Hey, look, a food post! For those of you who might not know, I used to have yet another blog called Monkeying Around The Kitchen where I chronicled my journeys with food. After a while — and a lack of posts — I realized two things: one, I just didn’t have time to keep it up and two, I cook for my family, so those posts could easily be shifted over here to Pop Poppa. Hence, the MATK archives can now be found here on PP. Continue reading
I miss writing about food, you guys. I took all this time around Christmas to import my old food blog Monkeying Around The Kitchen over here and really haven’t taken advantage of the new digs. So, in an effort to get back on the horse, I figured I’d tip everyone off to the week’s upcoming menu on Monday and return to it either at the end of this week or early next. I also started writing the menu on this old chalkboard-painted pizza pan my mother-in-law gave me so we’ve got a nice visual.
A few weeks back I got all the ingredients for One Pan Mexican Quinoa from Damn Delicious. I’ve made this a few times before and it’s not just easy, but a great dinner that works well for a Meatless Monday if you’re down with that. I also appreciate how this one comes mostly from canned or boxed products meaning you can swing back around to it if you don’t get to it when planned. I will also be returning to the excellent Chicken Asiago Pasta from Chef Mickey.
Another pick-up for this week will be The Crockin’ Girls’ My Crock of Ribs using the St. Louis variety which were on sale last week. I’ll be doing this one on Thursday when I’m home along with the kids (if I remember to get them in the Crock Pot on time).
After I get everything ready for the quinoa dish tonight, I’m also going to work on the brine for Grilled Pork Chops with Corn, Tomatoes and Basil from Cooking Channel and grill that up tomorrow. Finally, as you can see, we will have some grilled beef. along with a vegetable. What kind? Not sure yet, but I’ll let you know how it goes.
On our last trip to Disney World, I picked up the Chef Mickey cookbook by Pam Brandon and the Disney Chefs. Not long after getting back from that trip, I made a variety of recipes from the book, but that was when I wasn’t posting much here on MATK. I returned to it recently and made this recipe for Chicken Asiago Pasta (page 124) for the second time and it was just as delicious this time around. The only change I made was using just parmesan instead of a mix of that and asiago.
This is a fairly simple one to put together, though it does involve dredging chunks of chicken and cooking them in some olive oil. But, that’s pretty much the hardest part. Right off the bat, I got the spinach in a bowl and combined the chopped sun dried tomatoes with the garlic and a combination of fresh olive oil and some of the stuff that the tomatoes came packed in. I also got the salted water going for the pasta at this point.
After that I cubed the chicken, got the flour mixed with salt and pepper and started the dredging/cooking process which didn’t take too long. I worked in batches to get the chicken done, but by the time I was finished, the pasta was all set to go too, so I got to mixing everything together in a big bowl.
That’s it, there’s your dinner. The flavors for this dish — which comes from the Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort — are just so amazing together. The noodles add some texture to bounce off of the bitterness of the spinach which is tempered by the tangy sun dried tomato flavors throughout. The cheese also helps bring everything together and add a salty note that connects a lot of the dots. I sometimes shy away from recipes that involve dredging and if our infant was having a really mad day, I probably would have skipped it, but this worked really well this time around.
I realized while writing yesterday’s post about the Ginger-Sesame Marinated Pork Loin that I’ve talked a lot about my Big Blue Binder without actually saying much about it. I stole this idea from my wife completely and I’m glad I did because it’s been a great way to integrate a variety of recipe sources into one place. Basically, this thing’s packed with recipes and ideas ripped out of magazines with a few printed off the internet or passed my way from family members, all of which are in plastic pockets so they don’t get too messed up in the binder or in the kitchen.
The main sources for these recipes are a series of magazines my wife and I have gotten over the years. I always pick up the Hannaford magazine when there’s a new one. That’s usually good for a few ideas. There was also a mysterious Good Housekeeping subscription that came in my name for a year even though I never paid for it and no one said they gifted it to us. But my wife’s subscriptions to Real Simple and Martha Stewart Living probably make up the majority of the book. When I get the okay from her, I basically go through a big stack of magazines and rip out what looks interesting and then put them into the BBB. This clears up space in your house and also gives you a piece of paper you can write on or toss if it doesn’t work out for you.
Originally, this thing was just a mess with all the recipes mixed up together, but then one day I figured it would make the most sense to actually get organized. I picked up a pack of those tabs and got to work breaking them down into subjects like Soup, Salads, Beef and the like. Of course, I soon ran into a problem when I realized a large number of pages don’t easily fit into one category. You know what I mean, those magazine spreads with a full meal laid out. So, I went with the easiest solution and just put them under a Misc. tab and moved right along.
While it did take a while to get things organized, I’m so glad I did. It’s great having books and websites that are relatively easy to search, but it’s nowhere near as easy when you’re dealing with a hodge-podge like this so even this level of organization can really streamline the process.
As 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
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
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.
As I’m slowly discovering, I’m a big fan of Thai food or at least the combination of lime, chicken and coconut that I’ve been experiencing in the recipes I’ve tried. One such recipe was found in The Ultimate Soup Bible called Thai Chicken Soup (page 304). This one was so good that we’ve had it twice in a fairly short period of time which almost never happens.
The recipe calls for creamed coconut or coconut cream, but I couldn’t find those and went with a 13.5 oz can of coconut milk. I also skipped out on the cilantro and red chilies because those aren’t flavors we’re real keen on. Otherwise, though, this went along pretty smoothly. After cooking a chopped up garlic clove in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven, I cut up two chicken breasts into cubes and cooked them1/4 teaspoon of chili powder and 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric.
While the chicken cooks for three or four minutes, I mixed 3.5 cups of warmed chicken stock with the can of coconut milk. When the chicken was done, I added the stock/milk mixture and then stirred in two tablespoons of smooth peanut butter, the juice of a large lemon and a few ounces of thin egg noodles. You cover that and then simmer for 15 minutes.
At that time, I toasted some sweetened coconut flakes that we had in the pantry. The recipe calls for unsweetened, but this seemed to work out pretty well, though you do need to make sure they don’t burn which can happen pretty quickly. After the 15 minutes are up, you throw in some cut up green onions and parsley — dried or fresh, whatever you have on hand — and then cook for another five minutes. To serve, I simply sprinkled the soup with the cooked (almost candied, really) coconut. This is such a nice, sweet and sour soup with a nice little crunch thanks to the coconut.
Even though we first tried this soup a while ago, it stuck around in my mind and seemed like a good choice to try again now that it’s getting cold out. The second time around I used limes, because that’s what I had on hand, and didn’t include the toasted coconut because I must have used up what little we had in the pantry when I made it the first time. I wish I would have remembered my one complaint from the first time I made the soup, though: there’s not enough of it! Next time I bust out the Thai Chicken Soup, I think I’m going to double it.
Do you have a blindspot when it comes to a certain aspect of cooking? I do and it comes in the form of the slow cooker. For some reason, my mind always forgets to remind me that I need to actually get those dinners ready until there’s not enough time. With ingredients ready to go bad in the next few days and a need for a dish, I took to my trust copy of The Ultimate Soup Bible and did a little digging.
After looking up a few soups by ingredient, I realized I had most of what I’d need to follow the recipe for Thai-Style Lentil & Coconut Soup (p. 123), plus a bag of green beans, so I got to work. I had to make a few changes for this one. First off, I didn’t have sunflower oil, red onions, a Thai chili, lemongrass or cilantro so I swapped out for peanut oil, a yellow onion and shallot and omitted the rest.
I cooked two chopped onions, two cloves of garlic and the cleaned and broken-up green beans in some peanut oil for five minutes before adding 7 ounces of lentils (I had regular, not red), a teaspoon of coriander that I warmed and ground myself as well as a teaspoon of paprika. Then the can of coconut milk went in followed by 3 3/4 cups of water. I brought that to a boil and then simmered for 45 minutes. When that was done I added the juice from a lime and some sliced scallions. And thus a soup was born!
I’m sure the recipe as written has a much greater depth of flavor thanks to the additional heat from the chili (which I probably would have skipped anyway) and the lemongrass, but I thought this worked out pretty well for a quickly MacGyvered meal. For an extra bit of protein and saltiness, I put some lightly salted roasted peanuts on top of mine which helped round things out.
A month or two back I sat down with my usual stack of cookbooks and wound up walking away with several recipes from Nigella Kitchen. I had about an equal number of hits as misses, but this one, more fully titled Carbonnade a la Flamand (a.k.a. Beer-Braised Beef Casserole, page 330) was a home run. This recipe is super easy to make, but you do need several hours for it to cook. Since I work from home, this wasn’t such a big deal, but if you’re working full time and like to cook, I’d recommend giving in a whirl on a nice fall or winter weekend.
You might be wondering about that first photo above. That’s molasses in some sugar because I realized just as I was about to make this dish that we didn’t have any brown sugar. I’ve since remedied this, but after looking up what brown sugar actually is (sugar mixed with molasses), I figured this would be a good workaround. I think it worked out pretty well.
Anyway, I wasn’t familiar with this recipe by name, but it’s pretty similar to others I’ve made. You start off by cooking bacon in your Dutch oven. When it’s done to the crispness of your liking — we like ours nice and crunchy — you then cook onions in the bacon fat. This infuses not only the pungent veggies, but the whole dish with a rich fatiness that plays well with the right ingredients. The beef and spices go into the pot after that followed by flour and then the beer and beef broth. I happened to have a Brooklyn Brewery sampler pack on hand, but I can’t tell exactly which kind I used because that pic is so blurry.
And then you just let it cook for three hours. The recipe suggests putting it in the oven, but I just let it simmer on the stove top and thought the results were delightful. The beef takes on a sweet, tangy quality that made this dish a delight both fresh and as leftover. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the entire opening story before this recipe because if I had, I would have noticed the part about serving this meal over egg noodles which would have really soaked everything up. I’m definitely keeping that in mind for a nice winter meal.
I haven’t tried as many recipes from my copy of Alton Brown’s Good Eats: The Early Years for a few reasons. First, I know the book is based on the chronology of the TV show, but I’m not a big fan of the book’s layout. It makes sense for what it is, but I prefer my cookbooks organized by type of meal or ingredient, that kind of thing. I also get a bit distracted by the overly busy page design. And yet, every time I make something from this volume, it turns out good, so I should probably stop complaining about it.
Sweet And Sour Pork (page 342-3 or this link on FoodNetwork.com, if you want to check it out for yourself) was my most recent recipe attempt and, like most of the others, it turned out really well. As noted in the recipe, the first thing to do is cut up a bunch of pork butt and marinate it overnight, which means this recipe takes a bit more forethought than most. I think I forgot to do this the night before and wound up putting it together earlier the day-of and still had pretty solid results.
When you do get to the actual cooking, Brown suggests using an electric skillet. We happened to have one in our kitchen by way of wedding present, so I used that, but it seems like a pan would work just as well. As per usual, I did a lot of my prep beforehand. My wife had cut up the pineapple earlier in the week, so that wasn’t as big a chore as usual. I then got to work on the onion, celery, carrots and peppers, organizing them together based on when they went into the pan. With that out of the way and a flour dredging spot set up in a pie plate, I was off to the races.
After cooking the pork in the pan, you throw in the onion, celery and carrots. Once those get their cook on, it’s time for the more colorful peppers and pineapple to join the party along with the previously removed pork. At this point in the process I was really struck by how colorful this dish is. You can see it in the pictures, but anything with such bright yellows, greens, reds and oranges has to be good right?
The recipe actually called for an easy-to-make ketchup-based sauce to be added to the meat, vegetables and fruit, but it came out a bit sweet and I figured it would be better as a side sauce. I’m glad I made this move because I put a bit too much sauce on one of my servings and it basically washed out all those great meat and vegetable flavors. Drop some of that mixture on top of some rice — I went with Jasmine — and a drizzle of sauce and you’ve got a plate of food that not only looks amazing but also plays to most of your taste buds.
It’s fairly unusual that I repeat recipes several times in a fairly short period of time. It’s even more unusual that I should do this without writing about it here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. Well, I guess that makes the recipe for Chic Chorizo & Peppers Over Pasta from page 147 of Michele Urvater’s Monday To Friday Pasta fairly unusual then because I’ve made this thing four, maybe five times and it’s evolved to the point where I’ve changed enough elements that I feel comfortable writing it up as my own recipe, but you’ll have to wait until next week to see that! First, I’m going to write about my earlier experiences with this recipe, which I changed right off the bat by using sweet Italian sausage instead of Chorizo. I want to say I tried finding the original, but couldn’t and went with what I thought my family would enjoy. It wound up being a good decision.
I skipped taking photos of some of the more obvious steps like getting the salty pasta water going and cooking the sausage in a pan. Once that’s done, you remove it and place chopped red peppers, mushrooms and onions in the same pan. Cook that mixture for a few minutes and once it looks tender, you put the sausage back in along with two tablespoons of water (which I took directly from the boiling pasta water) and a teaspoon of caraway seeds (which is probably a bit redundant considering you’re using Italian sausage). You cover that for 5-7 minutes and let cook. If you’re timing’s good, your pasta will be done about this time, so you can drain that in the time and return to the pot. When the sausage and veggie mixture is done, drop it into the pan and mix with a half a cup of sour cream. I usually go with low fat sour cream most of the time and did once for this, but I would recommend going with the regular because it holds up better.
You mix all that together and have yourself a dinner that only created a few dirty dishes (a nice little bonus if you cook and clean). This recipe which balances the sweet tanginess of the sausage with the coolness of the sour cream turned out to be a really well balanced meal. Add in my favorite vegetable — mushrooms — and red peppers which have their own unique sweetness and crispness and you have a dish that’s pretty darn delightful.
While flipping through Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson I was absolutely drawn to her Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup recipe (page 82). So far under the spell was I that I ignored two very basic facts: 1) our two-year-old doesn’t do so well with soup and 2) it was just starting to get crazy hot when I made it. Ah well, it turned out to be super good, so who cares? I’d rather sweat through making a really great dish that I can use again later down the line than make one that’s not so good any day.
Like a lot of the dishes I’ve made out of Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge, there’s a lot of prep work involved here. You cut the pork tenderloin up and then mix it with lime, soy sauce, paprika and fish sauce. While that marinates for about 15 minutes, you can cut up the bok choy, start the pasta water and get the other ingredients ready. I couldn’t find the sprouts and skipped the chiles, so there were a few things I didn’t have to deal with.
Then you’re off to the cooking races. The chicken broth goes in its own pot while you start cooking scallions and then the pork. I used a regular pan this time, but think I’ll go with the wok next time just to see how the process differs. Anyway, there’s more cooking and then transferring of ingredients until you wind up with a pot of noodle-y, porky, boy choy-y soup just begging to be eaten.
If you couldn’t tell, I really enjoyed this dish. The tenderloin took on great flavor even with such a short marinade and the broth had that great saltiness to it that actually made me excited to eat leftovers the next few days. I will definitely make this dish again, but most likely when it’s a bit cooler outside.
Thanks to my lack of posting, I’ve got quite a few folders packed with images of great looking food on my desktop just waiting to find their way to the internet. Hopefully I’ll get to all of them — or at least the ones that tasted great as well — but in the meantime, I wanted to make sure and write about the recipe for Pasta With Pancetta, Parsley & Peppers from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Kitchen (page 194). This recipe is not only wildly easy to put together but also doesn’t require too too much work and has really tasty results. The only recipe note I’ll make is that I doubled the recipe to serve four instead of two.
As far as prep goes, this one’s super easy. You get your water-for-pasta on the burner and then start cooking the pancetta in oil. Once those are nice and cooked, you throw in the red pepper flakes (I probably cut the amount down because we’re not great fans of RPF), lemon zest, lemon juice, a few tablespoons of water. While that cooked I took Nigella’s suggestion and drained the jars of roasted red peppers with a strainer and then used my kitchen scissors to chop them up into little pieces (you could also throw them in a small food processor, Magic Bullet or what have you).
After the lemony mixture cooked with the pancetta, I tossed in the peppers as well as half the parsley. As the pasta was getting close to done I fished out a cup of pasta water (I always just use my Pyrex measuring cup with a pour spout on the end of it for this). When the pasta was finally done, you drain, toss with the pepper-lemon-pancetta sauce and add in the last of the parsley. Bingo bango, you’ve got dinner.
The recipe is very simple, but it’s actually got a lot of complexity to it as the saltiness of the pancetta mixes with the acidic lemon juice and the sweetness of the roasted peppers and the crunchy bitterness of the parsley. That’s a lot going on with each ingredient really pulling its weight. I think I’ve made this recipe two, maybe three times since getting the book back in December, so it’s become a pretty big, easy favorite that I think will actually be a pretty easy one to make when it really starts heating up this summer.
As regular readers of the blog might have realized by this point, I cook a lot more than I actually write about food. As it happens, Monkeying Around The Kitchen gets pushed to the wayside when I get swamped with work or just don’t feel like sitting under the computer any more, but I still make time to cook about five times a week. I keep a folder on my desktop of images organized as best I can, but even with so many images and saved recipes, I can’t always remember how the things I cooked turned out, especially if I few a few somewhat similar things within a short period of time. That’s the case with these two recipes I’m talking about now, Sage-Garlic-Brined Pork Chops from Rhulman’s Twenty (page 29) and Food Network’s Pork Chops With Roasted Kale and Walnut Pesto.
Above you can see the brined chops. I remember putting that brine together, frying them and that picture sure looks pretty, but I just can’t remember what they tasted like. I want to say I liked them because, well, I love lemon and capers but I can’t say for sure. Around this time I also made some parmesan pork chops that were incredibly tasty. I think that memory might have knocked this one out of my brain.
Meanwhile, there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the Food Network recipe, but the chops themselves weren’t particularly interesting. You’re just cooking them in oil with some salt, pepper and rosemary sprinkled around. They weren’t bad by any means, just not overly memorable. However, I was a fan of the kale and walnut pesto recipe included therein. I love how versatile pesto turns out to be and enjoy trying new takes on the classic. I don’t remember eating these as leftovers, but I do remember combining the rest of the pesto with some leftover pasta that I whipped up one day and wound up having a nice little lunch for myself.
One of the greatest things about getting into wok-based cooking is that, once you buy many of the key ingredients, you’ve already got a lot of the basics to make future dishes. That’s a nice bonus because sometimes things happen and you either have to completely scrap a meal or can’t get to the grocery store and just have to work with what you’ve got. A few times now I’ve turned to my copy of Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge and the recipe for Peppery Vegetarian Rice (page 256) and used that as a basis for dinners that have turned out pretty good. The basic idea of this recipe is that you cook a few eggs in your wok, put them aside and then cook up some carrots and other vegetables before mixing in the rice, a few other key ingredients and then have yourself a nice dinner. Luckily, I’ve always got carrots on hand, so this is usually a pretty easy one to put together. The real beauty of this recipe is that you could pretty much use whatever veggies you happen to have on hand and, as long as you’ve got some rice, wind up with a pretty tasty dish.
I think it’s good to drop in a vegetarian meal about once a week or so. I have noticed, though, that those dishes tend not to go as fast as some of the other leftovers. I’m not sure what it is, but those kinds of meals — or at least the ones I’ve made — tend to be pretty good on the first day but don’t look so appealing after that. That was the case with Nigella Lawson’s South Indian Vegetable Curry (also seen on page 154 of Nigella Kitchen).
The idea behind this dish, which I didn’t really realize until after I bought all the ingredients and then decided to read the intro, is to use up a bunch of vegetables that you might have in your fridge that are getting close to heading south. I guess it doesn’t really matter, but I bought everything new and tossed it into the pot which might have made for more of the dish than we needed.
Anyway, the meal came out well enough. I must admit, I’m not overly familiar with curry. My wife bought some light and dark curry powder when she was over in Sri Lanka, so I know we’ve got some of the good stuff, but I’m a little nervous when it comes to messing around with that particular spice both because I don’t know it very well and partly because I don’t want to waste it. Like I said, it was good the first time around, but that yellow and green bowl of mush didn’t look super appealing sitting in the fridge. I probably didn’t give it enough of a shot, but I don’t know if I’ll be returning to this one…unless I have a bunch of veggies I need to cook before they go bad.
A while back I found myself wanting to try some London Broil along with a nice salad, so I took to my copy of Ruhlman’s Twenty, looked around and came out with a pair of recipes to try. First off, I found Rip’s Own Marinade For London Broil (or Flank Steak) on page 294. This recipe combines the meat with soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, ginger and onion powder and lets it all get to know each other in a bag or dish for several hours. I also came across his Warm Arugala Salad With Back & Poached Eggs on page 283 which, just from title alone, sounded delightful.
While the marinade wound up being not exactly what we were looking for — it’s been a while, but I think it turned out a little sweeter than my wife or I tend to like — I’m a big fan of this salad and think it could work either on its own or as a side dish to a less protein heavy main course. Plus, the salad is super-simple to put together. The only real work involves making the making, cooking a few eggs over easy and making a really simple vinegar-based dressing. It wound up being kind of like a breakfast salad with the combination of bacon and eggs, but the slightly bitter arugala also got in on the action, making this easy side stand out even more.
One of the few recipes that I cook on a regular basis is Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato Sauce With Onion & Butter. In fact, it’s one of the first dishes I ever wrote about online. It’s so good and only requires four ingredients: pasta, canned tomatoes, butter and onion. I double the recipe to get a lot more sauce because I’m that big of a fan.
One thing that’s always bugged me about the recipe, though, is that you toss the onions after cooking for 45 minutes. I still did it, but I wondered if there might be something else to do with it. Then, after making Nigella Lawson’s Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce and I decided to take one of her techniques and use it with this recipe.
Lawson called for celery, carrots and onion to be tossed in the food processor and given a whirl, I figured I’d take that idea and use it with this recipe (I used two onions, two carrots and two celery stalks. Yes, it ups the ingredient list from four things to six, but I’m sure you would have just as much success just whirring the onions instead of all three veggies. When I first tasted the results, I was worried because it tasted very onion-y, but after simmering for the requisite 45 minutes, that flavor mellowed out and combined well with the other ingredients. I think I might have actually made a great recipe even better!
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’ll write down the ingredients for a recipe without really processing them beyond the yes/no “do we have this in the house” stage. That was kind of the case when I decided to make Alton Brown’s recipe for Curry Chicken Pot Pie which I came across in Good Eats Volume 1 (page 380), but is also available on Food Network’s website. It’s not that there was anything wrong with this particular recipe, in fact the results were quite good, but I realized while thawing out both puff pastries and a vegetable medley that the intent for this dish probably wasn’t making from ingredients you purposefully bought for this dish, but instead of things you had around the house either partially or in full. Why else would a fresh food proponent like Brown suggest such a recipe?
Anyway, like I said, I still walked away with a wonderful dinner to feed my family, but I’m sure there was a fresher alternative — maybe that’s what his Chicken Biscuit Pot Pie is supposed to be, now that I think about it, there’s no reason you couldn’t throw some curry in that dish.
I followed the recipe as written, but also had to cook a few bone-in chicken breasts which made for a bit more work than I originally thought. Aside from that, though, this dish requires some prep and then lots of throwing the next batch of ingredients in the pot before putting everything in a baking dish, topping with puff pastry and cooking in the oven.
The curry really makes this dish something special, turing the pot pie-esque dish of poultry, veggies and gravy into something that feels a little exotic and deeper tasting.
How can you not at least stop and read a recipe called Toad In The Hole? That’s what happened to me while looking through Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Kitchen and landed on page 452 (you can also check it out on her website here). I saw the picture of an overflowing bread-thing, then read the name and was already in even before I discovered the main protein in the dish is sausage!
The beauty of this recipe is how simple it is. You mix up the batter ingredients and then cook the sausage. Instead of getting sausage in cases, removing them from the cases and then making patties, I simply bought the loose variety and cooked it without forming in the pan. Once that was all done, the batter got poured in and the whole pan went into the oven. Bingo bango.
While that cooked, I whipped up an onion gravy the recipe of which was on the same page but doesn’t seem to be on her site. All you need to do for this is cook two finely sliced onions in oil for 10 minutes before adding two teaspoons of sugar and letting cook for another 3 minutes. At that point, add in four teaspoons of flour, two cups of beef broth and a few glugs of red wine (I had merlot).
As Lawson says in the intro to the recipe, this makes for a perfect weekend meal because it doesn’t take too much work and it’s super filling, rich and tasty. I liked how the loose sausage really integrated into the entire bread aspect of the dish and would recommend going for that if you’re trying the recipe. I like sausage patties for breakfast, but if you want the best distribution, try loose.
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.
For 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.
Sometimes you’re just so excited to jump into a new cookbook that you don’t fully read the recipe correctly. That’s what happened with me and Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Kitchen. I came across her recipe for Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce (page 44) and was immediately interested. When I noticed a note towards the end that suggested making her Arugala & Lemon Couscous (page 90) I started making that as well without fully reading that paragraph or really thinking much about what I was doing. What Lawson suggests in that graph is serving the prepared meatballs and sauce over the couscous, not in addition to. The way I did it, we wound up having a lot of pasta in one meal, but that’s okay every now and then.
One of the most interesting aspects of this sauce recipe was a method Lawson uses where you blend celery and onion into a paste and use that in the sauce instead of the usual diced or chopped variety. This seems like a good way to do this that saves on a little prep time and makes for a less chunky sauce (if that’s what you’re going for). I think I’m going to try this the next time I make Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato Sauce With Onion and Butter, which just so happens to be on the menu tonight!
From there you’ve got pretty standard sauce and meatball-making techniques (this is the first time I used my Kitchenaid meat grinder attachment for turkey, but it worked great). Another aspect of this recipe that I like is that you don’t bake the meatballs or cook them on the stove, you just put them all in the sauce while it simmers on the stove top. One thing that did surprise me about the recipe and I think made for a weaker sauce than I usually like is that it calls for a can of water. That seems like a missed opportunity for something that could add more flavor. I think next time I make this recipes I’ll use tomato sauce or V8 juice or something along those lines to bolster the sauce a bit.
The couscous is super easy to make. You get some chicken broth boiling and while cooking the couscous in another pot in some olive oil. Once the broth is boiling you pour it over the couscous, cover and let sit for ten minutes off the heat. Once that’s done you throw it in a bowl with some arugala along with lemon zest, lemon juice and some salt and pepper. This makes for a nice, clean, zingy side dish.
My wife and I both agreed that the meal would have been close to perfect had I forgotten about the pasta (it was too late in the process when I realized how much starch I was preparing) and just served the sauce and meatballs over the couscous. Since everything was on the same plate, they wound up mixing and the citrus-y zest of the couscous played very well off of the tomato sauce and turkey.
I’ve said in previous Wok This Way posts how surprised I’ve been by the ease I have cooking in the wok. Depending on how I’m feeling a particular day that can either be a good thing or a bad thing. If I’m really looking for a challenge or to try something different, it falls on the negative side of things, but if I want to make something really simple but also always tasty, it’s a good thing. When flipping through my copy of Grace Young’s Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge I came across her recipe for Barbecued Pork Lo Mein (page 273). While reading through the ingredients, I saw that I would need some Chinese Barbecued Pork which took me to page 285 and another recipe. I figured the multiple day process would make for a more interesting dish.
Of course, because I’m still less than a novice when it comes to cuts of meat, I got the wrong kind of pork. Instead of getting shoulder or butt I wound up with Blade Steak. I can’t remember now if it’s because they were out of shoulder or what, but that’s just what went down. Anyway, you rub sugar over the cubed up pork and then get it in the marinade which includes soy sauce, hoisin sauce, dry sherry, beans sauce, sesame oil, white pepper and honey. Once that’s all combined, the marinade goes into the fridge. The next day you broil it. If you’re doing shoulder there’s a whole rack system involved and water, but since I was using a different cut and don’t actually have all the necessary equipment, I just cooked my pieces on a foil-lined baking sheet and everything turned out fine.
The actual cooking of the main dish actually takes a lot less time than all that. I was pleased to discovering my grocery store carries both Chinese round noodles and packages of bean sprouts, so I picked up the appropriate amounts and felt like this one turned out a little bit more authentic than it might have otherwise. I liked the candy-like quality of the pork which popped in different bites along with the noodles and firmer bean sprouts. Next time I’m going to get the right kind of pork though, I even know where it is at the store now!
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!
The last thing I made for Second Christmas was French Onion Soup. It also happened to be the most complicated and worrisome of the group because you basically cook these onions for hours until they get to the right color. Because of the long cook time I was worried that I might let them cook too long or not enough, but thankfully I seemed to get it dead on and we had our French Onion Soup!
But, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. The recipe itself from Ruhlman’s Twenty is called Traditional French Onion Soup (page 75) actually comes with pictures which was really helpful for such a long-form dish. One thing I didn’t mention in the other posts is that I went for a solid no-meat meal because my mom is a vegetarian. When I mentioned I was making FOS, she asked about the beef broth and I told her it didn’t have any. I hadn’t read the full description of the recipe, but Ruhlman writes that a lot of FOS recipes call for broth, but that’s not how it was made in France where poorer houses wouldn’t use more-expensive broth when you can get a solid flavor from just cooking onions in a tablespoon of butter.
Of course, the key to this dish is the onions. I sliced up almost a full bag of white onions on the mandolin which was faster than cutting them by hand, but still felt kind of clunky. Anyone, those went into the Dutch oven with a tablespoon of butter and cooked for about four hours. After you get to the right shade of amber, you add in the water, taste and then alter with vinegar, salt, pepper and sherry to get the flavor you want. Then you put your dried-out bread on top and the cheese (I actually used the Emmenthaler shown in the post about Mac & Cheese from the same meal), pop that under the broiler and have FOS a few months later. I actually thought it wound up being a little sweeter than I usually like, but as a whole I thought it wound up being a really good dish. The whole meal might have had a lot of cheese and onions, but I think it worked well together! Happy belated Second Christmas!
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.
I know it’s well past Christmas and even our Second Christmas (celebrated with my parents a few days before New Year’s Eve), but I made a pretty great series of dishes for that meal and wanted to both share them with everyone and post so I remember how well they turned out. I don’t usually cook for more people than my wife and daughter, an experience that’s almost always super casual, but it’s fun cooking for more people every now and than. Actually, when we move into a house I’m looking forward to having people over and actually doing dinner for larger groups, but that’s not really the point of this post, is it?
Anyway, as I mentioned in another post, my wife got my Michael Ruhlman’s Ruhlman’s Twenty so I put my new book to good use and came up with three dishes that not only complimented each other well but allowed me to prepare them throughout the day so as to not put too much pressure on me at any one point. While I worked on all three dishes concurrently, I”m going to break them up by dish and try to remember which parts I did ahead of time.
We started off with Leeks Vinaigrette (page 211) which was incredibly easy to prepare. The first thing I did was prepare the four hard boiled eggs the night before. On the day, it was all about the leeks and dressing. You actually prepare the leeks ahead of time by cutting off the green parts and then slicing them in half, but not cutting through the very end, so they stay together when steaming. The steaming only takes about 10 minutes and then you put the leeks in the fridge until you need them.
I also prepared the ingredients for the dressing ahead of time too. For the dressing, I put the vinegar, mustard and honey in a bowl and also got the shallots in the Magic Bullet container and then popped them in the fridge as well. When it came time to actually get the salad ready right before dinner, I moved the stuff from the bowl into the food processor, added the remaining ingredients, whirred the shallots in the Magic Bullet, chopped up the hard boiled eggs (white and yellow parts separately) and then prepared the salad. You cut the leeks at this point, put one half on a plate, add the vinaigrette and then put both kinds of egg and green onions on top.
I’m not usually a big fan of hard boiled eggs, but I thought they added an interesting texture to this first course. With the dressing and the faintly onion-y flavor of the squishy leek, it was a really solid, simple and interesting salad to kick our dinner off with.
Hi folks, sorry about the lack of posting lately, but I was busy with Christmas, Second Christmas and New Year’s. We went to New Hampshire to visit my wife’s parents for Christmas, then had my parents at our house for what we like to call Second Christmas (it doens’t really matter when you spend the holidays, after all) and then New Year’s Eve and Day. In addition to spending quality time with family, I also got a good deal of cooking related Christmas gifts that I’m excited to use.
I actually asked for Michael Ruhlman’s latest book Ruhlman’s Twenty last year, but it was sold out everywhere. My wonderful wife didn’t have the same problem this year, getting me that along with his other book Ratio. I chose these books not only because I like Ruhlman in general (he’s a fellow Ohioan), but also because he’s trying to get readers to understand how food works and why it does with these books. I’ve already made three things from Twenty and hope to get through Ratio by the spring.
On that same token, I also wanted to get my hands on Alton Brown’s first Good Eats book. I’m a big fan of his show and how he explains the science behind cooking. I use plenty of his recipes as posted on FoodNetwork.com, but I also like to have the book on hand for deeper explanations. The cool thing about these books is that, while they might be a little busy, they act as cookbook, scrapbook and source of extra information which I like. I’ve got a few things from this book marked for cooking in the near future.
My parents, who got me Brown’s book, also got me a meat grinder that attaches to our Ktichenaid mixer. I’m pretty excited about this because it means I won’t have to continue rolling the dice on ground meat at the grocery store. The more I read about things like pink slime, the less I want to even deal with Big Meat. I’m hoping to find a local butcher this summer and really get hooked into that world.
My inlaws also got in on the food-related giving season. My mother-in-law picked out a nice apron/pot holder/hot pad set that will be nice as I current work apron-less and have gotten sauce and splatter on more than one shirt. She also snagged a wooden, covered salt bowl for me. I’ve been using a large white one that’s got a large front opening for a while now. I love the easy access, but it’s hard to clean and a little unwieldy. With this new one, it’s just as convenient, but easier to protect from flying debris by simply swinging the latch shut.
This one’s more of a gift for myself. While perusing Barnes & Noble for a wall calendar yesterday, I stumbled upon Nigella Kitchen. I’m not super familiar with Nigella Lawson, but what I’ve heard has all been good. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good deal and this $35 book was marked down to $10, so I figured it would be worth checking out after an in-store flip through.
Now it’s time to get cooking!
I really enjoy reading Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook because the recipes sounds really interesting and I’m a fan of Bourdain’s. However, there’s a lot in there that isn’t super practical when trying to figure out what to make in any given week. Still, I try looking around stumbled upon a recipe for Salade D’Onglet (page 123) that I didn’t quite nail, but think will make for a good dish to work on moving forward.
Ingredients wise, the list is pretty basic, mostly things I was able to find at my grocery store. I didn’t have dark veal or chicken stock around (need to make some more chicken stock), so I used the stuff I had from the store. The real problem, though was that I could not find onglet or hanger steak at my grocery store. I probably could have asked the butcher, but I’m kind of on a time crunch when I get our food, so I wound up settling for a beef round Swiss braising steak. I have no idea how close that was to what I was supposed to get.
I also didn’t quite get the timing down for this one. Things have been a little crazy around here lately so, I didn’t get the meat marinating over night, but I did get four or five good hours in which he said would work. Aside from that, though, this is a pretty simple and easy meal to put together, it just has a fair amount of working parts when you take into account the marinating, sauce and dressing making and putting everything together. Still, it’s pretty easy.
I think I might have cooked my sauce a little too long or added too much soy sauce in one of the steps because the finished product turned out a little salty. Not, spit everything out on the plate salty, but still maybe a little too salty. Like I said, I’ve got some work to do to really nail this the next time, but I’m willing to try again.
Even though I wrote about mac and cheese yesterday and I’m writing about a pasta dish right now, I actually try to keep my weekly menus to only one pasta dish per week. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it’s a general rule I go by. Of course, that makes it tough to come up with meals in the winter because all I really want to do is eat pasta with awesome sauce and soup and I can’t make soup because the baby doesn’t have a handle on that skill set just yet.
The particular pasta dish I chose a few weeks ago came from the Monday To Friday Pasta book by Michele Urvater. It’s called Burgundy Steak With Penne (page 134), though I used bow ties because I find them to be more festive. All you need to make this dish are carrots, mushrooms, an onion, oil, thyme, red wine, beef broth and rib eye or sirloin steak (I think I went with sirloin). I had most of the ingredients in my pantry and fridge so I only had to pick a few things up, which I like.
I also like how simple this dish is to put together. I got the pasta water going then worked on cutting up the vegetables and then the meat. You cook the veggies first, then add in the wine, herbs and whatnot. The meat goes in next and, really, that’s about it. Once the pasta is done, mix it all together and you’ve got yourself a meaty, veggie-filled, burgundy dish that I liked very much and would like to have again soon.
I’m a strong believe in the power of bacon. It’s such a delicious ingredient that it can elevate a boring dish or make an already awesome dish, like chili, even better. As such, when I was flipping through my copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook and saw her recipe for Coq au Vin (page 286 or here), which is basically a pot roast but with chicken instead of beef and bacon. Plus, you cook it in a pan an not in the oven. But, aside from all that, it’s pretty much the same idea.
The only changes I made to the recipe were using boneless chicken breasts instead of miscellaneous poultry parts and I didn’t have the materials for a bouquet garni, so I just used dry spices from my spice rack. I know, I know, it’s not super French to do any of that, but what are you gonna do?
Oh, I also cooked the bacon after chopping it up instead of doing the pieces whole and then breaking them down. Again, this is just easier for me, I don’t know if there’s a downside, but I haven’t hit one yet. Before chopping that up, I peeled and cut the carrots and also got the flour mixture ready (I try to do veggies and whatnot before meat for obvious contamination concerns).
With that done, the bacon pieces went into the pan. After they were browned and done, I got them out then dipped the chicken in the flour mixture and got the pieces cooking in the bacon fat. The recipe says you should move them to one side and then cook the thawed pearl onions and mushrooms, but I just mixed everything together and let them get together. You then add in the rest of the ingredients and let it all cook together for a while.
I was really impressed with this dish. Sometimes I’m not sure about making international dishes from the Betty Crocker book because they might not have the original balance of spices and herbs, but this dish turned out to be pretty great, though whether or not it’s traditional Coq au Vin, I have no idea. But, the combination of bacon, pan fried chicken, pear onions and herbs was a delightful one. I’ll definitely give this recipe another whirl or two during the cold winter months ahead.
Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without the sides and desserts. I’ve already talked about brining and cooking the turkey, making breakfast and preparing the stuffing, but that’s not all we had. My mom made her famous mashed potatoes that I just can’t go through a Thanksgiving without. Em also made a recipe that we got from FoodNetwork.com called Brussels Sprouts Gratin that was super good and will probably find its way into my regular vegetable side rotation.
Em also tackled the pies, but took care of them the night before, so they were good and done and ready to go when we were done eating. She made Smitten Kitchen’s Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie which was a pretty fun twist on the traditional pie (it includes canned candied yams) and a family recipe for Pecan Pie. She also made cranberry sauce as well, something that I’m still not sure how I feel about (not a big cranberry fan).
Lastly, I made some gravy using the Betty Crocker Cookbook (page 442) that allowed us to utilize our brand new gravy separator. I’d never used one of these things before, but they’re pretty handy. Not sure if I’ll use it for anything other than Thanksgiving, but it’s not like it takes up that much space.
And there you have it, that’s how our Thanksgiving went down. I’ve said this before, but I’m not the world’s biggest fan of turkey. Still, I thought the brine made for a very moist and flavorful turkey. I love those mashed potatoes, as always, and was pleasantly surprised with how interesting and good the stuffing tasted. Even the side dish we found at the last minute wound up being a real winner, so all in all I’d say we hit Thanksgiving out of the park. Thanks to Em for being an awesome cooking partner and my folks for coming and enjoying themselves and our food!
Much like the recipe I initially chose for pumpkin pancakes, the one I chose for stuffing wound up being all kinds of wrong for what we were eating. It didn’t help that I somehow missed several ingredients on that original recipe. Worried, I turned to my Betty Crocker’s Cookbook and came across the very simple and easy-to-make recipe for Bread Stuffing (page 280).
As you can see from the pictures, the recipe is pretty simple and luckily fit in our bird with some left over that I set aside in a separate container for my mom who is a vegetarian. The only deviation I made from the recipe here was using Pepperidge Farm Honey Oat bread instead of white bread (which we never have in the house anyway). I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here, but that added sweetness really brought out some great flavors with this stuffing and I’d recommend giving it a try next time you’re looking for something to stuff your bird with.
This was another pretty simple wok recipe to throw together and the results were something I’d never had before. Most of the work involved in making Five-Spice Chicken With Sugar Snaps as seen on page 120 of Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge revolved around getting the chicken ready. Instead of the thighs suggested in the recipe, I went with breasts as I always do. I chopped those up and then mixed it together with ginger, soy sauce, honey, cornstarch, sherry and five spice powder. I also mixed together chicken broth, ketchup and soy sauce. Aside from that, all you have to do is clean the peas. I’m not sure if I got sugar snaps or some other kind of peas to be honest. I have much to learn about peas.
From there, it’s a matter of tossing things in the wok in the right order. The chicken goes in first, cooks a bit and then gets put on a plate. Then the peas go in, the chicken rejoins the party along with a few other things and you’ve got dinner. Instead of rice, which my wife says is poisonous now (not really, but kinda), I got lucky and had a few nests of egg noodles in the pantry that I prepared as well.
I’ve used Chinese five spice before, but never as such a central part of the dish. There was a nice sweetness coming through from the honey and then that distinct mixture of peppercorns, star anise, fennel, cinnamon and cloves (the quintet of spices that make it up).
I’ve made peace with the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of challenge in wok cooking (at least that I’ve come across in my limited experience) and have embraced the simplicity and general high quality of the finished meal. Because the recipes tend to be very similar, they also offer plenty of room to change things up when it comes to cooking. Take this recipe for Hong Kong-Style Mango Ginger Turkey from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 124). I actually didn’t have chicken thawed out, but did have some turkey breasts, so I cut those bad boys up and used them instead. I thought it wound up a pretty good combination. I also had a half box of orzo in the pantry from when I made Smitten Kitchen’s Baked Orzo with Eggplant & Mozzarella, so instead of rice, I cooked that up and threw it in at the end to finish cooking.
I’m not great and knowing when some fruits are ripe or not. When it came to the mango in this one, I decided to buy two just in case which turned out to be a good call. The first one I tried to cut up came out super smooshy, but the second offered up better slices. I still used the mush, but wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much yield had I only bought the squishier one.
I don’t make a lot of dinners that incorporate fruit like this, but I thought the subtle flavor of the mango worked well with the crunch of the green peppers and the velvet chicken, which you soak in a mixture and then throw in a boiling pot to cook for a few minutes. I wound up using that same pot to cook the orzo, so it worked out pretty well and I only dirtied a few dishes.
I love making soup, you guys. It’s one of the reasons I like fall so much, spending some time with a pot, some stock, vegetables and usually meat all mixing it up together on my stove. What’s not to like? Well, a lot if you’re a baby, apparently. As the weather turned cooler a few weeks back, I got really excited and broke out my copy of The Ultimate Soup Bible and started checking out new recipes to try. One week I made Cauliflower Cannellini & Fennel Soup (page 221) which you can see above and the next I made Mediterranean Sausage & Pesto Soup (page 327) which is below. Neither blew my mind, but they were both good soups that made me feel warm and full, which is pretty much my criteria.
But, as I mentioned above, babies aren’t the biggest fans of soup. Even Lu, who’s gotten really good with her tiny utensils, didn’t find much to get excited about when presented with a mini bowl of soup. It’s something I didn’t even think of in my rush to get soup-ed up, but it either doesn’t look appetizing to her or she really wants to eat it herself which will just lead to a huge mess on our hands. I’m bummed out, but I’ve put soup on the backburner as far as meal planning goes for the time being (puns!).
After spending all that time making my own tomato pulp, I put that pulp to good use by making some Salsa A Pomodoro and Salsa Alla Bolognese from Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking (pages 4 and 10 respectively). Since I’ve already written about making the Pomodoro sauce (your basic red sauce), I’m going to skip another post on that one, though this time around I froze it all. I did use the Bolognese sauce that day though and actually just thawed out the rest last night for a quick and easy Sunday night dinner. The Bolognese is pretty similar, but it’s a bit heartier and includes some mixed veal, beef and pork which I got in a meatball/meatloaf mix from my local grocery story.
The recipe features carrots, onions, celery, garlic, re-hydrated mushrooms, prosciutto, red wine, parsley, marjoram, salt, pepper, nutmeg, flour, my homemade beef stock and the aforementioned tomato pulp. It’s actually a surprisingly easy recipe that doesn’t involve a ton of work, though you do need over an hour to let it cook and then simmer.
The end result was a great combination of meat and red wine all formed together with the vegetables and spices making for the kind of sauce that felt primal when I ate it. I got the feeling while eating that sauce that it was the kind of thing people have eaten for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. That’s a pretty cool feeling, especially when you made most of the ingredients yourself.
A couple weeks back, while on the way home from a weekend trip to New Paltz, we stopped by a great farm stand and I walked away with a box full of tomatoes for $10 with a mind set towards making some homemade red sauce based on the recipes in Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking. The first step for all that is making what’s called Polpa Al Pomodoro (page 4), so I got to work on that. Even though I made a much smaller version of this and wrote about it here on the site, I figured it was worth a post writing about doing so on a much larger scale.
I tried to set myself up well which meant putting the box of tomatoes next to the stove where a pot of water was boiling. Across from that I had a cutting board where I would get the skin off, halve them and then squeeze the insides out into the sink. I then put the squeezed tomato halves into two large glass containers. Once I got all that done, I moved the halved tomatoes back over to the cutting board and chopped them up before putting some of the chopped tomatoes into a strainer before storing them in those same glass containers.
With so many tomatoes this took a couple hours. At the suggestion of my wife, I scored the bottom of the tomatoes (cutting an X in the skin) which made getting the skin off so much easier. I’d put as many tomatoes in the boiling water as I could fit — only for about 10-15 seconds — but I still got backed up and had to go from that to peeling and halving and then back again. I’m sure there’s a better way to do all this, but I wasn’t sure if it’d still be easy to get the skin off if the tomatoes cooled down too much.
Anyway, this system worked for me in our limited space and I got a pretty good yield. I was able to make two different sauces (posts coming soon) and even freeze some of the basic pulp for later, so I’d say that was a success!
I got a little burned out on cooking with the wok a while back and it’s been sitting in a cabinet since then. I recently got it back out, re-seasoned it and got back to working with it. It might not be a super challenging cooking method, but I do like how quickly the meals come together with not a ton of work. So, I got my copy of Grace Young’s Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge and settled on Sit-Fried Cumin-Scented Beef with Vegetables (page 72), though I did have to alter a few things. First off, I went with some stew beef instead of flank steak because of the $6-8 price difference. I also didn’t fry the beef like the recipe says because our candy/frier thermometer broke and I hadn’t replaced it just yet. I also left out the red pepper flakes because I still haven’t figured out how to not burn my face off with them at random bites (something the baby isn’t a fan of).
The prep for this one was pretty simple. The beef was already chopped, so that went right into a bowl with the cornstarch, soy sauce and cooking sherry. I then cut the cherry tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots and green onions for later use. Instead of frying the beef, I cooked it like I’ve done several other times with the wok, by spreading it out into one layer on the wok and letting sit for a minute or so before stir-frying.
Once the beef was cooked, I removed it and got cooking first the garlic, then the vegetables in some peanut oil. The cumin went on followed soon after by the beef and green onions. I decided to serve this one on egg noodles instead of rice, so I had the water going the whole time and had them both done around the same time.
The recipe was pretty tasty and actually reminded me of the Cauliflower with Tomatoes side I’ve made and really enjoyed several times. You add beef to that along with soy sauce and the other trappings of wok cooking and you’ve got a nice little meal for yourself. Some day I’ll return to this recipe and actually fry the beef and see how that goes.
I’ve talked a lot lately about trying to find easy, cool meals to make when the weather gets super hot, like it seems to have been forever. I do my best, but I really like pasta and make it when I can. It was a little cooler when I made this one than the 90s it had been, but it was still hot. Anyway, this recipe from the sometimes dubious Betty Crocker’s Healthy New Choices cookbook (page 103) looked good and simple and turned out to be both, so it was a good choice.
All you’ve got to do is get the pasta water heating up and then throw a can of stewed tomatoes and a jar of roasted red peppers in the food processor. Once that was done, I put some oregano and a few teaspoons of capers right in the sauce. After that, I started cooking the garlic in some olive oil and then dumped in the contents of the food processor bowl. You let that simmer for 15 minutes, drain the penne and you are done.
The problem with this cookbook is that the flavors tend to be a little light which is funny considering herbs don’t cost any calories and should be used a lot more to add flavor. Still, it’s a good base for an easy recipe that doesn’t require you to necesarrily stand over a hot stove. You get things going and can walk away to watch some TV, drink a beer or make sure your one-year-old isn’t stuck under the bed.
Hope everyone had an enjoyable Memorial Weekend. I helped plan for, cook for and throw a birthday party for our one-year-old, took a bit of relaxing time and then helped friends dig mud out of their pool after some flooding last year. I could probably use a three day weekend for my three day weekend, but what are you gonna do?
I would have thought making gnocchi would have been as complicated as my weekend, but it was actually relatively simple (sorry for the clunky transition, it’s been a looooong week followed by a longer weekend). Anyway, a week or two back I was flipping through my copy of Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking and came across his recipe for Gnocchi (page 70). I’ll be honest, I’ve been skipping this book in my rotation lately because so much of it involves making sauces and not only is that time consuming, but winter’ s not a good time to make tomato sauce. It turns out, gnocchi only calls for seven ingredients: potatoes, butter, Parmesan cheese, two egg yolks, flour, salt and boiling water. If you have those things and some kind of sauce, you’re good to go.
You start off by boiling three quarts of aqua and then dropping five or so medium potatoes in there for 30 minutes. While those were bubbling, I decided to whip up a basic pesto sauce without pine nuts (those things are way too expensive). I basically just tossed some basil, garlic, Parm and olive oil in our smaller food processor and was good to go. I also placed six table spoons of butter in a pan on the stove near the boiling water pot, but didn’t not put heat under it. I didn’t want to burn the butter, but figured this would be a good way to melt it without having to worry and I turned out to be right!
Once the potatoes are done in the water, you pull them out and mash them in a pan that’s on the fire to help get rid of excess water. I personally didn’t bother peeling the potatoes at any point, figuring the skin has good nutrients we could use. Once everything was good and mashed, I threw the potatoes in a mixing bowl for my wife’s KitcheAide, used the dough hook and added in the egg yolks and flour. I probably could have done that by hand, but if you’ve got a good tool, use it.
Left with a nice dough ball, I got out my dough cutter which I usually just use to scrape up chopped veggies. I quartered the dough and froze half of it and worked with the other two quarters. I rolled them out on the counter and chopped them into little nuggets with the cutter. There was something in the recipe about rolling the nuggets down a fork to get that ribbed look we all know and love, but I wasn’t quite understanding it until I found the following video on YouTube, which clarified things for me.
So, once I had my nuggets of gnocchi properly forked, it was time to get them in another pot of boiling water. Much like pierogies, you drop these potato concoctions into the boiling water and they’re ready when they float to the top. I must admit, it’s a little hard to tell when something is actually on the top under it’s own powers and not the roiling boil, but I think I got the hang of it. Once they were done, I combined the gnocchi in a bowl with the melted butter and some grated Parmesan.
I thought the gnocchi turned out really good, but the mistake I made was using the amount of butter and cheese for the full recipe when I had actually only made half of the gnocchi. I didn’t realize this until well after I ate a plateful in pesto sauce and came away with the kind of stomach ache that comes from eating overly rich food. That’s when I remembered I essentially doubled the butter. Wah, wah.
This will definitely be a recipe I come back to down the line. As I mentioned over in one of my photo diary posts on The Monkee Diaries, I tried thawing out the frozen dough and making them again but they turned out really watery and gross. Adding in more flour didn’t seem to do anything and the whole thing wound up being a bust. I think what I might do next time is actually make all the gnocchi and then freeze half. Would that work?
You’ll notice in the title that I don’t really commit to the idea that I cooked Beef Chow Fun. That’s because the recipe I used — from page 269 of Grace Young’s Str-Frying To The Sky’s Edge — called for broad rice noodles and bean sprouts, but I could only find thin rice noodles and broccoli sprouts, so I’m not sure if what I actually made is technically Beef Chow Fun.
Aside from those few changes, this recipe went pretty smoothly, though I think I might have used too many noodles. I don’t know if the mixture was really solid along with the sauce and beef. Anyway, this was made the same way as everything else I’ve made in the wok, so there’s not a lot to tell on that end.
I don’t usually like sprouts, but I still enjoyed this meal, it was tasty and reheated well. I must admit, I’m kind of bored writing about wok recipes as it’s pretty much the exact same thing every single time. On the other hand, I like making them because they involve lots of prep and a very short cook time. Even though these things might not be thrilling, I now know enough of the basics to figure out a recipe based on a few things I might have in the fridge or freezer now that I have a pretty good stock of wok-oriented ingredients. Pretty much any combination of meat and vegetables can be done easily and well in the wok, so that’s rad.
Being from Toledo, Ohio from parents who were both from Ohio, I had pretty limited exposure to southern food. We didn’t have a lot of barbecue places around from what I remember, though there are a number of ones in town now. And, as far as I knew, succotash was something only preceded by “sufferin'” in cartoon character exclamations. When I was flipping through the Chicken and Duck Soups chapter of The Ultimate Soup Bible, I stumbled upon a recipe for something called American Southern Succotash Soup With Chicken (page 296) that sounded pretty amazing. Anything with corn, bacon and chicken is aces in my book, so I decided to give it a whirl.
And it turned out pretty fantastic, plus the recipe isn’t all the difficult. You start off boiling some chicken breasts in chicken broth for bout 15 minutes. While those were going, I got to work on prep, chopping up a few strips of bacon, two onions and some parsley. When that was good to go, I started making the base of the soup which involved cooking the onions in butter for a handful of minutes. To that I added the bacon. My wife doesn’t really like squishy bacon in soups, so I tried to get it a little crispier. You then add in some flour to thicken, the hot stock from the chicken (which had been removed after it was done cooking and set aside for chopping) and some corn.
My grocery store didn’t have fresh corn, which was weird because they did a few weeks ago, so I went with frozen. You also add some milk and let that cook for about 15 minutes. Then you add in the cut up chicken, the lima beans and the rest of the milk and you are ready to go. I’m sure it would have been even better with fresh corn, but I think it turned out really well. It was thick and creamy without using cream, which I appreciated, but did have bacon and beans and chicken which all mingled together in a very satisfying and filling meal. Bonus points for being equally good if not better when reheated. Definitely give this one a try when you’ve got a colder day on your hands this summer.
Finding recipes that make sense when it gets really hot out can be super difficult. Technically, cooking anything will heat up your house — especially if you’re working in a smaller kitchen like I am — but I’m also not a big fan of cold food. So, one day last week I decided to bite the bullet and makes something that might heat things up in the house, but come out a little cooler on the other end. I decided on Pasta Estiva from Monday To Friday Pasta by Michele Urvater (page 180) because it involved a lot of nice vegetables like cucumbers, yellow squad, zucchini and tomatoes.
Basically, you get the past going at the beginning and then start chopping veggies. By the way, I forgot to get radishes, so those weren’t involved, but I would be intrigued to try them next time. Once you’ve got everything chopped, you heat a cup of water until boiling and toss in the veggies for a few minutes.
And that’s all folks! There’s a little olive oil and some salt — my wife suggested adding a little more salt when messing around with that many vegetables and no solid sauce just to keep the flavors level — but I really enjoyed the simple, fresh flavors. I imagine you could pretty much toy with this one until you found a veggie combination that works for you, but I thought this particular mix made for a good meal. Anyone ever try it with the radishes? My concern is that they’d make things a little too bitter.
I’ve said a few times before that, so far, my experience with wok cooking has been a lot of the same thing. Lots of prep of vegetables and meat followed by very quick cooking of each element. That was pretty much the case when I made Stir-Fried Cucumber & Pork With Golden Garlic from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 73). The only real difference this time was that I fried some garlic in peanut oil making what the book calls Golden Garlic. I forgot that our candy thermometer broke a while back, so I wound up using the electronic meat thermometer that we have. It didn’t work out super well, but good enough to get the job done.
And, really, that’s it. I cut the cucumber on a mandolin and just followed the recipe as stated. The meal itself turned out well with the Golden Garlic offering a nice bit of crunch amidst the chewiness of the meat and the slickness of the cucumbers. It was nice and fresh and I’ve got no complaints, but I want to really test myself coming up, so be on the look out for that!
I’ve found the two most satisfying meals are the simple ones done really well and the complex ones also done really well. When I made my first batch of pierogies, they took forever but tasted really amazing (didn’t have nearly the same amount of luck the second time around). I experienced the former last week when I tried a pair of recipes in a cookbook we got when we got married called The William-Sonoma Bride & Groom Cookbook. I set out to make Grilled T-Bones With Garlic Butter (page 97) and Tuscan Farro (page 190), but wound up making a porterhouse because that’s what I could find at my grocery store and Tuscan Rice because I have no idea what farro is and looking it up on Wikipedia did not help find it at my local grocery store. It didn’t matter much, this turned out to be a wonderful meal.
The only thing I didn’t prep in enough time was the garlic butter, which I didn’t have down to room temperature when I started. I made up for this by putting the butter on a plate on the stove while I made the other ingredients and had a pretty good amount of luck with that. To the mushy butter, I added four chopped cloves of garlic, some thyme and then a few dashes of Worcestershire and green Tobasco sauce. The recipe says to roll it up in a piece of plastic wrap, but I had zero luck with that and just kind of morphed it as best I could. Didn’t matter, it was still nice and herby.
For the Tuscan Rice, I started off by getting the rice going and then cleaning the broccoli rabe, tossing it with some salt and olive oil and then grilling them on a pair of cast iron grill pans. I’m sure grilling on an actual grill would have gotten better results, but I still thought it went pretty well. Once those were done, I moved the rabe to a bowl and let it cool before chopping. To that I added some more olive oil and red wine vinegar and the rice once it was done cooking.
Between taking the rabe off the grill and the rice being done, I grilled the porterhouse. I actually bought two pretty good sized steaks, but after pulling out the larger one and applying some olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme, I realized that it would probably be enough for my wife and I. I froze the other one for a later date. Anyway, I warmed the larger cast iron to near screaming and then put the steak on. I cooked it for four minutes on one side and five on the other. I tested it with my fingers to make sure it came in at medium.
Boom, it worked out great. The steaks were cooked perfectly, the garlic butter was nice and garlic buttery and the Tuscan Rice was interesting. I’d never had broccoli rabe before and was surprised with the sharp horseradish-like flavor it had. I even warmed it up the next day for another side and it worked well that way too.
Puttanesca is not the kind of pasta sauce I have a lot of experience with. I’ve had it here and there — including on vacation last year — but never actually made it myself. So, when I stumbled upon a recipe for Pepper Puttanesca Sauce in Monday To Friday Pasta by Michele Urvater (page 48), I figured I would give it a shot. And it turned out pretty great. Better yet, it was really easy to make.
To make this recipe all you need is garlic, a few bell peppers (the recipe calls for green, but I got red), some olive oil, 1/3 a cup of kalamata olives, capers, a big can of plum tomatoes (I got whole, but you might as well get crushed because you wind up crushing them anyway) and pasta! The peppers and garlic go into the pot first and cook for a few minutes. While that went down, I pitted the olives. I have an olive pitter, but decided to just use my hands because it was faster. Those went into the pot along with the capers followed by the tomatoes which I drained in a small colander and squeezed by hand.
All that simmered for 15 minutes and then was good to go. I started the water for pasta first, as I always do, so when they were both done, I mixed the pasta in and cooked them through for a bit as I’ve heard is the best way to go. Since I used such big round pasta, the sauce — which is a lot more chunky and less fluid than a traditional one — actually got in there and made for some tasty surprises. What I love most about puttanesca — aside from how easy it is to make apparently — is that salty bite the capers and olives give. It’s a little sweet from the tomatoes, a bit bitter and of course salty, so it had fun with your tastebuds. After a week or two I think I’ll check out my copy of Northern Italian Cooking to see if there’s a recipe in there that sounds like it would be tasty.
I don’t want to sound like I’ve gotten a big head, but I think I’ve really gotten the hang of cooking with a wok. I’ve made a series of recipes, each of which has turned out pretty well and they’ve all formed something of a pattern. Cut up meat, sprinkle with cornstarch and soy sauce, get some veggies ready, lay out your ingredients and get ready for some fast cooking. Aromatics go in first with peanut oil, then meat, which sears for a minute before getting the stir-fry treatment. After that, include the vegetables, maybe a sauce involving soy sauce or fish sauce you’re already prepared and sometimes add in some sugar and salt at the end. Oh and make sure to get your rice or noodles going when you start prepping, otherwise you’re timing’s going to be way off.
That’s pretty much the deal with the recipe for Stir-Fried Chicken With Carrots & Mushrooms that I got from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 134). The only real difficulty here was julienning the carrots, but that was just slightly more labor intensive than usual. I used a mandolin first and then cut them into smaller matchstick like pieces. In the book, author Grace Young mentions a tool called a Kinpira peeler that I might have to look into if carrots became a regular player in our wok cooking. Overall, this was another good recipe, though I would like to find a few with a bit of a different flavor profile. The meats and vegetables really make the flavors, but the base of garlic or ginger and soy sauce tends to make these things blend together in my memory. Still, those are flavors I enjoy, so it’s not really a bad thing.