My Jen
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Pesto Capellini
Carrot Pappardelle
Finger Limes
Modern BLT


Kitchen Things: Knives

Knives are an essential kitchen "ingredient" and there is a lot of debate about what kinds of knives you should have. I am a little bit of a kitchen purist in terms of tools so I like to have at least a good selection for different purposes but I also only end up using 3 of them on a regular basis.

In the end, you should use knives that you're comfortable with. Jen refuses to use the chef's knife because it is heavy, large and very sharp, but I lovingly taunt her for using a paring knife when it's not the right tool (like cutting chickens up)...but if she's comfortable then that's the tool she should use (just might take longer).

For me, these are the knives that I think are essential:
  • chef's knife
  • paring knife
  • Santoku

Additionally, I keep 5 other knives, including a cleaver (for the big meat cutting), a large Santoku (multi-purpose), and a filet knife (for meats).

The quality of the steel and the weight are the two most important factors. I really like some of hte porcelain knives but while they stay sharper longer, they are more difficult to sharpen. These are all Henckel Four Star which is on the upper end but still affordable, well balanced, good steel and excellent grips. Don't put them in the dishwasher - always hand wash your knives.

Chef's Knife
A chef's knife is a large knife - generally about 8" to 12" - and made of good carbon steel or porcelain (I love the porcelain but I still tend to stick with the steel).  If you're going to invest in any kitchen tool, this is the one to not chintz on.  I use a 10" Henckel Professional. It's heavy but it has a slip-resistant grip that fits my hand well, and the blade is curved just right for all types of cutting, including rocking (following the curve from tip to handle back and forth to cut).

Make sure the blade is strong (should not flex at all) and it should be very sharp (sharpen it about once a week).

Paring Knife
A kitchen paring knife is a small knife - about 3" to 4" - and serves a wide range of purposes. The funny thing about paring knives is that they are meant for both peeling and slicing, and consequently it's actually a good idea to have 2.  Peeling requires a slightly dull knife because it provides control when slipping between the skin and flesh.  Slicing and shaping (detail cutting) requires a sharp blade.

So here I actually recommend having a good one for slicing and a nearly disposable one for peeling.

A Santoku is a general purpose knife of Japanese origin, marked by a medium blade - 6" to 10" in length - with one relatively flat, sheepsfoot blade and a curved top. The popular Westernized design has scallops just above the blade, but the metal is uniformly thick the entire distance. Cutting is done in a single, straight-down motion instead of sliding as one would with a chef knife. Blades typically stay sharp longer.

I have 2 of these - the smaller Henckel in the photo that I use a lot, and a thicker Wusthof that is good for small cleaving.

Whatever you choose for knives, keep them cleaned well, lightly oiled when not in use (will help preserve the steel), and properly sharpened.

Images by MadeForJen

Carolina Pulled Pork Sliders

Urban Carolina pulled pork on challah with Terra Exotic Vegetable Chips (kabocha, carrot and blue potato) and a pickle.  The sauce is homemade and the pork is hand pulled.

"Urban" refers to the fact that we had to cook it in a broiler on very low heat for several hours because we can't grill in the City.  Recipe to be posted.


I Ate What?

New game: guess what we had for breakfast yesterday...

A. Denver omelettes
B. Bagels with cream cheese and lox
C. Gluten-free blueberry pancakes with agave syrup

Image by MadeForJen


Review: Uva

We've found that the best way to save your belly and your wallet at the same time while eating out is to eat right, so what we do is order salads and share a main course. This is what we did a couple of days ago at Uva.

Uva is a cute little Italian place on Second Ave on the Upper East Side.

Frisee Salad (gorgonzola cheese removed and served on the side).

Arugula Salad with artichoke hearts (shaved parmesan served on the side).

Bowtie pasta with pesto and fresh tomatoes.

1486 Second Ave (E 77th & 78th)
New York City 10075

Images by MadeForJen (sorry about the color - very low light and shot with an iPhone)

Vanilla-Pecan Mini Cupcakes

Basic vanilla cupcakes with finely chopped pecans in the mix before baking adds a little bit of zing. On top, basic vanilla buttercream with a hint of maple and some whole pecans. Wow!


Grilled Egg and Cheese

I love grilled cheese. I mean, I really love grilled cheese. Something so wonderful about the buttery, caramelized bread filled with oozing velvety cheese stretching and pouring from inside. Brings back memories of childhood and everything in between.

This is a little spin on the basic grilled cheese because, well, I love eggs too. This is a great sandwich when you need breakfast on the run, or just sitting down for a little TV time with comfort food.

2 eggs
2 slices bread
Cheese - here I used both mozzarella (in the eggs) and white cheddar (in the bread)
Chopped parsley
1 Tb butter
Olive oil

Blend 1 egg with some of the chopped cheese and parsley in a bowl. Drizzle a bit of olive oil into a skillet over medium heat. Once hot (just beginning to smoke), pour the egg mix into the pan. Fry like an omelette, not scrambled (cook until brown on one side, lifting the edge and allowing the wet mix to slide under every so often, then turn over entirely). Remove from heat and set aside.

Drop half of the butter into a skillet (cast iron preferably) over medium heat and melt.  Place one slice of bread, cheese slices to cover, then add the egg on top, more cheese slices, and the other slice of bread. At this point leave it alone.  Let the bread become caramelized on the one side. Once ready, lift the sandwich with a spatula, put the rest of the butter in the pan, and flip over the sandwich onto the butter and caramelize.

Perfect by itself but even better with a cup of cappuccino!

Image by MadeForJen


Little Dar

This is the face that makes us smile every morning...our little Darla.

More Mariebelle

You cannot resist! Thick, syrupy Aztec chocolate goodness in demitasse cups...made at home. If you don't have Mariebelle chocolate on hand and want something comparable, try this:

Chop 3oz of good dark chocolate (Green & Black, Scharffen Berger, etc - at least 72%) and begin melting in a double boiler. In a glass measuring cup, heat a mixture of 1/3 C milk and 1/3 C whipping cream until just past warm (do not boil) - about 140 degrees.  Slowly pour into the chocolate, incorporating it as you go with a whisk (slow movement, don't beat it).  Incorporate 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon with the mix. When everything is smooth, pour into espresso cups and serve.

Mariebelle Chocolate

Quite possibly the best hot chocolate you will ever have. Served very thick, the syrupy concoction is actually not that sweet, with a hint of cinnamon.  From Mariebelle's in SoHo, New York City, now available at home.

Image by MadeForJen



I discovered very early on that Jen and I both love lamb chops. Lamb is such an excellent meat - succulent flavor, soft and buttery, and goes with so many things.  Lamb chops are the pinnacle of elegant dining meats if you ask me (debatable I guess) and the best way to serve them is Frenched.

Frenched chops simply means that the meat and fat around the rib bone has been removed.  It's pretty simple to do with a little practice but it makes a ton of difference in the presentation. The reason its good to learn is that you can buy pre-Frenched chops but they will cost you at least 25% more.  The only time that I recommend having them pre-Frenched is if you buy a whole rack, simply because it is more complicated to do.

Start with your chops on a poly cutting board.  Using a sharp paring knife, begin to scrape the meat from the base, right where the chop widens into the meat. If you scrape with the sharp edge dragging at a 30 degree angle, by the time you are about 1/2" or 3/4" up the rib, you should be able to peel the rest off because of the muscle layer that runs along the rib.

Clean them off as best possible. If you want them really clean, you can use a variety of DIY methods including a clean steel sponge or brush or just continue to scrape more.

Images by MadeForJen



I love Thanksgiving for three reasons. First, it's one day that a good chunk of the USA acknowledges and prays to God (aside from Easter and Christmas). Second, it's the one time that family and friends really try to put away junk and be together. And third, of course, there's the food.

Last Thanksgiving we were blessed to share our weekend with Jen's sister and her friend. Jen decided to express her creativity in gold. So out came the tablecloth, which got painted with gold spots, then the gold stemware, the candles.  I may cook well but I don't do tables. Thankfully, the table came out nicely.

For my end, the menu. OK, maybe this was a bit much for four but hey, it's Thanksgiving.

A little extra not on the menu ... asparagus.

Potato mash with sundried tomatos and fried leeks.

Cornish game hens with rosemary-raisin bread stuffing (will post recipe soon).

Flourless chocolate cakettes with berries.

Images from MadeByGirl


Tea Rice

I am half Chinese and one would think I love rice but the fact is I find it pretty bland. In fact, growing up, I almost always put something on it - soy sauce, hot sauce, butter - anything to flavor it (and don't laugh but if you've never tasted it - try brown rice with yellow mustard).

Silver needle Jasmine for tea rice

I'd seen this done before but never tried it so I figured I'd give it a go. There is a Japanese dish - "ochazuke" - that uses green tea and short-grain, but I prefer the taste of jasmine rice and tea, which is much more fragrant and has an almost flowery taste.  You can use pretty much any brand, for this test I used Rishi Silver Needle Jasmine, which has a strong scent.

1 Tb loose jasmine tea
2 1/4 C water
1 1/2 C jasmine rice (or other long-grain)
1/4 tsp sea salt

Boil the water and steep for 4 minutes, then discard the leaves. Put the brewed tea in a saucepan and bring to a boil, add the rice, cover and reduce to low. Cook rice until tender - about 15 minutes.

Serve with, well, anything that strikes you!


Lemon Pepper Chicken

This is a fresh, basic lemon-pepper chicken but instead of that crummy dried powder seasoning, we're making it from scratch for something a little more special.

Lemon-pepper chicken

Being in NYC and without a grill (which I would've normally recommended), instead we're using a broiler for this one.  Also, you can use a baking dish but for the best result, use a heavy, well-seasoned cast iron skillet - they distribute the heat much more evenly and give the chicken a nice crust.

4 boneless chicken thighs
2 lemons
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 Tb butter
1 tsp fresh chopped parsley

Preheat the broiler (low setting) and put a seasoned cast iron skillet in it. Squeeze one lemon into a ceramic or glass bowl, add a good 1/2 tsp of pepper and the salt.  Add the chicken breasts and marinate for 5 minutes while the oven heats.

Lemon-pepper chicken in cast iron skillet

When hot, put the chicken into the skillet and put back into the broiler.  Broil for 15 minutes on low.  Squeeze the other lemon over the chicken and drop the butter into the pan, then crank it to high. Broil for 2-4 more minutes until golden brown.

Serves well with rice and a vegetable or salad of choice.


Children's Cup

Every day that Jen and I sit to eat, we thank God for the fact that we even have food on our table, let alone the luxury of being able to enjoy that food and all that we've been blessed with.

All of us have seen the commercials and frequently we turn a blind eye to it. There are people starving everywhere. Yes, here in the USA, it's a problem with over 15% of people under the poverty line. Living in NYC it is prevalent - walking just between our home and the train we pass homeless, hungry people all the time. Jen is particularly heartfelt about this - it is rare to not see her give something, whether its money, a prayer, a bottle of water, something.

People have commented to us that we shouldn't turn a blind eye to the problem in our own country in favor of those in other places and I don't deny that we need to solve the problem here. The difference is that in the USA, despite all its problems, we have things like social services and welfare and missions that are a last line of resort for many. In other places - Africa, Central and South America, parts of Asia - there isn't any such thing so those without are literally without.

Children's Cup is a donation-based Christian ministry whose mission is to take both humanitarian and spiritual aid to devastated and neglected parts of the world and give children some hope, some food, and with God's grace, a fresh start.  We learned this weekend just how little it costs to feed, clothe and educate a child for a year and the amount is so small, I couldn't help but think that even a collaborative effort to help one person is mercy in and of itself.

I am in the tech world and I watch Kickstarter projects amass contributions to get incredible projects off the ground. I think its an amazing and bold initiative that might just possibly have saved us from the 1999 bubble. But at the same time, just an iota of that money towards helping someone who is desperately in need and you've saved more than just an idea, you've saved a life.

So please, next time you are about to donate $10 to that project, think about possibly just giving it to Children's Cup, or any other organization truly dedicated to bringing a change, and bring a little grace to someone's life.  And if you want to stay closer to home and live in NYC, check out Liberty City - I'll write about that another day :)

"4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." - 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)

Images from Children's Cup
Follow on Twitter @childrenscup
Children's Cup on Facebook


Jen's Pasta

Eating out can be detrimental to your waistline. I think everyone can agree on that. We love to eat out but we are almost always conscious of what we eat because (having worked in restaurants) most people have no idea what goes into making your food so delicious.

Jen's Pasta: chicken, sundried tomato, artichoke, asparagus and penne

But another thing most people don't know is that you can often request the kitchen to make you your own creation - in fact a lot of cooks actually like it because it breaks up the monotony and gives them a chance to be a little creative.  Since Jen does not like traditional tomato-based pasta sauces and can't have milk, this was a dish she started to request at Italian places.

sundried tomato, artichoke, asparagus

As nearly always, it's been simplified over time but the basic makeup is very easy and very quick.  Some of it can be pre-made (the chicken) and the rest of the ingredients we always keep in the fridge or pantry.

2-3 servings of any cooked pasta (this is gluten-free penne made from quinoa and buckwheat)
1/2 lb chicken breast (or any other part if you prefer)
1/2 C julienned sundried tomato
1/2 C marinated artichoke hearts
1 small bunch of asparagus (or broccoli works well)
1 C sliced cremini mushrooms (not shown in photos - we were out)
1 C low-sodium chicken broth
1 Tbs butter or margarine
1 tsp dry marjoram
1 tsp dry oregano or basil
1/4 tsp sea salt

In a hot pan, brown the salted chicken breasts in a small amount of oil.  Be careful to keep them juicy by not overcooking them.  At the same time, boil the pasta to just underdone and drain the water.

Perfectly cooked chicken breast - still juicy

Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a plate to rest.  Put the butter and 1/2 of the chicken broth in the pan and bring to a boil. Rough chop the chicken breast. Once the broth starts to boil, add the remaining ingredients.  Bring it to a full boil, cooking the pasta to al dente and softening the asparagus. Add the remaining chicken stock and bring to a boil, reducing it by about half.  Serve and garnish.

Cooking the pasta in the broth and butter

The point to the extra broth is in fact to serve it slightly soupy, especially if you use gluten-free pasta which will soak up the extra liquid quickly.  Hope you enjoy!

Jen's Pasta: chicken, sundried tomato, artichoke, asparagus and penne

Download recipe card
Images by MadeForJen


Eggs Benedict

I've never met anyone, Jen included, who didn't like Eggs Benedict.  I've always wondered why it was considered to be an extravagant dish because it is so much simpler to make than people make it out to be. The only real trick is timing - you will have to have all 5 parts (muffins, eggs, meat, hollandaise, vegetable) cooking at the same time!

So this recipe will have everything timed. It takes a little practice but be sure to have everything out and ready to go before you start.

Ingredients (for 2):
2 English muffins
6 large eggs (4 to poach, 2 to make the hollandaise)
2/3 stick of butter
1 lemon, cut in half
4 slices ham, Canadian bacon, prosciutto or speck or 8 slices bacon
A green vegetable* (asparagus, spinach, or chard work well)
1 tsp white vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste

2 qt pot for poaching
slotted spoon
Double boiler for hollandaise (or a pot and a metal bowl)
Pan to cook meat (either fry or poach)
Pan to cook veggies (I prefer fry)

Separate the yolks from 2 of the eggs. Discard the whites or save them for another meal. Put 1 qt water in pot and bring to boil then turn down to simmer. At the same time, bring the half-filled double boiler bottom to a boil and turn down to simmer. Turn both the meat and vegetable pan on medium. I use a scant dash of oil only - put it in when the pan is hot.

Put the vinegar in the egg pot. Put the muffins in the toaster but don't turn them on.Very slowly ease each egg into the poacher.  If you have to, poach one at a time. Poaching is a bit of an art so it may take a few tries to eventually get it right but at the end of the day it's just an egg - just cuz it looks funny doesn't mean it tastes different!

When the eggs are poaching, put the meat and veg on to cook. Once started, you can always turn off the heat when done. Begin toasting the muffins.

Put the butter in the boiler top (or bowl) and melt the butter. Once melted, it will begin to heat. Put in the separated yolks and begin to whisk evenly - not hard, not too gently though. The butter will begin to cook the yolks. When it thickens to near consistency, remove it from the heat and set aside, and quickly squeeze 1/2 of the lemon in and whisk it.  Check the consistency and taste and if more is needed, use the other half.

Check the eggs. When they are done, gently pull them out with a slotted spoon, shake off the excess water and put into a bowl to hold.

Ready to plate. Put the halves of one muffin on each plate then later with meat, vegetable and egg and then the Hollandaise. 

Image by MadeForJen


Berries with Sabayon

Saba-what? This was a new one for Jen that I'd learned to make from mom but Jen tasted for the first time at a neighborhood Italian place and fell in love with it.

Berries with champagne sabayon

Sabayon is a foamy egg-based mixture of generally Italian origin and related to zabaglione.  It's perfect for those who are lactose-intolerant because it's got no milk but it has a texture similar to whipped cream but heavier and tastier than meringue. It can be saucy (more watery) or thick (like meringue) depending on how long you heat it for. Commercial versions use cornstarch but I think that that's a cop-out.

Sabayon can be made a variety of ways, but traditionally it is made with a Marsala, port, sherry or Madeira.  Some recipes, like the one in these photos, use champagne, so it really depends on your taste and what you intend to serve it with (if you want less savory you can even use water). Some fancier methods even call for the use of a whipped cream that is folded into the sabayon and then broiled to cause it to glaze and crust with a nice golden exterior.

Ingredients for sabayon with berries

Finally, it can be served warm or cold.  We prefer cold so if you do that, keep an ice bath ready to prevent overheating. If warm, make it at the last minute since it cannot be re-heated.

Late summer strawberries

The other nice thing is that it is pretty easy to make if you pay attention. The basic premise works a lot like a Hollandaise sace - using a liquid to heat egg yolks which causes them to thicken but not "cook".  I urge you to try it out!

6 egg yolks
1 C liquid: water, Marsala, port, sherry, Madeira or champagne
1/3 C sugar (or 5 tsp Splenda)
1 pint fresh berries

Balloon whisk
Steel or copper bowl
Saucepan of simmering water

Bring the water to boil then turn to simmer. In the meantime, set up your berries in the presentation.  Here I've sliced the berries up and plated them, but often it's seen served in dessert goblets or gratin dishes.  Separate the yolks and whites (which I save for omelettes) and put the yolks into the bowl along with the sugar and liquid. Blend with the whisk.

Slicing strawberries

Sliced strawberries plated and ready to serve

Rest the bowl over the hot water (should no longer be boiling).  Whisk constantly for 4 to 5 minutes until it reaches the consistency of light whipped cream.  Be careful to not overcook or the eggs will scramble (it will turn clumpy).  If serving chilled, remove from heat and put the bowl in the ice bath.  Otherwise, just begin "plating." Spoon the sabayon right onto the berries and serve.  Garnish with mint sprigs. Enjoy!

Sabayon with berries (closeup)

Image by MadeForJen


Red Velvet Cupcakes

Cupcakes! Yes, cupcakes! And red velvet with cream cheese frosting at that.

red velvet cupcakes

So I actually made these several years ago but in light of Jen's birthday (these were for a little birthday party then) I thought I'd throw this out there.  Will post the recipe shortly.

Images by MadeForJen

Happy Birthday, Love

My true love turns         today...


Jen Ramos of Made By Girl

She is the love of my life, and I think she is more beautiful today then every day before it. -m

Jen's birthday post

Image by Janis Nicolay



Guacamole is literally one of our favorite snack foods - the creamy mix of avocado with the sour of the lime, the savory onions and garlic, the freshness of the cilantro just seems to go so well together. And whether served by itself with tortilla chips or as an accompaniment, the flavor is just excellent.

I think the only reason people don't make it from scratch so often is because it seems like a complicated food to make but really it's quite easy and quick.

2 medium avocados*
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
1 small bunch cilantro
1 lime
Sea salt to taste
Optional: diced tomato, diced jalapeno or habanero, pepper

Dice the onion finely and put into a bowl. Smash and chop the garlic and add. Wash and roughly chop the cilantro (or if you prefer, leave the leaves whole). Peel and pit the avocado and add to the bowl.  Using a fork or masher, simultaneously mash and mix the ingredients.  Squeeze half of the lime juice in and a dash of salt.  Blend well with the fork and taste.  Add more lime juice and salt as needed.


Jen doesn't like spicy food at all, so we don't add anything hot but this can obviously be made spicier.  Also, we prefer it chunky but if you like smoother, just keep mashing until you reach the consistency.  A mortar and pestle also work well.

Make often, serve with everything :)

*Note: This time of year, most of the avocados we get in NYC are Florida which are lighter in color and taste a bit milder.  I prefer to use good California Hass (early summer) or Fuerte (winter) when they are ripe.  If you can only get unripened ones, leave them in a paper bag at room temperature until they are just right.

Images by MadeForJen


Plum Pop Pops

The quest for popsicle flavors continues...

This one we call Plum Pop Pops. Pretty basic, like the watermelon agua fresca pops, we used seltzer to give it a lighter "texture." The tartness and rich color of the plum skin (which we left whole when blending) was perfect for me, though Jen prefers the milky ones like the cappuccino and blueberry-yogurt.

3 ripe black plums
1/4 C agave or honey
1 C seltzer

Blend the plums in a food processor on a high setting for at least 2-3 minutes. There will be lots of tiny skin pieces in the mix, which can be strained if you don't want them. Toss in the sweetener and seltzer and pulse blend for 10-15 seconds. Pour into molds and freeze.

Images by MadeForJen


Iced Cappuccino

Jen's favorite cool drink on a hot and humid NYC day is iced cappuccino.  Fortunately we have a Nespresso machine to make super good coffee.  The problem was that the ice was watering down the coffee too much so to make sure that didn't happen, we made iced coffee cubes using slightly sweetened coffee in a regular ice tray.

Nespresso Decaffeinato Lungo

After much delicious trial and error, we discovered that the Soy Dream brand vanilla enriched soy milk works better than any other milk (we tested real milk, 2 brands of soy milk and with flavors and not, along with almond and rice milk) for the most froth from the aerator.

This iced cap uses 2 lungo shots of Decaffeinato Lungo (if you like stronger and with caffeine, I recommend Arpeggio), 6 coffee cubes, 1 Splenda and 1 C soy milk fully cold aerated. Jen, of course, added some cocoa powder and a wafer cigar :)

Images by MadeForJen