Author Archives: iliketocookthings

About iliketocookthings

I was born and raised in West Michigan in a small suburban/farming community called Lowell. I grew up cooking. My family has always been centered around the kitchen. Growing up I tended to cook a lot of Italian-American food, seeing as how I am a whopping 25% Sicilian. When I got into high school I got really into Asian cuisine. I went to college at Central Michigan University, and quickly became homesick and insecure about my areas of study (Spanish and Art). I decided to return to the motherland and begin Culinary School after 2.5 years of moderate success in traditional college. Culinary school was a fun experience, and I learned a lot, but I didn't really fit the profile of my fellow classmates. When finished, I moved to Chicago to explore carreer options. My first place of employment outside of Michigan was Green Zebra, where I learned a lot, but quickly learned that I wasn't cut out for the cooks lifestyle. I stuck it out though, and continued working at both of Shawn McClain's restaurants, for about a year and a half. I now work for Whole Foods, and while it is a corporate environment, three of the biggest perks are access to ingredients, the employee discount, and the 8 hour days that allow me time to do what I really want. I am most happy when cooking in my own kitchen for people that I love. I now live in Saint Paul, Minnesota with my husband Eric and my cat child Fergus.

Personal Pan Pie-zzas

I’ve more or less been on vacation for almost a week. When I say vacation, I mean, like literally, I have no obligations work or family or friends, and I am as free as my wallet will allow, which is a strange feeling. 

In typical fashion, I am unable to actually rest, so I have been cleaning, crocheting, comforting Eric, who just turned 40 and is attempting to uphold his promise to quit smoking once and for all. 

Also, we traveled up north which was gorgeous and rugged and otherworldly. It reminded me why the Scandinavians moved here in the first place. It’s home. 

Pine and birch forests cut into jagged sheer rock face. It’s brutal. It’s gorgeous. 

I never want to live in a place where I can’t be close to my lakes. Superior makes me feel at home. It reminds me that I am not so far from the motherland. 

The drive up is so invigorating, and at this point I know what to expect. I know at a certain point we will spot signs for Betty’s pies, I will want pie, Eric will express his indifference about pie, I will spot that first swath of smooth rock in the median, then the climb before the breathtaking reveal of Superior. The first time we saw it it took our breath, almost literally. The same thing happened when we spotted ocean heading into Halifax in Nova Scotia. Something happens to you when you are deprived of something for that long, and then it is suddenly revealed to you in such a dramatic fashion. Now we brace for it like its a roller coaster. “Is this it!?… This is it!” 

By the time we were on our way home and I passed the sign for Betty’s Pies again, I knew that I needed to find a way to make Eric less indifferent to pie. This was quite rich coming from a person who can’t make a pie crust to save her life. I know it’s illogical, it’s my one fault…ūüėā

I decided to make a rustic blackberry frangipane tart. I made a flakey pie crust by cutting 7 T of ice cold butter cut into 1/4 inch pieces into 2 1/2 C of flour with 1 t of salt. I cut it with two really janky spatulas, becuase I don’t own a pastry cutter, and it worked fine because I know how to improvise, until it was gravely textured. Then I added just enough ice water (like 7 TBS) to bring it all together. I divied it all up into 8 pieces, and flattened them and wrapped them and tossed them in the fridge. I set aside 4 in the freezer for later. Nobody needs 8 tarts at once unless they are a person with like, what? Friends?

I made the frangipane by mixing 1/4 C of butter, 1/2 C of sugar, creamed that in the mixer, added 1/2 of a scraped vanilla bean and a fat pinch of salt. I added 2 eggs one at a time and whipped them in until fluffy. Then I added 2 T of flour and 1 C of almond flour. I whipped it in and threw that in a pastry bag.
I sliced all my blackberries (2 pints) in halves. I drizzled some tasty honey over them, a tiny pinch of salt, and some flour just to coat. 

I allowed each bundle of dough to warm up enough until it was pliable enough to not crack and rolled each out on flour. I piped a 1/4 inch thin spiral on each round and then layered the berries on top in concentric circles. I hoped and prayed as I folded in my first gold then my second all the way to the last. Very few cracks. Success!!!! I egg washed the outside and sprinkled liberally with sugar. I pitched the whole mess in the oven at 370ish and baked for about 40 minutes rotating half way through. I’m rather pleased. 

But not quite as pleased as I was sitting this close to certain death and even certainter majesty. 

Indigo Milk Caps

This one was no good, all buggy, but isn’t it shocking blue? The milk or latex these mushrooms exude is called smurf blood in jest. 

Believe it or not, this insanity colored mushroom is edible. I don’t know if I will be able to stomach it, but it is said to have a nutty peppery kick. With time the blue turns green. They turn scrambled eggs an eerie green. Lactarius indigo

A gorgeous mushroom undoubtedly. I need to summon the strength to saut√©e these guys up with some butter, salt and pepper. Wish me luck. 

They turned a murky aqua with cooking. Eric wouldn’t touch them. I have to admit I was a little bit skeeved out by the color. It’s human nature to be sketched out by food this color. It keeps us alive. Alas, there have been many dummies before me to make sure this guy is edible. 


It’s alright. I get nutty and mushroomy. I didn’t pick up any peppery, which is ironic, because I put pepper on them. They have a mild aftertaste, maybe slightly metallic? My general opinion is that they are totally edible, fairly tasty. Would I eat them again, yes. Would I seek them out to eat again? Meh, probably not. If I fed them to friends I’d make sure they were blindfolded or in a very dark room.

‘Udon it Again.

Because… I did a post about Udon before and…Who doesn’t love a good noodle related pun…huh?….???  Heh…Heh…

But seriously dinner was on point. A rich pork, shrimp, miso broth, with wood ears, shiitakes, straw mushrooms, scorched scallion, seared pork and shrimp dumplings I made last week in a fit of post work delerium, seared then thinly sliced fatty pork shoulder tossed in at the end & quickly seared fat scallops. 

Does someone want to gift me millions of dollars so I can fund my expensive food choices and never work again? Kay thanks, byeee! 

Suicide Bread

Today there was an unusually large amount of scrap dough after all our bread was made for the day, so our lead baker got creative:

He homogenized all the flavors of bread we have into one giant monster loaf….Suicide Loaf, like when you mix all the flavors of pop at the roller rink??? Anyone? Is it a Michigan thing? No?? Ok. 

I also tried branding it with a wire that I attempted to heat to red hot. You can kind of see it on the top left. The brand was pretty terrible, a lame spiral. I really want to get an actual cattle brand and try it out. 

My favorite part about this is the fact that the forced perspective makes me look like a toddler. I assure you, that although it was intentional, the bread was still pretty damn huge. Also, pretty tasty.

Marble Rye Scrap Bread

Sometimes you have left over dough, and rather than bin it, you swirl it all together and braid it, because it’s not like you are incredibly understaffed and exhausted. 

Then you patiently wait a night and bake it a nice golden brown, and then get your ass back to work. 

Lemon Blackberry Bavarois

It’s been a grip since I last posted, and I have been itching to get back at it. Work has been grueling and has turned me into a person incapable of resting. I have decided to use it for good instead of evil. In that spirit, and in the spirit of being jealous of the home cooks of the¬†Great British Baking Show, I have made this treat using a mixture of some recipes I utilized during my time at Green Zebra and Spring.

I first started by thinly slicing some organic (which I only mention, because you are using the zest and what not, so maybe avoid the chemicals?) lemons, and simmering them in a simple syrup made with sugar and a nice floral honey. Once the pith starts going clear on you, you can pull them out (save the syrup for later) and lay them on a sugar lined baking sheet and toss them in the oven set on low 200 degrees F. You basically want to dehydrate them.

Next, I got the Chiffon going (Set the oven to 325 Degrees F):

3/4 C-All Purpose Flour

1/2 C-Pastry Flour

3/4 C-Sugar

1/4 t-Baking Soda

1/4 t-Salt

Lemon Zest

1/3 C-Water

1/4 C- Oil

5- Egg Whites


Rub a spring form pan with oil and dust with flour. Mix all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the oil and water in as well. Whisk the egg yolks on high until they are fluffy and pale yellow. They will stand up for a few seconds when you pull the whisk out. This is called ribbon stage, which is fancy. Pour it over the thick pasty batter, and rinse your bowl and whisk with hot water to move any trace of the fat from the yolks. Get your whites whisking to firm peak, and while that is happening, carefully fold the yolks into the batter to lighten it up. Once those are mostly incorporated, you can begin folding in your whites. Start with a third, to further lighten it, as a sacrifice, and then fold in the remaining three quarters just until incorporated. Pour the mixture into your lined pan, and put the cake in the oven. Bake until the top is domed and makes a crunchy fall leaves sound when you gently pat it. I topped mine with some granola for some extra texture, because I can’t keep anything simple. I cooled it to room temp, wrapped it and tossed it in the freezer to make it easier to slice.

I sliced a pint of blackberries in half for some color and zing.

Next, while the cake was chilling, I prepared my Bavarois, which is what non-Americans call Bavarian Cream, which before culinary school I previously only knew as doughnut filling. It is basically a créme anglaise with gelatin and whipped cream folded in at the end.

3 C- Cream

1 Oz-Gelatin


2/3 C- Sugar

2 C- Milk

Lemon Zest of 2 Lemons

Vanilla Bean

Small pinch of Salt

I zested the Lemons, and scraped 1/2 Vanilla Bean Pod into the Milk in a small sauce pan on the stove. I separated my yolks into a medium bowl. I measured my sugar and set that aside as well. I kind of hate powdered gelatin, and I don’t have a lot of experience with it. I am mostly used to using leaf gelatin, but leaf gelatin is hard to find for commoners like me these days. I mixed the powdered gelatin in with just enough water to dissolve it. I heated it in very small increments in the microwave and stirred it in between, until it was no longer grainy. I covered it with plastic wrap and set it aside.

I whipped my cream until just before firm peak, and put it in the fridge til later.

Next, I heated the milk on low heat until it started to steam, at which point I whisked the sugar into the yolks. When the milk starts to foam up I poured about 1/4 cup of the hot milk into the sugar yolks and whisked it together. I added a little more, re-whisked and then poured all of the yolk mixture into the remaining hot milk  in the pot and began whisking regularly. You will want to watch it for any signs of curdling, but you want to allow it to thicken slightly to almost a chocolate syrup texture.

This is where I am going to be honest in spite of myself. Mine started to curdle slightly. My thoughts are that possibly the zest had some affect on it, but this is purely non-scientifically based. In reality, I probably am just out of practice. While I am being honest, it has been years since I have made an anglaise, although, I used to make them 5 days a week. Never fear though, I was able to emulsify the mixture back together with my stick blender after I yanked it off the heat. I also took this moment to blend in the gelatin.

At this point, I made an ice bath in my sink and poured the goop through a mesh strainer into a stainless steel bowl and whisked it until cool. I waited a little too long, and mine was a little bit hard to incorporate my cream once the time came, so I would say that if you cool it to the point where it is no longer warm you are good. You don’t want to give the gelatin too much of a chance to firm up, because it gets lumpy. You see, I¬†make ALL of the mistakes so you don’t have to! I am such a saint.

Now fold in 1/3 of the cream into the goop. That sacrifice will lighten the mix so it is easier to keep the fluffiness of the rest when you chuck it in next. Fold it in carefully just until incorporated.

After that I lined a round bottomed bowl with plastic wrap because I was afraid that my bavarois wouldn’t come out cleanly. In retrospect, it was stupid, because the end result was as crinkle-y as I had worried it would be. Next time, I would have just stuck with greasing the bowl as i first thought. I popped my lemon slices into the bottom.

Then I was like, heck toss in my blackberry halves too!

I scooped in some of the bavarois and spread it out over the fruit.

I popped the cake out of the freezer and cut it in half. I decided at this time, that there really was no need for the bottom half, because there really wasn’t enough bavarian cream for all that cake. I rewrapped the bottom half and refroze it for later fat-kid moments of weakness. I trimmed the granola-y top down so it’d fit nicely on top of the fruit covered in bav. I gave some clearance so it wouldn’t show through the cream.

I filled a piping bag with the remainder of the cream, and piped around it. Then I poked some holes into the chiffon.

I drizzled the slightly (pleasantly) bitter lemon honey syrup over the cake, because why not? You’re making a fancy dessert for no one but you and your husband on a Wednesday, so go nutz!

Next, I lined the drizzled cake with the remainder of my blackberry halves.

I piped the rest of the cream over the top of it all and smoothed it out. Next, I pulled the flaps of plastic taught over the top of the whole thing. Tapped the bowl and tried, unsuccessfully to get out all of the air bubbles, and tossed it in the freezer for a few hours.

Once I was fairly positive that the whole thing was set, I unveiled it to Eric. It was pretty strange looking with all of the wrinkles, which I was less than stoked about.

It still looked pretty neat though. My first instinct was, holy too much gelatin. There was no wobble, but also it was mostly frozen.

I sliced into it with a little difficulty, owing to the lemon slices, which I will admit, were mostly there for cute factor.

I have to admit, it was pretty alright. My finished product resembled my vision pretty accurately. My pastry experience and instincts didn’t disappoint me too much.

Also, it is pretty tasty. Alas, I am my own worst critic, and I always have things I would change. Always.


I’d try the Japanese-mandolin (eep!!) to try to get them even thinner, and after I simmered them, I’d have quartered them, so I could scatter them more broadly.


I was pretty happy with this, but I’d zest even more lemon in and omit the granola. I never can just leave something alone. There is always an “and then…”. I’d also do another layer, but less chunky, for aesthetic.


I’d cut the gelatin in half. I think something was off with my conversion from leaf gelatin to the powder. I can taste the cow hooves and bones. I think the end result would have been much lighter and fluffier with less, and would have still held together under refrigeration. ¬†The lemon needed to get amped up as well. I think the amount of zest was fine, but I would have added a tiny amount of extract if I had it. Also, I definitely wouldn’t have lined the bowl. It was such a bummer to see all those wrinkles after working for most of an afternoon to make a neat dessert.

Other than all of those things, I am a pretty happy camper.

Now who wants dessert? Anyone? Anyone?


Pasta Salad Redeemed

Growing up, if there was a summer barbeque, it was inevitable that my Mom was going to make pasta salad, it was quick and easy, most people liked it and she had three kids, give the lady a break. As one of said children, it was my duty to whine about it and be ungrateful. Turns out, I wasn’t giving it a fair shake because of my long standing hatred of celery salt…One of the key ingredients in the seasoning packet she used. I feel like it was literally Italian Dressing and a packet or shaker of Ms. Dash…the bile is rising… I LOVE PASTA SALAD though, and it was my duty today to redeem it.

Yeah, they were a little dirty...its good for you.

Yeah, they were a little dirty…its good for you.

So! I started with a boiling pot of salted water. I cut some button mushrooms in half while I got my cast iron skillet roaring hot.

Mise en place for your vinaigrette. Parsley, Basil, Lemon Juice and Zest, Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Salt, Pepper

Mise en place for your vinaigrette. Parsley, Basil, Lemon Juice and Zest, Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Salt, Pepper

When it was smoky hot, I added a bit of olive oil and threw those filthy little things in the pan to sear. While those were browning up nicely, I minced up some parsley  and chiffonaded some basil. I also zested a whole lemon and  squeezed the juice into a large bowl with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Once the mushrooms were seared nicely, I tossed them hot into the vinaigrette.

Sear those mushrooms hard and toss them in a vinaigrette of lemon juice, zest, balsamic, olive oil, salt an pepper.

Sear those mushrooms hard and toss them in a vinaigrette of lemon juice, zest, balsamic, olive oil, salt an pepper.

By this time the boiling water was nice and boily, and I tossed my garlic scapes into the pot. Garlic scapes are lovely if you haven’t ever tried them before. They are surprisingly mild on the garlic. They are similar in texture to blanched asparagus, and they can get a bit woody at the ends so, make sure you trim them, and you will eventually be cutting them on a sharp bias.

Blanch a few Garlic Scapes and watch them brighten up.

Blanch a few Garlic Scapes and watch them brighten up.

Once they are nice and bright and a little softer (don’t kill them, they are little guys), pick them out of your water with tongs and run them under cold water until they are cool to the touch. This locks in the color so that they stay bright and pretty!

Then shock them with running cold water or icy water if you are fancy.

Then shock them with running cold water or icy water if you are fancy.

Once they are cool you can cut them on a sharp bias and add them to your growing heap in the bowl.

Scapes are so pretty!

Scapes are so pretty!

Now you can go ahead and use the very same boiling water to throw your rotini in. Look how resourceful I am! ¬†I like rotini the most because it is a throwback to my Mom’s pasta salad. Props, D…

A medley of salty olives and capers.

A medley of salty olives and capers.

While you are waiting for the pasta, you can get out a melange of olives of any variety that you like, but please not canned black olivesblarf. If you have to pit them, chop them up a little and while you are at it, why not some capers or caper berries even???

Little salt bombs.

Little salt bombs.

This is starting to come together folks… Now, here is where I was a little worried, but I figured that my love of cauliflower would not lead me astray. I cut some big hunks of cauliflower up and got my pan nice and hot again.

Cauliflower is highly underutilized.

Cauliflower is highly underutilized.

Once again, I poured in some tasty olive oil and seared them crispy and brown. The squirrel wasn’t so sure about it, but I was like, “Shut up, Squirrel, leave this to the professionals…”

Seared Cauliflower, Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper, Suspicious Squirrel Plate.

Seared Cauliflower, Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper, Suspicious Squirrel Plate.

Ok, so I’ve been hitting the sauce Zissou-style. Only one though, I am a responsible adult here, people.

Mama likes to drink when she is cooking in a hot kitchen.

Mama likes to drink when she is cooking in a hot kitchen.

Now my pasta is ready, so I ran that under water until it was cool and tossed it in the bowl to start to get it’s mingle on.

Rotini time!

Rotini time!

I salted and peppered my seared cauliflower, and ran a knife over it a few times to make it more appropriately bite sized. I also decided at this point that the garlic scapes were really super mild and I am a woman who loves her garlic, so I minced up a fat clove and mixed it in.

Almost there!

Almost there!

Now I halved a bunch of lovely grape tomatoes. and tossed them in. Folks at this point, you have a LOVELY vegan salad that any person could get down with. Season it to your liking…don’t be afraid of a little salt. But, if you are a cheese and anything meaty-umami eater like me, go the extra mile, guys.

Try to make anchovies look good with an iPhone...I dare you. Also, Parmesan.

Try to make anchovies look good with an iPhone…I dare you. Also, Parmesan.

I added, three fillets of anchovies sliced thin, and a good 1/3-1/2ish cup of grated Parmesan Reggiano. I also chiffonaded more basil leaves and threw in a handful of pinenuts because I am fancy like that.

Finished Product! Sucess!

Finished Product! Sucess!

And folks that’s it. I am for once, looking forward to having pasta salad leftovers to eat for the next few days. I am not knocking Dawn. She is a great cook, and she taught me how to cook, but I think that she would agree that this is worlds apart. Now I just have to see what Eric thinks of it when he gets home from work!


Cherry-Chipotle chops!


Terrible photo, but I made chops with a delicious cherry-chipotle white wine pan sauce. Super easy and amazing.

Rub the porkchops with cumin and salt. Sear them in a HOT pan on all sides. Deglaze with white wine, add about 2 T of rough chopped chipotles en adobo, and 2 T of cherry preserves (mine are a fancy version of Smuckers) and a nice heavy tablespoon of dijon. Turn off your pan (if you have a heavy pan to cook them in) and cover (if you don’t turn the heat down and let it cook for like 3 more minutes covered).

Cochinita Pibíl

I decided to dust off the keyboard for this tasty and traditional Yucatecan-Myan dish. Scouring my walk-in meat cooler, I was dismayed to find that I was fresh out of lech√≥n, cochinita, or suckling pig as needed, and in even more of a dire need of a fire pit. Never fear though, I decided to improvise, as I am sure any clever Mayan would have in a pinch. I was, however, lucky enough to chance upon¬†banana leaves-nature’s tinfoil, used by man for a millenia, to swaddle various meats, tamales, and many other delicacies while cooking. The flavors used while cooking cochinita are similar to al Pastor. They are heavy on the achiote (annatto) and the acid. ¬†The acid tenderizes the meat, and the fattiness of the pork mellows the acid with time and slow cooking.

Traditionally, in the Yucatan, Seville Oranges are used. They are very bitter acidic. I was not bitter at all when I discovered they were not¬†to be found. Instead, I decided to substitute¬†oranges, limes and a little apple cider vinegar for my cause. I also minced some garlic, toasted and ground pepper, cloves, and cumin, and added some Mexican oregano to the mix. The other key ingredient was achiote or annatto paste. El Yucateco¬†makes a lovely little brick in various sizes, with a happy little chef and a happy little cochinita on it. I broke that up into smaller pieces, and then I added all of the ingredients to my blender cup. BuZzZzzzzZZ! Then that is it! On to the meats, the delicious meats….

The first time around, I did not choose the right meat, rather, my store didn’t have the meat I wanted available. I think that I got mostly loin or something really lean. Since traditionally, it is made with the whole pig, you have to consider that there would be a fair deal of fat with it, even if it is just delicious and tender baby piglet fat. The next time, I vowed to set things right with a fatty cut like pork butt, and kept my promise with much better results.

I doused the pork in the marinade and let it chill out for a while.

I tore the banana leaves,which I found in the freezer section of my Mexican Grocery Store, into pieces that fit the baking dish that I used. I alternated directions between layers.

I added the pork, and tossed in a dozen or so bay leaves into the banana leaf bundle.

I tucked the cochinita into bed by folding each layer into the other.

I finished using the left over scraps to tuck underneath the whole bundle. It looked so beautiful, I wanted to cradle it in my arms like a new-born babe.

Instead, I placed it in a 300¬į¬†F oven and baked it for about 4 hours (or more, if you can bare it). At one point, I was concerned about the leaves getting too dry, so I poured some warm water over the leaves. In the end, ¬†I dont think it really mattered.

While the pork was cooking away, I pickled some red onion cut in a very fine Julienne. I just squeezed a lime, added a dash of apple cider vinegar, and a heavy pinch of salt. Normally, I would have also made an Habanero salsa for the cochinita, but I had just made Chile de Arból salsa, and I wanted to be thrifty.

I have since made an Habanero salsa with a happy result. I toasted about 4-5 Habanero and 5-6 big garlic cloves still in their papers in a hot skillet until charred. I deveined and seeded the Habaneros with gloves since I had some lying around. I also peeled and rough chopped the garlic. I added about 3/4 of a cup of the same mix of lime, orange and vinegar-mix to taste with a little bit of salt.  I blended it just enough to break up the big chunks. It is totally worth it, if you are debating whether or not to spring for it, and so simple.

When I was sure that the meat was fally-aparty-good, I took my little bundle of joy out of the oven. Then I unwrapped it and took a horrible picture of it….

This was the point that I realized the meat was way too lean. It had a similar texture to shredded chicken breast. If that is what you are into, by all means go for it, but I wanted something a little more flavorful and fatty. I’m not here to judge.

I finished the whole thing toasting off some delicious corn tortillas on a hot dry skillet, filling them with the cochinita, the salsa, the onions and a few cilantro leaves. Perfection.

Sopes de Papa y Chorizo con una Margarita de Toronja


This was super easy and awesome. Now that I have them down, sopes can easily become one of my “easy dinner” options….Hooray!!