Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I gave up

On this third day of on my own cooking, I gave up, I gave in and I ordered take-out.

We get Chinese from Cathay Express, at 18th and State. (814) 456-6615 and yes, I rattled that off my heart. The ladies at my office order from here, my parents order from here, and we do, too. They're friendly, they put up with us ordering wacky special requests (my boss gets chicken and broccoli with no chicken and pork fried rice without the pork) and 99% of the time get it right. Plus, they are convenient.

Tonight I worked late, and this cold is kicking my butt. I placed an order for delivery and promptly fell asleep on the couch waiting for it. I wish I could say I loved it, but I have to say, I won't be ordering Orange Beef again. I've had their orange chicken before numerous times and like it, but I wasn't prepared for the beef to be breaded and fried. It gave it a really strange texture that I didn't really care for. Sauce was still good, though, and I was hungry enough not to be too disappointed.

Here's hoping tomorrow night brings me back to the kitchen.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Just a sandwich

It's day two of my cooking for one experiment. I took Baby Girl to the doctor today... she's grown two inches in three months and didn't cry at all when she got her shots. What a trouper. I, however, don't feel as brave. I think I'm coming down with a cold, so my plans for dinner changed. I decided to just make a sandwich.

And yet, this is such a misleading statement, because it started off with baking bread. (My mother in law is a nurse, and sometimes when she comes home from her long shifts, she makes a pb&j and calls it a night. She's more of a grown up than I am and so she has staples like bread in her cupboard.) Okay, so the bread wasn't from scratch, but I still say baking bread from a tube is baking bread and gets you some points. I didn't have regular bread. I also didn't have lunch meat, so I used tomato and avocado. This is one of my favorite summer combinations. Sometimes we skip the bread, topping our little tomato towers with monterrey jack cheese and popping under the broiler. Yum. I didn't have monterrey jack, so I used cheddar for my little open faced sandwiches. After broiling, I sprinkled salt and pepper and liberally dashed white balsamic vinegar.

You can keep your chicken noodle soup. To me, this is comfort food.

Monday, February 22, 2010

All by myself

Darling Husband is on a business trip. When this happens, I often pack up kitten and Baby Girl and decamp to my parents' house. When I don't, such as now, I generally don't end up cooking much. I decided to do things differently this time. On my lunch hour, I went grocery shopping for a few meals worth of fast but yummy food.

Tonight was spicy turkey sausage and shrimp with asparagus and red pepper. It helped me use up asparagus I forgot I had. I didn't make a starch to go with (orzo might've been nice) so I mopped up extra sauce with bread. The sauce, by the way, is just a splash of white wine and a bunch of sambal olek. It might not be as fun cooking for one, but it is gratifying nonetheless. Plus, fewer dishes to clean.

I had planned on making tomorrow night's dinner tonight, to save time, but got too tired. Oh well!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tuna steaks and swiss chard

In honor of Valentine's Day, we decided to make a splurgy dinner at home. Okay, okay, that's a bit of a lie. We actually went out and had a splurgy dinner. I even intend to blog about it. But then two days later, made another one anyway.

It featured tuna steaks, which are a beautiful, rich shade of reddish pink. Tuna should never be cooked through and is best, in my opinion, when it's lightly seared on the outside and sashimi raw on the inside. I didn't invent this, of course, but I'm a huge fan. We dusted ours with searing flour and some sicilian seasoning that was meant to be mixed with olive oil and used as a bread dip. It had basil, oregano, garlic and sundried tomato, but was powdered in consistency. When we seared the steaks, they got a nice crust and the herbs released a lot of flavor and aroma.

As a side dish, we sauteed some assorted swiss chard (it came prewashed and chopped in a package) and served with agnolotti. Swiss chard is a relative of the beet, and has many varieties. Our bag had lovely green leaves with red, yellow and orange ribs, as well as purple leaves and white ruffle leaves with a bit of green on the very tips. Nutritionists tell us to eat a rainbow every day. I think we had one in this bag. We sauteed the chard in a little olive oil, salted liberally and sprinkled with crushed red pepper.

Agnolotti pasta is a filled pasta, similar to ravioli, but shaped in a half moon crescent. Often they are made with meat (some say a true agnolotti has meat and all others are ravioli, regardless of shape), and are a good way to use up leftovers. Ours were bought fresh and had six cheeses inside. The fontina was the strongest flavor, and they were sinfully rich and wonderfully complex. We simply cooked the pasta in water (five minutes flat) and then tossed with the cooked chard.

What do you think? It tasted amazing. Oh, and we also reduced some balsamic for a little sauce for the tuna.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dried cherry magic

How to elevate a ho hum roast to fantastic, using things you might just have around anyway.

1 small beef roast
1 handful dried cherries
4 cloves of garlic
2 sprigs rosemary, bruised
Salt, pepper
Enough red wine
Couple tablespoons of butter

Season the roast with salt and pepper. Sear in an ovensafe skillet, or dutch oven. Throw all the other ingredients into the pan, filling with enough red wine to come about half way up the meat. Transfer pan to 350 degree oven. Cook until it's done, flipping the meat once or twice. Remove the meat and let rest on a cutting board. Return pan to stove top and crank up the heat. Fish out the rosemary and the garlic; bring the liquid to a boil and reduce. Stir in about 2 tablespoons of butter, cut into chunks. Serve slices of meat with risotto, topped with pan sauce.

Recipe writing takes skill, time, measurement, patience... in other words, things I can do if I try but can't muster up tonight. Yet, even with my vague direction, couldn't you make this dish? If you did, you'd be rewarded with moist, tender meat and a savory sauce studded with plump, juicy, tart cherries.

Roasts can be done so many ways, based on the aromatics, the liquid and the finishing. Root vegetables and stock, onions and beer, mirepoix and chianti, each brings their own personalities to the table. Try a few--hey, try my red wine and cherry combo!--and you'll jazz up a Sunday night staple.

I found out the next day that my mom had made a roast that night, too.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Son of a gun, gonna have some fun...

...on the bayou!

Mardi Gras is just around the corner and the Saints played the Super Bowl. What better excuse is there for indulging in a few of the delicacies of the Big Easy? We chose cornmeal dusted, fried okra, etouffee with chicken, shrimp and andouille and bananas foster. We just didn't have room to eat all of it, so we didn't actually make desert.

The okra was great, though... nutty and slightly chewy. Darling Husband said he could just chow on a whole bowl of it, watching a movie. It did have a popcorn quality to it.

Our etouffee was good, but very different from last time. Before when we made it, it was all about the peppers and onions. This time, it was all about the sausage. Oh, that's not a bad thing (believe me) but it just made for a different sort of dish.

More posts to come soon, gentle readers... I keep composing them in my head but not getting a chance to sit down and write them. My computer time tends to be after Baby Girl's in bed, after dinner, after dishes, sitting in bed before I crash. Some nights that works better than others.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Indian food

As I've already noted, Raj Mahal is one of our favorite places to eat. They have a fabulous lunch buffet, which is great for those of us who don't know what the dishes are and want to try new things without committing too much. Last weekend we had a great chopped cabbage and pea dish, pretty straight forward and heavy with turmeric.

Speaking of turmeric, have you ever seen it fresh? It's a root, much like ginger, although smaller and with the color bursting through the thin skin. The little sections look like fingers or creepy worms. I bought some at the Erie County Farms today and plan to freeze them, in order to microplane them as needed into dishes. I do this with ginger, too, and find it keeps really well and incorporates easier into my food than if I used it fresh.

This weekend, we decided to make our own fantastic Indian food. (But not with the turmeric. I'd already started dinner when I found it. Next time!) I found a recipe for tandoori rub, which we made and shared with my Fabulous Sister. Paprika, cumin, sugar, salt, cinnamon, saffron, coriander, ginger, black pepper, cayenne... we ground them all ourselves with a coffee grinder we've designated for spices. It's amazingly fragrant. (I think it would taste great on roasted potato wedges, too, but that's another day). Instead of being a slave to a traditional "tandoori," we decided to make a dish that made sense to us, but kept the spirit in tact. To that end, we marinated large hunks of chicken breast with plain yogurt which was liberally seasoned with our spice mixture until it formed a paste.

I seared the chicken hunks, then removed them and sauteed veggies to pick up the fond. For vegetables, we combined onion, red bell peppers and zucchini, all in a small dice. Then we added the chicken back in, poured some milk and water into the ziplock bag which had been used to marinate the chicken (in order to get every last molecule of the marinade out) and added it to the pan for a simmering liquid. We also put in another container of plain yogurt. After simmering until the chicken was done, we allowed the liquid to reduce. You should smell my kitchen. It is to die for.

Of course, we served rice. But the more interesting thing was the homemade naan. This was a recipe from the February issue of Food Network Magazine (thanks, Mom! I'm enjoying my subscription) and I followed it exactly. Well, I lie. I followed it almost exactly. I used unbleached flower for the whole of it, instead of whole wheat. It doesn't have any leavening agent (if it did, I wouldn't have tried it, as I'm yeast-challenged when it comes to cooking) but it does need time to rest. I'm including the recipe here:

3/4 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. all purpose flour
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 c. water
pinch of salt

Combine the flours and the salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the wet ingredients. Mix together until a sticky mess [note: I'm taking a few liberties with the wording here, but it's more true my way. Actually, we used more water than this to get it to come together correctly]. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until pliable, about 5 minutes. Put dough ball in a lightly oiled bowl and let sit 30 minutes to rest.

Divide dough into 6 pieces. Roll or manually stretch each piece out, then fry in a pan with the barest hint of oil 2-3 minutes on one side and 1-2 minutes on the other, until lightly charred and bubbly.
I think I could eat this every single day. It would make a rockin' pizza, with some sliced tomato, fresh mozzarella and torn leaves of basil. I could happily just layer on some lunch meat and call it a sandwich. A flavorful salad could be wrapped up with craisins, canned tuna, avocado and some queso fresco. I could go on and on. I loved this bread.

The whole meal was wonderful. The veggies were wonderfully soft but full of color and flavor, a nice counterpoint to the solidness of the chicken. Our rice drank up the sauce, which was a robust color and had quite a bit of heat (Darling Husband admitted he doubled the amount of cayenne called for. That would do it.). I would happily order it in a restaurant, but I'm doubly glad to be able to call it home made.

Friday, February 5, 2010

What's the marrow with you?

What could be better than slowly braised meat? Slowly braised meat with MARROW!

Okay, okay, I admit that marrow is a frightening thing. There's something too primal, too intimate about it. Eating marrow seems like a violation. (If you read Julie/Julia, the description of extracting the marrow was absolutely chilling.) That being said, so many chefs go gaga over that bone-covered goo--what don't I know?

We found beef shank slices at the store and realized immediately this was an opportunity. As I don't eat veal, osso bucco never much crossed my mind. It was Darling Husband who noticed the potential to try this classic dish. Basically, osso bucco is a slice of veal shank, bone and all, slowly braised in white wine with mirepoix and a bit of tomato product. We used pino grigio, a dollop of tomato paste and pre-cut mirepoix (which I first browned to a henna-hued perfection in the dutch oven).

Osso bucco is served traditionally over risotto, and who am I to argue with tradition? It makes for an unspeakably rich and sinful tasting food, which is fine by me. The sauce was thick like gravy, saturated with flavor. The meat fell off the bone. We couldn't help but notice the marrow in the bone was reduced. Presumably some cooked out.

When asked for their favorite dish (or "last meal" type question), according to Anthony Bourdain, many chefs come up with pretty simple fare. Marrow on bread with a bit of sea salt is, so he says, at the top of that list. I can't comment on that specifically, but Darling Husband and I were brave enough to try a taste of the marrow on it's own. It's a bit... spongy... but not in a solid way. It's very meaty but almost...metallic? Well, truth be told, it was hard for me to identify. That being said, I enjoyed it. I just didn't want any more of it. It was a little too much Night-of-the-Living-Dead for me. But I believe I'm missing something awesome.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cuba Libre

Is a drink, made (so Darling Husband tells me) with lime, rum and Coke. We didn't have lime. We didn't have Coke. We did have rum, and lots of it. Rum leads to brilliance, fortunately, and so we discovered forgotten Pepsi in our kitchen. No one here drinks Pepsi. We drink Diet Pepsi. My father in law, however, drinks the original and so my mother in law thoughtfully dropped some off to us a few weeks before Christmas so that we'd be prepared for his holiday visit. He drank half of one. Five bottles remained.

As for lime, well, I remembered one lonely packet of True Lime in the cupboard that fell on me serendipitously the other day. Have you tried this stuff? It's awesome. It is to lime what Equal is to sugar. In that, it's a little, convenient packet to be used when you can't find the real stuff. Et voila. Cuba Libre. I drank two and could have downed a few more. (Here's a thought: if you made rum and Coke with Coke with lime, would you have made a Cuba Libre?) Apparently, by the way, they also make a True Lemon.

We made this drink to go with our cuban sandwiches and pan fried plantains. The other night we roasted an extra pork tenderloin (the perils of not separating your tenderloins before you freeze them) and so had some roast pork on hand. It had been glazed in hot pepper jelly, so what could be better? We thinly sliced it (easy because it was chilled) and layered it on bread with sliced ham, swiss cheese and a little smear of whole grain mustard. Traditionally, it should have had pickles but Darling Husband never eats them and I think they have no place in this dish. However, per tradition, we sliced the loaf of bread horizontally instead of building from slices. It took some mashing to get it into the George Foreman grill, but it came out crisp, dense, flavorful and insanely hearty. They were simply delicioso.

This is the sandwich you pack to get you through your day of physical labor, and for good reason. Oof, I am full.

I might be able to find room for another Cuba Libre, though.