Chef Juje

A messy adventure in learning to cook

Chef Juje Gets a Makeover

Wait. That might be misleading.

I did not get a makeover, though if anyone wants to give me one I would be more than happy to accept!

No, Chef Juje the blog got a makeover, as well as a new home. You can now find me over at

I’m hoping that the new site is a little more fun both for me to update and for you to read.


Shrimp and Grits

{…in which I learn to make grits}

For almost all of my husband’s life, he and his family have traveled to the southern part of North Carolina to spend a week on the beach.   I was even invited last year for a relaxing week full of sand, sun and shrimp.

Seriously, one of my favorite memories of last year’s vacation was the delicious shrimp and grits that his mom made for us. And although we weren’t able to go to North Carolina this year (sorry, North Carolina, your beaches took a back seat to my honeymoon), we wanted to recreate our favorite vacation dish here in Ohio.

A Crash Course on Grits

Grits are basically dried corn that is ground to a coarse meal. It can usually be found in the breakfast cereal aisle, NOT in pasta or rice as I initially tried, which makes sense because it is neither pasta nor rice.   Most sources seem to agree that a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of liquid to grits is a good rule,  using lighter liquids like water or stock when heavier ingredients (cheese or butter) are used and milk with stock when making grits on their own.

Start with boiling your liquid. Then reduce to low and add the grits. You should see large, slow bubbles (not rolling bubbles!) in the grits.  Over time, the grits will begin to thicken and seem creamy.

On left – large slow bubbles. On right – grits start to become creamy.

After the grits are finished cooking, you can add your other ingredients like cheeses and butter.

See Saveur “Perfecting Grits” and Bon Appetit “Grits” for more information on my new favorite corn product.

Shrimp and Grits


  • 1 Cup grits
  • 1.5 cups chicken stock
  • 2.5 cups water
  • 1 cup old-fashioned (NOT instant) grits
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup cheddar cheese
  • 2 Tbsp butter (1 tbsp for grits, 1 tbsp for shrimp mixture)
  • 1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • chopped peppers or other vegetables
  • salt and pepper

Directions – Grits

  1. Bring stock and water to boil. As soon as liquid is boiling, reduce heat to low and whisk in grits.
  2. Whisk grits quickly at first, then continue whisking as the grits cook. Should be done frequently but not constantly.
  3. Allow grits to cook for about 20 minutes (if using old-fashioned Quaker Oats grits; stone grits take closer to 40 minutes)
  4. Stir in cheeses and 1 tbsp butter
  5. Turn off heat, cover with lid and set aside.

The shrimp mixture. This was a bit of an improvise-as-you-go situation.

Directions – Shrimp

  1. Salt and pepper shrimp
  2. Heat pan to medium high.
  3. Add a few teaspoons of oil to hot pan, then add shrimp
  4. Cook shrimp for a few minutes until pink, turning over once.  Remove from pan and set aside.
  5. Add the chopped peppers and sautee until soft. Add garlic and cook for about a minute.
  6. Pour 1/2 cup chicken broth let it reduce in half
  7. Add tobasco sauce, lemon juice, 1 tbsp butter and cooked shrimp.

The finished shrimp and grits.

Zucchini Sticks and Onion Dip (Sans Zucchini)

I was really, really excited to share this recipe for baked zucchini sticks today. I was even a good (fine, improving) food blogger, took lots of pictures for each step along the way and was stockpiling advice for how to make such an excellent veggie dish even better.

I took the zucchini out of the oven, prepared a nice little plate of  vegetables, bit into a zucchini and…

I did not like.

The zucchini, that is. I’m starting to think that I’m not a squash person, given past experience with butternut squash in the fall.  If you’d like to try, by all means go for it and report back.

The onion dip, though,  was FANTASTIC.  I gave up on the zucchini and started eating the onion dip with all sorts of vegetables I could find.  Delicious!

Caramelized Onion Dip

This dip is pretty simple – mayo with caramelized Vidalia onion, natural honey, mustard, cider vinegar. The only tricky part can be caramelizing the onions, and I once again refer you to Simply Recipes for spot-on directions and insight into the process of caramelizing onions. Low and slow, stirring infrequently so as to not inhibit the caramelization.  In fact, I only discovered her instructions in the middle of cooking my dish in a panicked “Mr-Chef-Juje-I-think-the-onions-are-burning!!!!” moment.  Apparently this is a relatively common problem among newbie chefs, as Cooking Light even lists it as one of their “most common cooking mistakes.

What are your tips and tricks for caramelizing onions?  And, for moral support, what do you do when you encounter a recipe dud?


  • 2 small to medium Vidalia onions
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp mustard (I used Dijon)
  • 2 tbsp natural honey
  • 1 tbsp butter (for onions)
  • 1 cup mayo (Greek yogurt can be substituted)
  • tiny bit of sugar (to aid caramelizing process)


  1. Caramelize Onions.  Heat 1 tbsp butter, add sliced onions, keep on low to medium low, stirring occasionally, until onions brown.  Add a tiny bit of sugar if you would like.
  2. Add onions, vinegar, mustard, honey and mayo/Greek yogurt into food processor and blend.
  3. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Blueberry Buckle

A second baking post in a row!

I am learning that baking often creates giant messes (flour! mixing bowls! splatters!) and there is nothing in the world that I like more than GIANT messes.

Also, a second trip to the Worthington Farmer’s Market led me to pick up these beautiful blueberries.

My first blueberries

Given that I am brand new to this cooking thing and even newer to baking, I had never actually purchased a blueberry before and had no idea exactly what to do with them. A quick search led me to a blueberry buckle, a dish I liked for the alliteration alone.

The actual finished product!

Buckles are basically cakes with fruit mixed in or sprinkled on top. The original recipe called for half the blueberries mixed and half baked on top, but I got a little over-eager and thew all the blueberries in without seeing the word “half.” I am a big picture person and sometimes it works out okay.

Not two hours after I made the buckle that I received my Food Network recipe of the day featuring Alton Brown’s own blueberry buckle.  Imagine my excitement!! (Fine, summer’s a little slow chez Chef Juje.) Honestly, the one here is kind of extra delicious because it involves a lemon syrup on top.

Make the crumble first and then freeze.  Then make the cake and sprinkle the crumble (hehe fun sentence!) over top.  While the cake is baking, prepare the lemon syrup and drizzle over the cooked cake. Also, I cheated and did not use lemon zest and used “Real Lemon” juice instead. I did just buy a juice attachment for the mixer, though, so maybe my cheating days re: lemons are numbered.


  • 1/2 cup AP Flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • dash salt
  • Zest of 1 lemon (I omitted)
  • 1/4 cup room temp unsalted butter, cubed


  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6 tbsp room temp unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon (I omitted)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups blueberries

Lemon Syrup

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • Juice of 2 lemons

1.) Make the Crumble

  • Sift flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest (for you non-cheaters). Mix in butter so that little crumbles form, then store in the freezer until the cake is prepared.

2.) Make and Bake the Cake

  • In a large bowl (YES another bowl!), sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg.
  • In another bowl (oh yes…), cream butter, sugar and lemon zest. I used the beater attachment on medium for this.
  • Add one egg at a time to the butter mixing bowl and mix after each egg.
  • Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and 1/2 of the butter milk. Mix.
  • Add another third of the dry ingredients and the final half of the butter milk. Mix.
  • Add the remaining third of the dry ingredients. Mix.
  • Fold in 1 cup of blueberries (or all, like I did)
  • Spread cake batter over square greased baking dish. Sprinkle blueberries on top if you have them. Spread the crumble from the freezer over top, then bake at 350 until it starts to brown.

3.) As cake is baking, make lemon syrup

  • Bring the sugar and lemon juice to a boil.
  • Reduce to simmer and cook 8-10 minutes until a syrup has formed.

4.) Drizzle lemon syrup over cake.  Cut and serve.

Recipe Source: Taylor Takes a Taste (AGAIN alliteration!)

Chef Juje Thoughts:
I have heard that a lot of baking is measuring. I was very careful to measure each dry ingredient, pack it not-too-tightly, then even the top of the measuring cup using a back of a knife. This worked perfectly with the exception of sugar, in which I confused the 1/4 measuring cup and the 1/3 measuring cup.

I’ve also heard of people measuring ounces. I would be open to this if I start baking enough to warrant a baking scale.

Any preferences out there? Any other baking tips for a newbie baker?

Mudslide Cupcakes (in which Chef Juje Learns to Bake)

This post is a result of several life-changing acquisitions and discoveries I’ve made in the last few weeks:

1.) A working phone, with a working camera, and therefore Instagram.  Leave no meal un-photographed!

2.) A Kitchen Aid standing mixer.  I was almost in *tears* opening it,  both because I was so thrilled to receive the mixer and because I never thought I’d reach a point in life where I’d get teary over a standing mixer.

3.) A Martha Stewart cupcake holder/transporter,  which was a wedding gift from one of Mr. Chef Juje’s single guy friends. There’s something about a 20-something guy going onto a registry and buying something so domestic that I just find absolutely sweet.

4.) drumroll…..The discovery that there is an entire world of people out there making COCKTAIL CUPCAKES.  Seriously.  Google it.

The result – mudslide cupcakes!!  I made them for a 4th of July party yesterday. True, there’s no red, white or blue, but all the cutesy cakes-shaped-like-a-flag desserts would have really been lost on the crowd we were with.  Booze, though, definitely was NOT lost on them.  Alas.  The key to a crowd-pleaser is to know your audience.

The recipe came from The Curvy Carrot (awesome name, by the way) and she does a phenomenal job of explaining all the steps.   The best part was her explanation of the swirls — simply take two pastry bags, one with each type of frosting, then insert into a third pastry bag fitted with a tip.

Chef Juje Thoughts
1.) This is a messy, messy, messy endeavor.
2.) I made mini cupcakes and they were gobbled up.  Mini things are easier to grab and eat.
3.) These are an indoor treat.  The icing gets a little melty.
4.) These are not before-work treats.  They’re not cupcake shots by any means, but the Baileys and Kahlua icings are a little punchy.  This also makes the cooking/taste-testing process VERY INTERESTING.


Glazed Salmon with Cucumber Avocado Salad (…and Chef Juje is back!)

Chef Juje is back!

Phew, those were a crazy couple of months!  And now, I’m excited to announce, that Chef Juje is now Mrs. Chef Juje.

The last few months were just a whirlwind of wedding planning, traveling, wedding planning, visitors, finally wedding and eventually more traveling.  It was all so much fun but I’m secretly excited to get back to the normalcy of every day life.  Believe it or not, there is only so much champagne you can drink and hors d’oeuvres you can nibble before you start craving a home cooked meal.  That threshold is quite high, mind you, but it exists and I’m excited to be back.

Today I present our first meal as an official family of two.   I found this recipe in the Food Network Magazine that was waiting for me post-honeymoon.  I normally gravitate toward the fancy “weekend night” recipes because I like to make things as complicated as possible (you know this already), but this fell into the everyday cooking category and it’s just as delicious.

Glazed Salmon with Cucumber-Avocado Salad


2 8-oz salmon filets (I used skin-on to save some cash)
1 Tbsp honey
2 1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp olive oil (original recipe called for sesame oil; I did not have and was unwilling to buy. Nothing seemed to be lost)
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 cucumber cut into chunks
3 scallions sliced
1 avocado, chopped
pickled ginger in a jar (delicious addition if you have it; not a deal-breaker)


  • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Cut your avocado, scallions and cucumbers if you haven’t already. This makes life much easier for everyone.
  • Mix honey, 2 teaspoons soy sauce and corn starch in microwave bowl. Microwave for 10-20 seconds until hot (note: I originally did as recipe said and cooked for 40 seconds. No. You want sauce, not honey crust.)
  • Rub fillets with with a dab of oil and salt. If you use skinless, rub both sides. Place in clear baking dish and bake five minutes. I put nonstick spray on the bottom of my glass dish because my filets had skin and were not oiled on the other side. I have no idea if this was necessary.
  • After 5 minutes, remove fish and brush with the honey mixture. Return to oven and bake 7 to 9 minutes or until layers flake easily. It’s most delicious when center is slightly translucent.
  • While fish is cooking, make the salad.  Whisk rice vinegar, mayo and 1/2 tsp soy sauce and oil in large bowl.  I whisked the heck out of it to make sure that the mayo was fully integrated into the oil mixture.  At first it looked like there were tiny blobs of mayo and I don’t think that’s what you want.
  • Add cucumber, scallions, salt and toss.
  • Gently add avocado.  I added mine piece by piece to avoid the salad becoming a guacamole.
  • Serve salmon with the avocado and cucumber salad and pickled ginger (again, not deal-breaker)

Chef Juje Thoughts

It’s been so long since I’ve blogged that I have a lot to say!

First, I purchased the cucumbers and scallions at Worthington Farmer’s Market.  Maybe it’s effort justification on my part, but foods from farmer’s markets just taste so much better and are so much more fun.  It makes me feel like I’m one of those people who really savors life, you know?

Second, I recently realized I have spent many years spelling avocado as advocado.  Ha.  I have to remind myself that the avocado is not advocating anything.

Finally, cucumber, fish and avocado work really well together. This makes sense given what’s in a lot of sushi but it’s nice to figure this out first hand.

Source: Food Network Magazine, July/Aug 2012

Chicken Piccata

This is the dish that inspired Chef Juje!

I tried this dish for the first time a few months ago, back when I was *just* learning to cook and before I discovered online cooking classes or blogs or basically anything that would help me along my way.  I didn’t know how to heat a pan and was afraid of using oil and my patience was even shorter than it is now.

Feedback from that first dish — and this is a direct quote — “Maybe you just shouldn’t cook in a pan.”

Too funny. In all honesty, the future-Mr. said this only to encourage other methods of cooking that he has found  success with (he is a great chef as well!) and he by far is Chef Juje’s biggest fan (and beneficiary!).  But he quickly learned that “maybe you shouldn’t…” translates to “you must run out and buy a new pan and master this skill immediately.”   I became mildly consumed with this new technique and we’ve been eating a lot of pan-fried foods ever since.

So here we are.  Last night’s chicken piccata attempt was much, much more successful.  Feedback from last night?  “Do you mind if I eat the rest of it?” Mind? Did I mind?! I was THRILLED!  I don’t even care that I am eating an overpriced, under-tasting salad from our cafeteria right now because there was no more chicken left for lunch.

Other side as a more golden/crispy crust. Higher heat may help too.

The recipe I used calls for brined capers, wine and lemon juice as the pan sauce. It was slightly too tart for my preferences so I may switch to using stock in place of wine next time.  Also, as the caption indicates, the chicken didn’t get as great of a crust as it did for the first side of the first batch.

For the recipe itself I direct you to Simply Recipes, since saying I “adapted” it would be a total lie and the author provides a lot of insight. For now, I have a few helpful hints.

Helpful Hints:

Chicken:  I used thinly-sliced chicken breasts that I then cut in half. For some reason, working with smaller pieces of chicken just works better for me. I would love to be able to use the cheap-o $1.99/lb giant chicken breasts at some point.

Heating oil/butter:  The first time I added the oil it started smoking immediately. This is a sign that the pan is too hot.  I discarded the oil, wiped the pan and began again over lower heat.  You don’t want burnt oil to affect the flavor of your dish.

Adding wine/stock:  Be careful when adding wine or stock (particularly wine) to deglaze the hot pan. I removed the pan from heat to do this. When I cook it’s still me against the fire alarm and I’m not taking any chances.

When is sauce done?  I typically wait for the sauce to have a kind of (ha) sauce-like consistency.  I take a wooden spoon and draw a line through the sauce. If the line forms but then is slowly covered up by the sauce, it is perfect.  If no line forms, it’s not reduced enough. If the line stays for a while, it is over-reduced and I add more water.

Adding butter to sauce:  Butter is added to the sauce to add shine and richness.  I learned that butter should be cold so it mixes with the sauce — room temp butter might curdle in the sauce.  I did not learn this first hand (thank goodness) and I don’t want you to, either.

Life Lessons in Risotto {plus a basic risotto recipe}

Oh, Risotto.

My first attempt at risotto was a giant, giant, GIANT fail. I thought I was doing everything right but an hour into the process the rice was  still not absorbing any of the liquids. Frustrations grew high, patience grew short and our stomachs growled louder and louder. I didn’t get it. I tried SO HARD to do this well and all I got was tough rice in chicken stock.

For better or for worse I am not one to let things go so the following evening I embarked on my second adventure in risotto.  Future Mr. Chef Juje was away so I slyly headed back into the kitchen, computer and Arborio rice in tow.  I studied my rouxbe video, took copious notes and totally psyched myself up for this next attempt.  I’m nothing if not passionate.

Risotto Notes:

Guess what??  For as much as the first attempt was a fail the second attempt was a big success!  I just used onions, rice, stock and garlic, then finished with mascarpone at the end.  I actually ate it so fast that I forgot to take a picture while it was still in its prime (riosotto doesn’t hold well for long).   The future-Mr. even brought it for lunch the next day.  It says a lot when something I cook is better than the smorgasbord — plus milk — he can get for $2.50 at work.

I posted this to my facebook but I think it’s worth restating here.  Somewhere along the line in becoming a grownup I got the strange idea that things should come easily. That if you try your best the first time you should succeed.  I’m glad that’s not the case.  As I learned here, sometimes – no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you study the recipe or read blogs or consult with others — you’re going to need to just try it again. And maybe again and again and again.

{By the way, for those of you wondering, it was the HEAT!  My heat was too low the first time.  Make sure the rice is simmering.}

Almond Mahi Mahi and Asparagus

Chef Juje is back!

Phew, life got kind of crazy there for a bit.  All good things, I assure you, but I was eating a lot of  Giant Eagle sushi and Subway sandwiches for a while.

Now it’s almost April and I’m excited to ge back into the kitchen.  What better way to re-enter the blogging world than with a fish I’ve never cooked (or eaten!) and a technique I’ve never tried? And with that, I present to you broiled mahi mahi with an almond honey-mustard sauce and asparagus.

The whole dish takes maybe a half hour to prepare and is extremely healthy. It’s also  great way to get to know your broiler.

##picture coming tomorrow##

Mahi Mahi and Asparagus with Almond Sauce


1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp water
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoons dijon
salt and pepper
1 tbsp chopped parsley
2 pounds asparagus
1 tsp lemon zest
4 6oz mahi mahi fillets


1.) Broil the almonds.  Preheat the boiler, spread almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and broil for about 2-3 minutes.  After an inauspicious start to my relationship with the broiler, I ended up lowering the cooking rack and broiling on low for only about a minute.

2.) Make the almond honey-mustard sauce.  Combine lemon juice, mustard, honey, two tablespoons oil, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper and the almonds in a blender.  Blend until smooth. Transfer to a cereal-size bowl and add the parsley.

3.) Broil the asparagus. Toss asparagus with the remaining tablespoon oil, 1 tablespoon oil, lemon zest, salt and pepper on the same baking sheet as before.   Spread into a single layer so they cook evenly.  Place under the broiler until bright green or about four minutes.  (I blotted the baking sheet of the excess water out of the fear that the water and oil would start boiling and the oven would combust.  No idea if that’s normal.) Transfer to a plate and keep warm. I kept mine warm by wrapping with foil and pinching  little hole at the top.

4.) Broil (shocking) the fish.  Salt and pepper both sides of the fish and place round side down on the baking sheet. Broil until opaque or about 3 minutes…though due to my low setting and physically low rack, I cooked mine for about 4 minutes.  Turn the fish over, brush with about half of the almond sauce, and return to the broiler.  Cook between 3-5 minutes (I did mine for 6), remove and serve with remaining almond sauce.

Source: Food Network Magazine

Helpful Hints:

Broiling – I’ve never used my broiler before. Along the go-big-or-go-home lines, I turned the broiler to high and moved the rack up to the second highest slot in the oven. Holy charcoaled almonds!  Then I overcompensated, lowered the rack and turned the broiler to low. Scientists everywhere are cringing at my experiment!  Regardless, I would encourage newbie chefs to embrace their broiler to see what works best for them…I look forward to testing mine again soon.

Fancy Fridays – Chicken Marsala with Cream and Pancetta

I’ve made chicken marsala before in an attempt to debut my newly developed pan-frying skills. It basically involves pan-frying chicken breasts and creating a marsala-wine pan sauce.   Tasty and simple enough.

This time around, I tried a new recipe that involves dredging the chicken in flour and includes pancetta (fancier Italian bacon) as well as heavy cream in the sauce.  My sauce was much more brown than I had anticipated, but it’s still delicious.  Rich but not overwhelmingly so.  I served with pepperjack potatoes (also from Simply Recipes) to add a spicy kick to the meal.

I’ve included a ton of helpful hints following the recipe – partly to help me remember what works and partly, I hope, to help those new to cooking succeed as well.  Enjoy!

{editor’s note – I originally spelled “flour” as “flower.” THE HORROR!}


  • Grapeseed or olive oil (I used grapeseed due to its high smoke point)
  • 1 3 oz package of pancetta 1/4 inch squares
  • 1 chopped shallot (or 1/2 cup onion)
  • 1/2 cup flour for dredging
  • 1 lb of skinless, boneless chicken breasts – cut these or pound so that you have thin cutlets
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup dry Marsala wine
  • 6 tbsp heavy cream

1.) Prepare your mise en place. Cut the pancetta into 1/4 inch squares, chop shallots, measure cream and wine, cut or pound chicken to form thin cutlets.

2.) Prepare the chicken. Put 1/2 cup flour on plate. Pat chicken dry, liberally salt and pepper, then dredge each cutlet in flour. Put chicken on plate so when pan is ready, you can immediately add the chicken before the pan gets too hot.

3.) Cook pancetta. When the pan is hot, add the pancetta and cook until crispy and lightly browned. Remove pancetta with slotted spoon so fat stays in the pan.

4.) Cook the onions. Add the onions to the pan with pancetta fat and cook until translucent and golden. Remove onions from pan with slotted spoon.

5.) Add more oil so about 2 tbsp oil is in pan. Add cutlets — enough that pan is full but not so many that the pan is overcrowded. Turn chicken just once and remove when cooked through. Repeat with the rest of the cutlets.

6.) Discard excess fat from pan and when pan is away from heat, deglaze the pan with marsala wine. Scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan (sucs) as these add delicious flavor to your dish. Stir until marsala is reduced by a quarter.

7.) Add cream and boil. The sauce is ready when it reaches a thicker, sauce like consistency. I’ve learned that sauce is ready when you can separate the sauce with a wooden spoon and the sauce slowly retakes its shape.

8.) Add onions, pancetta and chicken. Cook until heated, about a minute.

Helpful Hints:

  • Prep your mise en place.  First, because “mise en place” is a fun word and second, because having everything chopped and measured and prepped makes all the difference in the world.  You’re not going to want to be chopping onions as the oil starts to smoke and timers start buzzing and everything starts happening all at once.
  • Thin and consistent chicken breasts are key to cooking quickly and not burning the sucs (brown bits at bottom of pan). I used ultra-thin breasts here but you can also slice thicker chicken in half, parallel to the cutting board.
  • Pat the chicken breasts dry – completely dry.  Any residual water will lower the pan temperature and/or steam the chicken, preventing a nice crust from forming on the chicken and preventing the sucs at the bottom of the pan to form.
  • Only turn the chicken once, if possible.
  • Take the pan OFF the heat before deglazing with the marsala and maybe add just a little at first.

Source:  Simply Recipes

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