Making Sunny’s Homemade Ketchup

A few weeks back I caught an episode of Food Network’s multi-host culinary talk show The Kitchen that was all about burgers. There were some tasty looking variations on there, but the real star for me was Sunny Anderson’s Homemade Ketchup.

In the mood for another homemade challenge, I decided to give it a try to go along with some homemade burgers, buns and mayo on Fourth of July. As you do, I went to FN.com, searched around and found the recipe linked above. But, like many of the commentors, I was surprised to find that it differed from the one presented on the show. Two major ingredients — a cinnamon stick ans a star anise — were nowhere to be found and I want to say the cooking process was a little different than on the show, but I couldn’t fully recall.

So, I decided to follow the recipe as posted while adding the star and the stick, but cutting the sugar to a heaping half cup. The rest of the process is pretty simple but does take some time. I’ve heard that homemade ketchup winds up tasting pretty different from the store-bought stuff and that’s definitely the case with this recipe, especially if you use the anise. After I took the handblender to the cooked tomato mixture I was surprised to find that, not only was it too sweet, but also nearly overpowered by that rich licorice flavor from the star. From there I stirred in a combination of salt, apple cider vinegar and regular vinegar to subdue some of that sweetness. Eventually I had to move on to other things so it went into the fridge to cool.

The next day I tasted the ketchup and, while it’s still pretty far from Heinz, I’ve got to say that it’s mighty intriguing. It’s basically ketchup’s sassier cousin with the crispness of the tomatoes along with the acid notes from the vinegar and that overarching unique sweetness from the star anise. It might not be what I’m used to, but it worked really well with the burgers and has served us well since. When I try this next time, I might leave the anise out just to see what the results are like.

I did all this a day or two before I was going to use it so it would have enough time to cool. I also wound up dividing the condiment into three parts, one going in a squeeze bottle I picked up at the grocery store and the other two in individual freezer bags.

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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).

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.

Making Rachel Ray’s Tuna Puttanesca

Puttanesca is a sauce that I am really growing to like. Between having it on vacation last year and then making my own last month, I’ve come to really enjoy that salty, briny flavor you get by combining tomatoes, capers and olives. So, when I was looking around Food Network’s website for easy to make, cool-ish dinners and came across Rachel Ray’s recipe for Tuna Puttanesca, I figured I’d give it a shot.

On the heat side of things, it’s not exactly the coolest because you’re making pasta and making a pretty simple sauce, but if you get them going at the same time you’re only dealing with a 15 minutes of heat and then you’re good to go. So, I wouldn’t save this for the hottest day of the year, but it definitely does the trick when things are starting to heat up outside.

It’s also very simple to make because you’re dealing with mostly canned or jarred ingredients. I took it easy on myself and got both black and kalamata olives pre-sliced to save myself some time. On that same note, I went with crushed jarred tomatoes instead of whole. When it’s hot out, you don’t want to be messing around trying to hold down slippery tomatoes or olives to cut.

So, some olive oil goes into the pan with garlic and then the tuna. You throw in the capers and olives, then some wine to cook down before adding the tomatoes and you’re pretty much there. Drain the pasta and put that in the pan to finish (I wished I had used the Dutch oven at this point because, as you can see, my pan got awfully full) and you’ve got yourself a nice easy dinner. I should say that the flavors in this dish got nowhere near close to the more intense ones I mentioned above. Instead of smelling a flower in all its glory, you’re smelling it while you’ve got a cold. All the elements are there, just not as full-forced. Still, quick, easy and pretty good are what I’m looking for with meals like this.

Cooking Chicken Salad Veronique & Tomato Feta Pasta Salad

Like I said before, it was over 90 degrees last week and I was desperately looking for dinners that would not blast heat throughout the house. I came across a pair of Ina Garten recipes for Chicken Salad Veronique and Tomato Feta Pasta Salad that looked cool and both featured elements I could make earlier in the day and use during dinner. It was supposed to be an easy, relaxed dinner spread out over the whole day, but I wound up needing to make mayonnaise, so things got a little hotter than expected.

It started out well, though. I tossed four chicken breasts covered in olive oil, salt and pepper in to the oven and let cook for 40 minutes like the recipe suggests. When that was done, I let the chicken cool and then put it in the refrigerator until I needed it later. When it got closer to dinner time, I got to work on the rest of the salad which only really needed some cut up grapes and celery tossed in a bowl with the chopped chicken and mixed with mayo and tarragon from the herb garden.

Then I realized I didn’t have any mayo, but did have all the things I needed to make it again and decided to do that. I started out trying to make a half batch because we don’t really eat that much mayonnaise in our house, but I think I screwed up the ratios and had to then make closer to a full batch. This was a bit of a mess and I had to do it twice and busted out the electric whisk, something I’ve never used before, but it got the job done. In went the homemade mayo, out came chicken salad.

While I was sweating bullets mixing this at first by hand, a pot of water was boiling on the stove for the Tomato Feta Pasta Salad. This helped add an extra side to the menu, but also use up some of the pasta we got for Lu’s birthday party after my wife and the inlaws went shopping at BJ’s. Anyway, aside from the boiling pasta water, this was easy peasy to put together. Make pasta, throw a bunch of stuff for the dressing in a food processor, cut up some veggies and you’re done. I accidentally put some of the cheese into the processor, so the dressing came out kind of chunky instead of smooth, so I had to really mix it more, but it turned out really tasty.

I enjoyed both of these dishes and will definitely make them again. The chicken salad reminded me of the kind my mom used to make, especially with the grapes and celery, so it not only tasted good but also had a nice memory to it. Definitely give these recipes a shot if you don’t want to heat your house up too much this summer or want to take an easy dish to a cook out with friends.

Cooking Guy Fieri’s Bacon & Tomato Pasta

Three years ago, I made Guy Fieri’s Baclon and Tomato Pasta. I know this because, I printed the recipe off from Food Network’s website and kept the paper. I don’t remember anything about that first attempt, but considering this is a pasta recipe that also involves bacon, I understand why I chose it in the first place. For this week’s menu, I decided to flip through the ol’ recipe binder, saw this one and gave it another shot.

It’s a really simple recipe, which I like. I stayed true to the recipe though I was a little short on basil because our herb garden isn’t replenishing itself as much as I’d like. Anyway, I got the water boiling and then did a bunch of chopping so I’d only have to put the right things in the pan at the right time. This made things super easy, kind of like when I cook in the wok.

You can scope out the recipe yourself to see all the steps. Like I said, it’s an easy one and it yielded a pretty tasty meal. I wish I had cooked the bacon just a little longer to get it crispier. I didn’t realize it beforehand, but going with thick cut meant it didn’t cook nearly as fast and took pretty long even to get as crispy as it did, which wasn’t a lot. I like how the red wine works in there, though I think next time I might use more tomatoes. I would like this recipe even better if it was a bit saucier. Still, I devoured it that night for dinner and again as leftovers the next day, so it’s not like I can say I didn’t like it.

Cooking Green Goddess Rice With Chicken

I’ve only seen a few episodes of Claire Robinson’s Food Network show 5 Ingredient Fix, but I almost always see something I want to try. One such thing was her recipe for Green Goddess Rice, a side dish that involves adding a basil, lemon and avocado sauce to rice. I made this once before as a side dish for something I can’t quite remember, but when I made it last week, I decided to add some grilled chicken and make it an entree.

The meal itself couldn’t be simpler. You throw the Green Goddess sauce ingredients into a blender or food processor after making your rice and then grilling up some chicken. I went a little heavy on the lemon this time around, but it wound up being a really good compliment to the avocado, basil, rice and chicken flavors.

For the chicken, I just spread on some good olive oil, salt and pepper then got to grilling. When it was done, I chopped it up and mixed everything together in a big bowl. I was so excited to eat that I forgot to take a picture of the chicken added in or my usual plated shot which should give you an idea of how great this recipe is.

Cooking Jeff Mauro’s Hawaiian BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich with Grilled Pineapple Relish

As I said back during the last season finale of Food Network Star, I was pretty happy that Jeff Mauro won. I dug his Sandwich King idea of taking regional sandwiches and giving them a spotlight while also turning recipes you wouldn’t usually put between bread and doing so. I even watch his show when I stumble upon it, which is something I can’t say about most Food Network shows. I happened to see an episode he did about making a few different kinds of barbecue and decided to give his recipe for Hawaiian BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich with Grilled Pineapple Relish.

This one was actually pretty simple, though you need time to get it done. The first step was making a dry rub out of brown sugar, coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, black pepper and cinnamon. I rubbed the rub on the pork butt and then wrapped it up in plastic wrap for a few hours in the fridge. Two hours later, I popped it in my Dutch over and then put it, covered, in the oven for three hours.

With about an hour left in the oven cooking, I moved back into the kitchen and put the pineapple relish together. That involved slicing a pineapple and grilling it, chopping up some onions and ginger. I had already used my limes on another recipe, so instead I used orange juice which seemed to work out well. Oh, I also skipped the cilantro and the jalapeno for this because my wife hates the former and I’m not a huge fan of super heat.

After that, it was time to put the chili sauce together. Again, this one was pretty simple. The only changes I made were not crushing the red pepper flakes because I just couldn’t get them to grind with my mortar and pestle. What I did instead was actually strain the sauce as I poured it onto the pulled pork.

And it’s really that simple. I think not replacing the ingredients I left out of the relish might have negatively effected that flavor which wound up being a little more acidic than I think it was supposed to be. I also completely forgot to make or get red cabbage which bummed me out because I think the red cabbage I’ve made before and love would have been the perfect compliment to these flavors. I think that’s what seemed like it was missing from the flavors as they combined with this sandwich. That’s something to remember for next time.

Initial Reactions To The Season Eight Premiere Of The Next Food Network Star

So, last night the new season of Next Food Network Star premiered. This eighth season of the popular competition series flipped the script by changing up the format of the series. This time around, Bobby Flay, Alton Brown and Giada De Laurentiis have each chosen five contestants to be part of their team. The teams do some kind of challenge and then the two teams that don’t win send one person into the Pitch Room along with the coach and they have to defend themselves. I’ll admit, I didn’t see all of the episode because Mad Men was on. I also wasn’t very impressed with how obvious they edited this overly long two hour episode to very clearly let you know that Cristie and Josh were going to be in the bottom. With so much run time, you’d think they’d do a little more to throw you off base, but they really laid it on heavy.

Anyway, I just wanted to run through the teams quickly and offer up my first impressions. I’ll be honest, looking at the list on Wikipedia, I don’t remember roughly half of them and only find myself wanting to watch a small handful teach me how to cook. I probably should not be writing this post based on only seeing half an episode, but isn’t the internet designed for sharing half-formed opinions?

Let’s start with Alton’s team. Cristie got sent home which was no surprise. The few times I flipped over after 9:00PM she was struggling with just about everything. That was more of a mercy elimination than anything. You keep people like this around too long and it gets painful to watch. Emily really wants you to know she likes the 50s, but you know what? I do not care about that schtick. Her theme is supposed to be cooking 50s style meals today which is somewhat interesting, but she’s just too much for now. Judson likes bow ties, seems okay, that’s all I got. I really liked Justin and he’s my current favorite. A young guy who likes really messing around with food? That’s right in my wheelhouse. Martie was entertaining enough, but I’m not sure if I want to watch her talk about cooking.

Team Giada came close to losing Josh which would have been amazing because that dude is just grating. Who says, “Rock and roll!” in a group of people? I bet his band sucks and do not care about what he has to say about anything. I don’t remember anything about Linkie aside from her name. Martita also got on my nerves with a quickness. How many ay dios mios can you throw in, editors? I’m also sick of people playing off the “fiery latino” thing. We get it already. Ippy’s my other favorite right now. I like his attitude, but also the fact that he’s Hawaiian and that’s an area of cooking I’m very unfamiliar with. Yvan was alright and could easily become a favorite or one of the over the top kind of people that just gets annoying.

We end with Team Bobby, which was an interesting group. I really like Eric’s point of view of making everything by hand and think the editors will as well, especially if he keeps pushing things to the very edge of time in order to make his food. I remember next to nothing about Kara and Malcom, but did find myself enjoying Michelle. The question here, though, is whether they’d pick someone who so clearly looks like the love child of Guy Fieri, Anne Burrell and Robert Irvine. Finally, Nikki feels like the Penny of this cast, she’s too conniving and too bitchy which makes her an interesting reality show contestant, but not the kind of person you’ll want teaching you to cook something.

What’d you guys think? Did I miss anything huge in the second hour? It seemed like they were really dragging out that tasting of the restaurant wars-style challenge, but I guess that make sense considering it’s the first episode. Hopefully next week, there won’t be such a big conflict.