OMG, what’s that smell?

Reading a Facebook post the other morning from a friend who posted about a situation that I’ve experienced–something presumably a mouse, dying in the wall (and the resulting olfactory stimuli that pervade the environs),  brought to mind another olfactory experience….

cat checking fridge
just checkin’

Early morning. Open refrigerator door to get milk for morning café au lait. Pour milk.  Open fridge door, put milk back. Something finally filters through to the conscious level even without the coffee yet. OMG! What is that smell? What has died in there? 

Drink coffee, come back for second  round.  Pour milk, put milk back.  Have second cup of coffee.  Recheck fridge.  Drat!  I really did smell something that needs to go away urgently. Something smells weird in there and it’s not  in the league of things handled by baking soda.

One of my least favorite morning events–I’ve just discovered that, even though I’ve thought about it for several days and procrastinated, I now HAVE to clean out the fridge.

It seems that the fridge is the best (most accurate?) reflection of the general state of life in this household. There are areas of my home which are constantly disaster areas, not a big deal–they just are; but I know I’m in trouble when the fridge becomes one.

When I’ve been hassled, harried, beleaguered, and generally frenetic, that’s when the fridge gets out of control. Usually when it’s least convenient to have to pull everything out to find the culprit, but there’s no escaping it–I have to  do it NOW!

The current fridge situation, corresponds to the very noticeable, or notable, hiatus here (sounds better than just saying gap or hole).  For the last several months I’ve dealt with a Clostridium difficile infection that has really turned by life kind of kitty-wampus (not over yet, but improved). Fortunately, since I work at home as a freelance indexer and the one course that I was teaching at a local community college was online, I was able to keep on with those things.

Cooking was another matter altogether since I had absolutely no appetite. At the best of times I can be a pernickety eater (as I’ve said before I don’t deal well with “leftovers”), but add don’t-feel-well-but-must-eat, and that just fills up the fridge with all sorts of odds and ends.

The places in my home that are usually disaster areas, are still, and even more, disastrous, and I’ve added new ones–but most urgently it’s the fridge!  I have to get that sorted so that I can get back to normal cooking since I’m beginning to regain an interest in food (eating and not just reading cookbooks) and actually cooking.

So, into the depths of the fridge….

 

 

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Grilled cheese sandwiches

A grilled cheese sandwich is often a quick meal, and perhaps the ultimate in comfort food–with or without the tomato soup.  I love grilled cheese sandwiches and want to pass on this link for any of you who also love grilled cheese sandwiches.

It’s very easy to make a “plain” grilled cheese sandwich, but you can do so much more with them.  I found some wonderful suggestions at Spoon, Fork, Bacon. If you love grilled cheese here is a great place to find some exciting ideas.

Pork butt steaks

One of the frustrations of cooking just for me is that some of the cuts of meat that I like best are typically way too big!  For example, one of my favorites is pork butt (also known as Boston butt).  Note that this does not refer to the location of the cut on the hog–but to the way it was processed and cut in pre-revolutionary and revolutionary times in New England–it’s shoulder that was salted and packed in barrels (called butts).  History aside, it’s good eating no matter what you call it. Enough fat to be succulent, and great for BBQ–friends are always willing to help eat it, but that takes a long time to cook and it’s a LOT of meat, so I generally turn to other cuts.

I use  chops (both loin and shoulder) often. I mean, chops are wonderful–quick, tasty, good size for one, but they are not the only good part of the hog!  I’d rather have cuts other than the ubiquitous loin chops with so little fat that they can be dry if not cooked carefully–such as, a pork neck steak is great (even if hard to find).

Country Spare Ribs
country-style spare ribs

Most often I use country-style spare ribs (from the rib end of the loin), since these can be had in quantities suitable for one person–single-serving plus one for the freezer.  These work well for braised pork and cabbage, and in chilli con carne.

pork butt steak
pork butt steak

While skulking through the supermarket just the other day is was quite surprised to find a package of pork butt steaks lying there in the meat case. No hesitation on my part, they went right into my basket, and home with me, especially since they were on “manager’s special”, but not a problem since I was planning to cook them right away: maybe griddle one, and pop the others into the Romertopf after salting and seasoning with a little chilli powder and coriander.  No water needed to roast these in the Romertopf–but good broth when they come out.   I had one hot meal when they came out of the oven,  packed two more servings with broth for the freezer, and had some for the hot and sour soup.

Some good eating with very little effort on my part–and all very inexpensively!

For chocolate lovers….

I just have to share this post from Spoon, Fork, Bacon for Double Chocolate Pound Cake!  Pound cakes are my favorite in almost any flavor, but then add chocolate, and I’m likely to eat way more of this than I should. I’ve not made it yet, but it’s on for the weekend.

Hot & sour soup

Swanson hot and sour brothOccasionally  my curiosity gets the better of me while I’m meandering through the supermarket and I bring home something that I usually would not buy.  This time is was a box of Swanson’s Chinese Hot & Sour Flavor Infused Broth.  Usually the “flavor infused” would be a signal to walk on by. Since I do use Swanson’s chicken and beef broths and stocks, I stopped and looked at the ingredients. I was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t feel as if I were in the chemistry lab stockroom, so I bought it.

I do really like hot and sour soup–it’s my usual test of a Chinese restaurant–usually disappointing since my standard was set in Hong Kong!  I don’t see another trip to Hong Kong in the future, so I thought I’d try it.  My expectations were not really high as I opened the box and tasted it, but it was better than I’d thought–the hot and the sour were pretty well-balanced.  It’s main problem was that it tasted boxed–in other words, it needed some brightening up–like most boxed or canned stocks or broths.

Armed with my box of broth, I decided that although I wanted hot and sour flavor, I didn’t want to buy esoteric ingredients that I might not use again for a while just to try it out.  I thought maybe I could do something that was in the “spirit” of hot and sour soup with what I found in the fridge and pantry without a trip to the Asian market. So no tree ears or lily buds, and not even bamboo shoots.

vegetables on salad bar at Harris Teeter
prepared veggies

I found a basket of sliced mushrooms  in the fridge,  shelled edamame and collard greens in the freezer, water chestnuts in the pantry, and some rotisserie chicken and some pork in the fridge that needed given a re-do.  My only addition was a very large handful of julienned carrots (from the salad bar of my local Harris Teeter).

Since this was one of those OMG-I-don’t-have-time-to-cook occasions, I got out the rice cooker (cum slow-cooker) and added the hot and sour “flavor-infused” broth.  I sautéed  the mushrooms in just a bit of peanut oil until browned and gave the carrots a brief swish through the pan with the mushrooms, deglazed the skillet with a bit of the broth, and poured that into the slow-cooker. I added the edamame, collard greens, and the water chestnuts and set it for two hours.

When the collard greens and edamame were done (about 2 hours) I added the chicken and  pork  to heat through.  At the same time I added a piece of fresh ginger root and a small clove of garlic to “freshen” the flavors up a bit.

Obviously not a traditional hot and sour soup, but it was a good test of the “flavor infused” broth, and pretty tasty with the chicken and pork to add some richness, and the textural variety of the mushrooms, greens and water chestnuts.  A garnish  of green onions when served finished it off nicely. (I didn’t add the eggs, either.)

Verdict on the broth–not bad–actually much better than I expected– but if I’m going to make traditional real Chinese hot and sour soup (with tree ears and lily buds) I will start with my own stock–besides, I really like my hot and sour soup with pork. But if it’s just hot and sour I want, I might use another box of “flavor infused” broth!

A son goût!

Rice-cooker pasta with tomato sauce

Some days  a big serving of pasta with a simple tomato sauce is really necessary–it’s kind of attitude adjustment on a plate. On some of those days, it has to be really hands-off since I’m slaving at the computer with a deadline and just can’t be mucking about in the kitchen even though I want something to eat.

One of my favorite “comfort-food” sauces is the very simple one from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking–“Tomato Sauce with Onions and Butter” (p. 152).  Not even any garlic.

Krups rice cooker IMG_3796Even though it’s not complicated to make, I wanted it even easier since I had to meet indexing deadline.  I decided to try it in the rice cooker since that’s work well for other pasta dishes.  (I’m NOT kidding–you can cook  pasta in the rice cooker, been doing it ever since I first made mac ‘n’ cheese that way from the recipe that was included with the Krups rice cooker).  This is one where I don’t mind having “leftovers”.

Pasta with tomato sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 14.5 ounce (411 gm) can of diced tomatoes (no added salt)
  • 1 small onion, diced fine
  • 2 tablespoons of butter (also good with olive oil, if you want to avoid the butter–or for a change)
  • salt to taste
  • grated parmigiano-reggiano (for the table)
  • 100 grams pasta of your choice
  • 200 (about 1 cup or 250 mL) water.

Preparation

  • Microwave the onion with the butter until the onion is soft and translucent. eat
  • Add the onions, butter, tomatoes (undrained), salt, and pasta to the rice cooker.
  • Turn on rice cooker and continue working until you smell it–about 15 to 20 minutes, and with a little minor adjustment, it should be ready to eat.

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The Krups rice cooker (with slow-cooking and steaming functions as well) is not one of the fancy “fuzzy logic” ones.  Just simple physics of boiling water–it turns itself to warm when the temperature starts to rise when the water has been absorbed and the temperature goes above 212°F.  Simple–and easy to manipulate when you understand how it works.

For this rice cooker, the ratio of liquid to pasta needs to be 2.5:1 for al dente pasta. If it’s not quite there, just add about 1/2 cup more liquid and turn it back on.  When the rice cooker switches to warm function, the pasta will be fairly dry since this depends on all the liquid being absorbed.  If you’re hanging about in the kitchen, peek in about 15 minutes later and check the pasta and the consistency of the sauce. -

I usually  add a bit less liquid –maybe 50 mL short–let the cooker switch to warm, and then add just a bit more liquid, stirring the pasta, to thin the sauce a little, give it a few minutes to heat, and  then eat!

I used spaghetti for this, but broke it in half since full length won’t fit in the rice cooker.  So far this has worked for all the pasta types I’ve tried–penne, conchiglie, farfalle, fusilli, gemelli, macaroni, orzo, and, now spaghetti.  (I’ve only tried “flat” pasta (read “noodles”) once and that has been the only time the pasta stuck together, though that might have been lack of oil during the cooking–or the difference in flour and eggs in the pasta.

It may not be fancy, but….a son goût!

Popcorn….

For the most part I’ll pass on “snacks foods” except for popcorn! I love popcorn–not the microwave bags that come from the supermarket–but made from real popcorn kernels that come in a jar or a bag with nothing added.

Sriracha sauce bottles
“Rooster” sauce

I tend to sprinkle my popcorn with garlic powder, or chilli powder, or…whatever seems appropriate at the time.

While browsing the internet I found two “recipes” for popcorn that I thought I should share just in case there might be other popcorn lovers out there somewhere.

One of the staples in my kitchen is Sriracha sauce–never mind the Texas Pete or the Tabasco, but must have Sriracha around.  I’d not though of using it with my favorite snack of popcorn, so when I stumbled on a reference to that I just had to check it out.

One is for rosemary parmesan popcorn and the other for Sriracha popcorn, both from Taste Love & Nourish–from someone who is obviously a popcorn lover too.

chili garlic sauce
chili garlic sauce

Since I like garlic with my popcorn, I think I’ll try this with my other favorite condiment Chili Garlic (from the makers of Rooster sauce) though the consistency is different, but worth a try as well.

I think I’ll get out the chili garlic stuff and a paper bag–though I do have a microwave popcorn popper that you can use as a bowl, so I guess I dispense with the paper bag.

Now what do I want for a beverage with this one?

Trying a new recipe….

As much as I’ve talked about improvisation in the kitchen when you’re doing single-serving cooking, I do occasionally like to have a recipe, at least for starters.  Trying to cut a recipe serving six or eight to one-person size is really frustrating.  The major ingredients are not that hard to do–it’s the seasonings that are hardest.  You’ve a much smaller quantity so you do need to cut them, but usually NOT by the same proportions as the main ingredients, so I was excited to see that the editors at America’s Test Kitchen had come out with Cooking for Two 2013, in addition to the Cooking for Two 2011.

In perusing  these (Kindle editions), I though the recipes looked like a good starting place for single-serving cooking: many looked as if the second serving would freeze well, and that’s a bonus. (If you’ve read much at all here, you’ll know I don’t “do” leftovers, nor do I do the cook-one-thing-and-eat-it-all-week scene.) For me, having one serving to eat now, and one in the freezer is good. Other recipes looked as if I could prepare a single chop or chicken breast, with the full recipe, freeze that, and then just add the meat later after thawing the base.

One of the appealing things about the recipes in these books is that they are not terribly involved–like weeknight suppers, and not all-weekend cooking marathons–and shouldn’r leave you with a sink overflowing with dishes, pots and pans.  Definitely worth a try since I’ve always had good results with recipes from Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country.

When making a recipe for the first time, I do follow it–otherwise how would I know how I need to change it?  For my first exploration from the 2013 Cooking for Two I picked a dish that I though sounded tasty and fun, and that the second serving could be put in the freezer: “Moroccan-Style Quinoa with Chickpeas and Kale”.  I like quinoa, I like chickpeas, and kale so this seemed a good one to try.  I honestly did follow the recipe.  Really I did, despite some temptations to tweak the seasonings…like put in extra garlic–that sort of thing.

I’m going (since I’ve given you the attribution above) to reproduce the recipe here with a little adaptation (because I don’t want to key in the entire thing).  It was easy to follow, and –very little cleanup afterwards–all good points.

Moroccan-Style Quinoa with Chickpeas and Kale

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed (if not prewashed)
  • 1-1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 3/4 can of chickpeas, rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons golden raisins
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 ounces kale, stemmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest plus 1 teaspoon juice
  • 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions, carrot and cook until onion softens. Stir in garlic,  coriander, pepper flakes and cook until fragrant. Add quinoa and cook stirring often until lightly toasted.
  2. Stir in broth, chickpeas, raisins, 1/8 teaspoon salt.  Place kale (still wet from washing) on top and bring to a simmer.  Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until quinoa to  is transparent and tender (18 to 20) minutes.
  3. Off heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, pine nuts, lemon zest and juice. Sprinkle with feta, season as needed with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve.

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I’m likely to make this again, because it did go together easily, and cleaning up afterward was easy; but there will have to be some serious modification! The quinoa and chickpeas part of it is okay–except for being  very bland–and I really, honestly did follow the quantities given in the recipe so I’d know. Well, now I do!

I’m not really familiar with Moroccan style seasonings, but I don’t think that this was it.  Even with the added lemon zest and juice, garlic, red pepper flakes, raisins, and coriander, it’s definitely not even approaching complexity. It’s missing something.

Then there was the kale. The recipe didn’t say anything about what kind of kale.  When I went to the  market, I did look for Toscano (Lancinato, Nero) or Russian red kale, but I could find only the curly, redbor kale; I picked out the smallest, youngest looking leaves in the bin. But it still wasn’t what this dish needed–at least for me. The kale completely overwhelmed the flavor of the rest of the dish–I had kale flavored quinoa and chickpeas.  For me it  just did not fit with the quinoa and chickpeas.

I liked the idea of a one-dish meal (since it’s something I’ve posted about here a number of times), but I’ll not do it with that particular kale again.  I think I’m more likely to do spinach, or maybe arugula, though I might try it with Toscano or Lancinato kale, hoping that would be a bit milder.  (No pictures either–even with the smaller leaves, the kale was a rather icky green by the time it was tender.)

My other frustration with the recipe–supposedly for two–was that the servings were huge–I  have at least two more  servings sitting in the fridge now, even after having had a very reasonable portion for supper. Another piece of information for when I try another of the “for-two” recipes.

I know that when writing recipes public consumption, you do have to be moderate with seasonings, but this was downright bland, not something that I expect from recipes from this source–I’ll be looking out for that with other recipes. I guess I was expecting to taste and think that I’d need more garlic, or maybe more red pepper flakes next time, but I wasn’t expecting what I got from this.

You think I sound frustrated?

You’re right–because I have come to expect better from the recipes from American’s Test Kitchen–and now I have two more servings to try to make more palatable. I’ll try to add more seasoning when I reheat, but I don’t want the quinoa to be total mush.

I will do the quinoa and chickpeas combo again, but likely replacing the vegetable broth with at least part chicken broth, definitely increasing the coriander, red pepper, lemon juice and zest, and figuring out some other spices to add for more complexity–while trying to still keep it simple. (That’s my rationalization for going in search of a Moroccan cookbook now.)

Bottom line for me, it’s a starter–now to see where I can go with it. But, I’ll be trying another recipe from the book….but I’ll definitely feel free to make adjustments right from the start on a few things.

Most-used fry pan in the kitchen

Carbon Steel Fry Pans
carbon steel fry pan

Every cook has certain go-to pieces of kitchen equipment–whether it’s a favorite knife, or a particular pan. One of my particular favorite fry pans (or skillet, if you wish) is a  carbon steel fry pan. Mine is a Vollrath, but de Buyer also makes good ones.) It’s been with me for (literally) decades (though I’m not going to tell you the real numbers here).

It is a lot like cast iron–it must be seasoned before use, it doesn’t go in the dishwasher, and you don’t scrub it with a Brillo pad or soap, except maybe every decade or so. It can go into the oven, under the broiler, and be used at very high temperatures.

Why do I like it so much and use it so often?  Well, it has the advantages of cast iron without the weight of cast iron. Properly seasoned and treated with reasonable care, it’s nonstick–without the concerns of high temperature use, and it’s suitable for induction cooking, too. It’s not a really pretty thing–it’s discolored by frequent use since it’s usually the first fry pan I reach for, even though I have others–All-Clad and Calphalon–even one that is actually “nonstick”.

Occasionally you may get some stuck on food. To remove that use a salt scrub. The other “trick” to keeping it in good shape is to always dry it by putting it over heat, instead of just drying with a towel.

I have to admit that my carbon steel fry pan (the 9-3/8-inch one) finally reached the point where it was time to do a serious clean-up on it–lots of elbow grease, Brillo pads, and even oven/grill cleaner to take it back to where it started, and re-season it.  After curing it again, according to instructions is back in good form as my most used fry pan and ready for another few decades of good service.

Oat flour bread

While we’re experiencing some really serious winter weather for this part of the country, I couldn’t think of anything I would like better than the aroma and taste of some warm bread.

loaf of bread
oat-flour bread

I got out the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and made bread.  Because we’re having the possibility of power outages and wanted something that would be easy for sandwiches so I made the “Oat Flour Bread” from that book. (I’ve modified that recipe for a more artisan-like bread using barley or oat flour, too).

Here is the recipe for the sandwich-style oat flour bread (summarized from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day).  See the links above for summary of basic method.

Oat Four Bread (pp.104-105)

Ingredients

  • 3-1/4 cups of lukewarm water
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons salt (kosher)
  • 1 cup oat (or barley) flour
  • 5-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I always use King Arthur)
  • Neutral tasting fat for oiling pan. P

Preparation

This makes three 1-1/2-pound loaves.

  1. Mix liquid, yeast, and salt in bowl.
  2. Add flours.
  3. Cover (but not airtight) and let rise to double volume.
  4. The dough can be used immediately or stored in the refrigerator for up to ten days (actually up to 14 days) just pulling off what you want to bake right then.
  5. Lightly oil a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.
  6. Take a cantaloupe-size piece of dough and lightly flour surface and shape it into a ball or oval and drop into the pan.
  7. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  8. Let rest/rise for about 1 hour 40 minutes for refrigerated dough, or about 40 minutes for freshly made dough, until it has about doubled in size.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes or until nicely browned.
  10. If possible, let cool before cutting–that very seldom happens in my house unless I bake an extra loaf.
  11. If you want it really crusty then follow the procedure with a pan of water in the oven (links above).

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If you like bread but the time for baking doesn’t seem to fit into your schedule, then this technique is worth exploring. Since there is no kneading, and it takes 15 minutes to mix (and clean up) it makes it possible.  I like it for cooking for one since I can easily make a small loaf more often.

I’ve made the pumpernickel (with and without seeds), rye, basic white, brioche, olive oil, and have been pleased with all of them.  I don’t think that the flavor is quite as yeasty as a bread that goes through the traditional method of kneading and several proofings, but it’s as good or better (and much cheaper) than the usual grocery store bread–anything you’ll get short of going to a real artisan bakery.  Once you get started with it, you can modify to your taste, too.  The same authors also have a similar book for healthy and whole grain breads (bibliography).

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