Sunday, October 31, 2010

Homemade Pasta and Sauce with Meatyballs

For my birthday this year, my mom gave me a pasta machine. Last night, I decided that I was going to finally utilize the machine. I had just finished my book I was reading earlier in the evening, a tale of violence and murder, and I wanted to temper that with something completely different.

I have been collecting food and cookbooks for some time, and I wanted to start actually reading them, so what did catch my eye as I was browsing through our stacks but James Beard's "Beard on Pasta," which is kind of a funny title if you think about things like I do. A more appropriate title for me, though, might be "Pasta on Beard," as I sometimes find myself with reminders of earlier meals still stuck to the hair on my chin. James Beard himself stated "...truly the best way, the only classical and true way, to eat pasta is with gusto," and I agree. Let the sauce fly.

Making pasta is not entirely new to me. Once I made ravioli, and they were edible enough, though some fell apart from lack of good and proper tools and technique. I could not justify the effort and time involved in hand making pasta again. Pasta in a box is just fine generally--I love it--but freshly made pasta is a challenge. I read enough of the Beard book to give me a good start, learning that the best kind of flour to use is durham-wheat flour, which is a hard-wheat flour, though at this time I am not sure exactly what that means.

I have seen it done before, and I vaguely remember trying it once myself, but one technique for creating dough is to mound the flour, create a well, and drop your eggs into the well. One egg, two eggs, three eggs, and my wall of flour held up so well. The fourth egg presented a new challenge, as the flour levee broke, and the egg spilled forth. I scrambled to mix the flour and egg first with my fork and then with my hands, and I contained that spill.

Here comes the hard part. Pasta dough is not like pizza dough. It is tough, thick, and hard to knead. I knew I was doing a good job of it, though, because the counter was creaking and I broke a sweat after about 10 minutes of kneading. Occasionally, a crystal of salt in what was now a ball of dough glinted in the sunlight coming through the window, and I enjoyed seeing that.

I let the dough rest for about two hours. In the meantime, I rough chopped a big bag of very ripe tomatoes I bought at HT today from the bargain produce rack. I also diced a little onion and garlic and sauteed that in olive oil. Smells good, if you can imagine. After the onions softened, I threw in the tomatoes, some salt, and a handful of Pasta Sprinkle. I let that cook a good amount of time, then I squished the tomatoes with a masher before running the mix through a fine-mesh strainer. I need a food mill for this type of work, as straining the tomatoes was inefficient and time consuming. After all of this, I threw a bunch of meatballs into the sauce where they imparted another element of flavor to the sauce.

By now, the dough is well rested and ready to roll. In my zeal, I bumped the pasta machine, and it was falling, so I grabbed it before it fell to the floor. Unfortunately, the part I grabbed was quite sharp, and I sliced rather cleanly a half-inch cut in my finger. I decided it was a good time to take a break, as my finger was bleeding nicely.

Bleeding stopped and finger bandaged now, I started to roll my dough. This process was not bad at all as the pasta machine and its quick action performed most of the work. Now I have what looks like fettuccine. Nice. I am happy with the results so far, but my finger has started to bleed again. Bwahahaha.

I threw the noodles into a pot of boiling water and they cooked a few minutes. Mixed them with some of my sauce, topped the dish with some basil I tore apart and some grated Parm-Reg, and it's time to eat. I must say that I enjoyed the noodles and sauce quite a lot, as did the wife. The noodles had a nice chew to them, and some of them were a good two feet long. I am sold on fresh pasta. It is worth the effort, I am certain.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chile Con Carne De Cerdo


Awhile back, the HT had a buy-one-get-one-free sale on Boston Butts, so I bought one and cooked it. The other one I threw into the freezer until I decided what to do with it. Since the weather is getting cooler, and since I haven't made it for a while, I decided to try a new version of chile: Chile con carne de cerdo. That's chile with pork, in case you didn't know.

So I dug that slab of meat out of the freezer a few days ago to thaw. On Friday night, it was good and ready to be seasoned, so I made a dry rub composed of about nine ingredients that I will try to list from memory: garlic powder, salt, black pepper, garam masala, coriander, Pasta Sprinkle, onion powder, paprika, cumin, and I think that's it. I fully coated the shoulder after cutting off as much of the excess fat that I could, and then I placed it in the fridge overnight.

Saturday morning, I woke up and had that pork in my dutch oven baking at 9. At about ten, I turned the meat to find that a crust had developed. I picked off a small piece, and it was good and flavorful. At 11, the other side had a crust, and the pork was stewing in its own jus so nicely. I wanted to allow the pork its own separate cooking environment to incorporate the flavors of the spice rub into the meat.

At this time, I started my chile with a finely diced mirepoix sauteed in olive oil, Salt and Pepper. After a short time, I added a chile-powder blend. I did not make my own chile powder, but rather I used a mix of 4 different types of chile powders; one somewhat smoky, one quite warm, one a bit milder, and what remained of my aleppo pepper, which is moderately warm and flavorish. Once incorporated with the vegetables, the mix formed a paste with the oils and moisture elicited from the veg. The paste cooked awhile now to meld and bloom the chile powders.

I used canned beans in my chile. I have made chile in the past with beans I cooked myself, and if I had been thinking ahead enough, which I was not, I might have put the beans to soak overnight and got them cooking in the morning. Instead I used cannellini beans, kidney beans, and mostly black beans. Several cans of diced, crushed, and whole tomatoes as well, and into the pot went the beans and tomatoes. About a can of water, some Salt, more Pasta Sprinkle, and my chile is cooking. I cooked it for an hour or so before I added it to my Boston Butt, occasionally turning the meat after shredding off what was cooked already with a big old fork. Eventually, the scapula freed itself from the meat, and it was time to eat. I gave the bone to Napoleon.

I also made spelt-and-wheat-flour tortillas. After I flatted them, I heated some olive oil in my 6-inch skillet and cooked the tortillas until they were somewhat crispy. Along with some sour cream, I heaped the chile into the tortilla. Pretty good. I am going to eat a bowl soon. Thank you, Pig. You taste good to me.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fettuccine Alfredo and Sauteed Vegetables

I think the first time I ever had pasta with cream sauce, big rube that I am, was at one of Orville Weale's music festivals right across the WV-PA line in southwestern Pennsylvania. We were working as "security" at the venue, held at a farm now bisected by a toll road, and one of the food vendors was selling some form of Fettuccine Alfredo. I kept seeing satisfied people walking away from their stand, so I bought my dinner from those nice people--I seem to remember a French accent--and it was quite good, as cream sauces and pasta perfectly complemented my mood and that outdoor environment. That's about all I remember about the festival besides a "haunted house" we were to keep people away from. Oh, and a trunkload full of punks that Orville busted as they emerged right in front of him.

Anyway, Harris Teeter was selling boxes of fettuccine and linguine at a price of five boxes for five dollars, so I suppose that is from where the idea to make alfredo emerged. I also had in my cupboard a container of sliced cremini mushrooms (Janet said she's tired of mushrooms), four chicken thighs, some freshly grated ParmReg, two orange peppers bought at a discount, some carrots, half of a large onion, and some Pasta Sprinkle, which goes into a good three-fourths of everything I make.

I diced the onion, the peppers, and the carrots finely and began sauteeing the items in a little olive oil, Salt and Pepper. As they cooked, I added the aforementioned Pasta Sprinkle. I allowed the veg to cook until they softened mostly, and then I added my broccoli, which I fully intended to keep firm. Stir, stir, stir.
Earlier, I boiled water for my fettuccine, and it was cooking along nicely. I also seasoned the thighs and placed them in the oven. When the thighs were nearly finished cooking, I added some of their rendered fat to the vegetables, adding more flavor flav to the dish.

I also added a large pat of butter and a Glug of Chardonnay. That cooked awhile to release the alcohol, and now I am just about ready to assemble the dish and eat my supper. Cooking has to be the best hobby in the world. The rewards are immediate and lasting. It is a hobby that can be shared, and that is a good thing, since everyone I've ever met likes to eat good food.

Anyhoo, into my smaller pan, I added a fair amount of the vegetable mix and poured the heavy cream atop (this dish is high on the calories, but full of vegetables, so a good yin-yang is achieved) along with a handful of fresh ParmReg and cracked black pepper. Smells very good. Usually I try to wait until the wife gets home from work to eat dinner, but not today. I did not care to wait any longer. I tore the meat from one of the thighs and placed it into the cream and veg sauce. Dogs and I are salivating now, so I treated them to a little chicken skin.

So now all that's left is dishes. Cooking and dirty dishes equal a good yin-yang, also.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Chicken Piccata and Lemony Mushroom Pasta

Today I decided to cook something that I haven't cooked in a long time--Chicken Piccata. I like the dish; I just forget about it until it occasionally raises its lemony hand and waves. It just so happens that today I had all of the ingredients in stock, so I waved back and got to work.

To accompany the Piccata, I decided on spaghetti. I don't know what else could go with the dish, and I don't care. Pasta works with everything, I am convinced. I put my water on to boil, and then I moved on to the sauce.

Since Piccata is lemony, I decided to continue the slightly sour theme by imparting a little lemon flavor to my pasta sauce. I started the sauce with olive oil and two containers of sliced cremini mushrooms, seasoned with Pasta Sprinkle from Penzey's, Salt and Pepper. These items sauteed awhile before I added some chicken stock, a little Chardonnay, and a reasonable amount of lemon juice. I turned up the heat so that the alcohol could boil away, and my sauce was built. Tastes pretty good. I like it.

Next I prepared my chicken. If you want to make Piccata, really the only way to go is to use thinly sliced chicken breasts, scallopine style. You can pound the breasts yourself, which is a little messy and a pain in the arse, you can slice them in half yourself, or you can just buy them thinly sliced at the store, which is the route I prefer.

Into a bowl, I dumped some flour. I seasoned the flour with Sandwich Sprinkle, also from Penzey's, and then I dredged the chicken in the flour. In the past, I have used egg wash before coating with flour, but these days, I simply rinse whatever meat I am cooking under the spigot, shake off the excess water, and then coat it with flour. I never can tell any difference in flavor, and this streamlines the process somewhat.

Now I am ready to sautee my chicken. In a pan, I heated some olive oil until it was good and hot. The chicken sizzled when I placed it in the pan, and that is a good sign that your chicken is going to be right. The chicken browned, and I removed it. Enter the Piccata. I wiped my pan with a paper towel to remove the brown crusties. I have also, in my previous preparations of this dish, left them in the pan, but it creates a brown sauce, which I did not want today.

About two tablespoons of butter, Salt, Pepper, another good glug of Chardonnay, a handful of capers, another good amount of lemon juice, and the Piccata is ready. Spoon the sauce over the chicken breasts placed atop the pasta, and it is time to eat. I might have added some fresh basil and some freshly grated ParmReg, but I had neither of those things. The dish still turned out quite good, in my opinion. Now I am full of good foods, and I think I can hear the recliner calling my name.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Romaine Lettuce, Basil Dress, and Tuna Steaks

We bought a few tuna filets from The Shrimpman. Given a choice, I always prefer tuna to salmon. Janet is just the opposite. She likes her salmon cooked with butter, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and a bit of dill. Granted, it tastes good this way, but it's just not something that I ever think, "Man, I would love to have some salmon."

Fresh tuna is a world away from canned. The two could be different products even. Now, canned tuna will suffice from time to time, but if a person has the opportunity to buy fresh tuna filets, they should. Of course, I like mine cooked just a little bit more than some people prefer, but again, I am a textural weirdo. While I don't want my tuna to be rare, I don't want it to be well done, either. It is precarious to perform this type of balancing act in your cooking.

I gave the pan a little bit of olive oil, salted and peppered the tuna steaks, and threw them in. Even with the extra bit of cooking time I prefer, they do not take a long time to cook. I already had a plan for the steaks: a salad with tuna. Oh, yeah. Good eatin.

I had a bunch of Romaine lettuce that I rinsed and chopped a little, and I added a few tomatoes. The best part about the salad, however, was the basil dress. Bright and flavorful, it is perhaps my favorite method of dressing salad. Into a bowl, I heaved a tablespoon or two of Duke's Finely Crafted Mayonnaise, a good bunch of chopped basil, and the fresh juice of one half of a lemon. Here is where "to taste" becomes relevant. I may add a little more juice. You might add less.

This is better than anything in a bottle. Better than ranch. Salt and pepper, a good mix with a fork, and that is that. Put your salad on a big plate, pour the bud-tickler over it, and mix it very well with your fingers so that the whole salad is dressed properly. I still had some baguette, so I toasted it a little and placed a few pieces of the tuna atop. Drizzled a little of that dressing on it, and this was good. Like smack your lips good. I would venture to say that it was better than anything some people would eat in their entire lifetimes. Thank you, tuna fish. I do appreciate it.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cheese Grits with Shrimp

I like to eat food. You like to eat food. Everybody likes to eat food. Here is my new idea: The Food Party. In the Food Party, no squabbling will exist. There will be no slander, no libeling, no proselytizing. In food we trust. No fear mongers, no hate mongers, no mudslingers, no right, no left. No bullshit.

If you like your meat rare, you will have the freedom to enjoy your meat rare while realizing the next man has the same freedom to enjoy his meat well done. You will not chastise him because he prefers New York Strip to your Filet, but you will realize that the greatest thing about being a member of the Food Party is that the right to choose exists. In the FP, we will not begrudge another member his choices and preferences, and we will not attempt to exert any ivory tower morality over his sardines with mustard and crackers. Since the proletariat will compose the FP, the FP will be composed of the proletariat.

Highfalutin? Perhaps, but we have room for nonstick and stainless. So if you have eaten food today, sit down and be pleased at your good fortune. If you have eaten food today, consider yourself happy. Let no game over which you have no control sully your feast. Chop your veg and sear your meat. Walk softly and wield a sharp knife. These shall be the mottos of the Food Party.

Now, as I sit here I am quite happy because I just ate a big bowl of shrimp and grits. I have been thinking and thinking about shrimp and grits for the last two or three weeks, I suppose. Ken the Mandolin Player informed me that the dish is historically considered a breakfast dish. I never thought of it as such since the way I make it would create a hectic stomach early in the morn, but shrimpers apparently like to breakfast on shrimp and grits during the season.

Living in the south now for the last seven or so years, I have learned to appreciate the culinary culture here. It wasn't difficult. Fried chicken, seafoods, and sweet tea are all splendid treats, as is shrimp and grits. I will admit that I usually drink Yankee Tea, however.

I realize I am fortunate to live on the coast for many reasons, access to super-fresh seafood being one of them. Near the Piedmont Triad Farmer's Market, the Shrimpman sets up his stand every weekend, just like he has ever since we started shopping there a few years ago, and he is fully stocked with freshly caught shrimp, tuna, salmon, scallops, et cetera, et cetera.

Yesterday, we bought a pound of medium shrimp, and today I undertook the job of shelling and de-veining the shrimp. The heads were removed already, and I am glad about that, as the buggers are quite sharp with their heads intact. My Uncle Duck and I bought quite a few pounds of heads-on shrimp at the beach several years ago, and it took us a long time and a lot of cursing to finally get them cleaned.

I sharpened a paring knife so I could access the poop vein easily. Slicing along the outside of the shrimps, I removed the intestines with the tip of my knife. Then I ran some cold water over the naked crustacean to get rid of any remaining junk. I have eaten shrimp that were not cleaned first, and it doesn't really bother me, but today I just felt like scraping away shrimp junk.

So now my shrimp are cleaned. Several of the shells I placed in my pot of vegetable broth with a bit of salt to impart a little more flavor. Flavor is important in cooking.

Now the liquid for my grits is boiling, and I added a cup of that ground corn to the pot. Not everyone likes grits. I understand that. But I can also guarantee that unless you have physically removed your tastebuds, the finished grits component of this dish will appeal to you.

After awhile, the grits had absorbed all of that liquid. I nearly scorched the grits, as I was cooking my lunch for the next two days concurrently, but I remembered the grits at the most opportune moment. I gave them a stir and added just a bit of water. Now comes the creamy part. Eight ounces of organic cream, stir, maybe two cups of shredded cheddar, stir, and let that warm on the lowest heat for a few moments. Taste it? It is good. I would not lie to you.

As my grits warmed through, I prepared my pan with about a tablespoon of locally churned butter and a tablespoon or so of olive oil. I let the fat come to temperature before adding a bit of Penzey's Pasta Sprinkle, a glug of Chardonnay, just a bit of salt and finally those beautiful shrimp. Smells good. The shrimp do not take long to cook, but I like them to curl up on themselves before I take them from the heat. I like my shrimp cooked just so. Too little cooking, and I don't like their texture. Too much cooking and they become rubbery.

I made a bed of cheesy, creamy grits, over which I placed several shrimp along with a little of the delicious broth they cooked in. Yes, man. I chopped a few scallions to add to the plated dish. I also had a baguette I bought earlier today that I used to sop up a little of that broth and any remaining grits from the bowl. Needless to say, I was filled to the gills. Shrimp and grits. Or as some folks down here say, scrimps 'n grits.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


I am on a crusade against too much salt. I don't remember what got me to thinking about salt the other day. It was probably that my fingers were swollen. That, my friends, is a telltale sign of too much salt. So I began to scrutinize how much salt I was actually consuming lately.

Green olives and dill pickles. I only mention them because they're delicious. I like olives in my red beer. Salt, salt, salt. Salt in the tomato juice, albeit an acceptable amount for a serving, but it all adds up quickly. No stretch, I was consuming at least 4000mg per day in the days before.

I am knowledgeable of the fact that processed foods are super salty. However, in my mind, I had already eliminated a lot of what I considered to be "processed food." I have a new definition now, and the results of my different perspective are tangible. How much salt was in the breads and tortillas I like? How much salt in all those other items I buy but never considered? I needed to find out. Too much salt is what I found.

It was in the diet soda pop I drank, the mayonnaise, and the salad dressing. I dumped three salty bottles of that mess down the drain in favor of a nice vinaigrette containing lime juice, olive oil, just the tiniest pinch of salt, ground black pepper, a little dijon mustard, and a bit of Duke's. I whisked those ingredients in a mixing cup and poured it over my Romaine. Mixed that with my fingers in addition to a tomato from Billie-next-door's garden and a couple croutons. Lemon would have made a tastier dressing, but I had limes today, and it was good regardless. The sodium content was acceptable.

Last night, I spent a little time on the couch watching TV with Hazelnut and Ginger. We watched cooking shows, and I happened upon one of Bobby Flay's shows, "Throwdown." The challenge was Chicago-Style Pizza, so I watched because that pizza looked really tasty, and I wanted to make a low-sodium version.

Now, this pizza is a little different than the style I usually make. I prepared the crust as I always do, minus the salt, but I left it a bit thicker, just large enough to fit in the cast-iron skillet that I baked it in. Using the skillet to bake the pizza was a good idea.

For the sauce, I had a few tomatoes that Billie had left on the front step in a plastic bag along with a few store-bought. I rough chopped them and threw them into the pan atop several shallots and minced garlic sauteeing in olive oil. I did use a fair amount of salt in the sauce, one tablespoon, but I will eat the sauce over several days. The cheese was to be the saltiest culprit in this meal.

So now I have pizza dough in an oiled cast-iron skillet. Chicago-Style Pizza places the cheese atop the dough, then spreads the sauce, then adds a little grated cheese on top when it comes out of the oven. I did these things. The differences are that I added no sausage (good-bye, sausage) and I added a handful of chopped fresh basil. This was a good pizza for a first effort, I guarantee. Next time, I might add a little unsalted butter to the crust for a bit more flakiness. I have no pictures because I am without camera currently, but it looked pretty. I will make one again very soon.

I spoke with Corey on the phone awhile yesterday, and we were talking about chili and pizza. How about a chili pizza then, he said? Sounds good. I'm making one tomorrow.

So yesterday and today, I calculated that I consumed approximately 1000 mg of salt each day. Yesterday, I watched myself deflate through the course of the day. Very, very interesting to observe. The body is quite responsive to any action, and it begin changing immediately. I have already consumed my thousand milligrams today, so I have laid out a few snacks for later when I venture into the kitchen in the form of three carrots, an apple, and an orange. I also have bananas and almond butter. All of these items are salt-free.

This morning, I stood on the scale to find that I have lost 30 pounds in the last 13 months. I would estimate that tomorrow morning, when I stand on the scale, that I will have lost 8 pounds of excess water this weekend, and that is good for me and my HBP. Science!

Saturday, June 26, 2010


We are carnivores again, though we have cut way back on our meat consumption to maybe one or two days per week. I am fine with that. I am conserving.

Yesterday, I removed from the freezer about 16 ounces of meat that I used previously for meatballs. My intention was to make a nice meatball and bean soup with cannellini beans, tomatoes and spinach, but Janet looked at me funny and said it was summertime and therefore too hot for soup. What? It's only about 90 degrees here lately. Anyway, I may still make a vegetarian version of the soup because that sounds good to me, summer or not.

So with my soup plans out of contention for the moment, I thought I'd cook sausage, egg, and cheese burritos for breakfast. I was frying the meat for burritos when Janet asked if we were having blueberry pancakes. I supposed we were now, so I mixed up a batch of pancake batter from a pretty good recipe I have that is composed of flour, an egg, milk, baking powder, butter, a little sugar, and some cinnamon. I used Bisquick in the past, but I think that product is only flour and baking powder with some other unpleasant ingredients anyway, so I don't buy it anymore.

Over time, I have found a few tricks for making pancakes, and they are: Pancakes like a very hot skillet. The first batch of cakes may not brown the way you want them to until your pan is good and hot.

Do not stir the batter too much. A few lumps are okay. And keep your pancakes small. A couple tablespoons of batter is really all you need, as large cakes are more difficult to manage. I already cooked the meat in my skillet, so it was heated properly. Now I was ready to cook my pancakes.

I heated a few drops of oil in the pan for a moment to discourage sticking, and in went my batter. I like to add my berries at this point, a handful or so on the top of the cake. Blueberries and their moistness will cause the pancakes to cook more slowly in the middle, so you have to keep that in mind when using fruit in pancakes or regular cakes or cobblers, et cetera.

Actually, I completely forgot to add the berries to the first batch of cakes, so I made a sandwich of pancakes, sausage, an over-easy egg, and a little syrup. Yes, it was good, and I enjoyed it. The second batch (I make two pancakes at a time so I have room to flip them) I remembered the berries. Then I started thinking: why not add the meatball mixture to the pancake batter and blueberries to make a sweet and savory pancake? The saltiness of the meat along with the sweetness of the berries and the syrup made a fine juxtaposition. Now I am full of breakfast goodness, and I'm thinking of taking a little siesta before heading to the ballpark this afternoon.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mountain Pies

Last night, we had a few people over for spaghetti dinner and drinks. After surfeiting ourselves with pasta, we went back outside and continued sitting around a fire we built earlier in the evening until a good thunderstorm found us at about midnight. It rained for at least an hour, but I was not surprised when I awoke this morning at about six to find a few still-smoldering coals in the firepit. I had a lot of nice pieces of firewood left that I chainsawed yesterday afternoon, so I decided to make a pot of coffee, have a little Bailey's, and rebuild the fire.

As I sat there in the backyard on the swing over several hours this morning, relaxing and drinking my coffee, listening to the birds and the residual raindrops falling from the leaves, I had a very good idea: I decided to dig out the Mountain Pie irons from the shed to cook my breakfast outside in the fire (mostly.) We live in a wooded area, our yard heavily, so with my Pie irons in hand and a large amount of woodsmoke in the air, I might as well have been camping on this Sunday morning.

Mountain Pies have been a part of my life ever since I can remember anything. As a child, at my Aunt Georgia's place out in the country, building fires up on the hill was standard practice during family get-togethers. So was making Mountain Pies. Now, a Mountain Pie is a thing of beauty. The only kind I ever remember as a kid were pizza MPs, filled with sauce and cheese, maybe pepperoni, I don't recall, and that suited me just fine, but the fillings are really only limited by the maker's imagination.

I baked the irons in the fire for a time to get rid of whatever might have been on them from sitting in the shed. As the irons cleaned, I threw a few eggs into a pan and scrambled them just until they formed. I could have cooked them in a pan over the fire, but really I just thought of that. Anyway. I then sprayed the irons with non-stick and placed one piece of "buttered" bread on each side of the iron. I added a bit of my scrambled egg, a slice of good old American cheese and a few slices of tomato, closed the irons, and placed them back into the fire. The Walrus, who is a bread fanatic, enjoyed the Pie making, also. He ate the crusts sliced off by the irons.

So there I stood in front of the firepit on this already warm and humid North Carolina morning, flipping the irons occasionally to ensure even cooking because Mountain Pies will burn if you don't give them the attention they require. It was like a sauna out there, really, especially after I stoked the fire again, but I rather enjoyed the morning, a commingling of woodsmoke and fire, good coffee, sweat, and Mountain Pies.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Pierogi Pie and Peach Cobbler

Friday night is always a good night for pizza and beer. Last night, I decided to make my old favorite standby, the Margherita, and I cooked a new one--Pierogi pie--based on my cuz Stacey's suggestion. I already had a mashed-potato-and-spinach mixture in the freezer from a prior dish, and I used that for the bulk of my topping. Before I added my potatoes, I drizzled olive oil on the crust for more flavor. I also diced a little cheddar from a one-pound hunk in addition to some bagged shredded cheddar that needed to be used. Turned out pretty good, but it needed something, perhaps caramelized onion, perhaps a little red sauce atop the taters. In the past, when Janet made pierogies, she always cooked a mushroom sauce with sour cream, and that would have been good drizzled over the finished pie. As it was, I added a little bit of ranch dressing, and it suited me fine.

One simple change I made this go-round was the addition of flax seeds to my dough mix, and they added a nice flavor and chew to the crust. I always pre-bake the crust until it browns somewhat before I top the pizza and finish cooking it, and the crust seemed to cook a bit faster with the seeds. I almost burned it. Pre-baking the crust, I have learned, always ensures a crisp, not soggy crust, and that is important. I have also been adding Pasta Sprinkle, a dried-spice mixture to the dough mix, and that also imparts good flavor. So this morning, I had pizza for breakfast before I walked the dogs for the first time in awhile, and it was good. More in the fridge for snacks. I like snacks.

A few days ago, Janet and I ventured to the Farmer's Market to restock our supply of fruits and veggers, and she bought a half bushel of peaches. By today, the remaining peaches were ripe and ready. We have been thinking about peach cobblers and peach pies all week, so today we finally decided to make a nice peach cobbler. Depending on the variety, peaches can be a chore to peel and deseed. I was lucky today, though, and the skins peeled off easily in great sheets. In addition to about four cups of sliced peaches, the cobbler contains just a few other ingredients: milk, sugar, flour, and butter. The recipe called for one cup of sugar and one stick of butter, but we halved that, leaving the dessert still plenty sweet. The edges browned nicely, and the peaches are warm and moist. I might have another taste in a minute, but I'll add a little ice cream. Pretty good.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mushroom Risotto

Tonight I decided to make a pan of mushroom risotto. Mushroom risotto, you say? Yes, and it was tasty. It is hard for me to imagine that at one time in my life I liked neither onions nor mushrooms, but those days have passed, fortunately. This dish was about as time consuming as any I've ever prepared, but I am pleased to say that we enjoyed the fruit, er fungus, of my labor quite a lot.

Probably I never would have ventured into the risotto realm had we not stopped meating (that's meat eating.) My cooking books would have continued gathering dust, and we would have missed out on a world of goodness. I am not saying that a dish as calorific as risotto should be eaten daily, but on occasion it's a nice treat.

To begin, I chopped a very large leek. Leeks are new to me, but I have been enjoying using them lately since we bought a huge batch of them this past weekend at the Farmer's Market. Along with what must have been two pounds of sliced shiitake, cremini, and portobello mushrooms, these items cooked in the pan with a few pats of butter and a couple tablespoons of olive oil until they softened. So far so good. When these ingredients were ready, into the pan went quite a bit of arborio rice. I cooked that for a bit, and then I was ready for the liquid.

In another pan, I put to simmer some vegetable broth and some Chardonnay. I really like the flavor wine imparts to food. A few crushed red pepper flakes, Salt, Pepper, and a little Pasta Sprinkle, and my broth was good to go. Now comes the busy part. At the rate of half a cup of broth into the rice and mushroom mixture, it is imperative to stand at the stove and stir the risotto to prevent sticking and burning. When the rice absorbed the liquid, I added another half cup. I continued stirring and adding liquid in this manner for about 25 minutes. Seems like a long time, but like many cooking endeavors, the time is well spent. Napoleon and The Walrus usually hang out with me while I cook, and today was no exception, so the company was good.

By now, the rice is cooked and creamy, and I am ready to eat. I garnished with some fresh basil, more cracked Black Pepper, and a little bit of feta. Deeeelicious. Lunch tomorrow will be excellent, also. I almost feel bad for the people I see eating deli-meat sammiches and Doritos.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Steel Coils and Poblanos

I have to decide whether I want to commit to continue writing my blog or let it go the way of so many well intentioned blogs since I am going to be pretty busy in the near future thanks to a new job I started today. Granted, it's a "temporary" position, but every feeling I get is that it will become permanent after the probationary period ends. In addition to a few other dead-end endeavors, I have been languishing away as a substitute teacher, a position I never felt good about, since I obtained my teaching degree a few years ago. I am hopeful about this new position and I am happy to be quite far away from the classroom. So keep your fingers crossed for me. I will still make time to cook. If I'm lucky, I will still be able to chronicle the occasional culinary escapade.

So the fridge is plumb full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and I am determined to use/eat each and every one of them before they go to shite. I have at least two days of dinner planning done and at least two vegetarian cookbooks to reference for the remainder of the week. It was one week ago that I had my last bite of animal protein, and I do not really feel as if I am missing a thing, other than blood and the occasion bad conscience that has grown slightly over the past few years that has been accompanied meat eating. I cannot say that I will never eat meat again, but we are enjoying our veggies enough to continue with our new lifestyle for a spell.

This evening, I knew I had four poblano peppers that needed to be eaten very soon, so I roasted them in the oven for a bit until the skin crisped and blackened. Usually I would stuff the peppers with cheese and onions, but tonight I did not feel like doing that, so I made a layered hot dish, let's call it a casserole, composed first of tomato sauce spiced with cumin, onion and garlic powder, salt, chili powder, and red-pepper flakes. In my small pan, I sauteed an onion and a container of cremini mushrooms just until the mushers were cooked a little. Before I ever threw the peppers into the oven, I started my brown and wild rice since it takes about 45 minutes.

So now I am ready to make my layers: sauce, one pepper de-skinned and de-seeded, rice, mushroom-and-onion mixture, cheese, and then repeat. I also added a little cilantro to the layers. I will admit that the dish was not as good as battering and frying the stuffed peppers (that sounds delicious) but the cut in calories will help me in the long term.

Into the oven until my cheese browned a little, and my Monday Meat-Free Meal is ready to eat. Not bad. I could stand a bit more heat in the dish, but not bad.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pizza FTW

I realize I mentioned something about not blogging my repeats, but I've done it before, and I will probably do it again, particularly regarding pizza. By now, I hope you know that pizza is, in my opinion, the greatest edible ever created. I started making my own a few years ago just to see if I could, and I am learning. I recall helping my Aunt Sandra make Chef Boyardee pizza in a box when I was a kid, and I always enjoyed that.

Actually, if I sat here and attempted to gather my memories related to pizza, I could conjure a bunch. Most of those will have to wait for future postings, but I will share one now. When I was a teenager, the Spencer Pizza Hut was a good meeting place in that town for post-event gatherings. I suppose it still is, but my best memory about the place is playing video games with one of my oldest friends, C$, when we were just getting acquainted in Junior High. I also clandestinely drank a few there with one of my old bosses when I was in high school, but don't tell anyone. That ends my side trip down Memory Lane.

I also realize I am not the first person to make spaghetti sandwiches by adding spaghetti to garlic bread, preferably, but I think I have taken that idea to new heights with my Spaghetti Pizza. Whoo! and Damn! This pizza was good, now! I had a bit of spaghetti left from Sunday dinner, so I thought what a fine idea it would be to utilize it as a pizza topping. S-M-R-T. After I rolled out my dough and baked it a little in the oven to assure crispness, I gave the crust a good drizzling of olive oil and a good sprinkling of garlic powder before spreading that spaghetti. I think one meatball remained, so I chopped that up, too. A little Parmesan cheese on the top before going into the oven and dang, son. This was some good eatin.

On the next pie, first I quartered and roasted four Roma tomatoes with a little S & P. While the tomatoes roasted, I diced about half of an onion and sauteed it with a carton of sliced button mushrooms and a few cloves of garlic. This pie is very similar to one I have made in the past, but the end result was slightly different due to the roasted tomatoes that just dissolved when eaten. Very nice. A ball of fresh mozz concluded the pizza, and since I made three pies, Janet had a nice lunch today that consisted mostly of this pizza.

Pizza number three: in the freezer I had a small container of ratatouille that I thought might go very well on a pizza. I thawed it and evaporated most of the liquid from the rat before topping another crust and adding some feta cheese. Ratatouille pizza was pretty good to me, but it was not stellar like that spaghetti pie, as you might imagine.

Anyway, I'm getting better at making dough, as I am beginning to learn more about it. Yesterday I was tossing it and spinning it in the air like an old Pizzaiolo! Mangia! Mangia!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Omelettes, Et Cetera

Once a week. I'm now blogging at a rate of once per week, which is better than no entries per week, I guess, but barely. To what is owed the lack of writing? Well, for one thing, I have been making dishes that are repeats, and I did not feel like writing about these items again. I am breaking into my ever-expanding collection of cooking books, though, and I have found a few new meatless dishes that I will be working on in the very near future. Janet and I are attempting to decrease our meat consumption for a while.

Sunday mornings are very good times for cooking--begin the week on the right foot, as I see it, with some good victuals. Yesterday, I was thinking about omelettes, so that's what I made. As Ms. Kimberly says, one should always cook the omelette's ingredients before adding them, and it is a good rule of thumb. I have an awesome six-inch pan that does a splendid job for such things as omelettes, but first, before I ever cracked an egg, I finely diced a few potatoes and half of an onion and sauteed them slowly in a little olive oil (My huge can of oil that I bought awhile back is nearly empty at this point.)

I also had a few cherry tomatoes that I halved and added to the potatoes and onions near the end of their cooking time since I wanted the tomatoes to retain some of their physical character. A little crumbled feta, and I was just about ready for the eggs.

Now, I worked out my omeletting method a few years ago, and I think it is a pretty good method. Generally, I use two eggs. (I will tell you that the difference in the yolks between the HT-bought eggs and the eggs I purchased at the Downtown Farm Market is marked. HT egg yolks are yellow. Eggs from the local farm have bright orange yolks that are slightly larger. I can tell no difference in the taste, however.)

I stir the two eggs quite well in a bowl. Add a little Salt and Pepper, but not too much salt since the feta is salty. Into the pan they go. I generally use cooking spray for my omelettes, but a nice pat of butter would be delicious also. As soon as the eggs begin to cook, I run my rubber spatula around the edge of the egg. Then I tilt my pan all the way around until the walls of the pan are covered with egg, which immediately begins cooking. Then I run my spatula around again and tilt the pan again until the eggs are no longer runny. At this time, I fill the omelette, and I always use too many ingredients. (I would post a picture of the folded omelette, but it broke wide apart when I folded it in half.) It tasted delicious, though, with a slice of buttered whole-grain toast. For dessert, another piece of buttered toast with a little bit of tasty strawberry-rhubarb jam that Ma White made. As I said, this was a very good meal to ring in the new week.

I also made a chocolate cake. I won't go into much detail, but I will tell you that the cake and the ganache contained two sticks of butter, nearly a bag of chocolate chips, and a good glug of Bailey's Irish Cream. I had a piece yesterday, but before I ate it, I microwaved it for a few seconds to loosen the ganache. Alongside a little vanilla ice cream, and I was Mr. Creosote all over again.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Pigs In A Blanket

I was busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest last week (please excuse me), so my cooking and my blog suffered tremendously. I have a little extra time today, though, and I have been thinking about cabbage rolls for the past few days, so I decided to roll one or two.

Now, in western PA, we grew up calling cabbage rolls "Pigs in a Blanket," and that's what I still call them. Some people will refer to sausages wrapped in dough and baked as "Pigs in Blankets" and I am not opposed to that dish. That just ain't what I call 'em.

Pigs in a Blanket are popular, I estimate, in areas where immigrants from eastern Europe landed. Western PA is dense with those immigrants and their progeny, so it's no surprise that many folks from that region have an affinity for cabbage rolls. When I was a child, I only ate the Pigs' guts--the meat, sauce and rice--forgoing the cabbage.

So off I went to the Downtown Farm Market for a head of cabbage and about two pounds of local ground beef raised about 25 miles away. The process of making Pigs is somewhat involved, but it is well worth it. First, you have to steam the cabbage head in a little water in a big pot so you can peel the leaves from the core. Score the core so the leaves remove easily.

Next, you have to prepare the guts. I have never used pork, but I have used ground turkey in my rolls, but today for the guts I used the ground beef I mentioned, a few stalks of celery, a few carrots, two small green peppers diced, and about half of a large onion. I sauteed that in some olive oil for a while, and then added to it my beef along with about a cup of mostly cooked wild-rice mix and a can of crushed tomatoes. A little Pasta Sprinkle, a little Salt, a little Pepper, and I put some on a plate and into the microwave to check my seasoning. I always do this with my raw-meat mixtures to make sure they are tasty, and it was. Tasty, I mean.

By now, my cabbage leaves have all been peeled from the core, and they sit in a pile awaiting stuffing. I heaped as many guts as I could onto the cabbage leaf and gave it a crude roll, stuffing about 20 of these delicacies (I will freeze some later.) I placed them into my Dutch oven that I had filled slightly with another can of crushed toms, a can of water, a little low-so V8, and a bit more Salt. Into the heat they went, and now I sit waiting until I can eat them. I have not decided if I will make smashed potatoes to serve with the rolls since they already have rice, but traditionally, we always had potatoes with cabbage rolls. Soo-Wee!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Happy Noodle Bowls : )

Noodles, man. I love noodles. Carbohydrates are what I crave deep within my animal brain, and lately I crave noodle bowls. Also within my animal brain I occasionally am able to make connections between things, the latest sparked by my displeasure with the cost of noodle bowls at local restaurants. Janet and I tried the Vietnamese Garden restaurant on the Battleground, and our experience was great. Their food is outstanding, and the price is good if you catch one of their daily specials, a lot of which feature vermicelli. Unfortunately, noodle bowls are $13.95. I would not call myself miserly, but I am always on the lookout for good value, and this does not fit into my good-value category.

So the HT had a special on spaghetti: five boxes for five dollars (vermicelli specials on the VG menu + bargain spaghetti = lightbulb.) That's a good deal. I already had chicken broth in my pantry, so I decided to do a bit of research on making noodle bowls, which is essentially noodle soup or a revved up version of Oodles of Noodles.

Apparently, to get a nice eastern flavor, dishes may include what is called "five spice." Chinese in origin, it's a powerful spice blend that is meant to include five flavors of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent. Many variations exist of the blend, but most consist of cinnamon, cloves, anise, black peppercorns, and fennel. I had no anise, but fennel has a taste that resembles anise, and that is enough for me as it's not my favorite flavor anyway.

I threw about a half of a handful in my pan to roast the fennel, along with two cloves (definitely enough for me) a bit of powdered cinnamon, powdered ginger, and several peppercorns. I roasted them until the fennel just browned, and then I threw them into my coffee grinder. Into the broth they went. I tasted it, and I liked it. I also had a piece of shriveled ginger in the fridge, so I threw it into the broth along with an amount of low-so soy sauce.

Earlier that evening, I stopped at the store for mung-bean sprouts, basil, mushrooms, and a few limes for my noodle bowl. I thought I did not like sprouts, but it's alfalfa sprouts I do not like. Mung sprouts are so good and crunchy, and they add a nice texture to the bowl. I sliced the mushers, chiffonaded the basil, and threw that into my pot. So far so good. The broth smells good, with a peppery and gingery taste, but it is not overpowering. I am getting excited now, as my inaugural foray into cooking this dish might actually work.

In the freezer, a bag of sugar peas begged to be used, and in they went. Delicious. I also had a bunch of green onions, so I diced about four of them and threw them into the pot. A bit of chicken that I had leftover from a bird I roasted earlier--into the pot. And I simmered all of that deliciousness while my spaghetti cooked. I topped my bowl with P's hot hot pepper flakes and a bit of lime juice, and it was good. I will make noodle bowls again. It's a hearty dish without being laden with calories. Noodle bowls make me happy.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Birthday Cake and Seafoods

Janet asked me to make her a strawberry cake for her birthday, so yesterday I went to the Downtown Farm Market (I like to call it the 505 Market) for some fresh strawberries. Cake was good, though a bit dense from the mashed strawberries I incorporated into the batter. This is what fruit in the cake does. Perhaps I could have cooked the cake longer, but then it would have been dry, so I am fine with the density of this cake. Flour, sugar, many egg whites, a lot of butter, milk--I think that's it. But the frosting or icing or whatever you prefer to call it took the cake.

More butter, confectioners' sugar, and more mashed strawberries. I mixed these items and they tasted good, though a bit sweet. Also, I had a problem with the icing separating, which did not look appealing, so I decided to add a mess of whipped cream. Problem solved. A few berries between the layers, and I had butter-cream frosting on a white cake with strawberries, and it was good.

I also made a pot of corn chowder, and it turned out pretty well. First, a mirepoix and garlic sauteed in olive oil. After that softened, I added a bit of bouquet garni and two quarts of vegetable broth. Earlier I had roasted five ears of corn, six potatoes, and two red peppers. I de-cobbed the corn, de-skinned the pepper, quick-diced the taters and added them all to the pot.

By now, it tastes pretty good, but chowder should be thick, I suppose, so I made a blonde roux from one stick of butter and a little flour. I think I used one pound of butter all told cooking today. As if that was not enough richness, I also added a pint of heavy cream and a pound of shrimp. Salt and freshly-cracked Pepper, the slightest amount of dried hot-pepper mix, and that finished the chowda. Ya big chowda head.

Is that it? No, it isn't. Janet went and visited Landon at The Shrimp Connection yesterday where she purchased the aforementioned shrimp as well as lump crab meat and scallops. Some folks call these mollusks scAL-ups, and some folks call them scALL-ups. Doesn't matter, really. Scallops are not my favorite, but some people get fired up about eating them. I think the recipe came from Landon for preparing them. I do not rinse the scallops, but rather leave their own juice for flavor. Simply dredge them in a little flour, Old Bay and Salt. Into a pan of a little olive oil and butter for brownness until they get a little crust and they are done. I will eat one or two, though, as I like their smooth texture.

Now, Janet is usually in charge of making crabcakes, and she does a right fine job of it. All I had to do was cake them and bake them. She made the mix. I made the aioli, which is quite good: Duke's, lemon juice and zest, diced garlic, and a ton of fresh basil. Mix it and serve it with the crabcakes, and it's a winner. That is quite a feast. This morning for breakfast I heated a couple crabcakes and ate them with an over-easy egg and Texas Pete. Very nice to have good-quality leftovers on a Saturday morning.