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.

 

Jerk chicken and the controversial corn

Backyard Jerk Chicken

Savory Corn pudding

Don't worry, chicken.  This isn't about you. You're good.

Don’t worry, chicken. This isn’t about you. You’re good.

Let’s start with the totally uncontroversial part of this delicious Sunday meal: the chicken.  This chicken recipe is easy and delicious.  The ingredients are fully bizarre.  If you can name me any other food besides jerk chicken that has you combining hot peppers with allspice, please do.  This was super hot.  D told me that the vapor of marinade hitting heat on the grill was giving him coughing fits.  I believe it.  I had one fingerful of the marinade right after it was done and my eyes were watering.  Keep in mind, please, that this was all with a jalapeno pepper because we couldn’t find a habanero or scotch bonnet pepper at the store.  I can’t imagine how much hotter this could get.  The chicken was awesome and that is that.

The corn pudding was also good, but therein hangs a tale, as they say.  The directions call for you to grate 8 ears of corn.  I really had no choice but to use a box grater for this.  I got one ear in to this process and was pretty exhausted.  After two ears, my arm was tired and the kitchen looked like a corn cob exploded on it (which it kind of did).  After three ears I was getting desperate and losing hope.  D suggested that I cut the corn off the cob and run it through the food processor.  Fine.  Sold.  He could have suggested putting whole ears in the blender.  I was ready to try anything.

Please also note that the coffee maker, in D's words, looks like a crime scene.

Please also note that the coffee maker, in D’s words, looks like a crime scene.

You can see that the one on the right, the grated corn, is considerably juicer than the one on the left.  To which I say “Who cares?”  Yes, this might have been a little bit more pudding-like, but I have the use of my arm.  So that’s that.  Even with that modified process, this was still terribly tedious.

Was it all worth it?  Depends who you ask.  I thought it tasted like high brow creamed corn.  To me, in a world where canned cream corn exists and, more importantly, where corn casserole exists, this cannot be justified.  Oh yeah, you add bacon and some basil to it.  Still not enough to justify the hassle.  D also thought it tasted like high brow creamed corn, and he thought that was good enough to make it worth the trouble.  Who went through the trouble?  Yeah, good point there…Grumble, grumble…  Also, D doesn’t like corn casserole.  For the uninitiated, corn casserole is a mix of a can of corn, a can of creamed corn, Jiffy cornbread mix and some proprietary ingredients to make it hold together which are then baked in the oven.  My brother’s girlfriend tops hers with cheese.  It’s delicious.  D is wrong.  If you too think that two cans and a box do not a side dish make, then go ahead and grate some corn until your arm hurts.  I, on the other hand, won’t be fooled again.

Insert jokey title with “clambake” as term for party…

One pot clambake

Cheesy chive bread

Yes, for two people.  oof.

Yes, for two people. oof.

D and I are big fans of another alternative clam bake recipe from Everyday Food.  That one you do on the grill.  I had never done one of the stove top versions, but I’ve always been intrigued and maybe just a little scared.  Why?  Well, I don’t have one of those enormous New England lobster boiling, enamel coated, monstrosity pots that these recipes seem to call for.  I’ve got the biggest stock pot in the Cusinart set of stainless steel pots and pans that we got for our wedding 10 years ago.  So I didn’t want to run into a situation where there isn’t enough room for the shrimp and clams and this becomes a potato and corn bake.  I’ve also been reticent because we here in the middle of the country don’t so much have access to clams.  I surely didn’t want to buy canned clams (ew!!!!!), and I wasn’t sure if I could find fresh ones at any of my usual grocery stores.  This was not the weekend for a special trip to a fancy grocery store.

My fears were, luckily, unfounded.  The stock pot was a fine size.  And the frozen clams that D found at our normal grocery store (No, not Aldi) were just fine.  You were supposed to cook them from frozen, which is great because I didn’t have to thaw clams in the fridge (ew again!!!), but it did cause a problem for the shrimp.  The clams are the second to last thing to go in.  The shrimp are last.  The recipe has you add the shrimp, turn off the heat, then open the lid back up in three minutes to reveal perfectly cooked shrimp.  I opened the lid after maybe six minutes (distracted) and found some 1/8 cooked shrimp.  I put them back on the heat and gave them a few minutes to finish cooking.  They tasted great.  Here’s what I think happened: the recipe assumes that you have fresh clams and I used frozen ones.  When I cooked the frozen clams, I brought the clams up to the right temperature, but in doing so managed to bring the temperature of the entire pot way down.  So when I added those shrimp to what should have been a warm and steamy environment, it was probably only lukewarm and moderately steamy.  Hence, undercooked shrimp (one more time: ew!!!!).  So if you’re cooking with anything but fresh clams, keep the pot on the heat for the shrimp step.

Oh, the cheesy chive bread?  It was ok.  I made it garlic bread instead because I couldn’t find chives.  With the corn and the potatoes in the clambake, the bread wasn’t really necessary.  It was kind of nice for sopping.  I will say that buying a loaf a shade less than crusty is probably the way to go.  Hacking through that giant, hard loaf to make the cuts in the loaf was grueling.  All that fuss for some garlic bread?  C’mon.

B also tells me that these clambakes ordinarily have sausage.  How this midwestern girl missed out on an opportunity to eat sausage is kind of mind-boggling.  As B noted, what we lack in clams, we make up for in sausage.  That sounded bad.  Never mind.

clambake closeup

Enjoy the swingin’ clambake!

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.

More side dish and less main

Mexican Charred Corn Dog

Who invited that hot dog?!

Who invited that hot dog?!

This post is really just a recommendation to make the topping and skip the hot dog.  The topping is completely delicious.  I didn’t think that cooking corn (I used defrosted frozen stuff) in a dry skillet would actually make much of a difference for flavor.  I was so wrong.  The browning brings out the sugar in the corn, making it the perfect foil for all of the other sour ingredients.  I think I overcooked my corn a little, though.  The recipe says to roast the corn in a dry skillet until it is browned, then add oil and scallion greens, and cook until the scallions are soft.  Well, the corn doesn’t magically stop cooking once you add the oil and scallions, so I cut this whole process off before the scallions were cooked because the corn was edging from brown to black.  That having been said, it was delicious.  I think I would brown the corn by itself until it is very nearly fully browned, then add the oil and scallions to brown it the rest of the way while the onions cook.

I wound up absolutely loving the corn topping, dressing, everything.  So I was super excited to eat the hot dog.  Here’s roughly a transcript of what went on in my head with each bite: “whoo hoo!  Corn!  Lime mayo!  This is awesome! (chew, chew) Oh, yeah, hot dog.  Huh.  Bun.  Yeah…ok, I guess.”  Then I’d take another bite and repeat that.  The hot dog and bun really got in the way of the salad.  Unlike the banh mi dog where the hot dog added some salt and umami to the other flavors, here it just seemed like an afterthought.  So just serve the salad as a side with a hot dog that you dress as you please.  Curious how I prefer my hot dog?  I thought you’d never ask.  I like it with cheap yellow mustard, corn relish, and raw onions.  Actually, I once had that hot dog with homemade pickled watermelon rind added on and it was perfect.  That would be my ultimate dog…with this corn salad on the side.

On the other hand, you could just grill corn on the cob on the grill and dress it with the lime mayo, Cojita cheese, and chili powder.  That would probably be the best of the best.  That cheese, by the way, tastes almost exactly like feta.  I’ve also had corn dressed this way with freshly grated Parmesan.  That works too.

 

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.

Superb owl (hat tip to Stephen Colbert, MFA)

This meal was a loosely structured attempt to make a vegetarian version of a traditional Super Bowl feast.  The centerpiece was supposed to be the beet chips from this issue of Everyday Food.  As it turned out, those were the weakest part of the meal.  I’ll get the usual formalities out of the way, so we can move on to talking about much tastier things.  If you stick with me, there’s an awesome recipe for slow-cooker BBQ tofu at the end of this post.  We just have to talk about these loser chips from the magazine real quick…

Beet chips

"Barbeque chips"

“Barbeque chips”

This turned out to be a ton of work for very little return.  I need to find another recipe.  I have faith that beet chips can be made at home.  I used to love the beet chips at a bar in Urbana, IL, Crane Alley.  They served them with a goat cheese dip that was just unreal.  I’ll be honest, though.  I think those were fried.  That might really be the secret here.  Don’t send the oven to do a deep fryer’s job.  I busted on the mandoline for this one.  I followed the instructions where you stack cookie sheets on top of each other in the oven!  I tried to follow the instructions about taking them out when they “changed color” and believed them when they said they would be crispier as they cooled.  They didn’t.  These were, for the most part, soggy little discs of beet that took forever and created a ton of dishes.  Sad trombone…  But I’m keeping the faith because those handful of chips that actually were crisp were really tasty.  I sprinkled them with smoked sea salt to approximate the taste of barbeque chips.

Buffalo-wing style cauliflower

"wings"

“wings”

Ok, let’s move on to the real stars!  I made a recipe that I’ve been dying to make since I first got on Pinterest.  The buffalo cauliflower.  Yes, Pinterest fans!  That one!  What a cool recipe.  You basically batter some cauliflower florets with a buttermilk batter, bake them in the oven (while wishing they were deep fried…), then toss them with buffalo sauce and serve them with blue cheese dressing.  Is it good?  My word, yes.  Does it taste like buffalo wings?  Don’t be silly.  Of course not.  It tastes roughly like roasted cauliflower with a tangy buttermilk pancake wrapped around it, all doused in buffalo sauce.  If that sounds good to you, you’ll like this.  If not, just make wings and move on with your life.

Slow cooker BBQ Tofu

"barbeque sandwiches"

“barbeque sandwiches”

Here’s the real winner, and I feel very awkward saying this because I’m not really one for self-promotion.  This is my recipe for slow-cooker BBQ tofu.  It is a modification, adjustment, and reimagining of two recipes.  One is a BBQ tofu recipe from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Family Favorites.  I made that recipe straight-up one time and found it lacking.  I thought the tofu itself was really good.  The slow-cooking gave it a kind of roasty edge.  The sauce tasted too ketchuppy, and it tasted like it wasn’t done yet.  At the same time, the tofu definitely couldn’t have been cooked any longer without ruining it.  The other recipe is the smokey onion tofu marinade from Bean by Bean by the impossibly-named and impossibly wonderful Crescent Dragonwagon.  By marinating the tofu pieces overnight in her marinade, slow-cooking the sauce for some extra time on its own before adding the tofu chunks, then finishing them all together, this winds up being, quite honestly, my favorite BBQ sandwich.  I crave this stuff.

I feel I have to say a little more about my changes to the sauce recipe.  As I said before, when I made it the first time, it was ketchuppy.  What it was really missing was smoke.  Well, that’s a difficult one for a tofu slow-cooker recipe, right?  I added in smoke wherever I thought I could find it.  The Dragonwagon marinade uses liquid smoke.  I added liquid smoke to the BBQ sauce.  I also added a couple chopped chipotles in adobo, aka smoked jalapenos.  Those adjustments finally brought the smokey flavor.

It is with much trepidation that I release my baby out into the wild, but here it is.  The recipe that I’ve given the most work and the one of which I am the most proud.  Serve it at a Super Bowl party and make the veggies/non-veggies fall in love with you.  Or keep it all to yourself.

Slow-cooker barbeque tofu (adapted and adjusted from Not your Mother’s Slow Cooker Family Favorites by Beth Hensperger (Harvard Common Press: 2009))

The first step is to marinate the tofu pieces.

Smokey onion marinade (adapted from Bean by Bean: A Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon (Workman Publishing: 2012))

  • 1/4 c soy sauce
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and quartered
  • cloves from one head of garlic
  • 2 T cider vinegar
  • 2 drops liquid smoke
  • 3 16-oz blocks of extra firm tofu (no need to drain), cut into 1-inch cubes
  1. Combine all ingredients except for the tofu in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment.  Pulse to break it up then process until it’s ground as fine as you can get it.  This is a sloppy, liquid marinade with little bits of onion in it.  It’s going to leak out of the food processor on to the counter.  Just a heads up.  If you have a very intense blender (I don’t) like maybe a vitamix, you could maybe do this in the blender and prevent that mess, but a normal blender will not break up an onion.  You don’t lose enough marinade to make this a big deal.
  2. Place the tofu in a nonreactive dish or large ziploc bag and pour the marinade over it.  Cover and refrigerate, trying to remember to turn the chunks every once in a while, overnight.  Crescent says you can let this marinate for up to 6 days(!)

Now that you have the tofu marinated, I’ll give you the rest of the recipe

  • 2 c ketchup
  • 1/4 firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 T soy sauce
  • 3 chipotle peppers in adobe, chopped fine
  • 2 T cider or red wine vinegar
  • 1 T spiciest brown mustard you can find
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 1/4 t citrus herb seasoning salt from the December 2011 Everyday Food, see this post (actually recipe calls for lemon pepper seasoning, which I’m sure is fine)
  • 1/4 t Angostura bitters
  • 1 t liquid smoke
  1. While the tofu is still marinating, get a jump start on the sauce.  In a medium bowl, combine ketchup, brown sugar, soy sauce, chipotles, vinegar, mustard, paprika, garlic powder, citrus seasoning salt, bitters, and liquid smoke.  Stir to combine.
  2. Coat the inside of the crock with nonstick cooking spray.  Pour sauce into crock.  Cover and cook on low for 1 1/2 hours.  Stir the sauce well.
  3. Brush excess marinade off of the tofu and add it to the crock.  Just the excess.  Some bits will cling to the tofu pieces and that’s absolutely fine.  Cover and cook on low for another 4-6 hours, until very hot and fragrant.
  4. Serve on rolls.  I like this with raw onions and pickles.  I think it needs a little sharpness and snap.

Well, now I’m starving.

 

Escarole Beats Radicchio Anyday!

Escarole with Onion and Lemon

image

I hope you all remember the travesty that was the “Have you tried Radicchio?” adventure.  I know I can’t forget it.  So, when faced with yet another new lettuce-type substance, I was nervous.  As far as I know, I had never tried escarole and I knew I couldn’t trust EF for saying it was delightful.  I’d fallen for that one before.

It looked ok, it smelled ok, but I took my first bite with great trepidation.  But guess what!  EF didn’t lie to me!! Escarole is delightful.  It was green and yummy and something about it vaguely reminded me of artichoke (and let’s face it, that’s never a bad thing!).  The recipe was super simple and took approximately 5 minutes to cook.  I suggest you keep this on the back burner for any night you need a quick and healthy side dish.

Salute to sides

Minted pea mash

Perhaps the green plate wasn't the best choice for photographing peas.

Perhaps the green plate wasn’t the best choice for photographing peas.

Apple-parsnip mash

This photo was taken in our living room while watching the Olympics.  USA!

This photo was taken in our living room while watching the Olympics. USA!

I feel like a latecomer to side dishes.  I always kind of thought of them as something for a special occasion.  Perhaps not necessarily Thanksgiving, but probably at least dinner with company.  When I cook for just me and D, it’s usually just an entree.  Oftentimes, we’ll eat the kind of entrees that kind of have a built in side dish like something served on noodles.  But side dishes in the sense of a supporting player for an entree really aren’t part of my regular repertoire.  If the most difficult thing about this project is getting the writing done on time, then the second most difficult thing has to be making all of the sides.  So this project has forced me to consider side dishes as a part of a normal meal.  Sometimes I wish I hadn’t bothered.  These are two side dishes where I was glad that I bothered.  They added a lot to the meal.  They also showed me how side dishes can add more veggies to an otherwise carb and/or protein heavy meal.  This probably should have been obvious.  I’m learning, OK!!

The minted pea mash tastes lovely and couldn’t be easier.  You thaw some frozen peas, sautee them with butter, buzz them in the food processor with some mint leaves.  Hey, if you’re looking for a side for your Easter lamb, this has got to be it.  The recipe said it was good with roasted chicken, and we took that very literally.  D and I made a dish that has been a classic of our relationship since before we were married: Jamie Oliver’s Perfect Roast Chicken.  I cannot find an officially sanctioned recipe online, but some Epicurious user put this out there.  It’s an excellent recipe.  I will add that you can substitute a teaspoon of dried thyme for the fresh thyme and bacon for the prosciutto.  The minted pea mash was a nice burst of green and freshness on a plate that was otherwise full of chicken fat and potatoes.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The apple-parsnip mash played a similar supporting role.  I needed to make side from the January/February issue, but was all out of entrees in that issue.  That happens to us…a lot.  I made the Mexican Cod and Potato Stew from the April 2006 issue of Everyday Food.  Yes, even when faced with the possibility to make anything I like, I still make something from Everyday Food.  That was pretty tasty.  It had a good amount of spice to it.  So the apple-parsnip mash served to settle all that down.  It did a good job of that.  The stew already had potatoes in it, so maybe it was a bit of a starch fest, but I enjoyed it.  The mash itself is interesting.  It is almost eerily balanced between apples and parsnips.  Just when you’re getting ready to say “this just tastes like apples!” the parsnip flavor sneaks in.  It’s quite tasty.  I recommend it as a good side dish for when the entree is bold and doesn’t need anything that will compete.

Side dishes are good on the side.  Who knew?!

Bitterness Bash

Turkey Sausage Sandwiches

Sauteed Swiss Chard with Orange

Just focus on the sausage

Just focus on the sausage

First off, absolutely no disrespect to the sausage sandwich.  That’s a sausage with peppers and onions.  That’s a sacred thing, even if it is turkey sausage.  It’s amazing.  You’ll love it. You should eat it.

Second, that post title is a reference to the Valentine’s Day party that R & R’s used to have on the campus of the University of Illinois in the early 2000’s.  I’ve dated myself so perfectly with this reference that I just had to point it out.  If anyone was curious how old I am, now you know…pretty much to the week.

Third, it’s the chard that was bitter.  I’m not sure if you’re meant to eat orange peel.  At least not in big pieces like that.  And not until it’s been deliciously candied.  I liked the actual chard, but oh my was that orange peel bitter!  I’d say take the orange peel out before you serve this, but D thought it was delicious.  He has a higher tolerance for bitterness than I do.  Let’s put it this way: if you like IPAs, kale, and rapini, please eat this orange peel.  If, however, I just named three things that you choke down, take the suckers out.