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.

The Pop Poppa Nap Cast Episode 96

pop poppa nap cast logoThe Pop Poppa Nap Cast Episode 96 covers my new job writing for Geek.com, my better mood thanks to the weather and how I hope that leads to better times with my kids this summer!

october country basement

If you’re in the Orange County area and like comics, do yourself a favor and check out October Country in New Paltz.

I wrote about fried-egg-coverd BLTs in this post, which you should absolutely check out. Fried eggs also played into Feed Me Phoebe’s excellent Mexican Sweet Potato Hash with Black Beans and Spinach and Smitten Kitchen’s fantastic Spaghetti Pangrattato with Crispy Eggs.

cinci chili dog

Finally, the two StaceyMakesCents posts I mentioned about Cincinnati Chili and magnesium lotion can be found here and here. Also, feast your eyes on this rad-looking dog.

For more of me check out UnitedMonkee.com, Comic Book Resources, Geek.com and @PoppaDietsch on Twitter.

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 Bobby Flay’s Mole-Rubbed Steak and Eggs with Chocolate Stout Beurre Blanc

One of the many nice things about the new house is our far more robust cable package. With it comes Food Network subsidiary The Cooking Channel, which, as the name implies, features far more actual cooking shows. In addition to buying a new house, my mom also moved out to New York to join my dad who’s been here for a few months. She’s been coming over and watching the kids during the day which allows me to get my work done more efficiently and also start cooking dinner without as many interruptions. But, if we get lucky and both kids fall asleep at the same time, we like to watch food shows.

Last week we happened upon an episode of Brunch At Bobby’s that revolved around chocolate. I didn’t care for the most part, but then he got to his recipe for Mole-Rubbed Steak and Eggs with Chocolate Stout Beurre Blanc and I was all ears. It made it onto my menu the next week and turned out pretty swell.

Instead of using the variety of chili powders mentioned in the recipe, I used my mother-in-law’s chili powder concoction which is always on point. Aside from that, I followed the rub recipe and covered the steak, but I did forget to put the canola oil on first, so instead I cooked the steak in some (maybe a little too much, actually) oil after letting it sit for the 30 minutes.

In the meantime I got everything together for the sauce. Since I used a bit too much oil while cooking the steak, the sauce was a bit oilier than I think it should have been, but still turned out to have a really interesting flavor profile. Part of that came through because I used Shocktop’s Shockolate Wheat instead of a straight-ahead chocolate stout. While the citrus and wheat elements did come through, I don’t think the resulting sauce was as thick in consistency or flavor as the recipe as written. Next time I’ll try it Bobby’s way.

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 Good Housekeepings Kielbasa Stew

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

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

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

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

Wok This Way: Damn Delicious’ Pineapple Fried Rice

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

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

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

Cooking Aaron Sanchez’s Cemita Sandwiches With Roasted Tomato-Chile De Arbol Salsa

Earlier this year I picked up Aaron Sanchez’s Simple Food, Big Flavor cookbook. I love how it’s organized because he starts off with a kind of sauce and then gives readers a variety of dishes that incorporate that very ingredient. I decided to try out Cemita Sandwiches (page 64) which was a part of his recipe for Roasted Tomato-Chile De Arbol Salsa (page 52). Since there were so many working parts, I’ll break them down here.

First off I got to work on the salsa, which is a really simple and easy process. I used two chipotle peppers in adobo which was a huge mistake because it made this condiment way too hot for us. I tried mixing some honey in which helped a bit, but there’s still an underlying smokey hotness that I don’t know if I’ll be able to use this much.

From there I got to work on the sandwiches. First, my changes. I went with regular sandwich bread and skipped the papalo leaves. Basically, this just involved a lot of cutting. You’ve got tomato, avocado and mozzarella. The ham was a bit more work intensive, but I took a pretty big shortcut by buying some pre-sliced smoked ham at the grocery store. I still mixed the spices as suggested in the recipe, but instead of pounding out pork loin, I just spread it on the ham and cooked it in the pan. I’m sure the flavors didn’t go nearly as deep thanks to my modified way, but I’d also wager it cut off a good deal of time.

With all the meat cooked, I was basically in assembly line mode, just like when I made Bangin’ BLTs not long ago. The bread went in the toaster and when it popped, I went back to my sandwich making roots, adding the veggies, cheese and passing it off to the fam.

All in all, this might have been a truncated version of Sanchez’s meal, but I thought it still came out really tasty. There was definitely some heat coming off of the meat, but that was quelled a bit thanks to the mozzarella and avocado. The mozz also brought in a nice creamy tanginess that I appreciated. We even tried some of the super hot salsa on the bread as the recipe suggests which worked out pretty well. If I make this one again, I’ll have to go wimpier on the salsa and maybe actually try that whole pork loin thing.

Making Sunny’s Homemade Ketchup

A few weeks back I caught an episode of Food Network’s multi-host culinary talk show The Kitchen that was all about burgers. There were some tasty looking variations on there, but the real star for me was Sunny Anderson’s Homemade Ketchup.

In the mood for another homemade challenge, I decided to give it a try to go along with some homemade burgers, buns and mayo on Fourth of July. As you do, I went to FN.com, searched around and found the recipe linked above. But, like many of the commentors, I was surprised to find that it differed from the one presented on the show. Two major ingredients — a cinnamon stick ans a star anise — were nowhere to be found and I want to say the cooking process was a little different than on the show, but I couldn’t fully recall.

So, I decided to follow the recipe as posted while adding the star and the stick, but cutting the sugar to a heaping half cup. The rest of the process is pretty simple but does take some time. I’ve heard that homemade ketchup winds up tasting pretty different from the store-bought stuff and that’s definitely the case with this recipe, especially if you use the anise. After I took the handblender to the cooked tomato mixture I was surprised to find that, not only was it too sweet, but also nearly overpowered by that rich licorice flavor from the star. From there I stirred in a combination of salt, apple cider vinegar and regular vinegar to subdue some of that sweetness. Eventually I had to move on to other things so it went into the fridge to cool.

The next day I tasted the ketchup and, while it’s still pretty far from Heinz, I’ve got to say that it’s mighty intriguing. It’s basically ketchup’s sassier cousin with the crispness of the tomatoes along with the acid notes from the vinegar and that overarching unique sweetness from the star anise. It might not be what I’m used to, but it worked really well with the burgers and has served us well since. When I try this next time, I might leave the anise out just to see what the results are like.

I did all this a day or two before I was going to use it so it would have enough time to cool. I also wound up dividing the condiment into three parts, one going in a squeeze bottle I picked up at the grocery store and the other two in individual freezer bags.

Baking Homemade Hamburger Buns

When I started thinking about preparing a Fourth of July meal for my folks, I figured I’d try my hand at making my own ketchup (post coming soon). While the wheels turned about that one I had a thought pop into my head wondering, “Hey, how do you make burger buns?” I went to Google and found one on Taste Of Home called 40-Minute Hamburger Buns. I don’t do a lot of baking, but since I started making most of the pasta I use, I’ve gotten more and more okay working with dough, so it wasn’t too scary.

This particular recipe appealed to me because it’s so simple. You’ve got seven ingredients, most of which I already had on hand, so I decided to try it out a few days in advance. The process itself wasn’t hard at all, but I will say that the 12 buns I got that time would have worked for sliders, but not full-sized burgers. With that new knowledge, plus the idea that you’ve really got to pat down the dough so you don’t get those crazy outgrowths, I gave them another shot, this time breaking the dough into 6 buns, which you can see in that last photo. Still, if you’re looking for rolls or slider buns, go with the dozen.

I should also note that I made these two different ways. The first time was with the mixer and the second was just by hand in a big bowl. Both worked really well. I’d probably go with the bowl just because it makes fewer dishes, really. Anyway, these buns turned out so good in both forms that I had trouble keeping everyone away from them so we could have burgers on them. They’re just so light and airy with a bit of sweetness that makes for awesome rolls or buns. In fact, as you can see in the following images, they also make great rolls for mini breakfast sandwiches if you’ve got some spare eggs, cheese and ham/bacon/sausage around! IMG_7192

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 Steak With Chickpeas, Tomatoes & Feta

As I mentioned last week, we’re trying to stick to a budget, so I’m paying a lot more attention to grocery store sales when coming up with our weekly menus. Last week, Hannaford had Flat Iron steak on sale, so I looked around in my Big Blue Binder for something and came across Real Simple’s Steak With Chickpeas, Tomatoes & Feta.

Recipe-wise, I used this as more of a guideline as you can see if you click through to the link. I mixed it up with the type of beef, went with hot house tomatoes instead of plums and swapped out cilantro for some thyme from our mini herb garden. Oh and I went with lime instead of lemon juice because that’s what I had on hand.

For the steak, I did my usual: rub down with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and throw in a very hot cast iron pan. I’m moving away from using the grill type pans and have just been working with the flat ones lately. Once I got the steak to the temp I wanted, I pulled it out and put the tongs underneath to help get the air all around it.

Then you make the salad, which is also super simple. Toss the chickpeas in the pan you just grilled the meat in and cook for 3-5 minutes before mixing in the tomatoes, lime juice and herbs. Once that was done, I put the mixture in a bowl and stirred the feta in.

I think this was probably the first time I cooked Flat Iron steak and I’ve got to say it was really tasty. I read in various places that that’s because it’s got good marbling. I have trouble remembering all the ins and outs of meat, but this one will hopefully stick out in my mind as a solid piece of meat for a simple grill session. Meanwhile, the tomato and chickpea salad was a really nice side dish that has room for all kinds of new flavors and additional veggies. I’d like to try this with some corn and see how that plays with the feta.

Cooking Ginger-Sesame Marinated Pork Loin With Sugar Snap Peas

My wife and I are hoping to get into a house in the relatively near future, so to get prepared for that added expense in our lives, we’re implementing a budget. This has altered how I tackle meals and groceries to an extent. I used to go to my sources first (cookbooks, websites, blogs, The Big Blue Binder, etc.), write out my list and go shopping. Now, I check the grocery store circular first to see what’s on sale, specifically in the meat section, and then create the menu around that.

That’s what lead me to pick up pork loin last week. From there I went through my recently organized Big Blue Binder and came across a recipe for Ginger-Sesame Marinade from Real Simple that would work well with that particular cut of meat. About four or five hours before dinner, I got the meat in a sealable bag and then mixed together 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon grated ginger, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 2 scallions cut with kitchen scissors and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper. Combine those things, put the bag in the refrigerator and make sure to shift it about every now and then.

Since the actual Real Simple recipe just featured the marinade instructions, I went to my trust Betty Crocker Cookbook and looked around for some guidance. On page 255 I found the recipe for Italian Roasted Pork Tenderloin. I didn’t completely follow this, but it was certainly helpful. I got the oven going to 450 degrees and then got a cast iron pan super hot before putting the pork loin and some of the marinade in there. I seared the meat in the pan and then put it in the oven with my new electric thermometer aiming for 155 degrees. At that point I took it out and let sit on a rack — a trick I learned from watching David Chang and Anthony Bourdain’s excellent The Mind Of A Chef — which allows the air to hit all sides of the meat. After about 10 minutes, I sliced it up and served with some sugar snap peas my wife picked when she went strawberry picking with my daughter.

Unfortunately, we had some more refrigerator trouble after I made this so the majority of the leftovers had to get tossed, but before that we were treated to a salty, tangy bit of pork that was just delightful. My wife made herself a cuban with the meat for lunch the next day which gave me an idea to do a more Asian themed version of the cuban with kimchi, which I’ve never actually tried, so who knows if it would work? Maybe I’ll give that a shot next time I make this ridiculously simple, very tasty meal.

Cooking Giada de Laurentiis’s Naked Spring Rolls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooking Feed Me Phoebe’s Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad

It’s hot as heck here in New York, so you know what that means: time to look for new chicken salad recipes! Feed Me Phoebe has become a new favorite food blog with lots of interesting dishes. Since I hadn’t exploited the site for chicken salad recipes, it was the first to pop into my mind. My mom actually makes a tarragon chicken salad that I really like, which is why I chose this one for Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad.

I fully intended to follow the recipe and pick up a rotisserie chicken like the recipe suggests, but my daughter and I ran to the grocery store early and there weren’t any available yet. So, I grabbed some chicken breasts and gave them the ol’ olive oil-salt-pepper treatment and cooked them up on the cast iron.

While the chicken cooked I made the dressing which was super simple. Earlier that week I had made some mayonnaise to go along with the Bangin’ BLTs and used that when putting this meal together. This was all part of my menu master plan for the week. I love homemade mayo because it’s so awesomely rich, but it doesn’t last a super long time, so if you’re not a sandwich fiend, it might make sense to have a chicken salad recipe or something that will use up a good portion of the delightful condiment in line for that same week. In other words, don’t waste all that goodness!

With the dressing made, I got to chopping up the herbs and veggies. For the tarragon, I turned to our mini herb garden — look for a mini-post on this down the line  —  golly that’s a unique, bright and bite-y flavor. I also threw in a few diced pieces of celery because I’m used to that in chicken salads and had a few sitting around.

I went with a really small, cube-y dice for the chicken on this. My wife noted that it didn’t stay on the bun very well, so you might want to go with a larger chop. I wasn’t quite sure how far the two chicken breasts I had allotted for this meal would go, hence the smaller cut.

For serving purposes, I didn’t go with the lettuce leaves as mentioned. I intended to, but while walking through the grocery store, I stumbled across some pretzel buns and thought they’d go really well with this cool, tangy dish. I topped the chicken salad with some fresh, clean spinach and was good to go.

Cooking Jeff Mauro’s Chicken Shawarma with Tomato Cucumber Relish and Tahini Sauce

This was another dish I saw prepared in the limited time during the weekend when Food Network actually shows cooking programs that  I mentioned in yesterday’s post. In that one hour I saw four recipes I want to try and have already made two of them.

Like a lot of people, I first heard of Shawarma thanks to that post-credit sequence in The Avengers. Oh, I’d probably heard of it before in passing, but never really thought about it. Within the next year, I wound up at Chickpea and tried some with my wife. It was quite good, so why wouldn’t I want to try and make some in the comfort of my own galley kitchen?

Before making this meal, understand one thing: tahini’s kind of expensive. The 16 oz jar of the sesame paste I got was about $8, but you only use a quarter of a cup, so hopefully I won’t have to buy it again for a while. Aside from that, though, you’re dealing with pretty standard ingredients though you might need to add a few spices to your rack.

Speaking of which, that’s the best place to start with this recipe. I usually like to chop up all my veggies first, but since you need to marinate the sliced chicken thighs for a half hour, I cut up the thighs after I put the shawarma spice mixture together. This is the first time I’ve worked with boneless chicken thighs, but I tried to get a good deal of the fat off.

With the meat doing it’s thing in the refrigerator, I got to work on the Tomato Cucumber Relish (more of a salad really) and the Tahini Sauce, neither of which were difficult but did take a bit of time (well, at least for the former). For the relish, you just chop, measure, mix and you’re good to go. The sauce is even simpler.

Now, Jeff put the marinated meat on skewers and grilled them on the episode. He said it was because he wanted to recreate the spit roaster he saw at the restaurant he visited. That seemed like a lot of extra work, so I just tossed the contents into a cast iron pan and got cooking.

I also tried to cook the pitas the way he did in the episode: by putting olive oil on one side and heating it on the girl. It didn’t work out so well for me so I stopped. When I served myself a plate, I tried putting all the ingredients on top of the pita as you can see in the picture, taco-style. But, the problem there was that there’s a lot of liquid going on here and everything fell apart. I was a little upset until I remembered that a lot of Middle Easter food is eaten with the hands, scooping whatever’s on your plate into the pita or naan and then into your mouth. With that in mind I dug in and had a good, old time.

The chicken had some nice heat and spice to it without going over the top. Even if it was, the tang and crispness of the relish would have cut through it, aided by the thick, substantial tahini sauce. Mixed all together and scooped into pitas, this was a killer meal that I will definitely make again.

I don’t have any pictures of this, but that same week I also made Real Simple’s Spiced Mini Burgers With Couscous Salad. This not only added a bit of continuity to the menu that week, but allowed me to use  up the leftover relish and tahini sauce for this dish. I ground up the beef and made the burgers as advised, but for the couscous salad, I used the leftover relish and just added a few more cucumbers, tomatoes and some couscous I cooked in homemade chicken stock. The tahini sauce then got used to make Alton Brown’s Hummus For Real recipe, though one that used canned chickpeas instead of slow cooked ones. I really enjoyed the spice mix used for these burgers and could imagine going either way size-wise with them: smaller for appetizers or finger food or larger for full on burgers. Both of these recipes get the thumbs up from me!

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.

MATK Originals: Bangin’ BLTs

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

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

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

Bangin’ BLT Ingredients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooking Damn Delicious’ Skinny Cauliflower Mac & Cheese With Pancetta

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

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

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

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

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

I Hope You’re Following Alton Brown On The Internets

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If you are up to date on Alton Brown’s many online offerings these days, digital high fives all around. If not, here’s a few places you can check him out and enjoy the Mr. Wizard Of Food when he’s not hosting Food Network shows.

First and foremost, Brown’s a pretty big deal on Twitter @AltonBrown. In addition to giving fans the occasional bit of cooking advice he also flipped the script on the social media system by posting photos of hand-written Post It notes with messages and drawings (see above). These are especially entertaining when he livetweets shows like Food Network Star air.

the Alton Browncast logo

Brown also started a podcast over on the Nerdist Network called The Alton Browncast. You can head over there to check out episodes, or download them via iTunes (my preferred method for procuring podcasts). The show has gone through a few different iterations since it debuted. It used to be broken up into segments where Brown would split time between answering listener questions and talking to celebrities of all kinds. I’m not all the way caught up right now, but for the most part, the show has focused mainly on the interviews, though from the looks of it the latest episode is all Q&A. It wasn’t much of a surprise, but Brown is a great interviewer, which is a skill he doesn’t necessarily show off in his other outlets, so it’s cool to hear him use those skills to chat up everyone from fellow Food Network stars and cooks to former Good Eats co-workers and clothiers. If you just want more Alton Brown in your life, this is a great way, though it won’t always be about food, which is fine in my book.

For more straight-up, Alton Brown cooking goodness, you’ve got to check out his YouTube Channel. He’s only posted 10 videos as I write this, but in each one he offers up the kind of great thinking that made Good Eats such a fun show to watch. One video shows him using an old egg carton to organize his mustards while the one above features a better way to hard cook eggs using an oven. I also got a kick out of the below video which has him cooking skirt streak directly on top of charcoal. I’ve never wanted a charcoal grill more in my life!

This is one I have to remind myself to check out every week or so, but each time I see something new on there, I see a new technique I want to use at some point in the near future.

Smoothies For Breakfast

Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to get myself on track to tackle the next phase of adulthood. I turned 31 earlier this year and have definitely started feeling it when I don’t eat well or drink a bit too much. So, while I’m watching those things, I’m also trying to give myself the proper fuel to watch two kids. If you don’t follow my dad blog over at PopPoppa, we had our second child about seven weeks early two months ago. With my wife’s maternity leave coming to an end in the relatively near future, I know I need to not only be really organized, but also equip myself with food that will help fuel me throughout the day. I do my best to cook healthy, homemade meals most nights that make for great lunch leftovers, but I tend to skip or overlook breakfast.

In an attempt to remedy that and also get a lot of fruits and vegetables in early in the day, I’ve started making smoothies in the morning. The process is super simple, but does take a bit of grocery store planning. I’ve added frozen strawberries, store brand vanilla Greek yogurt and kale to my weekly grocery list and also increased the number of apples, carrots and bananas I usually get, but I wouldn’t say that’s much of a hardship.

So, here’s my basic recipe:

1 banana
1/2 cup frozen strawberries*
1/2 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
1-2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup kale leaves
1/2 cup milk
1 apple, chopped
1 tablespoon peanut butter

* = you can definitely use fresh, but if you’re like me and your kid adores strawberries, you give them the fresh ones and use what you can get

Basically, you just throw all this stuff into your blender or food processor. I’ve never used a juicer, so I’m not sure what the deal is there. For instance, I don’t know if you’d put the dairy products in there or mix later. Anyway, with our blender, since we’re dealing with a pretty full bowl, it takes a walk down the settings to get everything properly decimated. Even so, I still wind up with leafy bits and the occasional chunk of carrot or apple. That doesn’t bother me at all, but my wife can barely look at the finished product.

The beauty of the smoothie is that you can put pretty much anything in there and come out with an easy to consume breakfast. When I first started making smoothies years ago, I would put whey protein in there. I’ve swapped out the peanut butter for actual nuts like peanuts, walnuts and almonds, but you could also put in all kinds of nut butters. Same with the berries. This is also a good way to get rid of mushy bananas if you don’t feel like making bread of muffins. Last week I used up some leftover fruit salad instead of going with the berries which gave the smoothie a much different taste. Kale can be swapped out for spinach, endive or whatever other non-lettuce greens you might have. I’ve even tossed in extra mint and basil. Lastly, sometimes I’ll throw in a few tablespoons of orange juice or freshly squeezed lemon or lime to give it some nice tang.

I find cooking very relaxing and am quite fond of prep stuff like measuring and chopping, so an added bonus of making this smoothie in the morning — something I do after getting up with the kids, drinking my coffee and getting my morning work done — is that it gives me a bit of that zen kitchen experience early in the day which can be as good for me mentally as the nutrients in the drink are physically.

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.

Cooking Michele Urvater’s Classic Italian Bolognese With Homemade Pasta

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 2

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

Taco Stuffed Shells

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

Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup

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

Cauliflower Pepperoni Pizza Casserole

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

Cooking 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.

Cooking Closet Cooking’s Fully Loaded Hasselback Potatoes

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

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

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

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

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

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 1

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

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

Cooking 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 Closet Cooking’s Black Bean, Corn & Quinoa Picadillo Tacos

A few months back I was getting a little bored with my usual food blogs. They’re still great and all, but I needed an injection of newness. So, I did a bunch of looking around and came across one called Closet Cooking that I absolutely love. One of the best recipes I’ve made from this blog are the Black Bean, Corn & Quinoa Picadillo Tacos which not only helped make tacos more interesting, but also added a lot more flavors into the kind of Mexican food I’m used to making. I’d never made picadillo before, so I followed this recipe to the letter. The veggies went into the pan while the quinoa cooked. Then, all that and the other ingredients went into a big bowl for mixing.

Since the avocados I picked up were a little funky looking, I decided to make a sauce with some leftover dill and buttermilk that were hanging out in the fridge as well as some tomato and onion. It was a little unusual, but certainly offered some more tang to the dish. In addition to that, I served the usual accoutrements: chopped tomatoes, torn lettuce, sour cream and shredded cheddar.

The two elements of this dish that really jumped out at me were the green olives and golden raisins which offered a nice sourness and sweetness to various bites during dinner. I’m a huge green olive fan, so I enjoy bringing them into play whenever it makes sense. I will definitely be making this recipe again and checking out some of the other picadillo recipes on Closet Cooking!

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 Pumpkin Seeds

I know we’re well past Halloween at this point, but I wanted to get this great and simple recipe for making pumpkin seeds up before I completely forgot. I’ve been enjoying salty pumpkin seeds around Halloween as long as I can remember. My mom would make them for me as a kid and I took over once I moved out on my own. I used her recipe for a while and then one that a friend of hers gave her that works out really well.

We had two average sized pumpkins — check their size and our daughter’s designs here — which yielded a good amount of seeds. I soaked them over night and then dried them out using a strainer. When I was ready to cook them, I put the oven on to 325 degrees and spread them out on a baking sheet (I probably should have used two so they’d have more room to cook) and then covered them with melted butter. I then sprinkled salt on all of them and garlic powder on half before putting them in the oven for around 30 minutes total. I only did half with garlic powder because once they’re done, they all get mixed together and didn’t want the garlic to be overpowering.

The end result was a solid batch of crunchy, salty seeds that were a big hit around the house. In fact, our two year old liked them so much, she wound up eating the last of the bunch while I made dinner, the tricky little monkey.

MacGyvering Thai-Style Lentil, Coconut & Green Bean Soup

Do you have a blindspot when it comes to a certain aspect of cooking? I do and it comes in the form of the slow cooker. For some reason, my mind always forgets to remind me that I need to actually get those dinners ready until there’s not enough time. With ingredients ready to go bad in the next few days and a need for a dish, I took to my trust copy of The Ultimate Soup Bible and did a little digging.

After looking up a few soups by ingredient, I realized I had most of what I’d need to follow the recipe for Thai-Style Lentil & Coconut Soup (p. 123), plus a bag of green beans, so I got to work. I had to make a few changes for this one. First off, I didn’t have sunflower oil, red onions, a Thai chili, lemongrass or cilantro so I swapped out for peanut oil, a yellow onion and shallot and omitted the rest.

I cooked two chopped onions, two cloves of garlic and the cleaned and broken-up green beans in some peanut oil for five minutes before adding 7 ounces of lentils (I had regular, not red), a teaspoon of coriander that I warmed and ground myself as well as a teaspoon of paprika. Then the can of coconut milk went in followed by 3 3/4 cups of water. I brought that to a boil and then simmered for 45 minutes. When that was done I added the juice from a lime and some sliced scallions. And thus a soup was born!

I’m sure the recipe as written has a much greater depth of flavor thanks to the additional heat from the chili (which I probably would have skipped anyway) and the lemongrass, but I thought this worked out pretty well for a quickly MacGyvered meal. For an extra bit of protein and saltiness, I put some lightly salted roasted peanuts on top of mine which helped round things out.

Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Beer-Braised Beef Casserole

A month or two back I sat down with my usual stack of cookbooks and wound up walking away with several recipes from Nigella Kitchen. I had about an equal number of hits as misses, but this one, more fully titled Carbonnade a la Flamand (a.k.a. Beer-Braised Beef Casserole, page 330) was a home run. This recipe is super easy to make, but you do need several hours for it to cook. Since I work from home, this wasn’t such a big deal, but if you’re working full time and like to cook, I’d recommend giving in a whirl on a nice fall or winter weekend.

You might be wondering about that first photo above. That’s molasses in some sugar because I realized just as I was about to make this dish that we didn’t have any brown sugar. I’ve since remedied this, but after looking up what brown sugar actually is (sugar mixed with molasses), I figured this would be a good workaround. I think it worked out pretty well.

Anyway, I wasn’t familiar with this recipe by name, but it’s pretty similar to others I’ve made. You start off by cooking bacon in your Dutch oven. When it’s done to the crispness of your liking — we like ours nice and crunchy — you then cook onions in the bacon fat. This infuses not only the pungent veggies, but the whole dish with a rich fatiness that plays well with the right ingredients. The beef and spices go into the pot after that followed by flour and then the beer and beef broth. I happened to have a Brooklyn Brewery sampler pack on hand, but I can’t tell exactly which kind I used because that pic is so blurry.

And then you just let it cook for three hours. The recipe suggests putting it in the oven, but I just let it simmer on the stove top and thought the results were delightful. The beef takes on a sweet, tangy quality that made this dish a delight both fresh and as leftover. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the entire opening story before this recipe because if I had, I would have noticed the part about serving this meal over egg noodles which would have really soaked everything up. I’m definitely keeping that in mind for a nice winter meal.

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

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

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

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

Cooking A-1 Beef & Broccoli

For years and years I just didn’t care about cooking. It wasn’t something that was even remotely interesting to me and then at some point in college, I did. I don’t remember how or why, but it just happened. At that point I did some looking around and discovered a recipe I simply titled Beef and Broccoli when I typed it out all those years ago. I can’t remember where it came from, but it’s pretty simple and I did tweak it a bit, so I’ll post the whole thing here.

2/3 cup A-1 steak sauce
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 cloves of garlic
1 pound London Broil
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Head of broccoli
One bell pepper (I used red)
Small package of mushrooms
Cooked rice

First off, get your rice going. After that, cube your steak and marinate in the soy and A-1 sauce for an hour. During that time, chop up the garlic, pepper and mushrooms and steam the broccoli until tender. After the hour marinade time, cook the beef in olive oil for five minutes on medium-high heat. When that’s done, remove to a plate and cook the vegetables, bringing everything to a boil. Reduce heat to low, reincorporate the beef and stir in cooked rice.

The original recipe I have written down is pretty close to this, but I replaced the original 16 ounce bag of frozen vegetables (broccoli, peppers, mushrooms and bamboo shoots) with fresh aside from the shoots, which I would definitely throw back in when making this again.

I made this a few weeks back at this point (sorry for the lack of posts lately, this have been all over the place lately) and while I still enjoyed it, it doesn’t quite blow my mind like it did the firs time around. Back then, I was all over the mix of A-1 and soy sauce — two of my favorite condiments at that time — but it’s a bit strong and overpowering now. I could probably dig deep into this recipe and figure out a way to temper it (maybe cut down on the A-1), but now that I make so many legit wok-based dishes, I’m not sure if I’ll come back to it.

Cooking Alton Brown’s Sweet & Sour Pork

I haven’t tried as many recipes from my copy of Alton Brown’s Good Eats: The Early Years for a few reasons. First, I know the book is based on the chronology of the TV show, but I’m not a big fan of the book’s layout. It makes sense for what it is, but I prefer my cookbooks organized by type of meal or ingredient, that kind of thing. I also get a bit distracted by the overly busy page design. And yet, every time I make something from this volume, it turns out good, so I should probably stop complaining about it.

Sweet And Sour Pork (page 342-3 or this link on FoodNetwork.com, if you want to check it out for yourself) was my most recent recipe attempt and, like most of the others, it turned out really well. As noted in the recipe, the first thing to do is cut up a bunch of pork butt and marinate it overnight, which means this recipe takes a bit more forethought than most. I think I forgot to do this the night before and wound up putting it together earlier the day-of and still had pretty solid results.

When you do get to the actual cooking, Brown suggests using an electric skillet. We happened to have one in our kitchen by way of wedding present, so I used that, but it seems like a pan would work just as well. As per usual, I did a lot of my prep beforehand. My wife had cut up the pineapple earlier in the week, so that wasn’t as big a chore as usual. I then got to work on the onion, celery, carrots and peppers, organizing them together based on when they went into the pan. With that out of the way and a flour dredging spot set up in a pie plate, I was off to the races.

After cooking the pork in the pan, you throw in the onion, celery and carrots. Once those get their cook on, it’s time for the more colorful peppers and pineapple to join the party along with the previously removed pork. At this point in the process I was really struck by how colorful this dish is. You can see it in the pictures, but anything with such bright yellows, greens, reds and oranges has to be good right?

The recipe actually called for an easy-to-make ketchup-based sauce to be added to the meat, vegetables and fruit, but it came out a bit sweet and I figured it would be better as a side sauce. I’m glad I made this move because I put a bit too much sauce on one of my servings and it basically washed out all those great meat and vegetable flavors. Drop some of that mixture on top of some rice — I went with Jasmine — and a drizzle of sauce and you’ve got a plate of food that not only looks amazing but also plays to most of your taste buds.

Cooking Heirloom Grilled Cheese Sandwich & Chunky Tomato Bacon Soup

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

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

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

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.

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

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

Cooking Tacos Al Pastor With Grilled Pineapple Salsa

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

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

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