Kai's Soccer Ball Birthday Cake

Its time for another cake! I still owe this blog one entry on a baby shower cake we did in September. I don't have any pictures of it in part because the shower was at 4pm on the day that Michigan played Notre Dame at 3:30pm. So I was mainly concerned with getting the cake out of the house so I could watch football. Pictures were taken, but I don't have them yet.

This cake was for Kyle and Tricia's son Kai, who turned 1 year old on Saturday. The cake seemed to take us a long time, but that was mostly because it takes a long time to cook a 12" x 18" cake, it takes almost equally as long for the cake to cool and it takes a lot of space to make all of that possible (which means lots of stopping to clear space and clean). Other than that there isn't a whole lot of setup that you need to know. Enjoy the photos:

Here are the two halves of the soccer ball. Rice Krispy Treats were the base and a funfetti cake on the top. Both halves were formed using a soccer ball cake by Wilton.
We used buttercream to stick the two halves together, then draped it in white fondant.
Once the fondant was down Lauren lightly pressed the lines for the paneling and then used her stitching tool to complete the look.This was our original idea for the cake, but there was no good way to cover the 1 in a solid color. Fondant would have left ugly seams all over the place and nothing else would have been as smooth as fondant. I am sure we could have figured something out eventually, but we ended up abandoning the #1 in favor of a Happy Birthday placard.

The base cake is three layers. The first and third were a white buttermilk cake and the middle layer was a pumpkin spice cake. The layers were filled with a cream cheese frosting and the exterior was covered in buttercream. Everything was made from scratch, except for the half a soccer ball made from Funfetti.
A closeup of the finished soccer ball. Lauren did an awesome job making the Puma logo out of black fondant. The K is for Kai. It does not indicate that the cake is kosher.

The birthday boy and his cake.

From left to right: Kyle, Tricia, Lauren and I posing with the cake. You might notice the section of mostly missing cake to the right of the soccer ball. That plus most of the unseen back cake half of the soccer ball managed to feed everyone at the party. Lauren and I kind of eyeballed how much cake we needed. 13 x 9 seemed small, especially given the size of the soccer ball. So we got a 12" x 18" pan, but when we baked the first layer it seemed really thin. So we decided three layers would be better than two. It was only time constraints that stopped it from being 4 layers. Of course when we stacked it up the cake ended up being enormous. A catering website I looked up after the fact informed us that a 2 layer 12" x 18"cake serves 54 dessert sized portions. So I'm thinking this cake served roughly 81 from the bottom cake alone, plus another 10 or so out of the soccer ball.

Tricia, let me know how many new best friends you make from being the cake fairy this week.

Chicken, Pesto & Sun-Dried Tomato Pizza

This recipe ought to look familiar. Its essentially the same as the Margherita Pizza, with the obvious changes with the toppings and the use of bread flour instead of all purpose flour. The flour change wasn't special to this pizza, I just happened to be out of flour and decided I'd give the bread flour a shot since its higher gluten content is supposed to create a chewier crust.

Chicken, Pesto, Sun-Dried Tomato Pizza:

  • 1/4 cup pesto + 1 clove minced garlic (or to taste)
  • 1-2 cups mozzarella cheese
  • 1 lb diced, cooked chicken
  • 1 pkg sun-dried tomatoes
  • Shredded parmesan (optional)
  • Feta cheese crumbles(optional)
You'll want to get the toppings ready before the dough, or at the very least while you're making the dough. So before you do anything else, do this:
  • Preheat the oven with your pizza stone/baking sheet inside to 500 degrees.
  • Cook your chicken. I typically dice it raw, marinate it in Italian dressing for 5 mins then saute it until cooked through (5 mins). If not that I'll use 1/4 - 1/2 cup chicken broth and poach the diced chicken and season it will salt & pepper. Either way make sure to strain or pat your chicken dry with paper towel before putting it on your pizza.
Thin Crust Pizza Dough:
  • .25 oz. pkt. active dry yeast
  • 1/4 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup warm (105-115 degrees) water, temperature measured with a thermometer
  • 1 3/4 cups bread flour (AP works too, but bread flour tastes better)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
Dissolve yeast and sugar in water; let the yeast sit for 5-10 minutes or until frothy. Combine flour and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer (with the dough hook attachment). Pour yeast mixture into the flour mixture and turn the mixer on medium speed until your dough ball forms (2-3 minutes).

At this point you can either let the dough rise for 1-2 hours for a normal pizza crust or you can use it immediately for a thin crust pizza.

Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 2 minutes. Stretch or roll your dough into a 12" or 14" circle on a flour, parchment or corn meal covered surface. Brush the top surface of the dough with olive oil.

Remove your preheated pizza stone or baking sheet from the oven.Transfer your dough to the baking sheet/pizza stone, and quickly spread your pesto. Add your 1-2 cups of mozzarella cheese and top with the chicken and sun-dried tomatoes.
  • Sprinkle feta and/or parmesan cheese (optional).
  • Bake at 500 for 8-10 minutes. Let cool 2-5 minutes. Enjoy.
This recipe (plus a little extra mozzarella) is enough to make two 12" pizzas. We will typically make both pizzas, eat one and save the other for lunch or leftovers.

While we were eating Lauren said "I could eat pizza 3-4 times a week if we made it like this and mixed up the toppings". Do you know how long I've been waiting to hear something like that? Right now we might eat pizza once a week and thats typically because we've got something going on after work and don't get a chance to think about dinner until after 8pm, at which point neither one of us wants to cook for 30 minutes or an hour.

Margherita Pizza

Okay, its been a long, long time since I've posted anything here. I am back in school full time this semester and working when I don't have class, so that doesn't really leave me much time to throw caution to the wind and tackle new recipes consistently enough to entertain the people that may or may not read this blog.

However last night Lauren and I had a chance to try our have at wood fired/brick oven style pizza. There are very few ways that homemade pizza can be cheaper than delivery pizza and practically none that are cheaper than frozen pizza. Except this one. Just a couple weeks ago Lauren and I got this same pizza at downtown restaurant and it cost us $12.95.

Margherita Pizza:
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 lb. Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper (or to taste)
  • 6 oz. (1.5 cups) mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 6 fresh basil leaves
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh shredded parmesan cheese
You'll want to get the toppings ready before the dough, or at the very least while you're making the dough. So before you do anything else, do this:
  • Preheat the oven with your pizza stone/baking sheet inside to 500 degrees.
  • Combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, chopped tomatoes, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl.
Thin Crust Pizza Dough:
  • .25 oz. pkt. active dry yeast
  • 1/4 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup warm (105-115 degrees) water, temperature measured with a thermometer
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
Dissolve yeast and sugar in water; let the yeast sit for 5-10 minutes or until frothy.
Combine flour and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer (with the dough hook attachment).
Pour yeast mixture into the flour mixture and turn the mixer on medium speed until your dough ball forms (2-3 minutes).

At this point you can either let the dough rise for 1-2 hours for a normal pizza crust or you can use it immediately for a thin crust pizza.

Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 2 minutes. Stretch or roll your dough into a 12" or 14" circle on a flour, parchment or corn meal covered surface. Brush the top surface of the dough with olive oil.
  • Remove your preheated pizza stone or baking sheet from the oven .
  • Transfer your dough to the baking sheet/pizza stone, and quickly add your 1.5 cups of mozzarella cheese and top with the chopped tomatoes.
  • Drizzle lightly with olive oil and stick the baking sheet/pizza stone back in the oven for 8-10 minutes.
  • Top with basil and parmesan (if you want), let the pizza cool for 2-5 minutes and enjoy.
You could also use fresh mozzarella instead of the shredded kind, but the grocery store was out when we stopped by, and I get the feeling it would probably cost $8 in cheese alone to cover the pizza that way.

For this pizza we only had to buy 4 Roma tomatoes (0.75 lbs at $1.59/lb so about $1.30) and shredded mozzarella ($2/8oz). Sure at some point we also had to buy the flour, olive oil, yeast, garlic and sugar, but those are all staple ingredients that are in the kitchen cabinets regardless of what we're making.

You can also improve the quality of your pizza by using bread flour instead of all purpose flour, fresh mozzarella instead of shredded and fresh basil instead of dried. Those are things we'll try at some point with this recipe. Of course with pizza the toppings are mostly irrelevant, its figuring out how to make a decent dough and cook it properly that makes or breaks the home made pizza experience. Now that we've established those two things its time to begin the experiments.

So I just can't imagine myself paying $12-$18 for a "gourmet" pizza any time in the near future.

By the way, that is not my pizza in the picture. That one clearly used fresh mozzarella. It was cut and I was eating it before I even thought about taking a picture. It was delicious. If I had my way I'd make it again tonight and then again next weekend while I watched football.

Madeira Cake w/ Strawberry Chocolate Ganache

As part of expanding our (her) cake repetoire, Lauren and I have sort of committed to abandoning boxed cake mixes and using straight from scratch recipes. With the assistance of a cake decorating book that Rachel got for us, we took our first step in that direction last night. I don't have recipes for this entry because I don't have the book in front of me, and on top of that I didn't actually do any of the baking last night because I was busy doing the cooking (chicken salad and potato salad) and the dish washing so we didn't get in each other's way.What Lauren made was a Madeira cake filled with strawberries and chocolate ganache and covered with buttercream icing. No fondant this time around. The results were mixed. First off our biggest problem is that we aren't cooking by weight. So next on our list of ways to expand our culinary arsenal is a digital weight scale. Its way too much of a hassle to try to figure how many cups or tablespoons 310 grams of butter is, and if that number of cups/tbsp is the same for 310 grams of sugar (which it isn't).

The second problem was the icing. We added some almond extract for flavoring, but it easily overpowered the icing and made it way too sweet. Not only that but the recipe we used gave us a very dry consistency. We should have stuck with the recipe we used for the Dr. Seuss cake.

As for the Madeira cake, it was okay. Nothing too special. From what I remember of the recipe it didn't call for any lemon, vanilla or any other type of flavoring. It was simply various amounts of self rising flour, butter, sugar and eggs. So it turned out to be essentially a pound cake. Good for carving, stacking and building, but nothing to really talk about.

The ganache was fantastic. Lauren has a block of expensive chocolate that she uses for these sorts of desserts, and it never ceases to amaze me how different that stuff tastes than candy bar/milk chocolate.

The three flavors together (icing, cake, ganache) didn't really complement each other either. That was more of a result of mad science than it was a mistake. We wanted to try a few new recipes/methods and just sort of Frankensteined them together rather than plan it out and make a true presentation out of it. In fact the icing was supposed to be white, but it didn't spread very well while she was trying to cover the sides and ended up turning brownish as the ganache oozed out the sides. So Lauren fixed that.

The Lady & Sons Restaurant

I just realized I never actually posted anything about our vacation. The vacation was great, and I'll return to share some words and pictures about crabbing and fresh seafood. But I'm going to use this post to focus on Savannah, Georgia and our trip to The Lady & Sons restaurant, owned by Paula Deen of the Food Network.

We got in late on Tuesday night and walked the city. Great city. A little dark and forested for a downtown but I suppose if you live there that starts to seem normal. I was a little on edge about catching whooping cough or the bubonic plague in some kind of freak accident, but that was a testament to historic look of Savannah at night, not its hygiene.

So late Tuesday night after we checked in we decided to walk over to The Lady & Sons to get an idea of how far away it was, where the line would form and what the restaurant looked like.
The following morning I woke up at 8am with the understanding that the restaurant started taking reservations (in person only) at 8:30am. When I got there I was 10th in line, behind 3 groups of 2-4 people. I let Lauren sleep in since it seemed like a stupid idea for both of us to get dressed and stand in line for a half hour. Not only that but it would have meant an hour less sleep as she would have needed to be up by 7am to be out the door by 8. By myself I felt totally comfortable rolling over at 7:55am, washing my face, brushing my teeth and throwing on last nights clothes to go stand in line.

The only problem with that is that the information we got about the restaurant was not correct. The Lady & Sons begins taking reservations at 9:30am. So there I was standing in line for 90 minutes, hoping each half hour in line was my last. By the time front of the line had started moving the back of the line had stretched all the way down the block and must have been a good 150 people long.

We had a lunch reservation for noon. I went back to the hotel, showered up, ate breakfast and then we walked the city again while we waited for lunch to roll around. Sometime later in the morning The Lady & Sons had turned on a mist zone for anyone still standing in line. As we were waiting inside The Paula Deen Store for our reservation, I saw an unsuspecting family (since there was no line outside) walk up to the hostess' booth and ask for a table as anyone would at a normal restaurant. It was 11:30am and hostess told them the earliest they could get a table was 8:30pm. On a Wednesday. In August.

That restaurant must make a killing. As for the atmosphere, it wasn't all that high-end, but I don't think it was trying to be either. The lunch menu is just good Southern cooking. Fried chicken, meatloaf, chicken pot pie, mashed potatoes, those sorts of things. Not too much in the way of cold plates/sandwiches which is kind of disappointing when its 95 degrees outside and you're on foot. But that may just be me. Most of the foods I saw were what I'd associate with winter comfort food in Michigan.

It was a good experience and definitely something worth doing if you're in Savannah, but I'm not sure its type of lunch/dining experience that you're going to talk about for years to come. Which at around $40 (w/ tip) for two people probably shouldn't be expected.

Salley's Birthday Cake

Last week while on vacation, Lauren and her sister decided to make a fondant cake for their younger sister's birthday. I thought it was borderline insanity given that we were out of Lauren's kitchen, without any of her cake supplies and most importantly without a KitchenAid stand mixer. Bu they were determined to make it happen, so I looked up the fondant recipe, gave them a few pointers and then backed away slowly. Obviously the picture shows that it turned out just fine and here is why: the fondant recipe I was using worked, but it didn't create the most workable fondant.

  • 1 - 16oz pkg mini-marshmallows
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 6-8 cups 3-4 cups powdered sugar
  • Vegetable shortening (for greasing everything that touches liquid marshmallow)

You can use about half the amount powdered sugar. The fondant is every bit as sturdy, but 10 times more pliable. Maybe you won't get 3 lbs of fondant out of this recipe (we didn't measure) but what you have will be so much easier to work with.

In other news, Lauren and I may be making a cake this weekend. Rachel dropped off an incredibly awesome and generous thank you gift to us for Sofia's Dr. Seuss cake. The gifts included a variety of cake decorating and fondant working tools. Lauren will be making a baby shower cake in September and wants to test out some ideas we've seen on Cake Boss and Food Network Challenge. On top of that we've also been contacted by an acquaintance of mine about doing a John Deere tractor wedding cake for August of 2010.

So in short order we're going to need to find some solid "from scratch" cake recipes and start fancying up the actual cake and frosting.

We'll see how that goes this weekend.

Black Magic Cupcakes

Lauren made these last night as a peace offering for her coworkers. We're leaving Saturday morning for Charleston SC. We'll be gone for a week and from what I gather her vacation might hamstring a few people at work. Our agenda on vacation should provide for several food related post when we return:

Saturday (Aug 1) - Drive to Clemson, visit Lauren's sister

Sunday - Drive to Anderson, have lunch with Grandma. Drive to Orangeburg, have second lunch
with Granny. Drive to Charleston to Lauren's parents' house.

Monday - Go crabbing. I'm not sure how this works, but I will probably be acting like a dork, imitating things I see on Deadliest Catch, even though I'm fairly certain we'll be in maybe 10 ft of warm harbor water.

Tuesday - Drive to Savannah, GA (2 hours). Do stuff, hang out with more of Lauren's relatives. Stay at Savannah's oldest hotel, The Marshall House.

Wednesday - Wake up and try to get lunch reservations at Lady & Sons, Paula Deen's restaurant. Do stuff in Savannah, then drive home.

Thursday - TBA?

Friday - Wine Tasting/Agro Tourism?

Saturday - TBA

Sunday (Aug 9) - Drive Home

We'll almost certainly need a vacation from our vacation. By the way, here is the recipe for those cupcakes:

1 3/4 c. flour
2 c. sugar
3/4 c. powdered cocoa (unsweetened)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 c. strong coffee
1 c. buttermilk/sour milk or 2% milk
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix the dry, mix the wet ingredients separately and then combine. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes in greased and floured pans (or cupcake skirts). When cool frost with Buttercream Frosting.

Macaroni & Cheese Bake

I haven't had macaroni and cheese in a while, so I decided to make some last night. I wanted to take another run at a baked mac and cheese because our previous attempt turned into an egg souffle. I'll never understand what Delia was thinking in the Mac & Cheese throwdown. 12 eggs? Ridiculous.

The recipe we used came from Alton Brown and Good Eats. Its pretty straight forward, but we made some changes so that it was more of an adult entree:
  • 1/2 pound elbow macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon powdered mustard
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 large egg
  • 12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Fresh black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup corn
  • 1/2 cup peas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep it moving for about five minutes. Make sure it's free of lumps. Stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for ten minutes and remove the bay leaf.

Temper in the egg. Stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.

Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.

Remember to save leftovers for fried Macaroni and Cheese.

We added the additional vegetables when we folded the pasta in the cheese sauce. The recipe is pretty simple. My advice would be once you've gotten past the simmer stage and you're preparing to mix in your cheese, turn the stove off. It will give you a little more leeway with how quickly you need to finish the last few steps. It will also prevent the cheese from getting grainy.

If you're not sure how to temper the egg, you beat an egg in a bowl, then mix in the hot cheese sauce into the bowl 1 tbsp at a time until the egg mixture reaches a temperature close to the temperature of the cheese sauce. If you just beat the egg and toss it in without tempering, the egg will cook immediately and nothing will bind.

Overall this dish was pretty mediocre. The texture was great and I wouldn't change much about any of the preparation, I just felt like the flavor was little bit bland. Maybe adding the extra vegetables necessitated adding more seasoning, which I didn't do, but it wasn't quite as flavorful as I expected. If you follow the instructions I'd recommend you find a spot to mix in some salt.

Grilled Chicken Wings

Friday night I drew some food inspiration from FoodNetwork.com and a food blog linked to the profile of person on a message board. I wanted something quick and simple, with little or no mess which usually means grilled something or other. The first recipe was Bobby Flay's Grilled Chicken Wings. I'm not going to bother pasting the recipe here because in reality I only followed the cooking instructions. I'm sure the sauces were amazing, but I didn't want to end up with 2 pints of greek yogurt blue cheese dipping sauce in the refrigerator.

So going back to my previous Chicken Wings post you'll need to butcher your wings in the appropriate spots, and then thats it.

No steaming or refrigerating. Get your grill up to 400-500 degrees, take all of your wings put them in a large mixing bowl and toss them with 2-3 tbsp olive oil, some salt, pepper and any other chicken friendly spices you enjoy.

Grill the wings 4-5 minutes per side, then toss them in your favorite sauce (1/2 cup per dozen), plate and serve.
Nearly as good as the oven roasted preparation and light years quicker. The main difference is that when you steam some of the fat out of the wings in the oven method the skin shrinks up and loses much of its elasticity and gains some crispiness. In this grilled method it is just the opposite. Ideally I'd say the best method for homemade wings is to steam them, rest them in the refrigerator, then toss them in olive oil and cook them on the grill.

Wine Tasting In Northern Michigan

Last Saturday (July 4th) while we were staying in Northport, Lauren and I drove around to some of the local wineries. Leelanau Peninsula is very proud of their wine and a few of the wineries like to point out that they're located along the 45th parallel (north), which is the same parallel as some of the finest wine producing regions of Italy and France. Presumably that implies that they have the ability to grow the same grapes as those regions and thus produce comparable wines. I think there is more to it than that but its not like I would know the differene one way or another.

Our first stop was Leelanau Wine Cellars in Omena. The picture above is not from our trip (I didn't think to take any pictures of any place we stopped) but it is the room we were in. The balding sommelier in the foreground is the same one that guided us through our tasting. Much to our surprise Leelanau Cellars didn't charge for a tasting and didn't have a set number of wines that were available for tasting. We were presented with a split list of wines, one side being wines available in retail stores throughout the state and the other being premium wines available only in Leelanau Cellars tasting rooms/gift shops. I think we tried at least 10-12 wines. It was very fun and with each winery we visit we being to participate in discussions with the sommeliers about what we like or dislike about the wine we're tasting.

But I'll admit that I still don't know if I am supposed to smell the wine before I drink it or if I'm supposed to drink it in two sips or one. So about half the time I probably look like a mix between a polite drunk and a trained monkey counting the seconds until I can push my glass forward for more wine. However thats not because I don't care or that I'm pretending to care for the sake of free alcohol. I just get awkward very easily and knowing how inexperienced I am with wine (I have probably drunk less than a dozen glasses of wine in the last year) I don't feel comfortable voicing my opinion about how this wine "finishes" or that wine "has oaky characteristics". I'd just as well leave it as "I liked that" and "I didn't like that" rather than attempt some profound observation, only to find out that my palate prefers Salisbury steak to New York Strip.

Of the wineries we visited I think Leelanau Cellars benefited the most. Their wines have always been around at local wine/liquor stores and Meijer. If I am remembering correctly our sommelier told us that Leelanau Cellars is the largest winery (in terms of sales) in Michigan. However Lauren and I have always been really unimpressed with their labels. I understand that is probably the worst way to judge a wine, but if you don't know exactly what you're doing with wine the most reassuring decision is to choose the wine that looks most professional. Many of their retail wines look similar to their Winter White label, which in its defense is hugely popular wine that sells at a great price $8-$11 per bottle. So as a result Leelanau Cellars has always been a ways down our list of local wines options.

We ended up leaving with two bottles of a Baco Noir Rose (I think). More importantly I didn't want to make the same mistake we did a year ago, when we bought 2-3 bottles of good wine at our first stop and then went to a great winery and regretted only having enough wine budget left to buy 2-3 more.

Our second stop was Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay, which was a huge vineyard/farm/estate just off the main road. They describe it as "an agricultural destination" which I would agree is pretty accurate. They do weddings, events and weekend room reservations.

Again the photo is the room we were in, but definitely not the day we were there. When we went there were decidedly fewer retirees than in this photo. The "tasting club" cost $3 per person at Black Star, which got you a branded tasting glass and five complimentary tastings. The Black Star Farms Arcturos Late Harvest Riesling is one of our favorite white wines. So we elected to skip that one and try more reds. I don't recall everything we had but I think it was two Cabernet Francs, a Pinot Noir, a fruit wine, a Pinot Gris and the semi-dry riesling. Our sommelier was very good at making recommendations and pouring different wines in each of our glasses so that our five tastings stretched much closer to ten. I don't remember what we walked away with from Black Star but I think it was a Pinot Noir and the latest Riesling which has been bottled but will not ship to stores for a few more months.
The last stop we made for the day was at 45 North Winery in Lake Leelanau. I believe this winery is relatively new (less than 10 years old), but they are certainly on their way to becoming an outfit like Black Star Farms. They are in the process of building a tasting room, but for now have things set up on the floor of a bottling building. We tried another 8-10 wines here, but were rushed because of a large crowd and a small bar. In the end we bought three bottles from this winery, but I don't know what they were. It was here that we discovered northern Michigan wineries seem to buy into the idea that corked wine bottles have outlived their usefulness. Everything was a screw top cap. We found that to be very disappointing. I understand the technological argument that says screw caps work as well or better, but it still feels cheap and childish. When we got back in the car we checked out earlier purchases and noticed that all but one or two were also screw tops. Oh well. By the way, 45 North has won awards at some pretty impressive sounding wine competitions, but at the moment they aren't in stores outside of northern Michigan. One of the employees gave me information about how to get in touch with their distributors that have Grand Rapids area connections, but it didn't sound like the type of thing you would go through to get just one bottle or two.

All in all it was a good time. We picked up seven more bottles to go with the four or five we have from wine tasting last summer and we've still got 17 of Leelanau Peninsula's 20 wineries left to visit on any future trips up north.

Vacation Recap In Photos

When you spend 3 hours a day at the beach, you run out of things to do. But this makes a good cover for this photo album/blog entry, so I'm leaving it in.

We took my parents' minivan this weekend because we really didn't feel like playing tetris in the trunk and backseat with all the stuff we needed to bring. The cottage where we were staying hadn't been opened for the season yet, so it was a bit unclear what we needed in the way of napkins, plates, cups, pots, pans, etc. So we decided to err on the side of caution and bring many of those things with us. That area also runs off of well water, which tastes funky so we brought bottled water and a cooler.

Anyhow, none of that is important. My point is that now that you know why we had a van you'll have a better appreciation for what happens when we drive the van. On the way to any place, if Joss isn't hovering over my shoulder trying to figure out where we're going, then she is down on the floor in between the front seats sniffing the air conditioning vents. It is so weird. It goes on in roughly 15 minutes intervals, in this case for the bulk of a 3.5 hour drive.

These were our accomodations for the weekend, aka The Bat House. From what I remember it is called that because one of the first times my Aunt & Uncle stayed there after they bought it, they encountered a bat. It freaked them out, my aunt didn't want to sleep there for a while and then it became a running joke. It was literally the only time they had a ever seen a bat at that house. As you can see its a pretty densely wooded area. At night you can't see 50 feet into the area surrounding the cottage, which is really nerve wracking when you're with a dog who will stare into the darkness for no particular reason. As you can tell this dense foliage greatly hampered my ability to be friends with Mario Batali. He could have had a 15,000 sq ft mansion on the adjacent lot and we wouldn't have ever known. In addition to that, the road that circles the area that he reportedly lives in was described by my uncle as "drive down that road by invitation only".

The front room of the cottage, just inside the front door.

The kitchen and front door. There is a refrigerator, its a little dorm-sized wood patterned fridge, just in front of the cooler. Not pictured are the back room which is a bedroom with two twin beds and the bathroom.

I didn't take a whole lot of photos while we were out. I'm not sure why, but it just didn't occur to me to take photos of anything we saw while we were out wine tasting except for this. This was in Suttons Bay, outside an art gallery. I don't believe this was for sale, but a similarly constructed pig about 1/6th of the size cost $725.

I'll leave the wine tour to a separate post, but it was a really great time. We only hit three of a possible 9-12 wineries in the area, but I am pretty sure they were three of the best. Although I don't know anything about wine, couldn't tell you which are my favorite styles or why and that I get buyer's remorse every time we leave a winery, wine tasting is still one of my favorite things to do.

The remainder of the weekend was spent with this wet rat on the shores of Lake Michigan. Nothing can satisfy her urge to go swimming. She swam so much that at the end of the first day Lauren threw a ball out, Joss went to get and I though I was going to have to swim out and get her before she went under. She was so tired that she fell asleep standing up on the 5 minute car ride from the beach back to the cottage.

Every day was pretty much 2-3 hours of this:

But it was a great weekend. We also went strawberry picking on the way up, where I also did not take any pictures. Strawberries seem slightly less delicious after seeing the way that they're grown. I always pictured them hanging high off the ground from a majestic bush, not directly on the ground inside of a plant that looks like a lawn weed.


Last weekend I went to weddings on back to back nights. Or at least I tried to. I didn't feel so great after a few hours at the second wedding and went home to take a shower and hug an air conditioner. Last week was so disgustingly hot it ruined everything. I didn't really cook anything because the last thing I wanted was the oven heating the house and I didn't want too much time tending to a 500 degree grill outside in 90 degree heat with 90% humidity. So last week was burgers, cold sandwiches, grilled chicken and pizza.

This week the weather is considerably cooler, but its a 4 day week and Lauren and I have plans for the weekend. So cooking is nearer the end of the list of priorities than usual. We're heading north to Northport, Michigan where my mom's side of the family calls home. We'll be staying in a cottage/house owned by my uncle, a couple of hundred yards (but right next door) from my grandma's house.

During the 2000 census the population of Northport was officially registered as 648. But Wikipedia says that one of those 648 is none other than Iron Chef Mario Batali. Not only that but they list the area where he owns a house and it is really, really nearby. No matter how hard I try I can't get this fantasy out of my head where we run into him (flat tire on the side of the road or something) and become good friends, if only for a long weekend.
Also, you shouldn't infer anything about where we're staying by its proximity to Mario Batali's home. My mom's family has owned those two properties for more than 30 or 40 years, long before people started clearing lakefront property up there and building million dollar summer mansions.

So this weekend in addition to hanging out with Mario Batali and swimming in Lake Michigan, we're also going to have the opportunity to go wine tasting. See all these red dots and balloons? Those are all wineries. We're staying just north of the where this map cuts off.

And just to give you an idea of the scale of this map. That natural triangular loop between Northport, Suttons Bay and Leland takes 20 mins per side to drive. So in an hour's drive time we could hit 6 or 7 wineries no problem. Madonna's family has a winery in that area, I think its the B balloon or in that area on this map.

In addition to all these we're hoping to spend some time at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as well as some time hunting for Petoskey stones on the beach at Peterson Park (a 5 min drive). Anytime you can be within 5 minutes of Lake Michigan you know you're going to have an awesome weekend.

And if all of that gets boring we can always head to the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City. I really want to a 72 hour nap and wake up to find out that its Friday morning.

Pizza Bread? Stromboli?

I don't know what you call this exactly. My intent was to make pizza bread like my mom makes it, but it really didn't turn out that way. I think it could have, but I made one giant loaf rather than two smaller ones. What she always did when I was younger was make them two at a time, cook one and freeze the other. Hers always fit nicely into a loaf pan, a much more manageable size for freezer storage. Mine did not.

I got the dough recipe from Robert Irvine's Dinner Impossible on the Food Network. However mom's pizza bread was always made with wheat bread, something that I guess helped differentiate it from stromboli or a massive pizza roll. So what I did was use half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat flour.

Pizza Bread Dough
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) packet fresh fast-acting yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water, between 100 and 115 degrees F, as measured with a thermometer (any hotter will kill the yeast - an organic leavener; too cool and the yeast won't be activated)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus some extra to knead the dough (I used 2 cups wheat flour and 2 cups all-purpose)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
Dissolve salt, sugar, and yeast in the warm water and allow the yeast to proof. ("Proofing" the yeast is testing it for viability. It will develop foam which looks like the head of a beer. If it doesn't proof, the yeast is dead and should be discarded.) Proofing takes about 15 minutes.

Mix the wet and dry ingredients in your stand mixer (or by hand) with the dough hook on medium speed for 4-5 minutes or until all the flour is gone and the dough is slapping around
your otherwise cleaning mixing bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and form a ball. Rub the dough ball with a tablespoon of olive oil, put it back in your mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

Allow the dough to rise for 45-60 minutes, so that it roughly doubles in volume (the dough has risen enough if you make an indentation with your finger and it does not spring back.). Then punch the dough down and allow it to rise again. (Allowing the dough to rise a second time gives it a finer texture.) Note: It will not rise as much the second time.

When your dough is ready, turn it out on floured surface and roll it out with a rolling pin into two 14-inch circles (or one massive square like I did).

  • 8-10 oz tomato sauce (I used Prego Organic Tomato & Basil because of its smooth, thicker texture)
  • 2 cups (1 pkg) Mozzarella cheese
  • 1 red bell pepper (diced)
  • 1 yellow bell pepper (diced)
  • 1 pkg (40?) sliced pepperoni
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 beaten egg
Saute your diced peppers in for about 5 minutes in 1tbsp olive oil. Do the same in a separate pan with your pepperoni until they are slightly crunchy. You don't have to do either of these steps, but the peppers get a little sweeter and the pepperoni just seems better when its crisp around the edges. I considered adding pineapple, but eventually decided against it because of concerns about the added moisture of the pineapple juice.

Spread your sauce and cheese around your dough, leaving a dry 1 inch perimeter around the edges. Add your toppings and then roll the whole thing up like a jelly roll. Seal the edges and put the seam side down on a baking sheet (or a loaf pan if it will fit). Brush the exterior with the beaten egg.

Bake at 450 for 15-20 minutes. Remove and let it rest for 5 minutes so the bread softens.

One thing I found out after the fact was that this super loaf didn't quite cook all the way through the center of the middlemost piece. The centermost curl of dough in that piece was still a little
doughy. So I'd advise you to make this as two smaller loaves regardless of the situation. I don't know if you can tell by the pictures, but this thing is deceptively large. It doesn't seem that way when its all spread out like a pizza. But once you start rolling it up it seems to grow exponentially.

It tasted fantastic. Fresh bread is always much better than I remember. The pizza bread/stromboli makes for great leftovers and you can put pretty much whatever you want inside it. Just make sure the ingredients are cooked to your liking before they go in. Its also a really cheap way to make dinner. In the future I'll make an actual pizza using that same dough. I always though pizza dough was more complicated than that, but I guess all it takes is the right amount of patience.

Moroccan Grilled Salmon

Earlier this week I saw an episode of Good Eats about salmon and the various ways to prepare it. When it comes to salmon Lauren and I pretty regularly (twice a month on average) make the blackened salmon burgers I've posted here before. I'm not a big fish eater, especially when it comes to fishy fish like salmon, but those salmon burgers are unbelievable.

On Friday I was perusing the Summer Grilling section of FoodNetwork.com and found another intriguing (but simple) use for salmon.
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • Juice of 1 lemon, plus lemon wedges for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the grill
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 6-ounce skinless center-cut salmon fillets
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, for garnish
Stir together the yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, coriander, cumin, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Pour HALF OF THE SAUCE into a large resealable plastic bag; cover and refrigerate the remaining sauce. Add the salmon to the bag and turn to coat with the marinade. Refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes, turning the bag over once.

Preheat a grill to medium-high. Remove the salmon from the marinade and blot off excess yogurt with paper towels. Lightly oil the grill and add the salmon; cook, turning once, until browned on the outside and opaque in the center, 4 to 6 minutes per side, depending on the thickness. Serve with the RESERVED YOGURT SAUCE and garnish with the herbs and lemon wedges.

The next thing I need to get is a non-stick fish basket for grilling. Its not a problem with the salmon burgers presumably because of the spices and butter, but with this recipe it is a tricky proposition. Our fish was sticking to the grill like crazy. It also didn't help that I forgot to use the non-stick olive oil spray on the grill beforehand, but by the time it was all said and I done I think we lake at least 1/2 a fillet to sticking.

The fish was excellent, but I did not reserve enough yogurt sauce for the leftovers. I used two cups of 4oz dannon plain yogurt (5/$2 ) rather than buying one of those huge 32 oz plain yogurt containers. After making this recipe I am sure you could also use greek yogurt. The combination of yogurt, garlic and lemon has a very familliar Mediterranean flavor.

We used a 1.7 lb salmon filet cut into six smaller filets, which meant we needed to use slightly more than 1/2 cup yogurt for our sauce. The only thing I didn't have from the recipe was the ground coriander. I'm not sure what else it can be used for, but if you don't have ground cumin it is pretty useful in burgers, chili, white chili and meat loaf recipes.

We served the salmon with grilled corn, grilled asparagus and Zatarain's Rice Pilaf.

Weekends With A Dog

If things slow down a bit on the blog this summer, its because of Lauren's dog Jocelyn. She is relentless in her desire to play outside, and if you don't play often enough Lauren will come home to find shoes, the garbage can, a remote control (whatever she can reach), strewn about her bedroom. So in order to keep that from happening we take her to the dog park or out into the backyard to as often as possible. Then, while we're outside playing we usually fire up the grill and make simple foods and things I've already blogged about. The video above is from Sunday afternoon in the backyard. Lauren shot the video, while I'm off camera to the right throwing the ball.

The picture below is what Joss looked like around 7pm, giving us the opportunity to make and eat dinner without a hyperactive dog barking orders at us.

Beer Can Chicken

This weekend was pretty busy for me. Friday night Lauren had a going away party for some friends which made for a late night. Then Saturday we helped them move their stuff on to a truck, which is always longer and more tedious than you mentally prepare for. Saturday night we were scheduled to babysit an infant but that got scrapped at the last minute. Not that I'm doubting the story we were told by the parents, but I get the feeling that fate stepped in and said "Ba is not ready for that just yet. Sure it seems like a good idea to him now, but he's not going to know what do after 25 minutes".

Sunday was good. I watched Spain whip New Zealand 5-0 in the Confederations Cup, played outside, made a meal I've been wanting to try for a while and then watched The Pursuit Of Happyness backwards. The movie was on TNT back to back, but the first time through I only caught the second half of the movie. Then when it restarted I decided to watch the first half. Watching that movie in this manner really takes some emotion of the storyline. Rather than feeling sad about Chris Gardner being homeless you just watch and say "whats that stupid thing he is lugging around with him everywhere?" and "he seems like a smart guy, I wonder how he got homeless". I sort of recommend it.

Anyhow, for dinner Sunday I made beer can chicken. It was quite simple:
  • 1 fresh roaster chicken (4-5 lbs)
  • 5-6 tsp McCormick Grill Mates Chicken Dry Rub
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 12 oz can of beer
Remove the giblets (they are wrapped in paper, resting inside the chicken cavity). Rinse the chicken, pat it dry with paper towel. Rub the chicken skin and cavity with oil. Then sprinkle/rub with 5 tsp of seasoning (4 on the exterior, 1 inside the cavity). Take a large sip (3-4 oz) of beer. Pour the 6th teaspoon of seasoning in the beer and set it down in a roasting pan.

Slide the chicken on top of your beer can. Amazingly it fits very snugly. Just adjust the rib cage so it gets over the lip of the can and then position the legs for added stability.

Roast at 350 for about 90 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees.

It was pretty good. The chicken was very tender and flavorful. The meal was very cheap and simple, I think it cost me $9 total, including the dry rub and a box of rice. But ultimately it suffered from the same issues as any whole/rostisserie chicken meal. How much work do you really want to do to separate skin from chicken and chicken from bone in order make yourself a plate of food? And what do you do with the leftovers?

Curly Fries

Sunday afternoon I got the propane tank refilled, and Sunday even grilling promptly resumed. We had been on a 2 week hiatus because mentally I didn't want to have to spend that +$23 just to have grilled chicken. But eventually I talked myself into bringing the tank to U-Haul and getting it refilled rather than doing the Blue Rhino tank swap. That saved me about $8, and according to U-Haul it gave me more propane too.

So yesterday we decided on burgers. I won't waste your time talking about how to make a hamburger. I was walking by the frozen potatoes aisle planning on tater tots when I saw Ore Ida curly fries. I figured it might be possible to Google a recipe for the seasoning used on Arby's Curly fries. Also I really wanted those springy phone cord curly fries. Here is what I found:

Curly Fries Seasoning
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp onion powder
Cook your fries per the instructions on the package. With 5 minutes left in your bake time, sprinkle the hot fries with seasoning.

I wouldn't say that this makes them taste exactly like Arby's Curly fries. They look the part quite a bitter better than they play it. I think the seasoning could use some salt, and in the future I'd probably cut the cayenne in half or switch it out with another spice altogether. I'm sure not having an industrial fryer also changes the flavor a little bit. Still, the recipe works out as a solid homemade seasoning for French fries. As for the fries themself, those packages don't really contain curly fries, so much as they contain curved french fries. There were a few in there, but in my opinion it takes two curves or at least 270 degrees of curvature to be classified as curly.

Hawaiian Chicken Kebabs

I spent Saturday afternoon attempting to give Lauren's old bicycle a tuneup. About a month ago she got a brand new hybrid road bike and on weekends she usually takes it out for a ride. Prior to this weekend I had no idea she had an old bike in the basement, so we took it out, dusted it off and planned to take it for a ride. I went to the store, got some CLR (Calcium, Lime, Rust remover), WD-40 and an allen wrench set.

So we used a toothbrush and applied CLR to the chain and gears, washed it off, sprayed some WD-40 and then took the bikes out for a ride. Keep in mind this was a bike Lauren got maybe 8-10 years ago by her estimate. So the bike is a little bit small, and for most of the ride I felt like a bear riding a tricycle. The ride was good, aside from the fact that I couldn't really ever fully extend my legs. Also I think the rear brakes were rubbing the tire a little bit, so it was basically like being on a mobile spin bike.

Which leads me to the tuneup. I was so convinced that the bike was in need of a tuneup (as opposed to just being a bike made 10 years ago) that I brought it outside, grabbed a ratchet set and the WD-40 and began loosening, tightening and lubricating every part I could look at and understand. For the better part of 2 hours I did all of this and it made zero difference. In fact if anything I made the issue with the rear brake even worse. I relaxed some of the tension so that the rear brake handle was easier to press, but in the process I loosened or tightened something to the point that the brake doesn't relax from the wheel when you release the brake handle. It is very frustrating. I think about it multiple times a day and it still bothers me. Bikes aren't that complex. This should be easy. If I don't find a bigger bike on Craigslist in the next few days, I'm going to take another crack at the grease monkey thing and see if I can't figure out that rear brake.

Since most of my energy this weekend was spent being a faux mechanic, not much was spent in the kitchen. Saturday night we made chicken caesar salad, and last night we made Hawaiian Chicken Kebabs:
  • Lawry's Hawaiian Marinade
  • 1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast (chunked)
  • 1 large vidalia onion (chunked)
  • 1 sweet bell pepper (red/yellow/orange, chunked)
  • 1 pineapple (chunked)
  • BBQ sauce
Take your chicken chunks, marinate them for 15-30 minutes. Marinate your veggies separate from the chicken for 10 minutes. Proper kebab technique says you compose you skewer by ingredient, cook, then reassemble as a finished product. This ensures even cook times and contact with the grill surface, which leads to even charring. We don't bother. Handling the food more just means a bigger mess and a larger possibility of burning a finger.

Throw your skewers on the grill at medium-high heat for 10-12 minutes total, turning once, maybe twice to get charring on all sides. Just before you turn the skewers, brushing them with a little bit of BBQ sauce for added color.

Along with the skewers we had grilled asparagus (a summertime staple) and yellow rice. Grilled pineapple is obviously great, but the surprise for me was the grilled vidalia onion. It was so good that it made me consider roasting whole vidalia onions as a part of a future dish.

Zucchini Bread

I happened to find some zucchini at Meijer last night, so I made zucchini bread. Last week when I made banana bread, I made two loaves and three mini-loaves. The two big loaves went with me to jury duty, but only one got eaten. So for the whole weekend I had a delicious breakfast/midnight snack ready and waiting. That was the idea behind making the zucchini bread, but I can already tell its not going to last that long.

You may find the recipe to be very familiar. If this recipe seems really fattening, its partially because this one yields two 9 x 5 loaves, whereas the banana bread recipe yields only one:
  • 1 1/8 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/8 cups brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (or 2 sticks softened butter)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups chopped zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 325. Cream the butter and sugar (or just mix if you're using oil), add the eggs and vanilla and stir to combine. Add the chopped zucchini (do not dry/drain). Whisk together your dry ingredients, then add them to the wet ingredients, stir until just combined. Top with walnuts, or mix them into the batter. 

Pour into two greased 9 x 5 inch pans and bake at 325 for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean.

For the zucchini I just washed it, diced it and then pulsed it in a food processor. Last year before Lauren had a food processor we just diced the zucchini and mixed it in chunky. There was no difference in taste and I think it may have provided a little extra moisture.

That picture isn't my banana bread. The battery in my camera died last night as I was lining up my photo.

Banana Bread

Tomorrow ends my stint in jury duty. It was a short week but strangely enough we members of the jury have bonded in our time together, despite the fact that nobody seems to know anybody else's name. The best way I can describe it is to say that its like an extended field trip in high school.

So I'm taking advantage of one of the permissions we're allowed as jurors and I'm bringing in baked goods to share with the group. Originally I had planned to make an amazing zucchini muffin recipe Lauren and I discovered last summer, but Meijer didn't have any zucchinis. So instead I made a couple loaves of banana bread.
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp molasses (rum also works, as does 1 tsp vanilla)
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed banana (3-4 bananas)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour one 9x5 inch pan.

Cream margarine and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs, molasses/rum/vanilla, then bananas. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add dry ingredients to the wet, stirring just until combined. Pour into prepared pan, top with chopped walnuts and bake at 350 for about 1 hour (or till toothpick comes out clean). Remove from pan and let cool, store in refrigerator or freeze.

I'll let you know tomorrow or perhaps over the weekend how the bread turned out. I'll also give some more details about jury duty, assuming I'm finished and am at liberty to speak about it.

Right now the banana bread smells and looks amazing.

p.s. - I violated the "wet on top of dry (to avoid flour coughing all over the counter)" rule of ingredient mixing because I used the KitchenAid to cream the sugar and butter. It wasn't worth it to me to change out mixing bowls or mix by hand. I just ran the mixer on slow.

Tikki Masala Pork

This was a play off a dinner we made a few months ago with red curry and pork chops. For that meal we used an Archer Farms meal in a box kit that didn't have near enough rice. For this one we just stuck to the basics:

Preheat the oven to 350. 

Sprinkle salt and pepper (to taste) on your pork chops. Saute the pork chops in 1 tbsp olive oil or butter, high heat for 4 mins per side. Take the almost done pork chops and finish them in the oven for 8-10 mins.

Heat your Tasty Bites sauce packet per the instructions on the back. The grocery store had the option of  Tikki Masala, Good Korma and Rogan Josh flavors. The Rogan Josh appeared to be very spicy and the Good Korma had a very vague description of its flavors, so I chose the safest (read: tomato based) option.

Cut you pork chops into chunks, simmer briefly in your hot sauce and pour over the rice.

You could probably skip finishing the pork chops in the oven and simmer them to completion in the simmer sauce,  but we elected to err on the side of caution with our cooked meat (we usually do).

It was pretty good. I think with the five chops that we used I'd use two sauce packets. They have a deceptively small amount in them. As it was, we had enough sauce for dinner but after the leftovers go refrigerate and then go through the microwave, those plates might be a little dry.

Stir Fry Success (Finally!) & More

First off, a quick note: I have jury duty this week, which despite what you might hear from other people, is fascinating stuff. So thats 5-8 hours every day, plus I need to at least tread water at my regular job, which doesn't leave me a whole lot of time to cook or write about cooking. So there is a pretty good chance I'll be making pasta and sandwich staples that you can find on this blog throughout the rest of the week and weekend. Thats too bad.

Late last week I did have the opportunity to try out a new stir-fry recipe from Rachel. It was the perfect stir-fry glaze viscocity that Lauren and I have been searching for. Here is the recipe:

2 cups chicken (diced)
1/2 cup chopped broccoli
1/4 cup chopped peas
1 medium onion (chopped) 
Additional stir-fry vegetables
1-2 cups cooked white rice
2 tbsp Cashews

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp white vinegar
1-2 Tbsp white wine or dry sherry

Cook diced chicken in saute pan for 5-7 mins, until white all the way through.
Saute vegetables in separate pan until tender and set aside.
Cook rice, set aside
Mix sauce ingredients, stir, set aside
Add chicken to wok (or saute pan) with a little oil
Add chicken and sauce to clean pan, heat thoroughly. Sauce will thicken.
Add vegetables & stir until sauce is thicker veggies are warmed through
Pour over hot rice & serve immediately

Awesome and easy. Makes great leftovers too. I don't know what kind of soy sauce we used, but the next time I'll probably make sure to find a low sodium version if we used this sauce again. I also bought cashews and then completely forgot to put them in, so I feel like I really missed on one of the major ingredients. I can't wait to try adding cornstarch and sugar to my favorite citrus stir-fry sauce to see if if thickens the same way. Eventually I plan to take on the challenge of breading frying and glazing my own version of sesame chicken.