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Not What I Meant To Cook

15 Aug

cooking
I am not a gifted cook.  I am lucky.

I “caramelize” (burn) things sometimes most of the time.  I don’t cook with recipes unless I’m in the mood for a Fun Project.  It is not unusual for me to go to the store and buy a bunch of things that happen to make me hungry, bring them home, line them up, and start musing (or googling) how I might put them all together.  It’s kind of a miracle I don’t end up with more Oreo-Dorito casseroles.

This week, I got an organic bone-in chuck roast from the farmers market (fancy, right?), some onions, a frozen veggie mix that was sort of stir-fry-esque, and some organic tamari (like soy sauce, but not).  I almost got ginger, but I was too lazy to turn around in the store and find it.  And I knew I had garlic at home.

I got home, noticed that I also had red curry paste and coconut milk, and changed gears.
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The tamari is still unopened on my counter, and once I’d had my roast browned and simmering for about THREE DAYS in coconut curry, I discovered that my delicious veggies were teriyaki flavored.  Huh?  Gross.  I guess those will have to wait.  For a day when I am REALLY hungry.  I found some frozen broccoli and threw that in instead.

So my beef stir fry turned into coconut curry pot roast with broccoli.  It’s delicious (as judged by a jury of myself), but totally not what I thought I was cooking.  As usual.
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EAT ME.

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So bad… but so good!

13 Sep


I’m a great wife because I cook for my husband.  I’m not so great because dinner hits the table around 10:30pm.  Points for effort?

I know this isn’t when I normally talk about my attempts at frugality, but it coincides so nicely this weekend with my attempts in the kitchen that I really can’t avoid the subject.  I saw a commercial on Sunday morning that Pahl’s Market has a fresh vegetable stand inside their garden center.  We decided to check it out on the way home from church, and scored all of this…

…for $3.87!  I used a poblano and the tomato in a breakfast scramble thing with the leftover chorizo from last week’s bake and one of the limes in a couple of gin & tonics.  The tomato was juicy and red.  The poblano was actually spicy.  That never happens!  The limes were sweet, which was strange but amazing.  The big beige blob you see is a spaghetti squash.  It’s something I’ve been meaning to try for a couple years, but either I never notice them or they aren’t available at all stores.  A good friend of mine grew up on the stuff and has good childhood memories of it.  Plus, we figured this meal cost us five or six bucks, and could have really been 3 or 4 servings, not just 2.

I thought I’d keep it simple for my first rodeo and just make a tomato sauce to go with it.  The husband was SO impressed with the low low prices that he was willing to race back to Pahl’s before closing time last night so that I could get some more tomatoes, a head of garlic, and an onion for said sauce.  I got home with my killing and got to work.

A trick: score the bottom of the tomatoes with an “X” and place them in a collander in the sink.  Heat water in a kettle to boiling and pour it over the tomatoes.  Cool them with cold water from the tap, and then peel them.  The skins come right off!  No bad words necessary!
I chopped half of the onion and smashed a couple cloves of garlic, and set them to saute them in my best olive oil.  Then I got to work on the squash… easier said than done.  Several knives were discarded in the process, but this little guy was the winner.  I could make a nimble fist, jam him into the skin, and work it slowly around the diameter.  I’ve read a few recipes that say you can bake the squash whole, and THEN cut it open.  Next time.  I scooped the seeds out, oiled it up, and baked it cut-side down on some foil.  I think about 375F for 30-40 minutes should do it.

While the squash was baking, I got to work on my sauce.  I hacked the skinned tomatoes into chunks with my awesome kitchen shears, threw in a couple of bay leaves, and let it go for about half an hour.  After it was nice and simmery, I just used my wooden spoon to smush the tomatoes into a nice pomodoro.  A little salt and pepper and some dried basil, and I was done.  The squash came out of the oven and in went some ripped up hunks of sourdough also left over from last week’s breakfast bake, coated with olive oil and Penzey’s life-altering Shallot Salt.

I “fluffed” the squash with a fork, kind of like you do with rice, to separate the strands.  Each half more than filled a pasta bowl, and I topped it with the sauce.  The sauce turned out to taste exactly like the sauce my mom always made when I was a kid.  I always hated it.  I wanted Spaghetti-Os.  I wanted Stouffer’s Lasagna.  I did NOT want FRESH VEGETABLES.  Times have changed.  I want fresh vegetables, and I want to live on this squash and sauce and shallot hunk combo forever.

Breakfast is served! And served… and served…

6 Sep


Okay, my life is back to normal for a few weeks.  Nobody is traveling anywhere this month, there are no major work functions on days that I’m not supposed to work, and I might actually get more than half a load of laundry done per week.  What does that mean for you?  Well, that I had TIME to make my weekly batch of breakfast, and that I also remembered to document it for you so that you can make it, too!  Are you ready?  Let’s go to the store!

You’ll need a dozen eggs and a quart of milk for your base.  I use organic 1% milk – I think a little fat content helps the texture, and conventional milk freaks me out since all my friends read Skinny Bitch.  Something about blood and pus, but I’m too afraid to actually read it myself.  I just shell out for organic dairy.  Yeah.  Now that we’re all hungry… get some cheese, some veggies, and some protein.  You can use whatever combinations you like.  Sauteed onions, green peppers, and ham are great with sharp cheddar.  Turkey sausage and monterey jack are a good combination.  Bacon and spinach.  Leftover chicken from fajitas is really good with black olives and green chiles.  Get the idea?  Good.  Grab a baguette or other rustic bread from the bakery and you’re set.

Pull out a 9×13 baking dish… for some reason, I’ve had better luck with my pan that has straighter sides.  It seems to cook better.  No need to grease, but I bet a little butter wouldn’t hurt if you wanted to use it!  Tear up the bread, using mostly the inside parts, and cover the bottom of the pan with little chunks of it, like this:

Put a couple tablespoons of mustard powder into a mixing bowl and start cracking your eggs.  I try to scramble the first egg or two with the powder so that it blends well.  Scramble all 12 eggs together, and add some pepper or any other seasonings you want in there.  Whisk in two cups of milk and set aside.
I used chorizo this week, and ended up using 3 sausages.  I cut each dog into quarters lengthwise and then chopped them up small.  Those pieces got sprinkled evenly over the bread, then I layered on a can of sliced olives and covered it with Tillamook sharp cheddar.  It’s my all-time favorite.  Pour the egg mixture over that and put it in the fridge overnight.

Set your alarm a little early, put your unbaked bake in the oven at 350 for about an hour.  If you want it a little less crispy on top, you can cover it with foil for the first half hour or so.  It works just like any other bake – when a knife comes out clean, it’s done!  I can usually get 8-10 breakfasts out of it.

Voila!  Viola!  Wallah!
To reheat the slices each morning, microwave them for 3 or 4 minutes at medium-high and then another 30 seconds on high.  This is definitely my most efficient 30 minutes of the week.  Even when I don’t feel like doing it, it’s so worth the time and money it saves me in the mornings.  Let me know what ingredient combos you guys come up with, I need some new ideas!

Trailer Trash Supper

16 Aug


Dinner is served!

The husband named this post.  I finally made beer can chicken (he says “beer butt” is more fun to say), after having bought the stand/can holder, oh, 8 years ago), and then Saltine Cracker Toffee by The Girl Who Ate Everything, after I had to look at it on the blog of my pal at Riot & Frolic.

I used this recipe for Beer Can Chicken as my guideline recipe.  I tend not to “use recipes,” but rather follow principles (the chicken goes on a medium-high grill for 1 hour, 15 minutes) and wing it (heh, get it?  chicken?) on the rest.  My adventure started today at Lund’s where I found two, count them, two chickens in the meat case.  Both organic (good), both about $22 (holy cow).  Did everyone else know that a chicken costs so much?  This store is the home of the Five Buck Cluck, which gets you an entire chicken for five dollars.  So when I save them the trouble of preparing it, I pay 400 percent?  Sure.  So, after much deliberating (bickering) in the aisle – and the nice grocery man asking if he could help… – N decided that “beer butt chicken” was still really fun to say, even if it meant spending half a paycheck on the ingredients.

The only canned beer in our fridge?  Coors Light.  Don’t judge, we had a party last weekend and it was left behind.  Some people like it, and I was raised on Busch Light, so I guess I can’t really comment.  I took as many “gulps” as I could manage, per the recipe’s instructions, and then passed it off to the Man to take care of the rest.  This is not tasty beer, people.

I rinsed and patted dry my chicken, greased him up, and dusted him with salt, pepper, and my own special dry rub: BBQ seasoning, ancho chili powder, smoked Spanish paprika, shallot salt (think: garlic salt, only more amazing), and cayenne pepper.  I did not measure, just mixed until it smelled right.
I layered the stand, the beer can, and then the chicken, and put the whole assembly onto the grill.  Note: remove the upper racks first.

While he hung out in his personal sauna, we went through our VHS (I know) collection with a fine-toothed comb.  We’re down to a one-bookshelf stock.  This is in prep for our multi-family garage sale this weekend, and in keeping with our Trailer Trash theme.  I’m thinking a quarter for each movie, or five for a buck.  Come on down!

When Foghorn Leghorn was ready, I took him off the heat and started dessert.  Two sticks of butter, a cup of brown sugar, and a layer of saltines (they are topped with sea salt, now!).  Boil the butter and brown sugar for 3 minutes, pour over the saltines, and bake at 400 degrees for 6 minutes.

The recipe says that when you pull them out, you can just top them with chocolate chips and they will melt.  Notsomuch.  So I put them back in the oven to soften a little more, and finally just smeared them around with a spatula.  The Girl says that when they’re done, they’ll look like this:


They do not.  But if they taste even CLOSE to that picture, I win.

In conclusion… the chicken was the best I’ve ever had.  It was easy, and so tender it was falling off the bone.  Literally.  N picked up a chicken leg, and all the meat fell off, leaving him holding the bone.  The toffee?  Unreal.  It reminds me of something my mom and I used to make, which I will post another day.  Next time I’m pretty sure I’ll add a layer of peanut butter chips, and then the chocolate.  Yes.

Finally, the backdrop to our redneck evening: season one of The Dukes of Hazzard.  What can I say?  We’re into themes.

Kitchen Ninja

12 Jul

Yesterday was Day One of my Week of Good Things.  I’m going to be honest with you – I got a lot done.  First things first, I sat out on the back porch with a cup of coffee and read.  No, wait, that wasn’t even the first thing.  First, I MADE the coffee, then I lounged around with it.  Don’t leave, it gets more interesting.

Breakfast tacos were the first menu item yesterday.  Soft shell for him, hard shell for me.  Some scrambled eggs, cheese, and a buffet of taco toppings.  One of the best ideas I’ve had!  Super easy, and having to put it all together each time kept me eating slowly enough that I didn’t do that thing that horses do.

After that mess was cleaned up, I whipped up (with my helper) a breakfast bake that should get us through the week.  Today’s report: the wheat baguette we put in it this time is overwhelming.  No amount of Tillamook cheddar can quiet this bread.

Next, I took the 16 organic lemons that I bought over the weekend at Whole Foods and my life-changing Microplane zester and zested and zested into a gallon jug.  Well, into a funnel that was on top of the gallon jug.  Live and learn.

Then, once I coaxed the big zesty clog down into the jar (I used a chopstick), I poured in a 1.75 of decent vodka and corked it.  This will sit in my pantry for a few weeks until I get around to making some simple syrup to add to the mix.  It’s soooo much better than the stuff you can buy, and so much cheaper!  As soon as it’s done, I can get to the very important and not-to-be-taken-lightly task of inventing a new cocktail.  And yes, I’m wearing purple polka-dotted pants.

Next, I looked at the big bowl of now-naked lemons I had.  Those won’t keep!  So what did I do?  I made lemonade!  This would have been a LOT more fun if I owned a citrus reamer.  What I do own, though, is a set of matching thumbs.  So my thumbs and I got to work squeezing all 16 lemons into a big measuring cup.  3 cups of juice is what made it INTO the cup.  If you’ve ever squeezed 16 lemons with your thumbs, you know that a lot of juice ends up on you, on your work surface, and on the floor.  I recommend getting an audience (husband) for this process, it’s really enjoyable for them (him).

I’m just not convinced that you can dissolve granulated sugar effectively in lemon juice, so I made a simple syrup to sweeten things up.  I didn’t use nearly the proportion that my guideline recipe called for, and I still might have over-sweetened it.  I saved the rest of the syrup so that I’d have a little jar in my fridge, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while.  It’s a taco sauce jar, and even though I cleaned it out really well, the lid still smells like taco sauce.  So here’s hoping my simple syrup doesn’t taste like green chiles.

A short break was taken to go compare prices at the liquor stores in the area (research for our upcoming bbq), and to pick up some herbs that I fully intend to pot very soon.  I didn’t get to it yesterday, and today isn’t looking good either.  But they are by the window in their plastic bags, and I think they’ll be fine for a few days.

When we came back, I embarked on my final project for the day: red curry glazed salmon with bok choy and pineapple slaw.  A-mazing.  Recipes coming soon to a blog near you.  I got them from this month’s Real Simple, they had an article on 3-ingredient recipes.  I didn’t expect the flavors to be so interesting, but it was great!  I think I’ll keep these handy.  Bonus: 3-ingredient meals are cheaper than 17-ingredient meals. Plus I used some of the remaining cilantro to make a neat tequila drink.  Whatever helps me waste less, people.

Dinner is served.

I don’t mean to brag…

13 Jun

I baked a cake this weekend.  From scratch.  If you spend any time around me, you probably already know this, as I obsessed about it for about 5 days before it even happened.  The victims?  The ladies of book club.  Let me share a little bit about the experience…

I own several cute aprons – at least two of them involve polka dots.  But somewhere in my mind, I have aprons categorized as “retro” or “obsolete” or some other category that deems them unnecessary when I’m cooking.  So when Act I of this cake-baking adventure found me promptly covered in flour, I decided I will start using aprons more often.  Some other things I learned through this experience: parchment paper should come pre-cut in rounds.  Minor pain in the arse cutting circles out of parchment paper.  Also, non-nonstick cake pans are better, because the batter needs something to “grip” while it “climbs” the side of the pan.  Thanks to my pastry-chef-friend E.  Did you know that nonstick cake pans cause the cake to brown more on the edges?  Neither did I.  Did you also know that some recipes call for 9″ rounds, and some call for 8″ rounds?  Who came up with THAT system?  For now, I have 3 stick 9″ pans.  Let me know if you need to borrow them.

The cake was great.  I have a hard time dividing things “in half,” apparently, so when it came time to spread the filling between the layers, there may have been some jamming of lemon curd between two already-set layers.  Turns out it tastes okay even if you rough it up a little bit in the process.

I also made sangria (for my regular friends) and fruit punch (for my pregnant friends).  I didn’t try the non-alcoholic version – what? – but someone asked for the recipe so it must have been okay.  The sangria comes from Emeril and can be found here, and the regular punch was cran-pomegranate, a squeeze of lime, a bottle of San Pellegrino, and some other stuff.  I also made some caramelized onion dip in an effort to get rid of the Greek yogurt in my fridge.  My mom suggested I add some ground chipotle to it, so I did, and it was good.  I like it both ways!

Tonight I grilled some salmon, and managed not to screw it up.  Turning it over was nearly as terrifying as baking a cake, but it worked out.  Look out, I seem to be on a roll.  Next up: souffle!  That was a little culinary humor, I’m not actually dumb enough to try making a souffle.

I know you’re probably already feeling bad about yourself, what with all that I’ve gotten done this weekend, but there’s more.  I managed ALL OF THIS, and also found time to go shopping!  I know!  In a futile search for the Perfect Summer Frock, I bought one dress that he loves (I was ambivalent, it is above the knee and fitted – there is no room for gluttony in this thing), and one that I think he would prefer I never even saw.  It hits me somewhere below the ankle, is blousy-but-belted, and I could probably fit two of my closest friends or several racks of ribs in there with me.  It’s a “maxi dress.”  The best invention of the 21st century, I think.  I am certain that men everywhere are organizing a campaign against them, but ladies, they are genius.  Throw on some flip flops and some bangles and it’s practically evening wear.  Now I just need to get to work and make some jewelry to go with these new friends of mine…