Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Is it a pasta dish or a soup?

I think it is a little of column A and a little of column B as they say. I really love Italian bean soups like minestrone, pasta e fagioli, Tuscan white bean soup, etc...
But unfortunately my significant other is allergic to most white beans. Thankfully, he is not allergic to garbanzo beans/chickpeas. I pulled out a recipe from the Jamie's Italy book, first time using this book but it is very nice to look at. I sometimes like Jamie Oliver, but his show is really like trying to watch MTV with the jumpy editing. Anyhow, I decided to try pasta e ceci from said book.
Along with a fresh loaf of bread that I forgot to slash the top of prior to baking - a very crispy crust and fairly custardy crumb, so not a total disaster.
This was a pretty easy soup to make, especially since canned beans were allowed here. Just a bit of onion, garlic, celery, olive oil, and rosemary from the garden get sweated for a while on low heat. Then the beans are covered with some chicken/turkey stock and cooked a bit. I removed about half of the beans from the pot before blending with my stick blender, then re-added the beans and some salad macaroni (ditalini if you want to be fancy schmancy) & simmered until the pasta was done. This soup needs lots of seasoning, beans love salt. A little drizzle of oil over the top to finish, it was really nice. I think I will be revisiting this one before the "winter" is over.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


This week brought a repeat of my Best Soup Ever, broccoli and rice soup. It was welcome after this home-made macaroni and cheese which we ate Friday and Sunday for dinner.

I also discovered that not only plain boules and baguettes (and the ugly Pain d'Epi I made) can be made from the stored basic dough from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, but I can also put together a nice foccacia. This was great all by itself with olive oil, as well as the 2nd loaf with pasta & marinara sauce.

Lots of repeats and instant food this week, but looking to do something a bit different for soup night next Monday. Maybe Thai or Chinese style...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thursday Night Cocktail Snack

I thought I might throw out this simple hors d'oeuvre to keep with TNS First Thursday theme. This is my first time participating in this, I really wanted to do something different and adventurous. Well, then I remembered that this week is parent-teacher conference week, and Thursday was the designated "No Students" day, so I had a kid around the house who needed to type up his world explorers research project (Sir Walter Raleigh). Add to that the need to get to the store, and the quest for clear report covers (yay Staples!). That sort of put a damper on my hope for a really cool snack to go with an expertly made Manhattan.
Enter my notebooks full of clipped recipes that I never seem to make. I have them sorted, so went to the apps section and found this beauty from a 2006 Sunset Magazine (no, I'm not old, I just like Sunset). Garlic stuffed mushrooms, what's not to like? I bought some "stuffing mushrooms" at Trader Joe's which seem to be about halfway between a good portobello shroom and the little creminis. Worked great, they had really short stems, so there was not too much waste. Oh, and I only made a half batch because I was low on panko and TJ's seems to have discontinued theirs again. I love this because it is pretty much pantry ingredients - garlic (a LOT), cream, salt, panko and mushrooms. I cooked the garlic in the cream for about an hour until it got soft enough, then just mixed in the panko, stuffed the mushrooms and popped them in the oven.
Wow, these were really good! For the vast amount of garlic used, they were not strong at all, but very sweet and mellow. I would definitely make these again, they are less greasy than the usual sausage stuffed mushrooms. I wouldn't say healthier.. the heavy cream and all. And went well with the expertly prepared Manhattans.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A good Tofu recipe from Cooking Light

Flipping through a Cooking Light this weekend, I found an interesting recipe for Tofu with Red Pepper-Walnut sauce and thought I would give it a whirl. It had romesco (red pepper-walnut sauce) and panko fried tofu, what wasn't to love?
It was pretty simple too, although I took some liberties with the herbs. I hate buying basil, and more so in December as it just seems all wrong. I do have parsley, oregano and thyme growing in my garden, so I used those to make up the required herbs for the marinade.
The panko breading of course makes all things better. I must admit I did use just a bit more olive oil than the CL recipe called for, but sheesh how can you effectively brown in only 2 teaspoons of oil!!

The sauce was the winner here, thanks again to the immersion blender for making less cleanup - the leftover marinade, a jar of roasted red peppers, and a couple tablespoons of toasted walnut pieces. Lots of leftover sauce for bread tomorrow - hooray!!

This got a big thumbs up from the guys!

Lookie, I made Pain d'Epi!!

Not bad for the first try, not too retarded.

I'm sure that I made a French woman cry with this though, hehe.

Soup with a side of snark....

This week's installment of Soup Night comes courtesy of our favorite snark-master, Anthony Bourdain. Here's the recipe posted on Serious Eats, but I can highly recommend the Les Halles cookbook for many many things.
I didn't find a problem with the cooking time, and it is really simple as it gets - sweat a sliced onion. Add some mushrooms (12 oz). Don't brown the onions, but cook a bit more. Then add 4 cups of chicken stock and a sprig of parsley. Then just simmer this for an hour, then blend. Thank you, immersion blender for giving me 1 less thing to clean every time I make soup!!
I must admit that after blending I did add a swirl of cream, and probably added less sherry than called for, but the result was still spectacular.

I baked a quick loaf of bread early in the day, which I sliced up and slathered with garlic and olive oil. I grated some real-deal Parmesan on top - normally I buy Grana Padano but WF didn't have any so I splurged. At least it lasts a long time.

What a great Monday night meal, especially after the carb fest that was the holiday weekend.

How to get kids to eat cabbage!!

I love cabbage, and it's cheap and healthy. I made this braised cabbage, inspired by both the Amateur Gourmet and the same book that he has, Molly's braising book. I left out the carrots but kept the onions in. I was also a bit liberal with the crushed red pepper. It is so simple, just a bit of stock and some onions, along with seasonings, and in the oven it goes. I have served this twice now, this time I put some heat-n-eat turkey kielbasa on top of the cabbage for the last 20 minutes (after the foil comes off) . I'll stick to the first version I did a few weeks ago though: I cooked up some "Lincolnshire" sausages from the Tesco Fresh & Easy, a much better choice. Turkey kielbasa is just so meh. Not enough fat, which is what sausages are all about. Note to self: I have a grinder, need to get busy and use it!! 2nd note - the turkey kielbasa looks bad in this photo, doesn't it?

The cabbages come out all tender and melty, I just can't get enough. I had leftovers but as usual forgot all about them until they were past their prime. This is a "heavy rotation" meal, it's so simple and fits the "cheap ass" (thank you Thursday Night Smackdown) mold.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A big winner for Soup Night 2.0

In the 2nd weekly "Soup Night", it was suggested that I try a carrot soup. I picked this one from Serious Eats, used homemade chicken stock, whipped it up with an immersion blender.
Wow - it was really spectacular. While cooking, the little bit of turmeric turns the stock a beautiful yellow color, looks pretty with the orange carrots peeking through. Did I take a photo? Of course not... my battery was dead after our weekend of baseball. It smelled a bit like Indian food cooking. It turned out great, served with just a little green salad, some freshly baked bread, and a chicken liver pate crostini. I know, it didn't really match flavor-wise but I was experimenting with a recipe for New Year's.
One for the rotation for sure. Next up for Monday, cream of mushroom with extra snark.
Happy Turkey Day!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Soup Night

Even though the days are still hot and dry here in So Cal (and smoky, thanks to the flammability factor of our hillsides), I instituted Monday Night Soup Night this week. With all of the excesses of the weekend (junk food, mixed drinks, pizza, wine), I figure that Monday is a good day to step back and simplify. A nice soup, with homemade bread is a good way to start of the week. This week was a simple split pea soup. I adapted from Bittman, which has become my "go to" for recipes and methods for easy meals. I really just needed the ratio of stock (home made chicken this time) to dried peas. I started off by browning some already cubed pancetta (thanks Trader Joe's!) and removing for later. Then I sweated a small diced onion, and added the stock and the peas. I let this cook for about an hour (maybe a bit more as I was multitasking), then used the handy immersion blender on it. I used the pancetta as garnish, along with some easy salt & pepper croutons made from leftover bread. It got a huge thumbs up from the family, as did my plan for a weekly soup night.

Plus, my ulterior motive... it is more often than not healthy and, especially in this economy, cheap! I also threw in an extra soup night (found some ground beef in the freezer) this week and made Cincy style chili. This time with just cheese and cornbread, no spaghetti or raw onion..... Next up will be one of my dad's other soups, besides the best soup ever described here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Annoying, but her recipes do sometimes work

As annoying as RR is, some of her recipes actually work. I pulled this one off of the Food Network website a while back for pasta with pumpkin and sausage. If I remember correctly, our neighbor made it for us one night and told me where he got it. It's actually really good, and a fall favorite around here. I had everything ready to go and realized that I did not have fresh sage - something ate it early on from my herb garden - so I just used a palmful of dried. I also used water instead of chicken stock, and dry vermouth instead of wine (good enough for Julia, good enough for me). I just made a ton of stock 2 weeks ago, but I didn't have any thawed out at the moment.
It turned out great as always, but I forgot to take a picture (it's orange pasta with chunks of sausage in it, trust me). I'm just that kind of slacker right now. Being unemployed has made me uninspired to cook. But, the holidays are just around the corner and that means our annual New Year's Eve dinner with friends. Time to dust of the cookbooks and find something to make that will complement the fantastic wines that we have ready to go.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Is fall here yet?

I know in many parts of the country, Fall is not only here, but Winter is upon you. However, here in Southern California we have been experiencing hot and dry conditions, temperatures in the 80s and 90s. It doesn't really inspire a lot of cooking, so I have been revisiting a lot of favorites. I had big ideas at the beginning of October to make a dent in my 4 Mario Batali books. I made carbonara, which I have done before, and finally got around to the "2 minute Sicilian Lifeguard Calamari" from the Babbo cookbook. I used my grandma's marinara sauce instead of his though, even made a double batch for pasta a few days before.
This was truly a quick dish: the pine nuts, currants, capers, and red pepper are quickly sauteed in some oil, the sauce added, and then the squid goes in and cooks fairly fast. Add to that some par cooked Israeli couscous, and the dish comes together literally in the 2 minutes inferred by the title. The couscous was toothsome, and the calamari was perfectly cooked.
It was a touch spicy though, since the initial sauce already has some crushed red pepper in it I think I added a bit too much. I have been heating up the house just about every other day baking a loaf of the "Artisan Bread in 5" bread, but other than that, motivation is slow to come. But, I did roast a chicken and some egpplant & squash last night that restored my faith in things. Tonight, braised cabbage & Lincolnshire sausages, maybe I will make the cool weather come quicker~

Monday, October 6, 2008

coq au vin

I think Bourdain puts it best..... "like the very best dishes, this is one of those that goes on the stove looking, smelling and tasting pretty nasty". Yep, I pulled this bowl of marinating chicken & aromatics out of the fridge, took the plastic wrap of the top and went, "blech". It smelled and looked pretty bad. But, after all was said and done it tasted pretty darn good.
I used the Les Halles Cookbook recipe, except that I substituted some big fat leg quarters that I had in the freezer. In retrospect, I probably could have cut down on the marination time because of that.
After marinating them in some merlot/cab blend or another (drinkable, eh...), some chopped up aromats and a bouquet garni overnight, I browned the chicken (kind of hard to tell with the purply skin, lol) and the veggies, then added the marinating liquid back to the pot (yes, I thought about the germy implications of this .. but realized it would all be slowly simmering for the next hour or so), and then prepared the garniture...
Fancy, huh? Thick bacon (since for some reason slab bacon is impossible to find around here), mushrooms browned in the bacon fat, and some browned pearl onions. Yes, I cheated and did frozen pearl onions. Next time I will invite you over to peel fresh ones.
Some fresh wine was then reduced in the onion browning pan down to a syrup, then the strained cooking liquid and garniture were added. Wow, wow, wow. The sauce for this was great on its own! The chicken was just ok, blah grocery store chicken, a tad overcooked (my timing was a bit off), but the sauce was really great with some buttered noodles.
Although we would have preferred rice and maybe some crusty bread next time instead. I guess I just don't get buttered noodles as a vehicle for sauce, it doesn't work for me.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Return to an old favorite

Fall is almost in the air here in Southern California (it was 100 degrees for a few days this week, hopefully for the last time) and today it was only about 80 or so. Time to fire up the BBQ for Flank Steak with Coffee & Black Pepper Marinade from Gordon Hamersley's Bistro Cooking at Home.
I had forgotten how much I really love this cookbook. Of course I was reminded when looking through it the other day, many pages are dog eared and stained! I first made this back when we were living in a condo in Santa Clarita - grilling was often a challenge there because of the wind! I think we had a Weber back then. Now with our trusty combo grill/smoker, no problem at all!
This bit of flank steak (which turned out to be a LOT bigger than I thought) was marinated in a cup of espresso, dijon mustard, garlic, shallot, balsamic, dark brown sugar, salt & pepper. For exact measurements, buy the book! You won't regret it!
Grilled to perfection by the grillmaster of the house (rare for flank steak
bien sûr), accompanied by a bordeaux, some haricot verts and a nice salad we had a perfect bistro meal. Of course, we were having it in the living room watching the Dodger game!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Turkey cutlets Bolognese style

From the "Molto Italiano" cookbook, I made the Turkey Cutlets Bolognese Style the other night. Trader Joe's always has nice turkey cutlets at an excellent price. This recipe calls for a fresh truffle shaved over the top, which of course I left out. He specifically says not to use truffle oil, so I did without. I also skipped the breading this time. I didn't have any fresh bread for crumbs, and didn't want the crispness of panko for this dish. So I simply dredged the cutlets in seasoned flour, browned in a bit of butter, and then assembled the dish: a few curls of shaved parmesan on top of the cutlets, followed by a slice of prociutto, and then some asiago (he calls for pecorino toscano). I put this all in a 450 oven until the cheese was melted and the turkey was cooked through.

I really liked this preparation quite a bit. It was a lot like veal/chicken salimboca which I make a lot, without the sage and with a bit less frying. Not that there is anything wrong with that of course, but we are watching our fat & cholesterol intake around here a bit.
This was definitely a keeper, as leftovers were still very good - even cold!

Mmmmm, pizza!

I've been making the "Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day" boule dough in order to have fresh bread every couple of days. It has been awesome!! Although with one more blast of hot weather, I won't be putting the oven on at 450 or higher for a while.
One of the things that the book suggests (it was a gift for my birthday) is to use the dough for pizza, so I gave it a try. The oven needs to be preheated to at least 500, but preferably 550 - happily my oven does go that high! So, windows open, fans on, battery out of the smoke detector.. here goes.
I rolled the dough out as thinly as I could while the oven preheated, and just added a simple plain tomato sauce, some Italian herbs and crushed red pepper, and some shredded mozzarella cheese.

Then, into the hot oven for about 10 minutes or so. The dough puffed up a little bit more that I prefer, and didn't get quite as browned on the bottom, but it was still very very good.

I will definitely be doing this again. I think the key for next time will be to wait until the very last minute to work with the dough to get it thin & crisp.
One thing I do is use parchment paper instead of cornmeal on a peel - no worries about the dough sticking too much to the peel.
We also have a spare pizza stone for the BBQ, so that might be something to try also if we can get the grill hot enough.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Summer gratin

I love gratins, all kinds. So, when I saw this simple summer gratin in this month's Food & Wine, I had to give it a try. Alas, the eggplant and tomatoes were store bought (but local), but the zucchini was from our friends' garden and I baked the bread myself. Lots of garlicky olive oil is used to layer the veggies on top of the bread pieces, and all in the oven for about 40 minutes. The bread gets crispy (fried in the oil basically) on the bottom and juicy on top from all the vegetables.
We cleaned this dish, the flavors all really melded together well, the highlight being the crispy bread on the bottom. I hope to make it one more time with some more garden vegetables (hint, hint guys!).

Martinis revisited

A few posts ago I wrote about the beauty of a simple gin martini, with olives, and a splash of olive juice in the mix. I got a nice comment from Eric at American Mixers regarding their product, Dirty Sue Martini Mix, and would I like to give it a try. So I said yes, and he sent me some to try! It was very generous of him, looking over the product literature it seems like a perfect thing for dirty martinis, you don't have to use up all of your olive jar brine.

We gave it a whirl, with Bombay Sapphire gin, and I must say I enjoyed the flavor quite a bit. It was slightly salty so I might decrease it just a bit, but I really liked that it didn't have that bit of "greasiness" that sometimes olive jar brine has to it. It was very clean. I sometimes use vermouth in martinis (enough to coat the glass) but didn't this time. I am thinking that a touch of vermouth will also counter the saltiness of the brine.
I will definitely share this with my friends, thanks Eric!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Omnivore's Hundred

I came across this interesting post from a UK blog called Very Good Taste. Basically, it lists 100 things that an "omnivore" should try at least once. Here is my list, I italicized the things that I have tried before.... and changed the color of the things I would never really care to try in red. I think I did pretty good, I toe the line at insects, durian and the raw Scotch bonnet. There are only a few things I haven't tried (22 or so since Spago here in LAonly has 2 stars)

Fun post, links to definitions of some of the items....

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile -- hmm, does alligator count?
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp - possibly in Japan, but I am not so sure
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper - no way, too spicy
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi does Mango Lassi count? maybe...
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O - hehe... not sure I want to admit that one
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian - no thanks to this one for sure...
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse - in Japan, this is a delicacy apparently. We found out afterwards
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Friday, September 5, 2008

Tomatoes, yum!

I found myself with a lot of tomatoes this week, courtesy of our good friends Kate & Andy that have an awesome garden. A couple of their good sized tomatoes and some nice local romas that were a great deal at the market made a lovely tart. Inspired by this hilarious blog, I looked in the freezer and lo and behold! One lonely sheet of Trader Joe's puff pastry! Yay!
I sliced tomatoes while the pastry thawed, then just used tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil, some Maldon sea salt & some pepper. I didn't have goat cheese, so I used Boursin. A bit salty, but a nice flavor. Next time I'll use herbed goat cheese. Yum!
Went perfectly with impromptu "shrimp Louis" salad - just cooked shrimp (also a freezer find), salad mix, green onions, cucumbers and a dressing of mayo & chili sauce. Oh, and white wine of course :) Is it September already??

Mom's Gazpacho

My mom passed away a little over 2 years ago. Sunday would have been my parents' 40th wedding anniversary. This soup always makes me think of my mom. She used to make a big batch of it in a blue lard bucket with a tight fitting lid for us to take on picnics in the mountains. I made this last night, along with some yummy "deviled" chicken legs - basically just chicken legs rubbed with dijon mustard & rolled in panko, parmesan, salt, pepper & cayenne pepper. Oh yeah, and some butter :). Baked at 450 for 30 minutes, then cooled in the fridge, they went perfectly with this gazpacho. Wow, what a terrible photo! Oh well:
Note that this is not a traditional Spanish gazpacho (no bread, not blended), but my mom's special recipe. Sometimes I substitute cilantro for parsley, or half & half. My mom HATED cilantro though, so this time I made it just the way she did:

1 large (46 oz) bottle tomato juice (use PLAIN)
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
1 cup parsley, chopped
2 cups chicken stock (or to taste - depends on how thick you want the soup)
juice of 1 lemon

Mix everything together, season to taste with salt & pepper, maybe a hit of hot sauce. Refrigerate for as long as you can - serve it COLD (add ice cubes if needed)

I like to serve with a dollop of sour cream in the bowl.

It tastes like summer. Try it :)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

More fun with grains from the Flexitarian Table

Since we love the tofu dish on p. 126 (Tofu w/Lemon, Soy, White Wine & Butter Sauce), I paired it with the actual menu pairing: Quinoa Salad with Green Beans, Corn & Tomatoes.
Like it's predecessor, this makes a TON of this salad. I must admit that I took some shortcuts, frozen French green beans, frozen corn & cut up roma tomatoes are what I had when I decided to make this last minute. I had never used quinoa before, and I really loved the texture of it. I am not a huge couscous fan, especially "instant", and I think that I may use this grain as a couscous substitution when I can. It has a soft texture but still a nutty flavor, the combination with the sweet corn was great! This and the vegetables really picked up the lemon and olive oil dressing quite well. We really enjoyed this, but then had too many leftovers to finish and no time to do so. Next time I will make this for a crowd!

Labor day weekend was packed with a baseball tournament, we just had time to grill some frozen hamburgers last night before all falling asleep. Some holiday weekend, hehe.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Egg Foo Yung

I can't remember the last time I had egg foo yung. It was probably long ago in high school at any number of random Chinese AYCE buffets. I found a recipe in Food & Wine or Gourmet (I think) in the last few months that I though I would try. Full of fresh ingredients and with a home made gravy on the side, I thought it would be a winner. Shrimp, bean sprouts, scallions & mushrooms made up the veggies. I was out of oyster sauce so used a bit of Japanese okonomi sauce instead. I thought it turned out pretty good, although a bit bland - even the gravy was kind of meh. The 9 year old was not a big fan, though I tried to convince him by calling it a Chinese fritatta. Oh well.

Served alongside, I made Spicy Glazed Eggplant, from another issue of Gourmet. Basically just sauteed Asian eggplant (which I didn't have so used regular) to which is added a mixture of mirin, soy sauce, ginger and Japanese 7 spice powder.
All pantry items around here more or less. We really liked the flavor of this, next time I will use the Asian eggplant since it really cooks more tender than Italian eggplant. We had the leftover bulgur & roasted chickpeas as well, but it lost something in chilling, the chickpeas got sort of mushy after a day.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Martini

I know I am being picky, but the fact that a drink is served in a martini glass does not make it a martini. Every time we go to a bar or restaurant that has a "cocktail" menu, there are pages of fruity concoctions that call themselves -tinis. Now, the Seagram's Bartending Guide lists exactly ONE Martini in it's pages. It has gin and vermouth (far too much) shaken in ice and strained into a glass with olives. So, if you are a well meaning waitress that asks me "what kind of martini", I am sorry that I was snooty and said "a normal one".
Scott's Seafood across from the South Coast Plaza makes an outstanding dirty martini. I also happen to make a good martini. This on the authority of several people including my husband and his late grandfather who may have been an authority on such.
SO, here is what I do when the need arises, as it did last night, for a good martini.
Serves 2.
8 olives (4 each, skewered on toothpick or cute olive picks like mine), keep the jar out for the juice - see below
Gin, preferably Bombay Sapphire, or The Blue Ruin as it is called around here
Dry Vermouth
2 martini glasses
cocktail "Boston" shaker & strainer

Put some vermouth in each glass, swirl around & put the glasses in the fridge (if the vermouth isn't cold because you don't always have some in the fridge, add some ice too)
Fill the shaker halfway with ice cubes. Add 4 big glugs of Gin (I suppose you could measure...4 or so ounces for 2 drinks) and just a splash of olive juice, maybe about 1/2 oz)
Shake around a bit
Remember those glasses in the fridge? Get them out, swirl the vermouth around, and then dump it out -- yes... you read that correctly. Maybe a tiny tiny bit for the shaker (less than the olive juice)
Strain the chilled gin into the chilled glasses over the olives.
That is civilized, isn't it? Not a drop of pomegranite juice or apple pucker in sight!

Back to it....

After a relaxing weekend, we are ramping up for school starting (yes, 2 days of school followed by a 3 day weekend... great planning). The schedule has calmed down a bit this week, I have a minute to find some new things to work on. Back to the Flexitarian Kitchen then. I had tabbed a few Spring section things and never made them so here goes:
Bulgur with Roasted Chickpeas, Red Onion & Lemon:
This recipe is full of simple pantry items: spices (cumin seed, cayenne, smoked Spanish paprika, turmeric), red onion, canned chickpeas, lemon juice, oil or butter (I opted for oil). The roasting of the onions & chickpeas with the spices really adds a nice curry flavor to them. I had not cooked with bulgur before and I really enjoyed it, probably more than couscous (which you can substitute). The recipe makes a TON, way more than for 4 I think.

I served it with the Smoked Salmon Croque Monsieur. But, I used my electric panini grill rather than a griddle and a heavy pan on top. I did butter the bread and grill to add a bit more brown-ness (the nonstick panini grill doesn't actually brown that well without a little help). Basically just a smoked salmon & gruyere panini... with addition of a little lemon zest & chives with grainy mustard on the salmon side. We really liked this (used TJ's whole grain artisan loaf, worked quite well) and it made us think of other things for the panini press (again... we hadn't used it in a while). Peppered smoked salmon with maybe red onion relish.. kind of like a salmon reuben? Maybe next time. I really loved this. Luckily I have leftover salmon, bread and cheese.... lunch later in the week after the kid goes back to school!! Today I promised him noodles at the Mitsuwa Market food court. More overdue clipped magazine recipes this week....

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Still here....

A quick update... we've been pretty busy with baseball (both the travel team and the local minor league team) and getting ready for the school year to start, so I've been making a few repeats (brined pork chops) and easy instant stuff (Ikea meatballs & roasted potatoes). With a few ballpark hot dogs and soccer stadium nachos thrown in for variety.... But now that soccer season (Chivas USA) is about done, OC Flyers baseball is winding down, and school is ready to start, we will hopefully be back to a normal dinner routine. I have 2 new cookbooks (free, I only had to pay shipping, couldn't pass that up!!: The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy and Mario Batali's Italian Grill)

Sunday I brought home a package of cooked lobster claws and 3 lbs of clams home from Costco for our dinner, we had a 1996 Chassagne-Montrachet to drink in celebration of our 12th wedding anniversary. Clams went into the pot with a bottle of inexpensive but drinkable Pinot Gris, about 2/3 stick of butter, a sliced lemon, 4 smashed garlic cloves and a big pinch of red pepper flakes. We ate the lobster claws cold with lemony clarified butter. Some nice demi-baguettes rounded out the meal. I was outvoted on a salad, we made a good mess on the outside tablecloth. It was fun, we debated about music and the Dodgers while getting messy with shellfish. I forgot to take a photo of the spread either before or after, there was quite a bit of carnage. A great way to end the weekend.

Monday I made a different tofu recipe from the Flexitarian cookbook - roasted tofu with lemon & thyme. I was a bit short of lemons so left of the slices. It was sort of meh, kind of dry. We all like the "other" version better (I posted on it before, with soy/butter/ginger/shallot sauce).

Last night was brined pork chops, also posted previously. It is just amazing to me how brining makes even blah supermarket pork chops very tasty.

Tonight & tomorrow bring more repeats, fritatta & chicken/sage bake without sausage this time.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Leftover basil

I do own a Cuisinart, but there was really something kind of fun about crushing garlic & basil into pesto with a mortar & pestle.

I had some leftover basil from a caprese salad from the night before, so I immediately thought I would make pesto. I left out the pine nuts, mine seemed kind of rancid. I also didn't add much cheese, so it was probably more like pistou (Provencal style) than pesto. It was a perfect light supper for 2, since our son was away. The basil, organic from Whole Foods, almost had a minty quality, it was nice & earthy, not overpowering at all. A glass of crisp white wine (Pinot Gris I think) rounded out the meal.

It was hard work, but definitely worth it.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Parent's night out

We were more or less kid-less for nearly a week and boy do we know how to party! Saturday, we thought about going to a movie but did you know that it costs nearly $12? Considering that we have the full HD setup (no Blue Ray yet...), and can buy a movie when it comes out for less than $20.... Saturday night found us playing Daytona, Skee-ball and Flip-it games at Dave & Busters. 4 plastic pint glasses were purchased with our winnings, and many drinks and bar snacks were had.

Sunday brought the troupe back over to our house for birthday BBQ (see previous post), and Monday was a Double Header night for the OC Flyers, our local independent baseball team. Good, cheap fun, I think tickets start at $5. Yes, we really do love baseball. In fact just this past weekend we were in Fresno and saw the Grizzlies (AAA team for the Giants) and will be back at the Flyers tomorrow night.

Since I have community band on Wednesday, we decided Tuesday would be fine dining night. We really didn't have a restaurant vibe though. So, hubby went to our offsite wine storage to pick up something special and I was off to Whole Paycheck. I returned with a baguette, baby carrots, basil, burratta cheese and 2 fantastic veal chops. The basil & burratta went perfectly with some heirloom tomatoes grown by our friends Kate & Andy (who by the way gave me a volunteer plant that they had put in a pot - I really hope I don't kill it!). All we needed was olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic. We spread the salad onto a baguette and enjoyed what may be the last 1996 white burgundy wine in our cellar. After that, we decanted a 1997 Silver Oak Napa, and made pan roasted veal chops and carrots. The veal chops were awesome, the wine was really drinking well. All this cost a fraction of what we would have spent in a restaurant and was simple to prepare and to clean up.

I have a strange kid

For the occasion of my son's 10th birthday, I suggested that we do white BBQ chicken. He immediately said "YES" and bowed down to my cooking greatness. What kid gets all freaky about BBQ chicken and specifically white BBQ chicken? Indeed, if said kid is not from Decatur, Alabama, chances are they have never even heard of it! Funny thing is, the Grillmaster has more work on this recipe than I do!
This recipe comes from a place called Big Bob Gibson's and the sauce recipe is widely available in cookbooks, on the web, etc. Its' not really a secret. We tried it last summer, I was totally skeptical but it is really really awesome.

The chicken (I used whole legs instead of split chickens) gets salted & peppered, then cooked over indirect heat until mahogany, basting once with fat (lard, butter, oil, whatever - we used melted butter) . This takes 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, we should have started earlier but it was ok, everyone was still happy.

Once done, they are doused in a sauce of basically mayo, cider vinegar, horseradish, salt, black pepper & cayenne pepper. You can also make a batch of the sauce to mix with cabbage for coleslaw (not pictured), which is what I did. I think the good folks at The Shack By The Track may do this as well, because the slaw tasted remarkably similar.

My in-laws, my nephew, and the Grillmaster's Australian grandmother loved this. There was not a bite left, and the dish was pronounced the best chicken ever by all. There was room for dessert, a (yes, from the box) yellow cake with chocolate frosting, appropriately decorated with birthday candles.

Take that, Pinkberry!

I made the exceedingly simple frozen yogurt from David Lebovitz's "The Perfect Scoop", basically plain yogurt, vanilla & sugar frozen in an ice cream maker. Nice and tart, this goes great with some frozen blueberries (leftover from a Coscto package). Mmmmm summery goodness!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Comfort Food & a little rant about Costco chicken

Nothing is as comforting as roast chicken, even in summer. I thawed out some huge chicken breasts (bone in, skin on) from Costco and roasted them the other night after a quick browning of the skin. Served with a little chili vinegar made in the browning pan, quite nice. Salad & green beans (as always) rounded out this meal, along with some embarrassingly cheap Pinot Gris from Fresh & Easy that I kind of liked. Unfortunately the best part was the skin. These breasts were so darn big that once they were done at the bone, they were kind of overcooked. But still tasty and perfect for eating outside.

Which brings me to my short rant -- for some reason Costco carries the hugest chicken breasts & thighs available to man. 3 of them barely fit in the pan, and whenever I get the thighs they are always too big for whatever braise I am doing. Even the boneless/skinless/tasteless breasts are too big & I have to butterfly them. The only thing worth buying is the wings I think. I know, I just need to get over it and spend the extra money on organic no hormones normal sized chicken, but unfortunately in this economy our priorities lie outside of the spectrum of shopping at Whole Paycheck. Luckily I have found excellent whole leg pieces at a great price at Fresh & Easy (Tesco's new US venture), I think less than $1.00/lb. Those will be making a special appearance on Sunday for Alabama white BBQ chicken - stay tuned - I'm even going to bake!

Friday, July 18, 2008

BBQ in Georgia

We visited friends this last weekend in Jacksonville Florida. Despite the high temperature & humidity, we had a great time. We saw a lot of minor league baseball: Jacksonville Suns (Dodgers AA) and Savannah Sand Gnats (Mets Low A). And we ate a lot of great food, from huge stadium hot dogs to local BBQ joints (Toby's in Jax) to little old school cafeteria (Carey Hilliard's in Savannah) to even the Cracker Barrel. Unfortunately Beach Road Chicken Dinners was closed on Monday so we didn't make it there.
The standout of the trip found us driving on a 7 mile long dirt road as the best way to get there - to the little piece of Georgia that dips down into the top of Florida - St. George, GA and The Shack By The Track.
The Grillmaster had serious pit envy - the door to the cooker came up & down with a garage door opener!We shared an order of ribs and an order of pulled pork between the 3 of us, and there was more than enough food. Sides of coleslaw, potato salad & beans, plus the yellowy white bread (I think the brand is Sunbeam, a local brand). The ribs were fall off the bone tender, the sauce was nice & not overwhelming at all. The pulled pork was fantastic (there was some of it in the beans too^^), especially combined on the bread with a bit of the coleslaw (which was really great - it had a flavor that I need to figure out, but I think it was the mustard). The much lauded homemade potato salad was not bad, although I still prefer my mother-in-law's.
We really wanted to go back here, but they are only open 3 days a week and with a double header on Saturday, we missed our chance.
Can't wait to get back -- bonus: the t-shirt we bought says "Get your butts here", heehee I'm 12.
The other side of the Shack serves ice cream, so we had to leave room for a hot fudge sundae.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A huge hot dog!

For a mere $15 or so at the Historic Grayson Stadium on the south side of Savannah Georgia, you can buy a baseball ticket - general admission in this awesome old shade covered bleacher area seen here-
, a coke and a REAL footlong hot dog - it was about an inch thick too, we should have added something to the picture for scale. The Sand Gnats play there, they are the low A affiliate of the NY Mets. We had a fantastic time, they won the game and had a fun mascot. Andrew & Anthony even got to do one of those zany minor league between inning games (home run tball derby). Minor league baseball rocks!!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Yakitori at home

I bought my husband this cool little Japanese table grill for Father's Day/Birthday a few years ago:
It takes the binchotan charcoal sticks from Japan, they get very very hot. We had only used it once (because the charcoal is kind of a pain to light and the cooking surface is pretty small) and decided we were way overdue.

So, off to the Japanese market we went for pork belly, yakitori sauce, veggies
(eggplant & shitake mushroom)
and hamachi-kama (yellowtail collar) which I did under the broiler:We found some mochi dango (little mochi balls covered in this sweet sauce) too, that we will pop on the grill just to warm them for dessert. Oh, and did I mention beer & sake??

I already had some chicken wings, so I made the Spicy Grilled Chicken Wings with Lemon & Garlic from "A Flexitarian Table" to cook up. I made these before and they were literally inhaled by kids before I could take a photo. The combination of ginger, garlic, soy, lemon & jalapeno pepper (courtesy of our friends' garden!) really give these an awesome flavor. I left out the rosemary this time.
They didn't have the sliced pork belly that we usually buy, so I had to improvise & slice myself into skewerable pieces. And now I know where to buy smallish pieces of pork belly to make into bacon and pancetta!!
Unfortunately the little grill didn't work out as planned (the charcoal didn't want to stay lit) so we used our regular grill. It was all still delicious, even an hour late.