Archive for the ‘In My Kitchen’ Category

scenes from an expat’s Mardi Gras

In In My Kitchen on March 7, 2011 at 10:01 pm

There are plenty of us expat New Orleanians here in the DC-Metro area, and plenty of opportunities to celebrate Mardi Gras with our Louisiana peeps, but they generally involve expensive tickets sold by lottery, formalwear, and lining up a babysitter. Since I rarely want to deal with all that, I’ll do something like meet my friend Ryan in Dupont Circle for a taste of home. First stop, The Cajun Experience. The owners are from Lafayette (like Ryan and I). The chef and bartender are from New Orleans. Our waiter was from San Francisco, but we’ll forgive him for that.

Seems like other expats have been pounding the Abitas at the restaurant lately. They were out of a couple of Abita drafts, as well as out of Andy Gator, so we went for Abbey Ale a Belgian style dubbel ale.

Ryan had been to the restaurant before (they’ve only been open about 5 weeks), and he said the hush puppies (often a freebie afterthought in many Louisiana restaurants) were the lightest he’d ever had. He was not exaggerating. These little buggers just about melted on the tongue, and the chipotle sauce was a nice surprise.

We ordered an appetizer portion of crawfish mac-n-cheese. Hardly a traditional dish, but a pairing I was up for after loving crab mac-n-cheese here in Chesapeake country.

Pot roast poboy. I would have liked some debris, the gravy from the bottom of the pot that Mother’s slathers their roast beef poboys with. But, nice tender beef on Leidenheimer French bread shipped in from New Orleans.

We also ordered crawfish etoufee, which we were so busy enjoying I forgot to get a pic. I make a great etoufee at home, but right now even Chinese crawfish tail meat is $16 a pound, and Chinese crawfish is just — wrong.

Anyhoo, I was having such a good time, I let the waiter talk us into beignets, despite our plans to get them in Northern Virginia. Sorry Ry! They were good, but a little doughy.

After a ridiculous drive through Georgetown (reminding me how glad I am I don’t have to commute into DC everyday anymore), we popped into Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Virginia. I picked up som Porkorn (spicy caramel corn with bacon — fantastic) to bring home to hubby.

Somehow we had room for a second dessert, buttermilk chocolate for him, red velvet for me. And an iced coffee to fuel the drive home, also fitting since Ryan introduced me to iced coffee many years ago at PJ’s Coffee in New Orleans.

Decorator’s tip: tear up your old cookbooks and decoupage them all over your bathroom for funky wall paper!

Tomorrow morning as the Krewe of Zulu rides down St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans handing out those legendary coconuts, I’ll be in my boot camp class at the gym, sweating off the calories from the weekend. N’awlins, I miss ya, dahlin. Happy Mardi Gras, y’all.


sweet and salty and sassy

In Food, In My Kitchen on March 5, 2011 at 10:29 am


Recently I was reading through Bryant Terry‘s cookbook,  Vegan Soul Kitchen, and was intrigued by Terry’s listing of musical pairings with each recipe. How would someone (like me) without a particularly musically influenced background (like Terry) go about pairing up tunes with food?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I tend to have my own version of musical pairings in the kitchen. When I’m wishing I was there in Louisiana or Texas, cooking gumbo or smoking brisket, I’m likely to turn on the music I love from those places. Maybe Better Than Ezra or Lucinda Williams for the gumbo, definitely Lyle Lovett for the brisket.

But I’m not always homesick in the kitchen. Sometimes the music I turn on will be about my mood. Lately it’s been G. Love, Mumford and Sons, and Ingrid Michaelson. Other times it might be about the particular dish. Like when I was baking these peanut butter pretzel brownies from Joy the Baker. I turned on another Louisiana fave, The Figs, who, like the brownies, are an excellent mix of sweet and salty and sassy (“High-Heeled Stomp” and “Guns” are particularly fun).

What about you folks? What’s the soundtrack of your kitchen? Inquiring ears want to know.

Oh, yeah, and  I know, there’s parchment paper under those brownies. Sue me.

simple beauty

In Food, In My Kitchen on March 3, 2011 at 1:51 pm


Here, just because they are so pretty that I had to stop in the middle of making lunches for the kids to take a picture of them, are these lovely boiled eggs. So simple. So beautiful.

uber comfort food

In Family, Food, friends, In My Kitchen on March 2, 2011 at 9:44 am

Not to name any names, but SOMEONE posted a pic on Facebook a few weeks ago of a the lunch he had just made up for himself — a spaghetti and meatball grilled cheese sandwich. My kids saw the picture, and having been reminded of the idea that SOMEONE ELSE (again, not naming any names) had planted in their heads months before of the same sandwich, they wanted that sandwich. And look mom, we just happen to have leftover spaghetti and meatballs in the fridge.

How convenient.

I know, I know, pasta on bread. Carbs on carbs. Crazy isn’t it? Crazy good, I say.

This is not the kind of meal one should have every day, or every week, or even every month. But oh my, what a cozy comfort on a plate.


Spaghetti and Meatball Grilled Cheese Sandwich

2 slices sandwich bread (no high fiber, 800-grain stuff here, we’re talking white bread, ’nuff said)

mayonnaise (and not Miracle Whip — what the hell is that, anyway?)

leftover spaghetti and meatballs, roughly chopped, and warmed up

one slice cheese (provolone, mozzarella, havarti all work well)


Heat a skillet over medium heat. Spread mayonnaise on one slice of bread, place bread mayo-side down in the skillet. Carefully spoon spaghetti mixture onto the bread in the skillet. Place cheese slice on top of spaghetti. Spread mayonnaise on other slice of bread. Carefully place bread on top of cheese, mayo-side up. Once bottom slice has browned nicely (peek by lifting an edge with your spatula), flip the sandwich and cook until the other side is golden brown and the cheese has melted. Serve with a healthy dose of veggies to assuage any feelings of remorse.


*Note: Some of the spaghetti will fall into the skillet, perhaps with a bit of melty cheese attached. That’s okay. That’s a cook’s treat. And if you don’t know what that means, you need to cook more.

soup worthy

In Food, In My Kitchen on February 28, 2011 at 8:36 am

Soups have eluded me most of my cooking years. I knew decent cooks could throw together a solid chicken noodle at the very least, but my efforts would come up lacking somehow. Sure, I could crank out an awesome gumbo with one hand tied behind my back, but turn that Thanksgiving turkey carcass into a delicious bowl of comfort? Oh, there were some ugly, ugly moments.


I gave up trying to make up my own concoctions and leaned heavily on recipes. If I thought a recipe looked good, I’d give it a whirl. My absolute favorite soup recipe came from Louisiana chef John Folse. It’s a gorgeous creamy soup with colorful bits of spinach and sweet potatoes and red peppers, and just enough spice to keep the cream from being too much, and LOTS of garlic that just makes me hum for the yumminess.


It’s a bit on the rich side for every day. It starts with a roux of butter (well, margarine, but I use butter) and flour and ends with A QUART of heavy whipping cream. So the other day when I had the leftovers of this roast chicken, I decided to try a lightened version of my favorite. It made for a great late winter lunch, and even the kids could not object too strenuously to the familiar ingredients. And unlike the Thanksgiving horror show of years’ past, this is a soup I can stand behind.

Creamy Colorful Chicken Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 heaping tablespoon minced garlic

1 quart poultry stock (I used turkey stock)

1 1/2 cup peeled diced sweet potato

1/4 chopped roasted red pepper

2 cups chopped cooked chicken

4 cups spinach, washed and roughly chopped

1/4 cup half-and-half

1 cup cooked orzo or other small pasta

salt and black pepper to taste

Heat oil in a 4-quart sauce pan over medium heat, saute onion and garlic until onion is translucent. Add stock and sweet potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered for 5 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are tender. Stir in red pepper and chicken and cook until chicken is heated through, 5-10 minutes. Add spinach and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add half-and-half, and when ready to serve, add orzo and heat through. Season with salt and pepper.

brownie winner and king cake recipe

In Food, In My Kitchen on February 27, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Congratulations to Beccie, who is the winner of a pan of peanut-butter pretzel brownies. Thanks for playing!

Below is the king cake recipe I promised earlier. Mardi Gras is March 8 this year. Celebrate with a knock-out pastry.


Traditional Mardi Gras King Cake (recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse and Danno)

For the Brioche:

1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)

2 packages dry yeast

2 teaspoons sugar

4 to 5 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1/2 cup warm milk (105 to 115 degrees)

1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, cooled

5 egg yolks

1 pecan half, uncooked dried bean or King Cake Baby


For the Cream Cheese filling:

1 Cup Pecan halves, broken up slightly and roasted until fragrant

2/3 Cup Brown Sugar

1 tsp Vanilla extract

1 tsp Cinnamon

1/2 tsp Ground Allspice

1 pinch of salt

4 Tbsp Steen’s Cane Syrup (maple syrup is a decent substitute)

1 8-ounce block cream cheese, softened

Combine all of the ingredients together.

2 cups sifted powdered sugar

juice of 1 lemon

Purple, green and gold sugar crystals



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the warm water, yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside to a warm place for about 10 minutes. Combine the 4 cups of flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, nutmeg, lemon rind and add warm milk, melted butter, egg yolks and yeast mixture. Beat until smooth. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes, I did all mixing and kneading in my stand mixer, but it can be done by hand or in a large food processor). Place the dough in a well-greased bowl. Turn once so greased surface is on top.

Cover the dough and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 1/2 hours). Punch the dough down and place on a lightly floured surface. Shape the dough into a cylinder, about 30 inches long. Mix all filling ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Spread filling over the middle of the dough cylinder, then fold over the long edges to form a tube, pinching the edges together to form a seal. Move tube to baking sheet. Shape into a ring, pinching ends together to seal. Place a well-greased 2-pound coffee can or shortening can in the center of the ring to maintain shape during baking. Press the King Cake Baby, pecan half or dried bean into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough. Cover the ring with a towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the coffee can immediately. Allow the cake to cool. For the glaze: Combine the ingredients and beat until smooth. To assemble, drizzle cake with the glaze. Sprinkle with sugar crystals, alternating colors.


la tamalada

In In My Kitchen on February 22, 2011 at 8:39 am

In December, I wrote about adventures I was planning for this year. My friend Mayra helped me check off one of those adventures when she invited me and a few friends to make tamales with her. I was tasked with purchasing the corn husks, so I checked out Anita Spanish Grocery in Annapolis to pick up the corn husks and fulfill my tienda shopping goal (and I picked up some horchata drink boxes for the kids, which won me major points).

In Mayra’s hometown in Mexico, tamales are traditional fare on el dia de la Candaleria (Candlemas in English), when the Catholic church marks the presentation of Jesus at the temple. A few of our amigas gathered in Mayra’s kitchen recently to whip up a batch of tamales.

Mayra had cooked up some chicken ahead of time, shredded it, and mixed it up with a batch of mole she brought back from a recent visit to Mexico.

2 large rotisserie chickens

1 jar mole sauce

1 large bag corn husks

6 cups masa flour for tamales

6 cups chicken broth

1 cup lard or vegetable shortening

2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder


Shred the chicken and marinate in the mole sauce.

Soak the corn husks in warm water until soft, about 30 minutes.

In a large bowl combine broth, masa flour, salt, and baking powder, using your hands. Once well combined, beat masa mixture and lard or shortening in a mixer on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until a drop of the mixture floats in water as clump rather than falling apart.

Take a corn husk in your hand and spread a large spoonful of masa in the middle (use 2 husks if they are narrow). Spread a large spoonful of marinated chicken on top of the masa. Fold the sides of the corn husk toward the center over the masa so that they overlap to make along package. Between two fingers, pinch the husk package at the bottom of the masa portion and push upward to help form a seam. Fold the bottom part of the husk up.

Place the tamales in a steamer or double boiler open ends up, and cook tamales for 35-40 minutes. Check every 20 minutes.The tamale is cooked when it separates easily from the corn husk.

guerrilla baking (or, why you shouldn’t be afraid of yeast breads)

In In My Kitchen, In Other Words, On My Mind on February 21, 2011 at 8:28 am

I used to be afraid of yeast breads until my homesickness for New Orleans drove me to baking my own King Cake, a sweet bread traditionally served in the Mardi Gras season. I offer this “recipe” to anyone worried about screwing up a recipe requiring yeast. As you’ll see conditions in my kitchen are less than ideal, and we usually do just fine. Real recipe to come later this week.

Mardi Gras King Cake

Clear out space around the stand mixer, ignoring the tower of dirty dishes just beyond sight.

Search for recipe in recipe binder, don’t find it. Pull it out of the pile of recipes waiting to be put back in their proper place.

Yell at the 8yo that she will do nothing fun today until her room is clean.

Ask the 5yo to play with the 11mo in the living room so he is no longer pulling pots and pans out of the cabinet beneath you.

Fearful moment #1: think that you only have one envelope of yeast found with the spices. Feel better when you find three more packets of yeast with — surprise! — the baking supplies.

Mix yeast and sugar with warm water in a small bowl, set on stovetop next to leftover pancakes and bacon grease from breakfast.

In bowl of stand mixer, combine cups flour, (Crap! you only have 2 cups of AP flour. Scrounge 2 more cups of cake flour. Pray you won’t need the fifth cup of flour since all that’s left is whole wheat.) sugar, salt, nutmeg (use a nice heaping teaspoon since it’s old and probably not all that flavorful anymore), lemon rind.

Fearful moment #2: is all the butter in the freezer? Phew. No. Cut up 1 stick of butter into milk and nuke them together. Re-read handwritten note to not forget milk and butter in the microwave like you did the last two times you made this.

Fearful moment #3: There are NO EGGS in the house. No getting around this. Wish you had taken a shower, throw on the jeans you wore last night (bra optional), and run out the door, yelling to your hubby that you have to go to the grocery store before the yeast mixture blows up all over the kitchen.

Drive to the store, listening to local radio station story about how sailboats need to protect themselves from lightening strikes. Start thinking about getting the big kids into swimming lessons before the summer starts. Nearly pass the grocery store because you’ve forgotten what you’re doing. Wonder if you have adult ADD.

Pick up eggs and AP flour, head home.

Wash hands thoroughly, separate eggs with hands, resolve to do something with the growing collection of egg whites in the freezer. Add warm milk, butter, and egg yolks to dry ingredients, start mixing. Second guess starting out with the dough hook instead of the flat mixing paddle. Switch out the dough hook for the paddle. Realize 20 seconds later that the dough hook would have been fine. Mix until well blended,  knead with dough hook, adding last cup of flour until dough is no longer sticky.

Kiss hubby and the big kids as they head out for church. Put the baby down for a nap.

Place the dough in a well-greased bowl. Turn once so greased surface is on top.

Catch up on Facebook. Start a blog entry. Shower. Get dressed, hoping the baby might fall asleep again. Get him a bottle when he doesn’t. Kiss family members returning from church.

Start on filling. Crap. No cream cheese. No vanilla extract. Seriously? Send hubby out for second grocery run of the day.

Punch the dough down and place on a lightly floured surface. Shape the dough into a cylinder, about 30 inches long.

Mix brown sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, ground allspice, salt, maple syrup, and softened cream cheese. Spread filling over middle of dough. Fold edges toward the middle. Shape into a ring, pinching ends together to seal. Place a well-greased 2-pound coffee can or shortening can in the center of the ring to maintain shape during baking. Cover the ring with a towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Throw lunch together, sit down with the family. Don’t eat too much, because, there is, after all, king cake to eat later.

Bake cake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the coffee can immediately. Allow the cake to cool.

Combine confectioner sugar and the lemon juice. Invite very sweet children over. Drizzle glaze over cake. Let kids decorate cake with colored sugar sprinkles.

Cut cake. Enjoy. Listen to hubby say it’s the best king cake you’ve ever made.


winner winner chicken dinner

In In My Kitchen on February 16, 2011 at 10:05 pm

I can rock a roast chicken. This is not anything in particular to brag about, but it’s good to have a solid dish that is a crowd pleaser as well as a jumping point for other dishes. And, it’s useful to know what to do with what’s on sale at your local market. Chicken drumsticks and bone-in breasts, $0.99/lb this week. Woo hoo! Feels like I’m stealing the chicken right out of the meat case.

Roast chicken tonight. Pasta salad tomorrow? Maybe soup? We’ll see.

If you haven’t discovered the fabulousness that is brining, you really should give it a whirl. What’s a brine? Well, it’s water and salt, for starters, and then just about anything you’d want to boost a little flavor into your meat. A brine adds flavor and keeps meat moist. You don’t need a lot of time to benefit either. Twenty minutes can help a chicken breast stay succulent. Overnight will make your Thanksgiving turkey outrageous.

Chicken gets very happy in a brine. This one is just water, kosher salt, and minced garlic. I’ll throw in herbs or brown sugar if the mood suits me.

Wedges of onion and lemon at the bottom of the pan provide flavor and also help keep the chicken from sticking. I pat the chicken dry with paper towels so the skin can crisp up. A little bit of olive oil, salt, black pepper, and paprika, and it’s ready to pop into a 500 degree oven. (It helps if your oven door hinge is properly tightened, which mine is not at the moment…sigh…)

After 20 minutes on high heat, I turn the temp down to 350. After another 20 minutes, the chicken has reached a safe 165 degree internal temp, but my orzo and green beans weren’t ready, so I let it stay put until I just had a few minutes later.

Then low broil for about 4 minutes. Yum. Crisp delicious skin. (If my trainer is reading this, I didn’t actually eat the skin myself, of course.)

My plate:

The baby’s plate (note, no purees for 11-month-olds!):


*Note: Tonight’s entry is dedicated to Jen, who, as always, hit the nail on the head.

fennel orange salad

In Food, In My Kitchen on February 2, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Just when January rolls around and one is stuffed to the gills with all matter of heavy holiday fare, there is this salad. Raw, fresh, in season. Fennel, naval oranges, red onion, olive oil, salt, black pepper.

This here is my favorite winter salad.

It’s so crisp and clean it can make leftover brisket shine like it just came off the grill it had been smoking on all day.