Archive for the 'In The Kitchen' Category

Jun 16 2012

Jambalaya cha-cha-cha!

Published by under In The Kitchen,Recipes

Hey, we haven’t done a recipe in a long time, huh? How about a recipe? I made this for dinner last night. I’ve been really into Louisiana cooking lately, what with the red beans and rice and all that. I’ve been looking for a good gumbo recipe, but it’s hard to find one that doesn’t utilize shellfish in some form. The Man will not eat seafood, no way, no how. So, in the meantime, I went hunting for a jambalaya recipe, and wouldn’t you know? It’s pretty hard to find one of those that doesn’t contain shrimp. However, finally, I got one!

This recipe comes to us from the Food Network web site, and is credited on that site to Chef Jason Girard. I do a couple little tweaks to it, but nothing too major. Basically, my tweaks amount to adding 1/4 – 1/2 tsp ground black pepper and a couple of extra shakes of Tabasco to up the spice a bit, and also throwing in about 1 tsp of Old Bay, just because damn, I love Old Bay. I also omit the file powder, because it’s not an easy thing to find around here (as in, I can’t find it at the huge grocery store I shop at, and I’m not going to go looking at the few specialty stores in town because I’m lazy).  I read online that file powder can act as a thickening agent, but I don’t think a teaspoon of it would make much of a difference in a dish this large. This recipe as written on Food Network comes out soupier than I like, so I do thicken it slightly with a corn starch slurry (1 Tbsp corn starch + 1/8 cup cold water). I’m going to add these tweaks into the ingredient list and the directions, but you can feel free to delete them if you want.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 Tbsp peanut oil
  • 12 ounces smoked andouille or kielbasa sausage, sliced (I use kielbasa, because andouille is not readily available)
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced (I use a red one, just because I like the red ones. Any color will do)
  • 1 28 ounce can peeled diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce + 2-3 extra shakes if desired (I use regular Tobasco)
  • 1 tsp. file powder (if you can find it, if not, no big whoop)
  • 1 Tbsp Cajun spice blend (sold in the spice section, pre-blended)
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp Old Bay
  • corn starch slurry to thicken, if desired (1 Tbsp corn starch + 1/8 c cold water)
  • Cooked rice, for serving

DIRECTIONS

Heat a heavy, dry stockpot or Dutch oven (mine is a 5 qt. size) over high heat. Add 1 Tbsp peanut oil, then brown the sausage. Remove the sausage from the pan, but leave the drippings. Add another Tbsp peanut oil, and then brown the chicken. Add more peanut oil if necessary. Remember, you’re just browning at this point.

Return the sausage to the pot with the chicken, and add the onion, celery, garlic, and bell pepper. Saute until the meats and veggies are cooked through. Add the tomatoes and the hot sauce, stir to combine. Add the file powder (if using), black pepper, Old Bay, and Cajun spice, reduce heat to low, and simmer for at least one hour. After 30 minutes, add corn starch slurry, if desired. Serve over rice.

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Jan 19 2010

Fire starters.

Published by under Recipes

OK, so this isn’t REALLY a recipe, but it was kind of like cooking and I didn’t want to make a whole new category for one post.  So, it’s a recipe for the purposes of my categorizing.

Every week in the winter, I have to start a fire in the wood stove in our garage, so that The Man and his friends won’t freeze to death while they play D&D.  As anyone who’s ever tried will agree, building a fire is not easy work if you don’t have lots of tiny twigs and wood chips or something to use as kindling.  You can’t just throw a bunch of paper in there and put a log on top of it and expect it to burn.  However, we don’t keep a lot of tiny twigs or wood chips around.  Those that I do find get consumed pretty quickly.

Dr. Mom and Moll heat with wood, exclusively.  This means they need to have a reliable way to get the fire started.  So, they make their own fire starters.  After my most recent wrestle with the fire (this afternoon), I decided to try to follow their lead and make my own.

Step one:  Gather pine cones.  If you don’t have twenty pine trees in your yard (like me), go to the park or take a walk or something.  You are looking for smaller pine cones, nothing over 1.5 inches in height.  If you do have your own trees, it’s best if you gather pine cones while your neighbor is walking his dogs, so that the dogs will notice you and bark wildly, and the neighbor can wonder why you are squatting under a pine tree with a basket, looking suspicious.

 

Suspicious neighbors are a small price to pay for pine cones.

Step two:  Sort your pine cones into “dry” and “not dry”.  Dry pine cones are open.  Pine cones in need of drying are shut tightly.

Step three:  Dry the pine cones that need it.  Grab a junk sheet pan with a lip, line it with foil or parchment paper, and put the pine cones on it.  Stick them in a 200 degree (Fahrenheit) oven for an hour or so, until they open up.

 

These pine cones need to be more open. Put them in the oven and teach them a lesson!

Step four:  Melt your wax.  This is where all those jar candles that only have an inch of wax left in the bottom will come in handy.  Take one of those jar candles, and stick it in a pot of simmering water.  The wax will melt slowly, and as a bonus, if it’s a scented candle, your house will smell great.  My house smells like ginger and tangerine right this instant.

 

Watching wax melt is second only to watching paint dry.

Step five:  Coat the cones.  This is done in batches.  I put a handful of pine cones in a disposable plastic bowl.  Then I put on a pair of stretch gloves and grabbed the jar full of now melted wax.  Then, I poured some of the wax over the pine cones.  How much?  I don’t know.  I poured until it looked like there was enough wax to coat the pine cones.

 

My Hello Kitty stretchy glove never dreamed that it could be a hot pad!

Then, I grabbed a junk fork (seeing a theme, here?) and stirred the pine cones around until the wax began to harden and stick.  This took a couple of minutes, but if you don’t stir, all the wax will just pool at the bottom, and that’s no good.

 

Looks appetizing, eh?

Step six:  Cool.  Once the wax was stuck well to the cones, I placed them on a paper bag that had a sheet of wax paper on it.

 

It's not granola, no matter what your hippie aunt tries to tell you.

Repeat steps five and six until all the cones are coated.

Step seven:  Really cool.  Your pine cones are probably still somewhat warm, and the wax is probably still soft.  At this point, I moved the cones (still on the wax paper) to the junk sheet pan that I dried the cones on, and set it on the porch for a half hour.  Of course, it’s 30 degrees on my porch right now.  If it’s not nice and chill outside, stash them in the fridge or freezer for a half hour.

Step eight:  Store.  I stuck my cones in a lidded jar.  They’ll live near the wood stove to be easily accessible.

 

It's a jar full of witch! Burn it!

Step nine:  Use.  I’m not going to go into detail about how to build a fire, sorry.

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Oct 27 2009

Because Rock Star just WON’T STOP ASKING.

Published by under Recipes

The Man really likes blue cheese dressing.  No, wait.  That’s an understatement.  The Man REALLY likes blue cheese dressing.  Um, no.  Still not right.  The Man !**R~E~A~L~L~Y**! likes blue cheese dressing.  The problem is that a lot of blue cheese dressings are what he’s calls “too mayonnaise-y”.  He likes blue cheese dressing, and hates the main base ingredient.  His life, it is a study in contradictions.

Anyway, the blue cheese dressing that he has deemed “the best” comes from the Outback Steakhouse.  It’s really his main reason for going to eat there – to get a salad.  Because I am a little fond of The Man, I decided to see if anyone online had decoded the recipe for the Outback blue cheese dressing, and lo and behold, they had!  I made a batch, and he just loved it!  Hooray!

Then, we went up north, and I made a batch for the folks up there, and he hated it!  Hoo- wait, what?

It turns out that, according to The Man, this dressing is only good if you use Hellman’s Mayonnaise.  The problem with the up north batch was that I’d subbed in Kraft, which apparently makes everything taste like woe and horrible pain.

So, Outback Blue Cheese…it’s good and all, but did I mention that The Man is a fan of blue cheese?  He is.  So, I find that the more blue cheese I add to the dressing, the better it is for him.  I’ve found a good balance now, so here is the “new” recipe, which I call “No Such Thing As Too Much Blue Cheese Dressing”

  • 1 cup Hellman’s Mayonnaise – the regular, full-fat kind.
  • 2 tbsp. buttermilk.  Don’t have buttermilk, like 99% of us?  No problem!  Measure out slightly less than 2 tbsp. and top it off with white vinegar to make up the rest.  Let it sit for about 5 minutes and you’ll have buttermilk.  Magic!
  • 1/8 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 – 5 tbsp. blue cheese crumbles, according to taste (the original recipe calls for just two).

Put all ingredients (minus 1 – 2 tbsp. blue cheese crumbles) in a food processor and pulse on Low until smooth and combined.  I usually add about 3 tbsp. crumbles to be processed in.  Once everything is smooth, remove to a covered container (I use a little Tupperware bowl) and stir in by hand another 1 – 2 tbsp. of blue cheese crumbles.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.  This is important!  The dressing needs this time to rest so all the flavors can meld together.  Don’t skip this step!

Serve and enjoy!

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Oct 26 2009

Apple bread.

Published by under Friends,Recipes

Mackers called me up a few weeks back and wanted me to come over and bake a whole bunch of apple bread.  I’d never done such a thing before, and I am all for baking with my girlfriends, so I agreed.  We spent HOURS upon HOURS baking this bread, and I don’t think either of us were pleased with the results.  Maybe it had to do with the fact that there ended up being big chunks of apple in the bread.  Maybe it was because we had to cook the bread for twice as long as specified so that it wasn’t gooey in the middle.  Maybe it was because the second round of baking resulted in Mystery Smoking coming from her oven.  Maybe it was because neither one of us knew what we were doing.

I think the last one is the right one.

Anyway, it was fun, and I came away with several ideas of different things to try when next I made apple bread, if I ever did.  The Man was not fond of the idea of apple bread.  He thought it sounded “gross”.  But, the Northern Spys were picked at my local orchard, and I thought NOW is the time to try it again.

Mackers had said that she thought that the next time she made apple bread, she’d just adapt her zucchini bread recipe, so I went to my cookbooks and found a zucchini bread recipe of my very own.  It’s from Betty Crocker, so you know it’s good!  And now, I know it’s good because I made a loaf and had many different people eat some of it.  And they all loved it.  So, I am fairly confident that you will love it, too.

You will need:

  • 5-6 medium baking apples (enough to end up with 3 cups of shredded apple).  As I said, I used Northern Spys, but those are not available all the year round, so just find something that’s good to bake with.  I would stay away from the very tart kinds, like Granny Smiths.
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups all purpose (or whole wheat) flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder

You can also add

  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts
  • 1/2 cup raisins

if you want to.  I left them out because I do not like nuts in my baked goods, and The Man is not a raisin fan.

Put your oven rack toward the bottom of your oven – y0u want to position it so the top of your loaf pan will be in the center of your oven.  Preheat your oven to 350 F.  Grease the BOTTOM ONLY of a 9x5x3 loaf pan.

Shred the apples.  I used a grater.  It was messy.  I would recommend shredding into something that has a lip on it, like a baking sheet, to prevent juice from running all over the counter.  I also kind of wrung out the shredded apple a little just to get rid of most of the juice before mixing it into the batter.  I was worried about it being too wet.  The apple oxidizes (turns brown) pretty quickly after it’s shredded, but this doesn’t affect the flavor.  You also won’t be able to see brown apples in the finished product, so don’t fret over it.

Mix the apples, sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl.  Mix the dry ingredients in another bowl.  When you’re ready, dump the dry ingredients into the wet and combine.  Don’t overmix it.  Just stir until it comes together, then let it sit for five minutes, like you would with muffins.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then loosen the sides and remove to finish cooling on a wire rack.

Once cooled, wrap it up tightly.  It stores well-wrapped at room temperature for four days or in the fridge for ten days.

Share and enjoy!

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Apr 09 2009

Herbs and Spices.

Published by under Food Products,In The Kitchen

If you do any cooking at all, you are going to want to have some herbs and spices on hand.  Even Colonel Sanders had his special blend of herbs and spices, and look what that did for him!  These little gems are pretty important to almost every dish you can make, but it can be confusing for beginning cooks or those with limited space to know which to have on hand.  The herbs and spices you want to keep in your kitchen depends on the kinds of foods you like to cook.  If you’re like me, and cook a bit of everything, then you may think you’ll need to keep a lot of things around you, but since so many herbs are multi-taskers, I think you’ll find that you don’t need a lot of little jars to make a big impact.

Another question is: fresh or dried?  Again, this depends on your cooking style.  I mostly opt for dried, just because there is a longer shelf life.  However, for some foods, I will pick up fresh herbs, especially if it’s the first time I’ve made a recipe and it specifically calls for fresh.  Just remember that dried herbs are more potent than fresh.  If you’re going to substitute, a good rule of thumb is to sub 1 teaspoon of dried for every tablespoon of fresh the recipe calls for.  And sometimes – like when making a cheeseball or a salad – you’ll just want to use fresh no matter what.   Also, dried herbs do lose their potency over time!  If it’s six months old, throw it out and replace it.

Before we talk specifics, there are a few staples that you’re going to want to keep around no matter what.  With these, you can season just about anything successfully.  The staples are:  salt, pepper, thyme, and parsley.  These four things go with everything.  Now, keep in mind that better quality is going to get you better results, and there are fun subcategories to explore (such as kosher or seasoned salt, and a range of peppercorns), but in general, I would keep both kosher and iodized (or table) salt on hand, and both whole peppercorns (in a grinder) and the stuff that comes in a can.  The thyme and parsley I keep on hand in their dry forms, and I will occasionally bring in fresh of each, depending on what I’m making (potato skins are another thing that need fresh).

OK, so now you’ve got your four staples, but you’re interested in expanding out and trying new things.  Here’s a list of meats (or flavors), and some of the herbs and spices that complement them.  This is not an exhaustive list, but it will get you going.  Also, just assume that each list also includes thyme and parsley, because, as I said, they go with everything:

  • Beef: marjoram (not margarine, even though they sound alike), chives, rosemary, ground mustard, ginger
  • Mutton: mint, dill, rosemary
  • Pork: rosemary, pineapple sage, savory
  • Poultry: tarragon, sage, paprika, ground mustard, lovage*
  • Fish: fennel, dill, savory, lemon balm, ginger
  • Non-fish seafood (like lobster): dill, tarragon, basil, lemon balm, lovage
  • Eggs: chervil, basil, chives, tarragon
  • Salad: savory, marjoram, basil, ginger

*It may be hard to find lovage, as it is not a commonly used herb, at least in the USA.

When seasoning, remember that more is not always better.  Don’t pile all your herbs on at once – add one at a time, and see how you like it.  You may find that you like a dish better when it contains only one or two herbs or spices as opposed to four or five.  The purpose of herbs is not to overwhelm the taste of the main ingredient, but rather to provide a subtle change in flavor.

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