Chopped Challenge

Food Network is slowly taking over the world. Or, at least, our Hulu channel at home. What will the dueling chefs do with their secret ingredient of…SEAWEED? Will that chef finally listen to the judges and get a bandanna so he quits sweating all over his fancy risotto? Is that super tall cake shaped like Sponge Bob going to fall over and more importantly, will that lady with the downturned mouth even dain to look at it?

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My current favorite is Chopped, where competing chefs receive a mystery basket with various ingredients and need to prepare a dish for judges to…judge. The main thing I’ve gleaned from the show so far is to be wary of using the ice cream maker for your dessert, and that if the judges are watching you from behind their fingers, you’ve probably burned something.

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Even though I don’t have a basket with a top, I always imagine being on the show (although with my luck, that episode the basket would be full of artisianal hand soaps or something). Nonetheless, I wanted to create my own Chopped challenge. I went into my kitchen, picked 4 ingredients at random, and just went for it.

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CHOPPED, GASTRO-A-GO-GO-STYLE

Ingredients:
  • 4-5 rando ingredients (probably better if someone picks them out for you, but do what you can)
  • Parsley for garnish (optional, but classy)
Directions:

1) Take in the ingredients in front of you – bonus points if you look at them wide-eyed, maybe chewing your lip contemplatively

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2) Start taking apart ingredients, trying out a little taste here and there to figure out flavor profiles

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3) However you decide to prepare the ingredients, you need to run around and yell “Behind you!” (even if you are by yourself – it helps up the ante)

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4) Make sure your hands are shaking as you arrange stuff on the plate – you won’t look legit if you don’t have a little shake going on

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5) One of your ingredients should be used as a flourish – which usually means scraped against the plate in a semi-purposeful fashion

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6) Enjoy! Your dish will vary depending on the ingredients, but for this example I came up with: Orange Slices with a Cauliflower Floret Accompaniment, followed by a Trail Mix Chaser and Don’t Do Anything With That Relish It’s Just Decoration

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What say you, Ted Allen?

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Brunch Bliss

I think it was somewhere in my mid-twenties that all the fanfare about meeting for late night drinks morphed into meeting for mid-morning brunch. 11am sunlight trumped 11pm moonlight/streetlight, 2-4-1 mimosas trumped 2-4-1 rail whiskeys; plus breakfast is the best meal of the day anyway (besides snacks), so the more attention paid to it, the better.

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I totally get it. Being able to sleep in without feeling like you’re missing out, because you aren’t meeting for breakfast. You are meeting for *brunch*. You get to have alcohol with your pancakes and no one bats an eye. AND if you braid your hair you can joke with your friends that you’re part of the “Braidy Brunch,” and everyone will laugh at your cleverness.

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I was so pleased when I discovered that I could serve up brunch in my very own home. Although I love heading out to dine, I also am on a tight budget, so having the option to prepare a lovely brunch in my kitchen is most welcome. I’ve included one of my favorite brunch recipes that I’ve perfected, but please feel free to share your own. The more brunch, the merrier!

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CEREAL

Ingredients:
  • 1-2 bowl’s worth of cereal (do not pay attention to the serving size on the box – that won’t work for anyone)
  • 1-2 bowl’s worth of milk
  • Parsley for garnish (optional, but classy)
Directions:

1) Realize you slept in and are hungry, which are the qualifiers for brunch

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2) Pour cereal into bowl until you feel satisfied

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3) Pour milk into bowl until you feel satisfied

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4) Enjoy brunching!

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Sensory Celebration

It is amazing what memories and feelings come up from just one scent or sound or taste. The smell of fresh cut grass = summer memories. A sip of boxed wine = first official hangover memories. A waft of pipe tobacco being smoked = loved grandparent memories. The first strains of that song you listened to on repeat after the break-up = ugly crying memories (or maybe currently happening don’t worry about it I’m fine).

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Well, get your senses ready, friends, because it’s time to celebrate America, America-style. A lot of people are getting ready to fire up grills and slap on suntan lotion and set off firecrackers so close to your house it’s almost horrible but it’s not because freedom. I’m extra lucky, because my 4th’o’July celebration extends three extra days – three of my favorite people have birthdays lined up right in a row following the fireworks.

3 birthdays

I have so many sights/smells/tastes wrapped up in my memories of celebrating the 4th of July w/a 3 birthday bonus. In addition to the typical traditional tastes of grilled meats and corn on the cob, is carrot cake. This dessert is a favorite of the July 5th birthday girl, my amazing mother. Here’s a sneak peek at a carrot cake recipe I’ve prepped in the past that just might find it’s way into the birthday celebration this year – bonus: it’s 70% organic!

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CARROT CAKE LUNA BAR

Ingredients:
  • 1 Carrot Cake LUNA bar
  • Parsley for garnish (optional, but classy)
Directions:

1) Obtain LUNA bar with proper amounts of organic ingredients

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2) Open the wrapper

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3) Take the bar out of the wrapper

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4) Place a celebratory candle up on there, and enjoy!

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Bday Breakfast (& Bridezillas)

Any good relationship is about give and take – a balancing act at times, but a worthy one. As relationships deepen and grow, it’s easy to fall into habits and roles that make sense between you and your partner.

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For example, I love vacuuming, while my partner gets all zen doing dishes. I get some kind of weird nerdy high from balancing the checkbook and he is all about in-depth research on important purchases. He might not quite understand my fascination and enjoyment of every single Bridezillas episode, but he rolls his eyes in secret and that what counts.

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Although we both are culinary titans in our own right, I do have do admit that my partner is a pretty fantastic cook. He is creative, patient, and pours love into the dishes he creates (total pizza wizard, among other things).

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Ever grateful to be the recipient of his cooking prowess, I really wanted to knock a meal out of the park for him on his birthday this week. After a bit of brainstorming, I eureka-ed on the perfect dish to properly celebrate my partner’s day-o-birth, as it’s one of his faves.

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BIRTHDAY COFFEE

Ingredients:
  • 10 spoons of ground coffee
  • Coffee maker
  • Water
  • Balloon w/relevant messaging
  • Milk / Sweetener (optional)
  • Parsley for garnish (optional, but classy)
Directions:

1) Place filter in coffee maker

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2) Scoop or eyeball 10 spoonfuls of coffee up in there

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3) Pour water in coffee maker (I think the rule is to match the number of spoons to the number on the pot?)

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4) Brew coffee

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5) Pour in mug, add milk or sweetener if desired

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6) Add a festive balloon to the mug and enjoy!

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Say Cheese (if you please)

Some of us are lucky and find people in our lives who we just connect with. People who understand us better than we understand ourselves. People who make us laugh so hard it counts as a core workout. People who you love unconditionally, and they return the favor without question.

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I’m lucky that I’m related to two such people. My sisters are two of the funniest, sweetest, most inspiring people I know. Plus, they have a lot of dirt on me, so it’s good to have them as allies.

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One of my sisters is getting married this week to a pretty fantastic gent, and I wanted to do a recipe in her honor. It’s odd how you can grow up together, and still develop totally different tastes. I’ve never been much for cheese, and yet my sister is all about it (in terms of food, not romance).

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I wasn’t really sure what to do to create a cheese-centered dish. Doesn’t the cheese just stand alone? I put this recipe together based on a couple of her fave staples, and hope other cheese lovers enjoy what I’m entitling Cheese Delight.

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CHEESE DELIGHT

Ingredients:
  • Handful or two of Cheeze-Its
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1-2 string cheese…chunks (?)
  • Parsley for garnish (optional, but classy)
Directions:

1) Procure ingredients

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2) Arrange ingredients on plate or in bowl

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3) Devise your favorite way to enjoy, combo-style (for example, I think you can dip the Cheeze-Its IN the cottage cheese…maybe crumble on top? I don’t know the cheese rules, here)

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Summer Book Club, Foodie-Style

I’ve been seeing a lot of lists for summer reading. “Top Ten Beach Reads,” “Hot & Sizzling Summer Novels,” “The Best 5 Books to Fall on Your Face While Trying To Be Somewhat Sexy on Your Beach Towel,” etc.

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I am a library girl at heart. There is something so incredibly magic to me about the ability to walk into a building, pick out whatever strikes my fancy, getting to take it home with me FOR FREE, then return it and repeat the whole delightful process. No regrets here, except my personal book collection is slim, as I hardly ever purchase books. Seriously, it’s some Goosebumps, a lotta Theater Major stuff, and old school Nancy Drew (hi, Bess – you were always my fave).

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Looking at my book stock, the most books I own are cookbooks. Family and friends have been generous and awesome at picking out stellar recipe collections for me to own. Wanting to share the wealth, I invite you to read about some of my top recs from my increasingly extensive collection if you are looking for summer recipe book enjoyment.

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RECIPE BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

Crazy Sexy Kitchen

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I really love Kris Carr. I find her personal story inspirational, and her approach to food sustainable and passion-filled. I haven’t made any recipes in this book, but I really would like to some day. This book is on the list for best photo spreads – I page through this book with the same affection and foreign wonder I use with Vogue in the supermarket checkout lane.

Skinny B*tch in the Kitch

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These ladies are full of sass and snark, which I appreciate to no end. This book earned a spot on the list because of title creativity and because I actually *read* the whole book at one point. Which is similar to the times I have actually watched entire Jillian Michael DVDs without getting up off of the couch to participate.

Vegan Bites: Recipes for Singles

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This book is on the list because I actually made a few recipes from it, and they worked out and tasted decent. The only issue is that the book is all “This book is for singles – portions are good for 1-2 meals so you aren’t making a ton of food.” Dumb. The best kind of food is tons of food. If you use this book, do as I do and double or triple all recipes.

Best Bet

So what is my best recipe book recommendation? All of them! And not like in a “everyone played in the tournament, so here is your participation trophy” way, but in a “when you stack them all up together they are the perfect height to balance your snack while you watch The Wire with all the time you saved not cooking” way.

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