“How-To” Cooking – Sautéing

Sautéing is one the most basic French cooking methods and is used quite often in the kitchen. Sautéed foods are cooked quickly in a small amount of fat (usually butter or oil) over medium to medium-high heat. The food is stirred or tossed in order to cook the outside evenly without overcooking the inside.

Foods to be sautéed should be cut into small pieces or thin slices so that they cook fairly quickly. Typical sautéed foods are chicken, other tender cuts of meat, and vegetables. When sautéing make sure to not crowd the pan and be sure to dry all food with a paper towel before cooking, any extra moisture will cause the food to steam instead of sauté.

Keepin’ It Real in the Kitchen

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I know that everyone expects a food blog to be filled with beautiful pictures of perfectly cooked or baked foods but sometimes, you just gotta keep it real. Sometimes, a recipe (or the baker!!) goes totally wrong. Really, really wrong. Like today when I attempted to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. If you haven’t noticed yet from the picture, these my friends were an EPIC FAIL!!! But you know what? That’s completely okay with me because not every recipe will turn out right and not everything will always be delicious. The good news is, it’s in the mistakes that we become better cooks. If you have ever read my Kitchen Disasters – We’ve ALL Been There post then you’re already keenly aware that I’ve had my fair share of disasters in the kitchen. Today was just one of those days. I was off my game and I messed up.

I am someone who thrives in organization and struggles to maintain my focus and keep my cool in chaos. Truthfully, I picked the wrong time to attempt a new baking recipe because at that current moment things in the house were utter chaos. The kids were running around being kids which basically means loud, giggly, and wild. To add to that I had my dog stalking me in the kitchen hounding me to feed her. Music was blaring, the phone kept ringing, and so on and so forth. I’m sure all of you parents out there can vividly picture this scenario. Most of you would have had the common sense to just step out of the kitchen. I, on the other hand, decided to bake cookies. Brilliant idea, right? SO wrong! So, so wrong!

I’m not even sure where it started to go off the rails but I suspect it was somewhere around when I added the butter. I think, although I am not 100% on this, that I added too much butter AND it was too soft. Obviously, at that point I was doomed to fail. But alas, it continued to only get worse. You would think after chilling the dough for an hour I would notice or even care that it still felt mushy. Nope. I just pressed on determined to make these damn cookies. While yelling at someone, I can’t even remember who at this point, I grabbed the wrong size cookie scoop and subsequently rolled out balls of dough that were literally the size of my toddler son’s head. Sure they looked wrong but, whatever! I didn’t have time to sweat those details as I was pulling my kids off of the walls and losing my mind. Then, oh yes…………..this story gets better!!…………….the recipe said to “flatten the cookies into disks“. Sure, no problem. SQUASH!! My gooey, pancake sized cookies were ready to hit the oven. I was killing it with these cookies!!!! ((insert eye roll here))

I am sure that you can assume what happened next in this cautionary tale. When you mix GIANT, mushy, over buttered, pancake sized cookies with heat, you know what you get, right?? Can you say……………SPREADING??!! I kid you not, when I checked on my lovely batch of cookies they were no longer round and cookie like, instead I had three pans each filled with one, huge rectangular blob of cookie. It was such a disaster. I should have pulled them out at the point and given up but again, I just kept pressing on. I let my cookie blob continue to cook, in fact I even let them OVERcook (for good measure) so that when I finally removed them from the oven they were black on bottom, raw on top, and pretty much glued to my Silpat.

After letting these horrid things cool, I tried in earnest to transfer them from the pan to the wire racks however, they weren’t budging. I was literally attacking them with my spatula the way one would use their shovel to hack away at a four foot frozen block of snow at the end of their driveway. It was hopeless. So, I began to just shovel my cookie mess into a pile on the pan so that I could chuck them into the garbage where they belong. As I am doing this I also had to pry my kids fingers from the cookie slop because it didn’t matter to them that they were a hot mess, if it’s sugar and it’s sweet they just want it in their bellies. They thought the cookies tasted great! My sweet babies, I appreciated their confidence in me but for real, these things were awful. So, with the kids finally out of the kitchen away the cookies went into the pail and out to the trash can. Good riddance!

Here’s the thing though, I fully recognize where I went wrong in this whole process but in the end, aside from wasting some ingredients, it was really no big deal to have a kitchen mishap. It happens to the best of us. I would bet good money that Bobby Flay has had a few doozies in his day too but like I said, it’s the mistakes that make us better. Just look at Bobby now!! I chalked up today to bad timing, crazy kids, and lots of distraction. That’s life, it happens! So tomorrow I’ll just get back up on my mixer and try, try again. That’s all I can do! With any luck I’ll be posting a pretty cookie picture and recipe soon!

Feel free to share your kitchen mishaps in the comments section. You know you have them too!! LOL Happy baking home cooking friends!!

 

Kitchen Disasters – We’ve ALL Been There

Most of the time recipes go as planned, your food looks great, and everything tastes delicious. But every now and again something goes wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong and all you can do, besides toss the mess into the trash, is laugh at yourself, learn from it, and move on. I have had my fair share of moments where a recipe went completely awry and I was left with a meal or a dessert that nobody wanted to eat. Or alternatively, that tasted fine but looked less than appetizing. It happens, even to the best of cooks! But hey, we wouldn’t grow as cooks (or people!!) if we didn’t fail and have to get back up again. So here are a few of my less than shining moments in the kitchen.

Metal Tomatoes

After college my husband and I moved to Florida and into our first apartment. Through his work we had made a few friends and one year when we couldn’t make it home to NY for Easter we decided to invite some of these friends over to our place for Easter dinner. I am Italian and Easter in my family is always lasagna, meatballs, sausage, and a baked spiral ham. So naturally I wanted to keep with tradition and serve the same meal to our new friends. Now, I knew how to make sauce and pull together lasagna and meatballs however, what I did NOT know at that time was the importance of using the right tools in the kitchen. Aluminum pots = NOT the right tools to make tomato sauce.

Before we moved my mom had given me a set of her old Farberware aluminum pots and pans. They were great for many things, not so much though when cooking tomatoes. Aluminum is a reactive metal and as such, will interact with the tomatoes and impart a distinct metallic taste into the sauce. Needless to say, I had an apartment full of people coming over who I had never cooked for before this gathering and I had a HUGE pot of sauce on the stove that tasted like metal. In a panic, I started adding sugar and extra spices to the sauce to try and counteract the metallic taste. It helped somewhat but I still noticed the “off” flavor in the sauce. At that point, I had to just cross my fingers and hope that once the pasta and cheese were in the mix the metallic flavor would be masked. In the end, everything turned out fine despite the sauce and thankfully everyone seemed to enjoy the meal. I learned a very valuable lesson that day about using the right tools for the job. Both cast iron and aluminum are NOT the right tools when making tomato sauce. Safe to say, I never made that mistake again.

Chicken Flip

A while back I decided to roast a whole chicken for the first time. I bought a nice little Purdue that had the pop up timer built in and I thought, easy peasy, there will be no messing this up. Ummmmmm. Yea. I messed it up! Let’s just say that the cooking time came and went as I was repeatedly sticking my head in the oven trying to find this stupid little pop up timer to let me know the chicken was done cooking. I could’t find it anywhere and was convinced that somehow they forgot to put the pop up timer in the bird. Since the chicken had been roasting for what seemed like forever I decided to finally just pull it out and take my chances. I put the chicken on the counter to rest while thinking to myself, “this chicken looks kind of odd“. The breast looked pretty flat, sort of bony, and wholly unappetizing. I figured I just got a weird looking bird (with no pop up timer!!) so I just brushed it off and didn’t give it another thought.

But then it came time to carve up the meat and to my surprise, there wasn’t really any breast meat. It felt hard, looked pretty gross, and seemingly had nothing I could get my knife through. My husband walks over, asks what the deal is with the funny looking bird and together we realize, OMG!!!!!…………………..I cooked the damn chicken UPSIDE DOWN!!!!! I wasn’t looking at the breast after all, I was trying to carve up his back! All I could do at this point was to flip over the poor chicken and laugh at my sheer stupidity. Once we flipped it over low and behold!!!………………there was the pop up timer that I was convinced didn’t exist along with all of the breast meat that I thought was missing! Having cooked upside down the whole time, the breast now looked a little less than appetizing but thankfully, in the end it was fine to eat and it was cooked pretty well too!! After that little debacle I learned which side is which and I’m proud to say that I’ve never cooked a chicken (or a turkey!!) upside down ever again!

Salt Lick Cookies

I have a great recipe for Fudgy Brownie Cookies that I’ve made countless times and every single time they’ve turned out perfect! I even made batches and batches of them one year to give out in cookie tins as Christmas gifts and everyone loved them. So one day I had my parents over for dinner and decided to throw these cookies together for dessert later that night. It’s a quick and easy recipe that I was very familiar with so I thought I could pop into the kitchen and bang them out pretty fast. My thinking was on point, my reality though, that was a different story! I was being interrupted about 1,458 times a minute by my then toddler son, Grayden. Trying to follow a recipe while at the same time attending to him is pretty much a recipe for disaster!

The recipe called for 1/4 tsp of baking soda to be added. Because I was reading the recipe while at the same time dealing with Grayden, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the measurements that were called for. Instead of adding a 1/4 tsp of baking soda, I added 1/4 CUP of it. Baking soda, in case you weren’t aware, is VERY salty. Drop a 1/4 cup of it in your cookie dough and I promise you’ll gag, which is EXACTLY what I did when I tasted my dough a few minutes after mixing. There was simply NO way to salvage the cookie dough so in the trash it went and I had to start all over again. Lesson learned for sure, pay CLOSE attention to your recipes and measurements or you’ll end up with one big kitchen disaster on your hands and there is nothing worse than having to toss food! Oh!………….and avoid cooking with a toddler in the kitchen if you can help it!!

Zombie Pasta

Fairly recently I made a dish called “Drunken Spaghetti” which sounded pretty yummy when I read the recipe and it looked decent in the picture too. It was basically pasta that was cooked in both water AND red wine, the idea being that the pasta would absorb the wine as it cooked and impart a nice flavor to the finished dish. Once the pasta was ready you tossed it with chopped nuts, herbs, olive oil and cheese. All good things however, pasta that’s boiled in wine doesn’t look very nice or as richly colored as you might hope. Instead, it was kind gray. Gray pasta. Mmmmmm…………..sounds delish, right??

Overall, the flavor was actually somewhat interesting and the meal itself wasn’t terrible but it really didn’t look “pretty” or even appetizing for that matter. (I didn’t even attempt to get a picture of it!) My parents were over for dinner that night and my husband was working late so we ate before him and everyone kinda sorta liked the meal even though we were all put off by the overall appearance. So when my husband came home and I served him he looked at me like, “WTF is this???”.  I insisted it tasted good and to just try it. He kinda sorta liked the meal too but REALLY struggled with the color of the pasta and the overall look of the dish as we all did. He ate most of it but then gave up towards the end and said he couldn’t really take another bite. He subsequently named the dish “Zombie Pasta” since it was kind of gray, kind of reddish, and overall kind of unappetizing looking. He also told me to never, EVER make it again. So the lesson here is pasta doesn’t really look pretty after boiling in wine AND the photo editing programs they use in cookbooks is simply amazing because they somehow made “Zombie Pasta” look good and inspired me to actually try it!

As you can see, kitchen fails happen to even the best of us! So the next time you burn a cookie, forget an ingredient, or plate something that is zombie colored just know you’re in good company. We’ve ALL been there and done that! The best thing to do is to just chalk up your fail as a learning experience and then get back in the kitchen and do better the next time.

If at first you don’t succeed, just try, try again!

Make It Homemade!

There is just nothing better than making something homemade! Aside from your dish being absolutely delicious you also have the added benefit of using the freshest ingredients and you know EXACTLY what is going into the food you eat.  If you ever take the time to read through the list of 457,000 ingredients that are used for a simple, basic store bought chocolate chip cookie you will appreciate REALLY quickly just how much better it is to make something from scratch.

Now I get it, cooking from scratch can be a big time commitment and it’s not always easy to get in the kitchen and whip up something homemade however, the more you do it the more you’ll realize that it’s not as overwhelming and complicated as you think.  I recommend starting with something super simple such as cookie dough.  There is nothing easier to pull together than a delicious, warm, home baked cookie.  Plus, cookie dough is a GREAT make-ahead recipe because it’s freezes (and keeps in the fridge) really well!  Here is where a vacuum sealer really comes in handy because it will help to extend the life of your cookie dough whether it’s in the fridge or freezer.  That being said, if you don’t have a vacuum sealer just roll up your cookie dough tightly in plastic wrap, put in a labeled Ziploc bag, and it should keep in the freezer for up to 3-4 months.  I like to write down the cooking instructions right on the Ziploc so that I am not scrambling around looking for the recipe down the road when I want to bake them off.  Spend an afternoon making a few different batches of cookie dough and you’ll always have a fresh, warm, homemade treat on hand.

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Cookie doughs are just the tip of the iceberg, you can make virtually anything from scratch and yield results that are as good, if not WAY better, than the processed store bought version.  Some of my favorite things to make are homemade vanilla extract, vanilla sugar, baking mixes, lemonade, ice cream, BBQ sauce, jams and jellies, dressings, and spice rubs.  Some of these things take just minutes to pull together using ingredients that you likely have on hand and they are better than anything you can buy in the store.

I’ve made my own vanilla extract countless times and it’s absolutely delicious.  Split a few vanilla beans, cover with either vodka or bourbon, seal and store in a dark place, and within 8-12 weeks you have homemade vanilla extract.  The longer you let it sit, the more concentrated the flavor will become.  You can see below the difference in color after just a few weeks and let me tell you, it’s absolutely incredible extract!

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Another fun thing to make from scratch, especially with the kids, is ice cream.  Making ice cream bases is so simple and once it’s chilled and ready you just pour it into the ice cream maker and let it do all of the work.  My kids and I made this delicious batch of vanilla chocolate chip ice cream and the flavor was so clean and natural.  Plus, I knew exactly what was in it so there were no weird chemicals or ingredients I couldn’t pronounce.  Just eggs, sugar, cream, vanilla, and chocolate chips!

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Love jams but you’re not quite sure how to can your own?  Try your hand at freezer jams, they are super simple and don’t require a ton of prep.  Or just make your favorite jam, pour it into a mason jar, and store it in the fridge.  There is no need to can it if you’re planning on using it right away.  I happen to LOVE cranberries and I usually end up overbuying bags of them at the holidays so instead of letting them go to waste I make a super easy cranberry jam.  Because I like to have plenty on hand, I’ll double the recipe so I can preserve and can a few batches for down the road.

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One of my most favorite things to make is lemonade, especially on a hot summer afternoon.  I promise you, once you have fresh squeezed lemonade you will absolutely NEVER want to drink the powdered or store bought version again.  This lemonade has such a light, fresh, perfectly balanced flavor that it’s easy to drink ALL day long!  This lemonade takes me no more than 15 or so minutes to pull together and it’s absolutely head and shoulders above any other lemonade I’ve ever had.  Just a few simple, fresh ingredients and you have yourself the perfect glass of cold, refreshing lemonade.

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As you can see, there really is no limit to what you can cook up in your own kitchen, it just takes a little planning and a dose of patience and before you know you can create a pantry, fridge, and freezer full of your own from scratch food!  Don’t be afraid to try your hand at different recipes, the worst thing that happens is that it doesn’t turn out great but then you learn from that, go back and tweak what you did, and try again.  Learning to cook and bake is a process but if you are willing to put in the time to learn you’ll be so pleased with the results.  There is simply nothing like homemade goodness!!!

 

 

Kitchen Must Have – Vacuum Sealer

If you don’t yet have a vacuum sealer you REALLY need to get one.  It’s truly an indispensable part of my kitchen and I save so much money because I can buy in bulk and everything stays fresh.  FoodSaver has a few different models at all different price points so you should be able to find something that meets your needs.  I just bought myself a brand new vacuum sealer with all of the bells and whistles but for years I’ve been using the most basic model that they have with great success.

My favorite thing to buy in bulk is meat, the prices are so much better and the quality of meat that I can pick up at BJ’s is SO much better than any supermarket.  I usually buy ground beef, chicken, steaks and stew meat in bulk.  Another must have in your kitchen is a scale, you’ll need it to break up these huge packs of meat into specific portions and sizes.  With chicken and ground beef I prefer to make one 1 lb packs since most recipes call for 1 lb servings.  Large steaks I vacuum seal individually and for my stew meat I freeze packs in the exact amount that I need to make a batch of stew.  You can literally keep your meat frozen for MONTHS once it’s vacuumed sealed.  Everything stays super fresh and there is literally not a lick of freezer burn on any piece of meat.

The vacuum sealer is also great for snacks, deli meats, bulk packs of cheese and even fruit.  My sealer has a great feature where you can “pulse seal” so that you don’t crush delicate foods like soft fruits and breads.  They even have resealable bags which comes in handy when you want to seal a food that you use regularly.  There is really nothing you can’t seal with this machine and I think you’ll find that it will quickly become one of the most useful appliances in your kitchen.  I absolutely love mine and sing its praises to everyone!

FoodSaver V4440 2-in-1 Automatic Vacuum Sealing System with Bonus Built-in Retractable Handheld Sealer & Starter Kit, Black Finish

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Waxing Nostalgic

The fondest memories are made when gathered around the table

– Unknown

Every one of us has special food memories that we hold dear.  Maybe it’s the smell of your Grandma’s biscuits baking on a Sunday morning.  Or maybe it’s the way your mom’s homemade sauce makes you feel all warm and cozy inside.  Or maybe it’s just seeing a particular food label or product that takes you right back to being a kid. Whatever your memory, food has an uncanny way of stirring up in us so many feelings, emotions, and memories.  When I think back, some of my best food memories center around my grandparents house in Farmingdale. They’ve long since sold it and sadly, my Grandpa is no longer with us, but I’ve always looked back fondly on the years that I spent there as a child.

One of my most favorite memories are of sleepovers at my grandparents house which always meant waking up to the delicious smells of warm bakery goodies for breakfast. My Grandpa was always an early bird so he’d be out and at the local bakery first thing in the morning to pick us up the most incredible raisin biscuits, sugary jelly doughnuts, and my favorite “booby rolls” (as I called them when I was little) which were just soft rolls with the little peaked swirl on top.  There was no better breakfast than these delectable treats that my Grandpa bought home.  We’d gather around the table, Grandpa with his hot cup of coffee in hand and Grandma with curlers in her hair, and we’d just eat and talk and laugh and make memories.

When the weather turned from frosty winter air to warm summer breezes it meant lots of time at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and lots of BBQ’s.  We always had your standard fare at our BBQ’s, burgers and hot dogs, but we also had some traditional staples that were made by the family.  My Aunt Lorraine would always make her delicious homemade macaroni salad and someone in my family would always make sure to make homemade Italian potato salad which is a delicious mix of potatoes, hard boiled eggs, oregano, salt, pepper, and olive oil.  Simple but so good.  Even now, decades later, that Italian potato salad is a staple at all of our family BBQ’s.  We’d spend hours relaxing in the yard, swimming in the pool, eating around the picnic table, and making memories.

Then there were the holidays which were always a very special time at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, especially Christmas.  All of my family would come together a few weeks before the holiday and every aunt, uncle, and cousin would work together to make the struffoli, cake balls, and Italian pizzelle cookies. We would spend hours listening to Mitch Miller and Bing Crosby singing the holiday classics while we all rolled dough, mixed ingredients, and made memories.

Because that’s what food is all about, right?  It’s not so much about the food itself.  Food is about the people you’re sharing it with, the love that went into making it, and the way it brings people together.  So many things have changed in my family over the years and even though we might not all get together to bake like we use to, BBQ’s are fewer and more far between, and sleepovers with Grandma and Grandpa have long since ended I still have all of my very special memories.  EVERY time I bite into a pizzelle, make a batch of Italian potato salad, or have a soft buttery “booby roll” it takes me right back to those times on 11 Hallock Street and I smile.  Because, well, memories.  REALLY good memories.

So now that I am a mom it’s really important to me to continue the kitchen traditions of my family so that my children grow up with their special food memories too.  They’ve made homemade pizzas with their Grandpa, we bake traditional Italian Easter Bread every year and eat it on Easter morning for breakfast like I did as a kid, thanks to my mom’s cooking they’ve been able to try my Great Grandma’s delicious Pizza Rustica recipe, and every Christmas we make Italian Pizzelle cookies on the same cast iron griddles that my Grandma used.  Memories.  Tradition.  It’s what coming together in the kitchen and gathering around the table is all about.

So even if though life gets busy, try and make the time to gather around the table, even if it’s just for a bowl of cereal.  Talk.  Connect. Make those memories.  When you’re tired and not in the mood to cook alongside your kids do it anyway because the time that you spend with them showing them how to mix, measure, or chop will be the little things they remember as they grow up.  If my kids so much as hear me open a drawer in the kitchen they run in and beg to cook and bake with me.  I admit, some days I want to (and have) said no, but if I am not in a rush I try to remind myself that these moments are important.  This moments matter.  So I grab the extra bowls and towels, throw some aprons on my little sous chefs, and we get cooking.  The smiles on the their little faces as we work together in the kitchen make it all worth it!  The experiences and times we’ve shared together in the kitchen are my most priceless food memories of all.

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Welcome to The Simply Delicious Kitchen

ktichenHello and welcome! So this is my very first blog post! If you’re reading this, thank you for taking the time to stop by my site. I hope that as my blog develops and grows you find it to be a useful and informative resource in your kitchen.

I am an avid home cook and I really enjoy being in the kitchen as much as possible.  I get such satisfaction out of watching a meal come together and I also find cooking to be such relaxing therapy for me.  I really love the meal planning, the gathering of ingredients, and even the simple act of stirring a spoon.  When I am in my kitchen, I am in my happy place!

Back in the day I loved sinking my teeth into complicated and time consuming recipes however, being a mom to my 8 year old daughter, Emerson, and my VERY active 4 year old son, Grayden, takes up so much of my time that those complicated recipes have been pushed aside for meals that are easier to pull together.  I realize that whether you’re home all day with your kids or you’re out in the working world there are just never enough hours in the day and when dinnertime rolls around, simplicity and time efficiency are key.

Therefore, my goal with this blog is to share with you uncomplicated, home cooking that with a little effort and planning anyone is capable of doing.  I have two picky eaters at home as well so I really like to cook meals and desserts that are less fussy and more along the lines of comfort food, the meals you remember as a kid in your Grandma’s kitchen.  Let’s save the complicated, gourmet meals for the holidays and special occasions! Hopefully along the way I’ll also be able to share with you useful tips and ideas, interesting articles, and some of my own family stories and adventures in the kitchen.  If you have any suggestions or comments please feel free to let me know!

Thanks again for stopping by and I will leave you with this:

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” ― Julia Child