Let us celebrate our independence by adhering to a strict dinner-party menu

While the desserts are patriotic colors, I couldn't commit to a true all-American theme. But there will be many coolers of beer. That's a national pastime I can get behind.

My name is Cavan and I’m a planaholic. So it’s no surprise that part of my routine for getting ready for parties now includes creating a menu on my iPad. Mind you, these menus don’t always make it to the actual party. They’re just for me. I mean, the iPad is busy during the party serving as a cookbook and stereo. It can’t just sit around on the table telling people what the food is.

… That’s why you also create labels for each dish.

Other people do these things, right?

Well. Anyway. Here’s what we have in the works for tomorrow’s Fourth of July party at our house.

I will never get tired of grilling pizzas. It seems hard, but is really so simple. Make a dough that’s somewhat thin and easy to handle, brush some olive oil on it, grill it for a few minutes to let it firm up, then hand it over to a party guest to top it. A few more minutes on the grill, and you’re in Pizza Heaven. Or as close as you can get without owning a wood-fire oven. This is yet another cooking trick I picked up from Sweets by Natalie Kay, proving her expertise even beyond sweets.

Another new trick is watermelon granita. Just like the vodka sodas, these started as a fancy desesert from bon appetit that I quickly transformed into a cocktail. It’s easy and magical. Fill your blender about 3/4 full with watermelon cubes (go small to help your blender out), two heavy splashes of lemon juice and a few tablespoons of sugar. Blend. Top with ice. Blend. Taste and add sugar to get to your own sweetness preference. Throw in some glub-glubs* of vodka.

*I stand by my belief that the best cocktails adjust themselves accordingly as the evening goes on, whether this means increasing or decreasing glub-glubs of vodka as the night goes on. The point is, add however much vodka you can handle. And then add a splash more. You can do it. I believe in you.

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Comfort me, Bachelor Chow.

 

You're In My Vacation Home Kitchen

You're in My Vacation Home Kitchen. Yeah, I'm wearing a driver's cap with Mickey Mouse ears. Jealous?

As if fate needed to remind me that there is balance in life, I was lucky enough to spend a week in sunny Florida … followed by a week with a cold once I was back home. This added up to two weeks without much time in the kitchen.

While in Florida, we rented a vacation home, complete with a hot tub, pool, and, of course, a large kitchen. Funny how your favorite room in the house is no longer where you want to spend your time once you can see a hot tub out the window, though. So we instead relied on easy meals and my favorite pizza place in Orlando, Giordano’s, for Chicago-style stuffed pizzas with spinach, broccoli, garlic and olives. Yum. Let’s go back right now.

The week following paradise was spent in the middle of a snowstorm back in Minneapolis, fighting off colds. When I’m ill, I immediately want lots of fresh fruit. And I drink an unreasonable amount of mint tea. After that, though, all signs of my normal eating habits are dead to me, as I can barely muster the energy to make it to the grocery store, much less cook. Continue reading

Fresh Herb and Grain Salad

Fresh Herb and Grain Salad

Fresh Herb and Grain Salad

I’ve had a craving lately that I couldn’t quite pin down. Then I realized: I want to eat spring.

Months of climbing through snow and missing quality time with the sun made me want to cook dishes that would trick me into believing it was springtime. If not all of me, then at least my tongue, and that’s a part of my body I try never to anger.

So I ran to the store without much of a plan and wound up with a new recipe: my Fresh Herb and Grain Salad. The fresh flavors come through in each bite, along with a great nutty texture, thanks to the mix of quinoa, farro and bulgur wheat. To add an extra bit of happiness and sunshine to the mix, I suggest eating this while riding a unicorn across a rainbow. Should unicorns have gone extinct by the time you read this, substitute a chariot led by puppy dogs and leprechauns.

As this was an eat-as-you-go kind of recipe, I just kept throwing in more dill and parsley until I was happy. Try the three grains out as a base for your own salad, then experiment with it and let me know if you like other herb combinations as well. The herbs are where almost all of your flavor is coming from, so be generous. I also tried this salad as a warm side dish, and it worked well. Just don’t cool the grains after you’ve cooked them if you’re going for that, then serve the leftovers as a cold salad later on.

Fresh Herb and Grain Salad

1 C quinoa
1 C bulgur wheat
1 C farro
4 oz. clover sprouts (or alfalfa sprouts)
2 lemons
3 T olive oil
1/2 bulb of fennel
handful of fresh dill
4 oz. fresh parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste

Prepare the quinoa, bulgur wheat and farro. I use a rice cooker for my quinoa, then rinse the farro and cook it in boiling water for about 15-20 minutes, throwing in the bulgur wheat about halfway through.

Meanwhile, juice both of the lemons and whisk with the olive oil. Mince the fennel bulb and finely chop the herbs and sprouts. Combine herbs and sprouts with lemon dressing.

Drain and cool the grains, then mix all ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with parsley.

Layered Potato and Spinach Enchiladas

Hello, friends. It’s Fat Tuesday. Let’s get fat together by eating a generous portion of delicious Mexican melting cheese.

Today I made my Layered Potato and Spinach Enchiladas for you. Why layered, rather than rolled? To cram in as much food as possible into a single baking dish. More food means more cheese. More cheese means more happy. Unless you’re lactose intolerant, in which case our definitions of true happiness likely differ a great deal. I’m a healthy eater, but, dude, I like cheese.

OK, I have a trick to make this not fattening at all, but you’ll have to watch the entire video to learn the six steps involved in getting there.

Layered Potato and Spinach Enchiladas

Layered Potato and Spinach Enchiladas

Layered Potato and Spinach Enchiladas

  • 2 lbs. red, fingerling or purple potatoes (or a whimsical combination)
  • 20 oz. fresh spinach or 2 10 oz. packages of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 1 can of corn
  • half an onion, diced
  • 1 T olive oil or vegetable oil
  • chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (optional)
  • serrano pepper (optional)
  • love (optional)
  • 18 corn tortillas
  • 2 10 oz. cans of enchilada sauce (I grab a 28 oz. can just to play it safe)
  • 4 C Chihuahua cheese
  • 2 T cumin
  • 2 t chili powder
  • sour cream
  • green onions, diced
  • tequila
  • Peach Fresca
  • sea salt
  • single tortilla chip

First things first. Make your Tequila Fresca.

Boil the potatoes, whole and unpeeled, about 25 minutes.

Heat the oil and sauté the onions until glistening, about two minutes. Add the spinach and, if fresh, toss with tongs until wilted.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Chop one chipotle pepper and add to spinach mixture, as well as some of the adobo sauce. Slice the serrano pepper and add as well. Stir. If you’re feeling brave, add one more chipotle pepper. If you’re trying to impress someone with your heat tolerance, add the whole can. I will miss you.

Coat the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish with enchilada sauce. Layer six tortillas evenly. Coat lightly with more enchilada sauce.

Drain the potatoes and cool slightly. Either cut into 1-inch cubes or just break them up with a spatula. Throw them in a mixing bowl. Add the black beans, corn, cumin and chili powder. Stir well.

Add the potato mixture to the baking dish. Smash it in. We need room for a lot of food. Add cheese. Be generous.

Check your Tequila Fresca. Are you 1/3 of the way through? Try to keep up.

Add six more tortillas. Coat lightly with enchilada sauce. Layer the spinach mixture evenly on top. Smash it down. Add more cheese. Yes, be generous again.

We’re going into the later layer. Is your Tequila Fresca 2/3 gone? Go on. Catch up.

Add the last six tortillas. Tuck them into the dish if necessary. Coat with enchilada sauce. Don’t let any part of the tortillas remain exposed. Add the rest of the cheese. If you have extra cheese, reward yourself with nacho.

Cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil. Bake for another 10 minutes, ensuring cheese has had appropriate time to melt and hug other ingredients. Now you’ve got 40 minutes. Make more Tequila Fresca. Make more nacho. But only one at a time! You don’t want to fill up.

Let the enchiladas cool about 10 minutes. Slice into 8 pieces, equally are according to how much you enjoy the company of those you are serving. Garnish with sour cream and green onions. Serve with Tequila Fresca.

Thai-Inspired Butternut Squash Soup

Hey, everyone. I have my first cooking video ready for you! Not in the market to learn to make a new dish today? How about a front-row seat to hear about how to eat as many Cheetos as you want by pretending you’re making butternut squash dishes?

Yeah. You’re sold.

I started things off with a take on butternut squash soup because that was the dish that first made me realize I should spend some time in the kitchen. When I was a teenager, I decided I should learn how to cook by being a grand old help to my mom on Thanksgiving Day. I suggested she help me make butternut squash soup.

She and I labored over it, while she was also trying to cook the rest of the meal, and, friends, it was a big moment in the kitchen for me. The taste, the texture, the smell of my very first dish … they were just all godawful.

It was truly a disgusting mess.

So why did it keep me in the kitchen? Because I think kitchen blunders are to be embraced. If we all gave up after one botched dish, where would we be? Sure, Recipes Gone Wild can sometimes turn out to be on the inedible side. But they also help you learn about your own palate and skills.

In the spirit of embracing our mistakes, I’ll confess this to you. I completely forgot to tell you about using ginger root in the video, but it’s in the recipe below.

And that brings us to a new segment we’ll call Kitchen Confessionals. Since I’m doing these videos without a script or anybody to tell me when to filter myself, my most fun moments will be my intimate moments talking to the camera. Enjoy:

Oh, and you probably want the recipe in written form, too. I’m doing a lot for you today. You’re welcome.

Thai-Inspired Butternut Squash Soup

Hands-on Time: It’s just prep work, dear. You can handle it.
Total Time: 2.5 hours. Calm down.

Ingredients

  • 2 butternut squashes
  • 2 apples
  • 1 large onion
  • 6 carrots
  • ginger root (a piece that is about an inch and a half long)
  • red curry paste
  • 4 cans of vegetarian vegetable broth (I won’t be mad at you if you use chicken stock, but some chickens are gonna be pissed)
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • chile sesame oil
  • cilantro

Thai-Inspired Butternut Squash SoupPreheat the oven to 375. Slice the butternut squashes in half and remove seeds. Brush them with olive oil, then place cut-side down in two baking dishes. Bake for one hour.

Meanwhile, chop the apples, onion and carrots into small chunks. They don’t need to look pretty. Chop the ginger root into five pieces.

You’ll probably have a little break here. Pat yourself on the back. Or it took you an hour to cut up that stuff. No pat on the back in that case. Take the squash out of the oven. I prefer to give it 15 minutes to harden up and not severely damage my hands, but you could also give peeling the skin off right away a shot. Best of luck. If you wait, like I do, then you can grab the squash and scrape the insides into a bowl. Easy stuff.

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Throw the apples, onion and carrots in, then kick it up to medium-high. Give it five minutes.

Throw in the red curry paste. I say two tablespoons, but you can adjust this to your own taste. (But, come on. Use a lot.) Give it two minutes.

Throw in the broth and squash. Stir a little. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for an hour.OK, now everybody gets a pat on the back. Go on. Do it.

After an hour, remove the five pieces of ginger root with a slotted spoon.

Then, working in batches, transfer the soup to a blender and blend until smooth. Or, if you have a Magic Soup Wand/immersion blender, save loads of time and praise yourself for your smart purchase. (No pat on the back this time. You’ve had enough.)

Now let’s make this thing purty. Ladle the soup into a bowl, then drizzle the chile sesame oil over the top, then drizzle the coconut milk over it, then throw on some cilantro.

Celebrate. With soup.

What are your must-haves in the kitchen?

This is last night's meal, Chorizo Seitan Soft Tacos, not what I whipped together with limited time today ... but also not that all that different. The seitan is from Upton's Naturals.

I’m meeting a friend for a bite to eat and a few glasses of happy at Spill the Wine for a late-night catch-up, so I don’t have grand plans in the kitchen tonight. But here’s the thing: I’m hungry now. What’s a guy to do?

You’re familiar with Second Breakfast, right? You grab some yogurt and fresh fruit and chow down in the morning, you’re oh-so-proud, and suddenly you’re at work checking to see when it’s time for lunch. And it’s 9 a.m. It’s time for Second Breakfast. Plan wisely, and you’ll have granola, nuts or oatmeal in your desk. Plan poorly, and you fall victim to scrounging for office doughnuts.*

So what do I do tonight? Have Dinner Round 1 immediately upon getting home from work, then Dinner Round 2 four hours later? This got me thinking about the staples in my kitchen. The absolutely-must-haves. There are the cooking essentials, of course — olive oil, balsamic, spices — but I really thought about my I-get-sad-when-I-run-out-of-them items, and was surprised how short the list was.

For the last few months, my must-haves have been:

  • black beans
  • tortillas
  • quinoa
  • dried cherries and cranberries
  • plain yogurt
  • eggs
  • spinach
  • tomatoes

If I have those on hand, I can whip together breakfast, lunch and dinner. Of course, I generally have a few other ingredients handy as co-stars, but these are the foundation for many whipped-together, running-late meals for me.

So how did I solve my dinner dilemma? Black beans, mashed into a paste, spread on a tortilla, with a sliced Roma tomato. And, as the just-happened-to-have-it, cilantro. A heavy snack, or a light meal … perfect for Dinner Round 1. Which brings me to last night’s meal, the Chorizo Seitan Soft Tacos pictured above, as well as the fact that I really have no problem having reruns in the kitchen.

OK, friends — I want to get to know you, too. What are your must-haves in the kitchen? What staples do you go to when you need to make a meal quickly? Tell me! It’s OK if it’s cereal. Or caviar. But if it’s caviar cereal, I think you might be a little weird.

*Confession: I hate doughnuts. I hate them so much. It’s OK if you like them. We can still be friends. But please don’t bring them to any dinner parties. It will get awkward.