Cooking Ginger-Sesame Marinated Pork Loin With Sugar Snap Peas

My wife and I are hoping to get into a house in the relatively near future, so to get prepared for that added expense in our lives, we’re implementing a budget. This has altered how I tackle meals and groceries to an extent. I used to go to my sources first (cookbooks, websites, blogs, The Big Blue Binder, etc.), write out my list and go shopping. Now, I check the grocery store circular first to see what’s on sale, specifically in the meat section, and then create the menu around that.

That’s what lead me to pick up pork loin last week. From there I went through my recently organized Big Blue Binder and came across a recipe for Ginger-Sesame Marinade from Real Simple that would work well with that particular cut of meat. About four or five hours before dinner, I got the meat in a sealable bag and then mixed together 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon grated ginger, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 2 scallions cut with kitchen scissors and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper. Combine those things, put the bag in the refrigerator and make sure to shift it about every now and then.

Since the actual Real Simple recipe just featured the marinade instructions, I went to my trust Betty Crocker Cookbook and looked around for some guidance. On page 255 I found the recipe for Italian Roasted Pork Tenderloin. I didn’t completely follow this, but it was certainly helpful. I got the oven going to 450 degrees and then got a cast iron pan super hot before putting the pork loin and some of the marinade in there. I seared the meat in the pan and then put it in the oven with my new electric thermometer aiming for 155 degrees. At that point I took it out and let sit on a rack — a trick I learned from watching David Chang and Anthony Bourdain’s excellent The Mind Of A Chef — which allows the air to hit all sides of the meat. After about 10 minutes, I sliced it up and served with some sugar snap peas my wife picked when she went strawberry picking with my daughter.

Unfortunately, we had some more refrigerator trouble after I made this so the majority of the leftovers had to get tossed, but before that we were treated to a salty, tangy bit of pork that was just delightful. My wife made herself a cuban with the meat for lunch the next day which gave me an idea to do a more Asian themed version of the cuban with kimchi, which I’ve never actually tried, so who knows if it would work? Maybe I’ll give that a shot next time I make this ridiculously simple, very tasty meal.

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Cooking Giada de Laurentiis’s Naked Spring Rolls

While my attempts to make Giada de Laurentiis’ Thai Curry might not have netted the best results, I will say that I had much more success her recipe for Naked Spring Rolls which were both part of the same Thai-themed episode of her Food Network show. It also happened to be a super simple and delicious recipe to put together.

The sauce in the recipe was really easy to put together and doesn’t need much in the way of commentary. I will say that it was tangy and delicious thanks to the combination of lime juice and fish sauce. To augment the dish, though, I also decided to make some sriracha mayonnaise. For this I just squeezed about two teaspoons of the hot sauce into the remaining homemade mayo I had in the fridge after making Banging’ BLTs and Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad which was about a 1/4 of a cup. The only change I made in the recipe was swapping out agave (which I didn’t have on hand) for honey.

With the condiments created, I got to work on the actual spring rolls. As with every other kind of meat, I started out with whole, partially frozen pieces, cut them up and ran them through the meat grinder. Since I was already getting the grinder out, I figured I’d try running the carrot and shallot through there too. It worked pretty well, but there was an intense, tear-jerking blast as the shallot went through. All that went into one big bowl with the other ingredients which got wrapped in plastic and sat for the required 20 minutes.

After that point, I looked at the mixture and realized it was not going to stay together in the oven. So, I grabbed the two ends from our latest loaf of wheat bread, rubbed chunks between my hands to create tiny crumbs and mixed it all together with my hands. I got 15 of the spring rolls out of this and put the foil-wrapped pan under the broiler.

I served these with lettuce leaves, though they’re not super necessary. I dug how this meal came together, but my wife loved it, saying it was one of her top five favorite things I’ve cooked. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but I am a big fan of this dish. It worked really well for us as it was, but could also make for a great party food (if made smaller) or a delicious sandwich. In fact, my only complaint was that the thinner sauce didn’t stick to anything which bummed me out because it was so delicious. If this was a sandwich, though, you could pour that sauce right into the bread to infuse that flavor! Dang, that idea’s so good it makes me want to start a food truck (not that it would take that much cajoling to do that anyway).

Wok This Way: Alton Brown’s Wok-Fried Peanut Butter

Just last week I wrote about how much I enjoy Alton Brown’s various online outlets for food information. One of his most recent YouTube videos really captured my imagination and it was about making your own thick, chunky peanut butter using a wok. I watched it from beginning to end, even though he spoke with a mouthful of his own product through the whole thing which is like nails on a chalk board for me and soon enough tracked down the written recipe over on Brown’s website.

This is a wildly simple recipe that can take a lot of time if you wind up getting peanuts in the shell like I did. No kidding, it probably took me about an hour to get a full pound of shelled peanuts. I would have gone with the non-bagged kind, but that’s all my grocery store had, so I just dove in and got them done in two different sessions. My hands were pretty beat up by the end, but not too bad.

With that done — or if you get shelled peanuts right off the bat — you’re good to go with the actual cooking process. Heat the wok, toss in the peanut oil and then get the peanuts in the pan. I wish I had stirred them more than I did because I wound up getting some pretty burnt nuts in the process. I did my best to pull the worst ones out, but the final product does have a hint of that burned flavor depending on the bite.

After the salting and cooling process, you toss 1/3 in the food processor and remove. The rest go in processor with some honey and salt and get, well, processed for much longer. The resulting butter was quite thick and got even more so when the first third was added back in.

When Brown says in the video that this is chunky PB, he’s not kidding. This stuff has an almost doughlike consistency. When I first saw that I was worried that it might not spread very well, but my wife and daughter, who eat most of the peanut butter in our house, don’t seem to mind and have enjoyed it pretty much every day since. I use it when I make my morning smoothies, and really enjoy the nutty, salty component it adds.

I also really enjoy being able to make something else that sits in our pantry or refrigerator. Peanut butter might actually be one of my favorites because you don’t need to acquire a lot of materials to make it (like stock, say, or tomato pulp) and it doesn’t go bad really quickly like mayo or vinaigrettes. Now I just gotta find a place that sells shelled peanuts that aren’t too expensive!

Rocking In The Kitchen With Wusic

I don’t know about you guys, but I love listening to music or podcasts while I cook. Since I work in a galley kitchen and usually have my laptop on a stool next to the sink and across from the stove. It usually works out where I can just hit play and be entertained. But sometimes cooking is a loud endeavor and my laptop volume only goes up so high, not nearly loud enough to triumph over the sound of the meat grinder or the hood fan. For my iPod we have a speaker dock that works great, but I’ve been looking for something to use when listening to podcasts. After doing a lot of looking around on Amazon, I decided to try out the Wusic Bluetooth Wireless Speaker.blue waterproof wusic

My family got it for me for Father’s Day and I’ve been using it just about every day since either through my computer or my phone. The beauty of this particular speaker is that it’s also waterproof. It’s meant to hang out in the shower with you or near a pool, but that also makes it more resilient in a kitchen where liquids tend to splash and splatter around. This also means you can use the unit’s controls (pause, play, forward, backward, on, off and volume control) with less than clean fingers if need be. wusic in kitchen

As you can see, the unit also comes with a large suction cup on the bottom. This works very well in the shower, but not as well in the kitchen. I tried sticking it to the cabinets which didn’t hold up very well. I had more success placing it on the oven hood, but I don’t want to put it up there if I’m using the oven much. For the most part, I just place it on the counter near where I’m working or in an open cabinet.wusic kitchen set up

Overall, I’ve been really happy with the speaker. It gives me that extra bit of volume in the kitchen and has made my overall cooking experience that much better.

Cooking Feed Me Phoebe’s Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad

It’s hot as heck here in New York, so you know what that means: time to look for new chicken salad recipes! Feed Me Phoebe has become a new favorite food blog with lots of interesting dishes. Since I hadn’t exploited the site for chicken salad recipes, it was the first to pop into my mind. My mom actually makes a tarragon chicken salad that I really like, which is why I chose this one for Lemony Tarragon Chicken Salad.

I fully intended to follow the recipe and pick up a rotisserie chicken like the recipe suggests, but my daughter and I ran to the grocery store early and there weren’t any available yet. So, I grabbed some chicken breasts and gave them the ol’ olive oil-salt-pepper treatment and cooked them up on the cast iron.

While the chicken cooked I made the dressing which was super simple. Earlier that week I had made some mayonnaise to go along with the Bangin’ BLTs and used that when putting this meal together. This was all part of my menu master plan for the week. I love homemade mayo because it’s so awesomely rich, but it doesn’t last a super long time, so if you’re not a sandwich fiend, it might make sense to have a chicken salad recipe or something that will use up a good portion of the delightful condiment in line for that same week. In other words, don’t waste all that goodness!

With the dressing made, I got to chopping up the herbs and veggies. For the tarragon, I turned to our mini herb garden — look for a mini-post on this down the line  —  golly that’s a unique, bright and bite-y flavor. I also threw in a few diced pieces of celery because I’m used to that in chicken salads and had a few sitting around.

I went with a really small, cube-y dice for the chicken on this. My wife noted that it didn’t stay on the bun very well, so you might want to go with a larger chop. I wasn’t quite sure how far the two chicken breasts I had allotted for this meal would go, hence the smaller cut.

For serving purposes, I didn’t go with the lettuce leaves as mentioned. I intended to, but while walking through the grocery store, I stumbled across some pretzel buns and thought they’d go really well with this cool, tangy dish. I topped the chicken salad with some fresh, clean spinach and was good to go.

Cooking Jeff Mauro’s Chicken Shawarma with Tomato Cucumber Relish and Tahini Sauce

This was another dish I saw prepared in the limited time during the weekend when Food Network actually shows cooking programs that  I mentioned in yesterday’s post. In that one hour I saw four recipes I want to try and have already made two of them.

Like a lot of people, I first heard of Shawarma thanks to that post-credit sequence in The Avengers. Oh, I’d probably heard of it before in passing, but never really thought about it. Within the next year, I wound up at Chickpea and tried some with my wife. It was quite good, so why wouldn’t I want to try and make some in the comfort of my own galley kitchen?

Before making this meal, understand one thing: tahini’s kind of expensive. The 16 oz jar of the sesame paste I got was about $8, but you only use a quarter of a cup, so hopefully I won’t have to buy it again for a while. Aside from that, though, you’re dealing with pretty standard ingredients though you might need to add a few spices to your rack.

Speaking of which, that’s the best place to start with this recipe. I usually like to chop up all my veggies first, but since you need to marinate the sliced chicken thighs for a half hour, I cut up the thighs after I put the shawarma spice mixture together. This is the first time I’ve worked with boneless chicken thighs, but I tried to get a good deal of the fat off.

With the meat doing it’s thing in the refrigerator, I got to work on the Tomato Cucumber Relish (more of a salad really) and the Tahini Sauce, neither of which were difficult but did take a bit of time (well, at least for the former). For the relish, you just chop, measure, mix and you’re good to go. The sauce is even simpler.

Now, Jeff put the marinated meat on skewers and grilled them on the episode. He said it was because he wanted to recreate the spit roaster he saw at the restaurant he visited. That seemed like a lot of extra work, so I just tossed the contents into a cast iron pan and got cooking.

I also tried to cook the pitas the way he did in the episode: by putting olive oil on one side and heating it on the girl. It didn’t work out so well for me so I stopped. When I served myself a plate, I tried putting all the ingredients on top of the pita as you can see in the picture, taco-style. But, the problem there was that there’s a lot of liquid going on here and everything fell apart. I was a little upset until I remembered that a lot of Middle Easter food is eaten with the hands, scooping whatever’s on your plate into the pita or naan and then into your mouth. With that in mind I dug in and had a good, old time.

The chicken had some nice heat and spice to it without going over the top. Even if it was, the tang and crispness of the relish would have cut through it, aided by the thick, substantial tahini sauce. Mixed all together and scooped into pitas, this was a killer meal that I will definitely make again.

I don’t have any pictures of this, but that same week I also made Real Simple’s Spiced Mini Burgers With Couscous Salad. This not only added a bit of continuity to the menu that week, but allowed me to use  up the leftover relish and tahini sauce for this dish. I ground up the beef and made the burgers as advised, but for the couscous salad, I used the leftover relish and just added a few more cucumbers, tomatoes and some couscous I cooked in homemade chicken stock. The tahini sauce then got used to make Alton Brown’s Hummus For Real recipe, though one that used canned chickpeas instead of slow cooked ones. I really enjoyed the spice mix used for these burgers and could imagine going either way size-wise with them: smaller for appetizers or finger food or larger for full on burgers. Both of these recipes get the thumbs up from me!

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ Thai Curry

Food Network has really changed over the years. It used to be packed with people making interesting foods and teaching us how. Now, even though they act like that’s still the main focus on shows like Next Food Network Star (which should probably be retitled The Next Food Network Game Show Host), you’ve got to search around more to see cooks telling you how to cook interesting and amazing food. While flipping around a few weekends back, we happened to stumble upon one of those wonderful times. That’s where I got the recipe for Giada De Laurentiis’s Thai Curry and figured I’d give it a shot.

I do want to say a few things right off the bat. I had trouble finding yellow curry paste at my grocery store. I bought curry sauce and just kind of eyed it. I couldn’t find a simple conversion chart for curry paste to curry sauce, so I basically poured in a little under 1/4 of a cup after giving it a taste. I think that’s the key to making sure you’ve got the right.

I will also note that shrimp can be a bit expensive. I dropped about $12 on deveined, deshelled ones, just to give you an idea of what you’re dealing with. It’s not a bank-breaker, but definitely something to take into account when planning out your meals.

I also completely dropped the chili, swapped out unfindable Thai lime leaves for actual lime juice and throwing the limes in (I realize I should have zested them) and skipped the step where you fry the noodles in canola oil which not only made this dish a bit healthier and cooled down the kitchen on a hot day but also took out a fairly involved step. Aside from those alterations, though, I followed the recipe as written.

Especially without the fried noodle portion, this is a super easy soup to put together. Open a few cans, pour a few things in a pot or Dutch oven and get those veggies in once it’s simmering. Let it sit for 30 minutes, then throw in the noodles and shrimp and let cook. That’s pretty simple.

And the results were pretty good, but I think some of my changes weren’t for the best. The dish lacked heat, which is a key element in Thai cooking. This wound up being good for my kid, because she’s not a fan of the hotness, but made the dish a bit bland. It also could have used more salt. Whenever I’m eating Asian food, I tend to skip the regular salt and go with soy sauce because it feels more in line with the flavors. Adding that to my bowl and then the larger dish when I put it away in the fridge definitely helped.

This is the first time I’ve ever cooked shrimp in what I consider my modern cooking timeframe. My mom taught me how to devein and shell them a long, long time ago, but I decided to cut that step out and just go with ones that had already been cleaned. Towards the end of the cooking process I realized I didn’t know what cooked shrimp was supposed to look like, so I brought one out to my wife, showed it to her and got the thumbs up. They turned out nice, plump and flavorful. I don’t generally cook shellfish, but this positive experience definitely gave me more confidence to do so in the future.

MATK Originals: Bangin’ BLTs

bagin' bltsAs a kid growing up, BLTs were pretty common in our house. They were the good, solid kinds that featured your basic toasted bread, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo combination, most often served with some Campbell’s tomato soup. But, over the years I’ve started adding to that structure and think I’ve created some really special sandwiches that I wanted to tell you about.

The first major BLT change came for me when my wife introduced me to the idea of the BELT, that’s a BLT with a fried egg on top. As fried eggs and their runny goodness are a favorite of mine, that was a pretty easy sell. So was the inclusion of cheddar cheese, which makes just about everything better.

Recently I’ve been playing with a few ways to make all that even better which culminated in last night’s dinner, what I’m now calling Bangin’ BLTs. Last night’s sandwiches includes your B, your L and your T, but also the aforementioned fried egg, cheddar cheese (we’re big fans of the Hannaford Wisconsin sharp these days), homemade mayonnaise straight out of Ruhlman’s Twenty and either Tony Packo’s Sweet Hot Skinnies or Banana Peppers (the former for my wife, the latter for me).

Bangin’ BLT Ingredients

Bread
Bacon, 2-3 pieces per sandwich
3-4 Large Leaves of lettuce, I use romaine
1-2 Tomatoes, sliced
Eggs – 1 for each sandwich
Sliced cheddar cheese
Pickles, Banana Peppers
Homemade Mayo

This meal might seem simple, but it actually has a lot of moving parts, so I’ll walk you through my process. I make the mayo first and follow Ruhlman’s recipe to the letter using vegetable oil and a farm fresh egg (we just happened to have a few on hand). This is the most intensive part of the process, but I guarantee the flavor you get from this will be far more full and rich than the stuff you buy at the store. This can be made days ahead, but the process only took me about 10 to 15 minutes and I went the hand-whisking route. In the future, I’d like to experiment with combining this mayonnaise with different elements like spicy sauces or fresh herbs.

Next I get my bacon in the oven. Sure, you can cook your bacon in a pan the traditional style, but I’m a big fan of using the oven because you don’t get splattered with hot grease and you don’t have to worry about it for 10 whole minutes. I set my oven for 400 degrees, then line a rimmed baking sheet with crumpled-up tin foil, this gives it more surface area to heat up. I then lay out as much bacon as I can fit, which wound up being about 7 or 8 pieces and popped it in the oven for 10 minutes. At that point I flipped the pieces over and let them cook for another 10 minutes.

With the bacon in the oven, I get to cleaning and cutting my vegetables. For the lettuce, I just pulled four large romaine leaves, sprayed them down and then ripped them into smaller, sandwich-sized pieces, discarding the hard white ribs in the process. Then I cleaned and sliced the tomatoes before slicing the banana pepper into strips for my sandwich (half of a large Tony Packo’s pepper did it for me) and getting out the Sweet Hot Skinnies for my wife. I also cut the cheese into squares.

At this point, it would behoove you to set up a solid sandwich-making station. I didn’t have the space for this, so it was a bit tricky, mostly because I had the toaster right in the middle of my work space. Once the bacon’s out of the oven and patted down, you’re almost ready to start making sandwiches.

Why almost? Because it’s egg time. This is where things can get a little tricky timing-wise because you want to work fast enough to make sure your bacon is still warm, but you’re also cooking eggs and toasting bread. I don’t worry so much about the bacon, so I basically put the bread in the toaster and then drop my egg in a small hot pan coated with cooking spray. By the time the toast is done, I’ve flipped my egg and it’s ready to go.

So, grab the bread and put on your desired about of homemade mayo. Then put cheese on one side (I’ve found that the extra sharp cheese can be a little overwhelming if you double up). I then put the hot egg right on top of the cheese and build up the other side with the bacon, tomato, lettuce and peppers/pickles. Bam, there’s your sandwich.

The richness of the homemade mayo works so well with the bacon, but do watch out because both can be on the salty side. When you mix in the crispiness of the lettuce, the coolness of the tomatoes, the sharpness of the cheese and the heat of the pickles or peppers, plus the egg doing it’s ooey gooey thing, you’ve got something really special happening in your face.

While I’m thinking about it, I do want to circle back around to the idea of serving BLTs with tomato soup. It’s an idea I still adore, but there was no way I was going to cook soup yesterday when it was in the 80s. However, a month or two ago I did make BLTs and tried a new tomato soup recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen. It was delightfully creamy and made for awesome dipping. Unfortunately, we lost most of the leftovers when our fridge fritzed out a month ago, but when things cool down, I’ll give it another try.

Cooking Damn Delicious’ Skinny Cauliflower Mac & Cheese With Pancetta

I’ve recently discovered a new food blog I love. It’s called Damn Delicious and the name says it all. While looking around for potential dinners last month (in other words, before the 80+ degree days started) I came across her recipe for Skinny Cauliflower Mac & Cheese. I’ve been hearing about replacing some of the noodles in pasta dishes with cauliflower and thought it would be worth checking out. This way, you cut out some of the carbs of the pasta, but also get the added nutritional value of the vegetable in there.

Recipe-wise, I followed this one for the most part both times I made yet. (See the next paragraph for the biggest departure I made.) The first time I might have been a bit light on the sour cream and the second time I might have put a little more than half cup. I will say that I recommend going lighter on this one because the sharpness of the sour cream can cut through a little too much if you go over. I also used my favorite method for getting cheese ready for mac & cheese: I cubed it and pulsed it in the food processor.

I made one big addition to this recipe that I think made the dish even tastier, but less “skinny.” I grabbed two packets of the pancetta available in my grocery store and cooked that up in a small pan, just to get it nice and crispy. Pretty simple, right? Definitely. But, after removing the pancetta and draining off just a bit of the fat, I cooked the breadcrumbs in there. So, you get that great, salty pancetta taste in the dish which I stirred in along with the cauliflower and other ingredientse but also these pancetta-infused bread crumbs on top that carry those flavors throughout. When I made this recipe the second time I used bacon and it was still good, but I think I’ll stick to pancetta when making this in the future.

I’m sure this is a great recipe the way it’s written, but I’ve got to say, the added pancetta flavor mixed so well with all that cheese and the nicely cooked, soft cauliflower to the point where this is now my favorite mac and cheese recipe (and I’ve tried a lot of them). This mix of dairy products is also super tasty together, that strong cheddar mixes well with the right amount of sour cream and the bit of parm in there to balance things out. I could see some Swiss or Gruyere working really well in there too. All in all, this balance of flavors proved so delightful, that I’ve made this my new base recipe for all things mac and cheese. As an added bonus, you could easily use this and add in other favorite takes on the genre. I’m pretty excited to try the Ruben mac with this base.

One last nice thing about this recipe is that, in addition to it being delicious, it can also either use up pasta in your pantry or leave around just enough for another round of mac and cheese. As I mentioned above, I made this twice in two weeks because I already had the panko, sour cream and a few other ingredients around from the first time, so all I had to do was pick up some cauliflower and go from there.

Bonus Food Pic: Handsome Devil’s Hot Mess

handsome devil hot messA few months back my in-laws discovered a new barbecue place near us called Handsome Devil that happens to be inside the local ice rink. This past weekend we celebrated Father’s Day by heading back over there to get some food on Saturday. As we have in the past, we had a great time with wonderful food and a nice selection of beers on tap. We all started off with some fried pickles (forgot to photograph because I got so excited for one of my all-time favorite apps). The pickles themselves were nice and briny, but they also came with some sriracha mayo dipping sauce that was fiery and fun. I’m just recently discovered the wonder of sriracha, so this was auspicious timing.

Better than the appetizer, though, was the meal I got. I wasn’t hungry enough to tackle my usual barbecue meal of “as much meat as I can stuff into my face,” so when I saw the Hot Mess on the menu, I was sold. The dish has a layer of beef brisket topped with mac and cheese which has pulled pork on the very top. This was a great choice because you not only get the best side of all time — mac and cheese — but also a sampling of their brisket and pulled pork. Considering their food is so great, this is an easy sell for anyone looking to try a few different elements all in one big pile.

My wife also had the Three Little Pigs smoked ham sliders which were just bonkers good. I was lucky enough to get one half of those little sandwiches and could have eaten about 10. The salty, smokey ham worked so well on the sweet bun and covered in Gruyere cheese.

As an added bonus, Lu got to watch some hockey because there was a kids game going on and you can walk into the stands right from the rink. I bet they do a pretty great appetizer/beer business during those games.