Monday, May 27, 2013

Recipe freedom? Or how to learn to cook fearlessly...

Before we get started, a housekeeping note:  If you were looking for my blogpost yesterday (I hope you weren't!  You should have been enjoying the holiday weekend!), I apologize.  I will be changing my posting day to Monday afternoon.  My little way of brightening up your first day of the week!  Now onward...

RECIPES!  If you know me at all, you know how I feel about these seemingly necessary evils of cooking.  I want everyone to learn how to cook without one.  But you probably don't feel comfortable just throwing the baby out with the bath water so I have some steps to follow to your freedom.  It involves learning how to fully use your recipe and then moving on to the place where you don't need it.  Then, you can apply this method to the next recipe and the next and before you know it, you won't need one.  So let's get started.
We will use one of my basic recipes as an example and I'll show you how to use it then move beyond it. 
This way you learn a method and get a great recipe, too...BONUS!
It was hard to decide which recipe to choose but thought it would be a good idea to start from one of my originals.  I will take you through my thought process in creating it so you can find your own way.  But first, the place from which we are starting.  This is a recipe from and is simply called Ramen Noodle Salad.  The author noted that a friend at work gave her this recipe (she didn't think she would like it) and then brought the finished salad to work one day.  The author loved it and makes it all the time is quick and easy.
OK...I will give on that point.  It IS quick and easy to buy a bag of cole slaw mix, throw in Ramen soup noodles and make dressing from the mix.
    • 1 (8 ounce) bags coleslaw mix ( I used half of a 16 oz. bag)
    • 1 package ramen noodles, raw & crushed ( I like the Oriental Flavor)
    • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds ( I used dry roasted)
    • 1/2 cup oil
    • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
    • 1/4 cup sugar ( I use 6 pkts. of Splenda)


  1. Mix together the coleslaw mix, crushed noodles& sunflower kernels.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the Ramen Noodle seasoning pkt.
  3. ,oil, vinegar& sugar together.
  4. Mix all together& refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Here are my thoughts on this Ramen Noodle Salad.
First of all, do you know how much sodium is in the soup flavoring?  I'm having a stroke just thinking about it!  Next, the noodles are also super processed and only serve as a filler.  Finally, is it really that hard to shred cabbage?
So that is where I started.  How could I change this pretty good albeit dangerously high in sodium salad into something healthier (not always a huge prerequisite for me but in this case...) and much more delicious?  The way you start is by dissecting it.  And, I'm going to show you how to do that.  First, consider the components of the salad.

Let's think about this...cole slaw mix.  What is in that?  Hmmm, green cabbage, red cabbage and carrots, right?  It's about $2 for a bag.  Convenient and time saving, yes, if you like hunks of green and red cabbage mixed throughout the properly shredded cabbage with an occasional carrot stick thrown in.  I think a lot of people end up re-shredding the big pieces so not so time saving.  Why not start with a good head of green cabbage or better yet, this is an Asian salad, what about Napa cabbage (also known as Chinese cabbage)?  You don't have to worry about it sweating and wilting after you've dressed it so you also don't have to salt it first to pull out the extra moisture.  It is tender and flavorful.  Next, tackle the Ramen noodle part.  What could you substitute?  Something crunchy and real for the processed noodles and then think about the flavorings in the soup mix.  The Oriental flavor tastes like...ginger, sesame, soy sauce (intensified) but also a little sweet.  Then, crunch - I usually go to nuts for that; I like almonds with Asian and toasting them adds more to the crunchy part.  Those of you who come to my cooking classes know how I sing the praises of homemade salad dressing, well, this is just another homemade dressing so in addition to your Asian flavors, you will need vinegar (how about rice wine vinegar, it's Asian) and oil (go flavorless like canola or grapeseed).  Grated ginger, toasted sesame oil, low-sodium soy sauce and brown sugar.  You could use white sugar but brown with its molasses background just makes it earthier and more flavorful.  The rest is up to you and what you like in salad.  I like cucumber, red bell pepper and green onions;  they just seem more Asian to me than some other ingredients like carrots and sunflower kernels, for instance and sunflower seeds are so outre (pronounced ooh-tray).  So here is my version of Ramen Noodle Salad.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I'm feeling much better, thank you...A Garden Update in Pictures

Well it's hard to know where to begin when things start to take off.    So let's arbitrarily start with the herbs.  Not only are we having a nice response from the larger plants that we bought at Home Depot but the ones I started from seed in the Jiffy Pots are coming along as well.  First up, as I'm sure you know, is basil.  Let's keep our fingers crossed for this very nice beginning.  Things like to chew on basil and it doesn't take much for the edges to brown so we'll be extra nice to these guys.  In the picture below, you see mostly thyme around the top and right edge but the small sprigs in the front are tarragon (one of my favorite herbs, by the way).  Very excited about those little babies.
As we continue down the page, our hardy crew from last year's herb garden makes a grand appearance.  I've already had to cut that beautiful sage bush back and the rosemary is almost ready for kitchen use.  The sage was trying to bloom.  I cut back all of those tops so it didn't go to seed and get leggy.  See how lush it is!?  Be sure to always cut back your herbs when they start wanting to grow flowers (unless you're at the end of the growing season when they'll re-seed themselves).  If you stay on top of that,  you will have big, bushy plants all summer and you'll never have to buy any of those ridiculously expensive boxes of herbs at the grocery.
I know, I'm just a little partial to my sage so had to throw in another picture of him...just love that guy.  It really has more to do with amazement than anything else.  I would never have dreamed that he would have bounced back after I allowed him to dry out and be thirsty all last summer.  Your plants can really prove you wrong so try not to give up on them!  To the left of the mighty sage bush is my new batch of oregano.
It is also looking great and is one of those perennials that will keep coming back, year after year.  I have high hopes that it will outdo the sage!  So that accounts for our herbs at this point although my older daughter sent me this for Mother's Day...a bag of seed bombs.  I'm pretty interested to see what happens.  It said just to throw them on the ground!  I confess that I felt compelled to plant them.  I will definitely let you know if I end up with anything.

Now on to the garden proper...Positive reports all around.
The sugar snap peas are making their way up the trellises so we should have some pods to show you next time.   Then, the little pumpkin patch is also happy.  It may be too happy so I may be baking a lot of pumpkin pies this Thanksgiving and Christmas.  In my defense, I couldn't find any pie pumpkins in November last year so had to resort to the canned pumpkin which makes a respectable pie but not as good as freshly roasted.  However, this may be one of those "be careful what you wish for" situations.  What do you think? 
Following on the heels of the pumpkin patch are the peppers and the eggplant (peppers on the left and eggplant on the upper right bed in the picture on the left.  If you look really closely, you can see some of the pepper plants that I started from seed.   The tomatoes are coming along but as you can tell I'm not as excited about them as I was last year but they are doing better.  I don't know if there were cutworms but, Joe, I put paper collars around everybody and there hasn't been any additional stem loss but I also put down blood meal as suggested on one of the Internet sites as a way to get rid of squirrels.
Interestingly enough, when it rains and washes away the blood meal, there is some digging until I add more blood meal.  So we will be continuing with the blood meal program and see if it keeps working.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Is cooking boring? Three suggestions for heating it up...

I'm pretty sure that most of the people who come to my cooking classes either enjoy cooking or enjoy watching the process of cooking.  But every once in a while, a remarkable thing happens...someone slips into class who thinks cooking is boring, at the least, and a horrible exercise in pain, at the most.  Frankly, I love that because it presents me with an opportunity.  It's not that I will necessarily convert that person into a cooking queen (or king) but a glimpse is provided into a cooking experience that may eventually lead to a shift in perspective.  The oven will become something more than a big box with fire coming out of it.  So, here are my suggestions to help make cooking a satisfying time for you. 
  • Add some spice.  The fun of cooking is that it can be an adventure.  You can travel around the world without ever leaving your home.  Flavors from Asia, Europe and beyond are easily available.  If you make the same things, day in and day out...well, of course, it gets boring!  Who wants to always see the same thing on the plate in front of them?  I know, I don't!  So make a point of trying one thing new a week.  I'm not suggesting that you tackle pheasant under glass (does anyone even know what that is anymore?) but try a new herb or spice or vegetable.  Instead of grilled chicken with salt and pepper, try adding some smoked paprika and see what happens...not only to the flavor and fragrance but the beautiful color it produces. I, personally, think they should make a smoked paprika perfume.  I would buy it and wear it...just sayin'.
  • Open a bottle of wine.  Yes, I am a big advocate of having a glass of wine while you are cooking, for several reasons.  The person bored with cooking is often out of ideas, had no ideas to begin with or worst of all, if afraid to make a mistake in the kitchen and so never makes anything outside of his/her comfort zone.  Let me assure you that having a glass of wine will help you with this.  I'm not talking about getting hammered...I'm talking about relaxing and making cooking in the kitchen an enjoyable experience.  We find that in the classes at Urban Kitchen, a group of complete strangers have a glass of wine, cook together and then end up leaving together as friends headed down the street for dessert at one of our local restaurants.  They become friends because they have created a bond over a glass of wine and cooking a good meal.  And, it was FUN!
  • Turn up the music.  Just as tunes make exercise more enjoyable, they also make cooking more fun.  Think of your favorite music and you will often have a food memory associated with it.  Restaurants spend much time and money creating playlists that make their dining rooms more conducive to a pleasant, relaxing meal.  Do the same in your kitchen!  Richard Simmons sweats to the oldies...okay, maybe that's a bad analogy but you could cook to the oldies as well.  Your taste in music is personal just as your taste in food is personal so design your cooking environment to make yourself happy.  Spend a little time enjoying the time you spend cooking...see it as a creative time and not drudgery and you may just find that it's not so boring.
 Here's a fun recipe to get the juices flowing...easy to make and easy to change up with your favorite veggies...great for Meatless Monday!  Enjoy!!

Vegetable Calzone Roll

Serves 6

1 sheet of puff pastry
1 egg
1 tbsp water

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 red bell pepper , cut into strips
1 cup button or cremini mushrooms , sliced
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
5 oz baby spinach
½ cup grape tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
4 oz fresh mozzarella cheese , cut into 8 slices
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus another 2 tbsp

Heat the oven to 400°. Whisk egg and water together in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  Add vegetables and oregano and cook until tender and the liquid is evaporated.  Let cool slightly.

Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface.  Roll the pastry sheet into a 16x12-inch rectangle. With the short side facing you, spoon the vegetable mixture onto the bottom half of the pastry sheet to within 1 inch of the edge.  Top with the cheeses.  Starting at the short side, roll up like a jelly roll.  Tuck the ends under to seal.  Place seam-side down onto a baking sheet.  Brush with the egg mixture.  Sprinkle with remaining grated Parmigiano.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Remove the pastry from the baking sheet and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Limping along...

Between the crazy weather and some critter with a need to  maim my tomato plants, it's amazing to me that the garden is surviving at all.  I was so excited to have these beautiful little heirloom plants but they have hardly been given a chance.  This one on the left was cut off at the ground and this other one had a branch torn off.  Then they're just left there.  The thing is not eating the plant and it is only disturbing a few...not all of them.  What is up with this?!  I'm not able to catch it so I don't know what is doing these dastardly deeds but this is beyond annoying...this is starting to piss me off.
And, now it is Cinco de Mayo.  We are in to the first week in May.  Do you think we could work on some Springtime temperatures?  Please, God!?
But you know me, it doesn't take me long to get positive because negative just uses soooo much stupid energy.  Here are the bright spots!
The sugar snap peas, pumpkin hill, the peppers and the eggplants!  All are doing great.  We did some row planting last weekend and we have radishes, bok choy and arugula coming up and yes...beets, of course.  Get ready, cooking class folks!