Friday, December 28, 2018

Things I Will Not Buy Again: Salad Dressing

I started making my own salad dressing when I lived in Tennessee. If you've spent a lot of time in the American South, you'll know that ranch dressing is featured almost everywhere. Generally speaking, dressings are often creamy and most of them, no matter how good they taste are terrible for you. The sugar content alone is enough to make you scream.

At a large party a long time ago, there was a salad on the table and of course we served ranch. One of the attendees strongly disliked ranch and asked for vinaigrette. The hostess was not about to go and buy some. I dashed into the kitchen and made this in 30 seconds. It was something I'd watched my father make multiple times

  • 1 Tablespoon vinegar (my friend had red wine in the house)
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil (a light one is good here)
  • Pinch Salt
  • 4 grinds of Black Pepper (or three shakes)
  • 2 shakes dried Oregano
  • Pinch of sugar
I tend to save glass iced tea bottles for making dressing because then I can shake the hell out of it to blend and then taste. 

Yes, there is a touch of sugar in here, and if you're avoiding it altogether, you can leave it out. I do find it makes a nice addition, and you only need a tiny bit to work against the tartness of the vinegar.

The 3:1 base is good for starting all kinds of experiments.

I haven't made my own creamy dressing in a while, but it starts with mayonnaise and milk. Unfortunately, I do not remember the proportions I used, but I can tell you there were a lot of herbs and no sugar. 

It's easy. You probably have the ingredients for a good dressing in your pantry already. Feel free to mess around!


Friday, December 21, 2018

Blame the Millennials or Kate Makes Tomato Soup

A couple weeks ago, several of my friends posted this link on Facebook. The TL:DR of it is, millennials are killing canned tuna. Sales are down about 40%. I'm pretty surprised at this. As one of my friends pointed out, this is cheap, filling protein, and it's reasonably good for you. You'd think a generation that doesn't have a lot of money for groceries would jump all over it.

Anyway, it got me in mind of tuna melts, and since it's cold and often dreary outside I decided I also should make tomato soup to up the comfort food quotient. I did my usual thing of reading a lot of different recipes and came up with the following:


  • 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes (these happen to be roasted, but it's not necessary)
  • 3 strips of bacon
  • 1 T unsalted butter (it's probably okay with salted, this is what I had in the fridge)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 generous teaspoon of dried thyme (in other words, don't level it) or 1 Tablespoon fresh
  • 1 generous teaspoon of parsley (or 1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon of salt. Keep some handy to add to your taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Keep some of this handy to taste as well
  • 1 Tablespoon cream for serving (optional)

In a large pot (a 2-quart saucepan is probably doable, but it will be pretty tight. I used my largest pot), cook the bacon on low-to-medium-low heat until crispy. Remove the bacon and do with as you will. Eat it. Save it for tomorrow's eggs. Put it on a salad. I put mine in the tuna salad. 

Melt the butter in the pan on medium-low heat and stir in your onions. Cook until they are translucent, then stir in your herbs. When the herbs are evenly distributed, add your tomatoes, including the juice in the cans. Stir well. Slowly add the broth, and then bring to a low boil.

I originally simmered, partially covered, for about twenty minutes and then used my stick blender on the low setting to give it a slightly rough texture. Feel free to go all the way to velvety. I happen to like my tomato soup with small chunks in it.

Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle cream on top if desired. 

Twenty minutes of simmering wasn't enough, I determined later. It was merely okay. For my next serving the following day, I simmered for an hour with the lid off. The difference was amazing. 

I ran out of tuna (this melt had Gruyere on it and was eaten on top of a crumpet) before I ran out of soup, so to add some protein to the third meal, I chopped up some Jarlsberg to add while I ate. Provolone also works here.

For my next time, I think I'll add a bit of garlic and maybe some lemon zest, possibly some additional herbs. More research is needed.

How do you like your tomato soup?

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Things I Will Not Buy Again: Cocktail Sauce

I have a secret. I hate commercial cocktail sauce from bottles and jars. They're oversweet and not very exciting. When I go to good restaurants, theirs, well, aren't. I wanted to figure out for myself how I can improve on shrimp delivery, so I did.

Ingredients:
  • 6oz of unsalted, unsugared tomato paste. Canned is fine.
  • 4 Tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce.
  • 1-2 Tablespoons of white wine vinegar.
  • 2-4 Tablespoons of grated horseradish, again from a jar. 
Mix the ingredients in a suitable container, being sure to get everything mixed thoroughly. I used my fancy-pants $5.99 glass 2-cup measuring cup. Serve chilled, probably.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Studio Living With Brine or Kate Cooks Vegetarian

I'm dedicating this post to my aunt, Barbara. She has been incredibly supportive of Knives, Fire, and Fun and of my cooking adventures in general. Barbara, I think you'll enjoy this, if only for its flexibility.

One of my favorite easy dinners is wine and cheese with some bread and some kind of produce. Sometimes it's fruit, other times it's a marinated vegetable like mushrooms, artichoke hearts, or peppadew peppers.

Or olives (yes, I know that's a fruit). My favorite nibbles are a Greek mix and they go well with many cheeses, or simply bread with a little oil or butter.

The grocery store across the street recently started selling pasta made from chick peas, so I thought I'd give it a try. It's not bad. The texture will never be like semolina (you need gluten for that), but there is some tapioca in it, so there is some of the chewiness that's essential to the mouthfeel.

For some reason, my brain wanted Mediterranean flavors, so this is what I came up with for two main dish servings or four sides:


  • 1 8 ounce package of chick pea pasta
  • 1/2 Cup of mixed Greek olives, drained, rinsed, finely chopped or run through a blender or food processor 
  • 12-15 peppadew peppers, as above
  • 4 ounches of  feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil 
  • 3 tablespoons oregano
  • Black pepper to taste

Boil water for the pasta and salt it generously. When you're cooking chick pea pasta, you need a little more than you would for semolina pasta. You're also going to get some foam. Don't worry, you'll be rinsing it off in a bit. The rotini I used said 7-9 minutes. I started tasting at 7 and drained it at just barely 9. Rinse well, return to the pot. Stir in your olive oil, the oregano, and your vegetables, mixing until everything is evenly distributed to your eyes. I served mine in a bowl, but it would look very pretty on a plate especially on a bed of spinach.

This is tasty warm or cold and lends itself to many variations. Make it with semolina pasta. Use chick peas themselves. Switch out peppers and add sun-dried tomatoes or artichoke hearts. Eliminate the cheese and make it vegan, still getting plenty of protein. If you insist on meat, throw in a chicken breast and my best assumption would be to increase the vegetables by at least 50%.

If you have ideas or variations, please comment!






Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sauce or Soup? Or It's Gina's Fault

I was talking to one of my best friends a couple weeks ago and the subject of peanuts came up. I am kind of weird about peanuts. I don't particularly like them out of the shell, though I have been known to munch on them while drinking with friends and not thinking about it too much. You won't see me buying a bag at a ball game. I don't like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, but I will eat a Snickers as a meal replacement once or twice a year. Peanut butter sandwich? Hard pass. If there's peanuts in a box of chocolate truffles you'll see me heading straight for the caramel or the chocolate ganache on the other end of the box.

When it comes to Asian food, however, I quite enjoy them. They seem to belong there. Pad Thai. Satay. The top of a bun bowl (Vietnamese vermicelli with many wonderful things). Gina mentioned African Peanut Soup, which I'd never had before. Why not? I thought ,and set aside a Sunday afternoon.

I searched a lot and found Congo Cookbook, which has a lot of things I'm going to try. The peanut soup recipe, I have to say, was pretty vague, so you'll see a lot of my purple comments below. I doubled the recipe so I would use the entire jar of peanut butter (I have no other use for it), but I'm leaving the proportions as they are on the website: 


What you need
  • two or three cups chicken broth or chicken stock
  • one small onion, minced (I used Vidalia)
  • one small sweet green pepper (or bell pepper), minced (I used a green bell pepper and I can't help thinking a red or gold one would be better)
  • one clove of garlic, crushed (optional) (I do not grok "one clove of garlic" never mind "optional" in this context. I threw in 5)
  • salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper or red pepper (to taste) (this meant a few grinds of salt, about five grinds of black pepper, and a Tablespoon of cayenne. I'm thinking red pepper flakes for next time)
  • one hot chile pepper, minced (optional) (I used habanero, ribs and seeds removed)
  • one carrot, chopped fine or one sweet potato or yams, boiled and mashed (optional)(I went with the carrot. I only like sweet potatoes in fries. It's a texture thing)
  • one or two tomatoes, chopped or canned tomatoes (optional) (I used a 28 oz can, there's a reason, below)
  • one cup natural unsweetened peanut butter (or make your own peanut paste, see the simple peanut soup recipe below) (as I mentioned above, I used the whole 16 oz jar of peanut butter. I poured the oil off, then got the rest out with a rubber scraper)
What you do
  • If using homemade peanut paste (snipped because I used the below instructions)
  • If using peanut butter: Combine all ingredients except the peanut butter and simmer over medium heat until everything is tender. Reduce heat, add the peanut butter and simmer for a few minutes more. Stir often. Soup should be thick and smooth.

Simplest Peanut Soup (which I'll try next time, though I did add the cream listed here)
The simplest Peanut Soup recipe calls for two parts chicken stock, two parts shelled peanuts, and one part milk or cream. (I ended up adding a bit more) Start by roasting the peanuts in a baking pan in a hot oven, or on the stove in a large skillet, turning often. Remove the skins from the peanuts and mash them with a mortar and pestle, mince them with a knife, crush them with a rolling pin, or use a food-processor. (Or you could use one part peanut butter, preferably natural and unsweetened.) Combine the peanut paste with the chicken stock in a saucepan and simmer for thirty minutes to an hour. Season with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and sugar to taste. Stir in milk before serving.

Like I said, a little vague. I don't know if my deviations mean the soup has lost its African identity. If anyone has experiences in this area they'd like the share, please do.

When I first tasted the soup, it burned my mouth for about fifteen minutes. If you've eaten spicy food with me, you'll know that doesn't happen too often. So, I had to cut the heat a bit.

This meant, first of all, more cream than originally called for. If I'd been thinking, I would have added that last, but dairy was the first thing I thought off. It was still OMG spicy, so I went for some acid that wouldn't curdle the cream and the rest of the tomatoes went in. To cut it even further, I added a teaspoon of honey that has Meyer lemon juice in it. This was much better, though all the heat was now at the end of the mouthful. 

I really wasn't sure what to do about the texture. "Thick and smooth" to me means blending, so out came the immersion blender. 

While I was making the soup, there were chicken breasts in a water bath getting the sous vide treatment. I had originally planned to use a habanero and some acid for a marinade, but with the soup so hot, I just added salt, black pepper, and half a lemon's worth of juice to the chicken and put the breasts in their vacuum bags with a lot of fresh parsley

Once I cooked the soup down, unpacked the chicken, and made the rice, my guinea pig (thanks Scott!) and I made an interesting discovery: The lemony chicken tasted delicious when dipped in the soup. Well, it was more like a sauce, really, and I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it needs more protein elements? Chunks of vegetables instead of the minced? This calls for more research and experimentation after I eat the leftovers. 

Regardless, it was delicious and I'm happy to say I've got a ton of leftovers. It could be used for a poaching liquid or I could put it in a vacuum bag for sous vide. 

Question? Comments? Other thoughts? Please let me know!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Quick Tips: Taming Floaty Sous-Vide Bags

So I found my sous-vide bags floating. I was cooking frozen shrimp, you see, and when I got the vacuum tight, the cheap-o bags kept being punctured. We needed to find a way to weigh the bags down, and it being pretty late at night, my options felt a bit limited. Skipping the shrimp was Not an Option.

Oh, and I didn't want to just plonk down random metal pieces because they might leach into the water and I couldn't quite trust the bags to not have punctured. So I just vac-sealed some salt — make a small bag, pour some salt in, and vacuum seal. That worked well enough I made another bag. You can buy some weights from Amazon, or some fancy pie weights from Sur la Table or something, but this was quick, cost me pennies and I didn't even have to put on pants.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

I Didn't See Anything Like This in Mexico City

Of course, I was only in Mexico City for four days. It was a quick trip last November and one of the highlights was a cooking class I took. We made guacamole tacos (with crickets!), lime soup (which I will have to wing from memory because I never got the recipe), chicken adobo, and a zapote dessert. 

My friends and I tried lots of different food. I determined I do not like chiccarones in sauce, but they're okay to crunch on by themselves. Mexico makes some fabulous cheese. We had delectable churros with three different dipping sauces. There was a smoky mezcal, and some wonderful enchiladas.

But nothing like the recipe I'm writing about today. I don't remember what I was searching for when I found it, but when it caught my eye, I knew I had to try it. The ingredients are pretty simple:

For the soup:

  • 8 medium/large ears corn, husks and silks removed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large onion, preferably Spanish, (the white ones) chopped fine
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (I might have added a few more)
  • 1 to 2 jalapeño peppers, finely chopped (I went with two, next time, thinking a couple serranos)
  • 1 tablespoon mild chili powder or 1 teaspoon of a hotter one
  • 3 tablespoons (25 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups (945 ml) vegetable or chicken stock or broth
  • 2 15-ounce cans small red or black beans, drained and rinsed (or one of each) (3 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup (235 ml) whole milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper or cayenne to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 cup (120 to 235 ml) heavy cream

For the finishing
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) sour cream or Mexican crema
  • 1/2 cup (110 grams) finely crumbled Cotija, feta or ricotta salata cheese, plus more for serving (I used Cotija)
  • 1 lime, divided
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • Chili powder or a chili-lime seasoning
  • Baked tortilla chips (optional)
For the soup: With a sharp knife, cut kernels from 8 ears corn (you should have about 6 cups); transfer half to a bowl. Chop the other half into pulpy bits on a cutting board or blend them in a food processor until half-pureed. Add to bowl. Firmly scrape any pulp remaining on cobs with back of knife into bowl with corn, unless you’re me and had weirdly dry stalks, yielding no corn “milk.” Set corn aside.
In a large (5 quarts is ideal) heavy pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium. Add onion and cook until tender and beginning to brown at the edges, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, jalapeño and chili powder and cook together for 2 minutes more. Add flour and stir into onion-garlic mixture until it disappears. Stirring constantly, gradually add stock. Add beans, corn, and 1 cup milk and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 13 minutes, until corn is tender. Add salt (I used about 1 tablespoon Diamond kosher salt total here) and freshly ground black pepper or cayenne to taste (why not both?). Add cream to taste (we found 1/2 cup sufficient, but it will be less creamy than traditional) and cook for 3 minutes more. (I added a bit more cream)
For the topping:
Combine mayonnaise, sour cream or crema, cheese, and juice of half a lime in a bowl; stir to combine. Cut second half of lime into wedges. (Next time, I'm either zesting the lime and adding it, or adding a full lime's worth of juice. It really lightens up the richness of the other three ingredients. 
Ladle soup into bowls and dollop in center with 1 tablespoon (or more to taste) of mayo-cheese mixture. Squeeze lime juice over to taste, sprinkle with chili powder and chopped cilantro and serve, baked tortilla chips on the side if you wish. (I used warm multi-grain tortillas instead of chips with a little butter. I didn't really feel the need for crunch)
.........................
This was a lot of fun to make and I was thrilled with the results. While it may not qualify as a true chowder because there are not potatoes in it, I found it delicious. Lots of different textures, and a nice warmth on the back end. I do like food a little more spicy than this came out, but that's easily adjusted for the next batch. And it's corn season!