Archive for March, 2010

A happy bowl of greens, tomatoes, roasted asparagus, shaved parm and a sunny poached egg.

While the Lazy Cook would toss a bag of  lettuce  into a bowl and throw on some pre-shredded, low-fat cheese and call it a day, the Crazy Cook has a much more delicious idea, especially now that it’s asparagus season (yes!)  I stumbled on a version of this at Macy’s State Street 7th floor cafe and made it my own.   I love it for dinner, with a nice glass of white wine.  It’s just enough cooking on a weeknight to separate you from “work mode.”  Five basic ingredients (plus some homemade Champagne vinaigrette – easy), about 45 minutes and you have the most delightful, delicious dinner ever. 

Some parm or grana padano, an egg, lettuce, tomatoes and asparagus is all you need for this amazing salad.

Roasted asparagus, shaved parmesan or grana padano, crispy greens and – surprise! – a poached egg – make big friends in a salad bowl for an easy and delish meal!

Here’s all you do:

1) Pre-heat oven to 400F.  Meanwhile, rinse off your bunch of asparagus and snap off the ends (just bend each stalk until it snaps and chuck the tough, yucky end bit).  Line a baking sheet with that fabulous Reynold’s Wrap & Release foil and put your asparagus on it.  Drizzle on some olive oil (maybe 2 Tbls), a splash of Balsamic vinegar and some salt and pepp.  Roast for 20 minutes, then turn it with tongs and roast another 15 minutes.

Trimmed asparagus dressed in olive oil and Balsamic ready for roasting.

2) While the asparagus is roasting up, tear up your choice of greens – Romaine, butter lettuce, a little arugula, even head lettuce – whatever you like, and put into a salad bowl.  Add some sliced grape tomatoes.

3) Boil up a cup or 2 of water in a small pan or skillet.  When the asparagus is about 5 minutes away from being done, you’re ready to poach your egg.  Make sure your water is simmering, not crazy boiling.  Crack an egg into a small dish.  Now, slowly, with the bowl close to the water, slip your raw egg into the water.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the white is set.  Slip it out with a slotted spoon and just park that spoon with the egg on it, onto a paper towel, to drain a bit.

Crack one egg into a small bowl; slip it into simmering water for 2-3 minutes and voila - perfect poached egg!

4) While the egg’s poaching, get a vegetable peeler (I like the Y-shaped ones) and shave as much Parmesan or Grana Padano as you like, onto a cutting board.

5) Take your asparagus out of the oven, onto a cutting board.  Cut them in half, or thirds, whichever you like.

Pile your roasted asparagus onto a cutting board and lop it all in half - or bite-size, your choice.

5) Dress your greens and tomatoes with some tasty Champagne vinaigrette (1/2 C Olive oil, 1/4 Champagne vinager, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, salt and pepp to taste; whisk it up). 

6) Assemble!  Put the shaved Parm or Grana Padano onto the greens, top with the asparagus, and then the egg.  The creamy yolk adds a touch of richness, plus it’s just happy – a sunny yellow and white egg.  Add a nice glass of Chardonny or Viognier, maybe a fresh Albarino, and enjoy!



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It all started with a bottle of Mexican white vanilla extract that my mom brought back from, well, Mexico.  And a loaf of weeks-old homemade bread hiding in the fridge.  One indulgent, explosive thought came to me: mmmm, vanilla French toast!  So I set about it, paying more attention than I normally do to Sunday breakfast because I was so eager to try this heavenly-smelling vanilla.  And I realized this: there are four keys to the best French toast on the planet. 

1) The Bread: homemade is best, because, well, it just is.  And you can slice it as thick as you want.  And it should be slightly stale, so it has a mighty thirst to soak up all the eggy goodness.

2) Spike up that egg mixture! For one slice, I used one egg, a couple tablespoons of half-and-half, a splash of 1% milk, a dash of good, Mexican cinnamon, about a tsp of sugar and – if you can find it – clear, Mexican vanilla extract – about a tsp, maybe a touch less.  Oh, and a dash of salt (salt makes everything better – it doesn’t make it taste salty, it just heightens the flavors).

3) The Soak: You’ve got to treat your bread to a long, luxurious soak in that egg mixture.  Soak both sides in the egg mixture for a while. Like 30 minutes per side.  It comes out sort of bread pudding-ish – but not.

Thick-sliced, semi-stale homemade bread takes a Sunday morning soak in a rich, flavorful egg bath.

4) Saute and then BAKE! Yes! If you’re making good, thick French toast, you’re just not gonna get it cooked through in a frying pan.  Nope, the inside is gonna still be cool and kind of disappointing.  So, saute in a pan with some butter to get everything all golden brown and crispy and then put it on a baking sheet into a 350F oven for 10 minutes so it gets cooked all the way through and then it puffs up and gets even more golden brown and delicious!

Best French Toast on the Planet: Golden brown, crispy on the outside, tender and rich on the inside!

I like to serve syrup on the side, in a ramekin, for dipping.  And a small side of bacon, to add that crispy, smoky, salty contrast.  Get out. With a cup of coffee, the Sunday papers and a soft, comfy bed, it’s the perfect Sunday morning ritual.  Enjoy! 

To my blog partner, the Lazy Cook:  There is no whole wheat, no flax seeds, no microwaving or toasting involved here.  No, it’s real cooking, and it’s crazy good!

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It’s 6 p.m. on the first day of spring in Chicago, and it’s still snowing and the wind is still blowing at 30 mph.  But being the crazy, glass-half-full kind of gal that I am, I decided to give it a big, fat hug and make a big, luscious pot of Merguez sausage and French LePuy lentils (they’re cute little lentils and don’t need soaking).  And because I always wonder how my blog partner, the Lazy Cook (aka, the “anti-cook”) would interpret my crazy cooking efforts, I will you this: I think she’d open a can of franks and beans and call it a day.  (“Nooo!”)

So after traipsing in the snow and wind to not one but three butcher shops for Merguez sausage (a French-style lamb sausage seasoned with roasted red peppers), I set to work.  Crank up your own iPod, crack open a good bottle red and try it yourself. At least you’ll get a good meal out of a crappy weather day!

French Lentils with Merguez Sausage (adapted from Florence Fabricant)


Sausage, stock, some veg and seasonings are all you need

8 sun-dried tomatoes

1 Tbl extra virgin Olive oil

1 lb (or an eight-pack) of Merguez sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 C chopped onion (any color will work)

1/2 C chopped carrot

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp ground cumin

1.5 tsp smoked paprika

2 C of French LePuy lentils

6 C. chicken stock

Salt and pepp

3/4 C Panko bread crumbs (Japanese style, slivered, extra-crisp bread crumbs)

1 Tbl dried thyme, or 2 Tbl fresh thyme leaves

What You Do

Put sun-dried tomatoes in bowl and cover w/ boiling water to soften them.  Set them aside to get all squishy and soft.  Pre-heat oven to 300F.

Heat oil in a cast-iron casserole (one that can go into the oven) and brwon the sausage for, oh, about 15 minutes.  It’s gonna render a lot o’ fat, don’t panic – you’re getting rid of most of it.  When the sausage is all brown and delicious-looking, take it out with a slotted spoon onto a plate.  Carefully pour most of the oil out, leaving just a slick in the pan.

Merguez sausage gets all warm and brown and delicious.

Now, add your carrot, onion and garlic and stir it about til it gets soft – about 10 minutes or so.  Add the cumin and smoked paprika and about a tsp of salt and a few good grinds of pepp. Add lentils and stir, and add the sausage back in and stire. Drain your sun-dried tomatoes and mince them into slives and add those in.  Now dump in your stock.  Shove the whole lot, uncovered, into the oven for an hour, until the lentils are nice and tender.  Check for salt and pepp and re-season if you want.

When lentils are done, crank up the oven to 450.  Spread your panko- parsley mixture over the top like a nice, crunchy blanket and blast it in the oven for about 20 minutes til the crumbs are browned.  Serve with a nice, little green salad and forget that spring overslept.

A big bowl of happiness on a wintry spring day!

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Crackers for Crackers!

Crackers: you can buy ’em in a box anywhere, and yeah, some are pretty good.  And the Lazy Cook  would NEVER make crackers, but the Crazy Cook sure would and did!  Tonight – in, like, 25 minutes, I had a batch of warm, crisp, buttery Parmesan crackers.  How much fun is that?

Crispy Parmesan Crackers are SO good and SO easy!

You can whip up a batch of warm, crispy crackers in no time flat!

I got home from a looong drive home from a business meeting three-plus hours away, and a glass of wine was sounding kinda good.  But I was tired of the same ol’ shard of Parm and a few rice crackers, so  I dove into this EASY recipe for homemade Parmesan crackers.   All you do is buzz up a cup of flour, half a cup of shredded Parm (or Grana Padano), a little salt, a bit of butter and about 1/4 cup of cream or half-and-half in the ol’ Cuisinart, roll it out thin and plop it onto a Silpat thingie or parchment paper on a cookie sheet (see complete recipe on Make it Like Crazy Cook recipe tab, above) and plonk it into a 400F oven for about 15 minutes.  And – voila!  Rich, crispy,  tender, tangy crackers that you can enjoy with a little glass of wine, while you unwind a little, open your mail, make your to-do list for tomorrow or just stare out at a gorgeous blue sky to end your day.   And you can zip ’em up with anything: a sprinkle of salt, some toasted sesame seeds, — oooh – crushed rosemary would be awesome.  Fennel seeds?  Get out.  So, yes, I went crackers for crackers.   Lazy Cook’s box o’ crackers? Stand aside!

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I’m going rogue here, posting my own crazy and cute lunch today (anyone who knows me knows how much I love CUTE food!)  Last weekend, I made a Mexican Pot Roast. Why would someone do that?  Because I’d been to a Mexican supermarket and, thanks to the kindness of a young Mexican customer, I became obsessed with sopes. And Cotija cheese. And Mexican crema (a little richer than American-style sour cream.) Mr. Kind Mexican Man explained that the Mexican way to eat sopes – little cornmeal “dishes” that you fry briefly in veg oil to crisp up – is with shredded meat, Cotija and crema.  There was only one thing to do: get my shred on with a chuck roast and spice it up, Mexican-style.

Zest it up with cumin, chipotles, Yucatan spices and tomatoes

See recipe under Make it Like Crazy Cook – this was seriously delish!  But then you have to go through a little bit of crazy prep to pull it all together.

You need at least 8 items for the perfect cute sopes

After you shred your spicy pot roast, pull out almost everything in your refrigerator: your Cotija cheese (finely grated Mexican white cheese), your crema, some tomatoes, lettuce, an avocado and ok, a can of refried black beans (I didn’t have time to be crazy and make my own frijoles negro refritos).  And your sopes, of course.  then you just fry up your sopes in a bit (a Tbl is plenty) of veg oil to get it crispy (5 minutes or so) and fill it with your meat, top with some Cotija, a dollop of crema, sliced avocado, some tomatoes – whatever you want.  You can make them with just beans, too – they’re a blank canvas! 

Sopes are little corn meal "plates" filled with shredded meat and other good stuff!

The result is a spicy, crispy hot/cold Mexican mind-blower of a meal.  And it’s fun to make (if you’re crazy and in the mood to practically empty your fridge every time you want to make some.)  Ole!

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We decided to pay one final tribute to Winter (only 11 days til Spring officially arrives!) with our two VERY different Winter favorites.  The Lazy Cook’s recipe involves a squash and a microwave (freaking me out for sure, as I envisioned a giant squash bomb exploding out of the microwave, across my kitchen), while I, the Crazy Cook, went with big, fluffy white mounds of homemade marshmallow rolled in flaky coconut — representing pristine drifts of pure winter snow.  So really, you get your vegetables and your dessert all in one little video!  Enjoy.  

Coconut Marshmallow

Butternut Squash - microwaved!

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For a change of pace, we decided to bring the cameras to our office chili cook-off  on Feb. 15 and share the sizzling good times with all!  And talk about sizzle – I am telling you, Mr. Drew Ferguson’s “Satan’s Chamberpot” chili is one hot bowl of red.  (Yet, I couldn’t stop eating it.)  He used the infamous Bhut Jolokia, or Ghost Pepper, from India, which was recently ranked THE HOTTEST IN THE WORLD.  We hope you are inspired to make your own batch of chili, as you can pretty much bank on March for being, well, pretty damn chilly!

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