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.


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.

Monday, April 8, 2013

African Chicken Peanut Stew

I had this recipe in my recipe queue (along with the 100 others I'll never end up making) and decided to finally commit to making it. There are a few versions on the internets, and I chose the easier of the two to start with.

  • 2-3 pounds chicken legs, thighs and/or wings
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil (I just use olive oil)
  • 1 large yellow or white onion, sliced
  • A 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 6-8 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
  • 2-3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 15-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 quart chicken stock (I just made broth from Bullion cubes)
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup roasted peanuts
  • 1 Tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro
This recipe is definitely out of my comfort zone, and that's what drew me to it.  I didn't have sweet potatoes (I can't bring myself to like them), and used red instead. The recipe turned out AMAZING. Normally, I hate the word amazing because I feel it's overused. But this stuff truly was. Spectacular. One of the best things I've ever made. it went a little something like this.

Ginger is beautiful..on the inside.

I used white onion in this, but you could use yellow, and it'd work just as good. I dare say even red onion would be the best, and I will use it next time.

I also chopped up a whole bunch of garlic, and let it out to play with some ginger.

Ah. Potatoes.

I use bone in, skinless chicken thighs for this. The recipe calls for browning the chicken first. I'm not sure this is a necessary step, because it's going to get shredded up inside the stew. But I did it anyways, because cooking things and hearing them sizzle pleases me. I did not include a picture of this, because really...it's chicken cooking in a skillet. That's it. But just so you know...that's what I did! I also made chicken broth from bullion cubes during the browning process.

After removing the chicken, I did this thing. I saved half of my garlic/ginger combination for later, because I've learned that adding spices (especially salt) towards the end is more effective in producing flavor.

I'm convinced there are few things more fulfilling than a saute of onions and garlic. Ginger, salt and pepper went in there too.

I sweated them out a bit, then added potatoes for a few minutes to get them all nice and coated. Is this a potatoes idea of...fragrance? Eau De Aromatics? Ignore me.

After that, the stewing process begins. I added in the chicken broth, tomatoes, the chicken thighs (whole), peanut butter, coriander, and some cayenne. The recipe calls for roasted peanuts, but instead I cheated and just used extra crunchy peanut butter.

 Let's just say that the overall look of it at first was...not cute! I took a pic anyways, but I let it all mix together and cook down a few minutes before I took this one and decided to post it instead. Trust me, it was the right thing to do.

Simmer that stuff, and walk away. I go back and stir every 10 min or so, and don't even begin to taste test it until around the 30-45 minute mark. Every time I taste a soup/slow cook type-thing before that point, I mess it up by adding too many things. Soups/sauces/chili/stews take tiiiime. Slow your roll, baby.

After tasting it around the 45 min mark, I added some more black pepper and coriander. Then let it bubble awhile longer, before removing the chicken to shred it.

Here's the chicken, all ready for shredding!

Throw the shredded chicken back into the pot, only after eating some of it beforehand.

I then added: more salt, more cayenne and a dash more coriander. I just let it simmer maybe 10 more minutes to get all the flavors together, then I do this.

So maybe there's a cherry kool-aid ring stain on my island. SO WHAT.

It turned out thicker than I thought, so I added some jasmine rice. Good move, if I can say so myself. (But I forgot the cilantro.)

Overall: It turned out awesome. It has sweetness, so distinct you'd think there was coconut milk in it. The peanuts were not as abundant as I'd hoped, but they do pop a bit under your teeth. The coriander adds brightness to mellow some of that creamy sweet peanut butter, and the black and cayenne pepper give a healthy backbone of heat. The only drawback was that it could have been better with sweet potatoes (did I just SAY that?), or even russets, since red potatoes get creamy if they cook for a significant amount of time. It definitely had awesome ethnic flavor to it, and I think I could make people happy with this dish.

Regardless. Success!