Friday, May 25, 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

We Can Pickle That!

While I'm not quite as extreme about pickling, I do like my fair share of pickled products. Pickling is the process of preserving food by anaerobic fermentation in brine to produce lactic acid or marinating and storing it in an acid solution, such as vinegar.  I love about anything pickled, especially pickled garlic cloves.  But most dear to my heart is my grandmother's pickled eggs, or red beet eggs.

Red beet eggs originate from the Pennsylvania Dutch. I was unable to find any further information on their origins; perhaps pickled eggs were simply a norm of the culture and no one bothered to note the eggs' origins. Beets were commonly used as a dye in colonial times; beet dye was used for making pink frosting and pink pancakes. I've also heard that red beet eggs can also be called Easter eggs and symbolize the crucifixion, as the dye represents the blood of Christ. However, since this information likely came from a Sunday school teacher of mine, I'll take that information with a grain of salt.

Since the historical origins of pickled eggs is rather cloudy, I would rather consider the importance that the recipe has for my family. My grandmother has the Willis knack for making great food without even glancing at a recipe. She can whisk together Thanksgiving dinner without even peeking into her recipe card box, instead she relies on her sense of smell and taste to figure out the correct ingredients. Pickled eggs are simply a side dish to larger meals. These pink-purple dyed eggs occupy the same tray as the olives and pickles, but for me, the pickled eggs let me know that I am with family. I've never had pickled eggs anywhere else.

Sadly, unlike my grandmother's  wondrous works in the kitchen, I botched up my batch of pickled eggs. They weren't quite pickled enough, but I hope the class enjoyed them as much as they could.

Strawberry Daiquiris

For my presentation, I chose my father’s strawberry daiquiri recipe.  We have these at family gatherings especially graduation parties.  If you’re going to a Tarlton party, the alcohol will be flowing (with bags of daiquiris stuffed in the freezer ready to go).  My dad first made daiquiris because my mother liked them.  My friend joked they should be called “baby maker daiquiris”.  I have four siblings if that gives you any idea how tasty they are.  Throughout the years, my father has perfected his recipe and methods to make the best daiquiri.  His ideal strawberry daiquiri is just a drunk strawberry.  They’re too sweet for some people but my family loves them.  That’s how we do it.
Before they made their way into my dad’s hands, daiquiris originated in Cuba and the basic recipe is made of rum, lemon or lime juice, sugar and ice.  Naval officers brought over the recipe to the United States in the early 1900s.  Later, with the help of President Roosevelt’s foreign policy, rum sailed its way easily over here and daiquiris became popular among the masses.  Isn’t it nice what presidents can do for our country?
For today, I followed my dad’s recipe below with a few adjustments.  I rinsed and took the tops of the strawberries with a straw.  It’s something I saw on Pinterest; my dad would just use a knife and think I’m ridiculous.  You freeze the strawberries then so that you can use less ice but still keep the beverage frozen.  If you use less ice, it won’t be watery and have a higher alcohol concentrate.  This is obviously desirable (at least for our family).   The  frozen Bacardi Mixer is the best one to use because the liquid mixers are very gel-like.  My daiquiris’ consistency was a bit off today because I used a bottle mixer.  Add the rum and sugar then blend.  I used dark rum because we had some and used more sugar since the strawberries weren’t very sweet this time.  Mine today tasted fine but weren’t as good as my dad’s. With our unspoken class decision to all drink heavily the night before, everyone was hair of the dogging it today.  Therefore, they thought the daiquiris were good which is all that matters. 

Poppa Ron’s Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri
1 pound of fresh strawberries frozen or frozen strawberries
1 can of Barcardi Frozen Daiquiri mix
1 can/ 12 ounces of rum (your preference)
1 -1.5 tablespoons of sugar (add more or less to taste)
Ice (enough to fill up the blender)
Put the frozen strawberries and frozen daiquiri mix in the blender.  Then fill can with rum and pour into the blender.  Add sugar to taste and enough ice to fill the blender.  Blend until desired consistency.  If you’re feeling fancy, you can rim the cup with sugar.  Enjoy with family and friends. 

You're Making What?

Through food presentations this week, class became more personal.  The three days of presentations may have been my favorite part of the month.  There was no overlap or fighting over dishes.  Everyone, in unique fashion, knew what to make and was confident that it would stand out.  We were all good sports and approached our plates with open minds, eager to try new things.  In sharing our recipes, we shared fundamental aspects of ourselves. 

To me, Benedictine is the essential food of Louisvillians.  This is not necessarily because everyone eats it, but because it has different roots for all.  For some, it is that obnoxious green store-bought spread that contains a color that should only be found in a Pantone formula guide.  For others, it is the essence of pride and recipe tradition, served at family gatherings, and especially that Derby get together that can’t be missed. 

I like its simplicity and refreshing nature.  I like that it is one of the few dishes I make that doesn’t completely transform the ingredients into another entity or seek to boast a set of well-practiced skills.  I like that seemingly every Louisville native has a different take on it: different ingredients, different aesthetics, and different ways of serving it up.  It can almost make one feel special when encountering people from another place.  I’ll explain the concept of Benedictine and watch noses shrivel in disgust.  But I’ll laugh.  I’m pushy.  You will most certainly try my take on it.  Who doesn’t love tiny sandwiches?


1 8oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 3oz. package cream cheese, softened
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp. chopped green onion
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper
1 cup peeled, seeded, and grated cucumber

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.  Drain grated cucumber on paper towels, gently squeezing out excess moisture.  Fold into cream cheese mixture.  Cut bread into desired shapes.  Spread bread shapes with filling and garnish with cucumber wedges or fresh dill if desired.

On a parting note, don’t feel pressured in any way by this recipe.  Add to it.  Remove what you don’t like.  Serve it however you want.  Make it your own.  Start your own tradition.


My great aunts Nory and Louise first taught me to make baklava.  They're full blood Albanian and have shown my brother, sister, and I little tidbits of Albanian culture throughout our lives.  Besides random phrases like "go to bed," "shit," and "I'm going to Chicago for the Albanian convention," baklava is the only other Albanian technique I have under my sleeve.
   If you aren't familiar with baklava, it is a (very) sweet dessert made out of thin dough called filo, as well as butter, walnuts, and syrup.  My aunt insists that I cut the baklava into diamonds because she claims that the word "baklava" means diamond in Turkish.  Besides Albania and Turkey, Greece also tends to have baklava.  Depending on the geographical location, there are different variations.  Some people use almonds, some use pistachios.  Some people use honey, and some use a simple syrup.  
   Here is the recipe my family uses...

1lb. melted butter
1lb. finely chopped walnuts
1pkg filo
lemon juice
Preheat oven to 375.
Unwrap filo and cover with slightly damp towel.
Butter jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with sides).
Place 3 layers of filo on pan with butter brushed between each layer. Sprinkle with some
walnuts.  Then two layers of filo (butter between each one and on top), then nuts, two more
buttered layers, walnuts and continue til walnuts are gone or there are 3 layers of filo left.
Finish off with the last three buttered layers of dough(no nuts between).Trim edges of dough to neaten. 
Cut into diamonds.  Cook at 375 until golden @ 1/2 hour.  Cool.
Cook 2 Cups sugar and 1 Cup water until syrupy.  Add a small ammt. of lemon juice when boiling.
Pour over baklava.

P.S. Albania is next to Greece.  You will notice our stereotype of robbers and human traffickers in movies such as Taken (so rude!).  We are also known to have a sort of ambiguous race- my dad has been called Italian, Mexican,  and Greek.  My brother has been stopped and searched at the airport way too many times.  

Here is my Albanian side of the family! 

Dad and brother

Brother and sister and Albanian cousins

Louise and I (note the bunny ears)

Eleanor and Herestia (aka Nory and Louise)

Cajun Chicken Pasta

This week was full of foods that not only tasted amazing but also gave us a glimpse into the personalities and childhoods of our classmates.  The dish I decided to prepare was a Cajun chicken pasta.  It is a dish that I fell in love with during the summer I learned how to cook.  It is the reason I now enjoy eating onions and peppers (which I wouldn't touch beforehand).  It was nice to be able to spend this week sharing food and memories with classmates and professors.  It made me think about the stories I've heard professors tell about the days at Hanover that students would get together with their professors for dinner and bond over these occasions.  I now understand just how close these experiences can make a campus community and I hope in the future such gatherings will happen again.

Cajun Chicken Pasta (shrimp optional)

·         1/2 teaspoon white pepper                                                    1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
·         1 1/2 teaspoons salt                                                 1/2 teaspoon paprika
·         1/4 teaspoon garlic powder                          boneless skinless chicken breasts (halved)
·         1/2 lb large shrimp (peeled and deveined)       5 quarts water
·         6 ounces fettuccine                                     6 ounces spinach fettuccine
·         2 tablespoons olive oil                                             2 medium chopped tomatoes
·         1 sliced green bell pepper                            1 sliced red bell pepper
·         1 sliced yellow bell pepper                           1 medium onion, sliced
·         1 1/2 cups chicken stock                             1 tablespoon arrowrood
·         2 tablespoons white wine                             2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
·         1/4 teaspoon onion powder

      Slice the chicken into small pieces, slice the onion and peppers into thin slices, and dice the tomato.  Mix the spices together into a cajun seasoning and spread equally over the chicken and vegetables.  Add 1 tbsp of oil to a large frying pan and heat on high.  Saute the chicken for about 2 minutes per side until it begins to brown and then remove the chicken and place it aside.  Add the remaining oil to the pan and saute the vegetables for 10 minutes until they are dark.  Meanwhile, heat the water for the pasta (adding salt and oil) and once hot cook the pasta until desired tenderness.  Add the chicken back to the pan with the vegetables and add 3/4 cup of chicken stock, cook until nearly nothing remains in the pan.  Add the remaining 3/4 cup making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan and let reduce slightly.  Turn the heat to low and add 1 tbsp of arrowroot mixed with 2 tbsp white white and allow to thicken.  Add the pasta to the chicken and vegetables, covering the pasta with the sauce.  Remove, serve, and enjoy!

Mini Cheesecake!

This week in class was the week of presentations, there were six groups and each group had to make one dish from each person.  I made mini cheesecakes, and if I do say so myself they were pretty good, right along with all of the other dishes that we had. 
The recipe for the cheesecake is pretty simple just 2 oz. packages of cream cheese, ¾ cups of sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 2 eggs.  Blend the cream cheese and the sugar together until smooth then add the eggs and vanilla then mix together.  After that just preheat the oven to 350 and place the cheesecake into a muffin pan on top of vanilla wafers (for the crust) and bake for 15 min or until golden brown. 
It’s a pretty simple recipe and if you make it with mini cupcake holders can make as many as 60 cakes.  It was a fun experience making it because I was at one of my professor’s house, which was fun, though I did have to get there early to make everything.  The first obstacle I ran into was that I hadn’t softened the cream cheese, so I was trying to blend it with the sugar and it really wasn’t working.  I finally had to just pop it in the microwave for about 30 seconds, though I think it would have been fine with just 15.  After that the ingredients mixed very nicely.  The next thing that kind of had me nervous was that I used farm fresh eggs so the color was a bit more yellow than white, which kept making me think it should have had lemon in it, put everything turned out just fine.  Most of the cakes were just plain cheesecake but a few I added chocolate chips too to add some variety.  I also supplied some cherry pie filling to put on top of the cakes as a “special” topping. Over all I think everything worked out very well, even through the anxiety moments.
These aren't mine but they give the general idea.!

Spanish Tortilla

This week for class I made the Spanish tortilla, which is one of my favorite dishes.  After having it many times last summer, I have been wanting to re-create it, and I was finally able to (kind of).  One of my favorite things about the tortilla is that everyone makes it differently:  sometimes thick, sometimes thin, sometimes with onions, sometimes with meat, or whatever's around the house really.  So, it didn't surprise me that my tortilla didn't turn out exactly how the ones I ate in Spain did.  However, if I do say so myself, it was pretty good.  I was pretty impressed with how it turned out.  I think one of the things that helped was that I followed the example of my family in Spain and used quite a lot of olive oil.  It helped it not stick when I flipped it (which was already challenging enough).  Below is the recipe to try!  It is very simple, but turns out delicious!

La Tortilla de patatas (Spanish Tortilla)
  • 1/2 pint of olive oil
  •  5 medium (40 oz each) baking potatoes, peeled, sliced and lightly sprinkled with salt
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 5 eggs
  • Salt
Heat the olive oil in a 9-inch skillet and add the potato slices carefully, because the salt will make the oil splatter. Try to keep the potato slices separated so they will not stick together. Cook, turning occasionally, over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the onions and cook until the potatoes are tender. Drain into a colander, leaving about 3 tablespoons of oil in the skillet.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the eggs with a pinch of salt. Add the potatoes, and stir to coat with the egg. Add the egg-coated potatoes to the very hot oil in the skillet, spreading them evenly to completely cover the base of the skillet. Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook, shaking the pan frequently, until mixture is half set.
Use a plate to cover the skillet and invert the omelette away from the hand holding the plate (so as not to burn your hand with any escaping oil). Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan and slide the omelette back into the skillet on its uncooked side. Cook until completely set. Allow the omelette to cool, and then cut it into wedges. Season it with salt and sprinkle with lemon juice to taste (optional).
Serve warm or at room temperature.


Food makes me happy. The smile and the (positive) comments on a dish you made is one of the most rewarding feelings. That feeling when you create something from nothing. You create something that makes people happy by combining things. It is an amazing feeling. (especially if you are good at it).
But let’s talk a little bit about the dishes I made for the last pretty epic day of class. I decided to make dishes that reminded me of my childhood, and what else could I make but some pasta. I know its pretty cliché for an Italian to make pasta, but there is a reason why it’s a cliche.

The first pasta I made, the one on the right, is a pesto sauce with cherry tomatoes. This has been my favorite pasta since I was a kid, and my grandma still makes it every time I go to her house. Traditionally tomatoes are not part of the recipe, but it is a nice variation that has a good contrast between the flavors. The name "pesto" derives from the preparation of the sauce with a pestel and mortar, both very laborious and time consuming. In Italian slang “pesto” means “beating up”, and in the traditional way (with the mortar) you actually beat up the basil!

Here’s how you make pesto:
3 cloves garlic
2 cups fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons pine nuts (pignolia)
1 dash salt and pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese grated
Add the garlic to the food processor and mince. Next, add the basil leaves, pine nuts, and a dash of salt and pepper to the bowl. While the processor is running, slowly drizzle in olive oil through the feed tube until all the ingredients are pureed.
You may need to stop the processor at this point and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula to get every mixed together. Now add Parmesan cheese and mix it into the rest of the mixture. If the pesto is too thick, add a tablespoon of water. My variation then  is with 10 cherry tomatoes, but you can add whatever you wish, creativity is key in cooking.

The second pasta, the one on the left, is a tomato and tuna sauce, even more important to my family. When my mother passed away this pasta was the main dish that my father would make, cause it is easy enough to make and has enough ingredients to feed in one dish all the kids of the family. My variation is with a LOT of red pepper and it is supposed to help your sinus. There is no real recipe for this pasta and the real key is to add whatever you want to the tomato sauce, tuna is used cause is probably the cheapest and most available, but you can use whatever fish you wish.
Yeah fine, I know that this second dish is not very methodical, but this how I learned to cook. Cooking is an art. Cooking is the first form of artistic expression that men ever exposed themselves to. Combining, cutting, mixing is an art. Be creative, be bold. Especially in the kitchen.

Bread & Oil & Beer!!


1 packet dry (or 2 1/1 tsp)
Warm Water
2 cups
1 Tablespoon
4 cups
2 teaspoons
Rosemary (fresh)
1-2 teaspoons
Olive Oil, Corn Meal, Butter, Rosemary (fresh)


Combine 2 cups warm water and 1 Tablespoon sugar.
Add 1 packet of dry yeast.
Add 4 cups flour, 2 teaspoons salt, and 2 teaspoons rosemary.
Stir until blended.  Do NOT knead.
Cover and let rise for 1 hour (or until double in size).

Put shortening or oil on hands.
Remove dough and separate into 2 pieces.
Shape each piece into a round configuration and place on lightly oiled cookie sheet.
Sprinkle each round of dough with corn meal.
Cover and let rise for 1 hour.

Brush each round with melted butter and lightly sprinkle with fresh rosemary and sea salt.

Bake at 425 for 10 minutes.
Reduce heat to 375 and bake for 15 minutes.

Rosemary (fresh)
2 Tablespoons
Basil (fresh)
1 Tablespoon
1 teaspoon
Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon
2 cloves chopped
Exa Virgin Olive Oil
8 ounces

Combine all ingredients (except olive oil) into a chopper and chop.
Add ingredients to 8 ounces of olive oil.


As we have all come to find out, our class enjoys the occasional adult beverage.  Each day we have enjoyed the uniquely different tastes from around our area!  Unfortunately I didn’t get to detailed into the beer or its preperation.  Most of us probably do not know how to brew beer, and honestly, I am no professional at it.  Like I had mentioned in class, this was my very first batch, but with all the positive reinforcement I see no reason to stop here.   But why should I hold all the secrets myself?  Attached is the link to the Mr. Beer website, a great place to begin brewing yourself.  It was super easy considering all that is needed is some patience!  Just please don’t go with the minimum days required……

All in all, we had a great time this spring term and learned many valuable and practical skills!  Perhaps self-sustainability is attainable for me! 

Thanks Robyn and Kate for a great ending to many of our final days of school and may we all continue to value our meals with such passions has was shown this week!

"Not Yo Mama's Banana Pudding"... Actually it is.

Not Yo Mama's Banana Pudding


  • 2 bags Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies
  • 6 to 8 bananas, sliced
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 (5-ounce) box instant French Vanilla pudding
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping thawed, or equal amount sweetened whipped cream
Line the bottom of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch dish with 1 bag of cookies and layer bananas on top.
In a bowl, combine the milk and pudding mix and blend well using a handheld electric mixer. Using another bowl, combine the cream cheese and condensed milk together and mix until smooth. Fold the whipped topping into the cream cheese mixture. Add the cream cheese mixture to the pudding mixture and stir until well blended. Pour the mixture over the cookies and bananas and cover with the remaining cookies. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Banana Pudding is the perfect dessert (or breakfast, in my case today) for any hot summer day. It takes no longer than 10 minutes to make and then you can stick it in the fridge until you are ready to serve it. The banana pudding that my mom makes is a little different than the traditional vanilla-wafer banana pudding that you are used to seeing. Instead of using vanilla wafers, we use chessman cookies on the top and the bottom. Also, cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk give it a little extra sweet taste, which no can object to. When I was younger, I would ask for this banana pudding instead of birthday cake for my birthday (which is in the middle of July). It is cool, easy to make, and so delicious. Enjoy! 

Holy Guacamole!


·      3 avocados
·      1 ½ tomatoes diced
·      ½ lemon squeezed
·      ¼ onion diced
·      1- ½ teaspoon garlic salt

Mash avocados to the consistency you desire in a bowl. Dice tomatoes and onions and stir in with avocados. Add lemon juice and garlic salt and stir in. You should always add more of any ingredients until it tastes just right to you! You might try chili powder, sour cream, onion powder (instead of onions), etc.

Tell me about guacamole!
     This is a Mexican food from the Aztecs back in the 16th century. Their word for it, āhuacamolli, literally means ‘avocado sauce.’ In America, we use it for all sorts of things including (and often) a dip, a condiment for sandwiches, and an ingredient for salad. The sale of avocados reaches up to 30 million pounds on two days every year. Any idea what they might be??? The first is Cinco de Mayo. Probably fairly obvious. The second day is Super Bowl Sunday. This day might have actually been more obvious to many people. When I first ate guacamole, it was at a friend’s house for a Super Bowl party. I knew I recently started liking avocado, but I had no idea how much I would love guacamole until I ate multiple helpings at the party. I have seen it at every Super Bowl party since, graduation parties, summer cookouts, and other various celebrations. This Mexican dish has become a mainstream yummy treat for many people in the U.S. I am sure some eat it on random occasions, (as I do now!), but it is very often at present in gatherings of lots of people.

What does that say about this delicious food? It is a dish that people enjoy together in a social atmosphere among close friends and family. It is eaten during happy times full of fun and celebrating. 

So, next time you eat guacamole just look around you to see who you are sharing this dish with and think about how it might mean more than just a yummy dip. J