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.

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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 Crispy Sesame-Panko Chicken

My parents’ house is directly behind a Chinese restaurant that we ordered from with some frequency. You might think with such easy access that I would have been well-versed in the country’s delicacies by an early age, but that wasn’t the case. Why? Because I only wanted to eat white rice with soy sauce. I don’t remember exactly how long this went on for, but definitely longer than someone who writes about food with some regularity would like to admit. Sometime in college or maybe high school I was turned on to the tastiness of Chinese carry food and have been hooked ever since.

Like a lot of people, I’m a big Sesame Chicken fan. I’ve even done some research into making the dish at home, especially with my growing wok experience. But, it’s a fairly complicated dish, if memory serves and, sometimes you just want to save a dish for nights when you’re not cooking, you know? But, I was intrigued when I saw the recipe for Crispy Sesame-Panko Chicken in my now-expired free Good Housekeeping subscription.

One of the best parts of this recipe is that, if you cook anything vaugley Asian on a semi-regular basis, you probably have the majority of the ingredients on hand. The only thing I bought for this was the cabbage. Everything else was in the pantry, fridge or freezer. It’s also pretty easy to put together.

The recipe says to get the chicken and oven ready first, but I didn’t go that way. I don’t have a lot of space to work with, so I try to tackle sides and condiments first. That meant that I whipped up the cabbage salad first. The main effort here comes from cutting up a cabbage. Once that’s done, throw it in a bow with green onion, sugar, vinegar, low sodium soy sauce, salt and pepper. I got that in the fridge to let everything mingle and then whipped up the simple ketchup serving sauce minus the cayenne. With those out of the way — literally — it was time for the chicken. First step: oven to 450 degrees.

Again, this isn’t a difficult process, but it did take some space. I like to use pie dishes for my egg wash/crumb chicken dishes. They’ve got the right surface area and higher sides so I don’t have to worry about spilling grossness all over my counter. Dip the fat-trimmed chicken breasts in the egg/garlic powder/dry mustard/ginger/pepper mix then into the panko/sesame seed crumblies before placing on a baking sheet (I went foil-covered as usual). Those go into the 450 degree oven for 15-20 minutes and get nice and crunchy. That’s enough time to get your slaw and sauce together if you were so inclined, but I’d rather do my work up front and have a little relaxation time while the oven does its job.

The chicken doesn’t have that sugary, stickiness I’ve come to know and love from Sesame Chicken, but it does remind my tongue and brain enough to hit some of the right buttons, maybe not as hard as the real deal, but enough for a tasty dish. The slaw was nice and tangy, the kind of thing you could slow together for any Asian main dish (man, it’d be good on tacos!). The ketchup also added a really nice tangy element to the party. Altogether I’d say this is a good way to go for a solid meal that might open up the door to more Asian-inspired entrees in the future. I bet even my younger self would have passed up the white rice/soy sauce combo to give this a shot.

Cooking Chicken Gyro Salad

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

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

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

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

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

Making Smitten Kitchen’s Caesar Salad With Tyler Florence’s Croutons

As I said in a few posts this week, it’s been hot in New York for a while, or at least it was for a while there. I tried coming up with salads and other meals that wouldn’t overheat the house or myself during prep. As I usually do when I have a vague cooking idea, I went over to SmittenKitchen.com and looked around for various salads. Her recipe for Caesar Salad sounded really interesting, especially because of the brined boneless chicken breasts used. I’m a big fan of Caesar when it comes to the salad family, that dressing is just so in line with what my taste buds love being slathered in, so I decided to give it a shot. Smitten’s recipe for the actual dressing can be found here. I didn’t see anything specific about the croutons, so I did a search on FoodNetwork.com and decided to go with Tyler Florence’s take.

This meal wound up taking more time to get together than I anticipated, but it wound up being well worth the time and energy. The first thing I got together was the brine for the chicken breasts. I’ve brined pork chops and our Thanksgiving turkey, so I was intrigued with the idea of going that route for simple chicken breasts.

Those stayed in the fridge for 15 minutes which gave me time to get the croutons and dressing together. The croutons were pretty simple. After setting your oven for 350 degrees, you rip up half your loaf of bread — I got a focaccia from the grocery store — and mix that up with some olive oil, Parmesan cheese and fresh ground black pepper. Then spread that mixture on a (foil-covered) baking sheet and let the oven do its thing for 15 minutes. These guys came out so cheesey and crunchy that I could have eaten them as snacks. In fact, I did while waiting for everything to come together.

The dressing was a pretty simple measure-and-whisk operation. I took the easy way out going the mayonnaise and no anchovy route. For some reason, this version didn’t taste right to me in the beginning, but I ran it by my wife — a fellow fan of the Caesar salad — and she was happy with it, so I let it hang out in the fridge as I took out the chicken and got to work with that.

I cooked the breasts for about 7 minutes per side in one of our non-stick pans. I added some salt and pepper, the former of which was silly considering I had just brined them in salt water. Anyway, while those cooked, I cut up the lettuce and got that in the serving bowl along with the croutons. Once the breasts were done, I chopped them up, tossed them in the bowl and was ready to serve.

I’ve said this before in regards to making tomato sauce and perogies, but there’s just something far more satisfying about eating a complicated and/or time-consuming dish that you make with your own hands. Now, Caesar Salad is nowhere near as complex as those other two, but when you consider the fact that you can drive to pretty much any sandwich shop, diner or fast food place and get this meal in about 10 minutes, it does give a bit of a different perspective and far more appreciation for your food. So, yes, this was a good Caesar salad. The brined chicken had so much more flavor that I’m thinking about using this preparation whenever I have the extra time for dinner. Also, as I’ve mentioned several times already, Tyler Florence’s croutons were to die for. All mixed together, this was a dish that I will definitely be making again, hopefully with some farm fresh ingredients in the not too distant future.

Making Smitten Kitchen’s Dill-Pepperoncini Tuna Salad

I don’t know about you guys, but it was hot as heck here in New York the past few weeks. It was so hot, in fact, that I didn’t want to sit under my computer a second longer than necessary, hence the lack of posting. Luckily it’s cooling down here (saying that the mid 80s is cool is odd) so I don’t mind hanging out with my old friend the laptop some more. I did my best to plan meals that wouldn’t take a lot of cooking to actually make. While looking around SmittenKitchen.com I came across her recipe for Dill-Pepperoncini Tuna Salad which involved just a bit of fire and heat!

Another bonus for this recipe is that I had everything on hand either in the pantry (tuna, Tony Packos banana peppers instead of pepperoncini, etc.) or the herb garden (dill). As you can see from the above images, there’s not a lot to this recipe. I opened the cans of tuna and dumped them in the bowl. I also got a small pan on the stove to toast some slivered almonds. Once those were done, they were dropped in too. Aside from that, the most work this recipe requires is chopping up the peppers and pouring liquid in the container. Mix it up and you’ve got a meal.

In the leftover phase, I ate this right out of the dish, but for dinner the first time, I went with a sandwich. The tuna salad had a great tartness thanks to the balsamic/mustard combination that includes a little sweetness and crunch thanks to the almonds. You add some sharp cheddar cheese into the mix on some toast and blammo, you’re good. I don’t usually like sandwiches for dinner because I had sandwiches every day throughout grade school and high school and made thousands of them while working at a bagel place back home, but when it’s hot as a mother out and I can whip something together with little work, I’m all for them.

Revisiting Smitten Kitchen’s Pea Pesto

fresh pea pesto

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

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

Disney World Bonus Food Pics: And The Rest

My apologies to regular readers for the intense lack of posts the past month or so. Between the lead-up to vacation, vacation itself, getting back into the groove with work and being sick and not cooking for all of last week, writing about food unfortunately fell pretty low on the priority list. I know the Disney trip seems like it was pretty long ago at this point, but I wanted to finish things out (if you’re curious to see what else we ate either scroll down or read, this, this, this and this).

pizzafari lunch

The Wednesday we spent at Disney World — which also happened to be my dad’s birthday — was spent hanging out in Animal Kingdom. As happened last time we all went there, it was a rainy day, though not nearly as bad as the previous visit. For lunch we went with a counter service at Pizzafari. When I think about food like this I always think it’s going to taste like the box it was delivered in, but I’ve got to say it was a pretty solid little pizza. I mean, it was nothing like the places around us in New York, but it also wasn’t terrible. I’m always a fan of Cesar salads and also went with the pudding for desert. I have no problem recommending Pizzafari if you’re in Animal Kingdom looking for a good lunch place.

boma soup

To celebrate my dad’s birthday, we went to the African buffet dinner at Boma which is located in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The last time we went to Disney World, this place was easily our number one favorite eating spot. I’ve got to say, though, that the experience wasn’t quite as enjoyable this time around. For one thing, the place was PACKED, so it was kind of hard to navigate the buffet line. Making matters a bit worse, the actual buffet is set up kind of poorly. People tend to line up for the carved meat, but are you supposed to get in that line before going after the other sections? Some people clearly think so while others did not. I went rogue when I needed to, as is my want.

But, the food was still really great. My personal favorite dish is the Coconut Curry Chicken Soup (above right). I’m also a fan of the Ginger Carrot Soup (above left). The interesting thing about eating at Boma this time around is that it wasn’t quite as revelatory. The food was still fantastic, but in the time since we ate there the first time, I’ve eaten and cooked a lot of different foods. Still, if you’re in Disney World, go eat at Boma, it’s worth it.

Croque Monsieur

Thursday was my daughter’s second birthday, so we tried to cater our dining choices to things she might get a kick out of. Since we were in Magic Kingdom that morning, we decided to try out one of the new eateries in New Fantasyland called Be Our Guest and as you might imagine, the place is Beauty And The Beast themed. This was the only place we ate at where diners could use a touch screen to order their food and while I love that idea, the practice was difficult because most people apparently can’t fathom how to use such a system just yet (even the helper at our station took longer to input our desired meal than it would have taken me). Anyway, my wife and I decided to split two different sandwiches because we couldn’t decide. So, we each had half of the Croque Monsieur (“Grilled Sandwich of Carved Ham and Gruyere Cheese and Bechamel with Pommes Frites”) and the Carved Prime Chuck Roast Beef Sandwich (“Served warm on a Baguette with Horseradish Sour Cream and Pommes Frites”) both of which would make fine choices for a hungry dining party.

Carved Prime Chuck Roast Beef Sandwich

To say a few more things about this restaurant, I really appreciate the theming they did. When you walk in you’re given a plastic spherical bar with a rose on it. You tap this to the screen when you order and then it acts like a GPS so the servers can find you. The servers themselves roll the food out in covered serving carts that both look neat and keep the food warm. Speaking of neat, the place is broken up into three different dining rooms, Belle’s Library, the West Wing and the ballroom. I’m actually not sure which one we were in, but one of the other rooms featured Beast’s flower and the other had windows set up to make it look like it was a dark and stormy night (though it was raining that day, so maybe that’s what it was). Anyway, if you have a BATB fan in your life, they’ll love eating at Be Our Guest.

princess dinner

For dinner that day we hoofed it over to Epcot’s World Showcase for the Princess Storybook Dining at Akerhus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway. Lu absolutely loved getting to meet and have her picture taken with Ariel, Snow White, Aurora, Cinderella and Belle so it was worth it for that alone. It was also nice that they had a great drink menu and rad food like Traditional Kjøttkake also known as, “Norwegian Meatballs served with Mashed Potatoes, Seasonal Vegetables, and Lingonberry Sauce.” It’s like that stuff they have at Ikea, but roughly 7 billion times better, plus you get the added bonus of knowing you don’t have to put frustrating furniture together after eating. They also do a complimentary buffet called “Taste of Norway,” but I don’t remember much about it aside from a sweet brown cheese that half the table enjoyed and half was not into at all.

kat korra dinner I din't eat

Unfortunately, I was not feeling very well for our last full day at Disney. I had some weird stuff going on with my stomach that was probably compounded by drinking more coffee and beer than water while on vacation. Not smart, people, be sure to stay hydrated. I really wish I had because we went to Kouzzina by Kat Kora for dinner and it was one of the restaurants I was most interested in checking out going back to the early days of planning this trip. Unfortunately, the strong Greek smells and flavors did not work well with my wobbly tummy, so, even though I ordered the Briami — “Oven-roasted Vegetables with Oregano, topped with Greek Cheese, served with Herbed Orzo Pasta” — I was only able to look it, sigh and go back to the room to take a nap. So while the Disney trip didn’t end on a high culinary note for me personally, I’ve got to say that, overall I probably haven’t had a better week of meals ever. Also, get the Dining Plan if you can!

Disney World Bonus Food Pics: French Breakfast & Moroccan Dinner

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

moracco salad

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

moracco entree

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

Making Ham Salad

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

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

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

Cooking Michael Ruhlman’s Rip’s Marinated London Broil & Warm Arugula Salad With Bacon & Poached Eggs

A while back I found myself wanting to try some London Broil along with a nice salad, so I took to my copy of Ruhlman’s Twenty, looked around and came out with a pair of recipes to try. First off, I found Rip’s Own Marinade For London Broil (or Flank Steak) on page 294. This recipe combines the meat with soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, ginger and onion powder and lets it all get to know each other in a bag or dish for several hours. I also came across his Warm Arugala Salad With Back & Poached Eggs on page 283 which, just from title alone, sounded delightful.

While the marinade wound up being not exactly what we were looking for — it’s been a while, but I think it turned out a little sweeter than my wife or I tend to like — I’m a big fan of this salad and think it could work either on its own or as a side dish to a less protein heavy main course. Plus, the salad is super-simple to put together. The only real work involves making the making, cooking a few eggs over easy and making a really simple vinegar-based dressing. It wound up being kind of like a breakfast salad with the combination of bacon and eggs, but the slightly bitter arugala also got in on the action, making this easy side stand out even more.

Cooking Homesick Texan Carnitas With Avocado Dressing & Asian Carrot Slaw

It seems like I just can’t recreate the success I had the first time I made Smitten Kitchen’s Homesick Texas Carnitas. It’s a super simple recipe that involves a few ingredients and a bunch of time, but the last time I did it I accidentally bought beef instead of pork and then this time I didn’t chop it up ahead of time. Both times the results were pretty good, I just want to nail the procedure again, you know?

Anyway, I’ve already talked about making that dish, so I want to write about a few of the accouterments I made to go along with it. For whatever reason I had a brain fart when planning the menu that week and didn’t plan on serving the carnitas with anything other than a tortilla. Scrambling, I used what I had at hand to make Paula Deen’s Avocado Dressing and Martha Stewart’s Asian Carrot Slaw. The latter might seem like kind of a strange choice, but the only veggies I had in the house were carrots and I thought the Asian flavorings would bring something interesting to the table.

The Avocado Dressing was alright, but it being a Paula Deen recipe, there’s a good deal of mayo in there which I thought threw the flavor off a little. Since then I’ve made an Avocado Crema that I’ll write about eventually that actually had no dairy or condiments involved and tasted a lot more avocado-y which is what I wanted. Still, it was an okay addition that worked well with everything else on the plate.

The Asian Carrot Slaw actually wound up working really well with the carnitas. I kind of figured this would be the case when I saw that lime was a main ingredient, which is also in the carnitas, of course. I liked the tang that the sesame seeds and vinegar brought to the table and think I might be onto a cool flavor combination here. Anyone want to start a food truck?

Second Christmas Remembered: Ruhlman’s Leeks Vinaigrette

I know it’s well past Christmas and even our Second Christmas (celebrated with my parents a few days before New Year’s Eve), but I made a pretty great series of dishes for that meal and wanted to both share them with everyone and post so I remember how well they turned out. I don’t usually cook for more people than my wife and daughter, an experience that’s almost always super casual, but it’s fun cooking for more people every now and than. Actually, when we move into a house I’m looking forward to having people over and actually doing dinner for larger groups, but that’s not really the point of this post, is it?

Anyway, as I mentioned in another post, my wife got my Michael Ruhlman’s Ruhlman’s Twenty so I put my new book to good use and came up with three dishes that not only complimented each other well but allowed me to prepare them throughout the day so as to not put too much pressure on me at any one point. While I worked on all three dishes concurrently, I”m going to break them up by dish and try to remember which parts I did ahead of time.

We started off with Leeks Vinaigrette (page 211) which was incredibly easy to prepare. The first thing I did was prepare the four hard boiled eggs the night before. On the day, it was all about the leeks and dressing. You actually prepare the leeks ahead of time by cutting off the green parts and then slicing them in half, but not cutting through the very end, so they stay together when steaming. The steaming only takes about 10 minutes and then you put the leeks in the fridge until you need them.

I also prepared the ingredients for the dressing ahead of time too. For the dressing, I put the vinegar, mustard and honey in a bowl and also got the shallots in the Magic Bullet container and then popped them in the fridge as well. When it came time to actually get the salad ready right before dinner, I moved the stuff from the bowl into the food processor, added the remaining ingredients, whirred the shallots in the Magic Bullet, chopped up the hard boiled eggs (white and yellow parts separately) and then prepared the salad. You cut the leeks at this point, put one half on a plate, add the vinaigrette and then put both kinds of egg and green onions on top.

I’m not usually a big fan of hard boiled eggs, but I thought they added an interesting texture to this first course. With the dressing and the faintly onion-y flavor of the squishy leek, it was a really solid, simple and interesting salad to kick our dinner off with.

Cooking Salade D’Onglet (Sorta)

I really enjoy reading Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook because the recipes sounds really interesting and I’m a fan of Bourdain’s. However, there’s a lot in there that isn’t super practical when trying to figure out what to make in any given week. Still, I try looking around stumbled upon a recipe for Salade D’Onglet (page 123) that I didn’t quite nail, but think will make for a good dish to work on moving forward.

Ingredients wise, the list is pretty basic, mostly things I was able to find at my grocery store. I didn’t have dark veal or chicken stock around (need to make some more chicken stock), so I used the stuff I had from the store. The real problem, though was that I could not find onglet or hanger steak at my grocery store. I probably could have asked the butcher, but I’m kind of on a time crunch when I get our food, so I wound up settling for a beef round Swiss braising steak. I have no idea how close that was to what I was supposed to get.

I also didn’t quite get the timing down for this one. Things have been a little crazy around here lately so, I didn’t get the meat marinating over night, but I did get four or five good hours in which he said would work. Aside from that, though, this is a pretty simple and easy meal to put together, it just has a fair amount of working parts when you take into account the marinating, sauce and dressing making and putting everything together. Still, it’s pretty easy.

I think I might have cooked my sauce a little too long or added too much soy sauce in one of the steps because the finished product turned out a little salty. Not, spit everything out on the plate salty, but still maybe a little too salty. Like I said, I’ve got some work to do to really nail this the next time, but I’m willing to try again.

Cooking Fruity Curry Chicken Salad

Chicken salad’s one of those great meals that doesn’t usually take too long to make and also has an incredibly amount of versatility. Earlier this summer I tried making an Asian Chicken Salad that turned out pretty well, but I’ve got to give a major shout out to Fruity Curry Chicken Salad I found on All Recipes. Like most chicken salad recipes I’ve seen, the only real cooking you have to do is the chicken, which I just cooked in olive oil, salt and pepper in a pan.

The rest of it is just cutting stuff up and mixing things in a bowl including grapes, golden raisins, a green apple, curry powder and toasted almonds. I’d never had golden raisins before, but I liked their taste because they were less bitter than the traditional purple ones. Also, the curry we have is straight out of Sri Lanka from when my wife went to visit our friend from college there, so it’s top notch stuff (I assume, I really have no idea, but it’s tasty).

I really liked how all these flavors came together. The curry is a chicken one, of course, and worked so well with the grapes, apple, nuts and mayo. There’s also a lot of interesting textures going on in there too, from the crisp apples to the chewy raisins. As far as I’m concerned, this recipe takes the cake and will definitely make it into my regular rotation, assuming I actually start having a regular rotation.

Cooking Food Network’s Asian Chicken Salad

I’m fairly convinced that there’s no good meals to prepare when it’s beastly hot out. Maybe something you can just throw out on a grill and check occasionally, but considering we’re in a place where that’s not an option, I’m sure it’s impossible for me. Unless you just want to eat salad all summer. I thought Food Network’s Asian Chicken Salad would have made for a nice, cool meal to put together and eat, but was definitely wrong on the first half of that idea.

This is actually a super easy meal to put together. You make a dressing, marinate some chicken, grill it, chop up some veggies and you’ve got yourself a meal with plenty of protein and veggies that also happens to be tasty. You can see how the recipe is prepared and that’s basically what I did. I got the dressing together first which was just whisking a bunch of stuff together. Part of that went over the chicken for ten minutes.

While that was going on, it was time to chop up the veggies. You’re working with carrots, cabbage and snow peas here, so it’s nothing too complicated. I tried to get all that done in the ten minutes it took to marinate, but am honestly not sure if I accomplished that. One thing I have to deal with on the regular is a very needy one year old wanting to be held while cooking. I do remember having to chop the cabbage one handed, no small task.

I grilled the chicken on a cast iron grill pan until they were done, then chopped them up, put it in the bowl with the veggies and added the rest of the dressing and the chow mein noodles. Boom, you’re done. I will say that, since I’ve made some Thai and other Asian dishes here and there, I felt the flavors were a little lacking. When I ate this as leftovers the next day, I warmed up some peanut butter and poured that in as well. I would also add some lime next time. And there will be another next time because it is so easy, I’ll just make a few tweaks to make it even better.

Making Rachel Ray’s Tuna Puttanesca

Puttanesca is a sauce that I am really growing to like. Between having it on vacation last year and then making my own last month, I’ve come to really enjoy that salty, briny flavor you get by combining tomatoes, capers and olives. So, when I was looking around Food Network’s website for easy to make, cool-ish dinners and came across Rachel Ray’s recipe for Tuna Puttanesca, I figured I’d give it a shot.

On the heat side of things, it’s not exactly the coolest because you’re making pasta and making a pretty simple sauce, but if you get them going at the same time you’re only dealing with a 15 minutes of heat and then you’re good to go. So, I wouldn’t save this for the hottest day of the year, but it definitely does the trick when things are starting to heat up outside.

It’s also very simple to make because you’re dealing with mostly canned or jarred ingredients. I took it easy on myself and got both black and kalamata olives pre-sliced to save myself some time. On that same note, I went with crushed jarred tomatoes instead of whole. When it’s hot out, you don’t want to be messing around trying to hold down slippery tomatoes or olives to cut.

So, some olive oil goes into the pan with garlic and then the tuna. You throw in the capers and olives, then some wine to cook down before adding the tomatoes and you’re pretty much there. Drain the pasta and put that in the pan to finish (I wished I had used the Dutch oven at this point because, as you can see, my pan got awfully full) and you’ve got yourself a nice easy dinner. I should say that the flavors in this dish got nowhere near close to the more intense ones I mentioned above. Instead of smelling a flower in all its glory, you’re smelling it while you’ve got a cold. All the elements are there, just not as full-forced. Still, quick, easy and pretty good are what I’m looking for with meals like this.

Cooking Chicken Salad Veronique & Tomato Feta Pasta Salad

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

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

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

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

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

Cooking Sliced Steak Sensation & Sweet Tomato & Blue Cheese Salad With Basil Vinaigrette

This is one of those meals that sounds way fancier and more difficult than it really is. I found them while flipping through Rachel Ray’s 2, 4, 6, 8 cookbook and was easily drawn in by the Sliced Steak (page 160) and blue cheese tomato salad (page 161) because they both looked pretty easy to put together.

I started off with the salad because the steak was only supposed to take a few minutes to cook and prep. This was a pretty simple task. I made the vinaigrette first by combining shallots basil, parsley, mustard, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper in a blender and giving that whirl while adding olive oil. After that it was just a matter of cutting up the lettuce, cherry and yellow grape tomatoes and some onion, putting it in a bowl with the blue cheese and mixing in the dressing. Boom, done.

The steak also seemed easier on paper because you simply combined Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce (I went with green Tobasco because it’s my personal favorite), vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, put that on a piece of London Broil and toss that under the broiler for six minutes.

Here’s what I did, though. First off, I put it in a baking dish instead of a broiler pan which I think conducts heat differently. I also only just realized that the recipe calls for six minutes PER SIDE. I pulled the hunk of meat out after 6 minutes and it was still pretty pink inside so I tossed it on a big jelly roll-type pan and it went back in for another however many minutes (I lost count). Not wanting it to burn, I pulled the meat out and put it under some tin foil for a while, but it still came out pretty rare, but not raw, so I still ate it.

I’m not sure if I’d try the steak recipe again. It was alright, but I’m sure there’s better out there. If I do, though, I’ll definitely go with a smaller cut because that wound up being a lot of extra meat. I could have cut it up for tacos or something, but this was right before our daughter’s first birthday party and Memorial Day weekend, so it wound up sitting in the fridge for longer than my wife and I were comfortable with. I will definitely make this salad again, though. My wife turned me on to blue cheese when we were in college and I’ve been in love ever since. I actually didn’t have quite as many basil leaves as the recipe called for, so next time I hope my herb garden is back in action and I can really bang this one out of the park.

Bonus Food Pic: Taco Salad

I don’t know about you guys, but we never finish off a taco kit. Last week I made the usual spread with ground beef, tomatoes, lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese and some sour cream, but was left with all of the above. For lunch the next day, I warmed up the taco meat with a few broken-up taco shells and then dumped in all the sides with some added cheddar and a little sour cream. Were I making something like this from scratch, I wouldn’t bother with the shells, but I hate wasting them and figured it’d add some crunch to these leftovers.

Cooking Herb Chicken With Bow Tie Pasta With Salad & Homemade Vinaigrette Dressing

I made this one last week, so forgive me if I forget a few of the details, my memory’s not what it used to be. Anyway, last week I was perusing our collection of cookbooks and landed on Michele Urvater’s Monday To Friday Pasta, which I don’t believe I’ve ever even flipped through before. The great thing about the recipes is that they’re not just Italian, but pretty much anything with noodles.

I came across the Tarragon Chicken with Bow-Ties on page 98, but didn’t have tarragon. Honestly, I can’t remember what herb I went with. I should have written it down in the book, but didn’t. I’m guessing you could go with pretty much any herb. I also substituted white wine vinegar and water for white wine because I didn’t have any in the house. Aside from that, it was pretty easy.

I started out chopping up the chicken breasts and cooking them in olive oil until white. Then I added garlic, the white wine vinegar and water and herbs (which I had combined earlier to save counter space). That cooked with a lid for a little while until I mixed it with the cooked bow tie pasta and the red pepper.

I had a little time left and wanted to have a veggie with dinner, so I cut up lettuce, carrots, red pepper and a few other things for a salad. I then had the bright idea to make my own vinaigrette. I wound up on AllRecipes and went with a basic recipe that I tweaked a bit. I swapped out the vegetable oil for olive, but everything else went into the jar, got a good shake and turned out great. It was pretty vinegar-y, but I like that flavor.

Overall, this was a really simple and tasty recipe. It seems like there are a ton of options in there. You could mix up the herbs or the liquid you use to simmer the chicken in and come up with a new dish each time. I like that kind of versatility. If you’re interested in the full recipe, leave me a comment and I’ll figure out how to get it to you.

Cooking Grilled Chicken With Arugala, Black Olives & Tomatoes

I would have posted this one on Friday, but I wound up having some problems with my first Anthony Bourdain recipe (which I’ll write about tomorrow) and then there was the small matter of getting ready for Hurricane Irene, which I’ll be writing about over on Pop Poppa. Anyway, as I said when explaining this week’s menu, I had cooked Tyler Florence’s recipe for Grilled Chicken with Arugala, Black Olives and Tomatoes before. Back when my wife was pregnant our midwives wanted her to get some more iron in her system and suggested that arugala might be a good way to do that, so I dug around for a recipe that would fit the bill. The beauty of Florence’s recipe is that it’s so simple you don’t really need to do much to come out with a great little meal. I also like that you can do the whole thing in stages and the timing works out pretty well.

A quick note on the ingredients. I would have gotten fresh arugala, but I didn’t make it to the farmer’s market and I would have gotten olives from my local Hannaford’s olive bar, but I have to admit that I didn’t know what actual black olives look like. Everything on there was kinda squishy. So, I went with canned. I’ll try and do a little more research next time. Aside from that the only change I made was using two lemons instead of one because I happened to have an extra one in the house.

I cut my chicken breasts into smaller pieces, trimmed them down and then smashed them between two pieces of parchment paper using a heavy ice cream scoop. We don’t have a meat tenderizer and the idea of using our wooden rolling pin kind of skeeved me out. Then I put them in a long, low baking dish that we have a lid for along with the olive oil, lemon juice (using a whole lemon instead of half), salt and paper and then popped that in the fridge for 30 minutes. In that time I was lucky enough to put the baby down and had her sleeping in her crib which is pretty unheard of, but much appreciated. After that I got to chopping up the tomatoes, olives (drained) and onions. I find veggie chopping to be pretty zen, so this was a nice break. After that I put the crazy simple dressing together, using another full lemon and instead of putting it on the veggies, placed it in the fridge.

From there it was just a matter of cooking the chicken. Luckily we have a cast iron grill pan that fits over two burners, so I got that heating up and oiled when ready. I don’t think I had the heat balanced out exactly because my bigger “quick boil” burner was hotter than my “simmer” burner. No big deal, I just shuffled some pieces around. When they were done, all the chicken got chopped up and mixed in with the salad and topped with the dressing.

Adding the extra lemon in the marinade really made the chicken taste better in my opinion. I dig that lemony zest and really enjoyed as it popped in the salad. I will admit that the arugala itself is a little bitter and it has taken some getting use to, but when mixed with all the other ingredients, that edge is taken back. Overall, I really like this dish, it feels light, but comes with a lot of flavor and makes for pretty good left overs the next day, plus you don’t have to worry about coming up with veggie to go along with your main dish! Highly recommended!

Making Baja Fish Taco Salad

A few days back, I made some awesome Baja Fish Tacos using this recipe posted on Food Network. As much as we dug the meal, we didn’t finish all of the fried fish, white sauce or use up all the chopped up cabbage. The next day I was trying to figure out what to do with all that and decided to go with a salad. So, that day, at the farmer’s market, I picked up some lettuce and a few ears of corn. I chopped up the lettuce and tossed it in a bowl with the cabbage. Then I shaved some carrots I had in the fridge (from the farmer’s market the previous week), mixed those in with the salad and cut up a lime into wedges. I had two small tortillas leftover and we almost never wind up eating those, so I cut them into strips and cooked them in a pan with some oil. I’m getting pretty good at that thing where you shove the pan forward in the air and flip its contents without using a utensil. I’m sure there’s a cool cooking term for it, but I’m not up on the lingo.

In the same pan, I dropped the remaining pieces of fried fish I had just to heat them through. Once they were nice and warm, I put them in a dish with some tin foil covering until my wife came home from work. Meanwhile, I steamed three ears of corn. When they were done, I plated two of the ears for the table and then cut the kernels off of one as a garnish for the salad. I added everything to the table and also got the white sauce out of the refrigerator to act as a kind of dressing and we were good to go.

I’m not really a recipe creator at this point in my cooking odyssey. I can follow a recipe and maybe toss a few things in here and there to add a little oomph, but I don’t create anything from scratch and I always use a recipe when cooking. I feel like this was a good step in the right direction though because I did it all in my head without writing anything down. Sure, I had done the hard part the previous day, but it was kind of fun to use that base and build something different. Now I just need to add a few things to make a killer salad to get rid of the rest of that lettuce!