Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Veggie Dinner ~ a/k/a/ How to use up a bumper crop of mushrooms!

I was given two Costco-sized packages of mushrooms a couple of days ago, and I've been deciding how to get through them.  Last night a mushroom burrito came to mind, and since I'd found asparagus on sale the same day, why not put them together!  I started by sauteing the mushrooms in a large pan in olive oil, salt, and pepper.  If I've learned anything about cooking mushrooms, it's that they get rid of a whole lot of water before they get color on them.  So don't crowd the mushrooms!  Cook in batches if you don't have a pan big enough.  

When they had shrunk quite a bit and their water was gone, I moved them to a plate and went to work on an onion, roasted green chilies, and some asparagus.  I didn't want a lot of color on the onion, I just wanted the vegetables to be soft.  

As for the rice and beans, I had both left over so it only took a little reheating.  The beans had been cooked in the pressure cooker, with bay leaves, and a smoked ham shank, and the rice had roasted poblanos and caramelized onions.  

As I warmed the beans in a little non-stick pan I thought to myself, "Self - don't dirty another pan when you have that nice saute pan right here!"  So I scooted the asparagus over, and added in the rice.  I was worried about the rice sticking, so I added a little liquid - a Dogfish Head Punkin Ale!  

All that was left to do was warm tortillas, and layer in the veggies and rice with some toppings.  I chose a roasted salsa, Mexican crema, cilantro, and cotija cheese.

Even the kids ate the meal, and not a single "Where's the beef?" comment.  Even I am amazed by them sometimes.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The quicker picker-upper

I love cooking.  I mean, I really love cooking.  I cook when I'm excited, I cook when I'm sad, nostalgic, I even cook when I really have no time for the meal that I have envisioned.  I make it work, dammit.  Today I did not want to cook.  I was so tired that I felt like a puddle of my former self, and the last thing that I could think of doing was summoning my creative juices and pouring them into a meal that would just, let's face it, make more dishes.

There I stood, in Sprouts.  I wandered from the grocery to the produce, aimlessly.  I picked up some on-the-vine tomatoes and stared at them.  I love the smell of tomatoes, they smell, and like dirt, and absolutely like summer.  When I grow tomatoes I wander into my little yard each morning with my coffee, and smell the plants as they warm up in the summer sun.  Suddenly, I felt it.  Inspiration.  That moment of throwing dishes to the wind, or however it goes.

Vine tomatoes in the bag, I quickened my pace and grabbed a small container of golden tomatoes.  There's little things more fun than mixing different versions of the same thing on a plate.  White & green asparagus sauteed, yellow & red roasted bell peppers, black & green olives, pumpernickel and brioche stuffing....yellow and red tomatoes.  I knew I had herbs, Parmesan, and garlic at home, so I stood in front of the meat section and what jumped out?  Why ground chicken of course!  I hurried through the checkout lane, chatting the poor checker's ear off as I'm sure she thought, "Oh goody, it's a bubbly person.  When can I take my break?"  I rushed to Trader Joe's, grabbed a package of Organic Spaghetti and rushed to my kitchen.  

I would make Spaghetti with a Raw Tomato Sauce, and Chicken Parmesan Meatballs!  

Now, having made chicken Parm quite a few times (not to mention quite a few summers of raw tomato sauces), I had an idea of which flavors to incorporate, but how to bring it together?  I started with bread chunks soaked in milk, just like any meatball.  In fact, if I was a little Italian grandma I would have been fine using water, I swear they don't waste anything!  I mashed the bread to a paste and squeezed out the extra milk, then added it to the ground chicken, parsley, Parmesan, and salt & pepper.  

I scooped out mini portions, and rolled in toasted breadcrumbs, then browned them in olive oil.  

Meanwhile I tossed chopped tomatoes with olive oil, salt & pepper, vinegar, parsley, and garlic while the spaghetti cooked.  

My favorite part of a raw sauce, is tossing hot pasta into them and smelling the garlic wake up!  

Then all you have to do is taste for salt & pepper and top with chicken Parmesan meatballs!  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Country Captain

Give me some curry, chicken, and a bowl of rice and you will have a happy me!  I did some research to find out where Country Captain got it's name, I mean, southern chicken curry casserole?...and it doesn't even have chicken in the name!  So, confused, but armed with Google I found a clue on What's Cooking America, which is actually kind of a cool resource.  That is, if you're a food nerd like me.  

"This delicious dish, known throughout Georgia, dates to the early 1800s. It is thought that this dish was brought to Georgia by a British sea captain who had been stationed in Bengali, India and shared the recipe with some friends in the port city of Savannah, Georgia. Savannah was then a major shipping port for the spice trade. The dish was named for the officers in India called “Country Captains.”

So, mystery solved, I snuck into my local Trader Joe's, bought a chicken and some currants, and jogged home to start prepping.  Some recipes call for all thighs, but I used a whole chicken and butchered it.  Some of us in the family like white meat and some prefer dark, so I use a whole chicken when I can.  I actually don't mind cutting up a chicken, I've carved so many birds over the last decade that I take a small pride in knowing how to do it.  Plus it's cheaper!!!  It's one of the best things you can learn, right along side properly boiling an egg and cooking rice.  

Chicken butchered, I tossed the pieces in flour seasoned with salt, pepper, and dried thyme.  In a stockpot I melted butter and olive oil and browned the pieces, being careful not to over crowd the pan.  A chicken cut into 8 pieces should be browned in two or three pans, or you're really just steaming the poor bird.  

Once the chicken was golden and resting on a tray, I chopped bacon and fried it until crispy, then drained the bits on a paper towel.  You'll be back for it later, so don't snack on it!!

I poured off most of then fat and then sauteed onion, garlic, green bell peppers, celery, curry powder, and raisins until soft.

Lastly, I added in a large can of diced tomatoes, juice and all, and simmered for about 10 minutes.

All that was left was to add a little sauce into the baking pan, place the chicken pieces in, and then top with the remaining sauce.  Covered with foil, it went into the oven for 45 minutes at 325.  

When it's all cooked & smells amazing, I serve on rice with some currants, toasted almonds (or peanuts), and the bacon bits I made earlier.

Now...I hate to waste anything.  So when I chop up a chicken and the back gets taken out, and I cut the wing tips off where do they go?  Into a pot with celery ends, onion roots & skin, carrot ends & skin, water, dry sherry, peppercorns, cloves, and bay leaves....or whatever I have on hand.  

Stock is a totally flexible organism, you just use what you have.  Then I left it alone at a simmer while all the browning happened, and when the chicken went into the oven I strained and made some rice!  Because, why use water to make rice when you can add flavor?!  Right?!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New York

This morning while reading Michael Ruhlman's blog, I took a detour onto one of his recommended links on the sidebar. is a recipe blog authored by Deb who is, "fearlessly cooking from a tiny kitchen in New York City."  I have a soft spot in my heart for all things New York, which I'll admit, has been intensified recently mostly likely due to my reading through this book by Gabrielle Hamilton.  

I was born in New York, and lived there until the ideal time for a big move across country....the moody, insecure, awkward age of 12.  In fact I never really took to the next state of CO more due to my own whiny temper than any real issues with the state, and have since been a whiny college student, whiny foreign traveler, and whiny Californian.  I haven't been back to visit New York since my teens, so much of what I remember is most likely blurred by nostalgia and a growing dislike of sitting in Southern California traffic everyplace I go.  Nevertheless I seem to be collecting things from the northeast whenever I can; my current book that I can't seem to stop reading, people who used to live there themselves, and today I even found a packet of seeds titled "East Coast Wildflowers" which I of course bought.

So imagine my excitement today to discover a blog written by someone from my old state!  I had a good time reading through her articles, picking up bits of her dry humor laced with sarcasm like any good east coaster can throw around.  Or so I remember.  This recipe stood out to me so I thought I would share.  Keep it up, Deb!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Meatless Monday

What can you do with 4 lbs of leftover roasted marinated vegetables?  You make a vegetarian Muffaletta!

Meatless Monday was started in 2003 to encourage people to start the week on a healthy note, and attempt to lower their intake of saturated fats.  As much as I love meat, I see it as a chance to challenge my cooking habits, and to learn a new way to cook.  Meatless meals are sometimes thought to be boring, or not filling.  I am here to find alternatives to that!

The grilled vegetables that I have to use are eggplant, red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, and zucchini.  I'm also going to add a layer of goat cheese because almost everything is better with cheese!  

I picked up a loaf of Italian bread instead of individual rolls, and a container of refrigerated pesto.  I split the loaf almost in half, leaving one side with a hinge, then spread both sides with a layer of goat cheese and pesto.  Then I added in a layer of each of my vegetables, closed the bread, and wrapped it all in saran wrap.  

I weighted the sandwich and let it sit for 30 minutes to get the flavors deep into the bread.  

After it had rested and looked properly...well....flat, I opened it back up and added in baby greens and sliced tomatoes.  

I had olives in that veggie mix too, but since they have pits I picked them out to eat on the side.  I'm not taking anyone to the emergency dentist today.  My house it still regrouping from the weekend whirlwind, at least as far as laundry and dishes go, so this meal was perfect.  Thanks to leftovers and a few minutes ~ dinner is done!  

Sunday, February 19, 2012 want dinner EVERY day?

Today I went into Trader Joe's at 3:30 with no idea what to make for dinner.  It's not the first time, I'll admit, but I think I was putting off going into my kitchen for the majority of the morning because of the last couple of days.  Nevertheless...we all have to eat sometime.

I chose the quicker cooking option of pork tenderloin, and also grabbed a box of frozen mostly-cooked wild rice.  After running another errand I rushed home only to realize I had no soy sauce, which completely annoyed me, seeing as I'd been food-brainstorming for the entire errand.  Ate humble pie and drug myself back to the store *insert deserved taunting by TJ's employees* then ran home.  As soon as I got home I put the pork into a marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, grated ginger, brown sugar, and clementine zest & juice.

While that soaked I made a few zucchini boats, and filled them with the rice blend, goat cheese, and sundried tomatoes.  I had some chopped pistachios so I threw those on top too.  The squash went into a dish with some broth, covered in foil and then I baked them for 40 minutes @ 350.  Once they were in I preheated my grill pan & cooked the pork for 4 minutes a side (imagine that the tenderloin is square, not round, so about 16 min) and then let them rest covered in foil.  

ALWAYS let your food rest before you carve into it!  It's as important and getting the chill of your meat before you cook it.  I'll let a pork tenderloin rest for at least 10 minutes.  Anyhow, the kiddos loved it! One had seconds of rice, one had seconds of meat, and one looked at his plate favorably....which means a lot.  

The aftermath

Yesterday we cooked a lot of food.  

4 lasagnas with meat ragu, 4 lasagnas with spinach, 10 lbs of chicken picatta, marinated mushrooms, grilled mixed vegetables and olives marinated overnight, goat cheese, garlic white bean salad, artichoke hearts, bruschetta, ricotta & orange crostini, Italian sodas.....mmmmm.  I can still smell all of the garlic!  The guests loved the food, and the birthday girl looked like she enjoyed all of her friends and family who came to celebrate her day.  I hope when I reach the age of 90, my life will be so full!

I wish I had thought to take pictures before everyone started eating, but I didn't!  As soon as I thought of it there was a line of cute little old ladies three deep.  I tried to launch in front of them for a quick shot, but the light was funny.  Well....if that's my biggest regret of the day, then it's not so bad.  Oh, and I forgot the plates!  *head slap*  It was the single-most terrifying moment I had all day.  I was exiting the freeway with a van full of food, ice, and warmers and it flashed before my eyes....the plates....and where I had left them at home.  Guests were arriving in less than an hour, and I was 30 minutes from home.  Fortunately the catering gods were looking down on me, because as I came to stop in frozen panic at the red light, images of grandmas and grandpas eating lasagna and salad on cocktail napkins running through my mind, there it was - a Food for Less right in front of me!  I haven't run in heels in a while, but I survived.

I have to send thanks out to my in laws for adiosing my children for the day.  Hopefully you aren't any worse for the wear today.  Also, my partner and I could NOT have done so much without her hubby.  He jumped right in the kitchen and tolerated our bossiness and blonde moments.  Thank you all so much!!

Once I got home last night and unloaded the car I climbed straight into bed, clothes on and all.  My husband talked me back out, insistent I tell him how the meal went as he handed me a glass of wine.  I crawled out to the couch for a while and made like a social being, but I didn't last too long.  Great success, I love what we do!  Now, if you'll excuse me I have a pair of heels to burn.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Catering in a Shoebox

I've been busy today.  No really.  As in, the kind of busy that makes you look for another pot of coffee with every meal.  The kind of busy that makes the manager of your Trader Joe's yell out, "Back for a second trip?" as you leave the store.  Little does he's the fourth.  

But I completely love it, all of it.  The groceries, the sauteing in pots the size of a tub, the laughing with friends over wine that you bought to cook with but....hey...who lets wine just sit there when you're done with it?  I like having to rest bowls on the back of the stove, cutting boards over unused burners, and pots on the table, because I live in a postage stamp of an apartment.  I like the cooking and the camaraderie.  I like the friends from out of town here to visit for the occasion, I like that we tip toe into the grocery to buy half of the jars of tomatoes and white beans on the shelf....hoping nobody will laugh at us...or perhaps hoping they will, just for an excuse to recite the menu.  I like the cashier asking for leftovers to be brought in tomorrow during their shift.  Mostly I like the cooking, but never more than the friends.  Never ever.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Best Roast Chicken You'll Eat Today

Before I roast a chicken I soak it in vinegar for 10 minutes.  Have for years.  It started a while back when I read this book, and the Italian guy said he always does it.  I tend to listen to Italian people in the kitchen.  

After it sits I rinse the chicken & pat it dry.  I like to put different things under the skin, but even if I don't I still separate the skin away from the meat.  I think it helps the skin get crispy because of the air pocket it creates.  Today I put sage leaves and thin slices of lemon under the skin, then covered with olive oil & SnP.  For the first half of the cooking I roast it breast down, then when I turn the heat up I flip the bird.  It helps the white meat stay nice & in the end the skin is still pretty.  Which matters.  A lot!  We eat with our eyes first.  

Also, the apples and focaccia DID end up together! 

 I made a quick veg saute, then added the focaccia until it began to brown on the corners.  A little wine deglazed the pan, and then I scooped it into the hollowed apples.  

 I think apples are amazing when prepared savory and not sweet.  Cider gravy was my first revelation of this a few Thanksgivings ago.  

I served the apples and chicken with a marinated celery salad.  I really enjoy celery salads and cucumber salads.  They are so often passed over, as toppings for a lettuce.  But all you have to do is slice them thinly, and then let them sit in a simple vinaigrette while you make the rest of your meal.

It's such a straightforward thing, roast chicken.  Yet if you do it poorly you hate it.  However...if you do it well, it may just become your favorite comfort food.

What I do when I get my hands on a chicken

Today has been very Santa Ana-windish, but otherwise beautiful.  Sunny, blue skies, a little cool and a break from a few gloomy Eeyore days.  Not that I mind Eeyore days, particularly in February but they do put a damper on a walk.

So after mentioning roast chicken I took a walk for a chicken.  While at Fresh & Cheesy I also found a 4 pack of Cameo apples, and a par-baked Focaccia which will no doubt also end up roasted.  Possibly together.  I like to roast the chicken the same way every time, just with different flavors: 375 for 25 minutes, then up to 450 for 35.  I always rest it of course for at least 10 - 15 minutes before carving.  The initial lower temp of the oven really warms the meat up slow enough to ensure the that it will end evenly cooked, and the final high temp does what we all want with the skin.  One of the most important things to remember when cooking any meat in the entire world is BRING IT TO ROOM TEMP FIRST.  Nobody does this.  They yank it out of the fridge, throw flavors on it & cook away, fully expecting the chilled core of the meat to be done at the same time as the exterior.  30 minutes on the counter is good for most cuts unless we're talking turkeys or a roast of some sort.

Well I'm off to finish some chores before the bus arrives & I need to get this bird a bakin'!

Crap.  I forgot shallots.

I have a blog

I am starting this blog as an outlet for my foodie self.  I currently inundate my FB family and friends with multiple daily posts about trending new chefs, cookbooks, seasonal vegetable preparations, recipes I've come across, and what I'm making for dinner.  Not to mention the mobile photos I've uploaded with step-by-step paparazzi-style coverage of what I made for dinner last night, and the constant "checking-in" on my mobile to whatever grocery has my current ingredient list on sale.  Enough!  I can recognize a problem when I see one.

So here I am attempting to siphon many of those posts to leave my FB page free for....wait.  Why do I have a FB?  Perhaps I'll give up FB for Lent.

I would describe my cooking style as open-the-cupboard-and-cook-what-you-can.  I have been classically trained in this art by years of too many kids and too few dollars.  I made it to mommy-hood before I made it to culinary school, and although I've always wanted to go back some day it would probably ruin me.  I'd start to question all of my instincts, and explain to my 7 year old how the Maillard reaction works as I make her grilled cheese.  I should probably just leave well enough alone.  

My friend and I have a dream of owning our own food truck some day, but until then we cook for every baby shower, birthday party, and holiday for 20 that we can. This weekend we are cooking for 60 at a birthday party for the cutest 90 year old grandma you've ever seen.  We are making Italian, and it's right up our alley!  Lasagana, marinated vegetable platters, bruschetta, artichoke hearts, olives....*sigh*  It will be perfect.  Of course I have the habit of cooking just for the excitement of it, forgetting that some day I would like to make money at this, while my business partner is ever the practical one, reminding me that we should indeed turn a profit should be in her business title.  In fact, she should be the one to go to culinary school and learn how to keep me in check, whilst I can continue to be the artsy dreamer.  At makes sense to me.  She's more practical than I am anyhow.  

In deciding what to make for dinner I usually start by trolling my favorite blogs and online cooking magazines for a recipe that sounds good over my morning coffee.  Then I turn the kitchen upside down, looking for substitutions for every ingredient that I don't have.  By the time dinner is actually served, lord knows what we're eating.  It drives my husband nuts!  I say, "Here's what we're eating tonight" as I hold out a Bon Appetit, Giada or Batali recipe.  "No we're not", he says as he shakes his head.  "You've changed about 7 of the ingredients, and one of them is the protein!"  "Yes," I say, "But I made it better!"  

Tonight is tricky because I am getting ready for a big catering job this weekend.  I generally get all wrapped up in the preparations, until sometime after dark one of the kids comes to the edge of the kitchen and says, "Mooooom, um, can we eat something tonight?"  PBnJ or takeout pizza time!  Promise I'll do better this week.  I might even make my favorite tonight ~ roast chicken.