Archive for the ‘Cooking with Friends’ Category


Eggplant Pasta

September 8, 2010

I extended my 3 day weekend into a 5 day weekend and really enjoyed the time off. I went to the spa with my Mom, did some shopping, lunching, decorating and exercising – it was a much needed break. I still cooked, but I also ate out with friends. Photos were starting to pile up, so I knew I needed to get going on a post or two.

My girlfriend Deede came over Monday afternoon with all of the ingredients for Alton Brown’s Eggplant Pasta. Her neighbor grows eggplants and tomatoes – score! We ran a couple of errands for another project and then got started on dinner for everyone. We doubled the recipe for 5 people and had a lot left over.

Giant eggplants and tomatoes

The Ingredients:

2 Medium to Large Eggplants – We used 2.5 giant eggplants
Kosher Salt – used to purge the water out of the eggplant slices
4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Garlic Oil Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Chile Flakes
4 Small Tomatoes – seeded and chopped
1/2 Cup Cream
4 Tablespoons Basil – chiffonade
1/4 Cup Parmesan – freshly grated
Freshly Ground Pepper

Deede got started on peeling the eggplant. The recipe said to leave 1 inch of skin at the top and the bottom, we didn’t do that.

The next step was to cut the eggplant into 1.4 inch slices to get it ready for salting.

Evenly coat each slice with the kosher salt and purge on a rack for 30 minutes. We had 4 racks going at once.

It’s pretty cool to see how much moisture comes out of the eggplant – big drops of water coated every piece.

Rinse with cold water and roll in paper towels to dry.

Slice the pieces into thin strips to resemble pasta. This is when we realized the importance of uniformity. Some of the comments on the Food Network website suggested slicing the initial 1/4 inch thick pieces on a mandoline. Not sure it could have handled the huge size of our eggplants, but definitely worth doing if you have smaller eggplant and actually own a mandoline.

Heat the oil over medium to high heat in a large sauté pan. Add the garlic and chili flakes and toast. We had two pans going at once.

Add the eggplant “pasta” and toss to coat. We let the eggplant cook for about 3-5 minutes. Then add the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes. Add the cream and increase heat to thicken sauce. Finally add the basil and Parmesan and toss to combine. Season with pepper, no salt needed as the eggplant will have residual salt from the purge process. Serve immediately.

The chile flakes definitely added a zing to this dish. If you don’t want the heat, you could definitely omit or use a lot less. As soon as I dove in, I was busy thinking up additional possibilities – adding sautéed spinach or kale, artichoke hearts, more cheese, a buttered panko topping, etc.  I’m excited to try the dish with some tweaks.

Dan was not a fan – he did try the dish, but opted to fill up on the other items – Caesar salad and fresh bread.

Deede’s husband has put the dish in his “favorites” category. So now I have a zucchini pasta substitute thanks to the slicer and another option with eggplant. To be honest, I am not a huge fan of eggplant, unless it’s breaded and fried, hah! but in this form, I really enjoyed it. The slime factor was absent and the salt purge was definitely the secret to that.

No worries, I haven’t given up pasta – I also made a real pasta dish over the weekend and will be posting that next.


Kielbasa and Apple Kabobs

July 14, 2010

I apparently didn’t get enough sodium from the Pretzel Dogs Friday night – I decided to continue the sodium fest theme through Saturday evening.

I am a huge fan of the kabob. Nothing beats being able to cook everything at once on the grill. I was looking online for different kabob recipes and stumbled upon a Kielbasa and Apple Kabob that really looked interesting. I love that the website has lots of reviews for every recipe. Most of the kabob reviews stated that they were surprised at how good they ended up tasting.

Why not? I knew I wanted to give the recipe a try. Our friends were game for being guinea pigs – so I ran with it.

The Ingredients:

I had a weird setting on the camera and didn’t notice until it was too late – it created a lovely haze on the products, whoops!

1/4 Cup Sugar
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
3/4 Cup Cranberry Juice
2 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Soy Sauce
1 Pound Fully Cooked Kielbasa or Polish Sausage – cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces – I used 2 lbs.
2 Medium Tart Apples – cut into wedges – I used 3 Granny Smith Apples
1 Medium Sweet Red Pepper – cut into 1-inch pieces – I used a combo of red and orange peppers
1 Medium Green Pepper – cut into 1-inch pieces – I didn’t use green, because I already had the orange and thought the green from the apples would be enough

I prepped my keilbasa, apples and peppers and got them onto the metal skewers.

I was able to make 5 large kabobs out of the ingredients. I got the kabobs covered and placed them into the fridge while I prepped the glaze.

In a saucepan, I combined the sugar and cornstarch.

I gave it a good mixing before adding the cranberry juice, cider vinegar and soy sauce.

Bring the sauce/glaze to a boil – cook and stir for several minutes – I had mine on the burner for about 4 minutes.

The sauce smelled delicious. I used a brush to coat the kabobs before placing them on the grill.

While the kabobs were grilling, my girlfriend Michelle and I were thinking of different combos we could use with the glaze. I thought it would be screamin’ good with chicken and pineapple – she mentioned nectarines and chicken – both of us thought the cranberry juice could be switched out with orange, mango, etc.

I kept turning the kabobs – which became quite comical with my big BBQ mit and tongs – I think I finally got it down on the second to last kabob.

I can’t say enough about the flavor. The sweet and tangy combo of glazed kielbasa and apples were awesome! I loved the texture of the apples. They were just soft enough, but they still had crunch to them.  The glaze/kielbasa combo made me want to eat an entire plate of just that. Yum x’s 10.  I think you could pretty much put the glaze on anything and it would taste good. O.k., maybe not everything… hah!

I made wild rice as a side dish and also had a loaf of rustic European bread – fresh from the bakery.

The dinner get together was a huge success! We ended the evening with a plate of cake samples. Michelle stopped at a local bakery and got a great selection – lemon cooler cake, lady finger and choc. cake, almond cake with berries and raspberry cream torte – not sinful at all.

I love getting together with friends to share lots of laughs and a good meal.


Pretzel Dogs

July 13, 2010

When Dan and I had our overnight camp out with people from his work, some of the other wives were talking about their love of Craig’s List and all of the great “furniture deals” they have found. One of the wives was talking about how she refinished a farm table for her backyard. It sounded fabulous!

I logged into the site late last week and found something that interested me. I’ve been looking for a distressed black dining room table with a leaf . You would think that would be a pretty easy thing to find. Sure, for$1000 plus – Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, Ballard Designs – no problem.

My Dad has refinished some pretty fabulous pieces for me over the years and I’ve been on the hunt at consignment stores to find another table project. He’s getting backed up with projects – refinishing a piano, a sewing table, tiled coffee table – I knew it was going to be a while.

I found a black table without a leaf – I was primarily interested in the wooden chairs – they looked pretty sturdy. I became more interested when I saw that the price for the table and 4 chairs was $115.00. I jumped at the deal. My parents lived close to the seller, so they went and checked out the dining set. It needed to be cleaned, had some scratches and marks – but they thought I would like it. They loaded it into their truck and even delivered it.

I got some new cleaning products, touched up the scratches and purchased some chair cushions and placemats and it was good to go. I snapped a quick photo with my iPhone. Sucky lighting, but I doubt anyone minds.

I am still on the hunt for a table with a leaf – but the chairs are definitely worth keeping – super comfortable, even without the pads. Now I need a lighter carpet to switch things up a bit. I even managed to sell my old table and chairs at a garage sale over the weekend – $225.00 – woohoo!

The First Meal…

My BFF Hilly joined me for my first meal at the new table. I found a recipe online for pretzel dogs. I’ve been obsessed with pretzel dough croissants and bread at the farmer’s market, so I wanted to see what I could do with the left over package of turkey dogs from the 4th of July. (My niece doesn’t like hamburgers, so I got them for her).

I found a recipe on the San Jose Examiner’s website from April 2010 in honor of National Pretzel Day. It was supposed to be an easy Auntie Anne’s Pretzel knock-off recipe.

The Ingredients:

1 Package of Hot Dogs
1 Can Pillsbury Refrigerated Breadstick Dough – 12 breadsticks
1 Cup Water
3 Tablespoons Baking Soda
Coarse Sea Salt

Preheat Oven to 400 degrees.

Spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray (I didn’t use enough – give it a really good coating because mine still stuck a little bit)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and drop in the hot dogs for 3-4 minutes. Remove and cool enough to handle.

Separate the refrigerated breadsticks. Starting at one end, leaving about an inch of hot dog exposed, wrap the dog with the dough.

Use the extra dough to make regular breadsticks – a package of dogs is 8 and you will have 4 extra, so twist 2 together to form two breadsticks.

Boil 1 cup of water and pour into a bowl large enough to fit a dough wrapped hot dog.

Add 3 tablespoons of baking soda to the boiling water and mix well – it will fizz up…

Dip each dough wrapped hot dog in the water/soda mixture for 30 seconds, turning so that all sides are coated.

The dough will start to unwrap a little bit, just re-wrap the ends if that happens. Place each dipped dog on the prepared baking sheet after dunking.

Sprinkle coarse salt over the tops of each pretzel dog. I definitely used too much, you really don’t need a lot due to the hot dogs already being pretty high in sodium.

Bake in the 400 degree oven until golden brown. They suggested 5-10 minutes – mine took the full 10 minutes. Watch carefully – check at 5, you don’t want the dough to burn.

Remove from oven and serve with your favorite hot dog condiments – We went with mustard.

I would make these again for sure. I’d just dial back the salt and I’d also use a different baking sheet and I’d coat it better. Definitely brought me back to “Pigs in a Blanket” – “Dogs in a Blanket” or whatever you called them as a kid in the 1970’s/80’s.

We had a great girl’s night out and I look forward to many more meals on my new Craig’s List find.


Caramel Candy Pretzel Rods

June 19, 2010

My friend Michelle and I turned her kitchen into a candy factory last night. She’s having 50+ people over tomorrow for her daughter’s birthday/graduation party. There will be carnitas, homemade guacamole, beans, rice and platters of Caramel Candy Pretzel Rods for dessert. Michelle found a million different recipes online and she ended up combining a few. She ran around like a mad woman yesterday gathering the pretzels, toppings, trays, storage containers, chocolate, caramel, etc. She was very grateful to find most of the toppings in the bin food section of the grocery store.

14 oz. of Caramel (We ended up using close to 3 lbs. to do 115 with some mistakes)
1 tbsp. Water for every 14 ozs. of Caramel
Costco size bag of Semi-sweet chocolate chips – used entire bag (a 16 oz. bag would work for one bag of pretzels)
Package of Long Pretzel Rods – FYI – Rold Gold has 10 more rods in a pack compared to Snyder’s (We used 4 bags)
1 Cup Mini M&M’s – We used a huge bin bag
Crushed Toffee Bits – We used 2 packages of Health bar pieces
Chopped up peanuts – 1/2 a produce bag full from the bins
Sprinkles – buy way more than you think you will need – those go fast.

I unwrapped a million pieces of caramel (major sticky fingers) and then we got our toppings arranged into containers. Michelle got the trays set up with wax paper and she had read online about using plastic microwaveable cups (Dollar Tree find) to microwave the caramel so you could just dip the rods right into the cups. This worked out really well. We did 7 oz. at a time and added 1/2 tbsp. of water to each cup before microwaving. Once the pretzels were dipped into the caramel, we gave them a twist in the cup and used the edge of the cup to help cut down on excess caramel. We then placed them on the wax paper to set – about 10 minutes for each set.

Be careful when removing them from the wax paper – if you just pull from one end without twisting, the rods might break.

We then got the chocolate started. We had the brilliant idea of using the cups to melt the semi-sweet chips too. Tip of the day – don’t ever let choc. touch water if you want it to melt. Yikes – we ruined 14 oz. of semi-sweet chips. Michelle saved the day – she got a make shift double boiler up and running. We set the heat to medium low and let the melting begin.

Jen Curran of Fanny and Jane – I have mad respect for your baking skills and patience. Michelle and I “so sucked” at waiting for the chocolate to melt. It was torture, LOL.

We had an assembly line going. Michelle had caramel, I had chocolate and one of Michelle’s daughter’s had the topping station.

The chocolate had to be put on the rods with a rubber spatula – the bowl wasn’t deep enough for dipping and we found that we used way less with that method. After getting them coated, I did the hand-off for the toppings.

Anyone who tries to tell you that this isn’t sticky/messy… they are lying. My fingers were coated in caramel, chocolate and at one point I had sprinkles stuck to my wrist and shirt. Awesome. Once we got in a groove, we cranked them out like an assembly line. 2.5 hours on my feet coating pretzels was a bit much for my back. Towards the end, I sat out and photographed stuff while Michelle and her daughter pressed on. Once the toppings were added to the pretzel rods, we put trays of 20 into the fridge for about 10 minutes each to help them set. This worked well – minus having every condiment on the counter to make room.

They looked like little soldiers lined up on the table. I think they will be a hit at the party.  I now have a new appreciation for the amount of work that goes into these babies. The original recipe estimated about 20 minutes to make an entire package of pretzels. They were obviously professionals… because wow, it probably took me that long to unwrap the caramels, hah!

You could customize them in holiday colors – we had grand plans to make some white chocolate ones or to use melted white chocolate chips to drizzle over the tops. When it hit 10:30 PM – that idea flew out the window. Michelle mentioned adding pink food coloring for a little girl’s birthday party or Valentine’s Day – super cute.

I know from posting a picture on Facebook, that some of you have already made these – any tips to share? What toppings did you use?


Layered Quesadilla

June 17, 2010

Three or so weeks ago when I was feeling healthy, we invited another couple over for dinner and they brought a recipe with them for some Foodiddy cookin’.

My girlfriend and I immediately got to work in the kitchen.

Guy Fieri made a “Coyote Quesadilla” on the En Fuego Fiesta episode of his show –  Guy’s Big Bite. – Michelle had tried the recipe before and was amazed that 1 quesadilla fed her family of 4 – not too shabby.

The recipe comes in 4 steps. First you have to make the blackening rub for the chicken. Next up is a wonderful black bean salsa, a chipotle ranch dressing and then the quesadilla creation.

Blackening Spice Rub Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon Granulated Garlic
1 Tablespoon Ground Pepper
2 Teaspoons Onion Powder
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 Teaspoon Paprika
1/2 Tablespoon Salt

Combine all above ingredients in an airtight container – this makes enough to use for probably 4-6 pieces of chicken.

Sidenote: I’m second guessing my purchase of this Pier 1 Imports plate. I think I overpaid for a glorified paper plate, hah! Seriously, it’s a beautiful ceramic plate, but it looks like paper in my photos – might as well just use paper, faster clean-up!

O.k. – back to the recipe. Next up, the black bean salsa.

Black Bean Salsa Ingredients:

15 Ounce Can of Black Beans – Rinsed and Drained – We used low sodium
15 Ounce Can of Low Sodium Corn – Drained
1 Roma Tomato – Seeded, small dice – We used 2 tomatoes
2 Tablespoons peeled and finely diced carrots – Used 2 small carrots
2 Tablespoons finely diced red onion – Used probably double or triple that
2 Tablespoons finely chopped green onion – Used 4 green onions
2 Tablespoons finely diced red bell pepper – Used 1/2 bell pepper
1 Tablespoon finely chopped cilantro leaves – Grabbed a handful
1 Teaspoon lime zest – Didn’t measure
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 Teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 Teaspoon sea salt
1/2 Teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Gently mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes or more.

Super colorful ingredients…

Mixed and ready for chillin’ in the fridge.

Next Step – Chipotle Ranch Dressing/Sauce

1/2 Cup Ranch Dressing – We used a packet and made our own – Michelle said it made a big difference compared to using store bought the first time.
1/4 Cup Sour Cream – used more like a 1/2 cup
2 Tablespoons Chipotle Peppers

Process all ingredients in a blender. We loaded the sauce into a squeeze bottle and stuck it in the fridge.

Finally – time to grill the chicken. The original recipe used an iron skillet with oil – the grill was a nice substitute – no oil needed.  We set it on a really high heat and let the seasoning get nice and black.

We cut the chicken into pretty chunky pieces and began the construction of our three-layered masterpiece.

We also used the BBQ to grill our 3 flour tortillas. Just stuck them on the grill straight out of the package – no prep necessary.

Quesadilla Ingredients:

1 6 oz. Chicken Breast – We used two.
1 Tablespoon Blackening Spice – We just coated and didn’t measure.
6 oz. Refried Beans – We used spicy jalapeño.
3/4 Cup Shredded Mozzarella – No joke, we probably used triple that. I’m now seeing why Michelle’s fed her entire family, hah!
3/4 Cup Shredded Pepper Jack – We used 1/2 the small block
2 Tablespoons Chopped Green Onion
1 Roma Tomato – Diced
3 Large Flour Tortillas
Black Bean Salsa
Chipotle Ranch Dressing

Let the layer building begin.

Layer order on the tortillas – Beans, Cheese, Chicken, Green Onions – next tortilla and repeat the process. After the third tortilla goes on – finish with tomato, cilantro and more cheese – then place into a 425 degree oven for 5 minutes – it took ours about 15 – probably due to the amount of cheese.

Remove from oven, let cool for about 5 minutes and then cut into 4 pieces and serve with the black bean salsa and chipotle ranch dressing.

This was freakin’ amazing! I loved it. Seems like a lot of work, but with someone else in the kitchen, we were able to work at our little stations. I had black bean salsa and chipotle ranch for the rest of the week – perfect for salads!

I give this recipe two thumbs up and will definitely be making it again. Thanks for all of the well wishes – I am feeling better and I hope to resume normal cooking and eating next week. Woohoo!


Chicken Piccata

May 26, 2010

My BFF Paul cruised into town from the bay area with a cookbook and recipe in hand. Love that!

I’ve seen other Cook’s Illustrated books, but not this particular cookbook. I love that there is a story that goes along with each recipe. It tells you how the final recipe came about. Here’s a small excerpt from the Chicken Piccata recipe that we made. 

“Most of the recipes we uncovered in our research called  for 1 to 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. All of our tasters agreed that these sauces weren’t lemony enough. We found that 1/4 cup delivered a nice lemon punch.”

Paul and I had a lot of fun creating our meal together. Back in college our meals consisted of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Taco Bell, Slurpees and Top Ramen… we’d add veggies to the Top Ramen if we were feeling gourmet.

Chicken Piccata Ingredients: 

2 Large Lemons
6 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts (We only used 4)
Salt and Ground Pepper to Taste
1/2 Cup Unbleached Flour
4 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil (We used EVOO)
1 Small Shallot – Minced (We used a medium to large sized one)
1 Cup Low Sodium Chicken Broth
2 Tablespoons Small Capers (Rinsed)
3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, Softened
2 Tablespoons Minced Fresh Parsley Leaves

The first step is to adjust the oven rack to the lower middle position – then set a large plate/dish on the rack and heat the oven to 200 degrees.

The next step is to prep the lemon. Cut the first lemon in 1/2 (pole to pole) – trim the ends from one half and cut crosswise into slices.

Next you need to juice the remaining lemon half and the second lemon to obtain 1/4 cup of lemon juice. This is where a hand juicer/squeezer/reamer would have helped. Um… we used our hands, a spoon, serving spoon handle, fork and just about everything else on the kitchen counter.

Mental note: Still need a real strainer.

Step 3 – Prepping the chicken…

The recipe doesn’t call for pounding the chicken (This is not a euphemism) our breasts were thick (can’t stop laughing…) and we thought they would cook more evenly.

I thought for sure I had a mallet or meat tenderizer – not so much. We once again, improvised…

Add a second layer of parchment  and let the Pound… Pound… Rolling begin…

Sprinkle both sides of the chicken breasts generously with salt and pepper, then coat with flour and shake off excess.

Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Lay 2 chicken breasts in the skillet. Sauté until browned on both sides. Add the two breasts to the heated plate/dish in the oven. Add more oil to the skillet if needed, and repeat the process with the remaining 2 breasts. Note: If you have a gigantic pan/skillet, you can cook all 4 at once. They still need to go into the oven while you make the sauce. (To keep them cozy)

Add the minced shallot to the now-empty skillet and return the skillet to medium heat. Sauté until fragrant – a minute or two. Add the broth and lemon slices, increase the heat to high, and scrape the pan bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits. Simmer until the sauce reduces.

Add the reserved lemon juice and capers and simmer until the sauce reduces again. 

Remove the pan from the heat and swirl in the 3 tablespoons unsalted butter until it melts and thickens the sauce.  Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.

We sautéed baby spinach, garlic, sea salt and evoo as a bed for the chicken. 

I can’t even explain how fabulous the kitchen smelled. This dish was awesome! I will definitely be making it again. I’ve also decided that I now need an assistance – hah!