Thursday, August 25, 2011

I love a good tool

Conventional kitchen wisdom says you only need a few quality tools in the kitchen to cook pretty much anything. I counter that certain tools, though "they" may call them superfluous, really do make it easier, and more likely, for the home cook to try certain things. That's been the case for me, anyways.

Take my food processor, for example. Once I got it, I made a lot more (and a lot better) pesto. Also, blended bean dips and other thicker dips made a more regular appearance at the table. There were just some things that my blender couldn't do very well.

My crock-pot allows me to cook when I don't have the time or the energy. I just put good ingredients in, turn it on, and walk away. It saves me time, and saves me from eating out and spending money.

Then there was the Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Since it's arrival, I'm much more likely to do a cake from scratch, to make frosting, and to make bread even when I'm super busy.

And, of course, I can't forget the knives. My first Wusthof, then my santoku, opened up a whole new world of effecicient, effortless chopping.

My most recent purchase was a large skillet with a wide bottom. It's heavy like a cast-iron, but non-stick. And, the large surface area makes reducing a breeze. I've made sauces in a snap, shortened cooking time on soups and stews, and have finally learned how to saute properly.

Though most of these--other than the knives--aren't essential for a kitchen, they are now essential for my kitchen.

Here's a quick recipe that uses two of my tools to make a fast, tasty, fresh pasta sauce.

Slow Cooker tomato sauce
Several fresh tomatoes
large handful basil
1/4 cup red wine
4 garlic cloves, peeled
salt and pepper to taste
You'll also need a slow cooker, a blender or food processor, and a wide-bottomed saute pan with a lot of surface area.

Cut the tomatoes into big chunks. Toss them into the slow cooker with the other ingredients. Turn to low, and go to work.

Come home, and stir. Turn off heat, open lid. Carefully put mixture into blender. Blend until smooth. Be careful as it will be hot so pulse the blender until you're sure the lid won't pop off.

Transfer sauce to wide-bottomed saucepan. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as needed. Go for a little less salty than you think you need since it will be saltier when you reduce it.

Turn burner to high, and heat sauce until it starts bubbling. Turn heat to medium low and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce gets the thickness you want. For pasta, you'll want it thinner. For pizza, you'll want it pretty thick.
When the sauce gets as thick as you want, turn off the burner, and taste one more time, and see if it needs more salt or pepper. Here is where you'd add fresh herbs, a little more salt or pepper, some heavy cream, or even a shot of vodka.

Serve on whatever you like.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Improv Recipe: Chicken Agumba (corn, salsa, tequila, shallots, avocado)

Chicken Agumba. It's my dad's faux-Italian shorthand for an improv chicken dish when you're short on time and money. The Mister and I were both this week--and the CSA veggies were threatening a refrigerator revolt. As always, sub whatever you have on hand.

1 large frozen chicken breast, thawed and pounded flat
2 ears corn, sliced off cob (canned is fine if it's all you got)
1/2 jar salsa (mine was medium)
1/4 cup tequila
2 shallots, sliced
1-2 T citrus juice
1-2 T oil
1/2 avocado.

Cut chicken breast in half and season.
Put oil in medium saute pan, heat up, add chicken. Cook 3 minutes a side, flip, cook another 3 minutes.
flip, cook another 3 minutes, flip, cook another 3 minutes.
Move to plate.
Turn off heat. Add tequila and deglaze pan.
Add corn and salsa and shallots. Cook for 2 minutes until liquid goes down a bit.
Add chicken breasts back in, cover Cook for 2-3 minutes. Turn off heat.
Cut avocado into cubes.

To serve: Put chicken and some of the corn sauce on plate. Top with half the avocado cubes.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hot under the (tuna) collar

There are some foods I've never had that I know I'll love.

Oh, I plan to eat them someday, but either they are too expensive (caviar), too hard to find in my area (glass eels, sea beans), or I only recently learned they existed (black garlic).

Today, I crossed one off my list: Tuna collar.

It all started a few months ago, when The Mister and I discovered a great place for hot-smoked fish. They smoke their fish whole, so one of the items they sell--for cheap--is smoked heads and collars. Like, a pound of fish is usually $10-20, and the collars are a buck a piece.

There's not a ton of eat on them but there''s this insanely tasty layer of fat between the skin and the bone. They were so unctuous and delicious, I called them fish ribs.

And, three weeks later, when I saw them grilling tuna collar on Iron Chef, it clicked. Tuna Collar is just big fish ribs.

Today, at lunch, I had my first real tuna collar, deep fried, with a nice honey soy glaze. Just like the fish ribs, but bigger, no smoke, and a super crispy skin. Biss.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Delicious things

I don't always appreciate the amazing food I have in my hometown. Like organic strawberries, soft as cream, only hours off the vine. Or Garlic scapes from--literally--my own backyard, the cut ends weeping garlic water.

But sometimes, I need an Ann Arbor fix.

In my current hometown, you must keep your eyes open to find the good things. But in Ann Arbor, you could put on a blindfold, spin around, go in a random direction, and find something delicious.

You'd even be safe from most cars, as the drivers are conditioned to avoid arrogant students.

We were in Ann Arbor on Saturday for aikido, so I convinced The Mister to take a side trip to Zingermans before we left. After all, I had a gift card to spend.

Zingermans lets you taste everything, and has plenty of people behind the counter to help you out. Poor fella, he offered to let me taste everything. I told him "I appreciate your willingness, but for both our sakes, I'm gonna stick to three cheeses and a couple olives."

I picked up several nice things, but my favorite was the Remeker, or as I like to call it, "Scotch Cheese." It's got a tangy, carmely, nutty flavor that reminded me instantly of a good lowland scotch. Because it was aged, it had that crunchy, crumbly thing going on that I usually equate with a good Parmesan.

I've got one more day of the cheese left. This is a beauty that doesn't keep terribly long, nor should it. Tomorrow, I'll be trying it with scotch after dinner.

So, I guess the moral of this post is to appreciate what you have locally, but don't be afraid to travel a bit to seek out new things.

Oh, and if you like aged cheeses, if you can afford it, and if you will be home to accept the delivery, get this cheese shipped to you.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Good morning, Sunshine - Smoothies

While I was at the farmer's market picking up some local honey, the honey evangelist (and I mean that in the nicest way) gave me a couple booklets with recipes in them.

This Apricot Honey Smoothie was a standout. I tweaked it just a little bit, to the recipe below.

Apricot Honey Smoothie - Thanks, honey evangelist!
1/2 cup dried apricots
1 can (20 oz) crushed pineapple in 100% juice - no sugar added
1/2 cup honey (I used buckwheat, which was awesome)
1/2 cup orange juice (or the juice from one orange)
1/3 cup buttermilk

Dump apricots into blender. Add pineapple. Wait five minutes until the fruit is soaked and soft. Blend briefly. Add the rest of the ingredients, and blend until smooth. Stick in fridge for at least an hour until cold. Or, if there's room, stick a couple ice cubes in and blend. Blend again right before serving.

I didn't have any on hand, but I think this would be great with a handful of almonds. This reminds me of my childhood, and the hippie granola kids cookbook I used to love. Still do.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Another win for Martha's Gang - Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

So, I've mentioned before, I love the Martha Stewart Living: Food magazines. They're filled with proven recipes that are easy and fast.

I have been living off the buttermilk ranch recipe from the June issue all month. The base is just 2 cups buttermilk, 1 cup sour cream, a half cup of mayo, salt and pepper to taste. But then you add fun stuff, like Parmesan cheese, or fresh herbs, or avocado, or bacon, or whatever, to it, to make it your own.

I have been using this on every shred of lettuce in the fridge, coating cooked and cooled green beans with it, even dipping pizza crusts into it. What can I say, it's tangy, salty goodness.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The week in garlic - ending June 12, 2011

* I went out to weed my garden today, and I found a lovely surprise: The scapes are sprouting! Garlic scape pesto is mere days away.

* I was watching Chopped--don't judge me, and one of the basket ingredients was Black Garlic. This started out as a health food, but the trendy chefs found out about it and it's taken off as the must-have ingredient of the new decade. It appears to be a cross between roasted garlic and pickled garlic, where the whole heads are kept at high temperature, pressure, and humidity, until they turn black and (reportedly) tasty. When I can get my hands on some, I will report back. I have some very fun ideas how to use it. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Summer Stock

It's 92 degrees, insane humidity, and am I churning out the sorbet with my Cuisinart ice cream maker?

Nope. I'm making stock.

Yes, I'm an iconoclast.

It was crock-pot stock, though. We'd been grilling, and I had a leftover leg of lamb and a chicken carcass, and I didn't want them to go to waste.

I have to say, crock-pot stock is the way to go. No stirring or skimming, the house didn't get too hot, and all the cooking happened while I was at work.

I suppose I should give you a recipe, but this is all estimate.

crock-pot stock
1-2 pounds meaty bones (I used cooked, but uncooked would work)
2 carrots, cut into large chunks
1 onion, quartered
6 peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons of salt

The night before: Dump all ingredients into crock-pot.
The morning after, before you go to work:
Add water until everything is covered. Turn crock-pot on to low.
When you get home: Turn off crock-pot. Use a ladle to pour stock through a strainer into a shallow baking dish, 9X13 is good. The strainer will capture most of the solids and meat guts. You can throw the meat guts away, or pick them over and save the good bits for a casserole or sandwich spread if you are frugal.

You have two options now: You can salt the stock now, or later (before you use it). Either way, add salt a teaspoonful at a time and taste until you think it's salty enough.

When the stock is cooled somewhat, put into fridge or freezer. If you don't freeze, and don't use within a couple days, make sure to bring the stock to a full boil for 5 minutes before you use it.

CSA is a comin' so expect a more seasonally appropriate recipe soon.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Improv recipe: Rice with dates and brie

Had an Oscar party. Made some baked dates stuffed with bits of brie. Had a bunch left over, so I decided to toss them into some rice. It was yummy.

Can't really give you the estimates, but it was about a dozen dates, and a couple servings of jasmine rice. Tossed it all in together to cook at once.

The dates kind of melted in to the rice, and the dates and the brie made things very, very sweet. It was very filling and tasty, but a little on the sweet side.