MacGyvering Thai-Style Lentil, Coconut & Green Bean Soup

Do you have a blindspot when it comes to a certain aspect of cooking? I do and it comes in the form of the slow cooker. For some reason, my mind always forgets to remind me that I need to actually get those dinners ready until there’s not enough time. With ingredients ready to go bad in the next few days and a need for a dish, I took to my trust copy of The Ultimate Soup Bible and did a little digging.

After looking up a few soups by ingredient, I realized I had most of what I’d need to follow the recipe for Thai-Style Lentil & Coconut Soup (p. 123), plus a bag of green beans, so I got to work. I had to make a few changes for this one. First off, I didn’t have sunflower oil, red onions, a Thai chili, lemongrass or cilantro so I swapped out for peanut oil, a yellow onion and shallot and omitted the rest.

I cooked two chopped onions, two cloves of garlic and the cleaned and broken-up green beans in some peanut oil for five minutes before adding 7 ounces of lentils (I had regular, not red), a teaspoon of coriander that I warmed and ground myself as well as a teaspoon of paprika. Then the can of coconut milk went in followed by 3 3/4 cups of water. I brought that to a boil and then simmered for 45 minutes. When that was done I added the juice from a lime and some sliced scallions. And thus a soup was born!

I’m sure the recipe as written has a much greater depth of flavor thanks to the additional heat from the chili (which I probably would have skipped anyway) and the lemongrass, but I thought this worked out pretty well for a quickly MacGyvered meal. For an extra bit of protein and saltiness, I put some lightly salted roasted peanuts on top of mine which helped round things out.

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Cooking Nigella Lawson’s Beer-Braised Beef Casserole

A month or two back I sat down with my usual stack of cookbooks and wound up walking away with several recipes from Nigella Kitchen. I had about an equal number of hits as misses, but this one, more fully titled Carbonnade a la Flamand (a.k.a. Beer-Braised Beef Casserole, page 330) was a home run. This recipe is super easy to make, but you do need several hours for it to cook. Since I work from home, this wasn’t such a big deal, but if you’re working full time and like to cook, I’d recommend giving in a whirl on a nice fall or winter weekend.

You might be wondering about that first photo above. That’s molasses in some sugar because I realized just as I was about to make this dish that we didn’t have any brown sugar. I’ve since remedied this, but after looking up what brown sugar actually is (sugar mixed with molasses), I figured this would be a good workaround. I think it worked out pretty well.

Anyway, I wasn’t familiar with this recipe by name, but it’s pretty similar to others I’ve made. You start off by cooking bacon in your Dutch oven. When it’s done to the crispness of your liking — we like ours nice and crunchy — you then cook onions in the bacon fat. This infuses not only the pungent veggies, but the whole dish with a rich fatiness that plays well with the right ingredients. The beef and spices go into the pot after that followed by flour and then the beer and beef broth. I happened to have a Brooklyn Brewery sampler pack on hand, but I can’t tell exactly which kind I used because that pic is so blurry.

And then you just let it cook for three hours. The recipe suggests putting it in the oven, but I just let it simmer on the stove top and thought the results were delightful. The beef takes on a sweet, tangy quality that made this dish a delight both fresh and as leftover. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the entire opening story before this recipe because if I had, I would have noticed the part about serving this meal over egg noodles which would have really soaked everything up. I’m definitely keeping that in mind for a nice winter meal.

Cooking Alton Brown’s Sweet & Sour Pork

 

I haven’t tried as many recipes from my copy of Alton Brown’s Good Eats: The Early Years for a few reasons. First, I know the book is based on the chronology of the TV show, but I’m not a big fan of the book’s layout. It makes sense for what it is, but I prefer my cookbooks organized by type of meal or ingredient, that kind of thing. I also get a bit distracted by the overly busy page design. And yet, every time I make something from this volume, it turns out good, so I should probably stop complaining about it.

Sweet And Sour Pork (page 342-3 or this link on FoodNetwork.com, if you want to check it out for yourself) was my most recent recipe attempt and, like most of the others, it turned out really well. As noted in the recipe, the first thing to do is cut up a bunch of pork butt and marinate it overnight, which means this recipe takes a bit more forethought than most. I think I forgot to do this the night before and wound up putting it together earlier the day-of and still had pretty solid results.

When you do get to the actual cooking, Brown suggests using an electric skillet. We happened to have one in our kitchen by way of wedding present, so I used that, but it seems like a pan would work just as well. As per usual, I did a lot of my prep beforehand. My wife had cut up the pineapple earlier in the week, so that wasn’t as big a chore as usual. I then got to work on the onion, celery, carrots and peppers, organizing them together based on when they went into the pan. With that out of the way and a flour dredging spot set up in a pie plate, I was off to the races.

After cooking the pork in the pan, you throw in the onion, celery and carrots. Once those get their cook on, it’s time for the more colorful peppers and pineapple to join the party along with the previously removed pork. At this point in the process I was really struck by how colorful this dish is. You can see it in the pictures, but anything with such bright yellows, greens, reds and oranges has to be good right?

The recipe actually called for an easy-to-make ketchup-based sauce to be added to the meat, vegetables and fruit, but it came out a bit sweet and I figured it would be better as a side sauce. I’m glad I made this move because I put a bit too much sauce on one of my servings and it basically washed out all those great meat and vegetable flavors. Drop some of that mixture on top of some rice — I went with Jasmine — and a drizzle of sauce and you’ve got a plate of food that not only looks amazing but also plays to most of your taste buds.

Bonus Food Pics: Gyro & The Mack Trucker Melt From P&G

gyroLast weekend, my wife, daughter and I went to the New Windsor Community Day event which was packed with various food vendors. If I’m in the vicinity of a good looking gyro (pronounced yee-ro), I’ve got to have one. I forgot to note the name of the place selling them, but I think they just do events like this and weren’t representing a restaurant. Anyway, this was a solid pita with meat carved from the spit and dosed with a good deal of tzatziki sauce and got the thumbs up. Even Lu dug the lamb, which was a bit of a surprise. p & g mack truck burger melt

The next day, we went to New Paltz to do some walking around. Before that, though, we stopped at P&G’s because I was jonesing for a beer or two with my meal. I decided on The Mack Truck Burger Melt which was described as, “8 oz. of freshly ground Black Angus beef charbroiled and topped with homemade macaroni and cheese, nestled in a grilled cheese sandwich.” This seemed like a good idea at the time, but didn’t mix well with the press of coffee I’d had that morning, the two beers during lunch and the coffee I had afterwards. Also, I’ve got to say, the sandwich was a tiny bit bland, which I wasn’t expecting. Still, I not only want to try this again, but also want to make one of my own. Finally, the onion rings were killer!

 

Cooking Smitten Kitchen’s Steak Sandwiches

To save some cash, I’ve been trying to base my weekly menus off of what’s on sale at my preferred grocery store. A few weeks back my store had loin steak on sale so I went to Smitten Kitchen, threw it in the search and discovered her recipe for Steak Sandwiches.

The meal is super easy to put together. I whipped up the Mustard Mayo first and put it aside, then got to work on the steak and onions which were not only easy to cook (basically throw in a pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper), but only dirtied one pan! Once done, you cut your steak and lay out your spread — the arugala, two kinds of cheddar and the Mustard Mayo — and you’ve got dinner. I really enjoyed the simple combination of mayo and mustard. At some point in the future, I will attempt this with homemade mayo.

I also enjoyed the leftovers for this meal as you can see in the very last image. While I don’t usually go for sandwiches for dinner, I liked the simple and easy leftovers this preparation created. I basically recreated the sandwich, put it under the broiler for a few minutes and had a tasty and dynamic dish.

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.

Cooking Chic Sausage & Peppers Over Pasta

It’s fairly unusual that I repeat recipes several times in a fairly short period of time. It’s even more unusual that I should do this without writing about it here on Monkeying Around The Kitchen. Well, I guess that makes the recipe for Chic Chorizo & Peppers Over Pasta from page 147 of Michele Urvater’s Monday To Friday Pasta fairly unusual then because I’ve made this thing four, maybe five times and it’s evolved to the point where I’ve changed enough elements that I feel comfortable writing it up as my own recipe, but you’ll have to wait until next week to see that! First, I’m going to write about my earlier experiences with this recipe, which I changed right off the bat by using sweet Italian sausage instead of Chorizo. I want to say I tried finding the original, but couldn’t and went with what I thought my family would enjoy. It wound up being a good decision.

I skipped taking photos of some of the more obvious steps like getting the salty pasta water going and cooking the sausage in a pan. Once that’s done, you remove it and place chopped red peppers, mushrooms and onions in the same pan. Cook that mixture for a few minutes and once it looks tender, you put the sausage back in along with two tablespoons of water (which I took directly from the boiling pasta water) and a teaspoon of caraway seeds (which is probably a bit redundant considering you’re using Italian sausage). You cover that for 5-7 minutes and let cook. If you’re timing’s good, your pasta will be done about this time, so you can drain that in the time and return to the pot. When the sausage and veggie mixture is done, drop it into the pan and mix with a half a cup of sour cream. I usually go with low fat sour cream most of the time and did once for this, but I would recommend going with the regular because it holds up better.

You mix all that together and have yourself a dinner that only created a few dirty dishes (a nice little bonus if you cook and clean). This recipe which balances the sweet tanginess of the sausage with the coolness of the sour cream turned out to be a really well balanced meal. Add in my favorite vegetable — mushrooms — and red peppers which have their own unique sweetness and crispness and you have a dish that’s pretty darn delightful.

Pizza Party: Luigi’s Deluxe & Hawaiian Pies

luigi's deluxe pizza

For the second half of last week and part of this week, my wife, daughter and I spent some nice time in Michigan hanging out with my parents at their cottage. We ate a lot of food on the grill which I forgot to snap pictures of, but there was one meal I absolutely, positively needed to let the world know about and that’s the pizza from Devil’s Lake’s Luigi’s Pizza. I almost wrote that it’s the one and only pizza joint up there, but it’s been a long time since I was a regular and don’t know that for sure. I do know that for a long time as a kid, it was one of the few food options that offered carry out food you could run up and get in your bathing suit and not get funny looks. It also happens that it was my favorite pizza before I moved out to New York.

Above you can see my favorite pie from them, the Deluxe which includes pepperoni, ham, sausage, onions, green peppers, mushrooms and black olives and, before moving to New York. I feel like it used to include green olives at one point, but memories get fuzzy. The beauty of this pie is just how much they cram on there. You can get deluxe-type pizzas a lot of places and this one probably isn’t super special as far as toppings go, but the key to Luigi’s greatness is the crust. The crusts on these pies have a garlucy, salty quality that made this the only crust I bothered eating for a long, long time.

luigi's hawaiian pizza

We also got a Hawaiian pie which featured pineapple, ham, green peppers and extra cheese which we tried to get with bacon instead of ham (highly recommended), but they were swamped leading into Fourth of July and didn’t get the custom portion of the order. Still, this is a solid, delightful Hawaiian pizza, which is something you can’t always get easily in my area. The extra cheese really makes this pop. Man, it would have been rad with bacon.

Anyway, if you’re in the Manitou Beach, Michigan area and haven’t tried Luigi’s go do it. If you’re somehow driving through (it’s not exactly close to any highways, which is by design as you might imagine) get over there and try some of this goodness.

Bonus Food Pic: Mayor McCheese Omelet From Fiddlestix

20130618-153611.jpg I hope all my fellow dads out there had a good Father’s Day. I got booze, breakfast and smoked pork, plus time with my family, so I’ve got no complaints. For breakfast we went over to our favorite local place Fiddlestix and got yet another wonderful meal. As usual, I went with one of the specials, this one called the Mayor McCheese, which is an omelet with ground beef, caramelized onions and tomatoes topped with melted cheese sauce. Considering everything I just wrote ranks pretty high on my favorite foods, you can reasonably bet that I had a wonderful time filling my face with a cheesy, beefy concocion held together with eggs. As an added bonus, I got to dip my toast in cheese!

Making Veggie Hash Out Of Failed Veggie Burgers

When I first started cooking, I was really big on following the recipes to the letter. My wife, who’s been cooking much longer would razz me about this a bit, but I took the same approach to cooking that I’ve read about comic book editors gave to new artists: do it a very specific way until you get the craft down, then branch out and do what you want. In the case of comic artists, they were often given a set number of panels to work with per page. For my cooking, I stuck super close to the recipes.

Now that I’ve been playing with food and recipes for a while, though, I feel like I can play around a little more. It’s good that I have that confidence now because my attempt to make Food Network’s recipe for Veggie Burgers With Mushrooms wound up not working out quite as planned. I don’t quite remember why my veggie burgers didn’t hold together. The only real swap-out I made was to use Panko crumbs instead of regular bread ones. Could that have had something to do with it?

Anyway, after making the patties and starting to cook them in the pan, I realized that these guys were not going to stick together. So, I broke down the burgers and cooked the whole thing as a kind of stir fry or hash, adding a little more Worcestershire AND low sodium soy sauce to boost the flavor.

For dinner that night, we ate it as is, but my wife suggested eating them with eggs, like a breakfast dish. I didn’t feel like cooking up some eggs at that point, but I did remember the idea the next morning and had myself a nice breakfast of sunny side up eggs and veggie hash. I gotta say, the eggs really brought the whole thing together and made for a much more interesting and tasty dish than it was as a plain old dinner.