Where’s the beans?

Grilled chicken thighs and garden salsa

Bravo.  That's the worst picture on the entire blog.  Possibly the entire internet.

Bravo. That’s the worst picture on the entire blog. Possibly the entire internet.

First of all, let me apologize for possibly the worst picture on the internet.  A 90’s GIF of stars twinkling would have been better.  I’m guessing I need the paid version of WordPress to insert a GIF, so we aren’t going to find out which is worse.  So I apologize for this crime scene photo of a half eaten piece of chicken and some scattered salad.

Second, the chicken is fine.  It’s grilled chicken with a marinade.  We made it with bone-in, skin-on thighs and adjusted the cooking time.  That was fine too.

Third, and here’s where I really have something to say, the salsa needed beans.  Let me back up.  Do you know what Texas Caviar is?  It’s that salad with the black eyed peas, tomatoes, jalapenos, bell peppers, etc and a basic vinegarette.  You’ve seen it at cookouts.  I promise.  It’s usually served with tortilla chips.  It’s amazing.  I had a hard time eating this salsa because it’s just beans and jalapenos away from being Texas Caviar.  That and the total lack of tortilla chips.  Always a problem.  So while this was tasty, the constant reminder of something tastier ruined it for me.  By the way, there’s an awesome Texas Caviar recipe in Martha’s American Food.  Ah, yet another 50 state cookbook that I own that could be used for some kind of dinner party theme, but is not.  Sigh.

Upshot: make some Texas Caviar and recommend some photography lessons.

 

Stacked

Tofu-vegetable stack

Through the magic of small plates and camera angles, this doesn't look all that small!

Through the magic of small plates and camera angles, this doesn’t look all that small!

This dish is labeled as a “Meatless Main.”  It also gives its calorie information as 175 calories per serving.  Now, unless you’re going to have a rather substantial side dish or you’re saving ample room for dessert (good move) or you’re using MyFitnessPal and you find yourself with no more calories left….this is a side salad.  That’s how we served it.  We had frozen pizza with this as a side.  I wound up eating less pizza because this was here, so that’s good.  Anyway, I just wanted to point out for you that this is meatless, but it’s probably not much of a main dish as is.

On to the more interesting things.  Can you really grill tofu?!  Yes!  You definitely have to drain it to get it nice and dry.  The recipe says to split the block crosswise in four and the picture looks like big slices of tofu, so I took that to mean that you were supposed to cut it horizontally to make, in essence, wide patties of tofu.  This made sense from a grilling standpoint.  My tofu was wider than your usual block and not quite so tall, so I just cut it once.  If I cut it into four big slices, there’s no way they’d have the structural integrity not to fall through the grates.  Plus, only two people were eating, so why bother?

D is silly

D is silly

The veggies also grilled very nicely, and the dressing was awesome.  I took some liberties with the dressing.  I only had a little bit of parsley, but I have an herb garden in my window that’s producing basil, thyme, and oregano.  I chopped up some basil and oregano and added it to the little bit of parsley I already had.  That was delicious.  It took on more of an Italian flavor.  I really enjoyed the earthiness I got from the oregano.  Fresh oregano is really pretty awesome, but who wants to bother, right?  Right.  So I definitely recommend getting creative with your fresh herbs.  And here’s the real bonus to getting creative with your herbs…and this is kind of a fat kid move…the dressing is very good on frozen pizza.  How do I know?  Are you going to make me say it?  I dipped my pizza in it.  I figure fresh herb, fresh lemon, and olive oil dressing on pizza is the classy version of dipping it in ranch dressing.  Whatever.  It was good.

So please enjoy this side salad or very small main dish or pizza dip.

Well, once you notice the lemon wedge for scale, you really do see how small this is.

Well, once you notice the lemon wedge for scale, you really do see how small this is.

Beware too many substitutions

Pasta Nicoise

When you're out of the habit of blogging, you sometimes forget to take pictures of your food until they are leftovers...

When you’re out of the habit of blogging, you sometimes forget to take pictures of your food until they are leftovers…

D made this one, so I had to get his take on this dish as a recipe.  As an eater, I loved it.  He remembered that we’d made this one before with water-packed tuna and added our own olive oil.  He said that was better than reserving the oil from oil-packed tuna.  I would agree with him.  Oil-packed tuna is kind of weird.  It spread out all over the salad instead of staying in chunks.  The texture is a little mealier.  But here’s the really important point: there’s no tuna water to give the cats.  I’m surprised they let D live.  Seriously.  I cannot imagine what he went through opening two cans of tuna, draining them, releasing the tuna aroma into the air, and listening to the incessant meow of two housecats who are. not. having. it.  Sorry, D.  So we highly recommend water-packed tuna, especially for cat owners.  This also lets you use your own favorite olive oil instead of whatever the tuna people use.  We were also out of red wine vinegar.  Well, that’s not entirely fair.  We were out of it on purpose.  I’ve been trying to use up all of the random ingredients in the fridge, freezer, and pantry.  To that end, I used up the red wine vinegar about a month ago and haven’t bought more.  D used balsamic instead.  It was good, but it was better with red wine vinegar.  So it’s time to replace the red wine vinegar.  Fair enough.  One substitution was very successful.  D used up the last of the black Moroccan olives that we purchased for who knows what recipe.  I’m telling you, getting these random things out of the fridge feels very good.

Upshot: Even with the slight problems with substitutions, this is a good recipe.  It was a very nice, hearty meal.

Balsamic vinegar: two truths and a lie

Have you tried? Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic-glazed pork chops

Pork chop with special appearance by my mom's dishes

Pork chop with special appearance by my mom’s dishes

Spinach salad with salmon

mmmm...goat cheese and pecans

mmmm…goat cheese and pecans

The first two are a very nifty make-ahead combo.  You make a balsamic (side note: am I the only one who thought there was another “L” in that word?  As in “balsalmic?”  I’m pretty sure I’ve heard people pronouncing it that way.  Have I been embarrassing myself?  …let’s move on) rosemary vinaigrette and use 2/3 of it to marinate and baste some pork chops and the other 1/3 as a dressing for a salad.  I loved the pork chops.  My mom is pretty much the master of pork chops, so I let her follow her own lead on how to cook these.  I believe she did use the broiler, but all of the times were out the window.  You don’t actually taste the vinegar so much as you just taste a nice richness.  It’s a good one.

The salad is so good. It has goat cheese AND pecans.  Come on.  I think you could easily swap something out for the salmon or leave it out entirely. The spinach and tomatoes are very good with the dressing.  This is definitely a good “look at me.  I’m so fancy” recipe.  And it takes 10 minutes.  We all need a couple of those recipes.

Balsamic-roasted pearl onions

With some kind of mushy beet and blue cheese risotto.

With some kind of mushy beet and blue cheese risotto.

And the onions?  Yeah, about that…They tasted ok.  It’s just that they burned so badly that they set off the smoke detector while the baby was sleeping.  I don’t know whether I’m relieved or deeply disturbed that he slept through it.  I will say that I immediately burst into action.  By action I mean swearing like a sailor, flapping a towel at the smoke detector and screeching something to D about opening a window.  What do the rest of you do when the smoke detector goes off?  And that was at about 15 minutes.  These things were allegedly going to roast for 25-30 minutes.

the scene of the crime

the scene of the crime

Maybe I had too few onions, which left a ton of open space on the sheet for vinegar to pool and start burning.  I’ve been through this with Everyday Food before though.  There was an infamous incident with some chicken thighs that were basted with marmalade and broiled.  Something about sugar and fire.  It just wants to burn.  D suspects that they have a super intense hood on the range that they use to test all of these recipes.  The hood on our range appears to just be a white noise machine.  Needless to say, I wouldn’t recommend this recipe.  Maybe it’s a good one for a foil-lined grill basket outside?  The smoke won’t bother you there.

Fancy Schmancy Post-Valentine’s Day Celebration Dinner

Sometimes, when you live with a bear, that bear has to work late.  One such occurrence happened on Valentine’s Day, so our Valentine’s Day feast was postponed a week.  But then we went all out.  Oh yes we did.

For the first course, I made the Caesar Salad for Two.

Image

 

Now, if you are like me, you have probably never made Caesar dressing at home.  Maybe the anchovies scared you off.  Maybe it was the raw egg.  Either way, it’s a daunting proposition.  I decided to give it a try anyhow (because someone had to) and let me just say, you should ignore all of your fears and hesitations regarding this and just make it for heaven’s sake!  It’s so good!!  The bear was so thrilled with it that he literally made me make it three more times in the following week.  It tastes neither fishy, nor eggy.  It tastes like what comes out of a bottle only 100 times more flavorful and delicious.  Do it!  The good thing about this recipe is that it is a small batch too, just enough to make a decent size bowl of salad for two maybe three people.  I’m not sure how well homemade caesar would store in the fridge so this recipe is ideal.

We followed our salad with Steak and Shrimp with Parsley Potatoes.

Image

Well really, the steak was for the Bear, and the shrimp were for me.  I did try the steak (the first steak I ever cooked) and I thought it was quite tasty.  It wasn’t too beefy just tasted nice and seared and salty.  (I tried to replicate it with a different cut of meat and again it was too beefy).  The shrimp were cooked perfectly.  They were sweet and buttery.  I think scallops would also be good in this recipe.  The potatoes were also quite tasty.  They were buttery and the perfect little side for the decadent shrimp and steak.

And finally… oh yes, the Fresh Orange and Yogurt Tart.

Image

Navel oranges are for chumps so I used blood oranges.  This was an awesome desert folks.  Just spectacular.  After such a decadent meal this wasn’t so over the top sweet that we would instantly fall into a food coma.  Nope it was light and satisfying.  It was an amazing texture and I will absolutely make some variation of this again.  I think it might be pretty awesome to make the yogurt part and then top it with a curd, maybe like that incredible orange curd I made for the pavlova.

So there you have it, a feast to end all feasts.  A feast to end the Jan/Feb 2010 issue.  Next up, March 2009!!

Needs a little protein

Brown-rice salad with spinach and tomatoes

Green vegetable stir fry

Thanks, feta!

Thanks, feta!

Kudos, tofu!

Kudos, tofu!

Here are two recipes that just need a little something to save them from themselves.  The first is the brown rice salad.  It’s not some great elements: cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, dill, a nice dressing, and some nutty brown rice.  Know what it’s missing?  Some kind of protein, preferably of the dairy variety.  It’s got cucumbers and dill, so it’s already vaguely Greek.  In steps feta, and it’s perfect.

Then there’s the green vegetable stir fry.  So so good.  So so so little going on besides vegetables.  Leeks, snow peas, bok choy, celery, ginger.  I served it on brown rice, and that helped.  Again, it needed protein.  Delicious cheese didn’t really seem right (not that it ever seems wrong), but tofu was perfect.  Please take a second look at those cubes.  I have a slightly (read: extremely) anal trick for stir frying tofu.  Cut the tofu into cubes.  True cubes with nearly equal sized sides.  Heat up some vegetable oil.  Place the cubes into the hot oil and turn them every 3-4 minutes.  I turn them by knocking them over on to another side and paying attention to which sides are brown and which are white.  This way, it all gets evenly fried.  You have to be willing to sit with a pair of tongs and gently bob tofu cubes on to their sides by a quarter turn.  If that sounds like madness, just stir them…like the lout that you are!  Either way, the tofu adds the protein and makes this a satisfying meal.

Something has happened with this green veggie stir fry that hasn’t happened with this blog in a very long time.  The recipe is not online.  Sonofa!  So I’m going to do you a solid and give you the recipe, adapted for to add the protein and brown rice that it needs.

Green vegetable stir fry (adapted from Everyday Food issue # 69 January/February 2010 p. 91)

  • 2 medium leeks (white and green parts only), halved lengthwise and rinsed well
  • 3 T vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 T minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 head bok choy (3/4 pound), cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 c snow peas, trimmed
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • coarse salt (omit if using normal broth or substitute a little soy sauce when you serve it)
  • 1/4 low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • cooked brown rice for serving
  • block of extra firm tofu, drained and cut into perfect 1-inch cubes
  1. In a non-stick skillet, heat 1 T of the vegetable oil on medium-high heat.  Place the cubes into the hot oil and turn them a quarter turn onto a new side every 3-4 minutes, browning them evenly.  Pay attention to the first turn, you may find you need more or less cooking time to brown the cubes.
  2. In the meantime, cut leeks into 2-inch pieces; separate layers.  Heat another large skillet (your biggest, widest saucepan is a good choice here) or wok over medium-high heat until hot.  Add another 1 T oil, swirl to coat skillet.  Add half the ginger, half the garlic, and half the leeks.  You’re doing the veggies in two batches because they are going to lose a lot of liquid.  Stir until the leeks begin to soften, 1 to 2 minutes.  Increase heat to high; add half the bok choy, half the snow peas, and half the celery.  Season with salt or soy sauce, if using low-sodium broth.  Stir until vegetables begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add half the borth; toss until snow peas are bright green, 1 minute. Transfer veggies to a platter or big bowl.
  3. Repeat all of that stir frying with the remaining ingredients.  Remember that’s: ginger, garlic, and leeks, then bok choy, snow peas, and celery.
  4. Serve over brown rice with pan-fried tofu cubes on top.  Season with soy sauce, as desired (as they say in cookbooks)

Worth the fuss

Beef rolls with Spring Salad

Oh, no.  Those red peppers look like tongues.  Oops.

Oh, no. Those red peppers look like tongues. Oops.

Ok, I know that I previously railed against making a beef roll-up thingy as being way too much dang work.  In that case, rolling up scallions and red pepper in thin pieces of beef just seemed to me a very fussy way to make a simple stir fry.  This recipe is different.  Why?  Cheese.  It has a slice of pepper jack cheese in each roll.  Believe it or not, that actually makes the rolling, toothpicking, and related fussing all worthwhile.  You cut into these little packages and get beef, red pepper, onion, and pepper jack cheese all in one delicious bite.

Also, if you can’t find bracciola beef or aren’t somewhere with a proper butcher counter that can slice beef for you, you can do what I did.  I bought a chunk of top round, froze it for maybe 15 minutes, then sliced it and pounded it to get it thinner.  It worked just fine.  Oh, and don’t forget that this recipe uses the leftover peppers and onions from the delicious sausage sandwiches.  I love those Everyday Food combos.

Poached chicken madness

Poached chicken breasts

a poach, poach, poach

a poach, poach, poach

This issue recommends poaching boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  They are preaching to the choir.  I’ve already said before that poaching chicken breasts is the only way to go.  It is so easy, so quick, and so fool-proof.  My sister-in-law told me at Christmas that she throws chicken breasts into a crockpot on low and lets them go for a while to poach.  This sounds genius and I will follow up on all of the details for you, dear readers.  The poached chicken recipe in the magazine is especially fun because it has to flavoring the poaching liquid.  That’s not something I normally bother with, but I think I’m convinced to change my ways. The recipe uses an onion, carrot, celery, garlic, lemon, some peppercorns, and some sprigs of thyme and parsley, but it says right at the top that you should just use whatever aromatics you have on hand.  I love a recipe that tells me to just do whatever.  I also love getting random celery out of the house some other way besides throwing it away.  Same thing with the end of a bunch of parsley.  Long story short, I made this recipe at least three times this past month.  I’ve lost count.  And I made it three different ways.  It’s going on the notecard!  Bookmark the recipe and never deal with weird sauteed chicken breasts ever again!

And what did I do with my chicken?

I made two of the four sandwiches.  We didn’t make the zucchini and pesto sandwich.  B and I have talked about this.  Telling people to make something with zucchini in the dead of winter is pretty ridiculous.

Hummus & Carrots

hummus, shredded carrots, sliced poached chicken breast, and baby spinach on wheat

hummus, shredded carrots, sliced poached chicken breast, and baby spinach on wheat

Yum!  Healthy!  Filling!  (Needs mayo)

Avocado & Parm

mashed avocado with lemon juice, shaved parmesan cheese, sliced poached chicken breast, on wheat

mashed avocado with lemon juice, shaved parmesan cheese, sliced poached chicken breast, on wheat

Yum!  Rich avocado with salty parmesan cheese!  (Needs mayo)  B tells me this would have been better on white bread.  She’s right.

B made the classic.  Your thoughts, B?

The Classic… plus pickled onions, because pickled onions are yummy.

The Classic… plus pickled onions, because pickled onions are yummy.

B says, its a chicken sandwich.  It had mayo so thats a plus.  But it wasn’t anything that special.  The pickled onions helped it a bit, but that was all on me.  Back to you , G.

G again.  I also made the chicken salad with scallions and yogurt.

shredded chicken, yogurt, scallions, and chopped basil served on spinach

shredded chicken, yogurt, scallions, and chopped basil served on spinach

This is me channeling my inner 1950’s housewife and serving the chicken salad in a proper little mound.  This is a very tasty chicken salad.  The basil adds a lot, which makes up for the fact that getting basil in January is roughly as difficult and unreasonable as getting zucchini.

Ok, one more thing and then we’ll let you go.  Here’s a picture of the egg salad from the magazine.

Not so very lightened-up if you wind up eating the egg yolks on their own later in the week.

Not so very lightened-up if you wind up eating the egg yolks on their own later in the week.

The recipe is hidden in the back under the big title “Everyday Food on TV.”  Do you guys remember that show?  D and I loved it.  We watched it on PBS in our old, old apartment, then DVR’ed in our old apartment.  This one is John Barricelli’s recipe.  I always liked him.  Maybe because he was the only guy, and I thought that must mean he was cool if he was willing to be on a show with a bunch of ladies AND be the baking guy.  Normally, you’d think the only guy on the show would be there to talk about grilling or meat or something else bro, but no, John normally made tarts.  You have to love that.  Also, he had a super pronounced (somewhere out East…) accent that he made no attempt to hide.  I got the feeling that John was a man who was very comfortable just being himself.

And his egg salad?  Um, it’s fine.  It uses avocado instead of egg yolks and very little of the creamy stuff, so it’s very, very good for a post holiday meal.  Here is my best attempt to write it up as a proper recipe.  The magazine has it like a quote from John.

Lightened up egg-salad sandwich (adapted from Everyday Food Issue #69 January/February 2010)

  • 4 hard-cooked egg whites, chopped
  • 1/2 avocado, pitted and diced medium
  • 1/4 small red onion, diced small
  • 1 t mayo
  • 1 t sour cream
  • 1 t Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper

Combine all of the ingredients, season with salt and pepper.  Serve on whole wheat bread with arugula.

You might be asking how many people this is supposed to serve.  I really don’t know.  I usually only have two eggs at breakfast, so I took this as being a two person recipe.  If you have a bigger appetite, this probably serves one.

 

Sunday dinner for four.

Dinner!

Dinner!

Dessert!

Dessert!

Beet and Carrot Slaw, January/February 2010, pg. 21

Our Sunday night dinner this past week included a beef roast grilled at a low temperature on our charcoal grill, mashed potatoes, beet and carrot slaw, and black forest upside-down cakes.

Dinner was delicious, especially the beet and carrot slaw.  I love raw carrots.  On average I eat them 6 days a week: on salad or just plain carrots (Bugs Bunny style).  I love the sweetness of them and crunch.  I also really like roasted beets.  They are sweet and have a very unique color and taste!  I had never had raw beets or beet greens before so I was looking forward to this colorfully sweet slaw.

The slaw was very simple to make, although a little dangerous and it turned my hands pink!  I must admit I was pretty nervous grating the beets, picturing myself loosing pieces of fingers, every time I pushed the beet down the grater.  Next time I won’t cut both ends off the beets, so I will have a little more to hold onto while grating.  Washing the grated beets took a lot more water than I expected.  They WOULD NOT stop bleeding pink!  I finally got relatively clear water and called it quits.  The slaw dressing was very good.  The sweetness from the orange juice and tangy taste of the mustard and vinegar complemented the vegetables well.

The beet and carrot slaw was a hit!  Everyone went back for seconds, but we still had one serving of slaw leftover.  P brought it for lunch a few days later and said it still tasted great, however, everything had a pink tint.  Definitely a recipe to eat the day you make it, if you want three distinct colors!  I will be making this slaw again.

 photo 4

Black Forest Upside-down Cakes, January/February 2010, pg. 51

The black forest upside-down cakes tasted good but the baking process was not positive.  As I made the batter, I was convinced the cakes were going to be a disaster.

My parents had dinner with us, so I doubled the recipe.  I was not a fan of the recipes directions.  The recipe tells you to stir room temperature butter (it’s January, so room temperature is 65⁰F) and sugar with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy.  Are you joking me?!  That was NOT going to be possible, so I got out my electric hand-beater.  The butter and sugar never got light and fluffy, it didn’t seem like there was enough butter to get the fluffy texture you usually get after beating the two ingredients.  (Since I doubled the recipe, so I checked my math and I did put the correct amount of each ingredient in the batter.)  Then I stirred in the rest of the ingredients and the batter was not what I was expecting.  It reminded me of an extremely thick brownie batter.  The batter was so thick, it stuck to my wooden spoon as I was putting it into my cherry lined pans.  I pulled up a few of the cherries as I was trying to evenly spread the batter in the pans.  At this point, I was positive, we wouldn’t be having dessert…

I ended up baking the two cakes for about 45 minutes.  This was probably because of my pan choice.  I didn’t have ramekins, but I did have two 5” springform cake pans.  While I let the cakes cool for twenty minutes, I made the whipped cream.  I left out the rum, because I’m not consuming alcohol anymore, and followed my grandmother’s advice for homemade whipped cream.

Put a glass bowl and the metal beaters in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before making the whipped cream.  (Yes, specifically a glass bowl.  I’ve gotten scolded for using a metal bowl, I honestly don’t know the reasoning behind the glass bowl but that’s how grandma does it.)  The cream whips much faster if all the utensils are colder than the cream.  Add a teaspoon or two of white sugar and then whip together until you get the consistency you want.  Back to the cakes…

The springform pans worked really well!  The cakes looked perfect.  Although, I think the batter was a little thicker and I probably should have used a third pan or pans that had a larger diameter.  This would have made the cherry to batter ratio more equal.

photo 1

Everyone really liked the rich tasting cakes.  One small piece for each person was more than enough.  I had never had sour cherries before and they were very good and went well with the chocolate.  But, honestly what doesn’t go well with chocolate?  I also liked the portion size of the cake.  In hindsight I didn’t even have to double the recipe.  The four of us ate one of the two cakes that night.  Personally, the cake was a little too dense for me.  I am going to blame the density on the very thick batter.  At this point, the black forest upside-down cakes, are a one-time experience for me.

A Couple of Seriously Delicious Sides…

Mushroom and Leek Gratin

Celery Root and Apple Remoulade

Now, you may notice from the titles of these dishes that one recipe is truly decadent sounding and one is fairly healthy sounding.  Those impressions would be correct.  The Mushroom and Leek Gratin was so rich I struggled to eat all I had put on my plate despite how delicious it was.  The Celery Root and Apple Gratin was also super delicious but was light enough that I was able to keep going back for seconds.

Here’s the Gratin:

I may have gotten lazy and gone with pre-sliced cremini mushrooms instead of portabella…

I may have gotten lazy and gone with pre-sliced cremini mushrooms instead of portabella…

The cream and parmesan worked so well with the leek and mushrooms.  I also have yet to meet a dish that feature leeks that I don’t love.  They are just so good.  Mmm… now I’m remembering those braised leeks…  This is definitely a special occasion dish and not an every-night-of-the-week dish.

The Celery Root Remoulade, however:

It may not be the most photogenic dish...

It may not be the most photogenic dish…

This is seriously, seriously good.  I was picking at it all evening.  I’ve also made the executive decision to try to incorporate celery root into cole slaw in the future.  Don’t bother with the celery seed, go for the celery root.  Seriously.