Friday, November 30, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 30: Green Chicken Enchiladas

On the last day of this month of cooking, I contemplated making some elaborate feast. I thought about doing something amazing -- something that I wouldn't normally fix. And then I realized all my dishes are dirty and my kitchen is a disaster. So, instead I went with my old standby. A crockpot meal.

I don't think most people really understand my obsession with the crockpot. It is, far and away, my favorite kitchen appliance. The ice cream maker may not be far behind, but the crockpot is definitely first. I love the way that you can put a meal together and then forget about it. Then, when you come back into the kitchen you have these amazing smells, and you wonder when house elves moved in. Instead of a house elf, I have a crockpot. It has a green insert with an ivy pattern on the outside, which we got as a wedding gift nearly 10 years ago. I even wrote a haiku for mine.

Green and white vessel --
You create wonderful smells.
I love you, crockpot!

So, tonight, we had a crockpot meal. It may not sound fabulous, but I assure you it was.

Green Chicken Enchiladas
2 pounds chicken, cooked and chopped
1 tbsp oil
2 onions, 1 quartered, 1 chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp cumin
28 oz verde sauce
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
12 corn tortillas
I tend to just brown the chicken lightly to cook it. I did that today. Then, put some oil in the pan and cook the chopped onion for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the chopped chicken and the cumin and stir through. Remove from the heat. Blend the quartered onion and the green sauce like a crazy person. Then, assemble your enchilada casserole. Start with 1/2 cup of the sauce on the bottom of the insert. Then layer 4 of the tortillas, a third of the chicken mixture, and a third of the cheese. Repeat layers so you have three, and stop with the last of the chicken. Dump whatever sauce is left evenly over the whole thing and top with the last of the cheese. Cook on low for 7 hours.

Don't knock it until you've tried it. Good stuff.

And now it's time for a break. A long enough break to get the kitchen clean. I'm not expecting to cook again before June.

I kid. I've actually already been thinking of how I'll make this little exercise harder the next time I do it. I have some ideas, but we'll just have to see what shakes out. Thanks for taking this little journey with me.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 29: Chicken Marsala

Tonight I'm pretty tired. So tired that in non-months-of-daily-cooking, I would have just eaten a little leftover something and gone to bed early. But, no, that's not an option on the 29th of the month in question. Tonight we had a favorite that re-reminded me that my husband and I have very different ideas of how many mushrooms is really enough.

Chicken Marsala
1 pound chicken breasts
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
8 oz sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup marsala wine
1 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper
Salt and pepper the chicken breasts. Heat two tablespoons of the butter and the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium high heat. Brown the chicken breasts on each side, but don't cook them until done, just brown. Remove to a plate, and add the onions and mushrooms to the oil in the pan. Cook until the liquid the mushrooms give off is evaporated. Add the marsala, and reduce by half. Add the chicken broth and the chicken from the plate, along with any juices that have collected. Turn the heat to medium and simmer gently for 10 minutes, until the chicken is done. Remove the chicken to your serving plate. Boil the onions, mushrooms, and associated juices to have them reduce a little more. Remove from the heat and add the other two tablespoons of butter and stir that in. Salt and pepper to taste.

We ate this over whole wheat spaghetti and some steamed broccoli. And now Heather is tired and is going to bed.

Variety of Food, Day 28: Ham, Mushroom and Cheese Waffles

Tonight's meal was a lesson in how forgiving some recipes really can be. It's comforting, really, after all this cooking to have it firmly implanted how little precision really is necessary. I made an old family favorite for no other reason than I had the ingredients in the house. Well, most of the ingredients, and I faked the rest.

Ham, Mushroom and Cheese Sauce
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1 can evaporated milk (or a pint of buttermilk, if that's what you have)
1 cup swiss cheese (or 2 cups, if you happen to have ounce conversion issues for the moment)
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup diced ham
Melt the butter in a saucepan over high eat. Add the flour and stir together. Pour in the milk slowly, stirring constantly. Add the cheese and let it melt. Add the mushrooms and ham and heat through. Serve over cornmeal waffles.

Cornmeal Waffles
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups milk
1 cup flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup cornmeal
5 tbsp melted butter
Beat the eggs and milk together. Combine the dry ingredients and add them to the liquid ones, mixing with a few swift strokes (don't overstir!!). Use a few more strokes to add in the butter. Cook on a waffle griddle until done.

Of course, waffles are more fun to make on a 100-year-old cast-iron waffle iron. I know, blah, cast-iron bad for you, blah, blah. It makes phenomenal waffles, so don't make me give it up!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 27: Lamb Ragu

Tonight I went with a dish I hadn't done before from a tried and true book. It's generally a pretty safe way to branch out, and I'm not interested in failures this close to the end of the month. True to form, this didn't disappoint.

Lamb Ragu
Adapted from The Classic Pasta Cookbook by Giuliano Hazan
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 rib of celery, diced
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp juniper berries
1 lb ground lamb (or you can use a larger piece of meat and dice it up)
salt and pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine
14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
1/4 cup grated parmesan
Soak the mushrooms for at least 20 minutes in 1 cup of warm water. Remove and squeeze all the extra liquid back into your soaking water and save that. Chop the mushrooms coarsely. In a medium saucepan, put the oil, 1 tbsp of the butter and the onion and cook over medium-low heat until the onion is nicely golden. Add the carrot, celery, rosemary and the juniper berries and continue to cook until the vegetables get browned (about 15 minutes). Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the meat. Cook and stir until there is no more pink in the meat, and then add salt, pepper, and the wine. Let the wine reduce by half before adding the mushrooms, their soaking water and the tomatoes. When it comes back to a boil, lower the heat to low and simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. It should be thick and not watery to signal that it's done. Cook a pound of rigatoni, and combine the cooked pasta with the sauce, the other 2 tbsp of the butter and the parmesan.

This was rich and tasty, and lamb is just not a meat we eat that often, so it was sort of a treat. More of a treat is that there are just 3 meals left in the month. Woohoo!!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 26: Yeo's Shrimp Curry

I'm into the home stretch now. I was hungry for Indian food, but really didn't want to spend 3 hours cooking curry from scratch. So I started with samosas from Trader Joe's (not very good -- won't do those again) and papadams (I'm a fan of the Swad brand and the Udad flavor -- spicy!). The papadams are supposed to be cooked in a tandoor. I don't know about you, but I don't have a tandoor in my kitchen. However, I can set an oven to 425 and put in my pizza stone. Once it's all heated up, the papadams cook for about 30 seconds on each side, until they are bubbly, without any darkening in color.

Then I made steamed rice and the curry. This is where my "not from scratch" part came into play. I don't eat a lot of premade curry, but I was recently in an Asian grocery looking for lumpia wrappers, and found the pinnacle of canned curry: Yeo's Singapore Curry Gravy. There's only one flavor, only one spiciness, but it is some seriously tasty stuff. Here's the recipe, pretty much from the side of the can.

Yeo's Shrimp Curry
Slice an onion and cook over medium heat in a small amount of oil, until the onion is golden. Add three potatoes cut into bite-size pieces and stir constantly for 5 minutes. Add 1/2 pound of peeled shrimp and continue to stir until the shrimp are all just pink. Pour in the can of curry gravy and mix together. Lower the heat and cover to simmer for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are soft.

I know, not that complicated. But this is so good I still call it homemade. And it still took me about 45 minutes in the kitchen, so it was no frozen pizza.

Thanksgiving Recap

I know I'm slow, but this is a long post, so it took some time to write. And after my parents left, I needed a few days to recover. They have some serious energy for old farts!

Really, the dinner preparations for the big meal started on Tuesday, when I made the ice cream. My dad's diabetic, so I have tried making this with evaporated milk instead of cream and with splenda instead of sugar. Don't make either of those mistakes if you choose to make ice cream from scratch. It just results in a rock hard mess that tastes awful. I have a Krups ice cream maker, so I had put the freezer insert in on Saturday to get it good and cold for the effort. This recipe comes from the booklet that came with the appliance.

French Vanilla Ice Cream
3 eggs
2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 tsp vanilla
Beat the eggs and milk together in a 3 qt saucepan. Add sugar and cook over low heat for about 15-20 minutes, whisking constantly. It's important to stir all the time, so you don't end up with scrambled egg pieces in your ice cream. When the mixture is thick and coats the spoon, remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Add the cream and vanilla and refrigerate overnight before freezing in the ice cream maker.

While that was cooling, I made a strawberry sorbet. I've also made this with frozen berries: mixed berries, raspberries, and I would think other berries would work equally well.

Strawberry Sorbet
3 cups fresh berries or a 12-oz bag of frozen berries
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
2 egg whites
1/2 cup orange juice
Put berries, water, and sugar in a 3-qt saucepan and heat at medium until the sugar dissolves in the liquid. Puree the mixture and refrigerate for several hours. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the orange juice to the pureed berries and then fold in the egg whites before freezing the mixture in the maker.

Both recipes make a quart of ice cream, so I have a couple of 1.2 or 1.3 quart containers that I use to hold the frozen goodness after it comes out of the ice cream maker. That works well.

On Wednesday, I made the pie to go with all that ice cream. I discovered this whole apple pie-making thing last year, and now I make apple pie anytime I need a dessert for something. I never realized how much I love apple pie. I don't love making pie crust, so I buy those, but the filling I make.

Apple Pie
Adapted from Joy of Cooking, of which I believe I have the 423rd edition
Make your double pie crusts or take yours out of the freezer to start to thaw. Core and slice in 1/4 inch thick slices 3 pounds of apples. I used Pink Lady this time, but I've also used Gala and Fuji, and they've worked great, too. I think next time I will try Honey Crisp. Be wary of squishy apples like red delicious or granny smith, as these will get mushy in a pie. In a very large skillet, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over high heat until the butter is sizzling and smelling yummy. Add the apples and toss them around to coat them with the butter. Lower the heat to medium, cover and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. You want the apples to be getting soft, but not to be falling apart. Add 3/4 cup sugar or splenda, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon of salt and mix together. Turn the heat back up to high and boil the liquid and the apples until it starts to become thick, like syrup, about 3 minutes more. Remove the apples and spread them out on a cookie sheet and cool to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 425. Pile the apples and the syrup into the bottom crust. It will be a pile, but that's what makes this good. I wet the edges of the bottom crust, and then press the top crust onto it to make them stick together. Vent and bake until the filling is brown and bubbly and the crust is nicely golden, about 40 to 50 minutes. Cool on a baking rack, and leave out for tomorrow.

Also on Wednesday, I tore up a loaf of whole wheat bread into pieces and let it sit out to get a little stale. Then I made the cranberries. I like to make two kinds, and this year I did half a bag one way and the other half the other way. Fewer leftovers that way.

Cooked Cranberries
half a bag of fresh cranberries
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp fresh ginger
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook and stir until the mixture boils and the cranberries have all popped (about 10 minutes). Refrigerate to serve.

Fresh Cranberry Relish
half a bag of fresh cranberries
2 oranges, quartered
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup gin or vodka (but gin is better)
Put the cranberries and oranges in a food processor or blender until all broken up. Add the gin and sugar and refrigerate until serving.

I really should have made these earlier. The fresh is better when it's been sitting for 3 or 4 days, and there's no harm in making the other early. I serve them cold, so making them early is just a way to keep from going insane with the things that can't be done until the day of.

Then we come to Thursday morning. I got up and started to prep the turkey first thing in the morning. Well, a little later than first thing, since I slept in a bit. As a morning person, you have to understand that means I got up at 6:30. Just so we're all clear that I didn't sleep in so late so as to appreciably affect the completion of the meal.

Roast Turkey
Remove the giblets and neck and wash the turkey (I did a 17.5 pound one). Rub an even mixture of salt, pepper, and thyme all over the skin and the inside cavity of the bird. Into the neck and butt cavities, fill with quartered onions and celery and carrots cut into 2-inch lengths. Put breast down in a covered roaster and into a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes per pound (that's 5 hours and 50 minutes for my turkey). Baste every 30 minutes with turkey or chicken broth, adding 1.5 to 2 cups of liquid each basting until the broth in the pan starts to be more than the last time you basted.

This doesn't make the prettiest roast turkey ever, since the breast is down in the broth, but it sure makes it juicier. I figure I'm going for tasty rather than for a turkey that belongs on the front of a magazine, so it's an easy tradeoff to make. Since the turkey was in at 7am, I knew we would be eating about 1:15 or 1:30, so the rest of the pieces of the meal are timed for that. The next order of business was to make the dressing. Since I only have one small oven, and it was taken up with turkey, I decided to try making my regular dressing in the crockpot.

Sherry Pecan Dressing
Saute 2 chopped onions in 3/4 cup butter until just tender and golden. Dump in the crockpot with 2 cups of chopped celery, 1 tablespoons chopped fresh parley, 1 1/2 teaspoons each of thyme, margoram and salt, 1/2 teaspoon each of celery seed and nutmeg, and 1/4 cup of sherry. Once combined, add the torn bread we made and left for stale yesterday and a cup of chopped pecans. Cover and set the crockpot on low, and check it periodically, adding chicken broth as it gets a little dry. Once the turkey comes out of the oven to rest, put the uncovered crockpot insert in the oven for 15 minutes just to make the top of the dressing crunchy and crispy.

Once all that was going, it was time for breakfast and a little card playing or other diversions (my mother watched football, one of the benefits of living on the west coast -- the games start at 8 or 9am). About noon (the turkey is coming out at 1, after all), I started making the mashed potatoes.

Mashed Potatoes
Quarter (or smaller, just so all the pieces are the same size) 3 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes. Put them all in a pot with water covering them and boil until a fork goes into the pieces easily (25-40 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces). Drain off the water, but leave the potatoes in the pot. Add a stick of butter and 1/2 cup of milk, and mash with a hand mixer on the slowest setting. If the potatoes aren't creamy enough, add more butter and/or milk. Add salt to taste.

While the potatoes were boiling, I ended the green beans and prepped the asparagus. Both were in their respective pots for steaming as soon as I was done mashing the potatoes. Mashed potatoes hold their heat well, so you can finish them a little earlier than the other pieces. About this time, the turkey was done, and I took it out of the oven and removed it to its serving plate to rest. This leaves the broth in the roasting pan to make gravy.

Turkey Gravy
Mix flour and water (about twice as much water as flour) in a tightly sealing plastic container. Shake vigorously to remove any flour lumps. Bring the broth in the roasting pan to a boil on the stove. Drizzle the flour/water mixture into the broth while stirring constantly. Once thickened to the desired consistency, ladle into a gravy boat for serving.

As the veggies finished up, I put them in their serving bowls with a pat of butter and a little salt. Everything was served, and the turkey was carved to a plate to make getting food easier. We drank a local wine from the Presidio winery we visited on Tuesday with the meal, and it was very nice.

After folks had had a chance to let their food settle, we had dessert. I set the oven back to 350, and put the pie back in for 15 minutes to warm it up. Served up with homemade vanilla ice cream, you'd think there was no space to put it after all that eating. However, I may have mentioned that I like apple pie, so I managed to find a crevice to stuff it into.

And there you have it -- my Thanksgiving dinner. And now I'm fooded out, and don't even want to make dinner tonight. But, we all have our burdens to bear. Off to the store again!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 25: Thai Basil Chicken

We're fighting a losing battle on this one. Back in college, we had a Thai place that we really liked to go to. Great food, and cheap. Whenever I would go back for work or to go to a sporting event of some kind, I would eat there, or get an order of this garlicky basily chicken that was phenomenal to take home with me. However, the last time I was in College Station, Thai Taste was nowhere to be found. Even before that point, we hve been trying to recreate the flavor of that dish. We've never succeeded, but it doesn't keep us from trying. At this point, we are likely trying to achieve something that isn't even possible because it's some imagined flavor that can't be recreated. Add to that the fact that my husband's memory of that dish is likely different from mine, and failure is nearly assured.

But, like the little engine, we keep chugging away at it. Tonight, we used fresh Thai basil that I got down at the farmer's market this week. It smelled wonderful, and I thought we might have a chance. No dice. Dinner was okay, but until I actually create something worth eating again, I don't want to share the recipe. The basic gist of the dish is chicken in a lightly sweet golden brown sauce with an enormous amount of garlic and slightly wilted basil and lettuce. Served with hot white rice, you'd think you'd died and gone to heaven, if I could just get it to taste right.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 24: Turkey Tetrazzini

Today, we continued with the theme of eating the leftover turkey in non-Thanksgiving-dinner fashion. I really felt no need to cook with my parents having left and being more wiped out than I could have guessed I would be. Conveniently, I had all the ingredients for this dish, because adding a grocery store trip to today would have likely been more than I could have handled.

Turkey Tetrazzini
Start boiling water for pasta. Slice half a pound of mushrooms, and sautee them in 2-3 tablespoons of butter. After a couple minutes, add 2 tablespoons of sherry, a can of evaporated milk (or a pint of cream), and a pound of shredded, leftover turkey. Bring it slowly to a boil, seasoning with salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 325, and drop 8 ounces of spaghetti into the water, broken into 3-inch long pieces. Cut 2 tablespoons of butter into two tablespoons of flour and add to the turkey mixture to thicken. Lightly butter a casserole dish. Drain the pasta when it is still a bit underdone and chewy, and put in the casserole. Spoon the chicken mixture over the top and sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of parmesan on the top. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the top starts to get golden brown and crunchy.

It ain't healthy, but it sure hit the spot tonight. Tomorrow I better hit up the grocery store for the home stretch.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 23: Tortilla Soup

Today was mostly a football game, but when my Aggies pulled out the win against Texas, it was time for me to bring my best game. I'm a big fan of doing something completely different with the leftover turkey on the day after Thanksgiving. This year was no different.

Tortilla Soup
Char a jalepeno, ancho, and poblano pepper on a skillet or open fire. Cool and dice while sauteeing a chopped onion in a bit of oil in a stew pot. As the onion gets brown, add the peppers, 4 cloves of minced garlic, a bay leaf, 3 teaspoons cumin, and a dash of cayenne. While that cooks, chop up 8 tomatoes and then add them to the pot with 8 cups of chicken or turkey broth, an 8 oz can of tomato sauce, and 6 epasote leaves, if you want them. Simmer it all together for 30-45 minutes. Then add half a pound of shredded turkey meat and a small can of sweet corn and heat through. Serve with garnishes of sliced avocado, shredded cheese, cilantro, and tortilla chips.

It was pronounced tasty and everyone was full for the umpteenth day in a row. And, thanks to my mom, my kitchen is still clean. I feel like such a slavedriver, making her work, but it sure has been appreciated.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 22: Thanksgiving Dinner

I really enjoy cooking for Thanksgiving, so early on in our marriage, we announced that we would not be traveling for that holiday. Anyone that want to see us for that would need to travel to us. When you're a young married couple without kids, it's hard to get people to visit you; you have to set arbitrary restrictions to make that happen, and this is one of the ones we set for ourselves.

There's a lot of food to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner in our house, so to make it all work, you have to start a few days early. I'll give the full rundown of how I made it all fit tomorrow, but before I went to bed tonight, I wanted to show you pictures of the spread. I put all the food out on two buffet tables for folks to serve themselves. This is mostly about the fact that our dining table is small, but it does make it more obvious when someone gets seconds. The buffet started with the turkey. I forgot to get a picture of the turkey before the carving began, so just believe me when I say that it looked good initially. Then there was the dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy. Next in line we had the vegetables -- asparagus and peas -- both with lots and lots of butter. Finally, we have two kinds of cranberries. Once you had all your food, it was time to sit at the table with a nice glass of wine and enjoy the meal.

After a bit of a rest, we had apple pie and homemade vanilla ice cream. It was a glorious pile of eating, and now I'm going into a turkey coma. I'll provide more details when I come from from the state of excessive sleepiness.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 21: Akoori

Today we have plans to go out for dinner this evening, so I did my cooking for brunch. We had Akoori, an Indian scrambled egg curry.

From The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon
8 eggs
4 tbsp milk
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp butter
2 spring onions, chopped
1/2 jalepeno pepper, seeded and diced
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/8 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp chopped coriander (which is the same as cilantro)
1 tomato, diced
1/2 tsp cumin
Beat the eggs in a bowl with the milk, salt and pepper. Heat the butter over low heat in a heavy skillet until melted. Add the onions, jalepeno and ginger and cook until soft and fragrant. Add the turmeric, coriander and tomato, and few for another minute or two. Add the cumin and the egg mixture, and stir constantly until the eggs are creamy, but not stiff. Serve with warm whole-wheat tortillas or another Indian bread.

This is easy, and very flavorful, and now we're ready for our day. Get ready for tomorrow's marathon post!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 20: Penne Arrabiata

I'm a big fan of a little irony, when I can fit it in. Tonight, that was in the form of serving "angry pasta" to my parents. Hee hee! It was tasty with a little salad and some nice cabernet.

Penne Arrabbiata
From The Classic Pasta Cookbook by Guiliano Hazan
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
3 oz pancetta, cut into 1/4 inch strips
28 oz canned diced tomatoes
1 tsp red pepper flakes
salt to taste
1 lb penne
12 fresh basil leaves, torn into 1/2 inch pieces
2 tbsp grated romano cheese
Heat the olive oil and garlic in a skillet over medium heat until the garlic is sizzling, Add the pancetta and cook to browned, but not crisp. Add the tomatoes, red pepper and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 30-40 minutes until the tomatoes have cooked down. Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until tender. Add the basil to the sauce and toss together. Combine the pasta, sauce, and cheese and toss together to serve.

It's easy, and it's one of our favorites these days. It was nice to share it with my parents, who missed the irony and appreciated the flavors. Ah, the naivete.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 19: Hoi Sin Fish

I have people to cook for again! My mom and dad came into town today, and my husband may even be in later tonight. So much better than cooking just for one. We started with dumplings and sauce, and proceeded to the main meal.

Hoi Sin Fish
From Charmaine Solomon's The Complete Asian Cookbook
1 1/2 pounds of firm white fish (I used Chilean sea bass)
2 tbsp peanut oil
2 cloves of crushed garlic
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp hoi sin sauce
1 spring onion diced
Heat the oil in a wok, and fry the garlic to golden brown. Add the fish, and brown on both sides. Sprinkle the soy sauce over the fish and cover for 1 minute. Add the ginger and cover for another minute. Turn off the heat, add the hoi sin sauce to the gravy. Serve the fish with the gravy over the top, garnished with the spring onions.

I served this with white rice and some braised baby bok choy, and it was pronounced tasty. It's just so nice to have a reason to cook again, and it's doubly nice that my mom helped me do all the dishes after dinner. Woohoo!

Variety of Food, Day 18: Ham and Mushroom Pasta

Rationalization and diversion did a number on me today. My afternoon went something like this.

Got up from the couch, noticing it was dark outside. I figured it must be too late to eat, and I should just go to bed. Nope, it's 5:30. No wonder I'm not hungry -- I barely finished lunch (leftovers). Hmm, I need to pay bills and otherwise waste some time on the internet. And the guest bathroom needs to be cleaned and have fresh towels put out. Okay, that's done. The kitchen is a mess, and I don't want to make it worse before my parents come to town tomorrow. Well, it's good that the kitchen is clean now. Here's an example of one of the seventeen loads of dishes I did today.I may be exaggerating a little on the number of loads, but not by much. You wanna see that work surface I showed you a couple of days ago that looked like such a disaster? Please humor me. I need to share my accomplishment with someone, and Moo-Bunny just isn't cutting it on this. Thanks for letting me share. Then I remembered I had laundry in the dryer. That's folded and put away now.

By this time, my house is almost clean, and I'm running out of diversionary tactics to keep me from cooking. I'm also hungry by this point. So, I went with something easy. It was just like Day 13, except with ham and mushrooms instead of the prosciutto and peas. Tasted totally different. I liked this one a lot better. I would upload a picture, but Blogger has decided I have enough in this post, and I'm too tired to try to get it to work. I'll put the picture in words: it was a bowl of fettucine with little cubes of ham and sauteed mushrooms dotting it.

And now I can go to bed. I know it's bad to eat and then sleep immediately, but eh. I'm too tired to do anything else.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 17: Steak

I didn't want to eat alone this evening. With my husband 4 time zones away, and it being a Saturday night, my options were limited. So, I called on an old friend.

Years ago, my husband created a unique gift for me for Christmas: a Moo-Bunny. He bought a stuffed rabbit and a stuffed cow, and then Frankesteined them together. The cow parts didn't fit in the holes on the bunny, so I don't have two of these creatures, just the cow with the bunny ears and tail. Moo-Bunny keeps me company when my husband is out of town, and tonight was no exception.

Initially, Moo-Bunny was annoyed that I'd invited him to eat with me on a night I had gone to the store and bought a single portion of filet mignon. I can't really blame him. The only thing that would have been worse is if I'd had some sort of rabbit sauce on the steak.

Eventually, I was able to convince him to just eat the veggies. Corn and broccoli aren't nearly as offensive, and I think he just wanted to be out in the fun. We enjoyed a generally underdone dinner. It's the way I like things, but I try to cook everything a tad longer when other people are eating with me. Moo-Bunny is used to raw veggies, so it was fine for him.

To make dinner, I started boiling water in the asparagus pot. (It was clean. Think whatever you want.) Then I sauteed a few mushrooms in butter, and when they were getting dark, I added some sherry and cooked that down. Then I steamed the broccoli in the microwave (a little water in a bowl, add the broccoli, cover with plastic wrap, poke a few holes, and nuke for 3 minutes). I salted and peppered the steaks and pan-fried them for a few minutes on each side. I threw the corn in the boiling water for a couple minutes, and voila -- 15-minute dinner.

And the best part, besides the silent, furry company? No leftovers.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 16: French Toast

I love breakfast food. Tonight, I really wanted to make French toast with some leftover sourdough bread I had lying around. And I figured that if I was just cooking for myself, why couldn't I just have French toast for dinner? I figure I've had enough pasta lately, so I decided to load up on other carbs, instead. What did I decide to have with my French toast? Potato pancakes. Just because they sounded good as their own entity, separate from the French toast.

I can also now tell you that French toast is not very good with applesauce, nor are potato pancakes any good with syrup, just in case you were wondering. However, my non-conventional dinner hit the spot.

My First Earthquake

I believe that I just experienced my first earthquake a few moments ago. I was sitting here at my computer working on something unimportant and then there was this rumbling noise and the floor shook like the house just got crashed into by a car. It was subtle and really low. I ran downstairs and outside to see if anyone was around to ask if that really was an earthquake, but no one else seemed to see it as any big deal.

Conveniently, I found this website that lists all the earthquakes in the last 7 days. And that confirmed it -- indeed I just experienced my first quake:

MagnitudeUTC Date-TimeLatitudeLongitudeDepthRegion
2.62007/11/17 02:55:1934.376-119.6510.0SANTA BARBARA CHANNEL, CALIFORNIA
3.42007/11/17 02:45:0834.390-119.65810.3SANTA BARBARA CHANNEL, CALIFORNIA

I have to say, it was sort of exciting. A 3.4 quake followed by a 2.6 one, and I could feel them and nothing bad happened. I think anything over a 5 would scare me out of my wits, but for now, that was cool.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 15: Ravioli Pomodoro

Tonight's my first night in a span of nights cooking for myself. BORING. Cooking for two is hard enough (I think I'm only capable of cooking for 4 or more), so cooking for one is nearly unbearable. Tonight I made an easy sauce, and put it with some prepared chicken and garlic ravioli. Wanna see how easy that sauce is?

Ravioli Pomodoro
New recipe from Giuliano Hazan's The Classic Pasta Cookbook
In a saucepan, put a large can (24 ounces) of chopped tomatoes, 6 tablespoons of butter, an onion cut in halves, and a bit of salt. Simmer over low heat until the tomatoes break down and separate from the butter (20-40 minutes). Cook the pasta, and toss the sauce and 4 tablespoons grated parmesan with the pasta.

Total Kitchen Time: 10 minutes

That's it. I might even put this on the list for easy lunches to make in the future. I hope the leftovers freeze okay, because I can't bear to have any more leftovers in the fridge at this point.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 14: Szechwan Fried Chicken

This afternoon, I received a call from my husband. He's going to Hawaii for work. In the morning. Tomorrow morning. He's bailing on at least five of my dinners this month while he runs off to work 20 hours of every day on a telescope that has some sort of issue.

I decided that meant that tonight should be something good for his sendoff. So, I pulled out my regular cookbook and let it fall open where the binding naturally breaks. Well, I say "naturally", but it really opens there because of all the various bits of oil and garlic and rice kernels that seem to be a permanent fixture to the page. My husband told me in our earliest dating days that "I like Chinese food! General Tso's Chicken is my favorite!" Bless his little white, un-Asian-acclimated heart, I could hardly tell him that General Tso's is an American invention, and not really very authentic. I tried out the recipe in question, because I hoped it was close enough to what he thought of as Chinese food to be able to introduce him to actual Chinese food. Well, this didn't turn out anything like his old favorite, but it turned him into an instant convert to the ways of hoisin sauce and dim sum and the kind of craziness I prefer to eat and cook. And now, it's one of our favorite recipes. The comment at dinner? "Really? We haven't already had this this month? Cool!"

Szechuan Fried Chicken
Adapted over many attempts from The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon
Take a pound of chicken (either breasts or thighs -- each work, but it needs to be all white meat or all dark meat), and cut it up into small bite-size pieces. Mix together 1/4 cup cornstarch, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp five spice powder, and add the pieces of chicken and mix it all up evenly. In a bowl or measuring cup combine 1 cup chicken stock, 4 tsp sugar, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, 2 tsp vinegar, 4 tsp dry sherry, 1/2 tsp five spice powder and 1/2 tsp black pepper. In another small bowl, mix 4 tsp cornstarch into 2 tbsp cold water and stir until smooth. Start cooking the white rice, so it will be ready when the chicken is ready. Then, heat about 2 tbsp peanut oil (it's the best oil for frying because the smoke point is higher than other oils) in a wok over very high heat. Fry the chicken in three batches until the pieces stop sticking to each other and start to turn golden brown (about 7-10 minutes per batch), removing to a paper-toweled plate to drain. While this is cooking, slice 4 dried red chillies lengthwise and remove the seeds (do not touch your face for 24 hours after this step -- I promise!), mince 3 cloves of garlic, grate 2 tsp of ginger, and cut 4 spring onions into 1-inch pieces. Once all the chicken is done, turn the heat down to medium, put 2 tbsp oil in the wok and fry the chillies, garlic and ginger for about a minute, until the garlic is starting to brown, and the chillies get dark. Toss in the onions and fry for a few seconds. Then add the stock mixture and bring it to a boil (you may have to turn the heat back up for this). Stir the cornstarch/water mixture to a smooth liquid again, and drizzle it into the boiling mixture while stirring to thicken it. Add the chicken, mix it all together, and serve with your rice.

Total kitchen time: 2 hours

I also made pork and shrimp wontons tonight, and somewhere during the prep realized that my kitchen was a disaster. This could have been when I found the fourth item that I had to wash before I could use it or when I realized I was making wontons in whatever available clean-ish corner I could find, or when I saw that I had no place to set my during-dinner-making drink. Regardless, here is my kitchen in action. Or it's a kitchen slowed to inaction. I'm not sure. On this table, you can see the pot from the green beans from Day 8, the crockpot insert used to make stew on Day 11, the sauce containers from the bulgogi on Day 12, my bowl from reheating the pasta from Day 13 for lunch today. I admit it -- it's a mess. Should I even admit that this is just one of three cooking/counter surfaces in the kitchen and they all look like this? But somehow I have to cook in that again tomorrow. Anyone out there really like doing dishes and want to come do mine?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 13: Mardi Gras Pasta

Tonight we've been invited to a friend's place for dinner. Since I won't be cooking that, I made a new pasta dish tonight that will now go into the fridge as leftovers. It actually turned out pretty well, so I'm stoked.

Mardi Gras Pasta
From The Classic Pasta Cookbook by Giuliano Hazan, with a new title by Heather, since I don't really want to try to learn how to pronounce "Paglia e Fieno coi Piselli".
1/2 stick of butter (4 tbsp)
1/2 a small onion, diced
6 ounces prosciutto, cut into long thin strips
1/2 package of frozen petite peas, thawed
salt and pepper
1 cup cream
3/4 pound of egg fettucine
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Melt the butter over medium-low heat, and saute the onion until it's soft and golden. Add the prosciutto and cook until it loses the raw pink look (somewhere between purple and brown). Start water boiling for the pasta. Turn the heat up on the sauce to medium-high and add the peas and cook for 2-3 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the cream and cook until it has reduced by half. Remove from heat and cook the pasta. Toss the sauce with the cooked pasta and the parmesan and serve.

Total Kitchen Time: 30 minutes

The egg fettuccine is a lot richer than normal fettuccine, so I can tell this is going to be a very filling dish with the leftovers lasting longer than really necessary. But at least it's tasty. And look at that picture and see if you don't think my new title is appropriate for the dish.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 12: Bulgogi

Now we're back on track with this Korean beef dish that my husband has deemed a recent favorite.

Adapted from The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon.
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup water
3 cloves of crushed garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 lbs lean rump or round roast

Combine all the ingredients, except beef, together to create the marinade. Slice the beef into very thin slices, and then cut the slices into 1-inch squares. Place in the marinade for 3-5 hours (or a whole day if you put it in the marinade yesterday afternoon and then went out and partied too hard). To cook, preheat the broiler, spread the meat out on a broiler pan evenly, and cook for 5-7 minutes until the tops start to get crispy. Serve with white rice and the following sauce:

Bulgogi Sauce
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp Chinese bean paste
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp dry sherry
1 tsp sesame seeds
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp sambal ulek
2 tsp sugar
Combine all ingredients together.

We did have a vegetable, but I was being lazy, so we went with pre-packaged vegetable birds nests from Trader Joe's. It was very tasty, and I'm (hopefully) back on track for the rest of the month.

Total Kitchen Time: 30 minutes

AFI Film Festival in LA

Saturday, we got the chance to go to a movie showing at tha AFI Film Festival which just wrapped up yesterday. We aren't normally up on what's going on, but we knew the writer/director, Alex Holdridge, from years gone by, so we went to see In Search of a Midnight Kiss. Alex used to live in Austin, and we were lucky enough to see the premiere of his first movie, Wrong Numbers, and that was great, so we knew what sort of movie we were lining up for, and definitely had expectations.

It didn't disappoint -- it was such a great flick! The premise is simple enough. A guy is depressed after his relationship ends and his career comes to a screeching halt after moving to pursue it. His friends push him to have a date for the New Year's Eve party, so he posts a want ad on Craig's List and the story goes from there. It's a really well-written story with very human characters (no caricatures here). I'm sort of surprised it's being billed as a romantic comedy, because it's missing all the schmaltz and predictability that we've come to expect from that genre. This is more like a relationship drama with some laugh-out-loud scenes in it. We stayed for the Q&A after the film, and found that a lot of this story is autobiographical, and the whole thing was filmed in 16 days. What an accomplishment, to take a real-life tragedy and turn it into such a winning movie so quickly and on a shoestring budget. Alex's parents were there at the screening, and I'm sure his mother was crying tears of pride for her baby's obvious success.

If you get a chance to see this one, take it. Good stuff.

Variety of Food, Day 11: Burgundy Beef Stew

I'm calling the 10th the day I failed on the challenge to make something new every day. This was actually finished on Sunday, so that's when we ate it. Mostly this is an ego thing. It's better to say that I didn't cook on the day we spent the entire day in LA than to say I failed because I got pukey drunk.

Burgundy Beef Stew
Brown 2 pounds of stew meat and move to a stewpot (or crockpot). Saute a diced onion in the meat juices and move to the pot. Add a pound of carrots and a pound of potatoes, cut up in approximately 1-inch cubes. Cover all the pieces with beef broth (about 6 cups) and simmer gently for an hour (or put your crockpot on low and leave it overnight). Add a cup of burgundy wine, a package of frozen peas and a pound of sliced mushrooms and cook for a further 15 minutes (or throw them in the crockpot before you go to church, and when you get back it will be ready). Taste and add salt if needed.

Served with some hot sourdough bread and butter, this was the perfect meal for the gray, drizzly day we had here. It hit the spot!

And now, through no fault of its own, the stew will be going into the freezer. There's something about regurgitated stew that means I should wait a while to eat those leftovers.

Um, Yeah....

Apparently, by tomorrow, I meant the day after tomorrow. Which is today.

Yesterday was a very bad day in Heather-land. It started out fine, but took a nose dive after lunch when we decided to meet up with friends in Ventura. The guy in the couple was the department drunk at UT, and he hasn't changed. Losing track of what I was doing, I drank an entire bottle of wine. Oops. I had to throw up on the way home, and then spent about 3 hours in the shower just trying to feel well enough to climb in bed. Needless to say, I didn't cook dinner or post or anything.

I haven't done that in years. I imagine it will be a while before I do it again, too. Hopefully, forever. I hate feeling like that. And to know I did it to myself is just that much worse.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Good Reason for Today's Post(s) Coming Tomorrow

Today, we went into LA to go to a friend's movie showing as part of the AFI Film Festival. We left mid-morning and got home tonight at 11:30. I have now started dinner, and it will be in the crockpot all night for tomorrow's lunch, but I feel like it should count because I started it tonight before I'm going to bed.

Posts on the film and on the dinner are coming tomorrow, after I've gotten a chance to sleep.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Chris Tomlin at the Santa Barbara Bowl

Last weekend, I went to see Chris Tomlin at the Santa Barbara Bowl. The Bowl is an outdoor amphitheatre, and the primary big concert location here in town. I had wanted to see a concert there, and this was the perfect combo -- an artist I knew that I vaguely wanted to see together with cheaper tickets. It turned out to be better than just a way to see what the venue was like.

It was like going to church on Friday night for three hours with 4500 of your closest friends. I know that doesn't sound great to most of you, but for me it was just what I needed. The sermon touched me, but mostly it was just knowing that there were other folks in town that wanted to go to church on a Friday night that recharged me spiritually.

We came in and got settled in our side floor seats, and justified that they were good once we found some that were worse. As it got dark, the music started up. They put all the words up on a screen at the back of the stage, so even you only knew some of the words you could sing like you meant it. It was great for songs I'd never heard before, too, because by the second chorus I could join in. He was a worship leader before he started his singing career, and you can tell. He sure knows how to get people singing loud and proud, from easy tunes and powerful lyrics to just the right amount of repitition so everyone can feel like they have it down, these songs are designed to have you singing them in your car or while you do dishes (which I do all the time these days). In the resinging you find new insights and the music just continues to make an impact well after the concert is over.

In the middle of the concert, Louie Giglio, the pastor traveling with the tour, got up and preached one of the longest sermons I've ever heard. It was a generic sermon about how big God is with this whole universe he created, and yet he cares about each of us enough to be involved in our little lives. And yet, it was a topic that was welcome in my brain, one that made me think and re-remember the enormity of God and all the little details that are His business.

When it was all over, I wished it wasn't, and I only then noticed just how cold it had gotten in the dark. So, I think I can say it was a successful concert, and I imagine I will be back to the venue, even if not for church next time.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 9: Pasta

All I wanted for dinner tonight was a long hot bath. I'm tired of grocery shopping, I'm tired of figuring out to cook, but mostly, I'm just sick and tired of doing dishes. We don't have a garbage disposal or a dishwasher, so I'm filling the sink with hot soapy water, washing and rinsing the dishes, and then catching all the gunk and throwing it away. And after a whole lot of involved meals, I'm just tired and don't want to do it anymore. I know it's only day 9, but there it is.

My husband came to the rescue. I wanted to eat something that he made in college back when we were dating (which seems like a hundred years ago). He used to make pasta with olive oil and basalmic vinegar, and it was one of those cheap college meals that made you feel full and think you'd eaten a real meal. So, he made that tonight, sort of. We always just called it "pasta", so that's where the title comes from.

Heat some minced garlic in olive oil, adding basil, oregano, and salt as the garlic starts to get golden. Remove from heat and add freshly-cooked spaghetti and a bit of basalmic vinegar and pepper and mix it all together. Add a little parmesan on top, and be happy that you have no leftovers for the first time all month.

Total Kitchen Time: 15 minutes, during which I drank a glass of wine and watched my husband cook.

Variety of Food, Day 8: Pork Chops and Potato Pancakes

Tonight we had friends over for dinner. After dinner and wine and the blueberry cheesecake they brought, I just wanted to go to bed.

The pork chops were lightly dusted in flour with garlic powder, onion powder, basil, celery seed, salt and pepper and then fried over medium heat to a nice golden brown. But, the best part was the potato pancakes that we had with them. My dad called me this afternoon, and I mentioned I was making potato pancakes tonight. He said that Mom makes the best potato pancakes around. I told him I had her recipe, to which he responded that mine might be a close second, then.

So, here is the recipe for my second-place potato pancakes.

Potato Pancakes
In a blender, put 2 eggs (it apparently doesn't matter if you end up with a pretty decent-sized piece of shell -- oops), 1 small quartered onion, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 2 tablespoons of flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 cup of potato cubes. Blenderize until smooth. Then add 2 1/2 cups more of potato cubes and blenderize that, too. In a heavy skillet, heat some butter over medium heat. Use a 1/4 cup measurer to pour the pancakes, let brown for 2-3 minutes per side. Serve with butter, sour cream, and applesauce.

I love potato pancakes. Sometimes I wonder why you have to eat other things with them to make it a full meal. Can't a whole pile of potatoes count as a balanced meal? Maybe just once in a while?

Time in the kitchen: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 7: Lentil Chili

Since the fish last night was so bad, I went back to soup -- those were working this week. Tonight, we went vegetarian, which is something I try to do once a week, or so. Since my husband bikes to and from work, he tends to need a lot of protein though, and neither of us are tofu fans, so it doesn't always work. But I try. Tonight's recipe was a new one for us, and it was more successful than last night's new attempt. I'd even call it tasty.

Lentil Chili
From the Fresh cookbook from the Lake Austin Spa
Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium heat and saute 1 diced onion for a few minutes until translucent. Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and cook for a minute more. Then add 3 tablespoons of chili powder, 1 1/2 tablespoons cumin, 1/2 teaspoon oregano, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and stir for about 30 seconds. Pour in 4 cups water, an 8 ounce can of tomato sauce, and 1 cup of uncooked brown or red lentils (they cook faster than other varieties) and bring it all to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes until the lentils are tender. Add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and salt to taste (I used about 2 tablespoons), and serve with saltine crackers.

Total Kitchen Time: 45 minutes

A Moment of Wit

I am not a witty person. Generally, I'm the person that leaves a conversation flat and then 2-3 hours (or days) later, I come up with a good response.

However, last night I had a moment of witty clarity.

My husband and I have recently combined our offices to make room for a guest room, so we tend to be in the same room at night working on our respective computers. Last night we had this exchange:

Me: Huh? (not the witty part, I promise)
Hubby: I was talking to myself.
Me: Are you sure you want to hear what you have to say?

It just happens so rarely that I had to share. Thank you for your time.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 6: Parmesan-Crusted Snapper

Today was my first attempt during this blog-a-thon to make a recipe that I'd never made before. I bought red snapper at the store, and then tried to find something to make with it. I came across this recipe in the iconic Joy of Cooking, and it was hideous. Pure hideosity. Disgust-o-rama. I couldn't eat mine. At least the rice and broccoli were edible.

It seemed harmless enough, even if a bit boring. Start with an eggwash, and dip the fish in that and then in a breadcrumb/parmesan/parsley mix. Saute in butter over medium heat for 3-4 minutes per side and be careful not to burn the parmesan.

I didn't burn the cheese, but the result was a disaster. I really only managed two bites before I had to call myself finished with "dinner".

And yet, my husband cleaned his plate, and demanded I save the leftovers for him for lunch this week. There's just no accounting for taste.

Total Kitchen Time: 30 minutes

Monday, November 05, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 5: Wild Rice Soup

So, I'm still feeling less than 100%, and that means more soup. This is another easy one. I got it from my mother, who likes anything that reminds her of Minnesota, and wild rice is definitely one of those things. It turned out okay, but I was a little short on the cooking time for the rice (or my microwave is dying -- both quite likely explanations), so it was a bit chewy. I have a tendency to call something done earlier than I should, because I get hungry and impatient.

Wild Rice Soup
1 cup wild rice
4 cups water
1/2 cup butter
1 diced onion
2 diced carrots
2 diced stalks of celery
3/4 lb diced ham
1 cup flour
7 cups chicken broth
1 cup evaporated milk

Put the rice and water in a covered dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes, and then at 50% power for 30 minutes. Leave it in the microwave for 15 minutes afterward. While this is going, chop up all the other items, and then saute the onion, carrot, celery and ham in the butter for about 5 minutes in a big soup pot, until the onion is transparent. Add the flour a bit at a time, and stir into the mixture. Once it's all added and your arm is tired from stirring, add the broth, about a cup at a time and continue the stirring. Let it simmer gently until the rice is done, and then add that to the soup pot along with any liquid left in the dish. simmer for 10 minutes or so until the rice is tender. Add the evaporated milk and heat through.

Total kitchen time: 45 minutes

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 4: Taco Stew

I tend to go all out when people come to visit me, so if you're coming, give me several weeks to prepare adequately. Now that our guest has left, and several high-maintenance meals have been made, I decided it was time for something easy. Still tasty and homemade, but easy. For those of you that asked for it, this is one of my favorite crockpot meals. Plus, I'm coming down with something, and spent most of the day with a low-grade fever. It's the kind of thing that would normally have me deciding on a frozen pizza for dinner, but not this month!

Taco Stew
1 lb ground beef
1 chopped onion
1 can pinto beans
1 can kidney beans
1 can corn
1 can blackeyed peas
1 can pinto beans with jalepenos
1 can Ranch style beans
2 cans Rotel tomatoes
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 pkg taco seasoning
1 pkg dry ranch dressing

Brown the ground beef with the onion, and dump in a crockpot with everything else and stir it all up. Cook all day on low (anywhere from 6 to 22 hours -- I've tried), and serve over tortilla chips, with some melted cheese on top.

Never said it was hard to make something that tastes good. This is a favorite -- both for prep time and for tastiness. This makes a ton of food, so we'll be eating it for lunch for the forseeable future. That's fine by me!

Total kitchen time: 15 minutes

Variety of Food, Day 3: Pork Tenderloin

With every couple, it seems, there is some point where the deal was sealed. For us, that occurred when my husband cooked a beef tenderloin for me. It was absolutely phenomenal. This is a different animal, but I strive to make the pork as tender as that beef was.

Pork Tenderloin
3 lb tenderloin
5-8 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tsp freshly grated ginger
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
lots and lots of pepper

Press the garlic, ginger, and pepper into the meat on all sides. Add the lemon juice and soy sauce and roll the meat over to get the juices on all the sides. Marinade for 3 hours at room temperature (overnight in the fridge) on a foil-lined cookie sheet (I promise this will help with cleanup), and covered with plastic wrap (so all the juice stays in). Preheat the oven to 500 degrees, put the meat in and lower the oven to 350 degrees immediately. Cook for 15 minutes per pound, until the outside is browned and the inside is light pink. Let the meat rest on a board for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving.

We had the tenderloin with steamed green beans and buttered rosemary skillet potatoes. We thought about dessert, but just couldn't make it fit.

Total kitchen time: 1.5 hours

Saturday, November 03, 2007

I Have an Admission to Make

Already, on day 2 of November, we didn't eat what I made for dinner. Yesterday's dinner was made and promptly boxed and put into the fridge and not eaten. We ate it for breakfast this morning, though. Spaghetti Carbonara reheats very well.

See, my out-of-town friend and I spent the day getting haircuts and shopping, and we ended up eating lunch out about 2 in the afternoon. Then, I had to make dinner early, because we had concert tickets at the Santa Barbara Bowl for 7pm. So, dinner being ready at 5:30 meant we weren't hungry for it yet. And then my husband worked late because he knew we'd be out late, so he ate leftovers at work.

In previous times, I just wouldn't have made dinner last night. But that wasn't the deal -- I had to cook something new every night. Good thing this came up early enough in the month that my resolve wasn't tested. I just made it and put it away.

Just thought I'd let you all know what was going on behind the scenes on that.

There's a post coming on the concert from last night, too, but I'm just not quite there yet. Soon, I promise.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Variety of Food, Day 2: Spaghetti Carbonara

This is one of those classic pasta sauces that I was afraid to try for a long time because of the raw eggs. However, the eggs just add a creamy richness, so don't let this stop you. Tonight we made this, and had it with a salad and a glass of pinot grigio. Okay, maybe more than one glass. You just can't leave the bottle partially empty.

Spaghetti Carbonara
Adapted from Giuliano Hazan's The Classic Pasta Cookbook
1 pound spaghetti
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil (extra-virgin -- I don't even know why they sell the other kinds)
6 ounces pancetta, cut into 1"x1/4" slices
1/3 cup white wine (I used some of the pinot grigio we ended up drinking with dinner)
4 eggs
3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp grated romano cheese
1 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Start the water boiling for your pasta. In a skillet, melt the butter in the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and fry to a tender brownness. Add the wine and let the mixture boil down by half. Remove from the heat. Add salt to the boiling water and dump the pasta in. In a big serving bowl, beat the eggs with the cheeses, parsley, a pinch of salt (the pancetta will be salty, so go easy) and lots of pepper (as much as you think you can stand). When the pasta is al dente, drain and at to the egg/cheese mixture in the pasta bowl. Toss it all together and then add the pancetta and toss some more.

Total kitchen time: 30 minutes

Variety of Food, Day 1: Szechuan Fried Fish

This is a recipe I have done once before, but it's been awhile. That means it's similar to it being a new dish, except I'm less concerned that it will royally suck. Here's the gist of it:

Szechuan Fried Fish
Adapted from The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon
2 pounds of a white fish (I used Chilean sea bass)
4 tbsp dry sherry
4 tbsp soy sauce (only Kikkoman is used in these parts -- you just don't mess with something that's been around since 1630)
2 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp + 1 cup cold water
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
5 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons Chinese black bean sauce
1/2 tsp sambal ulek (or srirachi sauce)
4 spring onions, chopped
peanut oil for frying

Score the fish and combine with 2 tbsp each of soy sauce and sherry to marinade for 30 minutes at room temperature or 2 hours in the fridge. Mix the corn starch in the tbsp of cold water until smooth, and then add the rest of the soy and sherry, plus the sugar. In a very hot wok, pour in a half-cup of oil and fry each piece of fish until it's brown on both sides (3-4 minutes per side), and remove to drain as finished. When all the fish is fried, pour out some of the hot oil so you have 2 tbsp or so. Turn the heat down to medium, and fry the garlic and ginger to a light gold, stirring constantly. Stir in the bean sauce and sambal ulek, and then add a cup of water. Restir the corn starch mixture, so it is smooth again, and then drizzle it into the wok while stirring constantly. When it starts to come to a boil and get thicker, remove from heat, add the spring onions, and pour over the fish, arranged on a serving plate.

I served this with quick-fried green beans (still crunchy!) and white rice. We had potstickers with sauce as an appetizer. The potstickers were bought frozen, and prepared to the package directions, but here's my dumpling sauce:

Dumpling Sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup soy sauce
dash of sesame oil
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp chopped green onion

Combine everything but the green onion in a small saucepan and simmer for 3-5 minutes until the sugar and spices are dissolved in the liquid. Garnish with the green onion and serve.

We had a friend in town to participate in this one, and she was convinced it was great. Eh. It was so-so. It had a suprising vinegar-y flavor, but it was okay. I took pictures, too, but I can't find the cable to get them off my camera, so I'll have to add those later.

Total kitchen time: 2.25 hours

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Halloween Withdrawal

Halloween might have been yesterday. I wouldn't know. No children came to our house to trick-or-treat. I bought candy, turned on my porch light, and waited patiently for the little costumed beggars coming for me. And I waited...and waited...and finally gave up and went to bed.

Austin is a town that seems to live and die by Halloween. You just can't go through the day of October 31st and not remember that it's Halloween. We would have 50-75 kids come through for candy in the evening, and you would crash in bed thankful to be done with another year.

See, I'm not really a fan of the holiday. Never have been. Maybe it has to do with 4th grade, where I was invited to a Halloween party as a joke. They just wanted to see what kind of crappy costume I would piece together with what was laying around. And here was 9-year-old Heather, shocked that this girl wasn't just being nice. Regardless if that was the cause (it was the only Halloween-related memory I could come up with), I just don't get that excited about it. However, it was sad this year having absolutely NO Halloween.

No trick-or-treaters can mean one or more of a few things:
1. There are no children in Santa Barbara. This would actually confirm a few things that have been troubling me about this much-older community.
2. Our house is on some list of sex offenders. This would be awesome, because then we'd never have fundraising kids coming by.
3. The porch light being on is actually some weird California code that we don't know about that means "stay away or the crazy people inside will eat you!" Ah, the culture shift and little faux pas we may be making.
4. This is one of those places where overprotective parents only allow their kids to trick-or-treat at houses where they know they people. Where's the fun in that?

But mostly I'm just sad that now my husband will eat all that candy I got for the kids. And I was finally shrinking his sweet tooth!