Monday, September 27, 2010

This last weekend I made the trip down to beautiful NashVegas, where my brother and his family live.  Ted Kluck, world-famous author/speaker/screenwriter/publishing mogul, was the featured speaker at the men's retreat hosted by my brother's church.  So off went Ted and Jeff to do Very Manly Things, leaving Catha and I to corral 6 squirrely kids.  It was a great weekend, with some great food.  Catha has perfected a recipe for this unique sourdough pizza -- it's totally amazing.  And I would share the recipe with all of you -- except that you have to start with this special sourdough starter, and you can't share that over a blog. So we'll all just have to content ourselves with the boring yeast dough pizza crust recipe in my cookbook.

Speaking of cookbooks!!!  My brainchild, my Magnum Opus, just moments ago was forwarded on to Gut
Check Press's own copy and layout editor-extraordinare: Nicole LaChance, the Intern!  What does that mean to you, you ask?  It means that soon, very soon, you will be able to get your grubby little paws on your very own copy of Saucy Broad!  Yes, the wait is almost over -- all my secret recipes will soon be yours.  Begin salivating now.

Ahem.  I got a little off topic there.  That's bound to happen, I guess.  My whole point with that long lead up was to talk about the Food Network show Chopped.  I started with all of that because we don't currently get the Food Network at our humble abode, so I only have the opportunity to watch it when I'm someplace that does (like Jeff and Catha's house.)  I have a love/hate relationship with Chopped.  It is true that almost any show on TV (sports excepted, commercials included) will keep me glued to the tube, unable to do anything else, including complete a sentance.  I blame this on my mom, who limited my childhood TV watching so much that the forbidden fruit element is just too tantalizing, to this day.  Moms, you better let the kiddies watch a little, or they might turn out like me! 

I digress again.  Chopped, from the very first time I saw it, was even more riviting than the average TV drivel.  I love the food element, of course, and the creativity that is a part of each show.  But the judging is insane!  The first few times I watched it (obsessively, several shows in a row, one night this summer while holed up in a hotel room with a sweet cable package) I actually got personally nervous as the judges picked apart each chef's offering!  As in, heart pounding, palms sweating, trouble breathing, the whole works!  I couldn't sleep that night, laying awake wondering just what I would have made from sardines, papaya and ginger snaps.  In case you've never seen the show - 4 chefs come in and have 30 minutes to prepare an appetizer, then entree, then dessert encorporating 4 mystery ingredients that are totally random.  After each round, the judges taste the food, make a bunch of snobby critiques (such as "he didn't appreciate the texture of the tortilla!"), and elimate one of the chefs.  By the time it's the dessert round, only 2 chefs are left, and it's pretty intense.  I always feel so bad for these poor chefs, who have to come up with a dish off the fly encorporating ingredients they have often never cooked with or tasted, only to have their efforts ripped by these food snobs.  Yet there is something about it that makes me itch to try it!  I'm sure I'd crumple under the pressure, but yet it's all so intriguing.

I've always had a weird problem with competition.  I hate the Olympics -- it seems so sad and injust to me that the absolute fastest people in the world get together, and then somebody lives and dies over 1/100th of a second.  I mean, most people can't run a mile in less than 7 minutes, much less 4 something.  I just sort of feel like they should all get medals.  Ted assures me that this is the deeply buried Commie in me coming out.  I guess I feel the same way about Chopped.  I mean, these people show up and whip up something fabulous under the craziest of circumstances, and then these judges have the nerve to criticize?  It makes me crazy!  But you better believe I'll be there, glued to the tube, pulse pounding, mind racing, the very next chance I get.

Cooking for 50

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lots of you know (and there are lots of you, I'm sure, dear readers!) that I cook for this program at my church.  It's called Christianity Explored, and it's this cool way for skeptics and people who are curious about Christianity to come discuss it in an almost academic-type setting.  It's really cool, and since we're close to a huge university, lots of people from other countries have come and checked it out.  And, to sort of sweeten the deal, we serve dinner at the beginning -- and that's my domain!

When I was first asked to cook for this, I had distasteful visions of churning out watery plates of spaghetti or sad bisquick pancakes, and I wasn't real interested.  But then I was told that I would have a budget, but I could make whatever I wanted.  So I jumped in.  We've been doing this now for ... gosh, I can't even remember, 4 or 5 sessions  (each session is 10 weeks) and I just love it. I sit around and dream up new and exciting meals to make, and ways to make old favorites better.  I have an awesome crew of friends who come in and help me, and we whip up some mighty tasty meals, I have to say.  And we have a great time doing it!

So last night was the beginning of a new session, and as usual on the day of the first CE, I was so excited yesterday afternoon that I couldn't even take a nap!  We had a great lineup of dishes: Balsamic Chicken, what I call "Pesto Primavera" (it's pasta and fresh, sauted veggies like carrots and zuchinni and bell peppers topped with homemade pesto sauce.) and Bruschetta (toasted bread topped with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella - see picture below).  A luscious Brownie Cheesecake topped with Raspberry Sauce finished it off -- quite well, too, if I may say so.  Gosh that was a good meal!  And yes, all those recipes are in the cookbook.

Bruschetta topping
The thing I love about food, besides the way it tastes so good, is the way it brings people together.  I had my crew in the kitchen, laughing and talking and having a great time (Ted always comes with random, crazy questions that we all have to answer.  This week it was "what famous person would you like to beat up?"  That Ted, what a card!) And then outside the kitchen were people, literally, from all over the world, getting together and talking about God.  All over the catalyst of food.  Isn't that something?

Roll Up...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hey Readers,

A wise person (my mother in law) told me I should actually put some of my book recipes on the blog.  So here's a recipe straight out of the book, for fajitas, in all their rolled, sizzling glory.  I served this meal recently at the Gut Check Press/Facing Tyson wrap party, to celebrate the completion of Ted's first audio book (which is the audio version of his first book).  The book is amazing, and if you don't invest $12.99 to acquire it, frankly, I don't know what's wrong with you.  I weep for your future. 

Anyway.  It was a great party, and it gave us a change to rekindle some old connections, Jen and Bill Colin, who weirdly enough were old acquaintances from Taylor University and are now members of the Gut Check Army (Bill's company did the audio on FT, and did so splendidly I might add).  A great time was had by all. To reproduce the fiesta atmosphere (minus the awesomeness of Ted and Zach) at "Su Casa" follow the recipe below: 


I love fajitas, the whole sizzling meat thing. For a while I would use these lame marinades and spice packages, but it was never that great. Then, our good friends Chris and Beth lived in LA for a few years, and when they came back home, they showed us how it's done in the southwest. It's so much simpler, fresher, and tastier than all that bottled goo, I've been doing it this way every since. I didn't include amounts here, because it's really easy to adjust to your tastes and family size. But just for proportion sake, I would probably use 2 chicken breasts with 1 each onion and bell pepper, and it would serve 3 or 4 people. This is a meal that makes the most sense to make for lots of people, because it's best with a whole lot of food variety (several different colored peppers, but you only need a little bit of rice and beans.)

olive oil

boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced very thin

garlic cloves, minced or pressed

sweet onion (like vidalia), quartered and sliced

colored bell peppers, sliced into bite-sized pieces

fresh limes or lime juice

cilantro leaves, chopped

tortillas, shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole, refried beans and spanish rice to serve with it

Heat some oil over medium heat in a large frying pan or wok. Add the chicken, stirring while you cook until it is nearly cooked through. Squeeze some fresh lime juice over top, sprinkle with cilantro, salt and pepper and finish cooking. Remove from heat and set aside. In the same pan, heat some more olive oil, and add the garlic and onion. Saute until the onion is softened, then add the bell peppers. Cook just for a minute or two (I like my peppers crunchy and not mushy) then squeeze on some more lime juice, sprinkle with cilantro, salt and pepper. Remove from heat and serve with the chicken. Roll it up in tortillas with all the side trimmings:

Tikka Masala

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I'm in the midst of the Big Push to finish my book by Labor Day.  I have this brilliant ability to start projects, and then just sort of ... never finish them.  I get distracted by a new project, or I get overwhelmed by the scope of the project, or I start obsessing over making all the little tiny details of making the project absolutely perfect (which is never possible... thus it never gets finished.)  But my publisher is really breathing down my neck, telling me I gotta finish this book ASAP, so I have buckled down to do it.

Part of this no-nonsense approach to finishing my book included wonderful cooperation from both my mom and my in-laws -- they each took one kid on for a night or two so I could really focus.  And since we didn't have any kids around, my publisher and I decided we'd better seize the day and get inspired over a meal out, at my favorite local restaurant, Sindu.

Sindu is this great Indian (as in South Asia, not Native American) restaurant over near campus.  The service is indifferent, the decor a little sad, the bathrooms dreadful, and the music a strange mix of caterwauling vocals and tinny sitars.  But the food -- holy cow!!!  We were taken there years ago by some friends, and it's been our date night restaurant of choice ever since.  We always (and I mean always) get Chicken Tikka Masala, medium, with a side of Paneer Naan.  This could very well be the sweet and sour chicken of Indian cuisine, with the waiters laughing behind their hands at us uncouth Americans who never try anything else.  But I don't care, it's so, so good! 

Which brings me to an important question:  are common things lame because they are common, or are they common because they are awesome?  I get Tikka Masala because it's awesome.  I read Jane Austen because her books are awesome.  I order Pad Thai because it's awesome.  I love the Bourne Identity movies because they are awesome.  Just because everyone else in the free world knows about these things and likes them doesn't make them any less awesome, does it?  Sure, occasionally you stumble across some little known book, food, movie, boutique, or band that you, in your unique coolness can enjoy and champion -- but if it's that good, other people are probably going to be on to it before too long.  So, now that I've worked this out through the catharsis of my blog, I am now going to proudly order my Tikka Masala without a trace of shame.  Anyone up for Indian food?