Every single time I see the above commercial for Progresso’s Recipe Starters I let out an audible sigh of rage. It’s not that a company has created something to help home cooks get one step closer to their meal that bugs me. Instead, I find the character of the Progresso chef here to be so patronizing and insulting that it boils my blood. Why shouldn’t that lady make her own fire roasted tomatoes or churn her own butter? You can buy tomato sauce or spend a day making your own, like I did. I don’t want to get too soapbox-y, but there really is something primal and satisfying about spending the time in your kitchen making some of the basic ingredients we tend to take for granted and just pick up off the shelves. I know people are busy and can’t always do that — which is the need the product fills — I just wish they’d taken a less insulting approach to getting their product out in the public consciousness.
As my go-to, single person recipe blog, I spend about as much time flipping through Smitten Kitchen’s archives as I do going through books by people like Betty Crocker, Alton Brown and Michael Ruhlman. We’re just on similar wavelenghts and she has a killer eye for good food. So, I was pretty excited when I came across her recipe for Linguine With Tomato-Almond Pesto. I was far less excited, however, when I went to the grocery store that week and they didn’t have any basil. I wasn’t really prepared to sub in another recipe, so I decided to wing it and the results weren’t half bad.
I followed the recipe for the most part, but added and subtracted a few things based on what I had on hand. Obviously, the basil was out of the pesto, so I tried making it a little more flavorful by adding some olives, but I don’t think that flavor really came through in the finished product. I also decided to heat up some of the frozen Thanksgiving turkey and warmed that up in the same pan I toasted the almonds in.
When the sauce was done whirring in the food processor, I added it to the defrosted chicken and let those guys get to know each other a little bit while the pasta finished doing its thing. Before draining, I pulled out some of the pasta water which I later mixed back in to thicken everything up a bit. I haven’t made the recipe yet as written, though I intend to at some point, but I can say that mine was pretty almond-y. It did feel like it was missing a little something without the basil, but overall it felt like a pretty good save.
I’ve said in previous Wok This Way posts how surprised I’ve been by the ease I have cooking in the wok. Depending on how I’m feeling a particular day that can either be a good thing or a bad thing. If I’m really looking for a challenge or to try something different, it falls on the negative side of things, but if I want to make something really simple but also always tasty, it’s a good thing. When flipping through my copy of Grace Young’s Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge I came across her recipe for Barbecued Pork Lo Mein (page 273). While reading through the ingredients, I saw that I would need some Chinese Barbecued Pork which took me to page 285 and another recipe. I figured the multiple day process would make for a more interesting dish.
Of course, because I’m still less than a novice when it comes to cuts of meat, I got the wrong kind of pork. Instead of getting shoulder or butt I wound up with Blade Steak. I can’t remember now if it’s because they were out of shoulder or what, but that’s just what went down. Anyway, you rub sugar over the cubed up pork and then get it in the marinade which includes soy sauce, hoisin sauce, dry sherry, beans sauce, sesame oil, white pepper and honey. Once that’s all combined, the marinade goes into the fridge. The next day you broil it. If you’re doing shoulder there’s a whole rack system involved and water, but since I was using a different cut and don’t actually have all the necessary equipment, I just cooked my pieces on a foil-lined baking sheet and everything turned out fine.
The actual cooking of the main dish actually takes a lot less time than all that. I was pleased to discovering my grocery store carries both Chinese round noodles and packages of bean sprouts, so I picked up the appropriate amounts and felt like this one turned out a little bit more authentic than it might have otherwise. I liked the candy-like quality of the pork which popped in different bites along with the noodles and firmer bean sprouts. Next time I’m going to get the right kind of pork though, I even know where it is at the store now!
Last week I wrote about a few meals that I made a while back that had kind of fallen away from memory. I remember them not being bad, but didn’t really remember enough about them to accurately evaluate them here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. This post is about a recipe from around that same time, but it was so good that it’s burrowed its way into my brain and wants to become a recurring player in my kitchen.
The meal in question is Sweet & Spicy Beef With Egg Noodles as seen in Michele Urvater’s Monday to Friday Pasta (page 132). It’s based on some Middle Eastern flavors and turned out to be uniquely tasty. I also appreciated that I didn’t have to buy too many ingredients to whip this up as most of them were already in my pantry or spice rack.
The recipe calls for cooking a clove of garlic, onion and chili in vegetable oil (I usually use olive oil with pasta, but I’ve found that it lends itself better to Italian and Greek dishes and stands out in a bad way sometimes when working with a different spice palette). I skipped the chili because we’re not super into spice here, but got the garlic and onion cooking like normal. I also mixed allspice, cinnamon and cumin for use later on.
After the onion and garlic cook for a bit, then you throw in the spices followed by the ground beef in. Once that starts to brown you insert tomato puree (which I didn’t have on hand, so I went with a combination of V8 juice and jarred tomato sauce) and let that simmer until the egg noodles are done cooking. After that, you just mix it all together and wind up with what reminded me of goulash a bit in look, but comes off with a much sweeter, tangier flavor.
The recipe also calls for garnishing with plain yogurt, sour cream, feta cheese or Asiago. I decided to go with both sour cream and Feta and I really enjoyed how the mildness of the sour cream became a kind of intermediary between the pasta and the bite of the feta. Just thinking about this one is making me hungry. Looks like I’ll be adding it to next week’s menu!
One of the problems I have with this blog is that, even when circumstances come up that delay me from posting, I’m usually still cooking. That means, when I do get the chance to sit down and write about what I’ve cooked, I’m often left with several pictures of food that looks good that I vaguely remember making and don’t really remember eating. But, I hate just deleting all these pictures and hope that some day I might have a spontaneous memory that pops up. By posting about these forgotten meals here, I hope to give my future self a record of what I cooked.
Anyway, above you can see the finished product of my attempt at making Giada De Laurentiis’ Orzo Stuffed Peppers. I want to say that we enjoyed this meal and from looking at the recipe, it doesn’t look too difficult to put together. I like that she mixed it up with this one and included mint and orzo, which I’ve also used when making food in my wok instead of rice. This isn’t the first of De Laurentiis’ stuffed pepper recipes I’ve tried, I’m a big fan of her Couscous-Stuffed Peppers With Basil Sauce, which I’ve made a few times now. Here you can see my attempt at making Jeff Mauro’s All-American Down-Home Patriotic Meatloaf Sandwich which, again, I want to say turned out well. You basically make a meatloaf and a sauce and combine the two on bread with cheese and pickles (I went with dills because bread & butter pickles gross me out). I also tossed on some mayo because it’s not really a sammich without mayo.
I want to reiterate that I haven’t forgotten about these dishes because they were bad, I would have definitely remembered something bad, it’s just that my memory — especially my taste memory — fades more the longer away I get from something unless it was mind-blowingly amazing.
I love a good mash-up, that old peanut butter and chocolate two great tastes that taste great together thing. Give me a good comic book crossover or a movie that combines two of my favorite genres well and I’m a happy guy. That also translates to food, of course. I mean, if you like mac and cheese and Reuben sandwiches, why wouldn’t you like a Reuben Mac & Cheese?
I first had this dish, invented by Rachael Ray and posted over on FoodNetwork’s website, years ago when my wife was making dinners. She knew of my separate loves, saw this recipe and figured I’d like the combination of the two. Of course, she was right on the money and it has become a somewhat regular addition to our menu (as much as I repeat dishes, which isn’t all that often, really).
As far as the making of this dish goes, it’s not all that different from making any other mac and cheese. You’re cooking the pasta while also putting together the cheese sauce and making breadcrumbs. The newness comes in the ingredients, which include rye breadcrumbs that you make and the inclusion of spicy mustard, corned beef and sauerkraut which you can’t really see in that first photo. The result is the creamy goodness of mac & cheese combined with the salty brininess of corned beef and the sourness of sauerkraut along with the bitterness of the toasty rye bread crumbs on top. So, really, you’re getting everything but sweetness in this dish which makes it a real party for your tongue. It’s amazing how versatile of a dish mac & cheese can be!
I was glad that this recipe turned out so well because I also recently made The Neeleys’ Macaroni & Cheese and was disappointed. Even though it had crispy bacon mixed in the lack of breadcrumbs and Swiss called for in the recipe really lessened it. So, it was a bummer that the recipe didn’t really do much for me, but on the positive side, it made me realize some key components in my like of mac & cheese recipes. I love the toasty breadcrumbs and that added crunch, it’s as much a flavor thing as a texture thing, but the Swiss cheese also adds a depth of flavor, an almost-sourness or bitterness that makes things a little funkier. I also learned that bacon can and should be added to mac & cheese whenever possible.
Anyone with babies or toddlers knows that cooking with them can be challenging. If you’re really lucky, you can schedule their naps for cook time, but for me that’s usually around 5 PM which doesn’t work with her bedtime. When she was a tiny baby, I’d put her on her play mat right outside the kitchen or in her bouncer. That gave way to giving her toys and hoping she’d just hang out and putting her in her eating seat so I could cut meat. But, she’s not always super excited about me focusing on something that’s not her. I’ve been halfway through trimming a chicken breast when she’s wedged herself between myself and the counter and forced me away from it. What I’m saying is that it can be tricky.
I had a kind of kitchen epiphany a few weeks back after changing the battery in the smoke detector. We’ve got this three step ladder that I used to perform the task and then leaned near the kitchen. That’s when it hit me that it would be perfect height for Lu to climb and “help” me in the kitchen. I give her a big bowl, a small measuring spoon and the masher and she’s usually good. Sure, I’ve got to be a lot more careful about where I put my knives and ingredients, but she seems to get a kick out of it.
When that doesn’t work, I put Sesame Street or Disney on in the living room and hope that soothes the savage beast long enough for me to finish making dinner!
While visiting my inlaws for Christmas we went to our usual breakfast spot, Janie’s Uncommon Cafe. I like Janie’s because the food’s always good, they’ve got a solid regular menu and also usually have some interesting specials. The last time we visited, I wasn’t feeling super hungry, so I went with the Uncommon Breakfast Sandwich which the menu describes as “A fried egg with bacon, sausage, black forest ham and cheddar cheese on an English muffin.” I wasn’t sure if that would be quite enough food and I happened to see something called Potato Hash on the menu and decided to try that.
The sandwich was good, but that hash was ridiculously good. “Shredded Idaho potatoes grilled with sauteed peppers, onions and cherry bacon.” It’s such a simple sounding dish with only four ingredients, but it tasted so damn good with the saltiness of the bacon mixing in with the starchiness of the potatoes and the crunch of the vegetables. This doesn’t usually happen, but I liked this dish so much that I want to try and make it myself. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.
The only thing most people know about my home town of Toledo, Ohio comes from MASH. That series starred a guy named Jamie Farr who, aside from Katie Holmes and Adrianne Palicki is probably the most famous person from there. His character, Clinger, was also from Toledo and therefore he represented his hometown by way of Mud Hens and Tony Packos references. The former is our minor league baseball team and the latter is a local restaurant that specializes in hot dogs and pickls. In fact, you might have seen the restaurant on food shows because they have any visiting celebrities sign a hot dog bun and then said buns get put on display.
To be honest, I don’t have a long history with the restaurant, at least not when I lived in town. I think I only ever went to one of the restaurants once and then they opened one in a local supermarket called Andersons that I went to a few times. But, when I met my future wife and she told her parents where I was from, her dad got excited because he’s a big MASH fan. As such, I started giving them Tony Packos pickle sets. That’s really where I discovered how tasty their pickled products are. I’m a fan of their dills but also their banana peppers.
Anyway, when my parents visited for Second Christmas, they brought with them two packages of Tony Packos hot dogs and two cans of their chili. After they went home, Em and I wanted to just have a relaxed dinner in, so I popped open the cans of chili (probably could have gotten by with just one in retrospect), warmed them up on the stove and then got a pot of water boiling for the dogs. I also got the steamer basket ready and put the buns in there. Unfortunately, I put just a little too much water in the pan and those buns got ruined. We had more, so those went back into the basket with less water with a lid and we were good to go.
The chili is actually spicier than I remember, but I thought the Hungarian hot dogs and chili popped so well with some basic yellow mustard. I probably should have cut up a few onions and mixed those in there too, but that’ll be next time. If you’re curious about trying Tony Packos yourself, either go to Toledo — they could use your tourism bucks — or click that link above and you can order a ton of stuff, including these handy dandy gift packs (one even comes with a Mud Hens hat!).
The last thing I made for Second Christmas was French Onion Soup. It also happened to be the most complicated and worrisome of the group because you basically cook these onions for hours until they get to the right color. Because of the long cook time I was worried that I might let them cook too long or not enough, but thankfully I seemed to get it dead on and we had our French Onion Soup!
But, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. The recipe itself from Ruhlman’s Twenty is called Traditional French Onion Soup (page 75) actually comes with pictures which was really helpful for such a long-form dish. One thing I didn’t mention in the other posts is that I went for a solid no-meat meal because my mom is a vegetarian. When I mentioned I was making FOS, she asked about the beef broth and I told her it didn’t have any. I hadn’t read the full description of the recipe, but Ruhlman writes that a lot of FOS recipes call for broth, but that’s not how it was made in France where poorer houses wouldn’t use more-expensive broth when you can get a solid flavor from just cooking onions in a tablespoon of butter.
Of course, the key to this dish is the onions. I sliced up almost a full bag of white onions on the mandolin which was faster than cutting them by hand, but still felt kind of clunky. Anyone, those went into the Dutch oven with a tablespoon of butter and cooked for about four hours. After you get to the right shade of amber, you add in the water, taste and then alter with vinegar, salt, pepper and sherry to get the flavor you want. Then you put your dried-out bread on top and the cheese (I actually used the Emmenthaler shown in the post about Mac & Cheese from the same meal), pop that under the broiler and have FOS a few months later. I actually thought it wound up being a little sweeter than I usually like, but as a whole I thought it wound up being a really good dish. The whole meal might have had a lot of cheese and onions, but I think it worked well together! Happy belated Second Christmas!