Sunday, June 28, 2009

Zucchini and Squash Pasta (and some misses)

I must have been very hungry when I went through the latest issue of Simple and Delicious magazine. I usually find maybe one new recipe to try, but this time I found five or six to try. Strangely, many of the recipes involved beef. Perhaps I was having some kind of a protein deficiency and my body was screaming "BEEF!" just hoping my brain would hear. I cannot remember the last time I bought beef.

The first recipe was a roast beef, mushroom, and onion open faced sandwich. Anyone who knows me well is probably wondering how in the world this ended up on the menu. In addition to the beef abstinence, I dislike mushrooms and sandwiches. This recipe was doomed from the beginning. Brett however did not veto (as he usually would when it is so glaringly obvious that I will not like it) because he loves sandwiches and mushrooms, and does not have as strong of an aversion to beef as I do. It turned out ok. I ate a few bites before I had to start picking mushrooms off, and a few more before the sandwich aspect got to me. I'm crazy, I know. I can't even really explain why I don't like sandwiches, they just make me feel sick. The cheese was, predictably, the best part. The recipe went in the recycling.

The second recipe we tried was pizza hamburgers. This was only the second time I have ever made hamburgers and they completely fell apart on the grill pan. It was a disaster. They were so ugly that I didn't even bother taking a picture. They were edible, but not worth trying again. That recipe went in the recycling too.

They do say, "Third time's a charm," but it started off badly. The leftover ground beef from the burgers smelled and looked weird, but I decided to cook it anyway. After a few minutes, the smell of the beef had only worsened. Brett and I agreed that the best thing to do was get it out of the apartment. It's quite common to leave a certain spice or an insignificant ingredient out, but this time we left the beef out and... it was wonderful! I had some roasted zucchini, yellow squash, onion, and garlic that I mixed with a can of tomato sauce and some Italian seasoning. We poured it over some penne pasta and scarfed it down. Thank goodness! A recipe was saved from the recycling bin! I'm sure we'll see this one again sometime soon.

No more beef... for a while at least.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Chicken Enchiladas

It is rare to find a recipe worth trying in Glamour magazine, but that's where this one came from. Of course I changed a good deal of the recipe so it's more like it was inspired by a recipe found in Glamour magazine. The recipe called for red pepper, broccoli, and black beans and I didn't use any of them. I did substitute shredded chicken (leftover from my baked chicken) for the black beans though. I sauteed some onions and garlic in olive oil and then stirred in some chopped fresh cilantro, and a ridiculous amount of mozzarella cheese.

Probably the best advice I got from this recipe is to heat the corn tortillas in a dry non-stick pan until they are pretty hot. This prevents the tortillas from cracking when you add the filling and roll them up. I've always had so many problems with cracking tortillas that I didn't expect this trick to work, but it totally did! Only my first one cracked and that was because I didn't let it get hot enough.

Once the enchiladas were all rolled up, I poured a lot of Salsa Verde over the top and then put them in a 350 degree oven for fifteen minutes. So easy!

They tasted great. I do prefer red enchilada sauce to salsa verde, so the next time I make this I'll probably switch to red. I might even add some more cheese too :)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Peach Pie

The peaches at the grocery store have been smelling so good lately; I just had to do make something with them. As much as I love to bake, I had never made pie crust from scratch. I think that's because I had heard so many horror stories about bad crust and because Pillsbury makes it so easy. Brett's mom convinced me that it's not that hard and well worth it. I looked up a recipe for crust and peach pie in a few cookbooks and finally decided on Taste of Home's Baking Book. Although it was not encouraging to see half a page dedicated to "Problem Solving Pointers for Pies."

I made the filling first, which involved peeling seven peaches, and I am NOT a whiz with a paring knife. I tried the trick (that I read in two sources) of putting the peaches in boiling water for 20-30 seconds and then in an ice bath. This worked for two of the peaches: their peels slid right off; the other five were decidedly not ripe yet. Ugh. It took me quite a while to carve the peels off of those five guys and then quite a while longer to cut the flesh away from the pits. It was a total hack job and I was frustrated way before it was time to start the crust.

Surprisingly, the crust came together rather easily. I used my pastry blender to cut the shortening into the flour. I made sure not to over mix, and to allow some larger pieces of shortening to remain with some smaller pieces. I then formed it into two balls (this was a double crust pie) but I tried to do it quickly so that my warm hands would touch the dough the least amount of time possible. Then I had to roll it out, which was a little frustrating because the dough was quite sticky, but I managed to get it big enough in the end. As I put it into the pie plate, I realized that the edges were quite hideous and I declared that this might be the ugliest pie ever. After I trimmed and crimped the edges, however, it was not entirely ugly.

Then for the top crust, instead of doing a full crust with a few cut-outs, I opted to do a bunch of little cutouts. I saw this technique in Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook with stars on a Fourth of July pie. It was beautiful, so I decided to try it with flowers. My parents had bought me some mini cookie cutters (meant for fondant) for my birthday and I figured one of the little flowers would be perfect for this task. I think it looked beautiful!

After baking, I could tell that the fruit filling had gone super liquidy, but other than that, it looked great.

Cutting the pie was a bit of an ordeal because of the excess goo. When I pulled the first piece out all the goo from the surrounding pieces seeped down into the hole. And when I pulled the second piece out, a good portion of the filling slid off and had to be replaced by hand. This is the second fruit dessert in a row that has been ridiculously liquidy. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Now on to the crust! I thought it was great. I'm the kind of girl who usually leaves the edge of the pie on the plate, but it was not so with this one. Definitely better than Pillsbury. I'm not a pie connoisseur, so I don't know how flaky or light it is supposed to be, but it certainly met the standard I do have: yummy!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Man Who Ate Everything

I've been known to watch Iron Chef America on occasion, and I've always appreciated the brutal honesty of regular judge Jeffrey Steingarten. When they introduce him at the beginning of the show, they always mention his book, The Man Who Ate Everything, so I finally got around to reading it. It was hilarious, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys cooking or eating.

I love how it looks like he even ate the book cover!

He begins the book with a quest to rid himself of his (quite common) food phobias. He claims to hate Kimchi, anchovies, Greek food, anything with dill, and lots of other very normal things to hate. By what he calls exposure (and what I would call force feeding) he manages to conquer all of his food phobias and even grows to like some of those foods. I thought it would be fun to make a short list of some of my food phobias (believe me I could go on for a long time.)
1. Sushi- The texture, the seaweed, and worst of all the raw fish
2. Clams, Oysters, Scallops- For some reason, things that come in a seashell scare me. They are chewy, and there is almost always sand involved. (Except I love clam chowder.)
3. Raw meat (particularly chicken) - I'll eat it when it's cooked, but when it's raw, it grosses me out.
4. Tomatoes- I love salsa and ketchup, but put a slice of tomato in front of me and I just can't bring it to my mouth.
5. Mayonnaise- I could gag just thinking about trying to eat it. I always joked about having a Fear Factor for picky eaters, well I would be the one crying over eating a spoonful of mayo. If something has mayo in it, just don't tell me, and I'll probably like it.

Mr. Steingarten is very thorough (obsessive) in all of his food research. He spends months making bread into the wee hours of the night; he probably went though a thousand potatoes trying to perfect the preparation of mashing; and I'm sure he baked a hundred pies in search of a flawless crust. When he puts his mind to something, he buys two or three of the necessary equipment, all the cookbooks he can find, and lots and lots of ingredients. After reading his book, I have no doubt that he can call himself a food expert.

He reminded me of Brett at times, always doubting the latest study. Steingarten spent several chapters debunking diets, misconceptions about sugar, salt, and alcohol, and even exploring the hazards of salad. I suppose I can conclude that, in moderation, everything is ok. Of course Steingarten doesn't seem to know the meaning of moderation.

The best part was that I laughed through the entire book! If you're in need of a laugh, read The Man Who Ate Everything. (You just might learn something too.)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Mojo Style Broccoli and Potatoes

This past Memorial Day Brett, my mom, my cousin, and I all went out to an amazing dinner at The Melting Pot in Brea.  It's the second year in a row that we've eaten there, so I guess you could call it a tradition now.  The food there is wonderful, plus it has the added fun element of fondue.  For our main course we ordered "Mojo Style" cooking liquid.  Of the entire plate of various meats and big bowl of veggies they brought for us to cook, I probably raved the most about... the broccoli?!  I kid you not, the broccoli was delicious and didn't even taste like broccoli.

So fast forward three weeks and I was still thinking about the mojo broccoli, so I attempted to recreate it at home.  Recreating a fondue dish is easier than any ol' restaurant meal because they pretty much make it tableside and I got to see all of the ingredients going in.  I started with vegetable stock, added a few chopped garlic cloves, the juice of half an orange, the juice of a whole lime, and a handful of chopped cilantro.

I don't have a fondue set (Brett and I were rather conservative on our wedding registration) so I just combined everything in a saucepan and kept it on low heat.  I (mistakenly) kept the liquid just under a boil because I didn't remember the liquid at the restaurant ever boiling.  Brett said it was boiling just not rapidly and that perhaps their special cookware prevented it from bubbling.  Anyway, that is why it took much longer for me to cook the broccoli florets and red potato quarters than it did at the restaurant.  Also, the broccoli at the restaurant sunk to the bottom, whereas at home it floated.  I'm going to attribute this problem to the salinity of the vegetable stock.

Once I finally declared it done, it earned my seal of approval.  It was not anywhere near as good as The Melting Pot's version, but it was good enough to be a respectable imitation.  The potatoes never did get quite done, but I was tired of waiting, so we ate them "al dente."  I don't know if I will try this again; I'll leave it in the maybe category.  Maybe if I ever get a craving for broccoli...HA!

I love this picture for it's multiple meanings.  Is it
a) a VERY relaxed dinner at home
b) Brett's attitude toward broccoli
c) just plain unsanitary
d) all of the above

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Roasted Garlic and Lemon Chicken

I have now accomplished something that has been on my "to cook" list for quite some time: I roasted a whole chicken.  I realize that this is something that anyone can do, and most everyone has done before, but for me, this was quite a feat.

As many of you know, I hate raw meat.  Raw chicken in particular just makes me want to dry heave.  So how in the world I reached in that cavity and pulled out those giblets, I have no idea.  I felt like I was on Fear Factor.  I took deep breaths, reached in there, had no idea what kind of organs I was pulling out, and disposed of them in record time.  I tried not to look.  It was one of the grossest things I have ever done.  It made me seriously consider vegetarianism.

Then I had to salt and pepper the inside and outside, and cram lemon wedges, a whole head of garlic with the top cut off, and a fistful of fresh thyme up inside the bird.  I was supposed to tie the legs together with kitchen twine, but I didn't have any, so I briefly considered using a twisty tie before saying "forget it."  I was also supposed to tuck the wings up under the bird, but I felt like I was manhandling it, and I didn't want to hear any joints crack or pop, so I didn't do that either.  I brushed the whole thing with butter then put it in the oven.

Do you see that flap on the left? Was I supposed to cut that off?  I don't even want to know what it is.

An hour later, I used my (sad, neglected) meat thermometer and saw that the chicken needed to cook longer, so I let it go for another half hour, at which time, it came out slightly overdone.

I covered it with foil and let it rest for about ten minutes while I prepared the rest of the meal (I'll tell you about that soon.)

The chicken was tender and juicy and overall really good.  I was very proud of myself.  Now, I don't think it was better than the grocery store rotisserie chicken (which is about the same price, maybe less) so I think I'm going to check "bake a chicken" off my list and never worry about giblets again!

Saturday, June 6, 2009


I made hummus again this week for a lunchtime snack, which has become quite a regular thing around here.  Usually I spread it on pitas, but this week, I forgot to buy pitas so I was dipping carrot sticks into it.  I KNOW!  Me eating veggies- voluntarily!  Well, I must say that the hummus is so strong in flavor that I can't really even taste the carrots.  After a couple of days of carrots, I did get a little tired of them, so I decided to make some flatbread to spread the hummus on.

I used Bobby Flay's recipe on the Food Network website but I didn't really read ahead, I just started making it.  I did read far enough to see that it had to rest for an hour so at least I had the foresight to start making it at ten in the morning.  I mixed the yeast and what looked like A LOT of warm water, let that rest for about five minutes and then added half the flour gradually.  This was where it was supposed to rest for an hour " to form a sponge."  I'm not really sure what it was supposed to look like.  It had little air bubbles that sort of made it look like a sponge, but it was not even close to the same consistency.  

This was the first time ever that I've used my dough hook.  I usually just do these things by hand, but I thought I would give it a try.  With the mixer going, I added the salt, olive oil, and remaining flour.  It was pretty fun, but I think I let it go a little too long because it formed a ball and then a few seconds later turned to goo.  I added a little more flour to thicken it up and then I scraped it off onto a floured surface to knead it.  Needless to say, the dough was sticky.

Then I got to the part in the recipe where it has to rise for two and a half hours.  So much for the lunchtime snack.  After that I divided it into three balls and let them sit for another half hour.  Then I rolled them out and put them on silpats.

After 15 minutes of baking they were ready to eat. Finally!  It was four o'clock!  It pretty much just tasted like pizza dough, which I love, and for some bites I didn't even add any hummus.  It was delicious all by itself.  Well worth the wait.

Next time I may try to add some seasonings, we'll see.  Any suggestions?