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!