Culinary Weekend Getaway

November 6, 2009

I am excited to report that today at noon is the start of a much-needed weekend getaway.  About 4 years back, while traveling to various wineries in the area, my mom happened upon a little artist community (they dub  themselves “The Art Coast of Michigan), Saugatuck.  Upon her return, she told the husband and I that we had to make a trip up there.   In researching various places to stay in the area, we found a B&B called The Kirby House, booked a stay and had the best time there!  The owners, Jim and Ray, are excellent hosts who create a warm and comforting atmosphere.  Ray is an amazing chef who provides delicious breakfasts each morning of your stay and I’m pretty sure Jim does the baking. The town of Saugatuck, itself had much to offer in the way of cuisine, wine and lots of unique shopping. 

What exactly is the culinary aspect of the getaway you ask? Well, The Kirby House offers a cooking class package twice a year.  My mom and I attended last year and had a fabulous time. Some of the dishes we prepared were stuffed pasta shells and (my favorite) butternut squash risotto.  My sister is joining us for this trip and I am looking forward to a relaxing weekend of food, wine and spending time with some of my favorite ladies.  I am certain I will have much to report back on (pictures too, promise)!  Hope everyone has a great weekend!

Non-Recipe, Recipe

October 22, 2009

I am a recipe person.  That is just all there is to it.  There is something about following the recipe and the assurance that by following it, the dish will work out.  Of course, we all know that is not always the case (especially when baking, I find).  But still, I take solace in recipes.  I oftentimes wonder as I am watching programs like Iron Chef or Top Chef how they can possibly just come up with fantastic sauces or marinades or foams all on the fly with no recipe.  I am in awe of it.  Knowing that I find it comforting to follow a recipe doesn’t bother me.  I am not a chef, so there is nothing wrong with letting someone else think up the idea and my carrying it out.  But on Monday evening I was presented with a personal challenge of sorts.

I got a call from the hubby to discuss the usual, “here’s what happened at work, who is going to pick up the little guy and oh, what should we do for dinner…”  When he says he is craving some Chicken Parmesan.  To which I reply that we’ll go to our favorite Italian place and grab some and he says he’d rather stay in.  I had already left the office and wasn’t about to go home to look up a recipe and then trek back out to the grocery where the rest of the neighborhood is at 5:30pm on a Monday.  So I challenged myself.  I cannot even count the number of times I’ve eaten Chicken Parmesan and come on, it’s a totally un-complicated thing to make.  Perfect for my first try at a non-recipe dinner!  As confident as possible, I ventured through the grocery before the craziness hit and went home to give it a whirl.  I actually was able to pull off a pretty mean Chicken Parmesan without even a cheating glimpse at a recipe. I measured nothing and let me tell you, it was pretty liberating.  My head kept focusing on the laptop perched on our dining room table begging me to do a little research but I stayed the course and got it done.

The “Guidelines:”
Because it is a non-recipe, recipe, there is no recipe for me to provide.  More like guidelines. 

First, I took about 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and butterflied them because they were massive.  I then pounded them out a little and seasoned them. 

Next, I put around 1 cup of flour onto a shallow plate and mixed in some dried oregano, garlic powder and some kosher salt and pepper. 

In a saute pan, I heated a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (and no, I will not use EVOO…ever!) along with a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter over high heat.  Once it was nice and hot, I dredged the chicken into the flour, shaking off excess and threw it into the hot oil/butter goodness. 

While those were going, I sliced some red onion pretty thin and minced 2 cloves of garlic. 

After about 3 min., I turned the chicken and after about 2 min., I pulled it out and placed it on a rimmed baking sheet that I had lined with foil. 

I then added the onions to the hot pan and after about 3-4 minutes, added the garlic as well.  Sidenote: I totally sprung for the store-bought marinara because I am not a woman who spends Sundays creating homemade marinara to freeze until needed and I’m not sure I’ll ever be, so yeah, I bought the jarred stuff.  Shoot me. 

I poured the jarred marinara over the onions, garlic, oil and butter and quickly reduced the heat.  Once it was heated through I moved the chicken off of the baking sheet long enough to put about 1/2 cup of the sauce underneath it so it wouldn’t stick. 

I then placed the chicken on top of the sauce and topped each one with more sauce.  I covered the pan with foil and let it bake for 8 minutes.  I then pulled the pan out, took the foil off, topped each breast with fresh mozzarella (makes up for the jarred sauce, I think) and put it under the broiler. 

Get some nice whole wheat/whole grain pasta – they seriously have such a great selection of good for you pastas now! I am certain my mother is bitter about all of those spaghetti meals she served us back in the day. 

Anyway, place your chicken on top of your pasta, add some more sauce, get a glass of your favorite wine, maybe some crusty bread and viola!  A non-recipe, recipe!  Should have taken a picture but by the time I thought of it, the end-product had been devoured.  Next time, though.  I definitely feel that I am less intimidated by a non-recipe meal.

Who Knew?

August 18, 2009

So, I’ve been catching up on my DVR’d episodes of Top Chef Masters and while I am not in love with it as much as I am Top Chef, it still sucks me in. Let’s face it, Kelly Choi is no Padma but she does a decent job and I really do enjoy the fact that the Master who wins each challenge gives the winnings to the charity of their choice.  Plus, the show gets these little breaths of the original Top Chef through snippets of big Tom C., the lovely (so glad she is back) Gail and this last episode even had some of my favorite previous contestants. And I do so love getting the opportunity to watch some of these chefs work – one in particular, but we’ll get to that. First, I have to talk about Rick Bayless! Such a nice guy, such amazing food and so humble. I am one of those people who ventures towards Mexican cusine when selecting an item on the menu anyway, so you get me watching Rick Bayless putting out some of his high-end, authentic, fresh and innovative Mexican cuisine and I am hooked. And then there is that personality that is just so lovable.

Art Smith was fun too. He reminds me of this couple who owns my favorite B&B in Michigan. They love cooking, entertaining, love saying “honey,” and all that good stuff. Watching him makes me want to pay them a visit asap. As much as I like Art and his pet names for all of the chefs and Rick Bayless in all of his previously stated glorious-ness, I have to say that out of everyone on the show, I am addicted to Michael Chiarello. I remember seeing him when he had a show, Easy Entertaining, on Food Network a few years back and I really did like some of his recipes but on Masters, it’s a whole different Michael. I am watching these intros that Tom C. and Gail do when they discuss the featured chef’s accomplishments and hear Tom, “he’s been out of the restaurant business for some time…just got back into it…got a lot to prove…” along these lines and they are showing clips of him in the kitchen of his place, Bottega, in – where else – Napa Valley. The man owns a vineyard for goodness sake and cooks amazing Italian food, who wouldn’t love him?! So anyway, the clips, I’m watching them and noticing, they don’t even look like the same chef. He is rougher looking, stout with salt-and-pepper hair and very much in charge looking. No fancy sweater with khakis to be seen. A look I remember him sporting on just about every episode of EE.

 After watching that first episode, I gathered that the Michael from Masters is the Michael who is truer to himself than the ‘Easy Entertaining’ Michael. And hey, nothing wrong with that…money is money, right? I’d dress like Mr. Rogers and be hokey if someone threw a TV Show my way. Here is what I think, though: I am thinking his fan base is going to grow hugely from being on this program and viewers seeing him in this whole new light. Especially with the viewers of the female variety. The look, the attitude and the food he puts out – seriously, he might be giving some of the hunky (and younger) Top Chef contestants of the past a run for their money. Move over, Sam from Season 2! If you didn’t catch the latest episode that included Dale attempting to chest-bump Chiarello and get in his face over some fridge space, you really should check that out. I know it was a little Jr. High and I will admit that he had been a jerk for testing the previous contestant’s knife skills, but I was still glued.  All caught up and awaiting the finale, I realize now that I am a larger fan of his, and in turn this show, than I thought possible and hope that I am not alone.

Dinner tomorrow night with a friend…

Secret Weapon

August 15, 2009

I thought it would only be appropriate to provide a tip in my first post, given that the reader likes to feel as though he/she leaves with something out of their time spent.  Let’s just not jump right in though; have to make you sweat, right?  One of my biggest weaknesses is under-planning.  I’ll admit it, I am the one who is always up for anything and when it gets right down to it, forgets what the heck she was up for in the first place.  Ask my friends and they will tell you (although I think I have many of them fooled by now), that I am Miss Let’s Do It until it comes down to doing it.  One of the most frequent occurences of such behavior always happens amidst the workday.  I will be bored, sitting at my computer when, oh yay, an email from a friend comes in and in my hurried response (because I’m at work, hello) I say wouldn’t it just be so lovely if you would come for dinner tonight and we would have the best time.  Of course, I belive this as I am typing it and a good time is always had but what starts out as “this will be so fun” turns into rush-hour, pick up at the sitter’s, hubby needs to shower so no help there, kind of stuff and you’ve casually invited friends to dine.  Everyone knows pasta is awesome for entertaining…easy to re-warm, stretches a buck, pairs great with the Chainti that most dinner guests bring and honestly, who doesn’t love pasta, especially when accompanied by some good crusty bread?!

Ok, so for the weapon part.  This is so bad but you should know what you are dealing with up front.  I am a subscriber (can you even say subscribe when it’s free?) of the Food and Family mag that Kraft puts out.  I know, I know, but I warned you, not a snob and this magazine has gotten me out of many hairy entertaining situations.  My secret weapon came from one of their recipes.  If you are entertaining friends with pasta, you are obviously going for a restaraunt-style pasta dish, right?  Too bad you worked all day and barely have time to change, let alone be a slave to the stove.  Rest easy, my friend, the folks at Kraft have got you covered.  Simply purchase your favorite pasta sauce – I really like the spicy tomato basil variety – simmer it on low in your sauce pan and once it is warmed through, add 1/3 of a brick of cream cheese.  It melts into the sauce beautifully and makes a creamy, light sauce that everyone will think is homemade.  To go the extra mile, I often sautee garlic and onion before adding the sauce and sometimes will add criminis while simmering.  Even by itself, it makes a darn good sauce and people will think you stood over a simmering pot.  If you think I am crazy (and/or lazy) that’s fine and if it isn’t good enough to try on your week-night dinner guests, try it on yourself.  Trust me, you will not be disappointed.