Why We Cook The Way We Do

Have you heard the story of the woman who strives to make her mother’s delicious beef brisket for the first time? It turns out great and everyone loves it; but they all have one small question. Why did she cut the ends off? I have no idea, she says, it’s what my mother always did. So next time she see her mother she asks and says the same thing: that’s what my mother did. So now they’re both really curious and ask grandma the answer to this mystery, to which she answer’s: “It was the only way to get it to fit in my pan!”

There are a couple variations to this story but the gist is the same. We do things without knowing why and cooking is no exception. There’s really nothing easier than following a recipe, but that does leave out a few details, doesn’t it? Growing up my mother always used bay leaves in her soups and in her gravies and, just like woman in the story, I do to. Tuesday’s recipe got me thinking, what the frig does the bay leaf do?

I boiled a couple of bay leaves from Penzeys in a cup of water and all it tasted like was really weak lousy tea. Getting a read on what exactly bay leaves do is kind of tricky. They’re supposed to add flavor and deepness which I didn’t really get from my little experiment. I also didn’t taste any bitterness that you are sometimes warned against.

I’ll have to do some more checking, maybe making the same soup with and without bay leaves to compare. But I’m wondering, what things do you do with some dishes and you have no idea why?

Tough Decisions!

Heading to a Brazilian restaurant in Cville for dinner tonight and checking out the menu online beforehand. What looks good to you?

Sautéed Scallops in Sherry Wine & Cream Sauce Served with Orzo Pasta & Vegetables
Molusco com Molho Branco e Xerez Servido com Macarrã e Vegetais

Chicken Breast & Shrimp in Spicy Brazilian Sauce Served with Angel Hair Pasta & Vegetables
Frango com Camarão e Molho Branco Baiano Servido com Macarrão e Vegetais

Grilled Chicken with Hot & Sour Pineapple Sauce Served with Potatoes & Vegetables

Frango com Molho de Abacaxi, Servido com Batatas e Vegetais

Angel Hair Pasta Tossed with Scallops & Julienne Vegetables in Beer Curry Sauce
Massa com Molusco e Vegetais com Molho de Cerveja e Caril

Grilled Copacabana Combo on Skewer: New York Sirloin, Chicken & Pork Served with Rice, Black Beans & Collard Greens
Churrasco Misto Servido com Arroz, Feijão Preto e Couve

Chomp, chomp!

Food Photography – Gâteau à la Carotte


Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, courtesy of Ukrop’s – mine and Edwin‘s favorite grocery store in Richmond.


Guess who scored a waffle iron at a yard sale on Saturday? I could have haggled on the price, but I’m skittish! Let’s hope it works!


The opening games kick off this weekend, as I plan to stuff my face with Belgian waffles.


Anyone have a delicious & dependable Belgian waffle recipe? This one from Emeril looks pretty good.

Lima Beans Aren't So Bad – Lima Bean and Tomato Soup

The summer is dwindling away, no matter how hard I cling to it. Soon it will fade and Fall will take its place. There’s nothing wrong with Fall, really. I really like Fall. The only problem is its neighbor Winter; the season of bitter, bitter cold. There’s very little I like about Winter so I’ve been trying to squeeze as much enjoyment out of the warmth as I can which usually means trips. This past weekend I went to the New River Gorge and had a fabulous, but exhausting, time, so a complex meal was not on the agenda.


I always find myself coming back to soups, really. Healthy, delicious, varied and (often) low maintenance. I went with Lima Beans for this but really any white bean could work. Next time, I’ll probably add some leafy greens; perhaps spinach or arugula. The sweetness reminds of a morrocan style and I like it!

Lima Bean and Tomato Soup

Navy Bean Soup with Cinammon

1 cup dried lima beans; cooked and drained
4 cups stock (or water)
1 onion; chopped
4 garlic cloves; minced
1 carrot; diced
2 teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup red wine
1 tablespoon tamari
salt and pepper to taste

Sweat the onion, carrot and garlic in a large pot under medium heat until the onions turn translucent; approximately 6-8 minutes. Mix in the sage, oregano, cinnamon and cloves and cook for another few minutes. Add your remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. Enjoy with salt and pepper to taste.

The View From My Window

Wow. Charlottesville is amazing.


Spiced Chicken Kebabs

I’m still trying to get the hang of the grill pan Morgan and I bought a few months ago. We don’t have an actual grill, so we were hoping the grill pan would give us similar results without having a massive, expensive grill in the yard.


So far, not quite, but I’m still glad we have it. It’s fine with fish, shrimp and thin cuts of meat, but it can be a little tricky with chicken (if anyone has tips on how to cook the inside of something perfectly without scorching the outside – I’m all ears!). I pulled off today’s Spiced Chicken Kebabs using the grill pan, but if you have a real grill you’ll probably want to use that. If you do use a grill pan, make sure that the chicken pieces and vegetables you add to the skewers are roughly the same size – otherwise one side of the skewer might not be getting cooked as well as the other.

Aside from horsing around with the grill pan, this dish turned out really well and it’s not difficult to make! Just make sure you’re checking your chicken so that it’s thoroughly cooked.

mountain of kebabs

Spiced Chicken Kebabs
adapted from Great Food Great Beer

1-1.5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into one inch pieces
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
dash of cinnamon and cloves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, cut into one inch pieces
1 green bell pepper, cut into one inch pieces
1 orange bell pepper, cut into one inch pieces
1/2 tomato, cut into one inch pieces

Quick Raita
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 tomato, diced
1/4 cup fat free sour cream
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon cumin
dash salt, pepper and chili powder

In a large ziploc bag combine all spices and the garlic. Add the chicken, seal the bag (try to squeeze out the air) and turn the bag to coat the chicken. Marinate for at least an hour.

Soak skewers in water so that they don’t scorch. Heat grill pan on medium and add a little bit of oil once it’s hot.

Thread pieces of chicken, onion, bell pepper and tomato alternately onto the soaked skewers. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay the kebabs on the grill pan and turn as needed. Your cook time will vary depending on how everything is sitting on the pan. Check chicken periodically to make sure it’s cooked throughout.

Prepare the raita while your kebabs are cooking – simply combine all the ingredients and stir. Serve with kebabs as a dipping sauce.

Please Stand By

Our new favorites page is experiencing some technical difficulties.

Blame Edwin! 🙂

Kitchen Tips – Manicotti Filling Through a Pastry Bag

The title pretty much says it all, but follow along in my narrative.

I really enjoy a good pasta dish and stuffed manicotti is special because I so rarely make it. One of the reasons is the annoyance and hassle of filling the pasta (with a spoon, most often). It’s messy, it’s clumsy, it’s no fun. Recently I came across this piece of sage wisdom: fill your manicotti like you would any pastry filling.

This could easily be done with a classic pastry bag if you have one, but many of you might have heard of simply using a plastic bag with a corner snipped off. This shortcut works with manicotti stuffing or really any filling. It’s a nice cheat!

On Tuesday I told you all that I bought some fancy local cheese and made a great burger – well I still had a lot left, so I was brainstorming things to make.

I remembered something I read by Martha Stewart that suggested using sharp, pungent cheese when making macaroni and cheese because, not only does it add some more pizazz and a grown-up twist, you also apparently fill up faster and so eat less (for a mac & cheese-aholic like me, this is great news).

mac and chicken

But I couldn’t just do mac & cheese either. I decided to try to recreate my favorite thing on the menu from my old haunt in Pittsburgh, PA – Rock Bottom Brewery‘s mac & chicken. I’m happy to report the result was pretty awesome.

I adapted a great mac & cheese recipe from Alton Brown. If you use your time wisely and do a few things at once (e.g. start boiling the water for pasta once the chicken is halfway done) you’ll find that it doesn’t take you that long. This is something great to make early in the week or on Sunday night and have it last for several days.

serving mac and chicken

Baked Mac & Chicken with a Kick
macaroni recipe adapted from Alton Brown

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
1 pound shell pasta (small shells, not the kind used for stuffed shells)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon powdered mustard
2 cups milk (I used skim because that’s what we have on hand)
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 large egg
10 ounces sharp cheddar, grated
1/2 ounce Red Dragon cheese (Click here for my blurb about this spicy peppercorn and brown ale cheese; if you can’t find it, pick another melting cheese that has some bite!)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh black pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup plain bread crumbs (Panko are better, but use what you have)

Preheat oven to 425F. Trim the fat from your chicken and cut in half longways. Set on a baking sheet and season generously with paprika, salt, pepper and a little Montreal Chicken Seasoning. Bake for 20 minutes.

To make the best use of your time, as soon as you put the chicken in the oven dice the onion, shred the cheese and measure out your ingredients. When chicken is halfway done, set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta and add pasta once it’s boiling. While you’re heating up the water and the chicken is still in the oven, set a medium size pot on the stove and melt the butter. Whisk in flour and mustard powder – keep the mixture moving. When it’s lump-free, stir in milk, onion and paprika. Stir frequently for about 5 minutes.

The chicken should be done by now, so set it aside to cool and turn down oven to 350F.

Temper the egg slowly, then stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper, then fold the cooked pasta into the mixture. Shred cooked chicken or cut it into small pieces and incorporate with the pasta and mixture. Pour into a large casserole dish and top with remaining cheese.

Melt the butter for the topping in a small saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Sprinkle over pasta and bake for 30 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.