December 24, 2009

Woah! I've not been doing much lately!

I haven't really been making much in the way of food that's very exciting. Mostly, I've been working and making much of the same old, same old. I kind of wish I'd thought to pay attention to tonight's meal, but I'll do my best to at least give a recipe:

Lemon Pepper Chicken with Creamy Pasta
1 chicken breast
1/2 sweet onion (I went with Mayan as usual!)
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 pound thin spaghetti
1 large lemon
2 cups peas
1 package Neufchatel cheese (any farmer's cheese or cream cheese will work)
3 T of pesto
a small handful of mixed Italian cheese
olive oil
butter (totally optional)
bit of stock
liberal amounts of pepper

First, thinly slice half an onion. Get those slices as thin as possible! Then, mince your garlic.
Get some oil in a pan on medium heat. When the oil's hot, add the onion and garlic and a pinch of salt. Stir it around so that the onions and garlic get all caramelized and delicious, but not actually burned in any way. Turn the heat to medium-low and add the optional butter or just let it kind of hang out as is, your choice.
Salt and pepper the chicken breast and when the onions/garlic are cooked and golden soft and delicious, take them out of the pan.
Add another shot of oil and get the chicken going. While the chicken is browning, zest and juice one large lemon. When the chicken is well browned on both sides, add about 1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock and 1/2 of the zest, along with a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice. Let this go at medium heat until the chicken is totally cooked through, moist, and perfect.
Set the chicken aside when it's done, add more stock to the pan for any additional deglazing and set this liquid aside as well.
Sprinkle a bit of lemon zest onto each side of the chicken and spoon some lemon juice on top. Add a final shot of pepper and let it hang out.

Meanwhile, get a bowl out, and into it add your pesto, Neufchatel, onions, garlic, and Italian cheese. Just go hog wild into that thing. Add some salt and pepper while you're at it. Excess is NEVER too much! Mix it all together and thin it out with the stock and deliciousness mixture from the chicken pan. You won't need more than a couple of tablespoons at the most of the cooking liquid. Add the rest of the lemon zest and maybe a couple of spoonfuls of lemon juice--just taste it as you go and decide what it needs. Make sure you have a little bit of lemon juice at the end, since you might want to add a little bit at the end.

Break the spaghetti strands into thirds, cook them as usual, and add the peas at the end to cook briefly. Drain the peas and pasta and add the cheese sauce. Get it really well stirred and taste to see what you have to add. At this point in the game, I needed a little more lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Your mileage may vary.

Get some peas/pasta into a bowl, add a chicken breast to the top of it, and spoon a little bit of the chicken cooking liquid into the chicken once it's served. Your tastebuds will love you. This is a pretty darn delicious dish!

But mostly, I've been working and coming home and cooking boring food, as I mentioned up above. I'm working at a visiting, temporary museum exhibition which involves seeing a lot of people looking at other people, except those other people are dead and have no skin. Frequently, they also have various fewer internal organs than your average alive person. We've had some fainters, at least one girl who left in tears, and a number of people who, overwhelmed, had to step out for some fresh air before tackling the finish. I think it's kind of funny, really. I mean, they're dead. It's not like they're going to complain at you or something. At this job, I spend an awful lot of time telling people where the bathrooms are (LEARN TO READ SIGNS, PEOPLE, OH MY GOD) and how to use audio guides.

The audio guides, in case you haven't been to any museum anywhere at all in the entire world in the last twenty years or so, generally look like this:

This is, of course, a crude MSPaint representation of an audio guide that I drew in about three minutes, but it includes all the major details: The speaker, the buttons, the cord. You know. The stuff. So, the way you use a modern audio guide, is you look at various exhibits in a museum. Some of these exhibits will have numbers next to them--usually in bright bold colors and large friendly font. When you want to learn more about these exhibits, you type those large friendly numbers next to the exhibit into the audio guide and press that green "play" button. Put that speaker part up top next to your ear like a phone and enjoy! If the volume is too low for you, press "9." If the volume is too high for you, press "7." It's not very complicated. At most, it's four buttons at any given location and three of those buttons are numbers 0-9.

Why is it, then, that so many people have this totally glazed expression when you tell them this?

Also, I have been to many a museum. Justin has been to even more, and on multiple continents. Never have I or Justin been to a museum that allows any kind of eating or drinking inside the exhibits. If you have never been to a museum before, let me give you a helpful tip. You can't eat or drink ANYTHING while you're in the galleries. You also cannot touch anything. If the exhibit is NOT permanent, photography will absolutely NOT be allowed. EVER. EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER. So when museum personnel tell you kindly for the ten thousandth time that no, we do not have a cafe in the museum for your convenience, nor can you have a snack because, god forbid, you haven't eaten within the last half hour, don't be so totally butthurt. If you're going to the museum eat and drink ahead of time. Also, no, you can't touch ANYTHING. It's an exhibit. The things inside the exhibit are almost certain to be delicate and/or expensive and the difficulty at repairing those items will range from "hard" to "snowball's chance in hell." So hands off. 

Now, when you go to a standard, permanent, art museum, say, the Seattle Art Museum for example, there will usually be two parts: The permanent exhibit and the visiting exhibit. The visiting exhibit is what you see giant posters and banners for outside the art museum. At virtually all museums, you can take pictures of the permanent exhibit--the stuff that's there all the time. You can almost NEVER take pictures of the visiting exhibits. This is because the museum does not own the visiting exhibits, and so does not have the rights to the images contained within those exhibits and therefore cannot extend any rights to those images to you, the visitor. If a touring exhibit is coming through town and will only be there a short time, just assume that the exhibit is permanently in visiting exhibit status and therefore photography will, by default, not be allowed under any circumstances. It is a very rare touring exhibit that allows photography. So please don't act all butthurt about that, either. It's pretty common policy and if the world weren't so sue happy and if people weren't so careless and stupid, you probably would be able to take pictures. But the world isn't and people aren't, so you can't.

AND TURN YOUR PHONE OFF, DAMMIT. First of all, it's incredibly rude and intrusive to have a ringing phone/phone conversation in a museum. Secondly, if the exhibit you're viewing prohibits photography, the employees in that exhibit are going to be paranoid as all hell that every single person in the world is taking photos. Since everyone and their mom has a camera phone, leave the phone off, put away, and ignored for the ENTIRE duration of your stay. I don't care if you're texting. I don't care if your grandmother is in the hospital. I don't care if you're the goddamn Batman and your cell is the only way the mayor can get in touch with you during the daytime, KEEP YOUR PHONE PUT AWAY. We WILL search your pictures and will ride your ass the entire rest of the time you're in the exhibit to keep you off of your phone. It sucks for us, it sucks for you, just don't do it.

So that's what I do, really. I police the masses and educate on the finer points of museum-visiting etiquette. And then I come home and complain about my poor sore feet, cook dinner, and, after spending way too long on Facebook games, go to bed.

It's what I do all day. Sigh.

But tomorrow is Christmas Eve and then Christmas Day and then Boxing Day, which is when I can box up all the feast leftovers for the servants! Hurray! They'll be so glad!

November 16, 2009


Oh, man, it's that time of year again. Time for me to royally overextend myself and cook enough food to feed about 16 standard-sized armies of super-sized ogres. Luckily, I work with a lot of transplants and I'm inviting them all to my apartment.

My tiny Seattle apartment.

It has one chair.

BUT! My primary concern at the moment is, of course, the food. I make $10 an hour, working about 30 hours a week, give or take, which doesn't leave me with a whole hell of a lot of money for this grand feast I'm planning. Luckily, I'm a pretty decent cook and I'm totally good at working with cheap ass ingredients. I started some of the buying today, since a lot of it could be bought frozen. This post will be my overall cost-tracking post. I know that sounds totally boring--and it really, really is--but some people might have use for money-managing tips? Maybe? So, the prices I have so far are for stuff I've already purchased. Repeat ingredients don't have prices listed. I mean, it's not like I'm using 8 different kinds of butter, you know? It's all Safeway Lucerne unsalted butter. No price at all, anywhere in the post, means it hasn't been purchased as of the latest update (or it's salt and pepper).

So, the menu, its ingredients, and their prices for the next nine days!

turkey ($20 for a TWENTY POUND TURKEY. I am awesome, I know.)
rosemary--purchased previously ($2)
thyme--purchased previously ($2)
butter--always have too much butter on hand ($1.50)
olive oil--can't live without it! ($6/pint)
onion and garlic--I am always surrounded by onion and garlic. All the time! Mayan sweet onion about $1.79/lb, garlic $0.79 a head.
salt --
pepper --
lemon ($0.79)

potatoes ($6/10lbs)
parsnips ($3)
carrots ($2.50 a bag)
onion --

bagged frozen because I'm lazy as sin--($4.49/36 rolls)
butter --

arborio rice--already purchased, don't remember how much it was. It's been a while.
stock--simmering on the stove as I type this
pinch of parmesan --

ravioli (already made and in the freezer)
 -one butternut squash ($1.49/lb)
 -1/2 c marscapone cheese ($2.99/tub)
 -1/4 c parmesan cheese ($3.49/tub)
 -salt, pepper
 -egg yolk
 -round dumpling wrappers (2 packs) ($1.99 each)
butter --
sage --

Yukon Gold potatoes --
butter --
cream cheese ($1.49)
half and half ($1.69)

cranberries ($2)
sugar --

OK, remember how I said, like, a week ago that I was doing stuffing from a box? Well, I'm not. It occurred to me that people who have never eaten my cooking are coming over just to eat my cooking. How I could I serve them stuffing from a box? And my friend from work said he LOVES stuffing and I was like, "nooooooooo!" So I'm making stuffing from scratch. Not the rolls, though I'm sure I'll doctor them up somehow.
baguette ($1.69)
parsley ($1)
rosemary --
thyme --
sage ($2 for a fatty container of it)
chicken stock (homemade)
onion --
celery --
butter --

broccoli ($2.00)
peas with mint
 -peas ($2.00)
 -parsley --
green beans with lemon
 -green beans ($2.00)
 -lemon --
 -olive oil --

SPINACH AND CHEESE CASSEROLE (if we can afford it once everything else is purchased)
ricotta cheese
cheddar cheese

courtesy of Safeway

I haven't decided yet!

So far, the total is up to $12 for today, and slightly less than that for stuff that's already made. Really, the meal shouldn't be too pricey overall, once all is said and done. The big purchase will, of course, be the turkey. I'm thinking we'll shoot for around $20-$25, but I've budgeted up to $30 for it. So far, I've overestimated all of my projected costs, except the rolls, which were 50 cents more than I guessed, so I'm under budget so far. I might be able to squeeze in my mom's world-famous spinach and cheese casserole, if I'm careful to catch sales!

I love the fall and winter holidays. Christmas is my favorite, totally, and I love decorating and getting ready for it. Luckily for me, I'll be in Florida for a week between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I'll get to spend at least a little bit of time with my family and Justin's! :D Yay! That DOES mean a week of missed work, so I think I'll be a little more skinflinty with the menu than I normally would like. But, it should still be good. As in freaking delicious!

**Almost Thanksgiving update**
So, I put a couple of dashes after everything that I already have, but didn't list the price for. Today, I'm going to assemble my stuffing and my mashed potatoes. I got the turkey, fresh, TWENTY FREAKING POUNDS, for $0.99/lb. It was the last one and I NABBED it. And I'm going to cook the CRAP out of it. OH YEAH.

...Okay, I'll stop, I promise. But I'm really happy about that turkey! Sure, it meant I had to carry 20 pounds of dead bird all four blocks from the grocery store, but it's so worth it. And it's going to be DELICIOUS. I actually have too much bread for the dish I'll be baking my stuffing in, so I'm going to crush the rest of them into bread crumbs. Goodness knows I could use more of those, since I always forget to buy them. Why bother buying when you can just make? So I have nearly everything. I think I might go ahead and splurge and make up a pan of the spinach and cheese casserole. I've never in my life had a holiday without it, and I don't think I want to start. Oh, and desserts. Have to get some kind of desserts. But that's it! I'll make Justin get the pumpkin pie and probably the stuff for the spinach.

October 05, 2009

Asian Chicken and Noodles

The flavors in this dish are pretty similar to the ones in this recipe, but in somewhat different proportions.


1/2c soy sauce
1 Tablespoon of each:
   rice vinegar (mine is seasoned--pre-sweetened--but unseasoned is fine)
   sesame oil
   Hoisin sauce
   sugar or honey (not pictured. Because I'm lame)
1 teaspoon of each:
   Worcestershire sauce
   freshly-grated ginger
Sesame seeds, toasted
Noodles (I went with a package of Chinese egg noodles, but this would be good with soba or even with thin spaghetti)
1/2 onion (Mayan sweet, in this case. Oh, they're so good...)
2 cloves of garlic
2c frozen broccoli
1 breast of chicken
black pepper to taste

So, start off by mixing your sauce. In a bowl, mix together everything through to the sesame seeds and let it sit.

Here it is, nearly done, getting a bit of Worcestershire sauce.

Cut your chicken into cubes and get them cooked in sesame oil on medium-high heat. Get them browned and delicious! You'll deglaze your pan with your sauce, so don't be shy with heat!

In another pan, on medium heat with sesame oil, soften the garlic which you've minced and the onion which you've sliced into half moons like these:

When the onions are soft and the chicken is cooked through, get your noodles into some boiling water. These will take about 10 minutes, according to the package. A couple of minutes before the noodles are done, add 2 cups of frozen (or fresh) broccoli to the pasta water and let the broccoli warm up/parboil until the noodles are cooked. Drain them at the same time.

Add the sauce to your chicken and dump the onions and garlic into the pan on top. Get it all stirred around and let the sauce reduce on high heat.

Drain the noodles and broccoli, get them into a bowl, and add the chicken, garlic, and onion on top. Sprinkle it with your toasted sesame seeds and you've got supper!

Add a liberal amount of black pepper and dine happily. Note how there isn't any added salt in this. When you're cooking with soy sauce, the soy sauce IS your salt. I never add any salt to a dish that has soy sauce in it. It makes it nearly impossible to eat, otherwise.

Moroccan spiced Veggies and Quinoa

So Justin and I are poor. And broke. We're both of those things, pretty perpetually. So, we were faced with needing to conjure up supper one night and I was thinking, "I have nothing! Nothing!!" I was poking around online for recipe inspiration and I decided that I wanted to do some kind of casserole type dealie with what little we did have. Well, I had plenty of spices and I was investigating something with a kind of Moroccan flavor profile.

Now, for most Moroccan food, you would want to head for the couscous. Feel free to do just that, in fact. I, however, am in possession of about six tablespoon of uncooked couscous, which is not going to feed two people with any degree of satiety. So, I considered rice. Nope, not enough rice for even one person. What other grains did I have... Quinoa! It's light, it's nutty, it cooks quickly and deliciously, and it's mild enough to be useful for pretty much anything! Problem solved!

Quinoa, rinsed and drained (I tend to buy in bulk and sometimes it's a little soapy tasting. If your quinoa comes in a box, you probably don't need to rinse it) 2 cups of quinoa.

So, here's the cast of characters:
Spice blend:

2 teaspoons each of
   Whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
Stick your peppercorns and cumin into a coffer grinder/spice grinder and get it ground pretty finely. Add the paprika, cinnamon, and turmeric and give it a whiz to blend it.

Get your veggies chopped and ready!
1/2 onion, diced
2 ribs of celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2/3c frozen peas
1c frozen broccoli (I like using broccoli cuts instead of just florets since I think the stems are delicious)

Get your raw vegetables sauteed in some olive oil until they're just barely softened. You don't want mushy veggies. Ever! No mush! So just when the onion is starting to look translucent and the carrot has a little bit of give to it in the core.

Now, get yourself about 4 1/2 cups of milk and heat it up on the stove. Medium heat will do. Add your spice mixture and cook it until the milk is warm. Quinoa cooks with 1 part grain to 2 parts liquid, so for 1c uncooked quinoa, you'll need at least 4 cups of milk. I like to have just a little bit of extra liquid, so the veggies can soak a little up and I can reasonably lose some to evaporation in the oven. Get your oven preheated to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, add your UNCOOKED quinoa, your cooked veggies, your frozen veggies, a can of chickpeas, and your milk mixture. Stir it all together really well and add it to a casserole, like so:

Lid it, get it into the oven, and let it cook for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, take the lid off and let it cook for another 15 minutes so that the top can get golden brown and luscious.

Mmm mmm mmm! This is creamy and nutty and delicately spiced and delightful. I like to leave my casseroles ungreased for the most part because I like the crunchy brown stuff at the bottom. So good!

Pasta with Meaty Pork Tomato Sauce

So it appears that pork is the new beef in our household. We can get SUPER cheap pig at Metropolitan Market and I like that it's so versatile. This particular meal is a pretty usual one. I'm going to show my usual meat mixture that I use for meatballs and sauces first, since that's really the bulk of this. So, for your pig, you'll need:

2 pounds of ground pork
1/2 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons of pesto (or other fresh herbs)
2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 egg
2 tsp each of
   cumin (I usually use whole--cut it down to 1 tsp if you're using ground)
   basil (I like sweet basil, but use whatever kind you want to)
1 tsp of the following
   Italian seasoning blend (mine has some rosemary and sage)
   chili powder
a few tablespoons of Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste (go a little easy on the salt, since you've got the cheese)

Get it all mixed up thoroughly! Don't be afraid to use your hands and really get in there--clean hands are a cook's best tools. I usually use a pound at a time for most things, so when I mix it fresh, I pack half of it into a quart-size plastic baggie and press it flat so there's no (or at least very little) air in the bag. Then, I stick it flat in the freezer. It takes up very, very little space and it's quick defrosting since it's spread so thinly.

Get it into a stainless steel pan with a bit of olive oil  that's been preheated on medium/medium-high heat. Remember, I'm a "fiddler" so I tend to babysit my cooking. Use whatever stove setting you usually use for getting things golden brown and delicious. I almost never use nonstick for cooking meats, since I want all those little brown bits on the bottom for added flavor. And let it cook so that it does get nice and brown. I didn't shape the meat this time.

Oh, yeah... Mmmm... See that little beautifully-browned chunk of pork at the bottom, there? That is your friend. Your delicious, delicious friend. When your meat is fully browned, add a little bit of stock to the pan to deglaze (red wine also works for this particular meal, but I think I just used chicken stock or something equally boring and delicious.)

Now, for your sauce! You can go ahead and used a jarred sauce if you like. I find that those are often too salty and the chunks of tomato give me really gnarly heartburn, so I get a can of tomato sauce ($1) and add stuff until it's delicious.

I don't have any lovely ingredient photos for you, but here's how it went down:

1 24-oz can of tomato sauce (again, $1. One freaking dollar! How great is THAT?!)
3 T pesto
3 T awesome sauce (details kind of in the middle of this post)
1/2 sweet onion, diced (I like using the Mayan sweet onions. All the time. In everything. I think I want to marry them.)
1/2 sweet onion sliced (half moons, please, sliced VERY thinly)
3-4 cloves of garlic, diced very finely
some kind of Italian cheese for added flavor

Soften the onions and garlic in the pot on medium heat with olive oil before adding the tomato sauce. Let the tomato sauce come to a simmer before adding all the other stuff. Do not skimp on flavoring! I like to have a piece of bread torn into small pieces on hand to get an idea of how the sauce tastes ON something. A sip from a spoon is good policy, but can seem overpowering, so it's nice to get an idea of how it tastes otherwise. So yeah, just add bits and pieces of everything, stirring frequently, until everything is combined and warmed through.

Add half of the sauce to the meat mixture once the pork is fully cooked and the pan is deglazed. Save the other half of your sauce for another delicious, delicious meal. This is a LOT of sauce. Stir the sauce and meat together well, set the heat to low, and let everything hang out and become good buddies.

Get your pasta boiling. I break my pasta in half before adding it to the pot since I don't own anything that's a good size for cooking pasta. Someday I'll have a stock/pasta pot! I believe in ME! :D

I used fettuccine noodles, but use whatever rocks your boat. I like thicker pastas (no thinner than spaghetti!) for meat sauces. The heartiness of the noodles stands up well to the heartiness of the meat. For a meat-free sauce, I'll usually just use spaghetti.

Add sauce and meat to pasta and profit!

Yum! I wish I could eat pasta with tomato sauce every single day, but my esophagus would never forgive me. Alas...

September 25, 2009

Roasted Root Vegetables with Chicken

Root vegetables are hearty, nutritious, cheap as the dirt they're dug out of, and totally delicious. I am looking forward to experimenting with more root veggies (which are, more accurately, starches) and part of that experimentation was last night's supper.

Inarguably, the best way to sample the best possible taste of a root vegetable is to first taste it roasted and simply seasoned. The sugars in the starch caramelize and sweeten, and the vegetables become dark and golden on the outside, soft in the inside. By seasoning with only olive oil, salt, and pepper, you get to taste the real flavor the vegetable, rather than the herbs or seasonings you've added to them.

For this particular experiment, I went with a pretty simple array of veggies:

3 large Yukon Gold potatoes
3 small turnips
1 really massive parsnip
1/2 large onion
3 cloves of garlic, minced well.

Preheat your oven at 400 degrees.

To get started, give your vegetables a really thorough wash. Remember: these are roots, so expect soil to be basically ground into the flesh.

This parsnip is a monster. Here's Justin displaying its accessory possibilities:

Cut your vegetables really simply. Aim for them being basically the same size, so that they'll cook evenly. I didn't take photos of the cuts I used, but here's a rundown:

Cut off the tops of your turnips. Cut them across the top, through the middle. For very small turnips, just pop them into the pan as is. For large turnips, cut them again into quarters. For the parsnip, I cut off the top, sliced it very thickly (at least an inch thick) cut the top slices into halves, and left the narrow slices whole. For the potatoes, cut once across the width of the potato, then quarter each half. The onion was thickly sliced and the garlic was pretty standardly minced.

Once in the roasting pan, I LIBERALLY coated the vegetables with olive oil. This will keep your roots well lubricated against the pan, resisting sticking, and adds some really nice moisture while its baking. Onto that, I added salt and pepper.

Mix it all together really well so that each piece of food has plenty of oil and seasoning.

I covered the pan with foil to keep the steam in and to keep the veggies from browning too much and popped them in the oven for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, take the foil off, give the veggies a stir, and bake for 15 more minutes.

10 minutes before the roots were done, I added eight spears of asparagus with a touch of olive oil for those. Once they were done, I took the pan out of the oven and covered it with foil to rest. Freshly roasted veggies straight out of the oven are starchy napalm. Let them cool for a bit.

Now, for the chicken and pan sauce. I went simple for this, as well.

One chicken breast (for two people)
Olive oil
1-2c Chicken stock
1/2t Corn starch
1t dried parsley (or fresh pesto)

I cut the chicken breast in half to serve both me and Justin. Smother it with pepper and a bit of salt on both sides. Add some olive oil to a pan and get that sucker on the stove on medium heat. Let it brown for a few minutes and make sure to let a lot of delicious browned goodness gather up on the bottom of the pan, which means that you DON'T want to use a nonstick pan. Use a stainless steel pan for this, always always always. Your tongue will love you forever.

(I slashed the chicken at the thickest part before cooking so that I could get more salt and pepper onto it. Mostly pepper. God, I love pepper.) Also, it helps the chicken cook a hair faster, since there's more of the flesh exposed to heat.

Take the chicken out of the pan once its cooked and let it rest to redistribute the juices.

Add your stock to the pan and get all that crispy brown flavor mixed in. It's also a GREAT way to get your pan nice and clean. This is called "deglazing" and it's a delicious thing to do.

Jack the heat up to high and let it come to a boil. While it's boiling, make a slurry with corn starch. Just spoon some of the stock into a bowl with corn starch in it and mix it well. Add this mixture to your pan stock. Making the slurry first ensures that your corn starch doesn't clump up and will give you a smooth, shiny stock. You can do this will a beurre blanc (butter mixed with flour, uncooked) a roux (butter mixed with flour, cooked) or a slurry of flour, as well. Corn starch is flavorless and more absorbent than flour, so I like using that.

Let it thicken for a few minutes and reduce, still at a boil, and add some dried parsley or some pesto to your sauce just before serving.

Plate up, fool! Get spoonfuls of that pan sauce over your chicken and vegetables and enjoy some totally awesome, quite economical, food.

Oh, yeah... That's some deliciousness right there.

P.S. Turns out, turnips are kind of bitter and not my favorite. They're okay, but not great. Parsnips, however? OH MY GOD. They're SO delicious! They're like sweet plantains! It's amazing! I'm in love! MORE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!

Unorthodox Spinach Pesto

I love flavors. I like sweetness, I like sourness, I like saltiness, and I like bitterness. Especially with vegetables (except brussels sprouts. They're a little TOO bitter. But straight up cabbage? Hell yeah!) and spinach is one of my favorites. I love it raw, I love it cooked, I love it smothered with cheese and baked into a casserole (I ESPECIALLY love it smothered in cheese and baked into a casserole!) but there are some dishes where the texture of spinach and its overwhelming flavor aren't appropriate in the amounts you'd usually want to put in as a vegetable portion. So, I thought, spinach pesto! With parsley, because parsley is DELICIOUS.

Traditionally, a pesto is made with basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, and balsamic vinegar. However, I think my favorite pesto is one that I made with basil, parsley, walnuts, garlic, and olive oil. It has a lighter flavor than traditional pesto, but it's still delicious! This spinach pesto is an experiment, but I think it's pretty good.

One bunch of raw spinach
One bunch of parsley (flat-leaf, if you can get it. I went with curly, which has a sharper flavor)
Four cloves of garlic
1/2c or so of almonds
Olive oil

Into a food processor, add your nuts. Anything with a milder flavor would work. Walnuts are especially nice if pine nuts are too expensive (which, for me, they always are) but almonds give a unique sweetness that I thought would be useful for this recipe.

Then, because you got ahead of yourself, turn away and get your leaves washed and dried. Be very, very thorough with your washing! There's usually a lot of sand/dirt in leafy greens, since those leaves are close-packed and hold onto dirt with a passion.

Pretty! Either let these drain really thoroughly, or pull out your handy-dandy salad spinner. I found my salad spinner out by the dumpster at my apartment complex. ROCK!

You want to get as much of the water off as you can before adding your leaves to your processor. Water and oil don't mix, and you eventually want to incorporate lots of olive oil into your pesto, and if it's too wet, that will be difficult to do effectively. Don't worry about it being perfectly bone-dry, just spin it through a few times. Add a handful of each to the food processor.

Now, my food processor has a pretty small bowl and it's pretty old, so I have half of the nuts, two cloves of garlic, and a handful each of spinach and parsley. I ground these down, added another handful of spinach and another handful of parsley, and blended in oil as I pulsed the processor until I'd incorporated half of the spinach and half of the parsley. Between handfuls of herbs, I scraped the sides of my processor bowl. If you have a bigger, better, newer processor, you might not need to deal with all of this. I don't have one of those, so I had to take a bit more effort.

Don't skimp on olive oil.

Let me repeat that to make sure it's abundantly clear:

Don't. Skimp. On. Olive. Oil.

Olive oil is what will make your pesto smooth as silk and hearty and delicious. You will use a lot of oil. This is a good, good thing. Olive oil is good for you! Love it. Use it. Eat it. You want your finished to pesto to look kind of like this:

It's smooth and uniformly blended and totally delicious! This is really potent stuff, but it would be delicious mixed in with a cream sauce, added to a pan sauce, smothered over a mild meat like pork or chicken and roasted, etc. Probably not eaten with a spoon. This stuff is really strong. AND DELICIOUS!

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Got some classic Nestle Tollhouse cookie recipe cookies here.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (optional--I left them out)

Preheat your oven 375 degrees while you get your ingredients ready.

Please, please, please, PLEASE don't soften butter in the microwave. Ideally, butter that is softened is basically room temperature. The best way to soften it is to cut the butter into small pieces and let it rest an hour before baking, assuming you can't just leave it out all day for some reason. Microwaving it melts random pockets of butter and doesn't soften other parts, so you end up with butter that's all wrong for making delicious cookies. So, plan your cookie baking in advance, as much as you possibly can so that your butter will be just right for giving you chewy, awesome cookies.

You'll need two sticks for this recipe:

With these sticks of butter, cream in 3/4c of plain white sugar and 3/4c of brown sugar. I prefer using dark brown to light brown whenever I can. I prefer the depth of flavor and color it gives to cookies baked with it. Also, I fairly recently bought some fancy-schmancy vanilla beans, made some epic cupcakes, and put the used bean in a baggie with some sugar to make delicious vanilla sugar. I like using that for, well, pretty much everything. However, it's hardly a requirement, and non-vanilla sugar works just as deliciously. Regardless of sugar used, add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the other "wet" ingredients, being the sugar and the butter, and get them all creamed together.

I didn't photograph the two eggs, but add them in at this point, mixing them in one at a time. You want to get a lot of air in this, so you want the butter particles well hacked up by sugar granules before you add the eggs, and the last thing you want is under-mixed egg!

Now, for the dry ingredients. Get the flour, baking soda, and salt mixed together. I'm really lackadasical about sifting flour, honestly. Flour sifting used to be a necessity, but modern flours are very thoroughly pre-sifted and are much softer than flours used to be, so I don't often bother. For very finicky baked recipes, I probably would still sift (you know the ones... Where you measure the flour by weight or risk baked good horror) but for something like completely foolproof cookies? Nah. It's almost traditional to do so, however, so if you insist on sifting flour all the time, you won't get judged by me. I also can't ever see myself baking finicky pastries, but if you do, let me know how it goes!

Add your flour in parts to the wet ingredients, blending completely after each addition. This does a couple of things: It gets your flour in thoroughly, so you don't end up with clumps, and it keeps flour from exploding all over the place when you start mixing. When you're done, you'll have something that looks like this:

Now, for the best part! Adding the chips! Two cups (or so, I think I had a little less, since I eyeballed it and I always seem to under measure stuff like that when I eyeball) of semi-sweet chocolate, please! I am usually all about the milk chocolate, and I've made these cookies with milk chocolate before, but they are burningly sweet unless the chocolate has at least a little bit of bitterness, so I strongly advocate semi-sweet.

Now, eat the dough right out of the bowl with your big, honking, wooden spoon. Kidding, kidding! Well, mostly.

Now, at this point, you can do two things: You can roll the cookies into balls and bake them up, or you can roll the cookies into balls and freeze the dough for later baking. You'd bake the cookies straight from the freezer (which can make for a thick, chewy, and delightful cookie!) if you chose the second option, and this way, you can have a ready supply of cookie dough whenever you get the urge for fresh-baked cookies.

I, however, am not that forward-thinking, so I baked them. How could I not? They look so GOOD!

The original recipe says nine to eleven minutes, at 375 degrees, but I suggest starting with seven minutes and adding time as necessary. Mine baked in about 7-8 minutes. Look for just a little bit of browning right around the bottom edges. They'll spread quite a bit, so don't focus on being particularly economic with your pan space. I always put too many cookies on a pan. Don't be like me.

Whatever, I have no regrets. LOOK at these!

Holy sugary deliciousness, Batman!

September 21, 2009

Rice, Vegetables, and Chickpeas

Three posts in a day! This is a pretty average dinner, honestly. Well, as "average" as our dinners get. I try to mix it up as much as I can, but some kind of starch + some mix of vegetables +/- some kind of meat product or other protein source = basically supper. Sometimes, it's pasta with veggies and chicken, sometimes it's rice with veggies and soy sauce, tonight it was rice with veggies and chickpeas.

So, the cast of characters in tonight's dining experience:
1c rice, uncooked (white or brown is fine, but brown will cook a LOT longer)
1/4 large onion
1 fatty carrot, or 2 small carrots
2 spears of celery
2 cloves garlic (I used 3 because these are tiny)
6 large spears asparagus
1/2c frozen peas
1 can chickpeas
1tsp consomm√© or 1 cup of stock for the rice
1T awesome sauce (more on that later) (No, it is not drugs)
some olive oil
a dash of stock for the vegetables

First, get the rice started. Get a little bit of olive oil the pan on medium heat--only a teaspoon or so--and coat the rice with it. Add 1tsp of consomm√© and coat the rice with that. Jack your heat up to high, add 1 and 3/4c water. If you're not using consomm√©, cook it with a cup a stock and 3/4 cup of water. You don't want an overpowering stock flavor in your rice, so aim for about half water, half flavoring. Once the liquid is boiling, turn the heat to a simmer, lid it, and let it go.

Get your vegetables prepped. Everything gets diced, except the asparagus. Save that for after you get the other stuff into the pan.

Get some olive oil into a skillet on medium heat and get your soffritto/mirepoix vegetables in to cook. Let those hang out and prep the asparagus.

I wanted slightly longer asparagus pieces. I guess for something different. Since asparagus cooks a lot faster than the other vegetables in the pan, put these in when you put in the frozen peas and the awesome sauce (I'll get to that, next paragraph, I promise!). So just cut the spears in half and then cut into thirds. Nothing too exciting, but something super delicious!

Now, for the awesome sauce. I don't really have any other name for it. It's this blend I made when I made Porky-Pine meatballs for Justin. I took 8oz of mushrooms, one red bell pepper (seeds removed), a couple of cloves of garlic, and a few tablespoons of mushroom stock and beef stock with salt and pepper and ran it through the food processor. See, I really like the flavor of both mushrooms and bell peppers, but I don't actually like eating them. It's a texture thing. So, I figured I could make this awesome sauce (see? See?) and it would have tons of delicious flavor and I could just use a little bit at a time, if I kept it in the freezer! So, that's what I do. I have a tub of it in the freezer and every now and then, I hack at it with a knife (next time I'll make ice cubes...) until I have as much as I want, and then I cook it into stuff. It makes pan sauces sing like angels, it enlivens blander grinds of meat, and it helps to bind and add moisture to any number of dishes. It's awesome sauce. You should make some. Anyway, I chipped out about a tablespoon of it and stuck it in a bowl with some peas.

When the rice was about done and the veggies were almost ready to eat, but not quite completely, I added a shot of stock (I had beef on hand, but anything will do), the awesome sauce, the asparagus, and the peas. I let it cook for another couple of minutes and had this:

Oh, yeah. That meal's looking FINE! I drained and rinsed a can of chickpeas and added them to the vegetables like so:

Gave it a few good stirs to let the chickpeas heat through and it was done! I tasted to adjust salt and pepper (always, always use pepper. It's not the King of Spices for nothing) The rice was fluffy and delicious, the vegetables soft but with a little bit of bite, and the chickpeas were creamy and delightful.

Plated up (well, bowled over would probably be the slightly more appropriate term) it was very nice and very, very tasty:

I added some pre-shredded Asiago cheese and some freshly grated Parmesan to the top and it was perfect. It was mild, but flavorful, and the awesome sauce adds so much with so little. There's a great blend of sweet and bitter with the carrots, peas, and asparagus, the onion and celery adds some heartiness to the dish, and the chickpeas have a nice creamy, slightly nutty flavor that is well balanced with the cheese. The rice adds a bit of a stick-to-your ribs quality and has a little shot of strong stock flavor from having been cooked in it. Best of all? It's a super, super easy meal. Fifteen or twenty minutes in the kitchen and you've got supper. Not a bad deal, I think.

P.S. Here's the frozen, chipped-out chunk of awesome sauce. It's really, really amazingly good. Trust me! But yeah... Definitely doing ice cubes next time...