Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Let's Talk Comfort Food

When the weather reports that it's colder in some states than in Fairbanks, Alaska, we kind of want to curl up under a blanket, with a cup of tea and a bowl of something hot (and probably calorically dense.)

Comfort food.

For some people, it might be chicken soup. Others' version might be chili. Still others might prefer lasagna. Or whatever. 

Me, I'm partial to Babu's halubke. (For those of you who don't transliterate Slovak, halubke is "stuffed cabbage." And "Babu" is what my daughter has been invited to call my maternal grandmother.)

However, since I haven't got the how-to, cabbage, or Babu's recipe (we're supposed to make time to make it together), I'll have to go a different direction.

Today, I've got Slow Cooker Chicken and Dumplings working in the kitchen.

Tomorrow, we're doing chili. (With box-mix cornbread.)

Over the next few days, I'll be checking my cookbooks for comfort food recipes. Spring can't come soon enough!!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Recipe Trial - Black Bean Enchiladas

It's Lent and, although I'm not observant, I still feel weird eating meat on Fridays in Lent. (Eighteen years of consistency is a hard habit to break.)

So, I decided we'd try a new vegetarian recipe to see if we could add it to the regular rotation.

The munchkin and I were already out & about, so I whipped out my smartphone to consult my Wegmans app for vegetarian recipes ... and to automatically generate a shopping list from the ingredients list.

I took a peek at the Black Bean Enchiladas and decided they were worth a shot.

Fortunately, I only had to pick up a few things because I've already got garlic (whole heads of garlic, but I don't mind peeling it), olive oil, cumin, chili powder, and AP flour in the pantry. 

Shopping List

  • 1 16-oz container "Caribbean Black Bean Soup" (if you're not near a Wegmans, they do have a recipe to scratch-make it)
  • 1 16-oz package shredded "Mexican blend" cheese (combination of Cheddar, Monterrey Jack, and queso quesadilla cheeses)
  • 1 8-oz package shredded "Mexican blend" cheese
  • 1 15.5-oz can tomato sauce (store brand is fine)
  • 2 15.5-oz cans black beans (again, store brand is fine)
  • 1 jar Better Than Boullion brand vegetable base (yes, I know the recipe called for "no-chicken" but my store didn't have any, so I got the vegetable kind)
  • 2 10-oz pkgs stone-ground corn tortillas

Recipe Review

Ease of Preparation: 

I think that this recipe is one of the more complicated new recipes I've tried, even when compared to the Ted Allen Belgian Beef Stew I took on for week 1.

I had a sinkful of dirty dishes when I was finished the pre-oven steps, and there were a lot of complicated steps to get there - this involved making a roux (not a problem, as I've done this before - it's a major component of AB Mac & Cheese), ensuring my mise en place were fully "en place" before I started cooking, and grabbing the appropriate blending tools before I could move to the next step.

So, no, it's not easy, but my sister would never try it - it's got too much "spice" for her palate. 

Specialty equipment required?

I needed two 9" by 13" casserole pans (which I do not have, but I do have a 9x13 Pyrex baking dish ... and an oval ceramic baking dish roughly the same size), a "stockpot" (I used a 3-qt saucepan), a large mixing bowl, a non-stick skillet, and a plate (I used a Pyrex pie dish; this, I think, was a stroke of genius.)

It can be a bit of a hassle to get all this stuff out for a single recipe, but it's not as complicated as getting my mini-prep food processor or coffee grinder, which are stored above my fridge. 

Did my husband and daughter enjoy it?

While the kid wouldn't touch it, the husband did.

He likes the flavors, but gave his typical comment to vegetarian dishes I prepare - "it's missing something." 

*sigh* He's a carnivore, no matter how much I try.

Regular rotation-worthy?


It's too much work to prepare a dish like this and be the only one happy to eat it.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Recipe Review - Rosemary Flank Steak with Balsamic Grilled Onions

So this recipe was supposed to be part of a Valentine's Day feast, but it kept getting pushed off due to conflicts in schedule.

On Valentine's Day itself, I actually improvised heart-shaped pizzas with some store-bought dough, jarred sauce, and fresh mozzarella. I think they would have been perfect if I'd remembered to drizzle a little olive oil over the top ... and had picked up some fresh basil. Oh well. Next time, right? (For those of you whose Nonnas would rather die than use bought dough & jar sauce, please remember I'm Slovak, Irish, and German, not Italian, so I take the help where I can get it, though maybe I'll learn some sauce-making secrets this year. I do have a couple of Giada cookbooks, after all.)

Please keep in mind that I also served this with two aphrodisiac sides - garlic mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus spears. (Yes, garlic is an aphrodisiac - for its effects on the circulatory system.)

Review Checklist

Ease of preparation:

This one's not too bad - the marinade calls for a half cup of good olive oil (I use extra-virgin because I've found a very nice, very fruity oil that I like in marinades and for drizzling), bruised rosemary leaves (they suggest using a rolling pin to do the work; I had an empty wine bottle), chopped garlic (smash and chop!), cracked peppercorns (stick 'em in a zip-top freezer baggie & smash with your meat tenderizer!), and some good balsamic vinegar.

I'll admit that good balsamic is a little on the pricey side of things and a lot of people don't keep whole peppercorns in their pantry like I do, but, in general, these are not ingredients that require a lot of hunting.

After the steak marinated, I did miss the point where I was instructed to brush off the solids, so it went onto my grill pan with rosemary leaves, peppercorns, and garlic bits still sticking to it. Oops! 

Bottom line: my sister could totally follow the instructions even if I couldn't!

Specialty equipment required?

Yes and no. 

This is a grill (or grill-pan) recipe, so it means I could make it again during the summer when we're grilling things more frequently ... or I could pull out my double-burner, cast iron, grill/griddle pan because it's a wee bit nippy here on the East Coast.

As I mentioned above, a rolling pin is also called for, but I haven't kept one easily accessible for years, so ... I used a wine bottle.

Did my husband and daughter enjoy it?

Well, the kid didn't touch it, but the husband really enjoyed it, so I'll be making this again at some point.

Regular rotation-worthy?

Yes, I think so. The kid will come 'round eventually. 


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Recipe of the Week

With it being Valentine's Day on Saturday, I've put off trying a new-to-me recipe 'til then.

Looking over my pantry ingredients, and checking out the ease-of-preparation, I've settled on Grilled Rosemary Flank Steak with Balsamic Glazed Onions from the Sur La Table "test kitchens."

I already have garlic and extra virgin olive oil in the pantry, so I'll have a fairly short shopping list tomorrow - flank steak, red onions, and fresh rosemary.

According to the cookbook, Intercourses, rosemary and garlic are aphrodisiacs, so they're perfect for use any time you want to show a little love!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Trying a New Technique

Because I'm still adjusting to being home, I'm keeping things rather simple this week.

So, rather than try a new recipe today and tomorrow (I'm probably putting that off 'til Saturday for Valentine's Day), I'm trying a new technique.

Poaching is defined as "cooking something in a small amount of liquid." 

I have never successfully poached chicken, though I've tried in the past.

Today, I want to make chicken soup so I can use up some box-stock (yes, I know, AB has a stock recipe, but I don't currently have a 12-qt stockpot in the house, though I think I do at least have one) and broth, but I haven't roasted a chicken recently. 

The hubs suggested I use canned chicken. Thanks, honey, but if I'm going out anyway, why don't I just get chicken parts?

I'm OK with canned chicken in certain applications, like buffalo chicken dip and the spinach-and-chicken flatbread recipe from last week, but not so OK with it in soup. It can taste a little artificial if it's not slathered in cream ... and I'm not slathering anything with cream.

For today's experiment, I got a package of "organic" split chicken breasts and a package of bone-in chicken thighs, some fresh ginger, garlic, and a large onion, in addition to the ready-to-use "soup starter" and "soup greens" pre-mixed packs in the Produce section at Wegmans and a bag of organic lemons from TJs. (Most times, I find this is cheaper than to buy everything separately.)

Poaching doesn't exactly follow a recipe, but there's a method, so I followed the one I linked above from The Kitchn blog. 

Those instructions are very clear and they give both a "how to check if your chicken is done" and a "how long should I simmer my chicken" instruction, which I find very helpful. I do wish, however, that I had a deeper pan because my poaching liquid did run over a bit onto my stovetop. (I'll have to clean it again.)

As the chicken is cooked, all I'll need to do to prep it for soup is ... remove it from the bone & chop it before I add it to the pot. Easy-peasy!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Big Game Recipes

So, what did we cook while we watched the Big Game last Sunday?

Finger-foods, of course.

My husband bought some lovely empanadas at the Gilbert Farmers' Market the first weekend of our trip out West, and they were super-easy to re-heat. (They also don't count as "cooking.")

We also made a large-party version of a flatbread recipe that we picked up at the Demo station in the TJs in Gilbert. (Apparently, it's a local store fave, because I couldn't find it on the TJs website.)

Shopping List

  • 1 pkg diced pancetta (Cittero brand)
  • 1 pkg Trader Joe's frozen spinach and artichoke dip
  • 1 pkg Trader Joe's refrigerated pizza dough
  • 1 can Trader Joe's chicken (in water)

Recipe Review

Easy to follow, but you must be patient - the frozen dip must be thawed, the dough needs at least 30 minutes in a warm place to proof, the pancetta needs to be cooked on the stovetop.

It's also written to use half of each of the packaged products; I doubled everything so I wouldn't leave my mother-in-law with random leftovers.

No special equipment is required, though you could totally use a pizza stone if you've got one!

It turned out fairly well, though I could have used less of the dip (maybe 3/4 of the package as opposed to the whole thing) and it would've turned out just fine.

Because the pizza dough was so well-received, we're considering expanding our pizza repertoire.

FINAL VERDICT: Will make again, with modifications.