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.

Hot dogs: the other red meat

Banh mi hot dogs

As B said, "Is there a hot dog in there somewhere?"

As B said, “Is there a hot dog in there somewhere?”

Before I tell you about this awesome hot dog, I need to tell you a disgusting but true story.  You know how Chinese restaurants usually sell items where you can swap out one protein for another?  So shrimp fried rice, chicken fried rice, pork fried rice, etc. etc.  Yes, I’m referring to American Chinese restaurants.  I don’t know what real Chinese restaurants serve.  Probably not egg rolls, so that’s a deal breaker right there.  Anyway, cultural insensitivity aside…you’re familiar with the choices of protein at your standard Chinese restaurant.  It’s usually beef, pork, shrimp, chicken, maybe tofu.  I once saw a flyer for a Chinese restaurant where one of the protein choices was…hot dog.  That’s right, hot dog.  You could order hot dog fried rice.  This struck me as absolutely hilarious because hot dog fried rice is the kind of poverty chow that everyone makes in a pinch (especially in college or right before grocery shopping), but no one would ever advertise in a thousand years.  It’s like a restaurant bragging that they offer American cheese microwaved on a bagel or Pop Tarts.  Also, I can hear your eyes rolling incredulously through the tubes, so I’ll just leave this here.  You’re welcome.

So you’d forgive me for being skeptical about a banh mi hot dog.  But this thing is delicious.  The carrot slaw is lovely.  The mayo and cucumber cools down the jalapeno slices.  The cilantro leaves bring their special bitter bite.  The hot dog brings the salt…  This is just a delicious and easy meal.  I’ve actually made it a few times before.  I wouldn’t feel embarrassed serving it to guests.  Unlike hot dog fried rice.  That’s just…  No.

 

Chocolate Popcorn…yes, you read that right.

Cocoa Popcorn

Look away before it hypnotizes you!

Look away before it hypnotizes you!

You know those foods that taste so good that you just can’t stop eating them even though they are super rich and they kind of make you feel sick?  This is one of those.  I was literally moaning in pain as I continued to jam this popcorn into my face. It is so good.  It tastes like hot chocolate and popcorn together. It’s salty.  It’s sweet.  It’s chocolate.  It’s really easy to make.  It’s much harder to make yourself stop eating. I recommend making this for a party or making a much smaller batch if you plan to split it with a friend on the couch.

Ok, full disclosure… I made a poor choice of cocktail pairing.  I had Kahlua and coke with it.  Kahlua and coke is good, by the way.  It tastes like chocolate coke.  What it also is is very rich and sickly sweet.  Kinda like the popcorn.  Perhaps something more bitter or savory like a stout would be in order.  Or, again, learn self-control.  ….  beer it is.

Enjoy in moderation, as they say.

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.

The lasagna that followed me to a second location

Slow cooker sausage lasagna

You're coming with me, friend!

You’re coming with me, friend!

Welcome to March!  …nervous laughter…  To make up for my delay in getting to March, I’m going to start my posts for this issue off with an amazing recipe that you’ll want to try as soon as possible.  This is a bookmark it, pin it, print it, laminate it, share it, love it recipe.  I promise.  It’s so good that when faced with the idea of leaving some of it behind for a weekend trip to my parents’ house or bringing it with, we packed it.  J ate this stuff like it was his job.

A few notes about the recipe.  First, this is one of those times that an oval slow-cooker really comes in handy.  When is the other time?  Um, the Consumer Reports thing I read about slow-cookers said they are good for giant roasts.  I’m not sure I’ve ever made a roast in the slow-cooker that was so big that I couldn’t have gotten away with a round one, but I’ll give it to them.  What they should have said in the article was that oval slow-cookers are good for making lasagna.  The magazine has a picture of all of these little broken shards of lasagna noodle stacked on top of each other looking haphazard at best.  It says “To fit lasagna noodles into a round slow cooker, break of corners as needed.”  For an oval slow cooker, that meant busting maybe a couple noodles here and there.

Second, this recipe is bland as written.  Even with the Italian sausage.  What you see pictured with the lasagna below is the jar of Rachael Ray italian seasoning that I ground very liberaly on to my lasagna.  It needed something.  If you make this recipe, excuse me, WHEN you make this recipe, add a couple teaspoons or two of Italian seasoning or just a mix of your favorite Italian dried herbs.  I’m a fennel seed fanatic myself.

Resisting cheesy Rachael Ray catchphrase caption...

Resisting cheesy Rachael Ray catchphrase caption…

Bon appétit!  You know,  I don’t feel nearly so bad writing about March when it’s 45 degrees out at the end of May…

Fudgy skillet brownies

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I’ve been craving sweets a lot lately (probably because I can’t drink alcohol for a few more months), but starting two weeks ago I am really trying to reduce the amount of sugar I am eating. I’ve been told my fair-freckly skin puts me at higher risk for gestational diabetes. Something I don’t want to experience for several reasons….Anyways the fudgy skillet brownies looked too good to pass up!

This was a simple brownie recipe with the average brownie ingredients, which are staple in most pantries. Unfortunately, I found out the evening I was going to make the brownies that the bittersweet chocolate wasn’t a staple in my pantry anymore. So, I strayed from the recipe a little bit. I used semi-sweet chocolate and removed the ¼ cup of sugar. Other than that I stuck to the recipe, baked the brownies for about 45 minutes and let them sit for about 15 before I dug in.

The warm fudgy skillet brownies were a hit! P and I had them warm that evening and they were delicious. They came out of the cast iron skillet like perfect pie wedges and completely satisfied my sweet craving. The brownies sweetened perfectly, so using the semi-sweet chocolate and removing the sugar, worked out just fine.

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Later that night I cut the rest of the brownies into ‘squares’, to store them in an airtight container. The brownies didn’t come out of the skillet quite as nicely as they did earlier. Maybe these brownies are made to be ate in one sitting by a group of people!

The next day I couldn’t wait to get home and have a brownie for my afternoon snack before I walked the dog. The snack may have turned into two brownies (I have no self-control when it comes to food). The fudgy texture was very apparent the following day. I hadn’t noticed the dense texture the night before. The day old brownies had something new to bring to the table. Nothing beats a warm brownie, but a cold fudgy brownie comes pretty close.

Scones: One of the best sweets ever!

Scones are one of my favorite things to make, and I love trying new recipes. I do have my favorite scone recipe but it changes every so often. My number one scone recipe has held its rank almost a year now. Before that, my number one held its title for three years. Will the Everyday Food, March 2009, currant scone recipe claim the number one spot?!

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For this recipe, I used powdered buttermilk (it doesn’t go bad), and I chose to use dried cherries instead of currants. The recipe was very easy to follow and they took no time at all to make. I think that’s another reason I like making scones: Simple Goodness.

Several years ago my mom bought me a scone pan for Christmas. Best pan ever. Worth every cent. Before the scone pan was a part of my kitchen, I had a hard time baking the scones evenly. The specialized pan has 8 metal wedges so each scone bakes evenly. You also don’t have to worry about shaping your scones. Just divide the dough into 8 relatively even balls and then squish them into one of the spaces in the pan. I would highly recommend the scone pan if you make scones frequently.

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I baked the scones for 15 minutes, and put them on a cooling rack as soon as they were cool enough to get out of the pan. If you leave the scones in the pan to cool, they get a bit soggy. I saved four scones for P and me, and gave the other four to our friends. Spread the sugar wealth! The cherries were an excellent choice! Blueberries are usually my scone add-in, but I am glad I tried something new. The buttermilk added a nice flavor that is lacking in scones with just milk or heavy cream. I must admit it is a pretty good scone recipe. Our friends even asked for the recipe.

The million dollar question is: Did this scone recipe become my Number 1?!……I don’t think so. However, the recipe has secured a spot in my Top 3!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!

Stir fry for days

Shrimp and Scallion Stir Fry

over those pesky rice noodles

over those pesky rice noodles

Stir-fried noodles with eggplant and basil

eggplant and basil in the dead of winter.  decadent!

eggplant and basil in the dead of winter. decadent!

Stir-fried turkey in lettuce wraps

It has kind of a birth of Venus thing going on, doesn't it?

It has kind of a birth of Venus thing going on, doesn’t it?

So many stir fries in this issue.  If you add up the stir fry feature with the winter green sautees, that’s a whole lot of warm veggie glop on top of rice, pasta, or something.  These three are quite representative of all of the stir frying going on in issue #69 in that they are all ok, but not great, and all low calorie (until you start adding noodles and such…).

The Shrimp and Scallion Stir Fry can literally be summed up just by reading the name of the recipe.  See, there’s some shrimp and some scallions and you stir fry them.  Still with me?  Oh, and there’s garlic.  I served it over rice noodles because I’m still trying to get rid of those suckers.

The Stir-fried noodles with eggplant and basil was very good, if somewhat impractical.  I like to try and cook seasonally and Everyday Food usually supports that.  They’ve got a whole “in season” section and everything.  But then they have a chicken sandwich with zucchini on it and a stir fry with eggplant and basil in this issue.  Oh, and the chicken salad with basil too.  On one hand, I can’t complain.  It is definitely awesome to taste basil in the dead of winter.  It almost makes me believe that summer is coming, which it obviously isn’t.  It’s currently 28 degrees outside and it’s March 23rd.  There just won’t be an end to winter.  So buy some basil!

The Stir-fried turkey in lettuce wraps was good, but I still don’t care for lettuce wraps as a concept for the same reason that I don’t like hard shell tacos, too messy.  I know.  I know.  Polly Prissy Pants over here.  Also, when you make lettuce wraps, you have to spend so much time delicately removing each lettuce leaf carefully, carefully, so carefully….dang it!  It tore!  Then what do you do?  Make a very tiny lettuce wrap?  Give up and start over?  These are serious questions folks.  So the flavor of this recipe is quite good, but it’s not good enough to make me like lettuce wraps.  Oh, and yeah, that’s iceberg lettuce.  I know I’d get better results with a fancier lettuce, but I’d be angrier when the leaves tear because of the extra money.  So…kind of a catch 22.

In conclusion, if you need a stir fry, go to your EF collection and grab #69.  Whew!

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.