Cooking Anne Burrell’s Pasta Fagioloi

anne-burrells-pasta-fagioliHey, 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

Cooking Closet Cooking’s Roasted Asparagus & Mushroom Carbonara

You know a recipe must be good if I not only make it twice in the span of 30 days, but also prepare it for a parent visit. That was the case with Closet Cooking’s Roasted Asparagus & Mushroom Carbonara. I saw this recipe while trying to figure out my menu a few weeks back and it jumped right off the page. I love bacon. I love carbonara. I loved mushrooms and I’m pretty alright with asparagus. It also doesn’t use a full package of bacon, which is kind of nice, especially when you’re looking to make that particular protein work for a few different meals.

The prep for this dish is also super simple. You wash, then cut the mushrooms and asparagus, mix them with some olive oil, salt and pepper before putting them in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Since I chopped my veggies into smaller bits than suggested, I kept them in the oven for a bit less time than recommended. With that doing it’s thing, I got my pasta going and cut up the garlic followed by the bacon. While the pork sizzled, I shredded the cheese and combined it with the two beaten eggs plus salt and pepper. Once the bacon is done, you toss in the garlic (I did this instead of removing the bacon as suggested in the main recipe), cook for 30 seconds and then mix with the cooked pasta, roasted veggies and cheese-egg mix.

When I made this the first time, I used boxed pasta, but last night I went full-out and made my own. The only other change I made was throwing in some chopped shallot I had lying around. Either way, you’ve got this great mix of fresh vegetables, smoky bacon and that salty carbonara goodness that solidifies as you mix. Making this meal even better is that fact that it tastes just as good reheated as it did the first day.

Cooking Good Housekeepings Kielbasa Stew

I know what you’re thinking: what kind of fool makes a stew in the middle of one of the hottest New York summers he’s ever experienced? This one, apparently. As I’ve mentioned several times in the past few weeks, we’re working off of a budget lately, so I’ve been a lot more conscious about using up everything I have on hand as far as ingredients go. Last week I happened upon Good Housekeeping’s recipe for Kielbasa Stew in my Big Blue Binder, realized I had almost everything already on hand — I only had to buy the sauerkraut and kielbasa, which was on sale — so I decided to give it a shot.

As far as preparation goes, this is a pretty simple recipe, but you’ve obviously got to have the time to get it together in the middle of the day (or morning depending on if you’re cooking on high or low). I cooked the celery, onion and caraway seeds in a pan and then threw it in the bowl with the cubed potatoes and all the other ingredients. The only change I made was using a pour of apple cider vinegar instead of apple cider because, you know, it’s the middle of summer. With all that together, I put the slow cooker on high and went back about my day.

I’ve got to say, even though I made this on a hot day and it’s a stew, this wound up being a really wonderful meal. The potatoes and chicken stock turned into this creaminess that worked so well with the kielbasa and the added sauerkraut. It all came together for a very German dish that made me think of a soup version of the kind of dog sausage you’d get while walking around NYC. My wife had the genius idea of putting some deli mustard on top, taking up another level of greatness. I will one hundred percent serve this again, though I might wait around until the temperature takes a bit of a dive. I will say, though, that a slow cooker is a great way to keep your kitchen from heating up too much.

I will also add that this was a great dish to make with my three year old helping out. She loves to stir things, so I had her do that and add in the new ingredients as I was done cutting them up. It gets an extra thumbs up for that!

Wok This Way: Damn Delicious’ Pineapple Fried Rice

I continue to have a lot of luck when it comes to making recipes posted over on Damn Delicious. A few weeks back I saw her post this one for Pineapple Fried Rice and wanted to give it a shot. It not only looked tasty with that mix of salty pork and sweet-sour pineapple, but also utilized a few ingredients that were on sale at the grocery store that week: pineapple and pre-cooked ham (the same stuff I used in yesterday’s post). The only change I made to the recipe was skipping the corn and peas because I didn’t happen to have any on hand and must have missed that slug in the recipe when making up my grocery list. I also threw in a red pepper because I did have one hanging out in the fridge.

As you can probably imagine, this was not a very difficult dish to put together. It mimicked many of the previous wok recipes I’ve done and could have also been done in a high-sided pan. This actually reminded me of a bit of Alton Brown’s Sweet & Sour Pork but much easier to put together. The sweet, tangy, saltiness of the dish was just what I was looking for.

One quick warning, though. If you do use the pre-sliced ham like I did, you might get some funky leftovers. My wife noticed it first at work and said the ham got kind of crumbly when heated up a day or two later. It’s almost like it disintegrated, so I’d probably change the kind of ham I use next time or make just as much as I need.

Cooking Arugula Pesto Pasta Primavera Salad

I’ve noticed recently that I’m getting to a place with my cooking where I don’t mind using a recipe as a spring board instead of a by-the-numbers rule book. Part of that comes from being a lot more comfortable in the kitchen and part comes from not reading recipes all the way through before adding the ingredients to my shopping list. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll get to that day’s recipe read it through and realize there’s a major part I missed. In the case of this recipe for Arugula Pesto Pasta Primavera Salad from Hannaford’s Fresh magazine, I didn’t see that a major part of the process involved roasting vegetables in the oven at 450 degrees. I don’t know about where you guys are, but it’s been in the 80s for weeks now here and there’s no way I’m adding to that heat if I can avoid it. So, I decided to sauté my veggies. I also completely forgot the green beans and made homemade pasta for my version.

Aside from making the pasta which is always a time consuming, but rewarding process, this is a super simple recipe to put together that just involves the cutting up of some vegetables, some sauté time and a bit of food processing. To make room in my small kitchen, I made the pesto first. I followed the recipe as written, but wound up with a really bitter pesto from all that arugula. To balance it out, I added about 1/4 more parmesan and the juice of half a large lemon which helped balance everything out.

With that out of the way, it was veggie cutting time. I took my knife to the red pepper, squash, onion and tomatoes before tossing them in a bowl with oil and then popping them in my high-sided pan for sauté time. At this point I also had the water going for the pasta so everything would get done at about the same time for mixing. My timing wasn’t perfect, but everything came together nicely for a solid alternate version of pesto packed with vitamins and nutrients that my family really enjoyed.

Cooking Giada de Laurentiis’s Naked Spring Rolls

While my attempts to make Giada de Laurentiis’ Thai Curry might not have netted the best results, I will say that I had much more success her recipe for Naked Spring Rolls which were both part of the same Thai-themed episode of her Food Network show. It also happened to be a super simple and delicious recipe to put together.

The sauce in the recipe was really easy to put together and doesn’t need much in the way of commentary. I will say that it was tangy and delicious thanks to the combination of lime juice and fish sauce. To augment the dish, though, I also decided to make some sriracha mayonnaise. For this I just squeezed about two teaspoons of the hot sauce into the remaining homemade mayo I had in the fridge after making Banging’ BLTs and Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad which was about a 1/4 of a cup. The only change I made in the recipe was swapping out agave (which I didn’t have on hand) for honey.

With the condiments created, I got to work on the actual spring rolls. As with every other kind of meat, I started out with whole, partially frozen pieces, cut them up and ran them through the meat grinder. Since I was already getting the grinder out, I figured I’d try running the carrot and shallot through there too. It worked pretty well, but there was an intense, tear-jerking blast as the shallot went through. All that went into one big bowl with the other ingredients which got wrapped in plastic and sat for the required 20 minutes.

After that point, I looked at the mixture and realized it was not going to stay together in the oven. So, I grabbed the two ends from our latest loaf of wheat bread, rubbed chunks between my hands to create tiny crumbs and mixed it all together with my hands. I got 15 of the spring rolls out of this and put the foil-wrapped pan under the broiler.

I served these with lettuce leaves, though they’re not super necessary. I dug how this meal came together, but my wife loved it, saying it was one of her top five favorite things I’ve cooked. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but I am a big fan of this dish. It worked really well for us as it was, but could also make for a great party food (if made smaller) or a delicious sandwich. In fact, my only complaint was that the thinner sauce didn’t stick to anything which bummed me out because it was so delicious. If this was a sandwich, though, you could pour that sauce right into the bread to infuse that flavor! Dang, that idea’s so good it makes me want to start a food truck (not that it would take that much cajoling to do that anyway).

Wok This Way: Alton Brown’s Wok-Fried Peanut Butter

Just last week I wrote about how much I enjoy Alton Brown’s various online outlets for food information. One of his most recent YouTube videos really captured my imagination and it was about making your own thick, chunky peanut butter using a wok. I watched it from beginning to end, even though he spoke with a mouthful of his own product through the whole thing which is like nails on a chalk board for me and soon enough tracked down the written recipe over on Brown’s website.

This is a wildly simple recipe that can take a lot of time if you wind up getting peanuts in the shell like I did. No kidding, it probably took me about an hour to get a full pound of shelled peanuts. I would have gone with the non-bagged kind, but that’s all my grocery store had, so I just dove in and got them done in two different sessions. My hands were pretty beat up by the end, but not too bad.

With that done — or if you get shelled peanuts right off the bat — you’re good to go with the actual cooking process. Heat the wok, toss in the peanut oil and then get the peanuts in the pan. I wish I had stirred them more than I did because I wound up getting some pretty burnt nuts in the process. I did my best to pull the worst ones out, but the final product does have a hint of that burned flavor depending on the bite.

After the salting and cooling process, you toss 1/3 in the food processor and remove. The rest go in processor with some honey and salt and get, well, processed for much longer. The resulting butter was quite thick and got even more so when the first third was added back in.

When Brown says in the video that this is chunky PB, he’s not kidding. This stuff has an almost doughlike consistency. When I first saw that I was worried that it might not spread very well, but my wife and daughter, who eat most of the peanut butter in our house, don’t seem to mind and have enjoyed it pretty much every day since. I use it when I make my morning smoothies, and really enjoy the nutty, salty component it adds.

I also really enjoy being able to make something else that sits in our pantry or refrigerator. Peanut butter might actually be one of my favorites because you don’t need to acquire a lot of materials to make it (like stock, say, or tomato pulp) and it doesn’t go bad really quickly like mayo or vinaigrettes. Now I just gotta find a place that sells shelled peanuts that aren’t too expensive!

Rocking In The Kitchen With Wusic

I don’t know about you guys, but I love listening to music or podcasts while I cook. Since I work in a galley kitchen and usually have my laptop on a stool next to the sink and across from the stove. It usually works out where I can just hit play and be entertained. But sometimes cooking is a loud endeavor and my laptop volume only goes up so high, not nearly loud enough to triumph over the sound of the meat grinder or the hood fan. For my iPod we have a speaker dock that works great, but I’ve been looking for something to use when listening to podcasts. After doing a lot of looking around on Amazon, I decided to try out the Wusic Bluetooth Wireless Speaker.blue waterproof wusic

My family got it for me for Father’s Day and I’ve been using it just about every day since either through my computer or my phone. The beauty of this particular speaker is that it’s also waterproof. It’s meant to hang out in the shower with you or near a pool, but that also makes it more resilient in a kitchen where liquids tend to splash and splatter around. This also means you can use the unit’s controls (pause, play, forward, backward, on, off and volume control) with less than clean fingers if need be. wusic in kitchen

As you can see, the unit also comes with a large suction cup on the bottom. This works very well in the shower, but not as well in the kitchen. I tried sticking it to the cabinets which didn’t hold up very well. I had more success placing it on the oven hood, but I don’t want to put it up there if I’m using the oven much. For the most part, I just place it on the counter near where I’m working or in an open cabinet.wusic kitchen set up

Overall, I’ve been really happy with the speaker. It gives me that extra bit of volume in the kitchen and has made my overall cooking experience that much better.

Cooking Michele Urvater’s Classic Italian Bolognese With Homemade Pasta

Sometimes I want to just forget about everything else going on around me and spend a few hours in the kitchen making something I know my family will love. That’s what I’ve done the last few times I’ve made Michele Urvater’s Bolognese Sauce with homemade pasta.

Now that I’m grinding my own meat and making my own pasta, dishes like this one, which are already time intensive, can become multi-hour projects, but sometimes I need that time in the kitchen. In this case there are a lot of moving parts, but if you have some time during the day, it’s not too hard to make this dinner happen.

First and foremost, you need to throw your meat in the freezer for an hour or two. This makes grinding a lot easier. While that’s hardening, it makes sense to get the ingredients for the bolognese sauce ready by chopping up the carrots, onion, celery and garlic. The only alteration I made to this recipe was mixing 1/4 cup of white wine vinegar with 1/4 cup of chicken stock to replace the white wine, which I didn’t have on hand. After grinding the meat and cooking the veggies, you’ve got about 2 hours of simmer time.

With about an hour of simmer left, I start working on the pasta. I’ve tried a bunch of different basic recipes, but the one I’ve come to know and love is the one I found in my 1981 copy of The New James Beard (p. 276) which calls for 3 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and four eggs with some water on hand just in case. Mix all that up in the mixing bowl, knead for a few minutes then let sit for 20 minutes. Everything I’ve read says break the main ball down into four parts, but I’ve had much better luck going down to eight smaller sections. Then run it through the rollers and whichever pasta cutter you want to use. I’ve found that it works best to start boiling water after running all the pieces through the roller the first time. By the time you’re done cutting, your water should be boiling or close to it.

Once your done with your epic cooking session, you’ve got yourself one ass kicking meal. This bolognese is just fantastic, mixing the pancetta’s saltiness with your beef and the vegetables into something truly wonderful. One of these days I’ll actually try it with homemade tomato pasta and fresh plum tomatoes.

One note I do want to make about this recipe in general is that I want to include olives in it next time. I’ve made this particular version twice and both times I found my tongue telling me that there should have been some green olives in there to bring in a sour note. Hopefully, now that I’ve written this post, I’ll remember that for next time.

Making Pasta

For Christmas, my folks got me some pretty awesome pasta-related cooking implements. In addition to the standard KitchenAid attachments (the roller and then the linguine and spaghetti cutters) as well as a ravioli maker. Since then I’ve made pasta four or five times to varying degrees of success. The pictures above — taken by my lovely and awesome wife — are from the very first attempt, though you will definitely see more homemade pasta on the blog than boxed.

The first time I created pasta, I used the simple white flour and egg-based recipe that came in the book with the attachments. It’s a pretty straightforward process that hopefully won’t take too much time to master. Basically, you make the dough using the mixer and then let the dough sit for a bit. After that, you cut the main ball into smaller pieces and then run it through the roller. I did each piece on the 2 setting, set it aside and then went through and did it on the 3 then 4 settings. Once that’s done, you get the cutter out and wind up with your pasta.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Kind of, but not always. The main problem I’ve had in my various attempts is getting the dough recipe down. Pasta dough is supposed to stick to itself, but that’s it. I’ve had dough that’s too dry that I added water to and super sticky dough that I added more flour too. I’m still getting the feel for things, but hope I’ll get to a place soon where I can see what it needs just from looking. I’ve also played with different dough recipes including the one found in Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio.

The dough consistency can be problematic when going through the rolling phase. If it’s too sticky, it gets caught up and won’t go through. If it’s too think, it also won’t go through smoothly and if it’s too dry you’re in the same place. I’ve found that using a ton of flour on my workspace can help with the sticky problem. I also recommend breaking the large ball up into much smaller pieces that you can flatten out either by hand or using a rolling pin.

Since I work in a small, galley kitchen, I found myself struggling to figure out the best way to set up. In these pictures, you can see my kid hanging out on her step stool watching me. Since then, I’ve started putting a TV tray there with either a cutting board or wax paper covering it. I douse that in flour to help keep everything from sticking together. kitchenade pasta makers

Once the pasta is actually cut, I toss it in a pile on whichever floured surface I have at my disposable that’s not already filled. At this point, you want to have your water boiling so you can toss it in. The rule I go by is that, if it floats, it’s done. This was something that took some getting used to for me because I wasn’t sure what fresh pasta was supposed to taste like and therefore wasn’t sure when it was done. But, after tasting the floating noodles, I got the idea, drained and then mixed in with my sauce.

I also want to say that I tried my hand at making semolina pasta just once and it didn’t go so well. I made the dough as the recipe said but found that my dough was way too thick to go through the roller. Fearing I was running out of time to have dinner ready by the time my wife got home from work, I decided to just flatten it out with a rolling pin and cut with a knife and a dough scraper thingie. As you can probably imagine, the noodles were pretty thick, but I think they still turned out pretty well. While things didn’t go as planned, I’m kind of glad this happened because it showed me that I can also do this without a machine if need be. Still, the roller and cutters work WAY faster than going by hand.

As I’ve said when it comes to grinding my own meat (I haven’t bought ground meat in over a year) or making my own sauce (which I regret not being able to do last fall), I know these extra steps take more time and can add a lot more headaches to the meal-making process, but I personally love knowing that I’ve really built the meal from the ground up as much as makes sense.

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 2

Closet Cooking has become one of my major go-to sites when it comes to online recipe resources. I’ve made so many different meals based on author Kevin Lynch’s site that I’m thinking about picking up one or many of his cookbooks. Here’s a few of the recipes I’ve attempted and what I thought about them. For a similar Closet Cooking Recipe Roundup post, click here!

Taco Stuffed Shells

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I’ve been a stuffed shells fan for years, but never really thought about separating that delivery system for fillings from the Italian ingredients I’m used to. I was pretty excited to give this new version of an old classic a shot and it turned out really well. But, I did discover that my mouth and brain kept getting confused BECAUSE I’m so used to these kinds of shells being stuffed with Mexican flavors instead of Italian ones. It was a strange experience because that almost never happens. My brain just couldn’t get past the shape and the presentation the first time around. Maybe I’ll be more ready for it next time, though.

Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup

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Lynch’s Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup is actually very similar to the Thai Chicken Soup I’ve made several times from The Ultimate Soup Bible. I’m becoming a huge fan of Thai flavors and figured this one was different enough to try. The major differences are that you cook the chicken in the boiling soup, add in sweet potato (I used by box grater to shred it up good), there’s more curry paste and I used less lime.  This actually combined for a similar, but different enough dish to add to the collection. Sometimes if I eat too much of the version from the Bible, my stomach gets a little topsy turvy, but that wasn’t the case with this one.

Cauliflower Pepperoni Pizza Casserole

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I’ve had this particular recipe saved in my Pocket for quite a while and finally gave it a shot last week. There’s a version on the site that uses pasta instead of cauliflower, but I was trying to go for a healthier version. The only ingredient change I made came about because I forgot to buy black olives, but otherwise, I put this together pretty much by the book and thought it was a great little dish that combined the greatness of cheese and pepperoni with cauliflower, which I assume is healthy. Plus, it’s super easy to put together. Next time I’d like to make it with homemade sauce and maybe a better pepperoni to see if that makes it even better.

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 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.

Cooking Good Housekeeping’s Thai Chicken & Noodles

A recent issue of Good Housekeeping had a feature where they ran down a series of slow cooker recipes based on cuts of meat that did better being cooked slow and low. One whole section was about chicken thighs, a protein I usually skip over for reasons I can’t quite remember. I read part of the article, though, and it talked about how flavorful they can be, so I figured I’d give them a shot in the form of Thai Chicken & Noodles.

I was drawn to this recipe because it reminded me of Smitten Kitchen’s Cold Rice Noodles With Peanut-Lime Chicken with its peanut, lime and chicken flavors. While this recipe takes some time to get together, it’s pretty hands-off and easy to make. You’ve got to marinate the chicken over night, but then you throw it into the slow cooker with everything else — including coconut milk! — and let it cook for five hours or so. As good as the dish wound up tasting on its own, you’ve definitely got to have some peanuts and limes on hand. They bring the whole thing together. This wound up being a great night-of recipe, but also served us well in leftovers for a few days after that. Can’t ask for much more than that!

Making Ham Salad

ham salad When I was a kid there was a grocery store near our house called Bischoffs (I might be off on the spelling, I’m pretty sure it was a local operation). I don’t remember too much about the place, but I do remember that they had ham salad for sale there and I loved it every time we’d get a container of it. You could either lather it on bread for a sandwich or just eat it straight. But, Bischoffs closed and we wound up going to Kroger and Food Town and a few other places and I kind of forgot about ham salad. Then, in the last few years, I was walking through the deli section of my local Hannaford and saw that they had pre-made ham salad sandwiches which I have partaken in here and there. Aside from that, though, I haven’t really thought about it that much.

That is until a few weeks ago when we came home with a pound or two of the ham my mother in law served for Easter. I’m a fan of heating it up in a pan and eating ham with some eggs, but my wife had mentioned being curious about ham salad, so I looked around for a recipe and decided to try the one called Ham Salad II over on All Recipes. I actually cut the recipe in half and then cut the amount of mayo in half again because a cup of mayonaise sounded a bit much and we’re still watching our calories with the Lost It app. I also skipped the green pepper because I didn’t have one on hand, but that wound up being okay because this version — which I was surprised to find actually went through the meat grinder — tasted exactly how I remember ham salad tasting. Most times when you try to recreate a childhood taste, the new version doesn’t hold up, but that wasn’t the case here. The pickled relish really adds some nice brininess to the ham and then you’ve got the mayo and crispness of the celery which helps bring it all together.

I actually kind of want to get a whole ham just to make more ham salad, which is a little bit crazy. When I first moved to New York and was living with my buddy Rickey, my aunt sent me a really nice Honeybaked Hams spread. We did our best to eat all the ham we could and wound up freezing a bunch of it, but I look back now and my mind races with all the uses I would have had for that protein. I was so young and culinarily ignorant back then!

Wok This Way: MacGyvering Veggie Fried Rice With Egg

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.

Cooking Lentil Sloppy Joes

For me, the fun of cooking is trying out brand new recipes. It’s great returning to old favorites, but I get a much bigger kick out of trying out a new take on those old faves. That’s what I was thinking when I decided to try Food Network’s recipe for Lentil Sloppy Joes. I don’t make Sloppy Joes often, though I did write about them once last year, but I do remember my mom making them when I was a kid, so there’s a soft spot in my heart for the loose meat classic.

This new version isn’t a wild departure from the classic, it just includes some lentils and less ground beef to kind of round things out. Compared to that other recipe I made, though, this one definitely has a lot more veggies incorporated but other than that and the lentils, it’s the same basic process: cook the veggies, add in the liquid and the meat, let cook for a bit and dinner’s served.

While there’s definitely something to be said about going old school with this meal, I like this version as a healthier alternative that gets all kinds of vegetables into the mix. Since my wife and I have been watching our calorie intakes, these sandwiches are a good alternative that packs a good deal of flavor, doesn’t waste too many calories and also helps use up some of the lentils I’ve had in the pantry for quite a while, so that’s a win-win-win!

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ White Bean & Chicken Chili

I’ve made a lot of different kinds of chili and even though I really enjoyed Pat Neelys the first time I made it, there’s always more variations to try out there in the world. While looking through many a Giada De Laurentiis recipe on Food Network’s website (many of which I wrote about last week), I came across her White Bean & Chicken Chili which is so different from what I’ve tried in the past, I just had to give it a shot. In fact, I’ve actually cooked this dish twice since stumbling across it and it’s been a hit both times.

As will be the case for the foreseeable future, I started this recipe by freezing the meat for about an hour, then trimming and cubing it and running the pieces through my meat grinder. I still haven’t looked at the numbers to see if this is cheaper than buying store-ground meat, but it makes me feel better knowing that I did it myself. Plus, my grocery store tends to run pretty good sales on chicken breasts that I take advantage of whenever it makes sense.

From there, this recipe is pretty simple. You cut up some onion and garlic, gather a small pile of spices, drain and rinse off your beans and prepare the Swiss chard. I went with white both times I made it, though I don’t see why red wouldn’t work just as well.

The results after 50 or so minutes of simmering is a dish that tastes both new and familiar. The ground chicken and chard bring their unique flavors into the mix while the corn and spice combination reminds you of the chilies you’ve had and loved in the past. I’d actually be interested in experimenting with ways that make this even more Italian-tasting. Maybe mix up some of the spices and herbs and incorporate some tomatoes. Could be fun to play with.

Making Burgers With Home-Ground Beef

With a meat grinder on hand, I just had to make burgers sooner or later. It wound up being sooner rather than later, though I’m just getting to the post now because of all kinds of business. From the pictures it looks like I forgot to snap a picture of the cut of meat I used to make the burgers, but I believe it was a tenderloin. I read a tip in one of my newer books that suggested freezing the meat for an hour or so before grinding which allows for it to be cubed easier and also grind a little better. I’ve done this with every grind I’ve done and the results have been great.

The ground beef went into the bowl with some chopped onion, grated Asiago cheese and a mixture of seasoning that I pulled from the pantry. I don’t usually plan these things ahead of time and tend to wing it, but I did actually write down what I used this time which means I’m learning at least a little bit as I continue to write about cooking. This time around, I went with an interesting mixture of salt, pepper, steak seasoning, dried mint and Garam Masala. That last one is an Indian spice that I have left over from a recipe I didn’t write about.

Once the patties were formed, they went into two of the cast iron pots we have. I remember seeing a show about burgers on Food Network or Travel Channel and they showed cooks covering their burgers with lids to really get the cheese melted on there. I’ve tried that the last few times I’ve made burgers and you definitely get a much better cheese melt. The rest of the dish just involved getting things prepped: slicing some tomato, cutting lettuce and getting the condiments ready.

I would love to tell you that I could instantly taste the difference between these home-ground burgers and ones made with the store-ground stuff, but I can’t. It’s not that these burgers weren’t good, I just don’t know if I have the kind of palette memory that allows for such comparisons. I do know that these were good burgers. Maybe I’ll even try this combination again next time!

Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce With Arugala & Lemon Couscous

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.

Wok This Way: Barbecued Pork Lo Mein

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!

Bonus Food Pics: Grinding Meat For Chili

As I mentioned in my Christmas post, I got a meat grinder that attaches to the Kitchenaid mixer. I finally gave it a run through the other day in an attempt to make Pat Neely’s Famous Beef And Pork Chili again, which involves both ground beef and pork butt (I think the beef was tenderloin, I wound up grinding two different kinds of beef for two different recipes).

Anyway, the process I read about for grinding in Ruhlman’s Twenty suggested throwing them in the freezer for a while to get them cold and tight. Then you cut it into cubes and put it through the grinder and bingo-bango, you’ve got ground meat. One thing I noted, though, was that I should have trimmed some of the fat off the pork because it got pretty stringy in there towards the end. That made the cleaning process a bit difficult, but otherwise, it was super simple.

The recipe itself turned out okay. I know I praised this recipe before and I don’t think the fault lies in there, but instead in my lack of seasoning. I ran out of cumin and don’t think I properly replaced it. I also added some chicken stock for reasons I can’t quite remember forgetting that this recipe turned out a little bit watery the first time I made it. Ah well, it’s still super good and even though I didn’t get that strong bacon flavor as much this time around, it felt good knowing I ground everything myself.

A Very Cook-y Christmas

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. alton brown good eats early years

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. kitchenaid meat grinder

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. nigella kitchen
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!

Cooking Herbed Turkey And Wild Rice Casserole

Turkey and bacon make a great combination. Really, anything and bacon is super tasty, but these two proteins work especially well together. This idea was tested and proved once again when I made Herbed Turkey And Wild Rice Casserole from Betty Crocker’s Slow Cooker Cookbook  (p 120). This recipe isn’t as easy as some of the “throw everything in the slow cooker, flip the switched and wait, but it was definitely worth the effort.

First up, you cook the bacon. Instead of cooking the whole strips, I like to dice it up. Saves on time and effort down the line. While that cooked, I chopped up the turkey breasts, carrots and onions and also mixed together chicken broth and a can of condensed cream of chicken soup. I don’t usually use cream of anything soup, but I had already written down most of the ingredients on my list and was in it enough.

Once the bacon is removed, you through the turkey and veggies into the pan. When that’s done, the rice goes in the slow cooker bowl as do the cooked meat and vegetables. At this point you get to put the lid on and cook on low for six or seven hours.

This turned out to be a pretty enjoyable recipe thought brought a few things into our meals that we don’t usually eat: wild rice and turkey. Oh, also that soup. There’s got to be a good substitute for that, though right? Anyone have any suggestions?

Wok This Way: Five-Spice Chicken With Sugar Snaps

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).

Wok This Way: Hong Kong-Style Mango Ginger Turkey

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.

Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Cumin-Scented Beef With Vegetables

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.

The Great Kitchen Reorganization Part 2: More At Hand

As I mentioned last week, there’s a lot of things I’d like to change about my kitchen to make it a little more user friendly. So, in addition to make the main work space you saw in that post more cooking-oriented, I did the same with the counter directly across of it and to the side of my sink (what was also seen previously in the second picture in this post). This one was basically just more of a clean-up and organization project. See that truffle dish back there? That used to be filled with miscellaneous drink things like tea and hot chocolate that we rarely use. So, those went into the pantry which had more space in it since I moved the spice rack to the other counter.

It’s a good thing I had that space there because I also moved the blender into the pantry. I rarely blend anything and it’s just as easy to grab it from the pantry when I do need it, so why waste the space? I then filled the truffle bowl with the miscellaneous spices that don’t fit into the spice rack and the blender’s old spot with a variety of vinegarettes and other sauces and oils that I use on a regular basis.

You’ll also notice the hot pot and probably think that’s extraneous, but I actually make coffee with it every single morning (there’s the French press on the far left on top of the coffee). Oh, and the backwards-facing green M&M cookie jar actually holds tea bags. Of course, there’s your basic vitamins, baby teething drops and dishes needing to be washed also in this area, so it’s not completely free of clutter, but at least it gets some essentials out of the pantry and where I can easily get at them while cooking.

The Great Kitchen Reorganization Part 1: A Better Prep Area

We’ve been having a few issues with our condo which make me want to move more than ever. But given the state of the economy and the amount of foreclosed and therefore very cheap units in our complex that are currently for sale, that will not be happening any time soon unless some company decides to give me big bucks to write about food, being a dad or pop culture. Wanting to make some kind of a change, I decided to do what I could without knocking anything down or ripping anything out and decided to rearrange my work space in the kitchen.

It was nothing major — you can see what it used to look like in this post I did last year — but I think it’s a lot more useful now. The main thing I wanted to do was put things away that I don’t use very often and try to get the things I do use within hand’s reach. I think I succeeded pretty well. I put away a few extra bowls that had been sitting out for as long as I can remember and put the toaster and tiny kitchen scale in the cupboard directly below this space. I also ate those bagel chips on the far left, you know, to help clean up.

Moving those few things out of the way gave me space to put the one thing I really wanted on the counter in a central spot and that’s my spice rack. It used to live in the pantry, which isn’t super inconvenient, but when you’re cooking and the meal just needs a little something extra, it’s nice to just reach over and grab it instead of going all the way to the pantry. Also, since our darling daughter seems to be getting more mobile and curious every day, leaving the pantry door casually open is no longer an option.

I’ve got other plans and ideas both big and small. I think I’m going to clear out some space directly behind where this photo was taken (where the computer is if you look at the pictures using the above link) and put out some of the loose spices and other things I used on a regular basis like vinegar and what not. I use those way more than the blender that’s sitting there anyway. I’d also like to box up some of the extraneous dishes we never use like the one dozen tiny coffee cups that have been used maybe twice since we moved in (they’re nowhere near big enough for my He-Man sized caffeine addiction). I’m not sure what I’ll put in there, but it would be nice to have some more space. The big project I want to eventually tackle, though, is putting down a new floor in there. We bought these black and white tiles like three years ago at a discount sale and while I didn’t care about the kitchen back then, I would love a new floor. The one we’re dealing with now is strangely porous and therefore ridiculously difficult to keep clean as even the mop or sponge water seems to settle in there.  I hate it and want to destroy it, but will probably just cover it up with a nicer, newer version. That’s just a matter of setting aside time and deciding to get it done. I’ll keep you posted on the changes as I’m sure you’re glued to your screens at the mention of my spice rack getting some counter space.

Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Cucumber & Pork With Golden Garlic

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!

Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Chicken With Carrots & Mushrooms

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.

Wok This Way: Velvet Chicken With Asparagus

One Monday I found myself in a bit of a cooking jam. I hadn’t gotten to the store for some reason, but knew that I had chicken breasts in the freezer and asparagus in the fridge, so I looked to Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge and came across the recipe for Velvet Chicken With Asparagus (page 128). It was a match made in stir-fry heaven!

As I’ve said in previous Wok This Way posts, most of the real work when it comes to woking out is getting all the prep work done in advance. I chopped up the chicken I had into squares and then mixed it in a bowl with cornstarch, dry sherry, and salt. I set that aside and then split and boiled the asparagus. Instead of chopping, I just used the green’s natural breaking points and snapped them with my hands. After that, I boiled the chicken, which is something I’m still getting used to, but seems to work out pretty well.

With all that out of the way, I finally figured out that I could set up the ingredients in order of their introduction to the wok and that would make things more efficient. Nothing in this recipe cooks for more than a minute before introducing the next, so this is a good way to set things up, I hope I remember it in the future. The garlic and ginger went in first followed quickly by asparagus and then the chicken. That was followed by another mixture I forgot to mention which included broth, pepper, dry sherry and cornstarch. All that got stir-fried and was served on rice, which I started at the beginning of the process.

Like everything else I’ve made with the wok and from that cookbook, this was another winner. The flavors weren’t huge, but it was a nice meal on a warm day that didn’t get me too sweaty in the kitchen. Those are both things I’m very appreciative for.

The Force Is Not So Strong With These Cubes

If you’re only familiar with me from reading this blog and not UnitedMonkee, The Monkee Diaries or Pop Poppa, you probably don’t know that I’m a pretty big geek. Have been since as long as I can remember. Part of that is loving Star Wars. So, when I saw the above R2-D2 ice cube tray show up on a comic book discount site called Thwipster for a pretty low price, I jumped at the chance.

When I got them in, I immediately poured the water in and excitedly waited for it to freeze. After I while I cracked them out and…my icey Artoo had no feet. While the details on these guys are great, the feet on both the larger and smaller versions are so deep that every time I tried cracking these guys out, they always lost their feet. ALWAYS.

Even so, it’s a fun little thing to have. I mean, it doesn’t really matter if the ice version of the droid I’m using to cool down my whiskey and coke has feet. Actually, the reminds me, I’ve got to fill the tray back up, it’s the weekend!

Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Beef & Broccoli

I’m noticing a pretty strong pattern when it comes to making dishes from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge. There’s chopped meat usually mixed with some kind of cornstarch mixture as well as vegetables. Most of the of time involved with the cooking process comes from prepping and cooking the rice to serve things on. It’s a really simple, wonderful way to cook that would be ideal for people who have to cook after work. You could even prep the night before and it’d only take a short time to have a full meal by the time you got home, though you might have to go with egg noodles instead of rice (or get a rice cooker, those are fast, right? I’ve never used one.)

Anyway, Stir-Fried Beef & Broccoli (page 89) was another simple recipe. You cut up 12 ounces of flank steak and put it in a bowl with ginger, soy sauce, rice win/dry sherry, cornstarch, salt and pepper. Then mix chicken broth, oyster sauce, soy sauce and more sherry/rice wine in another bowl. The recipe wanted me to boil water and cook the broccoli like that, but instead I steamed it while I was getting everything else ready and think that was a good way to go. You keep more vitamins and minerals that way, right?

With all that ready, it was stir-fry time! First went in some garlic and black bean sauce (it called for actual black beans, but I could only find the sauce) into some peanut oil. That cooked for 10 seconds before pushing it to the side and adding the beef in one layer to the wok. That goes undisturbed for one week  before stir-frying for another. Once that’s done, you put that aside on a plate for a bit.

Add more peanut oil and cook the broccoli for 15 seconds with the onions (I realized after already cutting up green ones, that the recipe called for regular onions, it didn’t matter too much). You then put the beef back in with the oyster sauce mix, stir-fry for 30 more seconds and you’re done. I had gotten my rice going ahead of time and the timing once again worked out well. You’ve probably had beef and broccoli before and it’s just as good at home as it is from a store!

Wok This Way: Hoisin Explosion Chicken

As I’ve said in previous Wok This Ways, I like how much of the wok cooking I’ve done involves prep and then a fairly short cooking time. That was the case with the Hoisin Explosion Chicken Recipe from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 114). Also like the other recipes, it was super easy to follow, didn’t require a lot of strange ingredients and resulted in some really tasty food.

Since I already had dry sherry in place of rice wine, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and ginger the only ingredients I had to pick up were chicken, a green pepper and an 8 ounce can of bamboo shoots which weren’t that expensive. I always worry that some of the more unusual ingredients will prove cost prohibitive, but that, thankfully, hasn’t been the case just yet.

So, here’s the deal. Ahead of timeI got the rice boiling and then mixed 12 ounces of chopped chicken breast in a bowl with cornstarch, an egg white, dry sherry/rice wine, salt, cold water and let marinate uncovered in the fridge for 30 minutes. While that was in the works, I also mixed soy sauce, hoisin sauce and more dry sherry for prep. I followed that up by cutting the green pepper into strips, draining the can of bamboo shoots and combining minced garlic, minced ginger and some red pepper flakes in another prep bowl. Once all that was done, I was good to go.

After about 25 minutes, I got another sauce pan of water boiling, this one to do the first cook on the chicken. You drop the pieces in, stir them up so the don’t clump and let cook in the boiling water for about a minute. I think drained it out in a colander and was ready for the actual stir-fry portion of the proceedings.

Like with the other recipes, this part is a constant jumping between the wok and the cook book to remember what the next step is. The ginger, garlic and pepper flakes went into some peanut oil first, followed by the bell pepper and some salt. Those cooked for 30 second before adding in the chicken, bamboo shoots and sauce which stir-fried for a minute or two (probably longer, actually).

I got lucky and timed everything so that the cooking would be done just as the rice was ready. Like with all the other dishes I’ve tried so far in the wok, the flavors were really fresh and vibrant. I’m a big fan of soy sauce and that salty taste, so these meals are great on my pallet. Luckily, my wife also seems to be digging these experiments. I’m looking to move on to some more complicated recipes in the near future, so keep an eye out for those soon. Basically, what I’m saying is that my wok-fu is getting stronger by the meal.

Ever Wondered How Much A Smidge Is?

Have you ever seen a really old cookbook or maybe a recipe written down by a grandparent? They can be difficult to decipher with old-style measurements you’ve never heard of or even measured amounts not in teaspoons or ounces, but “handful,” “smidgen” or “dash.” Well, thanks to this set of measuring spoons, I now know exactly what constitutes a smidgen, pinch, dash and tad. These spoons came in a pack that included traditional measuring spoons and cups that my wife wound up with after her family’s Yankee Swap last year. So, let me know if you need to borrow a smidgen of salt, I’ll hook you up.

Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Ginger Beef

Sorry about the huge delays here on the site, everyone. Last week was packed between my birthday and a few tight work deadlines and the beginning of this week was packed with Valentine’s Day stuff and even more deadlines. But, I’ve still been cooking and eating, plus I’ve got lots of archives to go through from the past month, so let’s jump in!

After getting my new wok seasoned, it was time to give that thing a real try out. In addition to the wok, my wife also got me Grace Young’s wok-centric cookbook Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge: The Ultimate Guide To Mastery, With Authentic Recipes And Stories which her research told her was the best of the bunch. I was flipping through and her recipe for Stir-Fried Ginger Beef (page 71) because it didn’t require buying too many new ingredients and seemed fairly easy for a novice like me.

The recipe calls for flank steak, minced ginger, soy sauce, rice wine, cornstarch, salt, pepper, peanut oil, oyster sauce, pickled ginger and scallions. We usually keep ginger in the freezer along with the other pantry items, but I did need to pick up oyster sauce and pickled ginger. For the rice wine, I checked at both the grocery and wine stores and neither had any, so I went with the also suggested dry sherry.

Okay, on to the actual recipe. Cutting up the meat into strips is the first step. That all went into a bowl with the non-pickled ginger, soy sauce, a teaspoon of sherry, cornstarch, salt, pepper and a teaspoon of peanut oil. In another bowl I combined the oyster sauce and a tablespoon of sherry. The rest of the prep included cutting up a quarter cup of pickled ginger and some scallions.

For the actual cooking, the book says to put the wok on the heat and you’re ready to go when a drop of water evaporates in a few seconds. So, once we got to that point, I swirled some oil in and then spread the meat in the wok. You’re supposed to let that cook for one minute and then stir-fry for 30 seconds before adding the oyster sauce mixture, the pickled ginger and the scallions and stir-frying again for another 30 seconds. I also picked up some egg noodle nests awhile back for an aborted recipe that worked out really well to serve the ginger beef on.

The flavors were fantastic. I love how the pickled ginger popped with the beef and the marinade. The thing that was difficult about cooking with the wok is how fast things go once you start cooking. As you can see above it’s a lot of steps that take a minute or less. I’d do one thing, stir, jump over to the book, read as fast as I could then jump back to the wok. It was a really fast paced, but also really simple and easy. I also like that so much of the cooking revolves around getting prepped ahead of time. Once you’re set, with everything, it’s game time. Honestly, boiling the water for the egg noodle nests took longer than all of making the main dish. I had a great first outing on the wok and can not wait to get into it even more.

Wok This Way: Getting Seasoned

My lovely wife got me a wok for Christmas. She knows I’m excited about trying to cook new foods and thought this would be a great way to get into a new arena. She also got me a cookbook that her research told her was the best around. But, as some of you may know, you’ve got to season a wok before you use it, much like a cast iron pan. You’ve also got to boil it a certain way to get rid of a film that’s put on there in the plants.

As you can see from these photos, I tried a few different ways just to set up the wok on my stove. We’ve got gas and some pretty high grates, so I thought it might make sense to remove the grate and get the wok as close to the heat as possible. But, I soon discovered that that didn’t work out because the wok was actually smothering the fire and only gas was pouring out. Whoops. So, I followed the directions (twice actually, just to make sure) and got rid of the film.

Up next I wast tasked with seasoning. This was another long process, but only because I tried the wrong method. The one I tried first involved charring some onion-like vegetables (I went with green onions and the tops of some leeks, because that’s what I had on hand) in peanut oil, but that didn’t get the brown/black coloring I was going for. So, I tried the next method which involved setting the oven, wiping peanut oil all over the wok and then putting it in the oven for a while. This worked great. I’ve even taken it for a test drive that I’ll get to later this week.

On another note, I have to say, it was difficult deciding on the name for this recurring post. A Wok On The Wild Side, Wok-a Wok-a, A Wok To Remember and more all flooded into my head, but I just had to go with Wok This Way. I’m a big Aerosmith fan and a Run-DMC fan, so it just makes sense.

My Brand New Knife

I feel kind of bad that I can’t remember when I got my first real knife. I can’t remember if it was when I first learned to cook in college or if it was around the wedding. I believe it was the former and a gift from my parents, but I know we got a few more when my wife and I got hitched. And, frankly, we’ve got some damn good knives. We’ve got a serrated, Santoku and paring knife from Wusthof along with a few others you can see in the picture below. They’re all housed in this great knife block we got from Bed, Bath & Beyond called the Kapoosh Universal Cutlery Block that allows for a wide variety of different knives, which, as you can tell, is great for us. Instead of having designated slots, the body of the block is made up of tightly packed bristles that allow for whatever arrangement that works best for you. You can either pull it out and wash it, which I clearly need to do in the near future.

Even with a good variety of knives, though, I’ve been thinking about picking a new one up. In the beginning of Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, he sets aside a mini-chapter about knife care and selection. He says it doesn’t really matter how big or expensive the knife is, but that it feels comfortable in your hand. You don’t want something so big and unwieldy that you’ll be lopping off a finger or two. He also said you should wash them when you’re done, dry immediately and not put them through the dishwasher. Also, sharpen before every use.Like a lot of things I’ve read from Bourdain, I took this to heart and realized that I haven’t been treating my knives well. They still work, though they’re definitely looking worse for wear. There’s also maybe some dullness that I only recently realized. With that in mind, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled every time we go to a Marshall’s, TJ Maxx or Home Goods for an affordable knife that will work for me. Some of those nice Wusthof knives I mentioned before were actually purchased at those places for short money.Two weekends back, we were at a mega TJ Maxx/Home Goods in Poughkeepsie and I saw a 7-inch Santoku that I liked. There was also a chef’s knife, but it was even bigger, I think 8-inches or so. I walked away to look for a food mill in that gigantic place (no luck there) and then caught up with Em and Lu. The knife had lodged itself into my consciousness and wouldn’t go away. And, hey, it was around $15, so I wound up buying it.

Cut eggplant

Of course, the next week (last week) wound up not involving any cooking because of scheduling problems, so I didn’t really get to put it to use until a few days back when I made pasta sauce and botched some eggplant, but at least I got to use it! Every time I do the dishes, I scrub the knife down with soap and water, wipe it down with a towel and after I know it’s all the way dry, I sharpen it and then return it to the block. I’m not taking any chances with this one!