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
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

Monday, July 11, 2011

Day 7: Shrimp Scampi(ish)

Back to the kitchen for this one.  The Pad Thai from two nights ago left me hungry for something more.  The result was tonight's meal, a shrimp and pasta dish best described as a scampi, although that isn't really accurate.  It's been a long while since I actually did anything with Shrimp and this was the perfect chance to give them a whirl once again in something fairly simple but flavorful.

The meal started its life as a bag of uncooked frozen shrimp.  Much as I know that word sends shivers down the spine of many a foodie out there you just can't beat it for something you are throwing together to feed yourself day in and day out.  And I'll take a frozen piece of protein over a wasted piece in the trash any night of the week.  Anyway, I thawed out about half the bag of 21/25 count shell on shrimp just until the ice fell away and the meat was soft to the touch, but not all the way through.  Unlike chunks of beef or chicken that can take weeks to thaw out, even if you do it properly under running water, the shrimp thawed quickly and easily.  They were set aside in the refrigerator briefly while the next step of tonight's meal came together in a metal mixing bowl.

As I'm sure you will all come to see as my challenge continues, I love citrus and I love sweet.  I decided that the combination was perfect for the first shrimp and seafood dish of my challenge.  I grabbed an orange from the fridge and set out to juice it to form the basis of my quick marinade.  It was here that I encountered one of the major pitfalls of not knowing exactly what and when things went into the fridge.  The orange I had selected was dry and crumbly.  There were no signs of aging on the peel, but my first squeeze yielded nothing for orange flakes and a powder in my hand.  Time for plan B, the stuff in a box.  Grabbing the morning's box of orange juice I poured that out into my bowl and added in a mixture of spices.  Paprika, Ancho chile powder, minced garlic, basil and some sage went into the mix along with a healthy splash (ok, more than a splash) of olive oil.  The marinade was mixed in with my shrimp and thrown in the fridge to absorb for about two hours.

The next step was prepping the veggies.  I chopped up a set of green peppers (about one and a half) half a red onion and half a white onion (split due to ingredient limitations, not style choices) and cleaned some spinach.  Finally I set out a large pot of salted water and got it boiling away.  With everything ready to go it was fire time for everything else.  The shrimp I cooked first, they went straight out of the marinade and into a very very lightly oiled non-stick pan.  After about two minutes they had changed colors on one side and it was time to flip.  Another two minutes and it was time to pull them out.

With the shrimp set aside and cooling rapidly, (more rapidly than I wanted) I quickly tossed the angel hair pasta I had set aside into the water, and threw the peppers and onions into the shrimp pan with a touch more olive oil.  Some minced garlic, a bit of salt and the same seasonings as the shrimp minus the sage.  As those started to soften it was time for the pasta to come out (angel hair takes almost no time to cook, and I wanted it really al dente).  This gave me just enough time to slice a tomato into pieces about the same size as the onions and peppers and get ready for the final assembly.

  It's worth pausing at this point to pick out my first major error.  I'm not sure whether the problem was in cooking the shrimp part way at the start, then re-heating them or whether I just completely overcooked them from the start, but my shrimp came out well past the ideal.  They were much tougher and more rubbery than anyone should do to perfectly good shrimp and while the flavor was just about right, I was disappointed with the texture.  I'll have to see about pulling them out even faster next time, and doing them last, rather than first, even if it helps other things fall into place.

Final assembly was fairly simple, everyone into the pool.  The pasta went on top of the onions and peppers, along with the shrimp.  The spinach and tomatoes were placed on the whole pile, and then I got to bring out the booze.  A fairly dry sauvignon blanc made the base of the sauce with a bit of Grand Marnier drizzled over the top to try and add a bit more sweetness and reinforce that orange flavor from before.  Here is where I made my second mistake.  When I poured the liquids into the mixture it was rapidly absorbed by the pasta so that the liquid base I had planned for evaporated quickly.  Without thinking about it I just dumped some more white wine on the top.  This resulted in entirely too much wine in the pasta and left that flavor throughout and overpowered most of the citrus and sweetness.  Instead of just dumping more wine on top I should have taken the time to get the OJ back out.  It would have added a bit more sweetness, some more citrus and generally just improved the whole dish.  Oh well, that's the point of this after all, learn what does and doesn't work for new meals that I haven't tried before.

After wilting the spinach I plated it up on top, and just so I could pretend I'm being healthy tossed a bit more spinach on the side.  It wasn't quite what I was hoping for, but it worked, and worked well.  Shrimp Scampi is one of the classics, its something everyone knows and everyone has tried because its just the right combination.  I'm not going to pretend that I made the best out there or that I even nailed it, but I was happy with the outcome.  It's definitely something going into the toolbox so to speak, and something I'll hopefully be able to riff off of in the future.

That's my first full week of the challenge completed.  I think its time for a well deserved break, tomorrow my new rig finally gets to see SCII and League, its a pretty good reward for a week well done I think.

Today's Recipe, all quantities are approximate and should be done to taste:
18 21/25 count shrimp
3 servings of angel hair pasta
3/4 cup of orange juice
3/4 cup of olive oil + some for sauteeing
1 cup of dry white wine
1 and 1/2 green peppers
1 onion
1/2 lb of spinach
1 tomato
minced garlic
ancho chile powder
and of course, salt and pepper

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Day 6: Pancakes!

The last day of my trip got off to a very slow start, thus a mid afternoon brunch.  Now, I know that everyone has had pancakes so I'm not going to spend too much of your time describing the flat wonderful cakes that every American kid (and plenty of adults) knows and loves.  However, if you're only allowed to eat one set of pancakes for a year, they better be good ones.  The pancakes from the Blue Moon Diner in Charlottesville are just the cakes for this.  Beyond the delicious flavor and incredible texture of their cakes, Blue Moon offers art on a plate as well.  The classic powdered sugar sprinkled on top comes in a multitude of different styles, from the brothers on my plate to the aviator on my girlfriend's.
But wait there's more!  The diner's atmosphere is a fantastic experience.  From the decorations behind the bar to the fresh ground coffee, the place radiates that wonderful hipster charm that makes this type of diner a draw to the wide range of customers keeping the place full and busy even at 2PM on a Sunday afternoon.  The record player behind the bar keeps the place full of classic rock, pop and other assorted tunes, and with a huge sample lining the walls and windows of the diner, I don't think they're going to have very many repeats.
I'm not a breakfast person, but this diner makes me reconsider just a little bit.  I'm back home now and looking forward to trying a couple meals that came to mind while hitting the restaurant scene.  I haven't quite decided what tomorrow has on tap, but with one week almost finished I'm not worried about my inspiration yet.

Day 5: Pad Thai, now with better pictures

Today I found myself craving something filling and different.  The result was a classic American version of Thai food, Pad Thai.  This particular serving made its way to me via a restaurant in one of the many strip malls just off Route 29 going in and out of Charlottesville.  The rather imaginatively named Thai '99 has been the site a several different meals for me in the past, but for Day 5 I went for the Thai dish that almost every American knows.  The classic combination of noodles, bean sprouts, tamarind paste, fish sauce and of course, crumbled peanuts forms the baseline for the meld of sour, salty, spicy, sweet that makes up this dish.  Personally, I'm a big fan of the addition of shrimp to the standard pad thai base and as you can see above, had that mixed in with mine.  As I'm sure you can also tell from above, I was hungry and the meal was delicious.  As soon as it was set down in front of me I dug in, forgetting for a few minutes that I needed a photo to toss up here.  It was wonderful, and definitely something I need to figure out how to replicate for myself.
In spite of its unassuming location and exterior Thai '99 provided a delicious meal and a great atmosphere inside.  The food was a perfectly balanced combination of sweet, salty, spicy, sour on a filling, delicious bed of noodles.  I'm certain that at some point during the year I'll find my way back here to try some of their other dishes, and I'm certainly looking forward to it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day 4: Tuna Tostada

Upon further review, this is beyond a bad photo... Mental note, food does not look good
when viewed view flash photography.
Ok, not the best photo, and sorry I was delayed today.  Anyway, last night marked the first meal out.  After years living in Charlottesville I finally found my way to the Continental Divide.  A small, loud, tex-mex restaurant on West Main.  I've heard about it for years, but never found my way inside.  For those of you who haven't I strongly suggest heading in, although it may be difficult to locate if you don't already know where you're going.  The simplest approach is just look for their sign.
Once you obey the sign's direction you'll be greeted with the dull roar of conversation and music from the inside.  After a wait to be seated (not bad, but I can definitely see it taking a while in a place this small without a reservation) we sat down in one of the large booths available and were promptly delivered menus.  Here was our first pleasant surprise:
Yup, definitely my kind of place.  And now to the food.  While there were a number of dishes to be had, ranging from various tacos, burritos, and enchiladas, but what caught my eye was the Tuna Tostada.  A wonderful piece of sushi grade tuna, lightly seared and placed atop a black bean puree and a pair of crispy tortillas.  Surrounding this stack of deliciousness was a red pepper sauce and a jalapeno glaze.  Yup, somehow they managed to turn the wonderful spicy burn of jalapenos into sweet and spicy glaze.  The tuna was perfectly seared and wonderfully seasoned with just a hint of extra spice added to it.  The puree was smooth and added another layer to the flavor of the dish.  The final kick was the sweet red pepper and jalapeno glaze that mixed in throughout the dish and melded with each bite.  I honestly couldn't tell you how the dish was made, but then again, that's the point of eating out, to try new things that you can't or don't make yourself.  This meal was an unqualified success, and means that you will almost certainly be hearing about different preparations of tuna and a different toastada dish in the near future.  For those of you who live in or visit Charlottesville, I strongly suggest you find your way to The Continental Divide for great food and a unique and fun atmosphere.  Just be ready for the noise and the less than kid friendly environment.

And with that simple and easy entry my 4th day comes to a close.  I'm getting ready to head out for day 5's meal (and don't worry, some of these dishes are going to be lunches and breakfasts, it has just been dinners thus far).  Hopefully it'll be a fun and enjoyable meal as well.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Day 3: Pan Fried Pork Tenderloin

Well, I said it would be more complicated, I didn't promise it would be a lot more complicated.  Today's dish is a breaded and pan fried pork tenderloin (technically two, but only one vacuum pack of it.)  This meal (as all pork tenderloin preparations should) started last night with a brine.  I kind of know how this is supposed to work, but have never actually made one before so it was a bit of an experiment (if not a very complicated one).  I combined salt, sugar, brown sugar, rosemary, all spice and a bit of cayenne pepper in a pot with a bunch of water and heated it until everything dissolved and mixed together.  It was here that I learned my first of what is certain to be many lessons.  Even if it feels fairly cool, dump tons of ice into your brine.  I didn't put enough ice in and as a result very very slightly cooked the outer edge of my tenderloins.  Thankfully I realized it quickly and just dumped a ton of extra ice into the brining bag before any permanent damage was done.  The mixture went into the fridge for about a day (ok, actually like 20 hours, but close enough).

That brings us to part two of today's story, the actual cooking.  I sliced the tenderloin into very thick steaks (about an inch to an inch and a half thick) and got out one of the fun tools of the kitchen.  The hammer.  I pounded out the steaks until they were closer to 3/4 to 1/2 an inch (depending on how thick they started) and set them to the side while I made my breading.  The breading was equally simple, seasoned flour, an egg wash, and a mixture of panko and italian bread crumbs.  The flour was all purpose flour with paprika, cayenne, an italian herb mixture, some salt and some pepper.  The pork pieces got a dredge in flour, a dunk in egg, and then a quick roll through the bread crumbs before being set aside to await the fire. 

Unfortunately this is the point where the meal takes a turn down boring street.  I could have done all kinds of wonderful vegetables and sides with the pork, but instead of thinking about and planning it out I spent the day building my new computer (more on that at the end).  The sides that I did go with consisted of some very quickly and lightly steamed broccoli and standard noodles.  The prep for both of these got done as the oil heated up and the pork went into the pan.  As I mentioned before, I had two tenderloins to cook up, and I don't have a pan nearly large enough to do all of those at once, so they went in as groups of three to four.  Each side got to feel the burn until golden brown(ish) before a flip, another wait and then a trip into the oven set to 200 degrees while they awaited their final fate.  They wound up looking a little something like this going in (we're going to pretend that one on the left isn't there, he got a bit too much sun):

  As I finished up the pork it was time for the pasta to hit the water and the greens to take a quick trip to the sauna.  I was nearly done, but at the last minute decided that pan fried pork needs a gravy, even if its a simple one.  I grabbed some of the seasoned flour I still had and tossed it into the oil and started stirring away on my roux.  After giving it enough time to actually cook I mixed in some extra garlic and onion powder, some mustard and a heavy splash of apple cider vinegar to finish it off.  I let some of the vinegar smell and taste boil off while the gravy thickened and started plating.  The overall result was a success I think.  The pork was quick good, and the sides finished out the meal, although they certainly weren't anything worth really talking about.  Day three down, only 362 more to go.  Fair warning, this weekend I'll be out of town so you'll probably get your first restaurant meal reviews from me instead of Paul's cooking process.

I think I've decided that even when I don't actually have one I'm going to include a recipe or at least list of ingredients at the bottom of these.  I tend to fly a little bit by the seat of my pants in the kitchen and rarely have anything close to a recipe so a lot of this is from memory and I make no promises that you will be able to replicate anything I make.  Honestly, I'm not sure I could replicate anything I make, at least not exactly.

And with that, I'm pretty much done, and my brand new gaming rig has finished the fresh windows install.  Time to begin the great driver hunt and then time steam to see how long it takes to download most of my library of games. 

The Brine:
1 Vacu-packed pork tenderloin
Brown Sugar
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Water (its an ingredient right?)

The Breading:
Flour (all purpose or pretty much anything really)
Cayenne Pepper
Italian Herb mixture (I finished my pre-made mixture so I promise to be more precise when I go to make my own batch)
2 eggs
a splash of milk (whole is best I've found)
Panko bread crumbs
Italian bread crumbs

Flour mixture from breading
Mustard (whole grain is best, the closer you can get to it the better)
Apple cider vinegar
extra onion powder
extra garlic powder


Steam (which is like water right?)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Day 2: Chicken Cheese-"Steak" Sandwiches

Today was the first of what I'm sure will be many last minute "plan B" dishes.  Originally I planned to do some pan fried chicken tenders with mixed vegetables.  Unfortunately the frozen chicken tenders I had didn't separate cleanly when I thawed them (yes I used frozen, but I would bet good money that you have too, so we'll just ignore that part).  As a result they just weren't going to work for a pan fry, they wouldn't hold together, and wouldn't bread very well. 

Thankfully, a plan B occurred to me "chicken cheesesteak sandwiches."  I really quickly sliced up an onion, half a green pepper and a red pepper.  This was followed up with some garlic that I sliced up and all of the veggies were sweated down in some olive oil until translucent.  They got a hint of salt, pepper and an Italian herb blend sprinkled on top.  The chicken I chopped up into some medium sized chunks and seasoned liberally with smoked paprika, Cumin, salt, pepper, the same Italian herb blend and a hint of garlic and onion powder.  The veggie mixture got pulled out of the pan and replaced with the seasoned chicken and a bit more olive oil, just to keep it from sticking.  The chicken was just simply sauteed until it was cooked through, at which point I tossed the veggies back in and turned down the heat.  I pulled out a second pan for the final prep\assembly and started toasting up my buns (just simple hotdog buns from the 4th).

The final step was pretty simple as well.  My serving of chicken and veggies were thrown into the second pan with a pair of provolone slices tossed on top.  And because I like my food a touch spicier than some in my family I lightly sprinkled some cayenne pepper on top causing it to look a little something like this:

The liquid around the sides is a little bit of apple cider vinegar added in to help steam and melt the cheese, and for a tiny hint of acidity.  The whole pile was then scooped out and piled high on top of my bun.  As you can see from that first picture I might have overdone it a little bit... The bun didn't close so mine became an open faced sandwich instead of your classic mixture, but delicious nonetheless.  I was actually pretty happy with the outcome.

Well, that's day two over and done with, time for some ice cream (to be detailed the next time I a fresh batch).  I feel like I earned the treat for being good and getting off my rear and onto a bike for a bit (well, sort of off my rear, but it's close enough).  I think tomorrow will be something a little more complex since my first two meals were so simple and straightforward.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Day 1: Sausage and Peppers Frittata

Today marks the beginning of my Dish a Day challenge.  I decided to start off nice and simple with a sausage and peppers frittata.  Since I have no idea how familiar people reading this are going to be with cooking techniques and recipes, I figure I should add in at least some explanation.  A frittata is very similar to a standard omelet.  The main difference is that instead of starting the eggs, then mixing in other things, you start by cooking some shredded potatoes (hash browns usually) along with whatever else you want to put in the mix, and then add in the eggs.  Finally you top the whole thing with some cheese and then put it in the oven to brown the top.  It is a really simple and easy way to make some really tasty dishes, especially if you have leftovers to just toss in.  The most important thing is to remember that all your ingredients need to be fully cooked before you add in the eggs, whether that means they were cooked yesterday or before you start, or (like the potatoes on the bottom) they had time to cook through while you wait doesn't really matter.

For my particular creation I had some sauteed onions and peppers from last night's Fourth of July cook out.  I also had a few amazing basil, garlic and sun-dried tomato sausages left over.  I tossed in some freshly grated potatoes, seasoned those up and let them soften before adding in the onions, peppers and sausages.  The eggs went down on top of that, and after I had swirled them around for an even coating and let them begin to set a bit I tossed some spinach and freshly chopped tomatoes down on top, coated the whole thing in some freshly grated cheddar and an Italian cheese blend and tossed it in the oven to finish up.  When I pulled the whole thing out it looked a little something like this:

The end result was a tasty, and simple meal that was a good way to start my dish a day challenge.  Now for an evening of gaming, reddit and videos of people gaming.

The Dish a Day Challenge

Real quick background on myself and the reason why this exists at all.  I'm a 23 year old recent college graduate with a degree in aerospace engineering, I'm a nerd and I love to cook.  Those three things pretty much define me.  Unfortunately, I have recently run into a snag with my cooking.  Namely I've gotten into a rut and fallen victim to a repetitive streak.  There are a few dishes that I consistently fall back on and I have given myself no reason to branch out and try new flavors, techniques or ideas.  In trying to come up with new ideas and things to try I realized that I just need to make myself do it, and put something in place to drive me to actually follow through, and maybe make it a bit more entertaining for myself in the mean time.  Thus was born my Dish a Day challenge.

The idea is very simple, I must make or eat a new and unrepeated dish every day for a year.  This means one new dish, breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert or even a snack (as long as it actually requires preparation not just throwing a bag of popcorn into the microwave... even I'm not that lame).  I'm allowed to eat out, so long as I order something new, and I'm allowed to eat something someone else has ordered, again as long as its new.  Finally, new versions of dishes also count so long as they are actually different.  For example, if I make a spaghetti with a stove-top spaghetti sauce, that is pretty different from pasta with a baked sauce, or a cream sauce.  Spaghetti with stove-top sauce is pretty much the same thing as ziti with a stove-top sauce so that wouldn't count.  Obviously what constitutes "actually different" is going to change based on how lazy I am on a given day, but I figure setting some ground rules is at least a good idea.

I'll be trying to put up my new dish every day, but I travel a lot and it won't always be possible to update every day.  I'll try to give you all a heads up when I'm out of town and will be unable to post, but no promises.

Finally, I hope that this is fairly entertaining for you all.  I'm not an incredible chef\cook, nor am I a phenomenal writer, but I get by.  I'm doing this mostly for myself, but I wouldn't put it online, and wouldn't do a blog if I wasn't going to at least try and keep things interesting.  With that, here goes nothing.