For the Love of Fondant… or Not!

I am not a big fan of fondant. Just thought I should get that out in the open right off the bat. It’s a pain to work with, leaves much to be desired on the taste front and it’s just not my preferred medium when it comes to cakes.

On the other hand…

Read some of the better points of and tips for working with fondant over at Nibbles ‘n Bites.

Little Lessons from Big Cakes

The first wedding cake I ever made was a bit of an architectural nightmare. Not because the bride wanted a conglomeration of little cakes but because I was living in student housing and we had a mini-stove with a half-sized oven that wouldn’t hold anything more than 12″ wide.

Read the rest of this cake adventure over at Nibbles ‘n Bites.

Foodie Photography

About 10 years ago or more I read an article about all the different “tricks” food stylists would use to make food look good on camera. Everything from cellophane “ice” and “milk” glue to browning agents and tweezer-applied sesame seeds–the works!

Oh, sure, we know folks put their best food front-loaded and forward when it’s time for an advertising campaign or cookbook shoot, but can the average foodie can make their not-so-average food stand out in a still shot?

Read the rest (and see some pictures) over at Nibbles & Bites!

Egg-cellent Egg Salad

Even though we’re all well past egg-hunting stage in my family, I still enjoy dying eggs for the occasion. The un-hunted egg is a prime candidate for egg salad sandwiches in the days after the holiday.

First, a tip for easy-peel eggs.

After the eggs have boiled (10 minutes is generally sufficient for a solid, yet tender, yolk) and you’ve drained off the boiling water, shake the eggs around in the pan enough to cause small cracks to appear. Then, as you cover the eggs with cold water to speed the cooling, water will seep in between the shells and the whites, making it easier to peel, later on.

I’ve also read that older eggs peel more easily than fresher ones.

Find my recent egg salad recipe over at Nibbles ‘n Bites.

Going Off-List

Week before last I did something I haven’t done in over 5 years: went shopping without my Menu Mailer grocery list.

For those not familiar with Menu Mailer, it’s the invention of Leanne Ely, the Dinner Diva, and features a set of dinner recipes, serving suggestions and an itemized, categorized shopping list each week. Even though I’ve got a culinary degree, am a veteran list-maker and perfectly capable of decided what to make for supper every night, it was nice to not have to make those decisions each week…

Find the rest over at Nibbles ‘n Bites!

the Secret to a Great Cheesecake

Anyone can make a cheesecake if they just follow a recipe. Why, then, do some come out different (better) than others? Is it a super-secret recipe that makes the difference, or is it more?

Todd requested a cheesecake for his birthday this past Friday and I was surprised that I hadn’t shared my secrets for perfect cheesecake on the blog, yet. You might think it’s the recipe, but there’s nothing secret about it.

Basic Cheesecake

2 lb cream cheese
.5 c heavy cream
1.5 c sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp vanilla

See? Pretty simple stuff.

So, if it’s not the recipe, what is it?

The 3 Commandments of Cheesecake

It all comes down to HOW you make the cheesecake. The rest is just details.

Thou shalt whip the cream cheese smooth before adding any other ingredients.

A stand mixer makes this easy because you can crank it up and let it run without tiring your arms. If you’re short of time or in a very cold kitchen, microwaving the cream cheese for 30 seconds at a time until it becomes more pliable will not harm the finished cake. Just make sure it doesn’t start to dry out.

Thou shalt never turn the mixer past low when adding other ingredients.

When the cream cheese is smooth, your beating days are through. Notice that every other ingredient is smooth in it’s own way? All you have to do is gently incorporate them, not beat them into submission.

Thou shalt never scrape the bowl.

Once that first ingredient is added there is absolutely no way to beat any future lumps out of the mixture. If you were to scrape down the sides of the bowl mid-recipe you’d be adding clumps, ruining the texture of your cheesecake. The mixture that touches the sides cools off, congeals, clumps. You do not want this in your cheesecake.

Even when you go to pour the batter into the prepared pan, do not scrape the sides of the bowl. Just let what is loose flow in and leave the rest. Don’t worry, it won’t go to waste. Grab a spoon and nosh on the batter on the sides. After all, it’s gonna be the next day before you get to eat the cheesecake, might as well get something out of it now!

The Water Bath

There’s ongoing debate on whether a water bath is truly necessary for a good cheesecake. I’ve done it both with and without and it depends more on your oven than anything else. If you know you have an uneven oven (it happens to the best of us), use a water bath and make sure to keep an eye on the water level. The cheesecake takes about 2 hours to bake (at 325F) and the water level will drop over that time. Theoretically a water bath will prevent the top crust from cracking, but it’s not 100% fool-proof and it’s not something I worry about as much as I worry about the right texture overall.

Finishing Touches

Remember when I said the rest was just details? Well, they can be pretty yummy details.

I seldom use a graham cracker crust. Instead, I prefer crushed cookies that better compliment the flavor of the cake. Our favorite variety uses crushed Oreos as a base, whole cookies ringing the sides (takes about 13 to circle my springform pan, which makes serving size easy to figure) and a few more crumbled ones stirred into the batter. I’ve used lemon cookies to go with blueberry cheesecakes and chocolate wafer cookies as the crust for my dark chocolate cherry varieties. I’ve even made a baklava cheesecake with the nut-and-phyllo layered base and a honey-syrup added to the batter.

Cheesecake is a treat. The basic ingredients are simple, the wait while it bakes and cools is considerable (including the overnight chill), the results should be absolutely sinful. Don’t let any lumps come between you and your indulgence!00

Review: Bonefish Grill

In celebration of Todd’s new job we went out to eat a couple of weeks ago and ended up at our local Bonefish Grill (a national chain with locations in 28 states). I say ended up because we were initially going to go to a restaurant that, in the interim, had either closed or relocated since I last thought of them. Bonefish was handy, I’d heard good things, so we went.

Of course, being 7pm on a Saturday night, there was a considerable wait. An hour, expected, but here’s where they earned a few points in my book: In addition to plentiful and comfortable seating and being able to place bar orders while we waited, every 20 minutes a waiter would circulate with a tray of appetizers, toothpicks and napkins. During our hour-and-a-bit wait three different apps came by: their Bang-Bang Shrimp, the Saucy Shrimp and some Bang-Bang Chicken (not on the menu but, according to the manager who was serving it, you could ask for it). We loved the Bang-Bang Shrimp and even ordered one to share when we got to our table. (Imagine my glee when the copycat sauce recipe was listed in the most recent issue of Food Network Magazine!)

The interior of the restaurant was amazing. We couldn’t see the bar for the crush of people still waiting inside but I’ve been told it’s a pretty impressive feature in and of itself. Instead, from our seats in the dining room I saw a fantastic back-lit cut-out mural. It complemented the dimly-lit room and sure-footed wait staff. That’s where one of my larger complaints lie: the waitstaff wear chef’s jackets. I fully admit that I’m sensitive on the use of the title Chef for every other home cook and it’s for the same reason that, having spent two years in Culinary School, I do NOT like waitstaff dressing the part of chef. I’m sure someone just thought it “looked cool” but it irritates me.

Anyway, back to dinner. We’d ordered drinks on the patio–a Mangotini that had a bit too much citrus in it for either of our tastes (but at least was made with fresh mango and not Snapple) and a rum drink whose name escapes me at the moment that was just too much booze, not enough mix. In fact, the entire cocktail menu seemed a little heavy on high-octane drinks. But that’s just one girl’s opinion based on the menu descriptions and the 2 we tried.

The menu itself focuses on a variety of fresh fish grilled and topped with your choice of sauces. For a seafood place, Bonefish Grill offers a variety of other entree options that all sound very good. It was tough to make a choice, honestly, and then we both settled on the Imperial Longfin (tilapia stuffed with seafood and topped with a buttery lemon caper sauce).

First to come out was warm bread served with olive oil and pesto; our waiter listed the ingredients for us and the surprise feature was the use of pepitas (pumpkin seeds) instead of pine nuts. I’m going to have to try that at home, next time, not to mention using pesto for the dipping sauce instead of just herbed olive oil. Next, we both opted for a cup of the corn chowder with lump crab meat. Velvety smooth. A slight crab flavor permeates it but I would guess it’s from stock or a stock base, as the crab meat itself was in the bottom of the cup as a garnish.

Entrees come with your choice of one side and the vegetable of the day. That day the vegetable was a succotash redolent with wood-smoked bacon. It was fresh, tasty and very different from the mushy amalgamation I’ve had under that name in the past. I chose the herbed Jasmine rice as my side, Todd the potatoes au gratin. Both came on the plate obviously from a portion scoop like this was some sort of cafeteria lunch. My rice was a little over minted but otherwise fine, Todd’s first bite of potatoes was raw though that did appear to be an aberration. It was also apparent that the au gratin was portioned then topped with the breadcrumbs and cheese before a moment under a broiler or some such. An… interesting way to do things.

The fish itself was very tasty–unless you tasted a bit that was without sauce or filling. The unadorned tilapia was just that: unseasoned and uninspiring. But the sauce was absolutely lovely, not too heavy on the capers, and paired nicely with the seafood stuffing. Another major point in Bonefish’s favor were the realistic portion sizes. Usually a stuffed fish dish is gargantuan, way too much food, not to mention grouper is the stuffed fish of choice for most restaurants I’ve been in. So I guess that’s two points.

Overall we enjoyed our experience. The bill came to $61 including tip (but not including the bar tab). I’ve got my eye on the Fontina Chop for a future visit and, of course, more of those Bang-Bang Shrimp.

Lessons From a Party

Learning never stops–it’s one of the few constants in life. I find that whether it’s something as simple as a new flavor combination or a more efficient way to complete a task, the kitchen offers plenty of opportunities the learn something new. Even if it’s what NOT to do!

Last weekend I hosted a small Wedding Shower. Here’s what I learned:

“Just Enough” Can Still Look Abundant

How sad is it to walk into a party and see a few small amounts of snacks laid out on large plates on a large table? That sort of thing makes me hesitant to take anything, not wanting to make the spread even more meagre for folks coming behind me. Guests who see an abundance of food and drink, though, will freely help themselves.

Of course, we’ve talked about figuring out how much food to prepare and, in the case of small parties, the choice seems to be between making just enough and making enough to fill out your serving pieces. I was facing this particular dilemma since the Shower had a limited guest list (and an even more limited response!).

  1. Instead of bringing out the larger folding table I usually use for parties, the small kitchen table was just large enough to hold the various serving dishes I’d purchased to go with the theme. If the gathering is very small, tray tables arranged around the party room, the tops of low bookcases (or even cleared shelves of tall ones) or a card table may make the most of a smaller spread.
  2. Keep the serving pieces smaller and pile the food upon them. Rather than spreading out the food, pile it up and on! The smaller the item, the smaller the plate. There’s a fine line between abundance and overwhelming, so just make sure guests can easily serve themselves from the bowl or plate without knocking anything off or spilling.
  3. Create varying heights on your table. Whether you have multi-level stands available (stacked cake pedestals make a nice display) or place boxes or crates under the plates and bowls, adding height takes up some of the extra space on a table. If your risers are pretty (glass blocks from the hardware store, for example) leave them in plain sight but it’s easy enough to camouflage cardboard boxes or other items by adding an extra tablecloth or tea towel to the arrangement.

I was able to make only what was needed for the party without letting the table seem bare at all! It’s the first time, ever, that I’ve not over-prepared by fridge-filling proportions!

The Cupcake Conundrum

Who doesn’t love cupcakes? They make great buffet items: self contained, easy to serve and just enough for a bite in miniature. The only problem is that iced cupcakes cannot be stacked and therefore can take up ridiculous acreage on the party table or require frequent replenishing, taking up the hostesses time.

My solution? Take out the icing issue! Instead of icing several dozen Red Velvet mini-cupcakes, I left them plain, piled them in the two lower bowls of a 3-bowl stand (height!) and filled the top bowl with the cream cheese icing and a decorative spreader. Guests loved adding as much icing as they wanted and I was free to enjoy the party without having to constantly police the refreshment table.

I may serve all my cupcakes with do-it-yourself icing from here on out, it worked so well. If the spreader idea doesn’t sound like enough fun, what about filling several disposable piping bags with various flavors of icing and setting out an array of toppings (sprinkles, candies, and berries)? I bet most guests would love the opportunity to play decorator!

All in all the party was a wonderful success: the two sides of the family got to mingle a bit before the wedding (it was a couple’s shower), everyone enjoyed the games and I was left with a happy heart and tired feet–the mark a truly good party in my opinion!

Chef’s Sampler 2010

As I write this I am literally and figuratively digesting a few dozen restaurants that we just sampled at the Children’s Home Society’s 25th Annual Chef Sampler. We’ve attended these a few times in the past (my company used to do the printing so I was able to go to one or two many years ago and then Todd and I went last year for the first time together) and it’s always been a foodie highlight. This year…

First a few disappointments. After searching for a parking space at the AMC end of Tallahassee Mall we finally get in and up to the counter to find that you cannot purchase tickets at this entrance. No, you have to drive to the opposite end of the Mall and enter near Guitar Center. Ugh! The door is being held open by a politician stumping for votes in the upcoming City Commissioners race. Finally, there are lines out the wazoo, going every which way, it seems,  and no real order to be found.

On the up side, it’s the most crowded I’ve *ever* seen one of these events which is great for the Society but there was also a much more casual air among the attendees and there were several children running around. At the risk of sounding elitist–it just wasn’t what we’ve come to expect from this sort of event.

But enough of that, let’s get on to the food!

University Center Club
A variety of desserts including a delectable mini pecan pie and some peanut butter brownies/bars that Todd (who does not like peanut butter) unknowingly picked up. They also had some crab cakes served over an apple(green and red)-cabbage slaw; the slaw was tasty, the crab cake tasted like it’d been frozen and reheated.

Anthony’s Wood Fire Grill
(Opening this March in the Veranda’s at Market Square) Dick Anthony, previously of Anthony’s Italian Restaurant, is making another go at things with his Wood Fire Grill. We were able to sample their Seafood Gumbo (very dark brown, light on favor, rather boring) and Shrimp and Grits (lots of spice but also a great flavor, the grits were very creamy and even Todd liked them! Unfortunately, the shrimp had it’s tail still on–forkable shrimp should not have tails).

the Melting Pot
Ah, fondue! You really can’t go wrong with chocolate fondue served with angel food cake, marshmallows and other tasty tidbits.

On the Border
The popular Mexican chain had a line an absolute mile long. The reason? Apparently they were serving a very full buffet. Having eaten there before and not primarily interested in a chain restaurant, we skipped it.

Harry’s Seafood
With one of the larger displays, this is a regional chain specializing in Louisiana cuisine and a favorite of ours. They were serving Chicken Baton Rouge (light on the tomatoes with chunks of cream cheese and chicken, good balance of spices), Jambalaya (could have been spicier but tasty), Corn and Crab Chowder (thick, rich, with good flavor) and Shrimp and Grits (these grits were cheesy, studded with corn and peppers and quite tasty and the shrimp were appropriately tailless).

Andrew’s 228/Andrew’s Bar & Grill
Penna a la Vodka and Ham and Cheese on Rye Soup! Cheese soup with chunks of ham and well seasoned with caraway Seeds–simply amazing. The vodka sauce was very thin, watery and, according to Todd, rather bland. How unfortunate!

Cabell’s American Bar and Grill
Crab cakes with cajun tartar sauce (definitely an improvement over UCC’s, very tasty, lots of crab and the sauce was spicy and creamy and a nice pair to the cakes) and Sliced roast beef which was very tasty if a little difficult to eat as your walking along balancing a plate on your program on a cup, using one’s chest to balance the whole bit.

Applebee’s
Queso Blanco & Chips, Fiesta Lime Chicken, Margarita Chicken–we skipped this stand because we’ve eat at Applebee’s enough to not want to eat there when there are so many other options.

Tijuana Flatts
Hot sauces glore! Sweet Chili, Habanero, and Jalapeno. The Sweet Chili would be excellent over cream cheese with crackers, the Habanero (according to Todd) was proclaimed WAY too hot, and the Jalapeno was actually a bit bitter. hey also had some chicken quesadillas and seemed to be making burritos farther down the line but we opted to skip those.

Wakulla Springs State Park
We didn’t make it all the way down to their end of the sampler, it was just too crowded. Last year they had some tasty offerings, though (a braised beef and a chicken dish).

SouthWood Golf Club
Serving a tossed salad seems at once novel and foodhardy at the same time. Needless to say, we passed by their offerings and moved on to the next table.

Lucy & Leo’s Cupcakery
A charming display included photos of the (presumed) namesake pups and served up Red Velvet and Chocolate Espresso cupcakes. The red velvet was, unfortunately, a bit dry and lacked that hint of chocolate that should be present. It’s hard to screw up a chocolate cupcake, of course, but it didn’t have nearly the coffee flavor I was expecting outside of the chocolate-covered espresso bean. Still, a cupcake shop that loves dogs deserves another view–we’ll have to check them out in their home location at some point in the not-t0-distant future.

Catering Capers
Tuscan chicken salad (which was a little too heavy on the dried oregano, but otherwise creamy and tasty), Pesto Lime Shrimp (it had a tail! Ugh! It’s hard enough to juggle everything but trying to clean oily pesto off your fingertips is another downside of thoughtless cooks serving tail-on shrimp in sauces to wandering guests!) and Asian Meatballs (tasted like your basic sweedish meatball and not very “Asian” at all–and it was the last of the pot so you’d think the flavors would have been more concentrated than not!). Altogether uninspiring. Though I’m quite capable of doing all my own catering, there’s is not a service I’d use even if I wasn’t.

Sunny Days Bakery
Here was an idea I would not have come up with on my own: peppermint fondant over a red velvet cake. The cake was moist and did have the chocolate flavor that is customary–I liked it, Todd wasn’t as impressed.

Piggy’s Barbecue
Sweet Potato casserole was very tasty with a pronouced sweetness from molasses? maple syrup? rum? not sure but it was good. Somehow we missed the corn casserole but we each ended up with beef or pork–the sad thing it was tough to tell which was which! That’s probably not such a good sign. After further reflection I think I had the bbq brisket which was fairly tasty and Todd had the pork which was a little on the dry side.

Trail Break Cafe
Turky and Swiss on flatbread, sort of quesadilla-like, but it wouldn’t be a bad light lunch when you’re spending the day out at the Junior Museum (technically the Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Sciences, but to those of us who’ve lived here long enough, it remains the Jr Museum!).

Peterbrooke Chocolatier
This chain opened up on the North side of town a year or so ago and does a pretty decent job of coating all sorts of things in chocolate (potato chips, anyone?). Tonight they had chocolate-covered strawberries (amazing!), chocolate-covered popcorn (which Todd found too salty) and cocoa-dusted fudge (which, in hind sight, is probably meant to be a truffle but, whoa, was that cocoa more than a dusting–do not inhale!).

Carrie Ann & Co
CA&C know desserts. I remembered their Punch Bowl cake from last year and it is to DIE for! It’s basically a trifle with layers of yellow cake, strawberries, pineapple pieces and fresh, sweet whipped cream. Yum! They also had their wonderful buttercake cookies, Kahlua brownies (a nutty cookie bottom, fudgy brownie layer, creamy Kahlua layer and topped with a layer of ganache), truffles, lemon curd tarlets (the blueberry tartlets, Todd said, tasted canned–a pity!) and other yummies.

Granddaddy’s Barbeque
Baked Beans and Brunswick Stew were tried by Todd. The verdict: the beans had a nice, smoky flavor and the Stew looked a lot like a vegetable soup with bits of barbecue instead of stew meat but was very well seasoned. The barbecue pork sandwiches were quite tasty. According to the nice young men serving them up it’s smoked in Old Hickory smokers for 12 hours a day, every day. Very tasty. The house sauce, which Todd tried, was apparently unremarkable, but the quality of the meat and sides makes up for it.

Tomato Cafe & Tea Room
(In)Famous for their “rainbow cake” we passed over this table having tried it last year and were unimpressed (it’s basically food-colored cake batter combined helter-skelter–might be good for kid’s parties but not much else, I’m afraid). They also had small packets of tea you could take with you, so that was nice.

Roly Poly
Wraps, wraps and more wraps. I did not try them because I have a grudge against them: they have one of the more annoying jingles I’ve *ever* heard and it was playing incessantly on the station I set my clock-radio to. Just goes to show: your jingle may make you memorable, but not always for the right reasons. Still, Todd does not quite hold the grudge that I do and tried the Philly Melt they had out (the only thing left on their table and we were only halfway through the allotted time of the sampler)–I wasn’t missing much. It was heavy on green pepper compared to the beef or cheese.

Bella Bella
Pasta al Forno was all gone, no bubble bread this year, but we did snag some Sangria as we passed. Can’t go wrong there!

Barnacle Bills
Fresh-shucked oysters on the half shell with a variety of toppings. I prefer mine plain and it was just amazing. Can’t get enough fresh oysters for this girl! They also had their smoked seafood dip out for sampling but it was a little on the fishy side, tonight–not the best representation as I’ve had it before and it was better. They were also serving up margaritas in generous portions–bless you! It was so very delish and was great to wash down the next few tables.

Hobbit American Grill
A local chain specializing in a variety of quick, good foods like sandwiches, salads, subs and wings. They had some subs out but that was way too much bread for this time of night and a couple types of wings available. We tried their Fiesta Ranch wings and were pleasantly surprised at how good it was. Messy as all get out and way too tough to eat in this setting, but delish none the less. I usually go for their garlic Parmesan wings but these I would order, too!

Masa/AZU Lucy Ho’s Restaurant
We caught this table JUST as it was running out of sushi. Grabbed the last plate to split and had a piece of California Roll and one Fried Shrimp roll. Not bad, but I think I’d want to try them at their shop before I’d give them any sort of real review.

Krispy Kreme
What can you say about those truly amazing doughnuts? And what was I thinking picking up a chocolate-glazed cream one? It may be sacrilege, but I had to toss the last bit of it–should have stuck to a doughnut hole for my fix, lol. Serious, if you’ve never had the chance to try a Krispy Kreme doughnut, you really should at your earliest opportunity.

Stinky’s Fish Camp
Horrible name, in my opinion, but they sure served up an amazing bread pudding with caramel sauce! Apparently these guys started in Santa Rosa Beach and have just opened a spot in Cross Creek. Good to know! I’m definitely curious to see how the rest of their menu compares to their dessert!

Cabo’s Island Bar and Grill
Chili and crab cakes! Todd proclaimed the chili rich and meaty, lots of cumin (maybe a touch too much) but could have used a bit more tomato for his liking. The crab cake was almost all crab, which isn’t necessarily bad, but I do enjoy something more than a loose batter binding it together. This is a fun place, though, just don’t go in wearing a tie after 5pm 😉

PoBoy’s Creole Cafe
We just got our oyster poboy fix at their northside location not 2 weeks ago so were happy to see them out at the Sampler serving up bayou gumbo.  The gumbo was a bit too heavy (maybe getting down to the bottom of the dish?) and way too spicy–more heat than flavor, which was disappointing. We washed it down with the last of the margaritas from Barnacle Bill’s.

Angellete’s Cajun Kitchen
(in SouthWood–no website that I could find) Another place serving up gumbo (chicken and sausage) and shrimp & grits. The gumbo was not too thick or too dark, but had a smoky flavor that I didn’t expect. Still, it was very tasty and, possibly, the best of the night for what it’s worth. The shrimp (no tails! yay!) and grits featured lots of fresh veggies–onions, tri-color peppers–and a light broth compared to the heavier sauces of other places. Unfortunately their grits were white and gluey–the exact type of grits that make a Nebraskan like Todd dislike grits. Such a shame! But that shrimp over, say, Anthony’s or Harry’s grits and I’d be in love!

Romano’s Macaroni Grill
Probably the best single display of the night, they had a variety of marinated olives and tomatoes as well as some chocolatey cake with chocolate sauce and nuts that was very moist.

Japanica Steakhouse
Featuring a grill chef with flames leaping from his hat and mouth(!) we didn’t get to taste any of the food they may have been serving earlier in the evening but we did try some Sake that was much better than the Pearl Sake we’d had another time.

Drink services were provided by Coca-Cola Tallahassee, Cone Distributing (beer), Community Coffee, Premier Wine and Southern Wine & Spirits. Other restaurants that were listed in the program that were either out of food by the time we reached their table or just didn’t see for whatever reason were Another Broken Egg Cafe, Famous Dave’s, Hats Off to Food, Killearn Country Club, Marie Livingston’s Texas Steakhouse, Shane’s Rib Shack and Shula’s 347 Grill.

And there you have it. Todd probably summed it up best when he mentioned, as we were leaving, that it was a bit of a disappointment compared to last year. Whether it was the promoters catering to a different demographic or just the lack of originality in the offerings (seriously–4 gumbos, 3 crab cakes and 3 shirmp & grits in one building?) it makes us think twice about going next year and paying $50 a person to be herded like cattle through a noisy, crowded mall.

Short Cut Suppers

We don’t keep a lot of packaged foods in the house–instant dinners, box mixes, frozen entrees. Partially because of my dietary restrictions and partially be cause we just like to cook from good, basic ingredients. If we don’t feel like cooking one night (it happens from time to time), it usually means going out or at least picking up take-out.

All of that to say, when we *do* have something pre-made it’s a rare occurrence and usually happens because of one of the following reasons:

  • I went to the store hungry. Though even then I’m more prone to pick up snacks or some really rich cheese instead of something pre-packaged or instant mix.
  • I saw something new and was curious enough to give it a try.
  • I went to World Market. Something about all of the imported foods they carry just makes me want to try anything and everything they carry—I’ve yet to be disappointed.

The most recent case was a combination of the last 2, when I stumbled upon the Punjabi Butter Chicken Simmer Sauce from Tiger Tiger.

There’s usually a few other criteria if I’m going to pick up something like this. Usually it’s as real-food as possible (no long list of chemicals or preservatives), comes from a reliable source and is something that I can’t easily make myself.

This fit the bill pretty well. After trying to find a recipe that matches the awesomeness that was in that jar I’ve come to the conclusion that I might have to try a few before I find the at-home version I’m looking for. There are no cryptic ingredients  and it looked like something we might find at our local Indian restaurant which we don’t make as much time to visit as we’d like.

All it took was cutting up some chicken (we also added a couple of large-diced potatoes), browning it and adding the sauce until it was warm and toasting some naan in the oven. Making the rice took the longest but it was totally worth it and we got our usual 4 servings out of a single jar with no problem (2 for dinner, 2 for lunches the next day).

It was a nice compromise between cooking from scratch and take-out. What’s your short cut of choice on those nights when you don’t want to do too much?