Cooking, Food

Judge Me By My Size, Do You?

Today I’m in the kitchen cooking with a person who has one of the most sophisticated palettes I know: my 11 year old niece Amiah. Since she has not yet learned the adult art of the polite lie, I can trust her opinion.

A lot of people don’t consider kids to be worth the bother of preparing a nice meal, but don’t underestimate them. Kids are picky eaters indeed with their idiosyncratic ‘rules’ for eating (my niece used to bite one end of a grape, and discard the other end. Her brother did not like nuts, with the exception of peanuts because “they aren’t really nut nuts”). However, I submit to you that adults can be just as persnickety. I don’t eat macadamia nuts because I don’t like the sound the nut makes in my ears as it grazes across my teeth (like nails on a chalkboard). I don’t eat avocados because the color and texture weird me out. And don’t even get me started on eggs.

Because of unprecedented access to information via the Internet and cable TV, kids today are far more aware of the world’s culinary offerings than when I grew up. I encourage every adult who has a child in their life to take advantage of this time in their lives and introduce them to new things while their sense of wonder is not jaded by life’s ills. In our family the standard rule is to try something once before you determine whether or not you like it.

Amiah can be excited about Taco Bell for lunch (she is a kid after all) and crab soufflé for dinner. She likes what she likes (unfortunately for my pocketbook she recognizes what a ‘nice’ restaurant is and what it is not). My humble offering for today is wild boar tacos braised in mole sauce. To sweeten the pot she’s playing video games on the big TV. I can’t exactly serve her wine to invite a more favorable review. Or could I?…nah, I wouldn’t be able to explain wine on her breath to her parents.

Since mole sauce has a number of steps, I began preparing it before my niece arrived. Mole is complex, and one missing ingredient can turn the tide considerably (found that out the hard way once). The recipe I use has various types of chilies (each one has its own wonderful part to play), almonds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, chocolate, and other spices (I think the recipe is not quite there yet which is why I didn’t post it).
Amiah’s rating system is either thumbs up or thumbs down. Rarely does she give a diplomatic thumb halfway.

Mole Burrito

Mole Burrito

First I give her a bite of the boar without the taco…”mmmm that’s good.”
“Is it really good, good-good, or just good?”
“Wait, is your good-good better than your really good?”
“Ok so you like it?”
Let’s try it on a taco.
One bite…silence.
Two bites…silence. The suspense is unbearable.
“Ok so is it good?”
“It’s good.”
“Better than the popcorn shrimp?”
“Better than the buffalo chicken tenders?”
“No. Can I go back to play video games now?”

I tried to explain how mole is made and all of the components that go into it (“it has chocolate!”), and what wild boar is (I made the tusks with my fingers and the squealing oink sound and everything. I was really into it); but, I totally lost her to NBA 2K15.

Not better than buffalo chicken tenders (few things are), but better than popcorn shrimp. I’m a half glass full kind of person so I’m counting this as a win.

Mole Burrito Detail

Katrina Martin is the owner of Culinary Cupid LLC, part of Beyond the Pyramid Foods. When she’s not finding ways to exact her revenge on her siblings by way of their kids, she can be found offering in-home cooking lessons on various complex recipes.

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Sushi from a Food Truck…and Other Questionable Culinary Choices I’ve Made

I just finished lunch from one of my favorite food trucks (I will not mention its name). Let’s just say I should have exercised caution when ordering sushi from a food truck. Especially from that particular food truck since I’ve witnessed with my own eyes the health department driving up and shutting them down. I thought perhaps they learned their lesson. Besides, they serve a roll that I like best. I hope the queasiness that I’m feeling is totally unrelated to the fact that the raw sushi was a bit warm. I’m sure it’s totally fine.

In my business I take food safety extremely seriously, and thus assume other practitioners of the culinary arts take food safety seriously. However, there are times when eating out I have made a few debatable decisions surrounding food and beverage. My lunch choice for today caused me to reflect on said decisions.

A “soft” pretzel at 6pm from a pretzel cart in New York.
A burrito from a hot dog cart in D.C. (talk about a case of the horribles!)
Halal chicken and rice from a famous food cart (there was a reason there was no line)
“50 cents for bourbon and cokes!? This must be my lucky day. I’ll take 3 dollars worth!”
“Sure it’s 3:00am and we’re at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, but this coffee seems fine. There’s steam still coming out of the pot, so it’s fresh right?”
“You’re challenging me to eat a 1lb cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake? Sir, I accept your challenge! Software Testers gotta represent.”

Not all of my daring food choices have led me astray. Ordering from the non-American menu at a Chinese restaurant yielded a pleasant experience of duck tongue in black bean sauce, lobster congee, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember. Quail eggs. Chocolate-covered grasshoppers. Cute little octopus. Beef Carpaccio. The list goes on and on.

Will I go back to that food truck? I’m a glutton for punishment so the answer is obvious. That roll really was tasty.

Uh oh. That belch didn’t feel quite right…gotta cut this post short!

Katrina is the owner of Culinary Cupid LLC. When she’s not paying homage to the porcelain god for unconventional food judgment, she’s dragging her nieces and nephew along to share in her culinary adventures.

Cooking, Entertaining, Food

Ladies who Lunch

I love to entertain. Any occasion will do. This afternoon I’m preparing lunch for my old college freshmen roommate. It is in no way an excuse to use the new gold flatware I purchased in hopes of setting a pink and gold table. Ok, maybe it’s a tiny excuse. She’s been to my home lots of times, but today I feel like making an effort. I extended an invitation to lunch, and with it I believe are certain duties. One of them is to set the table.
I’d much rather have brunch, but I liked the idea of sleeping in on Saturday (although my sleeping in is sleeping until 6am). There are so many dishes I’d like to prepare, but my on-hand ingredients will dictate the menu.

I head down to the deep freezer and quickly discovered there’s a lot of crap in here. This is the place where leftovers are housed in cryogenic stasis. A bag of croissants I froze for bread pudding that I was absolutely positively going to make as soon as I came up with a decent recipe. I rummage pass the leg of lamb, ribs, duck legs for confit that I was going to make that day, foie gras (I promise I will make that duck liver mousse I’ve been meaning to get around to making), and an emergency ham (what emergency would call for a ham, you ask? The emergency of wanting a ham sandwich, of course). I don’t know why I have six bags of hot dog buns, but I can be sure it has something to do with my mother. Ah-ha! A frozen pie shell. I immediately think quiche and a crab quiche recipe I’ve been thinking about. I’ll take that, as well as the croissants (it’s now or never for that bread pudding). Back upstairs to the frig.

Being from Maryland, I’d prefer to have fresh lump crab meat. I try to keep a pasteurized container of crab meat in the refrigerator for use when fresh local crab meat is not in season and I have a hankering for crab dip (usually during football season). But, the crab meat I buy is from a company that is from Maryland (that totally counts, right?). Today I’m in luck; I have fresh lump crab meat on hand.

Menu for today:
Crab Quiche
Chicken salad
Roasted scalloped potatoes
Bourbon Pecan Caramel Croissant Bread Pudding – wait. Should I do something with berries since they are in season? Berry tarte tatin? Berry cobbler? Bread pudding feels more like an after dinner dessert. Lemon Rosemary Cornmeal cake with mandarin oranges
Hard apple cider that we discovered is produced in the town where we went to college

I wanted the flavor of the fresh lump crab to shine through, so I kept the seasonings to a minimum. I also wanted to keep the menu simple and easy to prepare since this is supposed to be a relaxing lazy day lunch. When thinking about a lunch menu think about items that can be prepared a day in advance; or, at least prepped in advance and cooked the day of your lunch.

There were a few hits and misses as far as the lunch menu was concerned. I thought the crab quiche was a hit (the recipe is posted below); the lemon rosemary corn cake needs a bit of tweaking. Preparing the cake in advance would have been a good idea because I would have had the time to properly think through its preparation. But these things happen when working on the fly. But that didn’t ruin the afternoon. We reminisced about the carefree days of college and family and work and life and how after all these years we’re still friends. I could have served lunch on paper plates and it wouldn’t have spoiled the afternoon; but, what is the occasion for which I am saving my entertaining pieces? I decided not to use my new gold flatware (the plates that compliment them are packed away), but I pulled out a few silver pieces I bought back in my early 20s when I was preparing for all of those fabulous dinner parties I imagined I’d throw when I got older. Pieces that until this weekend I thought were too precious to use (and believe me they are not. I did purchase them on a 24 year old’s paycheck after all).

Picture of mint jul cupYou don’t need a special occasion to use the “good plates”. The world events of the day warrant celebrating making it to the middle of the year safely. Instead of stowing away your entertaining pieces in the basement or a china cabinet put them in a kitchen cupboard. That way, they are easily accessible when the occasion to use them arises. I think 20 years of friendship was a pretty good reason. I hope we don’t make it another 20 years before having lunch again. By then we will have forgotten what made the good ole days so good (wink).
Katrina Martin is the owner of Culinary Cupid LLC. When she’s not offering clients tips on preparing a cost-effective stress-free and absolutely fabulous lunch, she’s trying to figure out how to parlay that new dish washing rag she just bought into an occasion to have a dinner party (as well as helping to restore the lost art of the leisure lunch).


Crab Quiche:

1 9-inch pie shell, thawed (do not use a deep dish shell)
8 oz. fresh lump crab meat, picked through to remove shells
5 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup finely chopped basil
1 tbsp. finely diced chives
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Salt, to taste
White pepper, to taste (fresh ground black pepper may also be used)
Optional: A pinch of Old Bay ® (no self respecting Marylander’s cupboard would be without it)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Poke holes in the bottom of the pie crust using the tines of a fork. Blind bake the pie crust for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, beat the eggs. Add the Dijon mustard, milk, salt, and pepper. Whisk until incorporated.

In the pie shell, layer the basil, crab meat, chives, and Swiss cheese. Pour the egg mixture on top of the Swiss cheese, being careful not to disturb the distribution of the ingredients. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Place the quiche on a cookie sheet.
Unbaked Crab QuicheBake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the quiche comes out clean.

Baked Crab Quiche

Add 1/3 cup chopped artichoke hearts
Add 1/3 cup chopped spinach

Cooking, Food

Max for the Minimum

I’m reluctant to post this because I don’t want all the good stuff to sell out before I get there.  But, since no one reads this blog, I will go ahead and share.

I used to be skeptical of the food section of the discount department stores. My concerns were the length of the stay of their food items, as well as the fact that the shelves always looked ransacked and unsystematically put together (think noontime on Black Friday). But one day I threw caution to the wind and bought a can of escargot. I admit it was not the best first choice, but since I was already in uncharted territory I figured I might as well go for the gusto.

The quality of the escargot was debatable. However, if cooking with ingredients to which you would not have otherwise been exposed, then I’m all for it.  It broadens your repertoire.  I gave them a quick rinse, and prepared them in a simple sauté of olive oil, garlic, fresh parsley, and finished with a pat of butter. To choke it down enhance the experience, I drank a lovely white burgundy whose name escapes me. A buttery chardonnay may have been a better choice, but white burgundy was open.

Here are just a few things I’ve picked up over the years:
Whole vanilla bean
Dried lavender
Pink salt, grey salt, black salt, smoked salt, salt flakes, rose petal spice blend
Whole black truffles
The aforementioned escargot
Truffle oil – I use this to finish risotto dishes and if I’m feeling fancy, I’ll toss French fries in it just before serving. (attention truffle enthusiasts:  I know truffle oil gets a bad rep because it’s not considered the true truffle experience, but hear me out. This is how I was first exposed to the flavor of truffles, which made me want to try an actual truffle when the opportunity presented itself. And I did. And I liked them.).

So today I will be testing a recipe using the rose petal spice blend. Even before I tasted it, I already had lamb on my mind.  But do I have lamb in the freezer? I rummage past the wild boar (I’m saving that for another day) and Score! Lamb chops in the freezer.

rosespiceI crusted the lamb with the rose petal spice blend and let it rest. I want to keep the sauce simple, so I’m making a quick pan sauce using a beef and chicken stock combo (no lamb stock on hand), and some leftover red wine I had in the freezer. I also want to try this dish with fresh herbs, so I make a quick chimichurri using fresh parsley, mint, shallot, olive oil, and white wine vinegar.

Since my husband’s opinion is a tad biased (I do give him special favors after all), I invited a friend over for dinner to get the ‘person on the street’s’ opinion. I don’t want to taint her judging, but I figured I’d offer generous wine provisions. Châteauneuf-du-Pape ought to do the trick. Or maybe I should have gone with a red blend. Too late, I already opened the Châteauneuf. Who am I kidding? I’ll also open the red blend (we do enjoy our wine).

I grilled half on the stovetop and the other half I pan seared. The grilled I served with the chimichurri. I will taste once without sauce and the other with the sauce.


I am a bit nervous tasting, but I dig in. The verdict…”that’s good” was the person on the street’s response.
“Wait. How much wine have you had?” I asked.
“I’m not drunk”.
Sounds like two thumbs up to me.
Next we try it with the chimichurri. I hand her a piece of lamb topped with chimichurri. Silence…a head nod in delight.
Now the pan seared. She likes the saltiness of the pan seared better, but I preferred the char of the grilled. The meat was tender in both cooking methods and thanks to a soak in buttermilk it was not at all gamey.


I could not taste any hint of rose in either preparation. No matter. The lamb was good. The wine was good. Not a bad way to spend an evening. I’ll worry about finding dried roses to add to the spice blend later.

Even though the rose spice was not what I had hoped, the successes I’ve had with spices and herbs from the discount department stores outweigh the flubs.

So the next time you find yourself trolling the food aisles of those department stores, take a walk on the wild side and go for the jar of pickled string beans, or any other weird thing that’s in packaging that grabs your attention. If you come across dried lavender, save some for me.

Katrina Martin is the owner of Culinary Cupid. When she’s not looking through your cart at the discount stores to make sure you didn’t buy all the good spices, she’s home using all of the good spices.

For more tales of food aisle triumph, or suggestions on ways to use spices found at the discount department store, contact



Jesus Saves…His Go-To Recipe

milkcartonEveryone needs a go-to recipe; a recipe that you can prepare with ease. Whether it’s a workplace potluck, or a family recipe trash talking throw down, this is the recipe that put you on the map.

I have a recipe like that. I know it backward and forward. I didn’t need to write it down; I have a mind like a steel trap.  It’s in the vault, baby.

I forgot what my go-to recipe is. I realized this when I had need for it a few days ago when my in laws were coming over for dinner. “I know! I’ll make Salmon Wellington”. It’s easy to make and I know all of the ingredients are available at any grocery store. Problem solved.

Salmon Wellington is not my go-to recipe (or maybe it is but I forgot). I make it occasionally, but it still needs a few tweaks before I can put my ‘official’ recipe stamp on it (I wouldn’t make it for a client just yet). I thought the presentation would make a good impression for my in laws.  I’ve made it in the past with great success; but, I felt it was missing something.  “I’ll make steaks,” then I realized not everyone likes red meat. I didn’t have time to make lamb (another go-to recipe contender) because I needed it to marinate overnight. And good heavens no more chicken! I stood in the kitchen and experienced a total brain fart. “What in the world am I going to make? Do I even know how to cook?” It was like trying to figure out that word problem in math where you have to determine at what point two trains traveling in opposite directions would meet. I decided I’d get an idea once I got to the grocery store.

The grocery store was out of lamb and rib eye steaks. After meandering around the grocery store looking for alternatives, my choice was clear. Salmon Wellington it is. I grabbed the ingredients and headed home.

I re-purposed the base of a lemon butter sauce I had left over from another dish (more on re-purposing in a later post). I fished out the tarragon and added fresh dill and lemon juice. I threw in jumbo lump crab meat. I needed to make the filling stretch for seven portions so I added shrimp and lobster I had in the freezer. I rolled out the puff pastry dough and realized it was too soft. I didn’t have time to put it back in the fridge. I’d have to make do. When you’re assembling the wellington, the bottom layer is actually the top layer. The order is puff pastry, filling, fish. Seal the seams with egg wash, and then flip. If your puff pastry is too soft it may tear, which of course mine did. To fix the tear you can either try to push the tear together and seal it with egg wash, or you can use a cookie cutter to make a fancy design using leftover puff pastry dough and adhere it with egg wash. Just now while typing this I realized that I could have made a freehand braided rope design.

Naturally, I could not find the appropriate cookie cutter (it is too early in the year for gingerbread men). So, I took a small piece of dough and sealed it with all the elegance of a pothole repair. The wellington looked like Kuato was about to appear and tell Quaid how to start the reactor to bring air back to Mars. I patted down the lumps as much as I could and placed it in the oven.

It puffed up nicely; no sign of lumps at all. It still looked a little plain. I added dill and fresh lemon slices around the pastry and a rather large piece of dill across the center to give it some pizzazz (and to detract from its overall appearance). I’ll post the recipe for Salmon Wellington as soon as I think it’s worthy :).


From this dinner, I have taken away a few lessons.

Lesson 1: Write down your go-to recipe.

I know this is stating the obvious. Writing it down is important. If for no other reason, you will have a record of the tweaks you’ve made on the road to perfection.

Lesson 2: If you give people enough wine, they’ll like anything you serve.

Great strategy – if the people with whom you are dining actually like wine. No one wanted wine. “Who wants wine? I have wine right here! I’ll just open the bottle and anyone can have it whenever they want. Pour yourself a glass. We don’t stand on ceremony here.” I knew I should have made cocktails instead.

Lesson 3: Set a pretty table to detract from the food.

I totally nailed the Bishop’s Hat.

bishophatI didn’t beat myself up about the appearance of the wellington. Perfection is rare, especially in cooking. I tell my clients that all of the time. So I let myself off the hook. Everyone loved it. My father-in-law even asked for a doggie bag. Not too shabby.

It was a beautiful evening with family and that’s all that mattered. And that is the ultimate lesson.

Katrina Martin is the owner of Culinary Cupid LLC. When she’s not quoting obscure movie references, she can be found searching for her go-to recipe.


One Love

Before I left for Jamaica I was already mentally preparing my blog post for when I returned. I thought I will incorporate the love of food that I experienced while taking the advice of every travel writer to get to know the locals vs. having an aristocratic understanding of exotic places in an effort to prove that I ‘get it’. This has become cliché so I decided to skip it. Anyway, Bourdain has already eloquently covered the local perspective. I was there to relax, and maybe drink a Red Stripe or two if offered (you know, in an effort to maintain world-wide diplomacy). I didn’t ask the chefs ‘what do you cook at home’ while waiting for my omelet because I know I don’t like to be bothered when I’m trying to feed a surge of patrons as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to think about work. When asked, I told people I worked for the CIA. I did not critique the food; I decided to be thankful for a decent meal instead. It’s hard to put a little love in food that has to cater to such a varying degree of palettes. But love and I found each other at a humble eating establishment recommended by the resort staff (always, always, always ask the staff where they eat, especially the chefs) called Scotchies.

Oh yes, Scotchies. This place was recommended to us by friends in the States as well. When we arrived, the smell of the wood fire grill was heavy in the air. It literally felt like it was give us a big bear hug. There was no middle ground: either the food is going to be really good, or really terrible. It had no central roof; only umbrellas over the tables and tin awnings. But no matter; who needs a roof in paradise? You don’t go expecting cloth napkins and ambiance (although, it does have ambiance in spades). You go for the food.

What shall we order? Decisions, decisions. We went for the gusto and ordered all of the meats, and the fish. We skipped side dishes. I didn’t have a chance to chat up the grill masters to get some pointers on grilling. There were hungry patrons to feed after all, and the meter was running on our taxi. We scurried back to our room. A meal such as this requires a wardrobe change into something with an elastic waist band.

The food was remarkable. Each meat had a distinct flavor even though it was all prepared on the same grill. There was of course jerk chicken and pork. There was also pork sausage and chicken sausage, and fish cooked in foil with onions, green peppers, and okra. Everything was seasoned simply so the flavor of the meat was not masked. In the 6 years that we’ve been married, I have never heard my husband go on about anything I prepared like he did about Scotchies. I attributed it to us not having a good meal in days, so I gave him a pass – just this once. The only thing missing was bread to make a sandwich (room service to the rescue!). And dag on it I forgot to ask for sauce!

Ahhhh, there’s the love: good food, Caribbean sunset, a warm breeze, a cold Red Stripe…and a nap.


I Lost that Luv’n Feeling

I love food. A lot…really, really a lot. Most of my happier memories as a child involved food. Most of my not-so-happy memories as a teenager involved food. I love the way it makes me feel. I love the way I am able to bring pleasure to others through it.  
I would spend hours in the kitchen recipe testing, eating Nutella™ straight from the jar in the name of ‘research’, and drinking wine. “An afternoon well spent,” I thought. I would throw elaborate and simple dinner parties alike each month in celebration of my love for food and friends. But now something has changed. Whenever I hear someone talking about food, I want to scream! Whenever a friend enthusiastically shares with me a new recipe they tried, I want to say ‘you want a cookie with that?’.
Is it the barrage of douche-baggery concerning food and the pretentious hipster foodie movement? Is it the declaration by some fancy pants food magazine that they’ve discovered a new pan: the cast iron skillet, while anyone from the South is rolling their eyes as they read? While I was walking, I had a very Jerry Maguire-esque moment of clarity. Food has always been used to bridge the gap between cultures; to celebrate similarities and discover that we’re not so different after all. Now, food culture seems more exclusive.
I started my business with this simple idea: love. How can I show love through the medium of food? How can I make a family in Southeast feel included in the food conversation by showing them alternative methods of using the ingredients they have on hand?
This year I have endeavored to fall in love with food again. To seek out chefs, food establishments, and markets in search of love.
Stay tuned…
Katrina Martin is the owner of Culinary Cupid LLC. When she’s not luvin on her clients through food, she can be found torturing her close friends and husband with lots of recipe testing.