Butcher Block: Unexpected Beauty for Your Whole Home

Butcher Block: Unexpected Beauty for Your Whole Home

Butcher Block is an expected material for cutting boards, island tops, and chopping blocks, but did you know it’s good for so much more? I have the extreme pleasure of working on our custom projects daily, and let me tell you, some of my favorites have started with a customer saying, “This idea is going to sound a little crazy, but…” But nothing! Let’s do it! Besides the amazing kitchen makeovers we’ve done, we also do quite a few non-conventional projects like bathrooms, garages, and even closets. One time I even got to help design a shuffle board table!

Butcher Block makes for an extremely versatile, durable, and beautiful surface for just about any room in the house!

We’ll ease our way out of the kitchen with this gorgeous handcrafted bar one of our talented customers built. He made everything by hand except the butcher block top, which is 12 feet of beautiful Maple.

Butcher Block

Kitchens are, of course, the most common projects I work on, but gaining speed in second place is the home office. You could have a beautifully warm desktop custom made to your specifications to create the perfect workspace. We can even drill the holes for cables and wires to keep your work area sleek and uncluttered. The John Boos Varnique semi-gloss finish creates the perfect surface for an office; it’s polished-looking without being glaringly shiny, holds up well to daily tasks, and cleans up like a breeze. The desktops for the office pictured below are custom Walnut Edge Grain from John Boos & Co. The shape of the top was perfectly and precisely designed to accommodate the computer station, and Boos even custom cut a piece to be used as a leg. It turned out beautifully and is still just as attractive more than two years later.

Butcher Block

We work with quite a few restaurants as well, providing work tables for the kitchen and dining tables for the guests. We have some crossover with the work tables for residential customers, but the John Boos dining tops have really gained in popularity for household use. They are beautiful, durable, and affordable, making them the perfect solution for just about anyone! While there are the traditional restaurant-style black metal bases available, most of our customers are looking to add a custom top to a preexisting base, whether it’s something they found at a flea market, or the legs from the antique dining table passed down by Grandma. These unique dining tops are available in Maple, Cherry, and Walnut.

Butcher Block

Stepping out of the living space, we find ourselves in the garage. You may be wondering what on earth a butcher block would be doing out in a garage, but this is actually quite common. We’ve done some gorgeous Walnut tops to outfit a collector’s garage, Commercial style Maple to accommodate the everyday workbench, and Industrial Maple for those who really get down to business! No matter the purpose, butcher block can add unexpected character and warmth to this often forgotten room. Here you see one customer’s (almost finished!) laundry center in their garage. The sleek Varnique finish makes for an excellent folding and sorting station!

Butcher Block

To a lesser degree, we have also outfitted bathrooms and closets. Can you imagine having a huge walk-in closet with an island for accessories right in the middle? Now picture a gleaming Cherry block atop that island…ahhh, heaven! Something like that would have never occurred to me if I hadn’t had a customer ask for just that. Add a gorgeous Roman Ogee edge, and you’ve got swank to the nth degree! One of my favorite bathroom projects was for a man who was re-figuring the room for his new wife. He had a custom Walnut top made with a curved edge (like a half moon) to expand on the vanity space so she had room for her perfumes, makeup, and hair toys without getting bogged down with “boy stuff” (his words). Because he designed and installed it himself, it was a lovely personal touch and I consider his wife a very lucky lady.

The downside to all of this design fun is that I don’t always get to see the finished product. We LOVE when our customers send photos of their projects so that we can ogle and share. There’s a lot of inspiration out there, and we want to spread it around! So, if you’re planning a butcher block project, take pictures along the way and when you’re done and send them on over to us. You may even end up featured on our blog!

Winter Warmth – Midnight Whiskey Chicken Soup

Winter Warmth – Midnight Whiskey Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup is pretty much a standard in our households throughout the winter. This winter has been brutal for many across the country, and I imagine a lot of you are getting tired of the snow and the boring soup. As a Phoenician, I am not allowed to talk about winter, but I can speak with some authority about food. Sarah W. is back with a killer Chicken Soup recipe that gets its punch from cooking the onions in whiskey. While I haven’t had the honor of trying her “Midnight Whiskey” Chicken Soup, I did use her technique to make an onion and mushroom topping for crostini the other night, and WOW. I can’t wait to make the soup! Sarah is here to commiserate with her fellow snow-bound citizens and provide some much needed warmth. Take it away, Sarah!

April may be the cruelest month, but February sure has to be a close second. New England is in a state of emergency with record snowfalls, and the Midwest is seeing historically low temperatures. Records are being shattered. It really just makes you want to stay holed up inside for days. It’s too cold to play; the roads are too dangerous to navigate.

Being a Clevelander, growing up in the heart of the Snowbelt, I understand the snow gods. Every childhood Halloween costume was loose enough to fit over a snowsuit if the occasion called. After a record snowfall in elementary school, I remember watching the National Guard trucks drive past my house, ready to help dig out the schools and city buildings. I grew up with a big black dog who loved to play in the snow – some winters you could only see the tip of her nose and tail as she cavorted in the drifts. Snow will most likely be a factor in life as early as (late) October through possibly (early) April.

The lesson from this constant threat is to keep your freezer, pantry, and refrigerator well-stocked. All autumn, I buy extra everything and throw it in my freezer like a squirrel hiding nuts for the spring. The goal is to be ahead of the emergency announcements so that you’re not at the grocery store at 6pm on a Friday trying to stock up on necessities. No one wants to wait in line for an hour at the grocery store for canned soup, frozen dinners, and ramen. Nor should those foods be your sole emergency rations. By keeping a few basics on-hand, you can make something really tasty, bust out the candles when the power goes out, and build a pillow fort to occupy yourself when disaster strikes. That sounds more like a fun date night than an emergency, no?

The best food in this kind of weather is chicken soup. There can be no argument – it’s easy to prepare, doesn’t need your constant attention, fills you up, and leaves you noticeably warmer.

This chicken soup has a whiskey onion base, which adds a lot of depth of flavor, even if you shortcut by using boxed stock and pre-cooked chicken. Honestly, I use these shortcuts even when not in a state of emergency. With clever seasoning and a whiskey base, you can build a lot of complexity, and the goal when cooking should be to make something that is impressively good; it doesn’t have to be impressively hard to make or use impressive ingredients.

This soup is easy to throw together after a long day, it’s perfect to prepare early in the day to let simmer while you shovel, and it’s heaven in a bowl when you’re frozen to your core.

Notes on whiskey – I would recommend using a brand you’d enjoy drinking in a cocktail, but wouldn’t prefer to drink straight. In other words, use the whiskey you’d drink at midnight, rather than your first choice.

Midnight Whiskey Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 roasted chicken (or a few chicken breasts, really whatever chicken you have on-hand)
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 4 large carrots
  • 2 small onions, diced
  • 1 ½ cups whiskey
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme

Throw your onions in a stockpot Chicken Soup over medium heat, then cover with a few splashes of whiskey and a drizzle of olive oil. Leave this uncovered as you prep the rest of your ingredients, adding more whiskey as it cooks off. This is going to imbue your onions with a lot of really good, deep flavor and add richness to your soup’s broth.

 

My friend Claire recently showed me this method, and I thought I’d try it out on my carrots. I tried to do quarter-to-half inch pieces. I ended up with something a bit bigger than expected, which is ok. New techniques often seem awkward until you’ve tried them enough times to really get them right.

Set your carrots aside, and get to your chicken. My favorite trick is to use a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. If you have frozen chicken in your freezer, fantastic! Thaw them and dice them up. If you have leftover chicken from a previous meal, dice it up. If you have a whole chicken, strip the skin, remove the bones, and dice the meat up.

Chicken Soup

Throw your carrots and chicken into your stockpot, add about half your broth, and season. I am really loving Penzeys French Thyme in everything I make right now, and rosemary is a great poultry herb, so start from there. If your chicken was already cooked, feel free to taste your soup – add salt and pepper, maybe a drizzle of olive oil, maybe some ground chipotle pepper for some kick. If your chicken is raw, let your soup cook at least an hour before you taste (and check the chicken before you taste – raw chicken is the most terrifying kitchen thing).

Chicken Soup

Cover your pot and leave it at a simmer or slow boil for an hour or so, then add the rest of your broth and continue to taste and season. Let that simmer awhile, and voila! Soup!

And if you need a serving suggestion for a cozy evening, may I suggest…

Chicken Soup

 

What’s your favorite deceptively easy delicious dish for a snowed-in night? What are your best kitchen shortcuts and tricks?

Printer friendly recipe: Midnight Whiskey Chicken Soup

Answers to Your Butcher Block Questions

Answers to Your Butcher Block Questions

Whatever your Butcher Block Questions may be, we’re here to help! We maintain close relationships with our suppliers in order to provide the best service to our customers. What does this mean for you? It means that even if we don’t know the answer off the top of our head (not to brag, but that is super unlikely!), we can call or email a representative directly at the manufacturer to find out for you. While we occasionally need to make one of those calls, we mostly get a steady flow of a few different repeated questions. We figured it would be nice to put answers to your most common butcher block questions all in one place. See our most frequently asked questions below, and let us know if you need anything else answered!

Here are the quick answers to your most frequently asked butcher block questions.

1. Can you explain the different wood species, hardness and grain styles?

John Boos Butcher Block is available in four wood species: Maple, Walnut, Cherry and Oak hardwoods. Catskill uses mostly Yellow Birch. Each hardwood species has its own unique coloration and grain pattern.

  • Hard Rock Maple is the most popular wood for butcher block. It is light in color, with a golden hue, a slightly wavy grain, with a fine even texture.
  • Red Oak is not nearly as common. It has a reddish brown color, straight and open grain pattern, with coarse texture.
  • Black Walnut is growing in popularity for butcher block. It is the darkest of the four hardwoods and has the most natural variation in the grain pattern, from dark brown streaks to pale or yellowish brown.
  • American Cherry is known for its pink and red hues. Freshly-hewn, its heartwood presents as a light pinkish brown, but will darken to a golden brown upon exposure to light, since it’s photosensitive.
  • Yellow Birch has very close grain and even texture, making it ideal for butcher block applications and kitchen cabinetry.

Wood Species All of these woods have hardness suitable for butcher block. But in general, Hard Rock Maple is the hardest, followed by Oak and Yellow Birch, and then Walnut and Cherry. Maple is almost 30% harder than Walnut and Cherry. John Boos butcher block is available in three grain styles:

  • End grain – is constructed by fusing together short rails or blocks of wood, each standing on end. Looking down on such an array one would see the ENDS of wood pieces showing the rings of a tree. Melded together, these small rectangles create a checkerboard pattern on the top.
  • Edge grain – the wood slats run the full length of the board. No butt ends or finger joints are seen and the block shows less overall color variation.
  • Blended grain – is jointed-edge grain style. But instead of using uniform-sized wood rails, each spanning the board’s full length, blended-style boards use different sized pieces to span each row of the block. Almost a parquet floor look.

Read our Blog:  “How to Choose the Right Butcher Block for your Kitchen”
Read more:  End Grain vs Edge Grain, and About Yellow Birch

2. What finish should I get, natural oil or Varnique?

Natural Oil Finish Varnique Finish

If you intend to cut on your block, choose a Natural Oil Finish

Most butcher blocks come pre-treated with a food-safe, natural oil finish that moisturizes and protects the wood and makes it safe for food preparation, including cutting. This finish must be renewed through the reapplication of butcher block oil or board cream about once a month. Wipe up spills promptly to lessen the likelihood of staining the butcher block.

Choose a Varnique finish if you want a fine-furniture look and less maintenance.

Varnique is a branded, semi-gloss varnish-like product developed by John Boos & Co. It requires less maintenance than natural oil and serves to seal and protect wood. Varnique is the finish of choice among bakers in particular, since it provides a hard, smooth, non-stick surface on which to roll dough. Although Varnique provides a fine-furniture look and is perfect for general kitchen chores, it is not to be cut upon. While the Varnique finish is more resistant to spotting and staining, as with all butcher block, wipe up liquid spills right away so as not to mar the surface.

Read more: Varnique vs Natural Oil Butcher Block

3. How should I care for my butcher block?

Natural Oil Finish

  • 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.
  • Oil the top once a month – It is pretty easy to care for butcher block. But just because it is easy it does not mean it is not important.
  • Use a food grade mineral oil like John Boos Mystery Oil or Board Cream to help prevent board from drying and cracking.
  • Use a plastic grocery store bag, instead of a cloth, to apply the oil. This way you can avoid getting your hand oily and the oil will stay on the block and not absorb into a cloth.

Varnique SemiGloss Finish

  • Wipe – Gently remove any remaining food particles with a sponge.
  • 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.
  • Always wipe up liquid spills promptly to avoid marring the semi-gloss finish.

Read our Blog: Caring for your Butcher Block
Read more:  Cleaning and Oiling Butcher Block

4. How do I get a quote for a custom butcher block countertop?
Visit our Online Custom Calculator to build your quote. If the options you need are not listed on the calculator, please email us at [email protected] with a simple sketch showing your specifications.

Sink and Stove Cutouts

  • Cutouts for sinks, stoves, faucets, etc. can be done at the Boos factory for an additional charge.
  • Please label your drawing with the dimensions and placement of these cutouts and include the makes/model numbers with your email to us.
  • Please note: Undermount, farm, and apron style sink cutouts will void the factory warranty.
  • Cutouts may be done on site, but will void the warranty. It is not recommended to do on-site cutouts in Blended Grain or End Grain tops.

Custom Order Process

  • Give us a call at 1-877-845-5597 or send an email with a basic description of what you need. We will lead you through a series of questions to get the full details of your project. If you need anything more custom than just a size or edging change, we will have you send us a simple sketch.
  • We work with John Boos & Co. to get a quote for your specifications. Once approved, you can give us a call to place your order.
  • The tech team at John Boos & Co. will create a drawing according to your specifications. You will need to review this carefully, sign it, and send your approval back to us before production begins.

Special Care for Sink Cutouts

  • If you have a sink cutout, it is important to take extra care to ensure the top is protected from water damage. Cutouts done at the factory will be finished along with the rest of your top (either natural oil or Varnique semi-gloss).
  • If you’ll have exposed edges (like with an undermount or farm style sink), you can increase protection by using extra coats of a clear polyurethane finish along the edges and on the underside of the countertop surrounding the sink cutout. For oil-finished tops, beeswax or paraffin wax can be used in the same manner as a moisture barrier.
  • Water spotting or damage needs to be addressed immediately to avoid further issues. Lightly sand the affected area with 220-grit sandpaper and refinish with the appropriate sealant.

Warranties

  • Countertops come standard with a 1-year warranty against defects in materials and workmanship.
  • As noted above, certain sink styles will void this warranty, whether done on-site or at the factory. Any cutouts or other modifications done post-delivery will void the manufacturer’s warranty. If you choose to have your countertops shipped with no finish, they will ship void of warranty.
  • This warranty does not cover damage caused by neglect or regular wear and tear.

5. What are your lead-times?

  • For John Boos butcher block the lead time is approximately 4 weeks on most items. The reason — they are all built to order. The items are not sitting in a warehouse; instead when your order is received it is placed into their production schedule. The wood is chosen, cut, glued and made for you.
  • For Catskill butcher block items the lead time is 1 week because they maintain a small inventory of every item. Because these items are ready-to-assemble they are already packaged and easier to store in inventory.

6. Do you have a store, showroom, or person in my area?

  • We are strictly an on-line store.
  • Our website butcherblockco.com  is our showroom!  And is open to you 24/7 so please browse as much as you like.
  • And our Customer Service Reps are just a phone call away. We can help answer all of your butcher block questions!

CSR Splash edit

Chocolate Covered Strawberries – How Romantic!

Chocolate Covered Strawberries –
How Romantic!

I have lots of experience with chocolate fondue, but I can honestly say I have never made chocolate covered strawberries. Not certain why, but I decided for Valentine’s Day to step it up and be a bit more romantic. And my hubby, who “owns” our kitchen, wanted to help me, so we made this decadent dessert together. How romantic!

I don’t have a passion for cooking like most of you do, but I do have a passion for arts and crafts. So I approached this as if it were a craft project. And I loved it! It all started with a visit to a cake store. If you are a baker you know what I am talking about, but for the novice cookie and cake maker that I am, I had no idea this store even existed. It was truly like walking into the “Michaels” or “Hobby Lobby” of baking. And the best part – everything is edible! Doesn’t get much better than that. I purchased my very important oil-based pink food coloring and my toppings of pink/white/red nonpareils, red coarse sugar, and tiny multicolored valentine hearts.  Let the chocolate covered strawberry project begin.

There is no creative twist to this chocolate covered strawberry recipe – you can find them all over the internet. But I can share some things I learned while making them. And of course, I will share my finished masterpieces.

I’m hoping to inspire you to be romantic this Valentine’s Day and make some chocolate covered strawberries!
Heck, be romantic any day!

chocolate covered strawberries 5

Ingredients

  • 1-12 oz. bag Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1-12 oz. bag Ghirardelli white chocolate chips
  • 2 T Coconut Oil
  • Oil-based food coloring. Pink for decorating.
  • 2 pounds strawberries
  • Toppings: Almost anything goes. I did colored coarse sugar, nonpareils, candied hearts, crushed candy canes, and some dried pink chocolate flakes.

Recipe and Tips
Wash strawberries first, so they are dry by the time you start.

  • Tip – Don’t wash entire strawberry. Just dip the berry in water, not the leaves. This way the leaves won’t dry up. It is all about presentation with this dessert!
  • Tip – Don’t rush this step. Strawberries must be completely dry before dipping.
  • Tip – Like any good craft project, have a plan and get organized ahead of time. Divide strawberries out into groups to be dipped in chocolate only, white chocolate only, and multi chocolate.  Set up areas for dipping, toppings, and drying.

Melt chocolate either in a small fondue pot or in a small dish in the microwave with a little bit of coconut oil. I did 20 seconds at a time, then stirred and reheat. Don’t overcook. Much easier than a double boiler.

  • Tip – the coconut oil helped prevent the chocolate from setting up, and it gave it a nice glossy sheen.
  • Tip – to make pink chocolate, it takes only a couple drops of food coloring in the white chocolate! I put the pink chocolate in a small squeeze bottle so I could drizzle on my decoration.

Hold the stem of the berry and dip in chocolate, covering the berry almost to the stem. Nice to have some red strawberry showing.

  • Tip – Let excess chocolate drip off for about 1 minute. Touch to side of bowl to get it to release.
  • Tip – If you want to double dip two different chocolates, make certain the first chocolate is dry before you dip in the second colored chocolate.

Dip in toppings. Gently roll the berry in topping or turn it and set it in topping 4 or more times.

  • Tip – I found that “dipping” in toppings did not really work. If the chocolate is too wet, it pushed the chocolate out of shape, or left some chocolate in the toppings.

Place strawberries on parchment paper for drying.
You can store them in the refrigerator for a few days, or eat them immediately. If you put them in refrigerator, let them warm up about 30 minutes prior to eating. The chocolate is less likely to crumble off.  I was so proud of my chocolate covered strawberry “craft project” I took lots of pictures to share with you.  Enjoy.

chocolate covered strawberries 1

chocolate covered strawberries 2

chocolate covered strawberries 3 I found my inspiration on Pinterest at The Yummy Life. Thanks for giving me the courage to try this.

Printer friendly: Chocolate Covered Strawberries

 

Super Bowl Snacks – Oreo Truffle Footballs

Super Bowl Snacks – Oreo Truffle Footballs

The Super Bowl is almost here! I’m in it for the snacks and commercials, but I hear there will be a football game, too. Thankfully, we have Sarah W. back this week — she actually loves football AND knows how to make great snacks! Let’s keep her around. Last year we had Chef J share some awesome savory appetizers, so this year we’re having Sarah treat us to the ultimate sweet indulgence: Oreo Truffle Footballs! Take us to the end zone, Sarah!

In many ways, I’m a really lucky lady. I’m a total foodie, and live in Cleveland, a city where food and drink is a huge, fun deal. Just named to a bunch of travel sites’ top places to visit, it’s really exciting to be living in a city on the rise. A lot of that excitement tends to drain away when the Super Bowl rolls around, however. The Cleveland Browns haven’t won a Super Bowl since before it was even called the Super Bowl. I’m a season ticket holder with a close group of friends, so tailgating is part of my almost-weekly routine September – December (and it gets COLD here!). We fry turkeys every Thanksgiving, make chili in the snow, and practice a firm “beat what you eat” mentality (pierogies when we play Pittsburgh, fish tacos when we play Miami, chicken wings when we play Philadelphia) during the season. It’s one of my dreams to travel to playoff games and maybe, in my lifetime if I’m lucky, to the SUPER BOWL someday!

Football games are a great combination of friends, food, and drink. It’s no wonder the Super Bowl is one of the most-watched televised broadcasts each year.

The energy of cheering for your team brings a natural closeness with the people around you, and a pride in the place you come from. Seattle and New England fans have that to look forward to this year. And I’ve got the perfect, decadent snack to go along with your celebration — Oreo Truffle Footballs. With just a few ingredients, and some fiddly steps, you can serve up a themed treat for your own Super Bowl party. I got this recipe from one of my family’s closest and dearest friends — they’re a staple at any football-related party we have!

Super Bowl

Equipment:

  • food processor
  • wax paper
  • microwave-safe bowl
  • toothpicks
  • baking sheet/tray

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of Oreos (go nuts! Make peanut butter or mint-flavored truffles with flavored Oreos! I’ve used the original ones here)
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 12 oz chocolate chips
  • 3 tbsp shortening
  • 1 tube white frosting (or red, blue, and green for colored laces)

In your food processor, pulse the Oreos until they are a fine dust. My food processor is a little small, so I did this half a package at a time.

Cut your cream cheese into smallish chunks and add to food processor. Blend until you have a thick, smooth mixture. Make sure the cream cheese is completely incorporated.

Super Bowl

If you have kids who want to help, this is the perfect time — this next step is messy! This is also the moment to remove any rings you may be wearing. Working with small amounts (bigger than your thumb), roll your dough into little balls, then pinch the ends to make them football-shaped. Place them on a wax paper-lined baking sheet or tray. These don’t need to be perfect. The suggestion of a football shape is plenty. If you have an army of kids working for you, have them roll the dough into little oblong shapes and plop them down, then pinch the ends yourself.

Stick your tray(s) in the freezer to let these harden. Once they’re firm, melt the chocolate and shortening in the microwave (about 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between — my chocolate took about a minute and a half all told).

Grab a toothpick, spear a football, and dip them in the chocolate one by one. I used a second toothpick to scrape the bottoms, both to save chocolate (it goes fast!) and to neaten the appearance. If your chocolate starts to get stiff, microwave an additional 10 seconds or so. If your footballs start to get soft and hard to dip, put them back in the freezer to harden up.

Super Bowl

Let the chocolate set a bit, then grab your frosting! You can do plain white laces, or have a little fun and do red and blue or blue and green laces to show some team spirit. Keep these chilled until just before you’re ready to serve them. A great addition to any party spread!

If you happen to have a little extra Super Bowl melted chocolate when you’re done dipping footballs, I highly encourage grabbing a bag of potato chips, and dipping them. You can snack on these as you get everything ready (which I heartily endorse), or put them on a wax paper-lined tray to save for another party treat.

 

Happy Super Bowl party hosting and attending!

Not Your Ordinary Chicken Marsala

Not Your Ordinary Chicken Marsala

This week at ButcherBlockCo we have been talking all about color and texture in the kitchen. We have been tweeting the latest decorating trends and tips; sharing some of our favorite furniture to add color and texture to the heart of your home; and talking about the Pantone Color of the Year – Marsala. A fitting segue to the blog this week…a warm, earthy Chicken Marsala recipe with beautiful texture and flavor. Here is the secret…

One of my favorite go-to meals is Chicken Marsala. It’s a really hearty meal that requires relatively little prep time. My live-in chef, husband Mark, created his own version of Chicken Marsala that is so unique. The twist to this recipe is 1) use Cremini mushrooms for great texture, and 2) add Cayenne pepper for added heat and flavor. Cremini mushrooms are baby Portabello shrooms. Darker in color, these babies have a fuller, earthy flavor, and a firmer texture.

Make ordinary Chicken Marsala taste extraordinary.
Add a dash of Cayenne Pepper!

Chicken Marsala

Flour Dredge
1 cup flour
Season with black pepper, salt , and ground Cayenne

Marsala Ingredients
4 boneless Chicken Breasts, sliced into 1/2″ thick chicken cutlets
Marsala Wine
Unsalted Butter
Olive Oil
12 oz. Sliced Cremini Mushrooms
Garlic
Flour
Black Pepper
Cayenne Pepper
Salt
1/2 Cup Chicken Broth
Condensed Portobello Mushroom Soup

Directions

  1. Instead of pounding your boneless, skinless chicken breasts, slice them into 1/2″ thick cutlets. They ‘re tender and a bit juicier this way.
  2. Sauté mushrooms in a pan with 2T butter, 2T Olive Oil, garlic, and 1/4 cup Marsala wine for about 10 minutes. To add more color and texture to this recipe, sauté red onion with your mushrooms.
  3. In a separate, large skillet, heat 2T butter, 2T Olive Oil, and garlic for browning the chicken.
  4. Dredge chicken in the seasoned flour. Coat one chicken breast at a time, both sides, then place in pan. Work in batches. Cook chicken cutlets, on med-high heat, for 3 minutes, each side. Set golden brown chicken on plate to rest.
  5. Deglaze the skillet – remove from heat, add 1 cup Marsala wine, and stir to make a Marsala glaze. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth, 1 container Condensed Portobello Mushroom Soup and 1 tsp Cayenne pepper. Stir and heat to boil to make the Marsala reduction sauce.
  6. Add the golden brown chicken and sauteed mushrooms to the Marsala sauce. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Then serve.

Chicken Marsala make

Chicken Marsala prep

Chicken marsala recipe Have a secret ingredient for your extraordinary Chicken Marsala?  Let us know!

 

Waffles! Don’t Be a Square – Jump on This Hot Food Trend!

Waffles! Don’t Be a Square – Jump on This Hot Food Trend!

Waffles are pretty much the best thing ever. Which is why I’m amazed it has taken this long for everyone to jump on board the waffle train and make this breakfast delight the hottest trend in food. There is even an entire website dedicated to putting things in waffle irons and seeing what happens! Not to be left out of the trend, Chef J has created a delicious dish that puts twists on both waffles and cheesesteaks!  These are two of my favorite things, so this is your invitation to wow me, Chef!

It’s time to face the awful truth, people! Breakfast breads are breaking through the preconceived boundaries of established meal paradigms. They are — oh shoot… I should have said “waffle truth”! That would have been a great pun…  Anyway. Waffles are good for food times other than in the morning. That was the whole point of that emphatic outburst. How about waffles for dinner? Great idea! Let’s eat them with steak and cheese, and maybe some beer, too!

If you have a waffle iron gathering dust and dog hair, sitting in the back of a long-forgotten shelf, it’s time to dig it out and dust it off.

A waffle iron is one of the best appliances a kitchen can have: it has two heating elements, allowing for the revolutionary ability to cook from above and below!

It can handle any dough you can throw at it — try pizza, muffin, biscuit, cake… you get the idea. Try smashing your sandwich in a waffle iron! Use a soft bread and lots of cheese; you might just have your mind blown.

Here is one of my favorite recipes. It’s something along the lines of a Philly cheesesteak, but with a Phoenix twist.

Phoenix Cheesesteaks with Cornbread Waffles

Waffles:

  • 1½ cup flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 12 oz. milk
  • 4 oz. maple syrup
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 TBS oil

Sift dry ingredients together.
Mix in wet ingredients and stir to combine.
Cook in waffle iron.

Fixins:

  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 8 oz. grilled sirloin, flank, or similar steak; sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 red pepper, roasted and sliced
  • 4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 oz. beer
  • 1 TBS tamari
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 6 oz. jack cheese, sliced
  • 6 oz. mahone or mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • Salt & pepper

Heat oil in a large skillet.
Sauté garlic, pepper, and mushrooms until garlic browns.
Add sliced steak, 4 oz. beer, tamari, rosemary and cumin. Bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and reduce by 1/3.
Spoon the mixture over half of the waffles, top all waffles with cheese.
Broil for 2-5 minutes on high. Put the two waffles together to make a sandwich.
Dip in remaining pan juice.

Printer friendly recipe: Waffle Cheesesteak

Healthy Oils for a Healthy You!

Healthy Oils for a Healthy You!

Is one of your New Year’s Resolutions to get healthier? Instead of starting off with a huge overhaul of your lifestyle, take baby steps and slowly integrate more healthful choices in ways that won’t affect how much you enjoy your food.

One of the easiest ways to clean up your act is by switching to more healthy oils in your cooking and baking.

These changes can be virtually unnoticeable, but can have a positive impact on your health. This chart provides a simple guide to choosing the most practical and healthy oils for different uses, helping you make better choices based on your common cooking needs. Think about what types of dishes you make most often and invest in a high quality healthy oil for each of your most common needs. If you feel like getting fancy and adding in a few more, go for it! Healthy Oils

Some things to keep in mind when choosing healthy oils:

  • For salads, choose an unrefined version of pumpkin seed, safflower, flax, walnut, or hemp oil. Be sure to shop for shelf-stable or refrigerated oils.
  • Monounsaturated fats are good! These types of oils will stay liquid at room temperature and turn cloudy in the refrigerator. These are good options to use instead of margarine and shortening for baking purposes. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats and is a surprisingly delicious alternative for baked goods.
  • Polyunsaturated fats are also good and stay liquid even in the refrigerator.
  • Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and should generally be avoided.
  • Coconut oil is a great replacement for butter or other oils in dishes with strong flavors, like curries. It can also be used in baking, but keep in mind that it will impart a bit of coconut flavor to your goodies (not a problem in my book!)
  • Store all of your non-refrigerated oils in dark containers or in a cool, dark cabinet. If you like to keep your most common oils out by the stove for convenience, invest in some small ceramic bottles and only keep out what you can reasonably go through in a couple weeks. Keep them away from direct heat.
  • Don’t buy in bulk if you aren’t going to use it. While it might be tempting to bring home that very reasonably priced jug of oil from the warehouse store, if it’s going to go bad before you can use it up, you’re better off buying a smaller amount of high quality oil that you can enjoy to the very last drop.

This may seem like an overwhelming amount of information to keep straight, but you can switch to more healthy oils without a whole lot of effort. Don’t freak yourself out about using the healthiest oil every time. Some things just taste better with butter! But if you’re cutting back on butter in general, you can afford to splurge for the good stuff when you do use it. Since I mostly use coconut or olive oil for my cooking purposes, I don’t feel bad about using really high quality organic butter when I make eggs (I realize how snooty this sounds, but I promise you the difference in flavor and quality is worth it).

I only keep a few oils stocked all the time and I find my supply perfectly capable of handling just about anything. Here’s my list:

  • Virgin Coconut Oil – I use this for light sautéing when I make anything spicy or bold, like Indian and Thai dishes. Coconut oil is a great accompaniment to tropical dishes as well and I find it’s delicious for just about any type of white fish. I use it in place of vegetable oil for baking. Coconut oil makes a great lip moisturizer, too!
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – I use olive oil for most of my daily cooking. I don’t buy the fanciest, most expensive available (but feel free to buy that for me), but since I use it for dressings and drizzles, I do like to keep a nice bottle around. There is nothing quite like dipping freshly baked bread in a nice, bold olive oil! Throw a little sea salt and rosemary in there and I’m set for life!
  • Avocado Oil and/or Peanut Oil: Because of their high smoke points, these both make great options for stir fry, searing meat, and other high temperature cooking.
  • Flax Oil – I keep this around for salad dressings. Flax oil has a nice nutty flavor and lots of health benefits.  I only buy this from the refrigerated section, as it doesn’t have a very long shelf life and you just never know how long it has been sitting out at the store, or if it was kept in a hot truck or warehouse. When flax oil goes bad, you will know. Trust me.
  • Safflower Oil – This is relatively flavorless and works great in dressings with a separate star ingredient. Safflower is my go-to when I do sweet dressings like raspberry vinaigrette. Sometimes olive and flax are just too overpowering.

See? Incorporating healthy oils into your life isn’t so hard! What’s your favorite way to use healthy oils?

Ring in the New Year with Champagne Lavender Baklava

Ring in the New Year with Champagne Lavender Baklava

As the new year approaches, it is time to start planning your celebration. Thankfully we’ve got Chef J around to supply us with the perfect recipe to accompany our champagne toasts: Champagne Lavender Baklava! This beautiful and delicious dish is a great way to say goodbye to 2014 and ring in the New Year in style!

The year is almost over! Hopefully it was all that you dreamed it would be — but if not, at least you get to try again. ‘Tis the season to reflect on the ups and downs of the previous twelve months and set new goals for the new year in an effort to create a better life and a better world. But mostly it’s the time to pop some corks and scream as a giant, glittery ball drops. Whether your New Year’s celebration is going to be decked out in tuxedos and little black dresses or pajamas and fuzzy slippers, there will probably be a hefty amount of gluttony …before signing up for that gym membership that you are totally going to use this year. Viva la resolution! So before we all start writing checks that we know we can’t cash, let’s enjoy the one last day to get away with – nay, embrace –  the social acceptance of overeating and public drunkenness (besides Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, The Superbowl, Cinco de Mayo, President’s Day…)!

When I ring in the new year this season (in pajamas, of course) I will be doing so with hefty amounts of alcohol and sugar, so it’s the perfect excuse to make one of my favorite wine-based desserts.

Champagne Lavender Baklava is a delicious treat that is relatively easy to make and will surely stand out in a crowd this New Year’s Eve!

Champagne Lavender Baklava 

  • 1 package phyllo dough
  • 1½ cup sugar
  • 2 TBS lavender
  • ½ t cardamom
  • 8 oz. melted butter
  • 1½ cups finely chopped hazelnuts, toasted
  • 2 cups Champagne (or less expensive sparkling wine)

In a sauce pot mix 1 cup of sugar and the champagne and bring to a simmer.
Simmer for 15-20 minutes until syrup is thick. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a mortar and pestle, crush lavender and cardamom; throw it in a food processor with remaining cup of sugar and blend until fine.
Mix ½ cup of the sugar mixture with the hazelnuts and set aside.
In a buttered, high-sided pan or baking dish, begin layering sheets of phyllo dough and coating with melted butter.
Every two or three layers sprinkle liberally with the sugar/lavender/cardamom blend.
After using a third of the phyllo, sprinkle half of the hazelnuts on with the sugar. Do this again after using the next third of the dough.
Continue layering and sprinkling then give the top an extra coat of butter.
Cut baklava into the classic diamonds or triangles and bake at 350° for 35 – 45 minutes or until golden brown.
Pour the syrup over the hot baklava.
Let cool, loosely covered for at LEAST 24 hours.
Top with whipped cream or dip in coffee or cocoa.

Printer friendly recipe: Champagne Lavender Baklava

Cookie Swap! Impress with These Monster Cookies!

Cookie Swap! Impress with These Monster Cookies!

It’s officially Cookie Swap season! Sarah W. is back with a fantastic recipe  for Monster Cookies! Gather your friends and family for a fun night filled with sweet eats. These giant treats are perfect for a cookie swap. I’m going to keep mine all to myself, though! Teach us how to cookie, Sarah!

Cookie Swap

Are you having a good holiday season? Did you get invited to a cookie swap and just throw your arms up in the air with a big dramatic sigh because making cookies is THE WORST? Well stop worrying, and step away from the bakery section of your grocery store (although cookies made by Grandma Grocery Store are always a good backup. I have taken them out of the plastic package and put them in my own Tupperware containers to claim ownership in the past, and I am NOT ashamed).

I love to bake, truly. Stealing a swipe of batter from the beater, the whole house smells good, getting creative with a recipe and tweaking it to make it special — these are all things I love about being in the kitchen. But my lack of patience ends at the oven. My favorite things to make are cakes, brownies, bars. I am willing to spend an hour mixing things together in the right order for the right amount of time, but once that’s done, I would like to put ONE thing in the oven and be DONE.

I discovered my “cookie fatigue” moment comes when the third batch hits the oven, so this recipe is great because using two large cookie sheets at a time, it made two quick batches for me. If you check your peanut butter and mix-ins, these are also gluten-free — there’s no flour!

These Monster Cookies will impress everyone at your holiday Cookie Swap! Give them a try!

 

Ingredients (I quartered this recipe so it fits in a stand mixer – you’re welcome!):

  • 3 eggs
  • ½ lb brown sugar Cookie Swap
  • 1 c white sugar
  • ¼ tbsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ tbsp. light corn syrup
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ lb butter (1 stick)
  • ¾ lb peanut butter (approximately 1 heaping cup)
  • 4 ½ c oatmeal
  • ½ bag chocolate chips
  • ½ bag M&Ms (I used a combination of peanut butter and regular M&Ms — use your favorites!)

Yields 20-25 cookies

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Add the ingredients in order. I turned my mixer on after adding the peanut butter and mixed the ingredients well for a minute or so (Note: I made batches with both crunchy and creamy peanut butter, and the crunchy held the cookies together better.). Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl — this is a looser batter than standard cookie dough at this point.

Add the oatmeal, and make sure your mixer’s lid is locked down before you turn the mixer on. I swear these are called “Monster Cookies” because even with the lid locked, the machine bumps and moves like the dough’s trying to escape!

Add the chocolate chips and M&Ms after the oatmeal is thoroughly incorporated, and let your mixer run on low for a few minutes. Some of the M&Ms will break, and that’s ok.
Cookie Swap
Cookie Swap Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon (MONSTER cookies), space these about 6-8 per cookie sheet. The resulting cookies will be about the size of your hand. They don’t spread a great deal, so use the back of the scoop to press them down slightly. In this picture, the cookie on the bottom left is flattened “appropriately”, according to my husband, who made these with his mom every year growing up.

Bake for 12 minutes — no more, no less. Give them 2-5 minutes to cool on the cookie sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. My hand is in this picture to show the scale of these suckers.
Cookie Swap
These taste amazing warm, and are best served with a big glass of milk! Monster cookies are perfect to make with little kids because there are a lot of dry ingredients to dump in, the ice cream scoop is easier to manage than something small and fiddly, and they don’t have to be pretty. They might not be the prettiest cookies on the block, but they sure are some of the tastiest!