Thursday, April 24, 2014

One Pot Pasta Learning Curve.

Recently, I came across some recipes for One Pot Pasta's. They look easy and fast, so I decided to vaguely follow one of them, adding a bit of my own touches. Here's what I came up with!


For my creation, I used basil, some cut up grape tomato’s (cherry or any other kind would work well too), some roughly chopped roasted red peppers from a jar, and 4 cloves of thinly sliced garlic.


Basically, you just throw all this stuff in a pot, and boil it with water and spices. I’ll admit to being a little confused about how these ingredients would behave being boiled, especially the basil and garlic. But I decided to just go with it and see what happened. Normally, this recipe calls for linguine. All I had was thin spaghetti, so I used that. 


After it’s all cut up, you just toss it into the pot with about 4 ½ cups of water (that is if you’re using 12 oz of linguine and not ½ a box of thin spaghetti like I did), salt, lots of black pepper and a good tsp. of crushed reds. And you let it boil at a rolling boil, turning the pasta 1-2 times, until the pasta is al dente (usually 9 minutes if you’re using linguine, less for my thin spaghetti), and most of the water has evaporated. Take it off the heat, let it cool and thicken a bit, and then you’re supposed to be able to just serve it up, with some parmesan cheese and torn basil pieces if you want. 

Though I like the concept of this, I made some mistakes and it really turned out just so-so as a result. Here are my gripes:
 
-The *sauce* was too watery
-It was kind of bland
-The pasta got lost
 
Here are the mistakes I made:

-I used too much water for my frail, half box of thin spaghetti. I should have used 2.5-3 cups instead of 4. Even though I poured a lot of the cooking water out when it was done, it was still more water than I needed.

-The pasta matters. A thicker pasta – even a regular spaghetti – would have been much better.

-It needed more flavor. This may be my own preference, since I like strong flavors. Seriously. Adding water to things skeeves me out, unless it's tea.Water just…waters things down. Anytime a recipe calls for water, I'll use a broth of some kind instead if I can. This wouldn’t apply here, but next time I will need to add some very concentrated flavors to the water to keep it from dampening the whole thing. (Amore pastes come to mind – or a nice strong pesto.) This especially applies because imparting distinct flavor into something within 10 minutes is tough.

-I only used 1/3 of the jar of roasted red peppers. I should have just used the whole thing.
 
Things I did right:
-Thinly slicing the garlic was better than mincing it. You could press it too.
-It was nice and peppery because I use lots of black pepper
-I added brie at the end while it cooled. It didn’t give the full effect I wished for, but it did help.
 
The cool thing about this method is that you could throw any number of things you want in there. You could use a tall pot, or a large skillet. Isn’t it considered some major foodie rule to cook/finish your pasta right in the sauce? This is pretty much that. I will have to experiment more to get the flavors down. I discovered that the things I used kind of disappear/wither down when boiled. So next time...more more more.


 
Have you ever tried any sort of one-pot cooking method?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pasta with Sun Dried Tomato, Mushrooms, Spinach, and Goat Cheese

Keeping with the alarmingly irregular rate at which I post blogs, it's been 6 months since I posted anything! So I guess the moral of the story is that I will post things when it feels good, and most of those times are spontaneous and inspired by the simple recipes that yet require a good amount of cooking sensibility.

I'm at the comfortable point where I know what I like, and I know which of those things go well together. I cannot comfortably not cook for much more than a week, which is about the same amount of time I can swear off wine. Anyways - less words, more pictures.



It usually always starts with garlic, in my world. I'd have the balls to say garlic is my religion, but until I've mastered making this, I don't feel comfortable making such a statement. Ignore the hot sauce hiding back there, as I unfortunately could not justify using it in this recipe. :-(


Once upon a time, it was said that I couldn't...wouldn't...befriend mushrooms. I've done a lot of crazy shit in my life, yet this may be the only true regret I have.



You already spied these I'm sure. Congratulations, but here they are again anyways.



They always look like little soldiers to me, ready to go onward into some delicious battle.


What I did was take the oil from the sun dried tomato jar, mixed it with lemon olive oil, and used that for my oil. Seriously, nothing fancy here. I add that to a very warm skillet and let it percolate and whatever else it wants to do, so long as it doesn't burn the place down.


Garlic is the answer to most things. I want to mention that at this point I add salt, (a lot of) black pepper, and more lemon oil. The garlic just needs around 3 minutes to start getting golden over medium heat. I should also mention that I like to make sure that the base here is quite strong to the taste, because if you're going to eventually put this onto something else, you don't want to lose the flavors. Also because I like strong flavored non-kimchee things.


 Does this need an explanation? If so, I put sliced mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes in with the toasted garlic and now garlic infused oil. I add the crushed reds at this point also. The reason why I wait to add them is because spice builds as it heats. For a recipe this fast, you could add them at the beginning with no repercussions. For a longer cooking recipe, I wouldn't add any kind of peppers too soon.  Do it too soon though anyways, because learning from your own mistakes and not vicariously through others mistakes is honestly better. PS - I cook all this for 5-7 minutes so the mushroom can do what they do best, which is sop up a stupefying amount of fat and flavor.

See in my mind, this picture lacks spinach. I could have easily added a cup more, because spinach wilts like crazy under heat, and quickly. I only kept this amount on the heat for maybe 2 minutes tops, and got this:


It's a shame it doesn't last longer. Hallucinatory green is my favorite color.


Pasta doesn't grow on trees. In fact, I was actually cooking it the whole time (10 minutes) I was doing the other stuff I posted above. All you do is find a big bowl, put the pasta inside of it (multi-colored Penne by Barilla, because I had a coupon for it and I'm a cheap asshole), and put that impossibly delectable thing you just made into the skillet on top of that. I also crumbled goat cheese on top of it, because goat cheese is really fucking delicious. I never understood people who don't like goat cheese. "It's too tangy!" are words that I've heard. Vegans have a better excuse than that.



No..she...didnnnn't.

Yes, I did.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Shrimp Ceviche and Guacamole

Sometimes, when it's late July in Minnesota and also 50 degrees, you have to use your imagination. Being a warm blooded creature, I personally don't take offense to cold "off-season" weather. But when you have avocados calling you from the kitchen, you run. Summertime or lack thereof.

Every "summer", I have 4 staples I enjoy making. Shrimp ceviche, pico de gallo, guacamole, and sangria. Being late July/already August, I still had not made any of them. I decided to divide them into 2 parts, starting with the avocado based items: shrimp ceviche and guacamole.

Ceviche is one of those recipes that's accessible, but refined. It uses few ingredients, with opportunities for variations. The base of this recipe is traditionally raw fish, lime/lemon juice, onion, and some kind of chili pepper. The fish is marinated in the lime/lemon juice, and the premise is that the citrus juice "cooks" the fish. What actually happens is the acidic juice changes the texture of raw fish, from soft/slimy to more solid and condensed. It does not actually kill any bacteria.

For my ceviche, I use precooked, deveined, tail on frozen shrimp for my seafood base. Not because I'm scared, but because I'm cheap. And I like shrimp.

Gather 'round.



1 bag of frozen shrimp. Tails yanked off, they soak in about 1/4 cup of lime juice for about an hour. But you could marinate them anywhere from 30 min to 8 hours.


I chopped up a small red onion, whose bite was much bigger than it's bark. Loud and clear, onion. Loud and clear.
 

Some people have drugs. I have this.


After marinating, I took the shrimp out, and drained it. Since I only use 1/4 cup lime juice (which comes out to be 2-3 limes for me), the shrimp soaks it up a bit, but leaves a little puddle leftover. But if you wanted to leave the extra lime juice, you could. You rebel.

The amalgamation commences, and includes: sea salt, black pepper, a splash of olive oil, along with my drugs: chopped grape tomatoes, 1 minced jalapeno, 1/2 small red onion, and plenty of chopped cilantro.



Give it a stir. Add more lime juice (1/2 - 1 lime perhaps.) If you're me, add more black pepper. Taste it. Be blown away by bright pops of cilantro and lime, the plump sweetness of the shrimp and the tomato, the heat of the jalapeno, the delightful pungency of the red onion! Unless you're some kind of a fool, you will dice up avocado and put it on top. Not only does it add richness, but avocados are awesome and nothing more needs to be said about that.


You could eat it with a spoon. You could eat it with chips. You could throw some greens in there and make a ceviche salad. Some people add tomato sauce, hot sauce, corn, cucumber and any other refreshing/vibrant/spicy thing you can think of.

I only used half of my drug plate for the ceviche, saving the rest for the guacamole. I'm crafty with my vices.

Things of beauty.



For this recipe, I used 2 larger avocados. Next time I will use 3 or maybe even 4 because if it were possible to drink guacamole, I probably would. I then added sea salt, black pepper, a healthy amount of garlic powder, cumin, coriander, juice of at least 2 limes, cayenne pepper, and got this:



You might be wondering what the white crumbles on the top are. I might respond that they are blue cheese crumbles, and I will not make guacamole without them ever, ever again.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I'm still alive.

I know it's been a couple months since I posted anything. But I will again very soon! I've been busy falling in love and junk, so a girl in love just don't got time for her blog. But I also love blogging, and cooking! It's summertime, and I have some summer staples to work on (ceviche...sangria..) and I will definitely share them here!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Pan Roasted Gnocchi, 2 ways.

Some of you know that I'm a fan of Sam the Cooking Guy. I like to re-create his recipes, which are plain enough to modify, but thoughtful enough to duplicate. One of his recipes is Pan Roasted Gnocchi. Since I had some Priano Potato Gnocchi from Aldi's, I invited over a guest to endure yet another one of my cooking endeavors.




First, I had to find use for my jar of roasted red peppers. I personally think that roasted red peppers are one of the best ingredients ever, next to sun dried tomatoes. They offer a lush yet piquant flavor, and I've been thirsting to incorporate them into more recipes. The long suffering guest brought over a baguette, and 3 different kinds of cheese: gorgonazola, a goats milk brie, and a parmigiano-reggiano. He also brought pesto, which we would use for the gnocchi later.


I've never worked with jarred peppers before, and these were packed in oil. I didn't rinse them, thinking the oil would be beneficial to the dry baguette, which I found to be useful, as it didn't seem too oily to me. Then we added the different cheeses on top, and stuck 'em in the oven to bake.

It was quite tasty/cheesy/melty. The gorgonzola was my favorite since the strong cheese can stand up to the roasted pepper. But I found myself longing for more flavor, which I'm noticing is becoming a food theme for me. I often find myself slightly dissatisfied with the lack of flavor in my food. I'm discovering that my signature as a consumer is one often one that yearns for bold flavors. (Sorry Minnesota.)

We hunkered down to review Sam's Pan Roasted Gnocchi episode in preparation. The recipe seemed to be a little bare to me, but I went with it anyways. It goes like this:

  • 1 pound gnocchi
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto
  • or.....
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Parmesan cheese for serving 
  1. In a large pot of water, boil gnocchi about 2 minutes or until they float - drain well
  2. Melt butter in a non stick pan over medium heat and add gnocchi
  3. Cook until starting to brown on both sides and add pesto OR garlic & tomato paste
  4. Mix well until pesto or tomato paste is well incorporated into gnocchi
  5. Plate and serve with Parmesan cheese.   
Some may realize by now that I tend to favor fast paced cooking techniques. Since this called for 2 separate types of gnocchi, to be cooked in 2 different pans, the inner Type A control freak was pleased. What I did was chop up some garlic, get 2 skillets ready and warmed up, and added butter

Gnocchi A:



Gnocchi B:



(dreams comin true!)


The downfall to my love of stressful, focused cooking is that I am often unable to get any great action shots. This particular recipe moved very quickly. Let me recap it:

Gnocchi A received the the pesto, which as soon as I added it basically...burned and/or evaporated upon contact. Thinking to myself, "well ok...the skillet is maybe too hot", I turned it down a bit. Waited a few minutes, then added more pesto. Which burned and/or evaporated upon contact, again. My guest suggested using more butter, which I ignored since I'd already put about 2 tbsp in there, and wasn't convinced was the issue.

Gnocchi B received the Amore Tomato Paste (see it here in February Faves. I know I haven't done a favorites blog recently, but I will again), which coated the gnocchi and heated more efficiently. I wasn't seeing much browning on them however, even after about 5-7 minutes of pan roasting. So I left them on a minute longer, and added a little more sauce to each before removing them.




Looks pretty good, I know. HONESTY TIME: I found them to be bland and dull. The opposite of everything I ever want in food. The gnocchi was crispy, but the flavor was strange and the dish was dry overall.

I still find myself wondering what went wrong here. I did use different skillets (one stainless, one cast iron) and found the cast iron (Gnocchi B) came out slightly better. So was it the skillets? The heat? Lack of butter? Lack of ingredients? My instinct tells me that the paramount here was lack of ingredients, followed by a smaller combination of the other aspects.

I don't claim to be an excellent cook. But I am good at it. And at my best, I have sharp cooking sensibilities. It's something I like to do. I find it mentally and physically stimulating. Even artful. As with creative endeavors, the progress is of more intristic value than the end result. Even our failures can count as accomplishments.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

I roasted a chicken.

For months now, I have been wanting to roast a chicken. Roasting is my favorite cooking method, next to stir frying and sauteing. I've long declared stir frying/sauteing as my unmatchable favorite. I relish the juggling act stir frying requires, and the positive stress it induces. So why roasting? It seems quite the departure from stir frying. And it is. But the answer, to me, is simple: the flavor payoff. I will eat many things roasted that I won't eat plain, such as peppers, onions, zucchini. Since chicken is my favorite protein in meat form, I decided I needed to do this. (plus you can do it with a hangover without spontaneously combusting.)

After A LOT of thinking and researching, I decided to start simple. I picked up a Gold 'n' Plump 3.5 pound chicken, gizzards and neck removed. I found the selection process confusing. Recipes for roast chickens call for.....a roasting chicken. These chickens are labeled frying chickens. My guess is because all the innards are already removed. Since I was under my own instruction, and it was my first time, I decided I probably shouldn't try to teach myself how to remove them. So, the Gold 'n' Plump fryer it was.

The cast. 

I am incapable of roasting anything without a bed of potatoes and carrots beneath it. 

 
My mom gave me some Rosemary awhile ago that I still had stored away. Thanks Ma!

  
I decided to make a fairly standard butter mixture of lemon, garlic and rosemary, to rub all over the chicken and under the skin. My goal was to use lots of bright lemon zest. Since I regrettably don't have a zester, I tried using the small holes on my massive cheese grater. It doesn't work that well, but I managed to get maybe 1/2 a teaspoon of zest.


I squeezed the juice of 2 lemons into 3/4 cup of softened butter, and added the rosemary, 2 cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder. I wanted to add more spices (parsley, paprika, cayenne, coriander..!) but I didn't. Something about a cart and a horse.


I smeared a bunch of butter all over and under the chicken skin. Raw skin is actually pretty tough and flexible, so don't be afraid to be assertive (read: not aggressive.) I shoved the 4 lemon halves into the cavity, which I will admit grossed me out. I must have washed my hands about 40 times during the preparation of this thing.


I ended up only using about half of my butter mixture. Since I touched the butter mixture with my raw chicken-ey hands, I tragically had to toss the leftover butter. DON'T DO THIS. DON'T BE LIKE ME. You can save that lemony rosemary garlicy butter for a number of deeply satisfying things


I know a lot of people like to truss, but I personally don't see the point. Sure I could try it some other time, but I felt no inclination towards doing so. So..I didn't! Instead, I put the whole thing into a 400 degree oven for one hour, and then I do not touch it or move it or do anything to it at all. After one hour, I turned the temp up to 425 for another 20 minutes. I can imagine doing this for a 3.5 pound chicken might cause some to gasp and guffaw. And then let me explain that I do not own a meat thermometer, and run away while jaws drop at such a travesty. And then, lookit.

It came out pretty much perfectly cooked.


I have no clue how to carve a chicken, so this is what I ended up with.


Assessment: Lots of lovely extract at the bottom for the potatoes and carrots. The chicken was succulent and moist throughout. The only regrets I had were not using MORE potato and carrot for bedding, and not going heavier on the spices. At the center was a clean, bright lemon flavor, though I could have used one more lemon. The rosemary was light, a faraway thought, and the garlic wasn't prominent. Nonetheless, the flavor was lovely, and I consider this first chicken roast of mine to be quite a success.

Friday, April 19, 2013

I'm in a Salad Rut.

I originally started this intending to do a blog titled "My Three Salads." I stumbled on this topic in my ideas queue a few days ago, when I realized that...I haven't exactly been consistent with My Three Salads lately. Or with eating any salads...at all.
Here's the thing: I love salads. I love vegetables. I will pick vegetables over fruits most the time. For me, my wrench is stuck firmly in my creative wheel. Anytime I make a recipe, it's usually a little time consuming. When I cook, it tends to be more road trip, less Sunday drive. Cooking for me is not just about "eating." It's conception. It's organization. Experience. It helps shape my cooking "voice", but it isn't exactly harmonious since I find myself eating plain or unhealthy things when I don't cook/have leftovers.
One promise I made to myself when 2013 drew near, was to make myself at least 3 salads for work every week. And I executed it quite well, to my surprise. And it usually went something like this:

This is a 50/50 Lettuce mix, with some Baby Spinach. I also chopped up some carrots and cucmbers.

  
Then I shove into some tupperware, and put salt, pepper and green onions on top. Other mainstays included: grape tomatoes, broccoli, and walnuts.

I haven't made a single salad in almost a month. I'm bored. That ain't cool. 
Can you see I need help? I beg of you, fellow food hobbyists, help me be uncomplicated. Asking for help is hard!
Almost nothing is off the table. My goal is to get a few ingredients that I can prep into 3-5 salads in around 10 minutes or less. Quick recipes are welcome too.  But be warned that I don't prefer to use any cream-of/canned tomato paste/powdered seasoning packet anythings. Broths, spices, frozen veggies (at least), rice, pastas, chicken are all things I normally have on hand at all times.
Save me from my unharmonized ways. Help me back to Salad Zen.