Okay, I'm a bit neurotic when it comes to road trips.

See, I just don’t want to be at the mercy of fast food joints. I’d rather make a picnic out of cheese and crackers and fresh fruit than eat fast food any day. So I always fill the cooler with goodies.

This, of course, means we can now take our time and find restaurants where we want to eat, not restaurants where we have to eat because we haven’t eaten all day.

Besides, a road trip, if you’ll forgive the pun, is a serious crappy time to get food poisoning.

So you want to know what I stuff into the cooler? Okay . . .

Here is what I pack for a road trip
  • Fresh fruit. Nothing messy, such as a peach, or tricky to eat, such as watermelon. Apples and pears are always good. Grapes are great (the husband can pop them into his mouth as he drives). Ditto bananas. Of course, depending on timing, we try and pick these up at fruit stands on our travels.
  • Drinks. Especially water. Lots of water. I have ice packs I keep in the freezer at all times. When we go on a trip, I throw these in the cooler, throw the cooler onto the back seat, and fill it with all the drinks it will hold. Certainly water is the big one. But I’ll also add a bottle or two of juice (which we will drink the first day out) and a single bottle of soda as a treat for the husband (It took us years to get over our soda addiction. I’m over it, but my husband still yearns, so this is a special treat for him.)
  • A sweet munchie. Not chocolate, of course, which, alas, will melt in no time and become a sticky mess. But a few cookies are good or individual size Greek yogurts (to be eaten on the first day). Someone once gave me some snack tins from Dean and Deluca which worked really well. For this trip, I baked toasted almond biscotti the night before and that was great.
  • A salty munchie. My first choice is always nuts, cashews, say, or a mix. But I’ve gotten sourdough pretzels before and they were good.
  • Cheeses. I get an assortment and cut them to finger-food size. Of course, you can only bring enough for your first meal from home.
  • Crackers. To have with the cheese. Of course! Or bread. Say a nice baguette or rolls. I’ve also been known to pack a handful of olives in the cooler to have with our cheese and crackers.
  • Peanut butter. I don’t bother for a short trip, but for a longer one, I like to have peanut butter and apples on hand as a healthy snack.
  • Whatever we can pick up on the road. We’ve gotten everything from cider and peanuts to fudge and berries.
So, what do you take on your road trips? I'm always looking for good tips.

And now, for a little potato gratin recipe

(I just typed potato with an "e" at the end. Dan Quayle, will you get out of my head!)


Here is the world's easiest recipe for one of the world's most satisfying dishes. Good news #1: The kids will eat it. Good news #2: The husband will eat it and (bonus good news) never clue in that he is eating (heaven forbid) vegetables!

And, good news #3: This is fancy enough to serve to company.

Best of all, this is silly easy to make.

Deliciousness on a fork
I made the recipe, below, at cooking school, and it is so easy we didn't even measure any of the ingredients. We just used "enough." Enough potatoes and onions to fill the casserole. Enough cheese so it tastes good (which, in my book, means a lot). And enough dairy (cream and butter) so it is rich. Add to that, a clove of garlic and, wow, you are just a breath away from delicious!

Now, two thoughts. First, if you want to up the vegetable quota here, just saute some kale or chard or spinach in a pan with a bit of oil and garlic, just until it is wilted, and add that in a layer in the middle of your gratin. Second, if you want this as a main course, I'd serve it with a salad. And, if you want to be insanely healthy, I'd have fruit for dessert. Then go for a ten-mile jog. At least.

Vegetarian recipe: Potato gratin
Thinly slice some potatoes (drag out the mandoline, if you have one), finely dice some onions, and grate some cheese (I used gruyere).

Get a garlic clove, dab of butter, and splash of cream.
Rub the crushed garlic clove around the inside of your pan (I used a loaf pan) and do the same with the butter.
Overlapping the potatoes, layer them, then salt, then a light dab of cream, then a pinch of onions, sprinkle of pepper, and drizzle of cheese in your pan. Repeat until you get to the top, finishing with a layer of cheese.
Pop it in the oven until it is bubbly and brown on top, then let me know it is ready.
I’ll bring my own fork!

Finally, a recipe for a lovely, non-alcoholic, refreshing drink

Here's what I say. I say: To hell with winter. I know summer has long since slipped away. But sometimes, just sometimes, I don't want it to go.

And when that happens. I make lemonade.But not just any lemonade. Oh no! I make raspberry lemonade.

And not just raspberry lemonade. I also made it with a special lemon curl I learned from a waiter who told me he summered on the coast and wintered in Arizona.

And I'm gonna teach you how to do both (not the summer / winter part; just the raspberry lemonade / lemon part).

And here's the great news: You can make this recipe with frozen berries!

Recipe for Raspberry Lemonade
First, defrost your raspberries. (Forgot to defrost them first? No worries, put them into your colander and run some cool water over them until they are defrosted. It happens.)

Step one: Simple syrup
Before you make the lemonade, you have to make a simple syrup. What is a simple syrup? A liquid sweetener you can use in any liquid where you want the sweetness of sugar without the grit, such as in cold drinks (ice tea, lemonade, etc.) where granulated sugar has no hope of dissolving.

To make the simple syrup for my lemonade, I mixed 1 cup granulated white sugar and 1/2 cup water (you can make any amount you like as long as you keep the ratio one part water : two parts sugar) in a small saucepan. I placed the saucepan over a medium heat for five minutes, stirring periodically to dissolve the sugar. Then, once the sugar was completely dissolved, I instantly poured the syrup into a glass mason jar. (Ideally, you would clean your pot right away otherwise, as it cools, any leftover syrup in your pot will harden and be impossible to remove. However, if you forget and your syrup does harden, just fill your pot with hot water and give it a few minutes to liquefy your syrup yet again.)

Step two: Lemonade
I had about ten lemons on hand, so I squeezed them all into a strainer set over a bowl. The reason I squeezed them into a strainer was I wanted to catch any errant pulp and seeds that squeezed out with the juice. Discard pulp and seeds.

Step three: Raspberries
Put your defrosted frozen raspberries (I used more than half the bag) into a strainer set over a bowl. Then mash the raspberries against the side of the strainer with a wooden mixing spoon until you have mashed most of the juice out of the raspberry pulp (you’ll never get it all; don’t drive yourself nuts trying).

Step four: Mix and taste
Add about half your simple syrup and raspberry juice to your lemon juice. Add a splash of water (about a cup). Stir. Taste. Add more syrup and raspberry juice and water, as needed. I used about three-quarters of my syrup (my husband poured the rest right into his glass of lemonade; the man has a sweet tooth) and all my raspberry juice (I like the color). But you add as much or as little as your taste buds dictate.

Serve over ice. With a curl of lemon. Oh dear, you don't know how to make the lemon? No worries, because I'll teach you!

How to make a perfectly spiraled lemon strip as told to me by a very sweet, very talkative waiter
First, he cut off the pointy ends of a lemon. Then he sliced one side of the lemon open, from one end to the next, and scooped out the lemon part, leaving just a rectangle of peel behind.

Then he curled that rectangle as tightly was he could, secured it with a toothpick or two, and left it overnight.

The next day, he chiffonaide that peel into half inch strips that were perfect spirals.

See, it feels like summer hasn't gone at all, doesn't it? (Well, if you have to crank up the heat make that more real, then go ahead!)

Recipe for the most delicious corn salad, ever

This is a lovely salad: Sweet, light, satisfying, and silly easy to make (you can trust me on this because I once made a version of this three days in a row for the restaurant at my culinary school!).

Best of all, it is the sort of salad people who don't like salads tend to love (as in husbands and kids!). So it's a good one to have in your repertoire.

And, using frozen corn (organic frozen vegetables are a lifesaver during winter, aren't they?), it takes less than five minutes to make.

Which, if you can lock the kitchen door, gives you a free half an hour to enjoy in blessed solitude!

This time of year, odds are (unless you are reading me in Australia, and, yes, I do have readers in Australia, howdy!), you are not going to get your hands on fresh corn. Or any fresh vegetables outside of root vegetables. So, what I recommend you do is use the best organic frozen corn you can find. Then, come summer use the version, below, when you can get your hands on fresh corn. And really good heirloom tomatoes (I keep trying to eat locally, but in the winter it is such a challenge, isn't it? Especially when trying to get the family to eat a variety of vegetables. Sigh. I'm trying.)

Recipe for corn salad
8 ears of fresh corn (or frozen if that is all you can get)
Generous handful of washed and dried (roll in a paper towel) whole parsley leaves
Generous handful of basil leaves (wash, dry, and roll) – rip the large leaves in half
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, cleaned and dried and cut in half
2 limes, juiced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

If you are using fresh corn, grill it (if not, then jump to the next paragraph). Then, holding each ear of corn on it’s end, cut the kernels from the cob by cutting downward. I find if I angle my knife ever so slightly toward the cob (as opposed to straight up and down), I waste the least amount of corn.

Mix your corn with your parsley, basil, and tomatoes (Why do I insist they are dry? So your vinaigrette will cling to them. What vinaigrette? I am so glad you asked … ).

In a separate bowl, combine your lime juice with your olive oil, sticking loosely to this ratio: 1 part lime juice to 2 parts oil. Whisk your juice and oil to create your emulsion (You’ll see it happen: The two liquids will become one and your vinaigrette, because that is what you are making here, will change color. It’s a neat process.)

Pour your vinaigrette over your corn salad and combine, using a rubber spatula (or whatever utensil you prefer, just as long as it doesn’t crush your delicate corn).

Taste. Add salt and pepper. Taste again. Keep adding salt and pepper until you can just about taste them; that should be the right amount. And, if your salad needs brightening (if it is good, but not spectacular), feel free to add another good squeeze of lime juice. I did. But it depends on the flavor of your vegetables.

Spend a good twenty minutes flipping through some juicy cookbook, then bring your salad out and be sure to let everyone know how it took so much time and how you are clearly far too exhausted from the effort to, say, do any dishes.

You can thank me later.

Vegetarian recipe for roasted garlic and garlic bread

Bread may just be the most perfect food in the world.

And the most perfect bread is garlic bread.

The problem is, I don't want to use all that butter (yes, it is yummy, but it is also killer fattening). The solution? Roasted garlic. I have a recipe for it. And, good news, it is crazy easy!

The crazy thing is I had never made roasted garlic before I went to culinary school. I read about it, sure, but never made it.

This was one of the best parts of culinary school - getting to play with food!

Vegetarian recipe for roasted garlic
Peel as many garlic cloves as you like (alternatively, simply cut the top of a bulb, maybe a third of an inch down or so, to expose the garlic cloves). Toss with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Put in a pan (I used a pie tin) and pop into a hot oven until they are soft (it took me nearly half an hour at 350 f).

Simply squeeze the garlic onto bread for the world's most satisfying garlic bread (oh, I also add a good pinch of sea salt).

But don't stop there. You can use roasted garlic all sorts of places. Such as squeezed on top of roasted vegetables for instant flavor.

And, bonus, you won't have to worry about any pesky vampire action. At least for a while!

Recipe for a grown-up tea party

Sometimes, just sometimes, I want a little treat.

Now, I've been making French yogurt cakes for years. But, then, I thought, wouldn't they make for sweet little cupcakes?

There were a few trials and errors (my earlier versions tended to be way, way too sweet). But these, I think, are perfect.

They are insanely easy to make (and, erm, eat!), nice and light (especially for a cake), and incredibly scrumptious.

And they are as close to healthy as a cake can get. So enjoy!

Recipe for Blueberry Yogurt Cakes
Makes 12 cupcakes

2 eggs, lightly beaten with a fork
1 cup whole, plain, unsweetened yogurt
3/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup light olive oil or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces frozen blueberries (no need to defrost)

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Put cupcake liners into your cupcake molds.

In a large mixing bowl, combine your beaten eggs, yogurt, sugar, oil, and vanilla. In a second bowl, sift your flour, baking powder, and baking soda. In a third bowl, toss your frozen blueberries with a generous handful of your flour mixture.

Add your flour mixture to your wet ingredients, stirring with a rubber spatula only until it is starting to combine. Add your blueberry mixture and stir until it is just mixed.

Pour the batter into your cupcake molds.

Bake until you cakes are a light golden-brown on top and an inserted toothpick comes out cleanly. In my oven, this took just over twenty minutes. Two tips: I turned my cake pans (I used two six-cupcake pans set on a baking sheet) around at the ten-minute mark for even cooking. Not a bad idea. Second, I set my timer for fifteen minutes, then kept checking the cupcakes ever few minutes until they were done. Ovens are fickle things, I would never trust a timer to do my job!

Once your cakes have cooled, serve with a nice, hot pot of black tea. After, of course, testing at least two or three, just to make sure they are perfect.

You can never be too careful, now, can you?!

(By the way, I have made these with all sorts of frozen fruits, including raspberries and cherries. The cherries were a bit big for this, but tasty nonetheless. Next time, I want to try toasted, sliced almonds with the raspberries; doesn't that sound yummy!)

What do you make when you want a little sweet? I'm always looking for ideas!

Recipe for apple, yes APPLE chutney!

Sometimes, just sometimes, it is the side dishes that elevate a meal from dull to dynamic. And one of the easiest side dishes I know is chutney.

Yeah, chutney!

I mean, you just simmer a bunch of cut up fruit with vinegar and sugar. How easy is that, I ask you?

And it is great as a condiment to almost anything (you don't' have to stop at Indian food).

Of course, I couldn't leave well enough alone and do a mango chutney, like everyone else. Oh no! I sent and invented an apple chutney. And I've got the recipe for you right after the break.

Vegetarian recipe: Apple chutney
3 large green apples, peeled and large diced
4 ounces onions, medium dice
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 fluid ounces cider vinegar
6 ounces brown sugar
3 ounces crystallized ginger, minced fine
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cinnamon sticks, ground
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 fluid ounce apple brandy
1 fluid ounces lime juice

Cook everything except the lime juice and the brandy over a low heat for about 45 minutes (keep it to a light simmer). You want to soften the apples and the onions and reduce the liquid, but you do not want to turn the liquid syrupy (add a splash of water, say a few tablespoons, if needed to prevent this). Then add the brandy, reduce a bit more, then add the lime juice and remove from the heat.

Taste, adjust seasonings as needed, then serve with your duck breast.

Refrigerate leftovers (and there will be leftovers, this makes 2 - 3 cups of chutney) and enjoy with sandwiches, curry, eggs, and so on.

Just don’t eat it at three in the morning when it is too hot to sleep and you’ve got a serious case of the munchies. It’ll give you heartburn.

Trust me.

Brand new recipe for Chocolate Stout Creme Brulee

My husband and I like to try new foods. So, many, many months ago my husband and I ordered Chocolate Stout Crème Brûlée at a nearby restaurant. We figured it would either be amazing or dreadful.

It was amazing.

I asked for the pastry chef, but he had gone home for the day. Sigh, no recipe for me. But, the next time we went to the restaurant, we decided to order it again and figure out for ourselves what was in it.

But, oh dear, this time it was no longer on the menu.

So I did the only thing a culinary school student could do. I went into the kitchen and played.

And I nailed it.

Recipe for Chocolate Stout Crème Brûlée
8 ounces cream
2 ounces stout (there will be beer leftover in the bottle; enjoy!)
1 1/2 ounce dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
4 extra large egg yolks
2 ounces sugar

Scald the cream (bring it to nearly a boil) and pour it over your chocolate. Mix until your chocolate is melted. Add your stout and mix again.

In another bowl, mix the sugar with the egg yolks, until just incorporated.

Pour a tablespoon or two of your cream mixture into your eggs. Mix. Add a bit more cream, Mix again. Add all the cream mixture and mix one last time.

Pour the mixture into brûlée dishes (or ramekins, if you prefer) and place in a pan. Fill the pan with hot water nearly to the top of your dishes. Bake at 325 F until almost completely set (20 minutes or so for the brûlée dishes, loosely five minutes longer for the deeper ramekins).

Remove from the oven and chill thoroughly.

Sprinkle sugar on top of each dish. Caramelize the sugar with a culinary torch until it is dark golden brown.

Try not to eat the entire batch yourself. Come back to CookingSchoolConfidential. com and leave me a message telling me how truly amazing this is!

Vegetarian recipe: Fast and great

I discovered pea shoots earlier this year (if you have not had them, you must try them ... they are wonderful!).

Certainly I had noticed them before. Who could not with their pretty, curling tendrils? But I never knew what to do with them so I never bought them.

Until this year. And this recipe.

Vegetarian recipe: Garlicky Pea Shoot Tangle

From The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without by Mollie Katzen

1 Tbsp. roasted peanut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. pea shoots, rinsed, drained, and thoroughly dried
2 Tbsp. garlic, minced or crushed
¼ tsp. salt (or to taste)

Place a large, deep skillet or wok over medium heat. After about a minute, add the oil and swirl to coat the pan.

Add the pea shoots and garlic, and turn up the heat. Stir-fry for about 5 minutes, attempting to get the garlic distributed evenly through the tangle of shoots. Stir in the salt.

Remove from the heat as soon as the pea shoots are wilted and have turned deep green. Serve hot or warm.

Recipe for lime (yes LIME) curd (and you thought lemon curd was good!)

I love lemon curd so much I could eat it by the spoonful. In fact, my record is four heaping spoonfuls before I go into sugar shock. Or two slices of lemon pie. (Sometimes three!)

So, I was thinking, I how would lime curd taste?

In short, delicious!

See, I went into my culinary school kitchen and tweaked this and adjusted that and came up with an amazing lime curd recipe.

Which is great in a pie shell, as a tart, as a topping for fruit, folded in whipped cream and plunked on a blueberry pie, or, of course, eaten with a spoon.

Want the recipe? No worries, I've got it for you right here . . .

Recipe: Lime curd
We were given a recipe for lemon curd, but I wanted to try making a lime version (actually, I wanted to try making a pink grapefruit version, but we didn’t have any pink grapefruit at school). So I played with the lemon recipe and this is what I came up with. You should note, I wanted a noticeable citrus flavor. So feel free to add more sugar if you like.

3 ounces lime juice
10 egg yolks
5 ounces sugar
6 ounces butter, diced

Put a pot of water on a burner and turn heat to medium / medium low. Put all ingredients except the butter on a metal bowl and put it on the heat. Whisk the ingredients ever minute, until thick.

Remove from heat and mix in butter until fully incorporated.

Store in refrigerator with a sheet of plastic wrap on the surface of your curd (so you don’t form a skin or get discolorization).

Now, I like curd so much I will hide behind my refrigerator door and eat it with a teaspoon. However, if you want a more civilized way to enjoy it, simply pour it into a parbaked tart shell and chill.

Then eat that behind the refrigerator door.