About Cooksmarts

Two years ago, I could not cook anything more complicated than boxed Mac n’ Cheese. I was also the pickiest eater I knew. Those things sound mutually exclusive, but trust me, they’re not. Frustrated, I decided to learn to cook. Turns out, I wasn’t picky - I was just eating bad food. I fell in love with cooking, put my existing life on hold, went to culinary school, and currently I cook and work at a recreational culinary school in Chicago. This is not a course I would recommend to most people, but I don’t regret it one bit. When I’m not working, extolling the many, many virtues of bacon, I’m eating as much as I can make excuses for, playing with my puppy puppies in the park, cooking (one would hope so, eh? I am steering this crazy ship), reading, listening to NPR, wandering around Chicago, and indulging in an occasional bout of navel gazing, just so I can say I have not lived an unexamined life. There’s a quiz at the end of it, right? And now a return to writing. Huzzah. I’ve gathered quite an arsenal of delicious recipes in my time at culinary school and more culinary school. I don’t want you eating boxed Mac n’ Cheese. I like you too much to let that happen. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned. Here. Now. Let’s go. Are you still reading this? Go on. Get you some recipes. Questions about recipes? jaimepodgorny@gmail.com

Tuscan Chicken Stew

Skip straight to recipe here

So, once upon a time, I used to sing, “Someday my nerd will come.”

Now, I just want a dishwasher.

I have a dishwashing machine, but this is what I do to it.

There’s a reason they tell you not to substitute regular dish washing liquid. #bobbybradymoment

Clearly I need help.

When I was discussing the perfect man with some coworkers a while back, I told them I had pared down all the hopes and dreams of my youth to this very short list –

1. Not disfigured

2. Doesn’t mind doing the dishes

3. Would be willing to walk the dogs from time to time

I was told not to hold out for number two.

Also –

You need to be at least this tall to ride the ride.

What do you think, readers?

Ok, kidding aside, you know those times at work when even though you love it you feel like you’re carrying far more than your fair share of the workload and it makes you grumpy and kind of want to punch everyone in the face just a little bit?

And you know you don’t have time for more people in your life just at the moment, but there’s that little insistent lovelorn part of you that still kinda wants someone to share your I-want-to-punch-everyone-in-the-face urges with so they can bear hug you and hand you a small glass of bourbon?

That’s when you need this stew.

Tuscan Chicken Stew

(adapted from a recipe at TCB)

First, I hope you keep bacon fat around.  Do you keep bacon fat around? Good.  I knew there was a reason we’re friends. Start with that.

Bacon fat
Chicken (whole cut up or just thighs)
1 medium carrot, medium dice
1 medium onion, medium dice
1 stalk celery, medium dice
2 tsp italian seasoning
1 pinch fennel seed
1 pinch dried rosemary
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup white wine
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 splash of red wine vinegar
1 bay leaf
1 bunch of kale, chiffonade (I know, I normally don’t like kale either, but trust me on this one.  Ok, fine, use spinach if you want, but you’re missing out)
1 15 ounce can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper to taste

Before we get started, quick aside. Look at how much a whole chicken costs per pound!

So much cheaper to just break down your own.

There are plenty of youtube videos to show you how to break one down.  This one from Serious Eats is ok and mercifully short. It’s not how I would do it (why didn’t he take off the wing tip?? What about if people want boneless breasts?), but it’s alright.

Also, when you break down your own chickens, you get the bones for stock. If you have lots of bones, you can make traditional white stock. Or you could roast lots of bones and make roasted chicken stock.  If you freeze it, you can keep it around for months.

Then you can just hack of what you need –

 $3.00 a quart?? No thank you.

Ahem anyway.

Heat large pan to medium high heat.

Add bacon fat.

Season chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Sear chicken, skin side down first, until deeply browned.  Flip and repeat.

Remove to a rack so as not to wash off your sear when the chicken drips.

Turn heat down to medium low and add carrots, onion, and celery with a pinch of salt.  Cook until lightly caramelized.

I’ve made the ugly pictures smaller. It’s my new thing.

Add cabbage and a pinch of salt and cook for 2 minutes.

Add spices, tomato paste, and garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

Deglaze with white wine.

I probably used 2 cups. I like wine.

Add chicken stock, crushed tomatoes, red wine vinegar and bay leaf.

Yes, this is a different pan. I figured out about half-way through, I was going to need a bigger boat. D’oh!                 p.s. yes you can add the chicken stock frozen

Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.  Add a pinch more salt and pepper.  Add chicken thighs and legs back in and cook for 20 minutes.

Add chicken breasts in and cook another 15-20.  Taste for seasoning.  Adjust.

Add beans and kale.

Cook until they are just warmed through.

You can also take the chicken off the bone and shred it before adding it back to the stew.

Freezes beautifully.


Egg Drop Soup (and Chinatown)

I know I’ve been away again.

I was attempting to have a social life.

How do you think it went?

I exaggerate this much, maybe.

But so anyway, won’t make that mistake again.

I decided I needed some chicken soup… for my face.

Egg Drop Soup

5 cups chicken stock
vegetable oil
1/4 to 1/2 tsp of ground ginger (depending on how much you like ginger)
2 cloves garlic
splash o’ soy sauce
splash o’ rice wine vinegar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
scallions for garnish
sesame oil for finishing

First, let’s have a talk, ok?  Maybe you already know this, but guess how many times you have to buy scallions?  Once.

Just keep them in a jar of water and they will regrow

Heat high sided pot to medium-low.  Add oil.  Add garlic and ginger and toast for 30 seconds to bloom the flavor. You could mince fresh ginger (about a 1/2-1 tablespoon worth), but I don’t keep any around. Deglaze with soy sauce and rice wine vinegar.  Add chicken stock.  Bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning.  If it needs salt, throw a splash more soy sauce in there.  While stirring continuously, stream in eggs.  Garnish with scallions.

This soup was the end to my afternoon spent in Chinatown.

Entire stores devoted to dehydrated sea creatures you couldn’t pay me to eat! Guess how it smelled in here? Just guess.

what would you even do with this??

Favorite fortune from fortune cookies (yeah I’m that white)

You are your wisest counselor

Oh fortune cookie, you don’t know me at all.  

If you liked it, then you shouldn’t put a sting on it (also Timpano!)

I have been away. Wait, there’s a reason.  Well, there are several, but one of them was this-

The Brown Recluse

I know s/he looks rather menacing there, but like many mind-bendingly venomous things, in actuality s/he is quite small.

(Though I be but little, I am fierce).

So every time I would try to type, this spider, let’s call him Sven, would slap my hand away.

Some of the spider posse are obviously missing limbs, which means they’ve seen some action. And they’re bitter. I was loathe to incite them to further violence.

The irony of a reclusive spider having an insane spider posse is not lost on me.

No, but actually it went more like this – What’s truly ironic is that I have long lived in fear of getting a brown recluse spider bite.  They can get really nasty.  Don’t google it.  Really, don’t.

I warned you.

So anyway, the morning after I was like, “What’s this painful raised lump on my leg that seems to have sprouted since I was roused from slumber?  That’s weird.”

That was stage one.

Stage two (later that day) – “Hmm… wow this sure is painful.  It’s really big on the pain, this lump.  Like it was a depressed young tweenager and pain was a picture of puppies in a basket, that’s the relationship here.”

Stage three (late that night) – “This couldn’t be.  Because that would just be ridiculous.  To have this paranoiac fear of this rare spider bite and then…No.  I’m being hypochondriacal.  I mean, sure it hurts to walk, but that must indicate that it’s healing. Searing pain = on the upswing. I’m almost positive.”

Stage four (really late that night) – “Ok, googles.  WTF.  Help a sister out.  Apply a paste of baking soda to draw out the venom?  Well, alright. If you say so, googles.  You do know all.”

Stage five – “Would gnawing my leg off be slightly less painful?  I think maybe yes.”

Snippet of conversation in the car
from when my parents came for dinner

Jaime- I think I got bitten by a brown recluse spider.
Mom- I think I got bitten by something too, right here under my arm.
Jaime-  Does it hurt to walk?
Mom- No.
Jaime – I win.  I win the insect bite contest.

Snippet of conversation from everyone who saw said bite

Other people – Have you thought about maybe seeing a doctor?
Jaime- It’s something to consider.
Other people- Because um… that looks…
Jaime- I’ll go if it gets any worse.

Snippet of conversation with friend on the third day

Gabriel – Hey, I brought you Doritos.
(which I may or may not have manipulatively mentioned I would really, really, really like, in the abstract, for recovery purposes, naturally.
Also brought: medicinal beer. Not mentioned.  Gabriel is a medical visionary.)
Jaime – Want to see my spider bite?
Gabriel – Um, hrmm.  Look at…that.
Jaime- Yeah, see that dark spot?  I don’t really think it’s black.  I think it’s just dark red.  It’s clearly not the Necrosy.
Gabriel- Have you considered seeing a doctor?
Jaime- See the thing about that is, my staggering lack of insurance.
Gabriel -What about the minute clinic?
Jaime- Zuh?
Gabriel- They have them in CVS. It’ll be like 20-30 bucks.
Jaime- Well, hot damn.  Let’s go!

So off we ventured.  Enter CVS nurse.

Jaime- I think I got bitten by a brown recluse spider.  See?

Medical professionals should probably not recoil in horror.
It also doesn’t inspire confidence when they frantically flip through a binder…

Nurse- Um. Yeah. That’s.  I could be wrong.  But I’m pretty sure that’s the Necrosy. (Ok, fine, she said ‘necrotic’. It’s more fun to say ‘the Necrosy’).  I’m really not qualified.  I need to send you to urgent care.

So, off I went to urgent care.  There may have been a few minutes of hysterical crying, a la *sob, sob*, “Gabriel, I need my leg!  I use it for things.  Like biking and walking and kicking orphans! Those orphans aren’t going to kick themselves.”

Snippet of conversation from urgent care

Doctor- Do you mind if I bring a student in to see this?
Jaime- Sure.
Doctor-Do you mind if we bring in the nursing assistant as well?
(Doctor also has a posse.)
Jaime- Um, ok.
Doctor, (while examining, calmly)- See this, guys?  Clearly the only thing we can do is amputate.
Jaime- WHAT???
Doctor- Just kidding!
(Doctor has jokes.)

Another thing you never want to hear from a medical professional – “Do you mind if I take a picture?  I’ve never seen this before.”

[favorite other snippets from brown-recluse-spider-related conversations]

So, all said and done – steroids were prescribed, beer was drunk, legs were elevated.  And, as the summer wind filtered slowly through the leaves… I began… to heal.  Just kidding, but I did begin to heal.  A couple of weeks later, it’s almost back to normal.  Maybe another week or so.

And it didn’t stop me from having a dinner party!

If you have never seen the movie Big Night, you should.  There’s a dish in it that, for all I know, Stanley Tucci made up.  And if he did, he’s a genius.  Timpano!

In the movie, it’s made in a pasta crust.  But I make mine… in a pie crust.  So when I describe it to people I say, “It’s a pound of noodles, a pound of mozzarella, a pound of meatballs, a half pound of salami, two pounds of sauce, in a pie crust“.  This is pretty much enough information to get people to any dinner party you’re having anywhere, even at your weird aunt Thelma’s, with all the cats.  This recipe just basically culls together a bunch of existing recipes on this site, but here are some pics.

Pie Crust


Take care to cook noodles only 1/2 to 3/4 of the time indicated on package, or they will get soggy. Toss 1/3 of the sauce with noodles, save the rest for the layers.

Save scraps that fall to patch the top at the end.


Fold crust over top and patch.

Bake covered in foil for 45 minutes.  Bake uncovered another 30-45, until golden brown.

Serve with enough liquor to get everyone to play Cranium later…

Reluctantly deal with aftermath.

(If possible, blame reluctance to do so on vestiges of pain from a brown recluse spider bite.)

Put an egg on it!

I know what you’re saying.  I want to have a BLT, but it’s breakfast time. Isn’t that culinarily awkward? What to do?

Put an egg on it!

You know how to make a BLT – how do you make it into breakfast?

1. Serve it on buttered toast (I grilled mine, because I’m me.)

2.  No one puts lettuce in their omelets.  Not a breakfast food. Spinach!  Problem solved.

3. I lightly salt my tomatoes before adding them to the sandwich.  It brings out their flavor, and maybe it’s just me, but it seems to enhance their sweetness.  Fruit component of breakfast accomplished.

4. Put an egg on it!

You could do your egg whatever way you like it. But, you know how when the yolk of a sunny-side up breaks and you’re thinking, “I wish I had something to sop this up with…”


Julia’s 100th Birthday, my 100th post, and why my part-time job is less than successful.

(skip straight to recipe here.)

And by part-time job, I mean napping.

There’s a reason why my rest is maybe not as restful as it could be.

Three reasons actually.

The amount of pillow I get vs. the amount of pillow the cat gets – to scale.

Also reason 412 why spinsterhood is inevitable.

Perhaps some advice?  Because my bed time goes something like this –

1. Bean.  He needs to be as close to my face as possible.  Sometimes, I mistakenly think it will help to turn my head.

which inevitably results in this :

2. Bourbon – to her, any movement, no matter how virtually imperceptible, means that I am fully awake and that I want to snuggle right now.

No, sure, I wasn’t really that asleep

No, it’s cool. I mean, please get your tongue as close as possible to my face…

Yay for a few minutes of sleep! Yay!


Any chance we’re going back to sleep soon?

3. Belly.

Who’s mostly chill.

 Until she feels the need to demonstrate that she’s the boss of all dogs –

Which is funny when I happen to be upright and out of the line of fire.  Once I’m horizontal and it’s going on right next to me, it kinda feels like doggie Rambo is shooting mortar shells through my dreams.

Given this bedtime adversity, I think it’s a wonder I even have the energy to be productive at all.  And by productive, I mean make eclairs.  Because it’s Julia’s birthday, and I think she’d like that!

Happy Birthday, Julia!                                                                                                 (here’s hoping the hunchback isn’t the fate of all tall women in the kitchen…)

So anyway, Eclairs –

Start with the pastry cream.  I made a half batches of these things but, here’s the full recipes:

Vanilla Pastry Cream
adapted from Cookwise by Shirley Corriher

1 1/2 cup half and half
5 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste

First start the half and half heating in a small pan on medium.  Heat until just steaming.  While the milk is heating, combine egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, salt and vanilla past in a bowl.

Whisk to combine.

Slowly stream the milk in while whisking constantly to avoid cooking your eggs.  Once the milk is incorporated, return to pan.

Heat on medium, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens and bubbles break in the center.* Take off heat immediately. Put into a shallow bowl or pan, straining if desired.

Flavor if desired.  I divided mine into thirds and mixed half cherry jam with half pastry cream.

I also stirred espresso powder into one.

Chocolate would be good (though arguably overkill since we’re glazing with chocolate ganache). Raspberry, orange, cinnamon, whatever pleases you.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge to cool.

*it’s important for the mixture to come to a boil because that’s what makes the cornstarch burst and thicken.  If you do not boil, you run the risk of a starchy-tasting runny pastry cream.  On the otherhand, over cooking will overcook the egg.  Pull it off just as soon as it comes to a boil.

Make the

Pate a Choux

6 ounces half and half
1 stick of butter
1 cup of flour
5 eggs
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 425.

Put the half and half and butter in a high sided pot and bring to a boil.  As soon as it boils, add the flour all at once and beat it with a whisk like it owes you money.  Cook it for a good minute or two to get the raw flour taste out, a small film will form on the bottom of the pot.

Remove from heat and set aside a minute.  Now’s a good time to crack your eggs and ready your pastry bag. (If you don’t have a pastry bag you can use a ziploc bag.)

This is important. Incorporate eggs one at a time.

Switching to a wooden spoon makes things easier. Do not add another egg until the first one is fully incorporated.  Err on the side of “too incorporated”.

No trace of egg? Now, you can continue.

If it does not want to cooperate, beat it into submission.  Do not stop stirring or you will cook your egg.  After the third egg, it may “break” or look like a curdled shaggy mass. You didn’t do anything wrong.  It’ll come back together.  You may not need the fifth egg.  Once it’s pipe-able,

stop. Beat in pinch of salt.

Pipe onto a parchment-lined baking sheet in long strips.

I got the plastic piping bags from Wilton, because I find no matter how diligent you are about cleaning the reusable ones, they get kinda gross.

They will have tails.  Just wet your finger and press them in.

Did you really need an illustration? Probably not.

Do not leave the tails as they will bake to a burnt crisp. Brush with egg wash if you want them to be shiny, though they will get glazed.

Once they’re puffed and dark brown,

I let these go a little long. It’s because my baking instructor was always harping “not enough color!” Damn you to hell, Belinda Brooks! Look what you’ve done to my eclairs…

15-20 minutes, remove from oven and let them dry out.  They should be fairly open on the inside.

The better to fill you with pastry cream… with. Awkward prepositional moment.

While the pate a choux is baking, make the ganache.  Ganache is one of my favorite things because it sounds fancy, but it’s the simplest thing in the world.

Chocolate Ganache

3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped or in chip form
3 ounces half and half
1/2 tsp vanilla

Heat half and half in a small pan until steaming.  Put chocolate in a bowl.

Ganache is my favorite use for discolored chocolate. Yes, that chocolate is still good. By the time this is whisked, you won’t even know.

Pour cream on chocolate.

Wait 30 seconds.  Whisk until smooth.

Add vanilla. Oh by the way.  You should measure.  Or your ganache might be a bit runny…This happened to someone I know.

Put pastry cream in a piping bag.  Insert bag into one end of the eclair or into the bottom

and pipe until the tip comes out.  Dip in ganache.

In the case of the cherry, it might be a bit runny, and the bits of cherry might get stuck in the piping tip, so just slice it open and slather it in.


Ok, completely unrelated but I was right –

Creepy, right?

I was going to use this gif, but it’s creepy for its own reasons.

Really?  Who’s responsible for this??

Eggplant Involtini

So, the bakery can no longer bear the entirety of the blame for my fatigue.  Which seems bottomless.  Like some sort of pit or something.  I make this face all the time now.

This can’t be good for my forehead.

Artist’s rendition of the other tired face I make. Just for variety.

I couldn’t figure it out.  It’s only been a problem recently.

I’ve been napping like it’s a part-time job.

I’ve been trying to remember to take my iron pill and generally up my iron intake.  Hell, I ran over and bit a passing cow right on the…ok, no I didn’t do that.  But I would!  Ok, I wouldn’t do that.  But I would absolutely scarf down pretty much any piece of cooked cow bits you want to give me.

Then stop being so damn delicious.

In related news, cows, your cuteness is not an adequate deterrent. Perhaps learn to meow? No, wait don’t. I just creeped myself out.

But so anyway, I couldn’t figure it out. Until I did something radical.  I ate when I woke up, then again just before my shift. Then I ate again on shift. Granted, it was between doing 10 other things, but I did manage to eat something resembling a meal. From there, I extrapolated some rather shocking information.

Eating is important.

This is going to blow your mind – eating gives you energy.  If you stop doing it on a regular basis because you’re “too busy”, you run out of energy.

So now, I’m kind of like this –

And I’ve been making a concerted effort to make food and consume it a good 2-3 times a day.  This will surely benefit us all.  Me, with delicious, delicious food, and not having to sleep more hours a day than a giant armadillo.

Giant Armadillo

Look it up, people.

You, with the potential for your own delicious, delicious food.

The farmer’s markets are flooded with eggplant right now, so why not make some-

Eggplant Involtini

1 eggplant
olive oil
2 cups fresh ricotta – double this recipe
1 egg
1/2 cup grated parmesan, plus more for sprinkling
2 tablespoons basil, chiffonade
breadcrumbs (optional)
8 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into slices
Marinara I or Marinara II or your own version

First cut the eggplant into thin slices.  Preheat a grill pan to high (or an oven to 400).  Brush the eggplant slices with oil

and then grill/roast them until they are just tender.

Mix ricotta, egg, parmesan, and basil together.  Breadcrumbs can add a little more flavor and texture, but they aren’t necessary.

Lay out a strip of eggplant.  Scoop a small heap of the cheese mixture in and roll up like a crepe.

Place in a dish lined with a little bit of marinara sauce.

Don’t be like me. Cut these into half-sized strips before you roll, so that you can… you know.. fit them in your mouth.

Once all the eggplants are in the pan, cover with more sauce and the mozarella cheese.  Sprinkle with parmesan. Now’s the time to sprinkle a few more breadcrumbs on if you’re using them. Set oven to broil and broil for about 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted and browned.

Remember that only you can stop crushing hunger-based fatigue.  Don’t let eating get away from you. Repeat after me –

I am the boss of eating!

We can all learn a little something from this one.

Morita Mole

Few people seem to know that we are engaged in a secret war.  A war against hot sheet pans.  I took the bullet on this one for you.

You’re welcome.

I know what you’re saying.  Isn’t it just you that’s in a war with hot sheet pans?

You think that hot sheet pan wouldn’t have completely-out-of-nowhere launched itself at you had you been in same position?

You need me on that wall!

Anyway, I’m not sure why I keep displaying my kitchen scars to you.  What are you going to say? “Wow, way to get hurt, lady.  You sure can battle inanimate objects like a champ.”  How would that be helpful?  I guess I’m just looking for your pity.  And some advice as to what to do when people think I ritually branded the lesbian symbol into my arm.

No, Bourbon. The ladies have better sense than to hitch their wagon to this crazy star. Also, I’m not your mom.

I do feel like a dog “mom” sometimes, but I prefer the term “guardian”.  I’m not willing to cross over into mom territory. I mean, I don’t care what anyone says, I am not sending them to college.  Degrees just aren’t worth what they used to be.  They can get a job, learn a trade, decide from there.  We’re working on housecleaning professional.  And by working on, I mean I let them lick the finished dinner plates sometimes and also strap little sponges to their paws and order them to walk around the kitchen.  Ok, I only do one of those things.

So, chicken!  What in the hell to do with it.

Here’s one option –

Morita Mole

Morita chile paste
1 small onion, small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of lard (or bacon fat, or veg oil, or whatever)
1 can of whole peeled tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
tablespoon of crema (optional)

Remember all those morita chiles you had leftover from making oxtail soup?

Ok, let’s make a paste out of those.

Normally I would toast the chiles first, but these already have such a nice smoky flavor I didn’t bother.  Just cut them open and get out the seeds.

Chuck them in some boiling water, turn off the heat, and let them soak for 15 minutes.

While that is happening, chop some onions and garlic, the base of all good things, and preheat a pan to low.

Add fat to pan.  Add onions and a pinch of salt.  Sweat onions for a couple minutes and then add garlic for 30 seconds to open up the flavor.  Add tomatoes with juice, crushing with a spatula or with your fingers as you add them.

Don’t worry too much about them, you’re going to blend them anyway. Add another pinch of salt. Simmer.

While it’s simmering, put chiles in blender

and add a little of the water you boiled them in. Puree until smooth.

How many chiles you ask? At least six. But you can do more if you’d like to keep the paste around for other reasons. Spice up some guacamole, maybe?

Once the sauce has simmered for five minutes, add some of the puree to taste and another pinch of salt.   Taste for seasoning. Transfer to the blender you didn’t bother to clean out because you knew you were going to blend the sauce and puree until smooth.

Return to pan.

Now you could add whatever cooked meat you like to this sauce – pork, beef, goat.  I had chicken laying around, so I shredded that and put it into the sauce with a tablespoon of crema to smooth the heat of the chiles.

Stir and let simmer another couple of minutes.  Turn off heat and walk away for five minutes to get the flavors to infuse into the meat.  The pan will keep everything warm.

You could eat this just as a stew or on some rice, but I chose to sprinkle it with queso fresco and then eat it on tortillas with cilantro.