I'm a former teacher and current stay at home mom with an insane passion for food. I love cooking (and eating) good, satisfying food, prepared simply with fresh ingredients. I've been known to talk to my food as I cook it, and I despise those little stickers they put on produce.
As a baby gourmand, I grew up around people who cooked. So I never questioned my ablity to cook, I just did it. With a 1973 set of Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks as my guide, I began experimenting and creating.
I eventually found myself enrolled at the French Culinary Institute in NYC in a program geared towards "serious amateurs". I spent 10 hours a week in my chef's uniform, chopping, mixing, sautéing, and braising. My experience at the institute armed me with a repertoire of skills that impacts the way I approach everything in the kitchen.
Now with a husband, a big dog, and three kids later, I'm sharing my culinary skills with the world.
Originally posted on January 15, 2011
I was suffering from a major case of the lazies yesterday. I could try to blame it on being pregnant, in the same way that I gave myself full permission to wear sweatpants every single day since the day I got that positive test. But, the truth is that sometimes a case of the lazies just strikes out of nowhere and you can either fight it all day or just submit. Thankfully, this particular strain of lazies seems to have been contagious. The boys were equally content to snuggle on the couch with me for a good part of the day, watching an endless marathon of Nick Jr. and Disney programming, which would have been more tolerable if Nick Jr. weren’t airing the video of Big Time Rush’s, Big Night, during every single commercial break. I’ve heard the song so many times now, that it’s become the ongoing soundtrack in my mind and I’m almost convinced I actually like it. DJ, take me away… At one point, I muttered aloud about the song being stuck in my head, to which my three-year-old attempted to manually remove it from my mouth. Kids are so hysterically literal.
But, the family needs to eat, even on lazy days; perhaps, especially, on lazy days. Gathering the motivation to prepare a meal was a challenge, but I had the perfect, sleepy winter-day meal in mind. I’d picked up a tray of stew beef earlier in the week, with only a framework of a plan in mind; some sort of slow cooked beef over hot buttered noodles. Perhaps a stew of sorts? Only, I’m not really a big fan of stews. I love the tender chunks of meat, but can totally skip the thickened broth or the mushy carrots and potatoes which are typically found in a beef stews. Now, braised beef, on the other hand, with its equally tender chunks of meats and rich, comforting sauce, is an idea I can wrap my mouth around.
The actual preparation time for this recipe is minimal. The ingredient list is pleasantly restrained. The technique is simple. Once it’s in the oven, just sit back and let your house fill with the scent of warm, beefy goodness. We’ll start with some chunks of beef. Many grocery stores will sell packages of pre-cut meat labeled simply as Stew Beef. I used a package of lean, no external fat, stew beef. You can use just about any cut of beef, but tougher cuts, such as beef chuck or round work particularly well for braising. The beef is quickly browned on the stovetop, then combined with braising liquids, covered, and slow-cooked in the oven. Towards the end of the cooking time, we’ll throw in a bit of vegetables. I stuck with pearl onions and mushrooms, but you can adapt the recipe to your tastes by adding any variety of vegetables. Potatoes, carrots, green beans, or peas would all work nicely.
The end result is a comforting mix of tender chunks of beef coated in a thick, flavorful sauce served over hot buttered noodles. Perfect, lazy-day comfort food.
Treat your valentine to a day’s worth of mouth-watering meals. Here are three ideas for each meal, from super simple to more elaborate. Click on the links to see the recipes!
You can also check out the Recipes section for more ideas to delight your sweetie.
Super Simple: Strawberry and Nutella Stuffed French Toast
A Bit More Complex: Cinnamon Raisin Donut Bread Pudding
Manageably Elaborate: Eggs Benedict
Super Simple: Sausage, Bean, and Rapini Soup
A Bit More Complex: Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad
Manageably Elaborate: Quiche Lorraine
Super Simple: Penne a la Vodka
A Bit More Complex: Pork Chops with Fontina and Marsala
Manageably Elaborate: Slow-Braised Beef Short Ribs with Figs over Creamy Brie Potatoes
Super Simple: World’s Simplest Fudgey Brownies with Raspberry Coulis
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Unless otherwise noted, all recipes, photos, and writing on this blog
are the sole property of Amy Deline, The Gourmand Mom.
Back in the spring, I strong-armed a couple of my friends into taking Irish step dancing lessons with me. (I actually didn’t need to twist their arms too hard.) We three became the unlikeliest bunch of dancers you could imagine. It was a blast. We clobbered away through a few classes, along with an (almost) equally novice classmate, before the weather became too hot to continue in our dance space. At that point, we broke for the summer, with the intention of resuming classes come fall.
Well, fall rolled around and I sent an email to our instructor expressing our eagerness to continue. But we never heard back. After a few months with no reply, we’d become fully convinced that we’d been silently dumped as a result of our utter hopelessness in the field of Irish dancing. We couldn’t really blame her. We truly are a hopeless bunch. But then, just as we were about to pack away our dancing shoes, I received a message explaining an email switch, along with an invitation to resume classes. We accepted, of course.
This time though, there are a few other adults in our class and a second instructor. Apparently, our new classmates danced all throughout their childhood and teen years. They’re just picking up where they left off, which is someplace lightyears ahead of the rest of us. While we practiced basic skips, intently concentrating on not running into each other, one of our new classmates gracefully danced circles around us, quite literally. It feels oddly like being stuck in the ‘guppies’ group, aside out advanced classmates in the ‘shark’ group. They’re reading War and Peace, while we struggle through Ted in a Red Bed. Us four clumsy guppies stick as close together as we can without kicking each other. It’s a level of comfort thing. We huddle close together, executing every drill as a unified group, in a fruitless attempt not to draw too much attention to ourselves.
It’s a ridiculously fun time, swimming in our guppy group. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long while. Graceful, we are not. Skillful, we are not. Coordinated, we most definitely are not. But for all we lack in ability, we more than make up for it with enthusiasm. We will probably never have the graceful, swift-footed skills of our river-dancing role models, but we’re certainly having fun with it. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it??
The added bonus is that our weekly lesson and all the practice in between burns a bucketload of calories. Now, if I were smart, I’d save those burned calories and let them work their magic on a bit of weight loss. Oh, but I love food too much and the dancing leaves me ravenously hungry. So, I choose to ‘spend’ my burned calories on fun food, like this Mexican-inspired huevos rancheros pizza. Truth be told, this pizza is fully inspired by nothing more than my desire to cook a pizza with eggs baked into it. It starts with a cornmeal crust, in place of the corn tortillas which would typically be used in huevos rancheros. The homemade crust is then topped with beans, taco sauce, Mexican cheese, chiles, and tomatoes. Fresh eggs are then carefully cracked on top of the pizza before baking for a stunning and unique twist on pizza.
Today’s Focus on Technique – Cooking with Baker’s Yeast
Baker’s yeast is a single cell organism, commonly used as a leavening agent in many breads, pretzel doughs, and pizza doughs. As the yeast feeds on the sugars in the dough, it releases carbon dioxide, which becomes trapped within the dough, causing it to rise and expand. The most common types of yeast used in baked goods are active dry yeast and rapid rise yeast. Rapid rise yeast is made up of smaller particles, which touch a greater surface area of the dough and typically require half as much time to rise. Many people feel that the long rise time required for active dry yeast recipes results in a more flavorful dough.
Typically, many yeast dough recipes begin by proofing the yeast. Proofing is simply a process of dissolving the yeast in lukewarm water. After a few minutes, the yeast should begin to foam, proving that it is alive and ready to work its leavening magic. If the yeast doesn’t foam, it’s time to buy some new yeast. The magic temperature for proofing yeast is somewhere between 110-115°F. To assure you’ve got the right temperature, it’s helpful to use an instant-read thermometer. I usually stick the thermometer in hot water from the tap, then wait until it reduces to the right range before adding the yeast.
Yeast doughs rise best in a draft-free area, on the warmer side of room temperature (around 70°F). If your house is chillier than that, allow extra time for rising. If time is an issue, I sometimes find it helpful to preheat the oven for a bit, then place the bowl of rising dough on top of or near the oven. You don’t need to keep the oven on throughout the rise time; just long enough to release a little extra heat near the rising dough.
** Lots of other interesting information about yeast can be found HERE.
My Lucas is charismatic, enigmatic, and profusely loving. There’s just something insanely captivating about him. He’s a heart-melter for sure, with his big blue eyes, sweet dimples, and long, dark lashes. And he’s mine. More than anyone or anything in the whole world (except perhaps Ninjago legos), he loves me. Not sure how I got so lucky!
The kid says, “I love you sooooo much,” so many times each day that I’d begun to suspect it was just a filler statement; simply something to say when there was nothing else to be said. He even says it in his sleep, when I sneak in at night to kiss his little head before I tuck myself into bed. “Mommy, I love you so much.”
But I’ve come to realize that his words are so much more than sounds to fill the silence. He recently turned to my husband and began to say, “Daddy, I love…” I’d expected the statement to end with his predictable “…you soooo much.” But it didn’t. It was quite beautifully, “Daddy, I love Mommy soooo much.” He’s my precious little lovebug.
On a recent trip to the grocery store, as we walked hand in hand through the parking lot, he squeezed my hand and expressed his sweet statement of love. I returned the sentiment, then we continued into the store. An older woman, who’d been coming from her car, caught the exchange as we passed. I saw her pause and hold her heart for a moment. We ran into that woman as we made our way through the store and she stopped to comment on my sweet boys. I thanked her and she parted with a friendly, “God bless.” As we began to walk away, she shouted back, “What am I saying? Clearly, He already has.”
He certainly has. I have been so generously blessed in love; a family who cherishes and supports me, a husband I can laugh with, children whose love is more contagious than the flu, and the most beautiful friends, who persistently raise me up. This Valentine’s Day, I will celebrate every bit of that priceless, precious love.
Sweet treats are the perfect way to celebrate the sweetest people in your life, like these absolutely decadent, truffle-like cherry cordial brownie bites. They start with my World’s Simplest Fudgey Brownies, which are then blended with a bit of cream cheese, until rich and smooth. The luscious brownie mixture is then rolled into small balls with a Grand Marnier (or orange juice, for the kiddies) soaked cherry in the center, before being dipped in smooth, melted chocolate. A drizzle of melted pink candy and sprinkles provide the perfect final touches.
Today’s Focus on Technique – Using a Double Boiler
The process of cooking with a double boiler (also called a bain marie) is an ideal technique to use when preparing delicate sauces, such as hollandaise, or when melting chocolates. In a double boiler set-up, the food is placed in a bowl which is suspended above simmering water. The water provides a gentle, consistent, indirect heat which prevents finicky foods from breaking (separating) or burning. It works in a similar manner as using water bath to prepare custards and other delicate egg-based dishes. No special equipment or dedicated ‘double boiler’ is required to utilize a double boiler technique. Simply fill a saucepan with an inch or two of water. Place a stainless steel or glass mixing bowl on top of the pot, so that the bottom of the bowl dips into the pot, but does not touch the water. Place the food you’re preparing in the bowl, bring the water to a simmer, and you’re set to go!
For more useful tips, techniques, and culinary photo guides click HERE.
Like many young twenty-something couples, my husband and I spent a good amount of our time, energy, and income on accumulating stuff. We needed the stylish duvet from Pottery Barn, the flatware set from Crate and Barrel, and the clothes from JCrew. When we married, we registered for the long list of items the registry guide told us we needed, fully believing that we would find frequent use for that 50-piece fondue set and the espresso maker with the milk foaming wand. We gathered our items and checked them off the list of things we were ‘supposed’ to have as well-equipped adults. We were consumers to the utmost degree.
But, recently, there’s been a major shift in how we handle our ‘stuff management’. I don’t know if it’s come with parenthood or age or just a general change of perspective, but we now purge, rather than collect. A few months ago, the microwave broke. I liked the counter space better than the microwave, so we didn’t replace it, and we’ve been totally fine since. The blu-ray player broke a few months before that. We dropped it off at the place for recycled electronics and left the shelf empty. This past summer, we sold a good portion of the books and DVDs we’d accumulated over the years and have been thankful for the reduced clutter. Neglected toys and outgrown clothing, we regularly donate to our local rescue mission.
And what we ‘need’ has changed too. Gone are our days of overpriced, trendy bedding and clothing. We buy mostly everything from Target now and when our Dyson, which served us well for many years, finally bit the dust, we replaced it with a bargain-priced Bissell. And you know what? It’s done the job just fine. Our priorities have shifted. We just don’t want the same things we used to think we needed; things which take up too much space in our lives and leave wanting holes in our budget.
A week ago, we made what was probably the biggest cut of all. We pulled the plug on the cable. Now, for people who are as serious about our tv-watching as we are, this is a humungous deal. We’d been toying with the idea for awhile. While we love our cable, seeing that bill every month was torturing us. We’d just rather have that money in our pockets. Liam cried when we told him what we were about to do. That alone may have signified that it was the right decision to make.
We kept our Netflix and through the convenience of modern technology, we are able to hook our computer up to the tv to get our weekly fix of Downton Abbey and our favorite network shows. I’ve felt no emptiness in my life without cable. In fact, life feels beautifully simpler now.
When I told my mom I was making this loaded nacho chicken for dinner, she giggled at me, the ‘gourmand mom’, breading chicken breasts in crushed tortilla chips. But hey, no one ever said that good food needed to be complicated or utilize fancy ingredients. Simplicity can be positively blissful. The tortilla chips in this dish provide a fun variation on a basic breaded chicken breast. The tortilla coated chicken breasts are then topped with warm, delicious chile con queso and a generous dose of nacho toppings for a vibrant dish the entire family will enjoy.
**This dish could easily be adapted for a fun appetizer, by cutting the chicken into smaller pieces, skewering the cooked chicken, and serving with a big bowl of warm queso, topped with black beans, green onions, olives, and chopped tomato!
Today’s Focus on Technique – Basic Breading Procedure
A basic breading technique can be used to coat veggies, meats, or seafood with a crispy, flavorful exterior. It is often used to prepare foods for pan-frying, but works swimmingly for baking as well. Foods can be breaded with basic seasoned bread crumbs, panko bread crumbs, or any variety of crushed crackers or even chips! Properly breading foods is a three step process. First, dredge the food in a bit of flour. Second, dip the item in a simple bath of eggs whisked together with a touch of milk. Third, press the food into your dry breading, until thoroughly coated. The flour adheres easily to the food. The egg adheres to the flour. The breading adheres to the egg. To prevent your fingers from getting breaded in the process, it’s a wise idea to handle the wet ingredients with one hand, while using the other hand for the dry ingredients. Once breaded, your food can be pan-fried in a bit of oil until golden brown and cooked through or oven baked for a lighter result.