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

This Week’s Menu: Quinoa, Ribs, Grilled Meat & More!

this weeks menu 7-6-15 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.

Pop Poppa Original Recipes: Kielbasa & Cauliflower Soup

kielbasa soupAs I mentioned a few weeks back, I found myself in a dilly of a pickle one night when my slow cooker failed to cook slowly and I needed something to feed my family. I looked in my fridge, saw a packaged kielbasa sausage, some chicken stock, half of a head of cauliflower and figured I could make something work.

My initial idea to make a soup with the kielbasa was partly influenced by a slow cooker recipe I’ve made from Good Housekeeping called Kielbasa Stew. I had an idea that these basic flavors would work together. The red wine vinegar and ground mustard just came to me and wound up working really well to add some tang to the recipe.

Kielbasa & Cauliflower Soup Ingredients:

1 lbs. kielbasa sausage, diced
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves diced or grated on a rasp (my new preferred method)
2 carrots, peeled & diced
2 celery stalks, cleaned & diced
Half a head of cauliflower, diced
2 cups of orzo
Enough chicken stock to cover (about 4 cups)
2 Tsp. ground mustard
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
Sauerkraut to serve

As always, I did all of my prep first which meant chopping up the vegetables and then the meat. I got the veggies cooking in a few tablespoons of olive oil as well as the red wine vinegar until tender in a Dutch oven which took about five minutes.

Then I added the sausage and cooked that for another five minutes, until it browned. After that, I covered with chicken stock, added the ground mustard and brought to a boil.

Once the liquid started boiling, I added in the orzo, gave the mixture a few stirs and then popped the lid on for 10-15 minutes until the orzo was cooked through. Once it is cooked, you’re good to go. I happened to have some canned Sauerkraut in the pantry, so that seemed like a natural accompaniment.

Cooking Damn Delicious’ One Pot Sausage Pasta

dd one pot pasta 1

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

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

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

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

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

Cooking Disney’s Chicken Asiago Pasta

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.

Cooking Smoky Vegetable Mac & Cheese And Grilled Marinated London Broil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Damn Delicious’ One Pot BBQ Chicken Pasta

I’m all about Damn Delicious these days. I’m pulling a recipe or two a week for my menus these days including this one last week for One Pot BBQ Chicken Pasta. I was a little leery about this one, not because of the recipe itself, but because I sometimes have trouble getting into a dish if I associate it with one style of food. I had this problem when I made Taco Stuffed Shells a while back. Stuffed shells are just an Italian dish that should have ricotta or cottage cheese as far as my taste buds are concerned. Would I have the same problem with this barbecue sauce-infused pasta dish? Luckily, no!

I’m a big fan of the one pot method for cooking this dish. You cook the bacon in the pan (I skipped the olive oil because of the bacon fat) and then toss in the diced chicken breast. From there you add the garlic and onion followed by the rest of the ingredients, including the pasta which actually cooks in the tomatoes, chicken stock and milk. Cover that up and let it cook for about 15 minutes, mix in the cheese and bbq sauce — we had Sweet Baby Ray’s on hand — and you’ve got dinner!

I wasn’t sure if the the sweetness of the sauce would throw my tongue for a loop, but this whole dish worked so well together that I didn’t even think about Italian food. In fact, the sweetness really popped and worked well with the saltiness of the bacon and the tomatoes. It all worked really well together and you can’t complain about making a whole meal in one pot!

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’ Thai Curry

Food Network has really changed over the years. It used to be packed with people making interesting foods and teaching us how. Now, even though they act like that’s still the main focus on shows like Next Food Network Star (which should probably be retitled The Next Food Network Game Show Host), you’ve got to search around more to see cooks telling you how to cook interesting and amazing food. While flipping around a few weekends back, we happened to stumble upon one of those wonderful times. That’s where I got the recipe for Giada De Laurentiis’s Thai Curry and figured I’d give it a shot.

I do want to say a few things right off the bat. I had trouble finding yellow curry paste at my grocery store. I bought curry sauce and just kind of eyed it. I couldn’t find a simple conversion chart for curry paste to curry sauce, so I basically poured in a little under 1/4 of a cup after giving it a taste. I think that’s the key to making sure you’ve got the right.

I will also note that shrimp can be a bit expensive. I dropped about $12 on deveined, deshelled ones, just to give you an idea of what you’re dealing with. It’s not a bank-breaker, but definitely something to take into account when planning out your meals.

I also completely dropped the chili, swapped out unfindable Thai lime leaves for actual lime juice and throwing the limes in (I realize I should have zested them) and skipped the step where you fry the noodles in canola oil which not only made this dish a bit healthier and cooled down the kitchen on a hot day but also took out a fairly involved step. Aside from those alterations, though, I followed the recipe as written.

Especially without the fried noodle portion, this is a super easy soup to put together. Open a few cans, pour a few things in a pot or Dutch oven and get those veggies in once it’s simmering. Let it sit for 30 minutes, then throw in the noodles and shrimp and let cook. That’s pretty simple.

And the results were pretty good, but I think some of my changes weren’t for the best. The dish lacked heat, which is a key element in Thai cooking. This wound up being good for my kid, because she’s not a fan of the hotness, but made the dish a bit bland. It also could have used more salt. Whenever I’m eating Asian food, I tend to skip the regular salt and go with soy sauce because it feels more in line with the flavors. Adding that to my bowl and then the larger dish when I put it away in the fridge definitely helped.

This is the first time I’ve ever cooked shrimp in what I consider my modern cooking timeframe. My mom taught me how to devein and shell them a long, long time ago, but I decided to cut that step out and just go with ones that had already been cleaned. Towards the end of the cooking process I realized I didn’t know what cooked shrimp was supposed to look like, so I brought one out to my wife, showed it to her and got the thumbs up. They turned out nice, plump and flavorful. I don’t generally cook shellfish, but this positive experience definitely gave me more confidence to do so in the future.

Cooking Damn Delicious’ Skinny Cauliflower Mac & Cheese With Pancetta

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Food Pic: Handsome Devil’s Hot Mess

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

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

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

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

Disney World 2014 Bonus Food Pics Part 1

magic kingdom main streetAt this point, I think we all know that I’m way behind when it comes to posting about recipes and bonus food pics. Case in point? Here’s a whole bunch of pictures from early February when my parents, wife, daughter and I spent a delightful week in Disney World. I had a good time going through our meals day-by-day when we went last spring, but since we’re so far out, I figured a pair of recap posts about all the delicious food we had while in the Happiest Place On Earth would still be fun and hopefully helpful if you’re on your way to Orlando. One quick note before jumping in, on this trip we didn’t opt in for the Disney Dining Plan like last time. While it worked pretty well that time around, we realized that we were eating way more dessert than we would have normally just because it was there. I’m not much of a sweet fan, so I was glad to have more options.

chef mickeys

We all got into Disney World on February 1st and went right to the Magic Kingdom as is our custom, but I didn’t take any photos, so I can’t remember what we ate. On the 2nd, we went back and I did a better job of documenting meals. For lunch we had seafood at The Columbia Harbor House. Again, no pics, but I remember the fried food being nice and crisp without being too heavy. For dinner we hopped on the Monorail to have dinner at Chef Mickey’s, a buffet style place inside the Contemporary that features characters like Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto (sorry Daisy fans) walking around taking pictures with the kids. Lu loved the place and I’ve got to say that we were all pretty impressed with the food. You might think something like that would offer the lowest common denominator because you’re already there and it’s aimed at kids, but it was one of the better buffets I’ve had in recent memory. tutto italia

Again, I don’t have documentation of what we ate for lunch on the 3rd, but we did spend most of the day at Epcot. For dinner we went to Italy in the World Showacse where we had reservations for Tutto Italia Ristorante. There I had the Gnocchetti which is described as Cavatelli pasta, sweet sausage ragu, tomato and Pecorino. This was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve had in a long time. It might seem simple — and it was — both it tasted like each of those simple ingredients was the best it could be and combined for an excellent, rich dish. 1900 park fare cinderella dinner

Finally (for this post, come back tomorrow for the rest!), on the 4th we spent most of the day at Animal Kingdom where we had Pizzafari for lunch. I have a picture of the tiny, tasty pepperoni pizza I had along with the Cesar salad, but I compared photos and it’s almost the exact same as the one I took several months earlier. That night we headed back to our hotel, The Grand Floridian, where we went to the Cinderalla-themed character dinner at 1900 Park Fare. I don’t remember this meal, another buffet, for the food nearly as much as I do for watching our daughter show zero interest in Cinderlla’s stepmother, warm up to the very funny stepsisters and glow when Cinderella came around. I gotta give it to those step sisters, they were pretty funny, tossing tame insults and one-liners across the room at one another and convincing the kids (and me to a lesser extent) that they were the evil, mean, awful creatures seen in the Disney classic.

MATK Originals: Bacon & Broccoli Ramen Stir-Fry

As you’ve probably noticed from reading this blog, I do most of my cooking based on other peoples’ recipes. Every now and then I’ll MacGuyver something or change out a few ingredients here and there, but I usually just go by the book. Lately, though, I’ve been experimenting with a few of my own creations. This particular one is based on Soup Addict’s Ramen Noodle Stir Fry but I changed a few key things to suit our tastes better and figured I’d share them with the group.

Bacon & Broccoli Ramen Stir-Fry

Sauce
2 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tbs rice wine vinegar
2 tsp hoisin sauce

Stir-Fry
3 packages of ramen
Half package bacon, diced
Head of broccoli, cut into florets
8 oz mushrooms – I used baby bellas
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Mix all the sauce ingredients in a bowl.

2. Cook bacon in a large skillet or wok. Remove from pan when done to your liking. We like ours pretty crunchy. Remove some bacon fat if desired.

3. Cook mushrooms, red pepper, broccoli, mushrooms, garlic and ginger in bacon fat for about a minute.

4. Cook ramen. You can either boil water like you would for pasta in which case you should get this set earlier in the process. Going back to my college days, though, I’ve always just soaked my ramen in boiling water for three minutes or so. I filled up our hot pot, turned it on and then poured that hot water over the three packages of noodles in our soup pot, covered and let sit for several minutes until cooked.

5. Mix egg into vegetable mixture. Stir until cooked.

6. Add bacon back in. Combine with cooked noodles and sauce.

As usual, I like to get all my chopping done ahead of time, so I worked on the broccoli, mushrooms and pepper first. I also grated my garlic and ginger. We keep our ginger in the freezer and grate on a rasp as needed which not only keeps the ginger for a longer period of time, but also gives a more solid grate when needed. Since I’m already using that particular kitchen tool, I started using it on the garlic as well which works great, just watch your fingers.

I only just realized that the original recipe calls for a scrambled egg to be put in the dish instead of a beaten one. I like the way I did it better because it distributes the egg throughout the dish in a different way while still getting that additional protein in. However, if you wanted to continue the obvious breakfast theme you could go with the scrambled.

Next time I make this, I think I might add in some watercress and/or snow peas to bring in even more veggies. All in all, though, I think this recipe will be a good addition to the rotation, especially as things (hopefully) start warming up soon and I won’t want to sweat my face off in the kitchen. There’s also the potential to use a variety of other types of noodles or rice here. I like the simplicity of using ramen packets, but they’re probably not the healthiest things in the world. Maybe I can try making my own someday.

Bonus Food Pics From Yummy Taco, Handsome Devil & Fiddlestix

yummy taco chicken and beef burrito

One of the more frustrating things about where we live is that there’s not a great taco place that we can run into when we have that hankering. There’s a nice Mexican place, but it’s sit-down and sometimes I want to just call in a bag of tacos and have my wife pick them up on her way home from work. So, we got pretty excited when we were leaving Target one day and saw a new place called Yummy Taco opening up soon. Well, the other weekend it was actually in business, we gave it a shot and all had pretty delightful food. Above you can see the chicken and beef burrito I had which was more of a giant taco, but who’s counting? I will say that this is a rather interesting establishment because everything about it screams “Chinese food place” from the decorations and staff to the picture menu above the ordering station. But, none of that matters when you realize they’re making their own tortillas on the spot and making killer food. It’s still not super close, but it’s nice to know there’s a solid taco joint nearby we can hit up while running errands.

handsome devil bbq

About a month ago, my inlaws came into town and watched our daughter while my wife and I went out for a nice Italian dinner around Valentine’s Day. Meanwhile, they discovered a new barbecue joint we didn’t even know about called Handsome Devil that’s actually above an ice skating rink (that we also didn’t know about). We’ve actually got a lot of solid BBQ joints nearby, but I think this one will be tops on our list. Brothers has been so-so and Johnny D’s is a bit far away for more of a casual dinner, so Handsome Devil takes the top spot. I had the ribs and pulled pork along with some mac and cheese and onion rings, all of which were delightful. Plus, they’ve got a variety of local beers on tap which I always appreciate.

fiddlestix bangers and mash

And finally, I have to sing the praises of Fiddlestix once again. The above photo comes from their St. Patrick’s Day menu which, as always, was some of the best Irish food I’ve ever had. This is the bangers and mash which was so good I wish I could have it every day. The mashed potatoes had a healthy, but not overpowering dose of horseradish which made for a delightful side. Looking at this picture is actually making me hungry.

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.

Wife Lessons: Mac & Cheese Tips

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

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

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

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

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

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Chicken Pho

In a strange twist of fortune, I made one of my favorite meals in ages on a day I didn’t feel like taking pictures. A few weeks back, I saw Smitten Kitchen’s new recipe for Chicken Pho and was instantly interested in giving it a shot. I remembered seeing something on this Vietnamese soup on a travel food show, most likely an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and have been interested in trying it ever since.

At first, I was a bit skeptical because I have an aversion to working with full chickens. They just seem like so much work. But my intrigue trumped my laziness and I spent one day a few weekends back following this recipe very closely. The only ingredients I didn’t include were sprouts and black cardamoms because I couldn’t find them at my grocery store. I even bought some star anise and used about five of them for my broth. I can’t quite remember the exact measurements I used for cinnamon, coriander seeds, fennel seeds or ground cloves, but I think I was in the teaspoon-per arena.

With those few variables in place, I followed the recipe by charring the onion and ginger on my gas stovetop, let the stock cook for several hours and got as much chicken off the bones as possible. I wish I was a better food writer to properly explain to you how good this broth turned out. It had so much depth of flavor thanks to the combination of sweet, salty, tangy and even a bit of sour that I wanted to eat it all day. You throw in some well cooked chicken, rice noodles, crispy fried shallots (which I should have cooked a bit longer as mine didn’t get too crispy) and the rest of the garnishes and you’ve got one of the best, most unique meals I’ve made in a very long time.

Recipe Roundup: Smitten Kitchen

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

Chicken Tacos

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

Baked Pasta With Broccoli Rabe & Sausage

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

Pasta With White Beans

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

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 1

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

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

Cooking Thai Chicken Soup

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.

Cooking Soup Addict’s Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup

While looking around for new food blogs to follow, I came across one called Soup Addict. Now that it’s getting colder out and our kiddo can handle a spoon better, I’m back in the soup game. Recently, a new recipe for Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup popped up and I wanted to give it a shot.

I’ve made tortellini soups like this in the past before and am a big fan. Since I’m lazy and don’t have the time on a regular weekday to make my own cheese-filled pasta, I get the store bought stuff. For the most part, I followed the directions as written, but did make a few additions too beef this meal up.

Like the recipe suggests, I cooked the onion followed by the garlic before pouring in the tomato sauce and chicken broth. Since I wound up buying twice the amount of tortellini promised, I added about a cup more chicken broth and upped the flour and half and half a bit as well. I also added in some dried parsley and basil as well as a glug or two of Yellow Tail Cabernet-Merlot. Since I used alcohol, I did bring the soup back up to a boil which is not recommended in the post.

I was really impressed with house this soup turned out. While cooking and tasting I was a bit worried that it was going to be a bit bland, but between the basic recipe and my additions it turned into a flavorful mix of creaminess and traditional Italian flavors. I think next time, though, I might use either a homemade tomato sauce or, if I don’t have any around, blend up a can of stewed tomatoes just to get a few more elements in early on.

Cooking Smitten Pasta With Cauliflower Walnuts and Feta

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

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

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

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

Cooking Heirloom Tomato Caprese

Is it pretentious to talk about buying heirloom tomatoes? I know they have a much richer depth and variety of flavor than your average reds found in the grocery store, but for some reason, every time I think about them, I picture a snooty chef in one of those funny hats or a mustachioed hipster sporting jodhpurs and old timey airplane goggles. Is this some kind of reverse engineered attempt by Big Food to paint local produce in a bad light? Or maybe me just being weird? Probably a little bit of both, but mostly the latter.

Anyway, last week, my wife, daughter and I got some lunch in New Paltz and walked around for a bit. Afterwards, we stopped at one of our favorite farm stands and walked away with a bag of super sweet peaches, crisp green beans and a variety of heirloom tomatoes. I hadn’t figured out the week’s menu at that point, but as you can imagine, I decided to base two separate meals around the colorful fruits masquerading as veggies.

Since I really wanted to showcase the tomatoes, I decided to make caprese and came across a recipe on Food Network’s website that happens to have been submitted by Joe and Jill Biden. Huh. Anyway, this was an incredibly easy preparation with no cooking aside from the pasta which, of course, I got working on first.

With the water on the stove, I got the garlic, lemon juice, shallot and olive oil together. After that, I got to chopping tomatoes. As you can see in the photo I was working with some redish-purple ones, a yellow one and a few green ones. The red ones were pretty sweat, though not overly so while the greens were a bit tangier (one was a little less ripe than I thought and actually had a green pepper quality to it) and the yellows were in the middle. Then the tomatoes went into the olive oil mixture and when the pasta was done, that joined the party along with the mozzarella, some chopped basil (from our herb garden) and some lemon zest. And that’s it! Easy caprese. Yeesh, sorry about that one .

So, was this dish transformatively better thanks to the use of heirloom tomatoes? It would probably be pretentious to say, “Yes, of course!” while twirling my hipster mustache. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really know how advanced or developed my pallet is, but I do know that there was a lot more going on flavor-wise thanks to their inclusion. Everything I mentioned above came through in the dish which made for a really fresh meal that was perfect on yet another hot end-of-summer night.

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

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

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

 

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

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

Cooking 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.

Revisiting Smitten Kitchen’s Pea Pesto

fresh pea pesto

A few weeks back, my wife convinced me to go with her and our daughter to a nearby farm so we could pick strawberries — one of our daughter’s favorite foods — and anything else we might come across. It was luckily not too hot when we got there, but I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of doing my own picking. I don’t mind paying a little bit more to buy local goods that have been picked by other folks. In fact, after actually going out and doing this, I’m even more okay with it. Anyway, the other thing my wife decided to get from the farm was a big basket of sugar snap peas. For some reason, I can never find them fresh at our grocery store which has a pretty solid and impressive selection most of the time. So, she wanted a pea-centric recipe and I searched by blog went with Smitten Kitchen’s Pea Pesto, a recipe that’s super easy and super tasty, two of the biggest things I look for when making food.

My wife was adamant that the fresh peas would taste far better than the frozen ones I usually wind up using. I joked with her, saying I forgot to use the fresh and went with the frozen instead and that I couldn’t tell the difference between fresh and frozen, but that was just for giggles. In fact, the fresh peas made for such a big difference that I fully support her going out and picking more…just leave me and the kid at home.

Cooking Chic Sausage & Peppers Over Pasta

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.

Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup

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.

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!

Cooking Carbonara With Frisee & Lemon

Have I talked about my Big Blue Binder before? That’s where I keep all the recipes I find in various magazines that I want to try. I’ve got that mystery subscription to Good Housekeeping that I’m considering renewing as I type. I also get the free mag Hannaford gives out called Fresh. I go through those, rip out pages, shove them into clear sleeves and get to them when I get to them. At some point I must have gone through one of my wife’s issues of Martha Stewart Living and came across a page with four different pasta recipes including one for Fusilli Carbonara With Frisee & Lemon.

The whole recipe for this dish fits on a quarter of a sheet, so it’s pretty simple. Get your water going, cook the bacon, mix the eggs and parmesan cheese, clean the frisee and juice the lemons. The greens go in a bowl, the bacon cools and de-greases on some paper towels until you can break it up. Once the pasta’s done, drop that into another bowl and mix with the egg and cheese mixture. Once that’s together stir in the lemon juice, mix again and combine with the bacon and greens.

I actually remember the very first person who ever made carbonara for me: my friend Geof’s dad. They lived around the corner from us and Geof and I became friends after they moved to the neighborhood in third or fourth grade. We spent countless summer days hanging out together along with his older sister and younger brother and I had the pleasure of spending many a wonderful dinner at their house. One of those meals was carbonara, a traditional Italian dish of pasta, bacon and eggs where the eggs are poured over the pasta right after its done, cooking them upon contact.

This version of carbonara has a few more bells and whistles — and isn’t nearly as good as Geof’s dad’s if memory serves — but it made for a really nice dinner. Our two-year-old daughter has developed a real taste for macaroni and cheese (or “macos and cheese” as she calls it) so anything with pasta and cheese ranks pretty high on her list of favorite foods. You add in bacon, another favorite, and this turned out to be a real hit with everyone.

Cooking Mediterranean Chicken Salad

A few months back I started looking around for new recipe websites to check out for dinner ideas. One that I came across was Simply Recipes which posted a new recipe for Mediterranean Chicken Salad a few weeks back. That sounded not only like the kind of dish I’d like to make, but also one that wouldn’t heat up the house too much. Thankfully, it turned out to be both.

As usual, I don’t have cooked chicken breasts just hanging around, so one of the first things I did was get a few breasts cooking. I think I had two or three in the freezer and got them out to thaw a few days before making this dish. Aside from cooking those in salt, pepper and olive oil, the only other thing you have to do that involves heat is make some pasta which is more of a suggestion that necessary  I went that route to fortify it a bit though I would also suggest getting some pita and using that as a delivery system.

Aside from those two things you’re just soaking onion in some red wine vinegar (I had yellow on hand instead of red), chopping up some olives and getting your herbs together. Since it was still pretty early in the season I went with all dried, but I’d recommend going the fresh route if you can. I liked how the finished product came together, but there’s a different texture when you use dried over fresh herbs, kind of like you’re eating food that was out during a confetti shower.

Regardless of what ingredients you use, though, the process is the same. Shred the chicken when it’s done, drain the pasta and toss with all the other ingredients in a big ol’ bowl until well mixed. I’m a big fan of pickled type flavors, I like tart, sour things, so this was a big hit with me between the olives and capers. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that those flavors really developed between the first serving and lunch the next few days, so, if you have time, make this one in advance and let it sit. Next time, I think I’ll go with some pita, fresh herbs and maybe even a bit of feta to round things out.

Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Pasta With Pancetta, Parsley & Peppers

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.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Pasta & White Beans

I’m a big fan of the Smitten Kitchen website. Proprietor Deb Perelman and I seem to share a lot of the same food sensibilities which is great because I’m always looking for new recipes to try out every single week. Lately she’s been doing a lot of dessert stuff which I’m not really into, but any time an entree pops up, I’m usually trying it within a week or two. That was the case with her recipe for Pasta & White Beans (I skipped the garlic-rosemary oil because my wife’s not a fan of that particular herb), even though that was a while back. By the way, sorry about the lack of posting lately, I got sick last week and have been pretty busy doing the whole freelance writer/stay at home dad/new podcaster thing (check out my Pop Poppa Nap Cast over on PopPoppa.com or through iTunes).

Anyway, back to food. I mentioned in a previous post how when I made Nigella Lawson’s Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce it made me think of using a similar “throw the aromatics into a food processor and cook that” approach for my beloved Pasta With Onion Butter Red Sauce from Smitten (which I did here). Oddly enough, this particular recipe for Pasta & White Beans actually does the exact same thing with carrots, onions, garlic and celery. It’s a great way to get all those ingredients together from the jump and really get their flavors to develop while cooking. It also helps make for a bit of a thicker pasta experience which I’m almost always in favor of.

I went with canned beans because I haven’t quite made the transition to getting my own and soaking them over night (maybe when I have more kitchen space, but as of now it doesn’t make a lot of sense in our tiny galley kitchen. The rest of the recipe is really simple. You get the pasta going and cook the food processed vegetables with some water and beans for a while. When everything’s ready, combine, heat through and you’ve got dinner. It’s a really solid, hearty meal that probably can’t be any easier to make. As is, it’s vegetarian, but you could also easily throw in some cooked chicken or turkey and give it some animal protein, although you’re already getting a good deal of that from the beans.

Cooking Sausage & Mushroom Pasta

Sausage is quickly becoming one of the top three types of protein I’m frequenting of late. You’ve got chicken breasts, sirloin (usually for grinding) and then the sweet Italian sausage sold at my grocery store (I’ve got to look for a way to make this stuff at home). I really love how sausage works with pasta and have been trying lots of recipes that include both ingredients. When I was flipping through my Blue Binder of recipes torn out of magazines or printed out from the days of old, I came across one from Good Housekeeping called Sausage & Mushroom Penne. I decided to go with a different kind of pasta, but otherwise I followed it as written, going with arugala instead of kale for what it’s worth.

As has been the theme with many of the recipes I’ve written about lately, this one also happens to be pretty simple. You get the water going for the pasta and then get to work on the other stuff. First the sausage goes in, then the onion followed by the mushrooms. Once all that’s cooked and the pasta’s done, you combine the two, stir in the arugala, some pasta water and you’ve got yourself a nice dinner. You could mix up the greens or go with different kinds of sausage to suit this recipe to your specific tastes which is always fun.

By the way, sorry about some of the fuzzier pictures above. I’ve been having a few problems with the Kitchen Camera, but think I’ve got it figure out. Hopefully they’ll look better moving forwards.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Gnocchi & Tomato Sauce

I’ve made gnocchi before and really liked the results, even though it can be a somewhat time consuming process. So, when I saw what looked like an even easier recipe on Smitten Kitchen’s website called Gnocchi & Tomato Broth, I was game. In addition to the difference in taste, I was also interested in noting the difference between this recipe and the previous one I worked off of. For one thing, it makes a lot less gnocchi which is good for me because I had a rough time trying to thaw out the dough I had frozen. You also prep the potato portion of the dish differently, instead of boiling them, you poke a bunch of holes in your potatoes and throw them in the oven, which I think it actually a lot simpler.

While the potatoes baked, I got to work on the sauce. You’ll note I said “sauce” instead of “broth” because instead of straining everything out like the recipe suggests, I took to it with a hand blender and made myself more of a sauce. Why? Well, it’s been cold and I wanted something thicker. If I made this in warmer months, though, I’d try the broth method to see how that works.

Once the sauce was done, I went back to making the gnocchi dough which involved mixing the ingredients up in our Kitchenaide. From there, I divided up the dough, rolled out some lines and chopped them up with my dough cutter/scooper. While working on this part, I set a pot of water on the stove to boil. When I was done with the dough pieces and the water was boiling, I started dropping them in and waiting for them to rise.

Again, the process can be somewhat laborious and time consuming, but there are days when all I want to do is go into the kitchen and not come out for a few hours with something really good and even a little primal that I made with my hands. This gave me that feeling without taking up too much of the day, so I’m adding it to the greatest hits.

Revisiting Smitten Kitchen’s Pasta With Onion Butter Red Sauce & Turkey

revisiting smitten's onion butter pasta 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!

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Fusilli With Sausage, Artichokes & Sun-Dried Tomatoes

After seeing Giada De Laurentiis’ Chicken Saltimbocca, I decided to stick with a theme and look around at some of her other recipes on Food Network. I also came upon a nice sounding pasta called Fusilli With Sausage, Artichokes & Sun-Dried Tomatoes that I tried and knocked out of the park. The only change I made to the ingredient list, aside from a few measurements that didn’t quite match up, was switching the sausage from hot Italian to sweet Italian, one that better suited our tastes.

As you can see, the recipe is actually pretty simple, just tossing the ingredients into the pot at different times and letting them do their thing. I always try to consolidate the number of plates or dishes on my counter while cooking, which meant I combined the sun dried tomatoes, chicken broth and wine in one measuring cup. I’d like to think that, in addition to being more efficient, this also makes the flavors more intense and mingled, but I have no idea.

By adding the mozzarella at the very end you go from a really great sausage and artichoke pasta dish to one that almost has a mac and cheese feel to it. Everything’s so warm and gooey and sweet and and tangy that it really is a party in your mouth, one I hope to have again soon.

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.

Cooking Em’s Mom’s Swedish Meatballs

My wife loves Swedish meatballs. She reminds me of this every time I make the somewhat similar beef stroganoff and recommends I give her mom’s recipe a try. A while back, I decided to give it a shot and the results were pretty fantastic. Sometimes working with meatballs can be tricky and somewhat arduous, but that was not the case here. All you need to make the recipe are two slices of bread, half an onion, a pound of ground meat (I went with beef), two egg yolks, allspice, nutmeg, a tablespoon of butter, a 1/4 cup of flour, two cups of beef stock, milk and egg noodles.

You start off by breaking up the bread and soaking it in the milk for a while. Then put all the other ingredients from onion to nutmeg in the above list with some salt and pepper. Mix that all together and then make your meatballs. I went with smaller ones and wound up with about 25 and fried them up until brown in a pan in batches.

With all the meatballs cooked you then make the sauce which comes from the rest of the ingredients listed above. The butter and flour go into the pan to make a roux and then you add in the stock and milk, letting that cook down and thicken. Once you get it to the right thickness, add the meatballs back in and serve over the egg noodles. I like to garnish with sour cream. You really can’t go wrong with nutmeg-y beef, gravy, sour cream and noodles in my book.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Linguine With Tomato-Almond Pesto (Sorta)

As my go-to, single person recipe blog, I spend about as much time flipping through Smitten Kitchen’s archives as I do going through books by people like Betty Crocker, Alton Brown and Michael Ruhlman. We’re just on similar wavelenghts and she has a killer eye for good food. So, I was pretty excited when I came across her recipe for Linguine With Tomato-Almond Pesto. I was far less excited, however, when I went to the grocery store that week and they didn’t have any basil. I wasn’t really prepared to sub in another recipe, so I decided to wing it and the results weren’t half bad.

I followed the recipe for the most part, but added and subtracted a few things based on what I had on hand. Obviously, the basil was out of the pesto, so I tried making it a little more flavorful by adding some olives, but I don’t think that flavor really came through in the finished product. I also decided to heat up some of the frozen Thanksgiving turkey and warmed that up in the same pan I toasted the almonds in.

When the sauce was done whirring in the food processor, I added it to the defrosted chicken and let those guys get to know each other a little bit while the pasta finished doing its thing. Before draining, I pulled out some of the pasta water which I later mixed back in to thicken everything up a bit. I haven’t made the recipe yet as written, though I intend to at some point, but I can say that mine was pretty almond-y. It did feel like it was missing a little something without the basil, but overall it felt like a pretty good save.

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!

Cooking Sweet & Spicy Beef With Egg Noodles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooking Rachael Ray’s Reuben Mac & Cheese

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

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

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

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