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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Authentic Homemade Pasta (for rolling)

So delicious it doesn't need anything but a
pat of butter and light sprinkling of parm cheese!

If there was ever anything on the internet with tons of confusing information, it's homemade pasta.

What's the difference between pasta and macaroni and noodles? Oil or no oil? Egg or no egg? Why did my pasta taste like rubber bands? How do I keep it from sticking together? Why is this Kitchen Aid attachment such a life ruiner?!??

.... and more importantly, how do I make it taste like the authentic delicious pasta that I had in Italy?

For today's blog post, I made a video all about homemade pasta. It covers everything you need to know from making the dough to cooking and serving, including how to fix the issues you might have had with your pasta recipe.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Essential Kitchen Gadgets for your Home

I don't know what this is, but I need it!

Whether you're just getting into cooking or registering for your wedding shower, trying to decide what you need for your kitchen can be overwhelming.

A friend suggested I do a special blog post about what is needed for a basic kitchen (other than of the obvious stuff), so I went through my kitchen and made a list of kitchen gadgets that I think are essential for anyone who wants to cook.

If you're registering for a shower, this is your one chance to create a kitchen on someone else's dime. (Holla!!!) Even if you're not, this list might come in handy for ideas if you're trolling through discount stores as I regularly do.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How to Make Tender and Juicy Shredded Chicken

Shredded chicken tossed with herbs de provence and mayo,
topped with homemade cranberry relish
Continuing in a theme of healthy eating, one of the tricks to diet success is keeping an ample supply of high protein food that's healthy and delicious on hand. When you're a Bizzy Gal, it has to be ready at a moment's notice or we're reaching for the potato chips. The most powerful weapon in our arsenal is poached chicken. It's flavorful enough to grab a bit as a snack and since it's already cooked it's easy to whip into a quick meal. The opportunities are endless.

But have you ever noticed how when you make it at home it can be kind of tough and stringy? How do you make it tender and flavorful like in a restaurant?

Quick "Ham" Cups - cute, vegetarian and healthy

Ready to eat on the go!
So it's getting close to that time again when we all start trying to eat healthy. There are all kinds of healthy options and recipes out there so we're collecting, testing and documenting some of the ones we like for the blog.

Normally we avoid food trends because they taste awful. For example, mixing up cocoa and some random crap then microwaving into a chocolate-paste? WHO EATS THAT CRAP??? For the record, we stopped eating paste by at least... 7th, 8th grade. Hahah. :) Seriously though - nasty!

But recently we caught wind of a new(?) trend with making little ham cups with eggs in them. We were intrigued because you could easily make these as a cute breakfast food and you could make them healthy and leave them in the fridge ready to pop in your mouth on the way out the door for the morning commute.

We've gotta say, we were really impressed with the results of this. We tried many different iterations, even a vegetarian version. Basically, all you have to do is lay a piece of lunch meat in a non-stick muffin tin, crack an egg into it, then bake. You don't even have to grease the tins. If you like boiled eggs, this takes it up a notch and without all the hassle of peeling.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Cranberry Sauce with Red Wine

Smells of Christmas Holidays!
We ran across a recipe adapted from by David Lebovitz who's a terrific food blogger currently living in Paris. The extra sauce was great for a couple of weeks following Thanksgiving on sandwiches and as a sweet/tangy side. We even loved putting a spoonful of it in to our turkey'n'dumplings soup. It had just the right amount of tartness to it and the texture of the figs really set it off for us. (Texture is one of those cooking elements that is too often overlooked in dishes.) This recipe uses candied orange peel and the citrus brings it all together without overpowering the dish.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Salted-Caramel Brown Butter Chewy Bars

Salted-caramel browned-butter chewy bars
These are similar to a brownies but taste like salted-caramel. The top has just a tiny hint of crispness and when you bite into it the texture is chewy and soft.

This is our "go-to" guilty pleasure recipe. As a baker, we always have these ingredients on hand and in 30 minutes we can be enjoying them. What's really great about these is they're chewy and decadent.

It only requires one pot. Easy to make, easy to clean-up!

Buttermilk Pie - easy and delicious!

Buttermilk pie - the house-pie of the South!
Our grandmother made this pie when we were growing up. It's very sweet and tangy, and about as Southern as you can get in the dessert world. What really makes this particular version special is the light crust that forms on top. This is coveted in the buttermilk pie world, and if you google it you'll find a million posts of people (unsuccessfully) trying to get that crust on top. :)

The best part about this recipe is how simple it is to make with things you already have in your kitchen.

This time of year is tough because people have so many pot lucks and holiday parties to attend.What do you do? Swing by the grocery store to grab some cookies? Nah... you need a simple dish, one that takes about 5 minutes to put together but still packs a punch. There are rarely any leftovers, but it's just as easy to double the recipe and make two.

I make this in an easy flaky pie crust or simple shortbread crust, but this recipe is so delicious people won't notice if you put it in a store-bought crust.

Friday, December 20, 2013

3 Ingredient Shortbread Crust - an easy pie crust alternative

Baked to golden brown
So let's say you've had bad pie crust experiences. Or perhaps you don't have a rolling pin or a pastry cutter and you're just making a pie as a one time thing for a holiday party. Or maybe you're just plain scared of making pastries. Don't panic! There's still no need resort to drastic measures (like store bought pie crust).

Just whip out this super simple shortbread crust recipe instead. It uses things you've already got in your kitchen anyway.

It works really well with a glass pie plate (or any hard material), but looks even fancier if you bake it in a tart pan (sometimes called a quiche pan). These are really easy to find at any major retailer (including Target). You can also use this recipe to make smaller crusts in a muffin tin if you're trying to create some sort of fancy tiny desserts for a party. It's very sweet and a bit crunchy so we generally wouldn't recommend it for savory fillings.

How to Measure Flour (and why you need to know)

It seems like something that would be kind of obvious, yet since Home Ec. has disappeared from the school curriculum all over the country, this crucial bit of cooking info has been lost.

Why is this important? Because flour compacts very easily. The amount you're actually scooping out can vary wildly. Think of flour as the cement of the baked goods world. It's a foundation. It swells, absorbs moisture and bonds together. What would happen if you changed the amount of cement in concrete? Not enough and it wouldn't set. Too much and it would be dry and crumbly.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Easy Flaky Pie Crust

There's always room for improvement! This pie crust version takes about 10 minutes, produces a flakier crust and doesn't require a food processor so the clean up is a snap.

Giving someone a pie in a store bought pie crust is like giving someone a gift in a gift bag. It says... I kind of like you, but not enough to spend 10 minutes wrapping your gift.

(That said, if this is your first time making a pie crust and you're nervous about making it for a large group of people, I've posted a super easy buttered shortbread pie crust alternative that can be used in place of any dessert pie crust. It doesn't require anything but a fork and a bowl to make, but if you buy a $10 tart pan at Target, it can even look fancy enough for royalty!)

What's wrong with store-bought pie crusts? Well... other than the awful taste and chemicals we can't pronounce, they're not flaky or buttery. They're flat... like some sort of nasty government issued cracker that manages to be both stale and soggy at the same time. When someone eats pie in a store bought crust, they usually eat the filling and leave the crust behind. That's a shame... because a pie crust should be buttery and flaky like an authentic croissant. Could you imagine passing up a fresh baked croissant? Yeah, us either!

A pie crust should have layers like a croissant

You'll never see these layers in a store-bought pie crust and you definitely won't get them if you try to make it using oil. These layers give you a flaky croissant like texture and taste.

We used to make pie crusts in the food processor, but the problem is one or two pulses too many and your pie crust suddenly gets an extra shot of gluten, making it tougher than desired. I've found that using a pastry cutter (also called a "pastry blender") is far more accurate and way less of a hassle to clean up since you just have one thing to throw in the dishwasher. As an added bonus, they only cost around $10, requires little storage space and you can use it to make scones too. Just make sure to get the kind that looks like it has little blades on it - avoid the wire ones like this because they don't work worth diddly.

Wine-Braised Beef Short Ribs (or Pot Roast)

I can't even!

Tickle my ribs, this fancy-pants dinner was far too easy!

There's nothing complex about beef. You sear it, cook it and remember why you're not a vegetarian. The secret is knowing which types of cooking methods work for which type of beef. As a general rule, tougher cuts of beef do really well cooking low-and-slow while tender cuts of beef do better when cooked quickly. (Contrary to popular belief, if you slow cook a tender cut of beef, it actually comes out with a mealy texture.)

While pot roast is our favorite go-to for delicious home cooked simplicity, we've shamelessly adapted this amazing recipe from, my new favorite food blog right next to The flavor of this recipe reminds me of Julia Child's boef bourguignon but with a hint of spice and none of the fuss.

This is a great way to use up leftover red wine (We know, we know! What's that???) But seriously, while it's a little flat for drinking after being opened for 24 hours, you can actually put red wine in the fridge and will still taste great in cooking for up to a month. We always put my red wine in the fridge right after opening if we know we're only going to have a glass or two.

Bones impart a lot of flavor and the collagen from them makes the sauce taste really rich, not to mention how beneficial it is for your hair and skin. That said, ribs can be a crap shoot for tenderness and sometimes they're a bit fatty. Also, if you have a household that hates meat on the bone, your picky eaters won't be able to get past the bone no matter how delicious it is. If you want a sure bet, use a 4 lb beef chuck roast instead.

As mentioned in the beer braised pot roast recipe, the most decadent flavor for beef comes from searing it. The same goes for the onions, but there's an additional reason for searing the onions. Have you ever made a pot roast and then noticed it had a slightly metallic flavor? That's because the gas from onions reacts with the liquid to create sulfenic acid. MMmmmmm! Sulfenic acid braised pot roast anyone? I think not. Searing the onions releases most of the gas so you get a caramelized onion taste instead.

And if you're going to dirty up a pot searing both beef and onions, why not just toss the pot into the oven instead of creating extra clean-up by putting it in a crock pot? That's far too much work for a lazy person. :)

Almond Spekulatius (German Almond Spice Cookie)

Smaller than a bread box, better than a shortbread cookie

These were made with the German cookie mould, but you could use a cookie cutter or just cut them into squares with a knife

We've been collecting cookie cutters for years. One might say it's gotten out of hand. All shapes and sizes, we just love them. We'll never forget my first cookie cutters found in a darling antique shop in Maine. They were really cool post WWII cookie cutters: Rosie the Riveter, a B-52 plane and soldier helmet.

This is only a very small portion of the cookie cutters we've collected

When we finally got around to making rolled cookies... they were horrible. They tasted like a dry tasteless thing with gobs of icing smeared haphazardly on top. We could've pressed wet saw dust together and it would've been more pleasing.

You can cover a dry turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, but there is no amount of icing that can be slathered across a tasteless cookie to save it from being a communion waifer. The best recipe we'd been able to find was Alton Brown's sugar cookie recipe and even that tasted identical to the Pillsbury pre-made sugar cookie dough, but with a lot more work.

Since rolled cookies must stand up to being cut and holding their shape while baking, they're made with shortbread dough and cut very thick. It's a very dense floury texture. You can't fix this by adding extra butter or oil because then it's too soft to hold the shape and will spread when baking.

So those are our choices? Sawdust vs greasy and mis-shapen? There has to be a better way. While traveling in the Alsace region of France this year - we found it! Alsace is the area where France and Germany meet. As wars came and went, the area was occupied by Germany, then France, then Germany, then France. It's currently French. The result? Amazing French food with a heavy German influence. Lots of delicious butter pastries but with the intense German spices. What a total win! :)

Here are a few of the moulds we brought back from Alsace

They have a cookie called "almond spekulatius". They're rolled out like shortbread cookies, then pressed with intricate moilds to make a design on top. It's very similar to a sugar shortbread cookie, but part of the flour is replaced by almond flour and a lot of spices are added. This allows the dough to still be pliable enough to work with, but hold its shape when baked. Since almond flour doesn't have gluten, it also means the dough is more forgiving as it won't get tough after working with it and re-rolling it several times. (This also means it's a low gluten cookie - less than 50% gluten than a regular shortbread cookie.)

You don't need these molds to make the cookies. You can use cookie cutters or even just cut them into square or diamond shapes. To demonstrate, we made several with the moulds we brought back, used a cookie cutter for a couple of them, and then for the others we just cut the dough into rustic looking squares. (The rustic ones usually have a sliced almond placed into each corner of the square.)

There are all kinds of things you can do to snazz them up. One of them is to stick a slightly wettened cherry on a cookie. (The almond flavor works reall well with cherry, but you way want to omit the spices.) You could also press an almond into the corners of the cookie. You could sprinkle them with sugar and cinammon. They're not too sweet so they also work really well with sugar cookie icing. You could do all of the above. Or you could eat them as is, which is actually how they're normally eaten.

They're great right out of the oven, but they really peak about 3 or 4 days after baking them because the spices really permeate the entire cookie and they develop a soft texture. This means they ship really well and work great in holiday gift packages. Just make sure to keep tightly sealed so they stay fresh.

Get ready - your house is about to wreak of Christmas!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Macaron Fillings

Thank you to all the terrific people that made it out to the macaron class today. We enjoyed meeting all of you and hope to see you at another class soon! :)

There's so many possible fillings for macarons, it's hard to decide. (The one thing that should never be found in a macaron is buttercream icing. Yuck!!) Here are a few possible filling options. These can be easily adapted to different flavors. For the chocolate ganache, always use a high quality chocolate like Ghiradelli or Callebaut. The less expensive brands have fillters in them that will now allow them to melt smoothly.

Friday, December 13, 2013


Scones, pantless David Beckham and the like

You do not have to wear pants while eating these
England brought us such wonderful things as our primary language, Dr. Who and most importantly, David Beckham. Or Jelly Babies. Or David Tennant. We can't decide. Wait, I've got it - David Beckham and David Tennant swimming in a pool of Jelly Babies. Yes!!

But have you ever had a fresh baked scone? If not, you're missing one of the most important culinary contributions any country has ever made to the world. Scones are actually the ancestors to what we in the US would call a "biscuit", except scones are slightly sweetened and often have dried fruit in them, most commonly dried black currants. They should be very light and buttery with a hint of crispness on the outside. The inside should be as tender as a cloud. In SW England, they're usually served with cream tea.

For some reason, the scones we've had recently were more akin to a dry, dense crumbly hockey puck one might expect to be served in an orphanage. (Enter Oliver Twist, stage right:  "Please sir, may I have another?") England seems to have lost its way with scones. Or maybe they're stockpiling them for catapult fuel during the impending zombiepocalypse. We're not sure. But a good scone is worth its weight in gold.

One of the things that makes scones so awesome that they're really easy to make. In only fifteen minutes your scones are in the oven. The hardest part is waiting for them to cool but (as with cookies) we both know you're going to burn your mouth eating one right off the tray. :)

There has been much discussion amongst the Hunger Games about the proper shape of scones. In the US, they're triangular. In English countries, they're round.

We prefer to make ours in the triangle shape for two reasons: (1) It's faster! (2) you can use all your dough (re-rolling the scraps to make round ones produces tough scones) (3) We really love the little crispy corners right out of the oven and (4) It's easier to dunk them in coffee (and by coffee, we mean tea. No, not really. We totally mean coffee. Sorry Brits!) Did we say two reasons? Let's just call it "higher math". :)

You can make the mix in a food processor, but it's so easy to do with a pastry blender it isn't worth the clean up effort.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

How to Make Fluffy Rice

Perfect fluffy basmati rice! (The method is the same for all types of white rice)

With all the crazy French and international dishes that've passed through our kitchen, the one thing I never could get right was rice. It was either burned, mushy or uncooked. How could something so simple be so difficult? Frustrated, we turned to instant rice. And it's ok, but the pieces can be a bit small and it just doesn't feel very "ricey". And what if you don't want plain rice? What if you want Basmati or Jasmine? Or what if you want a delicious rice pilaf like in a restaurant? Tough luck!

After traveling a couple of times to Japan, we fell in love with rice and got a rice cooker. But like all fads, the fascination wanes. And here I was stuck with either having to leave this big appliance on the counter or find somewhere to store it and then drag it out every time I wanted rice. (This is how hoarding begins!)

Somebody call a professional organizer!

This is where our friend Ellie came in like a superhero. And we don't mean with a cape and tights (though she does look like a runway model so if anybody could rock them it would definitely be her!) She's a great cook and would host amazing parties. One time she had rice. Perfect, al dente rice. We were convinced it was an ancient Persian secret, but she shared it with us!

She explained basically that people tend to approach rice as if it's pasta. They try to "boil" it. That's not how rice works. You bring it to a simmer and let it absorb the steam. It takes about 20 minutes on the heat. Then you need to let it sit, tightly covered, for another 20 minutes. It's that last part that's the secret!

That's it? Yes, that's basically it. And ever since she taught us this, our rice has been perfect every single time.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Snowflake Holiday Muffins

The sugar looks just like fresh snow!
The holidays are here and there are all kinds of ways to spruce up regular treats and make them festive. Fresh baked muffins are amazing, but what if you don't have enough time? You can quickly spruce up even storebought muffins. One of my favorite ways is to turn them into "snowflake" holiday muffins. All you need is a lemon and some sugar!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pasta Bolognese

The dish that stopped the Italian-American war that never actually happened

A hot bowl of Italian

A couple of months ago a friend on Facebook named Lyle posted the question, "What is pasta bolognese?" There were a variety of answers, but the only detail people seemed to agree on was that it was a tomato meat sauce with some sort of dairy in it. Even though I'd traveled fairly extensively in Italy, bolognese is the local sauce from Bologna and we overslept the day the day we were supposed to go there. Since we had to get Nicole to the airport, we had to blow right through it. No Bologna for us, so I could offer nothing to the discussion other than what Abe Lincoln had said about it on the interwebz.

In a bizarre twist of fate, a few weeks after his posting I had to take an unexpected trip to Bologna for a client. What!? Yes!!! The first week I was there, much bolognese was consumed. It was served in the cafeteria at my client site and it was on the menu in every restaurant. I ate it at least once, sometimes twice a day. Let's just consider it "research". :) It was delicious! It has a unique flavor profile that I couldn't quite put my finger on and had never had in the bolognese sauces back in the US.

One of the things I love about traveling for work is learning about foreign culture from my colleagues that grew up there and live there. You can't quite get that experience from people working in the tourism industry. In Italy, both men and women tend to live with their families until they get married. They're amazingly warm and loving and will invite you into their home like family. Towards the end of my first week, one of my colleagues said, "Ah! You come home with me today. My grandmother make bolognese so you can learn." S.C.O.R.E.!!! He told me it was about a 3 hour process but Italians don't eat dinner until about 8pm so we finished up our day and headed to to meet "Nonnina" (Italian for "little grandmother"). She was in her upper 80s and spoke very little English but he was all too happy to translate for us. To fully appreciate how generous offer was, you have to understand that Italians (especially in this region) really do not eat pasta with dinner, they eat it with lunch. The entire family was willing to go against the grain to share their culture with me. Did I mention I <3 Italy?

The first part of the sauce takes about 30 minutes, but the rest of it is just waiting for it to simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, during which time it is customary to snack and drink. And drink and snack. And in the end, I don't know how they had room for pasta but Italians never cease to amaze. :)

She asked what I thought bolognese was. I said that I thought it was a tomato meat sauce with cream added. "Bah!", She scoffed. Then she squinted her one good eye at me and gently wagged her index finger, "People today and their bad shortcuts. Hurry, hurry, always in hurry. You cannot put cream on tomatoes and call bolognese! Here, I show you." Then she flashed me her toothless smile and said the correct way to make it (and the only way to get the unique flavor profile) is to cook the meat, then add milk and reduce until it's mostly evaporated. Then add white wine, evaporate. These caramelize as they evaporate. (If you try to add it all at once with the tomatoes, it will just boil and you won't get the flavor from the caramelization, it'll just taste kind of flat and one dimensional.) Then add the tomatoes and simmer on low for 3 hours.

She laughed when I told her I'd be posting the recipe on the internet. Then she lit up a cigarette and in a raspy voice and broken English said there are some rules I need to share with you:
  • The meat proportions can be altered, but the beef should never make up more than half of the mixture as it would be too dry and crumbly in the sauce. (BTW, did you know you can ask the butcher in your grocery store for exact weights/amount of ground meat? Yes, you can! And even better, they grind it fresh for you.)
  • You cannot substitute tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, stewed tomatoes or diced tomatoes for the whole peeled tomatoes. She said it changes the flavor profile. Canned tomato sauce has already been cooked down so while it may be fine for a quick pasta sauce, this requires cooking and reducing for 3 hours and it will taste like ketchup. The crushed/diced/stewed tomatoes have calcium and preservatives that when cooked for several hours end up tasting metallic. Not good! When I asked about fresh tomatoes, she explained that the tomatoes in grocery stores are picked too soon and didn't develop that ripened tomato flavor. The ones that are canned are canned when ripe. Then she raised one wrinkled gray eyebrow at me, "anyway.... you living in 1920s? Who does this these days?" LOL
  • After the tomato sauce has been simmering for about an hour, it will begin to splatter and also can have a tendency to burn because it gets too hot. To avoid this, when the sauce started spattering an hour into it she rolled up some foil lengthwise, curved it into a circle and put it on top the burner to elevate the pot. It works like a charm! Both times I didn't do this, my sauce burned near the end and was barely edible. See how-to photos in step 6.
  • With a big toothless grin as she was crushing garlic she said, "Garlic like bull, too strong, hide other flavors. We no use, but for you, I put garlic." Then she tossed a handful into the pot. (She's referring to the American misconceptions about garlic and Italian food. Also very kind of her!) :)
  • "Bolognese use butter. No olive oil. Olive oil for everything else, butter for bolognese." I smiled and joked that I thought all Italian food had olive oil. She waved her hand dismissively, "Bah! Americans."
  • In her heavy Italian accent she said, "nobody cook with red wine, too bitter. Always cook with white. Red for drink only." Then she poured me another glass of their homemade family red wine, lit another cigarette and we continued to get sauced.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Southern-Style Chicken and Dumplings

A hot bowl of delicious!

What to do with leftover turkey? Well, one of our favorite parts of Thanksgiving dinner is the wonderful turkey stock you can make from the leftover turkey bones. Turkey stock isn't so much something you "make" as it is something you "do". To make the stock, make sure to remove any extra meat and save for use. Then hack down the turkey carcass into pieces that can fit in a large stock pot. Add a tablespoon of salt, a carrot, a stalk of celery, a half an onion and whatever herbs you may have leftover from your dinner. Fill with water and bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for two or three hours. Once it's done, you can use for a quick and easy soup... or better yet, "chicken and dumplings".

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"Just put the f*ing turkey in the oven!"

Get in my belly!!
Ok, so that title is a reference to this hilarious video...

While it's hilarious, I can confirm that she is absolutely wrong. Most people dread turkey because they think it's dry, tasteless, bland and either under or overcooked. I'm here to tell you as a cook who's had a dozen fantastic turkeys in as many years (minus 1), there is an easy way to make sure your bird is the hit of the party.

How do you know if your turkey is delicious? Because people will eat it without gravy or cranberry sauce since it is delicious on its own. They're excited about having it as leftovers and are genuinely disappointed when it's all gone. For this reason, I always cook at least a 23 lb turkey because if I don't, there's never enough left over for the next day or to make turkey and dumplings the day after.

There's about a thousand different crazy theories on how to cook a turkey. Stand the turkey on end. Hang it from a noose. Stuff a beer can up its rump. Roast it in a trash bag. Baste it with the blood of the undead. Spritz it with Holy Water and goat urine. Hold a voodoo ritual. According to Abe Lincoln not everything on the internet is true. I'm beginning to believe him. Seriously though, all of them are far too involved and complex to be realistic, especially on Thanksgiving day with everything else you have to prepare.

Here's what you need to get turkey that's not only roasted beautiful brown but is so delicious that people will sneak in the refrigerator to pick at the leftovers... if there are any. :)