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!

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Thank Goodness for the January/February Issue!

You may have noticed, we fell a little behind on the writing again.  Ugh.  Who knew so much writing would be required for a blog? Anyway, as usual, we have been cooking in a timely manner, just not updating you on all of our adventures.

So, let me introduce the Jan/Feb 2010 issue!  The Light Issue.  Lots of lean meats and veggies in this one.

I started the year off making the Pasta with Roasted Vegetables and Arugula.

Image

As is often the case with the EF pastas, it seemed a little dry.  I don’t think this would have been an issue if I had doubled the roasted vegetable recipe.  The vegetables were pretty delicious. Roasted garlic, shallot and tomato make a nice, savory combination.

I say, go ahead and make this, just double the veg!

Panic carrots

Slow-Cooker Garlic Chicken with Couscous

Here I come to save the day!

Here I come to save the day!

I’ve already said I’m a food safety nut.  I’m also pretty into fire safety.  I don’t want to get into it because it’s sad and this is not the place for it, but there was a fire in my old neighborhood that killed some people in an apartment building and it stuck with me.  No, I don’t have an escape plan, but thank you so so so much for putting that into my head.  Guess what you’re doing tonight instead of watching TV, D?  I digress…  Because of this fear of fire, I’m nervous about leaving my slow cooker on all day.  (I can hear your eyes rolling.)  My slow cooker has a big warning in the manual about making sure the slow cooker is filled at least halfway.  I suppose they are trying to say that you shouldn’t put a single pork chop into the cooker, crank it to high, and leave it for several hours and expect it to work out.  My fear is that a less than half-full slow cooker would cook down, start to smolder, burst into flames that climb up the kitchen cabinets, reach the walls, and engulf the apartment and my kittens in smoke and fire.  All this was running through my head as I rushed to get the dinner into the slow cooker and out the door to go to work.  I didn’t leave myself enough time, so I was frantically carving the super cold bird and chucking pieces into the cooker, all the while gauging the crock for whether it had reached the magic halfway mark.  I finished loading the carrots and chicken and it was only (ominous music here) 1/3 full.  So I did what any sensible person would do, I panicked.  I grabbed a pound of carrots from the fridge, washed them and hacked them into long pieces.  I stuffed the carrots under the chicken pieces to raise the food up to the halfway mark.  Then I turned the cooker on and dashed out the door, 15 minutes late to work.

That moment of panic turned out to be doubly awesome.  First, the house didn’t burn down.  Second, those carrots were completely delicious.  I mean they were the best part of the entire dish.  I’m not just saying that to justify what I did.  The lack of a house fire was justification enough for me.  I mean that the onions, garlic, and rendered chicken fat all turned those carrots into sweet and savory little flavor bombs.  I highly recommend adding carrots to this recipe, even if you’re already at the halfway mark on your crock or if it never occurred to you to worry about such a thing, you foolhardy, devil-may-care, ne’er-do-well, you.

Actually, it was triply awesome.  Baby J loved those carrots.

Panic carrots: one. Fire: zero.

Broccoli and salmon, in that order

Glazed Salmon with Spicy Broccoli

"This is my daughter, Dottie.  This is my other daughter, Dottie's sister."

“This is my daughter, Dottie. This is my other daughter, Dottie’s sister.”

This broccoli will haunt my dreams.  D and I were both very angry that there wasn’t more.  The glaze was nice on the salmon, but the broccoli was the real star of the show.  It’s just soy sauce, vegetable oil, rice vinegar, garlic, and some hot pepper flakes, but the combination is magic.  You’ve never been more excited to eat broccoli, trust me.  Oh, D did bump up the amount of garlic by half.  That couldn’t have hurt.  The best way I can try to explain how this broccoli tastes is that it tastes like really good Chinese food.  It is sweet, sour, and salty, but not greasy.

It’s an easy and quick recipe too.  D felt that the big problem with this recipe was that it calls for cooked brown rice in the ingredients list rather than giving you instructions on when to start the rice, how to cook it, and so on.  I’m of two minds about this one.  On one hand, we don’t need to be told how to cook rice, do we?  On the other hand, Everyday Food recipes are always giving the instructions on how to cook pasta.  Boiling pasta is arguably easier and more intuitive than cooking rice.  It is helpful to know if maybe you should start the rice first or take care of some other prep first.  All this is moot, however, because we used the instant brown rice from Aldi.  No recipe is going to include instructions on how to make instant rice.

Back to the real issue here: why am I not eating that broccoli right now?  This cup of tea, could it be filled with broccoli instead?  I think D and I will keep this recipe in mind, but probably just for the broccoli.

Snore-tellini

Cheese tortellini with broccoli, tomatoes, and garlic

zzzzzzzzzzzzz

zzzzzzzzzzzzz

This is another “Take Five” recipe and the five are:*

  • 3 T unsalted butter
  • 2 lb broccoli cut into florets
  • 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 lb frozen cheese tortellini
  • 3 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced

Sigh.  Here we have yet one more Everyday Food recipe for pasta with no sauce.  It’s not offensive.  It’s just not terribly interesting.  It’s just cheese tortellini with tomato bits, broccoli, and a little garlic action.  But what it lacks in interest, it makes up for in being super easy to make.  Sauté the garlic and the broccoli in the butter.  Boil the tortellini.  Toss the pasta with the garlic, broccoli, and tomatoes.  Something about reserved pasta water (over it).

*All recipe information adapted from Everyday Food issue #47 p. 140 November 2007 (not that you couldn’t have figured out how to make this from the picture.  I mean, really)

Nothing Says November Like… Acorn Squash

That’s right!  We are officially onto blogging about November!  And it’s still November!  This is a major accomplishment.  Be proud, be very proud.  We did this for you.  We want you to hear about glorious Christmas cookies and Holiday feasts in a timely manner.  You are welcome!

And now I am going to tell you all about acorn squash.  Acorn squash was the In Season highlight for the issue we chose, November 2007, no. 47.  I may have previously mentioned that I have a half bushel of acorn squash in my coat-closet-turned-pantry so this issue was an obvious selection for us.  The good news is that the rest of the issue is pretty awesome as well.

I started with Garlic-Crusted Pork Loin with Mashed Acorn Squash. I couldn’t find the recipe online so if you have the magazine, you can find it on pg. 34.

No, that is not a pork loin… It's another freakishly large pork chop.

No, that is not a pork loin… It’s another freakishly large pork chop.

So here’s the gist if you don’t have the magazine.

Ingredients:

Olive oil

4 garlic cloves

Pork loin roast (about 1 3/4 lbs) or as you see in the picture above a couple of decent sized pork chops

2 acorn squash

1/4 cup sour cream (the recipe calls for reduced-fat, but I try to go for the real thing where dairy is concerned unless it’s milk)

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

The idea in the original recipe is to cook everything at the same time in a 450 deg. oven.  Since I was using pork chops I assumed they wouldn’t take quite as long to cook because they aren’t as thick so I actually used to pans.  Prep the squash by cutting them in half lengthwise and scooping out the seeds (if you are a fan of roasted pumpkin seeds you can use these the same way).  Prep the meat by finely chopping the garlic.  If you have a garlic press, it makes this job much easier. Once the garlic is well chopped, sprinkle it with coarse salt and smear it with the side of a chefs knife until it forms a paste.  Then smear that paste along with some olive oil, salt and pepper on whatever meat you choose.  If you are doing the loin put that in the center of a baking sheet and arrange the squash cut side down around it.  Pop that into the oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

Since I did chops I started those on the stove on a medium heat while I put the squash in the oven.  After getting some color on both sides of the chop I added that to the oven as well and used a meat thermometer to make sure it was cooked through.  I timed it so the pork went in the oven when there was about 20 minutes left on the squash and the timing worked out pretty well that they both came out at the same time.

Once the squash is out you scoop it into a bowl with the sour cream and brown sugar and mash it all up.  Then you are ready to go!

This was an incredibly flavorful meal.  The garlic rub was incredible.  I am definitely going to use that method again.  The mashed acorn squash was subtle but really delicious as well.  I was thrilled with how these went together and I was so satisfied by the end of the meal.

I also made the Acorn Squash Bisque.

And of course, served it with grilled cheese!

And of course, served it with grilled cheese!

This was not only really simple, but so so so so so (imagine about 5 more so’s) good!  It’s like liquid autumn.  It tastes incredible.  The thyme goes so well with the squash.  It is also rich but not so rich that you can’t easily have seconds.  I highly recommend this one to anyone with a blender or food processor!

The only squash recipe that I wasn’t thrilled with was the Chili-Roasted Acorn Squash. When I say “wasn’t thrilled”, I mean “wasn’t blown away by”.  This recipe was still good, just not my style as much as the other two.

IMG_0826

The magazine claims that once the skin is roasted it becomes “soft and tasty”.  It does become soft.  And yes, it was edible.  I think “tasty” was a bit of a reach.  I didn’t love it.  There wasn’t much flavor overall, but it was faintly bitter.  Also the texture of the skin was a little annoying.  It wasn’t pleasant to chew through.  Unfortunately, since the squash was cut so small, it was difficult/messy to eat if you didn’t want to eat the skin.  It meant pealing each little piece before eating.  Not worth the effort.  I think if I want to achieve this flavor in the future, I would just leave the pieces as halves or quarters and scoop the flesh out of the skin as I went rather than take the time to cut into small pieces.

Now G is going to tell you about Wild Rice Stuffed Squash!

Yeah, I am!  G here, and here is my beautiful friend:

You can't tell me that doesn't look like November

You can’t tell me that doesn’t look like November

As the recipe is written, this is a vegetarian main dish.  But….you know me, I had to substitute.  In fact, there are a couple substitutions with this recipe.  The first is the wild rice mix.  I know what they meant.  They meant one of those boxed mixes with some brown rice, some white, some wild.  The recipe says this mixture will all cook together in 25 minutes on the stove.  Well, I only found this at the store:

insert rice gone wild joke here

insert rice gone wild joke here

That’s Minnesota “wild” rice.  Just the long, black grains.  The bag said it would take just under an hour to cook on the stove.  Shoot.  I had waited until there was about 25 minutes left for the squash to roast in the oven before starting the rice.  No time to wait for this stuff to cook.  So I followed the microwave directions and cooked my “wild” rice in 1 cup low sodium chicken broth and 1/2 cup water.  It took roughly a half hour to cook that way.  That’s yet another substitution.  I cooked the rice in a broth and water mixture because I wanted to add more flavor.

On to the bigger substitution.  I added a 1/2 lb ground turkey, browned, to the stuffing.  I browned it in the skillet immediately after the “shallot” (I substituted red onion…shoot!  That’s another substitution!), garlic, and sage were done sautéing.  I also added grated parmesan cheese to the top of the heap and browned it all together in a 350 degree oven for five minutes at the very end of cooking to bring the flavors together and the melt cheese.  I still think the stuffing flavor could have oozed down into the squash a little more.  The next time I make this, would undercook the squash a little and let it finish cooking with the stuffing inside it.  I think this recipe was more like squash with the side dish heaped inside than something truly stuffed.

One more substitution: I used dried cranberries instead of dried cherries.  Why?  Because I’m cheap and craisins are delicious.

This winds up being a very filling and delicious recipe, but I have a hard time imagining it without the turkey.  It really adds a lot.  Perfectly appropriate for a main dish once you make these changes.  I think otherwise it’s a side dish.  Sorry vegetarians!

Oh, and if you’re at all curious whether this is appropriate for a baby, I made one of the squash halves just for J.  I omitted the wild rice and the cranberries because they both seemed like potential choking hazards.  He really enjoyed this one.

J's is the top left

J’s is the top left

 

No, YOU make the lame pizzas!

Mini spinach and cheese pizzas

I'm no food critic, but I know what I hate.  And I don't hate this.

I’m no food critic, but I know what I hate. And I don’t hate this.

B and I fought over this one and not in a good way.  We both strongly believed that it was the least inspiring recipe in the entire issue.  I thought it looked like the kind of junk meal that I come up with when I’m feeling lazy and I need to use up a bunch of ingredients.  B theorized that it was in the issue because this is Lucinda Scala Quinn’s “feeling lazy” recipe.  I fell on my sword and made it, reluctantly.  It’s worse than that.  D made it for me.

But.  But!  We were wrong about these pizzas.  They aren’t mind-blowing, but they aren’t bad either.  I think D came up with the secret.  He added way more garlic.  The recipe calls for 1 clove of garlic crushed through a press.  That is combined with ricotta and oregano and spread on the split pitas before you top them with spinach and the mozzarella balls.  D probably added 3 cloves of garlic.  I knew I married that guy for a reason.  It made all the difference.  It took it from a bland pizza-like mass, to a garlicky pizza-like mass.  Will I make it again?  Probably not, but it wasn’t anything to dread.

This recipe, like pretty much all of the bocconcini recipes begs an important question, “Why do I need to buy these fussy little cheese balls?”  They are more expensive than buying a ball of fresh mozzarella, and they taste the same.  If you want to try one of these recipes, just buy a big ball of fresh mozzarella and cut it into cubes.  It’s not as picturesque, but neither is this recipe, if we’re being honest.