Saturday, February 28, 2009

Mistakes and Leftovers Casserole!

I accidentally opened a can of stewed tomatoes and didn't want to waste them (my dad's Depression era influence is showing!), so I opened my fridge and found a few leftovers that would work together! Woohoo! Dinner!

1 Tbl. olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 bell pepper (mine was red; they're the ripest), sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced (or 2 frozen cubes, 1/4 tsp. powder, or 2 tsp. jarred)
1 small zucchini, quartered and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 Tbl. water
1 poblano pepper, de-seeded, washed, and sliced horizontally (for smaller pieces) (Plastic gloves are a good idea. If the pepper isn't completely ripe, the juice might burn your hands where it touches. If this happens, use a mix of 1/2 water and 1/2 apple cider vinegar—doesn't have to be exact--and submerge the burned parts. This is my mother's first aid, and I've found that it works better than any commercial product or any medical advice I've ever used, seen, or heard! You may have to do it a few times, but it DOES work! A little aloe gel afterwards keeps it from blistering, if the burn is minor.)
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. oregano leaves, crushed when adding
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 14.5 oz. can stewed tomatoes (my "oops" moment!)
Juice of 1 lime
6 eggs (4 would work, too, but it makes less!)
1 Tbl. milk or water
Cheddar cheese, grated

OPT: sliced green onions and/or sour cream for garnish (Sour cream will lessen any heat intensity in the event of rogue seeds or an extra warm poblano pepper!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large skillet, sauté onion until slightly cooked. Add pepper and garlic, and cook until pepper is softened. Add the zucchini and water, cover, and steam for a couple of minutes (I was in a bigger hurry than I had time to sauté the zucchini!). Add the pepper and spices, and mix everything together. Let it cook for a minute, so the spices are fragrant. Add the tomatoes, stir, and cook for 3 or 4 minutes.  Add the lime juice, and again, mix everything together. Pour into an oil-sprayed 9x13 baking dish. Set aside.

Crack eggs into a mixing bowl; add liquid. Beat with a whisk or a fork until it's smooth. Gently pour over vegetable mixture. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top, using a lot if you like things cheesy!

Cover and bake it for 30 minutes. The melted cheese will make this creamy, and the small amounts of spices make it interesting without being overwhelming! Garnish with sour cream and green onions, if you'd like. MMMMMM!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Broccoli Divan

2 heads broccoli crowns, cut into florets (or 1 1 lb. package frozen broccoli florets)
4 Tbl. butter (1/4 cup)
4 Tbl. flour (1/4 cup)
2 cups milk or vegetable broth
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use Kraft)
1/16 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Steam or microwave the broccoli until it's crisp tender.  (Steam for 8 minutes, or microwave on a dinner plate in 2 batches, each with 1 Tbl. water added and zapped for 4-5 minutes.)  Lay it in a 9 x 13 baking dish.

In a small sauce pan, melt the butter.  Whisk in the flour, and sauté it until it's lightly browned. Add the liquid slowly, whisking as you pour, so that you end with a smooth consistency.  Cook and stir until the liquid has thickened.  (If it's bubbling in the middle, even a bubble or two, that's probably as thick as it's going to get!)  Turn off the heat.

Stir in the mayonnaise until the consistency is smooth.  Stir in the garlic powder, onion powder, and lemon juice.  Pour over broccoli.  Sprinkle cheese over top.

Cover and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.  

This is good with garlic bread and field greens dressed with vinaigrette.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Crab Dip Casserole

In our family, we have a fantastic crab dip recipe. I was trying to figure out a way to convert it into a casserole, and came up with this variation. YUM.

The Recipe
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups cheddar cheese
2 cups mayonnaise
4 cups crab (or imitation crab), shredded (equal to one whole 16-oz package of imitation crab, flake style)
1 package frozen cauliflower
1 package frozen beans, green or white (I used the Brittany Blend from Trader Joe's: a mix of green beans, wax beans and baby carrots, and it was FANTASTIC - AND pretty!)
1/4 cup bread crumbs (optional)
2 Tbs Parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.
Mix all ingredients except bread crumbs and Parmesan in a large baking dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and Parmesan.
Bake uncovered for 40 minutes or until you can hear it sizzling when you open the oven.
*You might find that it needs salt and pepper to taste. I didn't add it to the recipe, because it's such an individual preference.

Fresh from the oven:

Served up in a bowl:

It takes about 10 minutes to assemble, and this should feed 6-8 people.
DEFINITELY serve salad with this. It's really rich, and you'll need something to cut the richness.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Shrimp: Two Ways, One Method

I really love grilled shrimp, but in the winter I'm not going outside to mess with the grill. So I figured out how to bake them in the oven! Below are 2 separate shrimp recipes, but since the prep and cooking method is exactly the same for each, you can actually make them at the same time. I've been known to buy 1 pound of shrimp, and do 1/2 of each pound a different way. ;)

Proportions given are for 1 pound of shrimp (about 21-25 count) per recipe, which should feed 4-6 as an appetizer or 2 hungry adults as an entree. I cook these with the peel on, but deveined - usually sold in the grocery as "easy-peel shrimp."

Recipe #1: Spicy Shrimp and Tartar Sauce
1 pound large raw shrimp (21-25 count)
3 Tbs unsalted butter, melted (Do NOT use salted butter - the seafood seasoning has salt already in it.)
1 Tbs seafood seasoning (Old Bay or equivalent)
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray 2 cookie sheets with non-stick spray.
Toss all ingredients together in a bowl. Lay the shrimp out on the baking sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes, turning halfway through.


Tartar Sauce:
Edited to add: the first recipe below is MY recipe. Underneath that one I added my mom's. As it turned out, I was trying to make her recipe, but I was using Kosher pickles instead of regular dill ones. Kosher ones have garlic, LOL. Both recipes are good, but for these particular shrimp, I'd use the second one - my mom's. :)
The second tartar sauce recipe below is my mom's recipe, which she invented by reading the back of a bottled tartar sauce jar and playing around with proportions and extra ingredients until she liked it. (She did it when I was too young to remember, so growing up I had NO IDEA you could just buy tartar sauce in the store. I thought it always had to be made from scratch!) I like it because it's not sweet at all; it's a savory sauce with a lot of dill.

1 cup mayo
2 tsp dried minced onion
2 tsp dill weed
2 tsp dill seed
4 tsp Kosher dill pickle juice
1 Kosher dill pickle spear, chopped as finely as you can.
Mix ingredients together and allow to chill for 2 hours. (The longer the better: you want the dried spices to soften up a little.)
*Note: I like my tartar sauce VERY dill-flavored. If you want a subtler flavor, use half the amount of dill weed, dill seed and pickle juice.

1 cup mayo
2 tsp dried minced onion
2 tsp dill weed OR dill seed (or 1 tsp each)
3 tsp dill pickle juice (NOT Kosher - don't make my mistake, LOL!)
1 dill pickle, chopped finely (again - NOT Kosher)
Mix together and allow to chill for 2 hours. The longer the better, for the same reason as above. :)

Recipe #2: Lemon-Caper Shrimp with Almost-Aioli Dipping Sauce
1 lb large raw shrimp (21-25 count)
2 Tbs capers
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup
sprinkle of salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese for dusting

Almost the same method as before, with one additional step: preheat the oven to 350F, toss everything but the cheese together in a bowl and lay out on 2 baking sheets. Spoon the leftover sauce at the bottom of the bowl over the shrimp. Then sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top and bake for 10-12 minutes, turning once (halfway through).


Almost-Aioli Dipping Sauce:
1 cup mayo
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp capers
2 tsp caper brine
2 Tbs lemon juice (about 1 lemon, squeezed)
1/2 tsp pepper
4 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
Mix together in a bowl and allow to chill for an hour or so.

I serve both of these dishes over salad (sometimes with a piece of garlic bread), but they'd also be fantastic over lightly buttered pasta. You could even serve them up over rice pilaf, with a small salad on the side.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Quick Almost Lasagna

*8 oz. rotelle (this is fun to see in the cut casserole, so it's my favorite!), macaroni, bowties, or any other 1/2 packages of pasta that are lurking in your cupboard!  (*NOTE:  see below for non-pasta option!)

1 12-oz. chub "Gimme Lean" veggie protein, Ground Sausage Style.  (This is in the refrigerated section in grocery stores.  In our area, there is also "Smart Meat," and I've never used it, but another daughter has, and she really likes it!)

2 8-oz. cans tomato sauce
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. basil leaves, crushed as adding
1 tsp. fennel seeds (the "sausage" has some of this, but this addition gives it a real kick)
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup water
12 oz. green beans (I use frozen, but any will work)
16 oz. cottage cheese
8 oz. grated cheese--any will work!  Mozzarella, jack, cheddar, Velveeta, etc.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cook and drain your pasta.

In a large skillet (sprayed with vegetable oil spray), brown the "meat."  (Veggie meat is sticky, so don't expect it to act like "real" meat!  I don't usually add oil, but it does make the browning process easier!)

Add the tomato sauce, spices, water, and green beans, and cook until the green beans are done, about 15-20 minutes.

In a 9x9 baking dish, layer 1/2 the pasta, 1/2 the "meat" sauce, 1/2 the cottage cheese, and 1/2 the "your choice" cheese.  Repeat the layers.  

Put the casserole dish on a foil-covered and sprayed (veg. spray) cookie sheet to avoid spills and clean-ups!  Bake at 375 degrees F. for 30 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned.  

4 generous or 6 medium servings.  Add salad with a vinaigrette dressing and garlic bread for hearty eaters or more people!  MMMMM!

*NOTE:  If you don't want pasta, increase the green bean amount to 1 1/2 lbs (24 oz.), cook them separately, and use them as pasta!  It's really good, and it's how I usually make this!  Still MMMMMM!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Better-Than-Everyone-Else's Meatloaf

Meatloaf gets a bad rap. It’s perceived as this horrible, unhealthy thing, but honestly if you look at the ingredients, it’s NOT bad. The only questionable ingredient is usually the bread crumbs (though it usually works out to between ½ and 1 tablespoon per serving, so it’s still not a LOT of bread), but other than that, it’s pretty healthy.

This is an adaptation of a recipe that my friend’s mom used to make. The original recipe called for a pound of ground beef and 1/3 pound Italian sausage, PLUS onion soup mix and bacon on the top. Holy cow, it was good. It was also a heart attack waiting to happen! Ha! So after monkeying around with the ingredients and the proportions, I came up with this. I included all the seasonings for Italian sausage, and the ingredients for onion soup mix (well, the non-chemical ingredients, anyway). The bacon stayed, because come on, IT’S BACON. YUM. Since I used ground sirloin (less than 10% fat) and no sausage, I added 2 Tablespoons of cream to compensate for the lack of fat (because that’s what makes it juicy).

I will confess that I TOTALLY FORGOT to take a picture of this, but you know, it's meatloaf. They all pretty much look the same. Oops.

This turned out to be reasonably healthy (all things considered – a little high in salt, but otherwise good), and 99% as good as the original. Woo-hoo!

The Recipe

Approx 1 ¼ lb ground sirloin
2/3 chopped onion (or 2/3 cup of pre-diced onion)
2/3 cup Italian breadcrumbs
½ cup chopped parsley (1 small plastic package from the grocery store, or 1/3 of a bunch)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbs whipping cream
1 clove minced garlic
¼ tsp red pepper flakes (optional, if you like slightly spicy food)
1 TBS fennel seed
½ tsp pepper
4 tsp dried onion
1 Tbs beef bouillon
½ tsp onion powder

Top with:
3 strips bacon, cut in ½ width-wise (so you have 6 short fat pieces, not 6 long thin ones.)
1 Tbs ketchup, smeared over top

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Put everything but the ketchup and bacon in a bowl. Squash it up with your hands. (Don’t use a spoon or a fork; your fingers allow more air into the mixture, which makes for a lighter meatloaf.)

Put the mixture in a loaf pan, and top with the bacon slices and ketchup. (You’ll probably have to use your hands to smear the ketchup around evenly, and there won’t be much of it – that’s GOOD.)

Cover and bake at 350 for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Remember to share with the other people in the house. ;)

Good with:
Salad and dinner rolls.
Baked potatoes and creamed spinach.
Salad and broccoli with cheese or butter.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stewed Prunes (They're good. I SWEAR.)

Ok, I already know what you're thinking: PRUNES? Like GRANDMA ate??

Yes. Seriously. SO GOOD. No lie.

My grandma ate them occasionally for breakfast, mixed into oatmeal, but I like them for dessert.

Yes, really. STOP LAUGHING! ;)

But obviously . . . be careful with these. "Moderation" is the key word here. (Except for me. Curiously, they do not have the "usual" effect on me, but YOU should be careful. Don't say I didn't warn you.)

When you cook prunes this way, they develop a really deep, rich taste, sort of similar to dark chocolate. Do I have your attention now? Plus, they're jam-packed with iron. So here we go:

The Recipe:

Get some prunes. Just toss them into a little pot, like this:

Now add some red wine and some water, in roughly equal parts, to cover the prunes, like this:

If you like your chocolate dark and bitter, don't add any sweetener. If you like sweeter chocolate, add a spoonful of sugar. (I feel a song coming on . . . )

Then put it on the stove and bring it to a boil. When it boils, turn the heat down as LOW AS POSSIBLE, and let them sit there on the heat for, oh, about 45 minutes or so. Go watch some TV or something.

When they're done, some of the liquid will have boiled away, and that's ok. Mine look like this:

Now. The way to serve these is technically over mascarpone cheese. If you don't have that, you can substitute cream cheese or ricotta cheese. Just spoon it into the bowl, and spoon a few prunes and a little juice over the top. But I must confess that one night when I was without any of the above, I just poured some prunes into a bowl and topped them with light sour cream. And they were SO GOOD. The tartness of the sour cream was perfect mixed in with the sweetness of the prunes. I think I actually liked it better than any of the cheeses. YUM. I ate it with a glass of red wine, while watching Law & Order. Like this:


YES, REALLY. Just try it. ;)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"What I Ate for Dinner"

So Mom and I were talking, and we realized that sometimes the best "recipes" aren't really recipes at all. Sometimes the stuff we make is a hodge-podge of store-bought items, thrown together in a short and/or easy method.

So we decided to include a Label called "What I Ate for Dinner." These are things we didn't really feel deserved the title of "recipe," but they are useful "quickie" sorts of dishes, nonetheless. The kind of thing where you could buy 2 or 3 prepared ingredients at the store, put them together and call it a meal.

So when you see that label, be advised that there may or may not be exact proportions. There may or may not be things you already have on hand. But there will DEFINITELY be something with a few ingredients that you either have, or can pick up at the market on the way home, and have food on the table super-fast. There will be desserts, breakfasts, lunches and dinners, but the label will always be "What I Ate for Dinner."

Marlyle's Green Bean Casserole

When I became a vegetarian, I set out to buy a vegetarian cookbook, only to discover that they were all pasta cookbooks. Okay, not only pasta; they also included rice, other grains, and beans. But the thought that one could eat and enjoy well-seasoned vegetables seemed not to exist! And, knowing my body, I knew I would gain about 400 lbs. the first year, if I followed the odd notion that vegetarians needed heavy carbs to get filled up!

So, I went home, looked in my freezer, grabbed the green beans, and started thinking things like, Onions go well with most things, and so does garlic.... This is the first dish I made as a vegetarian. My family liked it then, and now we all consider it comfort food. And if it's comfort food, the beans are well-cooked! None of that "crisp-tender" stuff! LOL!

I hope you enjoy this!

1 Tbl olive or canola oil

1 medium onion, halved vertically and thinly sliced horizontally (halving the onion first makes it easier to slice!)

1 clove garlic, minced (or 1 cube frozen, 1 tsp. jarred, 1/8 tsp powder)

1 Tbl fresh thyme, chopped (or 1 tsp. dried leaves, crushed between your fingers as you add it)

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/4 tsp. black ground pepper

1/2 tsp. paprika (plain, not smoked)

1-1 1/2 lbs. fresh (cleaned) or frozen (easier!) green beans. (1 lb. makes 2 large servings and is baked in an 8x8 square baking dish; 1 1/2 lbs. makes 4 medium servings and is baked in an 8x10 baking dish. The extra beans dilute the onion, garlic, thyme, and paprika flavors somewhat, but it's not enough to make me want to chop and add more of them!)

2 Tbl. water

2-3 ozs. cream cheese (2 if using 1 lb. beans, 3 if using 1 1/2 lbs.)

Optional: 4-6 Morningstar Farms breakfast patties, diced in 1/2 inch pieces (This adds a lot of flavor and makes the dish more filling. Use 4 patties in 1 lb. beans, 6 in 1 1/2 lbs.)

1/3-1/2 c. shredded jack or cheddar cheese (same division for green bean amounts!)

1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray baking dish with oil spray, and set aside

In a large pot--I use my soup pot--heat the oil, and sauté onions until soft. Add garlic and continue cooking another minute or two, until you can smell the wonderful scent of garlic and onions! (One of my daughters can't smell, but I'm certain that anomaly doesn't apply to everyone else, too!) Add the thyme, paprika, salt, and pepper, and stir into the onion mixture. Add the green beans and water. Stir the beans and onions until they're mixed. Cover and cook on low heat until the beans are almost as done as you like them. (It's okay to taste them if you're uncertain.) I usually cook them past bright green and into dark green, edging into the weird green that signifies "overcooked" in the crisp-tender vernacular! (I think that's about 15-20 minutes, but I'm a "taster!")

Once the beans are as done as you'd like them to be, add the cream cheese in 3 or 4 chunks (this helps it to melt faster), stirring it occasionally as it melts. Once it's melted, stir the whole mixture until the cream cheese is distributed evenly throughout the beans. Here is where you add the diced patties, if you're using them. Heat them through, and stir them so they have cream cheese on them, too. Note: over-stirring them causes them to break apart.

Pour the mix into the appropriate sized baking dish. Sprinkle your cheese choice across the casserole, and top with the Parmesan.

If you like a browned-cheese top, leave it uncovered, and bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees. (This will also make a drier casserole.)

IF, however, you like a creamy dish, cover it!!! Bake it for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees.

This is how I serve it as "comfort food," and we devour its creamy goodness in the living room in front of the tv and the fireplace, with the window open. (Hey, we live in Southern California, so we have to make some concessions to sitting in front of a cheerfully burning fire in the fireplace, like letting the heat out of the house, so we don't bake to death!) If dinner is late, or if I'm serving this to others, I usually add garlic bread and salad with balsamic dressing. MMMM!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Beef and Mushroom (or just Mushroom) Pot Pie

Ok, I'm not going to lie. This one takes a little time, but it's TOTALLY worth it. It's fantastic on a weekend afternoon when you want something warm and comforting for dinner. It's also a good company dish, because you can prepare it all the way up to putting in the baking dish, and then just add the crust and pop it in the oven at the very end.

It's already pretty substantial, but if you feel the need for a side dish, add a salad with some olive oil and red wine vinegar for dressing. Mmmmmmm.

The Recipe:

1 Tbs canola oil
¾ lb beef* (I used beef already cut into stir-fry pieces, and just chopped it a little smaller)
1 medium red onion, cut into large chunks
2 leeks, white part only, sliced into rings (optional)*
2 pinches salt
¼ tsp pepper
3 Tbs dried rosemary
2 Tbs dried thyme
1 lb mushrooms, sliced (I use a 10oz. bag of pre-sliced crimini mushrooms, and 1 6oz. package of portabello mushrooms that I chop myself)*

4 Tbs butter
4 Tbs flour (about ¼ cup)
½ cup milk
½ cup red wine
½ cup beef broth*

½ cup Parmesan cheese
a few springs of fresh thyme and rosemary (optional)
1-2 sheets puff pastry (optional)

*Vegetarian version:
Instead of beef and beef broth, use 10 more oz of sliced mushrooms (so 26oz total), vegetable broth, and DEFINITELY use the leeks. It will be FANTASTIC.


In a large pan, heat the canola oil. When it’s hot enough that you can swirl it around the pan like water, add the beef, a pinch of salt and the pepper. Cook over high heat until the beef is seared on all sides. Add the chopped red onion and leeks (if using). Turn the heat to medium-high and cook until the onions begin to soften. Add all the mushrooms, rosemary and thyme, and sprinkle with the other pinch of salt.

Stir the beef/mushroom mixture together, turn the heat to low, and cover. Let simmer for about 15 minutes.

While the mushroom mixture simmers, make the gravy:
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over high heat. Add the flour, a little at a time, whisking constantly. Continue whisking for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture starts to brown. It will be all bubbly and will look thicker than it is. SLOWLY add the liquids, a teeny bit at a time. When all the liquid is added, the sauce will be thick, but that’s ok, because there will be liquid in the mushroom pot (from the mushrooms), and that will thin it out. (Also, the mixture will turn purple because of the wine. Don’t panic; it won’t look purple when the dish is finished.) Turn the heat to low and let it sit. At this point, it will be fine on its own for a minute or two.

Note: If you’ve never made a roux, you will see right off the bat that the liquid will bind to the flour and you will end up with scary-looking purple dough. You will think you screwed it up. YOU DIDN’T. IT’S FINE. Just keep adding liquid and whisking. It will get saucier in a minute. (I can’t tell you how many perfectly good sauces I threw out when they got doughy, because I thought I did something wrong. I wish someone had told me it wasn’t my fault!)

Uncover the mushrooms, and check them. They should be soft, but not mushy. Pour the purple gravy into the pot, and simmer, uncovered, over low heat for 5-10 minutes. (This is the part where I wash up the other pots, because my kitchen is TINY.)

NOW. You can either eat it just like that, as a stew (which I do pretty regularly), or you can put the crust on.

For the crust: Heat the oven to 400. Pour the mushroom mixture into an 8x10-inch baking dish. (If you’re making the vegetarian version, you’ll need the big 10x14-inch dish. More veggies = more bulk.) Top it with the Parmesan cheese, and optional fresh herbs (as shown).

Unfold one sheet of puff pastry and lay it over the top. I don’t bother with cutting it to fit, or with pressing down the edges. I just lay it there, like this:

Place the baking dish on a cookie sheet (in case it boils over) and put it in the oven for 30 minutes. When the pastry is all puffy and golden on the top, pull it out. It should look like this:

Ta-da! (If you want it to be prettier, cut a second sheet of puff pastry in half and cover the whole pie before you put it in the oven.)

But be warned. There will be no leftovers. SERIOUSLY.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

If You Eat, You Can Cook

No, really. You CAN. I'm not kidding. You! Over there! STOP LAUGHING!!! ;)

I know there are people reading this (or who WILL read this) who already know how to cook. But I've talked to innumerable people over the last few months who really profess that they don't know how to cook. So if you're one of those people, listen up. You can cook. I promise.

Humans have been cooking for thousands of years. Ever since Grog threw a leftover mastodon rib on the fire to incinerate it, and came out of the cave a few hours later grunting, "Hey, that smells GOOD," we have been cooking. It's surprisingly easy to learn. I am of the firm (and totally unscientific opinion) that it's probably encoded somewhere in our DNA at this point. It's CERTAINLY more instinctive than reading or writing, and yet most of us learn to both read AND write, but a lot of us (at least here in the U.S.) never learn to cook.

But here's the big secret: if you eat - if you've ever eaten anything, ANYTHING AT ALL, that you LIKED - you can cook.

Because 99% of cooking just boils down to knowing what you like. Hate nuts? DON'T COOK WITH THEM. Ta-da! Cooking lesson the first, right there. ;) Even if you aren't familiar with cooking, you probably know of at least a few things that you like or dislike. Fresh tuna. Canned tuna. Tomatoes. Eggplant. Beef. Pork. Tofu. Soy sauce. Pasta. At least one or two of those things elicited either a YUM response or an EW, NO WAY response. That's the first step. Beyond that, think about what you like and WHY you like it. Like Thai food? Why? Because it's spicy? Then you will probably like other spicy food: chili sauce, jalapenos, buffalo wing sauce, etc. Hate spicy food? Then you know you WON'T cook with those ingredients, no matter what the recipe says.

See, here's the thing: the surest way to cook something that tastes good, is to cook what YOU think will taste good. Yeah, ok, we all have individual preferences (when I'm just cooking for myself I add WAY more garlic than I would otherwise because I LOVE IT - no, really: I can eat it RAW), but you'd be amazed to discover how many people like the same things that you do. (But not raw garlic. Unless you're cooking for me. Most other people don't like it so much. Who knew?)

And the only way to figure out what you like? Is to eat. And then cook. Try it. Experiment. If you don't have an ingredient, imagine what that ingredient tastes like (sweet? salty? sour? tangy? creamy?) and see if you have something else in the fridge that is similar. Swap it out and see what happens.

Cooking is a gloriously messy endeavor. No, not in the too-many-pots-and-pans sense (dude, I'd never do it if I had to dirty every pan in the house). It's messy in the sense that you can swap out ingredients, tinker with cooking times and methods, alter amounts, WHATEVER, and it usually stands a reasonably good chance of tasting just fine. Sometimes it'll taste better than other times, but it will really be the rare dish that is totally inedible. (Don't try this with baking. Baking is SERIOUS, people. Mess with the amount of yeast in your bread dough and it WILL NOT BE PRETTY. I'M NOT KIDDING. Follow baking directions to the LETTER. See how many capital letters I used? That's because I'M SERIOUS. ;D)

And let's be honest. In the Western world, cooking is love. Think about coming home from school, or camping out at the kitchen table with your homework, while the smell of dinner cooking permeates the air. I still can't smell onions frying without feeling like a little kid. My whole body relaxes: it's like a drug. I know I'm in a HOME when I smell cooking onions.

And cooking for yourself is LOVING yourself. Cooking for others is loving them too, in ways they will always remember. Seriously. Think about eating cookies at your grandma's house, or tuna noodle casserole (if like me, you had family from the Midwest and South U.S.). Certain holidays wouldn't be holidays without certain dishes. What's Thanksgiving without turkey? For me, Christmas will always mean Shrimp fra Diavolo, even though we only made it once, because it was such an ordeal. (Do not EVER decide to devein 5 pounds of shrimp at once, even when your mom thinks it's a good idea. It takes FOREVER.) I hear folks in England cook goose on Christmas (that's on my list of things to try; I've never had goose and I'm SO CURIOUS).

Food is our connection to our family, our culture, our SELVES. All the way back to Grog in the cave. When I roast a chicken, in some primal way, I'm reaching back through time to touch hands with my grandmother, my great-grandmother, with my great-GREAT-grandmother, all the way back, through generations I don't even remember, parent after parent, all placing a bird over a heat source in order to feed a family.

There are not many things like that left. Not many things that connect us all the way back to ancestors who have long since faded out of time and memory. But placing a foodstuff over a fire, or even slicing it up and eating it raw . . . those things are as embedded in us as the fight-or-flight instinct.

If you can eat, you can cook. And you will never be sorry you learned how.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hello and welcome!

So a while back, Mom and I decided to write a bunch of recipes and launch a cooking show. But that was too much work. Mostly work that we didn't really know how to go about doing, even though I live in LA and work in the film industry. So we decided to write a cookbook. But . . . it turns out that writing? Is a lot of work - without a lot of feedback. And I can't speak for Mom, but I LIVE for feedback. Seriously. And the thought of writing a cookbook, all those recipes, for a year or a year and a half without hearing people tell me how fantastic we were or how horrible we were? The stuff of nightmares, I tell you! ;)

No, really. We like to cook. I eat meat, and she doesn't. And not to toot my mom's horn for her, but her recipes? ROCK. They're not all grain- and pasta-based, so you won't overload on simple carbs while trying to maintain a vegetarian lifestyle, and they ACTUALLY TASTE GOOD. I know, I know. Vegetarian food usually tastes like health food. (Well, in my opinion, anyway.) But hers does NOT. Even meat-eaters like my mom's food. Even *I* like my mom's food!

And as for me, well, I learned from the best. (I wonder if that will get me a good birthday present? Mom? No? Crap.) I do usually cook with meat, although a lot of my recipes are alterable to fit a veggie lifestyle.

And the reason for a blog? Well, eventually we hope to use the content from here to launch a cooking website that will include everything from advanced recipes to easy, throw-it-together-in-10-minutes dinners. (If that last subject is your preference, search labels for "What I Ate For Dinner.")

ANYWAY. I'll stop rambling now. Things you should know:
I'll post a new recipe every Sunday.
Mom will post a new recipe every Wednesday.
In between we might post extra recipes, funny stories about dinners (and dinner disasters - ask Mom about my Minute Rice), random soapbox essays, whatever.
We probably won't post every day (at least in the beginning), but you're guaranteed new content Sunday and Wednesday.

We hope you'll come back and tell us how the recipes worked out for you! :)