Blog of an aspiring foodie

Archive for July, 2006

I think I'm in a zone

Posted by beer_chris on 27-July-2006

There are times I get into zones when I'm cooking. These periods usually last for a couple of months. They are characterized by an absolute inability to avoid cooking my own meals at home, and usually the only way I know I am in one of these especially active cooking times is once I'm out of it – looking back at some of the things I did and wondering how in the hell I was able to pull it off without killing myself.

Former zones I've been in include the last 'I'm going to bake fresh bread twice a week' zone, which lasted two months. There have been times since then when I wondered exactly how I found the time to bake even one loaf on a lazy Sunday, much less pulling some pizza together after work on a Wednesday or something.

Before that, I was in a homemade danish on Saturdays zone. I found a recipe for danish in one of my Nigella cookbooks, and I got into a serious zone, making cheese danishes from scratch each weekend for roughly the same period – about two months.

I really miss that zone. I bet Jaime does too.

I've been in 'cook multi course home cooked meals at home on weeknights no matter what is going on' zones before. Duration on these is a bit longer, generally about 3 months. Usually these are marked by my doing something like making ice cream on a Thursday night after work, or baking 2 or 3 different pies in one night. Additionally, the hallmark of these zones is an amazing ability to keep my kitchen relatively clean – no dishes left over the next morning, unless they have been pre-washed and neatly stacked (because the dishwasher was full). I get some kind of mojo going that helps me stay focused, balance out the cooking tasks and clean as I go.

I just wish I could capture some of that oomph and keep it somehow!

I think I'm in one of these latter zones again. This is the second night in a row I've whipped up a multi course meal. Not everything worked, but again I didn't get started until after 8 PM and this time I fired up my grill (in the dark of course), and to top it off, before starting I ran about 3 miles. Usually a workout is the death knell for any type of cooking – sandwiches is about all I can muster – but I took a little rest and then sprang into action:

Grilled pork chops
Rubbed some of my ubiquitous Randall's bone-in pork chops with TexJoy and cooked 10 minutes a side on my Weber. Attempted to make Cumberland sauce, but couldn't get it to reduce in nearly enough time, so we skipped it. For good measure here's what Cumberland Sauce is:

Cumberland Sauce (From ATK binder cookbook)
2c rosy port
1c orange juice
1/2c lemon juice
1/4c red currant jam
2 2″ long strips of orange zest
2 tsp dried mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Along with the pork chops I served scalloped potatoes:

Scalloped Potatoes (from ATK binder cookbook)
5 russets, peeled and cut into 1/8″ slices
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1c chicken stock
1c heavy cream
1c grated parmesan cheese
2 bay leaves

Saute onions in butter until soft, add garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and mix until fragrant. Add potatoes, stock, cream and bay leaves. Lower heat and simmer until potatoes are nearly cooked. Remove bay leaves, transfer to a casserole (8″) and cook at 425 for 15″

So – I've worked out, my kitchen is clean, I have pork and potatoes in my belly (along with a splash of Port – some for the dish, some for the cook, right?) and my blog is updated. How long can I possibly sustain this pattern?

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A rare night

Posted by beer_chris on 26-July-2006

Okee Smokee, tonight I REALLY wanted wings at BW-3, was willing to settle for a lighter bite at BJ's (along with some tasty beverages), and was finally convinced by my working-at-home wife that I should just come home.

I got home in no mood to cook – it was 8PM, I was tired – but I looked at the meal plan for the evening and lo and behold, I gained inspiration – chicken with pesto.

That sounded quite good to my growling stomach – and it was:
Medallions of chicken breast (filleted according to the instructions in Marcella Hazan's Italian Classics cookbook) sauteed in butter

For the pesto:
3 cups packed basil (fresh from my patio)
1/2 cup Italian parsley
1/2 cup pine nuts (toasted and cooled)
1/2 cup parmesan (grated)
3 cloves fresh garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Roasted pine nuts are just extravagantly flavored, with flavors of peanuts, cinnamon, anise, and cloves all wrapped inside the little oily brown exterior.

Pesto was smeared over the chicken medallions and topped with freshly ground pepper.

This was served with a two-cheese salad:
Mixed greens (from a Fresh Express sack, of course)
about 2 tbsp of Chevre (crumbled)
about 2 tsp sweaty foot stinkin Stilton (crumbled)
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
a few grinds of black pepper

Also got the foolish fruit made tonight – Jaime approved, said it was yummy.

As I prepared the pesto ingredients, the sun was going down, and the entire outside of my patio turned pink. I had the thought that it's a rare night that a crazy, stormy day turns into a nearly pink evening. It certainly was a rare night, as I almost never start a full multi-course meal at at 8 PM and don't regret it.

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Hearty American Suburban Dinner

Posted by beer_chris on 24-July-2006

Not much other way to describe tonight's meal – just hearty home cookin'

One of the best things about working in Greenspoint (and there aren't many of these) is being able to jump right off the North Freeway and into Canino's on my way home. They are open until 8:30P, and today I dropped by to pick up a few ears of corn, and as usual was seduced by fresh green beans.

I had some pork chops (bone-in) from Randalls – they had family packs of assorted chops on special this past week (.99/lb). The package I bought was 11 lbs, so we're going to be eating chops for a while. Tonight was the following:

  • Boneless pork chops crusted in seasoned stuffing, pan seared in a little oil and finished in a 350 oven.
    I trimmed the chops so they came out to ~8 oz boneless loin chops. The bone portion of these specific chops were a little messy, so the butchering really didn't waste all that much meat.

  • Boiled corn on the cob
  • Green beans with freshly ground pepper
  • Garlic and cheese mashed potatoes (Used about 2 oz of asiago and a little bit of cream – no butter added)
  • Salad of fresh garden tomatoes (some of the very last ones of my season), snipped fresh sweet basil and balls of chevre cheese, drizzled with Maldon sea salt and basalmic vinegar.
    This is the first time I've ever rolled chevre into balls with my hands. It was messy but much easier to eat then crumbled right out of the package (it sticks to everything).

Was aiming to make the fresh fruit dessert we had a few weeks ago – I'm calling it foolish fruit – because it's kind of like a fool but not really. Pieces of sponge cake soaked in rum are layered in the bottom of ramekins. Vanilla pudding mixed with various fruits is spooned over top of it. Refrigerated and served up cold – it's quite tasty. I made the pound cake for the base tonight (from the ATK cookbook – made with cake flour and butter, this sucker is tasty), but did not have time to finish the dessert.

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Red wine meatballs

Posted by beer_chris on 17-July-2006

Felt like red wine meatballs tonight, thought I had a recipe in my pantry but turned out I did not, so I combined a little from here and a meatball and tomato sauce recipe from Nigella Lawson I pulled off of the Fine Living website a few years ago when her show was still being broadcast there – it's printed so I don't have a link.

For the meatballs:
1/2 a loaf stale french bread (broken) (8 oz)
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
2 tbsp fennel seed (whole)
2 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp green peppercorns (whole)
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp salt
1/4 c Bordeaux
1-2 cups grated cheese (parmesan, romano, I used dried out Gruyere and Romano)
2 eggs

For the sauce:
1 cup + 1/4 cup Bordeaux
1 cup beef broth
1/4 c + 1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 c flour
2 tsp onion powder

Soak the bread in the milk in a pie plate until reasonably soft (about 15 minutes). Squeeze out the milk and place the bread in a bowl. Combine bread with the ground beef, fennel seed, oregano, peppercorns, garlic, salt, wine, cheese & eggs. Mush it all together with your hands. Puree in the food processor in as many batches as necessary. Preheat the oven to 350. Hand form the meatballs as large as you like (cooking times here are for meatballs of about 2-3 tbsp in size – I made about 27 with that size). Cook at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine 2 cups of the Bordeaux, the stock and the tomato paste in a saucepan and put on low heat. Put a couple of grindings of fresh pepper in the saucepan as well. Start a roux with 1/4 c of butter and the flour. Allow to brown fully (about 10 minutes). Add the onion powder and a few grindings of pepper and stir to combine. Add the wine and broth mixture. Reduce over medium heat until thickened. Just before serving, polish with an additional tbsp of butter and a 1/4 cup of Bordeaux. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Drink the rest of the wine with dinner 😉

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Lawnmower chicken

Posted by beer_chris on 7-July-2006

There's lawnmower beer, why not lawnmower chicken?

I've had Za'atar on the brain the last few weeks. I've had about three-fourths of a 1 quart bag sitting in my pantry for probably three years now, just waiting for me to use it again. I finally decided tonight was the night. I had a ziploc in the fridge with a couple thawed chicken breasts in it, so I added a few tbsp of oil to the bag and just under a handful of za'atar. Added a tbsp of balsamic vinegar as well. Gave it a good shake and let it sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes while I mowed the grass.

Decided on lentils to go with the chicken – brought a tbsp of butter to foam, and threw maybe 2 or 3 tbsp of this heady North African spice mix called Harissa that I picked up in Pogosa CO last summer (jar says its Moroccan, Internet says it is Tunisian). Let that simmer a bit and then topped up with about 2 cups of leftover Swanson stock from my pantry (mainly chicken and a little beef). Added a cup of lentils and simmered for 30 minutes (covered).

I dropped a couple ears of the extra corn I had leftover from the 4th into a pot of boiling water. I fried up a couple strips of lean bacon in a tbsp of butter and set them aside. Poured the drippings into my skillet and sauteed the chicken (I cut it into chunks) for a few minutes.

Crumbled the cool bacon on top with some chopped cashews and had me a nice mediterranean themed meal (not counting the corn on the cob 😉

Turned out not so bad for a lawnmowing night.

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A change in strategy

Posted by beer_chris on 3-July-2006

I've been thinking about ways to update this journal more frequently and get more utility out of it, and I think I'm going to shift into more of a 'mealblogging' mode and see how that goes. This will serve two purposes – it will help me update the blog more frequently, with hopefully shorter posts, and will also give me some type of archive of dishes cooked, such that when I want to have the pasta dish I whipped up on the fly three weeks ago that turned out so good I don't have to try and remember exactly what leftover item went into it. In any case, I'm thinking of playing with tags to help make this work, but we'll see what makes sense.

Tonight was:

Warmed up purple hull peas I cooked on Sunday as well as INSANE cornbread, made with:
1c flour
1c cornmeal + a little extra
1tbsp powder
2 eggs
1c milk (1%)
1/2c Matouks hot pepper sauce
1/4 c butter (melted)

HS was this HOT, and GREAT. This Matouks sauce is something I had at a Cuban place on Bissonnet I went to with my PUs the other week, and I found a hotter version then what was at the restaurant at Kroger this weekend. Wow was it great. I had the peas for lunch yesterday and really wanted some cornbread with 'em, and talking to my mom today came up with the idea of adding the Matouk's to the batter. I added a little extra cornmeal to make up for the extra moisture.

And hey dummy, if you are reading this some time in the future and you still haven't gotten a 9×9 pan, punch yourself in the gut stupid!

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