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Home-made Ice Cream

July 28, 2015 Dessert, Menu No Comments
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Summer days and summer nights are heating up, and what better way to cool down than with a refreshing scoop (or two) of ice cream? Well…how about a few scoops of fresh, home-made ice cream! Sounds intimidating, right? But the truth is, home made ice cream is pretty simple to make, and the key ingredients needed are most likely already on hand. Home made ice cream is also really fun for the kids to help make, and with a little creativity, the flavors and variations are endless.

Foodal.com, which is another great food and drink website, was kind enough to share with me their recipe for a home made ice cream base. This is the basic recipe for home made ice cream, which itself is quite tasty and refreshing. What I found interesting about this recipe as opposed to others that I have tried was that it uses eggs. Recipe author Ashley Martell explains: “Yes, you can make ice cream without any egg, but the egg helps to keep ice crystals from forming in the dessert and keeps it creamy smooth. It also gives you the silky mouth feel that you simply can’t get without egg yolk.”

Along with the ice cream base recipe, their website also includes recipes for vanilla, salted caramel, coconut, chocolate, and chocolate hazelnut ice cream. This, of course, is just a small sample of the amazing flavor combinations that you can come up with. From strawberry-basil and lemon mint, to cookies & cream and bourbon pecan…the variety is just a scoop away!

You will need an ice cream machine to help churn the ingredients, but again this is nothing to be intimated by. Amazon.com has a wide variety of ice cream machines, ranging from as low as $29.99 for a basic machine, to well over $200 for a gourmet gelato maker.

Bottom line…if you’re an ice cream fan, you should definitely give these home-made recipes a try!

Homemade Ice Cream Base

Courtesy of Ashley Martell/foodal.com

Ingredients
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
6  large egg yolks

Instructions
In a small saucepan, combine cream, milk, sugar and salt and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until the sugar completely dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks, and while whisking constantly, slowly pour about 1/3 of the hot cream into the yolks to bring them to temperature (this is to avoid inadvertently making scrambled eggs).

Pour the yolk mixture back into the pot with the remaining cream. Return the mixture to a medium-low heat and cook until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.

Strain the cream through a fine-mesh sieve into a separate bowl. Cool mixture to room temperature, and then cover and chill your base at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can eat the ice cream right away, but it will be more of a soft serve ice cream. For a firmer product, allow it to continue to firm up in the freezer for a few hours, or overnight.

Click here for the foodal.com home made ice cream page, which includes their base recipe, as well as recipes for vanilla, salted caramel, coconut, chocolate, and chocolate hazelnut ice cream.

 

 

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Images courtesy of foodal.com/Ashley Martell

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Planking 101: Cooking with Cedar Wood

July 16, 2015 Menu No Comments
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One of the latest trends for grilling salmon, whether it’s at your house or at a restaurant, is using cedar planks. Cooking with cedar planks allows the salmon to absorb the natural smoky flavor, cook evenly without having to flip, and makes for great presentation when serving. The only caveat to planking is that you need a good chunk of time to prepare the planks prior to cooking. Because the planks are wood (naturally), they are susceptible to burning and charring…and rather quickly! You need to soak the planks prior to cooking to avoid instant burning. At least two to six hours is recommended. Unless you are cooking over indirect heat, chances are that your planks will still char up a good bit, and getting more that 1-2 uses out of the planks are very slim.

Not only are planks disposable, they can also become a bit costly. The average price that I found for for planks was $8-12 for a two pack. Not very cost efficient, if you plan on planking often. Because grilled salmon is one of the dishes that I really enjoy making, I decided to give planking a try. To avoid using my planks in a one-and-done fashion, I purchased a stainless steel plank saver tray from Sur La Table. Reasonably priced at $10.95, the plank saver’s purpose is to protect the planks from direct flame contact, for longer life and better cooking results. Soaking the planks for at least 1 hour is still recommended.

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The stainless steel plank saver.

I seasoned the salmon directly on the plank with olive oil, salt and pepper, skin side down. I cooked the salmon over indirect heat at 350˚ for 20 minutes. While it didn’t quite pick up as much of the cedar taste as I was hoping for (this could just be attributed to the brand of cedar planks that I used), the salmon was moist, flaky and quite tasty. Without a doubt, one of the best pieces of salmon that I’ve ever grilled. The plank saver also did its job quite well. Aside from minor discoloration and slight warping, the plank survived the flames and was in great shape after grilling. With a quick wash-down, the plank is ready to go for another round. By using the plank saver, I’m sure that I will get a handful of uses out of one plank.

Side by side view of an unused and used plank.

Side by side view of an unused and used plank.

Post-grilled plank, after using the plank saver. Minimal warping and discoloration.

Post-grilled plank, after using the plank saver. Minimal warping and discoloration.

Bottom of the plank. No charring or burn marks on the plank.

Bottom of the plank. No charring or burn marks on the plank.

I am still a novice at grilling with planks, so I can’t give you many tips or tricks just yet. For detailed tips on planking, visit www.cedargrilling.com.

To order your own plank saver, visit www.surlatable.com. The dimensions of the standard plank saver are 12″ x 5″. An extra large version measuring 17.5″ x 7.75″ is also offered for $14.95. Keep this in mind when purchasing cedar planks, as the planks do come in various sizes.

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Our Kitchen Renovation (aka Updating My Office)!

July 7, 2015 Menu No Comments
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When we moved into our house 12 years ago, like many other new home owners, we had long-term home improvement goals. Specifically with our kitchen. Because my wife and I both enjoy spending time in our kitchen (I’m the cook, she’s the baker), having a spacious cooking area was alway a dream of ours. For those of you who live in our Philadelphia suburb neighborhood of Havertown, you’re well aware of the cramped galley kitchen, with limited counter space at best. As the years went on, and responsibilities took over (daycare fees, tuition payments, car payments, unexpected home improvements…yadda yadda, yadda), our long-term kitchen renovation plans seemed to stay put on the back burner. When we finally started talking to contractors, and found out that our initial plans of blowing out our wall and extending our kitchen to the back porch weren’t really structurally ideal (removing a foundation wall isn’t as simple as it sounds), our thoughts were “are we ever going to be able to update this cramped old kitchen?” Thankfully, as we were getting other work done in our house over the years, we made some really good and trustworthy home repair connections.

We struck up some conversation about our kitchen woes with a carpenter who was recently doing some home repair for us (he was referred to us by his brother, who happens to be our trusty and talented plumber). He told us that his other brother does incredible kitchen design work, and that we should talk with him. Fast forward 6 months, and we were discussing kitchen ideas with our soon-to-be kitchen contractor. Within a half an hour, he presented us with ideas based on our layout wants and needs that made total sense. While our dream of getting an expanded kitchen wasn’t do-able, the new layout suggestion that we were presented with made us incredibly excited. I’m also a firm believer in following your instincts, and our instincts were telling us that we found a solid connection here. After 12 long years of hoping and dreaming, we were finally getting our new kitchen.

We’ve all heard the nightmarish stories about home renovations. The job took forever; we had so many problems with our contractors; so many other problems popped up because of it! Obviously, these were all solid concerns for my wife and I going into our redesign. Especially because we were stripping the kitchen down to the bare bones. I’m talking down to the bare brick and studs! When you’re dealing with an older house like ours, it’s a frightful thought. Watching endless hours of home demo/reno shows, where problems are found left and right while demolition is happening, doesn’t help much. But I’m going to be straight up with you…we were extremely fortunate. Some issues popped up during demo, but nothing too out of the ordinary and nothing that couldn’t be fixed on the spot (a few water damaged floor boards, old wiring…you get the idea). Part of it I chalk up to as luck, but I give most of the credit to the incredible contracting team that did the job for us. Not only were they timely and efficient, they were also the most professional, courteous and friendly group of workers who have ever done a job for us in our house. To Steve Artmont and the entire G&A General Contractors crew and the additional workers and sales staff who contributed, a million thanks to you! You delivered a dream kitchen for us in incredibly timely fashion, and you made a huge process for us as painless as possible.

WORDS OF WISDOM

Before we get to the actual photos of the renovation, I would like to share with you some tips that we’ve learned throughout this process. These are not rules that are set in stone, but rather some friendly guidance. Believe me, if you are looking to get any home renovation done, any tip that you can get is a valuable one!

  1. Get to know your contractor before you commit. Especially if it’s a big job, they are going to be spending a lot of time in your house, often when you may not be home. It’s important to know who the person/people are who you are trusting to handle the work. A good way that we find to become familiar with good, solid and trustworthy workers is to ask other workers who you use and trust for references. If your plumber or electrician are hard working and honest people, chances are that they link themselves to others who have the same work ethics and values. This is the approach that we took, and it worked out for us.
  2. Express your ideas and suggestions, but listen to what the professionals have to say as well. They know a lot more about the job than you do. If you find that they are trustworthy workers, they will steer you in the right direction. This was another positive experience for us.
  3. Discuss different price options for materials with your contractor. If you’re not happy with a price for materials, be up front about it. Chances are that your contractor will have other options for you to check out. Steve was helpful and honest with us regarding materials and where to get the best prices. A little leg work was involved for us, but we ended up dealing with great sales teams and getting the best prices possible for top-notch materials.
  4. Schedule your renovation time accordingly. Your house WILL be turned upside down for a while, so you want to ease the pain of being trapped in a dysfunctional home as much as you can. We found that late spring/early summer was an ideal time for our kitchen renovation. The weather was turning nice, so we were able to take advantage of grilling out and being outside in nice weather, instead of being trapped around-the-clock in a super-condensed living room/makeshift kitchen area.
  5. Prepare yourselves before demolition starts. Again, your house will be turned upside down and will be slightly dysfunctional. Especially if it is a kitchen or a bathroom. You do not realize how much you depend on these rooms until you lose access to them. Aside from planning to grill out a lot, we prepared a good handful of meals ahead of time that we froze. When all of our appliances and portable carts that we were keeping were moved from our kitchen to our dining room, we set up a little cooking station with our microwave, toaster oven and a single electric burner (really came in handy, by the way!). We also had designated tubs for dirty dishes, and we each took equal turns lugging the dishes down to the laundry room to be washed. Yes, this was the part that got old really fast, but hey…it was short term pain for long term pleasure.
  6. Be courteous and friendly to the crew….but don’t get in their way. You’re placing your dreams into their hands, so make sure that you don’t become an invasive pain. Yes, ask questions. Yes, express concerns if you have to. But again, trust their word…they’re the professionals. And they’re in your house to get a job done, so let them do it!

Now, onto the photos!!!!

The “Before” Photos

As you can see, our old kitchen was not totally short of space, but rather of functionality. The fridge was stuck in the middle of the floor, we had limited counter space, and the half wall/countertop didn’t make for good flow…especially in a household where the kitchen and dining room table are the central focus for conversation when we have family and friends over for dinner…or just to hang out! You can also see that we used our radiator cover as temporary storage for containers that were headed out to the recycling bin, since there was no room for an indoor bin.

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The “During” Photos

Demolition was completed very quickly, and the new framing, drywall, trim and paint started to come together within two weeks. Every day, we saw major improvements!

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The “After” Photos

After years of waiting, planning and dreaming – and just under a month of complete demo and renovation – we finally have our new kitchen. Some of our favorite features are the extended counter top (we can finally spread out to cook!), the chalkboard door where the old microwave shelf used to be, the glass door liquor cabinet, and no more exposed trash can or recycling containers. If you are ever looking for Daria or myself, chances are you will find us in this new room.

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Grilled Chicken Italiano

June 30, 2015 Entrees, Menu 1 Comment
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Growing up in South Philadelphia, I have enjoyed more than my share of delicious and delectable sandwiches. While cheesesteaks, hoagies and roast pork sandwiches rank among highest on most Philadelphians’ lists, my all time favorite ‘sang-weech’ is the classic Chicken Italiano. Seasoned chicken breast, broccoli rabe, prosciutto and provolone packed in a crispy Italian roll…what is there not to love? Now I do realize that there are different variations of a Chicken Italiano, using other ingredients such as peppers, mozzarella and sun dried tomatoes. But the prosciutto, provolone and rabe combination is the version that I fell in love with. For this post, I would like to share with you my grilled version of this amazing combination….a perfect dish for any summer cook-out!

This grilled version does differ just a bit from the classic sandwich. First, while broccoli rabe is one of my all-time favorite greens, I decided instead to use a home made basil-mint pesto. My garden is overloaded with fresh basil and mint, so I figured it would be a great opportunity to put both to good use. Of course, you can stick with the traditional broccoli rabe if you prefer. I also like to prepare and serve the chicken breasts whole. You can cut the chicken breasts into smaller pieces to serve in a sandwich if you like, but I find that cooking and serving the chicken breasts whole allows for prosciutto, provolone and pesto (or rabe) to melt evenly on top.

You’ll want to marinate the chicken breasts for a good two to four hours before grilling. You can find a good, basic lemon and garlic marinade by clicking here. You can also used a bottled marinade of your choice, but I would stick to a basic garlic, lemon or white wine flavored marinade. There are too many good tastes happening with this dish, so you don’t want to overpower the chicken with an strong-flavored marinade.

Grilled Chicken Italiano

4-6 boneless and skinless chicken breasts
4-6 slices prosciutto
4-6 slices provolone cheese
*Basic lemon-garlic marinade (see recipe below) or 1 bottle marinade (any combination of garlic, lemon and white wine will work)
**Fresh basil-mint pesto (see recipe below)

Pierce chicken breasts with a fork to allow marinade to soak in. Place chicken breasts in a plastic bag, pour marinade into bag, making sure that all of the chicken breasts are well coated. Refrigerate for two to four hours.

Pre-heat your grill to high. Make sure that your grill grates are brushed with oil to avoid sticking. Reduce heat to medium-high, and place the chicken on the grill, discarding the bag with the used marinade. Keep lid closed. Turn chicken occasionally, until browned and done. Top the chicken breasts with a dollop of the pesto, a slice of provolone and a slice of prosciutto. Allow to heat for another few minutes until the cheese starts to melt and the prosciutto starts to slightly crisp. Remove from grill, serve and enjoy!

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*Lemon-Garlic Marinade
Adapted from food.com

2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh preferred
1⁄8 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients together to pour over chicken.

Note – this recipe’s measurements are for 1-1.5 lbs of chicken breasts. You may need to increase the ingredients for the amount of chicken breasts that you are making.

**Fresh Basil-Mint Pesto
Adapted from simplyrecipes.com

1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
1 cup fresh mint leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the basil and mint with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.) Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Use immediately, or refrigerate in a sealed container for up to a week.
Makes 1 cup.

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