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Super-Fast Friday: Cheesing your Pasta

21 Oct

Happy Friday, gang! We made it!

We haven’t done Super-Fast Friday in awhile (mostly because I feel like every day has been super fast lately), but I wanted to share this trick I learned from Everyday Italian on the Food Network. Yes, I watch and learn from it, and the food snobs can just shut it because there’s a lot of great stuff for real at-home cooks on that network. We don’t all earn five diamonds or want to spend hours figuring out ingredients we can neither pronounce nor find in a regular grocery store.


So I was watching Everyday Italian and heard Giada say she puts Parmesan on her pasta before she adds sauce. Hot pasta goes into a bowl or onto a plate, grated cheese is stirred in, and then hot sauce goes on top. This, she said, gives the cheese a minute to melt onto the noodles, and then the sauce has something to stick to. I tried it, and guess what?

The flavor difference is pretty amazing, even to my untrained taste buds. I started cheesing before saucing and have never looked back.

Give it a shot and see if you notice a difference. Have a great weekend!


Super-Fast Friday: Cinnamon Honey Butter

23 Sep

A new outpost of a locally-famous restaurant opened in our favorite getaway spot and we were lucky enough to try it during its first week. Fabulous menu–crab cakes (real ones. Like, with crab. Not a lot of filler. Amen.) and shrimp and scallops and rockfish and all sorts of yummies. Lovely decor–very cabin, adirondack, which was perfect for its new lakeside berth. Outstanding reputation before it even opened its doors.

DH had eaten at the original restaurant and he was telling me all of this before we tried the new one. Know what he was most excited about?

The butter.

They have honey butter, he told me, but it’s the best honey butter you’ve ever had in your life.

Crossed fingers and a few hopeful glimpses toward heaven that afternoon were rewarded with a wooden board of warm bread and a little pot of honey butter at our inaugural dinner at the restaurant, and we scarfed it down (I’ve told y’all we’re a carb-loving family. I wasn’t kidding.). And when the poor server came to clear our table for our real food, DH’s face dropped towards the floor and I had to psst her and point all secret-like and half-whisper that she was breaking the poor man’s heart, and she took pity and brought us even more honey butter and warm bread, and now that’s our favorite restaurant.

I digress.

The honey butter was amazing, and I asked what else was in it besides honey and butter; you all should try this trick, by the way. Restaurants are usually more than willing to share their secrets if you smile and say please and thank you and all the other things your mom tried to teach you along the way. Anyway, the answer was cinnamon. Not enough so you’d recognize it, but enough to give that butter an extra yum at the end.

Last night, being In A Mood and needing comfort, I baked a batch of sweet bread rolls (recipe coming–stay tuned) and then made some cinnamon honey butter of my own. This morning, I was all but canonized by my family. It’s that good. It’s also super easy–less than three minutes start to finish–and will keep beautifully in your refrigerator, just like butter. Take it out a little while before you want to eat some so it softens up or pop it in the microwave for five-second increments until it gets creamy if you’re in a hurry, and enjoy at your whim.

My directions tell you to change your mixer attachments halfway through–this, of course, only applies if you’re using a stand mixer with said attachments. If not, ignore that and keep on going. A hand mixer will absolutely work just as well, without changing anything.

Give this a shot, gang. Your family will flip. In a good way. You need:

1/2 cup of butter at room temperature (that’s a stick and STOP IT with the gasping–you make this and keep it and use it a little at a time)

1/4 cup of honey (spray your mixing cup with nonstick spray before you measure. Trust me.)

1/2 tsp of cinnamon

Using your paddle attachment (if applicable), whip the butter around until it’s fluffy in the bowl. Add your honey and mix that together until it’s well incorporated. Then, switch to your whisk attachment. Slowly (so it doesn’t poof up in your face) add the cinnamon and blend it in, and then crank up your mixer to whip it all together.

Store in your refrigerator in a sealed plastic or glass container. Enjoy your time on the pedestal your family is about to erect in your honor. 😉

Super-Fast Friday: At the Table Soup Assembly

12 Aug

I had lunch with an old friend yesterday. He’s recently moved back to the area after being gone for a long time, and so there was really no choice but to take him to Central Michel Richard.


Yes, my loves, I’ll use any excuse to dine in a Richard restaurant and feed my foodie crush on the master of Happy in the Kitchen. Central is a joy–casual, sophisticated, reasonably priced, and absolutely amazing for the taste buds. In fact, my friend–who is from Chicago–told me the lunch we enjoyed was the best he’s ever had in D.C.

This isn’t an ad for the restaurant, although I highly recommend it if you’re ever in town. I learned a trick at lunch yesterday, see, and I’m sharing it with you.

Michel Richard’s restaurants are all (well, Central and Citronelle are. I haven’t yet tried his new digs in Tysons to know) open-kitchen, with little more than glass separating the dining room from the stoves and grills and marble counters backstage. You’re meant to experience the food from start to finish, not just shovel it down your throat mindlessly. Which means that sometimes, they assemble parts of your meal at the table.

My friend and I both ordered the D.C. Restaurant Week special, which was a soup or salad, entree, and dessert, and we both chose the corn and crab chowder. What I didn’t anticipate was our waiter gently placing a bowl before me that had chunks of crab, corn kernels, and some croutons in the bottom. He paused, and then ladled hot chowder broth overtop of that, as we watched.

Nice show, yes? But y’all, I’m telling you, the difference in the texture between that chowder and one that simmers together was amazing. The corn snapped when you bit into it. The crab was crab, not something resembling crabby mush floating around. And those croutons? They stayed crunchy and crisp.

Such a simple thing, and such a big difference. I left, as always, in awe. And I’m also going to try that trick next time we have a chowder-like soup at home. It’s faster and easier than traditional soup simmering, and it was absolutely delicious.

I got to catch up with my friend, enjoy fabulous food, and learn a little something that makes me happier in the kitchen. Not a bad way to spend a lunchtime. 🙂

Super-Fast Friday: Instantly Brown Bananas

15 Apr

You know those days you just have to bake something? Banana bread calls, right? Only there are no brown bananas in the house–only fresh yellow ones that don’t make for yummy baked goods.

I have the answer, and it’s super simple

Pick up a yellow banana and squeeze it. Be gentle–you don’t want to bust open the skin. But give the fruit a good massage, squishing it in your fist until you can feel that it’s all mushy inside there. And then, open the skin and dump the mushed-up nanner into your mixing bowl.

No muss, no fuss, ripe banana, just like that. 🙂

Super-Fast Friday: The Perpetual List

1 Apr

That up there is my life saver.

It’s a simple thing–a notebook with a magnet on the back, that I picked up at the craft store for less than $1. It hangs on my refrigerator all the time. And it’s my perpetual grocery list. Anytime I run out of an ingredient or run low on something, or run across a recipe I’d like to try, I jot down the thing I need on that notepad. I do the same on Sundays, when I plan our meals for the week–everything I need goes on the list.

On grocery store or Target or warehouse club days, I just rip off the top sheet, gather my coupons, and head out. I don’t spend a half-hour figuring out what I need, or risk forgetting that I ran out of olive oil or flour last Tuesday. It’s all right there, ready to go.

That’s a huge time-saver. It’s a great system for our family, especially now that the kids are old enough to jot down that they ate the last yogurt or piece of sting cheese. DH uses it too, letting me know when we’re about to run out of the things he tracks around our house. I know what’s low and we don’t forget much (“anything” is probably a bit optimistic, but I really rarely forget to get something this way).

Not bad for less than $1.

Have a great weekend!

Super-Fast Friday: First, Turn on the Burner

25 Mar

Happy Friday!

Today’s tip is pretty simple, but I’ve seen enough people ignore it to think that maybe it hasn’t been explained before. So here you go.

Heat up your pans before you put any food in them.

I know. You do. But if you’re having food stickage or a sad lack of crunch when there should be some, or your searing isn’t quite restaurant-quality, the chances are high that your pan wasn’t hot enough when the food hit. Assuming you’re using something other than a Teflon nonstick pan (which should never be preheated over anything hotter than a medium-low flame, lest what some believe to be toxic fumes permeate the house), your pan should be good and hot when the food goes in. That’ll give you a lovely sear, a delightful crunch, and a great cook-and-release feature that simply lets your yummies go once they’re golden brown and delicious.

Turn on your burner while you chop and prep your food and let that pan heat up. You’ll spend less time waiting for your food to cook, less time cleaning up after dinner, and you’ll have more fun and yummier meals.

See you next week!

Super-Fast Friday: Cook With Your Day Planner

18 Mar

My son and I take Taekwondo on Thursday nights. Class starts at 6:15, which means if we want dinner before 8:30 and don’t want to feel sick after 90 minutes of kicking, punching, push-upping and jumping around, we eat around 4:45. That can be a challenge, quite honestly, with school pickup at 3 and homework after that, and a generally-filled daily work schedule for me.

This weekend is Pinewood Derby with the Cub Scouts (my favorite kid event of the entire year–LOVE me some Pinewood Derby!), which takes up Friday night and much of Saturday. And it’s Lent, which puts us on a no-meat restriction for tonight.

Why do you need to know this? Because it all came into play when I was meal planning earlier in the week. I knew I wouldn’t have much time Thursday to cook, and I knew I’d want whatever we ate Thursday to carry over into Friday, and so then that had to be meat-free.

Complicated? Maybe. But knowing it ahead of time made it simple for me to shop with a list earlier in the week and get all the ingredients for a huge pot of shrimp lo mein, which I whipped up in about 15 minutes during homework time on Thursday, and will feed all of us tonight, too. And that, my friends, saves me a lot of time.

Meal planning is critical, I think, for families. It’s especially important for families whose adult members are running around like lunatics all week (that’s most of us, yes?). And sitting down with a day-planner and your recipe box at the same time helps avoid chaos on hurricane days. You know that you have X on Thursday and Y on Friday, and that your meals will be affected, and so you can plan, shop, and cook accordingly.

It really is simple. I promise. Give it a shot and let me know how much easier your weeks are, at least in the kitchen. Lo mein recipe on Monday. Promise. 🙂

Super-Fast Friday: Open the Box

11 Mar

Super simple super fast tip today, gang. So simple that most of you have probably thought of it. But it took me awhile to catch on (I’m quick like that), so I’m saying it anyway.

See that up there? That open dishwasher?

Cook with yours that way.

I know. The kitchen is small. You’ll trip over it. The kids stick their heads in. I hear you. My response is: Adjust, and your life will become simpler.

Cooking with your dishwasher door open makes clean-up after dinner about a quarter of the hassle it is when you cook with it shut. Finish with a whisk? Throw it in there. It doesn’t even touch the counter. Out of the hand, into the silverware basket.

Done with the cutting board? Don’t toss it in the sink. Put it right in the magical cleaning box.

Ditto for bowls and plates and measuring cups and spatulas, and everything else you’re using (almost–don’t you dare put your knives or pots in the dishwasher! I’ll know!). Fill your sink with hot soapy water, and plop the non-dishwasher stuff in there. When you’ve finished cooking and eating, it’s simple to add serving plates to the dishwasher and turn it on, and give the stuff in the soapy sink a quick swipe and dry.

Do me a favor and just give this a try. Cook with the dishwasher open. And then come tell me how much time it saved. 🙂

Happy weekend!

Don’t forget you can win an autographed copy of Modern Spice! Go here and leave a comment to enter. And my little blog is still in the running over at Babble’s list of 100 best food mom blogs! You can vote for it here–and thank you!!

Super Fast Friday: Toss A Chicken In A Pot

4 Mar

Happy Friday!

A very warm welcome to everybody who’s clicked over from the Babble Food Mom Blog list, and a big hug and chocolate chip cookie to everybody who’s voted for Playing With My Dinner so far over there! Y’all have made my day!

Today’s Super Fast Friday tip involves a little thinking ahead, but if you’re already menu planning or you have a list of six or seven standby dishes you know your family loves, it’s simple. And it uses a slow cooker. You guys know how much I love that!

We all have recipes that call for shredded or cut-up chicken. Day Before Chicken Enchiladas, Chicken Corn Chowder, or even simple chicken barbecue sandwiches are some of the ones my family turns too all the time that require cooked chicken to start.

Every so often, I take a whole chicken, put some lemon, garlic, and onion inside the cavity, salt and pepper the outside, and toss it into my slow cooker. Then, I forget about it.

Eight to 10 hours later, I have a perfectly poached chicken. It lets off wonderful juices while it’s cooking in there, and the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender and juicy and delicious.

Some people eat that bird just like that, and you rock on if you’re one of them. But it’s a great method of ensuring you have cooked chicken around for those other recipes we all love. Carefully lift the bird out of the pot. drain it well, let it cool a bit, and then shred it up–the whole thing–with two forks. Parcel the meat out into freezer bags, label them, and put them in your ice box.

Next time you want a chicken-based casserole or soup, voila. You’ve got the perfect cooked poultry already waiting to be doused in sauce or stirred into a dish.

This is a great money saver too–buy two chickens when they’re on sale, roast one this way or this way, and plop the other in the Crockpot for shredding and freezing.

That’s today’s Super Fast Friday tip. Have a great weekend!!

Don’t forget–win a signed copy of Monica Bhide’s fantabulous cookbook, “Modern Spice!” Click on over and comment to enter yourself to win!

Super-Fast Friday: In Defense of (some) Processed Foods

25 Feb

I’ve been mulling this over in my mind for awhile: with all we’re hearing about the evils of processed foods, how do I write something that explains that some of them are OK, and even a lifesaver for busy families?

Today, I opened up my blog reader and discovered that I don’t have to. Words to Eat By (one of my favorite foodie blogs) did it for me. Debbie says it better than I could and includes a ton of great information.

Go on over and visit her here. Show her a little love and leave a comment (g’head and tell her where you came from –*wink*). And then feel good about embracing some of the things in the inner aisles of the grocery store. No guilt, if you listen to what she says.

Happy Friday!


(I’m doing another giveaway next week–come on back and see!)



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