A Note from the Editor!

August 8th, 2007

While I have visited every restaurant I post, therefore feeling confident to recommend them to my friends, I have hardly had a chance to cover the gamut of restaurants in Phoenix. If you don’t see something that fits the bill, I have come across another web-site that I plan to use myself! Visit www.antichain.com for more suggestions of independent and small chain restaurants in Phoenix and surrounding areas. Bon Appetite!

An Adventure in Dining

February 1st, 2007

I want to tell you about what thought I give to rating restaurants before recommending them to you.There are a few things I consider before I would suggest a restaurant to a friend. I consider the opportunity to dine out as a priveledge for the guests who are usually wanting to take a break from their routine and invest not only in a good meal, but an enjoyable experience shared with someone they value. The atmosphere (pleasing to the eye, cleanliness, indoor/outdoor, quiet, lively, view), quality of ingredients (organic produce, fresh seafood, quality meats, wine list), value for cost (do I feel the meal was worth the expense), service (friendly, knowledgable, available), reliabilty of overall satisfaction (do you come away sated, relaxed and refreshed?) are all important players in an “adventure in dining”.

So, if you’re looking for a suggestion on where to go, consider do you want to try someplace new, take a drive, or tried and true? What’s the occasion, a special date, family time, ladies luncheon? Is the weather inviting you to sit outdoors? What type of food are you in the mood for? Hopefully there is someplace in my growing list that will meet your needs, satisfy your palate and create a memorable experience. Bon appetit!

Meeting Celebrity Chef Rocco DiSpirito

November 11th, 2006

Me and Rocco

Me and Rocco

2006-11-11_0007Originally uploaded by foodiekim. It was with unexpected delight that I stumbled onto Rocco’s eight city tour for his new book, Five Minute Meals. I happened upon an up-front seat before the elegantly conceived staging area that allowed Rocco to prepare his sample dishes. Almost immediately I was presented with chicken and shrimp sample entrees. Delicious.Beyond these simple delights, it was Rocco’s heart that won me over. It is rare for a young man to be so tuned into the matters of the heart. Speaking with genuine conviction, he shared: Each of us knows of that special moment when we have combined all our energies to prepare a dish that we then walk across the kitchen to the table. After all the shopping and selection, and all the chopping and sauteing, you see this culinary meal as a creation arising from your heart. This is where you’ve poured your best into serving up food worthy of your affections, worthy of your hearts love. This is the good life, when we come to that special moment when we set the dish before those we love. This captures my heart’s passion for the family table, that each of us finds time for investing ourselves in the one thing that matters.  Indeed, it is to serve up  treasured family moments that transcend our simple need for sustenance, and in so doing, we reach all the way to our loved ones hearts. So does love fire our imaginations and dedication, from shopping at our local farmer’s market…to searching for new recipes, and braving new territories of flavorful ingredients,  our hearts take hold and we offer up our culinary creations for that endearing sparkle in the eyes, unbridled smile and shared communion of souls.

Glossary of Cooking Terms

May 18th, 2006

Here are a few definitions of commonly used cooking terms to help you with your meal preparation:

Blanch: To place food in boiling water for varying lengths of time, to soften or to partially or fully cook. Sometimes food is blanched to remove a strong taste, as with onions or green cabbage or meat that is salty or has a strong smoked flavor. Certain vegetables or fruits, such as tomatoes and peaches, are blanched so they are easier to peal.

Caramelize: To brown the sugars on a food’s surface by exposing it to heat at or higher than 300 degrees.

De-glaze:  To remove caramelized sugars and proteins from the bottom of a pan by adding a liquid and gently scraping and swirling together.

Dredge: To coat a food in flour before sauteing or as part of breading.

Emulsify: To hold in a temporary or permanent suspension two or more liquids that usually do not blend together, such an oil and water. Examples are vinaigrette and mayonnaise.

Julienne: Foods that have been cut into thin, matchstick strips.

Puree: To mash a food into a fine pulp in a blender or food processor.

Reduce: To simmer liquid until it decreases in volume through evaporation.  Used to concentrate the flavor of a liquid.

Roast: To cook food by surrounding it with dry heat.

Saute: The French word meaning to jump.  The process of cooking food very quickly in a small amount of fat.

Sear: To caramelize the surface of food by cooking it briefly in a small amount of extremely hot fat. Seared foods are often finished by other cooking methods, such as roasting.

Safety Tips for the Kitchen

April 10th, 2006

Don’t get burned:

1. Keep the oven and stove top clean.  Spilled grease and food can catch fire.

2. To reduce the risk of steam burns, puncture plastic pouches and plastic wrap before microwaving food.

3. Pierce potatoes and other large vegetables before microwaving so they don’t burst.

4. If a fire starts on the stove, cover the pan with a tight lid, sliding the lid on from the side.  Turn the stove off.  If a fire starts in the microwave, shut the door and unplug the unit.

Don’t get sick:

1. Wash cutting boards, knives, utensils and counter tops in hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.  Use plastic boards only for chicken.  Use wooden ones for vegetables.

2. Place cooked food on a clean plate, not one that held raw meat, poultry or seafood.  This is important to remember, as we are frequent bar-be-que users.

3. When cooking or reheating food in the microwave, rotate it frequently.  Make sure there are no cold spots before you eat it.

4. Discard food that looks or smells strange.

5. Don’t defrost food on the counter.  Use the refrigerator or the microwave, or run cold water over it.

6. Marinate foods in the fridge, not on the counter.

7. Cook meats to at least 160 degrees and poultry to at least 180 degrees.

8. Refrigerate leftovers of meat and other perishables within two hours after cooking.

9. Wash fruits and vegetables, including prepackaged ones, under cool, running water.  Refrigerate cut produce promptly.

Don’t get hurt:

1. If you drop a knife, don’t try to catch it.

2. If you spill something on the floor, clean it up right away so you don’t slip.

3. Don’t use any appliance near the sink.  If something falls in, you could be electrocuted.

Dining in France

April 6th, 2006

The spider vines ran up the French chateau walls with an authority earned over decades of sprawl. Grass was overgrowing the patio ground stones on which sat the sturdy family dining table.  My son Tyler and I were invited guests to this overseas cultural and culinary experience in the north of France.

The old idiom, “some things are better caught than taught”, proved more than true of our meal gatherings.  Mornings woke us up with a rich espresso, warm bread and a multi-colored fruit bowl.  It was the mid-day meal however, that drew the concerted effort of the family, where like a well orchestrated sonnet each course accentuated the next. The rose’ wine and garden flowers made me pause to soak in the moment, even as the savory dishes were being passed.  In a word,  life was being shared, as the voices of three generations were conversing over this family’s table.

We began gathering less formerly for an evening meal at 7:30.  Champagne was served with a scrumptious platter that had an assortment of nuts, fruit, bread and crackers.  Interestingly, our hosts father was proactive in mixing up the seating arrangement at each meal so as to ensure each guest would enjoy connecting.

An ideal setting, this French table was the center of this family’s palatial home. Beyond the authentic Monet, dark wood antiques and a quaint chateau that served as the guest quarters, I witnessed first hand how the culture of a family can be best served, and preserved, when we sit face-to-face over a shared dining experience.

We were not at a restaurant.  This was not a holiday.  This was extended family that makes it their routine to love each other over the most important table of this home. In some small way, this experience brought affirmation to 27 years of passion that have energized me to search out healthy food and make quality meals for my family.  Some experiences reach all the way to the soul, where the meal we share goes beyond food; this French family served up their heart and inspiration.

As a small taste of their French table, here are several tantalizing cuisines that were shared:

Sliced baguette with gruyere cheese broiled on top
Lamb chops with green beans and potato rounds (I think these were their rendition of tater tots)
Cheese platter with rose’ wine

Cold ham slice with green salad
Cheese platter, walnut bread and pickles

Veal, chicken and bacon rounds pie
Noodles with cream
Sauted mushrooms and hard boiled egg halves

Grilled veal
Baked potato casserole with gruyere cheese and fraiche cream
Green beans

Filet of Sole
Mashed potatoes
Sauted zucchini, yellow bell pepper, onions and tomatoes
Bread and tart for dessert

What a Well-Stocked Pantry Needs

April 6th, 2006

A few basics to keep on hand:

– Dried Pasta: all shapes and sizes made of duram semolina

– Spices and Flavorings: vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, cream of tarter, cumin and allspice.

– Seasoning Blends: onion and garlic salts,  Italian

– Oils: extra-virgin, olive and peanut

– Dried and Canned Beans: black, pinto, lentils and refried

– Vinegar: red wine, balsamic or white

– Sauces: low-sodium soy, hoison, Tabasco, Worcestershire, steak and barbecue

-Tomato products: tomato sauce, tomato paste, diced tomatos, whole tomatos, salsas

– Broth or Bouillon: beef, chicken and vegetable

– Sweets: honey, brown sugar, powdered sugar, granulated sugar, pancake syrup and chocolate chips

– Salt and Pepper: kosher salt, white and whole peppercorns

– Flour: all-purpose,  oatmeal and cornmeal

– Dry Drinks: cocoa, instant coffee and tea

– Rice: white, wild, brown, basmati or jasmine

– Canned Fruits and Vegetables: pineapple, pears, corn, green beans and olives

– Nuts and Preserves: peanut butter, berry jam, almond slivers, walnuts, pecans and shredded coconut

A Sample of Simple Meal Ideas

March 30th, 2006

The following is a selection of some of my favorite and most often prepared meals.  These generally have the kids in mind so they are just pretty basic, but David and I like them too.  These have been developed over the years and are probably a little different each time I cook, as I don’t usually follow a recipe.

I like to try to provide some variety on any given week, such as including a vegetable or two. I also use the freshest ingredients.  Hint: By spending the few extra cents to pick up a fresh baked loaf of French or Italian bread at Wildflower or a nearby bakery adds a special, tasty and thoughtful touch.

Try using a different shape noodle now and then for variety, such as penne, thin spaghetti or mostacolli. If the Italian brands Barelli or DeCecco are on sale, pick them up.  They are made with better semolina wheat flour and have a heartier texture. Serve with a nice green salad or substitute broccoli spears for a change, and some nice fresh sour dough or Italian bread, rolls or Ciabatta heated in the oven.

Spare Ribs
I buy mine at Costco. This is a great meal for Sundays when all you have to do is stick them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 2 ½ hours, dredging them with your favorite bar-be-que sauce (ours is Masterpiece) over the last 45 minutes.

Serve with Middle East brand Rice Pilaf and cole slaw (I usually chop mine from fresh cabbage, but if you are in a crunch for time, just buy the pre-packaged slaw mix, add some fresh diced bell pepper, grate a little carrot and dress it the slaw with mayonnaise, a splash of red wine vinegar, a tablespoon of sugar, salt and pepper.)

Chicken (bone in breasts or whole)
I like to bake my chicken by easily seasoning it with salt, pepper and rubbing in a few sprigs of Rosemary from my garden. (Rosemary grows into a big bush, providing a never ending supply and requires absolutely no care!)

There are a lot of options for what to serve with chicken. Depending on what I have, I may quarter red potatoes, throw them on a cookie sheet and drizzle them with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika, and bake them right alongside the chicken for about an hour.  Then I’ll add a salad or vegetable-green beans work nicely, some bread and wallah! A simple, yet delicious meal!

Vegetable Soup
Serving this is a great way to use up vegetables. This can be used as a main dish, or a side dish, like with the baked chicken, with some crunchy crusted bread or hearty wheat rolls. Try serving with a chunk of good cheese or use parmesan as a topping, too.

Macaroni and Cheese (homemade and baked)
When I have a busy week ahead, I make a double recipe to have enough for dinner one night,and serve as a side dish another night, or as an after school snack.  This is one of the kid’s favorites! Serve with a carrot salad, or frozen peas steamed with fresh sliced carrots.  It’s a nice change of pace from meat.

Pork Chops
I know we all try to steer away from pork, but  once in a while it makes for a great alternative. They are very easy. Simply fry up the thin ones for about 8-10 minutes, and just salt and pepper them to taste.  Serve with some leftover macaroni and cheese, and/or a baked sweet potato, cole slaw and some apple sauce.  Fresh rye bread on the side goes great!

Meat Loaf
Husbands love this one ladies! Meat Loaf is an easy way to do something different with ground beef, especially in the winter.  Bake some potatoes at the same time, and serve with any fresh  vegetable such as  carrots or broccoli.  If you’re feeling industrious, try making mashed potatoes using the gold Yukons, and make some beef gravy using a can of beef broth and your basic recipe.

Tacos or Enchiladas (cheese or chicken)
Serve with Middle East Spanish rice and beans, tortilla chips and homemade salsa.

Quesadillas (cheese)
Serve with fresh made guacamole, salsa, beans, and for variety, buy some chorizo and scramble eggs into it.

Mexican Pizzas:
Take a flour tortilla, brush some barbeque sauce all over it, smear some beans on, use up that chicken by shredding the leftovers on top, add some steamed broccoli bits, a little red or green onion, some corn (again a great way to use leftovers), or diced up potatoes if you have them. Top with some grated cheese and broil or microwave until melted.  One per person usually fills them up.

Usually from Honey Baked Shop.  Serve with Middle East long grain and wild rice, and perhaps a vegetable medley consisting of cauliflower, broccoli, carrots (whip up a cheese sauce to camouflage the cauliflower for the kids).  Grated cheese from Trader Joe’s works great.  All pork dishes deserve apple sauce on the side for dipping.

Breakfast for Dinner
This usually consists of my own egg n cheese muffins. These are so easy to make and are just about the right amount of food for the gang when they aren’t too hungry. An omelet works too, or pancakes and fried eggs, serve with fruit or O.J.

Meal Planning and Preparation

March 27th, 2006

The first and most important thing to remember is that as a wife and mother, we are all gifted differently and our strengths and weaknesses are as well.  Some of us are more organized, naturally, and some of us live life more spontaneously.  For some, taking the opportunity to sit down and meal plan is a form of relaxation and enjoyment, where for others, it seems like an impossible task filled with drudgery, and who has time for it anyway?

Secondly, be encouraged, we are all a work in progress.  Developing our gifts as homemakers is a lifelong process.  Many of us have had years of experience, having had to practice this gift in order to care for our family, where others of you are just starting out.  You are just learning about your role as a wife, and perhaps a mother. You may be feeling inadequate at best, and don’t know where to turn to for help. Some of you have been around the block, but you are always eager to meet with someone who can give you new ideas and refresh your enthusiasm.

No matter where you are at today, I hope you will benefit from the experience and life lessons I will share with you, and find inspiration for loving your family with a little more investment of your time and creativity.

Here are just a few other thoughts for you to consider:

The importance of eating regular meals.
Eating healthy meals regularly provide you and your family with more energy, a better disposition and less illness.It is something we have to do to survive, so why not learn to enjoy the process?

Recognize the need.
Small children need small amounts of food more frequently.  Teens need larger amounts more frequently.  Husbands need to come home to dinner.  And, you need to eat to keep up with everybody else’s needs!

The hardest part of meal planning begins in the mind.
Taking the time to create and chart out a few meals for the week can seem so hard and time consuming that you will resist it at all costs.  Then comes the shopping, preparing and clean up.  Let’s face it.  It is a lot of work!  But believe me, the more you think and prepare in advance, the more enjoyable your mealtimes will be!

Be willing to adjust your own expectations.
Your husband or children will be grateful for just about anything you have prepared for them.  They really do appreciate the thoughtfulness of you going to the trouble to put food in front of them.

Getting started.
Remember, just do it.  This will be the hardest part of all, being motivated to sit down with a piece of paper and a pencil.  There are several different techniques that you will be able to choose from.  My planning is less structured and works out good enough for our lifestyle.  However, the more I plan the smoother my lifestyle!  I may set out by asking what am I in the mood for?  I may go to my freezer and write out what I have in stock, then plan my meals using up ingredients I already have and just shop for the extras.  I will write out the food I have, and list the days of the week.  Then match up my schedule with the meal ideas I have come up with. More than ever, I simply do my shopping at the farmer’s market and plan my meals from there-what’s in season, fresh and how can I plan a meal around it?

Will Dave be home?  Is it our date night?  Do the kids have a big event where I want to be sure they have some extra energy?  Will we be having company for dinner; might one of our other kids stopping by?  I also use whatever season we are in to help determine the types of dishes I might select to prepare.  Sometimes, the kids make a special request. This always helps because I tire easily of trying to come with ideas, and then I’m reminded, kids are just happy with kid’ food.  As long as I make it healthy, I am satisfied and they are pleased.

Be creative. I have fun rotating through American, Italian and Mexican foods.  But remember, in other countries, they just rotate through the same basic food items over and over again.

Organic produce. A lot is being said today about the benefits of buying and cooking with organic produce. The Department of Agriculture adopted a new seal that will be placed on truly organic foods in grocery stores. Along many benefits, this seal will make it clear to customers what produce was raised without conventional pesticides or fertilizers, antibiotics or growth hormones. It also reinforces the ideal of buying food that won’t hurt the water you drink or the soil you depend on, and it supports small farmers. But your best bet is shopping at your local farmer’s market. Seek out the producer’s who grow organically as much as possible.

Organic produce also tastes better, lasts longer in your refrigerator and is better for you.

Recently, I joined an organic food co-op.  This aids my meal planning by providing me with a predetermined selection of produce to plan from.  I am surprised by what seasonal vegetables will arrive, making part of this job an adventure! Sharing these vegetables with a friend gives us the opportunity to come up with ideas on how to use up this abundance of crop.

Cooking for children. When I asked my daughter what she thought I should be sure to include in this article, she told me to tell the young moms to be sure to teach their children to eat their vegetables when they are small, so they wouldn’t grow up to be picky eaters.  She also said I should tell you not to offer them too many choices, just get them used to eating what you put in front of them.  And lastly, when they turn into teenagers, ask them what they want, and make that!  I thought this was very good advice, so I’m passing it along.

The only other thing I would like to mention is to teach your children at a young age to participate and enjoy life in the kitchen.  Each of my children knows how to bake cookies and will occasionally cook a meal together with me.  As a non-crafty mom, I realized this was the one area of creativity I could share with my children, and you can too. Why not start with the recipe for Dandy Candy? I’m sure they’ll love it!

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