24. February 2016 · Comments Off on Scampi, Interrupted · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , ,

This is one of those meals that is not only tasty as hell, but you can bang it out in less than a half hour using two pans. I took some liberties with a straight-forward shrimp scampi dish to streamline it for a quick-n-dirty, need something for dinner now prep.

Prep time: about 10-15 minutes to peel shrimp and chop herbs.
Cook time: 10-12 minutes.

What you need:
8 oz. dry linguini
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined (thawed quick-frozen is acceptable)
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 ½ tbsp. olive oil
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
4 cloves of minced garlic (about 2 tsp. of pre-minced, but don’t use garlic powder)
⅓ cup chopped fresh basil or flat parsley (I prefer basil)
¼ cup lemon juice

If you have time, use fresh lemons. Juice two lemons to get your ¼ cup of juice, and grate the zest of half a lemon and set aside.
Coarse ground black pepper to taste
Flaked red pepper to taste

What you do:

Start your pasta – bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Cook linguine for about 10 minutes (depending on brand) until al-dente.

While pasta is cooking, in a large skillet add olive oil and melt butter over medium heat. When butter/oil mixture foams, add minced garlic and saute for one minute. Do not brown.

Add your shrimp and season with the kosher salt. Sautee over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until pink and just to the point of being no longer translucent. Keep the shrimp moving so they do not burn/overcook.

Add the lemon juice, parsley or basil, optional lemon zest, optional pepper(s), toss with the shrimp and heat through. Remove from heat.

By now, your pasta should be just about done. Drain and immediately add to the shrimp mixture in the skillet. Over low-medium heat, toss the pasta and shrimp together until well combined and the pasta is coated with the butter sauce. Serve into warmed pasta bowls and, if you’d like, grate/shave some hard Italian cheese (parmesan, asiago, romano, etc.) over top.

17. December 2015 · Comments Off on Make Oatmeal Worth Eating · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , ,

Nothing is better on a cold winter’s morning than hot cereal, also referred to as porridge. Unfortunately, many of us were raised on stuff in wax paper packets to which one added boiling water and stirred. The result was a mushy, salty-sweet bowl of artificially-flavored goo. But you can do better! The investment, however, is time.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

1 cup steel-cut (AKA pinhead) oats
3 cups boiling water
1 tbsp unsalted butter
½ tsp kosher salt
¾ cup whole milk
2 tbsp plain yogurt

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When butter foams, add oats and mix to coat. Reduce heat to medium-low and allow oats to toast for 2-3 minutes – they will begin to smell “nutty”.

Add hot water and salt, and stir. Mixture should boil almost instantly. Reduce heat to a slow simmer and cover. Cook oats for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Whisk together milk and yogurt and stir into thickened oats. Return to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes more.

Spoon up into bowls and top with one or more of the following:

Maple sugar
Brown sugar
Toasted seeds or nuts
Dried fruit
Fruit preserves

PS: As long as you’re able to buy oats from a reputable supplier that certifies against cross-contamination, oatmeal is a GF food.

20. November 2014 · Comments Off on Let’s Make Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , ,

Late fall and early winter are the time of year to start craving comfort foods, especially ones where you can do a little prep work and then set them aside to cook while you get other stuff done. An old-fashioned example is the classic Carolina-style chicken and rice, with whole chicken parts simply simmered with stock in golden South Carolina rice. I’ve made it a few times before, and while it’s tasty, I always wanted something with a bit more punch flavor-wise.

So, when the co-op slings me a pound of wild rice from the Great Lakes and some free-range chicken breasts, I figure it’s time to step things up a bit. Protein and starch are fine, but I want some veg in there too – especially aromatic sorts. So let’s add some sweet red onion and carrots. Cumin goes with carrots and chicken nicely, so some toasted whole seed should be a part of this. Wild rice usually gets cooked with onion and celery, but I’m just gonna stick with celery seed for the flavor without the extra prep. For herbage, chicken loves sage and tarragon, so they’ll get simmered with the broth to extract their complex flavors.

The prep part of this takes about 15-20 minutes if you’re a decent multitasker, and about a half hour if you’re not. Then, you throw it all into an oven for and hour and a half. Which gives you plenty of time to work on your Thanksgiving menu or Christmas shopping list while your kitchen fills with fantastic smells. More »

04. August 2014 · Comments Off on The Rustic Tart: Impressive but Easy · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , , , ,

Rustic bacon, cheddar, and carmelized tartDepending on what you fill it with and who you talk to, the free-form tart is also known as a croustade or galette. It is, in essence, a round of simple pastry crust onto which a few layers of flavorful sweet or savory ingredients have been piled, and the edges folded up. A pie without a pan. They look and taste delicious, and can be really easy to do. The photo to the left is of a croustade made with caramelized onions, and pre-cooking the onions was the most difficult and time consuming part. They’re also a great intro to baking, because they don’t have to be picture-perfect. They’re supposed to be a little rough, a bit wonky… rustic’s right in the name. If you can roll out dough into a roughly circular shape and spread jam on bread, you can make one of these.

So, I give you Rustic Bacon, Cheddar, and Caramelized Onion Tart, or if you want to be fancy about it, Croustade aux fromage avec oignons et lardons. Put that on your dinner party e-vite or next potluck signup list!

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11. July 2014 · Comments Off on Easy Refrigerator Bread & Butter Pickles · Categories: Food · Tags: , ,

Bread and Butter Pickles in Black Bowl

Summer yields the bounties of the fresh vegetable harvest. Sometimes, this means finding things to do with a surplus of a given veg. With cucumbers, it’s easy – make refrigerator pickles! These are great for sandwiches, salads, dicing for relish, burgers, or even just snacking.

You need:

Cucumbers, washed

and for each pound of cucumbers,

1 cup cider or distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
1 tbsp kosher salt
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp whole coriander
¼ tsp brown mustard seed, whole
¼ tsp yellow mustard seed, whole
1 bay leaf

Slice cucumbers on a mandolin or with a standard food processor slicing blade to 1/8″ thick. Place each pound of sliced cucumbers into a quart container/jar.

Bring the other ingredients to a boil in a saucepan, reduce heat and maintain a steady simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for another 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf(s). Pour over cucumber slices, seal the containers, and shake to combine. Let cool for 20-30 minutes and then refrigerate for at least 4 hours, if not overnight.

If you like, red pepper flake or sliced fresh chilies can be added to the cucumbers to provide some heat to go along with the sweet/sour flavor of the standard recipe.

31. March 2014 · Comments Off on Where Once Again We Prove Pork Rules · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , , , ,

Chinese country-style pork ribsOne of the challenges of getting groceries from the co-op is that the protein selection of the week is generally beyond our control. And sometimes we end up with cuts we’ve never cooked with before, or have only used rarely. Here, it was country-cut pork ribs. Which aren’t really ribs proper, but are from the area between the loin and the shoulder blade. The ones I got were individually cut, a long thick strip which I split into two pieces each. The total weight of the package was just short of two pounds.

I’d tried making these before, and you really can’t treat them like you would spare ribs or baby backs. Honestly, the way they were packaged I thought they were St. Louis cut spare ribs, so when I opened them up, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to make them work for my intended use. I’d decided to attempt Chinese-style pork spareribs, which are generally made with belly cuts. Lots of fat to render and keep things from getting leather-tough despite long cooking times. Which I wouldn’t necessarily have here.

What the hell. Onward! More »

29. March 2014 · Comments Off on A Tale of Hothouse Tomatoes and Hydroponic Herb · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , ,

Salsa Fresca in Blue Glass BowlWe’re not talking that kind of herb. Sorry to disappoint anyone who arrived at this article via more interesting search terms. What we’re going to look at is a quick and easy way to liven up some of those less-than-prime wintertime ingredients. Specifically, using winter hothouse tomatoes and peppers along with hydroponically-grown green herbs to bid farewell to cold weather.

Let’s face it – non-summer tomatoes are a depressing thing. Sure, they might be the right color, but they lack the flavor development that the hot July and August sun brings. We can, however, boost their lackluster performance with some other handy ingredients. Hydroponically grown herbs and greens are pretty darned good all year round, and if you’re the kind of person who can keep an indoor potted herb garden in good shape throughout the chilly months, you’re in good stead, too. To use up our firm, reddish squash-balls some cilantro will come in very handy.

I’d been staring at this pile of hothouse Roma tomatoes for a few days. The weather’d been seesawing back and forth between spring-like days and the last vestiges of an annoyingly persistent winter. I wanted some spring/summer-ish food, and figured the best way to dispose of these fruits was to throw together some salsa fresca. This stuff is dead easy. I don’t know why you’d ever buy it in a jar.

You Need:
Roma tomatoes (about a pound)
1 large jalapeno pepper
Ground cumin
Kosher salt
1 Lime
Cilantro (fresh, about a handful of leaves)
1 Green bell pepper (small)
1/2 Red onion, peeled (large)

I removed the stem end of the tomatoes and seeded them all, then chopped to about a 1/4″ dice. I placed about 1/3 of them into a glass bowl and broke them up with a potato masher for a minute or so to make a chunky puree. The rest of the tomato pieces went in after, with a liberal sprinkling of kosher salt, then mixed to combine.

Then, I removed the top of the green pepper, seeded it, and also cut into a 1/4″ dice. Same size chop with the onion. The jalapeno, I removed the stem end, cut in half, removed the seeds and ribs, and minced finely. The cilantro just got a rough chop to break down the leaves, since I didn’t want them reduced to a mush by finely mincing them and letting them sit in the wet mixture.

All the ingredients were combined in the bowl with about 1/4 tsp. of ground cumin and the juice of one large lime. Adjust the salt to taste, and it’s done. Salsa fresca is best left to sit for a few hours or even overnight before serving to let the flavors meld. And later that night, with some home-made hummus, a cold beer, and pita chips, there was a little bit of summer.

27. March 2014 · Comments Off on In Which We (Pork) Knuckle Down and Get to Cooking. · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , , , ,

Roasted Pork HocksIn Germany, it’s Schweinshaxe. To the Poles, it’s golonka. The Czechs call it kolenko. The Austrians, Stelze. Any place where pig is the primary domestic meat, you’ll find a variation of this dish. Basically, it’s unsmoked pork hock – the cut just below the ham – marinated or cooked in aromatics and roasted, frequently with a beer glaze.

This is a rustic dish, to be sure. A big hunk of meat, still on the bone, browned and glistening. It begs for serving along with other Eastern-European accompaniments: braised cabbage, potatoes or potato dumplings, spaetzle, pickled beets, coarse brown mustard, dark rye bread, sauerkraut, and so on. Put the wine glasses away, too. A Czech pilsner or German Hellesbock is the perfect beverage for this.

Some prefer to slow-roast this dish. If you can find pork hocks unsmoked with the skin still on them, that may be the way to go. The only ones I can easily get my hands on are skinless with just a little bit of fat on the outside, and slow-roasting would dry them out way too much. So, I simmer them with aromatics prior to roasting. As a side benefit, you get a good quart’s worth of flavorful pork stock at the end. One major point – make sure you get fresh pork hocks, not smoked ham hocks. Ask your butcher. Ham hocks are salty and dry-cured, and best left for soups and greens.

If you can get skin-on, then I recommend singeing them over an open flame to remove any stray hairs (it happens) and then roasting them at 300°F, basting with the alternative basting liquid at the end of the recipe until the outside is bronze and crispy, and the meat is tender and just about falling off the bone, about 2½ to 3 hours.

You will need:
2 large fresh (unsmoked) pork hocks
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
1 tsp whole caraway seed
1 tbsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp whole juniper berries (optional)
1 large peeled carrot, cut into 2″ chunks
1 peeled parsnip, cut into 2″ chunks
1 rib celery, cut into 2″ chunks
1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsely (or 1 tsp quality dried flakes)
2 cloves garlic, chopped

For the glaze:
1 cup dark lager (amber lager, marzen – more malty than hoppy)
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp stock from the cooked hocks
1 tsp crumbled dry sage leaf (not ground)

Place hocks and salt into a large soup pot or dutch oven. Add just enough water to cover, place over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a gently rolling boil, and skim off any foam from the top of the cooking liquid. It will take about 5 minutes for the pot to stop foaming.

Add bay leaf, peppercorns, caraway seed, juniper (if using), garlic, onion, carrot, parsnip, celery, and parsley. Return to a rolling boil, then reduce heat, cover, and maintain a steady simmer. Cook for 2 to 2½ hours, until meat is almost falling off the bone. Remove from pot and heat oven to 375°F.

Whisk beer to remove most of the carbonation, add honey, and heat until honey dissolves easily. Add sage and stock from the cooking pot and mix. Season with salt to taste.

Transfer hocks to a baking dish just large enough to hold them without touching. Pour over glazing liquid and place in oven. Roast for about 40 minutes, basting frequently. Remove to a plate, tent with foil, and let stand for at least 5 minutes before serving.

If you’re roasting skin-on hocks, use this for your basting liquid. Combine peppercorns, garlic, sage, caraway, beer, honey, 1/4 cup of chicken broth/bouillon, 1 tsp dehydrated onion flakes, bay leaf, parsley and optional juniper berries and heat until honey is dissolved. Season with salt to taste. Place hocks in baking pan just big enough to hold them without touching, pour over liquid, and baste every 15-20 minutes while cooking.

Pork Stock:
Remove stock pot of cooking liquid to the sink and place it in a cold or ice-water bath, changing water and stirring until the stock has cooled. Pour into a storage container, straining out the solids with a mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Refrigerate or freeze for later use for soups, beans, or braising.

Serve with spicy brown mustard on the side. Serves 4 deboned, or two really hungry people bone-in.

05. January 2014 · Comments Off on The Bit About Chicken Noodle Soup (Thank You, Mr. Warhol) · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , ,

Warhol-Campbells-Chicken-NoodleFor a bit of a stretch, we were getting chicken in various shapes and sizes through Friends and Farms, our grocery co-op. I’d finish broiling off or baking one set of split breasts or thigh quarters and more’d show up in the following week’s pickup. So, when another whole bird arrived, I was in a bit of a quandary as to what to do with it. I’d roasted three whole chickens already over the summer. And while I like roast poultry a lot, I didn’t want to do it again.

So, I ended up parting it out into quarters – leg/thigh, breast/wing – bagging it, and freezing it for later. And later lasted quite a while. During which, more chicken dutifully appeared in our insulated bag on Saturdays. Fortunately, the new fridge has a freezer drawer that really is a deep-freeze, keeping things sub-zero or thereabouts. So, it wasn’t a couple months later that I finally hauled those rock-solid quarters out in a decision to free up some bin space.

If you’ve never made real, honest-to-goodness, home-made chicken noodle soup, you will be surprised at a) how easy it is and b) how long it takes. I promise, however, the results are more than worth it. You just need a chicken, some basic vegetables, and a couple of common herbs. And time. Definitely time. In fact, this is a recipe in two parts, and you should plan on starting the process the evening before your intended meal. The following day, assembling the finished soup takes less than an hour.

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30. December 2013 · Comments Off on A Brief Essay on the Bottom of the Food Chain · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , ,

As a culture, we have learned to eat high on the the biological hog, as it were. The majority of our protein sources, if we are not of the vegan/vegetarian persuasion, come from creatures that are relatively high up the ladder as far as who eats whom. Many of our fish, even, are fish-eaters themselves requiring several pounds of other seafood to put on a pound of their own weight. Aquaculture, if done badly, can be just as polluting as factory farming. Wild-catch fish are rapidly being depleted in fisheries worldwide as demand rises.

Which leads me to ponder why we’ve largely ignored the virtues of the lower orders of the marine ecosystem. Sure, small oily fishes (which are admittedly pretty tasty in their own right) have garnered attention in trendy eateries and with those who espouse the Mediterranean diet. But I’ve always been interested in going even lower, to the bivalves and molluscs. Sure, oysters are the darlings of the filter-feeder set, eaten raw and roasted with refined sauces and fine wines at the fanciest of tables. Clams have their fans, particularly in the northeastern parts of the US.

But for pure availability and bang-for-buck, we have to talk about mussels. More »