Category Archives: Cooking

Hammer Salad

One of my best friends has asked me to write anecdotal recipes, so here ya go, the tale of a girl and her combined love of tools and cooking.

In my time on the planet, I’ve been exposed to all sorts of people. From growing up on construction sites helping my father do plan (blueprint) take-offs for window bids to the man who taught me how to SCUBA dive 25 years ago and loves to woodwork or restore vintage American Muscle (cars and motorcycles) while he’s not adding to the abundance of salt that clings effortlessly to his persona, I’ve met some truly groovy folks I don’t ever want to forget.

I have to admit, for a girl whose tech savvy is almost second to none, I have always gravitated to getting dirty because, let’s face it, it’s a novelty for me. Technology, for the most part, is a sterile environment. Being a mouse jockey means that I can create all kinds of things without getting the slightest bit dirty, not even a speck of dust under my fingernails.

Speaking of fingernails, one of the biggest influences in my life (who taught me more about the joys of getting dirty while exercising creative skills) was a man, who on top of being a motor-head with what seemed like a permanent automotive grease manicure, selflessly shared with me all he knew about tools, shop maintenance and work space organization. The best part? After a hard day of creating beautiful, useful things in his shop, oh, that man could COOK!

Back in the day, I grew up in a world of spoiled men. Women dominated the kitchen environment in a way that is seldom seen today. Back then, if you told a woman that a man could not only cook, but that he LOVED to cook, you know what happened? You got a woman passed out cold on the floor – or – with a look of shock on their face like they just saw a ghost. Guys can cook, I’m not saying they can’t, but old school chicks like me rub their eyes and do double takes when we find them. In my 20’s, if you got one that loved to cook and could clean on top of all that, you could have called Guinness because it was a friggin’ miracle. Now, not so much. Boys are coming into their own in the kitchen and I love it.

But in 43 years on this planet, I’ve only met two men who effortlessly stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me in the kitchen having a blast collaborating with me to create a great meal. One taught me how to change my spark plugs, SCUBA dive and make Baked Ziti, the other taught me how to organize a shop, maintenance tools, woodwork with a vintage planer, fix an engine block then promptly went into the kitchen and did knife work so beautiful and elegant that it would make you swoon on the spot; all the while growing his own heirloom tomatoes so huge and delicious you could make a meal out of just one.

I count myself very lucky that I have encountered individuals that are so diametrically opposed to my own nature but are kind enough to share their knowledge with me. Where I was once a “geek-in-distress”, I am now a “geek with two of her own toolboxes.” One for the shop and one for the kitchen.

But! My friends have given me the ultimate gift. They turned me into a damsel-in-a-dress that doesn’t fear tools. I don’t fear getting dirty and I definitely don’t fear rolling up my sleeves and putting hammer to object to get the job done on my own, whether it’s in the shop or in the kitchen.

I’m just thrilled because my motor head buddies helped me with one thing they never realized they were: Teaching me how to be safe in spite of my clumsy nature. As we’ve seen time and time again over the last five years, I’m not perfect by a long-shot because if I can step on it, step in it, trip over it or burn myself with it, I usually do. I’m so human it hurts (usually pretty bad). Trust me, I can attest to the fact that sometimes stupid hurts so bad it leaves permanent scarring.

Now since being safe is one of my highest priorities, one of the most important things one of my friends taught me about tools was:

The first criteria of a great tool is that it does the job it was designed to do.

Followed by the words of an intellectual (but not-so-handy) buddy of mine who said:

When the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.

What all that means is, simply, you have to have the right tool for the job. While my native tools are things like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, I once sat through an hour-long lecture about hammers from one of my friends that listed at least 13 different hammer types, from rawhide and lead-shot mallets to ball, framing, masonry and finishing hammers. The man was a friggin’ hammer almanac. If you gave him half the chance he’d probably tell you the right one to use in inclement weather conditions. But that’s cool…you know why? I can do the exact same thing when it comes to almost any piece of modern technology from the smartphone to advanced video game engines. Hey, everyone has a different skill set and I just love to learn. And if someone is willing to share their knowledge, I’m paying attention and taking notes.

But speaking of the combination of hammers and kitchens…

My mom is a HUGE fan of the Property Brothers on HGTV. She’s a “STOP EVERYTHING, NEW EPISODE TONIGHT” kind of fan because she’s constantly looking at her home and trying to figure out how it can be very efficient while extremely stylish. I like watching the renovations. It’s tech and getting dirty simultaneously. Plus I like looking at the 3D models they use in their “ideas” segment since one of my hobbies is skinning 3D models in Photoshop for use in video games.

So, while Mom was watching “Property Brothers at Home” which happens to take place right here in Vegas, I got out a head of red cabbage, a large Rubbermaid bowl and a tenderizing mallet and hammered together a fine salad, thinking “Yeah, Jonathan can put hammer to nail and build a house, but can he literally hammer together a salad? I know I can.”

Betcha you want to know how I did it, don’t ya?

Like any well-trained shop rat, let’s start with the tool list for this project. Remember, I pride myself on minimal cleanup, my current record for least amount of tools used on a dish is four:  The Crab and Hearts of Palm Salad tool list comprised only of a pairing knife, a cutting board, a bowl and a fork.

Hammer Salad takes my minimalist tool approach but I still haven’t broken the 4-tool record (not yet at least).

Here’s what tools you’ll need:

  • A cutting board.
  • A chef’s knife.
  • A food processor. (Optional if you don’t want to julienne manually.)
  • A kitchen tenderizing mallet.
  • A large PLASTIC Rubbermaid bowl.
    • Why plastic? Because my sweethearts, a hammer in a glass bowl with my clumsy nature just screams “disaster”, so stick with the high-sided plastic ones, that way you can relieve stress by beating the fool out of what we’re putting in the bowl. And you’re going to need to, this is hearty material we’re working with.


Those two are the most important tools you’ll need.

Now for the ingredients:

  • A fresh head of red cabbage
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Vinegar

I’m telling y’all, this is the easiest salad to make in the world. You’ll be hammering it out in no time flat.

Here’s how you do it:

Depending on the number of people you’re feeding, you can make the whole cabbage or just half, that’s completely up to you. Also, all of the ingredients are TO TASTE, meaning that you add more or less as your taste buds dictate.

Ready? Here we go!

First, you’ll need to wash the cabbage under cool water and remove one or two outer leaves until you get a good-looking undamaged head of cabbage.

Next, place the cabbage on your cutting board and slice it in half.

Remove the big white core from the cabbage so all you have left is purple goodness without the core.

Now here comes the hardest part, julienne the cabbage.  It will look something like this:

You can either put the cabbage in the food processor or cut it up by hand. It’s up to you. As I’m clumsy, I prefer the food processor, but I can julienne-by-hand if needs be thanks to my pal who taught me some of his beautiful knife techniques.

Next, after you’ve julienned the cabbage, throw the cut-up cabbage into your bowl and if you’re just doing half of the cabbage, add three fingers of salt to it.  If you’re making the whole head for a dinner party, throw in three fingers of salt twice.

(At this point you’re finished with the knife and cutting board so put it aside…because it’s HAMMER TIME!)

After you add the salt, I want you to pick up your hammer and just beat the holy terror out of that cabbage. Imagine that you are Thor holding Mjolnir and beating the cabbage like it’s Loki trying to hurt your fellow Avengers. I usually grab the hammer by the handle and then come down on the cabbage with the top of the mallet, not even using the spiky or flat sides, just using the top of it to really go to town on it, then rotating it to the spiky side (if needs be) to really get the salt pounded into the cabbage.

Don’t get too crazy or anything with hammering your cabbage, I don’t want to hear how the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Toons came in and turned you and your kitchen purple. Keep it in the bowl, not on the floor, not on your other half, brothers, sisters, children or the cat. Just focus all that Thor-like angst on the cabbage IN the bowl.

We are NOT looking for this:

So don’t be gettin’ all crazy on the cabbage. Giant Green Rage Monster is my job, not yours.

Cabbage is hearty stuff and you really have to let it know who’s boss if you want to get it to cooperate. But you have to admit, this is kind of fun, isn’t it?

Now, after the cabbage has been well-tenderized with the salt, you’re going to notice that it’s weeping a little, meaning that it’s getting juicy.

When you see the juice starting to form, add three fingers of sugar. (Twice if you’re making the whole head of cabbage.) You want to make sure that you’re sugar and salt are in equal proportions to make a nice taste balance.

Grab your hammer and stir the sugar in, then start hammering again, giving it a stir every so often. Two whacks, stir, two whacks, stir…that kind of action until you’ve got all the sugar pounded in to the cabbage.

BE CAREFUL, once you see the juice starting to form, if you get too nuts with the hammer, you’re going to be wearing it. (That’s why we like the high-sided bowl…containment!)

After you get the sugar and salt hammered in, take a taste! Your taste buds should be getting a balance of sugar and salt in each bite. If you taste one more than the other, balance it out by adding the opposite (too salty = add sugar, too sweet = add salt) until you get it just right.

Once your salt/sugar balance is right, it’s time for the vinegar. You’re going to add a splash (NOT TOO MUCH!), just enough to be able to coat the cabbage without overly adding too much liquid. (I stir everything together with the hammer…saves dirtying up a spoon for no reason. But, you do what you want, I am just sharing the recipe.)

After you put in the vinegar, you’ll notice that the cabbage will turn from a deep purple and white to a beautiful magenta color. Now take another taste. If all of the flavors balance, you’ve done it right.

Congratulations. You just made Red Cabbage Salad, a.k.a. Hammer Salad. One of the oldest family recipes in my arsenal.




For song of the day, let’s hear something that has the perfect tempo for hammering cabbage and cheers for the self-confidence that came from someone selflessly sharing their love and respect of hammers along with their excellent knife techniques with me.  You know who you are. Thank you.

Alesso featuring Tove Lo: “Heroes.”

Rice Krispies Treat

I promised you a good one, and you know me by now: If something can go wrong, it usually does.

Well, after my 3 a.m. phone call to Ace, being that I was in the middle of spring break, I spent the day at his house, disconnected from my computer and most of the external stressors in my life.  Ace went out with his best friend to check out a car he wanted to restore and well, that left me at his house alone with Lucky and one of his housemates, Bonnie.  I do really love that dog, so I didn’t mind at all puppy sitting, it would give me an opportunity to cool my jets.

While I was M.I.A. for a week from his house, Ace went grocery shopping.  On the counter in the kitchen I found the makings for all kinds of goodies.  Cake mixes, marshmallows, Rice Krispies, semi-sweet chocolate morsels, the whole she-bang that just had my name all over it.

Now what you don’t know, or maybe you do, is that I live to spoil Ace.  I do.  Also, I’m a huge baker.  I love to bake.  Cookies, cakes, candies … if it’s a confection, I’m all over it. Nothing in the world says how much you care about someone than them walking into the house to the smell of fresh-baked anything, so if I have time, motive and opportunity, I’m baking like a mad woman.

It also doesn’t help that Ace is a real sucker for homemade toll-house chocolate chip cookies. Oh yeah, the chocolate chip cookie and he are good friends, but friends in moderation. So whenever I bake, Ace is all over it. He loves it, so we’ve got a great situation brewing … I love to bake, he loves cookies and cakes.  Good thing happening there, right?

So I’ve set the scene. It’s me and Lucky and a really big kitchen with baking paraphernalia.  Time to get to work, right?

Well, let’s first set the way-back machine for 1975.  I was a 4-year-old that got sent to hang out with my mom’s friend Carol while Mom took care of Dad during his first back surgery.

I remember going to the store with Carol and sitting in the shopping cart “car seat” just made for little 4-year-olds.  We went up and down the aisles and I watched as Carol picked up butter, marshmallows and Rice Krispies, then over for Nilla Wafers, vanilla pudding and bananas to make banana pudding. When we got back to her house, she let me stand on her kitchen step stool as I watched her put things away.  Then came the fun, Carol let me help her make Rice Krispies Treats. Yep.  That was my first and last time to make them.

Until 36 years later.

You have to remember, in my house, we didn’t make stuff like that, we stayed with the staples — cakes, cookies, pies and Jell-o based things. That was our routine and it didn’t involve the Rice Krispies Treat. If we did make them at our house, I don’t remember it, besides, the last thing I’d ever be allowed to do is to engage in something like that because Mom and Nan would have it covered, leaving no room for me.

So fast forward to 2012 and there I am in Ace’s kitchen.

The one thing I’ve learned over time as a baker is that if you follow the directions, 9 times out of 10 it will come out right.  It’s really hard to screw up a recipe unless you are really trying, or (in my case) new to the recipe and working with things you don’t normally work with.

Speaking of what I don’t normally work with, marshmallows would be on the top of the list.  I can toast them, I can stick them in my hot chocolate, but after that, the marshmallow and I are perfect strangers. Cooking with them? Out of the question. I’ve never had a recipe that I’ve made time and time again with marshmallows.

So, we’ve established that I’m in a relatively foreign kitchen (any place that’s not my kitchen with my stuff is “foreign”, no matter if it’s my Mom’s or Ace’s). I’m faced with an ingredient that I have almost never worked with and I’m about to attempt a recipe that it’s been 36 years out of my 40 on the planet since I’ve seen it attempted.

Are you scared?

You should be!

Ok so there I am, standing in the kitchen with Rice Krispies box in hand, reading the recipe.  It’s not so bad, 4 cups of mini-marshmallows, a couple of tablespoons of butter, 6 cups of Rice Krispies …

I look around…

Ok, 13 x 9 x 6 pan … check.
Sauce pan … check.
Wax paper … check.
All of my ingredients … check.

It looks like I’m all ready to go, so I get started.

I put my butter in the pot and started to melt it. I check the recipe and it says, “Melt over low heat.”  I check the stove, the burner is set on “Low.” Ok, I’m good there.

As the butter started melting, I had already measured out all of my ingredients and they were sitting in a line of neat little bowls just waiting for me to add them to the pot.  I’m in good shape so far, right?

So the butter is melted in the bottom of the pan, I then start to add the marshmallows. They don’t melt very fast, so I felt like I was in the clear.  As I’m waiting, I go check on the dog, pat his head, buzz around the house for a second, check my blackberry for e-mails and/or missed calls, wash my hands and I return to the stove.

Ok, the marshmallows weren’t melting very fast at all, so I grab a wooden spoon and give them a stir.  As I looked down into the bottom of the pan, I went, “Ooh!  Melty goodness!” The marshmallows were going just as planned, and if there is anything in the world I know about being a confectioner, the worst thing you can do is burn any type of sugar because it just stinks to high heaven.  So I check the knob on the stove again, it was still on “low” so I think I’m in good shape.

After a while with me stirring and patiently waiting, the marshmallows turned themselves into a big white pile of goo.  Not incredibly loose, but I also didn’t want to destroy the marshmallows by turning the sugar into liquid, so after I got the marshmallows a bit looser, I decided it was time to add the Rice Krispies.

So there I am, adding in the six cups of Rice Krispies to the pot, stirring and watching them as they’re getting all over the place.  It seems as the pot I picked out was a bit too small, but no biggie, I kept adding in the Rice Krispies handful by handful, so I didn’t make an even bigger mess.  At that point I realized the pot was waaaay too small because the marshmallows weren’t mixing with what Rice Krispies I had remaining in the bowl to pour in, so I figure, what the heck, I’ll just pour everything into the bowl with the Rice Krispies, it’s bigger, I can just stir them up in there … that didn’t work either.

And I just saw my cake-pop baking pal Heidi put her head into her hands.  Yeah, I know Heidi, it wasn’t a great idea.

At seeing the mess I had just made, the Rice Krispies not even beginning to look remotely like they were ready to go into the pan, I realize that my marshmallows were still too stiff, so guess what I did …

I took the glass bowl and promptly stuck it into the microwave.

And there goes Heidi’s squeal of anguish … “Noooooooooooo!”

Yeah, well you may have known that, but I sure as hell didn’t. Microwaves melt things. That’s what I knew.

So, I stuck it in there for about 30 seconds and took them back down. Yep, the marshmallows were melted all right …

Finally at being able to stir up the whole mixture, I get it over into my Pyrex pan and get it all in there, thinking I had saved myself from catastrophe.  I took my wax paper, patted it all down and it looked just fine to me, so I let them cool while I started putting the ingredients together for the one thing I do know how to make without fail, cookies.

While I was measuring out my flour, sugars, salt and the rest of the cookie makings, Bonnie came in and said, “What are you making?” I looked at her and said, “Well, I saved myself from disaster, I almost botched the Rice Krispies Treats, but I saved myself by putting it in the microwave.”  As soon as I said it, Bonnie went pale. She said, “And they turned out?” I said, “Yeah, as far as I know … You want to be my test victim?” Her look was priceless, she said, “Sure, I love Rice Krispies Treats, I’ll give them a try.”  It was then that it all fell apart.  As Bonnie walked up to the pan, she said, “Well, they look alright,” then took a knife to the contents of the pan and promptly hit bedrock. Those suckers were hard as a rock. I immediately went pale as she pried out a small square, took a bite, and as I saw the treat explode like a piece of peanut brittle she said, “Well, they sure are crispy!”

At that point, she looked at me and said, “Did you butter the pan before you put them in there?” I stood there with eyes big as pie plates going, “You’re supposed to butter the pan?” She smiled gently and said, “Yeah, you don’t want them to stick.” Oy veh, I was out of my element, brought to my knees by Rice Krispies.  At seeing the total loss I was at, Bonnie got out a very large metal spatula, you know, the kind that don’t bend?  Well, guess what, as Bonnie struggled valiantly to get the mess I made out of the Pyrex pan, the spatula bent. Hey when I screw up, I go all the way!  So, after going around the edges of the pan, then breaking them into bricks, Bonnie and I got the botched batch out of the pan.  I literally do mean that you could have used those suckers as bricks and mortar and I promise you the Three Little Pigs could have taken what was in that pan and copyrighted the formula on how to make Rice Krispies Bricks.  The Big Bad Wolf wouldn’t have stood a chance trying to blow down a house made of those suckers.  After the pan was empty again, I grabbed it and ran hot water, quickly cleaning the pan to get ready for the next batch.

It was at that point that I quickly snatched up my Blackberry and called Ace, thinking to myself, “I’ve got time, I can make more …” then cursed myself as I had already snapped a photo of the botched batch and sent them to his Blackberry, so he knew I had made them. I had to find out how far away he was so I could rectify the mess I had made!  He answered the phone, “Hi there!” and I said, “Um, how far away are you?” the reply left my stomach near my ankles as he said, “Oh, about 20 minutes.” Trying hard not to give away the catastrophe I had made, I said, “Ok, see you when you get here…” then promptly hung up the phone and sprang into action with Bonnie right next to me.

When Bonnie saw the pot I had used to make the first batch, she kindly looked at me with not a single bit of laughter and said, “You might want to use a bigger pot this time …” as I ran quickly around the kitchen re-measuring all of the ingredients as I threw the butter into the larger pot that Bonnie had picked out. Then I threw in the marshmallows and waited for them to melt.

While the butter and marshmallows got to be gooey again, Bonnie came to check on me again as I was searching for the mixer for the cookies.  She looked down into the pot and said, “A little bit longer, but you don’t want to burn them. By the way, did you butter the pan?” At that point, I grabbed up what was left of the stick of butter I was using and buttered the pan with her giving instructions.  Then I kept looking around the kitchen for the vanilla, baking soda, sugars, morsels and the rest of the cookie ingredients so that when the Treats got done, I could slap those down, get everything into the mixing bowl and be casually mixing cookies when Ace got in the door, none the wiser that I had messed up.

As I was searching for the mixer, I went out the garage door at Ace’s, thinking that maybe the mixer had been stored out there (hey, if you know anything about Ace, things are sometimes stored in strange places). As I got out the door, guess who was standing there?  Ace. Holy lordy. At that point, all I could do was burst into laughter, even harder than before when I had realized the whole first batch had become brick and mortar!  I couldn’t even begin to explain to him what happened, all I could do was hold onto him and laugh hysterically.  All that eeked out of me was, “Um, where’s the mixer?” and as he gave me instructions as to its location, he looked at me as if I had completely lost it.

As I went back inside, Bonnie heard he was outside and she got into the act with me as she stirred the marshmallows and I added the Rice Krispies.  This time they turned out really well, and as Bonnie and I took wax paper and got them patted down into the pan, Ace and his best friend walk in, catch us in the act as I’m smiling at him with tears pouring out of the sides of my eyes I’m laughing so hard.

Bonnie popped up and said, “You weren’t supposed to see this …” Ace replied, “What happened?” and as he asked that, I burst into even more laughter because …

I’m 40 years old and I still can’t make Rice Krispies Treats without adult supervision.

I owe Bonnie huge thanks as she winked at me and I got back to what I do best — bake cookies.

Later on, Bonnie’s husband walked in, looked at me as he grabbed a fresh baked walnut chocolate chip cookie and said, “I heard you make one hell of a Rice Krispies Treat.”

Yep, if I can step in it, step on it, burn myself with it or otherwise mangle myself, I usually do.