A Cooking Planit Holiday

I have been working with Cooking Planit for several months now and really like the utility of the application. I used to cook a large meal at the beginning of the week and eat off leftovers till about Wednesday when I would get sick of the same old thing, throw out the rest and eat fast food till the weekend. Cooking Planit helps me organize simple enough dishes on a small scale to cook several times a week with minimal leftovers. Seems like an easy enough idea but the temptation of the drive thru can be overwhelming when faced with prepping, cooking, and cleaning a whole meal. The ease of finding two or three delicious recipes, linking them into a meal, scaling it down and even putting together a shopping list makes it more manageable, even for a chef.

Holidays are an entirely different issue. Although I am originally from Austin, when my parents retired they moved back to Graham in north Texas where my mom is from. My older brother who has a long list of Special Needs is cared for by them and my younger brother along with his gorgeous and hilarious wife and their brilliant and beautiful children also have a house in Graham. So, much like my entire childhood going to my grandmother’s house, I travel up to spend time with my family for holidays. My mom is a woman of many talents but cooking is not one of them. She is the first person to make a box brownie mix and take it to cheer up a sick neighbor but a full scale holiday meal is not fun for her or us. So she allows me into her kitchen (although not much of a cook, she can be territorial about the space) to put together family favorites and maybe a “fancy” dish or two for special occasions.

Like most families, our holidays have a tradition of being done to excess. My grandmother would cook for days before we got there. Then she would get up in the wee hours of the morning to put the turkey in the oven and spend hours creating a multi course feast. The fondness of these memories and the honor of being the selected family chef to carry on the tradition led to many years of over complicated planning, prepping, and back breaking execution of some wonderfully delicious meals, half of which ended up thrown away after a day or two of way too many leftovers.

Each year, as the list of health concerns at my parents house has grown, we have moved away from the fancy china in favor of the easy clean up of paper plates and disposable baking pans. And as all of our waistbands have expanded I decided to try to scale down the feast as well as organize the prep and planning with Cooking Planit. A couple of the recipes are not up on the site yet but should be soon. My bff Michelle makes the world’s best cornbread and I used that as a base to make my grandmother’s traditional cornbread stuffing along with a turkey breast put together casserole style. Although there are eight of us, even a small whole turkey yields way more leftovers than we need. A 3 pound turkey breast was just the perfect amount with a wee bit left for the next day. Another Southern must is giblet gravy. It goes over everything without sugar, at least on my plate. I will link these recipes up when we publish them for the holidays.

For the sides, I chose 5 from Emily’s long list of delicious options. Instead of scaling it up for 8, since I was doing such a variety, I chose to prepare it for 4 which ended up being a perfect amount. Everyone got a little bit of everything with enough for seconds but only a bit of leftovers. First up was the spinach, blue cheese, and pistachio salad. Delicious and my dad is now addicted to pistachios. Next was the brussels sprouts with pancetta and sweet potato and bacon puree. Since pancetta was impossible to find in Graham, I ended up using bacon for both. The kids sadly passed on the sprouts but they were so good compared to the mushy version I hated as a kid. The sweet potatoes were a huge hit. As a rabid bacon lover, I am surprised I had never thought to pair the two before but the salty sweet combination was a real winner. The haricot verts with almonds was a healthy alternative to the traditional fat laden green bean casserole. The cream cheese mashed potatoes were the other big winner of the meal. Creamy and rich with the fresh bite of the green onions.

The biggest surprise was timing of the meal. I made the cornbread the night before so it would be ready for the stuffing but the rest of meal I set up in the My Cookbook feature and it said the whole meal would take 2 hours and 19 minutes. I think most of us are familiar with the other holiday tradition of the actual start of a holiday meal being at least an hour past the time you plan it. My mom kept asking me if we should put the turkey in the oven or start prepping sides hours before “dinner time” but I assured her that everything was under control. I started cooking at 2:30 and when the kids showed up at 4:50, the last dish was coming out of the oven. Just enough time to heat the rolls while the turkey rested before carving. Success! I have never done a holiday meal in under 3 hours.

So, yes, I work for Cooking Planit and this whole post may sound like a bit of a commercial but it is really nice to work for an app that actually does what it says it will. And who couldn’t use a little help in the kitchen, especially around the holidays?





Broccoli Chicken Soup, Quick Risotto, Blueberry Breakfast Ice Cream, and Granola Recipes on the Greenling Blog!

recipes posted!  Click on pics for a link to the Greenling blog.


Broccoli Chicken Soup
Quick, Creamy Risotto
Blueberry Breakfast Ice Cream

Mushrooms, Kale, Roast Chicken and Strawberry Cream Cheese Recipes on Greenling Blog

It has been awhile since I cross posted my recipes on the Greenling blog.  Click on the pics to link to the recipes.

Mushroom soup made with a combination of fresh and dried mushrooms



Crispy, spicy kale chips with sesame seeds


Roast chicken in the crock pot.


Use those last few mushy berries for a yummy spread.



Creamy mushroom sauce good for pork, chicken, or steak.

Homemade Veggie Bouillon Recipe on Greenling Blog

I am now blogging for Greenling!  See my first post here http://www.greenling.com/blog/uncategorized/homemade-veggie-bouillon

Greenling is an organic and local food delivery service in Texas. Greenling works with local farms whenever possible to bring you the freshest produce, dairy, meats, breads, and groceries right to your door for the same prices as the grocery store with free delivery. Visit www.greenling.com to learn more and sign up for your Local Box.

Culinary Handcuffs

One of my worst nightmares is discovering that I have developed an allergy to chocolate.  I cannot imagine never being able to enjoy my favorite indulgence again.  This morning I received an email from a member of our blogging group asking for recipes for a friend’s husband that has recently been given a laundry list of things he cannot have anymore due to health concerns.  Chocolate is the least of his worries.  No dairy, nuts, whole grains, sugar, salt, tomatoes, soy, tuna, potatoes, oranges, strawberries, the list went on and on.  She is at her wits end trying to make his new bland diet more palatable.  So a plea has gone out to our foodie community for recipes. 

On the list of allowable foods is quinoa which I just love.  Originating in South America, the Incas considered quinoa to be a sacred crop.  It contains essential amino acids that make it an unusually complete protein from the plant world.  It is similar to rice or couscous but it is not a grain since it does not come from the grass family.  It has a nutty flavor, is gluten free, and when cooked, the germ separates from the seed in a lovely curl.

A common cooking method is to treat quinoa much like rice, bringing two cups of water to a boil with one cup of grain, covering at a low simmer and cooking for 14–18 minutes or until the germ separates from the seed. The cooked germ looks like a tiny curl and should have a slight bite to it (like al dente pasta). As an alternative, one can use a rice cooker to prepare quinoa, treating it just like white rice (for both cooking cycle and water amounts).

Here is a tasty salad recipe using quinoa.

  • 1/4 cup quinoa
  • 1/4 chopped red pepper
  • 1/4 cup bite sized pieces of snap peas
  • 1/8 diced onion (or green onion)
  • 1/8 cup fresh cherries or grapes

White Wine Vinaigrette Dressing

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar (or rice wine)
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp honey or agave
  • Salt and pepper to taste



Cook quinoa, cool and toss with red pepper, snap peas, onion, and cherries.

For white wine vinaigrette dressing, whisk together olive oil, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and honey. Add salt and pepper. Mix 2 tbsp dressing (or more to taste) into salad.

I did not see peppers on the banned or allowed list so I am hoping the next recipe is something she can use as well.  Capsaicin which gives peppers their heat, is also believed to have a myriad of health benefits including fighting cancer and preventing heart disease.  It is also a good way to spice up an otherwise bland diet. 

Dried Chili Pickle Relish

  • A good handful of dried chili peppers; anchos are great, but passilla or mulata will also work, as would any larger dried and not too spicy pepper (Great for homemade dried garden jalapenos!) Make sure to clean them off well.
  • 1 large white onion, sliced into wedges
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 1/3 of a cup of white vinegar
  • 1/3 of a cup of vegetable oil
  • Salt as needed
  1. Slice the chilis into narrow strips with a very sharp knife – or alternatively use kitchen scissors to cut them.
  2. Mix all the ingredients together in a non reactive bowl, season as needed with salt and let sit in the fridge overnight.
  3. Serve as a table garnish. This goes very well with pretty much any Mexican meal you can think of – but is particularly well matched to grilled meats.

He’s Back! David Bull Returns to the Austin Dining Scene

One of my biggest culinary crushes is David Bull.  James Beard Best Chef Southwest nominee, Food and Wine Best New Chef, Iron Chef competitor, and a genuinely nice guy, former Driskill executive chef David Bull will be returning to Austin in Fall 2010 with a trio of restaurants at the Austonian on 2nd and Congress.  Congress will be the name of the formal dining room, 2nd will be a more casual bistro, and Bar Congress will round things out with the cocktail crowd. 

Chef Bull recently conducted a vegetarian cooking class at Central Market.  Do not worry, he has not gone vegetarian on us.  Just showing off his creativity in a healthy way. 

Black garlic is a hot ticket item right now.  It becomes black through a fermentation process and the flavor mellows and becomes sweet.  You can find it at gourmet and Asian markets.

Black Garlic Miso Dressing 

  • 1/2 cup black garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup yellow miso paste
  • 2 teaspoons green onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup water

Place all ingredients into a high speed blender and puree until smooth.  Store covered in refrigerator until ready for use. 

First course was a lovely little bite of avocado mousse with sunflower sprouts, jicama, jalapeno, and grapefruit.
Second was white gazpacho with red grapes, soy milk, and toasted almonds. White gazpacho is the lesser known cousin to the red version both of which are served cold and an excellent summer soup. Those are red grapes in the soup but chef Bull serves them peeled. Glad I was not working the kitchen during this class!


The next dish brought a surprising combination in tomato and watermelon tartatare. Before you scrunch up your nose, imagine how similar the texture is between the two. The sweetness of a garden fresh heirloom tomato is enhanced by the juicy watermelon. Speaking of gazpachos, the two would make a wonderful red version as well.


A bumper crop of Texas peaches this year inspired this watercress salad with Texas peaches on buttered brioche.
Daikon "noodles" with green beans and coriander were good but the dressing, Black Garlic Miso, was a flavor bomb of deliciousness.
Gnocchi with oven roasted tomatoes and black olive oil brought a delicious conclusion to the all veggie feast.

Zuppa Toscana

zuppa toscanaI am a champion for all things local for many reasons.  I believe it is better for the environment, tastes better, and helps the local economy.  I try to shop local, drink local, and eat local.  But I do have a guilty secret.  I LOVE the Zuppa Toscana from Olive Garden. 

There are many better Italian restaurants in Austin (Vespaio, Mandola’s, etc.) but no place serves this particular soup.  Probably because it is more traditionally a Portuguese soup than Tuscan.  Olive Garden is about as “authentic” as Taco Bell but in this cold weather, nothing satisfies like a big bowl full of potatoes, sausage, and kale. 

I am pleased to report that I no longer have to stoop to wearing a disguise because I am too embarrassed to dine at Olive Garden to get my Zuppa Toscana fix.  I adapted this from various sources of copycat recipes.  I wanted to print my own version so all the friends I have made this for can make it themselves as well as trying to liberate others from the tyranny of below average ethnic foods being  served up by corporate chains. 

¡Viva la Revolución!

Zuppa Toscana

  • 3-4 slices pancetta (bacon is an acceptable substitute, canned bacon bits ARE NOT)
  • 1 pound Italian sausage-  I find that the HEB store brand of mild sausage matches EXACTLY the taste of the Olive Garden but you are welcome to use hot or whatever brand you prefer.  It does need to be Italian sausage, though, as the fennel plays an important part in the final product.
  • 1 large shallot, finely diced-  many of the copycat recipes call for onion or some garlic.  This is an ok substitute but the shallot flavor is also essential if you are trying to match the flavors exactly.
  • 2-3 pounds of small white potatoes-  actually any potato you have on hand will work here but it sure is easier slicing the small ones into disks, skin on.
  • 3 cans chicken broth-  yes, you are a kitchen god/goddess if you make your own weekly from locally sourced chickens but the canned stuff works fine
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 bunch Kale-  remove the large stem in the middle, clean leaves thoroughly, roll into a tight cigar-like bundle and slice about 1/8 of an inch wide strips-  Swiss chard is also an acceptable substitute.
  • 1/2 cup milk-  you can use cream, half and half, even skim-  the higher the fat, the better it tastes but I use 2% milk and it saves a ton of calories.
  • 1/2 pound parmesano reggiano-  what you really want is the rind off the cheese to flavor the soup and shaved bits of cheese to garnish.  This is way more cheese than you will need for the soup but chef deserves a treat, so keep some back for “quality control”.  And no, the crap in a green shaker container or anything similar is NOT acceptable.
  • salt and pepper to taste

Remove sausage from casing.  Lots of the recipes I saw called for the sausage to be cooked in the oven or cooked in its casings and then removed.  WRONG.  You want the bits left in the pan after browning the meat.  That is where the flavor comes from.  You also want to use a non stick skillet and cook the meat in a single layer that does not crowd the pan.  If you overcrowd the pan, you will see all the liquid come out of the meat which will then steam the sausage instead of browning it.  Another common mistake is to stir the contents of the pan too often.  Let it cook till it browns.

The toasting or browning of foods that exponentially adds to the flavor is known as the Maillard reaction.  The little bits of brown goodness that stick to the bottom of the pan is called the fond.  Both of these are very, very good things.  Now that we know a couple of new terms, back to the soup.

Brown the sausage without the casings.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Brown pancetta in the same pan.  Remove and set aside.  Pour off any excess grease.  Add shallots to the pan and saute until translucent.  Add 1/4 cup of the chicken stock.  As you add the liquid, the fond (dark and lovely sticky bits on the bottom of the pan) should loosen as you stir and become part of the cooking liquid.  This is called deglazing the pan.  Ain’t we fancy!  Add the remaining broth, water, and rind from the parmesan.  Bring to a boil and add the potatoes.  Cook until potatoes are tender.  Add browned sausage, pancetta, kale, and milk.  Bring back to simmer to heat thoroughly.  Serve with a healthy dose of parmesan. 


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