican soups. There've been burgers and my now famous Torta Dogs - more on those later, sub sandwiches and meatloaf too. Tonight, linguine with meatballs and homemade marinara. Tomorrow, chicken pot pie (you know the one.) My family has found that the food we eat tastes better than the food we've bought. The flavors are more intense, the smells more aromatic, the cost - much cheaper! Our food budget allows us to eat like kings, while still managing to pay off more bills than we'd previously done before. I find our new culinary adventure exciting, and somehow, preparing us for the future as well. I look forward to coming here more often, and sharing my meals with you. So, from one friend to another, here's the recipe for my famous, delicious, Torta Dog. It takes hot dogs to a whole 'notha universe!

Torta Dogs (Mexican Torta Sandwich Inspired Hot Dogs)
1 lb. sweet cherry/cocktail tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1/4 yellow onion
2 tbs. minced fresh cilantro
1 lime cut in half
(2) 1/2 tsp salt
2-4 jalapeno peppers
2 ripe avocados
4 large beef hotdogs (we use Wagyu beef dogs from our local butcher.)
4 strips of your favorite bacon (we like applewood smoked thick cut peppered bacon)
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 16 oz can of vegetarian refried beans
1/2 cup Best Foods/Hellman's mayo
4 hoagie buns
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

In a food processor, blend the tomatoes, 1/2 tsp salt, garlic, onion, 1/2 lime, cilantro and 1-2 jalapeno peppers until smooth. I like to strain the excess juice through a wire mesh strainer to thicken the salsa. Set salsa aside. In a bowl, mash the two avocados with the 1-2 minced jalapenos (depending on how hot you want it!) 1/2 lime juice and 1/2 tsp of salt. Its ok if the guacamole is chunky. Set it aside. Place the hotdogs in a pot of water and bring to a boil. As soon as the water boils, take the hotdogs out and set to dry on a paper towel. Once they are cool enough to touch, wrap them in uncooked bacon, and if necessary, hold the bacon to the hotdog with toothpicks. In a nonstick skillet set to medium heat, add the extra virgin olive oil and then add the bacon wrapped dogs. Allow to brown on all sides, (about 3-5 minutes each side) until the bacon is crisp and the hotdogs are seared. Place on a place. Split your hoagie buns down the middle, careful not to completely separate the two halves. If they are cold, heat them up in the pan used to brown the hotdogs. For about 1 minute per side on medium heat. First spread one tablespoon of mayo on each side of each bun. Next, spread refried beans on one side of each bun. Spread guacamole on the opposite side of each bun. Place 1 tablespoon or more of salsa on the refried beans side of each bun. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of cheese on each bun and then place the hotdog in the center. Serve immediately. The combination of ingredients may sound strange, but I promise you, you have never had a hotdog like this before. It tastes amazing!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Homemade: 1, Restaurant: 0

We made the Big Mac better. (Can I get sued for saying that?) My son challenged the idea that organic/local is really better, especially when it comes to McDonalds. So, we came up with a test to prove (disprove) his theory. I would make a Big Mac using as much local/organic ingredients as possible and we would see if it tasted better.

                                                                                                                        I started with a pound of lean, grassfed ground beef sirloin. I lightly seasoned the beef with cracked black pepper and kosher salt before mixing and pressing into six, dignified little patties.

From there, I took three sesame kaiser rolls and trisected them. I set them aside and got to work mincing (very finely) half of a yellow onion, chopping some iceburg lettuc and making my "Big-Mac" secret sauce.

From there, I simply grilled the patties, topped each with organic cheddar cheese, toasted the buns lightly, and built the burger McD's style.

The final test was to feed it to my finicky children. The tall kid, my son Jr, had believed McDonalds would win...

I think it's safe to say, he lost and organic/local food won!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Life-Affirming Big-Mac

Could it be possible to quell your vice for fast food with an organic-local-sustainable equivelant? The discussion was hot and heavy today between me and my "McDonalds is my God" son. His vice? A steamy, greasy Big Mac. My question? Can we remake the B-Mac into something even I wouldn't mind feeding him? So, our next challenge is to see if we can take a beloved icon of a sandwich and turn it on its heels by incorporating as many local/organic ingredients into it as possible. Will it taste the same? Who knows, but I'm thinking it will feel a helluva lot better going down than the other version.

Big Mac- O.G. Style

1 lb local, grass-fed ground chuck (going to try and obtain this from North Shore Cattle company)
4 whole wheat, organic buns (I dont know of any local organic bakeries, but I can substitute Rudy's® Organic bread products)
Lettuce & Onions from 'Nalo Farms (they have the best!)
Eggs (for the mayo) from Ka Lei Eggs in Kahala
Lemon (for the mayo!) - will grab @ the Farmer's Market
Organic olive oil (Mario®) - again for the mayo
Organic cheddar cheese - preferrably from grass fed cows if possible.
Ketchup - (ok, not sure what to do here. I will look for organic canned tomatoes in puree, but right now all I know about are organic canned tomatoes in juice, which wont make a good ketchup.)
Hawaiian Salt, Peppercorns

I think that about covers it. Once we round up the ingredients, (no pun intended) we will make the alternate version of the Big Mac. I think we'll call it "Organic Mac." My son tells me that to be truly fair, we must also buy a McDonald's Big Mac and compare the taste of each. I'm still debating this part of the challenge. I will post pictures and results soon!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I Just Said No

Just a quick blurb. Was invited to coffee with a friend at, gasp, Burger King. I brought my own thermos of coffee from home! By the time we parted, my stomach was rumbling. I briefly longed for the spicy delicate flavors of Korean food, but opted instead to go home. What I ate is another blog all together. But at least it was home food!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Busy Day Dinner

It takes a little planning, a little foresight, and a little drive to make it happen, but cooking dinner at home on a busy night is possible. This morning, knowing I wouldnt have a lot of time later for cooking, I decided to defrost some chicken breasts. (Step 1) Wanting something moderately healthy and yet flavorful, I opted for orzo pasta, tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and fresh mint. The entire meal, from opening the thawed chicken to tossing the entire dish together and serving, took thirty minutes. And, it was delicious!
Greek-Style Orzo Chicken Salad

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 package dried orzo
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
2 lemons, zested and juiced
1/4 + 1/3 cups extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, finely minced
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
salt and cracked black pepper
* 1/4 tsp. crushed dried chiles (optional)

According to package directions, boil water, add about 2 tablespoons of salt, and cook dried orzo. While orzo is cooking, clean chicken breasts, sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and half the lemon zest. Add about 1/4 cup olive oil to a skillet on medium high heat. Sear the breasts for 4-5 minutes on each side, until cooked through and golden brown. During last minute of cooking, pour in half the lemon juice to create a pan sauce. Remove from heat and allow the chicken to sit in the pan, covered, for 5 minutes. In the meantime, strain your cooked orzo and place in a large bowl. Immediately toss warm orzo with 1/3 cup olive oil and remaining lemon juice/zest. Let sit till room temperature. Remove chicken from pan sauce, chop into bite size bits. Add to orzo. Pour remaining pan sauce over orzo. Add crumbled feta, salt, pepper, crushed chiles and mint. Stir gently to combine. If you are in a hurry, go ahead and eat. If not, let it sit in fridge for at least one hour before serving!

(Above picture is another version with fresh parsley and sundried tomatoes. There are many ways to prepare this dish.)

Crushing Defeat - Practice Makes Perfect?

It's March 1st. March 1st in blogosphere terms means, forever, since I've been here. In fact, its been almost half a year since I romanced the keys. I owe you all an explanation.

Early September was what did us in. My family suffered a blow, with my oldest son being hospitalized for over a month. It was an emotional time, and between visits to the hospital and trying to keep my family together, fast food became our shameful saving grace. It started with McDonalds and went downhill from there. Not long after my son was released, healthy and ready to start back where he'd left off, my loving husband left for Afghanistan. He's still there today, fighting an ugly war and an uglier enemy. If I told you I've gotten back on the wagon I'd be lying. I just got home from Subway.

Does this mean my challenge is impossible? Maybe, but I don't believe it yet. I do believe, deep down in side, there is need in our country to rediscover what home cooking is all about. I believe real food, not by products and fillers, need to reestablish their reign in our stomachs and that the advent of fast food has led to a nation of slow learners.

Thanks to Ethan, Anonymous and the rest of you who have stopped by and found my journey a little interesting. It's for you, dear reader (dreader?) that I'm here tonight.

I'm still cooking, and while I may have fallen from grace, I'd still like to stumble forward. Who's with me?