Posts Tagged With: cheese

quick lunch extravaganza – when life gives you bread, make sandwiches

Our house has been infested.

With fleas, earlier in the summer, and lately with some very persistent ants.

But, mostly, with bread.

It started when I overbought buns for a cookout a few weeks ago. Micah was smoking a pork picnic roast and grilling burgers for almost 20 people, so I cleaned out the Daily Groceries bakery case and brought home enough buns for everyone to have two.

My calculations didn’t account for folks going bread-less, which many of them did (in order, I’m sure, to consume more of the delicious meats and veggies on the table).

So after the cookout, we still had about twenty buns leftover, but only enough uneaten burgers and barbecue for about half that.

Oops.

We would’ve frozen the extra bread, but our freezer was already getting out of hand.

Which meant that, after the extra pork and beef were gone, we still needed to eat eight more buns, because of course I just couldn’t bring myself to waste them.

Four buns became vehicles for our delicious berbere-spiced sloppy joes disorderly josephs.

A couple of onion rolls were transformed into savory French toast sandwiches with tarragon and some of Micah’s crispy home-cured bacon.

the roundest French toast I’ve ever made

Step-by step:

  • Cook a few slices of bacon and set it aside, but leave the grease in the pan.
  • Whisk together one egg with a little milk, salt, pepper, and dried tarragon.
  • Batter the buns in the egg mixture.
  • Cook in the bacon grease over medium heat until browned and crispy.
  • Layer on a plate with bacon and top with a drizzle of maple syrup.

This French toast was not only quick and easy, but also a tasty way to repurpose those extra onion rolls. They soaked up the egg-and-milk batter beautifully, creating a fluffy, moist French toast that paired perfectly with the salty crunch of the bacon.

And when we finally got down to the last two bits of our booming bounty of buns, we made these:

toasted sorta-caprese sandwich….gooey and melty….yum…

This sandwich was also laughably simple, but so tasty.

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  • Split two sandwich buns and brush the insides of both halves with olive oil, then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  • Add a few thick pieces of cheese (we used Edam) and some sliced tomatoes (we used a handful of halved sungold cherries).
  • Close the sandwiches and wrap them in foil.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the sandwiches are nice and warm and the cheese has melted.
  • Add a big handful of fresh basil to each sandwich and enjoy!

The same day that we ate these delicious sandwiches, my friend Jackie brought me a jar of her generations-old sourdough starter, with instructions to feed the starter the next day and then bake with it the day after that.

I dutifully followed Jackie’s feeding instructions (minus the potato flakes/potato water), and that jar of yeasty goodness responded by giving me three large loaves of lovely bread:

fresh out of the oven, fluffy, and delicious

I’m very excited to have a sourdough starter and a fantastic recipe now–but dang, we ended up with so much bread! Fortunately, I was able to share this stuff with two of my best friends, so Micah and I only had one big loaf left to eat ourselves.

Next time (tomorrow!), I plan on tweaking the feeding and baking proportions of this recipe to yield just one or two loaves at a time, and I’m also excited to try using my sourdough starter to make other yummy baked goods like cinnamon rolls or pizza dough. If you want to make sourdough but don’t have any starter, ask around to some bakerly friends and you can probably find someone who has extra. Or, you can always make your own like my blogging buddy Stephanie did a while back. 🙂

Anyway, so right when Micah and I thought we’d found the light at the end of the starch tunnel, we now had another very large loaf of bread to eat.

So we did what any sane person would do in this situation.

We made more sandwiches.

bread + bacon + tomatoes + pesto

These sandwiches were salty and crunchy from the bacon, savory and spicy from the pesto, sweet and juicy from the tomatoes, and crispy and hearty from cooking in just a little bit of bacon grease. You could use your favorite pesto recipe or some store-bought pesto–or if you can hold out for one more post, you can use the parsley pistachio pesto we enjoyed (I’ll give you the recipe next time I write!).

Sourdough sandwiches, round two:

grilled cheese with pickled beets and fresh basil

The pickled beets and onions gave this tasty sandwich a fantastic tangy sweetness that played nicely with the spicy fresh basil, creamy Edam, and sharp cheddar.

We enjoyed crusty hunks of toasted bread with a few other meals throughout the week until finally, today, there was only one big two-sandwich hunk of bread left.

So today (no pictures of this one–sorry!), we sliced up that last hunk of bread and filled our sandwiches with pesto, bacon, and cheddar for a yummy concoction that went perfectly with the free potato salad we got with our weekly Earth Fare coupons on Sunday.

Why devote an entire blog post to this most humble of feasts, this I-don’t-know-what-to-eat-so-I-guess-I’m-stuck-with-sandwiches brown bag filler?

What’s so great about the lowly sandwich?

Sandwiches can be boring, can make you feel like you’re in a mindless, hopeless bread-filling rut.

But that’s not how I feel about sandwiches at all.

To me, a sandwich is a blank slate, a beautifully clean canvas.

If you stuff your sandwich bread with wilted iceberg lettuce and a sad, sad slice of processed ham, then of course it’s not going to be a masterpiece.

But if you let yourself think outside the lunchbox, you can turn plain old bread into a delicious work of art. 🙂

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

supper tonight – 6.7.12 – frito pies

Yes, you read that right.

Yes, we bought a bag of (corporate, processed, full-of-preservatives-and-crap) Fritos.

We could’ve (and probably should’ve) walked down to Daily Groceries or driven over to Earth Fare for some organic, all-natural Frito-type corn chips with five or fewer easily pronounceable ingredients. It’s always my preference to buy a healthier, more sustainable option.

But when you’re really hungry after a long day at school or work, and the chili’s completely ready in the pot, and then Micah says, “We need chips! How about Fritos? I’ll go get some.”–well, it’s kinda hard to stick to your principles.

And since we do stick to our principles most of the time….well, I wasn’t going to argue.

Plus, I’ll admit: I like Fritos. Always have. And I love, love, love Frito pies.

You might’ve had Frito pies before, but if you haven’t, let me tell you a little bit about them.

The Frito pies of my childhood were comprised of three vital components:

  • Canned chili. Dave and I were the working-class kids of teenage parents, so brand-name chili like Bush’s or Hormel happened sometimes, but other times, the cans looked a little more like this:

from the creative folks at Max Pictures’ Blather, where they actually printed
Dharma Initiative PDF labels for chili and Spam, affixed the labels to the cans,
and then snapped some photos

  • Fritos:

from Frito-Lay’s official website

  • And shredded cheese:

from Joe Hribar’s blog, which includes a whole section about food packaging

We ate a lot of Frito pies growing up, so you would think they were commonplace enough for me not to get that excited about them (or maybe even enough for me to get tired of them).

Not so.

For whatever reason, Frito pies always sparked high spirits. If one of us asked what was for dinner and Mom or Dad responded, “Frito pies!”–they always said it with that exclamation point at the end, always enthusiastic, always eager–then Dave and I always felt the excitement, too. (I’m speaking for him here, of course, but I’m pretty sure I’m hitting the mark.)

Maybe Frito pies were exciting because we had some choices–how many chips, how much cheese, what the final crunch-to-chili ratio would be.

Maybe Frito pies were exciting because they were kind of real food, but still kind of junk food, too, and maybe when the chili ran out, we’d still get to snack on the leftover Fritos afterwards.

Or maybe Frito pies were exciting just because they tasted really damn good.

Whatever the reason–the autonomy, the forbidden-fruit-thrill, or the hearty-spicy-crunchy-melty deliciousness–Frito pies are one of my very favorite childhood memories.

They’re a tradition that carried over to my teen years, too, when we would go camping with my Dad and someone might stew a big dutch oven of homemade chili over the campfire (or just plunk an opened can of chili beans right down on the grates of the grill), and our chili and chips and cheese sometimes got fancified with a sprinkling of black olives or a spoonful of salsa or a dollop of sour cream.

My mom still makes Frito pies sometimes–the kind everyone’s pinning on Pinterest where you put out lots of little single-serve bags of Fritos next to a big pot of chili and and an assortment of fixins so your party guests can build their own Frito pies without dirtying any dishes because the chip baggie doubles as a sort of bowl.

Well, as of last Thursday, I still make Frito pies, too:

the layers, from bottom to top: a generous fistful (or two) of Fritos, a heaping
ladle of chili, a sprinkling of shredded cheddar, and a scattering of fresh cilantro
(Micah also added a dollop of Greek yogurt–subbed for sour cream)

When you eat a Frito pie, you should top it with whatever chili you like best, whether it’s a can of No Beans Hormel or a pot of vegan chili with sweet corn and chunks of carrot or some very traditional chili that’s just chile con carne, stewed to sublime, spicy perfection.

Our chili wasn’t the best we’ve ever made, definitely wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty dang good, so I’ll share how we made it here.

What’s in it:

  • 2/3 cup dry black beans (or you could use a can of already cooked)
  • 1 cup dry pinto beans (or use 1-2 cans)
  • 1 pound bulk pork sausage (ours was medium-heat breakfast sausage from Moonshine, but once we seasoned it, it didn’t taste like brunch anymore)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 pound fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (or sub cayenne)
  • 1 can Pabst Blue Ribbon (or beer of your choice)
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • If your beans are dry, soak ’em and cook ’em. We used our pressure cooker to get them done in about 45 minutes, but you can simmer them all day on the stove or in a slow cooker–or just used canned beans because they’re easier. 🙂
  • In a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat, brown the ground sausage.
  • When the sausage is cooked through (or close to it), add the garlic, onion, and peppers, and saute until they’re translucent and tender.
  • Mix in the tomatoes, tomato paste, cumin, and ground chipotle.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients, including the beans. (You can add the liquid from the beans or not, depending on how thick and chunky you like your chili and how long you want it to take to reduce.)
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for at least 30-40 minutes, but as long as a few hours to let the flavors really play together nicely.

Now that you have that big, spicy, hearty pot of chili, go ahead and make yourself a Frito pie. A basic three-ingredient stove-top pie, a rustic campfire pie, a cute little Pinterest pie….or make up your own. Use Fritos, or splurge on the organic all-natural five-ingredient corn chips. It’s really up to you.

And in the end, that’s probably the best thing about a Frito pie. 🙂

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

supper tonight – 4.16.12 – gnocchi with mushrooms and sage

Ah, gnocchi. When prepared correctly, these little potato dumplings make for a delicious, hearty meal. Imagine delectably light, fluffy pillows of flavor-absorbing amazingness. That’s how good gnocchi feels in your mouth.

Bad gnocchi is dense and heavy, sitting in your belly like a rock for hours after you eat it (because, if you’re like me, you just can’t bring yourself to waste it, so you slather on some sauce and choke it down anyway).

Hm. Now that I think about it, my first attempt at gnocchi sounds suspiciously like my trial run with biscuits. Both kitchen disasters were precipitated by a heavy hand with the flour and, well, heavy hands in general. Over-kneading a mix that’s already got too much gluten activating is a surefire recipe for dough-bombs. Not so good.

That said, we did not make gnocchi last night.

This dinner started back in January. I was laid up in bed after a hernia surgery, so my sweet husband took over pretty much all the kitchen duties while I convalesced. We had way too much milk that was about to turn sour, so Micah made a quick batch of ricotta (no cream, just 2% milk+salt+lemon+heat). Then, we had this massive bag of potatoes that my grandma gave us because she bought it…and then realized her doctor told her she wasn’t supposed to eat potatoes. (Don’t ask–I honestly can’t explain.)

Anyway, so we had a crap-ton of spuds plus about a cup of save-the-milk-before-it-rots ricotta, and it immediately made sense to cook this gnocchi recipe from Mike’s Table. (Not the sauce, just the gnocchi, possibly with substitutions…? I can’t tell you how the gnocchi making process actually went, because I was lounging in a lazy haze of prescription drugs at the time. I can, however, relate that these gnocchi are pretty darn ugly, misshapen, odd sizes…but they taste really, really good.)

Anyway, the thing about this recipe is that it transforms a boatload of potatoes into…a boatload of gnocchi. So we ate gnocchi that day in January (with some other kind of sauce Micah made using some other random leftovers), but then we froze a big bag of it for later. And since gnocchi’s pretty rich for everyday eating, we’ve still got a good bit in the freezer.

Fast forward to yesterday, when neither of us really felt like cooking, but we had some lovely mushrooms in the refrigerator that were about to not be very lovely anymore. (Speaking of mushrooms, anyone ever try growing your own? Apparently, it’s a great idea! :))

We adapted a recipe for gnocchi with a sage butter sauce, cutting the two-serving recipe down to one because, really, is it advisable to cook dinner for two with a half stick of butter on a weeknight? (Delicious, sure, but not advisable.) And we added our mushrooms (not part of the recipe) at the beginning of the process in the hopes that some butter would soften them up a bit (it mostly did).

Not the prettiest dinner (and why is the upper half blueish? I don't know!), but this simple meal sure was tasty.

What’s in it:

  • 2 servings of gnocchi (we ate about 12 each, but it depends on the size)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, slivered
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 3-4 tablespoons shredded parmesan

Step-by-step:

  • Start a large pot of salted water to boil.
  • Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
  • Add the mushrooms and garlic to the skillet and get them nice and buttery while you wait for your pot to boil.
  • Once the water is boiling, add your gnocchi and set a timer for about 2-3 minutes. Or, if you’re using store-bought gnocchi, follow the directions on the package. (These babies are done when they float to the top.)
  • While your dumplings cook, turn the skillet up to medium and stir in the sage, salt, and pepper.
  • When the gnocchi are done, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the skillet. Toss lightly in the buttery mushrooms until your dumplings are coated in herby, garlicky goodness.
  • Divide the gnocchi between two bowls and top with shredded parmesan.

While the recipe we adapted referred to the finished product as a sauce, the way we cut it down made it more like a glaze that coated our mushrooms and gnocchi. But really, if your dumplings are light, fluffy pillows of flavor-absorbing amazingness, they don’t need sauce anyway. 🙂

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date night dinner – 4.7.12 – stuffed dates, beef stew over polenta, and a third wheel

Before I came along, Micah and his best friend Eric were pretty much inseparable. They played tennis and video games together, ate together, and even occasionally slept on Micah’s futon together. Purely platonic, I assure you, but these guys are close.

Eric met his wife Jinny in the summer of 2006, the same summer Micah met me, so the four of us have shared many a double date. But sometimes, one of us won’t be around to hang out, so 75% of our foursome ends up on a three-person date night.

Jinny had to work last Saturday evening, so you could say Eric was the third wheel for our date night dinner. But I’d like to counter that when Micah and Eric get together, their bromance wields a power so strong that I am most definitely the spare somebody in the room. And this doesn’t hurt my feelings at all, because who am I to stand in the way of true love? 🙂

Plus, the meal we were planning for that particular dinner was going to make plenty more than we could eat anyway, so why not share the bounty with a good friend?

sweet, salty, smoky, crunchy, yummy

Our pre-dinner snackie: celery and manchego stuffed dates, inspired by a dish at one of our favorite fancy restaurants, The National. We can’t really afford to eat at this upscale eatery as often as we’d like, but when I found some nice looking dates at Daily Groceries, and then we spotted some manchego in the cheese case at Shiraz last weekend, we knew we had to try to replicate our favorite National appetizer.

What’s in it:

  • 8 pitted dates
  • about 1.5-2 ounces. aged manchego cheese (you could sub sharp white cheddar with good results)
  • 1 small stalk of celery
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • smoked paprika, salt, and pepper for sprinkling

Step-by-step:

  • Slice the dates almost in half lengthwise so that they’re still attached on one side (kind of like you would a hoagie roll for a submarine sandwich).
  • Cut the cheese into 8 sticks that are about the same length as your dates and about 1/4″ thick.
  • Cut the celery into 8 sticks about the same size as the cheese.
  • Stuff each date with a piece of celery and a piece of cheese.
  • Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with smoked paprika (a little goes a long way), salt, and black pepper.

Our taste buds suitably tickled, it was time for the main event: a beef, carrot, and sweet potato stew that had simmered all afternoon, served over creamy polenta:

Warm and hearty, perfect for sharing with the one you love (and his best friend).

This was one of those magic one-dish concoctions where I winged it and hoped for the best, and it didn’t suck. In fact, it was pretty freaking amazing, maybe even better as leftovers for lunch later in the week.

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound beef stew meat (you could probably also use this recipe to make a delicious pot roast or short ribs)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup strong brewed coffee or espresso
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced
  • zest from one lemon, one lime, and one orange
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Generously season the beef with salt and pepper, then brown on all sides. Remove to a bowl or plate.
  • Add the onions and garlic to the skillet and saute until translucent and lightly browned.
  • Return the beef  to the pot (plus any delicious juices that might have dripped from it). Immediately add the red wine and stir to scrape up any brown bits.
  • Add everything else! Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  • At this point, you could simmer the stew on the stove at low heat OR stick it in a 300°F oven for several hours until the beef and veggies are tender.
  • We wanted our stew to be thicker than this turned out, so Micah used a slotted spoon to scoop the meat and vegetables into a covered serving dish, left the cooking liquid in the Dutch oven, and reduced the sauce until it was nice and thick, more like a gravy. Then we stirred it back into the dish of meat and veggies.
  • Serve over your favorite starch–polenta, grits, rice, mashed potatoes, pasta, gnocchi….gotta love those carbs!–and top with some chopped fresh cilantro.
  • Enjoy with the rest of that bottle of red wine!

This will come out seasoned kind of like a good pot of chili, dark and smoky from the chipotle and coffee and cocoa, but brightened up by the tomatoes and citrus zest. The beef was falling-apart-moist and juicy, and the carrots and sweet potatoes were sweet and tender.

Next time you end up being the third wheel, share a meal like this with the sweethearts and I guarantee you’ll all be feeling the love. 🙂

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

supper tonight – 4.5.12 – cauliflower soup & grilled cheese

Sorry it’s been a while (crazy week!), but..

…remember last Tuesday night when I really wanted to make Growandcook’s cauliflower soup, but we ended up making pizza instead?

Well, just as I predicted, we polished off the leftover pizza that Wednesday night (it was just as good the second time, by the way), so Thursday night was soup night!

I couldn’t follow the original recipe exactly as I didn’t have all the ingredients in the same amounts, so I subbed garlic and onion for the leeks and Greek yogurt for the heavy cream. I’m sure this version tastes a little different than it was supposed to, but it was thick and creamy and delicious! And, just as Growandcook promised, it did indeed make excellent leftovers to take to work the next day with some crusty bread and fruit.

Those bright red swirls of smoky, spicy chili oil turned this already-great soup into something really special...

What’s in it:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 3/4 pound cauliflower florets (we used frozen, but fresh would be better)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • oil for drizzling (we used Bobby Flay’s guajillo chile oil, which was rich and smoky with just a touch of heat, not to mention a gorgeous shade of fiery red!)

Step-by-step:

  • Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium heat.
  • Add the garlic and onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the cauliflower and chicken stock, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer until the cauliflower is nice and tender. (Frozen only took about 5-7 minutes, but fresh will take longer.)
  • Use a stick blender to puree the soup in the pot, or transfer in batches to your regular blender and puree until smooth.
  • Add the yogurt and nutmeg. Blend a little more, until your soup is thick and rich and creamy. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.
  • Divide into bowls (2-4, depending on if this is a main course or starter/side).
  • Drizzle with good olive oil, chile oil, or if you’re feeling fancy, truffle oil. 🙂

It’s that easy! And tasty! We enjoyed our soup with grilled cheese sandwiches:

crispy-crusty-gooey-melty grilled cheese...mmm....

A perfect quick-and-easy weeknight supper.

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date night dinner – 3.30.12 – steak ‘n’ taters

The weather here in Georgia has been unseasonably warm lately.

It’s been dang hot! Like, mid-80s in early March hot. Shorts and flip-flops hot. Summer hot. (Except that now, summer will probably be keep-your-babies-and-elderly-indoors-for-the-love-of-God hot.)

Hot weather makes me want to do several things:

  • Shave my legs (which Micah can tell you I’m not so diligent about in the winter)
  • Sip mojitos (but, of course, we have no rum or mint or limes in the house…)
  • Eat dinner outside (because the AC is on in here, and that makes me cold!)

Hot weather also makes Micah want to do several things:

  • Turn on the AC and complain about how hot it is
  • Drink beer (though he’s pretty good at that one year-round)
  • GRILL

Yep. I married a sweet, sensitive musician type, but he’s definitely a manly man at heart. When we started discussing what protein from the freezer we might want to defrost for date night, his first statement+question was: “I wanna grill something. Steak or pork chops?”

I let him pick, and he chose the steaks. Two big, beautiful 1-pound T-bone steaks from our pals at Moonshine Meats. They’d been in the freezer for a little while because we generally don’t eat steak very often, so when several packs of them come in our CSA box, it usually takes us a few months to get through them all.

These steaks were real purty. Nice T-bone shape, intense blood-red color, thick strip of white fat around the edges (which I don’t eat, but it does seem to make the surrounding meat nice and juicy, so I don’t usually trim it until after it’s cooked).

Then there was the smell. I haven’t gone around sniffing raw beef all my life, and honestly, I never noticed my ground chuck or rib-eye ever having much of a odor (which I guess I’ve always taken as a good sign). But somehow, all the beef and pork that we get from Moonshine Meats has this intoxicatingly gorgeous aroma. It smells…well, meaty. A touch grassy, too, like you can smell the farm where that cow or pig lazily grazed before becoming your dinner. And when you eat this stuff, that meaty, grassy, farmy scent becomes a meaty, grassy, farmy taste, too. It’s a magical experience.

I didn’t mean for this blog post to be an unpaid advertisement for Moonshine Meats, but it’s hard not to gush.

Anyway, that mouth-watering steak scent burst from the vacuum-sealed package as soon as Micah slit it open last night.

And then…

We checked the hourly forecast, and it called for rain.

Not grilling weather.

Poor Micah.

Undaunted, he decided to bring the party inside and pan-sear those shapely T-bones in a big cast-iron skillet.

(If you ever do this, by the way, please flip on the vent hood above your stove, turn on your ceiling fans, and open all your windows and exterior doors before those steaks hit the smoking-hot pan. Because those suckers are going to smoke. A lot. And while this magical Maillard reaction creates a satisfyingly crunchy, caramelized char on the outside of your steak, it also makes your house as hazy as the inside of a hookah den.)

Meanwhile, I whipped up a couple of sides: mashed potatoes (because steak ‘n’ taters is one of those classic combinations that’s hard to beat, and I had some milk and a bit of Gruyere that needed using), plus some balsamic-glazed carrots and Brussels sprouts (because even in a meat-and-potatoes meal, I like to enjoy some veggies, too).

A stick-to-your-ribs steak-'n'-taters feast.

You’ll see that, with the exception of salt and pepper, our recipes all call for five or fewer ingredients. No fancy cooking techniques, either. And no disasters! In fact, except for the lung-smothering smoke that filled our kitchen, this was one of the most stress-free date-night dinners we’ve cooked in a while.

What’s in it:

  • Steaks (adapted from Bobby Flay):
    • Two T-bone steaks
    • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
    • Salt and pepper
  • Taters:
    • 2 pounds potatoes
    • 2 cups milk
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • Shredded Gruyere (we only had 1 ounce, but would’ve added more if we’d had it)
    • Salt and pepper
  • Veggies (adapted from Epicurious.com):
    • 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts
    • 1/2 pound carrots
    • 1/4 small red onion
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
    • Salt and pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Start with the steaks: Remove your steaks from their packaging and let them warm up to room temperature while you are prepping the vegetables. Why? ‘Cause Bobby Flay says so.

* * * * *

  • Turn your attention to the taters: Cut your potatoes into small cubes. They don’t have to be beautiful since you’re going to mash them, but small, evenly-sized pieces will cook more quickly and evenly. (Also, I leave the peels on my taters because I like them.)
  • Dump the potatoes into a big-ish saucepan. Pour in the milk. If the liquid level is low, add water until it’s about even with the top layer of potatoes, and then add a good sprinkle of salt.
  • Heat this pan on a back burner on medium heat until it’s almost boiling. (Don’t let it boil unless you want to curdle your milk!) Reduce to a low simmer and let the potatoes cook while you’re working on everything else. (Ours were done in about 20-30 minutes.)

* * * * *

  • Now, start the veggies: Heat two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet on low heat for your veggies.
  • Slice your carrots and cut your Brussels sprouts. For a normal-sized Brussels sprout, this will probably be halved or quartered. Ours were crazy-huge end-of-season behemoths, so we cut them into eighths.
  • Finely chop your onion. Add it to the butter in the skillet and turn the heat up to medium.
  • When the onion is translucent, add the carrots and Brussels sprouts. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until they get some color on them.
  • Add 1/3 cup water to the skillet of veggies, cover, reduce to medium-low, and let cook for about 10 minutes.

* * * * *

  • Steak time! While the veggies cook, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in another large skillet on high heat. Pat the steaks dry and season them with plenty of salt and pepper on both sides.
  • Your skillet will start smoking. When it does, add the steaks and reduce the heat to medium-high. Sear for 3-4 minutes per side if you like your steaks medium rare like we do. (If you like your steak more done than this, move it to a 450ºF oven for a few more minutes afterwards. But I’m telling you, you’re missing out!)
  • Remove the finished steaks to a plate and cover with foil. They’ll rest for about 10 minutes while you finish up the taters and veggies.

* * * * *

  • Veggies: Remove the cover from your skillet of veggies, turn the heat back up to medium, and add the balsamic vinegar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has been absorbed and the vegetables look glazed and shiny. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Taters: Take the pot off the heat. Mash the taters in the milk with one of these:

'Cause I prefer my taters
smashed 'n' chunky.
(image from overstock.com)

  • Add two tablespoons butter and the shredded cheese to your mashed potatoes and stir until they’re all melted in. Add salt and pepper to your liking.
  • Put it all on a plate and eat! (We enjoyed all of this with a bottle of Chianti. Mmm.)

While my body is still fatigued from our school’s spring book fair, and while my lungs are still recovering from a pollen-filled week and our smoke-filled kitchen, my taste-buds and belly were completely pleased with this delicious meal.

One note about portions: this dinner procedure resulted in 2 giant steaks, 3-4 servings of veggies, and 6 good-sized heaps of mashed potatoes. So you may want to take that into account if you try this out–unless you like random leftover veggies as much as we do. 🙂

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supper tonight – 3.19.12 – Caesar salad from scratch

Four days after the Ides of March probably isn’t the best time to eat Caesar salad.

Well, okay, Julius Caesar didn’t survive the Ides of March, but he also didn’t invent the Caesar salad–they say it was actually a dude named Caesar Cardini. But I like to think our Roman friend caught the soothsaying bug when he said “Let me have men about me that are fat,” because a salad like this definitely won’t give you “a lean and hungry look” like the backstabbing Cassius had.

Unless you look hungry ’cause you want more salty, gooey, delicious salad, of course.

Anyway, ever since we opened a tin of anchovies for salmoriglio during that fiasco of a date night, we’ve been thinking about how real, made-from-scratch Caesar dressing pretty much always includes these deliciously salty little fishies…and how we also had some leftover sourdough baguette from the party sandwiches that would make perfect croutons…and how some of Micah’s home-cured guanciale (hog jowl bacon) would be so good if we crisped it up and crumbled it on top….

(Damn. Now I’m kind of craving some more salad.)

This hankering actually set in sometime last week, but we had to wait for Thursday’s Athens Locally Grown pick-up to get our romaine lettuce, and then I kept forgetting that I needed to make some more mustard (which needs to sit in the fridge for a day before it’s ready to use). So, even though we’d been gazing longingly at the recipe with our sad puppy-dog eyes for almost a week, it was last night before we actually had everything we needed to craft the perfect Caesar salad:

(Can you tell I finally found my real camera? Canon Powershot A520, only 4 megapixels, but WAY better than my broken iPhone 3GS.)

We had a few mishaps along the way, like almost burning the croutons (you can see in the photo that they’re a tad on the brown side)…not to mention a few issues getting the mayonnaise base for the dressing to come together correctly (apparently, a common problem).

Side note: You might be thinking to yourself…but I thought Tanya hated mayonnaise? And I do. Passionately. With the heat of a thousand suns. But for whatever reason, I love Caesar salad. And you have to admit, once you get all the other flavors into that dressing, it really doesn’t taste like mayo at all.

Anyway, in the end, this salad tasted even more delicious than it looks, and we will definitely make it again.

What’s in it (the dressing):

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 anchovies, minced (the recipe called for 2, but we were feeling adventurous)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (I used my own homemade–recipe below)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (but I bet apple cider vinegar would work well, too)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Mix together the garlic, anchovies, mustard, lemon juice, and vinegar in a small bowl.
  • In a larger bowl, put your egg yolk and a tiny bit of olive oil. Whisk quickly (or use an electric handheld or stand mixer). As the egg and oil mixture starts to thicken, continue to slowly drizzle in the olive oil while you keep whisking. Add too much at once, and this stuff will never fluff up. We learned this the hard way.
  • Once the olive oil is completely incorporated, blend in the garlic and anchovy mixture, then the Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt, and pepper.
  • The recipe says this makes 2 cups, but for us it only ended up being a little more than one. Not sure why, but that just means we’ll need to make more soon!

Now that you’ve got some of this amazing dressing, here’s how we made the rest of the salad.

What’s in it (the whole shebang):

  • 1 head of romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
  • 1/4 cup of that delicious Caesar dressing we just made
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 3 big slices of bacon, cooked crispy, then crumbled
  • croutons (super easy! – cube some bread / toss with melted butter, salt, pepper, and minced garlic / bake on a sheet pan at 400°F until golden brown and crunchy)

Step-by-step:

  • Toss your lettuce and dressing together in a big bowl.
  • Split the dressed salad between two big plates for a meal (topped with protein of your choice, if you like!) or four small ones (as a side or starter).
  • Divide the cheese and crumbled bacon between your salads. Evenly, unless you’re looking for a fight. 🙂
  • Add croutons.
  • Enjoy!

And yes, you read correctly that the mustard I used in our Caesar dressing was homemade. I had no idea mustard was so easy to make until Micah and I won a copy of Vanessa Barrington’s awesome book from a drawing over at Punk Domestics:

image from indiebound.com

The cool thing about this book is that it includes recipes for all sorts of stuff I’d never thought to make from scratch: ketchup, tortillas, sauerkraut, kimchi, and the aforementioned mustard–and then it gives you different recipes for using all your delicious homemade fixins.

We haven’t attempted the ketchup yet. Micah did make the kimchi, subbing collard greens for the cabbage (pretty good). But the corn tortillas are yummy, the carrot and cabbage sauerkraut will rock your socks off, and the mustard…well, this is my fourth or fifth batch, if that tells you anything.

What’s in it:

  • 1/2 cup whole mustard seeds (mix of brown and yellow)
  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) port wine
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Step-by-step:

  • Mix everything together in a glass or plastic bowl.
  • Cover and store overnight in the refrigerator. (This lets your mustard seeds soften.)
  • The next day, put your mustard in a blender or food processor and start blending. Your liquid-y, grainy mixture will magically thicken and smooth out to a lovely, spreadable consistency.
  • Taste it. It’ll be pretty spicy! If it’s too spicy, you can blend in a little bit of water and/or a little more honey.
This is how I made my most recent batch, but basically, you just need 1/2 cup of mustard seeds, about 3/4 cup of liquid, and whatever other flavorings you want to add. I’ve used different boozes (port, sherry, madeira, cognac, bourbon), different vinegars (cider, balsalmic, rice wine, sherry), different sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, molasses)–and it has always turned out amazing.

DIY Delicious is one of my very favorite cookbooks, hands-down. And not just because it taught me how to make mustard like this:

Nice and brown and grainy and spicy, perfect with a beer-braised bratwurst--or in that delicious Caesar dressing.

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party snacks – 3.17.12 – mini pimiento cheese sandwiches for Kim’s birthday!

My brother Dave’s fiancee, Kim, turns 24 today, and we’re celebrating at their house with a garden party!

In keeping with the theme, I made finger sandwiches: pimiento cheese on thin-sliced sourdough baguette. I usually bake my own bread, but there’s no way mine could be as yummy as this fluffy, chewy, delicious stuff from Luna Baking here in Athens.

And the gorgeous lime green dish was my Christmas gift from the birthday girl. It may be a pie pan, but I think it makes a lovely serving vessel for these yummy bites. 🙂

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quick lunch – 3.13.12 – not my Mammaw’s pimiento cheese

Pimiento cheese is the stuff of the devil.

My Mammaw loved this orange goo at least as much as she loved triple-decker mayonnaise sandwiches, probably because the kind she bought was pretty much a tub o’ mayo (or, more likely, a mayo-like “salad dressing”) with a bit of pasteurized processed cheese food thrown in to give it that bland, vaguely cheese-like color.

For example, the ingredient list for Knott’s Old Fashioned Pimiento Cheese Spread is an entire paragraph long and includes all sorts of things that you won’t find in most people’s kitchens: sodium phosphate, potassium sorbate, calcium disodium EDTA, and even the ever-controversial high fructose corn syrup (which boggles my mind because why, oh why, would you need to sweeten pimiento cheese, anyway?). Yep, Knott’s might claim on the packaging that this old-fashioned cheese product was established in 1947 (when Mammaw was 12), but I’m pretty sure no one’s grandma has ever made her pimiento cheese based on their recipe.

(The jalapeno version was even recalled a few years back due to metal fragments being found in the product. Also not a common ingredient in most home kitchens.)

Anyway, my dislike of pimiento cheese when I was a kid had much more to do with its mayonnaise-to-cheese ratio than any of this, and after trying it once when I was a wee lass, I was sure I’d never want to eat it again. I successfully avoided it throughout my childhood and most of my adult life, even when it was homemade, because it just grossed me out.

Fast-forward to a few years ago, when a late-afternoon visit to Five and Ten changed my life forever.

Micah and I had strolled down to this wonderful restaurant one afternoon for an early dinner, but I wasn’t super-hungry, so I perused the snackies section of the menu for something small that I could enjoy with a cup of soup. Feeling a bit reckless, I decided to order the pimiento cheese. I knew I hated the stuff. I knew it might make me gag. But I figured that if anyone could make me like it, it might be Hugh Acheson. And Micah (who doesn’t share my mayo aversion) promised he would eat it for me if I couldn’t.

Well, Hugh did not succeed in making me like pimiento cheese that day.

He made me love it.

He made me love it so much that I immediately decided I must make my own batch so I could eat pimiento cheese all the freaking time.

The only problem was, I didn’t have his recipe, and I had no idea how he had made it so damn delicious. So, I did what I always do when I don’t know what I’m doing. I winged it. And the results were fantastic.

I’ve been making my own pimiento cheese for three or four years now, tweaking the recipe here and there to suit my own tastes. Since I don’t like hate loathe mayonnaise, and since Micah can’t usually consume a whole jar of the stuff before the expiration date, it’s not something we keep around the house. So one big change in my recipe is using Greek yogurt in place of the mayo. This might sound strange, but I promise–you won’t miss that fatty egg-goo at all, and the yogurt gives you the added bonus of less fat and more protein (not, of course, that anyone eats pimiento cheese for its health value).

Here’s the batch I made this week:

I could eat this whole bowl in one sitting.

Even if you don’t like pimiento cheese–especially if you don’t like pimiento cheese!–you should try this recipe. (Or Hugh’s.) It just might change your life.

What’s in it:

  • 1 pound of sharp cheddar (the sharper, the better)
  • half of a 12-ounce jar of pimientos or roasted red peppers (or just roast your own)
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon paprika (smoked, if you have it, but regular is yummy, too)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne (or chipotle, if you want it smokier, which I like)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a little apple cider vinegar if you like yours tangy (which we do)

Step-by-step:

  • Cut the cheddar into cubes and toss it in the food processor.
  • Add the pimientos, yogurt, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, dry mustard, paprika, and cayenne/chipotle.
  • Process until you’ve got the texture you like. (We like ours creamy and spreadable, but if you like yours chunkier, just process a little less.)
  • Taste it! Add salt, pepper, and/or vinegar if needed.
  • Enjoy!

This makes a pretty big batch, which we eat on toast, crackers, cold sandwiches, or–my favorite–grilled cheese sandwiches. (Heaven!) It’s tangy, salty, smoky, and spicy, just how I like it. I can eat gobs of it in a sitting, and sometimes do.

Yep, pimiento cheese really is the stuff of the devil. 🙂

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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