We're still cooking - we've just got a little better budget
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Saturday, August 13, 2011
I’ve mentioned before that I am the resident caterer for my group of friends. I’ve done birthday parties, anniversary parties, surprise birthday parties, more birthday parties, but this one was a first – my friend, Robin, called up and asked me to cater her geocache party.
If you knew Robin, you’d know that this is not a normal request. I didn’t even know what geocaching was (and after a trip to Wikipedia, I’m still not sure I understand it). As far as I can tell, you run around pretending to be a cyber-era Jack Sparrow looking for buried treasure, using your smart phone to find specific coordinates. (I know, sounds like oodles of fun, huh?) I still haven’t gone beyond making calls with my cell phone, and now I find out that you can hunt for the wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge while playing Angry Birds at the same time. READ MORE
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Three months ago, things were looking pretty rosy: the kitchen remodeling business was on a consistent upswing, and I was able to ditch the nightmarish, weekend gig. It was so nice to be able to work one job. The free-time even made me a little lazy – I haven’t posted a single recipe since.
Cut to present-day: Congress is acting like a bunch of babies, S&P has downgraded the U.S. credit rating, and the phone isn’t ringing quite a much as it was. So what do I do? I start cooking, of course. (What can I say? It’s one thing to have free time; it’s another thing to not have enough to do.)
I actually played with this recipe over the summer, and Don has been harping at me to get it up on the site ever since (he really just wants me to make it again). He’s a hot wings freak. I’m not a big fan of the hot sauce based kind, but I enjoy these because they have a more complex flavor.
I also roasted these wings instead of deep frying them. I’m certainly not averse to deep fried goodness; I’m just too lazy to clean up the mess when it’s over. Besides, I can lie to myself and call them healthy this way.
It’s a simple marinade – both in ingredients and assembly. There’s something about the combination of lemon and ginger that I love. I didn’t want an overt Asian bent to the flavor, but you could also switch out the salt for soy sauce and add a little toasted sesame oil to get yourself there.
And it’s a total do-ahead too. I mixed it up the night before and made them for lunch on a weekend. The best part is that the reduced marinade makes a phenomenal glaze on the roasted wings – a frugal bonus.
This will also translate very well to other chicken pieces if you don’t want to make wings. And have you noticed how expensive chicken wings are? They are just as expensive as boneless chicken breasts at the local mega-store! Once in a blue moon they’ll go on sale for about 99 cents per pound, which is the only time I buy them. I just can’t bring myself to pay almost three bucks a pound for what used to be throw-away parts (damn the rising popularity of Buffalo wings).
If you’re going to use other chicken parts, I’d recommend using the skin-on variety. You need that crunch factor you get from the roasted skin – my test of skinless chicken breasts felt like it was missing something. Besides, you aren’t deep-frying, so you need something to keep the chicken moist. I didn’t try these on the grill, but I think they’d do just fine. If you do decide to grill them, let me know how they turn out.
There’s an ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Something tells me that the economy over the couple of months is going to be anything but dull. I imagine I won’t be the only one putting in some above-average prayer time. Add these wings, and you should be all set.
Recipe: Lemon Ginger Wings
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
|Chipotle Poached Shrimp Tacos|
I find that inspiration for new dishes comes from a multitude of sources: childhood memories, fantastic restaurant meals, conversation with friends, bizarre dreams (yes, it’s true – I do dream about cooking from time to time), etc. But I think the most often used source of inspiration comes from the plethora of cooking and travel shows with which I seem to fill my television-viewing time.
The local PBS station has added an additional HD channel to its line-up called Create. It’s full of familiar PBS programs that show you how to build, garden, paint, sew, travel, and cook. The travel hosts are these intrepid globe trekkers hopping from country to country, showing us not only the history, art, and architecture of each place, but also the unique cuisine of the region (always makes me alternate from cringing to salivating as I see what they eat). One recent afternoon, sandwiched between trips to London and Paris, was a repeat of America’s Test Kitchen, which was tackling Mexican food. Don and I both stopped in our tracks as we watched them work their magic on chicken tacos. They came up with a preparation that I knew I needed to
steal pay homage to in a recipe.
OK, I freely admit that I stole the cooking method they presented – but the flavor profile and ingredients are my own. The only ingredient common to both recipes is chipotle in adobo. I’m telling you, this is like no flavor you’ve ever had in a taco. The cooking method poaching the protein in citrus juice, then reduce the juice to create a great sauce to spoon over the tacos. (If tacos aren’t your thing, this would make a great addition to a seasoned rice dish as well.)
The added beauty is that all of the ingredients are staples in my fridge. It’s quick and simple – two adjectives that I can’t apply to many of the recipes I come up with. I chose to use lime juice for my shrimp because it’s the first thing I think of when it comes to Mexican food. The only trick is removing the shrimp before they are cooked all the way through. Since you are adding them back to the reduced sauce at the last minute, you want to make sure the final dish isn’t overcooked (nothing worse than rubbery shrimp, is there?)
I know there are all sorts of theories about not serving dairy products with seafood, so I left it off for the glamour shots, but I certainly loaded the jack cheese and sour cream onto my taco before I ate it.
|Lime Corn Salad|
I also had some fresh ears of corn in the fridge that needed a reason to be cooked. I always think lime pairs well with corn, so I decided to roast the corn along with some scallions and created a simple Lime Corn Salad to go with the shrimp tacos.
The chipotle gives a smoky punch to the shrimp. The natural sweetness that comes out of roasting corn complemented the tacos brilliantly. (I have to say, being a Hoosier boy, there’s nothing like fresh corn you pick up at an Indiana roadside stand, but I am certainly developing a fondness for fresh Florida corn as well. I think it’s a little sweeter, but Indiana corn has more depth of flavor). And with the obvious lime flavor running through the meal, an ice-cold Corona is the only thing that made sense. Just like the right wine selection, it enhanced the flavors and pulled the meal together.
I made enough for leftovers – and let me tell you, both dishes were even better after they’d had a chance to sit overnight. (I always think it’s strange how some leftovers can taste even better than the fresh dish.)
Regardless of where the inspiration came from, I’m just glad that this new dish is around. Don is already hitting me up to make it again. That’s always a good sign.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
I started blogging because it seemed like a fun way to keep track of the recipes I created. Once I got into it, I found out that there are some unexpected perks that can come with it as well – I’ve had some fun competing in (and losing) contests; I’ve been given money to throw a party, and every now & then, I get some free stuff to play with. Most of these perks have come because I am part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program. It’s because of them that I recently received a supply of Eggland’s Best eggs as my latest bonus.
Yes, premium eggs do cost just a little more, but I think eggs are one of the places where you get what you pay for. It really makes a difference in the final taste of dishes like my Ham and Tomato Mini-Frittatas, Gorgonzola EggSpread with Pita Sticks, or even Three Cheese Grits Soufflé.
Eggland’s Best have less saturated fat and more nutrition than other eggs (if you’re into the healthy eating thing). In addition to that, I love the fact that they don’t have that super-strength inner shell membrane that always drives me insane when I try to crack less expensive eggs (do they breed chickens to produce that Spiderman-like lining?). And let’s be real here: at about 20 cents apiece, even quality eggs are plenty cheap. When you are trying to eat inexpensively, eggs are one of the best values you can find, so it makes sense to buy the ones that taste better. Don’t believe me? Pick up a dozen premium eggs and see for yourself.
One dish I seldom order at a restaurant is scrambled eggs. They are always too dry and chewy. There are several things that go into a really good scrambled egg dish. It sounds a little fussy, but the extra effort is completely worth it. It really doesn’t take much time either – ask Don. He has a variation on this dish once or twice during the workweek for breakfast. I’ve already touched on the quality of the eggs, but there are a few more things that go into perfect scrambled eggs:
I do not like severe flavors first thing in the morning, so you won’t see me adding onions, peppers, garlic or anything like that, but I do add a little hot sauce anytime I make an egg dish. It’s not for the heat (I don’t add enough for that), but the combination of pepper and vinegar really enhances the flavor of eggs, making it brighter and deeper at the same time. I notice it when it’s not there.
I also think eggs need a little richness, so I add a touch of half & half to the scrambled eggs and just a small amount of butter to the pan. Again, it is noticeable when it’s absent. You don’t have to go overboard – you can get too much liquid in the eggs, and too much butter can just make the eggs greasy (which isn’t good either). I figure about a teaspoon of liquid per egg and a half teaspoon of butter per egg for the pan.
Scrambled eggs are just fine with nothing else but a little salt & pepper, but to make them perfect, they need some additional ingredients. Fresh herbs (or dried in a pinch) and a little cheese are usually my minimum requirements. A combination of parsley, dill, and Colby cheese are my default settings. Any type of pork product in an egg is always an excellent combination too. You can certainly vary the ingredients in this step to suit your individual taste.
Of course, the cooking method of scrambled eggs is just as important as the ingredients you add to them (perhaps more so). You have to cook them low and slow to get that creamy texture I love so much. If you are cooking scrambled eggs in less than 6 or 8 minutes, you’re doing it way too fast! A nonstick pan is essential in my book, otherwise the pan ends up eating too many of the eggs. And I never set the cooktop above medium low (that’s between 3 and 4 on my electric range – out of 10). You also need to babysit it (oh come on, it’s only for a few minutes). By stirring the eggs most of the time, you eliminate the possibility of browning, which for me is never good on scrambled eggs. Then you turn the pan off just before the eggs are completely cooked (the residual heat from the pan will finish it off without overcooking them).
If you follow these simple rules, you too can have perfect scrambled eggs each and every time.
Recipe: Perfect Scrambled Eggs
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Free at last! Free at last! I have been banished from the Land of the Eternal Bluelight. That’s right; I have FINALLY been able to punt my weekend gig! (I never knew that freedom could be so satisfying)
What I thought was going to be a 5 or 6 month stopgap measure turned into 2 ½ years of multiple nights per week. Talk about exhausting – this is the first week in that amount of time that I get to work under 60 hours. One thing the experience has taught me – I really enjoy being my own boss. There is no way I could work in corporate America – common sense is something I value too much and (evidently) large corporations don’t value at all. Enough said.
I celebrated my first evening of freedom by hitting happy hour on the waterfront. Honestly, to empty your head of the nightmares of discount retail, there’s nothing like a nice glass of Malbec at your favorite restaurant as you watch the water traffic. Ahhh, peace and serenity…
Of course, I also had to play a little in the kitchen as part of my ongoing festivities. And since I’ve now ditched my second job, I still have to keep an eye on the grocery budget – so Inexpensive Eating must go on. I’ve saved this recipe for just this occasion – the play on words was just too childishly easy to pass up.
Chicken cordon bleu is one of my all-time favorite dishes. It just seems so decadent to shove a ham & cheese sandwich in the middle of chicken doesn’t it? (People love shoving ham & cheese in a variety of things – can you imagine the guy who came up with a Monte Cristo?) But we’ve also been trying to eat a little healthier lately, so I wanted to lighten it up a little. And I was still celebrating; I thought a little unnecessary fanciness was in order too. The result was this little ham & cheese roll-up.
I pounded the chicken out pretty thin between two sheets of plastic wrap (the poor dog always runs and hides when I start beating the countertop with a frying pan). It’s a little satisfying to release all of that aggression too (maybe I should have made this before I ditched the part-time gig). Once I added the ham, cheese, and other things, I rolled it up tight and secured them with toothpicks. I then proceeded to sear them off right away, but I think 20 or 30 minutes in the fridge would have helped them hold their shape a little better.
You could easily run these through a breading station before you throw them in the pan, but in an attempt to be virtuous, I skipped it. Instead, I made a pan sauce at the end that was mostly butter. (What can I say? Virtue is in the eye of the beholder.) It was still definitely decadent enough to celebrate with.
So make this dish and hold your own little celebration on my behalf. And remember – never take a job that requires you to utter the phrase, “Attention Kmart shoppers…”
Recipe: Chicken Cordon Bleu Roulade
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
|White Chocolate Cherries|
Isn’t it funny how the most mortifying moments of your life are some of the most vivid images your memory conjures? I haven’t been able to pick up Easter candy for the last 40 years without recalling one of the earliest times I embarrassed the heck out of myself (I wish I could say it was the last time I did it. Unfortunately, there have been many opportunities since then to top myself). I was young (really young) – and it was the first time I got to go into a store by myself. (Boy, do I wish it wasn’t.)
I was visiting my grandparents, and we were out and about one afternoon. I’m not sure of the sequence of events that led up to it, but my grandfather gave me some money and let me go into the candy store by myself to buy something for not only me, but my two younger brothers as well.
I can remember being very proud of myself because I spent quite a bit of time browsing everything and giving careful thought to what Matt and J.J. would each like (as most of you with siblings are aware, thinking about what they’d like isn’t always high on a kid’s priority list). Grown up enough to go to the store alone and so unselfish – I was sure everyone was going to fawn all over me. I took my selections to the counter, and then the embarrassing light of reality was shone straight in my eyes.
The woman rang up my purchase and I handed her my money. I guess at this point I should tell you that it was right before Easter, and I had taken great care in selecting not one but three very large, filled Easter baskets – complete with candy, toys, cellophane wrapping, and a big bow. What I gave her was three quarters. Yes, bargain shopper that I am, I was trying to by (I’m guessing) ten or fifteen dollars worth of merchandise with seventy-five cents. The woman very kindly explained to me that I didn’t have quite enough money and offered options that were in my price range. What I left with was three packages of marshmallow peeps. I was so dejected – my basket had a pistol and holster in it, for crying out loud. I slunk out of the store and back to my grandparents, red-faced and defeated.
|Chocolate Peanut Butter Easter eggs|
Every year when the holiday rolls around, I think about this story every time I buy Easter candy. You know, I still refuse to buy those cellophane wrapped baskets, and I cannot stand marshmallow peeps, even now.
Of course, I think a lot of people have stories like this. (Don has a similar tale about trying to pay for $25 worth of McDonald’s breakfast food with the single dollar bill his mother gave him for an Egg McMuffin.) I also think this is why I always have a running total in my head whenever I shop for anything - I don’t ever want to have to settle for a three-pack of peeps again.
To escape the possibility of being humiliated this year, I decided to make my own candy for Easter. Of course, the problem is that I cannot stand fussy detail when I cook. To get around that, I came up with three ideas that are simple to execute but still have a little bit of bang. Besides, telling someone you made candy always elicits amazement.
For the most part, I don’t even think you can call these recipes ‘cooking’. It is basically melting chocolate and dipping stuff into it. (I don’t think Jacques Torres has much to worry about from me.)
Don can’t stand white chocolate, so I thought I’d be safe dipping candied cherries in it (I’ve let go of a little of that unselfishness since the incident at the candy store – life lessons will do that to you). Of course, it turns out that the white chocolate cherries were his favorites of the three – I ended up having to hide them in order to preserve them for the holiday.
The only trouble I came across was the peanut butter filling for the eggs. I didn’t want to put anything in the mix that would cause the filling to be stiff, so getting the pliable peanut butter eggs in and out of the melted chocolate proved to be a tad nerve-wracking. But just like everything else, I tell people that they’re ‘rustic’. Honestly, I spend all week being anal retentive as I manage installation projects – the last thing I want to do on the weekend is worry about making things perfectly identical. If you don’t like the rustic look, then, by all means, fuss to your heart’s content.
|Toasted Almond Chocolate Clusters|
I also like different varieties of chocolate combined with different things. The toasted almonds work great with bittersweet chocolate (just like most nuts do), and it is a nice contrast to the super-sweet cherries and white chocolate.
All in all, I think it took a little over an hour to concoct all three confections. Not much trouble at all to escape more Easter embarrassment.