Posted by: powermama | January 27, 2009

Barefoot Contessa

I know it’s crass, but I have a serious problem with overweight chefs. Actually, I don’t think she has any culinary training, so I’m not sure whether she considers herself a “chef.” As readers, how can we be expected to admire a chef and utilize his or her recipes, and feel good about the food, if the chef herself is overweight? Are Ina’s recipes really so full of saturated fat that they cause her and anyone who emulates them to blimp out?

Unfortunately, I can’t prove or disprove my own rhetorical question since I’ve never cooked anything of hers except for her herbal tea mixed with apple juice for sweetness and served over ice. YUMMY! I serve it whenever I have a luncheon. Since my husband belongs to a cookbook club, they always send us the “featured selection” unless we instruct them to do otherwise. Lately, I haven’t kept up with declining the selections so this Christmas season we were bombarded with books we never ordered. Subsequently, my dog ate the invoice off of two of the packages and then actually tried to get into one of them by shredding the cardboard. We ended up opening them to discover one contained Ina’s latest, Back to Basics. I couldn’t have chosen a better book from her series if I’d tried since I’m all about quick and easy meals. However, I have yet to attempt any recipes because I’ve been suffering from morning sickness, or in my case, all-day-into-evening sickness, so I haven’t been cooking anything for the last three months. Lucky for me, Cal’s been cooking and this week plans to make Ina’s Chive Risotto Cakes out of Giada’s leftover Dirty Risotto.

Posted by: powermama | June 21, 2008

Response to a woman who “HATES, HATES, HATES” cooking

It wouldn’t truly be me if I wasn’t completely honest, but let’s be realistic. When we all decided to have unprotected sex, we knew the consequences: We’d have to spend money on diapers, cheap baby furniture, ridiculous amounts of clothing, and toys that now bombard my once pristine living room. We also knew that the day would come when our precious babes would outgrow formula and require something a bit more substantial, so it’s really no shock that we are now required to cook for a family.  

I’m not a picky eater, my husband is not picky, and, thank goodness, my toddler is not picky. I told Cal once that I’d never be able to handle a picky eater because I couldn’t deal with cooking separate meals. Of course, this was before I realized that at one point in Ethan’s youth, I was doing just that: I was feeding him food that I certainly wasn’t going to eat for dinner. We used to buy a pound of hormone free ground sirloin, season it, shape multiple little patties out of it, rest them between strips of wax paper, put them all in a plastic bag, and toss them in the freezer. Then, for dinner, I’d whip one out, toss it in a frying pan, boil some organic corn or peas, and PRESTO, dinner for my boy! Bottom line: There’s no miracle food out there for kids. You have to decide what your child WILL eat, and then get creative from there. And be aware, a child picks up on a parent’s picky habits.

I would never make the rest of my family suffer because one parent or child was a picky eater. Cal suffered this fate as a child growing up with a picky older brother. Can’t have this for dinner ’cause Stuart won’t eat it, can’t have that for dinner ’cause Stu will cringe at it, and so on and so forth. Not in my home, baby! Cal would have to fend for himself if he refused to eat my meals, and Ethan too. That’s how crazy I am about everyone eating the food I prepare for them. After all, I’m not cooking for the freakin’ joy of it!

Enlisting spousal help is essential if cooking makes you crazy. And you can go about it in several ways:

1. Have him cook, everything. It works for Bobby Flay and his wife.

2. Make cooking dinner an enjoyable experience that involves the entire family. View it as a time to unwind from the stress of the day’s events by sitting back, a glass of red in one hand and a measuring spoon in the other, while discussing the idiots at the office or the brats at the park.

3. Have him prepare all the ingredients during the weekend, so all you have to do during the week is assemble and cook.

4. Have him occupy the kids during the weekend while you prepare AND assemble the entire week’s worth of meals and then store them in the freezer. Yes, the entire week. It’s called Freezer Cooking and you’ll need a cookbook specifically dedicated to it to know exactly how to do it. Don’t fret, there are plenty out there.

5. Most importantly, stop viewing cooking as a chore. Do you really want your son or daughter to grow up disliking cooking so much that he or she goes into a panic every time the dinner hour roles near? Determine the foods YOU like to eat, and find recipes that incorporate them because if you don’t like what you’re eating, you’ll never want to cook. Or, find a few good cookbooks that incorporate quick & easy meals, like Giada and all her busty glory.

Final bottom line: Hire a personal chef. But if that doesn’t fit your budget, quit your griping and just think of making dinner as one more accomplishment you’ve achieved for the day, until tomorrow roles around.

My love affair with Giadaquickly falls by the wayside once the weather improves to sunny skies and warm temperatures in Chicago. Now, that’s not to say that I don’t cook pasta during the summer, nor is it to say that all Giada’s recipes involve pasta, either. I simply prefer the refreshing, light fare that Nancie McDermott offers in her Quick & Easy Vietnamese and Quick & Easy Thai cookbooks.


During the summer, we nurture an herb garden, so it behooves me to include recipes in my weekly planning that involve fresh herbs. Basil and cilantro are two of my favorite herbs that are widely consumed by Vietnamese; unfortunately, during my pregnancies, cilantro would make me gag. Anyway, I was feeling Asian-inspired this week, so, thus far, all my dishes have had either Vietnamese, Thai, or Chinese origin.


For the Vietnamese, it was McDermott’s Lemongrass Beef, grilled, since Cal was home for a portion of the week, Lemongrass Burgers, because I had a pound of hormone-free ground beef in the freezer from when my dad bought half a cow, and Big, Cool Noodle Bowl with Chicken, Cucumbers, and Fresh Mint. Two nights of red meat was about all I could take before I began to feel guilty about eating so much red meat since it’s so heavy.  


McDermott’s recipes are quite simple, and all three recipes contained, essentially, identical ingredients: fish sauce, cilantro, lemongrass, sugar (white and brown), and soy sauce. Note about Fish Sauce: I’ve found that the pricier the brand, the less fishy it tastes. Still, I typically use half as much as the recipe calls for since it is quite pungent, and thus, an acquired taste. The Lemongrass Beef was delectable; I don’t know if it was the marinade or the cut of beef, the former, I suspect, but it was the perfect complement to the Cool Noodle Bowl which consisted of naked herbs, pickled carrots, another McDermott recipe, and angel hair noodles. If the beef is already prepared, the remaining ingredients can be prepared in the time it takes the water for the pasta to boil, but you’ll have to suffice for plain carrots. During the summer, the stove for the water is all you need to heat in the kitchen, unless you don’t know how to use a charcoal grill, which I don’t, which is why I have Cal cook all meat. The entire dish is light on the stomach, tangy, aromatic, sweet, and spicy on the palette, and quite electrifying to the eyes when on the plate as the finished product.

Posted by: powermama | June 12, 2008

Giada, Cleavage And All

While it was incredibly frustrating to have to continuously glance back at the recipe page while the picture of Giada, cleavage and all, was thrust into my line of vision, I have to say, her recipes speak louder than her blatant, tacky display of sexuality. Nonetheless, her Pizza Rustico was phenomenal. Albeit, it did take a bit of preparation, especially making the crust. But I don’t mind making crust or dough the night before because I have a fool-proof method. Actually, it’s not really my method, per se, it’s Alton Brown’s. The two key items for the perfect crust are a food processor and a large zip-lock bag.

At any rate, Giada’s assortment of salted meats, spinach, and a ricotta cheese mixture are combined to make a pizza pie that is to die for. I can’t imagine any child, or adult, for that matter, that would turn his or her nose up at it. Unfortunately, it’s a bit labor intensive for the mom who must put it together after coming home from teaching class and before heading out again to attend aerobics. I couldn’t have done it unless Cal was keeping Ethan occupied.

On the other hand, the previous night I threw together one of her more simplistic pasta recipes in thirty minutes. It was her thimble pasta which consisted of a mere 4 ingredients, and it was delicious, of course. Is there anything Giada can’t do?

Posted by: powermama | May 30, 2008

The Wall Street Journal

I had no idea blogging about cookbooks was so popular, as recently noted in The Wall Street Journal, May 28, Technology section. But I can’t imagine cooking every single recipe out of one singular cookbook. I was happy to see that there are several blogs for Ruth Reichl’s The Gourmet Cookbook, which is an absolute must for the kitchen. Perhaps I should be more detailed when I discuss the meals I prepare from the various cookbooks I use.   

Posted by: powermama | May 8, 2008

Making My Friends Jealous

I don’t mean to gloat, but I have THE best husband in the world. What other man would get home from work, mow the lawn, (in addition to edging the perimeter and weed whacking around obstacles), make dinner, bathe the boy, and not become annoyed with his wife because, for the second day in a row, she failed to buy the weekly groceries. Of course, Giada deserves some credit as well. Since our house is equipped with a stocked pantry and freezer, Cal was able to throw together one of her pasta dishes with the utmost ease. The following ingredients were readily on hand: orzo (pasta), canned tomatoes, frozen peas, cream, garlic, and onion (okay, she actually called for shallots, so he had to improvise). All this and not one complaint about the dog hair I failed to vacuum either.  

Posted by: powermama | May 1, 2008

Preparing for the Inevitable

The final stage of meal planning, or at least the stage prior to actually cooking, is preparation. For those of us who are super-busy or others who don’t have the luxury of a spouse or live-in chef to help out, we must develop a plan that will make week night meals easier to churn out.

It is imperative that the ingredients be prepared at least one day ahead of the actual cooking of the meal. Whether it’s immediately following the grocery store excursion, assuming you haven’t expended all the energy for the trip itself, or whether it’s a time during the weekend where the children’s attention can be occupied by someone else, the vegetables must be chopped, the cheese must be grated, and the greens must be washed.

I prefer not to handle raw meat repeatedly, so I don’t touch it until I absolutely have to in order to cook it. And when Cal’s out-of-town, I rarely use it at all.

Even if it’s merely getting all the onions you’ll need for the entire week chopped, diced, or minced, it’s one less task you must complete the night you actually cook the meal, and that makes a world of difference when you’re in a rush to get dinner on the table. 

Posted by: powermama | April 23, 2008

Quick & Easy Is King

I must salute yet another culinarily gifted cookbook author for being true to title. Nancie McDermott’s Quick & Easy Vietnamese ( along with her Quick & Easy Thai are true to claim. Cal and I prepped and cooked her Bun Thang Noodles with the addition of Vietnamese meatballs in less time than it took to cook the rice as an accompaniment. Actually, now that I think about it, I think I neglected to chop the mortadella it called for. Well, at any rate, it’s an easy meal to prepare even if Ethan does try to flood the basement while attempting to “clean” the dishes in the sink while we’re busy making dinner. 

Posted by: powermama | April 15, 2008

Since my opinion is the only one that matters…

If I like the cookbook, I use it. If I don’t like it, chances are no one uses it (in my family, that is).

Love-Love Relationship:

Giada De Laurentiis- When Cal began watching Giada on Food Network (, I was essentially perturbed. If we’re watching someone prepare food, why is it necessary to also view his or, in this case, her ample bosom? How are the two related if not seen through the eyes of an infant? And I couldn’t determine where to assign blame: on her for choosing tops that consistently reveal cleavage, or her wardrobe personnel for choosing tops that consistently reveal cleavage. And her book, Everyday Italian, isn’t any more modest. Finally, by her third book, Everyday Pasta, there’s more photos of the food and less of its buxom creator. But boobies aside, her recipes have never, ever let me down. If a cookbook is going to be successful, in my family, it must live up to three standards. The recipes must be easy, they must prepare and cook quickly, and they must taste good… and come out as the recipe predicts, Cal just made me add that.  

I have never had any one Giada recipe come out awry. And her talents range from salads to pasta to meat to desserts. Cal claims she must be a perfectionist because each one of her recipes consistently turns out well every single time. And, of course, her dishes have depth to them. Bravo, Giada!


Posted by: powermama | April 15, 2008

Jacques Pepin rocks my world!

Friday night we had Jacques Pepin’s Chicken tonnato ( and it was fast, easy, and spectacular. His book is among my favorites because it succeeds in accomplishing everything its author claims. The meals are easy to prepare, yet the combinations of ingredients are full of complexity. And he means it when he proclaims it in his title, Fast Food My Way. Indeed, the meals are quick and easy to put together.

The chicken, boiled in water with an assortment of vegetables, which is one of the easiest ways to cook chicken breasts, is paired with a tuna-anchovy fillet sauce and served over a bed of arugula. The spice of the arugula is the perfect contrast to the saltiness of the sauce. The layers of flavor Pepin is able to achieve with the most simplistic of ingredients is topped by very few chefs, except perhaps Giada De Laurentiis. It often saddens me that Rachel Ray has become an American icon for quick and easy meals, when in fact, her meals have never taken me under thirty minutes, and her ingredients are nothing but a hodgepodge of randomness that often has no rhyme or reason and are not the least bit complex in flavor.


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