I have a thing for peanut butter. I love the stuff. Crunchy or creamy is fine by me. It’s been one of my go-to quick fix meals for years, the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Occasionally, it’s been banana, or honey, or marshmallow fluff. About the only jelly, jam, or preserve I’m not too fond of is orange marmalade. I generally prefer my bread toasted, so the peanut butter gets a little melty and gooey.

In the last few years, I’ve become more educated on ways to use peanut butter in a non-traditional manner, at least non-traditional for me. I already knew peanut butter is used in some asian dishes, but the first dish to really wow me was an african dish called Muamba. Now, a good friend of mine, Lynne, makes a killer version that utilizes a crockpot, and it’s always amazing! I’ve yet to attempt it, but I have the recipe saved on for future use. Soon, my precious, soon… More recently, I saved a go-to recipe for stir fry with a thai feel that uses peanut butter from I change out the main ingredients, but the sauce always delivers each time I use it.

However, my two newest obsessions involve PB&J for breakfast, and peanut butter with something entirely unexpected for lunch. First, I had the brilliant idea to cook plain oatmeal, then toss in a spoonful of peanut butter and a spoonful of jelly to flavor it. Delicious! I’ve since done just peanut butter in an apple-cinnamon oatmeal and that’s outstanding as well. Plus the protein source adds additional health benefits to give me a great start to my day. Then, just a week or so ago, someone posted on FB an infographic of 15 different alternative toppings for a sandwich. So, on an adventurous whim, I tried topping my PB with a fried egg. I’ve done it twice since then; it’s that good. The salty peanut butter blends delightfully with the rich flavor of the egg. This one is definitely an “on-toast” prerequisite.. I’m sure I’ll do it again before the week is done.

As I expand my knowledge and palette, I’m learning more and more not to shoehorn ingredients into narrow categories, but to let myself experience some crazy combinations that I’d never had before. They don’t always work out, like the time I tried to wing it with a “mexican” spaghetti, but I’ll keep at it, and savor my successes. A few are bound to even end up here as original recipes from yours truly. Enjoy!

Not Chicken Anymore II: The Final Bow

Recently, I tackled my first whole chicken as described in this post. It was a smashing success, but a few days later, all that was left was the wings and a carcass. Cathy suggested I make stock from it. I’d never made stock before, but I figured all I needed was guidance from a recipe to get the job done.

Four hours later, I had a nice stock going. However, I still had to make dinner and I’d defrosted a chicken breast, so I got the idea to make a chicken noodle soup. Another recipe served me as a guide for cooking times and I went to work. I roasted some onions with the chicken breast until the chicken was pull-apart tender. I used the left over lemon and olive oil drippings from when I’d roasted the whole chicken for the roasting oil. I carefully pulled out as much edible meat form the remains of straining the stock and tossed that in. I didn’t have carrots or celery, but I did have some frozen pureed carrots we had been feeding the boy. A few tablespoons of that went in for flavor and nutrition. I used gluten free fusilli for the pasta.

Cathy and I downed two bowls each without blinking. I dished up four more helpings into storage containers for lunches this week. Another successful night in the kitchen, but so much of the process was unmeasured that I’ll never be able to truly repeat this again. To get the broth just right, I did something I hadn’t really done much in the past. I tasted as I went. That led me to toss in a little citron salt flakes we had on hand and a couple bouillon cubes to balance the broth. Tasting is an important part of the process that I need to trust more in the future. Like a great many other aspects of my growing kitchen skills, it’s the thing that will build my confidence and lead to future successes. Which I’m sure I’ll report on as soon as they happen. Enjoy!

Not Chicken Anymore

As I continue to try new things in the kitchen, I find myself facing many new firsts. There are still a great many things I’ve never tried before, such as making a soufflé, poaching eggs, or gutting a fish. (The first two will probably come up soon, but I’m in no hurry to try the third.) So I still have a lot of exploring to do.

One thing I hadn’t tried yet was cooking a whole chicken. I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know if I’d have to scoop out giblets by hand, or if I would over or under cook it. So I waited till Cathy was available for questions, since I had seen her cook a whole turkey before, inside a brown paper bag no less. I figured she had to know what she was doing. I also found several promising recipes to pick from and reviewed those with her as well. As it would turn out, we had one of what I would call beginner chickens. The giblets were neatly tucked into a wax paper bag and the chicken included a… I don’t know the technical term so I’ll call it a popper. You know, those pre-inserted thermometers that pop when the bird is done. Very handy, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

After emptying the bird and rinsing it out, I left it to dry in the fridge, propped up on it’s tail for a few hours. I chose a lemon and herb roast recipe, because I have had pretty consistent success with roasting in the past, and the recipe’s seasoning mix included mustard powder, which I happened to have on hand. The mixture was sprinkled inside and out, and then the lemon juice and olive oil blend was drizzled over the whole thing. Popped it into the oven, and started my basting timer. The recipe said to let it cook for an hour and a half, but I wasn’t sure if I should trust that or the popper. A quick call to the sis-in-law confirmed the popper’s idiot-proofness, so after the hour and a half was up, I switched to ten minute basting intervals. Right around the two and a quarter hour mark, I finally got a pop and out it came. After 20 minutes rest and a masterful carving job by the wife and we ate like kings.

I don’t know what I’ll tackle next (maybe cornish hens?), but I eagerly anticipate each new adventure. After all, I may not be an expert at cooking a whole chicken, but that doesn’t mean I have to be one anymore. I just have to trust in my ability to comprehend instructions, and I should take courage in knowing that so many have paved the way in the kitchen before me. Thanks to them the whole experience of cooking truly can be a joy. Enjoy!

Italio! Like Piada, only closer.

A couple years ago, I visited Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio on a business trip to help open a new Cooper’s Hawk. While there, one of the restaurants I visited was a place called, “Piada“. At the time, I commented in my Facebook check-in that it reminded me of what it would be like to walk into a Chipotle and think to myself, “Actually, what I really wanted was italian.” While their italian “burritos”, aka street wraps, were pretty good, the pasta bowl was the real winner.

So today, I got the chance to try a new local eatery called, “Italio“, In Orland Park, IL. It has nearly everything in common with Piada. There’s the option for a wrap, a pasta bowl, or a salad bowl. There are lots of choices for meats and fresh toppings, several tasty sauces and multiple cheese toppers. My dad and I shared a meatball sampler with the spicy diavolo sauce, and then we each selected our own pasta bowls. I ordered the diced steak for my protein choice, and blended their alfredo and marina sauces. Overall, it was a delightful experience.

In the end, Italio is so similar to Piada that I’m not entirely sure why they aren’t the same company. I’m thrilled to have a place like this within a reasonable distance, and I look forward to visiting Italio again soon. The only thing it didn’t have was Piada’s italian soda tap that offered multiple tasty flavors. Italio does carry little bottles of San Pellegrino’s sparkling blood orange soda, so it’s not a complete loss, but those don’t come with free refills. If you’re ever near a location for either company, stop in for a real treat. If you can make it twice, try the wrap at least once. Otherwise, take my advice and go for the pasta bowl. Vi piace!

Maybe You Get Bad Customer Service Because You’re a Bad Customer | Matt Walsh

Maybe You Get Bad Customer Service Because You’re a Bad Customer | Matt Walsh.

While this starts out like so many other rants I’ve read, there’s a bigger point here that I’ve seen many times before. There are a great many grown adults who behave like children because they couldn’t take a moment to see outside themselves. The thing that always gets me are the people who think the only way to get satisfaction for their perceived slights is to go straight to “mad as hell” right off the bat. It’s so important to remember one simple truth. Empathy is a two-way street. People will be much quicker to understand your plight if you take a moment to understand theirs. Enjoy!

It’s a kind of magic.

I had a particularly good shift at work last night. I made decent money despite the typical January slowdown, and I had fun with my tables. At one point I joked that I would open a restaurant called “Allen’s Hands” because I had them eating out of mine. I even won the contest for sales of the special surf and turf. Part of my prize was an order of the bone-in filet and horseradish crusted salmon, which I packed up to bring home.

This morning, I decided to take some of that meal and turn it into a delightful breakfast to get the day started properly. I diced up my side of asparagus and cut up the filet into bite-sized chunks. I added those to a batch of well-whisked eggs and made a tasty scramble. Still, the best was yet to come.

Over the years, I’ve eaten at many a restaurant offering classic ingredients and sauces that I’ve never attempted at home. One popular sauce that seemed almost magical was hollandaise. I always loved how it tasted, but I’d never made one. As I’ve been studying wine, I recently read how there are these restaurants in Alsace, France that open from April to June to only serve asparagus, often drizzled with hollandaise sauce. So, I decided I wanted to make a hollandaise sauce if I could to drizzle over the eggs.

Now, I’m quite certain hollandaise aficionados would be appalled at the thought of a version made in the microwave, but the recipe was quick and easy, and worked perfectly over the scramble, just as I’d hoped.

Sometimes, classics like a hollandaise sauce can take on an almost mythic quality until I’ve attempted to make it at home. Like any good magic trick, once you learn the secret, the trick is no less magical, but now I, too, can make the magic happen. For me, that’s what learning to cook is all about. Enjoy!


I am not a poet. Not because I’m not a very good writer; I’m quite the talented wordsmith, and I’m well known for a good turn of phrase. However, most of my poetry in the past has been pedestrian at best, the stuff of lyrics and Hallmark cards. I tend to leave poetry to the experts and stick to prose in my general writings. So when the inspiration for a poem strikes it tends to be kind of a big deal. Last night at about 3:49 AM I woke with one line at the front of my brain.

“Her blood is loss and sadness.”

This immediately inspired the following. Just three simple stanzas for your enjoyment.

Her blood is loss and sadness
His blood is toil and tears
They mingle through the harshest times
That pass amongst the years

Her blood is fear and anger
His blood is dread of death
They mingle through the maddest times
And learn to hold their breath

Her blood is hope and laughter
His blood is triumphs found
They mingle though the best of times
The proof true love’s been found

I hope to post at least once weekly to my blog this year. Only time will tell if I make good on this one resolution. Until then, as always, enjoy!