This is Not Health Food

The hubby says he wants me to cook healthier.

I’m against it.

We can eat healthy when we eat out.  I keep salad in the fridge for lunches.  We can cut our portion sizes and exercise more.  Whatever it takes.

I cook because I love it.  And if I can’t use butter and bacon and lard and tons of cheese, what’s the point?

This meal is a great example.  And while the hub was slurping the meaty, rich au jus off his wrist after it ran down his fingers, he wasn’t complaining about the calories.

The meal: Texas cheesesteak smothered in caramelized onions, mushrooms, and peppers topped with aged Provolone and a creamy horseradish sauce on a ciabatta roll, with homemade au jus for dipping.  Rosemary roasted red potatoes loaded with Oaxaca cheese, bacon, and green onions.  And a stirfry of snap peas, red bell pepper, and mushrooms with fresh herbs, because there has to be something green on the plate.  My veggies lay there, untouched and lonely, while I devoured the sandwich and potatoes. 

This is hands down one of my favorite meals that I’ve ever cooked.  And I’m not much of a sandwich girl.  It’s the au jus that does it for me, for sure…I could drink the stuff with a spoon!  I’ve always used the little packets for au jus, because making something like that from scratch was intimidating.  But I couldn’t write about carefully tearing off the top of the brightly-colored paper packet, whisking the contents into a saucepan of water, and simmering for two minutes!  A new culinary age has dawned and we don’t use those packets anymore. 

Well, not unless we’re in a hurry or desperate.

So I called up my old friend and started searching, and sure enough, Rachael Ray had a recipe for au jus that doesn’t involve roasting an entire side of beef just for a little stock.  I’m still not quite up to making my own stock yet, mostly because it involves planning ahead too much and I’m pretty spontaneous.

And for the horseradish sauce…I’ve always used the jarred, prepared horseradish, but remembered vaguely that there is such a thing as ‘fresh’ horseradish.  So I went looking for that in the produce section of my grocery store.  About ‘my’ grocery store – they’re ‘mine’ because I always go to the same one, I’m there at least 4 times a week, and they know me there.  I get hugs from the sweet old greeter guys at the front door and the produce guys always bring me fresh basil from the cooler without me asking.  I have an open invitation to work in the store’s demo kitchen if I ever need a second job.  It’s cool.

While I was there…I grabbed one of the little paper au jus packets…just in case.

So without further ado…the recipes.

Horseradish cream sauce:

Horseradish in its natural state - scary!

Sour cream
Grated fresh horseradish (it took a lot more than I expected…maybe 3 parts sour cream to 1 part horseradish?  Just keep adding a little at a time until you like it)
1 spoonful Dijon mustard
A couple splashes of white wine vinegar
Salt & pepper

To prepare the horseradish, use a vegetable peeler to take off the barky peel.  Trim off any brown spots, then cut a manageable chunk and grate as much as you need.

Combine all your ingredients, stir, and adjust to taste.  I kept adding more horseradish; it took a lot to get it spicy enough for us.

Au Jus: (courtesy of Rachael Ray)

2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 jigger dry sherry, optional (I used a healthy splash of cooking sherry)
2 cans beef consomme, found on broth and soups aisle

In a large, shallow skillet over moderate heat, melt butter.  Add shallots to butter and saute 2 minutes.  Add flour and cook a minute longer.  Whisk in sherry and cook liquid out.  Whisk in consomme in a slow stream.  Bring sauce to a bubble and allow to simmer over low heat until ready to serve sandwiches.

That’s all there is to it!  And this stuff is  I can’t believe I ever used those nasty little packets of dried crap!!

Caramelized Veggies:

Thinly slice a sweet onion, some mushrooms, a seeded jalapeno, and a poblano pepper.  Heat a hunk of lard in a cast iron skillet (I told you this wasn’t a healthy meal!) to almost smoking.  Add your veggies carefully (this stuff pops!) and stir.  Cook for a couple of minutes, until they start wilting, and add a couple dashes of worchestershire sauce, salt & pepper, and a big pat of butter.  Keep cooking until soft and caramelized, 5 to 10 minutes.


I bought 3/4 pound of seasoned roast beef, sliced thin.  Toast your rolls lightly (I used ciabatta rolls, but you could do hoagie buns or french bread or whatever).  Dip your roast beef slices in the pan of au jus for a few seconds, then layer them onto the toasted rolls.  Top generously with caramelized veggies, then add a slice of aged Provolone cheese (or whatever kind you like).  Put in the oven at 350 degrees or so, open-faced, until cheese melts, just a couple of minutes.  Add creamy horseradish sauce to top buns and serve with au jus for dipping.

The hub and I could only eat half our sandwiches during dinner…but by bedtime we had both polished off the other half (well, I just picked the meat & veggies out and dipped them in the jus) and were wishing there were leftovers.

Loaded Roasted Rosemary Red Potatoes:

Ready for the oven

Cut 8-10 small red potatoes into small, uniform pieces and put on a baking sheet.  Finely chop fresh rosemary and put in a small bowl.  Add salt, pepper, cayenne, red pepper flakes, and garlic powder, then pour in olive oil to make a thin paste.  Pour over the potatoes and toss to coat.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes, tossing halfway through.

Grate your favorite melting cheese (we had Oaxaca in the fridge) and sprinkle liberally over the potatoes.  Add roughly chopped bacon and put back in the oven for about 5 minutes to melt the cheese.  Take out and add chopped green onions. 

Oooh, don’t forget to try dipping the potatoes in the au jus!  Foodgasm… 

Veggie Stir-Fry:

This is my old stand-by when I need a vegetable component to complete a meal; it takes no time and can use lots of different ingredients depending on what you have on hand.  This particular night it was:

1/2 a red bell pepper, cut into medium pieces
Stringless sugar snap peas
Fresh garlic
Fresh rosemary & thyme, finely chopped

Heat olive oil in a skillet or wok, then add garlic.  After 30 seconds or so, add veggies and toss.  Cook for a couple of minutes and add a generous pat of butter and the herbs.  Cook until tender but crisp, 3 to 5 more minutes.

Though the meal wasn’t healthy by any stretch, it was darned tasty.  And we’re in Texas, after all.

Yee haw.


Baby, Oh Baby!!

After my last, perhaps PETA-unfriendly, observation about the innate tastiness of the baby sheep…I decided it was time to give my husband what he’s been not-so-subtly hinting at for several months.

Not that, you naughty thing!!  😉 

The hubmeister has been asking me to cook veal for a while now and for some reason I’ve been resistant.  It’s a moral thing, I think…I mean, veal is a baby cow, right?  Cute and cuddly, and that’s just not…

Nah, it’s definitely not a moral thing.  I have no problem with a baby animal dying for me to enjoy its tender, delicate flesh…or to wear it.  I didn’t cry when Bambi’s mother died, either.  I only look like a softie; the hub is the one with the Kleenex box during Saving Private Ryan.

I’m not sure why I’d been putting off the veal for so long.  But after a particularly grueling Iron Chef: America session (and maybe some needling about being afraid of a baby herbivore) I agreed to try cooking veal.

Now, I don’t really know if I’ve ever eaten veal.  I’d guess I have, probably, at least once.  While working in the restaurant industry and traveling abroad, I’m pretty sure veal has crossed my lips multiple times.  I eat what’s available, and if it’s fried, that’s even better.  But I can’t call up a memory of a specific meal in which I consumed veal.

As usual, I started by reading as many veal recipes as I could find.  I discovered that it’s pretty much interchangable with pork in recipes.  You can do pretty much anything with it, and it (like the teensy baby critter it is) will just take the abuse, looking tender and delicious.

So I decided to do something with it like I would do with lamb, picturing in my (admittedly over-fertile) imagination a duel of sorts.  In one corner, the bleating, trembling lamb, its sparse smattering of  wool barely curling and still a little damp…and in the other, the spindly-legged, staggering baby cow, downy, light-red sides heaving while it butts tentatively at the oncoming lamb. 

But that’s just in my mind.  We were going to cook veal.  Sorry, rabbit-chasing again.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Now.

I chopped up some fresh rosemary and garlic, put them in a bowl with some olive oil and salt & pepper, and rubbed those beautiful, 1″ thick boneless veal chops down liberally with the resulting paste.  Both sides and sides.

I let this sit on the counter on a plate for about 15 minutes – long enough to let the flavors sink in, not long enough for bacteria to take hold.

Preheated my grandmother’s cast iron skillet to medium-high/high with a little more olive oil.  Not quite smoking…but almost.

Sizzle sizzle!  Veal certainly SMELLS like heaven!  I am a happy kittie.  Brown, brown, both sides, baby cow!!

Chops, nicely browned on both sides, go into a baking dish and into a 375 degree oven.  (I TOLD you to preheat it!!)  Depending on thickness, they could take 5 to 10 minutes.  It’s a weird whitish meat, mostly like pork, that gets that pale red liquid if you poke it and let it sit.  That’s always grossed me out.

In the meantime…you didn’t turn off the burner with the cast iron skillet, did you?

Add about a cup of white wine and half a cup of chicken stock.  Scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the skillet and simmer until reduced by about 1/2.  Squeeze the juice of half a lemon in there at some point.  It may need salt.  You can handle the seasoning part – I believe in you!!  🙂

Take the veal chops out of the oven at some point and hope they’re cooked properly.  The fat isn’t like beef or lamb fat (yummmm!); it’s more like pork fat (ewwww!) so trim it off.  Spoon the pan sauce over the chops on the plate and serve with…

Chiles Rellenos

We’ve (okay, I’ve) made these a few times before, based loosely on the amalgamation of several recipes I found online.  The difference tonight is that all of the Mexican cheese in the house (a combination of Asadero, Cotija, and Panera) has been shredded (during the prep for last night’s shrimp enchiladas), and previously I have only used little domino-sized chunks of cheese to stuff my incredibly fragile, tenuously fibrous chile peppers.

If you’re not familiar with Hatch green chiles…they are a New Mexico pepper and are only widely available fresh for about a month in August.  Major grocery stores and Tex-Mex chains in Houston will have a Hatch Chile Festival and it’s awesome.  They’re like the love child of a jalapeno and a poblano and they’re sold as Mild and Hot varieties, though within those classifications is a pretty wide range of heat.

The hubster and I adore Hatch chiles and we always stock up when they’re in town.  For the first time, this year we went ahead and got a case each of Hot and Mild peppers, already roasted.  That’s almost 60 pounds of roasted peppers.  We portioned them into freezer bags and wrote the number and variety on the outside with a Sharpie (for example, 4M2H is, of course, 4 Mild and 2 Hot peppers).  Our freezer is a land filled with stacks and rows and mounds of pepper-baggies.  There’s one small shelf left at the bottom for the emergency pasta bag, pizza rolls, and pound of ground pork.

Weren’t we talking about Chiles Rellenos?  You keep letting me get distracted!  Chiles Rellenos are the most wonderful invention since…well…tortillas.  The basic idea can be (and has been) dressed up a million different ways; you take a pepper, you put something in it, you cook it, you top it with sauce and eat it.  The classic way, of course, is very simple: cheese inside, egg batter, fry, red sauce, yum.  Of course, left to my own devices I would be getting creative…’I wonder how many different things I can dice and mix with the cheese filling?  Let’s see, shallots and mushrooms and crab meat and cilantro and roasted piquillo peppers and definitely some bacon and…’

But (perhaps fortunately) when it comes to certain dishes, the hub is a purist.  Anything called a chile relleno that has anything except cheese inside is blasphemy.  So it’s given me a chance to actually cook the same thing, pretty much the same way, multiple times, tweaking a bit but not getting too creative.

Start with your peppers: roast them (or be lazy like me and buy ’em roasted).  Let them cool and rinse the skin off.  The peppers are pretty fragile and will tear easily, so be careful; you want them whole.  You’ll need to make a slit from the stem about 1/3 of the way down to take out the seeds.  

This is a good time to start your oil: heat a large pan with about 1.5″ of  your fav cooking oil (I use Canola) to medium-high heat.  You can test it by dropping in a bit of the egg batter; if it floats to the top and sizzles your oil is ready; if it sinks it’s not hot enough.

Stuffing is much easier with cheese that's not shredded.

Stuff ’em: get a good Mexican melting cheese (Chihuahua, Asadero, Oaxaca) and cut into sticks.  The size & shape depends on your particular peppers; you want it to fit inside, with a little space to melt but still going most of the way to the top & bottom of the pepper.  Get it inside with a minimum of additional pepper ripping.  Close the opening as much as possible (you can use toothpicks to hold them closed).

Since you rinsed the skins off the peppers, they’re a little damp.  Good.  Sprinkle them lightly with some all-purpose flour, all over.  Not too much, don’t want it cakey.  Just a dusting.

For the egg batter, separate your eggs, 1 egg for every 2 peppers, into separate bowls.  Beat the whites until they firm up, then fold in the yolks slowly with a little salt & pepper.

One at a time, dip the peppers in the egg mixture, then drop them into your hot oil.  Fry until they’re golden brown and floating, turning them over once.  Drain on paper towels.

For the sauce, I use canned Hatch Green Chile Enchilada Sauce (the red kind, not the green kind) – you can see the yellow label in the pic with the hubby.  I doctor it up different every time (this is where I CAN be a little creative!) – this time I added 3 tomatillos, 3 cloves of garlic, 1 large shallot, 1 large jalapeno, and a bunch of fresh cilantro.  Whip it all up in the blender, then simmer until the chiles are ready to be topped.

Put your fried, drained chiles in a baking dish, spoon your sauce over the top, sprinkle some shredded cheese on top, and put them in the oven for just a couple of minutes. 

The chiles, on this particular evening, are counting as our green veggie.  Shut up.  They’re green.  We’re eating them with the leftover potato salad from the lamb burgers…and the veal chops, of course.

Chiles rellenos just aren't photogenic...

I don’t think I like veal.  The hub does, though not as much as lamb, he says.  To me it’s like pork, only bland and a little mushy (‘they’ may call it tender, but I like some chew to my meat).  I eat a couple bites of the veal and start thinking about baby animals.

Apparently age doesn’t have as much to do with deliciousness as I thought.  I like grown-up cows much better than baby ones.  I wonder what a grown-up sheep would taste like?  I hear it’s called mutton…I wonder if there are any mutton recipes on – and if Central Market carries it.

So the score is…baby cow – 0, lamb – 1.  The lamb in my mind is standing with his little foot (hoof? do lambs have hooves?) on the conquered veal’s neck, head thrown back, bleating because now it’s not sure what do with its prey and it really wants some nice clover or something. 

And I’m thinking ice cream.  Yum.

To Recipe or Not To Recipe??

I love this hunk of metal.

Pasta sauce waiting to happen.

or…My Life as a Copycat Chef.

I started cooking when I was about 8 years old.  I remember it well; my mother patiently walked me through the steps of making baked tuna noodle casserole.

We got distracted while it was in the oven and it burned beyond saving.  But I loved doing it!!  And after that I started following her around in the kitchen, always underfoot, handing her the milk jug or butter dish before she could ask for it and asking interminable questions. 

My mom, like me, is not a measurer.  She adds what she wants to the mix until it looks like enough.  Growing up, I always wanted to know, ‘How do you know how much oil to put in the cornbread?’ And her answer was always the same: ‘Experience.’  I hated, hated HATED that answer!!

Now, trying to write recipes…I’m looking at the bowl after I add the milk, thinking…uh, that looks like about two tablespoons.  Right?  I hope. Yeah, that’s about it.’  How do I know?  Uh, experience, I guess.  Dangit, I am turning into my mother.

Between the ages of 8 and 17, I cooked dinner for my parents and me every chance I got.  Often it was Hamburger Helper or something of that nature, but I always added something and tried to make it better. 

In my early 20’s I dated a chef for a couple of years and it changed my life.  Suddenly herbs didn’t just come in a jar.  Asparagus wasn’t just something in a can.  It was possible to create a sauce from scratch, without starting with something out of a bottle or packet.

I learned the basics of chopping, and blending, and sauteeing from him.  Of course, he did the vast majority of the cooking when we were together.  Just like with my mother, I would hand him things and ask questions and help as I could, chopping and peeling happily to his directions.  It seemed miraculous, the way he could take the contents of the fridge, including a hunk of whole fish that just looked scary to me, and turn it into something fragrant and delicious.

And once he wasn’t there to cook anymore…I started doing it myself.  Trial and error, baby, that’s how we did it back in the good old days.  I had twelve favorite ingredients and I would put them in anything.  To this day, I have ‘default’ flavors that wind up in almost everything I cook: some kind of pepper (jalapeno, serrano, habanero, poblano, or Hatch), cilantro, lime juice, cayenne, worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar…these are the things I love.  Not all at once, necessarily…but you know, it does make a great steak marinade, come to think of it.

My friends learned that my home was a good place to look for food, because I would cook at the drop of a hat, hungry or not.  Sometimes the results were shockingly good…and other times we went to the Wendy’s around the corner and they teased me for a few days…until the next time the culinary gods smiled on me and their mouths were too full to tease.

Guys I dated loved it that I cooked.  It seems not a lot of single girls do, at least not in Houston.  And lots of times I cooked just for myself when nobody else was there to feed.

But after that…how do you learn?  How do you grow?  I’ve taken a couple of classes from a local adult education organization, but…I need more!  So I watch Food Network obsessively, DVRing cooking and baking shows until the DVR recorder thing’s memory is full and suddenly The History of Styrofoam Peanuts doesn’t record and the hub is mad at me.  But then I learn to make key lime pie, so it’s okay again.

And I surf recipe sites and print out dozens – no, hundreds – of recipes, and they drift in white stacks all over the house wherever I got distracted while leafing through them, trying to decide what to cook next.  They have condensation rings from being absently used as coasters.  I can tell the recipes of dishes I have already made; their clean white surfaces have spatters of sauce and drips of chocolate and splashes of red wine. 

A wide stance is important for balance while creating...

Cooking is a messy sport.

I seem to be constitutionally incapable of actually following a recipe, however.  I always think of something else it needs, or something it needs more of, or a way to work in butter instead of olive oil, or cayenne instead of tarragon (because I loathe licorice).  I know, Bobby Flay wrote that recipe, it is culinary gospel, and there is no way in hell I can improve on it.  But I try.  Like with the Hamburger Helper…I just can’t help myself.

So when I post recipes…chances are, I didn’t make them up.  Not entirely, and sometimes, not mostly.   I learned to cook tuna noodle casserole from my mom, and grilled lobster from Emeril…but I don’t do it quite like they do.  So I post my version, and hope you use it to make your own.

Happy cooking.

Is this thing on?

Just Kittie

This is who I am. Nice to meet you.

Hi, my name is Kittie…and I have a cooking problem.  I can’t seem to stop trying new recipes; my poor husband (culinary good sport of the year!) never eats the same thing twice.  Over the past 15 years I have visited at least 11 countries, and the highlights for me have always been fashion and food.  My style in both, therefore, is a crazy mishmosh of elements and ideas from all over, as well as my own quirky spin on things.

I earn a living indulging my ‘other’ passion, which is dressing people so they look and feel terrific, but when I’m not getting paid, cooking is what I do.    I’ll try anything once…and then next time, I’ll tweak it and make it better.  I like things spicy, and chocolatey, and saucy, and tangy.  Anything but bland!  I hate coconut, lima beans, and olives of any variety (though capers have been sneaking into things lately).

I spend the rest of my time, of course, shamelessly pampering the four finicky felines who graciously allow the hubster and me to serve them.  And writing bits and pieces of things here and there.

I’m going to start with a few recipes I’ve cooked lately and add more as they occur to me.  This is my first serious attempt at a blog, so please be patient with me.  My train of thought wanders often and goes weird places sometimes…so fasten your seat belt and let’s go!!