Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I need a second opnion

While the weather outside is not necessarily frightful, it's still nice to have a hearty soup or stew to enjoy on a cold dark knight. A friend of mine on G+ posted a harira recipe that got my attention. Tomatoes, lentils, chick peas, Middle Eastern spices . . . this had Kate written all over it, or so I thought.

Let's get into the ingredients before I give you my take on it.

  • 1/4 pound dried chickpeas
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes and their juices
  • 1 1/2 quarts rich chicken stock
  • 1/4 pound dried green lentils
  • 1/2 cup long-grain rice
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Cilantro sprigs, for garnishing
Another attractive thing about this recipe is it's pretty inexpensive, unless you need to refresh your entire spice cabinet. I'm running low on nutmeg, which is normal for this time of year because where there are winter holidays there is nog and I must have my freshly ground nutmeg over eggnog laced with good booze.

Anyway, the only changes I made to the recipe was to put in more chickpeas that strictly called for, and I used chicken tenders. I added additional olive oil to make up for the fat that would have been there had I used thighs. Maybe this was my mistake.

Pick over the chickpeas, cover with cold water, and soak overnight at room temperature. Drain chickpeas and rinse well with cold running water. Drain and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a medium stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the chicken pieces with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Add the chicken in batches, and cook until well browned, about 4 minutes per batch. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside. Add the onions and celery and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the ginger, turmeric, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Return the chicken to the pan and add the tomatoes and their juices, stirring well. Stir in the chicken stock, lentils, and chickpeas and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook at a gentle simmer for 1 hour.
Add the rice and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and return the soup to a simmer. Cook covered for 30 minutes. Remove the lid, add the cilantro, parsley, and lemon juice and cook, uncovered for 5 minutes.
Ladle into warmed soup bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro sprigs. 

The recipe was easy to follow, and everything smelled delicious, but when it all came together, I didn't have that little rush of excitement that told me, "Kate, you did well." It was warming, smelling more of the cinnamon than anything else, but I didn't feel like the chicken had absorbed much of the flavor from the spices and the onions were totally lost.

My sweetie, however, had a different opinion. We've both been a little sick, and he found the stew very enjoyable, and also reasonably easy to digest, which is always a plus when you aren't feeling well.

So, I'd like to throw this out to y'all. If you make this, would you please let me know your opinion? Did you get layers of flavor, did you get a beautiful gestalt? That gestalt is what I look for in a soup or stew, and if it's here, I'd like a road map.

Questions? Comments? A recipe for me to try? I'd love to hear from you!

coming up:  a southern favorite I found myself missing. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Make Mine Mild--Variations on a theme of chili

Among my hobbies are role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. I have two groups I meet with pretty regularly, one hosted by Austin the minimalist. Austin frequently makes stew for us, or in the summer, marinates and grills some delicious steaks or chicken.

I thought I'd make chili for this group, but I was asked to make it a little milder for those in our group with more delicate palates (and stomachs). It took some consideration on my part. Anyone can make bland food, but I wanted both flavorful and mild. My final ingredient list ended up like this:
  • 3 pounds of stew meat
  • 4 cans of black beans
  • 2 small cans tomato paste
  • 6 cans of diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • 3 tomatillos chopped
  • 2 T vinegar
  • two large white onions chopped (these were the size of small grapefruit)
  • 3 heaping T cumin
  • 2 heaping T chile powder
  • four squares of Lindt dark chocolate with chiles
  • 1 bottle of Guinness
There was so much liquid from the tomatoes that I could only fit one bottle of Guinness in the Dutch oven. I kept the heat pretty low, and it took its sweet time thickening. I stirred it pretty freqently, but I did end up with some of it sticking to the bottom.

Everything was in the pot by around 6:30 p.m. I stayed up until about 1:00, stirring every half hour to forty-five minutes or so. My sweetie, bless his heart, got up at 6 a.m., put the heat back on under it and did some stirring until we turned the heat off around noon.

Transporting it wasn't as difficult as I might have thought. A while back, I bought a large Rubbermaid tub with a locking lid, so there were no disasters on our way north. We also brought some accessories for further doctoring: some smoked gouda with jalapenos, some sharp cheddar, additional chopped onions, a few jalapenos and two kinds of hot sauce. 

I was very pleased at the reception. Second and third helpings were had in several instances, and one compliment was slightly incomprehensible because the giver had his mouth full. I'll take it. The heat built underneath at a very low rate, not so much that it would put anyone off. I call it success.

Questions, comments? Let's hear them!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Variations on a theme--Peppercorn Quick Bread

Not that I don't love the Irish soda bread I've made in past years, but I wanted something a little different for Thanksgiving with my family this year. After a lot of searching, I found a great recipe that lent itself to a few different variations.

From when I was born until I was about fourteen, I spent at least two Sundays a month at my Nana's house. To this day, I can navigate directly there from I-95/Rte 128, though if you asked me to write directions down, I'd probably have to go to Google Maps. Anyway, Nana was a great cook. Sunday dinners were often turkey, but occasionally she made roast beef (which I have yet to be able to duplicate, darnit). Either way, there was mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy.

Now Nana had a heavy hand with the black pepper, so when I found the recipe, I knew I had struck gold. Check out the ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • .75 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • .5 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp black peppercorns, cracks (I crunched them a bit with a mortar and pestle. I really need to get one of these of my own and give the one I'm using back to my friend Vivian)
  • 1.5 tsp fresh rosemary
  • .75 cup peccorino romano cheese, grated or shredded
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of milk
  • .25 cup extra-virgin olive oil
I liked that it used olive oil instead of butter, as well as employing whole wheat flour, which gave it a nice chewy, but not off-putting texture. Don't ask me to eat whole-wheat pasta, for example, but I digress.

The instructions are simple:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8.5 x 4.5 loaf pan
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, pepper, rosemary and cheese. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and olive oil. Pour your wet ingredients into the dry and stir to combine until it is evenly moist.
  3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for five minutes, then move to a rack to complete cooling.
My sweetie and my youngest cousin (she's in her teens) thought the pepper was a little heavy-handed. My aunt and uncle loved the pepperyness.

I made three of these. One per the above recipe. Another with rosemary, fresh sage (left over from the chicken marsala of a few weeks ago) and some dried thyme (no parsley, only my uncle and I got the joke), which is what got served at dinner. The third, I made with dried marjoram, just for something different. Everyone was eager to take the leftovers home, so I had to promise my sweetie I'd make another one. 

I did make a yeast bread a while back, that will be coming up in a future post. Additional plans include shrimp & grits and a chicken tikka marsala. I'm also due to make chili for one of my gaming groups. I hope three pounds feeds the lot of us.

Happy holidays whatever you're celebrating!

Questions? Comments? I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

This was too easy

Before I get into the quickbread post, I wanted to post about our pre-Thanksgiving dinner. We spend a lot of Thanksgiving driving to Massachusetts to visit my uncle, aunt and some cousins. I thought it would be a nice treat to have a bird for just the two of us the night before.

I lucked out in finding a special on duck breast--it was about $10, which is less than  half of what I usually see duck going for in a fine restaurant. I pounced. 

For my next trick, trying to find a duck recipe that did not involve cooked fruit. While my sweetie makes exceptions for cranberry sauce, and the occasional mince or apple pie, he generally doesn't like cooked fruit. He also tends not to eat meat with fruit (or cheese with fruit, but I'm working on that).

I found this week's recipe at the Food Network. I couldn't believe how easy it was. Plus, Emeril's Essence is a cinch to make and if you make it yourself, you can control the amount of salt in it. Bonus.

First, your spice mix, and I'll be most of you have these items already:
Combine all ingredients, store in an airtight container.

Now for your duck. Gotta love the ingredient list:

3 duck breasts (I thought breasts came in sets of two. That's what I purchased. Maybe Emeril has mutant ducks)

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

Essence, as above.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Season the entire duck breast with Essence. In a large saute pan, over medium heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the duck breast, skin side down. Sear for 6 minutes. Flip the duck breast over and place the pan in the oven. Roast the breasts for 8 to 10 minutes for medium rare. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the duck breasts to rest 2 to 3 minutes before slicing. 

This tasted fantabulously succulent. My hat is off to Emeril for making a gourmet out of anyone who can read with this one. Tender, juicy, rich. This is food porn at its finest.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Happy Holidaze

Ah, the insanity that is November and December. The cooking frenzy in many a kitchen. I started on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving with a variation on last year's cranberry sauce recipe. I figured a day for the flavors to meld into a whole would be a good thing and as it turns out I was right. Our ingredients:

  • 2 12-ounce packages whole cranberries
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1.5 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 generous teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 6 Tablespoons Gran Mariner
Preheat the oven to 350F. Rinse the cranberries in cold water and drain. Put in a glass baking dish in one layer. Stir in sugar, zests and cinnamon until well blended--the cranberries will be coated with sugar, but you shouldn't see the spices. Cover and  bake for sixty minutes. After removing from the oven, stir in orange juice and Gran Mariner. Remove spoon from sweetie's hand so he doesn't eat it all. Let cool and store in the fridge in an airtight container.

My thirteen-year-old cousin was a little confused at the appearance. "How did you get the stuff in the can to look like that?" To her credit, she tried some and said she liked it. I can't say I'd have done the same at that age. 

Next week: Variations on an herbed quickbread!

Questions, comments? I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What to do with leftover cabbage

When we last left our intrepid heroine, she was serving fish tacos with a lovely cabbage slaw. Now that recipe only required 4 cups of cabbage, so I had a ton left over, even after removing the outer leaves. 

One of my favorite dishes on an Indian buffet is curried cabbage. It's not a creamy recipe like many curries, but vinegar-based. This one has quite a bit of mustards. Here's our ingredient list:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots
  • garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons whole-grain Dijon mustard (I used a beer mustard that I picked up on my last trip to New Orleans)
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 12 cups thinly sliced green cabbage (about 3 pounds)
  • 1/4 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots and garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Add mustard, curry, and turmeric; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in cabbage and remaining ingredients; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently.

I think this one needs a little bit of tweaking, even as I enjoyed the results. The mustard was a little bit overwhelming to me, though my sweetie liked it quite a bit. I'm thinking a touch more curry and tumeric, perhaps another teaspoon each.

Some news on a personal level. I just recently had some braces installed on my teeth, so my posts are going to be changing slightly. There may be a few more soft foods than usual, as quiche and soups are easier on my mouth than say, lamb or beef. Next post will be my first attempt in over ten years making a yeast bread. Flatbread, specifically, cooked in a dry pan on the stovetop.

I will be going away for a week next month on a cruise and also participating in Nanowrimo, so I may be a bit distracted. Okay, I'll be a lot distracted and living mostly on coffee, tea and red wine in approximately equal amounts. Fortunately, vanilla protein powder makes a semi-decent coffee creamer.

Until next time, thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Weeknight dinner--Easy fish tacos

Weeknights can be a challenge. After eight or so hours at my desk (I am lucky enough that my day job lets me work from home), the last thing I feel like doing is a lot of chopping, dicing, julienne or mincing.

On the other foot, sometimes a meeting goes so well that spending my lunch hour destroying a vegetable can be downright therapeutic. When I found the below recipe on Cooking Light, I decided to make the slaw at lunchtime and I think the meal was the more enjoyable for it. Slaw generally is made better a day before so the flavors have a chance to blend anyway

  • 4 cups thinly sliced cabbage
  • 1 cup chopped plum tomatoes (this turned out to be 2)
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  • 2 T fresh lime juice (I used the whole lime, a small one a little bigger than a golf ball. It yielded about 3.5T)
  • 5 T extra virgin olive oil (there's a bit of a math problem in the recipe)
  • 1/2 t salt, divided
  • 1 pound tilapia filets (I used cod. Partly because I try to buy local when I can, partly because it has a little more flavor than tilapia)
  • 1 t chili powder (I was a little more generous, see below)
  • corn tortillas
  • Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Add juice, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; toss well to combine. (I added a t of cumin as well)
  • Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle fish evenly with chili powder and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add fish to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness. Remove from heat, and cut fish into bite-sized pieces.
  • Warm tortillas according to package directions. Spoon about 1/4 cup cabbage mixture down the center of each tortilla. Divide fish evenly among tortillas; fold in half. Serve tacos with remaining cabbage mixture.

I used two T of oil to cook the fish, and next time I'll do it on medium heat. Even in a non-stick pan, my fillets stuck. I also just shook the chili powder onto the fish until it was nicely coated. 

I love the way this turned out. Corn tortillas are definitely the way to go, partly for their sturdiness, partly for the texture adding to the overall mouthfeel. I also added sliced avocado to my tacos, which added a creamy element without taking away from the flaky fish or the crunch of the cabbage.

For a contrast, I served with black beans. I ate some of the leftover cabbage in the remaining tacos (we had three apiece) for lunch the following and it was delicious on its own.

Now, what to do with all the leftover cabbage? Tune in next time!

Questions? Comments? Recipes you'd like to see? Let's hear them!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Scarborough Fair Part Four--Pasta with White Clam sauce and a lot of parsley

You can't grow up in New England and not eat clams. Fried, baked, casino, steamed in wine, steamed in beer. It's hard to pick a favorite. I do love a good fried clam platter--crunchy outside, chewy necks inside, bellies that melt in your mouth. On the other, and theoretially healthier foot, there are some adaptations that won't send your cholesterol through the roof.

Nobody taught me how to make clam sauce, I've perfected this over the years and for the first time, have the measurements. The following serves 2 and should be easily scalable for more:

  • Your favorite pasta--for clams, I like linguine, but thinner will do.
  • One small can of clams (the ones that are the size of your average tuna can)
  • Juice of half a large lemon (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine (I used a Pinot Grigio. This is not a place for Chardonay)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh parsley (not packed)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped or pressed
  • black pepper to taste
  • salt to taste
  • 1 T olive oil

Put pasta water on to boil. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, add the chopped garlic and stir to coat. When garlic starts making sizzling noises, open the can of clams and add everything, including the juice to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium low and stir frequently until the broth begins to bubble. Add salt & pepper, the lemon juice and the wine, reduce heat to low.

Drain the pasta and return to the pot or to a large bowl. Pour the clam broth over the pasta and mix well. Some of the liquid will be absorbed, but not all. Add the parsley and toss well. Serve with remaining wine.

How do you like your clams? Comments? Questions? Let's hear them!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Yep, out of cumin

I wouldn't say cumin is my favorite spice, but it's definitely up there. I use it in a wide variety of dishes from equally wide areas of the world. It features heavily in my chili, in curries, it's wonderful in fajitas or black bean soup, or gyros. 

I had a half-pound pork loin, leftover rice (we almost always have leftover rice) and a can of black beans. To turn this into a meal:

After preheating the oven to 375 F, into a medium-sized bowl went:

  • juice of one lime
  • 2 T olive oil
  • almost 1T of cumin
  • one shake of chili powder
  • one shake of cayenne
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • dash of sea salt
Stir well until all ingredients are combined. Add pork loin to bowl and coat thoroughly. I mushed it around for about two minutes. Move pork to a foil-lined roasting pan and cover with remaining liquid. Roast for about 45 minutes or until pork is no longer pink in the center.

While the pork was roasting, I emptied the black beans into a small saucepan and added:

  • a dash of white wine vinegar
  • half a small onion, chopped
  • two jalapenos, chopped
  • a tablespoon of salsa
I let that simmer until the pork was done, then spooned the beans over the rice. Optional toppings include sour cream or some shredded cheddar.

No pictures this time, we were a little too hungry for that and it went very quickly.

What do you like to do with cumin? Other questions? Comments? I'd love to hear from you. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Shameless Self-Promotion

On a completely different note, I'm pleased to announce the e-publication of my first novel: 

Zofia Smith left behind a promising career as a journalist when she realized her former employers meant it when they said, "You'll never work in this business again." Convinced by her best friend to move to New Orleans and start over, Zo opened a bookstore in the Crescent City's French Quarter.

For six years, life was peaceful, enjoyable. Bloody Murder made a profit with its focus on mystery books and its regular patrons enjoyed Zo's homemade muffins and fresh coffee.

Things changed one morning when Zofia walked downstairs from her apartment above the store and tripped over a corpse, landing in a heap of blood and muffins. The clues the police found included a knife with a Polish eagle and the corpse's criminal record that indicated he typically worked for a crime family, though not a local one.

Clues came from and pointed to different directions. A narrow miss with a gunshot, mysterious phone calls, and oddly enough to a man Zofia long thought dead.

While there are no recipes, food is almost a character. If you've ever been to New Orleans, you'll understand why. I hope you enjoy, and please, spread the word!

A lesson in humility

Cucumbers are right up there as a favorite vegetable, especially if I can find some that have a thin-to medium skin, some serious crunch, and ideally, no wax on them. It's a pain in the whatsis to get off.

I like them in a lot of ways, cut into spears and eaten with nothing but salt & pepper; with onions, yogurt and a touch of white vinegar, in a sandwich with Swiss cheese, in a salad, in a cold soup with dill, I could go on.

When I lived in Nashville, I visited some friends in Atlanta and they introduced me to a sushi place called RuSan's. This local chain (still expanding!) serves some of the tastiest and most creative sushi I've ever had. Before a meal at the sushi bar, they serve a small appetizer of cucumbers, sesame seeds, ponzu and some crab.

I didn't have any crab in the house, but I thought to myself, "Self, let's have something different for lunch. Ponzu is just citrus and soy sauce, right?"


I was on my lunch hour, so this impulse didn't leave me much time for research. I put into a bowl:

2 T soy sauce
2 T rice vinegar
1 T fresh lemon juice.

Then I sprinkled the whole things with sesame seeds. It did come out rather pretty.

The tea towel I'm using as a table runner was hand-stitched by my friend Opal. You can see more of her jewelry and art at The Hyper Monkey.

Back to my experiment. It did not come out tasting like ponzu. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't the combination I was looking for. I discussed it with my sweetie when he got home and he was very sensitive and didn't laugh. He also said that ponzu involves some citrus only available in Japan and the recipes I found a little later were something similar, but not, but his native definition, ponzu.

So, not my finest experiment and I will use the bottled ponzu when I'm next in the mood for the above dish. While RuSan's has spawned some restaurants in Nashville, they certainly haven't made it into Connecticut, so I'm on my own.

Questions? Comment? Let's hear them!

As a note, I used to sign off joking about Death Threats. I will not be doing that any longer. A friend pointed me to Ittybiz, and suddenly my jest didn't seem to be as funny anymore. I hope you'll show your support and spread the word.

Next time--something with pork and a lot of garlic, and cumin, if I'm not out of it. Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

This summer's top salad

I haven't gone to a lot of barbecues this summer. Austin the former landlord did find some lovely steaks a few weeks ago and marinated a few of them in a store-bought raspberry vinaigrette  which turned out delicious. My contribution to the party was a salad that was both easy and a little unusual. No pictures this week, it got eaten a little too quickly, so I would definitely call it a success.

Epicurious is a fantastic source for salads; I have several saved to be used at upcoming galleries. Fortunately, my friends don't mind being used as guinea pigs.

This week's recipe has only a few ingredients, but they all add a new level of flavor when blended together:

Romaine and Arugula Salad with Toasted Seeds

  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon (packed) finely grated lemon peel
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large head romaine lettuce
  • 4 cups baby arugula leaves
A couple of quibbles with the ingredients. I would have found it easier to have said, "Juice from half of a small lemon." Unless you have the hand-eye coordination of a superhero, it's a little hard to squeeze lemon juice into a tablespoon. 

And packing the lemon peel? Don't. Grate the zest off an entire small lemon--about the size of a couple of golf balls. If you can fit it whole into your coffee cup, that's about the right size. When you tightly pack lemon peel, it stays packed and can be a bit of a pain in the ass.

Back to our recipe:

Combine all seeds in heavy small skillet. Add large pinch of salt. Cook over low heat until white sesame seeds are pale golden, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Using potato masher, press mixture in skillet until coriander seeds are coarsely crushed.

  • There's an assumption here. Specifically, that one has a particular type of potato masher: 

  • So, next time I do this, I'm toasting the coriander seeds first, then crushing them in my mortar and pestle. You don't want the sesame seeds smushed with this salad.

Back to the recipe:

Place lemon juice and peel in small bowl. Whisk in olive oil. Season dressing with salt and pepper. (Seeds and dressing can be made 8 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)
Combine romaine and arugula in large bowl. Add dressing and half of seeds; toss to coat. Sprinkle with remaining seeds and serve.

This came out beautifully. The seeds add a nice, but different kind of crunch,and just loved the coriander. I never would have thought about putting it together with sesame seeds. If you're not used to shopping for sesame seeds, you can often find a large container of them in the Asian food section of your grocer. If they aren't there, yell at them. You may also find them on the spice rack.
Black sesame seeds are a little tougher to find. I got mine at an Asian grocer when we lived in Danbury. Our friends at Amazon have a variety of brands and prices if you don't have an Asian grocer handy.

I'll be making the salad again, and maybe one or two more new ones by the time the summer is over.

Next week: How not to make ponzu!

Questions? Comments? Death Threats? All are welcome!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Nachos that won't kill you (quickly)

I'm going to do something a little different today and actually use brand names. I have, generally speaking, taken a page from our friends at the Food Network, and not used any brand names. Partly because all things aren't available in all places (and I have no idea where half of you are) and partly because, well, nobody is paying me to do it. If they offered, and I liked the product, I'd consider it.

Anyway, I love nachos. Most people I know do. When we get them in Mexican restaurants, they're so damn heavy, though, afterwards I feel like I swallowed a bowling ball. And let's face it, half the reason they're so good is because they're so bad for you. Gooey cheese, sour cream, meat dripping with juice and fat. . .

A while back, I bought some chips from the nice people at Food Should Taste Good. They make a variety of chips and crackers and I've enjoyed several flavors. I saw the mulit-grain chip and I started thinking.

I usually have black beans in the house. Meat? Well, why not chicken for a change? I took the lazy way out and got a rotisserie bird from the supermarket. It was a lime & garlic flavor, I thought it would work. For cheese, I went with Cabot low-fat cheddar. I forget what salsa I had in the house, probably something chunky and organic (and no sugar!).

So, let's list this out:

One package multi-grain tortilla chips
one avocado, sliced
one jar salsa
one cup shredded low-fat cheese
two cans of black beans
two cups of shredded chicken (about two breasts and a drumstick off your rotisserie bird)
one medium onion (smaller than a baseball)
one jalapeno (optional)

Grate cheese
chop onion
Slice avocado. If you wait to do these things until you're ready, the chips will get soggy.

Arrange chips on a microwave-safe plate. Good stoneware will do. I did about a layer and a half. You should see no dish showing through.

Throw the beans, chicken, onion and a heaping spoonful of salsa in a pot. Heat on low until the chicken is heated all the way through.

Microwave your chips for about thirty seconds to get them extra crisp. Spoon chicken and bean mixture over the chips. Top with cheese. Microwave on high for thirty seconds until cheese is melted. Top with salsa and sliced avocados:

Dig in!

Questions? Comments? Death threats? Spokesmodel offers? Let's hear them!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Almost Perfect--Special guest post

This post has been a long time coming. Not because it wasn't delicious, just because there were so many other recipes I want to share (and I still need to get the parsley entry).

A while ago, a friend asked us to a BBQ, and would I please make a salad? Not a problem, I love making salads and they tend to get good reviews. Then I was asked to bring dessert and I said, "Oh *&^%$!" and promptly started looking for recipes. Seeing me in an utter panic, my sweetie gallantly said he would make dessert, and even make it a creme brulee,  a trend which I hope doesn't go away any time soon.

So without further ado . . 

The Almost-Perfect Creme Brulee

For this creme brulee recipe, I used Alton Brown's and Paula Deen's as the basis, but there are ingredients and steps that make it mine.


1 Pint Heavy Cream
1 Vanilla Bean , cut lengthwise in half
3 Large Egg Yolks
1/4 Cup Sugar
4 Tbsp Cognac
1  tsp Xanthan Gum
2-3 Qt of water.

Preheat the oven to 325F. It's very important to use a good oven thermometer here. Custard is one of the least forgiving things I do.

Scrape seeds from the vanilla bean

Scraping seeds from the vanilla bean

In a small saucepan, bring the vanilla bean seeds, cream and half of the cognac to a simmer. As an aside, never, ever cook with booze you're not absolutely delighted with. I used Remy Martin's 1738. Let the mixture come to a simmer, but not to full boil. Remove from heat. 

Place the mixture in a blender. Carefully and slowly add the Xanthan gum while pulsing it. You really don't want this to clump, and it will if you let it. Blend for another 30 seconds or so to make sure it's smooth, and then let sit for about 10 minutes.

Take the 3 egg yolks and the half of the sugar, and whisk until slightly lightened in colour. <em>Slowly</em> add the cream mixture while whisking. 

Put the ramekins in a roasting pan or similar, and then pour the boiling water so it covers about half-3/4 of the way up. Then slowly pour the cream-egg mixture into the ramekins. This will come really, really high. Don't worry, it will shrink a bit.

Bake for about 15-20 mins. Turn it to cook it evenly, and bake for another 20 minutes or so. They should be jiggly but not bubbling. My first batch was bubbling. Oops.

Take them out of the oven, and let them sit, hot water and all, until the ramekins are cool to touch. Remove the top crust layer, and "discard". Then mix the custard until it's even and smooth. Put it in the refrigerator for minimum of 2 hours. 

In a small saucepan, mix the rest of the Cognac and the sugar, and warm it a little to get the alcohol to start evaporating, then turn off the heat. Make sure all loose clothing, hair, etc., are tied down. Torch the sugar several times to get most of the booze out. Let this mixture sit and cool for the rest of the 2 hours.

Before serving, warm the flambe'ed mixture a little, and then divide it evenly on top of the creme. Take the torch, and in quick, circular motions, melt the sugar. Being stingy with the sugar here will help it melt easier before it burns. 

Let sit for 5 mins or so, then bon appetit

Monday, July 4, 2011

Scarborough Fair Part Three--Thyme Potato Salad

When it comes to potato salad, I have some non-traditional preferences. I like skins on, for flavor, texture and yes, because peeling takes so much time. I prefer a vinegarette or olive oil-based dressing over mayo. No pickles, either. I love pickles by themselves, but I've never been one for including them in potato salads and keep them the heck away from my tuna.

The grocery had a sale on purple potatoes last week, and I'd never used them before. The package was just big enough to make a salad for two, so I didn't get any other potatoes to mix up the color a little bit. Check out the color:

I love it, it's practically the same color as the cutting board. 

Ingredients, not perfectly measured:

2 cups potatoes in bite-sized pieces
1 t salt divided
freshly ground black pepper
fresh lemon juice to taste
1/4-1/3 cup of olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh thyme.

Boil potatoes in water with 1 t salt for slighly less time than you would if you were cooking them for mashed. When you stick a fork in them, you should feel a little bit of resistance in the center. Otherwise, when you stir, they will fall apart. It'll still be tasty, but it won't earn you any points on presentation. Strain the potatoes and rinse with cold water. Allow to cool, about 20 minutes.

When it comes to mixing salad dressings, I like to use a medium-sized glass jar, such as one left over from salsa or jam. 

I start with the juice of one lemon, which yields about 1/4 cup. add olive oil, salt to taste and several grinds of black peper. Add the thyme, and mix well. This is where the jar comes in handy, you can just seal and shake.

Once the potatoes are cool, gently toss with the dressing. This goes very well with poultry. If I were to serve beef, I'd try it with fresh tarragon. With pork, probably rosemary.

Questions? Comments? Death threats? I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Berry Season!

Strawberries are a beautiful things. Once, when I was waiting tables at a reception, they had strawberries on the buffet table. Nearby, I was operating the champagne fountain. A few glasses disappeared, to be placed under the table with strawberries in them. One of my co-workers caught me and before she could finish saying, "What the expletive are you doing?" I popped one in her mouth. Thus began my lifelong affair with strawberries and booze together.

Austin the former housemate has a patch in his garden that he diligently guards from the local wildlife. Sometimes the deer figure out ways around the netting. Sometimes he gets a nice crop. You can't do better than just-picked, you really can't. Even if it means fighting the deer and the bunnies.

The berries my sweetie and I ate last night were fresh, plump and juicy, though they were not from Austin's garden. While they're delicious just washed and munched on, I like to gild the lily a bit:
  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (I used organic. Brown sugar also lovely here, especially with rum)
  • 1.5 Tablespoons good dark rum (I used Plantation,which is made in Barbados. The best rums I've ever had have been in the Caribbean)

Hull the the strawberries and slice them into a medium-sized bowl. Sprinkle the sugar over the sliced berries and stir well with a rubber scraper. Add the rum and stir again. The rubber scraper will help pick up the liquid and spread the flavors around.

Let sit for a bit--I usually make this an hour or two ahead. Stir a few times every fifteen minutes or so. You'll notice liquid beginning to form in the bowl. Not quite syrup, not quite juice, just a luscious marriage of flavors.

Spoon into serving dishes. Add fresh cream if you wish or simply enjoy with a spoon.

I've been making this and variations thereof for at least fifteen years, using several different liqueurs--Chambord, Kahlua, Gran Mariner. The last adds a slightly earthy feel to it that I love. If you like a lighter flavor but still orangey, I recommend Cointreau. If I were to use champagne, I wouldn't add the sugar or cream. I just found a mini-bottle of Limoncello in my gaming bag, so that may be up next, if the berries are still fresh next week.

Questions? Comments? Death threats? I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I don't think it's me

But it could be. The recipe looked intriguing to me, but. . .let's take a look:

12 oz sweet orange marmalade 
4 Tablespoons cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons honey
1 Tablespoon Asian Hot Garlic Chil sauce (does that mean anything byt Sriracha?)
Pinch salt
2 lb pork tenderloin
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash ground black pepper

I look at this ingredient list and I think, "We have sweet, but we have vinegar to counteract it from being too sweet, we have spicy from the garlic chili sauce. We'll have a little bitter on the back end. This has potential."

Instead of the black pepper, I decided to use red--I'd had red pepper flakes in a spicy plum sauce at a Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant in Salt Lake City called Cafe Trang. They've expanded quite a bit since I lived in the Beehive State and that dish is no longer on the menu, but if you're in the area, check them out. Best egg rolls I've ever had.

I also thought I'd eliminate the honey. Marmalade is sweet enough, yes?

The recipe itself was pretty easy to follow:
Combine the marmalade, vinegar, honey, Asian chili sauce and the pinch of salt. Reduce to reduced by about 1/3, about 10-15 minutes.

Cut tenderloins into 1-inch slices. Flatten slightly with the heel of your hand (I just used the flat of my big knife). Combine the flour, 1/2 t salt and pepper in a food storage bag.  Shake tenderloin medallions in the mixture until well coated.

Heat olive oil (I used an extra-light one, about 2T) over medium-high heat. Sear tenderloin medallions for about 3 minutes on each side. Add the reduced sauce, simmer for about 20 minutes.

I know the measurements were correct, and when I tasted the reduced sauce before I poured it over the meat, I got a nice blend of sweet and spicy. Twenty minutes later, I had beautifully tender pork in a way-too-sweet sauce. I think if I'd added the honey, I wouldn't have been able to eat it. The pepper was not there, the vinegar was not there, the Sriracha was completely missing. 

How to fix this? Less marmalade is an obvious start. More Sriracha? More pepper? All of the above? I'm really not sure where to go next with this one. I would love to hear your ideas. If someone submits one I like, I will make the dish again with their improvements sometime this fall. I need a bit of a break before I make this one again.