Sunday, December 21, 2008

Peanut Butter Balls

To me, Christmas cookies are some of the best sweet items I eat all year. Everyone has a different method, recipe, or family tradition that they enjoy sharing with everyone else. I have had German cookies, Mexican candies, Chinese pastries, and many others. I love them all. My dentist hates them.

My personal favorite has to be peanut butter balls. I wont spend a lot of time on words, just enjoy the recipe (I know I'm making some this week).

A few notes on the recipe. First, the chocolate coating can be whatever chocolate you like. I prefer semi sweet (i just use semi sweet chips), but i have also made them with dark. The wax can be found in the baking aisle (I believe) and is used to help thin out the chocolate. I usually put in about 5 oz wax to each package of chocolate. The goal is to have a decently thin liquid to dip into. Also, this recipe probably makes 24-30 and can easily be doubled or tripled to accommodate a crowd


Peanut Butter Balls
1 C butter, melted
2 C peanut butter
2 C graham crackers, crushed
16 oz powdered sugar
12 oz semi sweet chocolate
paraffin wax

In a double boiler melt chocolate, add some wax to thin it out (melts faster if you use smaller pieces). In a large bowl combine the butter, peanut butter, powdered sugar, and graham crackers, mix well. Roll into small balls (smaller than ping pong balls), making sure to keep them packed tight. If you are not going to be dipping immediately, refrigerate them to help them set up. Dip each ball into the melted chocolate (use toothpicks or tongs) and lay out on wax paper to dry.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Crusty Love


To this day, one of the most temperamental items in the kitchen to most cooks is nothing more than four ingredients that make up pie crust. It makes most people who have not baked pies for 40 years shudder. Now, let me talk you down off that stool before you go grab your frozen crust. You can do better than that.

Pie crust is nothing more than four ingredients in its purest form. Flour, salt, fat, and water come together to give flaky goodness and make the entire room happy. However, it's often the ratio and prep technique that causes pie crust to decorate walls of the frustrated chef. If I pour in flour, add some water and butter followed by a sprinkle of salt, I am not going to get happy results. So let's break it down bit by bit, shall we?

First the flour. Using good flour is helpful in getting a good product. Use an all purpose, hopefully an unbleached and un-enriched type for a clean flavor (I like King Arthur). Salt? Well, its salt, but use table and not kosher, it helps meld better into the dough. As for the fat, there are many options. Butter is nice, and brings great flavor to the dough. Lard is also nice (yes, I said lard, its perfectly fine in small amounts, just ask Europe) and brings a lot of flakiness. Shortening (Crisco) is a bit of a blend of both worlds. So which one to use? Well, don't use pure butter or pure lard. You will not be happy. If you want to use one source of fat, use Crisco. I have used it to amazingly successful results. Since they got rid of the trans fat in it though, it has diminished in quality a bit (side note: trans fat is bad for you if you eat a gallon a day, just like anything else. It's simply a different structure of lipid that your body processes in an altered way. If you use 4T of Crisco in a whole pie and then eat 1/8 of that pie, you have better things to do than worry about trans fat). I will say though, that the generic brands of shortening have yet to follow suit, which makes me happy when I make pie. My favorite though, is a split between butter and lard, which provides great flavor and flakiness.










Lastly, it's the water. Ice cold please. I don't even give a measurement because its not worth it. Depending on so many factors, you never know how much your crust will take. Make sure its icy cold (just add some ice cubes to it) because this will help prevent gluten formation, thus keeping your crust from becoming too chewy. Another way to help this is to rest your dough. Pie dough needs to be rested for at least 30 minutes (and can keep up to 2 days) before rolling.

There are many different recipes for pie dough, its almost like biscuits, everyone has a way of doing it. This is an adaptation of the classic Fanny Farmer recipe, though I have been playing around with some others recently (that's another post). For now, I stand by this one as having produced some fantastic pies. Using this recipe will make your crust much easier to work with, taste great, and give you good texture.

Pie Crust
for a 9" double crust pie or a 12" single crust pie

2 cups flour
1 t salt
1 t sugar
1/3 cup lard or shortening
1/2 cup butter
1/4-1/3 cup ice water

In a medium bowl sift flour, salt, and sugar. Cut the fat into cubes and add to the flour. Mix with your hands (or pastry blender) and break up the pieces of fat, coating them in flour until you have small clumps left and most flour is collected in the fat. Slowly add the water a few tablespoons at a time, mixing in between. The amount will vary, but the main goal is to just get the pie dough to come together. if you can reach your hand in and press the dough, forming a loose ball, then you are set. Once you reach this stage, form a loose ball and wrap in saran wrap. Place dough in fridge to rest. Make pie.

One last note. In a recent issue of Cooks Illustrated, they used vodka as a tenderizer (don't worry, at a high temperature the alcohol bakes out). I have only tried it once so I have no real conclusion at this point. I will address it at some point. If you choose to use this method, use 1/2 vodka and 1/2 water. Let me know how it turns out.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Thai Essence

With the holidays in full swing, I will be posting probably once a week until I head for vacation the last week of December. Anything I post after today will be geared towards the holidays and some great recipes I love to make.


As promised, another restaurant review. This time of Thai Essence, the new restaurant that opened near where I work. I went in a few weeks after it opened, and I think since then I have been back 5 or 6 times. It's that good.


First, as seems to be a requirement, I have to talk about the setting. Simple, nice art, quiet place (It is considered upscale, though kid friendly), and they have comfy chairs. I do not like the new trend of uncomfortable seating in places to eat, so this was a welcome change. The staff is also super friendly and service is great. They also do takeout (usually in less than 10 minutes).


I have sampled various dishes in my visits to Thai Essence, and I cannot quite pick a favorite. They have the usual fare of noodles, satay, and curries (side note: I love that Thai restaurants have curries that are different than their Indian dish cousins. Yet funny enough, curries are English because of the availability of dried spices from English colonies. Cool!) Their pad Thai is excellent with a good simple sauce and lots of veggies and peanuts. My fiancée gets it every time, and raves about it just as much. Their pad see ew is freaking awesome, and I tend to get that almost every time I go there. A thicker noodle that is cooked in a pan almost to a crust, I could eat it three times a day. I have also tried their soup, which is a ridiculous amount of food and broth goodness. Any time I have gone to eat here, everyone in my party has loved their dish. The food is always fresh and hot (and spicy if you want it) and they have a great variety of dishes. It is also really good bargain, with lunch being an absolute steal.


So the end point here? Go eat there. Now. You will not find better Thai food within 50 miles.

Thai Essence
1534 Win Hentschel Blvd
West Lafayette, IN 47906

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Turkey Day

With Thanksgiving coming up and the holidays steamrolling themselves into retail stores everywhere, I feel this is a good time to talk turkey. For years we were all exposed to the same thing, dried out turkey with a lot of stuffing and not a lot of flavor. I admit it, my family admits it, and my friends admit it. We tried all sorts of things. Big needles, lots of butter, and aluminum foil could not help us. But I have learned a few things since then, and I hope that sharing them will result in better turkeys on dinner tables around the globe.

First off, go get a thermometer. I wrote an early post about them, and this is one of their prime applications. Ovens vary, birds vary, and people vary. Thermometers do not lie. It will single handily improve your bird two fold.


Third, all must rest. All meats, when cook, continue to cook after being removed from the heat. This is called carry over, and a turkey can go from5-10 degrees further once removed from the oven.

Third, stop stuffing it. My mother disagrees with me, but fact is, stuffing ruins turkeys. It causes the turkey to take a lot longer to cook (this is because the stuffing needs to reach the same temperature as the turkey to make it safe) and the turkey is usually 15-20 degrees over what it needs to be when you pull it out. So skip the stuffing and make something on the side. Im sorry, I know stuffing is awesome, but there are plenty of good alternatives out there that will let you keep the turkey moist. But since my mom does not listen to me, I have learned to work around this. Stuffing a turkey will lead to great stuffing and can lead to a good bird if you follow the other steps (especially the next one).

Lastly, and maybe the most revolutionary, is the brine. By brining the turkey overnight you can keep it moist, add flavor, and bullet proof it from your oven. Just like with pork, a turkey can take on a whole new life if brined.

I have included the Good Eats turkey below (my favorite), but a simple brine of sugar, salt, and water will also do in a pinch. I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving.

The Good Eats Turkey

  • 1 (14 to 16 pound) frozen young turkey

For the brine:

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 gallon vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tablespoon allspice berries
  • 1/2 tablespoon candied ginger
  • 1 gallon iced water

For the aromatics:

  • 1 red apple, sliced
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 leaves sage
  • Canola oil

Directions

Combine all brine ingredients, except ice water, in a stockpot, and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve solids, then remove from heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Early on the day of cooking, (or late the night before) combine the brine and ice water in a clean 5-gallon bucket. Place thawed turkey breast side down in brine, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area (like a basement) for 6 hours. Turn turkey over once, half way through brining.

A few minutes before roasting, heat oven to 500 degrees. Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes.

Remove bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard brine.

Place bird on roasting rack inside wide, low pan and pat dry with paper towels. Add steeped aromatics to cavity along with rosemary and sage. Tuck back wings and coat whole bird liberally with canola (or other neutral) oil.

Roast on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cover breast with double layer of aluminum foil, insert probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and return to oven, reducing temperature to 350 degrees F. Set thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let turkey rest, loosely covered for 15 minutes before carving.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Nuts to You

This is another adaptation of a recipe I received from my fiancee's father, who is my go-to guy for anything and everything stir-fry. Chicken with almonds is a mighty tasty and mighty healthy dish.



First thing is first, and that's the almonds. If you are like me and cannot find peeled almonds, you need to do it yourself. Don’t skip this step and leave the skins on, they get rubbery and gross when stir fried. Bring a small pot of water to a near boil and dump in your almonds. Simmer for about 3 minutes, drain, and run under cold water to shock them. The skins should now easily peel off, leaving you with nice, naked almonds.



Chicken With Almonds

1 pound chicken breast, trimmed of fat and sliced into bite size chunks
1 egg white
1 T cornstarch
½ t sugar
1 t salt
½ cup peanut oil
1 cup almonds, blanched and peeled
4-6 garlic cloves, smashed
4-6 thin slices of fresh ginger
6-12 small dried chiles
1 T dry sherry
1 T soy sauce

Combine the egg white, corn starch, sugar, and salt, add to a small zip-top baggie. Add the chicken (I use a baggie to maximize contact with marinade), seal and marinate for 30 minutes- 1 hour.

Heat a wok over medium-high heat and add the oil. When nice and hot add chicken and stir-fry until just cooked through. Remove the chicken and set aside on a rack or paper towels to drain. Add the almonds to the oil and cook until starting to brown. Remove and drain. Drain off all of the oil but about 1-2T and reduce heat to medium. To this add the chiles, ginger and garlic, cooking until browned (this flavors the oil). Remove the seasonings and discard. Add the chicken back to the wok, reheat for about 1 minute, then add the sherry and soy sauce, which should quickly bubble and thicken to form a sauce. Serve with almonds on the side and rice.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It's Not a Party Without a Cheeseball

Ever been to a rocking party? Sure you have. How many of those parties did not involve in some manner a cheese ball? Very few, I guess. Because nothing says fun like a ball of cheese. If one is absent, it becomes a "gathering".

And since this recipe pretty much makes itself, I will add only two quick notes. First, once you add the remaining ingredients to the cream cheese, mix slowly so you keep the textures of the pimentos and cheddar intact. Second, chopped nuts. Do yourself a favor and do not buy these at the grocery store. Buy whole ones and chop them yourselves. A food processor or a baggie/rolling pin work just fine. I keep a big bag in the freezer for all sorts of uses.

Now, onto the balling.

Cheeseball

1 8-oz package reduced fat cream cheese
3 T shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
4 t diced pimentos
1/2 t each salt, pepper, garlic powder
walnuts or pecans, chopped (about 1 cup)

In a stand mixer or bowl, add cream cheese and beat until soft (it helps to take it out of the refrigerator for about 20 minutes before making). Add cheddar, seasonings, pimentos, and Worcestershire, mix slowly, scraping down sides of bowl. When it looks uniform, scrape down sides and scoop out mixture into hands. Form a semi-tight ball and roll in nuts to evenly coat. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving (will keep for up to 4 days in plastic wrap). Enjoy with veggies and crackers.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Devil's Eggs

In the spirit of Halloween, I thought I would do a post on eggs. Deviled eggs, that is. One of most popular snacks at parties, deviled eggs are what I like to call "addicting". I cannot explain it, there is just something so great about an egg that has been boiled and filled with creamy goodness. But then again, why worry about the reason when I know I love them?

First things first. How to boil an egg. Hrmm. I can think of thousands of ways. But how to boil an egg and make it edible? That's the question. The way I have adapted is that of the Brown (as in Alton). It produces a creamy, done yolk while preventing the graying and rubbery texture that accompany harsh cooking. How? An electric kettle. If you don't have one of these, I strongly recommend one. Its how I boil eggs, make tea, keep stock hot for rissoto (don't worry, I wash it) among other things. Great multitasker (the really good ones dont have the heating element in the kettle, giving more room and more even heating). But back to the eggs. I simply add as many eggs as I want to boil into the pot, cover with about one inch of water, turn the kettle on until it boils, switch it off and set a timer for 10 minutes. Drain, shock in cold water (this prevents the membrane from sticking to the shell and makes peeling easier), and peel soon after. For those of you without one, do the same thing on the stove top, just cover your pot when you put it on the heat (boils faster) and try to avoid super high heat. Easy enough, and the results are consistant.

So with egg prep out of the way, let's move on to the recipe.

Deviled Eggs

Eggs
Mayonaise
Dried mustard
Salt
Paprika

Wait, no quantities? Nope, I honestly cannot quantify this recipe. Depends on the size and amount of eggs every time. Here is what I do. Split eggs in half, remove yolks to small bowl, mash with fork. Add just enough mayo for the yolks to come together and mash into a smooth paste. Add about 1/2 teaspoon dried mustard (do NOT use the liquid kind) and 1/2 teaspoon salt per 6 eggs. Taste. Adjust mustard, salt, and mayo levels (just remember these are egg filled, not mayo filled) to your liking. You can spoon into the whites or empty your mixture into a baggie. If using the baggie, seal is, snip one corner off, and use as a pastry bag. Top with a sprinkle of paprika. Have a party.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Cinnamon Rolls

Let me be upfront about this recipe. I did not create it. It's Alton Brown's, and he (and his team of crack researchers) get all the credit. I changed a few words and ingredients of the recipe to make it easier to relate, but all in all its his.

So why post someone's recipe on a blog where I share my own cooking experiences with people? Well, have you ever had one of these cinnamon rolls? They are fantastic, and are horded among those in my family and household. Yes, they take a little bit of work, but so do most breads. And it beats Pillsbury to the ground. I will not waste space by adding extra words here, I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Cinnamon Rolls

Dough:
4 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 large whole egg, room temperature
2 ounces sugar, approximately 1/4 cup
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted, approximately 6 tablespoons
6 ounces buttermilk, room temperature
20 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 cups, plus additional for dusting
1 package instant dry yeast, approximately 2 1/4 teaspoons
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
Vegetable oil or cooking spray

Filling:
8 ounces light brown sugar, approximately 1 cup packed
1 1/2 T ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
3/4-ounce unsalted butter, melted, approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons

Icing:
2 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened, approximately 1/4 cup
3 T milk
5 1/2 ounces powdered sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups

For the dough: in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. Add approximately 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt; whisk until moistened and combined. Remove the whisk attachment and replace with a dough hook. Add all but 3/4 cup of the remaining flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Check the consistency of the dough, add more flour if necessary; the dough should feel soft and moist but not sticky. Knead on low speed 5 minutes more or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead by hand about 30 seconds. Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, lightly oil the top of the dough, cover and let double in volume, 2 to 2 1/2 hours (place in a warm area to help this along).

Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until well incorporated. Set aside until ready to use.

Butter a 9 by 13-inch glass baking dish. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently shape the dough into a rectangle with the long side nearest you. Roll into an 18 by 12-inch rectangle. Brush the dough with the 3/4-ounce of melted butter, leaving 1/2-inch border along the top edge. Sprinkle the filling mixture over the dough, leaving a 3/4-inch border along the top edge; gently press the filling into the dough. Beginning with the long edge nearest you, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Firmly pinch the seam to seal and roll the cylinder seam side down. Very gently squeeze the cylinder to create even thickness. Using a serrated knife, slice the cylinder into 1 1/2-inch rolls; yielding 12 rolls. Arrange rolls cut side down in the baking dish; cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight or up to 16 hours.

Remove the rolls from the refrigerator and place in an oven that is turned off. Fill a shallow pan 2/3-full of boiling water and set on the rack below the rolls. Close the oven door and let the rolls rise until they look slightly puffy; approximately 30 minutes. Remove the rolls and the shallow pan of water from the oven.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

When the oven is ready, place the rolls on the middle rack and bake until golden brown, or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, approximately 30-35 minutes.

While the rolls are cooling slightly, make the icing by whisking the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer until creamy. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Sift in the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. Spread over the rolls and serve immediately.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Increase Your Kitchen Carbonara Emissions


I am usually good at planning out my meals before I head to the store. However, from time to time I manage to screw something up, forget that I need to make dinner on a certain night, or I am just plain lazy. In these instances I turn to my pasta carbonara. Or the phone for pizza. But this is not about pizza, this is about pasta.


This recipe has a thousand variations. I started with Rachel Ray's because it literally helped to start the relationship with her husband. I mean, it must be good, right? And it is. Garlic, bacon, cheese and eggs not only make a great breakfast, they make a good pasta dish as well. And you can more than likely make the sauce in the time it takes to boil the pasta.

I prepare my carbonara in a pretty simple manor. Chop ingredients, cook bacon, mix remaining ingredients in bowl, toss pasta with bacon, add bowl ingredients to pasta, toss, and eat. More or less that is the recipe you will find below. I like mine pretty spicy, so I held back on the included red pepper flake. Same goes for the garlic. Adjust as you see fit. I also include a tempering step (adding a small amount of liquid to the eggs before adding to the rest of the ingredients). This will prevent the eggs from scrambling and giving you a nice, thick sauce.

Carbonara

1 pound spaghetti pasta

1/3-1/2 pound bacon, chopped
3 T olive oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
1 t red pepper flake
1/2 c white wine
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1/2 c Romano or Parmesan cheese, shredded + extra for topping
1/4 c chopped parsley
salt and pepper

In a large pot, bring water to boil with copiuous amounts of salt and about 1 T oil. Boil pasta until slightly al dente. In the meantime, heat a skillet over medium high heat and add the oil. When hot, add the bacon and cook until slighlty crispy, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flake and cook for one more minute. Add white wine to pan to deglaze and let evaporate almost all the way down. Reduce heat to medium.

While bacon is cooking, in a medium bowl whisk the eggs, cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper. Add 1 ladleful of pasta water while stirring to temper the eggs. When the pasta is done, drain (don't rinse!) and add to skillet, tossing with the bacon until coated. Add the contents of the bowl to the skillet, stirring and tossing the pasta quickly until the eggs start to thicken and a sauce forms that will coat the pasta. Serve, using extra cheese to sprinkle on top.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Amendments

After making the chocolate cream pie for a blog post, I was not entirely satisfied with the texture and consistency of my pie. Time for tinkering, which just meant that I needed to make another one. This rarely raises objections in my house.

First thing to tackle was the crust. It was a bit too crumbly for my liking, so I decided to let it set up a bit more. After making the crust, I popped it in the fridge for 15 minutes before baking it slightly longer in the oven. This allowed the crust to become a bit more uniform in texture and cut easier.

Next I needed to fix the darn thickness of my filling. Not happy with it, as it was slightly runny. I added an egg yolk to the mixture, which would lend itself to helping the "custard" set more as well as adding a bit of richness to the pie. I also swapped out cornstarch for flour. This has a two fold effect. First, you don’t have to stir as long to get the filling to thicken, and cornstarch has a more stable structure over time, so it is less likely to go all runny on you. While I believe the egg did little for the mixture (It already has three), the cornstarch did wonders. I sliced a piece last night and it came out just like I wanted it to, thick and pie like while still tasting delicious. To make the pie come together faster, I now recommend almost simmering the milk before adding the chocolate and other ingredients. This is because cornstarch's thickening ability is improved over a certain temperature, so the quicker you get there the faster it works (and fewer lumps are formed).


I have amended the original recipe and put a link at the bottom of this post.


Chocolate Cream Pie


Next up- Pasta Carbonara

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dinner at the Blue Fin

I dined at the newly minted (well, it's been open since July) Blue Fin Bistro last Friday evening and wanted to present my thoughts below. The place had a lot of buzz about it and I was truly looking forward to dinner.

The ambiance is nice enough; I guess you would call it fine-modern or something like that. Blue Fin spins itself as an upscale joint, offering fresh fish, sushi, and a pan-Asian take on dishes. This was countered by the nice woman singing Alanis Morissette and the "pick a song" request lists on the table. Kind of a contradiction if you ask me. But you didn't, so I should continue.

Service? Terrible. After the meal I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I was quickly (and properly) corrected that it stunk. When it takes 20 minutes to get a bottle of wine, you have to ask for bread even when you bring it to other tables, and there is little flow in your approach, it just comes back as bad service. Not a good start to the night.

The wine and drink list was nice enough, and I give major complements to a place that has a page of blue drinks to compliment its name (not enough places do things like this). The wine list, albeit a bit pricy, was nice, and the Argentinean white we selected was good. The food, not so much. The menu was expansive and expensive. Very expensive. They offer a large variety of seafood, sushi, steaks, and other Asian inspired dishes. I chose a spicy seafood noodle dish, while my other half chose a lobster and mushroom ravioli (let's face it, the fish dishes and crazy sushi were a little out of our budget range). We were then given the gift of no bread on the table and a 45 minute wait for our food. When it arrived, it was pretty tasty, but I have to main beefs with the meal. First, don’t call something on your menu "spicy" and then have it be as tame as a piece of chicken. I want some heat in the back of my throat. Second, overcooking your shrimp, slicing a scallop with some onions and peppers, adding chile paste with garlic, and tossing it all with noodles does not constitute an interesting or inspiring dish. If I can pick out exactly what went into it, why wouldn’t I just make it at home?

All in all, I cannot say I recommend this place. Because the experience was pretty shoddy (company was good). I really expected a bit more out of a hyped up, fine dining restaurant, but what I got was instead a poorly serviced mediocre experience. To top it off, the coffee they served me post meal (they proudly brew Starbuck's) was lukewarm. Not Han Solo-hot, but lukewarm. Bah.

Now that I have been a negative Nancy, I promise to post some positive thoughts next restaurant writing (I have a good one).

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Baked Rigatoni

I have always found that the best time to write blog posts is soon after I have eaten the dish I want to write about. In this case, I am currently feeding my face of this stuff. Because it's tasty and I like food. This dish is getting fast tracked into the blog thanks to something my better half said last night, that she would order it in a restaurant. Never has she said that, and I make a big deal out of it because it’s a huge compliment and its not "maybe we should get pizza" (I get that every other month or so when I make something off the wall). Now, on to the cooking!

This recipe makes use of the tomato sauce from the last post. It also takes inspiration from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a fantastic Italian cookbook that I would recommend to anyone. So what is this baked pan of pure love? Pasta, cheese, and two sauces. Traditional Italian dishes such as lasagna call for two sauces, a red and a white, which allows a creamy texture and still lends itself to full flavor. The red sauce is usually a tomato or Bolognese sauce. In this instance I went with tomato. If you do not have home made tomato sauce, try this instead. Take a jar of tomato sauce from wherever you buy it, and taste it. If you are content with it, use as is. If not, adjust seasonings (salt, pepper, basil, and oregano are good places to start) until you are satisfied. People often just take bottled sauces at their word and find them to be flat once used. If I ever use any kind of pre packaged sauce or something, I always taste it first and adjust its seasonings. This will save you a lot of heart ache in the end.

The white sauce that is used is a béchamel, which is equal parts flour and butter combined with milk. It’s the same sauce I used with my ron con con. However, since we want some of the sauce to be absorbed by the pasta, this sauce will be a bit thinner and contain no cheese. This recipe multiplies nicely and is also my new favorite for pot lucks. It can be prepared in under 15 minutes, which is an added plus.

Baked Rigatoni

2 cups red sauce (tomato or Bolognese)
3 T butter
3 T flour
2 cups milk, heated
½ cup shredded Romano or Parmesan cheese
1 pound rigatoni

Preheat oven to 400°F. On stove, heat a large pot of water to boiling with a copious amount of salt and about 1T olive oil.

Meanwhile in a medium sauce pot over medium heat add butter until melted, whisk in flour and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring often. Add milk a little bit at a time, whisking to make a sauce (adding the milk hot will allow the sauce to come together quickly and prevent lumps). Cook sauce for a minute or so, it should have a creamy but not extremely thick consistency. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Boil pasta until still chewy, about 3 minutes under recommended time. Drain and place in large bowl. Add the white and red sauce and half of the cheese, toss to combine. Butter a baking dish and add pasta mixture. Top with remaining cheese, bake for about 15-20 minutes until top starts to brown. Let the pasta sit for about 10 minutes after removing from oven to absorb the rest of the sauce.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Lafayette Eats

In case the Purdue title did not give it away, I currently reside in West Lafayette, IN. While there are some mighty tasty places to eat in this town, no one really pays attention and reviews them (I'm looking at you town paper). I recently came across this site, which posts reviews and thoughts on area restaurants. I have done one or two with my blog and would like to do more in the future, so its nice to see someone else having similar thoughts. Enjoy

Lafayette Eats

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Red Everywhere! (Easy Tomato Sauce)


With the plethora of good ingredients to be found at my local farmer’s market, I am often looking for ideas on how to prolong the fresh (and cheap!) flavors I come across. The problem lies within what exactly to use an ingredient for that will yield multiple uses. Items like corn can be frozen directly, potatoes store for a while on their own, and apples can be made into pretty much whatever you want. But what about tomatoes? With long term storage, you have a few options. You can make a lot of salsa and preserve it, you can stew them and use them as an addition for dishes, or you can make sauce. When I was handed a large bag of tomatoes over the weekend, I opted for the last option, sauce making. I delved into a few cookbooks for some inspiration and found some common themes, though some did not really follow what I wanted out of this sauce. I wanted something that was unlike what’s in the can (though I use that stuff and it’s perfectly fine). I wanted rustic texture, full flavor, and something I could just add to pasta or pour over chicken and be happy with it. But first, some prep needed to be done.

Tomatoes have one part that is overall undesirable in sauce. The skin. Getting rid of it is quite easy. All you will need is a medium or large pot of water, a bowl, some ice, a slotted spoon, and a knife. Got it? Good. Heat the pot of water over high heat until almost boiling. Wash the tomatoes and score and x along the bottom side of the tomato, piercing the skin but not cutting deep into the flesh. This will allow the skin to pull back when in the hot water. Lower (use the spoon to avoid splashing and blisters) the tomatoes in the water, being careful not to overcrowd, and cook for one minute. Remove from the water and shock in a bowl filled with some ice and water. When the tomatoes are cool (about another minute), peel away the skins using your fingers or a small knife and place in a bowl to hold until they are needed. I prefer to use larger tomatoes for this, as they have a better yield of flesh. You can also use an equivalent weight in crushed tomatoes for a nice alternative at other times during the year.




Some people might say “wait, what about the seeds”? Contrary to some beliefs, the seeds do not make the sauce bitter, so I say leave them in. If you have a food mill, by all means, strain out the seeds using a larger setting. Since I don’t have a food mill, I attempted running my tomatoes through a mesh strainer and then realized all the good stuff I would be leaving out (namely the juicy pulp surrounding the seeds). No good. So I opted instead for my immersion stick blender once the sauce was finished. This gave my sauce a slightly coarse texture, which I prefer. You can also use a blender or food processor, but make sure to cool the sauce slightly before letting it rip. It also works well chunky.

One last point. This sauce is made from mostly tomatoes. Which are acidic. So use a non reactive pan such as anodized aluminum or enamel coated cast iron. Non stick will work too, just pay attention to it. This also means that simmering this sauce for hours will make it taste like gross. Try to limit the timing, though if you want your sauce thicker you can reduce it down slightly or add a thickening agent (such as corn starch and water).

Rustic Tomato Sauce


1 c onion, diced
½ c celery, diced
½ c carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, skins removed and chopped (or 1 1/2 pound crushed, canned tomatoes)
3 T + 2T olive oil
¼ c red wine
Salt (at least 2 T)
Pepper
2 T fresh basil, chopped fine
1 T fresh parsley, chopped fine
2 bay leaves
1 T tomato paste

In a large pot, heat 3 T olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until wilted, about 5 minutes (you can brown them, it adds more flavor depth to the dish). Add the celery, carrots, and some salt, sauté until starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the bay leaf and wine, allowing the wine to mostly bubble off. Add the tomatoes and bring the sauce to a simmer. Once it reaches this, simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the 30 minutes is up, add the basil, parsley, and tomato paste. Cook for another 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings to your liking, blend to a coarse sauce if desired, cool, and use. Can be stored in the refrigerator or frozen for future use.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Spinach Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

I love spinach. Always have. For all those haters out there, you are truly missing out on what spinach can do. I like it as a salad (with bacon), stuffed into various things, and it makes a heck of a side dish (with garlic). I could go on and on about spinach, its nutritional value, and many other reasons why this vegetable should be high on your list, but instead I am going to share a recipe with you. Recently at my local supermarket I found spinach on eye-boggling sale. Being the bargain diver that I am, I bought a lot of it. More than would just do for side dishes. So I set about trying to make something new that would have multiple uses. I turned to pesto. I have had made spinach pesto numerous times with varying degrees of success, so this time I wanted something a bit different. What if I used something other than oil for my base? Sour cream was out, too runny. What about cream cheese? Perfect. So into the blender went cream cheese and a lot of spinach (dried thoroughly). It tasted like, well, cream cheese and spinach (surprise). So with a little tinkering, I adjusted it to my liking and the strengths of the spinach. Garlic, lemon, and thyme compliment the sauce while just a little bit of olive oil helps give it body. I served this two ways, over pasta as well as in a quesadilla. Both turned out remarkably well. So the next time I see spinach on sale, I know exactly what I am doing.

Sorry there are no pictures attached with this, I made the sauce before I got the good idea of using a camera.

Spinach Cream Cheese Pesto

4 ounces cream cheese
1 large bunch spinach, about 8 ounces
2 garlic cloves
1 T olive oil
2 t fresh time (or 1 t dried)
1 oz parmesan cheese (approximate)
1 t lemon zest
Salt
Pepper

Add cream cheese and half of the spinach to food processor. Pulse until mostly smooth, add the remaining spinach and repeat. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until at a desired consistency, adjust for taste with salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Keeps up to 1 week in the refrigerator (it did not last long enough for me to freeze).

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chocolate Cream Pie


Finally! If there is one recipe you make while reading this blog, make this one. I kid you not, its quite possibly one of the best things I have ever eaten. This is a family recipe, so full credit goes to my mom for teaching me this. And not to brag or anything, but one she made went for over $200 at a charity auction. I relate this pie to Sunday morning, because it is often not ready until the following day, which prompted us to eat a slice while reading the morning paper. Breakfast of champions and yes, I would do it again.

So what is chocolate cream pie? Its the pie you wish you had when you were eating chocolate pudding in a graham cracker crust. That pie. There are very few tricks to this recipe, but the ones that exist are crucial. My two main points would be the milk and stirring. Use at least 2% milk. I know, I use 1% for recreational purposes, but the extra bit of milk fat is the difference between pie and runny goop. If you use whole, more power to you, it will actually be even better. The other point is the stirring. When this pie is on the heat, you best be stirring it constantly. No "oh, I can go wash the dishes and stir occasionally" stuff. This recipe is more stir happy than risotto, and that's saying something. Stir constantly. The pie should be ready to go from the pot in about 15ish minutes (or as I timed it, 3 songs off the new Metallica album). Just...don't....walk....away!!

I hope you enjoy this pie as much as I (and my family, and my fiancee, and anyone who happens to be in the area to get a slice) do.

Chocolate Cream Pie

Crust
2 1/4 cups graham crackers
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375°F. Crush gram crackers in bag with rolling pin or with food processor until fine. Combine ingredients in medium bowl and mix with hands until the butter is incorporated. Dump into a 12 inch pie pan, pressing down with the heel of your palm and fingers to make a firm, even crust (it should go part way up the sides). Pop in the fridge for 15 minutes, then bake for 12 minutes, let cool.

Filling
4 squares semi-sweet baking chocolate
3 3/4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
3/4 t salt
3 T cornstarch
3 T butter
1 T vanilla

In large pot over medium heat, heat milk until almost simmering, stirring occasionally. Add chocolate and stir until melted. Meanwhile, while milk is heating, in stand mixer or large bowl, combine eggs and sugar, beat until fluffy. Add salt and cornstarch, mix well. Reduce burner heat to medium low, pour about 1/3 of the milk mixture into the bowl (this will temper the eggs), mix and dump entire contents of bowl into pot. Return to heat and stir (constantly!) for about 15-20 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat, add butter and vanilla, stir to combine, and pour into pie shell. Let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes, then move to the fridge for at least 3 hours. Your patience will be rewarded. Make sure the pie is firm and cool before cutting. If its a bit runny, cook it a little longer next time. Serve with Cool Whip slathered on top.

And look, a picture! I will try to include more of these in upcoming posts so you can see what you are getting into.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Two Timing Pork

I love pork. And I love stir fry. So this dish just makes sense. This remains one of my favorite Asian When I first tried this recipe (courtesy of my girlfriend's, oops wait, she’s a fiancée now!, dad), I had no idea why the pork was cooked twice. Why in the world would you call for cooking pork in water and then stir fry it? Well, after cutting the first step out when I prepared this dish (I guess you can just call it cooked pork then), I understood why. When you sear pork slices at a high temperature, a lot of their liquid is expelled (pork shrinks) and ends up in the stir fry oil, effectively steaming the rest of the dish and making it quite soggy. So your choices are mop up the liquid (and flavor) with a paper towel, or just cook the pork before hand. The latter, I have found, is a much easier option. Simple, actually, as you heat some water over medium high heat until it is slightly simmering, then add your pork cutlets in until they are just barely cooked. Strain and use in your stir fry. Now you can keep the liquid level down, which allows the sauce to do its thing and be awesome. To make the pork cook quickly, I like to slice mine thin (more surface area=quicker cooking).

Twice Cooked Pork

1 pound pork loin or loin chops, trimmed of fat and sliced thin
½ head green cabbage, cut into about 1 inch pieces
5 green onions, cut into 1 inch pieces

2 T peanut oil

1 T minced garlic
1 T minced ginger

¼ C soy sauce
½ C hoisin sauce
1 T chile paste with garlic
¼ c dry sherry
2 T water
1 T sugar

1 T cornstarch dissolved in 2 T water (mix just before using)
1 T sesame oil (optional, even more optional is the hot kind)

Mix together soy, hoisin, chile paste, sherry, water, and sugar, stir to dissolve and set aside. Bring a medium pot of water to a bare simmer, add pork and cook for about 2-3 minutes until loses pink color. Remove, drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large wok over medium heat, add peanut oil. Once heated, add garlic and ginger, cooking for about 1 minute (stir often so they don’t burn). Add the cabbage and stir fry for around 2 minutes (don’t let it get too wilted). Add pork and sauce, cook until sauce boils. Add scallions, mix to combine. Add in cornstarch slurry and mix until sauce thickens. Finish with the sesame oil and serve immediately.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Feasting on Waves

As a cook and a scientist, I am a pretty big Alton Brown fan. I watch "Good Eats" as often as possible, as well as cook his food a lot. So it should be no surprise that I am about to plug his new show. He started a show titled "Feasting on Asphalt", which was a cross country journey to find local and traditional roadside food. This year Brown returns with "Feasting on Waves" where he sails throughout the Caribbean islands in search of native food and local history. There are three reasons why you have to watch this show.

1) The food. By finding what the locals like, this show exposes food that has been lost amongst our chain-oriented minds. Most of the food he tries makes me want to be standing next to him shoveling it down while he explains what it is.

2) The history lesson. Alton Brown is a huge nerd. Science, history, and pop culture constantly are brought up when he is on screen, and a good portion of this show is about all of that. If you ever wanted to learn interesting things about the Caribbean islands (like why essence is so huge), this is one of your best chances.

3) The amazing photography. Seriously, why has this show not been given some kind of award for cinematography or the like? The photos are amazing, the way they show is shot makes you feel like you are there, and they focus so much on the people it never fails to astound me.

So there is my best pitch for why you should watch this show. It's on Food Network Sunday nights at 10, and they show replays about 100 times per week, so make sure and check it out.

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Eat Your Vegetables

Parents, trying to get your kids to eat their greens? Failing? Then, try my new, improved, tested-on-my-girlfriend method that is guaranteed to make them eat vegetables like no tomorrow!*

Well, while I do not enjoy the sales pitch, that is pretty much what this is, a tasty way to get picky people to eat their vegetables. Picked this inspiration up from girlfriend's dad, who picked it up from Joyce Chen. Quick tangent- I need to come up with a name for the gf on this instead of using her name all the time and skewing her Google results away from her scientific awesomeness. Give me a few posts.

Back to the subject at hand. Stir frying vegetables is simple, quick, and mostly healthy. I say this because you do have to add a little bit of oil to the pan to start the process, but this is no worse than most of you who add butter to your steamed veggies. Now, what makes this method that much more awesome? Two things, crispness and the sauce. The veggies are cooked with a small (read: SMALL) amount of water after being toasted slightly, which lets them retain their crispness and not become soggy. The sauce is just good, especially if you are using good soy sauce.

There are very few tricks to this recipe. Do it in a wok if possible (better heat dispersion which leads to more even cooking), and if the sauce is a bit thick for you, add just a bit more water to the pan. One safety note is to make sure to dry your vegetables before you add them to the wok. Adding veggies that are full of water to hot oil can lead to splattering like you would not believe (or would like to clean up). In terms of vegetables, broccoli is my favorite for this, but green beans, snap peas, and asparagus work great, among others. Make florets from the broccoli and peel the stems, use green beans and snap peas as is, and cut the asparagus down to smaller pieces (but don't peel unless you like mushy asparagus or they are super woody).


1 pound vegetables
2 T peanut oil
1 T soy sauce
1 ½ T dry sherry
3 T water
1 t sugar
1 t salt
1 t Cornstarch dissolved in 2 T water

In a wok, heat the peanut oil over medium heat. Add vegetables in one batch and cook for about 2 minutes, tossing often. In a small bowl combine the soy sauce, sugar, salt, sherry, and water. Add directly to the vegetables, cover with a lid and cook for 2-3 minutes until vegetables are bright in color and just starting to soften. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir constantly until the sauce thickens. Thin with more water if desired.


* Not guaranteed, but it's worth a shot.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Preservation is Key

I constantly find myself in quite the pickle with some of my fresh ingredients. They just seem to like to go bad on me, and sadly, I either end up hastily using them or tossing them. And I hate wasting food. So with summer in full swing and all kinds of goodies in season, what's a home chef to do? Well, I certainly have not figured it all out, but these are a few things I do know. After you give this a read, feel free to let me know any tips/suggestions you have to keep my fridge full of fresh goodness.

- Get rid of the plastic. Keeping your veggies and fruits in plastic promotes moisture collection and in turn, decays. I am totally guilty of just putting my plastic bags in my vegetable drawer only to find them a few days later nice and slimy. Removing it from the plastic can help prevent this. If you do like to keep things in plastic, try to use something to prevent the moisture from clinging to the food. I wrap my lettuce, cilantro, and fresh herbs in dry paper towel, and this has helped elongate their life by at least a week.

- Ginger likes to be sloshed. Ginger is an ingredient I use all the time in my stir fry, but it does not keep that well left alone in the fridge. Solution? Peel it, slice it up, and put it in a small container with enough sherry to cover. I have kept ginger for up to 6 months this way. And since sherry goes well in most dishes with ginger, the storage solution works out perfectly.

- Some stuff does not like the fridge. Keep your dang tomatoes out of the dang fridge. They lose flavor (one of the key components of flavor in tomatoes inactivates when cold). Same goes for onions.

- The baking soda is a lie. Contrary to their marketing scheme, baking soda does not do much good in your fridge at absorbing odors. You are much better off with activated charcoal. You can use this two ways. First, take some charcoal briquettes, place them in a container, and place in your fridge. Second, you can now buy small containers of pure activated charcoal, which I would recommend because they have a lesser chance of leaving soot on your food.

- Just because buttermilk is expired does not mean it's bad. Shocking! It's already sour! So it's really good for about a month after the date. I kid you not. It's not like you drink the stuff from the bottle.

I hope that helps extend the life on some of your fresh stuff. If I come across any more good ones, I will be sure to post them.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Meat + Ball = Meatballs!

In my humble opinion, most meatballs are given as bad a wrap as meatloaf. It's not like the name conveys deliciousness. I have run across meatballs that are big hunks of hamburger rolled up and dropped in sauce. I don’t call those meatballs, I call them a meatwad, and that's a cartoon character, not food.

I make meatballs in two ways, the nana Wolfe way, and the nana Gullotti way (girlfriend's side). This post will cover the latter because, frankly, I just finished eating one and the wonderful taste is still lingering. These meatballs differ in a few ways from your traditional meatball. Mainly in the sense that they are fried, pan-fried. While most meatballs find themselves being stewed in sauce, these take on a more crunchy texture. The result? A meatball that is good as a sandwich, with pasta and sauce, or out of hand. I kid you not; a cold meatball is a tasty snack.

The other variable in this equation of deliciousness is the garlic. I like a lot of garlic, which is why in the recipe I gave the 8-80 clove numbers. Yes, I am being extreme, but it's to make a point. Garlic makes this dish. I usually use anywhere between 10-12 cloves because I enjoy garlic in every bite. Hey, nowhere did I say these were breath friendly.

Meatballs

1 pound ground beef (85/15 or 90/10)
1 C Italian or seasoned bread crumbs
1 C grated Romano cheese
¼ C chopped parsley
8- 80 garlic cloves, chopped
small bit of water
2 eggs
1 T salt
2 t pepper
Peanut oil (for the frying)

In a medium skillet or cast iron pan, heat about 1 inch peanut oil over medium heat until it reaches a temperature of about 350°F. Try to maintain this temperature or just below it throughout cooking. In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients and mix well. And by well, I mean with your hands. You have to roll them out anyway, so you might as well mix with your hands and do a good job. Roll portions (about 2oz) into large balls, making them slightly egg shape (this helps with even browning and cooking). Cook the meatballs in the oil until crispy on the outside and pretty much done on the inside (170°F for those of you with thermometers), about 4 minutes on each side. Drain over paper towels. Serve with pasta and tomato sauce, or just eat them as is.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Macaroni and Cheese (Ron con con)

Wow, I have been writing a food blog for almost 9 months and I have yet to put this recipe up? Chalk that one up to some serious memory impairment. Sheesh. This dish is the first savory dish I ever made on my own. I was 7 and I was hungry, and as any child, I went to my mother and asked her what was for dinner. She replied "whatever you make". Being the hungry kid that I was, I set about trying to make macaroni. Meaning, I got out the ingredients on the counter and asked my mom what to do next. With a little bit of help I turned out a pretty good side dish for dinner (we made pork chops to go along with it). To this day I have altered this recipe very little. In fact, the only change is the cheese split, I used to use all Colby jack (melty) until I discovered how awesome cheddar was in this.

The recipe is straight forward. Make a béchamel sauce (roux + milk), add cheese, add pasta, bake. The secret, super amazing part I credit to my father, who for the longest time mysteriously made better macaroni and cheese than my mom but no one knew why. Turns out he just added a cube of chicken bullion. You know, the stuff I don’t like to use as a substitute for my chicken stock. But it has many other uses. Such as making amazing mac and cheese. That and the fact that this stuff is under a buck for eight cubes gives it a place in my spice cabinet.

One last note is the pasta. I like rigatoni way more than elbows because of the bigger tube that can pick up more sauce, but its totally a preference thing. Oh, and it is sometime referred to as "ron con con" because my girlfriend called it that when she was a baby. No idea why, but it is what it is.

Macaroni and Cheese

1 pound rigatoni noodles (or elbows or some kind of short tubular pasta)
3 T Butter
3 T flour
3 C milk
1 cube chicken bullion (if you have a smaller cube, use two, if large, go one)
8 oz Colby jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
6 oz sharp cheddar, shredded (1.5 cups)

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and stir, cooking the roux for about 3 minutes. Slowly add the milk and bullion cube, whisking to combine (if you want it to cook faster, warm your milk before hand). Reduce heat to medium low. When the sauce thickens, add the cheese a little at a time, switching to a wooden spoon and stirring constantly. Add all of the cheese and mix until cheese is melted.

Meanwhile, boil pasta (making sure to heavily salt the water and add a small amount of oil) until al-dente, cooking it a little under (it will absorb sauce). Drain (but do not rinse) and add pasta to a 9x12 baking dish (or something that will hold a pound of pasta and can go in your oven). Pour the sauce over the pasta, mix well, cover with foil, and bake for 20-30 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and delicious.

UPDATE: Feel free to leave comments below, you don't even need to be signed in :)

UPDATED UPDATE: I altered the recipe a bit above, as I mistakenly listed the amounts of each cheese needed.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Site Update and Next Food Network Star

Hopefully in the next few days the blog will be getting some pleasing aesthetic upgrades and changes. I am really going to try boosting traffic to this site and expand my readers beyond those who check in on it from Facebook. So please leave me feedback or send an email and let me know what you think about the changes. I have also logged this site into bloggerfoodieroll.com, which will hopefully bring a new crop of readers/ideas and also give my readers some new links and recipes to try out.

One other main reason of some upgrades is a hopeful read by the Food Network. I have put my name in for a hopeful contention on The Next Food Network Star. Hopefully the food I have turned out on this blog and topics I have covered will pique the interest of the FN as well as yourselves. Keep your fingers crossed.

Skylar

PS As always, your comments, recipes, or ideas for future topics are welcome at boilermakerkitchen@gmail.com

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Soy Saucing

I seem to be on a Southwestern kick lately, so I think it's time to switch gears. I want to talk about soy sauce. That black liquid you store in your fridge or pantry that probably says K-something on it. You use it for your stir fries and marinades, adding salt to your dish and some color, but that is probably about it. It's ok, you can admit it, your soy sauce is lacking, but then again, most people don’t even realize that. I lived my life 19 years before I found out. 19 years of bad soy! Looking back, it was almost like living in the dark (soy). Thankfully, my girlfriend's dad John turned me onto to a much more delectable fermentation.

Soy sauce comes in two varieties, light and dark. Light is more salty and has less overall flavor, used mostly for sauces, and does not really work well on its own. Dark soy has a less salty, more complex flavor bordering on sweet, is awesome, and works well as a dipping sauce. I actually prefer to only use dark soy because the flavor it lends is far superior to the light (that and I have more control on how salty I make something). Having two soy sauces would probably be beneficial for those wishing to cook Asian food 5 nights a week, but for those of us who only dabble, having dark around works great.

So let me move on to the product placement portion of this show. I refuse to buy soy sauce in a grocery store (or any Asian ingredient for that matter) for two reasons. 1) It is at least 2-3 times more expensive than in an Asian market and 2) the brands are mass marketed hacks. Yes, that's right, hacks. If you will take a moment, look at the bottle of soy sauce in your kitchen. Check out the ingredients. If it includes "caramel color", then its probably only good for staining shirts. Why? Because soy sauce is made in two ways, by fermenting actual soy beans (the good stuff) and by partially fermenting hydrolyzed soy protein (the hacks). By only using the protein, the color is not achieved and they have to offset this by adding caramel color. Sound good? That's because it's not!

So what can you do? I recommend buying a brand called Pearl River Bridge Superior Soy Sauce. It is the BEST I have found, and it's bordering on dirt cheap. A 1.8L bottle runs you about $4. yep, not kidding. Now that 16oz bottle of soy I paid 5 bucks for back in the day makes me want to bang my head against the wall. I really, really like the Dark Superior Mushroom soy, which is fermented from mushrooms and soybeans, giving an incredible earthy, complex flavor. The stuff is viscous too, not watery and light. If you buy some, give it a quick taste on its own. I guarantee you will be blown away.

Why make a big fuss about soy? Mainly because if you are going to cook with something, it pays to use a good something. Not to mention it's quite cheaper, supports local businesses rather than large chains, and has a wider variety of uses (see:upcoming post). So go ahead and give it a try, and hopefully you too will see the light in the dark (soy).

Addition: next time you are in your local Asian grocery, take a look at some other ingredients like rice and hoisin. You will be amazed how inexpensive they are and the great quality you can find.

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Southwestern Creamy Corn

I need a better name for this. It's not creamed corn, but its not just corn either. So creamy it is. Whatever the name, its darn tasty. This was one of my leftover experiments I am willing to write about (some, such as paprika chicken with garlic chips, I will just leave as a not-so-fond memory). I enjoy looking in the fridge, milling around for some leftovers, and seeing what I can come up with. It's a great way to get rid of leftovers and maybe try something new. This one came from a few ears of corn left over from the weekend's barbecue. I love fresh sweet corn in the summer, and I was not going to let it go to waste. So off the cob it came, into a pan it went, and voila, out came creamy corn that was way better than my non-food-experimental girlfriend thought it would be. Mainly because she ate most of it.

Southwestern Creamy Corn

4 ears of corn, cooked, or a 1 pound bag of frozen corn (about 2 cups)
¼ c Cilantro, chopped fine
½ c Sour cream
1 T lime juice
1 T Paprika
1 can diced green chiles (or ½ cup salsa verde, whatever you have on hand)
1 Jalapeno, seeded and diced (roasted and peeled if at all possible, or you can use ½ a can of diced ones)
½ T Butter
Salt and pepper

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat add butter to melt. Add corn and cook until warm and almost starting to brown, about 4 minutes. Add jalapeno and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chiles, sour cream, paprika, salt, and pepper, mix to combine and cook for about 1 minute. Add the cilantro and lime juice, stir to combine, remove from heat and serve.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Close Encounters of the Chile Kind

Close Encounters of the Chile Kind

When I was a teenager, I bussed tables at a fantastic Mexican restaurant in Arizona called Ricardo's. They had without a doubt some of the best food around. However, the one thing they could not seem to get right was the chile relleño (that's re-yen-o). They were something I usually left on my plate. It was simple enough. A green (Anaheim) chile was stuffed with cheese, dipped in an egg white batter, and pan fried. Yet the batter was dry and overwhelmed the chile, and it really lacked a lot of flavor. So I rarely ate them and never tried them in the kitchen. However, recently I came upon a different type of chile relleño, one that was larger and with a lighter coating. I decided to give it another shot. And needless to say, I was delighted with the results. The key is to make the pepper the focus and not the coating. A simple dredge of egg wash and cornmeal gives it a nice crisp while still letting the pepper be the focus (not to mention the tasty filling).

These peppers are deep fried. So I guess I should address the home fryer for a second. Most of you, like myself, probably do not own a deep fryer. But do not despair, fair cook, because you probably already have the components for one and just use it for casseroles or stir fry. Simply use a Dutch oven or decently large pot to fill in for your fryer. Do not, and I will repeat myself here, do NOT use anything that has a non-stick coating, because when your oil gets up to 350°, you will find lovely specks of Teflon floating around. Not cool. So stick to something cast iron, stainless steel, or enamel coated to work. I also use a fry thermometer, which is a great way to keep an eye on the heat so it's easy to adjust and stay constant. If you don’t have a fry thermometer, you can use any kitchen thermometer with a probe of some kind or use a kernel of popcorn (which, according to Alton Brown, pops at about 350).

First you are going to need a cooling sauce. It is no secret that milk and dairy cools off the heat of peppers, so serving something like this with say, sour cream, is a good way to go.

Cilantro Sour Cream

1 cup sour cream
½ c plain yogurt
¼ cup cilantro, diced super fine
2 T milk
½ t salt
½ t pepper

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until combined. You can skip the yogurt if you wish, but add more milk to thin it out. Going for almost a pourable consistency. Set aside in fridge, lasts for up to 3 days.

Chile Relleños
6 poblano peppers
1 jalapeno

Grill peppers on grill over high, turning frequently, until skin is blackened (you can do this directly over your gas burner if you have one as well, or in your oven under the broiler). Place peppers in a plastic bag and seal. Allow to steam for about 5 minutes, and then gently peel off the outer skin. Split, remove seeds and membrane from the jalapeno, dice it and set it aside. Carefully put a slit along the side of each poblano, and reach in and gently remove seeds. I found that running them under water can help flush the seeds out. You can also do this a little bit ahead of time to help with prep.

For the filling

2 6-8oz boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 t cumin
1 t salt
½ t dried oregano
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1 T olive oil (for chicken)
2 T olive oil (for filling)
½ onion, diced
1 T lime juice
1 can diced tomatoes, drained of some excess liquid
1 T flour
1 T paprika
2 t cumin
1 t chile powder
2 t salt
1 t black pepper
2 cups shredded Colby Jack Cheese

Preheat oven to 375°C, season chicken with above seasonings, drizzle olive oil, and bake until done, about 20 minutes. To streamline this process, I would recommend charring your peppers while the chicken is in the oven to save time. Once chicken is done, remove from oven and set aside to let cool. In a medium sized skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil and any excess drippings from the chicken (yum) to the pan. Add onions and sauté until browned, add the diced jalapeno and cook for about 1 minute. Dice the chicken as fine as you like it (finer = better in this instance) and add to the pan. Add the lime juice and tomatoes and let simmer for about 5 minutes until the tomatoes start to break up. Sprinkle over the flour (it will help thicken the filling) and cook for another minute. Add seasonings and adjust to your liking. In my opinion, you can never have enough cumin. Add about 1 and a half cups of the cheese, mixing until melted. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the dredging goodness

1 cup + 2 T flour
3 eggs
½ bottle dark beer
1 ½ c corn meal
Peanut oil
Toothpicks

In a Dutch oven, pour about 1 quart peanut oil, attach a fry thermometer, and heat the oil over medium high heat to about 350°F. Back down on the heat and let it rise to 370°. Meanwhile, prepare your dredging station. In one shallow dish (or plate), place the 1 cup flour. In a bowl add the eggs, beer, and 2 T flour, which well to combine. In a third dish, place your corn meal.

To prepare your peppers, carefully stuff them with the remaining ½ cup cheese. Then spoon some of the chicken mixture into each pepper, making sure they are full but not bursting. You might have some chicken left over. To seal up the seam, run a few toothpicks or skewers through the seam to close it up. Dredge each pepper in flour, shake off the excess, then proceed to dip in the batter and roll in cornmeal. Transfer immediately to the fryer and fry for about 4-5 minutes until lightly browned. You can probably fry two peppers at a time. Once the peppers are done, move them to a paper towel lined plate and blot dry. Don't forget to remove the toothpicks!

To serve, spoon some of your sour cream mixture on a plate, place pepper on top. If you have extra chicken, slightly split the pepper open along the seam and add the additional chicken so it appears to be bursting. This recipe may seem complicated, but it is rather cook friendly if you spread it out in steps. Promise. The oil can be saved, simply strain it (once it's cool) back into the bottle through a coffee filter. Serve with Salsa and Beans.

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

I used to call these green chicken enchiladas until someone pointed out the necessity of naming your food in a manner that makes people want to eat it. Yes, I can cook, but sometimes I need help on the PR front. Anyways, this is one of my first recipes I came up with myself. It still remains one of my favorites as well as a great dish to take to outings. It is super versatile as it can be made vegetarian or fancy with practically no effort. Want veggie? Remove the chicken and cream of chicken soup; add tofu (dried a bit) and cream of celery soup. Fancy? Instead of making it in a casserole style, opt for ramekins in individual portions. I think people miss the fact that most meals can be prepared in a fancy or family style way with little or no tweaking. I like to do that to my recipes depending on the situation, that's why I cook what I cook. Also, if you make this recipe a few times, you should be able to pound it out in about 30 minutes (excluding baking).

So back to the recipe. Being that it is summer, if you can get hold of fresh green chiles, use those instead (roasted and diced). If not, the canned work quite well. I prefer the green, hatch variety of chile for this for its tanginess and good flavor. If you like something a bit more smoky or meaty, try poblanos. The goal here is flavor from these chiles, not heat. Sadly, most people never differentiate the two with chiles; it's either hot or hotter. Chiles can add flavor and depth to a dish without adding a ton of heat. Remember that.

The other point with this recipe is with the tortillas. Tortillas outside of the southwest are becoming increasingly better in quality as local manufacturers pop up, but some are still lacking a lot of moisture and texture. If your tortillas are a bit dry and bland (just bite into one, you will know), use this trick to moisten them up a bit. Heat a medium pot of water until slightly steaming, add some salt, peppercorns, chiles, or whatever else you want to flavor it, and dip your tortillas in this for about 3 seconds right before you use them to build a layer. Just dip, build, dip, and build. It brings a little bit of moisture and prevents your enchiladas from being dry and tacky.

Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

2 boneless Chicken breasts (about 8-10oz each)
1 t cumin
1 t chile powder
1 t salt
½ t pepper
½ t cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix seasonings together, place chicken in baking dish, and sprinkle on seasoning. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil. Bake in oven for about 30-45 minutes or until chicken cooked through. Let chicken cool slightly, then shred or chop.

2 T olive oil
1 Onion, diced
3 cans diced green chiles
1 can diced tomatoes (better if these are with chiles too), drained
1 can cream of chicken (or celery) soup
¾ c sour cream
2 t cumin
1 t chile powder
½ t cayenne
½ t garlic powder
2 t salt
1 t pepper
¼ c cilantro, chopped
1 ½ c Colby jack cheese, shredded
~20 Corn tortillas

In a medium sized skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft. Add diced chicken and chiles, stir and warm. Add tomatoes, chicken soup, and sour cream, cook until slightly bubbling. If too thick, add more sour cream or milk. You are looking for slightly thin because a good amount of moisture will be absorbed by the tortillas, but not too much because you want to avoid the dish getting soggy. So go for something like stewish consistency. Add seasonings and adjust to your liking. Add cilantro last.

In a 9x13 baking dish, spread a small amount of the chicken mixture on the bottom of the dish. This will help prevent sticking. Slice corn tortillas in half (dipped in water or not depending on the quality), arrange enough so it covers bottom of dish, overlapping is fine. Spoon some of the chicken mixture over the layer of tortillas, and then follow with another layer of tortillas. Repeat until you have used up the chicken mixture (probably 4 or 5 layers, this is why the tortilla number varies). Top with grated cheese and place in oven. Bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes until cheese is nice and bubbly. Let cool for about 10-15 minutes so it will set.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Trials and Tribulations of Pinto Beans

This recipe came about from my stubbornness in buying canned pinto beans. Nothing wrong with it (heck, I buy canned black and white beans all the time), but it was always something my family did, making pinto beans from the dried version. However, I have failed at this quite a few times. My first attempt was mushy, the second pithy, and the third had no bacon. Yep, utter failure. However, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend, I wanted to try them again. I had tried the stove before, but this time I was going to take the super slow cooking method, the crock-pot. Sweet.

First thing is first, buy a pound of dried pinto beans. If they come with "ham flavoring packets", THROW IT OUT. If I want that kind of flavor, I will buy ramen. Sort through the beans to make sure there are no stones, then place in a big pot and cover with water at least 3 inches above the beans. Soak overnight. This was the first mistake I had; I did not soak them the first time I made them. Do not skip this step; the beans need to take on a lot of water. In the morning, drain the beans and place in a crock-pot. Next comes the best part, throwing everything in and walking away. You will need:

1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 jalapeno cut in half
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 smoked ham hock (or a few slices of bacon)
Salt
Pepper
Cumin
Cayenne
Water

Add the first four ingredients to the pot, and then add water. And ahem, the ham hock or bacon is not optional; you need the smoky flavor to round out the beans. Trust me. Add enough water to cover the beans by about 4 inches. Season heavily, stir, cover, and turn the crock-pot on low. Walk away for about 8 hours. That easy. Taste your beans after about 8 hours, they should be tender but still have a little firmness, and they should not be pithy, but moist on the inside. Fish out the onion, jalapeno, and bacon, discard. Serve the beans with steak, chicken, tortillas, rice, or whatever you feel like. If you enjoy chiles as much as I do, add a can of diced green chiles after the beans are done cooking.

So there you have it. After my mistakes, you benefit by knowing it is really hard to screw these up (because I have not done it yet). Not only are these tasty, but really good for you and quite economical. I have not gone back to canned beans since; hopefully you can do the same.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Spicy Turkey Burgers with Avacado Cream

I stumbled into this recipe the other night after my original burger plan fell through. Apparently blue cheese CAN go bad, even though it is technically already bad. Oh well. I like turkey burgers, but they can be pretty tricky. They love to dry out, and they love to stick. The first can be overcome by adding some kind of binding agent to the mix, in this case the form of an egg. The latter can be done by make sure your grill is well greased (vegetable oil on a paper towel). I cannot tell you how many times a greased grill has saved my butt from a disaster over the flame. Now I do it every time just to be safe.

In case no one has noticed, I tend to favor Mexican flavors, probably due to my growing up in walking distance to the border. So yes, this is a more southwestern burger. I spiced this burger pretty heavily, but it cools off nice with the avocado cream. You can also substitute yogurt for the sour cream if you feel like it (but whatever you do, do not reach for the mayo, trust me, it does not end well).

Southwestern Turkey Burger with Avocado Cream

For the burgers

2 pounds lean ground turkey
1 egg
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 t. cumin
1 T ancho chile powder
1 t salt
Pepper
Few dashes hot sauce (and cayenne for those who like it hot)

For the avocado cream

2 avocados, pitted
2 t lime juice
1/4 c cilantro, chopped
1/2 c sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix burger ingredients together, if too wet add some more bread crumbs. Make into ¼ pound patties, making sure to press firm. Preheat grill to high, scrape clean, brush with oiled paper towel, and reduce heat to medium. Grill burgers over medium heat until done.

For cream, smash avocados and toss with lime juice. Mix in other ingredients until pretty smooth.

Toast buns, slather bun with avocado cream, top with burger, lettuce, and tomato. Enjoy!

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Three Way Chicken Part 4: Pot Pie

This is the last recipe I make with my chicken preparation, and it is my newest addition. I ate pot pies as a kid (thank you Marie Calenders) but over the years they have gotten more processed and less, well, good. So I went about trying to make my own and quickly realized how close the prep was to chicken dumplings. That being said, it is remarkably close, with the only changes coming in the topping, thickness of sauce, and the addition of bacon (you can thank my girlfriend for that keen addition).

Chicken pot pie can be prepared individually (if you have ramekins that size) or as a large casserole. However, in my opinion, they should not have a bottom crust as the ratio of crust to sauce is crucial. I like a pie-like crust for my topping, but biscuits work just as well. Pie crust is quite an ordeal, and I promise to cover it in a future post. For now just use this recipe.

Sauce

3 pieces bacon, chopped
1 onion, diced
2-3 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 garlic cloves, diced
2 bay leaves
4 T butter
4 T flour
1/4 C milk
Chicken, shredded
4-5 C chicken stock
3/4 C frozen peas
1 t dried thyme (or 2t fresh)
1 T chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
Dash of cayenne

Add oil and butter to pot until hot; add bacon and sauté until starting to crisp. Add veggies, sauté until barely translucent, add the bay leaves. Mix in the flour and make a roux. Add chicken and let warm, then add stock. Cook until sauce starts to thicken. If sauce is too thick add more stock (you will have some leftover). Add milk and seasonings, and go heavy on the pepper. Let the sauce come to a simmer and cook for about 20-30 minutes. Add peas last. And don't forget to fish out the bay leaves.

Meanwhile, you can prep the crust for the top.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t kosher salt
1 t baking powder
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 cup cold butter, cubed
1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
pepper

Add shortening and butter to flour, salt, and baking powder, mix with fork, pastry blender or fingers until flaky. Gradually add ice water until the dough just comes together. Mix gently to form a loose ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly butter your ramekins or pan, followed by your chicken mixture. The goal is to mostly fill the pan, but not all the way to the top. Remove the dough from the fridge; roll out on a floured surface until about 1/4 inch thick. Place crust over the chicken mixture, gently pressing down. Bring in edges of crust and pinch around the edges (if you like lots of crust) or cut away excess and press down edges with a fork. Brush top with egg wash and crack some pepper over it. Bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour or until crust is flaky and brown.

So that's it. Chicken three ways from one prep. I hope you find use for it, as it has made my life much easier when I delve into these dishes.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Three Way Chicken Part 3: Chicken and Dumplings

I have enjoyed doing this multiple tiered post over the past week or so, and thanks for the positive feedback. Today's post will focus on the second recipe to come out of this prep, chicken and dumplings. I came about this recipe after I made my mom's, which are tasty but needed just a bit of help in the full on flavor department. Most chicken and dumplings are prepared the same way, making a stock while cooking (or poaching) the chicken, making a sauce from the stock, and cooking the dumplings in that sauce. I really do not deviate much from that basic premise, mostly because it's darn good.

You can really prepare this recipe in one of two ways. You can dice your chicken and make a saucier dish to go under the dumplings, or you can leave the chicken in whole pieces and serve it with the sauce. Since I load my sauce with all kinds of fun stuff, I usually stick to the first application, which allows more integration of chicken and sauce.

Chicken and Dumplings

Sauce

1 onion, diced
2-3 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 garlic cloves, diced
2 bay leaves
3 T butter
3 T olive oil
6 T flour
1/4 C heavy cream (or milk)
Chicken, shredded
5 C chicken stock
3/4 C frozen peas
1 t dried thyme
salt and pepper

Add oil and butter to pot until hot, add veggies, sauté until translucent, add the bay leaves. Mix in the flour and make a roux. Add chicken and let warm, then add stock. Cook until sauce starts to thicken. If sauce is too thick add more stock (you will have some leftover). You will want it a bit thin, as the dumplings will help thicken the sauce. Add cream and seasonings, adjust to taste. Bring to a lively simmer. Add peas immediately before you add dumplings.

Dumplings

1 1/2 C Flour
3 t. baking powder
3/4 t. salt
3 T Butter
3/4 cup buttermilk.

Mix butter into dry ingredients until flaky, add buttermilk and stir until
combined. If you have any fresh herbs lying around, add those in here (chives or parsley are particularly tasty).

Drop in dumplings by the spoonful into the hot liquid and cover, occasionally basting with the liquid. When the dumplings cook through, about 10 minutes, spoon up and serve.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Three-Way Chicken Part 2: Soup Time

Part 2 is here. If you missed it, HERE is part 1. Now that you have a stock made, it's pretty straightforward to get a soup out of it. Chicken noodle soup makes a lot, but it freezes very well and also works well as a gift. I know I like receiving soup. Most chicken noodle soups start and end the same way. Sauté vegetables, add chicken, add stock, bring to simmer, add noodles, and eat. Wow, is it really that easy? Yes, it is. This is one of those "fix it now, feed the family for two days" kind of meals. Its good for you, cost efficient, and can be modified to fit your current mood. I particularly enjoy swapping noodles for brown or wild rice as well as varying the vegetables I add. This is a great recipe to put your own spin on and develop into something you will enjoy all the time.

A word on the cut. A lot of books call for what is called "soup cut". I like to call it a large dice. Just think of the size of vegetables you want in your soup. More than likely you will want something not too large (like for stew) but not too fine (we are not making a sauce). So go in between, big enough that the pieces will have texture, but small enough to fit with broth on a spoon. Ok then, here we go.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Cooked chicken, shredded,
Chicken stock
3 carrots, large dice
2 celery stalks, large dice
1 large onion, large dice
3 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 16oz bag frozen mixed vegetables
3 T butter
1 16oz bag egg noodles
2 t fresh thyme, chopped (or 1 t dried)
Salt and pepper to taste

Remove the stock from the refrigerator (if you stored it there) and let it come to room temperature. Add butter to large pot over medium heat. Add carrot, celery, and onion, sauté for about 3 minutes until the onions just start to wilt. Add garlic, stir and cook for about 1 minute. Add the chicken to heat it through, and then add stock. You do not need to add all of the stock if you prefer a more chunky soup, just save the rest for a later application. Let the soup come to a boil and reduce heat to low so it just barely simmers. Cook for about 30 minutes or until veggies are tender.

Meanwhile, bring another large pot of water to a boil, salt it, and add your egg noodles. Boil them until still pretty al-dente (this helps prevent them from turning to mush later). Drain the noodles and rinse to stop the cooking. Add frozen veggies to the soup, return to a simmer, then add the noodles and thyme. Let cook for about 15 more minutes and then season with salt, pepper, and more thyme if you desire. The seasoning is open ended, as are the veggies you add (go with whatever is in season to change it up). This recipe makes a lot, but chicken noodle soup freezes quite well and keeps for about 3 months.

This is the first application for the chicken; next I will tackle chicken and dumplings!

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