Cooking Damn Delicious’ One Pot Sausage Pasta

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This post might look a little different because of the lack of photos, but I just had to write about Damn Delicious’ One Pot Pasta. Usually, wen I forget to fully document my food photographically, I’ll wait until the next time I make it to write a post, but this one, which turned out to not go quite as planned, was just too good to hold off on.

When I first came upon this recipe, it popped right off the page because of its seemingly simple nature. Throw several tasty things into a pot with some water and come out with dinner AND a limited number of dishes to clean? Yeah, I’m down with that.

Ingredient-wise, I followed the directions as written. For the sausage I went with Smithfield Hickory Smoked Sausage, Ronzoni Garden Delight Fettucini pasta and a mix of red and orange cherry tomatoes. With everything, I got to chopping and throwing into the pot, following the recipe as written. It was after everything was in the vessel that I mixed things up a bit. The recipe calls for 4.5 cups of water, but that didn’t come close to covering the pasta. I wasn’t clear if it should or not, but I went with the former and about doubled the amount of water.dd one pot pasta 2

All that extra water upped the amount of time I boiled it all. I’m not sure what the final amount of time wound up being, but it must have been around an hour because my wife and I went to our lawyer’s office to sign the contracts on the house we’re buying. By the time we got back it had finally thickened but was looking for like soup than pasta. Still, I wasn’t sure how the pasta would hold up, so I pulled it off the stove and we ate it with spoons instead of forks.

I’m not sure if the meal would have turned out this way anyway, but the first thing I thought when I took my first bite was, “This tastes like fancy Spaghetti-Os with hot dogs!” I used to eat Spaghetti-Os all the time as a kid and this reminded me of that, but much fresher and better. The cherry tomatoes and basil joined together to make a surprisingly sweet sauce that mixed well with the smoked sausage and everything else. I will definitely be trying this one again, but follow the recipe more directly to see how it turns out.

Cooking Smoky Vegetable Mac & Cheese And Grilled Marinated London Broil

Last week I came across Soup Addict’s Smoky Vegetable Mac and Cheese and just had to try it. While looking through the Hannaford circular I saw that London broil was on sale, so I decided to try Food Network’s Grilled Marinated London Broil and serve the two together along with some steamed corn on the cob.

Since the beef marinates for a few hours, I got that together around 1 or 2 PM, but it can sit for up to 24 hours if you don’t work from home. Later, when I focused on the main part of dinner, I popped the peppers — I went with a red bell and a poblano — on my gas stovetop and let them char. Once I got some good darkness on there, I put them in a bowl and covered to help sweat off the skin.

As is my custom, I cubed my cheese and tossed it in the food processor. The only other major change I made was including about half a cup of sour cream after enjoying the flavor it brought to the last mac and cheese I made to replace some of the milk. Aside from that, i followed the recipe.

While the mac and cheese cooked in the oven, I put my room temperature London broil on the cast iron skillet and cooked it to a nice medium rare (it was out for about 30 minutes before going in the pan).

To serve, I simply sliced the meat across the grain and served with the mac and cheese and ears of corn. The meal worked really well together, the meat was nice and tender with a nice flavor from the marinade.

I was surprised to see how much our three-year-old daughter liked the beef. I figured she’d be all over the cheesy mac, but instead the corn (which she calls a corn stick) and beef were the stars for her which is fine by me. Unfortunately, grilled meat tends to be one of the leftovers that winds up getting tossed, but in this case, she ate it all up within a few days while I finished off the mac and cheese.

MATK Originals: Bangin’ BLTs

bagin' bltsAs a kid growing up, BLTs were pretty common in our house. They were the good, solid kinds that featured your basic toasted bread, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo combination, most often served with some Campbell’s tomato soup. But, over the years I’ve started adding to that structure and think I’ve created some really special sandwiches that I wanted to tell you about.

The first major BLT change came for me when my wife introduced me to the idea of the BELT, that’s a BLT with a fried egg on top. As fried eggs and their runny goodness are a favorite of mine, that was a pretty easy sell. So was the inclusion of cheddar cheese, which makes just about everything better.

Recently I’ve been playing with a few ways to make all that even better which culminated in last night’s dinner, what I’m now calling Bangin’ BLTs. Last night’s sandwiches includes your B, your L and your T, but also the aforementioned fried egg, cheddar cheese (we’re big fans of the Hannaford Wisconsin sharp these days), homemade mayonnaise straight out of Ruhlman’s Twenty and either Tony Packo’s Sweet Hot Skinnies or Banana Peppers (the former for my wife, the latter for me).

Bangin’ BLT Ingredients

Bread
Bacon, 2-3 pieces per sandwich
3-4 Large Leaves of lettuce, I use romaine
1-2 Tomatoes, sliced
Eggs – 1 for each sandwich
Sliced cheddar cheese
Pickles, Banana Peppers
Homemade Mayo

This meal might seem simple, but it actually has a lot of moving parts, so I’ll walk you through my process. I make the mayo first and follow Ruhlman’s recipe to the letter using vegetable oil and a farm fresh egg (we just happened to have a few on hand). This is the most intensive part of the process, but I guarantee the flavor you get from this will be far more full and rich than the stuff you buy at the store. This can be made days ahead, but the process only took me about 10 to 15 minutes and I went the hand-whisking route. In the future, I’d like to experiment with combining this mayonnaise with different elements like spicy sauces or fresh herbs.

Next I get my bacon in the oven. Sure, you can cook your bacon in a pan the traditional style, but I’m a big fan of using the oven because you don’t get splattered with hot grease and you don’t have to worry about it for 10 whole minutes. I set my oven for 400 degrees, then line a rimmed baking sheet with crumpled-up tin foil, this gives it more surface area to heat up. I then lay out as much bacon as I can fit, which wound up being about 7 or 8 pieces and popped it in the oven for 10 minutes. At that point I flipped the pieces over and let them cook for another 10 minutes.

With the bacon in the oven, I get to cleaning and cutting my vegetables. For the lettuce, I just pulled four large romaine leaves, sprayed them down and then ripped them into smaller, sandwich-sized pieces, discarding the hard white ribs in the process. Then I cleaned and sliced the tomatoes before slicing the banana pepper into strips for my sandwich (half of a large Tony Packo’s pepper did it for me) and getting out the Sweet Hot Skinnies for my wife. I also cut the cheese into squares.

At this point, it would behoove you to set up a solid sandwich-making station. I didn’t have the space for this, so it was a bit tricky, mostly because I had the toaster right in the middle of my work space. Once the bacon’s out of the oven and patted down, you’re almost ready to start making sandwiches.

Why almost? Because it’s egg time. This is where things can get a little tricky timing-wise because you want to work fast enough to make sure your bacon is still warm, but you’re also cooking eggs and toasting bread. I don’t worry so much about the bacon, so I basically put the bread in the toaster and then drop my egg in a small hot pan coated with cooking spray. By the time the toast is done, I’ve flipped my egg and it’s ready to go.

So, grab the bread and put on your desired about of homemade mayo. Then put cheese on one side (I’ve found that the extra sharp cheese can be a little overwhelming if you double up). I then put the hot egg right on top of the cheese and build up the other side with the bacon, tomato, lettuce and peppers/pickles. Bam, there’s your sandwich.

The richness of the homemade mayo works so well with the bacon, but do watch out because both can be on the salty side. When you mix in the crispiness of the lettuce, the coolness of the tomatoes, the sharpness of the cheese and the heat of the pickles or peppers, plus the egg doing it’s ooey gooey thing, you’ve got something really special happening in your face.

While I’m thinking about it, I do want to circle back around to the idea of serving BLTs with tomato soup. It’s an idea I still adore, but there was no way I was going to cook soup yesterday when it was in the 80s. However, a month or two ago I did make BLTs and tried a new tomato soup recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen. It was delightfully creamy and made for awesome dipping. Unfortunately, we lost most of the leftovers when our fridge fritzed out a month ago, but when things cool down, I’ll give it another try.

Cooking Damn Delicious’ Skinny Cauliflower Mac & Cheese With Pancetta

I’ve recently discovered a new food blog I love. It’s called Damn Delicious and the name says it all. While looking around for potential dinners last month (in other words, before the 80+ degree days started) I came across her recipe for Skinny Cauliflower Mac & Cheese. I’ve been hearing about replacing some of the noodles in pasta dishes with cauliflower and thought it would be worth checking out. This way, you cut out some of the carbs of the pasta, but also get the added nutritional value of the vegetable in there.

Recipe-wise, I followed this one for the most part both times I made yet. (See the next paragraph for the biggest departure I made.) The first time I might have been a bit light on the sour cream and the second time I might have put a little more than half cup. I will say that I recommend going lighter on this one because the sharpness of the sour cream can cut through a little too much if you go over. I also used my favorite method for getting cheese ready for mac & cheese: I cubed it and pulsed it in the food processor.

I made one big addition to this recipe that I think made the dish even tastier, but less “skinny.” I grabbed two packets of the pancetta available in my grocery store and cooked that up in a small pan, just to get it nice and crispy. Pretty simple, right? Definitely. But, after removing the pancetta and draining off just a bit of the fat, I cooked the breadcrumbs in there. So, you get that great, salty pancetta taste in the dish which I stirred in along with the cauliflower and other ingredientse but also these pancetta-infused bread crumbs on top that carry those flavors throughout. When I made this recipe the second time I used bacon and it was still good, but I think I’ll stick to pancetta when making this in the future.

I’m sure this is a great recipe the way it’s written, but I’ve got to say, the added pancetta flavor mixed so well with all that cheese and the nicely cooked, soft cauliflower to the point where this is now my favorite mac and cheese recipe (and I’ve tried a lot of them). This mix of dairy products is also super tasty together, that strong cheddar mixes well with the right amount of sour cream and the bit of parm in there to balance things out. I could see some Swiss or Gruyere working really well in there too. All in all, this balance of flavors proved so delightful, that I’ve made this my new base recipe for all things mac and cheese. As an added bonus, you could easily use this and add in other favorite takes on the genre. I’m pretty excited to try the Ruben mac with this base.

One last nice thing about this recipe is that, in addition to it being delicious, it can also either use up pasta in your pantry or leave around just enough for another round of mac and cheese. As I mentioned above, I made this twice in two weeks because I already had the panko, sour cream and a few other ingredients around from the first time, so all I had to do was pick up some cauliflower and go from there.

Bonus Food Pic: Handsome Devil’s Hot Mess

handsome devil hot messA few months back my in-laws discovered a new barbecue place near us called Handsome Devil that happens to be inside the local ice rink. This past weekend we celebrated Father’s Day by heading back over there to get some food on Saturday. As we have in the past, we had a great time with wonderful food and a nice selection of beers on tap. We all started off with some fried pickles (forgot to photograph because I got so excited for one of my all-time favorite apps). The pickles themselves were nice and briny, but they also came with some sriracha mayo dipping sauce that was fiery and fun. I’m just recently discovered the wonder of sriracha, so this was auspicious timing.

Better than the appetizer, though, was the meal I got. I wasn’t hungry enough to tackle my usual barbecue meal of “as much meat as I can stuff into my face,” so when I saw the Hot Mess on the menu, I was sold. The dish has a layer of beef brisket topped with mac and cheese which has pulled pork on the very top. This was a great choice because you not only get the best side of all time — mac and cheese — but also a sampling of their brisket and pulled pork. Considering their food is so great, this is an easy sell for anyone looking to try a few different elements all in one big pile.

My wife also had the Three Little Pigs smoked ham sliders which were just bonkers good. I was lucky enough to get one half of those little sandwiches and could have eaten about 10. The salty, smokey ham worked so well on the sweet bun and covered in Gruyere cheese.

As an added bonus, Lu got to watch some hockey because there was a kids game going on and you can walk into the stands right from the rink. I bet they do a pretty great appetizer/beer business during those games.

Wife Lessons: Mac & Cheese Tips

P1080907I’m not sure about where you live, but it’s been super cold in New York this winter. Like, super-duper-crazy cold. We’ve been lucky enough to miss out on more snow on top of the mountains and mounds already covering all the previously green spaces, but it’s far from comfortable outside. As such, I’ve been looking to comfort foods to help warm us up and keep us going as this winter continues to drag on.

As I’ve said plenty of times, all three of us are big fans of mac and cheese. One of our favorite versions is Rachael Ray’s Reuben take on the format so I naturally gravitated towards that recipe when coming up with a menu for this week.

Since I’ve already written about that recipe, I’ll skip most of the walkthrough this time around, but I did want to mention a few aspects of making mac and cheese that my wife clued me into, one that comes into play during grocery shopping, the other during the actual cooking process.

First, buy cheese ends. My wife gave me this tip after her mom told her about it. If your grocery store has a deli counter where they sell sliced meat and cheese, they probably sell cheese ends (what’s left over after you slice down that huge block). I headed over there when I went to the store, asked about it and the lady went back in the cooler and gave me a pound of cheddar and swiss chunks for under $5. I chunked the cheese, tasting a little bite of each of course, and then tossed it in the food processor and was good to go.

Second, you can substitute half the milk for water or chicken stock. For some people, the two cups of milk plus all the cheese can cause some stomach uncomfortableness. So, I try to cut it down by about half. I’ve used water before which works alright, but does cut the flavor a bit. This time around, I added in chicken stock instead and think it worked out well when making the sauce.

Recipe Roundup: Smitten Kitchen

baked-pasta-with-broccoli-rabe-and-sausage2As I said in a recent post compiling various recently attempted recipes from the site Closet Cooking, I’ve tried a lot of recipes in the past several months and done very little posting, so it’s time to go through the images, write down my spotty memories and get these things out there into the internet where they will hopefully jog my memory later on and encourage other people to give them a try. This batch of three all come from the cooking site I’ve been following the longest: Smitten Kitchen!

Chicken Tacos

I’m always interested in checking out a new recipe for tacos and this certainly fit the bill. I don’t think I’d ever made chicken ones before and the flavor on these were pretty solid if memory serves. I especially like the way you cook the chicken which is fairly hands-off and super easy. Combine all ingredients in a pan and boil for a half hour. This gives you plenty of time to chop up the rest of your taco fixins. I don’t quite remember why I didn’t make the salsa fresca that’s also mentioned in the post. Instead I whipped up a crema (sour cream combined with avocado, salt, oil, onion and some green Tabasco). One of these days I’d like to give this one a shot with bone-in chicken because I understand there’s more flavor there.

Baked Pasta With Broccoli Rabe & Sausage

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Apparently I only snapped a few pictures when I tried out this recipe. I remember this being a pretty easy thing to put together and the results being a kind of sausage-y, rabe-y mac and cheese and there’s nothing wrong with that. Actually, seeing this recipe again makes me want to give it another try in the next few weeks.

Pasta With White Beans

While I only snapped two pictures of the previous meal, I can’t seem to find a single image from either of the two times I made Pasta with White Beans (I skipped the rosemary oil because my wife is not a fan of that particular herb). Another easy meal to put together thanks to all the food processing, I really enjoyed the flavors combined for this recipe, but will note that all those beans can lead to some evenings punctuated by the most musical of fruits.

Cooking Closet Cooking’s Fully Loaded Hasselback Potatoes

From the age of 16 until I moved out to New York to start working for Wizard, I worked in a bagel shop in my home town of Toledo, Ohio called The Bagel Place, but everyone called it Barry’s Bagels. In addition to the circular bread delights so popular out here in New York, they also served sandwiches, soup, a variety of offerings on the salad bar and baked potatoes. Depending on what position you were working on a particular day, you were either making these things in the back, preparing them for customers up front or throwing away the remnants in the bussing room.

One of the unexpected treats of working there (at least for the first few years) was a pretty solid list of free food you can have on break. While I wasn’t overly familiar with baked potatoes before that, I became quite adept at creating a variety of options for customer and myself. What do you expect from a bunch of kids with access to a ton of food who get tired of eating the same thing over and over again?

This is a long winded way of saying that, when I saw a recipe on Closet Cooking for something called Fully Loaded Hasselback Potatoes, I was intrigued, especially because that super starchy part of my life mostly came to an end when I moved east as  a young man. The basic idea of the Hasselback is you thinly slice a potato about 4/5 of the way down the tuber, top them with garlic and butter and bake them. Before they’re done, you pull them out, sprinkle with cheese and bacon, pop back in and then serve with sour cream and chives.

I’ve actually cooked these a few times now and have tried a few different variations. The first time, I didn’t cut the slices thin enough, which meant they didn’t cook evenly. I also melted the butter and poured them over the potato before baking. The second time I went thinner which made for more evenly cooked tuber slices. I think I also mistakenly put the cheese on before baking which wasn’t the worst mistake in the world, but it definitely changed the flavor of the cheddar.

You could really do a lot with this basic recipe. At the Bagel Place, we sold broccoli and cauliflower potatoes as well as steak tips and gravy. Those are just two possibilities that could easily translate into the Hasselback format. And, if you think a potato isn’t quite meal-worthy, I’d challenge that assumption. One giant potato topped with cheese, bacon, chives and sour cream all cut up makes for a very hardy meal. Give it a whirl!

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 1

As any regular readers will know, it’s been a looooong time since I’ve posted here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. Unfortunately, with work and all kinds of other things going one — raising our two year old and prepping for a new little baby — MATK can fall to the wayside. But, I’m still cooking almost every night which means I have a huge backlog of meals to talk about going back to last fall. So, in an effort to try and document the good recipes I’ve tried out in the last few months, I figured I’d implement a new kind of a post called Recipe Roundup that will gather a bunch of meals from different places, throw in a few pics and do my best to remember how they turned out.

Today’s subject is one of my favorite new cooking sites, Closet Cooking which is great because there’s tons of older recipes on there and the site gets updated constantly. I also appreciate that Kevin Lynch seems to be cooking in a kitchen even smaller than mine which is no small feat. So, without further ado, hit the jump to check out the first batch of CC recipes I’ve tried out in the past few months!  Continue reading

Cooking Smitten Pasta With Cauliflower Walnuts and Feta

I’ve been so lax in posting here on MATK that I’m actually circling back around to recipes I tried months ago, snapped pictures of and never posted about. So, the main photos from this post are from that original try while the last one is from the most recent.

The first time I made Smitten Kitchen’s Pasta With Cauliflower, Walnuts & Feta, I followed the recipe to the letter, using the whole wheat pasta, two heads of cauliflower and the whole deal. It’s really simple to put together. Just get the water going, chop the veggies up, stir, drop, repeat, season and mix. My memories are a bit fuzzy from the first attempt, but it must have been good because I kept the link.

The second time, I jammed a little bit on the recipe, mostly because we had a few things sitting around in the pantry that I could sub in and save a little cash. First off, I used half a bag of egg noodles. I tried a new way of boiling pasta that I will get to in an other post, but I think I cooked them a little long because they got a bit sticky. I also swapped out the toasted walnuts for pecans because I had some on hand. I ground them down to sand size and toasted them up in a separate pan.

Since I’m trying to write down my cooking experiences in a more timely fashion, I can say that this is definitely a hearty, tasty meal that benefits from the mixture of acid from the lemon and white wine vinegar mingling with the punch of the feta and the crunchy sweetness of the cauliflower. My alterations this time around worked out well and showed how versatile this recipe — and the showcase ingredient — can be.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Garlic Butter Mushrooms & Steak Plus A Leftover Sandwich

Like anyone who tries a lot of different recipes, I’ve had a good deal of hits and misses lately. But, one of the absolute best hits I’ve come across in recent memory is actually a side dish: Smitten Kitchen’s Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms. As it happens, this is also one of the easiest things to put together. The only change I made was cutting out the capers because I forgot to buy them at the store. I also used some garlic butter because I had it around, if you do too, give that  shot. You basically get all the ingredients together in a baking dish and throw them into a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes.

I figured that man can not live on mushrooms alone, so I also grilled up some steaks that happened to be on sale that week and steamed some asparagus. The dinner itself was pretty rad. I mean, you can’t really go wrong with a well cooked steak (I just spread some extra virgin olive oil on and sprinkle with salt and pepper before cooking on the cast iron grill pan). The real star, though, were the mushrooms. They’re just so perfectly earthy, rich and buttery with just a bit of acid from the lemon to tone the whole dish of goodness down just a bit.

Better than the dinner was the sandwich I made the next day. I had a red bell pepper in the fridge, so first off I sliced that and cooked it in some olive oil. After that, I sliced some of the steak and warmed that up in a pan with some of the mushrooms and the juice. When that was all warmed up, I placed it on some bread (that I spread some of the mushroom juice on too) with some rasped cheese and put all that on a foil covered pan under the broiler to melt the cheese. Once that was all done — I took it out when I saw the cheese getting melty — and then put some arugula on there and had myself a lunch I could eat four times a week given the resources. Man, I’m actually getting hungry thinking about this. Maybe it’s time to cut to the chase and make these sandwiches for dinner next week.

Cooking Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich & Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup

After hitting up a great farm stand and making caprese with heirloom tomatoes, I knew I’d have a few left over and did a little looking around on FoodNetwork.com until I came across Rick Massa’s Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup which fit the bill pretty perfectly. I did a few things differently than the suggested recipe, though. First and foremost, I didn’t do all that stuff with the butter and whatnot. A while back, my wife turned me on to a grilled cheese method that’s pretty fantastic: put mayonnaise on the sides of the bread that will be exposed to the pan (I used a flat cast iron skillet). I also decided to bake the bacon, as I have in the past. I like this method because you don’t have to watch it like you do on the stovetop.

Before actually making or assembling the sandwiches, but after putting the bacon in the oven, I got to work on the tomato soup. For me, BLTs and grilled cheese always have a connection to tomato soup, but growing up, it was usually the canned stuff from Campbell’s with a little milk thrown in. I thought this soup would be pretty solid thanks to the bacon involved, but it actually wound up being kind of thick and not overly interesting. It wound up being more like sauce than a soup. Part of the problem was that I put the whole tiny can of tomato paste into the mix, which I realized after the fact probably lead to the problem. We wound up not eating much of it, but I did freeze it, to be thawed up and possibly mixed with some chicken stock to thin out a little ways down the line.

Back to the sandwiches, though, they were fantastic. I got the bread prepped with Dijon mustard on the insides as well as the cheese on both sides of the bread, tomato and some of the bacon. After that it was just a matter of throwing them on the cast iron pan one at a time. Once I flipped them, I smushed it down with another cast iron pan (be careful, even though it’s not directly on the heat, this pan will get hot!). Oh, I nearly forgot, I also steamed the green beans that I bought along with the heirloom tomatoes which came out delightfully crisp and clean-tasting. The grilled cheese was just wonderful and, like with the caprese from yesterday, got a nice boost of flavor from the heirloom tomatoes. I’ve got to say, I’m pretty partial to those green ones!

Bonus Food Pics: Gyro & The Mack Trucker Melt From P&G

gyroLast weekend, my wife, daughter and I went to the New Windsor Community Day event which was packed with various food vendors. If I’m in the vicinity of a good looking gyro (pronounced yee-ro), I’ve got to have one. I forgot to note the name of the place selling them, but I think they just do events like this and weren’t representing a restaurant. Anyway, this was a solid pita with meat carved from the spit and dosed with a good deal of tzatziki sauce and got the thumbs up. Even Lu dug the lamb, which was a bit of a surprise. p & g mack truck burger melt

The next day, we went to New Paltz to do some walking around. Before that, though, we stopped at P&G’s because I was jonesing for a beer or two with my meal. I decided on The Mack Truck Burger Melt which was described as, “8 oz. of freshly ground Black Angus beef charbroiled and topped with homemade macaroni and cheese, nestled in a grilled cheese sandwich.” This seemed like a good idea at the time, but didn’t mix well with the press of coffee I’d had that morning, the two beers during lunch and the coffee I had afterwards. Also, I’ve got to say, the sandwich was a tiny bit bland, which I wasn’t expecting. Still, I not only want to try this again, but also want to make one of my own. Finally, the onion rings were killer!

 

Forgotten Food: Smitten Kitchen’s Bowties With Sugar Snaps, Lemon & Ricotta

It’s always a bummer when I can’t remember how a dish came out. It’s even worse when it’s a Smitten Kitchen one like Bowties With Sugar Snaps, Lemon & Ricotta because I remember it being good, I just can’t remember any of the details. I mean, it’s got ricotta and peas (had to go with frozen because that’s what I’ve got) and lemon, so I know it’s good, plus I’ve got an almost 100% success rate with recipes from that site. It’s just been too long and I can’t remember! Still, I’m posting this because the pics came out well and I want to return to it later on down the line.

Cooking Tacos Al Pastor With Grilled Pineapple Salsa

I don’t quite remember how I came across the recipe for Tacos A Pastor With Grilled Pineapple Salsa on My Recipes, but I did. I think I was looking for something to make out of pork tenderloin because it was on sale at the grocery store. Anyway, the only change I made to the directions involved cooking the pork on a cast iron skillet instead of a grill because, well, I don’t have a grill. I also cut out the cilantro and the chipotle chili because they run a bit too hot for my liking.

The prep for this is pretty simple. Create a rub, cover the pork chops and throw them on the grill pan. Meanwhile, there’s the salsa. I grilled the pineapple before the meat so I’d be able to work on that while the meat cooked. Again, this was a super simple process. I also cut up some limes and shredded some cheddar cheese. With all that done, it was time to eat!

I enjoyed the tanginess of the pineapple salsa which bounced well off of the spicy-ish pork. Everything played well together, making this a pretty solid choice if you’re looking to mix things up with the taco portion of your menu.

Cooking Rachael Ray’s Bacon Burger Mac N Cheese


Our two year old daughter loves macaroni and cheese. I mean, who doesn’t, right? But she’s all over it. In fact, the dish holds such a special place in her tiny little head that pretty much everything with noodles is “macos and cheese” to her. As such, I’ve been looking around for various ways of cooking mac and cheese and seem to not be doing a great job of it. The general problem I keep running into is that cheddar’s just not doing it for me on the creamy scale. I’ve got to come up with something else to throw in there that really brings that out, but until then, I’m keeping track of the recipes I like in hopes that I can return to them later on and really knock them out with a few different cheeses.

Rachael Ray’s Bacon Burger Mac N Cheese is one such recipe. The only deviations I made from the recipe included replacing a bit of the milk with water (which is another factor in the creaminess factor) and I also ground up my own beef. Aside from that it was business as usual.

While I wished it was cheesier, the resulting dish was still super tasty. I enjoyed the bacon in there — adding one of the best foods to one of the best dishes just makes sense when you ponder it — and think the fresh ground beef added a fresher note, but I was also surprised with how much I enjoyed the faint hints at ketchup and mustard in the dish.

It might sound strange, but I’d really like to try this dish with more homemade and locally sourced ingredients. Beef and bacon from a local farm, some homemade ketchup and pasta and even some local cheese. I think you could have something really special and hearty hear with a few alterations.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Steak Sandwiches

To save some cash, I’ve been trying to base my weekly menus off of what’s on sale at my preferred grocery store. A few weeks back my store had loin steak on sale so I went to Smitten Kitchen, threw it in the search and discovered her recipe for Steak Sandwiches.

The meal is super easy to put together. I whipped up the Mustard Mayo first and put it aside, then got to work on the steak and onions which were not only easy to cook (basically throw in a pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper), but only dirtied one pan! Once done, you cut your steak and lay out your spread — the arugala, two kinds of cheddar and the Mustard Mayo — and you’ve got dinner. I really enjoyed the simple combination of mayo and mustard. At some point in the future, I will attempt this with homemade mayo.P1200000

I also enjoyed the leftovers for this meal as you can see in the very last image. While I don’t usually go for sandwiches for dinner, I liked the simple and easy leftovers this preparation created. I basically recreated the sandwich, put it under the broiler for a few minutes and had a tasty and dynamic dish.

Cooking Chicken Gyro Salad

I recently started one food related project that spawned another. We’ve got stacks of magazine laying around that are chock full of useful recipes. I decided to clear some space and also add to my Big Blue Binder, so I started cutting out pages. That lead me to restructuring said binder because it was just a big hodge podge with no order. I’ve since re-organized and even gotten dividers. I feel so efficient!

Anyway, one of the recipes I came across during this process was Good Housekeeping’s Chicken Gyro Salad which fit in well with my criteria for meals these days: try not to make too much heat. This one only required the cooking of the chicken and some peppers which wasn’t too bad and a good deal of chopping.

Aside from the pita chips, I followed the recipe pretty strictly. Instead of using an outdoor grill, though, I went with an iron skillet on our stove. I got the dressing together first and marinated the chicken for the prescribed 15 minutes. While chicken absorbed that goodness, I got the peppers and other vegetables cut up. The peppers met the heat first followed by the chicken. The rest was pretty simple.

I enjoyed this recipe because there was a lot of flavors I already enjoy going in. Since it’s not lamb, it’s not a real gyro, but it’s a pretty good alternative that captures many of the flavors.

I do want to mention one idea I had while chopping olives, though. We have this egg slicer thing that you can see in the pictures. I rarely use it because I don’t really like hard boiled eggs. But, while chopping tiny olives, I realized we had this thing in our drawer of miscellany and made good use of it! So, if you’ve got a spare egg chopper and need to cut whole olives into sliced ones, think outside the box!

Cooking Homesick Texan’s Tex-Mex Sloppy Joes

While poking around trying to find meals to make that wouldn’t give the air conditioner even more heat-related problems, I stumbled upon a meal that fit in with my hankering for a fairly simple Mexican meal that wouldn’t require too, too much exposure to fire. As such, I decided to give Homesick Texan’s versions of Tex-Mex Sloppy Joes and Guacamole a try and was super happy with the results.

Thanks to lacking a few of the ingredients, I didn’t quite follow either recipe to the letter, but think I came out with some pretty good food. For the guacamole, I simple skipped the pepper, added onion and substituted parsley for cilantro. Aside from that, though, it’s the same basic prep: chop everything up and mix with a fork. I got this done in the early afternoon because I like when my guac has a chance to fraternize with itself.

For the sloppy joes the only change I made was skipping over the beer because I’d already drank all the ones I had. Plus, the last pack I bought was fairly bitter and I don’t think would have worked well with these flavors. Instead, I just added some water to make sure the beef didn’t brown too fast.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I went with a London broil steak that I froze for a few hours and then ground myself. After that I blended together the sauce as instructed. With everything prepped and ready to go, it was just a matter of cooking everything. The meat went in first soon joined by onion and bell pepper. Once that was nice and browned, you add the sauce and cook like you would taco meat. I tried adding some Thai Sweet Chili Sauce to see how that would play, but don’t think there was enough to really pop. I wound up having a little more liquid than I intended, so I just watched it as a it cooked down. Once I had it where I wanted, I moved the meat to a dish and set it out with some buns, guacamole and shredded cheddar cheese.

This recipe might sound like you’re basically putting taco meat on a burger and it is kind of along those lines, but I really liked how this particular batch of spices came together and worked with the meat. It was like a new take on an old idea that worked together very well, mixing a bit of heat and smokiness with the tomato-based acidity. You combine that with the sharp cheddar and sour-ish guac and you’ve got a party on your plate.

Pizza Party: Luigi’s Deluxe & Hawaiian Pies

luigi's deluxe pizza

For the second half of last week and part of this week, my wife, daughter and I spent some nice time in Michigan hanging out with my parents at their cottage. We ate a lot of food on the grill which I forgot to snap pictures of, but there was one meal I absolutely, positively needed to let the world know about and that’s the pizza from Devil’s Lake’s Luigi’s Pizza. I almost wrote that it’s the one and only pizza joint up there, but it’s been a long time since I was a regular and don’t know that for sure. I do know that for a long time as a kid, it was one of the few food options that offered carry out food you could run up and get in your bathing suit and not get funny looks. It also happens that it was my favorite pizza before I moved out to New York.

Above you can see my favorite pie from them, the Deluxe which includes pepperoni, ham, sausage, onions, green peppers, mushrooms and black olives and, before moving to New York. I feel like it used to include green olives at one point, but memories get fuzzy. The beauty of this pie is just how much they cram on there. You can get deluxe-type pizzas a lot of places and this one probably isn’t super special as far as toppings go, but the key to Luigi’s greatness is the crust. The crusts on these pies have a garlucy, salty quality that made this the only crust I bothered eating for a long, long time.

luigi's hawaiian pizza

We also got a Hawaiian pie which featured pineapple, ham, green peppers and extra cheese which we tried to get with bacon instead of ham (highly recommended), but they were swamped leading into Fourth of July and didn’t get the custom portion of the order. Still, this is a solid, delightful Hawaiian pizza, which is something you can’t always get easily in my area. The extra cheese really makes this pop. Man, it would have been rad with bacon.

Anyway, if you’re in the Manitou Beach, Michigan area and haven’t tried Luigi’s go do it. If you’re somehow driving through (it’s not exactly close to any highways, which is by design as you might imagine) get over there and try some of this goodness.

Bonus Food Pic: Mayor McCheese Omelet From Fiddlestix

20130618-153611.jpg I hope all my fellow dads out there had a good Father’s Day. I got booze, breakfast and smoked pork, plus time with my family, so I’ve got no complaints. For breakfast we went over to our favorite local place Fiddlestix and got yet another wonderful meal. As usual, I went with one of the specials, this one called the Mayor McCheese, which is an omelet with ground beef, caramelized onions and tomatoes topped with melted cheese sauce. Considering everything I just wrote ranks pretty high on my favorite foods, you can reasonably bet that I had a wonderful time filling my face with a cheesy, beefy concocion held together with eggs. As an added bonus, I got to dip my toast in cheese!

Bonus Food Pic: King’s Pommes Frites’ Cheese Burger & Fries

king's palm frites burger

If you live in the Cornwall/New Windsor/Vail’s Gate area and like to check out local food places, you were probably a fan of Woody’s, an all natural burger place in a yellow house in Cornwall. They had a solid staple of offerings, but would also branch out into limited-time specials based on whatever was good and fresh at that time. Well, Woody’s closed down in the past year and we’ve been left wanting for places to get a good burger that doesn’t come from a clown’s mouth.

Thankfully, my wife and I didn’t have to look around too long before realizing that King’s Pommes Frites — also in Cornwall — is killing it with their burgers. In fact, as far as I’m concerned their burgers are actually better than Woody’s were. They’re big and juicy and perfectly cooked, plus they come with King’s always-fresh fries and their signature variety of sauces.

As far as I’m concerned, King’s is doing it right. They started off with a simple idea: the fries with sauces, plus a special or two every week or so. Now they’ve expanded to a full menu PLUS unique offerings every week that you can keep tabs on by way of their Facebook page (linked above). From what I hear, they’ve also got shakes now, which is wonderful because no one else seems to be doing that in the ‘Wall.

This picture’s actually from a month or so ago and we haven’t been back in that span, but writing this post and looking at that picture make me want to head there right now. Now that I think about it, I was planning on running to Cornwall around lunch time…

Bonus Food Pics: Cranky Carol’s Fries & Cheesesteak From Slack’s Hoagies

slacks hoagies cranky fries A few weekends back my wife, daughter and I made our way to Pennsylvania to meet up with some friends and visit the Sesame Street theme park Sesame Place (hear more about it on my most recent podcast if you’re interested). The first night we got Qdoba for dinner, but after two full days in the park and being relatively close to Philadelphia, we were hoping to get cheesesteaks. Of course, the problem with traveling is that you have no idea how good anything around you is or where to even look. Fortuitously, when we got back to our hotel that evening, there was a menu waiting from a place called Slack’s Hoagies. Not only did they have cheesesteaks, but also delivered. Perfect!

slacks hoagies cheesesteak

My wife and I each went with a cheesesteak as well as the Cranky Carol Fries where had a good deal of pepper and maybe a few other spices to bring the heat. Everything tasted great, though I will say that this was not the best Philly Cheesesteak I’ve ever had. Still, after a long day of walking around, waiting in lines and dodging excited kids, it was nice to sit down with a hot, cheesy sandwich, some fries and enjoy a meal I didn’t have to make myself.

Disney World Bonus Food Pics: French Breakfast & Moroccan Dinner

french breakfast You know what I love in pretty much any combination? Ham and cheese. You really can’t go wrong there, you guys. One morning we decided to hit Epcot and to start our day we headed over to the World Showcase to get breakfast in France at a place called Les Halles Boulangerie & Pâtisserie. When you add ham and cheese to a buttery piece of bread you’re really onto something. Good on the French for figuring that out.

moracco salad

For lunch we went to a place in Epcot where I not only had a bad experience but also didn’t enjoy my food, so we’ll just skip right past that. That night, my wife and I had planned on going out for a date just the two of us. We wanted to try something new and interesting so we decided on going to Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco back in Epcot in the World Showcase. We both went with the Taste of Morocco – Royal Feast which included (*deep breath*) “Jasmina Salad: Lettuce, Tomato, Olives, and Feta Cheese in Mustard Vinaigrette, Seafood Bastilla: Layers of thin Pastry filled with Grouper, Shrimp, and Mushrooms, Lemon Chicken: Braised Chicken seasoned with Green Olives and preserved Lemon, Roast Lamb Meshoui (A Moroccan tradition – Roasted Lamb Shank in Natural Juices),  Couscous with Seven Vegetables and Assorted Moroccan Pastries.”

moracco entree

As you can imagine, it was quite a meal. First off, everything was fantastic and interesting. I was a big fan of that salad, which is kind of a strange thing to single out when talking about so many different kind of food. The lamb fell of the bone and I don’t have much experience with that particular protein, but I enjoyed it. The lemon chicken was also nice and tangy. I even dug the desserts which is something I don’t always say. So, if you’re looking for something unique and packed with variety, do yourself a favor and hit up Restaurant Marrakesh.

Walt Disney World Bonus Food Pics: Studio Catering Co. & Sci-Fi Dine-In At Hollywood Studios

studio catering company We spent the second day of our Walt Disney World vacation walking around Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a place that had great food at both the counter service and sit down levels. For lunch we hit up Studio Catering Co. which is supposed to be set up like the commissary of a studio, but, you know, right around the corner from Star Tours and butting up against the Honey I Shrunk The Kids playground (which is a childhood favorite of mine).

The way places like this work is that there’s a menu posted up high where everyone can see it (those yellow signs in the above picture). When you know what you want, you approach one of many very nice people standing at a computerized register. Once your food is ordered, you move up and pick it up from the people working in the kitchen and prep area, so it’s a little nicer and more organized than your average cafeteria, which you’d expect from Disney.

studio catering turkey panini For lunch I went with the Pressed Turkey Club which includes “Turkey, Applewood-smoked Bacon, Swiss, Roasted Red Pepper, Arugula, Multigrain Ciabatta Bread.” It was a really solid, tasty sandwich that didn’t feel like something slapped together. It seemed well thought out and well balanced. I also got the cole slaw which was better than average and think I even had a little cheesecake dessert, though the for-a-limited-time-only Worms & Dirt Cupcakes you see in the background were enjoyed by my family.

sci fi dine in reuben That day we had dinner at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater which is a fun place where you actually sit in tables that look and feel like old school convertibles. Those car-tables are “parked” in an area that’s set up like a drive-in theater complete with a movie screen running film clips, cartoons and trailers of stuff from the 40s, 50s and 60s.

We weren’t sure if the atmosphere — which was fantastic — would outshine the food, but I really enjoyed the Reuben I had. You might think that a sandwich with such basic ingredients (corn beef, Sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing and rye bread) would be difficult to screw up, but that’s not been the case in my experience. For one thing, you can find a wide spectrum of quality in just those five things, but the way a place treats their corn beef is also really important. The Sci-Fi Dine-In seems to treat its beef really well because the meat was nice and juicy and not dried out at all. In fact, all the ingredients felt top notch and tasty. I’ve probably had better Reubens in my life, but not while sitting in a fake car watching trailers for Plan 9 From Outer Space and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman. Oh, the cucumber salad was actually super tasty as well, it was a kind of sour, pickle-y alternative to fries if that’s something you’re looking for.

I Had One Of The Best Meals Of My Life At Barnaby’s In New Paltz

barnabys

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week is a wonderful event held in and around the area I live in in New York where all participating restaurants offer a set menu for lunch and/or dinner with three or four options for a three course meal. While looking around for things to do last weekend while my parents visited and coming up with zero events, I stumbled upon the fact that we were right in the middle of Restaurant Week again. I did some looking around and saw that  a place in New Paltz called Barnaby’s Steakhouse was on the list and happened to be offering a pretty impressive line-up of appetizers, entrees and desserts for the $20.95 price tag. I scoped out a few other places, but decided on Barnaby’s not only because we’d never been there before, but also because it seemed like the most bang for the bucks. We headed up there on Saturday for a late lunch and man, was it a wonderful experience.

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I started off with the the Lobster Bisque partially because it sounded like the most intriguing of the appetizers on the list, but also because I figured it was the best value. The bisque itself had that wonderful richness that you get from the best bisques, but it also had a cream swirled throughout as a sweet corn and tarragon relish that really added a depth of flavor that made me want to dive into a vat of this and eat my way out.

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We all wound up going for the Grilled Petit Filet Mignon Steak for our entrees that came topped with “a crust of Gorgonzola cheese & herbed horseradish” that also came with mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. The steak came perfectly cooked to medium and I probably could have cut through it with a fork. The gorgonzola and horseradish topping was a nice touch that didn’t overwhelm the solid flavors of the steak. The potatoes were good, clearly made in house and creamy, though I always compare these things with the ones my mom makes and they don’t hold up. I wasn’t into the creamed spinach, but that’s okay, I was already pretty full at this point. Of course, it wasn’t over yet. 

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I went with the Creme Brulee for desert and kind of regret it, not because it wasn’t good, but because I wound up being uncomfortably full the rest of the day. Also, even though I figured I wouldn’t worry about calories after eating such rich food, I did add everything up as best I could and was shocked at how many calories this dish added to the meal. If my rough calculations are correct it’s actually more calories than the steak! Anyway, the caramelized sugar was perfectly done and the creme was super nice and creamy.

I’m not that best at comparing meals in my head. If I like one, I remember liking it, but it doesn’t enter a ranking system or anything like that. But, I can tell when a meal really rockets past all the other ones and this was definitely one of those experiences. Aside from the one time I went to Peter Luger’s, I think this might be the best steak I’ve ever had in New York. It’s probably up there with the best steak experiences ever. Plus, it was all the better because I was with my family AND it was my mom’s first time eating a steak after years and years of being a vegetarian. There’s a lot of reasons she’s moving away from that, but I think the high quality of the food at Barnaby’s helped kickstart the process even more!

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Parmesan-Crusted Pork Chops

I’m not really sure why, but pork is second only to fish when it comes to proteins I have the least experience with. I try to keep my weekly menus well balanced, going with one beef dish, one vegetarian and not too much chicken, so I’m always looking for new ways to cook pig, which usually leads me to pork chop recipes. I can’t say exactly why, but that isn’t always the most thrilling prospect to me. However, when I came across Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe for Giada De Laurentiis’ Parmesan-Crusted Pork Chops, I was pretty excited. Not only have I had really great luck with Laurentiis’ recipes lately, but I think it’s also hard to go wrong with parmesan-encrusted anything. It also helps that this is a really easy recipe to put together, especially if you already have bread crumbs on hand like I did.

Instead of the cup of Italian breadcrumbs mentioned in the recipe, I actually used the last of the rye ones I had leftover from making Ruben Mac & Cheese a while back. From there, it was just a matter of whipping a few eggs, grating 3/4 of a cup or so of Parmesan cheese and getting the pork chops out of the fridge. As these things tend to go, you dip the chop in the eggs, then the cheese and finally the bread crumbs before putting them in a pan with hot olive oil. Cook, flip, let cool and eat. I also steamed some green beans to go along with this dish.

I’ve got to say, I was really impressed with how good and flavorful these chops were. The parmesan really worked well with the rye breadcrumbs and made for a really simple dish that I can mostly make from items in my pantry. For all those reasons, this recipe gets the double thumbs-up.

Bonus Food Pic: The VIP From The Stage Door Deli NYC

stage deli A few weeks back I found myself down in New York City covering an event called Toy Fair. After hitting all my meetings and checking out everything I intended to, I made my way back to Penn Station with almost two hours to kill. I thought about taking the connecting train over to Secaucus and just hanging out in that station maybe getting something from the Dunkin Donuts, but then I remembered eating at a place right across from the station called the Stage Door Deli that my dad and I went to a year ago before seeing Van Halen. This place has gigantic sandwiches and I hadn’t eaten anything that day since breakfast (the food at the convention center looked dubious) so I decided to go for it.

After perusing the menu and remembering that whatever I got the first time was a little dry, I decided to try The VIP which comes stacked with “Turkey, Baked Virginia Ham, Swiss Cheese, Coleslaw and Russian Dressing.” They also automatically bring out some cole slaw and a few pickles, but I decided to go for a few beers (Stellas) and had a nice little meal for myself. And by little, I mean stomach-bursting. Just look how big that sandwich is!

Is this the greatest sandwich I’ve ever head? Nah, man, not even close. But, it’s a cool NYC experience to have every now and then when you haven’t eaten all day and want to stuff what looks like at least a pound of lunchmeat in your face. Good times.

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’s Chicken Saltimbocca

My two favorite words when writing about food are “simple” and “delicious.” Don’t get me wrong, I love spending a good part of a day crafting a dish, but that’s so rarely feasible. I would easily label Giada De Laurentiis’ Chicken Saltimbocca with both, plus lots of smiley faces and thumbs up.

I’d never heard of Chicken Saltimbocca before and just stumbled across it while looking around on Food Network’s website a while back. I was sold, though, when I saw that it was basically a chicken, spinach, prosciutto and Parmesan cheese roll up. And the recipe is really that simple. You flatten out some chicken breasts, then add a piece of prosciutto, then some spinach, a sprinkle of cheese and then roll it up and run through with a tooth pick. Once you’ve got all your roll-ups prepared, you cooking them in some olive oil until all sides are browned. At that point you don’t take the pinwheels out, instead you add chicken stock and lemon juice and simmer for 1o minutes which really gets that lemony goodness into the dish.

When the chicken is finally done, you cook the remaining stock down into a sauce and serve over the chicken. I also threw some asparagus in the stove with a little olive oil, salt and lemon pepper and cooked for about 10 minutes which offered a simple side that carried over some of the citrus elements.

I still seem to struggle every week when attempting to put together a meal, but I think this meal will start appearing more regularly because it’s just so damn delicious. And simple.

Bonus Food Pics: Pre-Birthday Dinner & Dessert

short ribs horseradish potatoes - gilded otter

As some of you may know, today is my 30th birthday. I’m going back and forth between not thinking about this new decade and trying to figure out how I’m going to not trust anyone over 30 if I’m now included in that bracket. Last weekend, my parents came in for a visit to celebrate a little early. As I mentioned in a recent Photo Diary, we went to New Paltz on Saturday and while I originally thought we might come back closer to home for a mid-day dinner, I changed my mind and decided to head over to New Paltz’s Gilded Otter. Both a restaurant and a brewery, I decided to start off with their beer sample which not surprisingly lead me to order their India Pale Ale to go along with my meal of Stout Braised Boneless Short Ribs. I haven’t had shortribs too often, but have always liked their juicy tenderness. The meal was served with veggies and some super fluffy, bite-y Horseradish Mashed Potatoes. I scarfed this all done pretty quickly, so it must have been good.

pre birthday cheesecakeFor dessert, my lovely wife Emily made Michael Ruhlman’s Classic New York Cheesecake from Ruhlman’s Twenty (page 113). She wasn’t super thrilled with some of the vagueness in the recipe, but I thought the results were a real treat. More lemony than I would have expected, the mixture of acid and creamy cheese with the best graham cracker crust I’ve ever had made this aces in my book. I should say, I’m not much of a dessert fan, but I do love cheesecake and even had two pieces of this on Saturday.

Cooking Sweet & Spicy Beef With Egg Noodles

Last week I wrote about a few meals that I made a while back that had kind of fallen away from memory. I remember them not being bad, but didn’t really remember enough about them to accurately evaluate them here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. This post is about a recipe from around that same time, but it was so good that it’s burrowed its way into my brain and wants to become a recurring player in my kitchen.

The meal in question is Sweet & Spicy Beef With Egg Noodles as seen in Michele Urvater’s Monday to Friday Pasta (page 132). It’s based on some Middle Eastern flavors and turned out to be uniquely tasty. I also appreciated that I didn’t have to buy too many ingredients to whip this up as most of them were already in my pantry or spice rack.

The recipe calls for cooking a clove of garlic, onion and chili in vegetable oil (I usually use olive oil with pasta, but I’ve found that it lends itself better to Italian and Greek dishes and stands out in a bad way sometimes when working with a different spice palette). I skipped the chili because we’re not super into spice here, but got the garlic and onion cooking like normal. I also mixed allspice, cinnamon and cumin for use later on.

After the onion and garlic cook for a bit, then you throw in the spices followed by the ground beef in. Once that starts to brown you insert tomato puree (which I didn’t have on hand, so I went with a combination of V8 juice and jarred tomato sauce) and let that simmer until the egg noodles are done cooking. After that, you just mix it all together and wind up with what reminded me of goulash a bit in look, but comes off with a much sweeter, tangier flavor.

The recipe also calls for garnishing with plain yogurt, sour cream, feta cheese or Asiago. I decided to go with both sour cream and Feta and I really enjoyed how the mildness of the sour cream became a kind of intermediary between the pasta and the bite of the feta. Just thinking about this one is making me hungry. Looks like I’ll be adding it to next week’s menu!

A Few Forgotten Recipes: Giada’s Orzo Stuffed Peppers & Jeff Mauro’s Meatloaf Sandwhiches

giada's orzo stuffed peppersOne of the problems I have with this blog is that, even when circumstances come up that delay me from posting, I’m usually still cooking. That means, when I do get the chance to sit down and write about what I’ve cooked, I’m often left with several pictures of food that looks good that I vaguely remember making and don’t really remember eating. But, I hate just deleting all these pictures and hope that some day I might have a spontaneous memory that pops up. By posting about these forgotten meals here, I hope to give my future self a record of what I cooked.

Anyway, above you can see the finished product of my attempt at making Giada De Laurentiis’ Orzo Stuffed Peppers. I want to say that we enjoyed this meal and from looking at the recipe, it doesn’t look too difficult to put together. I like that she mixed it up with this one and included mint and orzo, which I’ve also used when making food in my wok instead of rice. This isn’t the first of De Laurentiis’ stuffed pepper recipes I’ve tried, I’m a big fan of her Couscous-Stuffed Peppers With Basil Sauce, which I’ve made a few times now. jeff mauro's meatball sandwichesHere you can see my attempt at making Jeff Mauro’s All-American Down-Home Patriotic Meatloaf Sandwich which, again, I want to say turned out well. You basically make a meatloaf and a sauce and combine the two on bread with cheese and pickles (I went with dills because bread & butter pickles gross me out). I also tossed on some mayo because it’s not really a sammich without mayo.

I want to reiterate that I haven’t forgotten about these dishes because they were bad, I would have definitely remembered something bad, it’s just that my memory — especially my taste memory — fades more the longer away I get from something unless it was mind-blowingly amazing.

Cooking Rachael Ray’s Reuben Mac & Cheese

I love a good mash-up, that old peanut butter and chocolate two great tastes that taste great together thing. Give me a good comic book crossover or a movie that combines two of my favorite genres well and I’m a happy guy. That also translates to food, of course. I mean, if you like mac and cheese and Reuben sandwiches, why wouldn’t you like a Reuben Mac & Cheese?

I first had this dish, invented by Rachael Ray and posted over on FoodNetwork’s website, years ago when my wife was making dinners. She knew of my separate loves, saw this recipe and figured I’d like the combination of the two. Of course, she was right on the money and it has become a somewhat regular addition to our menu (as much as I repeat dishes, which isn’t all that often, really).

As far as the making of this dish goes, it’s not all that different from making any other mac and cheese. You’re cooking the pasta while also putting together the cheese sauce and making breadcrumbs. The newness comes in the ingredients, which include rye breadcrumbs that you make and the inclusion of spicy mustard, corned beef and sauerkraut which you can’t really see in that first photo. The result is the creamy goodness of mac & cheese combined with the salty brininess of corned beef and the sourness of sauerkraut along with the bitterness of the toasty rye bread crumbs on top. So, really, you’re getting everything but sweetness in this dish which makes it a real party for your tongue. It’s amazing how versatile of a dish mac & cheese can be!

I was glad that this recipe turned out so well because I also recently made The Neeleys’ Macaroni & Cheese and was disappointed. Even though it had crispy bacon mixed in the lack of  breadcrumbs and Swiss called for in the recipe really lessened it. So, it was a bummer that the recipe didn’t really do much for me, but on the positive side, it made me realize some key components in my like of mac & cheese recipes. I love the toasty breadcrumbs and that added crunch, it’s as much a flavor thing as a texture thing, but the Swiss cheese also adds a depth of flavor, an almost-sourness or bitterness that makes things a little funkier. I also learned that bacon can and should be added to mac & cheese whenever possible.

Second Christmas Remembered: Ruhlman’s Mac & Cheese With Soubise

As I explained yesterday, I made what turned out to be a pretty great Second Christmas dinner for my family all from Michael Ruhlman’s book Ruhlman’s Twenty. In addition to the Leeks Vinaigrette, I also made his recipe for Mac & Cheese With Soubise (page 87). As regular readers — and anyone who knows me — will remember, I’m a huge fan of macaroni and cheese and have been since my Kraft’s Blue Box days. But, I also like trying new recipes and seeing how they compare to one another. I don’t know if I’m ever going to find one that will become the default version, but if so, this one might be up for the spot.

This particular recipe has four kinds of cheese involved including basic Swiss, sharp cheddar, Emmenthaler (which I’d never had before, but is another kind of Swiss) and Parmesan for the top. If you look closely at the picuture, you’ll see that there’s Asiago on top there, but I just grabbed the wrong block for the picture.

The major difference between this recipe and other ones that I’ve made is that you not only carmelize the onions, but also put the entire pre-cheese sauce in a food processor to whir it all together. Aside from that, though, you’ve got a recipe that’s similar to other ones I’ve tried. As always, I got all my ingredients as prepared ahead of time as I could, separating out spices and whatnot that would be added together. This all made the process a lot easier. Also aiding the process was the fact that I used the food processor to cut the cheese up, a trick I always use for mac & cheese and also got this whole thing ready in the morning. You can get 95% of the mac & cheese ready, refrigerate it and then pull it out when you’re ready to go. The only thing you don’t add before the cooling process is the buttered breadcrumbs. When we were ready, I got those together, put them on top of the dish and in it went into the oven.

The finished product had a very creamy, very cheesy feel to it. My wife heard somewhere that you can actually replace milk in a mac and cheese recipe with water. I’m going to try that next time I make this or any other similar dish. I just didn’t want to try it like that the first time as I was making food for a larger group than just the three of us. That is a lot of dairy as the recipe is written, so if that’s something that bother’s your system, watch out.

Pizza Party: Giada’s Carmelized Onion, Sausage & Basil Pizza

I had such bad results last time I made pizza that I not only didn’t bother posting about it, but also haven’t attempted to make any since then. That was a few months back. I was feeling adventurous a few weeks back, though, and decided to give Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe for Carmelized Onion, Sausage and Basil Pizza a try. I think one of the problems I had when I made pizza on my own is that I put too much stuff on the dough as it cooked. The somewhat wet ingredients got the dough moist and it didn’t cook all the way through, plus there were some structural integrity issues.

The beauty of this recipe is that it doesn’t have a lot of ingredients AND it’s easy to put together. You do need a little time, though, because you’ve got to carmelize the onions. After that, though, it’s just cooking the Italian sausage (I went with sweet instead of hot) with the onions and that part’s done. Since I bought dough instead of making it, I just had to roll that out into the desired shape, load up the pie with the meat/onion mixture and the blue cheese and pop into the oven on top of the pizza stone. That cooked for about 16 minutes and we had dinner after throwing basil on top.

In addition to the ease of cooking, I also really liked the taste of this pizza. I really like cooked sweet sausage and it mixed super well with the sharpness of the blue cheese. The basil hung around offering little fresh bursts of goodness that really rounded everything out. Next time I make pizza, I’m going to do the dough as well, either following Giada’s recipe or the one that’s in Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio. Should be fun!

Bonus Birthday Food Pics: Sushi From QQ & Brothers Barbecue

qq sushu1One of these days I’m going to remember to write down what I order from our favorite nearby sushi place, QQ Asian Bistro. I want to say that these are pictures of the 007 Roll (above) which consists of “Spicy tuna, crabmeat, avocado,lightly deep fried, eel, spicy mayo sauce, topped with scallion, masago” and the Spider Roll, but I can’t quite be sure. qq sushu2

Anyway, when my parents were in town for Second Christmas and New Year’s we decided to celebrate another holiday: my wife’s birthday. Instead of going out for a big meal, we instead ordered the big meal and ate it at home. It was a great experience and as usual, the QQ food was wicked good. IMG_2474But that’s not all the food goodness we enjoyed to celebrate my lovely wife’s birth. On her actual birthday I made her a cake and we also went and got dinner at Brothers Barbecue. Brothers actually opened a while back, but they had a fire and shut down for around two years or so. Well, they’re back open and we had some awesome food there. Above you can see the corn bread which was super thick and sweet and yummy. IMG_2478And then there’s the entree. I had the two meat plate with two sides and decided on Kansas City ribs and pulled pork with mac & cheese and collard greens with bacon. The ribs were delicious and fell right off the bone, the pulled pork was perfectly tender. Both were complimented very well by their barbecue sauce which reminded me of a homemade version of Arbys Sauce. The collard greens were really tasty too, I don’t think I’d ever had them before, but they had a very cabbage-y flavor to them. The mac and cheese was alright. Having made several versions of that as a main course and as a side, I know how hard it can be to keep in good shape. It wasn’t bad by any means, just not mind blowingly awesome like everything else. Welcome back, Brothers!

Bonus Food Pic: The P&G Dip

p and g dipA few days after Thanksgiving this year, my wife, daughter, parents and I went to New Paltz to walk around and do some shopping. I was personally thankful for this trip because it gave me the opportunity to eat something aside from turkey. Don’t get me wrong, I liked how my turkey turned out, but I can only take so much of the same thing. We went to a place in town called P&G’s that we’ve been to a few times and always enjoyed.

I went with the P&Gs Dip and a side order of mac and cheese. The sandwich is described thusly on the menu: “Thin sliced roast beef with melted Provolone cheese on a garlic hard roll, served with dipping jus.” And it was just that! Beef, glorious beef with melty cheese dipped in beef juice? Yes, I’ll take that all day long. The mac and cheese was good too, but the real star of the side dishes we ordered were the eggplant fries served with marinara sauce. Holy crap, what a great idea that is and a great alternative to regular fries, especially when you’ve got a kid like ours who loves herself some fries. Gotta figure out how to make those at home now!

Cooking Martha’s Macaroni & Cheese By Way Of Smitten Kitchen

Macaroni and cheese is a real delight. Creamy cheese, starchy pasta and a myriad of other additions you can try. Heck, I even love Kraft Mac & Cheese and still make it for myself every now and then. But, sometimes you just want to dig into a steamy bowl of cheesy-pasta goodness without a lot else going on. That’s what I found and got when I came across Smitten Kitchen’s take on Martha Stewart’s recipe. The only changes I made to the recipe were using the remnants of a loaf of bread I had left over instead of white bread slices and not using Gruyere cheese because, much as I like it, it’s pretty pricey and I don’t make Martha money…yet.

I liked this recipe because you can do a lot of the prep work using a food processor. I threw a bunch of the stale bread I had in there for the crumbs and also chopped up most of the cheese that way. Aside from that, you don’t have to do much else besides measuring a few things out. The rest involves making the pasta and heating up some milk and other ingredients in which to melt some of your cheese. After that it’s just mixing everything together and tossing it into the oven. I used two different pans because sometimes I have trouble putting too much in a baking dish and get some spillage.

In addition to being a very cheesy, very tasty dish I appreciate how simple this is to put together. I also really liked how the buttered breadcrumbs turned out on top. They got just the right amount of crunchy, adding a nice extra texture to the dish. This recipe will definitely make its way into the rounds when I’m looking for a simple, great mac and cheese dinner.

Bonus Food Pic: Cheddar Cheeseburger At Burger Heaven

burger heaven Last week my wife and I traveled down into the city to meet with her doctor. We got the excellent news that she is cancer free. To celebrate, we met our friend Rickey for lunch. We didn’t have a plan, just met at a particular subway stop and walked around until we found a place. Burger Heaven happened to be that place.

Em and I split a black and white milkshake that was really tasty. Then, once Rickey got there we ordered and got our food pretty quickly. I went with a cheddar cheeseburger which was pretty good, though nothing mind blowing or spectacular. I actually kind of wish I had tried the Burger Heaven Burger which also had carmelized onions and special house sauce. There wasn’t anything wrong with the burger by any means, it just wasn’t spectacular either. I was surprised at how good the cole slaw was, though. I’ve had more bad slaw while eating out than good, but I’d put this strongly in the good column.

Cooking Steven’s Oven Baked Chimichangas With Homemade Taco Teasoning

My wife really wants me to join Pintrest. I’m still not exactly sure what that means and I don’t feel like joining another social network, so, for now, you won’t read about my pinning things. But, that doesn’t mean we all can’t reap the benefits of her interest in pins. She was looking around for recipes and came across Steven’s Oven Baked Chimichangas on Tasty Kitchen, sent me the recipe and now we can all talk about it.

Before actually working on the recipe itself, I decided to whip together some homemade taco seasoning. I wasn’t a big fan of the one I tried last time, so I did some searching and came across this one I did like over on All Recipes. It was just a simple matter of getting all the spices together, measuring them out, throwing them in a jar and giving the whole thing a good shake.

With that all set, I got to work on the chimichanga recipe itself. I got everything that was eventually going to be added to the meat in one bowl and then got the ground turkey cooking. After that was browned, in went the taco seasoning and then the bowl o’ ingredient. While that cooked, I shredded the cheese I’d need, then mixed part of that in with some sour cream and had my filling.

After that it was a simple matter of buttering both sides of the wraps, filling them with some of the mixture, wrapping them up and placing them on the baking dish. I’m not always the biggest fan of recipes like this because I find them somewhat tedious, but this one was just the right balance of work for me. When they came out of the oven, we were treated to some tasty chimichangas.

I’ll be honest, aside from burritos and tacos, I have a really hard time keeping track of what food is what when it comes to Mexican. You’ve basically got a lot of combinations of tortilla and meat with various cooking techniques. If I’m not mistaken, chimichangas as basically burritos cooked in an oven. Is that right? Whether it is or isn’t, I’m cool with the results.

Bonus Food Pics: French Onion Soup & A Ruben At Fox Fiddle

The week before last I didn’t write any posts here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. I played it coy a bit, but as I explained over on Pop Poppa in my Photo Diary posts, I was actually commuting into the city with my dad and mother-in-law to visit my wife who was in the hospital post-surgery. Everything went well and she’s back home healing up.

Of course, you’ve still got to eat and after a few days of hospital cafeteria food, we decided to head out and get something. We were originally going to go to Chickpea, but it happened to be pretty full and I saw the sign for Fox N Fiddle and redirected us thataway. It’s an Irish pub which meant there would be two things there that I wanted: non crappy food (or at least less crappy food, depending on how Irish it really was) and beer.

I wound up getting a few Samuel Adams’ winter seasonal beers, then had a crock of French Onion Soup and followed that up with a Ruben. I probably wasn’t the best judge of anything that day, but I thought both the soup and sandwich were pretty darn good. I left very satisfied and didn’t feel like it was too expensive, which can easily happen at places in NYC.

I’m Thankful For Fiddlestix

 

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for this Turkey Day. My folks have come in from Toledo to share a meal with Em, Lu and I so that’s great. But, since this is a food blog and there’s no way I’ll be able to turn around photos of our Thanksgiving prep until next week, I figured I would keep things on topic.

Regular readers will know that I love Fiddlestix. I’ve never had a bad meal there and love the variety of specials they present every week. Here you can see a collection of photos I’ve taken in the past few months. I can’t quite remember all the details. Up top is some kind of breakfast quesadilla. Then you’ve got a roast beef wrap above this paragraph followed by a double whammy of a sausage omelet and what I believe are raspberry and something pancakes.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever talked about this, but even the sides at ‘Stix are something to talk about. At a lot of other places, breakfast potatoes feel like an add on, but theirs are always crisp and paprika-y. Better than that are the lunch sides which consist of homemade potato chips and what seems like a different pasta salad every time.

I hope you’ve found a great place like Fiddlestix and go there on a regular basis. It’s important to support local restaurants, especially when they’re awesome.

I Finally Had My Own Under The Big Top At Fiddlestix!

Guys! Guys! I finally had the breakfast I couldn’t stop thinking about it for myself! We went to Fiddlestix in Cornwall this weekend and I immediately stopped reading the menu as soon as I saw something called Under The Big Top on the weekly breakfast special menu. As soon as I saw “pretzel” I was super in. This version was actually written a little differently than the one my wife had as it was supposed to have sausage, but they were out of sausage, so they put bacon on. That made things a bit salty in some bites (pretzel plus bacon, you know how it is), but overall this was delightful. The pretzels and bacon were joined by a wonderful cheese sauce and a pair of poached eggs. Man oh, man. This was amazing. I need to figure out how to make pretzels and try this out at home!

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.

Pizza Party: Mama Theresa’s Eggplant Appetizer & Greek Pizza

This past Sunday, after attempting to hit up a few other places, we found ourselves at Mama Theresa’s for dinner. Since we didn’t order ahead of time and wanted a full pie, we decided to eat there and actually sat in the really nice back room that we’d never been in. As always, the food there was excellent. We started off with a special eggplant appetizer whose name I can’t quite remember, but think it might have been something like Eggplant Pie or Eggplant Stack or something along those lines. Basically, among slices of cooked eggplant there was also healthy doses of mozzarella, pesto, their awesome red sauce and prosciutto. It was all around delightful, the kind of thing I’d like to figure out how to make myself.

Of course, that was the opening act to the main event: pizza! When my wife first suggested getting the Greek Pizza, I vetoed that because I was thinking it would focus on the somewhat overpowering combination of feta and olives that mark such things when cooked by people without much knowledge of Greek cooking. I decided to give it a try and it was delish! The key here was not using too many olives or too much feta, but there was also great grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, onions and yellow peppers that weren’t too hot for my wussy tongue.

Cooking Salsa Chicken

When I first saw the title for this Salsa Chicken recipe on All Recipes, I cringed just a bit. It doesn’t sound like it will be the greatest thing in the world, but you know what? It turned out to be pretty great, with potential to really knock it out of the park. Better yet, it’s amazingly simple to put together and only involves five ingredients. I also picked up a Goya Chicken Flavor Mexican Rice and made that to go along with it.

All you really need is chicken breasts, a jar of salsa, taco seasoning, cheese and sour cream. You get the oven going at 375, put the chicken in a baking dish and then mix in the seasoning and salsa. Pop that in the oven for 25-35 minutes, pull out to add cheese and then place back in the oven for a few more minutes. Pull out and serve with sour cream. Bingo bango.

The flavors really worked well together, didn’t take too much actual work and didn’t require me to stand in a hot kitchen during the summer heat. What I like even better is that you can really have some fun with this and make it even more homemade. I haven’t landed on a taco seasoning recipe I like just yet, but once I do, I’m going to switch over to that instead of buying stuff. I’m also looking to make my own salsa, which is another way to really mix up the flavors. In addition to just eating this as is, you could also shred it up and serve with tacos! I like that kind of versatility and intend to come back to this after finding a good salsa recipe.

Cooking Broiled Tilapia Parmesan

Hello faithful readers and sorry again about the lack of posts here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. Between an avalanche of work and a trip back home for a family reunion this weekend, blogging just wasn’t in the picture. However, I did cook and have plenty of pictures to post and recipes to write about. Take this one for Broiled Tilapia Parmesan from All Recipes. I whipped this one up a week or two back and was surprised with how easy and tasty it was.

Fish is one of those ingredient types that I don’t necessarily have a ton of experience with and said experience is hit and miss. But, I’ve had pretty good luck with fish recently. This was one of those cases. All you really need to do for this recipe is buy fish, toss a bunch of ingredients in a bowl, pour the sauce on the fish and broil. Said sauce includes mayo, lemon juice, butter, Parmesan cheese, basil, pepper, onion powder and celery salt.

As you can see in the picture, I busted out the Magic Bullet to grind up the Parm. I haven’t tried this before, but it wound up working pretty well. I really like using fresh grated cheese, but when you’re dealing with a huge amount of it, the ol’ arm can feel like it’s gonna fall off which is no good.

Anyway, cheesy fish is apparently good, though I wasn’t so sure it would be. I could have even gotten a few more filets than I did because my wife and I dug it and so did the baby. I’ll definitely give this one another try.

Bonus Food Pic: The Pulled Porktato At Billy Joe’s Ribworks

To celebrate Father’s Day, my wife, daughter, inlaws and I walked around the Newburgh waterfront to figure out what we wanted to eat. After looking at all the displayed menus we, not surprisingly ended up at Billy Joe’s Ribworks. I wasn’t as hungry as I usually am when we go there (I tend to take it easy and not eat too much in preparation), so I decided to try something I’ve always had my eye on but never ordered: the Pulled Porktato.

According to the menu, this particular spud sports “Pulled Pork, Baked Beans, Coleslaw and Melted Cheddar Cheese” and come with sides of butter and sour cream. Oh man, this was good. I don’t know about you guys, but I am a big fan of baked potatoes with all kinds of ingredients on them. This love stems from my time working at The Bagel Place in Toledo for many many years. We had several different kinds of baked potatoes for sale with toppings like beef tips, gravy, cheese sauce, broccoli, bacon, mushrooms, chives and plenty of others. As an employee we had to pay for sandwich meat, but potatoes were free, so I would often eat those and eventually got pretty creative with toppings.

So, this meal reminded me of those fun days working at a bagel shop back home with my friends, but also that a huge stuffed baked potato acts as a perfectly good and filling meal. Heck, I even took some home with me!

Cooking Chicken Salad Veronique & Tomato Feta Pasta Salad

Like I said before, it was over 90 degrees last week and I was desperately looking for dinners that would not blast heat throughout the house. I came across a pair of Ina Garten recipes for Chicken Salad Veronique and Tomato Feta Pasta Salad that looked cool and both featured elements I could make earlier in the day and use during dinner. It was supposed to be an easy, relaxed dinner spread out over the whole day, but I wound up needing to make mayonnaise, so things got a little hotter than expected.

It started out well, though. I tossed four chicken breasts covered in olive oil, salt and pepper in to the oven and let cook for 40 minutes like the recipe suggests. When that was done, I let the chicken cool and then put it in the refrigerator until I needed it later. When it got closer to dinner time, I got to work on the rest of the salad which only really needed some cut up grapes and celery tossed in a bowl with the chopped chicken and mixed with mayo and tarragon from the herb garden.

Then I realized I didn’t have any mayo, but did have all the things I needed to make it again and decided to do that. I started out trying to make a half batch because we don’t really eat that much mayonnaise in our house, but I think I screwed up the ratios and had to then make closer to a full batch. This was a bit of a mess and I had to do it twice and busted out the electric whisk, something I’ve never used before, but it got the job done. In went the homemade mayo, out came chicken salad.

While I was sweating bullets mixing this at first by hand, a pot of water was boiling on the stove for the Tomato Feta Pasta Salad. This helped add an extra side to the menu, but also use up some of the pasta we got for Lu’s birthday party after my wife and the inlaws went shopping at BJ’s. Anyway, aside from the boiling pasta water, this was easy peasy to put together. Make pasta, throw a bunch of stuff for the dressing in a food processor, cut up some veggies and you’re done. I accidentally put some of the cheese into the processor, so the dressing came out kind of chunky instead of smooth, so I had to really mix it more, but it turned out really tasty.

I enjoyed both of these dishes and will definitely make them again. The chicken salad reminded me of the kind my mom used to make, especially with the grapes and celery, so it not only tasted good but also had a nice memory to it. Definitely give these recipes a shot if you don’t want to heat your house up too much this summer or want to take an easy dish to a cook out with friends.

Cooking Fantastic Taco Casserole

Last week wound up being super hot so I wanted to try and make dinners that wouldn’t heat up the house too much. I also decided to cook things at different times of the day than normal to try and avoid all that heat all at once. I stumbled across this recipe for Fantastic Taco Casserole on Food.com and while it still involved cooking with a 375 degree oven, it didn’t take too long. I also cooked the ground beef in the taco seasoning around noon while my daughter ate lunch. I just let it cool down and eventually popped it in the fridge and got it out later on when constructing the casserole.

The only big change I made to the recipe was using garbanzo beans instead of refried beans. I thought I had the latter in my pantry, but only had the former and decided to just go with it. How’d that work out? Gimme a paragraph and I’ll let you know.

So, you basically just put tortilla chips on the bottom of an oven safe bowl. You then mix the beans with half the cheese and a cup of salsa. Since I didn’t use refried, there was no cooking involved right there. Anyway, you basically just layer everything in the dish and then pop it in the oven. While that’s in there, I cut up the tomatoes and those went on top when it came out. Boom, you’re done. And you know what? It was great.

I loved how the chips got a little mushy and turned into an actual salty crust that I dug. Everything else is pure taco, but in a bowl and you don’t have to set up a whole huge spread just to make tacos. Don’t get me wrong, I like making tacos, but this is about a billion times earlier. Oh, and the garbanzo beans? I really liked them. My wife noted that using them actually kept the dish a little lighter than it would have been with the refried variety. I think she nailed it. While you get the added protein of a bean, it’s not the thick gooey kind you get with refried beans. And, hey, it only took a little bit of time and not a lot of heat, so I’m very cool with it.