Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly... and Cookies

Lunch: Beef and Bean Nachos
Dinner: “Beef Burgundy“, Buttered Noodles and Veggies
Dessert: Chocolate Chip Cookies

So, today I would like to talk about the good, the bad, the ugly and chocolate chip cookies.

The Good: Much to my great happiness, the old steward has stepped down. I was informed of this yesterday morning by the vice president of the frat; however, they had to vote on who would replace him so I had to hold off on my celebrations until I found out if it really was for the better. It was. My little brother’s big brother was voted in as steward and song leader last night (song leader? I don’t know; I didn’t want to ask). I’m happy about this change because this particular guy A. actually lives at the frat B. is actually on the meal plan and C. is one of the guys who regularly comes down to talk to me. He did send me an e-mail last night, after he was voted in, saying he was going to make sweeping changes. I’ll admit that made me a little nervous. However, the sweeping changes he’s planning on making involve keeping the kitchen cleaner and setting up a feedback system so I know whether or not the guys like particular meals. I’m a little skeptical about the feedback system. You must keep in mind these are college boys and while they are grateful for tasty food they are also very, very whiney. Feeding frat boys tends to be a damned if you do, damned if you don’t affair. But, at any rate he said he was going to be a hard a$$ about keeping the kitchen clean (hooray), set up better lines of communication and organization between me and the frat (hooray!) and see about funneling more money into the food budget (possible raise?).

The Bad: The much less organized treasurer let me know today that he screwed up on the budget. Rather than $370 a week… I only have $350, but then he thought he had told me $400 before so I suppose it could have been worse. Of course, it’s nearly halfway through the semester and these guys go to Tech, you’d think they’d have figured it out by now… Perhaps I should cut cookies out of the weekly budget.

The Ugly: Today on my way back down to the kitchen from the ladies room, I was accosted by one of the brothers carry a clear plastic bag. He grinned and said, “Look what I got!” and then turned the bag around to show me the contents. It was full of condoms, a lot of condoms. Yeah… I really didn’t know what to say to that. Again, there are some things I simply do not want to know and are much better not asking about.

Cookies: Rather than a recipe today, I thought I might give you a few tips on how to perfect chocolate chip cookie baking. Chocolate chip cookies are actually relatively easy to screw up. I’ve had my fair share of cookies that turned out too crumbly, that spread into pancake cookies, etc etc. Over the years of baking chocolate chip cookies, I’ve found a few tricks that help to make a nearly fool proof cookie.

First, I always use the traditional Toll House cookie recipe. This, I’ve found, is the best recipe with one tiny exception. I like cookies that are a healthy mix between crisp and chewy. With the traditional toll house cookie recipe, you tend to get a cookie that is crisp all the way through. I want one that is golden brown and buttery with crisp edges and a soft and chewy center (I don’t ask for much do I?) I achieve this by using half the amount of butter and substituting butter flavored vegetable shortening for the rest (you can find this in the baking section in convenient bars).

Second, the butter must be just the right temperature. Just like with pie crust, chocolate chip cookie dough is finicky about how warm or cold it is. If you use butter right out of the fridge, it won’t incorporate easily into your dough and you’ll end up with a worthless mess. Similarly, you can’t use melted or melty butter. If the butter is too soft, you will end up with a sticky gooey mess that won’t form into a stiff dough. While I know we’re all impatient, it is important to let your butter sit out until it is room temperature and soft but not melty. It shouldn’t fall apart when you remove the wrapper. It is the right temperature when you can easily cut off a slice and the slice doesn’t lose its shape, but you can then spread it across a piece of bread without destroying the bread. For the love of all that is baking, don’t try to soften your butter in the microwave. I promise you, it won’t turn out. (Sorry to be a butter Nazi, but… this is important to making perfect chocolate chip cookies) Also, you shouldn’t refrigerate your shortening unless you’re making pie crust with it, so it should already be room temperature.

Third: When your butter has reached the right consistency and you’ve made your dough (it should be a fairly stiff dough), stop what you’re doing. Don’t start attacking the dough with any spoon or scoops! Refrigerate it for the next 20-30 minutes. The friction from mixing it in the mixer will have warmed the butter enough to make the dough sticky. This is bad. Sticky dough leads to major cookie spreadage. Luckily, refrigerating it for a little while will cause the butter to set and make for a better dough. Also, if you’re making a lot of cookies and have to do several batches, be sure to keep the dough refrigerated between batches. You don’t want your dough getting sticky in a warm kitchen.

Fourth: What kind of sheet are you using? I don’t really like the dark, non stick cookie sheets as they tend to over bake the bottom of the cookie. A well seasoned baking stone works nice or one of those air cookie sheets. If you find you’re having trouble with the cookies sticking you might want to use parchment paper on your cookie sheet. Parchment is also an excellent tool if you’re going to be reusing cookie sheets. While one batch is baking, you can set up the next batch on some parchment paper. At work I don’t have any of these things. I only have some old, industrial sized baking sheets and foil. So even though the recipe tells you that you don’t need it, I lightly butter the foil to keep the cookies from sticking. The emphasis is on lightly. To do this I use the wrapper the butter came in and just give the foil a good wipe with this. You can also use the wrapper from the shortening just keep it very, very light.

Fifth: Before you put those cookies in the oven you want to make sure your oven is completely preheated. Again, impatience leads to bad cookies. You want the oven nice and hot and the dough nice and cool because that will help prevent cookie spreadage. Your cookie will be done when it is golden brown and the edges are defined but the center is still soft. Let the cookies sit on the pan until the pan is just cool enough to touch. If you try to remove the cookies too soon, they’ll just fall apart. (Although, I do like to eat a piping hot, falling apart chocolate chip cookie…). You can then carefully move them to some cookie racks (which I don’t like) or you can let them cool on some parchment or foil laid out on a table. You want your cookies to be completely cooled before you try to box them up or stack them. If you put them away still warm, they tend to crumble and mush into each other and then you have a box of cookie mess.

So… those are my tips for making perfect chocolate chip cookies.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pearls Before Frat Boys

Lunch: Chili Cheese Fries
Dinner: Ham and Cheese Potatoes and Corn

Ok, so it is really hard to keep up with eating healthy when the kitchen smells like bacon… or like chili cheese fries. Yesterday I made coq au vin for the guys. Coq au vin is a traditional French dish of chicken, bacon and vegetables simmered in red wine. It has to simmer for hours, so when I was sitting down to my pathetic lunch of a lean cuisine the kitchen was already smelling like bacon heaven. One of the guys actually came into the kitchen for lunch disappointed because he smelled bacon upstairs only to discover that the bacon was not for lunch. I bet I could put out a large tray of bacon for lunch one day and not only would no one care that all they were having for lunch was a large tray of bacon, I would most likely also get complements on the excellence of the lunch. Again, why do I bother casting pearls before frat boys? My sister had to remind me the title of this blog is gourmand not gourmet. In all fairness, coq au vin is one of those meals that is easier to prepare in bulk than it is for 2. I also pared the recipe down a bit to make it easier and more frat boy friendly (only 1 type of onion). The bacon aside, it is also not that bad for you or that expense (I used a cheap jug of wine… I‘m not sure if frat boys are even aware that there is any other kind of wine). I received Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child for Valentine’s Day, and I have been itching to try it out. I wonder if coq au vin is in there? The plan is to have a Julia Child party sometime in the near future with my family (my dad has recently become a huge Julia Child fan… you should hear his impersonation). I’ll have to let you know how that turns out.

(Relatively) Easy, Pared-Down Coq au Vin
serves 25

24 Slices Bacon
3 lbs Mushrooms, sliced**
28 lbs Chicken Thighs and Legs, skinned
Salt and Pepper
10 medium Carrots, chopped
6 medium Yellow Onions, chopped
3 heads Garlic, minced
8 cups Dry Red Wine (I used a jug of cheap table wine)
3 6oz cans of Tomato Paste
8 Bay Leaves
6 cups Chicken Broth
Vegetable Oil (or leftover grease from bacon)

Cook bacon in the oven at 400 until crisp, 5-10 minutes, then set aside on a paper towel to drain. Crumble the bacon when it is cool enough to handle.

Sprinkle Chicken pieces with salt and pepper. In a large skillet heat oil (or you can use bacon grease) and brown chicken on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch. You will most likely have to do several batches. Remove the chicken and dump the remaining grease. Add in the carrots and onions and sauté until onion softens and is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add in wine, chicken stock, and tomato paste and stir until well combined.

In a large crock pot (I used a roaster oven set to 250) combine the chicken, mushrooms, red wine and carrot mixture, and crumbled bacon. Cover and simmer for 4 hours. You may want to stir the chicken several times to ensure that the chicken at the top doesn’t dry out. The chicken should be almost falling off the bone. Serve chicken with buttered, boiled potatoes with wine and veggie sauce poured over the chicken and potatoes.

** Note: You can substitute drained, canned mushrooms is you want a less mushroomy flavor.
*** How many times can a person say bacon in one paragraphy? I think I may have broken some kind of record

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fancy Dinner Plans

**Note: This was supposed to be yesterday’s post, but the internet was down… so here it is**

Lunch: Grilled Cheese and Soup
Dinner: Chili Mac, Veggies and Dinner Rolls

I’ve noticed that the guys have started straying into my kitchen more and more. While I don’t like people messing with my kitchen arrangement, I do love having someone to talk to. My brother is in Tennessee doing a co-op, and I’ve really missed having my baby brother there to talk to and make fun of. I kind of like playing the big sister part to the guys that make a point to come in and chat with me. One of the guys came in all lugubrious and was having a bad day. He recited the long list of his sorry woes. I asked him if he wanted a cookie. He looked as if to ascertain whether not I was being sarcastic and making fun of him and I pointed to a batch of chocolate cookies fresh out of the oven. As he ate his cookie, he said, “I feel better now”. I felt a sense of accomplishment. While I really love cooking, I’m a social person, and spending a day drudging in my little dungeon of a kitchen (and it is a windowless dungeon) tends to take on the tedious if there is no people interaction. One of the joys of cooking is knowing who you’re cooking for and knowing not only that they like the food but that they appreciate it. The real job satisfaction in cooking for frat boys is not in making a perfectly executed gourmet feast, but in making a meal that you know will be well appreciated and even comforting. After all, no matter how well you cook, if it’s for a nameless, faceless horde it’s somewhat like that old joke about the priest. You know, the one where he skips Sunday mass to play golf and makes a hole in one, but can’t tell anyone. Well it would be kind of like that, what is success without sharing it?

I made a success this weekend. My hubby had a few friends over to drink and kill zombies. (If the zombie apocalypse ever comes, I feel safe knowing my husband has had so much training in fighting off the zombie hordes). When I asked him what he wanted me to make to feed the zombie-killing battalion, he said he wanted, “those little orange chickens”. In other words, orange and rosemary roasted Cornish game hens with orange and white wine pan sauce. Hey, a zombie-killer has to eat right? I adapted this recipe from a few that I found online. While it sounds super fancy and looks impressive to guests, it honestly isn’t that difficult. It isn’t even much more expensive than making roast chicken, which is in fact a rather cheap meal. I think it looks so fancy because each person gets their own little chicken, and who doesn’t love individual-sized chickens. I’m going to caution you now, if you make this recipe, do not, under any circumstances substitute lemons for the oranges. I tried this once figuring that people eat lemon chicken all the time. The chicken turned out fine, but the sauce was just plain nasty. Just say no to anything but orange.

Orange and Rosemary Roasted Cornish Game Hens
Serves 4

4 Cornish Game Hens, 1 lb each
4 tbs Butter, softened
Salt and Pepper
½ an Orange, cut into 4 wedges
Several Sprigs of Fresh Rosemary, cut to about 3 inches long
1/2 cup White Wine
1 cup Orange Juice
1 1/4 cup Chicken Stock

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees with the oven rack placed in the middle of the oven. Rinse and dry the game hens; carefully tucking their wings back (so they don’t burn). Rub a ½ tablespoon of butter all over each hen then salt and pepper the hen all over including in the cavity. Stuff each cavity with an orange slice and a few sprigs of rosemary and then arrange the birds breast side up in a shallow roasting pan. Roast for 10 minutes then using a tongs, gently move the birds a little to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Roast another 10-15 minutes or until the birds are done. Remove the birds to a plate and cover lightly with foil. If your roasting pan cannot be used on stove top, scrape as much of the juice and chicken morsels from the bottom of the pan into a sauce pan, otherwise put the roasting pan on the stove and turn the heat to high. Add the wine and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen all of the little morsels. Allow the wine to boil until its volume has reduced by half then add the orange juice. Allow the mixture to simmer again until its volume has reduced by half and then stir in the chicken stock. Allow the chicken stock mixture to simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Serve with the roasted game hens.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

No Recipe For You!

Lunch: Chicken Mac and Cheese
Dinner: Pork Chops with Stuffing and Salad

Ok, I have no recipe for you today. I’ve already given you both of today’s recipes and yesterday’s recipes. While I do try to come up with interesting and varied menus, I also tend to repeat favorites. Coming up with weekly menus is actually a lot of work. I came in with a fairly sizable repertoire of recipes, but when you’re cooking 9 meals a week, every week, even a sizable repertoire isn’t enough. You have to research new recipes (and yes, it require a lot of research) to find new ones that will fit a budget, be able to be made in bulk and be guy-friendly. When you’re planning menus, you also have to take into consideration what else you’re making that week (so you’re not making chicken for lunch and chicken for dinner or having potatoes three nights in a row), the ease of preparation (if I have to grill, then side dishes must be simple because the main dish takes so long to prepare. If I’m making something for lunch that requires prep the day before then I need to make sure the dinner the day before doesn’t take long to prepare so I can prep for the next day’s lunch) and how many people will be eating that day (things that are more expensive to make should be made on days when less people are eating). With all this, it can take me several hours to come up with a week’s menu and that doesn’t even include making my grocery list (which is usually 2 pages, single spaced). Well… I’ve just finished my menu and now I need to get together my list.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Spaghetti Burgers are Great!

Lunch: Pizza
Dinner: Spaghetti Burgers, Pasta Salad and Veggies

So… the other morning I apparently turned my alarm off without waking up. I was in the middle of this really weird dream; I was being attacked by three tiny old women in big “going to church” hats. Only, I didn’t know they were old women, I thought they were bugs so I swung my arms out to swat them away. Only, I actually swung my arms out and hit the water glass off my night stand and the water in the cup splashed all over the dog, who was apparently still fast asleep, and caused him to wake up and yelp like he was being beaten. I just thought you should know.

Dinner tonight is somewhat of a meat-fest. There is meat in all parts of the dinner, so I’m fairly sure the guys will be pleased. I made Italian pasta salad (pasta, home-made Italian dressing, feta, olives and pepperoni), green beans with bacon and spaghetti burgers. Spaghetti burgers are something I thought up one night when I saw some bulk Italian sausage at the grocery store. They really came about because of Tyler’s peculiar dislikes. He doesn’t like bread unless it’s toasted; he really loves it if it’s garlic toast. He also dislikes most anything you would put on a normal hamburger (ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce…). I really love hamburgers and I really wanted a burger. Tyler really loves spaghetti. Voila! I made patties with the sausage, threw on some provolone (or mozzarella when we have that) and topped it with some extra thick marinara sauce and put it all on garlic toast. It was fantastic. Over time, it’s evolved into regular hamburger patties with Italian seasonings (sausage patties are way too greasy). My next plan is to try it with ground chicken mixed with a parmesan cheese and a little egg (ground chicken doesn’t hold together as well as hamburger when you put it in a patty, so the addition of a little egg is usually helpful). I will call it a chicken parmesan burger. Perhaps I will submit it to the hamburger cook-off. I think that’s got to be worth a prize, especially if you top it a little crispy pancetta on some toasted ciabatta. Mmmm… Can you tell I’m hungry?

Aside from making delicious and creative burgers ( J ) I also love to tease the guys. There is a large white board on the wall just outside the kitchen. It is used to indicate which of the guys need a “save plate” that night. They guys will also write stupid drunk messages on it when they’re stupid and drunk. I use it to communicate things to the guys. For example, sometimes I serve milk with Friday brunch and it can’t sit out like soda, so I write on the board so the guys know it’s there. Or perhaps, like this evening, there’s a cold side-dish for dinner or there’s cheese or sour cream or something that needs to accompany dinner. I’ve also used it to convey dinner instructions. Last semester I’d made a Moroccan chicken stew. The stew is meant to be served on top of cous cous. Knowing that the guys would not know this instinctively, I wrote some instructions for how to serve themselves. The guys apparently decided that it was an affront; they didn’t require instructions on how to eat. (Of course, clearly some of them didn’t get it because they said the cous cous was tasteless plain. Yeah, it’s meant to have stew on top of it….). They weren’t really insulted, but being the little buttheads that they are they wrote a bunch of snarky comments back on the board. I have since then had fun writing tongue-in-cheek comments on the board to them anytime I’ve needed to convey some sort of special dinner prep instructions. For dinner tonight I thought I should let them know how to build a spaghetti burger, so I put up the anatomy of a spaghetti burger complete with labeled diagram. I can’t wait till tomorrow to see what they had to say about that (or write about it).

Spaghetti Burgers
Serves 25 College Boys

10 + lbs Lean Ground Beef
Seasoning Salt
Italian Herb Mix (Basil, Oregano, Thyme, and Crushed Rosemary)
Seasoning Salt
25 Hamburger Buns
40 Hamburger Buns
Garlic Powder
40 slices Provolone Cheese
Extra Thick Marinara

There are 2 ways of make the hamburgers, you can either season the meat and then make them into patties or you can make them into patties and then sprinkle them with seasoning. I personally mix a couple handfuls of the Italian herbs into the meat and then season the outside with Lawry’s (ok… so that’s three ways). Make approx. 40 burgers. Then grill, broil, or pan fry your burgers to your desired level of doneness. A few minutes before they’re done, top each patty with a slice of cheese so the cheese will melt a little on the burger.

Meanwhile, butter the insides of the buns and put them on a baking sheet, butter side up. Sprinkle the buns with garlic powder and Italian herbs. Toast them in a hot oven or under the broiler.

Extra Thick Marinara

4 15oz cans Tomato Sauce
4 15oz cans Tomato Purée
6 small cans Tomato Paste
Garlic Powder
Salt and Pepper
Italian Herbs Mix

Mix all ingredients together (season to taste) in a large covered sauce pan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer covered for 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

Note: Do not use jar spaghetti sauce like Prego or Ragu as a substitute for the extra thick marinara. It is too watery and runny and it will just make your bread soggy. You will regret it! If you want a quick substitute, use jar/ canned pizza sauce. Hunt’s pizza sauce works really well, if you can find it. It has a good taste and it’s watery, runny or greasy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Beware of Chef

Lunch: BLT’s and French Fries
Dinner: Oven-baked Chicken Strips, Butter and Herb Boiled Potatoes and Corn

The kitchen has been infiltrated, repeat: the kitchen has been infiltrated! I don’t know if I’ve ever explained that I’m really a one person per kitchen kind of gal. When I’m cooking, I don’t really like people getting in my way or making unnecessary comments about how they think things should be done (“backseat driving” I call it). Oh, I don’t mind people coming and chatting, and on occasion I can even cook with other people (so long as we all have designated jobs and space). But when they invade the kitchen unwanted and unannounced, it drives me batty. It’s like someone coming in to your office, plunking their butt down at your computer and playing games when you’re in the middle of trying to finish a project on deadline. Ok, that might be a little extreme, but that’s what it feels like. One of the brothers came in just after I served lunch and started making his lunch. Ok, usually I don’t mind that. Then his girlfriend came in and they turned the radio on loud. Ok… getting a little annoyed. Then they started using the dishes I laid out. He was cutting raw meat on the cutting board I laid out for cutting the vegetables with the knife I’d laid out, and they were moving around all the spices I’d laid out. Ok… I’m really really annoyed now. Just as he was finishing, another brother came in and made eggs and left a huge eggy mess all over my clean work surface, and if that weren’t bad enough the steward came in with no other design than to bother me. That’s it, I have to leave the kitchen or people will get hurt!

I can’t help it, I’m territorial. I have my kitchen just so, and I have it that way for a reason. When cooking for a large group you have to have a game plan (and contingency plans for when you find some little “mousy” has gone and eaten all of the cheese you put aside). You can’t just go into the kitchen and see what you can find and start throwing things together because things won’t turn out. Before I start cooking, I get out everything I’m going to need, ingredients, pots, pans, knives etc. I lay them all out so A. I know I have them and B. So I’m not scrambling for an ingredient while I’m in the middle of trying to keep my roux from burning and C. So everything will be done when I need it to be done. Plus, I have limited resources. I only have 1 large cutting board and 2 really sharp knives. So, I have to plan carefully to avoid contamination etc. My path to kitchen enlightenment is organization. (Remember my dream kitchen? That’s kitchen nirvana). When someone goes and messes with it, it can throw me off. I have to stop and redo everything, wash the cutting board, wipe down the counters and realign my ingredients. People who know me may find this rather strange. I am not what you might call a “neat” person nor am I particularly organized. I am not a type A personality, at least not until you cross the threshold of my kitchen. Then… well perhaps the guys should get a sign “Beware of Chef, Enter at Your Own Risk".

For a quick and delicious lunch, try these chicken melts… they have a kick. They guys loved them.

Spicy Chicken Melts
Serves 12

24 slices Toast, good with whole wheat or 7 grain bread
5 cups Canned Chicken
3 tbs Hot Sauce (more or less depending on how hot you like it)
2 cups Miracle Whip
1/3 cup Sweet Pickle Relish
3 tbs Dijon Mustard
¼ cup Red Onion, diced fine
½ cup Celery, diced fine
A couple pinches of Cayenne Pepper, if you dare
Tomatoes, sliced
12 slices Provolone Cheese

Mix together chicken, celery, red onion, hot sauce, sweet pickle relish, Miracle Whip, and Dijon mustard until well mixed. Arrange ½ of the toast on a baking sheet and top with a generous scoop of chicken mixture. Top with tomato slices and cheese. Place pan under a hot broiler until cheese is just melted, 3-5 minutes. Top with the rest of the toast and serve immediately.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Home Sweet Home

We made it home safely last night, in case you were worried. Some how between yesterday and today I have contracted a terrible head cold and am feeling a bit like my head has been turned into a giant marshmellow. How romantic, just in time for Valentine's Day.

If you're wondering what to make your sweetie for Valentine's Day brunch, you should try this recipe (although it might be a little late to be wondering that... you probably should have already gotten whatever you plan to make). The guys really like it, but then again, it contains bacon.

Denver Omelet Casserole
serves 25

56 eggs
3 1/2 cups of Half and Half
3 Green Bell Peppers, chopped
2 med. Onions, chopped
6 cups Ham, cubed
6 cups Bacon, cooked and crumbled
6 cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk together eggs and half and half. Stir in remaining ingredients and pour into a large, shallow greased baking pan. Bake for 25 minutes, or until center is set. Serve with salsa and sour cream.

Serves 8

16 eggs
1 cup Half and Half
1 cup Ham
1 cup Bacon
2 cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese
1/2 cup Green Bell Pepper, chopped
1/2 cup Onion, chopped

Follow instruction above. Pour into greased 9x13 baking dish.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Watch Out for Flying Pigs!

Ok… don’t panic but I’m about to tell you something truly terrifying. You must do your best to refrain from screaming, tearing out your hair or jumping off the nearest bridge. Are you ready?

Are you sure?

Ok…. It’s snowing in Atlanta.

Ok! Ok! We all just need to stay calm. Getting hysterical will help no one. Although, since it is snowing in Atlanta, perhaps you might want to watch the sky for flying pigs…

In all truth, snow in Atlanta is a big deal. This never happens. Oh sure there might be some flurries here and some flurries there in the north GA “mountains” but all in all snow just doesn’t happen here. People don’t know how to respond so they panic. I’m not kidding you either. Any readers from northern climates are probably shaking your head mystified. But when there is so much as the threat of freezing rain people leave work early, schools close and there is a run on gas, bread and milk. (Ok, bread and milk maybe, but gas? What are they going to do, try and outrun the snow?) That is just for the threat of freezing rain. Actual snow came down, and not just a few flakes either but it came down in earnest. In Covington (where I live) there is around 3” currently and it’s still snowing.

Getting to work was no problem this morning. Atlanta is notorious for its bad traffic, but the ride to work was smooth and easy. There were no cars on the road. In fact, it was kind of eerie. There was definitely a sense of waiting for the shoe to drop. The guys were all extra chatty and excited. They reminded me of birds before a storm, all huddled together chirping in a tree. Only the guys were huddled around the food I put out and not in a tree. I hit the grocery stores before the snow, and subsequent panic, ensued. By the time I got out, the snow was really coming down. That is when the first waves of panic settled on the city. Traffic back from the grocery stores was a snarled mess. After putting up the groceries, one of the brothers informed me that traffic was really bad and I could totally hang out there until traffic calmed down. Yeah… not happening, although, the brotherly impulse was sweet. Traffic was an even worse snarled mess on the way home and it took me two hours rather than one. I got home safe and sound (I was nearly creamed by a large black truck that clearly wasn’t paying attention). I did get to throw snow at the dog and watch him hop around in it like a really big, awkward bunny. Tyler, my hubby, is working late tonight. I currently am sitting in his office wasting time on the internet in hopes to hurry them along. The roads are only getting worse and Tyler has never driven on snow (Let alone 3+ inches of slushy, snowy ice). I decided that I would take him home in our SUV. So, hopefully we will get home safely so we can enjoy the bottle of vodka and the grapefruit juice I purchased when I went out to forage for dinner (everything but McDonalds and Popeye’s was closed). If we do get home safely, then tomorrow I can post the recipe I’d planned to give you today (I can’t do it currently as my computer and all of my recipes are at home).

Happy Snow Day!

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Lunch Menu: Homemade Corn Dogs and French Fries
Dinner: Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Salad and Breadsticks
Dessert: Peanut Butter Cookies

Ok, so it’s shaping up to be big fat fail week. Yesterday, I missed the bus and had to drive to work (I hate driving to work!). Then when I got to work, the internet wasn’t working. Bah! Today, I thought I’d get all creative and make homemade corn dogs. I found a recipe online for making oven-baked spicy corndogs. Perfect! Or so I thought. The thick batter stuck to the dogs really well, at least until I put them in the oven. The batter sort of slid off and made a pool around the dogs. It looked so bizarre with the hot dog just chilling, naked, in the middle of a cornbread biscuit. The sad part is, the crust tasted really good. It was sweet and spicy and crisp. It was everything you’d want wrapped around your hot dog… it just wasn’t wrapped around the hot dog. Because of their bizarre look, the guys didn’t really go for them. I seeing good food go to waste, but there was nothing I could do. Luckily tonight’s dinner was a safe one. I could make spaghetti with meat sauce in my sleep. By the way, the internet still wasn’t working. It’s really beginning to annoy me. What am I supposed to do in the afternoon if I can’t mess around on the internet? They said they were working on it, but I’ll believe that when I can start reading my 9 Chickweed Lane again every day. (Have you ever read that comic? It’s my favorite because they have a cat that is my George to a T complete with sleeping on the face and random spazz attacks.

Well, lunch may have been a big fat fail, but dinner last night wasn’t. I made red beans and rice with smoked sausage. I knew it was going to be popular when I had several guys come down to investigate what smelled so good. If the pied piper wanted to attract frat boys instead of rats, all he would have to do is put down his flute and sauté some sausage, onions and garlic together. I was going to grill the sausage, but it was really cold and windy yesterday. You can’t make me grill when the wind chill is 15. But, I didn’t hear any complaints. Next week I might be sneaky and do the spaghetti burgers on the griddle rather than on the grill…

Red Beans and Rice with Smoked Sausage
Serves 26-30

8 lbs Smoked Sausage
2 cups Onion, chopped
5 cloves Garlic, minced
1/3 cup Hot Sauce
2 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp Black Pepper
6 cans Diced Tomatoes, drained
10 cups Chicken Broth
5 cups Rice
5 cans Red Beans, drained (if you can’t find canned red beans, you can cook 2 lbs of the dried ones according to the directions on the bag)
Vegetable Oil

Slice the sausage into approx. ½ inch slices, cut in half again. Sauté half of the onion, garlic and sausage over medium high heat until onions are soft and translucent. Repeat with the remaining sausage garlic and onions. In a large stock pot, add meat, garlic and onions to the remaining ingredients. Stir well and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until rice is tender.

Note: You can grill the sausage, just omit it from the recipe and follow the directions for the rice and serve the sausage alongside the rice. You can make this meal lighter by substituting turkey sausage and brown rice.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Generally Gloomy

Lunch: Sloppy Joes, French Fries and Apples and Oranges
Dinner: Russian Chicken, Buttered Noodles and Peas

It’s cold and raining again. It has been dark and dreary all day; I suppose it could be worse, I could live up North where they’re getting dumped on with snow. It’s hard to remember 20 inches in a night. I vaguely remember blizzards. I do remember getting stuck at a friend’s house after a surprise snow storm and having to stand at outside at the bottom of the hill waiting for my dad to come and rescue me. I can also remember the blisters on my hands after having to dig out the driveway. Snow is deceptively heavy. While part of me has snow day envy and misses sledding and snowball fights. I do not envy freezing cold blizzards that knock out power and prevent you from going anywhere. I also would not like to imagine trying to catch the bus in blowing snow. I’ve had to do that before… it’s not fun. Snow is also deceptively sharp.

Speaking of the bus, there seems to be a rise of Chatty Cathy’s lately. I was sitting in front of a woman this morning who was chatting loudly on her cell phone. She was describing in great detail her recent weight gain and botched perm. I couldn’t help it, I had to sneak a peek at her. She did rather resemble a chubby poodle which makes me feel bad for thinking. But, I never would have even noticed her if she hadn’t practically announced it to everyone. Currently the person behind me is having an in-depth conversation on the phone about horses. I really don’t want to listen in. I’m wearing headphones and am listening to some Norah Jones (fitting for such a rainy day), but I can still hear here over the music. I did see someone riding a horse through the center of town one night on their cell phone. It was quite possibly one of the most bizarre things I’d ever seen.

Because I’ve already given you guys my recipes for sloppy joes and Russian chicken, I thought I might share a recipe that Tyler and I made last night. It’s for a less fattening General Tso’s Chicken. General Tso’s chicken is one of my favorite Chinese food dishes. But the deep fried chicken bits in a sugar-filled sauce are simply not on the diet plan. Tyler also loves Chinese food, so we made this and he loved it. The chicken is crisp and the sauce is sweet and spicy and it really does satisfy a craving for the real General’s chicken. Tyler even liked the snow peas.

General Tso’s Chicken
Serves 4

¼ cup Cornstarch
½ lb Snow Peas
4 cloves Garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Ginger
3 tbs Brown Sugar
2 tbs Soy Sauce
½ tsp Red Pepper Flakes
2 Egg Whites
Salt and Pepper
1 lb Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tbs Vegetable Oil
½ cup Water

In a bowl, mix together 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and ½ Water; add in snow peas, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, soy sauce and Snow Peas.

In another bowl, combine remaining 3 tbs of cornstarch, egg whites, salt and pepper. Coat chicken in mixture. In a large skillet heat 1 tbs of oil over med-high heat. Add half of chicken mixture to the skillet and cook until golden brown and set aside on a plate. Repeat with remaining oil and chicken and set aside when cooked through. Add snow pea mixture and cook, stirring often, until the mixture thickens. Add chicken and stir to coat. Serve over brown rice.

Note: Tyler likes veggies so crisp they’re practically raw. If you would like yours a little softer, after you dump the sauce and snow peas in the pan, you may want to cover it and allow it to cook a little longer.

Monday, February 8, 2010

There Are No Hamburgers In Barbeque

Lunch: Chicken Patty Sandwiches, Chips and Oranges
Dinner: Brunswick stew and Rice

Today has, so far, not been much of a “Monday”. Of course, I’m still at work and haven’t braved the traffic home yet. But, so far I can’t complain and that’s saying something because I had to get groceries today. Ok, I only had to get half of the groceries as I got the Kroger half yesterday. Still, Sam’s Club was blessedly empty and I got in, got out and got everything that I needed and was even under budget. Staying in budget has been a constant struggle this semester. With such a low budget, it’s been tough coming up with menus that will satisfy the frat boy’s desire for a meat-filled mini feast that’s still budget friendly and varied. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s make the same thing week after week. Any way… I’m a little off topic. There were no major snafus making lunch and the guys seemed to enjoy it (even if it was sort of a cafeteria-ish lunch). It is 2:45 and dinner is almost ready. Of course, the Brunswick stew recipe is rather dump, cover and leave. It almost belongs in that Man a Can a Plan Recipe Book.

Brunswick stew is a very Southern dish. I’d never heard of it before coming to GA. Then, when it was explained to me, I was told it was made with squirrel and rabbit. It might have once been made with small rodent and there are probably places where you can find it prepared that way, I just don’t go there. Banjos scare me. No, Brunswick stew is generally made with shredded pork and/or chicken. Everyone you meet has a different recipe for it. It is most frequently to be found in real barbeque joints. In case you don’t know the difference. To any good southerner, barbeque refers as much to the sauce as the preparation of the meat. To a Southerner, a barbeque is not a get together with friends where you serve hot dogs and hamburgers off the grill. That is called grilling. No, barbeque consists of slow-cooked, smoked meat that is accompanied by barbecue sauce. There are several different variations to this sauce, a South Carolina sauce is generally mustard based while a North Carolina Sauce is thinner and spicier. Kansas City sauce is the kind most typically found on grocery store shelves, it’s thick and sweet and not as sharp or spicy as other sauces. Georgia sauce is somewhere in-between. It’s usually thinner and more vinegar based with hints of sweetness. This is just the kind of sauce I like. Again, I’m off on a tangent (although anyone who’s had real south barbecue will forgive me for wanting to clarify). The backbone of most Brunswick stew is pulled pork, a southern barbeque staple. Pulled pork is a Boston butt that’s been smoked slow and low until it’s falling-apart tender. The meat is then pulled apart to form long, thin shreds of pork. This makes the stew thick and super hearty. A good Brunswick stew is almost thick enough to eat with a fork.

Brunswick Stew
Serves 26

1 large Onion, chopped
2 Green Bell Peppers, chopped
4 cups Frozen Okra
6 pounds Barbeque Pulled Pork
6 cans Rotelle Tomatoes
1 bulk-size can Tomato Sauce
4 cups Frozen Corn
2 quarts Chicken Broth
2 teaspoons Salt
2 teaspoons Pepper
1 ½ cups Barbecue Sauce
1 ½ tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
4 cups Canned Chicken, shredded

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours.

Note: Barbecue Pulled Pork can be found in bulk (4 pounds each) at Sam’s Club or can be found in small tubs at any grocery store. You can also use left-over pulled pork from last week’s Jamaican Pulled Pork. While it isn’t traditional smoked pulled pork… it certainly works.

As Always, I have tried most of these recipes at home before cooking them for the guys, if you would like a more family friendly sized recipe… let me know and I’ll give it to you (free of charge too! ;-) )

Friday, February 5, 2010

Because I Didn't Want To

Brunch: Raisin Walnut Monkey Bread, Sausage and Fruit

Friday is typically grocery day. But, I decided to postpone grocery day. Here are my reasons:
1. When I woke up this morning, the cat was cuddled up next to me under the blanket, and I didn’t have the heart to move him so I slept in a little longer.
2. It’s raining. It rained all night; it rained all morning; it’s still raining.
3. It’s Friday before the Super Bowl, and Sam’s club would be packed.
4. Traffic on a rainy Friday is usually abysmal.
5. I’m lazy and wanted to go home and cuddle my cat some more.
Speaking of abysmal traffic, I was late getting in this morning because of the rain-related back up. When I got in, I got straight to business. Not 5 minutes after I got there, one of the brothers came down. He poked his head in and said, “Oh good, you’re here.” Apparently some of the brothers were worried because I wasn’t there yet. They weren’t concerned about my safety on a wet dismal day where the roads were slick. They were concerned they wouldn’t get their monkey bread on time. They didn’t, it was 15 minutes late getting out, but no one came down to check on it in that 15 minutes so I don’t think it really mattered. Although, I’ve come to realize that you don’t get between these boys and their monkey bread. When I first started here, none of them even knew what monkey bread was (clearly not a lot of boy scouts in the lot). But they realized they really really love it, and I have heard a boy who was not on the meal plan attempt to trade one of the boys who was on the plan beer for his plate of monkey bread. That’s a pretty serious trade there. Frat boys take their beer seriously.

As it is Super Bowl weekend, I thought I might give you a meal idea that is easy, cheap to make in bulk and delicious. I made this for the guys and it was a huge success, and if it passes frat boy standards, it’s certainly worthy of football fare. It’s Jerk Pulled Pork. You can fix it ahead of time and just reheat it for game time. It also freezes well in case you want to make a big batch just to have some on hand.

Jerk Pulled Pork
Serves 28

10 lbs Pork Shoulder (boneless is good, but I couldn’t find it at Sam’s so I used bone-in, and it worked just fine. You can also use pork roast)
2 liters Coke or Dr Pepper (I like using Dr. Pepper because it lends a little something-something to the mix)
1 bottle Jamaican Jerk Rub or Dry Seasoning Blend (approx 1/3 cup)
2 quarts BBQ Sauce

Rub the meat down with the Jerk spices until it’s seasoned on all sides. Place in a slow cooker and add coke. Put on low and cook for 8 hours. After 8 hours, pork should be falling apart. Remove the roast(s) from the slow cooker and discard all but 2 cups of juice. Using 2 forks, shred the pork. Return the pork to the slow cooker and add reserved juice and BBQ sauce and stir until pork is coated. Cover and cook for an additional 30 minutes. Serve on buns or garlic toast with pickled pepperoncini slices.
Note: You can also make this in the oven, it just takes a while. You’ll want to use a heavy duty casserole with high sides like a cast-iron dutch oven or an oven-proof ceramic crock. It needs to be tightly covered with foil or a lid. Bake for 6-7 hours on 200.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Stupid Picky Fart Boys

Lunch: BBQ Lil’ Smokies and French Fries
Dinner: Chicken and Sausage Paella and Rolls

Despite the gloomy, rainy weather, today doesn’t seem as bad as yesterday. But then again, I still have half the day. The rain even held off long enough for me to take my walk today. Hooray me for continuing with my goal! I also got to wear my adorable rain boots, although I probably looked rather silly this morning wearing yoga pants and rain boots. Eh, I really don’t care. I had a teacher in high school who always wore white knee socks, white sneakers and floaty skirts. I also had a teacher in college who wore bells all the time and smelled like patchouli oil, but we won’t talk about her because it upsets me.

So, I struck out with the Italian meatball soup. Apparently the veggie to meat ratio was just too high… Argh! I’m fairly sure there is no secret combination. I doubled the meat! Sigh… there simply is no pleasing frat boys. (Please note, when I first typed this, I accidently put fart boys, which I believe should work interchangeably) Tonight I’m making chicken paella, similar to the one I made for Tyler’s birthday (see recipe here: Chicken_and_Shrimp_Paella ) except I’m exchanging sausage for the shrimp. Sadly, Spanish Chorizo is difficult to find and rather expensive, so I had to sub some spicy Italian sausage. Please note: Spanish Chorizo is very different from Mexican Chorizo, which is rather widely available at grocery stores in the South. Spanish or Portuguese Chorizo is a deep red-colored smoked sausage in a casing. Mexican chorizo is uncooked and usually sold bulk or not in a casing. The two are not interchangeable. If you live in the Atlanta area, the DeKalb farmers market sometimes carries a good Spanish Chorizo (made in house) that is not terribly expensive. I would have gone there (they have really cheap fresh fruits and veggies!) but they are far away and rather a pain to get to. I’m all about getting my butt home on grocery day.

Paella is one of those weird dishes that seem a lot easier to make in bulk than in family portions. This concept is still new to me. When I made it for Tyler, I was in the kitchen for well over an hour when a typical meal for us only takes 30 minutes. Making dinner for the guys can take anywhere from 2-4 hours depending. If you were to count the things that I prep in advance (such as veggie dicing or marinating) or stuff that I start cooking when I start breakfast (barbecue ribs) then we’re looking at even longer. The thing is, dishes that are a snap to whip up at home (chicken and dumplings take 30 minutes at home) can take a surprisingly long time to make in bulk (3 hours). Then in reverse, the paella will only take me 2 hours… It doesn’t always work that way. For example, beef stew takes a long time either way. Of course, I am cheating a bit with the paella for the guys. Rather than sauté the chicken and sausage on the stove top, it’s cooking in the oven. I wouldn’t recommend doing your chicken in the oven at home because it would take less time for you to sauté it and it will come out better, but the frat has a large convection oven that cooks the chicken faster and at a lower temp which keeps it from drying out. I am also using frozen onion and pepper slices. Hey, bell peppers are out of season, expensive, and time- consuming to chop. I can buy them frozen and they’re already cut into perfect strips (hooray for no onion hands!). I’m fairly sure the guys will like this because it is basically just meat and rice with only the tiniest hint of veggies (a smattering of peppers and onions and a handful of frozen peas). Of course, I’ve been wrong before.

Chicken and Dumplings
Serves 24

10.5 cups Milk
7 cups Frozen Mixed Veggies (the kind with carrots, green beans, corn and peas)
2 large Onions, chopped
1 head Garlic, minced
7 pounds Boneless, Skinless Chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
8 cans Cream of Chicken Soup
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil
7 cups Bisquick
2 1/3 cups Milk
1 tbs Garlic Powder

In a large dutch oven, drizzle several tablespoons of oil and heat over medium high. Add onion and garlic and sauté until tender and transparent. Remove onions and garlic and add in chicken (you may need to add more oil). Season chicken with salt, pepper and paprika. Brown over medium-high heat until cooked through. Add in 10.5 cups of milk, frozen veggies, cream of chicken soup and onions and garlic, combine thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring mixture up to a boil, stirring continuously. Lower to a simmer (you want small bubbles breaking on the surface continuously, but not at a boil). Combine remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl to form a soft dough. Drop mixture by the tablespoonful onto the chicken. Try not to drop the mixture into the liquid otherwise the dough will not cook properly and will stay doughy. Cook uncovered for 15 minutes. Cover and cook until the dough steams and becomes more biscuit like and is no longer dough (can take between 15-30 minutes, check every 5 minutes after the first 10 minutes).

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Mondays

Meh… I’ve really got a case of the Monday’s. While I do enjoy my job, it is still a job and there are times that I simply don’t want to do it. I most certainly did not want to get up at 6am so I could stand be standing in the cold at the bus stop at dawn only to find the bus was 10 minutes late. I didn’t really want to walk a mile from the bus stop to work in the cold. I really didn’t want to have to track down someone with a key to open the pantry when I found it locked this morning (why don’t I have a key?). Then I had to make chicken quesadillas, which seemed suddenly very irksome and boring. It was definitely a case of the Mondays. I felt better after I went for a long walk around lunch time (a good start to my “mini French” diet/ new routine/lifestyle). After all the hullabaloo and stress over work the past few weeks, I’m glad things are getting back to a somewhat functioning “normal”. But, life at a frat house is never really normal. There are constant surprises and quandaries (why, for example, don’t they like strawberry Jello? I made a whole tray of it and they didn’t touch it. Perhaps I should have made jigglers and cut them into shapes…) There was also a nearly full case of beer in the fridge. This is truly a quandary because generally on Monday there’s only an empty cardboard case that the beer came in residing in the fridge. There was, however, an empty pan that contained the dregs of the chicken and dumpling I made last Thursday night. Apparently they really liked it, despite the fact that it was chock full of veggies. I’ll have to put up that recipe later on this week.

It is now nearly 10pm and I’m feeling like the Mondays might be spreading and become the Tuesdays… After all the bus home was 15 minutes late and then there was a big pile up on I-20. And if all that didn’t make the trip home long enough, on the way to dropping people off at one of the stops on the way home, we watched a large truck turn over on the on-ramp. No one was hurt, but the truck completely blocked the on ramp meaning that the bus had to take an alternate route and we got in 45 minutes late. Also it’s Monday night, Tyler’s big TV watching night which means I’m hiding in the bed room with head phones on. I hate 24; I think it’s stupid and really loud. Is it wrong of me to wish that our surround sound would mysteriously get “sick” every Monday night?

I did get to try a new recipe today, Italian Meatball Soup from the Pioneer Woman. As any good soup, it is a little time-consuming. If making it in bulk, it really requires a lot of chopping (4 cups each of potatoes, onions, celery, and carrots and 2 small cabbages) I also made home-made meatballs for it rather than cheating and getting the frozen mini meatballs. While I doubt the guys will appreciate the hard work of homemade meatballs, I don’t think the soup would have been nearly as fantabulous without them. They had lemon juice in them, very different but very tasty. Because I have the Mondays, I’m going to cheat a little and just post a link to the site. Because I’d never made it before, I didn’t really deviate from the recipe. I tried a little of it before I left, and it was heavenly. Fate will determine if the guys liked it, but it certainly filled the whole lodge with the most fabulous beefy, oniony homey smell (good smells in a frat house are none just a rarity but really unheard of). It hit levels of nirvana when I pulled the dinner rolls out of the oven. So here is the recipe in all of its glory: Italian-Meatball-Soup

Note: I did change how much meat was in the soup. I made a quadruple batch of the soup, but doubled the meat for that. So, if you quadruple the recipe it calls for 3 pounds of ground beef, well I did about 6.5-7. I feed frat boys. If I’m going to convince them to eat a soup full of cabbage and carrots, it better have meat in every bite. It worked out rather well and made for a very hearty soup. I also had to up the dose on all the other meatball ingredients. So, to recap I quadrupled the soup ingredients and octupled the meatball recipe. (Ok, octuple is a word, I double checked it at, so why is my spell check saying it’s wrong?)