Chicken and Roasted Vegetables in Lemon Sauce

January 17, 2018

I’m getting a little stir crazy.  I work from home, so it happens from time to time.  It happens especially when the weather is challenging and I don’t get out beyond the dog walking and running in the neighborhood.  Believe it or not cooking helps burn off some crazy.  So today, in between work things, I roasted a bunch of vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower and radishes.  No plan for them, just a way to use up some stuff in the vegetable drawer and something to do.  Then came time for a dinner plan.  I pulled a chicken breast out of the freezer and voila!  Dinner.

Vegetables first.  Roasting vegetables is the easiest way to cook vegetables and add wonderful flavor to them.  There are very few rules.  High heat.  Pieces roughly the same size.  Some kind of fat.  Salt.  If you don’t season them beyond salt and maybe pepper, they’re super versatile.  You can cook multiple kinds of vegetables on the same sheet as long as they have about the same roasting time.  Today I had to take the broccoli off early to keep it from burning.

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The key to adding that amazing roasted flavor is caramelizing.  Put everything in a single layer and don’t stir it.  The contact with the hot pan will brown the bottom and the oven heat will brown the top.  Beautiful.  I always end up eating a good part of the vegetables right out of the pan while I’m doing other kitchen things.

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Now the chicken.  Chicken is scary.  No one wants to give anyone salmonella.  But then no one wants to eat dust dry chicken either.  There is a middle ground.  My favorite way to do chicken to serve alongside vegetables or over rice is to pan sear it and then make a sauce in the same pan.

Cut the chicken breast horizontally.  It will cook a lot faster this way.  You’re also a lot less likely to under or over cook it.  In a cooking class I took once the chef told us that a chicken breast, sliced in half this way, will cook in 3 minutes on either side.  I’ve had good luck with that formula except with the fattest breasts.

How do you do that?  It’s easiest if the chicken is still partially frozen.  It’s less wiggly that way.  But you can do it regardless.  Place the chicken on the cutting board with the long side facing you.  Place your empty hand flat on top of the chicken.  Run your knife down the breast starting at the short end.  Might be best to angle ever so slightly downwards to avoid cutting your hand, just until you get used to it.  Not too much angle because you’re aiming for 2 pieces of equal thickness.  I didn’t do a fabulous job tonight, but the breast was so fat that I ended up with 3 pieces.

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What about the pan?  I use cast iron for almost everything because it holds heat so evenly and so well.  This is the exception.  When you’re making a pan sauce it’s better to use a different pan – copper, stainless steel, etc.    Cast iron leaves little black flecks in your sauce.  I stay away from non-stick for this though.

One tip about searing the chicken.  Once you put it in the pan don’t move it until you’re ready to flip it.  Once it has a good sear on it, it won’t stick to the pan.  If you try to move it around too soon it will stick to the pan and tear.

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Here’s what you need:

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1/2 C stock
  • 1 T flour
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 C roasted vegetables per person

Here’s what you do:

  • Cut the chicken into horizontal halves
  • Salt and pepper the top of each half
  • Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of a pan
  • When the oil begins to smoke add the chicken, salt side down
  • Cook 3-4 minutes, depending on thickness.
  • Turn, cook 3-4 more minutes
  • Remove from the pan and keep warm
  • Add stock, less 2-3 T,  to the pan and stir to incorporate all of the brown bits (the fond) into the stock
  • Let the stock simmer until it reduces by half
  • Stir flour into the extra stock to make a slurry
  • Stir into the pan and let it thicken
  • Stir in the lemon juice and reduce by about a third
  • Turn off the heat and stir in the butter
  • Top the vegetables with the chicken and pour the sauce over

Here’s what I thought:

Easy, fast, good, healthy.  Some capers or olives would have made a wonderful addition.

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Andouille, Mushroom, Tomato Pizza

January 15, 2018

It’s been a day of domesticity here.  I made most of a dress and baked 2 loaves of bread.  Not hard to imagine that I might not have much left when dinner time rolled around.  I could have eaten leftovers.  I had the Greek Butternut Squash Greek Salad for lunch.  And I hate to eat leftovers on my days off when I, theoretically, have time to cook.  I try to keep naan and fresh mozzarella in the house. With those two things you can have pizza anytime!

Pizza is a fantastic way to get rid of odds and ends:  one link of andouille; a few sliced mushrooms; some mascarpone.  Throw in a little pecorino, mozzarella and a naan you’re all set.

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Here’s what you need:

  • A naan
  • Pretty much anything you want to add

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat the oven to 450
    • I have a Pizza button on my convection oven that provides high heat and circulating air.
  • Put your toppings on the naan.
  • Bake 10-15 minutes until it’s crisp and bubbly

Here’s what I did tonight:

  • Heated a pizza stone in the oven
  • Spread a thin layer of mascarpone over the naan
  • Slice the andouille and sear on both sides
  • Add andouille, mushrooms, sliced tomatoes to the naan
  • Top with diced fresh mozzarella and grated pecorino
  • Bake 12 minutes

Here’s what I thought:

The mascarpone provides a fantastic creamy balance to the spicy andouille.  Add in the earthiness of the mushrooms; the freshness of the tomatoes; and the saltiness of the pecorino and you have all your bases covered.  Top with cheese, because that makes a great pizza, amazing.  It was awfully hard not to eat the whole thing, and I still might!

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Bread

January 15, 2018

I spent most of today sewing.  There’s a dress that’s been cut out and marked and lying on a side table for ages! The catch is that my sewing studio is in the basement and it was super cold this morning.  Even with 2 space heaters running it was cold enough that my nose was runny!  So when I came upstairs for lunch I decided to do something else for a little while, hoping that the basement might get passably warm.

I got a wonderful new baking cookbook for Christmas, but I’ll need a lot more time and energy to translate the metric measurements and British terminology into something I feel comfortable with.  I have another cookbook, also a gift, that’s all about bread.  But most of those recipes call for bread flour, which I don’t have in the house right now.  Then I remembered a book that my mom wrote for me with recipes from home.  Bread made with regular flour and melted, instead of softened, butter.  Perfect.

This bread is the Basic Bread Loaf from the James Beard book.  To me, though, it’s the bread that my mom made for my sandwiches when I was in high school.  Yep, my mom packed my lunch for me even in high school, and she made homemade bread for my sandwiches.  Yep, she also worked full-time and had a weekend job.  How?  No idea.  Amazing?  You bet.  So, that’s the bread I made today.

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One thing to know about me and yeast breads.  I’m a yeast murderer.  Somehow, I often manage to get the milk too hot and kill the yeast.  I’ve thrown out more batches of bread and rolls than you can imagine because they didn’t rise.  That’s another thing to love about this recipe.  You bloom the yeast in a small amount of the milk and it sits long enough that you know for sure whether or not you killed the yeast before you add it to everything else.  If you screw it up, you’re only out the yeast, 1/2 C of milk and a little sugar.

And one thing about me and baking. I’m a mess!  An apron is not optional when there’s baking in this kitchen.  Flour everywhere.  I move too fast to keep all the flour in the bowl.  Fortunately aprons are another sewing passion of mine so I have many.

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It takes 4-5 hours to make this bread start to finish. Most of that is rising time.  2 hours for the first rising and about 1 hour for the second.  Then 40-50 minutes baking time.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 package yeast
  • 2 C milk, heated to 100-115 degrees (watch that temp!)
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1/4 C butter, melted (that’s 1/2 a stick)
  • 1 t salt
  • 4-5+ cups of all purpose flour

Here’s what you do:

  • Heat the milk and put 1/2 C in a small bowl or jar.
  • Add the yeast and sugar.  Set aside to proof.
  • In a large bowl, mix the rest of the milk, butter and salt
  • Add 3C of the flour, 1C at a time. Mix after each addition.
  • Add the yeast mixture.
  • Work in 1-2+ more cups of flour, until the dough is no longer sticky.  I do this with my hands.
  • Put the dough ball in a buttered bowl.  Roll the ball around until it’s coated.
  • Cover with a towel and set in a warm, dry place to rise until doubled.
  • TAKE A BREAK
  • Punch down and knead 4-5 minutes.  Adding small amounts of flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or to the board.
  • Divide the dough in two and place in 2 buttered loaf pans.
  • Let rise until doubled.  An hour or so.
  • TAKE A BREAK
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • Brush water or a lightly beaten egg white over the top.
  • Slash the  loaf tops diagonally with a knife.
  • Put the risen loaves in the oven and bake 40-50 minutes.  Until they sound hollow when you tap on the tops.
  • If they brown too quickly, put a sheet of aluminum foil over the tops.
  • Remove from the loaf pans and cool on wire racks.

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Here’s what I thought:

It’s homemade bread that came out right.  Of course it’s wonderful.  I cut one slice while it was still hot and had it with butter.  Not much is better than that.  Unless your mom makes it for you. =)

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Red Lentil Dal

January 14, 2018

Vegetarian dinner, day 2!  And another day to use the new bowl cozies I made.  These are a genius invention for those of us who mostly eat while sitting on the couch.  Equally useful for carrying hot bowls back and forth to the table.

So cute!  But I digress.

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I love Indian food.  Love it.  And frequent trips to London have helped me love it all the more.  I didn’t eat dal for a long time.  Let’s be real, they mostly look pretty gross.  And I have some texture issues with food anyway.  But I’ve come around.  There are all kinds of lentils, the base of dal.  Some of them hold their shape and some don’t.  The red ones don’t, but this tastes so good it doesn’t matter.  Keeping your rice a little firm helps balance the texture as well.

One of the wonderful things about Indian food is the layers of spices.  And these are all spices you can find in any grocery store, but some of them you may not keep on hand.  We’ll talk substitutions as we go.  I found the recipe on a site called “The Wanderlust Kitchen” that seems to have a lot of good stuff, so check that out when you have a minute.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1 green chili pepper, stemmed, seeded, and minced (serrano for spicy, jalapeno for more mild)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced ginger root
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • Juice of one half a lemon
  • Chopped cilantro leaves and plain yogurt for garnish

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I think you could substitute ground cinnamon and ground cumin for the stick and the see forms, respectively.  I’d advise against using ginger powder instead of fresh, but if you have bottled, that’s probably ok.  Cardamom is a unique flavor so worth buying a small jar.

Here’s what you do (annotated):

Place the rinsed lentils in a medium saucepan along with 3 cups of room temperature water. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.

I brought mine to a simmer and cooked them with the lid mostly on, but tilted to vent.  Start the rice at the same time as the lentils.  Add some salt to the water for both the lentils and the rice.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet set over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and cinnamon stick; cook for 60 to 90 seconds, until fragrant.

I broke my cinnamon stick in half to release more flavor.

Add the onion, green chili pepper, garlic, and ginger; cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the onions are turning translucent.

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Add the turmeric, cardamom, paprika, salt, and tomato to the pan. Cook until the tomato begins to fall apart, about 2 to 3 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick.

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Stir the spiced onion mixture into the pot of lentils. Add the lemon juice and stir well. Taste and add salt as needed.

Garnish with cilantro; serve with basmati rice and naan.

I left off the naan and added a dollop of yogurt.  I also added more lemon juice and some salt.  

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Here’s what I thought:

It comes together easily enough to make for a week night meal or as a side.  It took me longer than the 20 minutes quoted in the original, but that could be me.  My technical knife skills aren’t bad, but I’m not fast.  Takes me a few minutes to get all the chopping and measuring done.  I’ve become increasingly appreciative of mis en place – getting all the prep work done before the cooking begins.  It’ll save you time in the end.

It definitely needed more lemon juice and salt.  Lentils are pretty earthy on their own and they take spice very nicely.  This is a rich and wonderful dish.  I chose the jalapeno over the Serrano chili so it wasn’t overly heat spicy.  Just enough to liven up all of the other spices.  An excellent dish for a cold January night. This is one to add to your list of comfort foods.

Greek Butternut Squash Salad

January 13, 2018

Hey vegetarian friends, and those looking for a Meatless Monday dish, and those looking for something to take to a picnic, party or potluck – this is for you!  After the Singapore Noodles debacle yesterday, I approached this with some trepidation.  I’m familiar with all of these ingredients though, so it seemed pretty low risk.

I had a butternut squash in the pantry that’s been here for a while.  Sometimes it takes me a while to work up the energy to cut one up.  But I’m really trying to eat a little better and butternut squash salad is as good a start (re-start) as anything.  And I had half a red onion left from yesterday.  And half a sweet onion left from some other day.  And the ends of a block of feta in brine.  I actually only had to buy a 99 cent bunch of parsley for this.  Everything else I already had in the house.

Roasting vegetables is easy.  Here are the things to remember.  Use high heat.  Cut everything roughly the same size so it will all be done at the same time.  Keep everything in a single layer so that every piece has contact with the pan.  Don’t stir more than once.  It’s the contact with the pan that gives you that yummy caramelization.  Salt the vegetables.

If you’re planning to use your squash (or potatoes or carrots) in cubed format, keep an eye on them.  If you let them roast too long they’ll be so soft that they won’t hold their shape when you stir them into whatever else you’re using.

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What we love about these kinds of salads is that they’re mostly dump and stir, and they can be served as a main dish.  I added some bulgur to this to give it some extra heft and left out the walnuts.  I hate walnuts.

Here’s what you need: (minus the olives, which I did use, but left out of this photo)

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  • 1 small butternut squash diced and roasted with olive oil and salt
  • 1/2 red onion and 1/2 sweet onion, diced and roasted with the squash
  • 1- 1 1/2 C cooked bulgur
    • 1/2 C bulgur and 1 C water or vegetable stock
    • Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 10-12 minutes
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1/2 C pitted kalamata olives, chopped
  • 2 t red wine vinegar
  • 1 t lemon juice
  • 1 t honey
  • 1/2 t dried dill weed
  • 1/2 t dried oregano
    • Whisk the above 5 ingredients (vinegar through oregano) together in a small bowl to make dressing
  • 1/2 C chopped or crumbled feta
  • 2 T chopped fresh parsley

Here’s what you do:

Combine chickpeas and olives in a large bowl.  Drizzle with the dressing.  Add cooked bulgur and roasted vegetables.  Stir in feta and parsley.  Salt and pepper to taste.

That’s it!  Easy!

Here’s what I thought:

This is good stuff.  And good for you stuff.  It can be served at room temperature so would be great to take to a potluck or dinner party.  No worries about keeping it hot.  It’s got no mayo or yogurt so good for an outdoor event as well.  It’s good as a single dish meal or as a side for chicken or pork chops. It’s pretty.  It’s healthy.  It’s yummy.  What more could you ask?

Here’s the original recipe.

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I made this bowl cozy today.  This bowl wasn’t hot so I didn’t really need it, but it’s so cute I wanted to use it anyway.

Noodle Friday!

January 12, 2018

8 mile run in the morning means noodles the night before!  I told you last week that you’d see a lot of carb-loading Fridays, but I’m determined that they won’t all have an Italian theme.  Tonight’s noodles are Asian, but by all accounts not from Singapore as the name would suggest.  They’re called Singapore Noodles.

I travel to London for work quite a bit.  There are a couple of Asian chains that we don’t have in my part of the world that have become my comfort spots when I’m too tired or jet lagged to adventure some place new.  It doesn’t hurt that both are within a few blocks of my regular hotel.  I order Singapore Noodles at one of them nearly every trip.  There’s also a place close to my house that has a Curried Chicken and Rice Noodles dish that’s kind of similar and I love it as well. So, I’ve been looking forward to making this dish for a long time.

Here’s the thing.  These suck.  They just don’t taste like anything except curry powder and heat.  I’ll admit that I didn’t use the pork.  Believe me when I tell you that isn’t the problem.  I also didn’t have the shaoxing wine and I didn’t have time to go to an Asian market today, but I looked carefully and used some mirin as a substitute.  Still not the problem unless someone can tell me that shaoxing wine is a flavor bomb.

And they’re a fair amount of work.  There are a lot of ingredients and a lot of chopping here, not to mention peeling and de-veining the shrimp.

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Wok cooking, as this is intended to be, requires very high heat.  I don’t have a wok at the moment so I chose the biggest pan I have.  I needed something with a broad surface area so I could leave the gas up high without having flames on the outside of the pan.  The good thing about working with heat this high is that as long as you keep everything moving you don’t need a lot of oil or liquid.  Good thing.  The splatter at this heat would really hurt.  Because you have to keep everything moving it’s super important to do all your chopping and measuring before you start.

How does it work?

In this recipe you scramble the egg first and remove it from the pan.  Then you wipe out the pan so you don’t end up with burned bits in your food in the end.  Be careful about that too.  I have a new burn mark on my arm because I didn’t pay attention to the edge of the pan.  Have a mentioned that the heat is super high?  Ouch.

Then put in the shrimp.  10 seconds.  Add onions, carrots, peppers.  30 seconds.  Keep everything moving!  Add cabbage, red pepper, curry powder.  Add the mushrooms.

Stir in softened rice noodles.

Add 1 T shaoxing wine, 1/2 T soy sauce, 1/2 T sesame oil.  Add green onions.

I should tell you that never in my life have I met with success soaking rice noodles in cold water.  Maybe I don’t start them soaking early enough, but I do follow the instructions on the package.  It doesn’t matter if it’s flat noodles for pad thai or these vermicelli sticks, I always end up putting them in a pot on the stove and heating the water until the noodles are soft enough.

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SOOOOO disappointed.  They look basically like the picture from the recipe.  I just can’t believe they’re supposed to taste (or not taste) like this.  You’ll note from the photos below that I made a LOT of this stuff.  I tried to doctor up the bowl I ate.  I met with enough success that I managed to avoid throwing them in the trash and ordering a pizza.  I’m not sure I can make it happen for the leftovers.

Here’s the recipe I used in case you want to give it a try.  And if you have success, please let me know!

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Maybe I should have realized that with all these noodles and vegetables and 1 1/2 tablespoons of Madras curry powder, 2 tablespoons total of wine, sesame oil and soy sauce wasn’t going to cut it for flavoring.  I didn’t have much mirin, so in the doctoring process I moved on to dry sherry.  And then to rice wine vinegar.  And more soy sauce.  And then more of everything.  I really tried.

It’s a good lesson.  It doesn’t work every time.  Part of being an adventurous cook is failing.  This was a failure. This may be one of those things that just falls for me on the “Buy” side of the “Make or Buy” consideration.

So, here’s the finished product that I actually ate for dinner.  It looks pretty good, right?  Sigh.

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Leftovers Make Tacos

January 8, 2018

I’ve been sitting on my couch for an hour talking myself out of ordering delivery something for dinner – pizza, Indian, Chinese, Thai, whatever.  You know how it goes.  There’s food in the house.  I’ve eaten the Pomegranate Beef a few times now, so I need a break from that.  I had lentil soup for lunch, so that’s out for dinner.  That leaves a basement freezer full of pumpkin soup, minestrone, white beans and greens soup, chili – are you getting the theme here?  Not interested in soup.  I’ve got some odds and ends in the fridge so let’s see what 5-10 minute meal we can make from those.

I’ve got eggs, feta, spinach, a little spaghetti sauce and tortillas.  The diced ham belongs to the dogs (not kidding) and it’s been a vegetarian day anyway.  I love eggs.  Quick, easy, and versatile.  What more could you want?  Beats the heck out of peanut butter and jelly on a cold and rainy night.  And leans toward the healthy too.

Two scrambled egg tacos coming up.  Here’s what you need:

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1 whole egg, 1 egg white, water

1/4 chopped fresh spinach

2 T diced feta

2 T spaghetti sauce

shaved parmesan

2 corn tortillas

I add a little water to my eggs when I’m mixing them to scramble.  It makes them fluffy.  And you really do just need an egg and an egg white to make 2 tacos.  Makes a darn good omelet too.

I’ve already stemmed my spinach.  I did the whole container the other night when I was stemming some for the beef.  Makes it easier to use later.  Most people will tell you this is an unnecessary step. True enough.  But it’s so much nicer if you do.  I don’t like the feel of the stems in my spinach, raw or cooked.  And I don’t like the way it looks.  I notice them when I go to restaurants.  I think it’s tacky.  That said, I may be the only person on the planet who bothers with this, so make your own call on this.  If you decide to do it, the easiest way is to put the container in the middle with a bowl on one side and a place to put the stems for trash on the other.  It goes quickly.

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I buy my feta in blocks stored in brine.  I found it at Wegmans.  I think it lasts longer that way.  And it gives me the flexibility to use slices or big chunks or tiny diced.  Again, make your own call.  Buy the crumbles if they’re on sale.  Buy the flavored if you like it.  But be very careful to read the label.  Never ever, ever get the fat free.  The container looks the same as the other.  It’s a horrible mistake to make.  I speak from experience.

Warm the tortillas so they’ll be soft enough to fold.  I do mine in the countertop oven. It’s really the only oven I use.  You can also use a toaster oven, a warm pan on the stove, or wrapped in damp paper towels in the microwave.

Split your eggs between the tortillas and top.  I had one with spinach and feta and one with spaghetti sauce and parmesan.  Both excellent.  Almost no prep and almost no clean up.  Delivery food avoided for today.

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Oh, and the extra egg yolk?  I cook it immediately and dice it up for the dogs to have with breakfast in the morning.  I have a very picky eater so they both get something special added to their food.  She’s a chow hound and needs nothing added, but you have to be fair!

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Pomegranate Beef and Martinis to Match

January 7, 2018

The brutal cold has continued through the weekend.  That drives many of us into the kitchen to make big pots of soup and stew and warm comfort foods.  The weather is keeping a lot of our social time indoors.  Yesterday, Saturday, I invited some friends over for dinner and games so we wouldn’t have to drive around on frozen streets.  Now I need something warm and cozy, but also good enough to serve to company.  A matching drink is just a bonus!

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The post-holiday weeks also mean a lot of house projects around here, so I can’t have as much time for complex meals as I usually might on the weekends.  Given all the stuff on my to-do list this weekend, I broke out the Crock-Pot.  I may be the only person on the  planet who didn’t get an Insta-Pot for Christmas, but my Crock-Pot works just fine for me. I’m pretty good at planning ahead.

If you’ve used your slow cooker much in the last few years you’re probably familiar with Stephanie O’Dea.  She cooked meals for her family for a solid year and created a blog and then a cookbook out of it.  Make It Fast, Cook It Slow is a favorite of mine.  The commentary lets you know if the recipe was a hit; what the kids thought; any substitutions you might want to try.  Definitely worth picking up a copy.  That’s where I turned for my dinner plan.

I find that the coldest nights call for the heartiest foods.  Beef roast.  I chose Pomegranate Beef.  It sounded elegant enough for company, but it’s still just a beef roast with onions, garlic, tomatoes, etc.  I was slightly leery of the spices in this.  Coupling herbes de Provence with cinnamon was new to me, but c’est la vie!  I followed the recipe pretty precisely, as I often do with brand new recipes.  The only departure was that I left out the golden raisins.  I’m not a fan of cooked raisins.  Here are the ingredients.  Put them in the slow cooker and cook 8 hours on low or 5 hours on high.

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1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 pounds beef roast (I used a chuck roast)
4 garlic cloves (whole is fine, or you can chop them)
1 (14-ounce) can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
1 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup golden raisins

I cooked it on high for 5 hours, but not until it was tender enough to cut with a spoon.  I actually removed the roast from the post and cut it up.  I wanted cubes instead of shreds of beef.  Then I added the beef back to the pot before serving it up.

I served it over grits instead of potatoes or polenta.  I rarely have either in the house, but I always have grits.  And I served sauteed spinach on the side.  I thought the color would be nice and a green vegetable is almost always a good idea.

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For essentially a beef stew,  this turned out to be a pretty elegant meal.  It’s very good.  Just a little sweet.  It could have used just a touch more salt for balance.  Since I had pomegranate juice in the house I thought pomegranate martinis would be nice. They added just a little extra fancy.  Here’s the recipe for those.  Cosmo-style.

 

 

Pasta Friday

January 5, 2018

You may recall from my intro that I’m a runner.  That usually means a long run on either Friday or Saturday, sometimes both.  So, Friday night is for carb loading.  When I was training for my marathon I ate pasta on Friday night for 24 Fridays in a row.  24.  I didn’t eat pasta for a while after that.  I finally realized that Pasta Friday didn’t have to mean spaghetti with tomato sauce.  I do try to stay away from cheese sauces and things that are too spicy, but there are a lot of ways to do Pasta Friday.  You’ll see a bunch of them as we go through the year.  But for tonight, we’ll start with the old stand-by – spaghetti with tomato sauce.

Usually when I make spaghetti sauce I make a big vat of it and freeze it for later.  Tonight I just needed to use up one leftover beef and mushroom burger (uncooked) and half an onion.  I planned to make 2 servings, but the sauce keeps getting bigger as you add vegetables and I ended up with 3-4 servings of sauce.  It’ll never go to waste so that’s ok.

Spaghetti sauce is one of those things that a lot of people have a family recipe for.  It’s also incredibly flexible.  It’s an awesome way to use up vegetable odds and ends.  Sometimes you can hide them in a sauce and your non-vegetable eaters are none the wiser.  Tonight’s sauce starts with diced onion and garlic and then the burger thrown in, chunked up and browned.  Next I threw in half a diced yellow bell pepper.  When the vegetables are soft add the tomatoes.

Let me take a second on the tomatoes.  They’re the most important part of a tomato sauce. (Duh).  Use good ones.  If you followed me in the past you know that I can my own tomatoes in the summer.  Well, they aren’t my tomatoes.  I buy them by the bushel from a local farm.  But I do can them myself, in my own kitchen. I have dozens of beautiful jars stored in the basement to use in sauces and soups and curries.  I’m very spoiled by these tomatoes.  But there are store bought ones that are good too.  Use San Marzanos if you can find them and it’s not too hard on your wallet.  San Marzano is a type of tomato and not a brand.  You’ll have to read the can to know.  If the producer uses San Marzanos they’ll tell you on the label.

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I didn’t have time tonight to let these cook all the way down so I needed a little something to add some thickness to the sauce.  I used about 1/4 of a small can of tomato paste.  Small being 6 oz.  Then just let the sauce cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, while the pasta cooks.  If it gets too thick add a little water from the pasta pot.

In the summer I usually add some zucchini noodles to the pasta.  It gives me an extra vegetable serving and allows me to eat a slightly larger serving of dinner without adding more pasta.  I’ve always made my noodles by running a vegetable peeler longways down the zucchini.  You end up with something vaguely fettuccine like.  This year Santa brought me a spiralizer.  I never bought one because I don’t like spending money on kitchen gadgets that take up a lot of space, cost a lot of money, and only do one thing.  Santa found a very small one for cheap!

I did a side by side comparison tonight.  Half a zucchini with the spiralizer and half with the peeler.  The spiralizer is super easy to use and turns out noodles that really look like spaghetti.  You do have to cut them off every so often or you end up with impossibly long and unwieldy noodles.  There’s very little waste with this.  At the end you have a very narrow core and a small disc leftover.  With the peeler your noodles are wide, flat and thin.  They start to fall apart when you get into the seedy middle so the core you have leftover is considerably larger than with the spiralizer.  I don’t waste it though.  I dice it up and throw it in the sauce.

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When your pasta is almost done throw the zucchini noodles in the pasta pot and mix it all up.  Cook it for about 1 minute and drain.  Top each serving with sauce and grate a little cheese on the top!  We’ll talk about using good cheese another time.  Now it’s time to eat!

Burger, a little lighter

January 4, 2018

It’s COLD out there y’all!  I’m about done with temps below freezing and we’ve got the 3 coldest days still to go.  Normally that might mean soup.  Between the greens and peas and the fish curry I think I’ve eaten every meal for almost 4 days with a spoon.  I needed a hearty, warm meal – with a fork.

It’s snowy today.  Somehow that triggers in me a snack food response.  My eating habits have been a little crummy today, though I did have greens and peas for lunch.  I knew this was coming so I planned ahead.  A while back I made beef and mushroom burgers so I thawed one overnight in the fridge.  Sometimes a meat and three meal is just the right thing.

Lighter burgers.  I know, you’re already thinking turkey burgers.  I don’t like most turkey burgers.  They can be dry.  Mostly, they just don’t satisfy my need for a burger.  Nope, not veggie burgers either.  I like them better than turkey burgers, but it still doesn’t quite meet the craving.  Earlier this year I discovered a simple trick.  Mushrooms.

Adding ground mushrooms to the beef does a bunch of good stuff.  It stretches the beef so you get more burgers out of a pound.  Good for the wallet!  It makes a more sustainable meal because you need less beef.  Good for the planet!  And it lowers the fat and calories in a way that you’ll barely notice.  Good for the body!

I use portobellos.  Doesn’t matter which ones – whole, caps, baby, sliced.  You’re going to put them in the food processor so pick the cheapest ones that are the least trouble.  You’re looking for a mix that’s no more than 40% mushrooms to 60% beef.  If you go to 50% mushrooms you’ll find that you need a filler to hold them together.  We’re not looking to make meatloaf here.

Put the mushrooms in a food processor and grind them fine.  Fine, but not mushy.  I’d show you a picture, but this burger came out of the freezer.  Put the beef and the mushrooms in a bowl and mix them together with your hands.  Try not to handle the mixture too much.  Just enough that they’re evenly mixed.  If you normally add something else into your burgers before you make patties, do the same here.  Salt, pepper, barbeque sauce, chiles, whatever.  Then make the patties as usual.  Generally speaking you should be able to get 6 burgers out of a pound of beef instead of 4.

Cook them exactly as you would full beef burgers.  They’re mostly beef!  So, it’ll take just about the same amount of time to get them to medium rare or medium or medium well as it usually does.  You will need to be a little more careful when you flip them.  They’re slightly more fragile than beef burgers before they’re fully cooked.  I don’t even notice the mushrooms after they’re done.  Still feels and tastes like beef.  So, I’m doing something a little nice for my body without sacrificing anything at all!

A few notes about freezing them.  You can wrap and freeze these to have later.  Wrap them individually in plastic wrap.  If you don’t you’re likely to tear them to pieces when you try to separate them after they’re thawed.  Also, when they’re thawed you’ll notice that they look kind of black and there’s a lot of water.  That’s the mushrooms.  They turn black and have a later of water in them when you freeze and thaw them.  Just toss the extra liquid when you cook them.  Last thing, put them in a dish to thaw them.  If you just put the wrapped patties on a shelf in your fridge you’ll have mushroom water everywhere.

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So for tonight’s meat and 3 – steamed broccoli, roasted cauliflower and a yummy burger.  The cauliflower is left from when I roasted a hear prepping for the fish curry.  The broccoli I just had in the drawer.  No idea what it was originally purchased for.  And the third vegetable is the mushrooms!  So, so good.  Sometimes simple is the best.

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