Sunday, August 29, 2010

Twirl It Up

So if the whole teaching thing doesn't work out...

Or the whole acting thing...

Or the Next Food Network Star thing...

Or the Being Famous Just For Being Fabulous thing...

J and I will start our catering company.

I will call it Twirl.

Here is some of our handy work from tonight's Dash and Dine event.

Very Dramatique, no?
The Spread.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Shameless Plug

We interrupt our fascinating "Chicken Bonanza" series for this important, late-breaking news.

If'n you are in the Memphis area, like food, and want to support a fantastic theatre company (of which J is the Artistic Director), the check out Voices of the South's Dash and Dine event this Saturday 8/28.  Live music, amazing silent auction items, a groovy Backbeat Bus Tour, and an amazing spread of Southern inspired creations (a few of which will be prepared by yours truly, The Improvised Chef).  

Check out the menu! 

Kale and Mango Salad with honey vinaigrette

Blue Cheese Walnut Terrine with dried fruits

Homemade Pimento Cheese and baguette

Watermelon and Cucumber salad

Roasted Potato Salad with bacon

Black-eyed Pea Hummus with pita *IC creation

Mixed Bean and Corn Salad
with queso fresco and lime vinaigrette

Award-winning Memphis Barbeque on Rosemary Biscuits
with assorted condiments and pickled relishes *IC BBQ Sauce

Barbequed Gravlox with fresh peaches *IC creation

Homemade Strawberry Cake

Homemade Chess Squares

Featured Beverages include

Homemade Lemonade
Summer White Wine Sangria

So eat, drink, and be merry (or Mary as the case may be).  It's good and good for you (and tax deductible)!

For more information, check out their website.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Day 3: Lunch with GLOBO

I hear horror stories of working with absolutely insufferable people.  Fortunately, I work in an extremely collegial environment with folks who genuinely make me laugh and want to be a better teacher and person.

Such is the case with A, L, B, and A or, as I like to refer to them, GLOBO:  the Glamorous Ladies of the Business Office.

These ladies are good ol' Southern gals who occupy a tiny corner of the campus far, far away from my room.  In this magical place of business daring do, they deal with mysterious things like numbers and math all day and generally ensure the school keeps on keepin' on.  They are a delightful group of people who tend to travel in a pack and collectively have sunny and cheery dispositions.  Case in point:  they let me call them GLOBO without punching me in the throat.  Now that's sunny.

I enjoy having lunch with them because, for all of us, it's taking a trip somewhere strange.  For me it's interacting with business minded people.  For them, I assume, it's dealing with...well...the strange.  After all, if you whittle it down to its bare essence, I teach teens how to play make believe in front of people.

And I 'm a total spaz.

So we strike up conversations about bowling and Italy, the crazy antics of students and, of course, food laughing and spending our lunch (half) hour with lively chatter and good friends.  A couple of them even follow this blog (Hi, B and A!).  One of GLOBO, who has proclaimed that she "refuses to work with strange produce," has said that because of my blog she would even try jicama.

So, ladies, thanks for the sparkling conversation and company, and enjoy your jicama!

Spicy Slaw Wrap

Spicy Slaw with Jicama (see Feeling Famous)
1 perfectly cooked chicken breast
1 Sun Dried Tomato Flatout Flatbread

Slap on the slaw.  Lay down some sliced chicken.  Roll it up, and chow down!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day 2: Spinach Love

The salad days of summer are over for this teacher and foodie.

Those bygone days of languishing in the kitchen, concocting delicious creations for friends and family are through.  Now is the time of angst, drama, homework, and stress.

And the kids have issues, too.

So my salad days have now turned into salads for lunch, simply because I have figured out the administration's evil plot to fatten up the faculty with donuts, cookies, and cakes:  one cannot make a break for it if one is schlepping around considerable heft.

Today I offer up a delightful spinach and arugula salad with chicken.  It satisfies and keeps you spry if, in the words of Ally Sheedy, "you gotta jam."


Spinach and Arugula Salad

ummm...let's see...

1 delicious chicken breast
some sliced red onion
a few pistachios
some dried pomegranates
crumbled blue cheese
Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette, recipe follows

Dump all of that goodness into a Tupperware container, and toss with the dressing when it's chow time.

Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette

2 Tbl Dijon mustard
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried basil
pinch of crushed red pepper
3/4 cup olive oil

Combine mustard, vinegar, basil, red pepper, salt, and pepper in a bowl.  While whisking, slowly drizzle in oil.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Day 1: I Love Aarti

As stated earlier, I want to be the next Next Food Network Star.

In the meantime, I am truly thankful that our gal Aarti Sequeira has joined the ranks of the culinary superstars.  Or at least, the ranks of the televised superstars.  Aside from the fact that she makes Indian food sound safe and easy and that she is so gosh darn ah-dor-ah-blay you just want to slap on a sari and chow down on some palak paneer with her, she, like your dear Improvised Chef, is a fellow Northwestern Wildcat.  What's not to love?!

And you would be stupid not to try her Massaged Kale Salad from the debut episode of Aarti Party.  Super easy to make, this simple salad of kale and mangoes is full of flavor and simply screams out summertime goodness.  It's so tasty in fact that I turned my regular batch into a double as soon as I tasted it, serving it with last night's grilled salmon.  The remainder became my lunch with the addition of the grilled chicken.

I apologize for no food photo.  I got so excited about lunch that I forgot to take one.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Spice Up Your Life

One of the easiest ways to add a little flavah to your food is using infused oils.  They are simple to make and have roughly a gazillion uses.  Once you get the method down, have fun experimenting with different flavor infusions.  I make them as gifts during the holidays:  when one is low on resources one must be high in creativity and heart.

Chili Oil

I use a wine bottle to store the oil.  Pour oil into the wine bottle and then add it to the pan to ensure you have the right amount.

Olive Oil
2 Tbl crushed red pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper

In a large skillet over low heat, warm up oil, red peppers, and cayenne for roughly ten minutes.  Do not let it boil.  Allow to cool completely and funnel into a cruet or wine bottle.

A Teacher Prepares by Scottislavski

Stanislavski says "An Actor Prepares."

The Boy Scouts say "Be prepared."

And, Lettuce Entertain You, the restaurant conglomerate in Chicago tells its servers, "Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance."

Well, the same holds true for teachers...and their daily lunches.

When one thinks of cafeteria food, visions of rotund, ashen-faced, hairnet-clad ladies donning grey uniforms and white aprons scooping out globs of mystery substances onto sectioned trays dance in one's head.  Fortunately, this is not the case at my school.  These unsung heroes of culinary and nutritional fortitude are a vital part of our school community and genuinely enjoy working with our students.  Daily, they offer up a wide variety of choices of entrees with a wink and a smile.

That being said, like many institutions facing the challenge of feeding 600 plus people daily, they rely on a food service which provide many items semi-prepared or in ginormous bulk quantities.  They also have to stay within a budget.  It's fun to watch the progression of food throughout the week.  Inevitably Monday's grilled cheese sandwiches become Wednesday's croutons on the salad bar.  In college, I had to suffer through the strange journey from Sausage and Pepper Hoagies to Sausage Pizza Soup.

No offense to the Lunch Ladies, but in order to stay true to my creed, "Food is not Feed,"  I bring my lunch to school each day. This is wear the Scouts, Stanislavski, and Rich Melman come into play.

Each Sunday I set aside a couple of hours to do some prep work for the week, so that, when I finally return home from work 8:00, I am able to put together a tasty lunch that doesn't come out of a box or off a truck.  The menu changes weekly.  I usually make a dressing or two, or perhaps I'll make a pesto.  I may grill and marinate some veggies or make homemade beet chips as a slightly healthier option for my love of potato chips. But I always prepare chicken breasts to use throughout the week.

This week I will show you how to transform your regular ol' chicken breasts into tasty, mostly healthy lunches.

The Perfect Chicken Breast

8 chicken cutlets
Chili oil (recipe follows)
A boatload of paprika

Heat oven to 400.  Drizzle chicken cutlets with oil and season with salt, pepper, and paprika.  Turn those suckers red!  Heat two oven safe skillets (I use a cast iron skillet and a grill pan) over medium high heat.  Once hot, place chicken seasoned side down. While chicken sears, generously season the other side.  After five minutes, flip chicken and transfer to the oven.  Roast in oven for 13 minutes.

Allow to cool and place in a container and refrigerate.

You now have chicken for the week.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Food for the Road Weary

So here is how I did it.

Vietnamese Frittata

2 eggs
yo' left over rice noodles
4 green onions, chopped into 1/2" slices
1 tsp wasabi paste
salt and pepper

In a large bowl, beat eggs and wasabi paste together.  Add onions and noodles.  Combine ingredients well.  Heat 1 Tbl olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add noodle mixture and mush around until flat.  Yes...that is the technical term.  Mush it.  Cook for about 4 minutes until brown.  Carefully flip frittata (or grab another skillet of roughly the same size and turn out frittata).  Cook for an additional 2 minutes.  Serve with spinach tossed with a dressing of 2 parts hoisin sauce to one part red wine vinegar.

Please forgive my appearance.  It has been my last week of summer vacation, and I refused to shave.  Plus, how hot do you look after traveling for 18 hours?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A brief respite

Dear friends,

Ye olde IC is headed to Scotland for a week, and I'm not quite sure if the posts will be coming as fast and furious.

But fear not!  I will be back soon to regale you with tales of meat and potato stuffed sheep guts and just what exactly is in "brown sauce."

What should I try while I'm there?

When one has a few hours to kill in Newark, one plays with oneself.  Wait!  That's not what I meant!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Looks Like Christmas, Tastes Like Summer

I very rarely get so excited by something that I cannot stop thinking about it.

Okay...that's a total lie.  Quite frequently I become obsessed with something I tend to annoy the hell out of everyone around me.

There was that video by Florence + The Machine with the blue go-go girls and Florence herself looking so totally BA that I dressed my high school aged Titania in the same hot pants, flowy white dress situation for my production of Midsummer.  There was that brief yet all-encompassing love affair with that tickle kitty on YouTube I kept showing my classes.  And how can I ever forget that glorious time during the mid-90s where every thought was of Ricky.

And is pickled onions.

Yes, those tasty little treats I made as gifts for my mother and sister have taken hold of my brain.  I think of them constantly, and I have made them twice already this week.  The benefit of making a gift of food is that, inevitably, you are the lucky beneficiary who gets to make short work of the presents.  The ginger blueberry preserves were fantastic, and the strawberry rhubarb jam is awesome on toast.  But the big hit in my mind were those gorgeously neon pink, pickled onions.  Tart yet slightly sweet they make the perfect addition to green beans which works beautifully as a salad for a red wine marinated flank steak.  The colors look like Christmas, but the bright, fresh flavor is pure summertime love.

Give them a try, and I promise you won't be able to get them out of your head.

Pickled Red Onions

If you are planning on eating them as quickly as I do, there isn't need to sterilize the jar.  If you are gonna keep them around for a while, sterilize the jars and process the onions by placing them in simmering water, almost to the lid, for ten minutes.

1 red onion, sliced into rings
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp allspice
5 whole cloves
3 tsp sugar
1 tsp honey
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 dried chilies

In a small sauce pot, bring vinegars, spices, sugar, and honey to a boil.  Reduce heat, add onion, and simmer for five minutes.  Allow to cool.  Place onions in jars and cover with vinegar mixture.  Refrigerate before serving.

Green Bean and Onion Salad

1 lb green beans, trimmed
2 oz fresh dill
Yo' Pickled Onions
drizzle of olive oil

In a large sauce pan, bring...oh let's say...3 cups of water to a boil.  Toss is the green beans for about 3 minutes, until they are a vibrant green.  Plunge beans immediately into ice water to shock.

In a bowl, combine cooled beans, dill and onions with a drizzle of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Easy, peasy, cool breezey.

Wine Marinated Flank Steak

1 2lb flank steak
1/2 cup red zinfandel
3/4 cup canola oil
3 garlic cloves, smashed buy intact
1 Tbl toasted cumin seeds, coarsely ground
2 Tbl soy sauce
Juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp fresh ground pepper

Combine marinade ingredients and...umm...marinate the steak.  (at least 2 hours in fridge)  Remove steak from marinade and pat dry.  For medium rare, grill steaks for 10 minutes on one side, flip, and grill an additional 5 minutes.  Allow to rest before slicing that delicousness up.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Adventures in the STL (The Final Chapter): Shrimp Smackdown

I come from an extremely competitive family.  In fact, everything is a competition.  And none of us like to lose. A board game with my family is an ulcer inducing event usually ending in one party shedding bitter tears of frustrated defeat, hurt feelings, and another round from the bar.

I'm not sure exactly why we are like this.  Perhaps we were all collectively dropped on our heads.  Perhaps mom didn't hug us enough.  Perhaps we are still processing being shoved into the bottom of a sleeping bag and carried around the house by one's brother like a parcel in Santa's bag and the residual emotional trauma now manifests itself in heart-racing panic attacks brought on by small, confining spaces, flashing red lights, and/or the smell of green apple bubble gum.

But I digress.

So, as we gathered in St. Louis to celebrate the 9,000 July birthdays in my family, it came as no surprise when another opportunity to crush the familial opposition arose.

My brother, K, made a birthday request for the bacon wrapped shrimp I had made a couple of Christmases ago.  The problem was, in true Improvised Chef fashion, I made up the recipe and never wrote it down.

"Umm...sure.  Do you remember what was in it?"  Attempting to save face, I chimed in with, "I could make some Buffalo Shrimp instead."

Unbeknown'st to me, K and his girlfriend (and major pot-stirrer in the best possible way) G kept a close eye on me that particular yuletide season and remembered the recipe, making their own adjustments to make it their own.

"I know," G chimed in, using the devilishly sweet tones reserved exclusively for one with mischief on the mind.  "Why don't you make yours, K will make ours, and we will have a cook off!"
K, G (the Innocent Bystander), and yours truly. 

And the birthday meal transformed into Battlefield Shrimp.

The grill was otherwise occupied so I roasted these bad lads.
Grilled Buffalo Shrimp

So simple.  So tasty.  Serve with celery stalks and Blue Cheese dip (recipe follows)

1 lb 21-23 count shrimp
1 cup hot sauce
1 Tbl butter

Heat up ye olde grill pan, and clean yo' shrimp (leaving tails intact).  Place those babies on the hot grill pan - 2 minutes on one side, flip 'em, and cook for one more minute.  Place in a bowl.

In a small saucepan, heat hot sauce and butter, until melted.  Pour over grilled shrimp and toss.  Serve hot or at room temp.

Blue Cheese Dip

2 oz blue cheese
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 green onions, finely chopped (white and green)
1 Tbl horseradish
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper

Throw that in a bowl, and mix.  Vi-Oh-Lay!  You have dip!

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp

This is best served with a side of defibrillator.

1 lb. 21-23 count shrimp
1 lb thick cut bacon
4 oz cream cheese (room temp)
2 oz goat cheese (room temp)
1 small shallot, chopped
1 tsp cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 400.  Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet and lay slices of bacon on rack.  Cook in the oven until almost done (about 10 minutes).  Remove from oven, place on paper towel to cool.

While bacon cooks, combine cheeses, shallots, and pepper in a bowl and set aside.  Clean and peel shrimp leaving tail intact.  Butterfly the shrimp by making a small cut along the backside of the shrimp.
Spoon a small amount of the cheese mixture into the incision and wrap with bacon.  Secure with a skewer or toothpick.  Place wrapped shrimp on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast in oven until shrimp is fully cooked (about 8-10 minutes).

So bad for you.

I totally win.

By the by, since these are both basically my recipes and this is my blog, I totally won the Shrimp Smackdown.  Suck it, K!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Adventures in the STL (part 2): Ted Drewe's

God exists, and makes Himself known in small and wonderful ways:

in the laughter of a baby,

in the promise of a rainbow,

 and in the form of delicious frozen dairy treats provided by Ted Drewes.
Attractive, no?  But all vanity goes out the window once you step away from their window.

Ted Drewes Fozen Custard is a miracle.  Like Soulard, it has been around for eons.  It's a small, free-standing building (well actually a couple of buildings now) that serves up the most incredible concoction that is the embodiment of all things summer:  The Concrete, a shake made from frozen custard that is so thick you can turn it upside down and nothing comes out, even in the middle of a hot St. Louis August day.  It comes in a variety of flavors ranging from chocolate marshmallow to peaches to, my personal fave, abaco mocha.  This stuff is soooo good, I can even overlook the fact that they have a concrete called the Frisco because it's full of fruits.  (This is the actual explanation you will get if you ask about the name).

Slightly homophobically named treats aside, if you are any where near STL in the summer and you don't are a stupid person undeserving of love.

Or you are lactose intolerant.

Notice how Father Beth is wasting no time to get in line.

Adventures in the STL (part 1): Soulard

Me and (one of) the Birthday Girl(s).

I never really appreciated St. Louis until I moved away from there.

I grew up, like many folks I suppose, in a suburb of a metropolitan area chock full of minivans and pleasant sounding street names.  It was the ‘80s:  HBO was new to the neighborhood, Duran Duran posters covered my wall, and summers were filled with going to the mall or wearing out my season pass to Six Flags.  In fact, my mom still lives in the house that I called home from kindergarten through my senior year of high school.

And all I ever talked about was getting out of the STL. 

A view of the market.
It wasn’t until I returned home to celebrate my mom’s (gulp) 70th birthday with J that I truly gained an appreciation for the city.  We spent the weekend dining in outdoor cafés in the Central West End, touring through Forest Park (home of the 1904 World’s Fair), hitting up the new Museum of Modern Art, and paying a visit to the amazing Soulard Farmers' Market.  If I recall correctly, that particular visit yielded a birthday dinner featuring fresh asparagus, bright red cherries and a particularly tasty grilled plum salsa served over salmon.

Soulard has been around for eons it seems and is a St. Louis tradition.  Open Wednesday through Saturday, it’s open air stalls are filled with merchants and local farmers selling their wares and freshly grown produce, herbs, and flowers.  It is a veritable paradise for Locavores:  those who attempt to eat exclusively from products grown locally.

Father B and niece, T
 I have returned to St. Louis for yet another round of birthdays and my (bigger gulp) 20th high school reunion, and this morning, accompanied by Mom, Father Beth, and my niece, I made another trip to that Old Faithful of Marketplaces.

T, P Dizzle, and Father B with birthday flowers.

If you find yourself visiting the Gateway to the West and are fortunate enough to have a kitchen at your disposal, I highly recommend paying a visit.  The sights, food, and smells will not disappoint.

Homemade pasta from Fazio's Bakery and Pasta.  J, I'm bring home some spicy red pepper linguine!

You can even buy glass that make you look and feel like an Italian model.

Incense that smells like...whuck?