Cooking Tamale Pie

Since our oven’s still not working, I’ve been focusing my attention on meals that can be either cooked on the stove pot or in a crock pot. I actually made Tamale Pie from Dawn J. Ranck and Phyllis Pellman Good’s Fix-It And Forget-It Cookbook (page 128) before the oven crapped out, but I figured I’ll be making it again in the near future. Actually, I’d make it again anyway because it was so simple, filling and tasty (I’ve got to think of better words than that when writing about food).

All you need to make this dish is 3/4 cup of cornmeal, 1.5 cups of milk, an egg, a pound of cooked ground beef, some chili mix, a 16 oz can of diced tomatoes, a 16 oz can of corn (or cut off the cob if you have it, like I happened to at the time) and a cup of cheddar cheese. While the beef was cooking, I cut the kernels off the corn cob and combined the cornmeal, milk and the beaten egg. You then combine that mixture with the cooked beef, corn and tomatoes, put it in the crock pot and cook either on high for one hour or low for three. At that point, sprinkle the cheese on top, let cook another five minutes and
you’ve got dinner.

I like this recipe because it was a different enough take on Mexican food without being too much of a pain to put together. I mean, I love taco night, but that can get kind of boring. I also like enchiladas, but those are kind of a pain in the butt to make. This was super easy and, thanks to the shorter cook time than most slow cooker recipes, it doesn’t really involve that much prep or cook time. I also like that you can do some tinkering with this recipe with different kinds of ground beef, cheese and, of course, using fresh ingredients instead of the canned ones suggested in the recipe.

Another Storm Weathered Successfully

No matter where you are in the world, you’ve probably heard of Sandy, the too-nicely-named storm that smashed good parts of New Jersey, New York and has moved inland and up-land. We thankfully didn’t have much to deal with here aside from preparation, wind and worrying that something was going to fly through the window sending shards of glass throughout the house at any moment. I couldn’t believe that we didn’t lose power, something that’s happened at least once a year since we moved in back in 2006, including around Halloween last year.

We actually got prepped pretty well ahead of time, finishing a few things up on Sunday, so most of Monday was just spent waiting around for Sandy to hit. The time table moved up and up and things started getting nasty, but as I said, we mostly just had to deal with wind here. Still, it’s nerve-wracking sitting in any room of the house when it’s night out and you can hear these intense wind gusts, but not see what’s going on.

Lu didn’t seem to notice anything different about the last few days aside from the fact that her mom was home two extra days which was nice. I’m really glad that most of the businesses around here had enough foresight to close down even though the worst of it didn’t wind up hitting until after business hours. You’ve got to do what you can to keep people safe and most of the places I heard about did just that.

I also give a lot of credit to the news stations covering the storm, especially NBC, our preferred window on the world. They did a great job covering the system and letting people know how dangerous it could be without going overboard. Plus, I’m always impressed by the newscasters who brave the storm to let you know what’s happening. I’m not quite sure why a guy had to be outside to tell us the airports were closed due to water on the runway, but I guess that’s what you get when you take that job.

In addition to watching the news, I also kept my eyes on twitter. Between friends, random follows, celebrities and retweets, I saw even more than I expected. That crane that flipped over itself and dangled all night? I saw that first on Penn Jillette’s twitter feed. The destruction of the Jersey Shore? Andrew Zimmern retweeted JWOWW. It’s such an interesting way to augment the reports sent out via the newscasts.

Lastly, I want to pass along my condolences to everyone who got hit much harder. The devastation this storm brought continues to find its way to my home by way of those same newscasters and more tweets. I’m honestly shocked at what happened in places like the Jersey Shore and Long Island and hope the best for the people dealing with that devastation. The scenes of water filled streets, parking garages and subway stations will stick with me for a while.

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Italian Baked Chicken & Pastina

This recipe for Giada De Laurentiis’ Italian Baked Chicken & Pastina will go down in history as the one that broke our oven. That’s entirely true, actually, it’s not true at all. It just happens to be the last thing I baked in the oven before it mysteriously went kaput a few weeks back. But, even if it were the reason, it’d probably be worth it to some extent because this was a great and simple recipe that could be easily thrown together most nights and doesn’t take a lot of effort.

As you can see by clicking through to the recipe, you really only need to cut up some chicken, a few vegetables, saute them in some olive oil, make pasta, mix everything in a bowl and throw the dish in the oven for a half hour. Bingo bango, you’ve got dinner. And it’s a good one too, including cooked pasta, chicken, mozzarella and tomatoes. I will definitely make this again, once I get that damn oven fixed.

New Hampshire Bonus Food Pics: Steak Bombs, Cinnamon Buns & Breakfast

Two weekends back, we headed to New Hampshire to attend the surprise birthday of my wife’s long time friend. While there we hit up a few restaurants and ate some food I just had to brag about.

Just take a second to behold the glory that is a New England steak bomb sandwich. I don’t even know what’s in it, but I love it and want to eat one every day of my life, a life that would probably be all the shorter for such an experience. Anyway, this particular sandwich of the gods came from a place near my inlaws’ house called Giovanni’s and I highly recommend getting this food in your face if you can. Even after sitting in a bag on the way home, this was still a wonderful, cheesy thing of goodness.

Before heading home on Sunday, we went to breakfast at my inlaws’ favorite place, Janie’s. We’ve been there lots of times and I like that they always have a list of specials in addition to their regular menu. This time I got a bratwurst and sauerkraut filled omelet that was pretty tasty, but probably could have used more kraut. The real spotlight of the meal for me was that giant cinnamon roll I only ate half of so I could eat the rest for breakfast the next day. Man, I really need to get my oven fixed so I can figure out how to make these things, they’re my one real dessert weakness.

Soup’s Off

I love making soup, you guys. It’s one of the reasons I like fall so much, spending some time with a pot, some stock, vegetables and usually meat all mixing it up together on my stove. What’s not to like? Well, a lot if you’re a baby, apparently. As the weather turned cooler a few weeks back, I got really excited and broke out my copy of The Ultimate Soup Bible and started checking out new recipes to try. One week I made Cauliflower Cannellini & Fennel Soup (page 221) which you can see above  and the next I made Mediterranean Sausage & Pesto Soup (page 327) which is below. Neither blew my mind, but they were both good soups that made me feel warm and full, which is pretty much my criteria.

But, as I mentioned above, babies aren’t the biggest fans of soup. Even Lu, who’s gotten really good with her tiny utensils, didn’t find much to get excited about when presented with a mini bowl of soup. It’s something I didn’t even think of in my rush to get soup-ed up, but it either doesn’t look appetizing to her or she really wants to eat it herself which will just lead to a huge mess on our hands. I’m bummed out, but I’ve put soup on the backburner as far as meal planning goes for the time being (puns!).

Testing Out A New Nap Method

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the only constant in parenting is change. Just when you think you’ve got something figured out, your kid will flip the script and you’ll have to re-learn her habits all over again. That’s just the way it is and I’m guessing it’s because, as little sponges, they’re always learning new things and new ways to do things and want to try them out. I’m okay with that, even if it can be difficult to accept some times (like when she went from sleeping in to waking up at 6:30AM again).

While I was away this weekend, my wife started trying out a new way of putting Lu down for a nap. It was partially born out of necesity and partially out of Lu getting older and being a little more mature. Historically, I’d hold Lu and jiggle her on my lap or knee until I lulled her to sleep. We tried the “put her in her crib and let her cry it out” way a few times, but she just got so upset and I’m convinced that unleashing that kind of torment on your child doesn’t do them or you any good. I mean, they’re having the kind of physical reaction that it seems like I would have if an angry bear appeared in my house and I couldn’t get out. Would you want to feel like that every single day? I guess you’d get used to it, but what kind of damage is done getting to that point?

Anyway, the jiggle method worked for me, but every time my wife tries it, Lu wants to nurse. So, while I was gone, she tried something relatively new: she put Lu down in her crib and laid down next to it, just letting her fall asleep on her own. And, as the text messages I got throughout the weekend indicated, it took less and less time each day. Mission accomplished!
Mostly.

How is this different than what I mentioned above? Well, she’s older now and doesn’t think that she’s been abandoned just because she can’t see us. She can also signal now when she’s tired, which means I have a much better idea instead of trying guess or just nap at the same time every day (I always hated being told to go to sleep when I wasn’t tired, so I’m sensitive to this). Also, since you’re right there and she can see you, it adds a layer of comfort.

Sunday, after I got home from the convention she started looking tired. She knows the sign for sleep, but she also, without fail, rubs her eyes like a cartoon character when she’s getting sleepy. So, I took her in, she wailed for 30 seconds and then calmed down and went to sleep. The only problem was that when I got up to leave the room, our super creaky floor made a huge noise and she woke up, so I just did it again for a bit and she went back to sleep.

Since then I’ve had a fair mix of success and failures. It’s more difficult in the evening because she seems tired and I want her to lay down, but I also don’t want her to nap too far into the evening because then she doens’t get as much time with her mom and might not sleep as well at night. It’s a tough balance to figure out, but I really like the method and think my wife came up with a winner!

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Baked Orzo With Eggplant & Mozzarella

A few weeks back my parents came in for a visit. Since my mom’s a vegetarian, I always try to come up with something fun and new to try when they visit. I was looking and looking and looking and then I came across the Smitten Kitchen recipe for Baked Orzo With Eggplant & Mozzarella and figured I had a contender on my hands. I neglected to take pictures of the last few steps, but I can assure you that this recipe is a good one to try out even if you don’t have any vegetarians in your crew.

The first thing I did, well before I even started prepping everything else, was get the eggplant cut up, salted and hanging out in a strainer over the sink. I’ve had problems getting the water out of the purple tubers before, but think it went pretty well this time. After a while I got to work on the rest of the prep work which consisted of chopping up carrots, celery, onions, garlic, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.

With everything good to go, I got to cooking. The eggplant went into oil first which was kind of like frying, but without the crispiness. You take that out and set aside on some paper towels before using the same pot and cooking the rest of the veggies. Right here I have to stop and say that I appreciate any meal that doesn’t result in a mountain of dirty dishes at the end.

Anyway, after cooking everything, you add in a few of the other ingredients, mix things up and pop it in the oven. You might need extra time to make this because of the eggplant and the oven time, but it’s really a simple set up that yielded awesome results. I mean, what’s not to like about orzo, two kinds of cheese and eggplant? It winds up being kind of like a veggie-filled mac and cheese which I am always in favor of.

Bonus Food Pics: Ruby Tuesday’s Black & Blue, Fish Tacos

As I snapped a picture of my food at Ruby Tuesday’s a week ago, my wife asked why I was bothering. I thought about it for a second and said that I should give chain restaurants the same opportunities on MATK as local ones. I’m actually a big fan of Ruby Tuesday’s and have been since one opened in Toledo as a kid. I’m a sucker for a good salad bar and think they’ve got a pretty good one.

Anyway, I started our meal off with a Black and Blue, which is a combination of Guinness and Blue Moon. I don’t think I’d ever had even a black and tan, but the combination was fun. I’m a big fan of combos, so this was up my alley, especially because they gave me the can of Guinness, so it was like getting two beers.

For dinner I went with the fish tacos which were alright. I’ve definitely had better, but I’ve also had worse. They were a bit spicy, but not too bad. Overall it was a good dinner with good service and the quality salad bar, so I left happy.

Cooking Spinach Rice Pilaf Pie With Chickpeas & Black Olives

Sometimes a goof in the kitchen can lead to some good results. A few weeks back I intended to make a recipe I found in Hannaford’s Fresh magazine that they give you for free if you spend a certain amount of money. It was going to be the simple Spinach Rice Pilaf Pie, but I wound up accidentally reading the wrong recipe’s ingredients (which I strangely had most of in my pantry). I only realized this after I drained a can of black olives and chickpeas for the other recipe. Even though those two things weren’t included in the original recipe I wanted to make, I worked them in and think the results were pretty solid.

I made this work by adding the olives and chickpeas to the egg/cheese mix that you incorporate the cooked spinach/rice mixture after that’s all cooked. I should have also baked this new, bigger mixture in a larger container of some kind. As such, I had a little spillage in the stove and it took a little longer to cook, but otherwise, I thought the added chickpeas and olives made the flavor a lot more interesting in this dish. Give it a whirl and see how it works for you!

My First Weekend Away From Lu

Last weekend was the New York Comic Con. That’s one of the bigger comic book shows on the planet and since NYC is only a train ride away from me, I’ve been there in some capacity every year it’s been around. This year, like last, I covered the show for Comic Book Resources, my main source of freelance work. Those guys know how to do it up, so we mostly work out of a skybox overlooking the insane crowd when not in the labyrinth below covering panels. I’ve worked that show for a few different places and those guys do it the best, hands down.

Last year I took the train back and forth every day and actually worked Thursday through Sunday. It was a rough four days, especially with all that train riding. I basically got home, kissed Em and Lu goodnight (if I made it home before they went to bed), went to sleep and got back on the train. This year I asked around to see if I could crash on someone’s floor and struck out, so I figured I’d be in for much of the same. Then my benefactor Jonah Weiland, the head honcho over at CBR, came to my rescue and offered me the accidental extra bed in his room. I was psyched but also a little sad. This was the first time I spent more than a day away from Lu and I think it might have been my first weekend away from Em, now that I think about it.

And you know what? It wasn’t too bad. Of course, I missed the both of them, but I was also incredibly busy, hanging out with friends and doing as much sleeping as I could (in a bed all by myself, which was admittedly pretty awesome). The key, really, was keeping myself busy. Had I been just sitting around a hotel room the whole time or something along those lines, it would have been rough. Thankfully that wasn’t the case and, better yet, I got to spend time with a lot of friends I see only about once a year anymore.

Bonus Food Pics: Fiddlestix Breakfast

A few weekends back the family and I headed over to Fiddlestix for lunch, which wasn’t particularly new or shocking in and of itself. It’s become our favorite breakfast place around and always has really great food to stuff our faces with. However, this day was a bit different. Why? Because I had one of the greatest dishes of my life and no it’s not the wrap above…It’s the above work of art. What’s that, you say? Well, I don’t remember the name of it which is fine because, like everything we order, it was a special that week. But it’s actually a large soft pretzel topped with two poached eggs and cheddar cheese mixed with ham and peppers. Eating this meal was like what I assume it’s like on one of the cooking competition shows when great chefs are asked to make spectacular meals out of mundane ingredients.

Better yet, or possibly worse? I didn’t even order it. My wife did. I got a few bites, but those bites have lingered in my memory. I won’t say that I can’t stop thinking about it, but I would jump at the chance to order this plate again. Also, don’t get me wrong, the meat and egg filled breakfast wrap I ordered was pretty great, but it didn’t have one of my favorite foods of all time (pretzels) covered with another favorite (cheese with ham in it).

Cooking Alton Brown’s Chicken Biscuit Pot Pie

After a somewhat disastrous attempt at cooking a whole chicken that I’d rather not get too much into, my wife suggested I take the leftover meat — of which there was a good deal — remove the skin and make chicken pot pie, a favorite of hers. I figured it was the least I could do, I started looking around for recipes and landed on Alton Brown’s for Chicken Biscuit Pot Pie. It looked tasty, I had most of the ingredients and the idea of putting biscuits on top of something that already includes chicken, gravy and vegetables was quite appealing to me. I was sold, but a little nervous. Dough and I don’t always mix well, but the recipe didn’t seem that hard so I moved forward.

I didn’t make any changes to the recipe, but the only chicken sausage I was able to find was actually pre-cooked, so I didn’t need to cook that all the way in the pan. Aside from that, I did what Alton said and had pretty good luck. I got all the dry ingredients for the biscuit dough together first in a bowl and then got to work on the inside of the chicken pot pie.

Once that was done and set aside to cool a bit, I got to work on the rest of the dough. Like I said, I was a little worried about this part, but it only involved mixing the ingredients, putting some flour on the counter, smushing the dough down and then cutting out circles with one of our glasses. You then put the pie filling in the oven safe container, cover with the dough discs and pop it into the oven.

I was most surprised by how little time this all took to put together and how freaking good the end results tasted. Like I said, it’s got chicken and gravy, plus biscuits and chicken sausage, which I didn’t even know I liked. Wins all around.

Food Truck Fun: The Lucky Cow

I’ve been sitting on these images for a while, but I still wanted to talk about what I believe is the only food truck local to Cornwall, New York. I’ve seen the the green Lucky Cow truck at the farmer’s market I attend on a mostly regular basis, but have only gotten food from them once and it was a great experience. The truck offers completely home made vegetarian dishes as well as smoothies and shakes and has different offerings all the time. The day we got food from Lucky Cow, they had three entrees and we got them all. In the first picture you can see a mushroom quesadilla and their zucchini “crab” cakes, below is their falafel wrap which I believe they have on a regular basis. The food took a bit longer to prepare than I expected, but it wound up being worth the wait. Fresh, flavorful and reasonably price, I’d order all three again and look forward to trying out new options with future visits. To find out what they’re serving and where they’ll be, check out the Lucky Cow Facebook page.

Cooking Salsa Alla Bolognese (Bolognese Sauce)

After spending all that time making my own tomato pulp, I put that pulp to good use by making some Salsa A Pomodoro and Salsa Alla Bolognese from Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking (pages 4 and 10 respectively). Since I’ve already written about making the Pomodoro sauce (your basic red sauce), I’m going to skip another post on that one, though this time around I froze it all. I did use the Bolognese sauce that day though and actually just thawed out the rest last night for a quick and easy Sunday night dinner. The Bolognese is pretty similar, but it’s a bit heartier and includes some mixed veal, beef and pork which I got in a meatball/meatloaf mix from my local grocery story.

The recipe features carrots, onions, celery, garlic, re-hydrated mushrooms, prosciutto, red wine, parsley, marjoram, salt, pepper, nutmeg, flour, my homemade beef stock and the aforementioned tomato pulp. It’s actually a surprisingly easy recipe that doesn’t involve a ton of work, though you do need over an hour to let it cook and then simmer.

The end result was a great combination of meat and red wine all formed together with the vegetables and spices making for the kind of sauce that felt primal when I ate it. I got the feeling while eating that sauce that it was the kind of thing people have eaten for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. That’s a pretty cool feeling, especially when you made most of the ingredients yourself.

I Can’t Remember If I Liked Kheema Or Korma

Kheema

Kheema

Man oh man. One of the problems with doing this blog and getting behind on posts is that some of the meals start to run together. About a month or so back I made two Indian dishes back-to-back: Aarti Sequeira’s Kheema from FoodNetwork.com and the one for Vegetarian Korma on AllRecipes.com. Both dishes involve curry, peas and tomatoes, but the Kheema sports ground beef and there are different veggies involved.

Vegetarian Korma

Vegetarian Korma

The other problem is that I remember distinctly liking one of the results and not really being into the other. I want to say the Kheema turned out to be a little greasy, though that could have been the result of me not draining the meat as well as I should have. I also felt like one had more flavor than the other. It’s really annoying not remembering which we liked and which we didn’t because I don’t want to waste time making something we won’t like for a second time. Ah well, I’ll give one of them another shot in the near future and let you know how it goes.