Pizza Party: Painter’s Wild Mushroom Ricotta Focaccia

I’ve been trying to cook a lot more, so you probably won’t be seeing as many Bonus Food Pics on here, but we do tend to get around on the weekend to a few places. At around 3:00PM last Saturday, we headed over to the wonderful Painter’s in Cornwall. Thanks to the hour, we got there before the lunch menu turned into the dinner menu and were able to nosh on a smaller portion of their epic nachos and then a few of their focaccia pizzas. I went with the Wild Mushroom Ricotta one which also included caramelized onions, spinach, truffle oil and smoked Gouda. This was a darn good pizza (I almost said pie, but I guess that’s not really appropriate). I don’t think I’ve ever had Gouda on a pizza, but it was a wonderful addition I’d like to experiment with in my own pizza making. The flavor combinations were great and tasted as good the next day when I ate it for breakfast.

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Wok This Way: Velvet Chicken With Asparagus

One Monday I found myself in a bit of a cooking jam. I hadn’t gotten to the store for some reason, but knew that I had chicken breasts in the freezer and asparagus in the fridge, so I looked to Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge and came across the recipe for Velvet Chicken With Asparagus (page 128). It was a match made in stir-fry heaven!

As I’ve said in previous Wok This Way posts, most of the real work when it comes to woking out is getting all the prep work done in advance. I chopped up the chicken I had into squares and then mixed it in a bowl with cornstarch, dry sherry, and salt. I set that aside and then split and boiled the asparagus. Instead of chopping, I just used the green’s natural breaking points and snapped them with my hands. After that, I boiled the chicken, which is something I’m still getting used to, but seems to work out pretty well.

With all that out of the way, I finally figured out that I could set up the ingredients in order of their introduction to the wok and that would make things more efficient. Nothing in this recipe cooks for more than a minute before introducing the next, so this is a good way to set things up, I hope I remember it in the future. The garlic and ginger went in first followed quickly by asparagus and then the chicken. That was followed by another mixture I forgot to mention which included broth, pepper, dry sherry and cornstarch. All that got stir-fried and was served on rice, which I started at the beginning of the process.

Like everything else I’ve made with the wok and from that cookbook, this was another winner. The flavors weren’t huge, but it was a nice meal on a warm day that didn’t get me too sweaty in the kitchen. Those are both things I’m very appreciative for.

Bonus Food Pic: Mama Theresa’s Napolitano Sub

In addition to making killer pizza, Mama Theresa’s also knows how to make a mean sub. Every now and then, when I don’t feel like cooking and we don’t want anything too complicated, but still want to avoid fast feed, we break out the Mama Theresa’s menu and each pick out a sandwich. This here is the Napolitano which includes prosciutto, sopressata, ham, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, lettuce, tomato and Italian dressing. It’s a tasty combination and since I’ve been to their other store, I know that this stuff is legit.

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Couscous-Stuffed Peppers With Basil Sauce

With the weather much nicer last week, I thought it would be nice to eat some lighter food. I went looking around FoodNetwork.com and came across Giada De Laurentiis’ Couscous-Stuffed Peppers With Basil Sauce. It was a great decision. I only went with a very few changes because I wanted to make sure I got it right. Instead of normal couscous, I used the Israeli variety which I’d never worked with before. I think I might have also used vegetable broth instead of chicken, but it’s been a few days and I can’t tell from the shot I took measuring it out. Ah well, not a big deal.

I first set the oven to 400, got the couscous going, boiling the broth with cumin and then adding in the couscous. I wasn’t really sure how that that was going, so I wound up letting it cook longer than normal with results I wound up liking. Anyway, while that went on, I threw together the sauce (whose ingredients aren’t pictured) and then got the filling ready which was pretty simple. Once the couscous was done I added that in with the rest of the filling. At some point, I cut the tops off the peppers and then cleaned them out.

With everything ready, I put the peppers in a baking dish, added the water to the bottom and then distributed the filling amongst the edible containers. That went into the oven for almost an hour and dinner was served! By cooking the couscous longer, some of it got a little burnt and it actually tasted really great. It reminded me of an episode of No Reservations I saw where Tony was in a Middle Eastern country (I think) and one of the guys he was talking to cooked in a giant pot and said that burning parts of the food is actually important to their cooking process. That seemed to really benefit this meal and made an interesting counterpart to the feta and spinach.

I’ve made traditional stuffed peppers with ground beef, but I actually think this recipe might be more prominent in the rotation!

Cooking A Potage Of Yellow Split Peas

This recipe is based on the Potage of Lentils recipe from The Ultimate Soup Bible (page 208), which I didn’t intend to put a spin on, but I mistakenly thought I had lentils in my pantry when instead I had yellow split peas. After I realized I goofed up a bit, I figured I’d give the whole thing a shot with the yellow split peas and you know what? It turned out pretty good.

Like a lot of soups, this one was mostly prep followed by putting things in the pot in the right order. I started off chopping up celery carrots, garlic and potato even though chopped onions were the first thing that actually went into the hot olive oil in the pot. After all that cooked for a few minutes, I added in the yellow split peas and vegetable broth and simmered for 30 minutes.

At that point, I tossed in two bay leaves, a halved lemon and more garlic. This cooked for ten minutes before removing the lemons and bay leaves, squeezing the juice from another lemon in and giving the whole thing a stir. I let it cool down a bit and then transferred all the soup into the food processor and gave it whirl (heh). Once that was all set, I returned it to the pot and added cumin, some green Tobasco, salt and pepper. Boom, done.

This turned out to be a great little soup that worked well with my unintended tampering. It kind of reminded me of a soupier hummus, but with more citrus zing. We had this back when we were getting a pretty brutal cold snap a few weeks back, but I think I’ll definitely give it another shot when the weather turns cold again. I don’t know about you guys, but I just can’t wrap my head around soup in the summer.

The Force Is Not So Strong With These Cubes

If you’re only familiar with me from reading this blog and not UnitedMonkee, The Monkee Diaries or Pop Poppa, you probably don’t know that I’m a pretty big geek. Have been since as long as I can remember. Part of that is loving Star Wars. So, when I saw the above R2-D2 ice cube tray show up on a comic book discount site called Thwipster for a pretty low price, I jumped at the chance.

When I got them in, I immediately poured the water in and excitedly waited for it to freeze. After I while I cracked them out and…my icey Artoo had no feet. While the details on these guys are great, the feet on both the larger and smaller versions are so deep that every time I tried cracking these guys out, they always lost their feet. ALWAYS.

Even so, it’s a fun little thing to have. I mean, it doesn’t really matter if the ice version of the droid I’m using to cool down my whiskey and coke has feet. Actually, the reminds me, I’ve got to fill the tray back up, it’s the weekend!

Cooking Homesick Texan Carnitas With Avocado Salad & Grilled Onions & Peppers

A few weeks ago my wife sent me Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Homesick Texan Carnitas. It sounded both simple and tasty, so I decided to give it a whirl. I decided to add some grilled onions and peppers because I had both lying around and also an avocado salad that’s basically just chopped avocado, tomato, onion, basil and garlic. I also served them on small tortillas, but made the mistake of heating them up on a baking sheet instead of wrapping them up in foil. The problem with doing it the way I went was that you wind up with mostly crispy tortillas.

But, like I said, the actual carnitas recipe  was easy, so I didn’t mind adding a few more things to the process. The night before we had this for dinner, I made the orange juice/lime juice/cumin/garlic/salt sauce and butchered the butt. The recipe calls for a boneless pork butt, which I recommend because trying to get the meat off those curvy bones was not easy. Prepping this stuff ahead of time was a great way to go because it meant I could easily plop the meat into my Dutch oven, pour the liquid over and then add water to start the two hour simmer period.

While that simmered for the two hours, I went back to work, returning to the kitchen when the period was over. During the 45 minute higher heat portion of the cooking time, I got the rest of my stuff done. The peppers and onions were very simple. I just sliced them up and tossed them in a cast iron grill pan until they showed the familiar grill marks I’ve seen when I order fajitas in restaurants. I’d never done this before, but winging it worked pretty well. I also got the oven ready to heat the tortillas, but like I said, it makes more sense to wrap them in tin foil to stop them from getting crispy.

I also put the avocado salad together. As you can see from the picture, all you do is chop up some basil leaves (rolling them up and then using kitchen scissors is really the way to go), two plum tomatoes, an onion and two avocados, put them in a boll and stir in the juice from a pair of squeezed limes. You could easily throw this in a food processor and you’d have guacamole, but I wanted to try it this way and see how it worked out. I actually liked the larger chunks of onions and ate some of the leftovers with chips, chips made from the toasty tortillas, actually. As my wife mentioned to me, the basil in the mix really brought something new and interesting to the table.

With all that done, I shredded up some cheddar, took the kitchen scissors to some green onions and set laid everything out on the table. It looks pretty formidable when it’s all together, but it wasn’t really that big of a deal. I’ve made tacos a lot of times using different methods, but usually stick to the basic ingredients. It was nice to try something different and mostly succeed. Also, I’ve only had carnitas a time or two, but this mixture was fantastic and citrus-y, a wonderful combination that makes me want to make carnitas over and over again.

Wok This Way: Stir-Fried Beef & Broccoli

I’m noticing a pretty strong pattern when it comes to making dishes from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge. There’s chopped meat usually mixed with some kind of cornstarch mixture as well as vegetables. Most of the of time involved with the cooking process comes from prepping and cooking the rice to serve things on. It’s a really simple, wonderful way to cook that would be ideal for people who have to cook after work. You could even prep the night before and it’d only take a short time to have a full meal by the time you got home, though you might have to go with egg noodles instead of rice (or get a rice cooker, those are fast, right? I’ve never used one.)

Anyway, Stir-Fried Beef & Broccoli (page 89) was another simple recipe. You cut up 12 ounces of flank steak and put it in a bowl with ginger, soy sauce, rice win/dry sherry, cornstarch, salt and pepper. Then mix chicken broth, oyster sauce, soy sauce and more sherry/rice wine in another bowl. The recipe wanted me to boil water and cook the broccoli like that, but instead I steamed it while I was getting everything else ready and think that was a good way to go. You keep more vitamins and minerals that way, right?

With all that ready, it was stir-fry time! First went in some garlic and black bean sauce (it called for actual black beans, but I could only find the sauce) into some peanut oil. That cooked for 10 seconds before pushing it to the side and adding the beef in one layer to the wok. That goes undisturbed for one week  before stir-frying for another. Once that’s done, you put that aside on a plate for a bit.

Add more peanut oil and cook the broccoli for 15 seconds with the onions (I realized after already cutting up green ones, that the recipe called for regular onions, it didn’t matter too much). You then put the beef back in with the oyster sauce mix, stir-fry for 30 more seconds and you’re done. I had gotten my rice going ahead of time and the timing once again worked out well. You’ve probably had beef and broccoli before and it’s just as good at home as it is from a store!

Cooking Tortellini Soup

I’ll be honest, I have no idea where the basis of this recipe came from. It’s one I copied from somewhere online and pasted before printing off and putting in a binder years ago. So, I’m sorry if I’m ripping someone off. I did change and add a few things this time around and guess that’s probably enough to make a difference. Anyway, here’s the recipe:

1 tablespoon of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 10 oz. cans of chicken broth, low sodium
8 oz. package of tortellini (I went with cheese, possibly quadruple cheese)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 14.5 oz can stewed tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 bunch spinach
6 leaves of basil
1 roaster chicken

First up, separate the chicken from the roaster. You could also grill and chop chicken, but I wanted bones for some stock and went this route.

Meanwhile, heat the oik in your pot and saute the garlic for 2 minutes. Stir in broth and tortellini and bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Mix in Parmesan cheese, season with salt and pepper. Simmer until tortellini are just tender. Stir in tomatoes, spinach basil and chicken. Simmer for 2 more minutes.

That’s it. I vaguely remember making this year and years ago, but without the chicken and really enjoying it. I wanted to get some protein in there, hence the chopped up bird. I wasn’t sure if the stewed tomatoes should go in with or without being drained, I decided not to and I think it helped. The only problem I had is that the noodles and meat soaked up a lot of the broth, turning this into more of a pasta dish with a chicken broth sauce, really. I’d probably add even more chicken stock next time and would be even happier with the results.

This is a really easy meal to throw together, especially if you have a few things like spinach and basil lying around from an earlier recipe. It also has the fortunate bonus of being tasty, especially if you’re  fan of tortellini.

St. Patrick’s Day Weekend Food Pics

In the past, I’ve had less than great luck with corn beef and food on St. Patrick’s Day. For a while there, it seems like gnarly corn beef was attracted to me like a magnet and bad metal. It’s okay, though, I’ve gotten past it and actually had some amazing CB in my life, especially this week. I didn’t bother making anything St. Patrick’s themed because it landed on the weekend and I tend to take those off for cooking. We wound up heading to a few of our favorite restaurants this weekend, all of which had wonderful Irish-themed food. You know you want to see the pictures, so scroll on down! On Friday, we headed over to King’s Pommes Frites in Cornwall and got their corn beef specials. These weren’t Reubens because they didn’t have sauerkraut and the bread was a sesame roll, but they were still quite tasty. Obviously, Reubens aren’t Irish, but they do utilize corn beef, so there’s the connection. But who cares! I went to Ireland about 12 years back and the food wasn’t all that great. In fact, this was one of two German dishes I had last weekend. Oh, my wife and I got the same thing, but we also tried a pair of new sauces: Horseradish and Basil, both were fantastic and highly recommended.

On actual St. Patrick’s Day, we headed to Fiddlestix, also in Cornwall, for breakfast or lunch, whichever you please. I went with lunch because they had something called The St. Patrick’s Day Sneak Peek or soemthing along those lines. This was all Irish (as far as I know). The corn beef was tender and juicy, some of the best I’ve ever had and those mashed potatoes actually had horseradish in them and were super tasty (I’m gonna have to remember than one in the future). The cabbage was a little bland, but with all those other flavors going on, that wasn’t such a terrible thing. Lastly, but in no way least, you can see a thick piece of Irish Soda Bread. I haven’t had a lot of this in my life, but this piece was MAGIC. It actually tasted a bit like French toast and I’m a little surprised that wasn’t on the menu. Maybe next year! Billy Joe’s Ribworks also had a series of Irish themed meals on Sunday, which was nice. We decided to go on a whim and weren’t even expecting that, so it was a nice surprise. I thought about getting some more corn beef, but instead I went with kielbasa which came with some amazing sauerkraut and Irish soda bread as well as two sides–I went with macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes because I love both of those things in my mouth. We also got out first and only…green beer! It’s Bud Light which probably explains why they were able to get such an electric green. Everything was super tasty. Again, I know I was eating German food while celebrating and Irish-themed holiday, but I do not care. Any time I can get quality kielbasa next to mashed potatoes and mac and cheese, I am golden.