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).

Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 2

Closet Cooking has become one of my major go-to sites when it comes to online recipe resources. I’ve made so many different meals based on author Kevin Lynch’s site that I’m thinking about picking up one or many of his cookbooks. Here’s a few of the recipes I’ve attempted and what I thought about them. For a similar Closet Cooking Recipe Roundup post, click here!

Taco Stuffed Shells

I’ve been a stuffed shells fan for years, but never really thought about separating that delivery system for fillings from the Italian ingredients I’m used to. I was pretty excited to give this new version of an old classic a shot and it turned out really well. But, I did discover that my mouth and brain kept getting confused BECAUSE I’m so used to these kinds of shells being stuffed with Mexican flavors instead of Italian ones. It was a strange experience because that almost never happens. My brain just couldn’t get past the shape and the presentation the first time around. Maybe I’ll be more ready for it next time, though.

Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup

Lynch’s Thai Peanut Chicken Noodle Soup is actually very similar to the Thai Chicken Soup I’ve made several times from The Ultimate Soup Bible. I’m becoming a huge fan of Thai flavors and figured this one was different enough to try. The major differences are that you cook the chicken in the boiling soup, add in sweet potato (I used by box grater to shred it up good), there’s more curry paste and I used less lime.  This actually combined for a similar, but different enough dish to add to the collection. Sometimes if I eat too much of the version from the Bible, my stomach gets a little topsy turvy, but that wasn’t the case with this one.

Cauliflower Pepperoni Pizza Casserole

I’ve had this particular recipe saved in my Pocket for quite a while and finally gave it a shot last week. There’s a version on the site that uses pasta instead of cauliflower, but I was trying to go for a healthier version. The only ingredient change I made came about because I forgot to buy black olives, but otherwise, I put this together pretty much by the book and thought it was a great little dish that combined the greatness of cheese and pepperoni with cauliflower, which I assume is healthy. Plus, it’s super easy to put together. Next time I’d like to make it with homemade sauce and maybe a better pepperoni to see if that makes it even better.

Cooking Rachael Ray’s Bacon Burger Mac N Cheese


Our two year old daughter loves macaroni and cheese. I mean, who doesn’t, right? But she’s all over it. In fact, the dish holds such a special place in her tiny little head that pretty much everything with noodles is “macos and cheese” to her. As such, I’ve been looking around for various ways of cooking mac and cheese and seem to not be doing a great job of it. The general problem I keep running into is that cheddar’s just not doing it for me on the creamy scale. I’ve got to come up with something else to throw in there that really brings that out, but until then, I’m keeping track of the recipes I like in hopes that I can return to them later on and really knock them out with a few different cheeses.

Rachael Ray’s Bacon Burger Mac N Cheese is one such recipe. The only deviations I made from the recipe included replacing a bit of the milk with water (which is another factor in the creaminess factor) and I also ground up my own beef. Aside from that it was business as usual.

While I wished it was cheesier, the resulting dish was still super tasty. I enjoyed the bacon in there — adding one of the best foods to one of the best dishes just makes sense when you ponder it — and think the fresh ground beef added a fresher note, but I was also surprised with how much I enjoyed the faint hints at ketchup and mustard in the dish.

It might sound strange, but I’d really like to try this dish with more homemade and locally sourced ingredients. Beef and bacon from a local farm, some homemade ketchup and pasta and even some local cheese. I think you could have something really special and hearty hear with a few alterations.

Cooking Homesick Texan’s Tex-Mex Sloppy Joes

While poking around trying to find meals to make that wouldn’t give the air conditioner even more heat-related problems, I stumbled upon a meal that fit in with my hankering for a fairly simple Mexican meal that wouldn’t require too, too much exposure to fire. As such, I decided to give Homesick Texan’s versions of Tex-Mex Sloppy Joes and Guacamole a try and was super happy with the results.

Thanks to lacking a few of the ingredients, I didn’t quite follow either recipe to the letter, but think I came out with some pretty good food. For the guacamole, I simple skipped the pepper, added onion and substituted parsley for cilantro. Aside from that, though, it’s the same basic prep: chop everything up and mix with a fork. I got this done in the early afternoon because I like when my guac has a chance to fraternize with itself.

For the sloppy joes the only change I made was skipping over the beer because I’d already drank all the ones I had. Plus, the last pack I bought was fairly bitter and I don’t think would have worked well with these flavors. Instead, I just added some water to make sure the beef didn’t brown too fast.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I went with a London broil steak that I froze for a few hours and then ground myself. After that I blended together the sauce as instructed. With everything prepped and ready to go, it was just a matter of cooking everything. The meat went in first soon joined by onion and bell pepper. Once that was nice and browned, you add the sauce and cook like you would taco meat. I tried adding some Thai Sweet Chili Sauce to see how that would play, but don’t think there was enough to really pop. I wound up having a little more liquid than I intended, so I just watched it as a it cooked down. Once I had it where I wanted, I moved the meat to a dish and set it out with some buns, guacamole and shredded cheddar cheese.

This recipe might sound like you’re basically putting taco meat on a burger and it is kind of along those lines, but I really liked how this particular batch of spices came together and worked with the meat. It was like a new take on an old idea that worked together very well, mixing a bit of heat and smokiness with the tomato-based acidity. You combine that with the sharp cheddar and sour-ish guac and you’ve got a party on your plate.

Making Ham Salad

ham salad When I was a kid there was a grocery store near our house called Bischoffs (I might be off on the spelling, I’m pretty sure it was a local operation). I don’t remember too much about the place, but I do remember that they had ham salad for sale there and I loved it every time we’d get a container of it. You could either lather it on bread for a sandwich or just eat it straight. But, Bischoffs closed and we wound up going to Kroger and Food Town and a few other places and I kind of forgot about ham salad. Then, in the last few years, I was walking through the deli section of my local Hannaford and saw that they had pre-made ham salad sandwiches which I have partaken in here and there. Aside from that, though, I haven’t really thought about it that much.

That is until a few weeks ago when we came home with a pound or two of the ham my mother in law served for Easter. I’m a fan of heating it up in a pan and eating ham with some eggs, but my wife had mentioned being curious about ham salad, so I looked around for a recipe and decided to try the one called Ham Salad II over on All Recipes. I actually cut the recipe in half and then cut the amount of mayo in half again because a cup of mayonaise sounded a bit much and we’re still watching our calories with the Lost It app. I also skipped the green pepper because I didn’t have one on hand, but that wound up being okay because this version — which I was surprised to find actually went through the meat grinder — tasted exactly how I remember ham salad tasting. Most times when you try to recreate a childhood taste, the new version doesn’t hold up, but that wasn’t the case here. The pickled relish really adds some nice brininess to the ham and then you’ve got the mayo and crispness of the celery which helps bring it all together.

I actually kind of want to get a whole ham just to make more ham salad, which is a little bit crazy. When I first moved to New York and was living with my buddy Rickey, my aunt sent me a really nice Honeybaked Hams spread. We did our best to eat all the ham we could and wound up freezing a bunch of it, but I look back now and my mind races with all the uses I would have had for that protein. I was so young and culinarily ignorant back then!

Cooking Lentil Sloppy Joes

For me, the fun of cooking is trying out brand new recipes. It’s great returning to old favorites, but I get a much bigger kick out of trying out a new take on those old faves. That’s what I was thinking when I decided to try Food Network’s recipe for Lentil Sloppy Joes. I don’t make Sloppy Joes often, though I did write about them once last year, but I do remember my mom making them when I was a kid, so there’s a soft spot in my heart for the loose meat classic.

This new version isn’t a wild departure from the classic, it just includes some lentils and less ground beef to kind of round things out. Compared to that other recipe I made, though, this one definitely has a lot more veggies incorporated but other than that and the lentils, it’s the same basic process: cook the veggies, add in the liquid and the meat, let cook for a bit and dinner’s served.

While there’s definitely something to be said about going old school with this meal, I like this version as a healthier alternative that gets all kinds of vegetables into the mix. Since my wife and I have been watching our calorie intakes, these sandwiches are a good alternative that packs a good deal of flavor, doesn’t waste too many calories and also helps use up some of the lentils I’ve had in the pantry for quite a while, so that’s a win-win-win!

Cooking Giada De Laurentiis’ White Bean & Chicken Chili

I’ve made a lot of different kinds of chili and even though I really enjoyed Pat Neelys the first time I made it, there’s always more variations to try out there in the world. While looking through many a Giada De Laurentiis recipe on Food Network’s website (many of which I wrote about last week), I came across her White Bean & Chicken Chili which is so different from what I’ve tried in the past, I just had to give it a shot. In fact, I’ve actually cooked this dish twice since stumbling across it and it’s been a hit both times.

As will be the case for the foreseeable future, I started this recipe by freezing the meat for about an hour, then trimming and cubing it and running the pieces through my meat grinder. I still haven’t looked at the numbers to see if this is cheaper than buying store-ground meat, but it makes me feel better knowing that I did it myself. Plus, my grocery store tends to run pretty good sales on chicken breasts that I take advantage of whenever it makes sense.

From there, this recipe is pretty simple. You cut up some onion and garlic, gather a small pile of spices, drain and rinse off your beans and prepare the Swiss chard. I went with white both times I made it, though I don’t see why red wouldn’t work just as well.

The results after 50 or so minutes of simmering is a dish that tastes both new and familiar. The ground chicken and chard bring their unique flavors into the mix while the corn and spice combination reminds you of the chilies you’ve had and loved in the past. I’d actually be interested in experimenting with ways that make this even more Italian-tasting. Maybe mix up some of the spices and herbs and incorporate some tomatoes. Could be fun to play with.

Making Burgers With Home-Ground Beef

With a meat grinder on hand, I just had to make burgers sooner or later. It wound up being sooner rather than later, though I’m just getting to the post now because of all kinds of business. From the pictures it looks like I forgot to snap a picture of the cut of meat I used to make the burgers, but I believe it was a tenderloin. I read a tip in one of my newer books that suggested freezing the meat for an hour or so before grinding which allows for it to be cubed easier and also grind a little better. I’ve done this with every grind I’ve done and the results have been great.

The ground beef went into the bowl with some chopped onion, grated Asiago cheese and a mixture of seasoning that I pulled from the pantry. I don’t usually plan these things ahead of time and tend to wing it, but I did actually write down what I used this time which means I’m learning at least a little bit as I continue to write about cooking. This time around, I went with an interesting mixture of salt, pepper, steak seasoning, dried mint and Garam Masala. That last one is an Indian spice that I have left over from a recipe I didn’t write about.

Once the patties were formed, they went into two of the cast iron pots we have. I remember seeing a show about burgers on Food Network or Travel Channel and they showed cooks covering their burgers with lids to really get the cheese melted on there. I’ve tried that the last few times I’ve made burgers and you definitely get a much better cheese melt. The rest of the dish just involved getting things prepped: slicing some tomato, cutting lettuce and getting the condiments ready.

I would love to tell you that I could instantly taste the difference between these home-ground burgers and ones made with the store-ground stuff, but I can’t. It’s not that these burgers weren’t good, I just don’t know if I have the kind of palette memory that allows for such comparisons. I do know that these were good burgers. Maybe I’ll even try this combination again next time!

Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce With Arugala & Lemon Couscous

Sometimes you’re just so excited to jump into a new cookbook that you don’t fully read the recipe correctly. That’s what happened with me and Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Kitchen. I came across her recipe for Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce (page 44) and was immediately interested. When I noticed a note towards the end that suggested making her Arugala & Lemon Couscous (page 90) I started making that as well without fully reading that paragraph or really thinking much about what I was doing. What Lawson suggests in that graph is serving the prepared meatballs and sauce over the couscous, not in addition to. The way I did it, we wound up having a lot of pasta in one meal, but that’s okay every now and then.

One of the most interesting aspects of this sauce recipe was a method Lawson uses where you blend celery and onion into a paste and use that in the sauce instead of the usual diced or chopped variety. This seems like a good way to do this that saves on a little prep time and makes for a less chunky sauce (if that’s what you’re going for). I think I’m going to try this the next time I make Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato Sauce With Onion and Butter, which just so happens to be on the menu tonight!

From there you’ve got pretty standard sauce and meatball-making techniques (this is the first time I used my Kitchenaid meat grinder attachment for turkey, but it worked great). Another aspect of this recipe that I like is that you don’t bake the meatballs or cook them on the stove, you just put them all in the sauce while it simmers on the stove top. One thing that did surprise me about the recipe and I think made for a weaker sauce than I usually like is that it calls for a can of water. That seems like a missed opportunity for something that could add more flavor. I think next time I make this recipes I’ll use tomato sauce or V8 juice or something along those lines to bolster the sauce a bit.

The couscous is super easy to make. You get some chicken broth boiling and while cooking the couscous in another pot in some olive oil. Once the broth is boiling you pour it over the couscous, cover and let sit for ten minutes off the heat. Once that’s done you throw it in a bowl with some arugala along with lemon zest, lemon juice and some salt and pepper. This makes for a nice, clean, zingy side dish.

My wife and I both agreed that the meal would have been close to perfect had I forgotten about the pasta (it was too late in the process when I realized how much starch I was preparing) and just served the sauce and meatballs over the couscous. Since everything was on the same plate, they wound up mixing and the citrus-y zest of the couscous played very well off of the tomato sauce and turkey.

Bonus Food Pics: Grinding Meat For Chili

As I mentioned in my Christmas post, I got a meat grinder that attaches to the Kitchenaid mixer. I finally gave it a run through the other day in an attempt to make Pat Neely’s Famous Beef And Pork Chili again, which involves both ground beef and pork butt (I think the beef was tenderloin, I wound up grinding two different kinds of beef for two different recipes).

Anyway, the process I read about for grinding in Ruhlman’s Twenty suggested throwing them in the freezer for a while to get them cold and tight. Then you cut it into cubes and put it through the grinder and bingo-bango, you’ve got ground meat. One thing I noted, though, was that I should have trimmed some of the fat off the pork because it got pretty stringy in there towards the end. That made the cleaning process a bit difficult, but otherwise, it was super simple.

The recipe itself turned out okay. I know I praised this recipe before and I don’t think the fault lies in there, but instead in my lack of seasoning. I ran out of cumin and don’t think I properly replaced it. I also added some chicken stock for reasons I can’t quite remember forgetting that this recipe turned out a little bit watery the first time I made it. Ah well, it’s still super good and even though I didn’t get that strong bacon flavor as much this time around, it felt good knowing I ground everything myself.