Monday, September 28, 2009

The Party

About a month ago our next door neighbor started planning her husband's 40th birthday party... Kris offered my services. Really she offered everything from me preparing all of the food and billing them accordingly, to my advise, to anything in between. Our Neighbor said that she would appreciate the help would give us a call. A week before the party I she talked to Kris and said that she wanted me to make an appetizer, not just any appetizer but one that will go well with her main dish... Italian Beef Sandwiches. Ok, I thought, what goes well with Italian beef? I could come up with two things they are French Fries and Beer, this posed a little bit of a problem top that off with I would be out of town until 4 hours before the party began. My oldest daughter was going to her first Homecoming Dance and I had pictures to take.

So I began my plan, what really goes well with Italian Beef? Apart from fries and beer, a lot of people put hot or sweet peppers and mozzarella cheese on them, many sandwich places in the area also have the Italian Sausage and Beef Sandwich (heart attack on a bun) that are popular. That is almost the same a Pizza... well I think that you can see where I am going here. Giardiniera Pizza! The plan was simple I go to see my oldest girl dressed for the dance (take pictures) then spend an evening playing with my 10 year old. After a good night's sleep pick up some frozen Pizza Dough, let that proof in the trunk while I drive 3 hours home and I am ready to make pizza. Turns out that the small town that I went to didn't have Frozen Pizza Dough or French Bread Dough so I had to start from scratch it was the only way to go now. The pizza that I made had three parts to consider now; the dough, the sauce and the toppings...

The dough was simple once I got home I had to make a French Bread Dough, which I prefer for pizza anyway it consists of:

2 Cups All Purpose Flower
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp vinegar (I used Rice Wine Vinegar this time)
1 tsp dry active yeast
1/3 Cup water then up to 1/2 cup more

Start with 1/3 cup water that is about 105 degrees F add the Yeast to that and let it sit while you get everything else ready. Put the Flour and Salt in a mixing bowl then put the Water and Vinegar into a cup. After the Yeast/Water mixture starts to get a little foamy (about 5 minutes) poor it in with the Flour mixture, I used the dough hooks for my mixer while I did this, then add the water vinegar mixture to this. Once this is mixed well and pulls away from the side of the mixing bowl to form a ball you are done, give it a quick spray with vegetable oil, cover with a damp towel and set aside. Don't even look at it for an hour, it should double in size by then, when it has pound it down and let it sit for awhile longer. I was making two pizzas this day so I doubled the dough for this one.

The Second part of this recipe is the Sauce, because I was using Giardiniera for the main topping the sauce would have to balance the hot, tart mixture of peppers and vinegar. I decided to go with a Fire Roasted Tomato Sauce. On my way home I picked up a can of Fire Roasted Tomatoes (remember my time constraints) and a can of Tomato Paste I had the rest of the ingredients in my pantry the are:

1 15 oz can of Fire Roasted Tomatoes
2 TBLS Olive Oi
3 Cloves of Garlic Minced
1/4 tsp dried Oregano
1/4 tsp dried Basil
3/4 cup V-8 Juice
1/4 cup Red Wine
1/2 tsp Brown Sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste
about 1/3 of a can of Tomato Paste

Heat the Olive Oil in a 2 quart sauce pan until it starts to brown being careful not to burn it then add the tomatoes and let then hear up a little then add the rest of the ingredients. Keep on low for about an hour as they steep then set aside so that it is cool when it is time to make your pizza. I put this mixture into the blender for a couple of seconds to break it down some, you can if you like.

While the sauce is cooling I put 3 Italian Sausages (casings removed) in a skillet to cook. When they were almost done I put them into the blender (for only a few seconds) to chop them evenly. and set them aside.

Before I started preparing the pizzas I pored Giardinera into two Separate Strainers (one for Hot and one for Mild). While those were draining I rolled out my first Pizza Crust into about a 16 inch circle, it was pretty thin but easy to move, then I put in onto the charcoal grill and closed the lid, after about 6-7 minutes I turned the crust over and cooked on the other side (only for a couple of minutes the second time). While that was cooking I rolled out the other Crust and did the same. Once they are off the grill they are ready to top I put Olive Oil on the Hot crust then about 8-10 oz of sauce. The hot Pizza got about 1/3 of the Sausage and an entire Jar of Hot Giardinera then topped with cheese. The mild Pizza was topped with a little more sausage than the other and I only covered half of it with the mild Giardinera (apparently not everybody likes hot pickled vegetables). Then they were each topped with about 1/2 pound of Mozzarella Cheese and put back on the grill, it had cooled significantly by now so I added a little more charcoal and gave them some time to cook.

This was a good dish for the party that we went to, a sports themed Birthday party. This wasn't a dish for a black tie event by any means, but it was a lot of fun and I think enjoyed by all.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Apple Cider Chicken

It is the first full day of fall as I start this, I always get excited when this time of year comes around. Food seems to be more in touch with the earth, Carrots, Apples, Beets, Brussels Sprouts, Parsnips, the fruits and vegetables all seem warm and inviting. Since the weather took such a turn this week as fall came around I started to think of an inviting fall dinner meal. Before I went to bed last night I started a marinate for some chicken, it was:

3 TBS cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
some salt and pepper
1/2 Granny Smith Apple cut up (I ate the other half)
2 tsp Honey
some water, maybe 1/2 cup or so

I put two small Chicken Breasts in a covered dish to Marinate overnight. I know this sounds odd, but I spent quite a lot of time thinking about the marinate for this dish; is the cider vinegar too much? will this be too sour when I get home? On the way home from work the next day I picked up the rest of the ingredients, Parsnips, Carrots, Fresh Thyme and Apple Cider. As soon as I got home I pored off the marinate that I had the chicken in and pored about 1 cup of sweet apple cider on it while I started the rest of the meal. The Apple Cider sweetened it up a little and rounded out the flavors well.

I started to get the rest of the ingredients ready I diced one Parsnip, one large Carrot and one Granny Smith Apple; in a saute pan I heated up a little Olive Oil then put the parsnip and carrot in for about 5 minutes stirring often. When they were soft I added the diced up apple and cooked for a couple of minutes more. To add the Thyme to that I simply held the end of the branches one at a time and pulled my fingers down them pull the leaves off and into the pan. Once everything in the pan was tender I put it all aside under a foil tent while I cooked the chicken breasts. To do that I put a little olive oil into the same saute pan on medium-high heat for about three minutes on each side. While that was cooking I put 3 oz of Bourbon into a cup of Apple Cider. Bourbon and Apple Cider are so good together, I considered stopping there and making that my dinner, but I didn't; when the Chicken was done I put it on the same plate as the sauteed vegetables and used the mixture to deglaze the pan.

Deglazing a pan is simply the process of poring some liquid into the pan and using it to remove any of the brown bits of things that may be stuck to it while heating it up. This adds a depth of flavor to your meal that you can't get otherwise. To the deglazing liquid I added my sauteed Apples and Vegetables and cooked it all over high heat until the sauce was reduced by half. That is it, once the pan sauce is ready serve the Chicken then top it with vegetables and pan sauce. I garnished it with a couple more twigs of Thyme.
The ingredients for this are:
1 large Parsnip peeled and diced
1 Large carrot Peeled and diced
1 Granny Smith Apple diced
the leaves from about 5 Thyme branches
2 Chicken Breasts
1 cup Apple Cider mixed with 3 oz Bourbon.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Roast Beef Hash and Eggs

I am finding that I like a hearty breakfast more that I thought I did. I was off from my day job one day last week and wanted to have another bigger breakfast. Luckily a couple of days before Kris had made a Pot Roast in the slow cooker. That is one of the dishes that she prepares (instead of me) She has an established ratio of meat, to potatoes to liquid and other ingredients that works well. I think I have mentioned before that slow cooking isn't my thing anyway, I am far too much of a poker and worrier so I tend to open the slow cooker too often and check, which really defeats the slow cooking process, actually I have found it really kills the process. Luckily for me I cut this piece of meat a little too big so there was more leftover meat than potatoes, in our house the kids stop eating roast ofter the potatoes are gone.

I got up on Thursday morning and found a chunk of well seasoned, tender beef a little bigger than a computer mouse sitting in the refrigerator. I thought that hash would be perfect so I peeled and diced a large potato then put it into a pan to boil, while that was going I diced up an onion, minced a clove of garlic and tore the meat in shreds. This is such a simple dish (making it perfect for breakfast) once the potatoes are done (by done I mean cooked until they are just a little bit firm when you poke them) you are ready to go.

Melt 1 TBS butter in a pan, I used my iron skillet, something about that pan feels right for Hash Browns Then started the Onions and Garlic. Once they are done, the onions are translucent put in the diced up Potato and Saute until the potatoes are almost done to your taste. I like to cook them over high heat so they get a little crispy at the edges and stay soft in the middle. For the last few minutes put in the shredded meat and add some salt and pepper. Saute for about 5 minutes until the meat is hot, then turn off the heat and cover.

Cook your eggs in another pan and serve, I like my eggs really runny and set right on top.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Red Sauce or "The Garden" part III

Like it does every year fall comes around the nights get cooler and longer, the lawn needs to be raked more and mowed less and the coolest thing; anything that you planted in the garden is ready to be harvested, cooked and eaten! My garden experience this year was, for lack of better word "cute" apart from the upside down tomato plant I harvested about 1/2 cup of fresh basil and a 5 inch tall Oregano plant. Then there are the four Pumpkin plants that managed to strangle everything within ten feet of my postage stamp sized garden before producing a baseball sized pumpkin that died and fell off the vine a month ago.

With the last of my tomatoes and the fresh basil and oregano I had the makings for tomato sauce. If you are following this blog I promised my youngest daughter (she is 7) to make it when I bought the tomato plant and upside down planter in the spring. I had a few other successes with this tomato plant so it was time to pay the piper so to speak. So I picked the last of my Roma Tomatoes, clipped the Basil plant to the roots and pulled 4 branches of the Oregano to pull the leaves off. This is the most basic Marinara Sauce recipe you will need:

3TBS Olive Oil
3 cloves of fresh Garlic minced
1 small Onion
1 1/2 Pounds of Fresh Tomatoes (I supplemented mine with some from the store)
2 tsp Fresh Basil Chopped
2 tsp Fresh Oregano chopped
a pinch more dry Basil (I didn't think I had quite enough)
I /2 C red wine
sugar salt and pepper to taste
Begin by peeling the tomatoes the easiest way to do that is to put them into boiling water for about 30 seconds, pull them out and put them in a dish to cool a little then peel them with a paring knife it should come off without any resistance, cut the tomatoes in half and get the seeds out. I just grab what I can get with the tip of a knife and throw them away, the seeds are kind of bitter so I try to get most of them out, I can't get them all but I take what I can. Once the tomatoes are peeled and seeded set them in a bowl by the stove. You may want to cut them into smaller pieces now or wait a bit, you can decide any time.

Now we get to cook! put the Olive Oil in a Saute pan and put in the Onions and Garlic once they are translucent put in the Tomatoes followed by the rest of the ingredients... except for the salt pepper and sugar. Let these ingredients cook for about an hour in a stainless steel pan (aluminum pans tend to get a little weird when you cook tomatoes in them). When that time is up add the last ingredients Salt, Pepper and Sugar. You have to add a little at a time and decide when you have enough. My tomatoes were a little on the sweet side so I ended up with about 3/4 tsp of sugar. Start with just a little bit and add, remember that it is impossible to take it out. As for salt and pepper, you know what you like and can add it at the table so do what you know is appropriate.

Now you have a choice, for true Marinara sauce you might want to take your kitchen scissors and cut up any unwieldy chunks of tomato into bite sized pieces as you get close to the end of cooking. Since I am the only person in my house that likes chunky marinara sauce I put this into the blender and chopped it up pretty good. The Sauce will taste as good but the texture is a little different.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Spaghetti Squash

A few days ago one of my regular customers told me that she planted some spaghetti squash in her home garden, she expected about 9 0r 10 of them when the harvest came... buy the time they were done it turns out she had a harvest of about 50 of them which had, her husband and their 7 year old son threatining to move out if they had to eat spaghetti squash for one more meal. She brought some for me to share with my staff at work, which I did, after I got one for myself.

Spaghetti Squash is great for a side dish or center of a plate, in and of its self it doesn't have a lot of flavor which means that you can mix it with just about anything and it picks up very subtle flavors. We were actually pretty lucky when I cooked this time, I was making dinner for just the four of us, a couple pieces of chicken, some potatoes and the spaghetti squash. There was no way we were going to be able to eat it all, but some friends dropped by for a "few minutes" Which turned into a few hours (and a few drinks). Kris asked if they could stay for dinner which I was not only happy to do but excited by! Dinner went from a couple of pieces of chicken, potatoes and squash to a couple of pieces of chicken, potatoes, spaghetti squash, asparagus, hot dogs, hamburger and a ribeye steak that I had in the freezer door. My friend's kids surprised me because the 7 and 8 year old girls were fighting over the steak and the squash. It was funny to see.

Anyway the Spaghetti Squash is that I am talking about today, it was easy and tastes really good:

The squash has to cook for about an hour I cut it in half and cooked put it in a roasting pan with an inch of water and put that into a 350 degree oven for an hour. When that was done I set it aside to cool for a while until I could hold it again, then scraped out the meat into a sauce pan with melted clarified butter, well lets do the ingredients first:

1 TBS melted clarified butter
1 Clove fresh Garlic minced
1/2 spaghetti squash steamed in oven
1 1/2 TBS fresh Basil chopped
1/4 cup Shredded Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

first saute the garlic for a couple of minutes then toss the rest of the ingredients in a saute pan over high neat until the squash starts to caramelize bit then put it into a serving dish.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Basics "Simple Syrup"

I understand that all of us come from different backgrounds and I use Kitchen Language or technical terms that maybe not everyone is familiar with so I have composed this series of posts to show what I am saying. That way I don't have to reference Wikipedia when I use culinary language.

Simple Syrup comes up in a number of drink recipes and I use it in a few savory dishes too, curry mint glazed chicken breast comes to mind. Anyway simple syrup is... well simple to make. It is 1/2 sugar and 1/2 water melted down and mixed together. Put 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of sugar on the stove top on medium heat, when the sugar is completely melted it is done. This is a mint infused simple syrup I have used it a few times, as it heats up add about a TBL of mint leaves cut into a Chiffonade to the mixture. Then the liquid is pored through a strainer into the jar it will be kept in. I will keep simple syrup for 8 to 8 weeks in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Gas Grill

Ok I did it... finally I did it, I have been a Charcoal Grill person for years even a bit of a snob about it sometimes. Outside of the restaurants that I have worked at I haven't ever used a gas grill. I love the flavor that only charcoal or charwood can produce. Plus there is an almost primal component of setting things on fire that I like, there are no dials there is no "high, medium and low", to cool it down you close the lid (and cut down the oxygen) to get a little more heat open the top... there are also vents at the top and bottom of most grills that help with the temperature in smaller ways. Maybe you want it a little warmer or cooler, or move food to a hotter place or a cooler place to adjust cooking time/temperature. To smoke something you throw a handful of wet wood onto the coals. You really have to be in touch with what you are cooking, which I like.

A few weeks ago we went to Menard's to get some storage bins to put toys in, Kris wanted a few minutes to see what they had and the kiddos wanted to play a game called "Doors" regretfully I introduced the game a few years ago, it involves going to the door display of Menard's or Home Depot and making each set of display doors your home. Then while the other participants pretends to be bible sales person, political pundant or (my favorite) traveling anvil salesmen the other one becomes a grumpy home owner. I convinced my only son (3) to sell doors and windows to my youngest daughter (7) who would be at home and GRUMPY while I took a few minutes to look at the gas grills... they are clean, sleek and use descriptive terms like "BTUs," "two burner" and "optional refrigeration" I have to say some of them caught my eye like a sports car might.

A few minutes later Kris showed me the storage containers that she found and mentioned that we had made $50 selling a lawn vac on Craig's List. I have only turned on a lawn vac once to make sure it works before some guy picked it up, think if it as an internal combustion powered vacuum for the yard. I started to think "hey we sold that thing on Craig's List, I'll bet someone else is selling a grill right now." Here is that part when I mention all of my "reasons" for wanting a new cooking toy:

1. I am the only person living under my roof that likes to eat fish and the smell of it cooking... well I risk spending the weekend alone when I cook salmon while everyone I am related to might spends the weekend in a hotel.

2. it is almost winter, I live in the Chicago suburbs, lighting charcoal grill during an ice storm is uncomfortable at best.

3. I live in the suburbs.... SUBURBS

4. Did I mention cool descriptive words like "BTU" and "Two Burner"?

I started to look for a grill that night, Kris of course, found one the next day about a half an hour from our house using Mapquest directions which means really an hour to get there. So we started on the trek across miles of cornfield to another suburb to get the grill. Luckily the seller was not too time conscience and was great about helping us put the giant thing in the car. So far I have cooked a few things on the grill, I do have say that it is working well but is taking some getting used to.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Lamb Tajine

A couple of weeks ago I saw Lamb Shoulder on sale it was about $1.20 per pound, it was pretty close to the expiration date so I bought 2 pounds and put it right into the freezer. Oddly it was cut like steaks for the grill which would have been unusable because they would have been too tough, plus the silverskin and the little pieces of bone would have been unwieldy on any plate.

There are always issues when I cook lamb at my house I mean face it they are really cute and the rest of my house is against cooking and eating the cute creatures. I on the other hand blame God, I didn't make the cute fuzzy guys taste so good. When I cooked it this time I made a Tajine which is really the North African way to say Stew. I trimmed the shoulder of bones, silverskin,and most of the fat there was about a pound of meat left when I finished (I put the bones and some fat into the freezer to make stock later). Then heated up a couple of Tablespoons of Olive in deep iron skillet. I dredged the meat in flour and browned it with some garlic and onions then took it all out to deglaze the skillet with the Chicken Stock. Here are the ingredients that I used:

2 pounds of Lamb shoulder trimmed cut into 1" cubes
1 small Onion Diced
2 cloves of Garlic Minced
8 oz Chicken Stock
8 oz White Wine
2 small Parsnips Peeled and Diced
1 Apple Diced
1 6 oz can of Black Olives drained
8 oz of Chick Peas drained
3-4 slices of Preserved Lemon
1 tsp Turmeric
1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
8-10 dried Figs Quartered
After I deglazed the pan with about 1/2 the chicken stock I put the meat and onions back in with the rest of the chicken stock, white wine and the rest of the ingredients leaving the figs out for now. I turned the burner down to low heat and let it braze for most of two hours.

A little bit about me... this probably would have taken quite a bit less time if I weren't such a poker. I can't just put food on and ignore it, this dish should probably be stirred and checked every 20 minutes or so to make sure that the pan doesn't dry up and so you can judge when it is close to done so you can add the figs. I poke and taste and worry the entire time I slow cook anything, I can't even use a crock pot unless I will be gone for 8 hours or I spend all day checking it, completely defeating the purpose of using it. As this was starting to cook together I would check, ooh there is too much liquid, this is going to be too watery, oh the turnips aren't done enough yet do they have time, Oh there isn't enough liquid, should I add some more wine? Truth is if I had checked it 4 or five times while it cooked instead of 258 I wouldn't have had exactly the right amount of liquid and everything would have cooked just fine.

Anyway... after the Turnips are soft, the lamb is tender and the apples are completely mush add the Figs for the last 20 minutes or so. I love the flavors and color of this dish the Turmeric, Cayenne and Garlic work so well with these ingredients there is a little spice to it, but not too much, the sweet figs add such a nice touch and I love the surprise flavor from a preserved lemon when I bite into that.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ahh The Manhattan

The last couple of days have been days to remember... or hopefully, with the help of this drink... not. I had taken some time (and pictures) over the last few days (I took a four day weekend from that pesky day job) to put together some posts that I was excited by (you will see them soon) but the graphics card on my computer crashed. I called HP but they were more interested in selling me a new computer than helping me with my problem. That is fine, they need to make money too I suppose.

While I search for a compatible component (instead of a $1500 computer) I have a couple of ideas that I had planned to bring up soon. This one seems most appropriate now, the Manhattan. History suggests that the Manhattan was first made for Winston Churchill's Mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, at the Manhattan Club in New York. Though there is some argument over the proportions the classic Manhattan has Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth and Bitters usually garnished with a Maraschino Cherry. Mine are:

2 oz whiskey
1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
2-3 drops Angostrua Bitters A little bit goes a Looooong way

Poor into a Rocks Glass filled with Ice, I don't usually garnish this drink because I am so eager to consume it.

A friend of mine in Dublin Ohio used to cater a party for a couple that celebrated their switch from Martinis to Manhattans every Labor Day weekend. I have to say that it was a party for a good cause(drinking) they also celebrated the opposite switch on Memorial day each year I don't know much else about the semiannual events except for the fact that a lot of rich people drank way too much