Wednesday, December 22, 2010

When He Fends For Himself: A Quesadilla Every Man Should Know

The cookbook Recipes Every Man Should Know showed up in the mail a few days after the wife told me that she received an email from the publisher offering her a review copy.  I told her I would review one of its recipes for my next dinner. I knew the book was coming, so when it came I was surprised that the book was so small. My expectations on size and content probably lead to my initial impression that the book was unimpressive. I went through most of the recipes and thought that dishes like "Baked Potato" and "A Great Cup of Joe" did not warrant individual entries. These were not recipes every man should know, they were "recipes" any productive member of society would be embarrassed not to know (and that's saying something coming from me). I was thinking that the follow up to this could be "The Man's Guide to Doing Laundry -- How to survive when you move out of mom's basement"

It took a couple times going through the Table of Contents and seeing titles like "Baja-style Fish Tacos" and "Sexy Strawberry Zabaglione" before I warmed up to the rest of the list and settled on "Quick-and-Easy Quesadillas" as my dish. It also took a few looks at Table of Contents to decide on what to make because I was looking for a dinner meal, which removed more than half the book ("Hearty Breakfast Classics", "Beer, Bacon, and Bar Food", and "Chocolate, Cheesecake, & More") from consideration. I settled on quesadillas because they are a meal I like, I've never actually made them, and they looked pretty easy.

The following night I knew I was on my own for dinner because the wife had after work plans, so I stopped at the grocery store on the way home to pick up the  necessary ingredients. The cookbook said to have flour tortillas, 1/2 cup of shredded cheese, and "fillings of my choice". At the store I picked up the tortillas and cheese, as well as sour cream, salsa, red peppers, and grilled chicken from the store's salad bar. I knew I wanted the chicken but I didn't want to have to cook that as well. Finding the pre-cooked salad bar chicken, I thought, was a nice solution.

I arrived home and immediately jumped into action. I got the skillet out, added some olive oil to the pan and placed the tortilla in. After cutting up a red pepper, I placed it, the cheese, and the chicken on half of the tortilla and let it sit for about 2 minutes. I then folded the tortilla in half, flipped it, and cooked the other side for a remaining 3 minutes. When that was complete, I plated the quesadilla, cut it into quarters, and added salsa and sour cream on the side. The whole meal took about 10 minutes to prepare and was actually very easy. It tasted pretty good and I enjoyed my dinner that night and was pleased with the outcome. When I need to fend for myself again, I might even try to make them again.

As for the cookbook itself, I think my initial expectations blinded me from real purpose of the cookbook. That is, it's a list of dishes that can inspire a man to actually get to work in the kitchen. Everyone has to start somewhere and the basics introduced in this book can be a foundation for future cooking growth. However, it will not be a foundation for me. I know what I am, and more often than not my place is not in the kitchen (except for when the dirty dishes pile up). So please leave a comment. Tell me what you think of this post, my wife's blog, or what you think every man should know and enter to win this cookbook for yourself or your man! Submit your entries by Tuesday, December 28 at midnight. The winner will be selected using on Wednesday morning!

From the publisher: The book features over sixty recipes compiled by celebrated food blogger Susan Russo (, a regular contributor to Kitchen Window on NPR, and Brett Cohen, the author of Stuff Every Man Should Know.

Disclaimer: We were provided one copy of the book, free of charge, from the publisher. We were not obligated to review the product and we received no compensation. All opinions expressed in this post clearly belong to the hubby. He decided to give one lucky commenter this copy as a holiday treat (sorry about the few fingerprints on the cover!).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Easy Entertaining with Trader Joe’s

As I mentioned in the previous post, my mother-in-law is an expert at using Trader Joe’s ingredients to make quick and flavorful meals. She says, “The joy of Trader Joe’s is that you can take their ingredients, be creative, and in 15 minutes have a dish cooking that is worthy of being served to company.” Her revised book concept is Dinner Party Dishes with Five Ingredients from Trader Joe’s

During our visit she had an opportunity to cook us one of her delicious creations. With a mix of fresh, canned, and prepared foods she put together a full meal with appetizers, salad, entree, vegetable side, and dessert. The meal preparation was quick and everything was ready in advance of our dinner guests’ arrival.

Our appetizers included assorted olives, hummus and whole wheat crackers, and a spinach pie. The spinach pie can be found in the freezer section. After baking in the oven, my mother-in-law cut the rectangular pie into small squares for serving. Inside the flaky pastry crust was a savory mixture of spinach, feta, and spices.

Main course on top and spinach pie on bottom.

After finishing up with the appetizers we moved on to the main meal. First up, a mixed green salad chock full of cucumbers, tomatoes, mushrooms, red onions, garbanzo beans, and flavored mixed nuts (with herbs & spices). I contributed a quick salad dressing to top it off. She had picked up an assortment of infused olive oils during our trip to North Market along with a divided serving dish. We sampled four of the oils as part of the salad course. A crusty French baguette was the perfect dipper to try all of the oils.

The meal was straight from the pages of her soon to be written cookbook! The ingredient that inspired this dish was frozen ravioli. My mother-in-law was thinking about a baked ravioli dish that she had growing up in New York. Using Trader Joe’s ingredients, some lemon olive oil we had picked up at North Market and a few things out of the fridge, she put together a layered baked ravioli dish that was hearty, flavorful, and quite impressive! The baked ravioli was full of vegetables, so a simple side dish was all that we needed. She steamed fresh green beans and tossed them in a little lemon olive oil with salt and pepper for the side.

We enjoyed a lively conversation while we devoured dinner. It was hard to stop eating, but we knew that we still had dessert on the way!

My mother-in-law has a go-to dessert that she uses when entertaining. It’s an elegant (and healthy) dish that requires just a little assembly. She fills an ice cream dish with a slice of fat-free pound cake, a dollop of fruit preserves, a generous amount of fresh berries, and tops it off with whipped cream. But no dinner party is complete without multiple desserts. We also enjoyed some rugelach and carrot cake.

Sans whipped cream

This meal was quick to prepare, delicious to eat, and everyone was satisfied (and quite full) at the end of the night. The next time you’re stuck in a cooking rut or short on time and don’t know what to make, just head to Trader Joe’s to put together a great meal! And don’t forget to ask my mother-in-law for her recipe!

Baked Ravioli
2 packages Trader Joe’s frozen ravioli (any flavor, we used one package of asparagus and one package of sundried tomato)
1 jar Trader Joe’s bruschetta mix
1 jar crushed tomatoes
1 can artichokes
1 cup sliced mushrooms (leftover from the salad)
A few tablespoons of lemon olive oil
Shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
In a large oval casserole dish, spread olive oil in the bottom (covering the entire dish)
Pour the jar of bruschetta in the dish and spread evenly
Place raviolis in a single layer on top of the bruschetta
Spread the artichokes on top of the raviolis
Top the artichokes with another layer of ravioli
Add the mushrooms next
Top with a third layer of ravioli
Spread the crushed tomatoes on top, covering all of the ravioli
Bake for 20-25 minutes until heated through
Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella on top and bake for another 5 minutes until the cheese is golden brown
Serve directly from the casserole dish

Prep time: 10 minutes (opening jars & packages)
Cook time: 20-30 minutes
Casserole dish, serving utensils

Quick and Easy Salad Dressing
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
3/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt, pepper

Add all ingredients into a small salad dressing bottle or dish with a lid
Shake vigorously until well combined
Toss with salad

Easy & Healthy Dessert
Slices of fat free pound cake or angel food cake
Fresh blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, washed
Fruit preserves (cherry, strawberry, or raspberry
Whipped cream

Place a slice of cake in the bottom of a dessert dish
Add a spoonful of fruit preserves
Add a generous amount of berries
Top with a swirl of whipped cream

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Columbus Eats

This past weekend we took a quick weekend trip to visit the hubby’s parents in Columbus, Ohio. They are frequent visitors to Boston so we haven’t been to Columbus in about 3 years. Like I do before any trip (or weekend for that matter), I did a little research on the must-not-miss food spots in our destination. In my research I learned that there are 40 taco trucks in Columbus (40!) and they have a dedicated website. There is also a website dedicated to Street Eats in Columbus. I also put out a tweet asking for suggestions. One of my sorority sisters referred me to a friend, who sent over a few great suggestions including the delicious Jeni’s Ice Cream. I tweeted back the Jeni’s was already on our list and about an hour later Jeni’s tweeted with flavor recommendations. The power of social media!

We arrived Saturday and headed straight to North Market. The market was established in the late 1800’s as the second of four public markets in Columbus. After moving to various locations around the neighborhood the market landed in its current location, an old farm equipment warehouse. Open in this location since 1995 the market is a lively home to farmers, small businesses, bakers, fishmongers, restaurateurs, and more. According to the website, more than a million visitors go through each year!

In my online scouting I checked out the merchants at the market. I knew we would be visiting Jeni’s Ice Cream’s original spot and wanted to see who else was in the market.

Taste of Belgium and Kitchen Little Poultry and Game. The result of this partnership? Chicken and waffles of course! I’ve been on a chicken and waffles kick lately, mainly a result of the Fillbelly’s Chicken and Waffle truck being parked outside of work. The liege waffle was sugary and delicious. The buttermilk marinated chicken cutlet came direct from the cast iron skillet onto my waffle. It was topped with a generous pour of maple syrup and a good dose of hot sauce (on the side so I could share). Just look at how beautiful it was:

We spent some time walking around the market after lunch. My mother in law picked up a delicious assortment of flavored olive oils and a beautiful dish in which to serve them. I stopped to pick up some black popcorn from Pam’s Market Popcorn. They had quite an assortment of kernels: purple, rainbow, red, yellow, and black. Just next to the popcorn stand was a brand new shop, North Market Spices. This sun-filled space was stocked floor to ceiling with fragrant spices and dried herbs. The woman at the stand asked me about my purse (she said her daughter in law would love it), and I asked her if she was the owner of the stand. It turns out that her son was the owner. She had always encouraged her sons to cook and they loved being in the kitchen. He had stepped out of the shop for minute, but when he came back his mom pointed out my purse and told him I was asking her about his experience. He enthusiastically told me that he opened in August and has been busy ever since. They source their spices from all over the world, but try to have some local ingredients. They were looking forward to adding local herbs during the spring.  I picked up a bag of culinary lavender from nearby Urbana, OH along with some green chili powder and a za’atar spice blend to add to my spice cabinet.

Our last stop before leaving the market was, of course, Jeni’s Ice Cream! Since we were last there, Jeni’s was named one of the best ice creams in America! Thanks to their twitter recommendation we knew we wanted to try the seasonal flavors. After mini-spoonfuls of goat cheese & fig, olive oil & sea salted pepitas, and cherry lambic we made our choice. The hubby and his dad went with sweet cream with Appalachian elderberries. I chose the sweet potato with torched handmade marshmallow in a waffle cone. If we had more time in our visit, I would have gone back to try them all!

One of the other recommendations sent my way was for the Northstar Cafe. It turns out that my in-laws love this place and we headed there for Sunday brunch. The menu was small, but offered a good variety of options.  You order at the counter and then your food is delivered to your table steaming hot from the kitchen.  They did something I wish all restaurants would do - they kept the coffee mugs on a warming plate. That meant the coffee stayed hot all the way to the last sip.  Our breakfast choices included sweet potato turkey hash with fried eggs, hearth baked wild mushroom frittata with gruyere, rosemary potatoes and a fluffy biscuit, and cloud 9 pancakes (with ricotta). It was relaxed, tasty, and filled us up until dinner.

Stay tuned for our Sunday night dinner! My mother-in-law is an expert at using Trader Joe's ingredients to make quick and flavorful meals.  She was disappointed that there are already a number of Trader Joe's cookbooks out there (she wanted to write her own!), but she's changed her proposed cookbook title to: Quick and Easy Entertaining Ideas with Trader Joe's.  You don't want to miss her first recipe - coming up this weekend!

Jeni's Ice Creams (Short North) on Urbanspoon

Taste of Belgium on Urbanspoon
Northstar Café (Easton) on UrbanspoonKitchen Little on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 9, 2010

New Holiday Favorite: Beet Pickled Deviled Eggs

Last year I went to sunny San Diego for a conference and flew out a few days early to spend the weekend with my sister- and brother-in-law in LA. Since my now nephew Sammy was two weeks away from entering the world, we had a low-key, relaxing weekend. When my brother-in-law Jim and I headed to the store for a lunch pickup I added the final print edition of Gourmet to our cart. I read the delicious Thanksgiving issue cover to cover while he (I mean we) spent the afternoon watching USC football.

One of the recipes I flagged was for beet pickled deviled eggs. It sounded intriguing. I had just started experimenting with beets last year and eggs are one of my top 3 favorite foods (bread, cheese, eggs). I was pretty sure that I had never made deviled eggs before and it wasn’t something that we grew up eating in my family. Since we were hosting Thanksgiving last year, I decided to add them to the menu. To my surprise, they were gone in almost no time! Here’s a look at the one picture I got last year before they were gone.

Fast forward to October 2010. We were headed to St. Louis to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family. Because they read about the Good Cook Doris adventure online and don’t get to experience it I knew I wanted to contribute something to the big meal. But planning a TSA friendly dish is tricky! We had a non-stop flight, but that still means about 5 hours in transit and no liquids, sauce, pies, etc. I checked the TSA website and decided that the pickled eggs would make the cut. I prepared the pickling liquid and marinated the eggs from Tuesday night through Thursday morning right before we left for the airport.

Just before our cab arrived to pick us up, I drained the jars and packed them in an insulated bag for the journey. No liquids through security also means that you have to get creative in packing your cooler for the trip. I pulled out three packs of frozen chopped spinach and a bag of frozen peas that had kept my cooler of precious smoked salmon preserved on my last flight back to Boston from St. Louis (my brother smoked about 5 lbs of salmon for us – nice brother!). Since the frozen vegetables are solid they don’t raise any issues in the x-ray machines. They may ask to peek inside and joke that they might need to taste test the delicious looking salmon, but they will let you through without any trouble.

I’m happy to report that we arrived in St. Louis and unpacked a bag with still frozen vegetables and ice cold eggs. We arrived about 10 a.m. and guests were scheduled to arrive at 4 p.m. so I quickly got to work assembling. My brother had a great idea to quarter the eggs, instead of halve them. That way we would have enough for all 27 guests to taste (a smaller than usual group).

Here’s a look at assembly and then presentation. My mom keeps a well stocked fridge, so I found all of my ingredients waiting for me upon arrival (I did bring the caraway seed in my luggage).

She didn’t have a spare coffee/spice grinder, so I improvised. It worked pretty well!

Ready to be stuffed back into the eggs.

I made 14-15 eggs and saved the beets this year (I love pickled beets!). Here’s a look at the eggs awaiting guests.

The best compliment is that my 11 year old cousin, who said she wasn’t sure about beets (her mom doesn’t like them) or the funny colored eggs tried one and even ate one of the pickled beet pieces. I think she said, “it’s not that bad”. There was only one lonely quarter and a few beet pieces left at the end so I’ll call it a success!

I plan to make these for every party I host – they are delicious and it’s a blast to see people’s reactions to purple eggs! Yes, they do come from purple chickens.

Beet Pickled Deviled Eggs
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, November 2009

3 cups water
1 cup distilled white vinegar
2-3 small beets, peeled and sliced into semi-circles about a quarter inch thick (I used more, because I wanted to eat the beets!)
1 small shallot, sliced (I used yellow onions, that’s all I had on hand)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 Turkish or 1 California bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 hard-boiled large eggs, peeled
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted & cooled
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Add water, vinegar, beets, shallot/onions, sugar, bay leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to boil in a medium-large sauce pan
Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered for about 20 minutes until the beets are tender
Uncover the mixture and cool completely
Divide your eggs into 2-3 wide mouth mason jars (or other non-reactive containers)
Put beet pieces in with eggs (just a few per jar) and make another jar with the leftover beets
Add the pickling liquid (unstrained) to each jar, filling it almost to the top
Seal lids and place in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, rotate the eggs one or two times a day, to ensure they get evenly colored

When you are ready to prepare for serving:

Finely grind caraway seeds in grinder. Or put them in a plastic bag and smash them with a hammer, rolling pin, or other implement
Remove eggs from beet mixture and pat dry (discard liquid, save beets if you desire)
Cut in half lengthwise, remove yolks carefully and place yolks in a large bowl
Add mayonnaise, mustard, parsley, and half of the caraway (1/2 teaspoon)
Mash the yolks with the additional ingredients until desired texture and season with salt and pepper
Using a spoon & small spatula, carefully fill each half with yolk mixture until all are filled & mixture is evenly distributed
Dip a sharp knife in water and slice the halves lengthwise into quarters
Sprinkle with remaining caraway seeds and extra parsley
Watch them disappear!

Prep time: 15 minutes
Active Cook Time: 20 minutes (plus egg-cooking time)
Inactive Cook Time: 3 hours – 3 days
Assembly time: 30 minutes or more, depending on how cooperative the egg yolks are.
Cutting board & knife, sauce pan, spoon, mason jars & lids, non-staining spoons & spatulas, spice grinder/mortar and pestle/hammer, fork for mashing, bowl, spoon & spatula, serving platter

Egg on Foodista

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When He Fends for Himself: When He Makes Dinner

The wife has been very hard at work on a paper for her graduate school class and needed some help preparing dinner Sunday night. I vacated the house during the day to give her some peace and quiet to concentrate. I went to a sports bar, watched all the early NFL games, and got to see in real time my fantasy football year go down the tubes. On the way home I was asked to stop at the grocery to get some staples for the week and to find something for dinner.

The grocery store was a process of elimination. I stopped early to grab the salad ingredients because I knew I'd be chastised if I didn't come home with some vegetable to go with dinner. After that I scouted out the main course. Knowing that anything too easy (like snack dinner) or too complicated (for me, tacos) were out of the question, I checked out the meat case and looked at the beef, chicken, and lamb. We've been trying to cut down on our beef intake because it seems like a good thing to do, and the chicken and lamb didn't really excite me. Also, I thought if I went with a meat course, I'd have to get another vegetable to go on the side. So all I was left with was pasta.

I went to the fresh pasta case and looked at the selections. At this particular store, we've purchased the trofie and the various raviolis before so I went with the pumpkin tortellini. As I came home I announced what I purchased and said I thought we could mix it with one Pestos with Panache we had on hand. It turns out, pumpkin chipotle was in stock and sounded like a perfect match.

I went into the kitchen and expertly started to boil water. Once that got going, I cut some cucumbers, washed the lettuce, and opened the bag of baby carrots. Also, the pesto was taken out of the freezer and proportional amount was nuked in the microwave for 15 seconds for it to thaw out. Once the salad was ready, the water was at a boil and I put in the tortellini. As it cooked, I cleared off and set the table. The tortellini was finished and I drained the water, added the pesto, and mixed it in.

As I served the food, I could tell that the wife was impressed. It really was a gourmet dinner that I produced. The spice of the chipolte pesto really added a nice kick to the sort of sweet tortellini. The salad was classy and the water to drink was from MWRA! What more could you want? I guess I could have got a dessert too, but I'll have to save that for next time.

Preparation recap from the wife:
1 1b. fresh pumpkin tortellini
2 tablespoons pumpkin chipotle pesto
Splash of pasta water

Microwave frozen pesto for 15 seconds on power level 7 (just to soften, not too cook)
Ask the hubby why he is trying to boil water with the heat on medium and the pot uncovered. Adjust, and then return to your paper writing because you are not supposed to be making dinner tonight.
Eat the delicious meal and give the cook a 5 star review!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanksgiving with the Family

This year we spent the Thanksgiving holiday with my family in St. Louis. It was a great weekend full of family, friends, and fun! It was a gathering of the many good cooks in the family and there was no shortage of food for the weekend.  Everyone contributed dishes to the big meal, to Friday dinner, Sunday brunch, and more.  We even had time to visit my grandmother's favorite restaurant and a few other family favorites.  I'll write up my contribution to dinner in the next post. For tonight, here's an introduction to the talented family cooks & a look at some of our tasty eats!

Place cards ready and waiting!
My mom perfecting her maple-apple cider turkey glaze.

Uncle Rick and Uncle Joel - talented artists
who designed the Good Cook Doris header.

My brother carving up the juicy turkey cooked by mom.

Aunt Shirley is a master potato masher & snipper of chives.

New Thanksgiving tradition: beet pickled deviled eggs.

Grandma's famous jello mold!
Top layer = lime with sour cream and pineapple.
Bottom layer = raspberry with raspberries.

A look at some of the spread from above. Sweet potatoes, green bean casserole,
mashed potatoes, Marilyn's southern style dressing, & more!

Grandpa's delicious pecan pie.

Grandpa's fantastic apple pie.

Leftovers part 1 - turkey sliders! One with  cranberry chipotle cheddar and
one with mashed potatoes & fresh cranberry sauce.

My grandmother's favorite place - White Castle! The whole family went for the
experience. 14 people, 50 burgers, 10 fries, 4 chicken sliders, 20 chicken rings,
12 sodas, and an unforgettable experience!

Sunday brunch: my brother's smoked salmon,
a healthy dose of fruit, and other delicious dishes.

Celebrating with family! 

Editor's note: Forgot to add this last photo of my favorite cousin (don't tell the others), Leslie!



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