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I’m Not Worthy: Mark Bittman

My favorite room in the house is, of course, the kitchen. There is no other hobby I love more than spending hours producing a four-star meal; anything from experimenting with new ingredients to perfecting a favorite recipe. Monday through Friday, though, I don’t usually have spare time to create an elaborate feast. Even when I turn to an old favorite, or maybe try a new, easy recommendation, dinner is not ready until 8:00 PM, which leaves very little time to do anything else let alone digest before bed-time.

It would be nice to create a meal in an hour or less without sacrificing flavor, losing the culinary experience, or calling for take-out.

Mark Bittman’s cookbook, Kitchen Express: 404 Inspired Seasonal Dishes You Can Make in 20 Minutes or Less, has pretty much come to my rescue. First, the recipes are categorized by season, so any ingredients called for will be at their best. Second, each recipe is a simple paragraph of steps and ingredients needed to complete a recipe. You will not find a detailed list of requirements before the recipe, measurements, or even a numbered, step-by-step list. Each recipe calls for about five ingredients that you are likely to have in your refrigerator or cabinets. Chances are, if you have to make a trip to pick up one or two things, it will not be an expensive spice or something from a specialty store. Kitchen Express is designed to allow the cook a flexible, no-pressure experience in the kitchen and the opportunity to take control of the flavor in their dish. This collection of recipes is simple, yet modeled after very authentic, cultural dishes like Coq au Vin and Jerk Chicken. Therefore, if it’s Indian food or Asian flavors you’re craving, you won’t have to call for take-out or spend hours in the kitchen, working with a long list of expensive, hard to find ingredients. Kitchen Express is your answer.

Mark Bittman’s overall philosophy on food and cooking matches the simplicity of Kitchen Express. His belief in “sane eating” includes a practice of consuming more fresh vegetables and grains and less animal products and processed foods. In a Runner’s World article, Bittman highlights the USDA data that most people take in only 30 percent of their calories from plants, and he shows readers through personal experience the benefit of increasing that number. As the author of the New York Times food blog, Bitten, he certainly balances his healthy outlook with guilty pleasures; however, he stresses moderation. His website includes a list of interesting articles related to his minimalist approach to cooking and “sane eating.”

Chicken Paprikash

From Kitchen Express: 404 Inspired Seasonal Dishes You Can Make in 20 Minutes or Less

By Mark Bittman

In two tablespoons of butter, sear a pound of boneless, skinless chicken pieces, about a minute on each side. Add a thinly sliced large onion, two crushed garlic cloves, a teaspoon of minced ginger (or half a teaspoon of ground ginger), three tablespoons of Hungarian paprika, a bay leaf, and a couple of teaspoons of salt; cook for about three minutes. Add a cup of chicken broth and bring everything to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue cooking until the chicken is just done; stir in half a cup of sour cream and serve over buttered egg noodles.

The recipe notes that the dish can be served over cous cous or bulgur, which would produce a “richer earthiness.” I decided to toss some plain cous cous with shallots, olive oil and a tiny bit of lemon zest.

Not only was this recipe super easy to follow, I had most of the ingredients ready to use, and it took about 30 minutes to cook. The paprika-flavored sauce from the dish was a mouth watering combination of warm, smoky and a tiny bit sweet that I ate the meal in less time than it took to actually make it.

And, lucky for my boyfriend, since it’s a one-dish meal, there were not many dishes to clean.

I’m Not Worthy: Dear Santa…

The holidays truly are the most wonderful time of the year: the food, the music, the decorations, the overall spirit of kindness that seems to fill everyone’s hearts…everything about this season makes me happy, and I look forward to it all year long. We are into the single-digit number countdown until Christmas, and I am this close to finishing my shopping. It is true that giving is much better than receiving, and I like to think I’m pretty good at picking the right gifts for the right people. Let’s face it though, it’s almost impossible to peruse a store with someone else in mind and not see something perfect for you. There have been several occasions in the past few weeks where I have had to practice some major self control and not purchase an item or two for myself.

I would like to add that I am 99% sure I made the “Nice List” this year, and if Santa asked what I wanted, I’d casually mention the items below…

Wüsthof Classic Hollow Ground 7” Santoku Knife

Ever since I learned the proper way to use a knife in the kitchen, I have enjoyed the preparation part of any recipe. Number one: Safety first – using a Chef’s knife properly means less accidents in the kitchen. Number two: Using your knives the correct way only means you’ll be chopping, dicing, mincing and julienne-ing efficiently. I’ve developed a great relationship with my Chef’s knife, and it certainly does its job well, however I can’t help but admire sleeker knives. Wüsthof has a very long (like, two centuries worth) history of top-quality knives and the company is extremely popular in the culinary field. Their products tend to be expensive, however a Wüsthof knife may even last you two centuries. A great feature on this knife is the hollowed pattern along the blade, which will help food fall to the cutting board instead of sticking to the knife.

John Boos Reversible Maple Cutting Board, 24” x 18” x 1 ½”

So Santa…if I’m going to be asking for a fancy new knife, you may as well throw in a new cutting board.

Granted, I have several cutting boards in all shapes, materials and sizes, but I would love to add this one to my collection. Most of my boards are just big enough, however I find I need more work space when I am making a larger recipe or have an all-day cooking fest in the kitchen.

Though I think I can wait until Christmas for this one, it would come in handy when using cookie cutters; I would hate to scratch the kitchen counter tops when making Christmas cookies, and 24” x 18” is a decent amount of space to work with rolled out dough.

Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 7 ¼ Quart Round French Oven

It breaks my heart when I am reading a recipe that I can’t wait to try, and see that it calls for a Dutch Oven (Dutch, French…there really is no difference). Do you know how long I’ve wanted to make Short Ribs, or Coq au Vin? Sure, there’s probably a way to modify the recipe but it just wouldn’t be the same.

Le Creuset is the best of the best when it comes to cast-iron cookware, and they offer a variety of products from saucepans, to roasters, to skillets. They also come in almost every color of the rainbow.

Make mine Kiwi, please!

KitchenAid KFPM770 Food Processor, 12-cup capacity

I don’t care what anyone says: you simply cannot make great pesto in a blender.

Okay, so maybe you can, but it’s not easy. Using a blender as a substitute for a food processor can be messier and more complicated than it needs to be; I always find that I have to stop every now and then to scrape down the sides of the pitcher, and get way down to the nooks and crannies below the blade where some ingredients happen to settle.

It’s time I got a food processor.

Many of the processors I have seen, especially in department stores, top out at 3-cups. The large capacity of this KitchenAid processor means I most likely would never, ever have to work in batches.

Gifts That Bloom Organic Herbs

Using fresh herbs is the way to go, but I feel so guilty when I let what I haven’t used go to waste. I’m no green thumb, but I think I could manage to care for herb plants from Gifts That Bloom. The kit comes ready with seeds and growing mix, so basically you add water and wait.

There you have it, Santa. I look forward to unwrapping these lovely items under the tree on December 25th. I hope my inclusion of sizes and colors (where necessary) helps to avoid any confusion. Please let me know if you’ll be needing the product numbers and I can forward them to you.

Unless that 1% chance of me being on the “Naughty List” gets in the way.

I’m Not Worthy: Ina Garten

Who do you want to be when you grow up? Please tell me I’m not the only “grown up” that ponders this question constantly. I’m always daydreaming about my future self…

I dream of being a super-smart, put-together, classy lady, crazy successful on the home front. One day, my friends and family will call me “the hostess with the mostest”, and their calendars will be marked up with my frequent dinner parties. My wish is to have elegantly-casual themed soirees, where veggies and dip become “crudités, and each event is accompanied by a signature cocktail and/or eye pleasing tablescape. My butcher, friends at the fish market, and cheese shop clerk will know me by name, and my weekly orders will be ready for pickup when I walk in.

In a nutshell: I want to be Ina Garten.

Ina Garten’s culinary training began with a long stay in France and an adoration for Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking. Once she returned to the states with her husband, Jeffrey, she continued to practice her skills at home by hosting frequent dinner parties, however she never pursued formal culinary training or a career in the culinary arts. In fact, she worked under the Ford and Carter administrations in Washington D.C. in the 1970’s.

Ina answered “the call” when she purchased and began running Barefoot Contessa, a specialty foods store in the Hamptons. The business grew, and she received notoriety in the late 90’s for her first cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. Her popular Food Network show began in 2002, which gives fans a more detailed look at a day in the life of Ina Garten.

A typical episode of Barefoot Contessa revolves around a menu; more often than not the theme of the episode relates to a dinner party, however she sometimes plans for an intimate dinner for two with Jeffrey. Though the episodes take place in her own kitchen, she often ventures to pick up several ingredients, allowing viewers to see where, and how, she purchases her items.

Guests usually arrive early, but always eager, to Ina’s gatherings. She serves everything with perfect timing, and every planned detail is just right, down to the floral arrangements and china. One of the most admirable qualities of Ina as a hostess is, she is never running back and forth from the kitchen to the party; Ina Garten properly prepares and organizes her menu items so she can partake in her own event and spend time with her friends and family.

Below is Ina Garten’s recipe for Caramel Sauce, a deliciously sticky concoction you can use “as is” on ice cream, with apples, or even in a hot cup of coffee. The recipe made enough for me to store in a squeeze bottle, so you may even have enough to incorporate into a larger recipe, like Caramel Bread Pudding.

Caramel Sauce

Copyright 2005, Ina Garten

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/3 cup water

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Mix the water and sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the sugar dissolves. Do not stir. Increase the heat to medium and boil uncovered until the sugar turns a warm chestnut brown (about 350 degrees F on a candy thermometer), about 5 to 7 minutes, gently swirling the pan to stir the mixture. Be careful – the mixture is extremely hot! Watch the mixture very carefully at the end, as it will go from caramel to burnt very quickly. Turn off the heat. Stand back to avoid splattering and slowly add the cream and vanilla. Don’t worry – the cream will bubble violently and the caramel will solidify.

Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until the caramel dissolves and the sauce is smooth, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. It will thicken as it sits.

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