Recipe Roundup: Closet Cooking Part 1

As any regular readers will know, it’s been a looooong time since I’ve posted here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. Unfortunately, with work and all kinds of other things going one — raising our two year old and prepping for a new little baby — MATK can fall to the wayside. But, I’m still cooking almost every night which means I have a huge backlog of meals to talk about going back to last fall. So, in an effort to try and document the good recipes I’ve tried out in the last few months, I figured I’d implement a new kind of a post called Recipe Roundup that will gather a bunch of meals from different places, throw in a few pics and do my best to remember how they turned out.

Today’s subject is one of my favorite new cooking sites, Closet Cooking which is great because there’s tons of older recipes on there and the site gets updated constantly. I also appreciate that Kevin Lynch seems to be cooking in a kitchen even smaller than mine which is no small feat. So, without further ado, hit the jump to check out the first batch of CC recipes I’ve tried out in the past few months!  Continue reading

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Walt Disney World Bonus Food Pics: Studio Catering Co. & Sci-Fi Dine-In At Hollywood Studios

studio catering company We spent the second day of our Walt Disney World vacation walking around Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a place that had great food at both the counter service and sit down levels. For lunch we hit up Studio Catering Co. which is supposed to be set up like the commissary of a studio, but, you know, right around the corner from Star Tours and butting up against the Honey I Shrunk The Kids playground (which is a childhood favorite of mine).

The way places like this work is that there’s a menu posted up high where everyone can see it (those yellow signs in the above picture). When you know what you want, you approach one of many very nice people standing at a computerized register. Once your food is ordered, you move up and pick it up from the people working in the kitchen and prep area, so it’s a little nicer and more organized than your average cafeteria, which you’d expect from Disney.

studio catering turkey panini For lunch I went with the Pressed Turkey Club which includes “Turkey, Applewood-smoked Bacon, Swiss, Roasted Red Pepper, Arugula, Multigrain Ciabatta Bread.” It was a really solid, tasty sandwich that didn’t feel like something slapped together. It seemed well thought out and well balanced. I also got the cole slaw which was better than average and think I even had a little cheesecake dessert, though the for-a-limited-time-only Worms & Dirt Cupcakes you see in the background were enjoyed by my family.

sci fi dine in reuben That day we had dinner at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater which is a fun place where you actually sit in tables that look and feel like old school convertibles. Those car-tables are “parked” in an area that’s set up like a drive-in theater complete with a movie screen running film clips, cartoons and trailers of stuff from the 40s, 50s and 60s.

We weren’t sure if the atmosphere — which was fantastic — would outshine the food, but I really enjoyed the Reuben I had. You might think that a sandwich with such basic ingredients (corn beef, Sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing and rye bread) would be difficult to screw up, but that’s not been the case in my experience. For one thing, you can find a wide spectrum of quality in just those five things, but the way a place treats their corn beef is also really important. The Sci-Fi Dine-In seems to treat its beef really well because the meat was nice and juicy and not dried out at all. In fact, all the ingredients felt top notch and tasty. I’ve probably had better Reubens in my life, but not while sitting in a fake car watching trailers for Plan 9 From Outer Space and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman. Oh, the cucumber salad was actually super tasty as well, it was a kind of sour, pickle-y alternative to fries if that’s something you’re looking for.

Bonus Food Pic: The VIP From The Stage Door Deli NYC

stage deli A few weeks back I found myself down in New York City covering an event called Toy Fair. After hitting all my meetings and checking out everything I intended to, I made my way back to Penn Station with almost two hours to kill. I thought about taking the connecting train over to Secaucus and just hanging out in that station maybe getting something from the Dunkin Donuts, but then I remembered eating at a place right across from the station called the Stage Door Deli that my dad and I went to a year ago before seeing Van Halen. This place has gigantic sandwiches and I hadn’t eaten anything that day since breakfast (the food at the convention center looked dubious) so I decided to go for it.

After perusing the menu and remembering that whatever I got the first time was a little dry, I decided to try The VIP which comes stacked with “Turkey, Baked Virginia Ham, Swiss Cheese, Coleslaw and Russian Dressing.” They also automatically bring out some cole slaw and a few pickles, but I decided to go for a few beers (Stellas) and had a nice little meal for myself. And by little, I mean stomach-bursting. Just look how big that sandwich is!

Is this the greatest sandwich I’ve ever head? Nah, man, not even close. But, it’s a cool NYC experience to have every now and then when you haven’t eaten all day and want to stuff what looks like at least a pound of lunchmeat in your face. Good times.

Revisiting Smitten Kitchen’s Pasta With Onion Butter Red Sauce & Turkey

revisiting smitten's onion butter pasta One of the few recipes that I cook on a regular basis is Smitten Kitchen’s Tomato Sauce With Onion & Butter. In fact, it’s one of the first dishes I ever wrote about online. It’s so good and only requires four ingredients: pasta, canned tomatoes, butter and onion. I double the recipe to get a lot more sauce because I’m that big of a fan.

One thing that’s always bugged me about the recipe, though, is that you toss the onions after cooking for 45 minutes. I still did it, but I wondered if there might be something else to do with it. Then, after making Nigella Lawson’s Turkey Meatballs In Tomato Sauce and I decided to take one of her techniques and use it with this recipe.

Lawson called for celery, carrots and onion to be tossed in the food processor and given a whirl, I figured I’d take that idea and use it with this recipe (I used two onions, two carrots and two celery stalks. Yes, it ups the ingredient list from four things to six, but I’m sure you would have just as much success just whirring the onions instead of all three veggies. When I first tasted the results, I was worried because it tasted very onion-y, but after simmering for the requisite 45 minutes, that flavor mellowed out and combined well with the other ingredients. I think I might have actually made a great recipe even better!

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.

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Linguine With Tomato-Almond Pesto (Sorta)

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.

Cooking Steven’s Oven Baked Chimichangas With Homemade Taco Teasoning

My wife really wants me to join Pintrest. I’m still not exactly sure what that means and I don’t feel like joining another social network, so, for now, you won’t read about my pinning things. But, that doesn’t mean we all can’t reap the benefits of her interest in pins. She was looking around for recipes and came across Steven’s Oven Baked Chimichangas on Tasty Kitchen, sent me the recipe and now we can all talk about it.

Before actually working on the recipe itself, I decided to whip together some homemade taco seasoning. I wasn’t a big fan of the one I tried last time, so I did some searching and came across this one I did like over on All Recipes. It was just a simple matter of getting all the spices together, measuring them out, throwing them in a jar and giving the whole thing a good shake.

With that all set, I got to work on the chimichanga recipe itself. I got everything that was eventually going to be added to the meat in one bowl and then got the ground turkey cooking. After that was browned, in went the taco seasoning and then the bowl o’ ingredient. While that cooked, I shredded the cheese I’d need, then mixed part of that in with some sour cream and had my filling.

After that it was a simple matter of buttering both sides of the wraps, filling them with some of the mixture, wrapping them up and placing them on the baking dish. I’m not always the biggest fan of recipes like this because I find them somewhat tedious, but this one was just the right balance of work for me. When they came out of the oven, we were treated to some tasty chimichangas.

I’ll be honest, aside from burritos and tacos, I have a really hard time keeping track of what food is what when it comes to Mexican. You’ve basically got a lot of combinations of tortilla and meat with various cooking techniques. If I’m not mistaken, chimichangas as basically burritos cooked in an oven. Is that right? Whether it is or isn’t, I’m cool with the results.

Turkey Day Remembered: Everything Else!

Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without the sides and desserts. I’ve already talked about brining and cooking the turkey, making breakfast and preparing the stuffing, but that’s not all we had. My mom made her famous mashed potatoes that I just can’t go through a Thanksgiving without. Em also made a recipe that we got from FoodNetwork.com called Brussels Sprouts Gratin that was super good and will probably find its way into my regular vegetable side rotation.

Em also tackled the pies, but took care of them the night before, so they were good and done and ready to go when we were done eating. She made Smitten Kitchen’s Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie which was a pretty fun twist on the traditional pie (it includes canned candied yams) and a family recipe for Pecan Pie.  She also made cranberry sauce as well, something that I’m still not sure how I feel about (not a big cranberry fan).

Lastly, I made some gravy using the Betty Crocker Cookbook (page 442) that allowed us to utilize our brand new gravy separator. I’d never used one of these things before, but they’re pretty handy. Not sure if I’ll use it for anything other than Thanksgiving, but it’s not like it takes up that much space.

And there you have it, that’s how our Thanksgiving went down. I’ve said this before, but I’m not the world’s biggest fan of turkey. Still, I thought the brine made for a very moist and flavorful turkey. I love those mashed potatoes, as always, and was pleasantly surprised with how interesting and good the stuffing tasted. Even the side dish we found at the last minute wound up being a real winner, so all in all I’d say we hit Thanksgiving out of the park. Thanks to Em for being an awesome cooking partner and my folks for coming and enjoying themselves and our food!

Turkey Day Remembered: The Bird

And now, back to the bird! I figured it would be appropriate to post this two weeks after the actual Thanksgiving meal. Man, I can’t believe it’s already been so long since Turkey Day. Anyway, 20-30 minutes before we planned on cooking the bird, I pulled it out of the brine, patted it dry and stuffed it with the stuffing. The bird then went into the roasting pan on a rack and some halved onions and went into the oven as per Alex Guarnaschelli’s recipe.

The only change we made to that recipe was not doing the butter and lemon under the skin thing, but going with a trick we learned from Martha Stewart last year that involves soaking cheese cloth in white wine and butter and then putting that on top of the turkey in the oven for the first two hours of cooking. It was a super easy process that resulted in a pretty good looking and tasting bird.

Turkey Day Remembered: Betty Crocker Bread Stuffing

Much like the recipe I initially chose for pumpkin pancakes, the one I chose for stuffing wound up being all kinds of wrong for what we were eating. It didn’t help that I somehow missed several ingredients on that original recipe. Worried, I turned to my Betty Crocker’s Cookbook and came across the very simple and easy-to-make recipe for Bread Stuffing (page 280).

As you can see from the pictures, the recipe is pretty simple and luckily fit in our bird with some left over that I set aside in a separate container for my mom who is a vegetarian. The only deviation I made from the recipe here was using Pepperidge Farm Honey Oat bread instead of white bread (which we never have in the house anyway). I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here, but that added sweetness really brought out some great flavors with this stuffing and I’d recommend giving it a try next time you’re looking for something to stuff your bird with.