May 2009


A post, a post! A post that is actually on topic! Making your own convenience foods, one easy place to start is with the humble potato. I love potatoes, in most any form I love potatoes. When your grocery runs a special, 10 lbs of potatoes for $3.50 and you are only feeding 2 – 3 people it is hard to take advantage of the bargain. Because a bargain isn’t exactly a bargain if it rots in your pantry. And that is what my 10 lb bag of potatoes was thinking about doing.

When you realize something is on the brink of going to the dark side what do you do? You do something with it! Don’t let it go to waste.

Having used 5 or 6 of the potatoes in the hulking bag of tubers I was faced with the need to Do Something with them before they went all Darth Vader on me. I was heating up the oven to make dinner, so I went through the bag and picked out the most pleasingly formed of the bunch. Your classic “baking potato” shape that is so happy sitting beside a steak. Wash, dry, assault with fork, rub with oil and sprinkle with salt – chuck directly onto the oven rack at about 375 until done (about 45 minutes).

While the bakers were baking I washed, dried and mostly peeled the rest of the bag. Cut into chunks and tossed into a large pot with enough water to cover I boiled them for about 20 minutes – until tender. Drain and return to the hot pot to allow some of the water to steam off (low flame can help if you need it).

I left those hanging out and removed the bakers from the oven. Then I went and watched Cars for the 2,345,24354,374th time with the Eman. Once he was down for the count I started the serious cooking. Cut the bakers in half longways and scooped out the flesh, careful to not pierce the skin and leave enough of a shell of ‘tater so they could stand up on their own. The ‘tater innards joined the boiled ‘taters in a large bowl (actually the bowl of my Kitchen Aide mixer) so that they could fulfill their special purpose.

******’tater fest 2009******

Is there a more comforting food?

Is there a more comforting food?

I have never mashed quite this volume of ‘taters before, but  it pretty much works the same way as always. Scald some milk, melt a stick of butter, salt & pepper to your heart’s content. Mix, mix, mix, using your spoon to redeposit the escapees (because my mixer was just that full). Once you have achieved mashed ‘tater Nirvana then you are ready to proceed.

I removed what I felt would be enough mash to refill the baker shells and then added some cheese, green onions and garlic powder to the mix. Spoon the mixture back into the shells, filling only to the top the first time around; and then topping off with the remaining mixture so that they are overflowing.

Here is where the amazing part comes. Place all of the filled baker shells on a sheet pan and deposit in your freezer. Allow them to freeze overnight and then wrap them individually in plastic wrap. Put them all in a freezer bag and you have your own – home made – frozen twice baked potatoes. When you are making a meal pull however many you want out of the freezer and put them directly into the oven (on a pan) with whatever else you are cooking. Cook until they are hot all the way through and browning on the top. I baked 7 potatoes so now I have 14 twice baked potatoes in the freezer.

The remaining mashed ‘taters? Those can be frozen also. I use quart freezer bags and fill them with what I consider a “family sized” portion, partially zip the lock and squeeze as much air out as you can. Once your bag is sealed lay it down on it’s side and squish the ‘taters out until you have a flattened layer around 1/2 inch thick. When you freeze flat like this it is much quicker to thaw whatever it is you are freezing, and you have the added bonus that you can stack things in your freezer. Or file them like they are in a hanging file. You can either thaw them in a simmering bath “boil in bag” style or cut the bag off and nuke their little spuds hot. I tend to nuke at 50% power, a few minutes at a time, stirring a couple of times in the process.

I ended up with 3 quart bags with a “family sized” portion in each. So, 14 2x baked potatoes and 3 meals worth of mashed potatoes all stashed in the freezer. And how much did it cost me? If you add in the butter, milk, cheese and green onions it might total $5.00.

$5.00

Isn’t that kind of savings worth a couple of hours in the kitchen? Don’t forget to add in the time you will save when preparing future meals featuring these ‘taters, you’ve got side-dishes for at least 6 meals for a family of 4, more if you are like me and only feeding 2.

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Another non-recipe recipe, aren’t you excited? This is, bar none, my absolute favorite side dish for steaks. I have mentioned my Mother here before, and she is the one who taught me this dish, but I don’t think I have mentioned my Father. Dad is not much for cooking, he has a couple of specialties and requires a sous chef  when doing anything complex – but man-o-man can he grill a steak. I don’t know if it is on the Y chromosome but I did not inherit the talent. My family’s cut of choice is the Rib Eye and there is minimal gussying up of the meat but it turns out divine.

Once you have that slab of meat on your plate you don’t want to mess it up with anything too fancy, and that is where onions and mushrooms come in.

The Non-Recipe for Mushroom and Onions:

The Hardware: skillet, spoon, maybe a lid

Method:

Slice up a couple of onions – how much depends on how much you wanna make. (See, not a recipe)
Heat up some vegetable oil in a large skillet and toss in your onions. Stir frequently until they soften nicely.
Add in a couple of boxes of fresh sliced mushrooms, you want a fairly equal proportion of onions to mushrooms. (Still not a recipe)
Salt lightly to encourage release of liquid and continue stirring every so often. Add oil if it seems like you need it.
Add a couple of spoon-fulls of chopped garlic – to taste (nyah, nyah, nah-nah)
Cook until everything is all nice and caramelized. The mushrooms should have shrunk by between 1/2 & 2/3 their original size, come to think of it – so have the onions. If you want to hurry things along you can cover with a lid once there is a goodly bit of liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste, if you want to be totally decadent you can cook it in butter.

You serve this with your steak and spear a bit of onion & mushroom with every bite of steak. Better than any sauce that exists.

But that isn’t the subject of this post now is it? See, I made something tonight with the leftovers that is going to encourage me to make mushrooms & onions just so I can have the leftovers to make this:

Have you ever craved leftovers?

Have you ever craved leftovers?

Leftover mushrooms & onions + ~1/4 C tomato sauce (2 frozen cubes from my Foray into India) + shake of Italian Herb Blend + Salt & Pepper + Spaghetti = Delicious! Just enough tomato to bind it together a bit and I added in some of the pasta cooking water to loosen the mix. I mean really, it was so much better than I expected it to be.

Are there any dishes that you make that you think you might anticipate the leftovers more than the meal itself?

Ever since I read about the pre-made Empenada wrappers labeled I have been keeping my eyes out for them, and this past week I found them at the Buford Highway Farmer’s Market – score! Of course I purchased some and they have been waiting in my freezer quite impatiently. So yesterday I took five out in the morning and put them in the ‘fridge to thaw.  They would obviously need a filling so I also threw in some ground pork (ground by yours truly herself from a Boston Butt!) to get unfrozen also.

When filling time rolled around I was feeling contrary and did not want to make anything with Mexican flavors. I had a playdate over lunch and had prepared Mexican Rice and Bean Casserole for all us Mommies and I was just not feeling the Mex again. My mother was over for dinner and she asked me what we were having to which I replied “I’m making it up as I go along”. She gave me that look and said “Should be interesting”.

Just for that I made her write down what I did so that I could put it here. When all was said and done and I told her supper was ready but then corrected myself and said I would have to take pictures first she laughed at me. Harumph.

Do you think they are crispy - no sag!

Do you think they are crispy - no sag!

Apricot Pork Empenada Type Thingies

The Hardware: Skillet, Stirring device, Baking sheet, Oven (sarcasm optional)

The Software:
12 Pre-made Empenada Wrappers (there is enough filling for 12, but they come ten to a pack – possibly a liberal tasting policy would be best?)
1 lb Ground Pork (lamb would be delish also)
1 lg Onion, chopped
12 Dried Apricots, chopped
1/2 t Cinnamon, ground
1 t Cumin, ground
1 T Minced Garlic (I am a lazy SOB and use that bottled crap, if using actual garlic that comes from a clove one might want to halve the amount)
1/2 C Carrots, peeled and grated
1 t Salt & hefty pinch Black Pepper (to taste but I hate it when people say to taste and don’t at least give me a hint)

1) Saute onions in some kind of vegetable oil until they are nice and soft, add pork and cook until mostly done. Crunch the pork up with the tip of your stirring device so that it is nice and crumbly.

2) Add everything else except carrots – cook for awhile. At the last minute stir in the carrots and cook for a minute (the last one as I said).

3) To make empenada type thingies follow directions for the wrappers and add 1/4 C filling per pastry. Seal well and do that fancy pants crimpy trick with a fork around the edges. Bake on a sprayed cookie sheet in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for about 15 – 20 minutes or until done. I painted the tops with olive oil to get them to brown and it didn’t really work, so at the last minute I rubbed a stick of butter on them like I was coloring them with a crayon to get some browning.

Hacks/Verdict:

The packaging did not have any directions for baking, only deep fry. Having eaten them baked I can say they were right. If you want to make something like this baked I think it is best to make your own pastry. My guess is if these had been deep fried they would have been delicious, but as is they were kinda hard and dry. I am sure they would have absorbed plenty of fat from the frying to alleviate the dry problem.

The filling itself was pretty durn tasty if I do say so myself. I only made 5 empenadas and intend to reheat the filling with a little water to make it saucy. Then I am going to serve it over rice and I expect it will make fabulous leftovers. As I mentioned lamb would also be delicious in this application, but I am not certain that beef would go well with the apricots.

My mom liked them – so yay me! Next time around I will share with you the embarrassing “only one salad dressing option” fiasco of the evening, but for now I will bask in glory.

Flavor to the max

Flavor to the max

I have been at my parents house for a few days and on occasion I help my Mother cook. Not that she needs help, she is a very good cook, but sometimes it is nice to give her a break. Something interesting that occurred to me while there was the difference in our pantries. There are some things in my pantry that I consider essential that for her would be downright weird. A reflection of my obsession with ethnic markets perhaps, but things I use in everyday cooking.

I guess it is a form of “fusion” cooking but when I find an ingredient that is useful it does not get relegated to a portion of the pantry that is reserved for when I cook that specific cuisine. This Chili Garlic sauce is one such ingredient.

Heat is something that I have problems with. I do not care for really spicy food – yet I married a man from Louisiana who has an extensive collection of hot sauces. This particular one has been in my ‘fridge since we got together, and I had left it to him. He used it on Chinese delivery to spice things up – and apparently it is useful for that.

But I recently discovered that it is a fantastic workhorse. I have been trying to find a happy medium with spice, notching things up until they are at the top of my tolerance level. When I do this they have what my husband considers “a pleasant kick” – yay!

The thing that is great about this sauce is it’s neutrality. It has both Chili and Garlic in it and it does not have a distinctly “Asian” flavor. Through experimentation I have found I can use it to heat up Tex-Mex, Italian and Indian foods. Anything that already has garlic in it is fair game

And really, even if there isn’t garlic, what savory dish doesn’t benefit from a little garlic? If you want to experiment with this sauce (and I highly encourage that) know that it is pretty darn spicy. When I say I add it to something, say spaghetti sauce, I add what might be classified as a “smidgen”, literally an amount about half the size of my pinkie finger nail. Take it easy and add it in small increments until you reach a happy place.

This is what I decided to share today! What do you have in your pantry that you consider essential but would look like a pink elephant in your Mother’s pantry?

One of the blogs I read daily is Serious Eats, it has tons of fun stuff and has developed a good community. Over there they have started a new challenge and this weeks is to cook a beef “off-cut”. I decided to give it a whirl and while at the Krogers on Friday purchased something labeled “Beef Chuck Eye Steak”. It was $5.99 per pound and the package I bought was just under a pound so it was right at $5.

$5 for steaks for two? That’s great isn’t it? Right there on the package it said “good for grilling or broiling” but it also said that it needed to be marinated and “don’t overcook”. Now, my steak-fu is not in the black belt territory. If I have a steak belt at all it has a very subtle Outback Steakhouse logo embroidered all over it, because steak is not my forte (or fort-b). But hey, if you have a good cut of meat then all you need is a little salt, pepper and heat correct?

Hmm, lets examine that statement. The crucial element in that is “a good cut of meat” I believe. And after my little cooking adventure today, I would not classify the “Beef Chuck Eye Steak” a good piece of meat. Now, it came out looking pretty good:

Not bad, but not woo-hoo either.

Not bad, but not woo-hoo either.

But it wasn’t anything to write home about, barely something to write here about. But I am human, so I figured that I would go ahead and relate the less-than-successes along with my triumphs. Who wants to read nothing but “MAN I AM AWESOME” all the time. Even good cooks screw the pooch once in a while. And this wasn’t exactly pooch material, I mean, I ate it.

The Method:

I did as instructed and marinated it overnight. The recipe is not forthcoming because it isn’t tweaked enough yet; and I don’t want some poor Internet wanderer to try this out and decide it sucks and therefore I suck. It is a work in progress but the ingredients were: Canola Oil, Apple Cider Vinegar, Fish sauce, Oregano, Chopped Garlic Ground Ginger, Ground Coriander, Black Pepper. Squoosh in zip-top bag and leave overnight. Cooking was under a broiler set on high (it is raining), 4 minutes on each side.

The Critique:

The cut of meat has two distinct lobes with a thin strip of connective tissue running between. This strip is not very strong and as soon as I started handling it, cohesion started slipping. In the package it looked like a nice, compact steak. But out of the package it quickly became evident that the plastic wrap and tray was what was keeping that shape. Once in the zip-top bag it started to elongate and show that the thickness of the “steak” was very uneven.

Getting it out of the bag and onto the broiling pan in one piece was difficult, the two lobes kept trying to fall apart. Wrestling with this bad boy on the grill would have been a nightmare. The varience in thickness also caused irregularity in cooking. The cooking time was 4 minutes on each side, but if I were to do this again 2 minutes might have been a better bet.

I did overcook it, but in the thicker areas where there was a little pinkness the meat had a nice tenderness. But not super tender. There was some good flavor, but not great. I put the second half of the meat in the freezer and I think when it comes time to bust it out and cook it I might treat it like a teeny tiny pot-roast. Your own personal pot roast if you will.

The Verdict:

I cannot see any point in buying this cut of meat. If you want a good steak, save your money and buy a good steak. If you want to save money, buy a cheap Chuck Roast and braise the bejeebus out of it. So says me.

The mantra “You eat with your eyes first” is everywhere. At times one could almost think that perfection in plating supersedes the food itself, but I have a confession to make. I seem to have a problem. You see, I have recently come to terms with the fact that I appear to like food that looks like a big pile of glop.

Really, it is almost impossible for a decent looking picture to be taken of many of my meals. Needless to say they do not meet with the beauty ideals of many of the food porn aggregators. But I am not going to let that stop me from eating this messy but divine food. Nor am I going to allow the pretty police to shame me into not sharing the results here. What am I talking about, if you look back in my archives (such as they are) you will see. I’ll wait …

dum, di, dum ………..

Nah, too impatient. Here’s an example for you:

So ugly, yet so yummy

So ugly, yet so yummy

I cannot explain my recent decision to wade into the wilds of Indian cuisine. I have a friend who is mildly obsessed (if that is possible, kinda contradictory) with all things Indian. Never have I really eaten Indian food in a restaurant, except for Tandoori and that doesn’t count. All I know is that I found myself browsing the bulk spices at Your DeKalb Farmer’s Market and for some reason felt compelled to purchase the tub of Madras Curry – Mild. I think it was the Mild that got me, because I am a big fat sissy when it comes to heat.

With my Madras Curry – Mild I made a delicious but horridly ugly Lentil, Potato & Coconut curry that was off some British website. I loved it, and that really surprised me. On my next trip to the library I checked out Julie Sahini’s Introduction to Indian Cooking and haven’t looked back. I have already renewed the due date so I don’t have to take it back too soon.

Gosht Masala: adapted from Introduction to Indian Cooking

The Hardware: Heavy sauce pan, crock pot, rice cooker.

The Software:
1 1/2 lbs Pork Butt in 1 1/2 in chunks
~3 T Canola Oil
2 C Onion, finely chopped
1 T Ginger, Fresh grated
3 t Garlic, minced
2 t Cumin, ground
1 T Coriander, ground
1/4 t Cayenne
1 T Paprika
1 t Tumeric
1 C Tomato sauce
Salt to taste

1) Heat 1 T oil in pan and sear meat on all sides. When nicely browned, remove to the crock pot – pot (or should that be crock pot crock?). Add some more oil and saute the onion for 10 – 15 min, until nice and brown. Use your spoon to make sure the leftover porky bits don’t burn.

2) Add ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, cayenne, paprika & turmeric to the onions and stir like the dickens – keep scraping with your spoon. Heat for 3 min or just until you think that everything is going to burn, then toss in the tomato sauce. Add in some water ~ 1 C or so, and “deglaze” the pan. Use your spoon to scrape up all the brown gunk the meat left behind, take your time and you will be rewarded.

3) Add salt at this point, but remember you can always add more later. Pour the sauce into the crock pot crock and add more water and/or tomato sauce so that the meat is covered. I didn’t have all day so I cooked it on high for about 3 1/2 hours. I am guessing you could go low and slow for hours. Your goal is to get the meat falling apart tender.

4) Once it is done, it really behooves you to put it in the ‘fridge and let it sit for a couple of hours before you serve it. Overnight is even better, several days ain’t gonna hurt it one bit. Serve over rice.

Hacks:

Well, I actually left out one whole ingredient that the recipe called for, and that is Cilantro. You are supposed to sprinkle 1/3 C of chopped fresh Cilantro over the top at the end. Would probably be extra tasty and might have even made the picture more attractive – but I didn’t have it and this dish was still mmm, mmm, noise making happy.

Also, the original recipe called for boneless leg of Lamb chunks, which I was fresh out of. I did have the pork chunks, 3/4 lbs worth, so I used those and made a half batch. I used my itty bitty crock pot that is normally only used for keeping my Velveeta+Rotel dip from congealing into one creepy, orange cylinder of Midwestern pot-luck disaster, and it worked fine. The non-crock pot directions call for adding the meat back in at step 3 and simmering, covered, for 1 1/2 hours. 1 1/2 hours that I didn’t have to be tending the stove.

Finally, the recipe called for pureed tomato, not tomato sauce. I bought the wrong thing at the store, my guess is the extra onion, garlic and oregano in the sauce didn’t hurt a thing. One thing I did not do was add any veggies, and I really wish I had. Veggies would make this a one pot wonder. The question is, what veggies would be appropriate here? Do any of y’all have any ideas?

And please, don’t say cauliflower.

I hate cauliflower.

Scary Zombie Broccoli vegetable.