Tag Archives: cooking

Fire & Wine: On a diet, but not diet food

I’m so over diet food.

Ok, sure I just wolfed down a burrito made of meatless meat, but I didn’t consider it “cooking.” It was just something I ate for dinner so that I could justify the tater tots I stole off my friend, Jimmy’s plate at lunch. But when it comes to food and real cooking, I don’t think you have to sacrifice to eat well. And I decided to prove it this week.

When I saw Elise at Simply Recipes Sea Scallops with Asparagus Sauce, I knew it would be the perfect Fire & Wine on-a-diet meal. Served with crusty whole wheat bread and a fresh  salad, it satisfied every craving — creamy, rich, decadent, crunchy, savory and tangy (salad dressing with fresh lemon.)

But the key to this dish is finding good scallops. Now here in the Midwest, that’s easier said than done. But I knew I could count on my friends at Hen House Market to find some good ones.

So I tweeted http://twitter.com/henhousemarket and within a few hours, I was deciding between U10 (10 scallops per pound) and U12 (12scallops per pound.) I went with the larger variety, because larger is always better.

[Insert “That’s What She Said” joke here.]

But seriously, just look at these scallops.

Another secret: my fabulous cast iron skillet. Getting it hot enough to create a crunchy sear gave these even more texture and body.

(Wow, that burrito I just ate seems really lame right now.)

I’m sorry, but I just had to throw in another picture of the scallops.

So the final secret is not crowding the pan. I cooked these in two batches and we each had three (and trust me, that was plenty.)

We had an extra special guest this week, so there were four of us total.

Now, I will admit, the asparagus sauce is very….green.

I think as a culture we are a little leery of green mushy foods.

But I know that anything Elise makes can’t be anything short of awesome.  But I did add a clove of garlic to it, because I love garlic and I just thought it would enhance the sauce.

I also subtracted a tablespoon of butter. So we could have a glass of wine with it. (duh.)

But that sauce was fantastic. And the crusty bread was put to use as a vessel for the sauce. All in all, a fantastic meal. Special thanks to DD Girl for footing the bill this time. She decided Fire & Wine would be her treat. I think it was a wise investment…


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It wasn’t my kitchen, but it was good

Me=famous chef wanna be.

I mean, don’t all chefs always have this much fun?

Le sigh. Probably not. It’s fun to dream.

This double fisting (tequilla and Dos Equis) pic was actually taken after the food was served. I can’t believe Memo trusted me to feed his party.

And I only have a minor burn and cut to prove it happened. Oh, and I guess this photo.

But if you want to know, I served up:

  • Adapted stuffed mushrooms from The Pioneer Woman (put a few of my personal touches in.)
  • Roasted red potato skins with pancetta, shalot and goat cheese
  • Guacamole

My food was enhanced with Roomie’s brookies (brownies with chocolate chip cookie dough inside) and DD Girl’s boyfriend’s fiery hot, but delicious salsa.

After about an hour and a half of prep-work/cooking in Memo’s kitchen, I began to make myself at home.


DD Girl was amused as I picked up after party guests, cleaned counter tops and washed up the dishes. I couldn’t help myself. It was starting to feel like my kitchen.

Mr. Quirky rescued me the party before I started either dancing on the counter or looking for a mop (It could have gone either way.) But if you ask me the tequila, I was really the life of the party. I swear.

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The best non-bagel and lox salmon and cream cheese combo you’ll ever have

There is this little itty bitty ($25,ooo prize) cooking contest going on now over in Philadelphia land. (The cream cheese, not the city.) I decided to take a stab at it. The concept is, you have to submit a recipe in a selected category (last week it was side dish) using cream cheese.

I couldn’t think of anything more delicious than smoked salmon and cream cheese risotto. I mean, come on! It has it all. Creamy risotto, velvety cream cheese and savory smoked salmon and capers. Not only do you have to create a recipe, you have to film yourself making it.

Thanks to Mr. Quirky, we pulled off our first non-screaming in the kitchen Queen of Quirky cooking video.


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Spoiler alert: I don’t have three pet lobsters

Instead, we enjoyed a delicious meal with fresh lobster with a parsley butter sauce, smashed red potatoes with chive and onion cream cheese and steamed asparagus.

Besides, by now I know you’ve seen the video and all the shrieking and jumping that ensued.

And oh, the antenna….sticking out of the pot to remind us of what we had done.

And the carnage that remained.

We had killed three living beings.

And they were delicious.

And then Gertie had to comfort us and make us feel better for our animal cruelty.

It was that kind of night.

Because friends don’t let friends kill lobsters alone.


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A few things to pay attention to:

I am a spaz.

Roomie & DD Girl are adorable.

I am a spaz. I pace when I’m nervous.

Lobsters make me scream.


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Fire & Wine – I did not boil my face off

I have a new toy.

Isn’t she pretty?

(Thank you, dear blogging friend.)

It seemed more than appropriate to bring back Fire & Wine (post wedding break) and christen the new toy.

And simultaneously try not to boil my face.

Because we all know, I’m not to be trusted with even the simplest of kitchen tasks. Inserting a whirling stick into a pot of hot liquid could (have) spelled disaster for me.

Luckily for all of us involved, I did not boil my face.

Instead, I made a most delicious (and not so nutritious) artichoke bisque.

The key to this (aside from avoiding molten splashback) was to distract my guests with tasty appetizers so that they didn’t notice the entire stick of butter going into the soup.

Hey, look over there! Rosemary flatbread, goat cheese and tapenade!

Butter? What butter?

See how that works? It’s easy.

So was the soup:

(Adapted from this Group Recipe for Fresh Artichoke Bisque.)

  • 2 cans of large artichoke hearts (drained and rinsed.)
  • 8 Tbsp butter
  • 1 medium size leek, white-and-light green part, sliced and rinsed
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallots
  • 2 medium size Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 8 cups of homemade vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 sprigs of parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked white peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup of cream
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Directions:

    Dice leek and soak in water to remove dirt. Remove pieces with slotted spoon and dry thoroughly. Give artichokes a rough chop and make sure they are dried.

    In a large pot, melt half of the butter and cook the artichoke hearts, leek, garlic, and shallots on medium heat until tender but not brown. Add the potatoes and stock. Tie up the bay leaf, thyme, parsley, and peppercorns in cheesecloth and add to the pot. Increase heat to bring to a simmer, then lower heat and continue to simmer uncovered, 1 hour.

    Remove and discard the herbs.  Whip out the new immersion blender and carefully blend soup.

    Whisk in the remaining butter and the cream. Using a microplane, grate nutmeg over soup and serve.

    Some notes: I might suggest adding another potato to thicken the soup a bit. I served with chibatta bread.


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    The elusive stuffed pepper conquered

    A co-worker and I have been on the quest for a really good stuffed pepper recipe for a while now. It’s a running deal with us. We’re both anti-rice in our stuffed peppers and pro-meat.  But I’m of the belief that sausage needs to play a role in the pepper. (I mean duh, sausage and peppers!)  She could go either way. We might talk about stuffed peppers a lot. We’re kind of obsessed.

    And while I’m afraid her husband might balk at the use of ground turkey and turkey sausage in these peppers, I think I can convince her that these are the best stuffed peppers ever. And if she had to use ground beef and real sausage, then they would probably be just as good. But seeing as how her husband doesn’t have to fit into a wedding dress in 24 days, then he can’t criticize my  lower fat version.

    And quite honestly, the flavor of the ground turkey was really, really good in these.

    Queen of Quirky’s By George! I Mastered the Stuffed Pepper Recipe (And if you don’t think so, you can keep your opinions to yourself!)


    • 2 tablespoons olive oil divided
    • 1 small sweet yellow onion finely minced
    • 5 button mushrooms finely minced
    • 1 stalk of celery finely minced
    • 3 cloves of garlic (you guessed it…finely minced)
    • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
    • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    • 1/2 lb of 99% fat-free ground turkey
    • 2 links of lean turkey Italian sausage
    • 4-5 large red bell peppers (I had a bit of stuffing left over so I could have filled five)
    • 1 14 oz can of diced petite tomatoes with Italian seasoning (in juice)
    • 1/4 cup of plain bread crumbs
    • 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
    • 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes in puree (Yes, I know. I’m in love.)
    • 1 cup low-fat mozzarella cheese
    • salt and pepper to taste

    To do:

    Preheat oven to 400

    Heat tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Add diced onion, mushrooms, celery and garlic and salt and pepper. Cook on medium about 5-7 minutes, until vegetables are soft. Add tomatoes, Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper. Turn off heat. (Taste to make sure your salt level is good.)

    Remove sausage from casing and combine with turkey. Add the mixture from the skillet into the ground meat. Add bread crumbs, parmesan and salt and pepper. (Do not taste for salt levels at this point. Not that you were going to. Just feel I should say it. Just guess. I turned my sea salt grinder about three times over this mixture) Mix well.

    Drizzle a baking dish with remainder of olive oil. Remove tops and core peppers, rinsing seeds away. If needed, level the bottom of the peppers so they stand upright by carefully slicing from the rounded bottom, creating a flat surface — you don’t want to puncture the peppers.  Generously spoon meat mixture into the peppers so that the mixture is slightly heaping. (Sing, “my hump, my hump, my hump,  my lovely lady lumps.” Then pretend like you didn’t just sing that.) Cover the peppers with the crushed tomatoes in puree.

    Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Remove and top each pepper with mozzarella cheese. Return to oven for 15 more minutes until cheese is melted and slightly golden brown. Serve over orzo, spooning sauce over entire pepper and onto the pasta.

    Warning: lava-like insides – eat with care!

    These took a while to make, but they are soooo worth it. These were huge. Like mega big. The fiance and I split one.

    And then I tried to offer them to his D&D boys who were over, but they had already eaten. Silly boys.

    So I guess I have lunch tomorrow, and dinner tomorrow night…

    Now that I’ve found the perfect stuffed pepper recipe, I wonder what my co-worker and I are going to obsess over next?I’m sure we’ll think of something.

    Wanna see some of my other food obsessions lately?

    Macheesmo’s Spanikopita

    Delta Whiskey’s Chipotle  Chicken Rolls

    The Newlywed’s Chicken Corn Chowder

    The Naptime Chef’s Poached Salmon with Leeks


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    2009: The year of discovering my inner culinary goddess

    The year was 2009. It was a blank slate.  A fresh start from so many bad memories. And somehow, it ended up being my year in the kitchen.

    I didn’t intend to flex my cooking muscles. It wasn’t even a resolution.

    It happened organically. Hosting a party here, cooking a meal there, starting a fire and a tradition that will forever be known as Fire & Wine night.

    And suddenly I had a new forum to try all these new recipes, and people who were as excited about eating as I was cooking. Not to mention a blog audience who was pretty pleased to read about my kitchen exploits!

    And so, I present to you: Highlights from my kitchen 2009: A Q&A interview with myself. (Because no one called for the exclusive.)

    Q: What surprised you the most in your kitchen this year?

    A: Probably the amount of time I spent in there and how happy it made me. I always knew I liked to cook, but I didn’t know it could become such a powerful hobby. Also, getting a kitchen with a gas stove when we moved in September was a pleasant surprise.

    Q: What 3 ingredients in 2009 became your favorites to work with?

    1. Crushed red tomatoes – I have absolutely fallen head over heals for crushed red tomatoes. And the funny part is, I think I maybe used them once or twice before this year.  Now, I don’t know how I’ve been using jarred pasta sauce all these years when crushed red tomatoes were just an aisle away. Also, I’ve found so many new ways to use them – enchilada sauces, soups, enhancing veggies.

    2. Pork – I don’t eat beef, and I get so sick of chicken. There are so many cuts of pork that I haven’t used yet, but every pork recipe I made in 2009 was delicious. Plus come on, bacon? I re-romanced myself to bacon this year. Back in my pseudo vegetarian days (pseudo b/c I ate fish) I thought bacon was something I didn’t like. Look, we all make mistakes in our younger years. Mine just happened to be thinking I didn’t like bacon.

    3. Mushrooms – I have always loved mushrooms, but this year, they made their way into more dishes than I could ever have imagined. If I weren’t marrying the fiance, I’d probably marry a mushroom. Because I love them that much. Oh, and I’m cheating here, but how good are mushrooms with thyme and heavy cream? Those two ingredients just need mushrooms. Kind of like me.

    Q: What was your greatest culinary achievement?

    Hands down: the turkey. It was just so big and ominous. Plus, I felt so much pressure to wow my future in-laws. Not to mention the 5 gallons of broth I made for the brine. That was pretty outstanding.

    Q: What intimidated you the most before you tried it?

    Risotto. I don’t know why, because it’s so easy now. But something about the process of it, seemed unattainable to me. Honestly, we have it at least once a week now. I’m in love.

    Q:What cooks inspired you this year?

    Well, attending Blogher Food was probably the best thing I could have done for my kitchen mojo. But there were a few chefs and bloggers who had I not discovered in 2009, I would not be the cook I am today:

    Simply Recipes, Steamy Kitchen, Macheesmo and Blog Well Done. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Pioneer Woman. That said, I am thrilled that in 2009 I got to meet all but one of these amazing cooks and bloggers in real life. (Macheesmo – I’m gunning to meet you someday!)

    Q: What was your biggest failure in the kitchen?

    Do I really have to answer this question? (Yes, Stephanie. You asked it.) Oh yeah. Ok, well the Chile Rellenos. I was a mess after those.

    Q: What new dishes would you like to tackle in 2010?

    Cornish hens, tasty tofu, a Spanish omelet, a savory tart, pesto & salsa (new food processor!), bread, homemade pasta,  pie crust…probably a million other things that I can’t think of now.

    Q: What 1 event was your culinary turning point in 2009?

    Probably catching that first oven fire during Fire & Wine night. Because DD Girl and I were already starting to get together for me to cook once a week, but suddenly it gave our night a name and then I came up with the idea that I had to cook something new each week. That really rocked my world. (And as Roomie claims, all of our waistlines.:))

    Q: What was your go-to kitchen tool/cookware/gadget  in 2009?

    Probably my cast iron skillet. Not only did it keep any wild animals out of the turkey brine, it also is my only stove-to-oven safe cookware.

    So, those are my answers to this self-imposed interview.

    Now is the fun part: you answer the Highlights from your Kitchen 2009 questions on your blog (if you have one) or on your Facebook page if you don’t. Even if you aren’t a mad crazy foodie, you should still play along. Because it’s fun. And I’m bossy. So do it.

    Leave me a note in the comments to let me know if you posted!


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    Dutch Oven

    Wedding planning is stressful.

    It especially hurts the pocket book. (That’s North Carolinian for wallet. I like to throw out my old North Carolinian lingo sometimes. It makes me feel well-exposed to a variety of United States sub-cultures.)

    You can actually hear the tension in the Quirky household as we are trying to figure out why exactly we didn’t elope to Vegas? Or maybe that was just Gertie farting. Whatever. It’s stressful.

    But we know that in the end, celebrating our nuptials with our friends and family will ultimately be worth it to us. We are keeping it very tacky cheap. You can follow more about that on the Quirky Wedding blog.

    Meanwhile, I’m trying to keep us healthy and satisfied in the food department without spending crazy amounts of money at the grocery store. I felt pretty good about the meals I planned this week. And then I kind of messed it up with a work function that went late on Tuesday, but my intentions were good…

    Monday – Chicken Satay with brown rice and snow peas

    Tuesday – I planned for Sauteed Tilapia with Lemon-Peppercorn Pan Sauce and a pea risotto.  I didn’t feel like cooking after that work function, so I made a frozen spinach, mushroom and chicken pizza.

    Wednesday – We will have this on Friday or Saturday or sometime before the cauliflower turns into a science experiment in the fridge. Cauliflower & Chickpea Curry. No real recipe yet. Going to wing it based on several I have read. Served with brown rice.

    After discussing this menu with the fiance the other night. I blurted out, “I really want a dutch oven.” I don’t know where exactly it came from. I have no business thinking of new things for myself at this time.

    But, truth be told, I have this really awful cookware that would be really embarrassing should any foodie wander into my kitchen.

    We were laying in bed and the fiance got a wicked look in his eyes.

    Oh no. Not that* kind of Dutch oven.

    * I apologize for stooping to potty humor today. I’m tired, busy and moderately stressed.


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    Who’s the turkey now?

    Can you spot the turkey in this picture?

    I’m pretty sure she’s wearing a red polka dot apron.

    But come on, folks. Give me a break. I had just finished brining, preparing and cooking my very first turkey. (Plus 22 lbs is HEAVY! “Take the picture, Babe!”)

    And you know what?

    It was phenomenal.

    Honestly, and I’m not really bragging here because the only reason it was so good was I followed the step-by-step instructions provided by my new bloggy friend, chef and now ridiculously admired turkey hero, Chris Perrin.

    Brining is the way to go. So thank you to all those who helped convince me that spending 3 hours making 5 gallons of brine was worth it.

    Really, it was.

    I might have even impressed my future in-laws.

    Until the fiance told them that we couldn’t find the giblets anywhere. And my future mother-in-law reached in and pulled them out as she was carving the turkey. It turns out they were at the top of the bird, not in the butt.


    I think this whole turkey thing kind of consumed me for a few days. Last night, as I washed it off for the brine, I found myself  gobbling at the turkey. And  this morning  I was pretending to be a massage therapist with the butter.

    I have issues and they are fowl.

    Like I’m actually kind of sad it’s over. I’m going to miss that big fat bird. (Until tomorrow at 10 a.m. when I start thinking about the leftover deliciousness that is in my fridge.)

    RIP my little big friend.


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