Breakfast for Dinner – The Best Pancakes + Easy Toppings

Breakfast for Dinner – The Best Pancakes + Easy Toppings

We’ve had breakfast on the brain all week! Chef J has some great tips to make this a morning or evening meal. So, what are we having, Chef J?

Breakfast is a magical thing. The food we eat in the morning sets us up for the rest of the day. Forget what side of the bed you wake up on; the level of your performance during the sunshiny 12 to 16 hours after cursing the alarm and rubbing the crusties out of your eyes largely depends on what the first thing you put in your tummy is.  A bagel and cream cheese isn’t a bad way to go. A banana for the road? Who are you kidding? A bowl of cereal? C’mon, you’re an adult; Captain Crunch is dinner food! There isn’t always time for a spectacular morning feast, but when there is you must seize it!

That’s why I propose two things.

Thing the first: Plan your breakfast ahead of time.

Do yourself a favor and make breakfast plans the night before when your brain is relatively functional. You know, after your second bowl of Captain Crunch. Your body wants sugar when you wake up; jump start your morning with a piece of fruit or glass of orange juice. But sugar is fleeting. It’s the summer romance of food: everything goes by so fast and when it’s over, your heart hurts. You also need protein of some kind to keep you going throughout the day. It’s the stable relationship of food: it might not always be sweet, but it will keep you from falling asleep with your shoes on. If you want a quick meal to eat in the car, try a banana and a handful of almonds. If you have a bit of time, mix up a couple of eggs with a handful of dinner leftovers in a microwave safe container; zap it for about a minute and a half for a quick omelet. But you’re not here to learn about how to properly ingest your morning nutritional requirements; you’re still going to cram 3 donuts in your face as soon as you get to the office.


Thing the second: Re-purpose breakfast.

As a society, let’s put breakfast where it should be: wherever we darn want it!

Breakfast can be spectacularly comfortable and satisfyingly delicious. The people deserve to ingest it when they have the post-morning cognizance to enjoy it! Take back breakfast, my brothers and sisters! Fly your bacon banners! The streets will flow with syrup! Our revolution will not be over-easy!

In other words: make pancakes for dinner.

So often food tries to explain how wonderful it is with elegantly simple descriptions (see: meatball). If you say “pancake” nice and slow, you might see it. Pancake. Pan cake. Pan CAKE. It’s CAKE!!! Cake you can eat whenever you want! What a world we live in!

Here is my favorite pancake recipe, with some suggestions for alterations that may sway it more towards your particular fancy. As well, whip up a few toppings and put out a spread. And while we’re on the topping topic, the ingredients for maple syrup should read “maple syrup.” If you see “high fructose…” or “flavoring” on the back of the bottle of pancake sauce, throw it on the floor in a sensational act of defiance! Or just put it back on the shelf and reach for the real, pure maple syrup instead, if you don’t want to join me in the breakfast revolt.


  • 2 eggs
  • 8 oz. milk
  • 2 oz. sour cream
  • 2 oz. melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 TBS sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • Butter for the pan

Whisk the eggs, milk, and sour cream for about 2-3 minutes so it gets nice and frothy.
Mix in the vanilla and melted butter.
Sift the dry ingredients together.
Gently mix the dry ingredients into the wet. Don’t over mix! Let it be lumpy.
Heat your griddle to medium or medium low.
Grease the griddle with butter and scoop about half a cup of batter on. Start with one test cake to make sure the griddle is at the right temperature.
After a couple of minutes, bubbles will begin to break through the top. That’s the sign to flip your cake (don’t be nervous!) and give it about another 1½ minutes.

That’s it. That’s pancakes! If you want to get a little crazy…

  • Replace a tablespoon of flour with cocoa powder.
  • Add a pinch of nutmeg, clove, cardamom, lavender, or cinnamon. Or any combination of those.
  • Throw a handful of chocolate chips in before cooking!
  • Leave out the vanilla and sugar. After you flip the cakes sprinkle some cheddar or American cheese on top of half of them, then top with another pancake. Pancake grilled cheese!!!

Easy toppings

  • 1½  cups water
  • 2 cups frozen fruit
  • ½ cup sugar (or honey or maple syrup or agave…) or to taste
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tsp water

Bring all of the ingredients, except cornstarch slurry, to a boil.
Reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 5-8 minutes until the fruit begins to break down.
Taste for sweetness. Careful! It’s hot.
Add the cornstarch slurry and mix well.
Let it simmer for another minute to thicken.
Boom! You got sauce.

To make it match your cakes…

  • Try a splash of lemon juice when using blueberries.
  • Add a tsp of cardamom and/or lavender when using strawberries.
  • Replace some or all of the water with Chardonnay when using peaches.
  • Add a tsp of vanilla any time!
  • Remember that everything is better with whipped cream or a big scoop of ice cream!

Printer friendly recipes: Pancakes and Toppings

Easter Celebration – Deviled Egg Chicks and Carrot Smoothies

Easter Celebration – Deviled Egg Chicks and Carrot Smoothies

With Easter right around the corner, Chef J is sharing some fantastically fun recipes for your enjoyment. His Deviled Chicks are appropriately twee for our pastel-themed celebrations, but the Carrot-Ginger Smoothie has a zip that will snap you right out of your candy-colored dreams. The Easter Bunny has requested we all start leaving one out for him the night before; it’s not fair that Santa gets all the midnight snacks! So, Chef J, why don’t you hop on over (see what I did there?) and share your treats!

National Deviled Egg Day might not be until November 2nd,  but I just can’t wait that long. Luckily there is another holiday on the calendar that prominently features these delightful little egg-filled eggs. Easter, some could argue, is the far superior holiday.

Easter not only plays host to eggs of the deviled variety, but provides a welcoming table for all manner of ova.

It’s also a fantastic excuse to eat chocolate by the basket! Everything feels nice and fresh; spring is blossoming all around us, there are pictures of bunnies everywhere, people are dressed in pastel. Oh yeah, and baskets full of chocolate! How can you not have a good time on Easter?
There are a few tricks to help your eggery go smoothly. Some maybe you know, some maybe you don’t.

  • Don’t use fresh eggs! The fresher the egg is, the more the shell will stick when you’re trying to peel it. For easy to peel eggs you want to use eggs that are about a week to ten days old.
  • Add a teaspoon of baking soda to the water before you start cooking. This is an old trick that will help the peels come loose more easily, leaving you with a clean, smooth egg.
  • Soak them in ice water for 30-45 minutes before peeling. The shells are porous so they will let a bit of water in, reducing the amount of suction power the shell will have. Cold eggs are also easier to peel.

Deviled Egg Chicks

  • 12 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • large bowl of ice water
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 TBS mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp Sriracha hot sauce (this is optional and can be replaced with Dijon mustard if you don’t like it hot)
  • 1 dill pickle, finely chopped (save a few pieces for the eyes, or use black olives)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • A few little pieces of carrot for beaks

Place the eggs and baking soda in a large pot of cold water. Make sure the eggs are covered by about one inch of water.
Bring the pot to a boil. As soon as it boils, cover the pot and remove it from the heat.
Let the eggs sit in the hot water, covered, for 8 minutes.
Remove the eggs and place them in the ice water. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.

Gently crack the egg all the way around and begin peeling the shell away carefully.
Using a small paring knife, cut straight across the very bottom of the egg so that it sits flat, then cut a zig-zag pattern through the whites of the eggs about two thirds of the way up.
Pull off the top and gently squeeze the yolk out. Repeat with all eggs.
Mix the remaining ingredients, including the white part that you cut off the bottom, in a small bowl.
Blend it all together with a fork and season to taste. If you want a smoother texture you can push the yolks through a mesh strainer first.
Spoon the mixture (or pipe with a pastry bag) into the egg white bases and place the caps back on top.
Use the little pieces of pickle that you saved (or black olive) to make the eyes. Cut tiny triangles out of the carrot and place those in as the beak.

The result should look like a baby chick popping out of your shell (but you might need to practice on a few and use your imagination!).

easter chicks

And to wash down these delightful little chickies, a smoothie the Easter Bunny would be proud of!
Carrot Ginger Smoothie

  • 12 oz. almond milkcarrot smoothie for easter
  • 2 medium carrots, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 TBS fresh ginger, chopped
  • ¾ cup frozen strawberries
  • 2 TBS honey
  • 1 cup ice

If you have a heavy duty blender, like a Vitamix, just throw everything in and blend away!
If you don’t, you can use 4 oz. carrot juice or just chop the carrots up very small.
Blend to your desired consistency.
Makes about 2 – 16 oz. smoothies.

Printer friendly recipes: Easter Recipes


Caring for Your Butcher Block

Caring for Your Butcher Block

Although my family in the Midwest would beg to differ, according to the calendar, spring has sprung.  Given I like to stick to a schedule, it IS time to at least talk about spring cleaning tips. Maybe it will even help the weather get on board!

Whether you have a traditional end-grain butcher block, a butcher block countertop, or the more portable cutting board version, caring for your butcher block is critical. Because butcher block is used in food preparation, maintaining a clean and sanitized block will help to keep your family healthy.

Given the cost of butcher block can be significant, caring for your butcher block now will protect your investment for years to come.


  • Scrape – Remove any remaining food particles with a scraper or spatula.
  • Wash – Wipe the surface clean with a washcloth dipped in hot water and mild soap (do not soak wood in water). Rinse washcloth and wipe again.
  • Dry – Using a paper towel or dish towel, dry surface thoroughly between uses. Store cutting boards on edge to dry completely and save counter space.


  • Separate your food – To avoid cross-contamination, designate one cutting board to be used for fresh produce and a second board for raw meats.
  • Wipe up spills – Always wipe up liquid spills immediately to avoid penetrating board or leaving stains.
  • Remove odors – Sprinkle table salt on board, quarter a lemon and rub the lemon into the salt across the board, squeezing the juice out as you rub. Let stand for 2-3 minutes. Wipe clean with warm water.
  • Sanitize – As frequently as required, clean your butcher block using a 1:3 ratio of vinegar to water. Wipe clean and dry.
  • Oil – Once a month apply a food-safe mineral oil (never vegetable oil) like Boos Mystery Oil to penetrate and moisturize the wood. Then apply Boos Beeswax Board Cream to help seal in the moisture.

caring for butcher block with oil

caring for your butcher block with cream

Do you have any butcher block that has been neglected? All will be forgiven after a nice oily massage!

How to Remove Stains and Scratches from Butcher Block

How to Remove Stains and Scratches from Butcher Block

One of my favorite cutting boards is the John Boos Round Herb Cutting Board that came with a nifty mezzaluna rocker knife. Not only is this board superb for chopping herbs, I use it every day to hold an unruly fruit or vegetable. The concave bowl just seems perfect for hugging that last lemon, a spare onion, or a shiny apple just waiting to be eaten. Unfortunately, I did not notice my onion went bad one day and it left a really nasty stain on the board. I wiped it up, but it had penetrated pretty deeply. Then I procrastinated about 6 months before doing anything about it! Maybe this sounds familiar. But don’t fret; there is hope.
Unsightly stains and deep scratches can be removed from butcher block to help restore their appearance. Stains can result when liquid spills are allowed to dry on the block. If addressed soon after, they can be removed pretty easily by wiping with a damp, soapy sponge, drying with paper towel, then applying some Boos Bees Wax Board Cream.

Penetrating stains, older stains, and knife gouges in butcher block will require some “muscle” but they usually can be removed!

How to remove Stubborn Stains and Scratches:

Remove stains with salt

  1. The first step is to try and remove the stain by sprinkling kosher/table salt on the stained area and rubbing with a damp sponge for a few minutes. Always rub in the direction of the wood grain to avoid further scratch damage. If the stain is still present, continue to step 2; otherwise, wipe clean and move on to step 5 to finish up.
  2. Stubborn stains or deep scratches will require sanding. There is no set “grit” or coarseness of sandpaper to use.sand 300w You will want to experiment, starting with a finer grit and working to a coarser one, until you find the grit that works.I can’t say this enough - always rub in the direction of the wood grain (not against it). Trust me, you will be tempted to do so, but please don’t, or risk further scratching the board.Once you see the stain or scratch is being removed, stick with that sandpaper. Remember: the higher the number, the finer the grit.Given butcher block is a very hard wood, it makes sense that you will need to use a coarse grit in the range of 80 to 100Stains removed to correct the problem.
  3. I would start with 150 grit and if that does not work, move to the 100 grit or 80 grit.
  4. When the stain is removed, be sure to use a couple different grit papers to sand the area to a smooth finish again. Use the 150 grit first, then finish with a 220 grit paper to restore the smoothness.
  5. Wipe the butcher block with a damp, soapy wash cloth to remove sanding dust and dry thoroughly.
  6. You must treat the exposed surfaces with a food safe mineral oil to protect and moisturize the wood. The best cure is to apply Boos Mystery Oil to penetrate the cutting board and restore the moisture. Then follow with an application of  Boos Block Board Cream to put a protective seal on the block and reduce the chances of future spills  penetrating the wood.
  7. Remember, you should apply oil or cream to your butcher block once a month to keep your board healthy.
Given my Round Herb Board is Hard Rock Maple it took me a while to find the right grit to remove the stain. I was surprised that I had to go down to a 60 grit and sand for about 15 minutes. But it was worth it! Then I used the 100, 150 and finally 220 grit, respectively, which left it feeling silky smooth again.
My beloved Herb Board looks like new. Herb is happy too!
stains removed butcher block like new
St. Patrick’s Day with a Southwestern Twist

St. Patrick’s Day with a Southwestern Twist

For St. Patrick’s Day last year, we covered the most delicious cupcakes in the history of chocolate. We’re going to go the savory route this year with brisket and pickled cabbage. Chef J is not known for being the most traditional lad around, so of course he is giving this meal a bit of a twist! Whether you see green in the form of shamrocks or cacti, Chef J’s Southwestern Brisket is sure to make you feel lucky. A jar of pickled cabbage is a good substitute for a pot of gold, right? Take it away, Chef J!

It’s almost that time of year again! That time when green starts making it’s way into fashion and people dig deep to claim some far removed Irish heritage. Ah, St. Patrick’s Day! Is it safe to assume we will all be celebrating this holiday by spending the day in church? Perhaps one might take advantage of the rare opportunity to enjoy a small glass of wine or break lent and have a bit of salted pork. Let’s face it: most of us here in the states really don’t know anything about St. Patrick’s Day. It has been given an entirely different definition than was intended, but that’s ok. It’s now an excuse to party. Is that such a bad thing? I argue that no, it is not. We all love a good reason to get together with friends and family to enjoy some food and drink. Let’s tape some cardboard shamrocks around the office, tint our cupcake frosting green, and do our best leprechaun impressions- it’s time to party!

The first St. Patrick’s treat I think about, after Jameson and Guinness (so, the third thing…), is corned beef and cabbage. Is it Irish? No (the demand for and production of corned beef was actually in part responsible for much of the devastation of the Irish famine). But is it delicious? You bet your Blarney Stone! You will find the internet littered with recipes for corned beef this time of year; it’s essentially a brisket that has been cured in brine for about 10 days, then boiled. You can also pick one up at the super market that is ready to go. Although I do occasionally get the craving for saltpeter, I usually prefer to enjoy my brisket in a more southwestern style.

Here is a St. Patrick’s Day recipe for delicious, tender brisket that you don’t need a week and a half to prepare.

Southwestern Brisket:

  • 3-4 lb. brisket
  • 1 TBS kosher salt
  • 1 TBS ground black pepper
  • 1 TBS ground mustard
  • 1 TBS brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin

Heat your oven or BBQ to 175.
Combine all spices and mix well.
Evenly coat the brisket with the spice rub.
Wrap the brisket tightly in several layers of plastic wrap. Then aluminum foil. Place it in a deep roasting pan to catch any juices that might escape.
Roast the wrapped beef for 6 hours.
Remove it from the heat and let it sit, while still wrapped up, for at least 30 minutes.
Get your oven or BBQ up to 375.
Unwrap the brisket carefully. Save the juices!
Place the brisket back in the roasting pan and pour the liquid over it.
Roast at 375 for 20 minutes, flipping it over every 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let it sit in a warm place for another 15 minutes before slicing.
A little spicy mustard or prepared horseradish will put this over the top!

Quick Pickled Cabbage:

  •  ½ head of cabbage (green or purple), thinly sliced and washed
  • 2 qts. water
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 TBS kosher salt
  • 1 TBS whole coriander
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 2-3 whole cloves

For this recipe you will need a very clean, heat proof container that can be sealed, leaving little to no room for air. I have found that the big pickle jar (the one on the bottom shelf at the super market) is the perfect size.

Combine all of the ingredients except for the cabbage and vinegar in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Cook until the salt has dissolved.
Pack half of the cabbage into the jar and pour the liquid over until it is just covered. Do your best to get about half of the spices in.
Pack the remaining cabbage in and pour the rest of the liquid over. If there is still a little room on top you can press more cabbage in or add more simmering water. You want it to come just about to the rim.
Cover the top of the jar with a few layers of plastic wrap and then screw the lid on tightly. The plastic will help to form an airtight seal.
Let the jar sit at room temperature until it has cooled. It can sit out over night.
Refrigerate after opening.

Printer friendly recipes: SW Brisket with Pickled Cabbage

National Meatball Day: Swedish Meatballs

National Meatball Day: Swedish Meatballs

 My dog’s name is Meatball so I get to celebrate every day, but for the rest of you, this Sunday is your chance to delight in the joy of one of the world’s simplest of pleasures. Meatball and I will be enjoying his namesake in the form of Chef J’s Swedish Meatballs and we think you should, too! I’ll let Chef J wax poetic about balls of meat now.

Whether you prefer yours on top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese (perhaps you are just  looking to replace one that might have been lost when somebody sneezed); meatballs are one of those perfect foods. It’s pretty clear from the name that they are balls of meat. IT’S A BALL OF MEAT!!! What simple brilliance! What pure elegance! This spherical culinary wonder deserves to be celebrated! So, in keeping with tradition, we will hold these greasy balls on high this Ninth of March!

That’s right: March 9th is National Meatball Day!

Meatballs can be added to almost any dish: put them in a between two pieces of toasted, soft bread with thinly sliced veggies for a delicious sandwich, pile them on top of your pasta and load it up with cheese, or just serve them up with gobs of ketchup and gravy! However you eat them, meatballs are great. In honor of the woman who introduced these delicious little rounds into my life, I will be enjoying mine with a big spoonful of lingonberry preserves. My Farmor (Swedish for “father’s mother;” the same Farmor who gave us Peanut Blossoms) used to make these when I was a kid and I still love them to this day! These little balls of meat are called Köttbullar (Swedish for “little balls of meat”). They are amazing! Dip them in ketchup, or lingonberry preserves, or in a nice tasty gravy like Farmor used to make. They are fast and simple to make, and they can be frozen raw or after they have been cooked if you want to save some for later.


  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • ½ lb. ground pork
  • 8 oz. cream
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients; form into 1” balls.
Heat a large cast iron skillet on medium.
Coat pan with butter or oil and add meatballs.
Cook until dark brown.


  • ½ onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 oz. red wine
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 12 oz. crushed tomatoes, canned or fresh
  • Salt & pepper

Sweat the onions in a large pan (use the one you cooked the meatballs in!) until they begin to turn translucent.
Add garlic and let it start to brown.
Deglaze with wine and add the herbs.
Reduce by ½ and add tomato and bring to a simmer.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Printer friendly recipes: Swedish Meatballs

The Academy Awards: Celebrate with Oscar-worthy Red Velvet Cupcakes

The Academy Awards: Celebrate with Oscar-worthy Red Velvet Cupcakes

The Academy Awards are this Sunday, March 2nd. Chef J was going to give us a tutorial on how to dress up as the Oscar statue using only edible materials, but thankfully he decided the glitter would look better on cupcakes. Let’s all get sparkly with Chef J!

Are you ready for the fabulousness of the Academy Awards?! Do you love to see the creators of wonderful works of cinematic art celebrated? Are your knuckles white as you sit on the edge of your seat, waiting for the winners to be announced? Maybe you just want to see what all the beautiful people are wearing! And let’s not forget the speeches! Everyone loves a good acceptance speech. Whatever the draw is for you, the Oscars will surely sate your desire for Hollywood glamor. Personally, I rely on Netflix for my motion picture needs, I think everyone should win, and I wear my pajamas more often than an adult probably should. I do love acceptance speeches though…

For me, the Academy Awards are just a wonderful excuse to get friends and family together to eat, drink, and yell at the TV. It’s always fun to get everyone in on a pool for Best Picture. You can rotate who hosts the party each year so a different friend is responsible for the prize or have everyone throw in a couple bucks toward the purse. Or just gather around the tube with some champagne and scathing critique of Tinsel Town fashion. Whatever you do, make sure you have plenty of delicious treats! Since no one will be rolling out a red carpet for me any time soon I decided to make red velvet cupcakes this year (I eat my feelings…).

Red velvet cupcakes are elegant, yet loaded with sugary-sweet popular appeal – just like the Academy Awards!

Sprinkle on a little edible gold glitter and you’re ready for a real fancy-pants champagne jam!

Red velvet is thought to have received it’s name from the reddish hue produced by the mixture of acid from vinegar and buttermilk with old-style cocoa. Today most recipes call for the addition of red food coloring or beet puree to add the titular red. The amount of rouge in your cake is up to you, but keep in mind: after a few drops, you can really taste the food coloring. Experiment with it, but remember that taste is always more important than appearance!

Red Velvet CupcakesAcademy Award worthy looks.
2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
8 oz. butter, softened
1½ cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
8 oz. buttermilk
Red food coloring
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 TBS vanilla

Heat oven to 350°.
Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda together.
Cream the butter, sugar and salt and then add the eggs, one at a time.
Add the flour and buttermilk alternately, a little at a time.
Mix in the remaining ingredients; beat until smooth.
Pour into lined cupcake pans cook until they test clean; about 22 minutes.

1½ lbs. cream cheese, softened
4 oz. butter, softened
2 TBS vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
16 oz. cream
1½ cups powdered sugar

Whip the cream cheese and butter together with the vanilla and salt.
Add the cream and whip until fluffy.
Slowly add the powdered sugar and continue whipping until stiff.
Frost cupcakes and top with edible gold glitter for an award-winning effect!

Printer friendly recipes:Red Velvet Cupcakes

Gadget Love: The Story of Susi the Garlic Press

Gadget Love: The Story of Susi the Garlic Press

Story time! I grew up in a gourmet kitchen store surrounded by the best the culinary world had to offer, both in equipment and food. I spent my formative years learning the ins and outs of cookware, knives, butcher blocks, and gadgets. Thousands upon thousands of gadgets. We had two “gadget walls,” both of which were probably 20 feet long and 12 feet high. They were loaded with every little doodad a cook could ever dream of using! From meat tenderizers to cannoli tubes, ice cream scoops to crab crackers, we had everything.

Part of the store’s  appeal was that we ran cooking classes nearly every day of the week, and in these classes, our students got to sample our collection of old standbys and hot-off-the-line gadgets. From the time I was a young pup, I got to help prep for classes, which meant I got to play with all of these toys, too (forget action figures and dress-up, I wanted to play chef!). I remember the first time I got to use the garlic press; I was probably eight years old and barely contained the strength to squeeze that magical bulb through those tiny little holes.

Between the sheer delight of turning a clove into a pile of minced ambrosia and the lingering pungency on my fingers, I was hooked on this little gadget.

Crushing garlic was now my favorite thing to do ever in the whole world. This was over 20 years ago and I still rarely use that magic trick to wash the garlic odor from my hands (although I will use it to get rid of fish odor – that’s just gross). The scent takes me back to those early days in the demonstration kitchen of feeling so important to be able to help out a celebrity chef.

A gadget that creates delicious memories.

The nectar of the gods. Brought to you by Susi.


Throughout the years the store was open, we sold at least a dozen different brands and styles of garlic press, but my old trusty remained my go-to gadget every time I helped in the kitchen.  I received a stunningly beautiful $45.00 German garlic press as a wedding gift, as well as the updated and larger version of my favorite, but they just weren’t the same. When the store closed in 2009, we were allowed to ransack the kitchen to grab a little piece of memorabilia. You better believe I made a beeline to the drawer that held my first love and snatched her right up for my own! I took home enough stuff to overstock my kitchen for the rest of my days, but my hands-down most sentimental item is still that garlic press. I use it several times per week, whereas I think I used that fancy German one maybe three times over the last ten years (I actually got rid of it!). My trusty press is named Susi, which isn’t even remotely creative because that’s what the manufacturer named her, but I didn’t want to confuse her in her new home. Okay, that’s enough anthropomorphism for one garlic press. It’s amazing what a silly little gadget can mean to a person. I will never get rid of my garlic press because it carries with it my memories of growing up. Let’s just say the garlic fumes aren’t exactly what make me teary-eyed when I’m making dinner.My favorite gadget.

Are you “overly” sentimental about anything in your kitchen? I want to hear about the pie plate passed down by your grandma, or the rolling pin your dad used to chase a raccoon out of the kitchen (that has to have happened to someone!). Please share your stories with me – I love a good cry (or a good laugh)!


Valentine Dinner – Steak with Mushroom Ragout & Spicy Brownies

Valentine Dinner – Steak with Mushroom Ragout & Spicy Brownies

Are you prepared for Valentine’s Day? Chef J has a fabulous menu that is sure to impress your honey! Share the love, Chef J!

Pink and red are everywhere! You can’t do any shopping right now without being bombarded with lacy, frilly sentiments of amoré. It’s Valentine’s! Time for stuffed bears holding hearts, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, hearts with cute phrases on them, and best of all: enough steak and lobster to give you a heart attack! My number one tip to make your Valentine’s Day successful: do not make reservations! Every restaurant will be full of couples; some old, some new, all trying to have a romantic evening. I have nothing against romance. I love it! But after years in the restaurant business, seeing packed houses full of V-Day patrons, I have learned that it’s usually an event marked by over-trying and under-thinking. Instead of trying to plan the perfect Valentine’s date, think of what your partner’s perfect night would be. It might be dressing up and stuffing yourselves with surf ‘n turf- because that is awesome! But it could also be a night in with movies and ice cream. Luckily, Valentine’s Day is on a Friday this year so you can sleep in the next day. It doesn’t matter what you do to show the one you love just how much they mean to you as long as it’s from the heart. Instead of a fancy restaurant, make dinner for your honey. Or cook together!

Creating your own Valentine’s Day meal as a team can be fun and romantic.

How about a tender filet with mushroom ragout? My sweetie is getting grilled cheese because that’s her favorite, but dessert will be something a bit more fancy.

Let’s start off with the steak. There are lots of options when it comes to steak, so choose one that fits your tastes and budget.

Steak Cooking Temperatures
Remember to keep carry-over cooking in mind; the thicker the meat, the more carry-over it will have.
Estimated maximum internal temperature:

  • Blue or Bloody – 115-125F
  • Rare – 125-130F
  • Medium Rare – 130-140F
  • Medium – 140-150F
  • Medium Well – 150-160F
  • Well – 160F+

Cooking Tips

  • Take your steak out of the fridge or cooler at least 30 minutes before cooking.
  • Salt your steak just prior to cooking.
  • After cooking, let the steak rest in a warm (not hot) place for 5-10 minutes before slicing.
  • Don’t slice into meat to check for doneness: use a thermometer or judge by tenderness.

Mushroom Ragout

  •  Olive oil
  • 2 TBS shallot, minced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 4 oz. red wine
  • 1 cup shitake mushrooms, diced
  • 1 cup Crimini mushrooms, diced
  • 8 oz. beef stock
  • Truffle oil
  • 1 TBS cold butter
  • Salt & pepper

Heat the oil in a saucepan. Sear the mushrooms until they are browned and lose liquid. Add shallots and garlic and cook until golden brown. Add the wine and simmer until dry.
Add stock and reduce to one half. Add truffle oil and cold butter; whisk until emulsified and season to taste. Serve over prepared steaks.

Spicy Chocolate Brownies with Berry Coulis and Crème Anglaise


Valentine Spicy Brownies


  • 8 oz. butter
  • 8 oz. dark chocolate
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 lb. sugar
  • 4 oz. agave nectar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 TBS adobo sauce
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 7 oz. flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup toasted, chopped pecans + more for topping

Heat your oven to 325F.
Melt the butter and chocolate together in a double boiler.
Whip the eggs slightly until blended. Slowly add the sugar and whip until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Mix the agave, vanilla and adobo into the chocolate.
Slowly stir the melted ganache into the egg mixture.
Sift the cinnamon and flour together, toss with the pecans and slowly add the wet mixture. Remember to scrape the bowl!
Pour the mixture into paper-lined muffin pans, no more than half full. Bake until just set, about 20 minutes.
OR you can bake them in a traditional brownie pan for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick almost tests clean.
Allow to cool completely in the pan. Move to the freezer and let them chill for about 30 minutes.

Berry Coulis:

  • ½ cup sugar
  • 8 oz. water
  • 1 TBS lemon juice
  • 1 cup frozen berries
  • 1 tsp corn starch
  • 1 tsp cold water

Combine the sugar, water and half of the lemon juice; bring to a simmer and add the berries.
Mix the corn starch and water.
Bring to a boil and stir in the slurry.
Return to boil while stirring constantly.
Strain and cool to thicken. Transfer to a plastic squeeze bottle.

Crème Anglaise

  •  2 egg yolks
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 TBS vanilla bean paste
  • 8 oz. milk or cream

Whip the egg yolks until frothy, add the sugar and whip until dissolved.
Whip in the vanilla bean paste and slowly stir in the milk.
Return the mixture to the heat and cook while stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Remove from heat and strain to remove any lumps.


Spoon a pool of Crème Anglaise onto one side of a plate. Squeeze a few dots in a row of Berry Coulis on top of the Crème. Starting at the top dot, drag a toothpick or skewer through the center of each dot in one steady motion to create hearts (see picture). Place a brownie on the opposite side of the plate and garnish with fresh berries, mint, chocolate shavings, more Coulis, ganache…whatever your Valentine desires! Serve with a deservedly smug look on your face.

Printer friendly recipes: Valentine Dinner

Embracing International Cuisine

Embracing International Cuisine

With the Winter Olympics upon us, we are given the opportunity to peer into the cultures and traditions of people from all around the globe.  We see all sorts of inspiring stories about athletes and their lives, providing a bit of human connection to such a grandiose event. You know what helps foster human connection better than almost anything else? If you said “food,” you’re absolutely right! Food brings people together around the world and is a social event in basically every culture.

Because the U.S. is such a melting pot, we have the privilege of having international cuisine at our fingertips at just about any moment. Whether you purchase something frozen from the grocery store, shop at your local deli for authentic cuisine, or decide to make something at home, you have access to more variety than you will ever have time to taste! We have Julia Child to thank for bringing international cooking into the homes of Americans when she exploded onto the culinary scene with accessible French recipes and techniques that could be duplicated in the home kitchen. Given the popularity today of cooking shows, blogs, and recipe forums, we now have an unlimited supply of internationally-inspired recipes that we can create and share with friends and family. We have entire grocery stores dedicated to bringing ingredients from faraway countries right into our backyards. Let’s utilize these resources and celebrate the international delights in which we are all capable of indulging.

A great way to sample the fare of many different nations is to host an international potluck, and the Olympic events are a fantastic excuse to do so.

Have your friends and family each bring a dish inspired by a different country or by their own culture and let everyone enjoy the diversity of food.  You will experience the vast array of flavors that are spread across our world and get a taste for how different regions can create a variety of flavors, oftentimes using some of the same spices or other ingredients. We live in a diverse society and should take advantage of every opportunity we have to experience and understand all of the cultures that play into it – and food is a great place to start! Chef J has shared one of his favorite Russian recipes to give you a little inspiration.

Roasted Chicken and Eggplant
Pesto:Roasted Chicken and Eggplant

  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ cup toasted pecans
  • ½ cup packed fresh basil
  • ¼ cup packed parsley
  • 3-4 sprigs marjoram
  • 2-3 sprigs oregano
  • ½ cup shredded asiago cheese
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • Salt & pepper
  • 8 oz. olive oil

In a food processor, combine all ingredients except oil, and pulse until a paste is formed.
Slowly add the oil while blending.
Season to taste.


  • 1 eggplant, sliced into ½” rounds
  • Salt & pepper
  • Olive oil

Brush the eggplant with oil and season with salt and pepper.
Roast at 375 for 20 minutes.


  • 1 Chicken breast
  • olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

Season the chicken.
Sear on one side in a hot sauté pan.
Flip and move the pan to the oven. Cook until an internal temperate of 165 is reached, about 7 minutes.
Allow to rest for a few minutes.
Cut into bite size pieces

Pickled Onions:

  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp coriander

Combine all ingredients, except onions, in a small sauce pot and bring to a simmer.
Remove from heat and add the onions.
Pour everything into a zipper bag.
Squeeze out all of the air and seal.
Let it sit at room temperature until cool.
Refrigerate until needed.

Spread a bit of the pesto on a slice of eggplant.
Add a piece of chicken and a few pieces of onion.
Roll up and skewer with a toothpick.
Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Printer friendly recipe: Roasted Chicken and Eggplant