Sunday, March 31, 2013

Monday Recipe: Oven Gratin Potatoes via Pol Martin

     You can't go wrong with potato dishes for a kitchen on a budget. There's just so many different ways to make them. They can be side dishes or the main dish. One of my favorite ways to have potatoes is as a gratin. It's a great side for just about any meat. This particular recipe comes from a Pol Martin cook book that I go to quite often. It's a fast and easy recipe that we doctor up with some melted mozzarella across the top.
Oven Gratin Potatoes
(vial Pol Martin's Supreme Cuisine)

  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and sliced, set in cold water
  • 1/4 teaspoon savory
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella 
  • salt
  • butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Drain potatoes and dry well. Place in bowl.
  3. Mix savory, cayenne, white pepper and parsley together. Add to potatoes and mix.
  4. Rub baking dish with garlic clove. Butter dish generously and arrange potato slices in layers. Season with salt, if desired.
  5. Mix eggs, milk and cream together. Pour over potatoes. Bake in oven for 40-50 minutes. Add shredded mozzarella during last 10-15 minutes of cooking. 
Good times!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ingredients I Never Seem To Have In Stock

     I can't even count how many times I've gotten pumped to cook a recipe, then had to stop because I was missing a critical ingredient. Time and time again I tell myself that there are certain things that I must keep in stock if I'm going to be successful in the kitchen. Time and time again I completely forget to pick those things up at the grocery store. Some of you may ask "Why not just run to the store?" It's matter of principle. I screwed up by not having the item in stock. I am therefore entitled to a meltdown/tantrum until I can find a substitute for the item or an alternate recipe.
KHAAAAAAAn't find any smoked paprika!
Here's a few of my regulars:

I almost never have this in the kitchen. The one time I bought it I never used it. It just sat in the fridge until it went off. I almost got completely derailed on St. Patrick's day when I went to make some soda bread and realized it called for buttermilk. There was no way I was going to put on pants and go to the market, so I just found out how to use milk and lemon juice to make ersatz buttermilk. Now I only need to worry about not having milk and lemon juice in the kitchen.

Heavy Cream
I am continually in need of heavy cream. I have lost count of the times I've found a recipe I really want to make and had to find something else because it asked for heavy cream. On those rare occasions where I do haul my carcass to the market in town, more often than not, they're out.

The bottom line is Gruyere is too damned expensive to just keep in the house. If I'm using Gruyere, it's because I planned the meal way in advance.  Maybe if I hit the lottery I'll consider keeping it in regular rotation.

I love prosciutto. The problem is, it's not one of those things that pops into my mind when I'm making a grocery list. For me, prosciutto is a weekend special meal ingredient. It's also not something the local market carries, so if I want it, I'm driving half an hour round trip to go get it.

Spanish Chorizo
This isn't for lack of looking. For whatever reason, I can't get the cured chorizo anywhere near me. You know where I can find it? Target. Not even kidding. Unfortunately, that target is nearly a half hour away. However, there's a really good liquor store right down the street so it's not a total loss.

Good times!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Recipe: Pistachio-Basil Pesto (via Rachael Ray)

     You can never go wrong with pesto. It goes with just about anything. I've used it with pasta, chicken, fish and beef. It's just incredibly versatile. I found this particular recipe in my good friend Rachael Ray's magazine. I was drawn to it because it used pistachios instead of pine nuts. I don't normally keep pine nuts in the house. I do, however, keep pistachios by the pound. We also had a huge supply of basil from the garden, so we made a lot of this.
     We did find that this is cannable! We doubled the amount of lemon juice when making the recipe for canning. We then loaded it to about 1/4" shy of the top in a half-pint jar. Process in a boiling water canner for about 15 minutes. We haven't gotten sick from it yet, even using pesto that was about a year old! Granted, if you can it and manage to get sick, obviously I never recommended canning in the first place and you probably did something wrong, so I can't be held responsible.

Pistachio-Basil Pesto
(via Rachael Ray)
  • 2 garlic cloves 
  • ½ cup shelled pistachios 
  • 2 cups loosely packed basil 
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice 
  • ½ teaspoon salt 
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
  • ¼ cup Parmigiano/Romano cheese 
  1. Pulse garlic in food processor until chopped 
  2. Add pistachios, basil, lemon juice and salt. Pulse until nuts are finely chopped 
  3. Add olive oil gradually through food chute and process until well combined 
  4. Add cheese and pulse 2 or 3 times 

Makes about 1 cup.
Per tablespoon: 70 calories, 7g fat

Good times!

Recipe Monday: Pesto Roasted Salmon with Spinach and Orzo

     This particular meal came about as a last minute change. I had originally planned on making a very rich pasta dish for dinner. I decided to go with something lighter because I ended up going out to breakfast at Huddle House and eating two sausage, egg and cheese biscuits. That burned through about half of my allotted calories for the day. The orzo still gave me my pasta fix, which was nice. I wound up substituting a pistachio-basil pesto I canned last season for the pesto mentioned in this recipe. It came out wonderfully. I'll definitely be making this again. I do so love a nice piece of fish.

Pesto Roasted Salmon with Spinach and Orzo
(via McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant Cookbook)

• 1 pound salmon fillets
• 3/4 cup pesto (I used a pistachio-basil pesto)
• 1 1/4 cups orzo pasta
• 5 oz. frozen, no-salt-added spinach
• 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
• 1/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
• Freshly ground black pepper
• Lemon slices

• 1 cup fresh basil
• 1/4 cup freshly chopped garlic
• 1 cup chopped walnuts
• 1/4 cup Extra virgin olive oil
• 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Combine and blend thoroughly in a blender or food processor

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. 
  2. Cut salmon into 4 portions and rinse. Set aside while preparing pesto. 
  3. Lightly coat baking dish with cooking spray. 
  4. Pat fish dry with paper towels. Cut each salmon steak in half, removing as much of bone, cartilage and skin as possible. 
  5. Coat fillets in pesto and roast for approximately 8 minutes or until the fish flakes. 
  6. Meanwhile, cook orzo and spinach according to package directions. Drain pasta well. 
  7. Squeeze out excess moisture from spinach then combine together with pasta. Stir in nutmeg, cheese and pepper and combine with pasta. 
  8. Divide onto 4 plates. Place salmon portions on top of pasta.
Good times!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Erica's "Best Ever" Brownies aka Chocolate Pancreas Destroyers

  A while back I ranted a bit on calling recipes "Best Ever." I feel that if you're going to do that, you'd better have your research done. You'd better be damned sure that no better recipe exists on this planet, in all of recorded history, or I will call you out on it. One of my friends from Way Back threw down the gauntlet. She sang the praises of her brownies. "Best Ever," she crowed proudly. I told her to put her money where her mouth is and send me the recipe.
Come at me, bro...
The verdict? Well, "Best Ever" is subjective. What may be the best ever for me might not be the best ever for you. I will say this. These are some of the best damned brownies I've had in a long, long time. A little bit of a crunch on the outside gives way to a chewy, alarmingly rich center.
Erica's "Best Ever" Brownies
Chocolate Pancreas Destroyers

  • 4 oz. Bakers's unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 sticks butter (salted) or margarine (you might as well just use butter at this point. If you're making these, you're probably not watching fat and calorie intake)
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract or other flavoring
  • 1 12 ounce package semi-sweet chocolate morsels or other flavor if desired
  1. Pre-heat oven to °350F
  2. Spray a 8x10 pan (glass/Pyrex is recommended) with cooking spray or butter and dust with flour
  3. Melt baker's chocolate in a double boiler OR melt butter and chocolate in a microwavable bowl stirring frequently to prevent burning. Melt till completely smooth and combined
  4. Add sugar and mix thoroughly
  5. In a separate bowl beat eggs well
  6. Add eggs to chocolate mixture tempering to prevent scrambled eggs
  7. Add flour in small batches till well combined and there are no streaks or lumps of flour
  8. Pour complete batter into pan evenly
  9. Take chocolate morsels and cover the top of the batter evenly
  10. Bake at °350 for 35 minutes or until the edges just pull away and a toothpick comes out of the center still with moist crumbs

Notes: These, for whatever reason, took me a bit longer than the recipe called for. I cooked them for closer to 50 minutes. It's quite possible I goofed somewhere, but no harm seemed to be done. The result was the outside pieces had a bit of a crunch to the outside. The wife loves a brownie with a crunchy outside, so it was a win. Try the recipe as-is, then see where you end up on cooking time. Under-cooked is much easier to fix than over.

Good times!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why I Cook, A Story In 1600 Calories

     I've been seriously cooking for a bit over four years now. I really enjoy cooking, but it wasn't a critical part of my life. It was just something I did to put food on the table. Most of the time it was crap food. We ordered out a lot. We ate out a lot. When you see my entries for Nutritionally Irresponsible Cooking, this is the sort of thing I was regularly putting on the table. Which leads to a doctor's appointment I had.
     I was just getting a routine physical for work. The doctor took my blood pressure. He asked me if my head hurt. He asked me if my vision was impaired. He asked me if I had any chest pain. I told him no on all accounts. He waited a bit and took my blood pressure again. He then asked the same questions. I told him if he kept asking me, I was likely to eventually develop a headache or chest pain. He arranged for me to have an echo-cardiogram. He was worried about edema,  high blood pressure, thickening of the heart. I went in and had the echo.
     In the end, it was nothing. I had mildly elevated blood pressure and was retaining water. My heart was fine. I was put on blood pressure medication and diuretics. The doctor told me I needed to drop weight. The doctor had successfully scared the hell out of me.  I was a shade over 320lbs. I asked his advice for weight loss. His advice was this:

  • Limit intake to 1600 calories a day
  • Most non-starchy fruits and vegetables can be counted as zero calories
  • Take in the calories however you want. If you want to take your daily calories in ice cream, have at it.
  • Once a week, you can double your caloric intake if desired
     That was it. And that was the genius of it. If I wanted to eat sweets, I could. I'd just run out of calories fast. If I wanted a big-ass salad, basically all I paid for in calories was for dressing and non-veggie toppings like cheese, eggs and meat. I found a good calorie counter for my iPod. I entered everything diligently. Every meal. Every day. I started carefully considering what I ate. If I kept to lower calorie foods, I naturally gravitated to healthier items. 
     That's where I realized I needed to cook more. If I cooked from scratch, I had total control of the calories in the meal. I could tweak recipes. I found 300 calorie cookbooks. I fell in love with cooking. I enjoyed making something that didn't at all taste like it was lo-cal, but actually was. The weight started coming off. To date, I've lost about 65 pounds with no notable exercise. I've been stuck at about 255-260 for the past two years. This speaks volumes for the diet. It creates weight loss, then maintains that weight loss. Now I've started to add regular exercise to the mix, and little by little, the weight is coming off again. My goal is 235. We'll see what happens. In the meantime, I will continue doing what I enjoy, and that is putting good food on the table.

Good times!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Recipe Monday: Irish Soda Bread

     Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. Hopefully you remember. Hopefully you're in some condition to go about your day.

Hopefully, it's not this bad.
     I, however, was the picture of moderation. Mostly. I had to be since I was cooking dinner. I made my standard corned beef and cabbage, but I tried a couple new things this year. I made colcannon and soda bread. I don't normally do the baking in the house. That usually falls to my wife or her mom. Both are very good bakers. I puttered around the internet and eventually found a recipe on the Huffington Post, of all places. I made a minor substitution, and made the buttermilk from scratch.  Milk and lemon juice! Who knew? As always, substitutions and additions are highlighted in blue.  The result was slightly sweet and extremely delicious. I can easily see myself making this bread at any time during the year, not just as a whiskey sponge. 
Irish Soda Bread
(via Ian Knauer on the Huffington Post)

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons caraway seed (I used 1.5 tablespoons of sesame seeds)
  • 1 3/4 cups well-shaken buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter and flour a large baking sheet, knocking off excess flour.
  2. Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the butter is pea-sized lumps. 
  3. Add raisins and caraway, then add buttermilk and stir just until dough is evenly moistened but still lumpy.
  4. Transfer dough to a well-floured surface and gently knead with floured hands about 8 times to form a soft but slightly less sticky dough, then form into a ball. Pat dough ball into a domed 8-inch round on baking sheet. Cut a 1/2-inch-deep X on top of each loaf with a sharp knife.
  5. Bake in the middle of oven until golden brown and bottom sounds hollow when tapped, 45 to 55 minutes. 
  6. Transfer to rack to cool completely.
Good times!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Entertaining: The Play List

     Music is an integral part of my planning for entertaining. One of the most used appliances in my kitchen is the under-cabinet stereo. It doesn't matter if it's a fancy dinner party, or a buffet-style gathering. There must be music. I take a fair amount of pride in being able to put together the right mix for the occasion. Just remember that the play list is set and can not be altered unless the mood calls for it.

     I often host buffet-style parties. It's basically lots of people wandering with plates and cups. Lots of food and lots of drinks. The mood is definitely casual and fun. I want to keep the music low-key so as not to overpower the conversation. It's really just there to fill any gaps in the noise. So what's on my play list?
  • The Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions
  • The Best of Kansas
  • Alana Davis - Blame It On Me
  • Billy Joel - The Complete Hits 1973-1997, Vol 2
  • Steely Dan - A Decade of Steely Dan
  • KT Tunstall - Drastic Fantastic
  • KT Tunstall - Eye To The Telescope
  • The Black Keys - El Camino
  • Paul McCartney - Flaming Pie
  • The Gabe Dixon Band - The Gabe Dixon Band
  • Chicago - Greatest Hits 1982-1989
  • America - History: America's Greatest Hits
  • Kassidy - Hope St. 
  • The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
  • Luce - Luce
  • Gotye - Making Mirrors
  • Edwin McCain - Misguided Roses
  • The Moody Blues - Greatest Hits
  • Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong
  • OK Go - The Color of the Sky
  • Big Head Todd & the Monsters - Riviera
  • Big Head Todd & the Monsters - Strategem
  • Yes - 90125
     That, in my opinion, is just the right mix of pacing and energy. Not too slow and quiet, not too loud and fast. 

Good times!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Chamber of Horrors: The Refrigerator

     So there are hundreds, if not thousands of blog posts and articles about the ingredients that must be kept in the cabinets and refrigerators to be a successful cook. I'm not going to bother you with those ingredients. I have them. You have them. We all have them. Today I'm going to take a look at some of the things in my fridge that most of you don't have. Things I probably should throw away. I will be judging the quality of these items with the help of my close, personal friend, Barack Obama.

A 13 Year Old Bottle of Hot Sauce
A couple of days ago I was making taco salads and was trying to figure out what hot sauce to use. I rummaged in the fridge and happened across a bottle of Pain is Good Garlic Habanero sauce. I bought this bottle when I was still living at home. 13 years ago. I assumed that hot sauces are mostly vinegar, so I should be fine. I put it on my taco salad. It still had plenty of heat.
Obama says: Still has plenty of heat and flavor.
Still good for a few more years.
Horseradish That Was Past The Expiration Date When I Bought It
Our local market regularly lists items as "Manager's Special." This roughly translates to "sell at a reduced price before the health inspector comes in and sees that we're selling food days after the 'sell by' date." Lurking in my refrigerator is a jar of horseradish that was a week or so past the "sell by" date when I bought it. Two years ago. I figure horseradish has vinegar in it, too, so no worries there. Still has some tang to it. I can't figure out how this could possibly spoil, but I'm starting to worry.
Obama says: Tastes okay, but maybe consider tossing it already.
 You only paid a buck-fifty for it
I'm not talking salad dressings, I'm talking honest to God wishbones out of turkeys. I must have three or four in the fridge. I place the blame for this behavior firmly on my mother. She would take the wishbone out of the bird, put it in a zip lock bag to dry out, then forget about it forever. In my house we do actually break the wishbone. We make a wish and everything. However, I have somehow managed to build up a backlog of wishbones. I can't eat them. They won't make good soup stock. I don't see myself making a pile of wishes.
Obama says: Throw the damned things out already.
Or send them to me. I could use all the help I can get.

A Quart Jar of Spicy Pickled Chard Stems
We grew a bunch of chard two years ago and never really figured out what to do with it. I never could get past the dirty taste. We ended up with a huge glut of chard at the end of the season. I found a recipe for to pickle them in a spicy pickling liquid. I pickled them. The liquid turned purple. When we opened them later that year, what I had was chard that still tasted dirty but was now spicy. Nobody will really eat it and I can't bring myself to throw it away because that seems wasteful. Now it just sits quietly in the back of the fridge.
Obama says: Shitcan it. Even the roaches won't eat it.
That's all for now. Maybe sometime I'll take a look in my cabinets and see what Eldritch Horrors reside there!

Good times!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Recipe Monday: Macaroni & Cheese with Worcestershire and Mustard (via Bon Appetit)

     I posted a picture of this recipe on my Facebook page and it was fairly well received by both of the people who follow it. I found this recipe in Bon Appetit and decided it would be perfect for the shindig I hosted last Friday. I made a couple of small changes and it turned out wonderfully. I added a cup of diced ham.  As always, changes to the recipe will be highlighted in blue.
     I was expecting super gooey mac and cheese and ended up with something more akin to a casserole. It is rich and dense enough that it can stand on its own as an entree. Most importantly, it is super easy to make. I doubled this recipe with no issues.

Macaroni & Cheese with Worcestershire and Mustard
(via Bon Appetit)

  • 1/2 pound small elbow macaroni (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 2 1/2 cups (packed) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (10 ounces)
  • 2 5-ounce cans evaporated milk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (I used a tablespoon)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup diced ham
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish. 
  2. Cook macaroni in medium pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. 
  3. Drain macaroni and place in large bowl. Add butter and toss until melted. Mix in 2 cups cheddar cheese (and ham, if using)
  4. Beat milk, eggs, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and cayenne pepper in medium bowl to blend. 
  5. Stir egg mixture into macaroni. Transfer to prepared dish; sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheddar cheese over.
  6. Bake macaroni until golden on top and set in center, about 1 hour.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Nutritionally Irresponsible Cooking: The Cooking Mixture

     The first time I had this particular dish, I was camping with some friends in Kentucky. We were wrapping up a long day of doing whatever it is we were doing. I remember shotguns and building a barn door. The rest is kind of hazy. Anyway, we were tired and hungry. When the subject of dinner came up, some one suggested "The Cooking Mixture." The rest of the group nodded sagely at this suggestion. I had no idea what the Hell they babbling about. I just sort of shrugged and gave a weak OK. I just wanted to eat.
     A backpack was brought out and from that backpack came an assortment of cans. A cooking pot was located and set upon a small propane stove. Cans were opened and dumped in. A block of Spam was diced and added. Vienna Sausages might have been put in. The whole concoction was set to bubble. A large bag of Fritos was opened and dumped in. Finally, with some ceremony, a bottle of Tabasco sauce was brought out. I estimate about half of it was shaken into the mixture. We ate every last bit. I'm sure this is a direct cause of my low-grade high blood pressure.
     There is no doubt the Cooking Mixture was delicious. It was however, Horrifyingly Unhealthy. The amount of sodium and fat in this dish has to be off the scale. I'm honestly afraid to calculate it. We speculate that the dish is actually healthy due to convoluted logic. We figure that the sodium pushes our blood pressure so high that the fat never has a chance to settle and cause blockages. Granted, if our blood pressure should ever drop, our arteries would immediately harden solid and we'd drop dead on the spot.
        This is one of those recipes that changes depending on who is cooking it at the time. The version I'm showing you today is not exactly how it was the first time I ate it. Why is that? Simple, you're not supposed to remember. It's a fluid recipe, much like my chili. The base remains the same (pork and beans) but pretty much everything else is up for grabs. Throw in some chopped up Slim Jims. How about a bag of Beer Nuts? The sky's the limit!

  • 1 can, 15 ounce Beefaroni
  • 1 can, 12 ounce Spam, diced
  • 1 can, 15 ounce pork and beans or baked beans
  • 1 bag,10.5 ounce chili cheese Fritos
  • Tabasco sauce
  1. Open cans and deposit into cooking receptacle
  2. Apply heat until bubbly (the ingredients, not you)
  3. When bubbly, pour in the bag of Fritos and Tabasco sauce to taste (don't be a wuss, put in half a bottle)
  4. Serve with copious amounts of cheap, evil-smelling beer.
Good times!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Monday Recipe: Salmon with Tomato-Basil Salsa

     This is one of the first recipes I tried when I started to really get into serious cooking at home. It was on the back of a health newsletter my wife got from the NEA. I had just begun a 1,600 calories a day diet and was looking for filling recipes that were super low in calories. Salmon and vegetables was a sure thing.  Everyone really likes the tomatoes and onion. The red wine vinegar works well with the veggies and gives a nice tang to the salmon. You could use fancy salmon steaks if you wanted, but what you're seeing here uses the bagged salmon fillets from Walmart. Serve this up with a nice salad and a side of garlic bread; you've got a solid, healthy meal.

Salmon with Tomato-Basil Salsa

  • Cooking spray 
  • 4 salmon fillets (about 4 ounces each) rinsed and patted dry 
  • 3 tablespoons light mayonnaise 
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil 
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder 
  • ½ teaspoon paprika 
  • 6 ounces grape tomatoes 
  • ¼ cup fresh basil 
  • 1 to 1 ¼ ounces sweet onion 
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 
  1. Preheat oven to 375F 
  2. Spray shallow baking pan with cooking spray, place fish in pan 
  3. Stir remaining spices and we ingredients, lightly spread on each fillet 
  4. Bake 15-20 minutes until fish flakes easily 
  5. Chop tomatoes, basil and onion. Put in small bowl with vinegar. Stir to combine and spoon over cooked fillets 
4 servings, 200 calories per serving.

Good times!