A Surprising Reminder

I’ve been trying to write about my glorious brush with Alton Brown greatness for days now.  I had the most terrific time!  It should be noted that we were not, in fact, in the front row but the fourth row.  This was for the best because we could see better and were still very close to the stage… and therefore very close to Alton.  ::blush::

A Surprising Reminder

The stage which was decked out with Good Eats paraphernalia like the T-rex spray bottle, the K’nex molecule model, and Bessie the cow!  Yeast puppets made several cameos via a large screen at the back of the stage.  The crew was made up of Good Eats production team members (now you can tell how nerdy I truly am because I actually recognized some of these guys.)  Itchy of “Itchy and Twitchy” was a frequent player, Alton’s meddling lawyer who never lets him have any fun (or blow stuff up.)



There were tons of in-jokes for huge nerds like myself, lots of talk about food, lots of ranting from Alton, lots of crazy, large contraptions.  Everything that I was expecting.  But what I wasn’t expecting were all the wonderful personal stories that Alton would tell about his early career and about his family.  I wasn’t expecting him to sing, play the guitar and play the saxophone with incredible dexterity.  And I wasn’t expecting Alton to control the crowd the way he did.  Alton’s career was mostly in TV and I thought that maybe the transition to the stage, especially in front of a 3,000-person crowd, would be a little more awkward for him.

Not at all.  While he seemed genuinely flattered and perhaps even humbled by the enthusiasm of the crowd when he first appeared, he thrived off the energy like a seasoned theatre actor.  And the crowd deserves some of the credit as well – these were really my people.  One of my favorite moments came right at the beginning of the show when Alton introduced his camera man who would be providing close-ups of any cooking or other experiments.  He said to the crowd “Everyone, say hello to Trevor” and without missing a beat the entire audience replied in unison “HI TREVOR!”  “See, they’re very nice here!” Alton assured Trevor.  It must be really cool to make a cooking show for 13 years and then get to tour like a rock star.

It is fulfilling to admire someone so much, to allow them not only into  your living room but your kitchen, and get a pay-off like this when you finally see them in person.  Alton was hilarious, kind and charismatic.  His inventions were insane.  I learned more about food, especially his thoughts on organic food (“I wouldn’t pay an extra dollar for organic food if you put a gun to my head, because I don’t know what organic means anymore!”), and learned that we completely agree about salt.  And I watched him completely melt when a 3-year-old girl in the front asked him if she could have some pizza.  He climbed down to the end of the stage, picked her up onto his lap and fed her the pizza himself.  There’s nothing I like better than a celebrity who’s nice.  It was an amazing night and I won’t forget it.  I thank James a million times over for keeping an eye on these tickets and getting them for us so quickly so we could be that close to the front.

And then another surprising thing happened.  After the show, I found myself especially missing my Mom.  I told many people who love me about Alton the next day and they politely listened, some even seemed interested.  They were certainly glad that I had a good time.  But my Mom would have been so excited to hear everything about it.  I can imagine her in the kitchen as I came to the door, as she so often was, seeing me wearing my “Alton Brown Live” shirt and saying “Oh, look at her, she’s even wearing his shirt, she’s such a dork!” and grabbing me for a big hug. She would have asked me how it was and listened raptly to every dumb detail.  She would be so interested, I would be encouraged to keep telling her stuff that she really didn’t care about at all.

Because my Mom didn’t like to cook; unlike so many other food enthusiasts, mine is not because of a bond with my mother.  Even though she fed her four children and husband a home-made meal every weeknight (and most weekend nights), she really couldn’t have cared less about cooking.  It was something she did to feed her family.  Frankly, she rarely threw a new recipe into the mix and some of them weren’t even that great.  So she certainly wouldn’t be interested in Alton Brown, someone who dissects cooking and food with such fervor even I think he goes overboard occasionally.

But my Mom was there when I saw my very first Good Eats episode (it was about strawberries.)  I was watching Food Network in her living room, as I often did, and she was sitting on the loveseat reading her paper.  I was exclaiming things like “Oh, that’s interesting!” and “Oh, I never knew that!” and she would look up over her paper and her glasses, see Alton dressed as a farmer and say “That guy’s weird.”  And she’d laugh at me for how excited I was getting and tell me that I was weird, too.

Then she’d go on to buy me almost every one of Alton’s books.  She’d sit in the living room that very same way, reading the paper on the loveseat, as I watched Alton and she would listen to me repeat all of the facts I was learning back to her.  She would sit in the kitchen with me just to keep me company as I was attempting some of his ridiculously hard recipes.  She’s make sure his specials were DVRed for me and clear the living room so I could enjoy them in nerdy peace.

So when I finally got to see Alton Brown live, something I wanted to do for years, I never would have predicted that the show would have stirred up these feelings of loss inside me so acutely.  She hardly ever seemed to really care about the cooking facts I would tell her: she even made fun of me for it.  But if I was excited about something, she would listen to me with matched enthusiasm.  Not because of what I was telling her, but simply because I was happy.  She loved other people, loved me, so much that my happiness made her happy.  And I think this was one of the first times since she passed away that I was this giddy about something.

(In the past 5 months, I’ve sailed across the San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, hiked up Diamond Head, and seen the most incredible feats of acrobatics in Le Reve in Las Vegas, yet Alton Brown was what made me the most giddy.  I’m truly a lost cause.)

Since my Mom died, a lot of people have told me how, after their parents died, they would still pick up the phone and try to call them, so natural was the impulse to want to talk to their parent.  That hasn’t happened to me. But I realized after I saw the show that I was feeling this emptiness the next day and I couldn’t figure out why.  Was it because I didn’t get to go up onstage and meet him?  Was it because I had such a good time and now it was over?  No – it was because I didn’t get to do the play-by-play with Mom.

I know I never told her how much I appreciated her enthusiasm.  I really wish I did, but Reenie wasn’t affectionate like that.  She wouldn’t have liked it if I said it outright.  She would have said “Oh, you are so nice” and then looked at me slightly suspiciously.  But I hope that she knew somehow that she was everyone’s favorite person to talk to.  I hope she knew by the sheer amount of times I came specifically to her to tell her things she actually didn’t care about.  There’s no one who makes you feel important like Reenie did.

A Week of Alton Brown Day 7: Overnight Oatmeal

Today is the day, ladies and gents!  James and I will drive to Baltimore in just a few hours to see Alton’s Edible Inevitable Tour at the Lyric Opera House.  In the front row.  Did I mention that before?

I’m so excited!!A Week of Alton Brown Day 1: Cheesy Oven-Roasted Broccoli

To celebrate, we’re ending our week of Alton Brown recipes with Overnight Slow-Cooker Oatmeal.  This is another that we’ve made many times.  James is the slow-cooker expert in the house and tinkered with the recipe to get it just the way he likes it.

Non-stick cooking spray
1 1/4 cups steel cut oats
2 cups dried cranberries (less if you like your oatmeal a little more savory)
1/2 cup half & half
4 cups water

As the title states, you prepare this Oatmeal the night before you’d like to eat it.

1.  Spray the crock of your slow cooker with cooking spray and wipe down with a paper towel.
2.  Measure out your ingredients and dump them into your crock.

Steel cut oats look different than other kinds of oats.  They’re essentially whole “groats” that have the hull removed (but not the bran, so there’s still lots of nutritional goodness) and are cut into pieces about the size of sesame seed.  They take a longer time to cook and are traditional in Ireland.


I like these whole dried cranberries because they’re a little sweeter than other dried cranberries.  I think golden raisins or dried cherries would work well in this recipe also!3a687-20140221_233849
Give the contents a stir and clap on the lid.c83f8-20140221_234109_hdr
On other crock pots James has owned, we’ve found that laying kitchen towels over the edges of the lid helped to keep the food moist.  His current model has a tight seal on the lid, so we don’t find that necessary anymore.a568c-20140221_234139_hdr
Set your slow-cooker on low for 8 hours.38ef7-20140221_234148
Go to sleep!
When you wake up in the morning, you’ll have delicious, ready-to-eat oatmeal.  It will need a stir and I admit – it won’t be pretty.  But when is oatmeal really ever pretty?f3a51-img_2060


James and I have had trouble with the oatmeal drying out on the sides, but we always have plenty to eat for the two of us – even leftovers.  We believe it’s because the slow-cooker is so large.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the week of Alton Brown and that you’ll check him out on YouTube or Hulu.  He has been a huge inspiration to my cooking and I’m sure I’ll be talking about him many more times in this space.  A true lover of food and cooking and fun in the kitchen – which is what it’s all about for me.

A Week of Alton Brown Day 6: Buttermilk Biscuits

This is ridiculously exciting!
Almost as exciting as how easy it is to make your very own BUTTERMILK BISCUITS.  There was a time when James and I were indulging quite a bit in Pilsbury biscuits out of a can.  We hadn’t eaten them in a long time and it’s nostalgic – they’re so easy and it’s so fun to pop that can open violently with a knife.  (How is it that Mom could always do it so easily and gently by pressing in the exact right spot with a spoon?  The can suffers grave injustice at my hands.)But then one day we looked to see how biscuits were made from scratch.  And the recipe looked pretty easy.  So then we attempted it, and lo and behold, making them was relatively quick, didn’t require fancy hardware, and it was fun, too!  And homemade biscuits… oh my goodness… Pilsbury cannot compare.  (No disrespect to Pilsbury, they are still delicious but the texture is way way off.)

There are a lot of biscuit recipes out there and this one isn’t even Alton’s favorite, but it’s mine.  We make only very minor adjustments to make this perfect for us.  Someday, I promise, we’ll do a step-by-step version of this but for now you can watch Alton and his adorable Ma Mae go head-to-head baking biscuits.

Adorable video here!
You’ll see Alton is weighing his dry goods.  I don’t doubt that this makes a great baked good, but I’ve tried weighing and not weighing on the chocolate chip cookies from earlier this week and… I’m just not buying it.  It takes too long and stuff I make still tastes great.  Once I found out Alton’s own mother told him she wouldn’t read his cook book if he only weighed the ingredients, I felt justified in ignoring him. 😉

Recipe here!

Our few little changes:
1.  We use all butter instead of shortening and butter.  I’m pretty sure I still have the can of shortening that I bought for this recipe in my pantry.  There’s just no flavor in shortening!
2.  Cold fat is absolutely key for biscuits.  Make sure you don’t take the butter out of the fridge until you’re absolutely ready to use it.  I recommend cutting the butter into little cubes and throwing it in the flour.
3.  Biscuit-cutter not required (although I haven’t tried one, and it might be handy!)  I use a round cookie-cutter and, in a biscuit emergency, even used a glass that was roughly the right size to cut the biscuits.  Definitely harder that way, but it works.  James’ dad is still talking about the biscuits we made with the glass cutter, so I think it worked out.
Tomorrow – incredibly easy Overnight Slow-cooker Oatmeal that greets you ready-to-eat in the morning.
Oh right… AND ALTON!!!!

  1. Our favorite buttermilk biscuit recipe! Working with the dough is incredibly messy, but they are so yummy (pastry cutter really helps with mixing the dough). I use butter-flavored shortening, but that is messier than butter. Maybe next time I’ll try all butter. What I’ll do is cut the shortening and butter into little cubes, and then stick it back in the fridge while getting everything else ready. I tried cooling the bowl once, too, but all that does is cause condensation on the bowl, oops.

    I ended up with 2 sets of biscuit cutters, one of which has a huge (3″+) cutter. The young one likes to use that one to make huge monster biscuits.

    Not helpful for this recipe, but I discovered an invaluable use for measuring ingredients: brown sugar. Instead of worrying about whether you’ve packed it properly, just weigh it. I’m probably violating some Kitchen Rule by weighing one ingredient and measuring everything else, but it is so much easier

  2. Hahaha, I believe a much older person in my household would also love to try the monster biscuits… 🙂 Those would be great for breakfast sandwiches!

    I’d love to see you cut the dough with a pastry cutter – I’ve never tried. It’s all hands for me. Alton describes rubbing the flour and butter between your fingers as if you’re “rubbing a dog’s soft floppy ear between your fingers.” And I know that is the weirdest description ever, but that’s how I do it and it works really well! I like using my hands, the mixture is so soft, it’s therapeutic.

    Great tip about the brown sugar! I’ll try that next time. It’s hilarious that baking is such an exact science in some ways, yet measuring flour and brown sugar by hand can change the actual amount you’re using dramatically – and it never seems to affect my baked goods!

A Week of Alton Brown Day 5: Buttermilk Pancakes

I’m noticing that I’m getting lots more hits on this blog when I’m actually cooking something.  That’s awesome!  I am sorry that I can’t deliver that every night this week.  My confession is that I don’t cook that often on weeknights – I get home around 6:15pm and James not usually until 6:45pm.  Sometimes we cook together and don’t end up eating until 8:30pm!  So it doesn’t happen often.

Our usual routine is to cook bigger meals on the weekends and eat leftovers all week, often preparing fresh vegetables to go along with it.  It’s hard because we both travel a lot and try to visit family and friends as often as possible, but that is the system that works best.

So today is another post of a recipe without pictures but that I have made many times: Buttermilk Pancakes.

If you like to make pancakes often, the recipe Alton provides in the video below is actually his own homemade “instant pancake mix.”  You add buttermilk, butter and some eggs and you’re ready to roll.  But, sadly, I don’t make pancakes that often, so I’ve adjusted his recipe down to just one serving, which is the recipe you’ll see below.

A great Alton video-description of the process!
Times of certain parts of the process are noted below

Alton Brown’s Buttermilk Pancakes (1 batch of 12 pancakes)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
4 Tablespoons melted butter

Similar to the Chocolate Chip Cookies earlier this week, we’re going to use the Muffin Method for these pancakes.  Which simply means: mix wet ingredients together, mix dry ingredients together, pour wet onto dry, fold until just combined.  For some reason, any recipe made by this method makes it so much less daunting for me.  Therefore:

1.  Mix together eggs, buttermilk and melted butter
2.  Mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar
3.  Pour the wet ingredients onto the dry and mix gently until they are “just combined” (2:06 on the video)
4.  Get your pan nice and hot and then add your pancake batter (we don’t usually butter the pan, because there’s so much butter in the batter it doesn’t seem to need them.  But it certainly doesn’t hurt anything…)
5.  Ladle your batter onto the pan.  Watch as bubbles starting to form around the edges.  When this happens, peek under your pancake to see if the it’s gotten to the desired level of golden-brown-and-delicious.  If so, flip it over, girlfriend. (2:50 on the video)
6.  The second side doesn’t have the nifty bubbles indicator, but cooks much faster.  I would peek after 30 seconds.
7.  We line a plate with a kitchen towel and fold it over the finished pancakes while working on the others.  This keeps them both warm and moist.

This recipe is fluffy with just the right amount of tang to go along with a syrup (or try with honey!) and delicious breakfast meat.  I hope you can try it the next time you’re jonesing for some pancakes.

A Week of Alton Brown Day 4: Overnight French Toast

Today’s ode to Alton is going to let Alton speak for himself mostly.  The Cooking Channel has edited a bunch of small videos that describe just one recipe from a Good Eats episode.  Some are better than others, but this one is completely perfect.This French Toast is decadent, not just because of the addition of half & half or rebuttering the pan every time you put a new slice in, but because of the custard.  Soaking the stale bread in the custard is an extra step to be sure, but the texture it creates is like bread pudding: a perfect juxtaposition of crunchy (and buttery!) outside and creamy inside.  This recipe has got it going on.

Alton’s video:
I very much recommend that you watch this 5-minute video, it is explains things perfectly.
Alton’s recipe:

My comments about this recipe all revolve around the cooling rack that you use several times in the recipe:
1.  The rack Alton uses is a grid rack, which I used to own.  I HATE THIS RACK.  It is the most impossible thing to clean.  I bought these rather inexpensive racks a few months ago and I’m in love with them.  They’re much easier, plus space saving!  And best of all, the legs that elevate the racks a few inches off the counter offer even faster cooling capabilities.
2.  Believe it or not, I’ve made this crazy contraption that Alton uses in the video for getting the bread dry by unraveling a wire hanger.  Or, I should say, James did.  I still don’t think it’s as easy or as efficient as simply leaving your bread on the cooling racks overnight.  If you leave your bread out earlier in the evening, turn the bread over on the racks before you go to bed.  This enables the bread to access the most air possible and keeps it dry.
3. Instead of putting just the rack into the oven to let the custard set, I put the entire rack and pan into the oven.  It has always worked for me!Super easy and fun recipe for a relaxed weekend morning. 🙂

  1. I knew by your description of these racks that they were the exact ones I own. I love them and you and this. 😀

  2. Hooray!! Aren’t they amazing?! For like $11 you get three of them and they’re easy-to-clean and stackable and just a more efficient cooling rack in general. I love you back!!! 🙂 Thanks for reading, darling.

A Week of Alton Brown Day 3: Chocolate Chip Cookies

The Chocolate Chip Cookie is, I believe, the most perfect cookie.  Nay, the most perfect dessert in existence.  The combination of crunchy exterior and chewy, soft interior, the brown sugar, the big chunks of chocolate – what’s not to like?  Cake and pie and ice cream can’t compare.  (Although a custard shop near my apartment called The Dairy Godmother makes a Tollhouse Cookie custard, which is pretty damn close.) There are a lot of Chocolate Chip Cookie recipes out there and, of course, I turned to Alton to give me the ultimate recipe.  This is a favorite because you don’t need to use a mixer to make it.  I’ve arranged my kitchen so that my mixer is in a very easily accessible place, giving me as few excuses as possible NOT to use it, but still a recipe that doesn’t require the mixer seems easier. I make only two changes to Alton’s recipe: 1.  At the end, before scooping out the dough, I add 4 Tablespoons of milk.  For whatever reason, this dough comes out a bit crumbly and is difficult to scoop into cookie balls for baking.  I often have to form the balls with my hands and really compact the dough together in order to keep it’s shape – it’s very time consuming.

Packing the dough into the scoop so it stays together
Packing the dough into the scoop so it stays together
The little mounds it makes
ARGH!!! Why are you so crumbly, dough?!

Therefore, the addition of milk makes the dough just wet enough to scoop.  This completely changes the structure of the cookie which you can see in the pictures below.  But, in my opinion, it’s for the best.

Wet dough - much easier to scoop
Wet dough – much easier to scoop

2.  I use salted butter AND add salt to the recipe.  I call this my secret weapon for this recipe.  I do not think this results in a salty cookie, but, rather, one with a salt element.  Alton advises against using salted butter in your recipes because you cannot control how much salt a specific brand of butter uses – and if you use different brands each time you make a baked good, how can you control the salt?  I think this is a perfectly fair point – but let’s just say I’ve been using salted butter my entire life and I’ve always been happy with the results.

3. Oops, I made three changes!  I added an extra teaspoon of vanilla extract, resulting in 2 total.  Vanilla is typically used to enhance the other flavors in a recipe, but the flavor of vanilla is just so good – I want more!  This doesn’t work on all recipes, but here it was a very successful experiment.


Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • Servings: approximately 40 cookies
  • Print

Ingredients (Wet):

  • 1/2 pound of salted butter (2 sticks)
  • 3/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed (yes, sugar is considered a wet ingredient!)
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 2 tsp of pure vanilla extract

Ingredients (Dry):

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (equal to 1-12 oz. bag of chips)

Finisher (if chilling dough before baking): 3 TBL milk


  1. Melt your butter
  2. Once the butter has melted, then measure out your ingredients in two separate bowls.  Do not add the butter until all the ingredients have been measured, so it has time to cool slightly.
  3. Pour your melted butter into the other wet ingredients and thoroughly combine.
  4. Pour your wet ingredients onto the dry ingredients and fold gently until just combined.  Don’t worry if there are streaks of flour in there.
  5. Scoop cookies onto baking sheets with a #40 (1 1/2 TBL) disher
  6. Bake your cookies for 15-17 minutes, depending on your oven.  Mine took 15 minutes.
  7. Every five minutes, I rotate my cookie pan 180 degrees and switch the cookie pans on the racks.  This ensures that the cookies cook evenly – none are more crispy than the others.
  8. Let your cookies cool on the pans for 2 minutes before transferring them to cooling racks.

Process with Bonnie Mac Annotations and Pictures

1. Melt your butter c0878-img_1532

  • Once the butter has melted, then measure out your ingredients in two separate bowls.  Do not add the butter until all the ingredients have been measured, so it has time to cool slightly.
    • Separating egg yolks from egg whites can be tricky, but there’s several utensils out there to help you out.  Some people swear by using the egg shell to separate or even your fingers, but I find this guy pictured here to be best.  It came with my measuring cup set, but can be found for pretty cheap online.
      • Just crack your egg (I use the counter covered with a paper towel, as Alton suggests, so as not to ram egg shell into the egg itself) and empty over the separator.  Then gently jiggle the egg white off of the yolk.  The last bits of egg yolk can be a little difficult to jiggle off, so you may want to use your fingers.
    • The Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Flour didn’t really change the flavor at all in the baked cookie (I could taste it in the raw dough), and adds fiber to your baked good.  I call it a win-win!
    • I sift all my dry ingredients by shaking a hand-held sieve.  Alton likes to put all his dry ingredients in the food processor and pulse about five times.  I’ve tried this and it is faster – but washing the food processor takes longer than washing the sieve.  So I prefer the sieve.
      • The whole wheat flour does not sift all the way – there’s little chunks that were bigger than my sieve holes.  I just threw that back in the dry ingredients when I got to the end.  Sifting is more a process or aerating than it is fishing out big chunks.
  • Pour your melted butter into the other wet ingredients and thoroughly combine.
  • Pour your wet ingredients onto the dry ingredients and fold gently until just combined.  Don’t worry if there are streaks of flour in there.
  • Then add your milk, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough is wet enough to scoop easily.
    Adding the milk
    Easy to scoop!
  • Scoop your cookies out onto pans that are lined with parchment paper or these nifty silicone mats, which are both nonstick.
  • Bake your cookies for 15-17 minutes, depending on your oven.  Mine took 15 minutes.
    • Every five minutes, I rotate my cookie pan 180 degrees and switch the cookie pans on the racks.  This ensures that the cookies cook evenly – none are more crispy than the others.
  • Let your cookies cool on the pans for 2 minutes before transferring them to cooling racks.  This accomplishes a few things: 1. It allows the cookies to cool down more gently. 2. The cookies will firm up so it’s easier to transfer them to the cooling racks. 3. It allows your cookie sheet to cool down before they next batch of dough goes on.
    • I used to ignore the cooling stage in many cookie recipes and it never ruined any cookies.  But I do notice that this short amount of time allows my cookies to be more uniform – the dough never starts melting before the cookies get in the oven.
      Without milk on the left.  With milk on the right.  See the difference!
  • The recipe yields about 40 cookies.
  • Eat your cookies warm – that’s when they’re best!

I’ve been getting lots of good feedback about the blog so far and I thank you so much for reading!  If you’ve got a pro tip, a question or a comment, please share in the comments below!  The whole point of writing this blog is to share and learn – so let’s start a conversation! 🙂 Comments:

Have you noticed a difference between cookies made with melted butter versus creamed butter? Shape, texture, taste? I think I tried this recipe once, but I refrigerated before baking and found the dough incredibly difficult to work with.

That’s a great question! This is the only recipe I’ve ever tried with melted butter vs. creamed. I had problems both when I refrigerated the dough before and when I didn’t. I poured through Alton’s baking cook book last night trying to find out WHY he preferred the melted butter/muffin method for this cookie, but he never says!

The muffin method (melting butter, adding wet to dry ingredients) versus the creaming method (mixing room temperature butter with sugar before adding dry ingredients) is supposed to yield different texture results. Think of it as a muffin vs. a cupcake – they should have different textures, the cupcake being much more uniform because of creaming. But it’s harder to notice in a cookie. I guess it’s up to us now – we’ll just have to do a side-by-side comparison, one with melted butter and one with creamed, to see if the melted butter is really worth the hassle. The family is going to be devastated to have to undergo that taste test… 😉

A Week of Alton Brown Day 2: Chicken Piccata

I always attribute this recipe to Alton Brown but on further examination of the exact instructions, I see that I’ve altered it quite a bit.  However, the ways that I’ve altered the recipe are all methods that were inspired by Alton, so I think it still fits in the Week of Alton theme.

A few years ago, one of my two older brothers and I would get together about every month to cook together and this is one of the first recipes we tried.  We made it at our parents’ house and, although it’s rather than different than anything they would usually eat, they both really liked it – I’ve made it for them many times since.  Bolstered by that success, I continued to tinker with the recipe because the sauce has everything that I like in it – garlic, onions, lemons and white wine.  I wanted even more!

This is my “go-to” dish: I make it when I can’t think of anything else to make, I make it for special occasions, and I make it when I’m entertaining someone for the first time because I know it so well.  Also, it’s an extremely hardy recipe – I’ve screwed it up so many times and it always ends up tasting great.  Here’s a few reasons I think why that might be:
1. Garlic and onions can do no wrong.
2. This method of cooking is technically a braise, which is a very forgiving method.  I have cooked the chicken breasts both very thick and cut (or pounded) very thin and for varying lengths of time (from 2 minutes to 15) and never once has the chicken been dry.
3. Lemon juice is my secret weapon at all times.  If I think a recipe needs an extra “pop” of flavor or a little more liquid because it feels dry, I always have squeezed lemon juice at the ready.  Lemon juice adds no fat or calories, but tons of flavor.  Since the sauce is based around lemon juice, it’s an instant success.

The resulting recipe has a gravy just the consistency I like (not too thick, not too thin) to cover a grain along with the chicken.  I also like the combination of the scallions and red onions for color.  Almost every time I make this dish, I take the lid off and say “Oh, girl, that is perfect,” addressing both James and myself.  It’s just that good.

Chicken Piccata
Inspired by Alton Brown’s recipe in I’m Just Here For the Food

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts halves, cut in half (making 6 pieces total)
Salt & Pepper (freshly ground is great if you’ve got it)
Olive Oil (I use Extra Virgin because I’m convinced it adds flavor, but it’s probably not necessary.  The real objective is to brown the chicken, so any oil will do.)
Flour (for dredging, plus 2 tablespoons for the sauce)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 red onion, sliced so half-moons are intact
3 cloves of garlic, also sliced and then given a rough chop
6 scallions, sliced into small rings
1 cup white wine (I like Pinot Grigio)
1 cup chicken stock
Juice of 1 large lemon (which equals about 5 Tablespoons)

1.  “Mise en place” it up, as we say in our household, which means “Everything in its place.”  Today specifically, James had to run out for chicken stock right as we got started, so I had time to Mise en place much more than I usually would.  Man was I glad for that later.  The prep tends to take longer than the actual cooking, and the next step can sneak up on you.  Therefore…
2.  Cut your onion, scallions and garlic.


3.  Juice your lemon.

4.  Measure out your white wine, chicken stock and lemon juice.  I go ahead and combine that all in one measuring cup.  It’s all going to be combined eventually!

5.  Now would be a good time to measure out your flour (2 Tablespoons) and butter (2 Tablespoons) for the roux as well.  I did not do this ahead of time and risked spilling flour all over the floor, which would have been very amateur hour indeed.
6.  Assemble your dredging station!  Put a healthy amount of flour onto a plate or other receptacle (I have this nifty plastic one with high sides that my mom bought me which is pretty boss.)  Today, for the very first time, I put out two small bowls of salt and pepper to use when dredging, so I wouldn’t get raw chicken on my salt & pepper shakers.  Although it took a while to grind out all that pepper at once, it made life a lot easier when dredging.

7.  Cut your chicken breasts in half.  This is best achieved using quite a sharp knife, which I … did not do.  I was using my good knife on my vegetables and didn’t want to cross-contaminate.  You’ll see my results were varied.  This is done best by starting at the thickest part of the breast and slicing over and over again.  You won’t saw back and forth but complete the cut, removing your knife from the breast and then start over again.





This can take a lot of time, so you can use a few alternatives: you could buy your chicken breasts already cut thin (this rules!), you can omit cutting the chicken at all and just serve them thick (if you’re trying to reduce the amount of meat you’re eating, you could cut the breasts into appropriate sized chunks which would be much easier, although not as pretty), or your could pound them.  In my experience, pounding takes much longer than cutting.

8.  In our house, we dredge by the James method, which requires putting salt and pepper down into the flour each time before your dredge.  This results in especially deliciously seasoned chicken, with the added bonus of looking rather attractive as well.  I recommend dredging all the chicken at once and then putting in the pan, so the chicken cooks at roughly the same speed.


9.  Use a large pan with high sides (preferably).  Pour your olive oil into the bottom of the pan until just coated.  On medium-high heat, let that oil get nice and hot until it starts to smoke.
10.  Gently lay your floured chicken breasts into the oil.  You’re not really supposed to crowd the pan like this but we do because… we’re lazy and we want to eat sooner.

11.  Brown the chicken on both sides. The chicken will later be cooking in the sauce, so they don’t need to be cooked all the way through (but, as stated above, it’s okay if they are.)  Browning the chicken adds a whole other layer of flavor and attractiveness to the dish.

12.  Once your chicken is browned, take out of the pan and place on a clean plate.  Let rest at room temperature.
13.  Add your red onions to the same pan and a little more oil, if necessary.  Cook the red onions until they get slightly floppy (technical term) and just a little browned.

14.  Now add your scallions and garlic and lower the heat to medium-low.  The pan is already very hot, so this will bring the actual heat to around medium.  Cook for about 2 minutes more (you don’t want the scallions to cook too much so they still have some texture by the end.)

15.  Okay – here’s the fancy part.  Add your butter and let melt for a few seconds before adding the flour for your roux.  Use a whisk to mix that up together and when the flour looks like it’s completely covered in butter…


16.  Add your liquid.  Continue to whisk until you don’t see any more clumps of butter.  This won’t be perfect, since whisking is not ideal with chunks of onions in there, but it’ll work out fine.  (I prefer this method to taking the onions out and then adding them back in once the lumps of flour are gone.  I’ve done it before, but what a bother.)


17.  Let the liquid simmer for about 60 seconds before adding the chicken.

18.  Once the chicken is added, turn the heat back to medium and clap a lid on that bad boy.  Let cook for about 5 minutes, or keep an eye on it until the gravy is a little thinner than your desired consistency.  The gravy will thicken up as it sits.
19. WHA-BAM!  Chicken Piccata.  The whole process will take about 45 minutes when done in the proper order.  And girl, it is good.

(We served it over red quinoa and roasted green beans with smoked paprika.  THAT recipe is in our future.)

And tomorrow – the most amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies you ever wrapped your lips around!

A Week of Alton Brown Day 1: Cheesy Oven-Roasted Broccoli

If you’ve never heard of Alton Brown, he is star of a cooking television program called Good Eats.  Although it’s gone off the air just a few short years ago, the archive of these brilliant episodes can be found on both Hulu or, interestingly, a wealth of episodes are available on YouTube.  His style is quirky and thorough, tackling single ingredients or recipes in an episode instead of creating an entire meal.  He uses bizarre characters, puppets, and amazingly inventive visual props to give you a true understanding of your food.  I adore him.  His show is like nothing on TV before or since.

As my devotion to Alton grew, I’ve given the books as gifts to many people, and as many people as I have tortured with choruses of “Well, Alton says…” in the kitchen, I’ve converted some fans along the way.  My boyfriend now tunes in regularly for Alton’s podcast and bought us the tickets to his LIVE SHOW, which we’ll be attending on Saturday!

In the front row!  I can’t remember the last time I was so excited to see someone live.  I’ve never met someone I’ve really admired and Alton has had an influence on a huge part of my life.  I’m completely geeking out!

And as nerdy as this is, I decided to celebrate my delight in seeing Alton live with seven days of Alton Brown recipes that changed the way I cook.

To start: Cheesy Oven-Roasted Broccoli. NOM.

This recipe gave me an entirely new appreciation for broccoli – it’s now one of my go-to vegetables.  Although I can’t eat cheese anymore, I still use the rest of recipe and it’s amazing.  But I totally recommend keeping the cheese if you’re not lame like me.
You can find the recipe here.
And a video of this recipe (to create a few more Alton converts) here!

Things to keep in mind:
1. Sometimes I use a cake pan, and sometimes I don’t.  The high sides are nice, but I haven’t found them necessary.
2. I don’t toast the panko bread crumbs ahead of time.  I am sure it adds a depth of flavor, but when this recipe was part of a bigger meal and I was multi-tasking in the kitchen, I almost always burnt them.  I add them in at the same time as the broccoli and it tastes just fine.
3. DON’T JUST USE THE FLORETS.  The stalks can be sliced into little medallions (as you can see in the video) and are just as delicious as the florets – plus less wasteful!  I only toss away the dry, brown, gross-looking end of the stalk.
4. This recipe tastes amazing cold the next day.  A great idea to bring to the office and get an extra serving of veggies into your day.

I hope you enjoy!

I better just start…

I’ve been desperately wanting to write about all kinds of things: food, my attempts to get healthy (and figure out what healthy means anymore), and the process of picking up the pieces of my life after my Mom passed away in September.  I’ve got all these feelings and things I want to say – yet sometimes I’m so exhausted by the end of the day, trying to seem like I’ve got it together and everything is fine, that the idea of saying anything at all seems too much to me.

I also felt the need to organize them – a blog for food, a blog for grief.  I didn’t think the two really had much to do with each other.  But – they do.  My food and my quest for answers about health and my love of my mother all play together because they’re all a part of my life.  I’m just an almost-thirty-year-old woman trying to figure out how to live my life well, and cook and eat as much as I can along the way.

So I figure I better just start writing.  I apologize if this blog is a little messy, if it doesn’t have a cohesive theme or if a new blog post isn’t what you felt like tuning in for.  In that way, “Amateur Hour” is more apt a title than I realized.  I don’t know what I’m doing: sometimes I pretend that I do, and I really screw up.  Sometimes I’m just messing around and I hit on a great success.  But I learn a little more each day, and when I learn something new, I want to share it with other people who like to learn.  I hope you find something to enjoy in this space.