Sunday, April 28, 2013

Photos, Baked Cod, Beet Follow-up

The weather has been amazing. In what I interpret to be a very Western weather pattern, we've had bright, bright sunshine, but it remains chilly until noon or a little later. Then the cool gives way to the warmth and it's gaw-geous til sundown, when we get back down into the 40s and 50s. But, even at 72°, the shade feels quite cold. Maybe this is related to humidity, or lack thereof? The air is more fickle? I feel like the heat hits earlier and harder in the East. Better staying power. Regardless, it has been lovely. I hope the summer is similar.

I have more photos to share from our walks by the water---they might be a little redundant to my Easter post since we walk the same path in the same place, but it's an important stretch for us. We go there a lot! And the greenery is ever changing. 

Grassy knoll hides the city
The weaving path is punctuated by cool art installations. You'll just have to trust me on this.
Olympic Peninsula. Forks is thataway, Twilight fans. O'er the mountains.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mac and Cheese, plus a Beet-y bonus

I didn't grow up in a mac and cheese household. We had Velveeta Shells n Cheese sometimes, and, don't get me wrong, I still love that stuff. But homemade mac and cheese was never something any of us really invested time into perfecting. I didn't miss it, though---we had plenty of amazing decadent other dishes to choose from.

As an adult, though, I do have a go-to mac and cheese recipe which I make every few months for a treat. I started with Robin Miller's recipe on the Food Network. Robin's whole schtick is "Quick-Fix" home cooking for the working parent, so she creates strategies wherein, for example, you cook four chicken breasts at once, use two in a given recipe, and you save the other two for a meal later in the week. The quick-fix strategy applies to her mac and cheese in the sense that a) there's no baking, and b) everything comes together in 20 mins or less. Reasonable for a weeknight, right? 

My only caution is that, while it's a fast recipe, it takes a lot of focus. It requires three different pans going on the stove at once, and two of the three are at risk for burning/overcooking if you leave them unattended. 

Here's what you need:
(once more, please note this is adapted from Robin Miller's Mac n Cheese on
  • One box/bag of pasta of your choice. My favorite is Barilla Plus Rotini because it has protein, fiber, and the shape holds the cheese nicely.
  • One 12oz can evaporated milk. This is available in various fat percentages... I have no opinion regarding which to use.
  • 4-5 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated. I like to grate it myself. By which I mean Edwin does it.
  • 4-5 oz monterey jack cheese, grated. See above.
  • 2 T dijon mustard
  • light dusting of fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4c plain Greek yogurt OR regular yogurt OR sour cream. Greek is best. Fat percentages, again, are your call.
  • few dashes hot sauce. Don't skip this!
  • 1/2 c plain breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 c grated parmesan

This fills a 13 x 9 dish nicely. I like to half the recipe when it's just the two of us.
I'm not a professional, people.
Not pictured: yogurt

Monday, April 22, 2013

Chicken Tarragon

Growing up, my dad used to make a dish we called chicken tarragon. This meant a tomato-based chicken spaghetti with dried tarragon as a key flavor component. He'd cook the chicken in the sauce itself so the sauce ultimately had a lot of chicken flavor. I don't know that I've heard of a dish like this anywhere else.. that is, I know chicken and tarragon are often served together, but I think that is more in white wine-based dishes, or buttery French classics. Our family "Chicken Tarragon," as I know it, is quite Italian in terms of flavors, the only possible exception being the tarragon itself. Anyway, I make Chicken Tarragon, too, with a few Next Generation riffs.

I start with chicken thighs because they have great flavor and are so, so inexpensive. You want bone-in for best flavor, but the skin and fat is entirely optional. Feel free to pull/cut off any undesirables before browning it up. But, if you do this: add a little extra oil to the pan to prevent sticking. Also, if you or someone you live with happens to love crispy chicken skin... now's the time for a treat!

I salt and pepper the thighs, then brown them up in a big stock pot.
Skin-side down. Medium-high heat. 5-6 mins per side?
 Turn them a few times so all sides get some love. Once the skin looks adequately browned, I take them out of the pan and set aside. (The object isn't to cook the thighs; just trying to get some browned "fond" in the pan.) (So, again, if you're using skinless meat: totally fine! Brown them up as best you can anyway and you'll get an excellent foundation all the same.)
When they're cool enough to handle, you can pull the skins off, crisp them up a little more in a dry skillet, and give them to the aforementioned theoretical loved one who loves chicken skins. 
I also like to use this time to remove excess fat from the thighs. Otherwise it'll just melt into the sauce, and who wants greasy tomato sauce? Remember the chicken is still pretty raw inside, so be sure you wash hands, etc., as needed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Slow Cooker Beef Roast

One of my favorite kitchen appliances is my slow cooker. Mine is hand-me-down, and it dates back to the 70s. (Correct me if I'm wrong on this, commenters!) It works perfectly, despite its age. Thanks Mom and Dad!

Slow cookers allow you to transform large, inexpensive pieces of meat into amazing, succulent morsels cooked in vegetable broth. It's also great for a "one pot" meal, though I choose to use a secondary saucepan for the gravy. I love this for wintertime, obviously, but really anytime I want a meal that can be prepared in advance and which I don't have to babysit, this is the way to go. I like pork roasts, particularly in the summertime, for bbq-style pulled pork. I like beef roasts for, well.. a pot roast.

Here is my method:

I look for a roast which is at least 3lbs, ideally bone-in, and with some visible fat marbling. This time I used a chuck roast, hence all the fat.

Candy cane is optional
Then I salt and pepper the roast on all sides, generously, and rub it down with tomato paste. I like to buy big cans of tomato paste, and then I scrape the leftovers into a plastic bag and freeze it. Then I break off the frozen pieces as needed. In the picture below, you can see it's still in frozen pieces even though I'm trying my darnedest to melt it with my hands. Brrrr....
Tomato paste is often lauded for its ring cleaning capabilities. And If you were wondering, I took this picture with my eyes.*
*Lies all around. Forgot to remove my rings until it was too late; we took the picture "Demi Moore in Ghost at the pottery-wheel" style.  Minus the sexy.
Then I slice an onion and put it in my slow cooker. I add some herbs (rosemary, thyme, bay leaf), add some liquid (beef broth, red wine, splash balsamic vinegar) to almost cover the onions. Salt and pepper.
Then I add the meat and, if it feels right, I will add a little more balsamic vinegar to the top of the roast, maybe a splash of soy sauce, maybe a splash of Worcestershire. MAYBE even a sprinkle of sugar. I tried to get a photo of this step but it didn't work so well. Here's a cat picture instead:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

K's Chocolate Icing

On the day I made those stuffed chicken breasts, I also decided to make a nice dessert: cupcakes with chocolate icing.

For those of you sharing my bloodline: this is it! This is the one you've all been waiting for! It's K's Chocolate Icing, y'all!

Some background: K was my maternal grandmother. She died when I was ten. While she was still up and about, she created this wonderful cookbook which recorded all of her "greatest hits" so her children could more easily replicate the foods they grew up with. She hand-wrote the book, and then made bound copies. I think this detail is particularly special... typed words, while more legible, are so much less personal. K's cookbook is part of why I chose to start this blog. For people who love to cook for their loved ones, giving the gift of a written record can be really valuable. This blog is a starting point for such a record of my own.

That said, as with most home cooks, K worked more with her hands and her eyes than her measuring spoons. The directions aren't always precise, aren't always accurate. Sometimes the recipes take a few tries before we can nail them... it takes time to get back on K's wavelength, reading beyond the page. Still, her chocolate icing was completely amazing. To this day, "birthday cake," to me, means yellow cake with K's chocolate icing on top. These days, I make this icing all the time, now working from memory. I've made a few changes to suit my tastes: less sugar, more chocolate. My methods are also improvisational, but I think I can estimate closely enough for others to follow along!

One last bit of information before I get into the recipe: Most icings/frostings are either buttercreams or cream cheese-based. This one is different in that it uses powdered sugar, chocolate, and butter to provide structure. It has a lovely smooth mousse-like texture the day you make it. The next day, depending on how airtight your cake pan is, the icing might firm up into a fudge-like texture on the cake. I highly recommend peeling it off the cake and actually eating the icing like fudge. If your pan is really airtight, it may take a little longer to accomplish this... nothing one can't fix by "accidentally" forgetting to close the lid all the way. 

Recipe after the jump:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Blue Cheese and Bacon Stuffed Chicken

This past Sunday was a Major Cooking Day. After a few days of low-maintenance meals (Aidell's andouille, pizza out), I wanted to challenge myself a little. The pantry was looking pretty sparse, though, because we only go to the grocery store once a week and we were right at the end of the week. We had two chicken breasts and some bacon in the freezer, half a container of smoked blue cheese crumbles, and the normal pantry items like.. flour, sugar, Baker's unsweetened chocolate. I chose to try out a Claire Robinson recipe for blue cheese and bacon-stuffed chicken because her whole Food Network schtick is "five ingredients or fewer." The recipe says to make a compound butter with bacon and blue cheese, chill it, slice into medallions, and slide the butter under the chicken skin before roasting in the oven. I more or less kept to the recipe, halved, though my chicken was skinless so I butterflied each breast, stuffed them, and used toothpicks to keep it together. I also used green onion rather than chives.

Slightly overcooked bacon; floor shot
I didn't fiddle with the compound butter business as much as she recommended. That is, I still made it as directed: 
The blue cheese crumbles are smoked, hence the brownish tinge. And just two slices of bacon. We're all adults here.

Compound indeed.
But I kept it as a shmear rather than chilling it and cutting it into medallions. Though I'm sure that would be amazing for other applications.. like a dinner party. On a steak or a potato! O M G.

More after the jump...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pineapple Shrimp

Before I get into the latest masterpiece, I want you all to know that my betrothed makes dinner too. Look!
Re-imagined Chicken Parm! Which is to say: no breading, baked, marinara for dipping.
 All I did was supervise, which largely meant commenting the cheese was not melty enough. I am very, very passionate about melty cheese. Thanks, babe!

I also want to share this list I stumbled upon earlier today:

100 Rules of Dinner

Some of them aren't exactly rules ("As I get older, I like beer less" ??) but I like and agree with a lot of them.

And, final announcement before we get into another Captain's Log: I have been experimenting with the "Read More" link. Seasoned blog readers are probably familiar with this function. Anyway, what it means is that, for longer posts, rather than having the whole shebang show up on the blog home page I will insert a divider which to you appears as the words "Read More." You click "Read More" and it takes you to the full version of the post. You should arrive right at the point where you left off. Just want to be sure no one is missing content! I labor over these words, people. Labor!

Here's a test to see what we've learned:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisple

I know, I know: It may be springtime meteorologically speaking, but very few springtime fruits/vegetables are actually in season. I know this intellectually, and I know this because I keep buying terrible strawberries.

Still, it had to be done. I cannot be deterred!

Unbaked. Yes, that's a lint roller in the background. No, I have not been visited by health inspectors.
I mostly stuck to Smitten Kitchen's recipe, which in turn stemmed from something the amazing Nigella Lawson did. (Sidebar: If you Google Nigella, you can see a photo of her in a shirt which reads "English Muffin." !!! Love her.) (She's British and feisty for those of you not in the know.)

Anyway I have learned that the difference between a crisp and a crumble is the texture of the topping. Crumbles have some baking powder and probably no oats/nuts/textural elements, so it's more a nudge in the direction of a shy cobbler. Crisps have oats and nuts and subsequently more crunch. I am a big fan of chewy oats on top of warm fruit, and I cannot say no to nuts in a dessert, so I have married the two and created... A Crisple! Or... crusp? I think crisple has a little more whimsy to it, so let's stick with that.

Back to the recipe: instead of zesting a whole lemon for the topping, I did 1/3 of the lemon, zested a little more over the fruit itself, and I also split the zest from one clementine between the fruit and the topping. Both were also tinged with a little cinnamon. In the topping, I added a handful of oats, because I can't help myself, and also some sliced almonds. For crunch. Here's a close-up so you can get a sense for quantity of Extras:

And here is the finished product, still bubbling:

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Some of my faithful readers have complained that they could not comment on this blog without logging in. I have remedied this. 

Now everyone can comment with or without a Google account. Thank you for your patience!

End of Announcement!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Brined Pork Chops

A couple of nights ago I brined some pork chops and cooked them in a pan on the stove, steak-style. They were boneless loin chops, minimal marbling, and my hope was that brining would alleviate the almost inevitable dryness from such a cut. 

They were at most 1" thick. The brine was 4c water (because I didn't have the forethought to purchase apple juice/cider), about 1/4c salt and 1/4c sugar. I added a few peppercorns, caraway seeds, coriander seeds, a bay leaf, and a splash each of soy sauce and Worcestershire. 

This looks like a medical experiment.
The chops brined for about three hours. Then I blotted them dry, brushed them with canola oil, and cooked for about four minutes a side in a super hot pan. To complete the meal, we had roasted broccoli and shared a small potato.

Captain's Log Follow-Up

The brine was unsuccessful. Chops chewy, but not dry? I don't think I overcooked them, but I do suspect either the brine wasn't potent enough, they didn't soak for long enough, or, most likely: It's just a crappy cut of meat.

This is from the next night. Microwaving tough pork chops was... not an improvement. The broccoli was roasted to order, though, and it was awesome.