Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day 41: Risoto with Italian Sausage and Chicken

I was in the mood for risotto again for some reason and decided to make up a batch along with some Italian sausage and leftover chicken.  Risotto is one of those things that are incredibly simple, but fairly labor intensive.  Thankfully, sausage and leftovers are pretty easy to prepare so I was able to focus on just the risotto.  The sausage I started on by simply tossing it into a pan with a bit of oil in order to crisp up the exterior.  After the exterior was nice and crisp I poured in some beef stock and covered it while it finished cooking through completely.  The chicken I heated up in the microwave like a dirty cheater.

The risotto itself was a bit more complicated, although not by much.  I started with some olive oil, and roughly chopped carrots, celery and onions.  That mixture got a touch of salt and pepper before I let it sweat down and soften in preparation for the rice.  Risotto pretty much requires arborio rice, and who am I to buck tradition and science?  The rice went in with the sweated veggies to toast for a minute or two before I started ladling in chicken stock.

This is the part where risotto gets "complicated," although it isn't very difficult.  Risotto requires constant stirring, and the slow addition of stock.  I spent roughly the next 30 minutes adding stock to the bubbling mixture one ladle at a time, as the liquid was absorbed I would add the next dose of liquids.  As I said, not complicated, but very labor intensive because the whole thing has to be stirred pretty constantly.  Part way through it looked a bit like this in the pan:

After about 30 minutes I was starting to run low on my pre-measured supply of stock, so it was time to start tasting.  I was quite pleased with the flavor I had, but added in some basil, a bay leaf, and a bit of cayenne chili powder just for a bit more depth.  Once the texture and flavor were right, I scooped it up and onto the plate, sliced the sausage and chicken over top, and devoured.  I was quite pleased with the result overall.  The rice was wonderfully creamy with a tiny touch of toothsome bite for the texture, and had a fantastic flavor throughout.  The sausage combined nicely with the slightly spicy flavor of the rice, and added another texture.  Bringing up the rear was the leftover chicken.  Being leftovers, the texture was a bit rough, but the flavor was still good, and while I probably wouldn't add it next time, it was a nice contrast to the rest of the dish.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Day 40: Eggs in the Basket

I've heard it called a few different things, but this dish is something my dad used to make fairly regularly when we were on vacation at the beach.  We have always called it eggs in a basket, a simple fried egg inside a piece of toast.  Its simple, buttery and a pretty good breakfast.  This particular version came complete with some additional hashbrowns (I was in a hashbrown mood that weekend for some reason).  Unfortunately, while its a simple tasty comfort breakfast, it was nothing to write home about.

I've been to the Pigeon Hole where this dish originated several times, and despite raving reviews from many of my friends, I've never been impressed.  The eggs were decent, but unseasoned, the toast was nice and crisp, but made of fairly bland white bread and soaked through in butter, and the hashbrowns were just bland and uninteresting.  Its possible I have simply made poor choices, but when comparing the meal I had here and the meal from day 38, I'll pay the premium for better food every time.  It was nice, it suited my mood and brought back some memories of family vacations, but honestly, just not worth going out for when I can do better at home.

Day 39: Corned Beef and Hash

Corned beef and hash, the british (I think) staple breakfast.  This past weekend I found myself once again in the wonderous land of Charlottesville, and it was breakfast time.  I went with several friends to the Horse and Hound for our breakfast\brunch fix.  I've been here once or twice before and found the food to be quite good if somewhat simple (it is fairly british afterall...)  I will say, I had forgotten the price, and it is a bit high for what you get at breakfast, but all in all I found the experience to be worth it.

Ok, onto the food itself.  Corned beef and hash is pretty much exactly what it sounds like.  Delicious, salty corned beef mixed in with wonderfully crispy sauteed hashbrowns.  This particular rendition came complete with a pair of fried eggs (probably best when over easy, although I prefer my eggs a bit more cooked) and a wonderfully creamy rich hollandaise sauce over the top.  Everything mixes together to form a really enjoyable filling breakfast that definitely sticks to your ribs.  Honestly, it was a bit too much for my tiny ribs and stomach and I had trouble finished the entire platter, but I enjoyed every bite for as long as I could.  The others in my breakfast group grabbed a couple other simple and hearty meals, all of which I had a taste of, and all of which were filling, and warming, although certain things, especially the sauteed mushrooms, were under seasoned.  The trip was probably a bit overpriced, but still a good way to start the day, and certainly something you won't regret waking up to.

Day 38: Sausage Calzone

Day 38 found me in a rare position.  I had an urge to experiment and try something I have never even thought about before, and we had some fresh pizza dough purchased at Harris Teeter that needed to be eaten.  Amazingly, this lined up perfectly and lead to a Calzone for myself. 

The process was actually incredibly simple, and pleasantly tasty.  I set out the dough and let it rise for about 45 minutes, it probably would have been better to let it go for longer, but I was in a bit of a hurry so I decided to just go for it.  The dough was incredibly sticky and glutenous (perfect!) as I worked with it, but after a bit of effort I was able to get it stretched out into a fairly thin rectangle of potential deliciousness.  I spread out some thin tomato\pizza sauce (also purchased at Harris Teeter) over the crust, tossed down some cheese, and spread the sliced sausage out over the top of it, in the end it looked something like you see below, note that it is only covered on half the dough.


With the dough prepped I slowly folded it over to form my calzone.  It was something of a pain as the dough stuck to the mat I used (in spite of the flour I had thrown down over top) but I made it work.  The giant doughy mess went into the oven on top of a pre-heated pizza stone for about 10 minutes.  When it came out it was incredibly dough heavy, but that's ok because I prefer a thicker doughier pizza.  It was also really pretty tastey for something that was this simple and direct.  I was quite pleased with the overall outcome.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day 37: Chicken Stir-fry with Noodles

An equally simple stir fry for day 37.  I mixed up a collection of chicken tenders (lightly seasoned with ginger, garlic and some cumin),broccoli, green peppers, bean sprouts, and some onions.  The chicken was sauteed in a separate pan while the veggies were sweated\cooked.  With both of them done they went into the sautee pan together, along with some soy sauce, teryaki sauce, a bit more ginger, sesame oil and some hot sauce.  That was about it.  Once the food was fully cooked I made some ramen, tossed it around in the sauce and ate, nothing complex but plenty tasty for a quick fill me up that evening.

Day 36: Swordfish Salad Sandwich

This was a very simple lunch sandwich, and I have a bunch of these to do so I'll keep is short.  I made a slightly different version of tuna salad sandwich.  Instead of tuna, the leftover swordfish from my earlier meal, and instead of the standard mayo I went for an avacado mixture very similar to guacamole.  I mashed up an avacoado with some lime juice, cumin, and a little bit of cubed tomato.  The swordfish was sliced fairly thin and then mixed into the "salad" and the whole thing went onto the now slightly stale chiabatta roll.  The flavor was great, a hint of spice, some nice citrus and the great avocado flavor, but the roll was just too stale and too hard to go with the rest of it, next time I'm going for something a little softer for the bread.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Day 36: Chicken Club Sandwich

Well, the past few days have been a great deal busier for me, so I've been going with simple and direct lunch sandwiches.  This one was a really simple chicken club made mostly of leftovers.  Dinner the night before was my brother's 40 clove chicken, which resulted in some delicious leftovers.  I shredded up that leftover chicken, tossed it on top of a leaf of lettuce, and then piled on some freshly cooked bacon and a tomato slice.  A shredded cheese mixture went on top and the whole thing went into my stomach.

The sandwich was pretty good, the bacon was nicely smokey and salty, the flavor of the chicken was just as great the second time through, and the tomato added a nice touch of sweetness.  Unfortunately I ran into one small problem.  The bread I used came from a ciabatta roll from a day or two ago.  That roll had already gone slightly stale, and in-spite of the toasting, it was just a little too tough for the sandwich.  Still, simple, quick and tasty.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Day 35: PIE! of the Key Lime Variety

Today we bring you pie.  In particular we bring you key lime pie with a berry compote on top.  From time to time I find myself with a terrible craving for key lime pie, this time I decided I was going to solve it myself instead of looking to a restaurant to fix it for me.

My pie started the same way most pies do; with a recipe.  However, I'm not huge on measurements, or recipes, so I decided to take it one step further and looked through about a half dozen different recipes to understand what the ratios and possible modifications were.  It took me about 30 minutes and a lot of googling but I finally found a bunch of recipes and concluded that a key lime pie pretty much just requires some combination of key lime juice, egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk and pie crust.  With my new found understanding in tow I set out to begin the prep on my pie.

The first step was the crust.  I made a simple graham cracker crust consisting of butter and about 8-9 graham cracker cookies that spent too much time in my food processor.  The butter got melted, mixed into the crumbs and then the mixture went into a pie pan.  With the crust fairly evenly pressed into the corners the pan went into a 375 degree oven for about twenty minutes while I got to work on the rest of the pie.

It turns out that the hardest part of this pie was the simplest step; generate 3/4 cup of freshly squeezed key lime juice.  For those of you unfamiliar with them, key limes are much smaller than normal limes, they are firmer than basic limes, and have a much stronger flavor.  Coming up with 3/4 cup of juice required juicing 25-30 of these bad boys (I lost track...) and nearly an hour of work squeezing away at the acidic little buggers.  Even after squeezing them all out I wasn't quite done, as these limes have a large number of seeds that have to be strained out before the juice is usable.  Nothing about this process was complex, but man was it draining.

Thankfully I managed to get the juice out of the limes and into my mixing bowl, along with 6 egg yolks, one can of sweetened condensed milk and a little bit of extra sugar (because why not?).  With everything together in the mixing bowl I set the paddle in motion and brought everything together.  The mixture went into the now cooled pie crust and then hit the oven on 325 for about 30 minutes.  I had to play this by eye, so just watch for when the custard starts to solidify completely and then pull it out to let it cool.

With the pie in the fridge I sliced up the berries and added what was left of my raspberry sauce (remember that?) over the top and put them back into the fridge to macerate while we ate dinner and the pie cooled completely.  A few hours later my family and I got tired of waiting and declared it pie time.


The slices came out reasonably well, although not perfectly.  It turns out that a glass pie pan is actually a royal pain when it comes time to remove and consume said pie, but in the end, we made it work.  The pie itself was almost perfect.  Nicely sweet, incredibly rich and a wonderfully tart finish.  The berries added another layer and some necessary sweetness that balanced the tart key lime flavor wonderfully.  If I were to make it again (and I almost certainly will) I think I'd use a bit less lime juice actually.  It was just what I wanted, a really tart, sweet, and intense pie, but it might have been a bit too much for some people, and almost too much even for me.

I have to admit, baking is not my thing, but thus far I've been quite pleased with my baking experiments and it has been the source for plenty of inspiration.  Hopefully my future pies and custards will work out as well as this one did.

My Recipe:
3/4 cup freshly squeezed key lime juice
1 14oz can of sweetened condensed milk
6 egg yolks
~1/2 cup of sugar
1.5 cups of graham cracker crumbs
~3/4 cups of melted butter
a bit of salt, either in the butter or added to the pie filling.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 34: Swordfish Steaks with Risoto and Roasted Veggies.

Last night I decided I was in the mood for something a bit more involved for dinner.  While shopping at Whole Foods I found myself eying the fish section (my meal in Baltimore left something to be desired and I had a hankering for seafood).  Fortunately swordfish was on sale.  Swordfish is something I haven't had in years, but was a favorite of mine, so I decided it was time to give it a whirl. 

I also made the decision that if I'm going to do a really nice cut of fish, I should pair it with something a bit more involved as well.  Thus risoto and roasted asparagus, zucchini and squash.  Risoto is something that sounds a lot fancier than it actually is.  It isn't actually difficult to make, just takes a bit of time, attention and knowledge.  Toast the rice, keep it moving and add liquid slowly.  I'll probably talk about it in more detail at some point, but for tonight I want to focus on swordfish.

The roasted veggies were an equally simple process.  I sliced up a zucchini, summer squash and prepped some asparagus.  I made a quick balsamic vinaigrette, let them sit in it for about 45 minutes and then tossed it in the oven on 325 for about 10 minutes.  They came out nicely softened with a bit of caramelization and fit perfectly with the rest of the meal.

Finally, tonight's star: the fish.  For seasoning I went with a slight variation of my standard seasoning mix.  A sprinkle of Emeril's essence, a dash of key lime seasoning, my standard italian herb blend, a bit of garlic powder and of course, salt and pepper.  This went liberally over the top of the steaks while I set a cast iron pan down to heat up as completely as possible.  They wound up looking a bit like this:

With the fish prepped, the pan "screaming hot," and an oven preheated to 325 (for the veggies) it was cooking time.  The two pieces of fish went down into the hot cast iron pan without any oil or additional prep, just great fish and hot iron.  After about a minute on each side the fish and pan went into the oven for another 5 before reaching perfect doneness (I was astounded I managed to get it right the first try).  When it came out I set the fish aside to rest for about 3-4 minutes while the risoto finished up before carving it up and serving up the plates you saw above.  I was incredibly pleased with the outcome of the meal, the risoto was creamy and flavorful with just the tiniest hint of bite left in the rice (this keeps it from being just too mushy).  The fish had a great sear with the perfect rare doneness inside and an incredible texture that just melts in your mouth.  Overall, an incredibly successful experiment, and fish I'm going to have to make a point to try out again.


Day 33: Chocolate Covered Cream Puff

I spent the day up in Baltimore and while there a friend of mine introduced me to an incredible little shop in Baltimore's Little Italy (I didn't realize there was one, but hey apparently it exists).  Walking into the shop was quite the surprise.  Tucked around the corner from the inner harbor and the new high rises this place was a surprise (I should note that I unfortunately don't remember what the name of it was...).

Inside was a pretty impressive layout of every sweet and delicious baked good you could want.  Cupcakes, cookies, pies, and my personal selection, cannolies as big as your forearm (they were actually larger around than my forearm, but about the right length) along with an impressive selection of gratinas (ices) and gelato.  Personally, I went the mini cannoli (also known as a cream puff).  They looked incredible, and I took my friend's word that the filling was one of the best things in the shop.  Turns out, he was right.

The chocolate icing on top was rich, thick and delicious.  The pastry itself was tender, and an awesome vehicle for the cream contained within.  Unfortunately it wasn't the perfect vehicle as I discovered.  This pastry was so fully filled with delicious cream that it kinda exploded on my chin as I bit into it the first time.  Thankfully all was not lost.  The cream was so thick, creamy and rich that I didn't lose any, just took a bit on the face.  The rest of the pastry was something of a challenge to devour without losing any of the cream or icing, but I managed (I was pretty dedicated to eating the entirety of this delicious dessert).  My other meals in the inner harbor were much less satisfying, but this was delicious and absolutely worth a quick walk off the tourist path.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Day 32: Hasbrown yum yums

Well, breakfast is upon us once again.  With all the leftover onions and peppers I decided it was time to utilize them the next morning.  I went for a pretty hearty (if not good for my heart) breakfast.  Hashbrowns, with some bacon and salami shredded up and mixed in.  It isn't complicated, but it makes a great and filling breakfast for fairly little work.

I started with two pieces of bacon sliced into very thin strips.  They went into a non-stick pan to render down while I pulled out the hashbrown mix (I've tried making my own, but it never quite works out right).  With the bacon rendered down I tossed the hashbrown mix in with the bacon strips and grabbed my seasonings.  Salt, Emeril's Essence, some garlic powder and pepper all went in and got mixed together.  With the potatoes seasoned and starting to cook, I tossed in the onions and peppers.  They didn't take long to heat through, and were already cooked, so it was time for the final touch.  Cheese!  I shredded some cheddar cheese and sprinkled it on the top as I turned off the heat.  It added just the right touch on top as I plated up.

That wraps up the breakfast entry, and day 32.  Hopefully I'll be able to throw down two more tomorrow and catch up completely.  A bit over one month down and I'm really enjoying myself, and keep having new things I want to try and a justification to do it.

Day 31: Steak Fajitas

Not much to look at I'm afraid, but steak fajitas were on the family menu for day 31.  The meal wasn't very complex so I'm going to keep things simple.  I sauteed some steak strips, sweated down some onions and peppers, and added the leftover mango mixture from the night before.

The steak strips were simply seasoned with some salt, pepper, a bit of chipotle pepper powder and some ground cumin.  It went into a frying pan with some plain canola oil (mexican is one of the few styles where I default to canola instead of olive oil).  The beef went in for about 3-4 minutes which is all it took for it to cook through.  The onions and peppers were equally simple, some salt, some cumin a low heat until it turned translucent.  At this point I tossed in a bit of lime juice and booze (tequila to be precise).  The result was precisely what I wanted and I was quite pleased.



It made for a simple, easy, tasty dish that everyone could enjoy, especially with a bit of cheese and the leftover mango mix.  The onions and peppers were probably the most complex component, and only because they required slicing and temperature control, they also had the most left over and featured in the next day's breakfast, which turned out quite well (and is coming up shortly).

Day 30: Shrimp with Mango Chutney

Well, 30 days down and I didn't even manage to post it on the right date... oh well I'll have plenty of opportunities for that in the coming months.  Day 30 came together pretty quickly and at the last minute (busy days lead to quick dinners).  I took the last of the frozen shrimp out of the freezer and set it aside to thaw under a slow trickle of water.  While it thawed I set about making a poaching liquid and a mango chutney.  For whatever reason poached shrimp with mango just appealed to me that night, so I decided to make it happen.

The poaching liquid was pretty straight forward, about a cup of white wine (chardonnay to be precise), some ground all-spice, some lime juice, bay leaves, some salt and italian herbs.  I filled out a small pot with water to get it to the level required to cover the shrimp.  I set that up to start heating fully while I made the chutney.

The chutney was really simple but delicious by the time I finished with it.  I took apart a mango (which is a whole lot harder than Alton Brown makes it look...) and set the cubes into a bowl awaiting other ingredients.  I chopped up some red onions, cubed a tomato, and chopped up a poblano pepper shortly afterward, and tossed everything in with the mango.  The juice of a one lime (freshly squeezed) went over the mixture along with some garlic powder, cumin and a little bit of salt.  The bowl of chutney got set aside looking a little like this while I got the shrimp ready to go.

The poached shrimp was pretty easy since the shrimp was already cleaned.  I waited for the poaching liquid to come up to a boil, then killed the heat and tossed in the shrimp.  Shrimp, as I have run into time and time again, is really easy to overcook.  Thankfully, this time I managed to avoid that particular pitfall.  The shrimp only sat in the poaching liquid about two minutes before I pulled them out, and the liquid had stopped boiling just as I put them in.  The texture was wonderful, nicely succulent and the perfect touch of flavors from the poaching liquid.  I was really pleased with my success and the flavor. 

You'll notice I haven't said much about the rice, mostly because it was leftover rice from Chinese takeout the night before.  Nothing special, but it worked great as a base for my meal.  We've moved on to Iron Chef America on the "tube" so we'll see if I can get fully caught up before the battle ends.

Day 29: COOKIES! (of the Butterscotch Variety)

Ok, gonna add a few more in here and finally try to catch up properly while catching up on Next Food Network Star.  So, day 29 I found myself with a cookie craving and a bag of butterscotch chips.  So, unlike the last cookie approach, I decided to go for that flavor, and a softer gooier cookie instead of the crisper cookie I went for last time.

Every chip based cookie has the same baseline, whether its a soft, thick chocolate chip, a thin crisp macadamia nut, or a butterscotch cookie that's in between.  The famous Tollhouse recipe based on sugar, butter, milk, flour and eggs is the starting point, but you can adjust it in order to get the texture you want for your cookie.  In my case I went for more brown sugar, less milk and one whole egg, with one egg yolk.  The result was a softer thinner cookie that ran all over the cookie sheet, but was a perfect texture.

On the other hand, as I'm sure you noticed in the photo at the top, there is a downside to gooie deliciousness running everywhere on the cookie sheet.  Namely they all spread out together into one giant super cookie.  I'm fairly sure the main reason was that I scooped out portions that were too large, and needed to do two batches instead of trying to cram them all onto one sheet.  Oh well they still tasted great and it let me choose my own cookie size each time I tore part of the giant uber cookie off to munch on it.  Next we head back to dinner.

Today's recipe:
Stolen part and parcel from allrecipes.com

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Day 28: Mini Caserole

My patented (ok not really) "I have too much tomato sauce, and I'm hungry now" mini casserole.  It is incredibly simple, and makes for a great college meal, although it is a bit slower than I might like.  Basically, it is exactly the same as a full size casserole, just miniaturized.

I started with the sauce that I created a couple days ago (at the time) and a pot of boiling water.  The sauce came out of the fridge to start warming up a bit (not required, but whatever) along with a little bit of ground beef.  Normally I'd go with a single Italian sausage with the skin removed, but I just went with what I had this time.  I dropped about a bowl's worth of elbow macaroni into the salted water and while it cooked I browned the meat.  After the meat finished browning I poured the sauce I had remaining (about a cup, maybe a cup and a half) over the top of the meat and mixed it into a very simple chunky meat sauce.

With the sauce ready and the pasta pulled out it was construction time.  I grabbed my handy mini-casserole dishes (they actually aren't hard to find, and are well worth it for anyone who will be cooking for 1 regularly) and put down a small layer of olive oil, just to help limit sticking on the bottom.  The pasta goes in on top of that, and the sauce goes over the whole thing.  My sauce was thick enough that it needed a fair bit of mixing in order to get an even coat, so I did.  Finally, no casserole is complete without cheese.  Honestly, anything you have will work fine, I prefer an Italian blend (mozzarella, provolone, and some parm) but this time I went with a Mexican blend that we had on hand.  Mostly its cheddar with a few others (like Monterrey Jack) mixed in, and I sprinkled a bit of Parmesan on top for good measure.

With everything assembled, it was time for the toaster oven.  Yup, because these are so small I just turn the toaster oven on to 350-400 and wait for the cheese to fully melt, and the mix to start to bubble and steam a little bit.  After it does that, its ready, just pull it out, give it a few minutes to cool off and dig in for a very simple, tasty, dinner for one.

The recipe:
Elbow Macaroni, about 1.5 cups
Tomato sauce from day 24
ground meat, any mixture you prefer
Cheese to taste.

Day 27: Crepes with Strawberries

Ok, I've been away from this for entirely too long.  I've been keeping up with the cooking part, but the good old real life has kept me from updating properly.  So here goes a whole bunch real quick back to back.

First up, Crepes.  I've never actually tried making them before so I decided it was time to give them a proper shot.  First and foremost, it turns out that crepes need at least an hour or two to set after you mix them up, otherwise you get a giant mess of bubbles instead of an actual batter that you can pour out.  Second, if you wait longer than 3-4 hours (say 8) you have to briefly re-mix with a spoon or something similar as the batter separates a bit.

What goes into the batter is exceedingly simple, flour, butter, salt, sugar (for sweet crepes), milk, eggs, and a bit of booze if you want (I went with rum, but any sweet liquor will work).  Basically you pour the whole mess in a blender (yes a blender, trust me) and give it a whirl.  The only complicated part is that you have to make sure you melt the butter before putting it in, otherwise it doesn't mix right.

Once the batter is mixed, it goes in the fridge for a while to settle out and reduce the bubblage and you go do something else.  After it has settled, you grab a non-stick frying pan, lube it up with some butter, wait for it to be heated and then pour in your first crepe.  Give it about a minute to brown around the edge, then flip it, wait another minute or so before taking it out and giving it to the dog (or cat, or kid who doesn't care).  Yes, that is what I meant to say, I will bet good money that your first crepe will break, not be browned, curl on you or some other disfigurement.  Well, that's what I discovered anyway.  With your first one done, adjust the heat as needed to either speed up or slow down the browning process and try again, odds are it'll be better, but if you screw up again, no worries the dog\cat\kid is probably still hungry.  Just work your way through the batch and enjoy.  Personally, I went for some fresh strawberries on top, but you can go with pretty much whatever you want (and in fact, I probably will in the future).

And with that, Crepes down, only 4 more entries to go in order to catch up.  See you shortly.

My recipe:
I used Alton Brown's Crepe recipe with the "sweet" modification as seen here.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Day 26: Tomato and Mozzarella Crustini

The pesto returns!  Today's dish was something really simple that I threw together for a pot luck that I went to.  A really easy tomato and mozzarella crustini.  The first thing I did was whip up another batch of pesto to go on top, and it was probably the most complicated component of the dish.  With that complete I sliced up a tomato and some nice thin slices of fresh mozzarella. 

The last component is some toasted bread.  I did this by putting a bunch of slices in the oven on 350 for about 4 minutes.  Just as they started to crisp up I took them out, tossed on the tomato slice, the pesto and the slice of mozzarella.  After that, you eat them.  Simple as that.  Anyway, hopefully the next few days will be a good deal more regular and I'll have fewer things that come up and keep me from doing anything.

Day 25: BST (Bacon, Spinach and Tomato)

My apologies for the delay, MLG and playing with fire (yes I mean that literally) kinda ate my weekend so these are a bit behind.  Day 25 was a pretty simple if really tasty version of the classic BLT.  Personally, I've never really liked them, but I figured I'd try making a slightly healthier version.

This was incredibly straightforward, so I'm just going to set it out for you.  I started by cooking up two pieces of bacon in a small non-stick saute pan.  I cut each piece in half so it would fit more easily and easier control (I'll get to that in a second).  While it cooked I toasted a sandwhich roll that I had dug out some of the extra bread (to reduce the bread to stuff ratio).  Once the toasting was complete I toss on some spinach and a slice of tomato while waiting for the all important bacon to be ready.

One note on the bacon, and this applies to pretty much any application where you cook bacon in a pan.  You have to hold it down as it starts to cook in order to keep it flat.  A lot of people do this by buying a big chunk of metal and putting it on the bacon, I'm lazy and follow the Alton Brown school of thought with regard to kitchen tools.  Instead I just use a pair of tongs to hold the bacon down in place for a couple of seconds, after which it will keep itself in place.  Once the bacon is done, it goes on top and the sandwich goes in your belly.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 24: Rigatoni with Sausage and "Red Sauce"

One thing real quick before I dig in to today's meal.  I think I'm going to start updating during the day instead of late at night, it just seems like it works better with my schedule.

And with that, today's meal.  Today I went with something pretty standard for me, pasta with Italian sausage and a tomato sauce.  I went a little further than just heat pasta, heat sausage, add sauce from a jar.  The pasta was that simple, boil water, add salt, cook pasta.  The sausage was slightly more complicated, but not much.  For sausage I like to put down a small layer of olive oil and put down the sausage to crisp up the outside, but after a couple of minutes I add some kind of liquid to the oil and basically steam the sausage the rest of the way (while still cooking on the side that's down).  I prefer either a beer or red wine, but you can also use chicken or beef stock, I'd stay away from veggie stock though.

The sauce is where this meal got more involved.  As mentioned a few days ago, we were out of tomato sauce, so I decided to replace it with my own mixture.  Step one to a homemade tomato sauce is to sweat the standard aromatic mixture of carrot, onion and celery.  I always add garlic to the mixture as well, just because garlic is always good.  Before sweating the aromatics they need to be cut down to size.  Personally, I like them a super fine dice, almost to a puree, but that's just because I like a smoother sauce, if you like it chunkier, go for it.  Anyway, I tossed the veggie mix into my food processor and took it out for a spin until everything became a nice really fine paste.  That mixture goes into a pot with olive oil on the bottom and a pinch of salt before being set aside on the stove to sweat down and soften completely.

Once the aromatics have been sweated down you can add in the tomatoes.  I am a huge fanboy of the San Marzano canned tomatoes with basil.  Just make sure you get the ones actually from Italy, not the ones from Jersey.  They go into the pot whole with the extra sauce\juice and the bits of basil that are already in the can.  I use a wooden spoon or spatula to mash them up a bit as I mix the sauce, but you can also use a potato masher for it.  Now, the most important step in making any tomato sauce:  Add booze.  Seriously, you must add alcohol to the sauce otherwise it just won't taste right.  Personally I prefer a red wine, white wine or straight vodka (they each add something a little different so its a choice) and last night I went for the bottle of red, rather than the bottle of white.  It was just the kind of mood I was in that night (sorry, couldn't help myself).  You can also add a bit of stock (I use beef) especially if you haven't added any kind of meat yet.  I also like a bit of tomato paste, and a bit of ketchup, I know they both seem kinda weird and unnecessary, but they can add an extra layer to the flavor of the sauce.  The end result looks a bit like this:
At this point its time to start seasoning.  You can see the bay leaf I added in there in the photo above, but there's a lot more that goes into it.  The three most important seasonings (besides the booze) are salt, pepper and (personally) some basil.  The rest of the seasonings are mostly up to you, I tend to go a bit crazy with them (as you'll see in a second) but the main thing I do differently than a lot of people is that I like a bit of heat in my sauce.  I almost always add a bit of paprika, and some red pepper flakes.  You can see the full collection (well most of it) of seasonings I used in the photo below.
Basically its Bay leaves, marjoram, thyme, taragon, basil, parsley, and oregano.  I also tossed in some garlic and onion powder, along with the aforementioned heat.  Once its seasoned, set it aside on a really low heat to bubble for an hour or so.  I had it on the lowest heat my stove can do which was just enough to keep it bubbling and reducing slightly (I keep the lid over top of the pot but with the lid slightly skewed so it lets the steam out).  In terms of timing, I cooked the sauce, then the pasta and sausage after letting it bubble for a full hour.  I was really pleased with it overall, and now I have sauce for a bunch of different things over the next few days, so be ready for those.  But now, its Friday, and that means magic!  (probably)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 23: Fish Tacos

Well, I had a plan A that involved me cooking, but three things suddenly occurred right around dinner time.  First, I realized I didn't actually have the ingredients I thought I did in the pantry.  Second, a friend called me up to see if I wanted to grab dinner.  Third and finally, I found myself with a sudden craving for good tacos.  So, I headed down to a local(ish) place in Arlington called Taqueria Poblano.  I've been here before and love their Tacos.  They do really good hard shell chicken, steak and pork "LA Style" tacos that I have had and loved.  But tonight I'm going to focus on their Fish Taco, something they do that's pretty unique and really delicious.

Unlike the other tacos which are pretty standard toppings, the Fish Tacos have a cabbage slaw with a lime vinaigrette and some additional spices that goes on top.  The slaw is really good and adds a lot to the taco overall, and in my opinion is much better than the standard toppings for tacos.  Underneath this slaw is the fish itself, nicely fried so the pieces have a nice crunch but are still really moist and delicious inside.  The whole pile sits on a thin layer of white cream (that I assume is a seasoned sour cream) and is truly amazing with a drizzle of lime juice and a dot of the restaurant's specially made habanero hot sauce (more than a dot and you won't taste much beyond the spice).  It was exactly what I was craving and hit the spot perfectly.  Tomorrow I have some cooking plans that I will hopefully be up early enough to implement properly, if not I'll try and make sure I do it on Friday.  And with that, I'm off to go enjoy the wonder that is SCII's season 3.

Day 22: Spaghetti and Chicken Carbonara (sorta)

Well, that was an interesting experiment, if only partially successful.  For whatever reason I've been wanting to try making a carbonara for a while and tonight I decided to go for it.  For those of you unfamiliar with the dish, a carbonara is a pasta dish (almost always a spaghetti type pasta) with oil and an egg for a sauce.  Beyond that it usually has garlic and either rendered panchetta or bacon in the mixture, and of course, parmesan.  The idea is that the egg only very partially cooks and forms a thick creamy sauce without becoming scrambled eggs.

That's the idea anyway, unfortunately what I created was more like spaghetti with scrambled eggs than a proper carbonara.  To do it properly you are supposed to slowly render and crisp up some bacon and then soften some garlic in the olive and bacon oil.  While the bacon and garlic do their thing you have to cook your pasta and time it so that it finishes at the same time the bacon is ready.  You then drain the I pasta water and with the pasta still hot, put it in the oil\bacon bits and toss to coat it.  Finally, with the heat off you add an egg and parmsean mixture and stir vigorously to keep the egg from scrambling.

I did everything as directed, but I don't think I had the pan cool enough because as soon as I started tossing the pasta I started getting bits of scrambled egg instead of the thick creamy sauce that's supposed to occur.  It wasn't bad, and I got some of it, just not quite what was supposed to happen.  It was pretty tasty, and the chicken and green beans went pretty well with it (leftovers from the night before).  The next time I try this (and it is likely to be soon, just because I want to do it right) I'll try tempering the egg with a bit of warm stock first, then mixing together, along with having the pan off the heat for longer.  (worth noting, I've decided that this doesn't count as a proper carbonara, and if I add in some other things I totally get a do-over).

That brings day 22 to a close, day 23 coming shortly as I try to get back on track for posting the day I consume the meal.

Day 21: Turkish (sort of) Roast Chicken

Well, last night was a simple one and I didn't prepare it so I'll keep this short and simple.  My brother marinated a chicken in his secret spice mix, some oil and some orange juice.  Honestly, I'm afraid I don't have a lot to say about it just because I wasn't really involved in the prep at all.  I enjoyed it though.  There is no doubt that my brother knows how to cook.  The chicken was moist, tasty, and went really well with the rest of the meal (some fresh bread and green beans).

And that's it for this one (there will be a few entries like this from time to time).  He cooked it, I ate it, we enjoyed it.  I know I'm about a day behind on these, I have been keeping up and probably tomorrow I'll do a double update, but today was Dresden Files day so I kinda didn't get anything done beyond reading Ghost Story (which you all should read, well, read after you've read all of the other books in the series).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day 20: Homemade Ice Cream with Raspberry Swirl

Well, that was the idea anyway, it didn't quite work out that way.  I have done homemade ice cream several times before so I decided I was going to try something a little different this time.  I know you can add a layer of syrup to the ice cream just as its finishing up in the machine and you'll get a flavored swirl in the finished product.  So that's what I set out to try and do, unfortunately, it didn't quite work out properly, but it was close.

So, lets start with the basics, I really prefer a custard rather than a basic ice cream, so I start out scalding the milk (which you should always do) and separating a bunch of egg yolks.  The egg yolks get beaten together with my sugar while the milk scalds and then the most complicated part of the whole procedure starts, tempering the eggs.  Basically what that means is you very slowly add the hot milk to the egg and sugar mixture while stirring constantly.  Especially at the start its a pain because the egg mixture is really thick and gloppy, but you have to add really really slowly and whatever you do, don't stop stirring, if you do you get very sweet scrambled eggs.  Anyway, once the mixture is combined and tempered properly I put it back on the heat and let it simmer until it thickened and darkened just a bit, causing it to look a bit like this:
With that done its time for phase one of the waiting game.  Let the mixture cool, then put it in the fridge and go to sleep.  Seriously, let it cool completely overnight before you do anything with it, it helps a lot and makes for a much better ice cream in the end.

With the next morning the waiting game part two begins.  Turn on the machine (I've got the kind with the frozen bowl that moves with a fixed scoop inside of it) and pour in the mix.  Mine took about 40 minutes before it had increased in volume by about 50% and started to thicken up, and honestly I probably should have waited a bit longer to let it firm up even further.  Just as I would normally go to take out the ice cream, I started pouring in my raspberry sauce from about two weeks ago.  This is where things kinda worked and kinda didn't.  I could see a seam form in the ice cream as it mixed and as I poured in the sauce, but unfortunately my sauce was too much sauce not enough syrup.  The result is that it started to just blend in rather than make a nice stream of sauce.  So it kinda worked.

After I finished with the sauce in the ice cream I started pouring it out into my final storage container, but instead of just pouring and scooping everything out at once I did it in layers with some more of the sauce in between each layer.  The mixture was a bit too soupy (from the extra liquid in my sauce I think) so it mixed more than layered, but it was close.  You can see what it looked like before I set it in to freeze hard below.
That's the mixture that went into the freezer for the final hard freeze.  Normally I like to leave it in there for at least 8 hours and get a good solid hard freeze, but I got a bit antsy tonight and pulled it out after 4 hours for a sample.  It hadn't quite frozen solid all the way through, but it was enough to give me some idea of how the experiment had gone.  In short, I had some streaks of syrup throughout, but not quite the layers you get from the store and that I had wanted, but for a first attempt, it wasn't bad.

Overall I would judge the experiment a mild success.  I got a good batch of ice cream, with a couple streaks of what I wanted, and enough knowledge that I think I'd be completely comfortable trying again.  It was also nice to push myself a bit after so many easy meals for myself.  I think I've got another couple good ones that I'll be trying during this week.  So far I've actually been coming up with things to try faster than I've burned through them, hopefully it keeps up.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day 19: Grilled Flank Steak with

 
 Tonight I'm afraid the final meal photo didn't come out properly, so you just get the steak.  Anyway, tonight's meal will also be a simple entry, mostly because it was prepared by my brother so I don't know a whole lot of what went into it.  The main part of the meal was a grilled flank steak, marinated in a blend of oil, spices, and herbs.  I know that it had some cilantro, garlic powder and red wine in it, and knowing him I'm sure it also had a bit of heat mixed in as well, although I don't know what he used for it.  It marinated for about 5-6 hours before getting a quick rub in salt, pepper and a bit of oil and hitting the grill.

The rest of the meal was some simply prepared brown rice (saute in olive oil with some onions, and then bubbled in chicken stock and water until soft) and some grilled asparagus.  The asparagus got a coating of what I can best describe as a really good Italian dressing (oil, vinegar, some additional seasonings I'm afraid I don't know what they were).  After a couple minutes on the grill they were nicely softened and actually quite good.  The meal as a whole was fairly simple but quite tasty and something I'll probably be thinking about when I get started on some beef dishes of my own.

With that I'm going to call it an evening, I've got something a little more involved and a bit more advanced on tap for tomorrow, and after that we'll see what the week brings us.

Day 18: Bagel Ham and Salami Sandwich

I have to admit, I haven't been as on top of things or as creative as I could be for the past few days, but I'll be working on that after tomorrow.  Anyway, today I bring you another in my sandwich series.  This time, its bagels (well, a bagel anyway).  This wasn't a complicated one, and I was delayed in putting this up so I'm going to be simple and to the point.  I threw together a simple sandwich with ham, salami, cucumbers, baby spinach, a slice of provolone cheese, and some mustard.  The sandwich was simple, quick and delicious.  The bagel I simply cut in half, toasted and filled with yums.

Since there isn't much else to talk about on that front I'm going to instead take a moment to mention one thing I think a lot of people overlook about sandwiches.  The bread.  To steal completely from (and paraphrase) Alton Brown, I'm a firm believer that the quality of the bread is critical to the success of the sandwich.  Obviously you want a sandwich that has more to it than just two chunks of bread; however, that doesn't mean the two chunks should be ignored.  Better bread leads to a better sandwich, and hence you will be seeing plenty of sandwiches from me (as time goes by) made of delicious Bodos Bagels and artisan breads from other places (possibly even myself from time to time).

And with that, I'm going to move on to day 19's entry before getting to work on Sunday's surprise.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Day 17: COOKIES! (Chocolate Chip to be Precise)

I'm going to keep tonight fairly short and simple.  I wanted cookies, chocolate chip ones to be precise.  Unfortunately, I'm not exactly "good" at baking, and while we had the necessary supplies on hand it was only just barely.  Unlike almost every other meal I've made so far, this started with me going to google for a recipe.  The same one showed up pretty much everywhere, and while it isn't the classic "Tollhouse" recipe its close.  (as a matter of fact, its this recipe) Unfortunately, as you may notice, that is a recipe for 4 dozen cookies, and I just don't need that many.

So I cut the recipe in half and started hunting for the ingredients.  I had the butter, flour and chocolate chips, but sugar turned out to be something of a difficulty.  I had rought 3/8s of a cup of dark brown sugar, and about 3/8s of a cup of light brown sugar.  This lead to some difficulty simply because the dark brown sugar was old enough that getting it to pack down into the measuring cup was a royal pain.  I wound up having to just eyeball the difference between the amount I wanted and how much I had.  I got close, but I don't think I was spot on.  Unfortunately the regular sugar had a similar problem.  I didn't have half a cup of normal sugar, only about 3/8s of a cup.  I tried topping it off with confectioners sugar, but that doesn't have quite the same volume to weight ratio.  Once again, I had to eyeball it a bit, and while I was close I don't think I got it quite right.

Anyway, I creamed the butter, tossed in the wet ingredients, mixed them together and then added the flour and baking soda.  The mixture got combined together with the chips only going in for about a minute right at the end.  I scooped it out with just a standard spoon onto a cookie sheet with some parchment paper on top.  The cookies went into the oven (as seen below) and I went to wait for golden, brown and delicious.
They never quite got there however.  Even after about 15 minutes they hadn't truly browned, and I decided to pull them out anyway.  They weren't golden, but they were delicious.  I think I had just a bit too much sugar and maybe should have cooked them at a slightly higher temperature to get the colour I wanted.  Oh well, I still got cookies out of it, and ate them the best way I know of, with a glass of chocolate milk (made from my earlier chocolate sauce).

Today's Recipe:
As linked above, all credit to people who aren't me.

Day 16: Chow Mein College Style

Sorry about the delay, I didn't get a chance to update this last night and was on the road for a good bit of today.  Anyway, last night was my experiment in going back to cooking like a college kid.  I decided to try and throw together something at least close to chow mein in a stir fry (mostly because about the only cooking vessel I had was a wok). 

The stir fry was pretty simple and easy, and worked out nicely for what I wanted as well.  A quick trip to Whole Foods netted me a half pound of sirloin steak tips (so good for stir fry).  The rest of the meal pretty much came from the same trip.  I grabbed some sliced water chestnuts, baby corn, a red pepper, a shallot and some snap\snow peas.  The rest of the meal came from college staples, teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, ramen noodles, eggs and hot sauce.

The complicated part of the meal was figuring out how to prep it.  The tools I had available were limited at best.  A single wok, a small pot, a knife so dull it almost couldn't cut the pepper, a can opener older than my parents (by a fair margin) and a wooden spoon was all I had.  Thankfully I wasn't trying to do anything complicated (although it is something I've never tried to do).  My tools in photo form:
As for the cooking itself it took me about 5 minutes once the water reached a boil.  The first thing was the shallots and red pepper was sliced into chunks and sweated until soft.  They got pulled out of the wok and the ramen went into the pot of water.  While the ramen cooked the beef went into the wok for a quick sear.  After about a minute on each side (or two minutes of tossing and moving them around).  After the beef was seared I tossed in one beaten egg.  After about 30 seconds to start cooking the egg (during which time I kept everything moving, basically just like making scrambled eggs)  all the veggies went into the wok.  Everything got tossed around and stirred (using the wooden spoon to keep it moving) until the peas looked like they were done (about another minute).

It was at this point that I made my main mistake.  Instead of adding the sauces to the mix first, getting a coating on everything and then adding the noddles at the end, I tossed in the noodles then did the sauce.  It probably didn't matter all that much, but doing it with the noodles in first meant that most of the sauce was in and on the noodles.  It prevented me from getting an even coating, although the flavor was still good and just meant I had even more reason to get a bit of noodle in every bite.  Overall I think the dish was a success.  The hot sauce and teriyaki worked really well together with the rest of the meal, and given my tools, I was pretty pleased with how well my 10 minute meal came together.

Tonight's Recipe:
1/2 lb Sirloin Tips
1 shallot
1 red pepper
1 can of water chestnuts
1 can of baby corn
2 Packs of Ramen Noodles
a bunch (however much you like) of snow peas
Teriyaki sauce
soy sauce
hot sauce
Emeril's Essence

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day 15: Crab Cake

My apologies for the late entry, but the Glitch Mob concert got first dibs on my attention last night.  However, before going I stopped by Rapture for a nice meal.  For those of you who haven't been there before, Rapture is an interesting experience.  The open kitchen in the front serves up a selection of classic Americana while the bar in the back and the pool tables upstairs cater to a slightly different goal.  Late in the evenings it turns into the host to a wide variety of musical tastes ranging from pop dance parties to industrial and skaa.  I've been here a few times before and was unimpressed by their burger (it wasn't bad, just nothing special) but at the suggestion of several friends I headed back to try something else.

For my return trip I decided to give their crab-cake a shot.  It was certainly a step up from the burger, but still nothing really worth writing home about.  The dish came in two largely separate parts, the cake itself on top of a lightly spiced sauce and three fried balls of rice with a bit of Cajun spice and flavor.  Unfortunately this also splits the good and bad parts of the meal.  The crab cake was flavorful, well prepared and fully sated my crab craving.  The rice on the other hand showed the downside to trying something creative.  The exterior of the balls was crispy and a really nice, the interior however was a mushy clump of overcooked rice.  The flavor was there and pretty good, but the texture was just off putting. 

The overall meal was certainly satisfying, and the crab cake in particular was good, but the overall meal suffered from the overcooked rice.  While I wouldn't recommend it with nearly the enthusiasm of my previous two visits its still a safe bet that you'll enjoy your meal and get your money's worth from a visit to Rapture.  The meal was pretty good, and the 8oz Saison I had for $3.50 was quite good as well as nice and cheap for a restaurant beer.  And the great time I had at the concert right after the meal probably helped my positive feelings regarding the trip.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 14: Spinach Salad with Beef

Today we return to lunch, but first an apology for the picture above.  I've discovered that for the photos to come out well I need a lot of light, preferably from several directions.  In my kitchen the LEDs over the counter-tops handle this requirement really well, today however, I was hungry and forgot to take a photo until I was halfway through my meal.  The result is a shot taken hastily between bites, and the end result is the too harsh light of a flash that kinda takes away from the photo.  I'll try to work on this in the future, but be warned that it may crop up again later.

With that out of the way, on to the food.  As I'm sure you've noticed my lunches tend to be remixes of last night's leftovers and today was no different.  I went with a spinach salad (so I could at least pretend to be healthy) topped with the beef from two nights ago, a raspberry vinaigrette featuring my sauce and some pine nuts left over from when I made the pesto.  The result was something quick and easy (which is precisely what I wanted) as only the vinaigrette really required any work at all.

Like all vinaigrettes it started life as a small pool of extra virgin olive oil and Dijon mustard.  I added in some garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper (if I had thought about it properly I would have tossed in one of the roasted cloves from last night, but I was hungry...).  The rest was made up of raspberry vinegar that we had around the house and my raspberry sauce\syrup from Friday.  I introduced this mixture to my friend the whisk and together we stirred until properly combined and emulsified.  I gave it a quick taste and set it aside while I sliced the beef.

The spinach got a quick wash before tossing some of it into the bowl with the dressing.  Unfortunately this lead to the same problem I have almost every time I try to make a salad, over dressing.  I simply haven't found a good way to get the right amount of dressing on top that doesn't require another 3 dishes, pans or plates.  I think I need to make sure I put it in a bottle before trying to dress so I can get some better control.  I set the over dressed spinach down on a plate and quickly tossed some extra on top, after mixing the two piles together I got at least closer to the amount of dressing I wanted and decided to move on with the meal.

The beef went on top, with some pine nuts sprinkled around as well.  Then the salad went into my stomach.  I deemed it a success, although not a perfect one.  The dressing was good, had a tiny hint of sweetness and a hint of raspberry, but not nearly to the levels that I was hoping.  Several weeks ago I had a spinach salad appetizer with a truly amazing sweet vinaigrette on top and I've been working to reproduce it, this was just the latest attempt and while I'm closer, its not there yet.  I think this mixture needed a bit more of syrup\sauce and possibly some extra honey for even a bit more sweetness.  I'm also thinking of adding in some poppy seeds for my next trial in the hopes that they'll add another layer to it and get me one step closer to what I had before. 

And now I'm off to bed, tomorrow will be a restaurant commentary\review and then Wednesday it'll be back to some actual cooking.  I've got something specific in mind and hopefully it won't explode in my face.

Today's "Recipe"
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup raspberry vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon raspberry syrup
garlic powder
onion powder
Spinach
cooked new york strip steak
pine nuts

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day 13: "40 Clove Chicken"

Tonight was my brother's "40 Clove Chicken".  It's another meal not made by me, but something I haven't ever tried before, and definitely something I'll hopefully be trying again.  The 40 clove chicken is something fairly simple and definitely something you have to try if you're a garlic fan.  The chicken is segmented and simply seasoned with the skin on.  A little bit of salt and pepper goes on top and then the chicken goes into a cast iron pan to brown the skin and exterior.  The whole thing gets then gets a wonderful bath of olive oil and tons of whole garlic cloves tossed in before the whole thing goes into the oven to roast.  As the chicken cooks through the garlic roasts and becomes really soft, almost like butter, and sweetens as well.  The end result is cloves of garlic with a mild garlic taste, a bit of sweetness and something that you can spread on bread with a knife (in fact we did just that.)

The rest of tonight's meal was fairly simple and nothing new.  We had a brussel sprout slaw on the side with a loaf of really nice crusty bread.  There's a ton of other things to pair this with obviously, pasta, rice, even potatoes would work wonderfully.  In fact, I'll probably wind up using the 40 clove chicken in the future to put with and\or over some other components in the future.  It strikes me as something that works really well with almost everything and definitely going to be something to use in the future.

Finally before I sign off I'm going to be traveling again for a few days so write-ups are likely to be delayed.  However, hopefully I'll be able to get back to making my own dishes over the next couple days and have a bit more to talk about than "my family cooks as well or better than I do".

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Day 12: Meat and Potatoes

Something simple for tonight after last night's attempt at complexity.  Your classic all American steak and potatoes (well mashed potatoes).  The steak were some great pieces of New York Strip steak that my brother found and purchased today.  My dad did a fairly standard salt and pepper rub and then grilled it off before slicing it as seen above.  Nothing fancy, but honestly, when you have a great piece of meat it doesn't need much fancy.

The potatoes are just your standard mashed potatoes, butter, cream, salt pepper and a little bit of garlic mashed and mixed together until creamy and delicious.  You can certainly be more creative or more involved with yours, but this was meat and potatoes night.  The "sauce" for the meal took the form of some wonderful caramelized onions and red peppers.  Sliced fairly thin and then slow cooked with a bit of oil, paprika and cayenne pepper they go wonderfully with the steak and potatoes both. 

The bread was just a nice slice of french loaf with a roasted tomato and the last of the pesto spread on top.  It makes for a nice side dish or appetizer (probably it'll make a featured focus for a dish later this year actually...)  The whole thing was topped off with some broccoli in order to make up a classic well rounded meal. 

That's all I've got for this evening, as I said nothing special nothing much to it, tomorrow I think I'll try something a little different and see how it goes.

Day 11: Ice Cream with Chocolate and Raspberry Sauce

Well, I promised something special, here it is, sort of.  I wanted to make an ice cream dish with my own chocolate and raspberry sauce.  Unfortunately the sauces didn't come out quite the way I wanted.  I had hoped to make a thick sauce (like the Hershey's stuff from a bottle) what I actually made was a good deal runnier, still tasty, but runny.

Both sauces come from the same base of simple syrup, the chocolate sauce then gets dutch processed coco with just a touch of chile powder tossed in on top.  The raspberry one gets a puree of fresh and frozen raspberries instead.  The two sauces then reduce a bit and get poured into squeeze bottles.  Well, that's what's supposed to happen anyway.  However, I was in a hurry when I threw these two together and didn't get the proportions right.  A good thick simple syrup is one part water to two parts sugar, mine was only one to one because I wasn't sure how the coco powder and raspberries would interact so I was conservative, the result was more liquid than syrup.  Oh well, live and learn (and then get Loves).  Nice and short yesterday but it was Friday and you know what that means.  (Friday Night Magic of course)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 10: Chicken Pesto Sandwhich

The pesto returns!  Today is a leftovers day.  The pesto from last night and the chicken from two nights ago have been calling to me and demanding that they be used once again.  Lunch was a simple chicken pesto sandwich.  With the chicken and pesto already made there was practically nothing to be done besides scoop out a bit of a hollow in the bread, mix the chicken and pesto, add some salami and provolone and then enjoy.  Personally, that is exactly my type of lunch, something easy and lazy that you can just throw together.

There are a few things worth noting about the sandwich that applies to them in general.  First, when you have these type of sandwich rolls I almost always think there's too much bread, so I scooped out a little trough to make room for the extra chicken.  Second, make sure you toast the bread.  It adds to the texture (especially if you don't have any veggies to put on there) but it also helps keep it from absorbing moisture and condiments if you put those on.  When I say scoop it out before adding in the goodies, it'll look kinda like this when you do that:
 The photo angle is not the best, but you'll have a little boat of bread around the meat.  It works really well with things like tuna or chicken salad, or pretty much any food that you think of scooping rather than laying out when putting it on a sandwich.

That's pretty much it, I made a really tasty sandwich that will definitely become a standard tool in my arsenal against mid day hunger (particularly when I have pesto around).  Tomorrow I'll do something a little different for Friday and hope to continue doing that.  And now I'm off, my computer is full of games and calling my name.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day 9: Shrimp and Penne Pesto

Today was pesto day.  Well, pesto day one, day two is tomorrow but you'll have to wait for that.  For some reason I have been feeling a craving for pesto for a few days, today I decided to rectify it.  The rest of the meal came from the shrimp and spices I already had lying around and were pretty simple, the pesto was the fun part.

The pesto started out life as a huge pile of basil pulled off the supermarket shelf.  Ideally I'd prefer something truly fresh off the plant, but I just don't have a basil monster large enough for me to pull that much off it in one go.  The rest of the pesto is just a lemon, 7-8 cloves of garlic, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts and a bunch of olive oil.  The lemon gets zested and juiced with both parts going into the bottom of my mini-chopper (little baby food processor).  After that I threw in the garlic and then shoved as much basil as I possibly could into the processor.  Some olive oil goes in on top and the whole thing gets sent for a spin.  After a bit you'll notice that the volume of the basil has suddenly shrunk.  When I did it the work bowl went from completely full to about 1/4 full.  That shrinkage (stop giggling...) means its time to put some more in.  I repeated this process twice until I had used up all my basil and had between two and three cups of delicious green mush.  To convert the mush into even tastier pesto I added in about 1/8-1/4 cup of pine nuts and a bunch of Parmesan (honestly, I have no idea how much cheese went in, but it was quite a bit of grating to take it off the full block I had).  After running the whole thing through the food processor for a bit more the green mush became delicious pesto.  I found that mine needed a bit more salt and pepper, yours may not but you should give it a taste and if it doesn't seem quite right, probably needs a bit of salt.  (The only exception is when the off taste is "too salty").

I now had about 3 cups (I'm just going to go with this number) of pesto, time to make something to put it on.  For tonight's dinner I went with shrimp and penne.  I still had most of the bad of frozen shrimp from two nights ago and was a bit annoyed with how badly I overcooked them and wanted another go.  Penne always goes wonderfully with pesto and makes a great base for the shrimp.  Finally, I thought I should have something green that wasn't made of olive oil and basil, so I decided to real quick steam some broccoli.

That is roughly what shrimp should look like.  They are actually slightly overdone but a whole lot better than my previous attempt.  My shrimp had a really simple boring rub of Emeril's Essence, a bit of key lime seasoning and some extra cayenne pepper.  They went down into a pan with some olive oil on the bottom for like a minute before being flipped over and left there for about another minute before pulling them out and setting them aside.  I was trying to pull them out just as they changed colours, but I once again missed the mark by just a bit and wound up with slightly overdone shrimp.  I'm getting better, but I was still surprised by just how fast the shrimp cooked.  The pasta (which I cooked before even starting the shrimp) got tossed into the same pan the shrimp cooked in and coated with a generous helping of pesto.  After mixing it all together and ensuring the pasta was heated through I plated up, set the broccoli down next to it and devoured.  Experiment successful and certainly something I'm going to make use of in the coming week.

You'll notice there isn't 3 cups of pesto on that pasta (that's probably too much even for me) which means I still have pesto left over.  Tomorrow's lunch will definitely make use of it, and we'll see how much I have even after that.  And with that, its 2 AM I'm going to finish up the episode of the Day[9] Daily I'm watching and head to bed.

The Recipe:
8 25 count shrimp
3 cups Basil
1/8 cup pine nuts
1 Lemon
8 cloves of garlic
Parmsean cheese
Emeril's essence
Penne Pasta
and as always, salt and pepper

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day 8: Oven Roasted Cornish Game Hens

Well, day 8 marks the start of week two of my challenge and coincidentally marks almost the end of my fridge's resources.  There were brussel sprouts in need of consumption and that was just about it.  After a brief conversation with my brother I decided to try my hand at Cornish game hens.  For those of you unfamiliar with these mythical beasts they are basically just tiny chickens.  The brussel sprouts are actually edible if you throw them together into something that is basically a slaw, and personally, I'm always a fan of your standard plain boring white rice with almost any protein.

The slaw and rice were fairly simple so I'm just going to cover them real quick now before I get to the chicken that was the real experiment here.  The slaw starts with just some shallots, carrots and garlic sliced thin and sweated until soft.  The sprouts go into the food processor and pulsed a few times (because I am entirely too lazy to actually slice all of those individually) and then get tossed into the pan with the other ingredients.  Finally the juice of 1 lime and some toasted pine nuts get mixed in on top.  The end result looks a little like this:

And while it isn't my favorite food in the world, it is edible and good for me (or so I've been told).  The rice I just took 1/2 cup of basmati with some chicken stock, water, salt and some olive oil.  The rice gets toasted in the olive oil, then everything else goes into the pot on top until the rice is done.

That brings us to the chicken and the new technique I worked on this evening, "Spatchcocking."  This is where you basically flatten the chicken and cook it that way.  The first step in the process is cutting out the chicken's spine (little gross, I know but I've never been bothered by raw meat or butchery).  This allows you to flatten out the chicken to help it cook more quickly and evenly, along with helping you get a good golden caramelization on the skin.  I also took advantage of it to toss a quick and lazy rub on the skin and inside of the chicken, giving both sides a thorough coating of Emeril's Essence and a key lime seasoning from world market.

With the chicken rubbed down and ready to go I set out my trusty cast iron pan and pre-heated the oven to 375.  Once the oven got hot and my cast iron was rip-roaringly hot (that's a technical term) I tossed a bit of olive oil into the pan and threw the chicken in on top with the skin down to help get a good brown caramelization on the skin.  After about 2-3 minutes I flipped over the chicken to get some colour and cooking on the other side (about 2-3 more minutes) before it went into the oven.  The end result was a bird that looked about like this before it hit the oven.

  After about 15 minutes in the oven a quick temperature check confirmed that the bird was indeed done.  Once out of the oven the bird came out of the pan and some white wine, chicken stock and lime juice went into the pan to deglaze it.  This is where the only major mistake and problem with this meal occurred.  Unfortunately the pan was entirely too hot and instead of creating a slightly sweet and citrus sauce it just tasted faintly burnt and with a bit too much chicken fat in it.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't what I wanted.

However, the overall meal was wonderful.  The chicken was (miraculously) cooked perfectly and had a really great flavor with the rub and skin on top.  The rice went with it perfectly and the slaw was (while still not my favorite by any stretch) pretty good.  A successful experiment all around, but now Funday Monday (a day late) and Eve are calling my name before I head to bed.

Today's Recipe:
1 Cornish game hen
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup basmati rice
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (toast them yourself ideally)
Olive Oil
2 limes
2 cups brussel sprouts chopped
1 carrot
1 large shallot
Emeril's Essence
key lime spice mix