Welcome to my world!

I've developed a passion for cooking since childhood, but in the past six years, that passion has grown into a geeky obsession. I love cooking, baking, and most importantly, sharing the love of food with family and friends. I invite you along on my journey of food discovery and passion.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Graduating to a new cookbook

The other weekend I made another batch of perfect pasta and expanded the realm of cooking from "The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian." All told, the average cost per serving of pasta is now down to about $28 per serving, so I'm slowly earning back the money we spent on the pasta extruder.... There's just something about the texture of the homemade pasta - so much more "tooth" to it that really sops up the sauce fiercely.

I paired the fresh pasta with a little garlic and butter and sauteed it simply (this was actually leftover pasta from another dish). I served that with a mixed grill of spiced rubbed chicken paillards (a hybrid recipe from "Cooking Pleasures" magazine, cooked corn-on-the-cob, and a spicy sausage.

IceDaddy is not a rabbit food lover, so I ate the salad. I found a recipe in Rachel Ray's "30 Minute Meals 2" that was a nice complement to the spicy chicken and sausage. It was a combination of sliced onions, tomatoes, and cubed avocado, dressed with extra virgin olive oil, cilantro, lime juice, and salt and pepper. I added cucumber because I had some available (another summer favorite.

While seemingly a meat fest, I have to say, the highlight of the whole meal was the corn. Nothing says summer like fresh corn. We eat that at least once a week in the summer - everything from grilled corn to creamed corn. Here's the recipe that I learned from Ray's grandmother for boiled corn-on-the-cob. It works at any time of the year.

Boiled corn-on-the-cob
4 ears of corn, shucked and silks removed
1 Tbsp. white sugar
Enough water to cover corn
Salt, pepper, and butter to taste.

Break each ear of corn into two pieces. Fill a dutch oven or other large kettle with water and bring to a boil on medium heat. Add sugar and corn and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain, leaving corn in the pot. Add 1 - 2 Tbsp. butter to corn. Cover with pot lid and shake to distribute butter on corn. Add salt and pepper and repeat. (About 1/2 - 1 tsp of each, depending on your preference).

So, with that, "The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian" has earned a place in my cookbook collection! I'm on to evaluating new cookbooks. Anyone have ideas on which one to try next? Here are the options: 1) Rachel Ray's "30 Minute Meals 2" 2)"What Can I Bring" by Ann Byrn (The Cake Mix Doctor) or 3)Matt Martinez's "Culinary Frontiers"

The unusual and the familiar

How many of you love Top Chef?  Ok, no surprise, I'm a Top Chef junkie.  I LOVE watching the Masters probably more than the regular competition because all of the chefs there are arrogant enough that they basically disagree with the judges' criticism every time and say they were "misunderstood."  Raise your hand if you can tell your boss that he/she just "misunderstood" you when you screw up.  Anyone?  Anyone?

Their challenge this week was the exotic food.  That got me perusing the ol' cookbook shelf for some unusual fare and thinking about the things that I love to eat others might find absolutely disgusting.  My cookbook collection is pretty varied, but pedestrian in many cases, so I had a bit of digging to do.  I hit pay dirt in the cookbook, "The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian."  If you want to embrace your inner Chris Cosentino (I'd like to embrace the outer Chris Cosentino), there is a chapter for you!  It's everything offal ("awful") that you can imagine - recipes for brains, pancreas, etc., etc.  Deciding that even my cats probably wouldn't want to partake in that type of feast, I abandoned the plan for Offal Fest 2010 and decided that I could just as easily head about 2 miles away to a hole-in-the-wall Mexican taqueria and have some menudo.  Did it ever strike any of you who know what menudo is that they named an 80's boy band after that dish??

Moving on... I have a confession to make - I love liverwurst and pate.  .  I've never found a 12-step program or support group to help me, but it's something that I will, on occasion, buy some from the deli and eat on white bread.  Yes, my husband married me anyway.  Here's the funny thing - I will NOT touch liver and onions.  Something about that liver on the plate in front of me just becomes unappetizing. 

Second confession - as a child I would eat sardines on white bread.  We would open the tin, put some of those little fishies on white bread, then sop up the oil in the tin with more bread.  I blame Gramma for that since I never once saw my mother touch a sardine.  I have to say, now I won't consider that as a good meal because it's just that unappetizing to me.  Are there any sardine lovers out there? 

Third and final confession - I love steak tartare (minus the egg) and carpaccio.  Carpaccio (thinly sliced raw beef with olive oil and parmesan and sometimes some arugula) is more mainstream now, but at one time pretty unusual.  Growing up, at Christmas we always would have freshly ground raw beef served on rye with pepper and onions.  Definitely not a lot of mistletoe around out house that night! 

So, what did you eat (or still eat) that others might find disgusting?  Tell me, tell me! :) 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fatty happy

Ok, the title of the blog post is an homage to my friend Rachel that always says, "fatty happy" after eating something really good (and usually REALLY bad for you).  I was reminded of that phrase pretty much this entire weekend as I visited the area of my birth and also Chicago the last few days.  I really believe there are more pig out spots per capita in that area than anywhere else, at least pig out food that keep my inner (and outer) fatty happy.  So, while my hips and waistline are not grateful, my soul is.

The inner fatty got fed on Saturday with one of the most heavenly foods - cheese curds!  In particular, the ones at Rock Bottom Brewery.  They were breaded and fried, which is traditional, but they did those with an Italian-style breading and served with marinara, more like mozzarella sticks.  Have to say - they were AWESOME!  For the uninitiated, all a cheese curd really represents is a piece of cheese after the whey is drained but before being pressed into the familar block of cheese.  Fresh cheese curds are unlike most anything you've probably ever tasted - they are a fresh flavor and still have some of the whey on them so they squeak. 

One of the other activities in which I was able to participate was candy making.  Now, for those that know me, I am a candy making machine during the holiday season.  This was actually candy making for my cousin's wedding.  Her dad (my uncle) was helping to make the candy for the guest gift boxes.  I have to say, what we accomplished in 6 hours was nothing short of amazing - 125 cashew clusters, 200+ chocolate dipped pretzels, and 100 peanut butter cups.  I can't say the pb cups got completely finished, but they were close.  This was all done with 24 inches of counter space in the kitchen.  We used every available surface in the house - trays of candy were in the living room, on the kitchen table, on the stove, etc.  Quite a sight!!  That peanut butter filling is so good, I had to share the recipe.  It was a sheet of paper stuck in an old candy making cookbook, so I cannot give credit to any author, and we've literally used it for probably over a decade.

Almost Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
2 - 3 lbs melting chocolate (milk chocolate flavor is best)
1/4 cup light corn syrup (light color, not the dark color)
2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 cup butter, softened
1 lb powdered sugar
Candy cups (find at a craft store)

Peanut butter filling:
In a large mixing bowl, soften butter to room temperature.  Add corn syrup to butter and mix until well blended.  Add the peanut butter and mix until smooth.  Add powdered sugar about 1/2 cup at a time until all of the sugar is incorporated.  Set aside.

Prepping the chocolate cups:
Lay out the candy cups (they look like the waxed paper cup a real Reese's Peanut Butter Cup comes in) on waxed paper or butcher paper (this will allow easier clean-up).  This recipe should make about 50, but can vary by the size of the wrapper chosen.  Melt 1/2 lb of the chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water or in the microwave.  (I work in batches - it's easier to me that way).  Once melted, ladle or pour the melting chocolate in a zip-top plastic bag.  Snip the end of the bag with a scissors (do not make the hole too large).  Squeeze chocolate into the paper cup to cover bottom.  Tilt the paper cup to cover the bottom and about halfway up the side of the cup with the chocolate.  Set cups aside to cool.  Note: this is easier with a partner - one fills the cups with chocolate, the other tilts the cups.  If working alone, fill about 10 cups at a time, then tilt to spread the chocolate, and continue working until all cups are done. (Approximately half of the chocolate should be used to form the base layer of chocolate in the cups).

Filling the chocolate cups:
While the chocolate cups are cooling, scoop out teaspoon-size scoops of the peanut butter filling and lay on waxed paper.  Once the chocolate cups have cooled and hardened, place the filling in each cup and press with your fingers to flatten against the sides of the cup.  Continue filling until cups and filling used up.  Note: the amount of cups filled will vary by size of cups. 

Topping cups with chocolate:
Melt remaining chocolate (1 - 1 1/2 lbs) and add to new zip-top plastic bag.  Cut a corner of bag off  and fill cups to cover peanut butter filling.  Put enough chocolate to cover the filling and tilt cup to spread chocolate out.  Continue topping cups with chocolate.  You can top with thin or thick layers of chocolate to your preference and amount of chocolate remaining.  This should use a total of about 2 - 3 lbs of chocolate.

So, if I started a food business at the holidays and offered the following, which gets your vote?
1) Dakota Crunch
2) White chocolate pretzels with the "secret" ingredient
3) The almost Reese's PB cups

On Sunday, I had the fortune to have my Gramma cook for me while I was visiting her for Mother's Day.  We made steaks, salad, and those 'taters (aka "raw fries").  Definitely a pig-out moment!  I managed to finish out my Midwest trip last night with a gen-yooooo-wine Vienna Beef Chicago dog.  To the uninitiated, it's basically a full meal in a bun and covers all the food groups - bright green relish, mustard, celery salt, pickle, tomato, poppy seed bun, all-beef jumbo dog, sport peppers, and onions.  Frankly, some may think the "kitchen sink" approach to food is not appealing, and I can respect that, but it's really good.  Lots of tastes and textures.

While I didn't stick to my mission of cooking through my cookbooks, I did manage to try some new recipes and enjoy some classic Midwest cuisine in the process!  Fatty happy!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sandra Lee - genius or annoyance?

I confess, in my downtime I watch way too much Food Network, but there is one show I absolutely turn off when it comes on - Sandra Lee's Money Saving Meals.  Either you think she's a genius for taking a Le Cordon Bleu (France campus) education and reducing it down to using pre-made items from the grocery store for like 70% of her stuff, or you absolutely hate what she does and how she does it.  I tend to fall in the latter category.

So, one day when I was looking for new recipes and for cookbooks I really hadn't given much of a chance in my pantry, I found Sandra Lee's first cookbook, "Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade."  It was based on her first TV series and definitely heavily focused on entertaining themes (read: drunken shindigs featuring cocktails for ANY occasion) and party foods to accompany her elaborate tablescapes. 

Sandra - not that you read my blog - but I really think you missed your calling as a party planner/interior decorator.  Dear Food Network - please put her on HGTV instead - she is really a frustrated interior designer masquerading as a chef!  Anyhoo, I found about 5 or 6 appealing recipes and decided to make this cookbook my first victim, er, project in my quest to review my cookbooks. 

Obviously, Sandra had a lot to overcome with my bias against what I previously saw.  I have to say, in trying all the recipes identified, all but one recipe was a bust.  That one recipe, however, was awesome.  I've included a modified version of it that I like better.  The short version doctors up a deli rotisserie chicken quickly.  The long version uses raw poultry and can be done on the grill or in the oven on the broil setting.  It received rave reviews from a neighbor as well:

Lemon-Butter Basted Chicken (short version)
1 deli rotisserie chicken, cut up into pieces
1/4 cup butter, melted (the real thing)
1 Tbsp. Hollandaise sauce mix
1 tsp. lemon herb seasoning
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Turn on oven broiler to low.  Arrange cut-up chicken pieces on baking sheet.  Mix butter, sauce mix, herb seasoning, and lemon juice in a bowl.  Brush chicken pieces with the mixture.  Place in oven for 4 minutes or until skin is crisped up, but not over browned/burned (you should watch carefully).  Remove chicken and turn over.  Baste other side and return to oven for 3 - 4 more minutes, again watching for skin to crisp up, but not burn.  Remove from oven and baste again before serving with remaining sauce.  Goes well with a rice dish and steamed veggies.

The verdict: Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade Cookbook was repurposed to a friend who does a lot of entertaining, often with themes.  There, the cookbook happily resides with someone who appreciates her talents.

The meals from childhood

I once asked IceDaddy what his favorite meal that I make for him is.  His answer didn't surprise me much - he loves "sausage and 'taters."  For those that don't speak Texan, that means smoked sausage and sliced, browned up potatoes and a side of ketchup.  This was a meal that we called "sausage and raw fries" growing up.  I cannot explain the oxymoron of "raw fries;" I just accept that reality.  It was both filling and sodium-laden and truly is something I consider comfort food.  If we're having a bad day, generally we choose one of three options for dinner:
a) sausage and 'taters
b) an entire tube of cookie dough
option c) is to consume both - this is reserved for emergency purposes only as the paramedics must be standing by at all times when this occurs

So here's my recipe and variations that I make to satisfy his need for comfort food.  I've recently started mixing it up a bit by adding garlic powder.
Sausages and 'Taters
1 link smoked sausage (1 lb total); I love jalapeno sausage as a variation
2 large russet potatoes, cleaned and sliced thin
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1-2 Tbsp. butter
Salt, pepper, and garlic powder

Preheat skillet to medium-high and add olive oil.  When oil is hot, place a layer of potatoes in the skillet.  Season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Continue adding potatoes and season.  Saute until potatoes are cooked through and browned - I usually brown, add some water and cover to steam through for about 5 minutes, and uncover.  When cooked through, add butter to skillet for final browning and flavor.  While cooking potatoes, add sausage to a saucepan with a little water.  Heat on medium until sausage is warmed, water has cooked off, and sausage starts to brown.
**if you have time, grill the sausage - it tastes even better that way

I have to say, the meals that I grew up with and remember most are actually meals my Gramma (dad's mom) made.  She is, as my brother said as a young child, "a good cooker" and all six of her grandchildren have requests for her to cook their favorites when they visit.  Due respect to my cousins that each have their favorites, it's my blog and I get to say which ones are mine! :)

To explain my favorites, a little insight on my heritage.  I am from a blend of Polish and German ancestors (maybe some Russian too, depending on whom in the family you ask) and was raised as a young child in Milwaukee.  My early culinary memories tend toward sausage, potatoes, and foods with German or Polish inspirations.  Of all the meals we had, the one that we consistently request is Gramma's breaded pork steaks, dilled mashed potatoes, applesauce, and sauerkraut.  Now, before you haters that dis sauerkraut get all upset, if you've never had sauerkraut cooked the way she makes it, you need to reserve judgment until you've tried it.  Gramma rinses off the brine and then cooks it with brown sugar and caraway seeds so that the taste becomes sweet and sour and morphs from the hot dog topping we usually know.

The other meal that is uniquely hers is Fireman's Stew.  I honestly have no idea how it got that name, but it takes advantage of one of the most underutilized tools in our kitchen - the pressure cooker.  Fireman's stew is a meat-and-potatoes 50's kind of meal.  It was something my dad grew up eating and my brother and I requested often when visiting Gramma in Milwaukee.  So simple - layers of peeled, sliced russet potatoes, ground beef, and canned whole tomatoes sliced up (with juice poured over) and salt and pepper between each layer, cooked in the pressure cooker and served with a side of green beans.

I sit here in Gramma's kitchen as I visit her for Mother's Day weekend and think back to all of the wonderful food that has come out of a room with 24 inches of counter space!  How she did it, I will never know, but I can tell you that what my cousins and I will fight for most when she's gone is her recipe book!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The most amazing meals...

IceDaddy and I have an anniversary coming up this month.  Last year, we had the opportunity to take a dream trip to the Mediterranean.  This year, not so much.  Given a choice between having a material good, and the enriching experience of traveling, I would choose traveling hands down.  We still wax poetic on the adventures and especially the food. 

I was browsing the cookbook section of Half Price Books the other day (yes, that is one of my favorite stress-relieving activities), and found a cookbook on Italian cooking.  It was actually to accompany an old PBS series where a tv chef personality travels Italy and experiences various different cuisines.  Besides the fact that the book only cost $3, what pulled me in was the cookbook editor, Maria Guarnaschelli.  WARNING: Foodie Geek moment....  She is one of the better known cookbook editors, with a now semi-famous daughter, Alex - a chef and Food Network personality.  Yes, dear readers, I chose a cookbook for the editor!  The cookbook?  The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian.  Have to say, not sure how authentic some of the recipes are, but I did experience culinary inspiration to focus on the basics of good Italian cooking - simple quality ingredients brought together with love.

So, with that in mind, I'll share my story of the most amazing meal we had in Italy and how that inspired me this weekend to cook some authentic Italian fare.

Begin Shameless riff on "Golden Girls"
Picture it... Sicily, er, Civitavecchia, Italy, 2009.  A couple visiting the Mediterranean on a cruise pools resources with 3 other couples to hire a driver to tour Rome and Vatican City in 8 hours.  After driving into Rome in what can only be described as INSANE traffic, the group tours amazing sites such as the Panthenon, the Coliseum, and the Trevi Fountain.  Feeling famished, they decide to break from the intensity of that much sightseeing and enjoy a Tuscan lunch.  Their driver, sensing they needed a break from the touristy places, takes them to a lovely restaurant literally across the street from the wall of Vatican City.  There, the group observes the Pope's helipad (no actual activity noted) and dreams of the afternoon to come seeing the treasures not sold off to pay the legal bills of the Vatican for the abuse scandals.

The menu was, by American standards, elaborate for a lunch, but fairly normal by Italian standards.  For 20 EUR each, we enjoyed an appetizer, pasta, main course, dessert, and bottled water and wine.  The appetizer, for the meat eaters, was a charcuterie plate with bruschetta, salamis, and cheeses.  For the pasta course, I think my favorite part was where IceDaddy took a bite and said, "wow - I didn't know tomato sauce could taste like this!"  (His prior reference point consisted of debating the merits of Prego vs. Ragu).  While starting to experience a food coma, we pressed on to the main course, a lovely veal scalloppini with fresh lemon and butter.  To finish out the lunch was DECADENT chocolate cake. 

But that's not where it ends - oh no!  As we were on a mission to eat our way through Italy, we gilded the lily with gelato after seeing the Sistine Chapel.  The words "sensory overload" cannot begin to describe the sounds, tastes, and overall feel of Rome - they are burned into our psyche and will stay a treasured part of us for the rest of our days.  If ever you have the chance to experience your own dream destination, I promise, whether the day winds up perfect or not, you will always remember!

Texas-style culinary inspirations

I recently read a book called "French Fried" by Harriett Welti Rochefort.  It is both an instructional guide on French customs from the perspective of an American who met and married a Frenchman and now lives in France and a rant on how much better the formality of French entertaining is versus American-style meals.  While I certainly respect that author's perspective after 30 years living in another country, I respectfully beg to differ on one item - the formality of entertaining.  She stated that entertaining guests for dinner in France means providing your "best meal" often in multiple courses and that it would be looked down upon the host/hostess to have a potluck or more casual entertaining.  While I am certain there are those that always follow that custom of formal entertaining stateside (I'm guessing many that do choose to cater that spread!), we are the land of the potluck and the barbecue.  While I think both styles have their place, maybe it's just the familiarity of a casual entertaining style and casual food that appeals more.  The same goes for providing food for others - is there nothing more soul-satisfying than digging into a yummy casserole prepared by a friend in your time of need?  I think not....

Here in the South especially, it's not considered rude to ask people to contribute to the meal by providing some type of dish.  Hey, at least you're guaranteed to find one item on the buffet that you enjoy that way!  Back during football season, we hosted some friends to hang out and watch the game.  In the spirit of the Texas style of potlucks and cooking, I turned to the old wall o' cookbooks for inspiration and we had a Texas-style potluck. The cookbooks used for this shindig were: "Recipe Hall of Fame" - a compilation of the best recipes from other cookbooks.  This is perhaps one of my favorites for entertaining; "Matt Martinez's Culinary Frontiers" - a great Tex-Mex cookbook and historical record of the emergence of Tex-Mex cooking from Austin; and finally, a riff on a Pampered Chef recipe called Touchdown Taco Dip.

In celebration of Texas-style food, the menu was a Texas fusion of goodies - King Ranch Chicken cassreole, chili dip, a beefy taco dip (courtesy of Martha!), Mexican rice, and buttery corn.   The chili dip and beefy taco dip were the appetizers.  Since IceDaddy is not a very veggie guy, I left out the olives, lettuce, and tomato that the original Touchdown Taco Dip has. Instead, I took refried beans, layered that in a shallow casserole, mixed sour cream and cream cheese with taco seaoning and put it over that, then dumped a can of chili over all of it and topped with cheese. Baked to a bubbly goodness and served with tortilla chips! I used the willing suspension of disbelief that the dips were anything but healthy....

If there is one dish that I WILL master before I die, it's Mexican rice.  Growing up in San Antonio, I've eaten some of the most amazing Tex-Mex food on the planet (I still crave Tio's Restaurant).  The Mexican rice, when done right, is infused with flavor, and just tender enough without turning to mush.  After trying the same recipe with minor variations about 4 times, I'm 95% there.  Still a little too moist, but close.  Frankly, IceDaddy has never complained, so I must be doing something right.

If I have to name a dish that as ubiquitous with Texas as a longhorn steer, it's King Ranch Chicken. King Ranch chicken is that perfect fusion of 50's casserole and Tex-Mex flavors. Flour tortillas, cooked chicken, cream of chicken soup, Ro-Tel, and cheese - is there a more homey combination? My one variation this go-round was to bake the chicken with a spice mixture of cumin, cayenne, and paprika. Truthfully, I don't think it really added to the flavor of the casserole, but I will remember that for a tasty chicken option!! There are probably 500 different variations on this casserole.  Some add onions or use Velveeta, for example.  Based on my husband's taste preferences, here is the recipe he often requests:

King Ranch Chicken Casserole - Serves 4 - 6 generous portions
1 package fajita-size flour tortillas (you can use corn tortillas if you prefer)
1 can Cream of Chicken soup
2 cups chicken broth
1 package (8 oz) shredded cheddar and jack cheese (2 cups)
1 can Ro-tel original style (tomatoes and chiles), undrained
2 cups shredded or chopped cooked chicken

Spray an 8"x8" pan with cooking spray; set aside.  Slice tortillas into strips (you will need approximately 8 - 10 tortillas).  Mix cream of chicken, broth, and Ro-tel together in a bowl.  Begin layering casserole by putting tortilla strips in a single layer in bottom of pan, slightly overlapping.  Place 1/3 of the chicken on top of tortillas and 1/4 of shredded cheese.  Pour in 1/3 of soup/broth/Ro-tex mixture.  Repeat layers twice more.  Cover and bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.  Remove cover and sprinkle with remainder of cheese.  Bake 10 minutes more.

**Note: I often use reduced-fat and sodium Cream of Chicken soup, fat free flour tortillas, and reduced fat cheese and the recipe is still very good.
If you like it spicier, choose the "hot" version of the tomatoes with chiles

Monday, May 3, 2010

Brisket wars

So, for those of you that aren't from Texas, you may not realize that bbq brisket is like a religion - everyone is loyal to their particular preference and will defend their choice to the death.  The drama aside, cooking a brisket can be a religious experience - rise early to fire up the grill, tend it lovingly with a lack of sleep, thus inducing a trance-like state, and finally the nirvana of that first taste of then bark-crusted goodness.

While I am not a native Texan, my spouse (IceDaddy) is.  He was inspired to craft a delicious brisket for an engagement party recently.  Now, being the competitive people that we are, we decided on our own version of a brisket throwdown.  Approximately 15 lbs of test briskets and 30 lbs of the actual party brisket later, I have to say <<>> our friends refused to tell us who won, but it definitely allowed us to explore the brisket wars firsthand.

So, for those that love a tender brisket, my method was sacrilegious - I didn't smoke the brisket; rather I went Jewish-style and baked the brisket.  Following the instruction of a dear friend (and brisket expert), I marinated the brisket in Shiner Bock beer and liquid smoke, plus a rub that was a riff on Paula Deen's.  I actually pulled that off of the Food Network website rather than her cookbook, but I suspect it could be found in one of them! (recipes from magazines and Food Network are fair game for my purposes)!

IceDaddy worked to perfect the imperfect process of smoking brisket on a gas grill.  Before I completely offend smoker purists, I will apologize and say we worked with what equipment we had (NOTE: he WILL be getting a real smoker in the future).  Using a smoker box with wood chips, and a rub plus a bbq mop of Shiner Bock flavored with onion and more rub, he produced a very delicious brisket (on the second try - first time the rub was not right).  His go-to reference: the Williams-Sonoma Grilling/BBQ cookbook that I gave him about two years ago.  Never opened until the brisket motivated him.  After HOURS of studying and understanding the effects of smoke, different rubs, and mops, he armed himself with his bbq tools and set to work.

For the war o' the briskets... the morning of the competition, er, the engagement party, we awoke at 4 am.  As the briskets needed to be ready by approximately 12 - 1 pm, and they were about 8 - 9 lbs each, early rising was essential.  Goes something like this: 4 am : buzzzzzzzzzzzzz (continues for 5 minutes as hubby groggily misses snooze bar).  4:09 am : buzzzzzzzzzz (hubby turns off alarm, utters a curse, and groans as he rolls out of bed to pull brisket out of fridge.  With eyes still closed, I ask him to pull out my brisket from the fridge as well.  4:30 - IceDaddy has started the grill after changing out propane tank in a panic because it might run out otherwise.  I get out of bed and turn on oven.  4:35 - oven preheated; my brisket is sealed up in tin foil pan and tin foil cover and inserted into oven.  4:40 - I am passed out snoring in bed. 

5:00 - IceDaddy manages to get grill correct temperature despite gale-force winds threatening to blow bbq grill off of patio (that's actually happened twice before), gets brisket on grill, and closes grill to start cooking process.  He hovers over grill until temperature gauge is back up to correct temperature.  6:00 am - IceDaddy, still unable to fall back asleep, is relegated to watching paid programming on television to induce coma-like state.

8:00 am - I get up to begin preparations for party (decorating tables, setting out plates and other decor, etc). Total extra hours of sleep: 3 1/2.  By this time, IceDaddy has checked the brisket once every hour.  Total extra hours of sleep for Ice: 1.  He goes back to sleep until around 10 am, by which time he's ready to start adding the mop sauce to the brisket.  10 am: I check how my brisket is cooking and manage to crease flimsy tin pan thus spilling brisket juices all over bottom of oven.  Rather than scald myself, I re-seal brisket and stick back in oven.  IceDaddy begins mopping process in earnest.

Noon - my brisket is done, but I let it hang out in the oven at a low temp until guests arrive and we're ready to feed the hungry hockey team peeps.  Noon - IceDaddy still cooking.  1:00 - IceDaddy done cooking; decides to pull off brisket as people are armed with forks and knives and looking hungry enough to devour our cats.  1:30, brisket carved and served to hungry masses. 

The verdict: if you're looking for juicy fall-apart tender brisket, come see me - I have the brisket secrets for you!  If you're wanting a more traditional brisket with a decent (if thick) bark, ask the hubs!  Oh, and people ate all 30 POUNDS of our briskets, so either they are very polite or it was actually pretty good.

Welcome food lovers!

Cyberspace has exploded with blogs relating to food. I'm sure we have movies like "Julie and Julia" to thank for that. So, with a nod to Julie Powell, here goes my attempt at blogging on food.

What's my angle on this food blog? I'm a cookbook junkie and downright food geek. I've decided that I have WAY too many cookbooks, so my goal is to select recipes from each cookbook and cook my way through, providing reviews of the recipes and cookbooks as I go. I love drilling into the recipes and the way that logical food pairings and techniques work. I'm a student of cuisines and cooking styles, perhaps somewhat unoriginal in that I'm not inventing new stuff much, but I really enjoy the art and zen of cooking and the appreciation of a good meal. Sprinkled in with this food geekiness(I have to say, food nerd was my other option, but that conjures an image that still traumatizes me from high school), is a perspective on restaurants and other home cooked meals (not my own) from the Dallas area and whereever my travels take me.

The cast of characters:
me - 30-something female living in the Dallas area; born in Milwaukee
Hubby - aka "IceDaddy" - chief taste tester and tech support
Mischa - aka "MischaCat" and "Crazy Mischa" - 1 year old cat that loves to keep me company while I cook, probably hoping to get some of the food
Kites - aka "Pooh" - 13 year old cat that is aloof and can only be bothered when chicken, butter, or cream are involved in the cooking