Friday, September 22, 2017

Pork Chop Experiment

Thick-cut, boneless pork chops were on sale.  I hadn't had them in a while, but really didn't feel like frying anything.

That got me to wondering why we cook pork chops over high heat and coated in bread crumbs.  I think Shake'n'Bake is to blame.  They gave us the idea to bake chops with high heat to get dinner on the table quickly.  It does help to seal in the juices the way they do it, but I know I've had pork cooked other ways.

I also had a couple of tablespoons each of beer mustard and cranberry sauce.  After I pulled them out of the oven, I realized I should have stirred them together for a really nice glaze, but this was good too.

4 boneless pork chops (a little over 1 lb)
1/2 C leftover jam, mustard, or sauce of some kind

1.  Preheat oven to 300º.  Smear both sides of pork chops with glaze and place on a shallow rack in a baking dish.

2.  Cook for 20 minutes.  Turn and cook another 20 minutes.  Unless the chops are super-thick, this should be long enough.  Use a food thermometer if you're nervous.  They only have to get to 140º.  That 160º stuff was when food wasn't as safe as it is now (or for any ground meat).

3.  Let chops rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Italian-Style Mashed Potatoes

Using up stuff again.  I had a few cheese balls left from the skewers, plenty of herbs, and some milk and butter.  All I needed for this was a pound of potatoes.

I almost always leave the skins on my potatoes when I mash them because that's where most of the vitamins are.  It also produces a more rustic look.  I realize that not all kids will eat mashed potatoes that aren't smooth, but you should be able to convince adults to get over it and eat what they're served.

The kale is just there so you can see the potatoes better.  Cream on white isn't much contrast.  Notice that most photos of mashed potatoes have a dark background.

1 lb Yukon gold potatoes
*4 oz mozzarella
*1 tsp dried oregano
*1 tsp dried basil
2 Tb butter
*1/2 C milk
Salt to taste

1.  Cut potatoes into chunks and simmer until easily pierced by a fork, 15 to 20 minutes.  Drain.  While that's happening, chop mozzarella into small pieces so they melt evenly.

2.  Into a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, place potatoes, oregano, basil, and butter.  Beat until mostly smooth and butter is melted, then add milk in a steady stream.  Taste and add salt as necessary.

3.  Beat in cheese pieces until mostly melted.  You may end up with strings or unmelted bits.  That's fine.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, September 16, 2017


I've only eaten Indian food a couple of times.  As with Mexican and other cuisines South, Indian sneaks in stuff I'm allergic to in the spice mix.  The few times I've tried Indian recipes at home, I've liked them.

Instead of buying a loaf of French bread to do a cold dinner, I decided to try making naan.  Most recipes are similar: a basic yeast dough with yogurt in it, cooked on a skillet instead of in the oven.

The process is basic for anyone who has made yeast bread before: knead, rise, punch down, shape, apply heat.  (There's no second rise.)  The taste is my new favorite pizza crust.

I skipped the ghee, instead melting butter and brushing it whole on the finished pieces.  I've done clarified butter before, and after deciding it didn't make a difference in whatever it was I did it for (probably hollandaise), I gave it up.

These are just plain naan, but you can jazz them up by sprinkling them with garlic, herbs, or spices on top of the final brush of butter.  You can see that I was having them with hummus, and didn't think the competition would add anything to the meal.

2 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 C 100ºF water
2 Tb olive oil
1/3 C plain yogurt
2-1/2 to 3 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tb butter or ghee, melted

1.  Combine yeast, sugar, water, olive oil, and yogurt.  Let sit until it starts to foam, about 5 minutes.

2.  In stand mixer with the paddle, stir together liquid mix and 1 C of flour.  Add salt and beat until a batter forms, about 2 minutes.  Add another cup of flour to make a light dough and beat another couple of minutes until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

3.  Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.  Coat a bowl with a few drops of oil and turn dough over in the bowl to coat all sides.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.
4.  Punch down dough and turn out onto that lightly floured surface again.  Cut into 8 identical pieces.  Roll out one into a 6" circle while you preheat a 6" skillet on medium-high heat.  Drop the circle onto the skillet and let cook while you start rolling out the next one.  When the cooking one is lightly browned and slightly firm, about 2 minutes, flip it and do the other side.  Brush top of finished bread with butter and start a stack.  Repeat until all are cooked, keeping the finished ones on a plate under a towel to keep them warm and soft.
Makes 8

Difficulty rating. :)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mini Mozzarella Skewers

I had some tomatoes to use and it was time to trim the basil again, so I bought a package of the smallest mozzarella balls at the market and made these cute little bites.  The whole project, including cutting the tomatoes and going outside to pick basil, took about three minutes.  Granted, I only made four of them (3 in the photo because you display food in odd numbers), but you could knock out a couple of dozen for a party in less than ten.  Maybe five.

8 oz cherry Mozzarella balls
*6 oz grape tomatoes
*large handful of basil leaves
salt to taste

1.  Wash the tomatoes, remove any stems, and cut in half.
2.  To assemble, get out a box of toothpicks.  Onto each, skewer a basil leaf, cheese ball, and tomato half.  I did them in that order because it's the colors on the Italian flag.  You could put the basil in the middle.  Taste one.  If a little bland, sprinkle all of them with a touch of salt.  Repeat until out of either tomatoes or cheese.  Arrange on serving platter. Serve cold.

Makes 2-3 dozen

Difficulty rating. π

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Summer harvest, round 2

Tiny watermelon is on the white container lid
I had to pick the last watermelon because it had split, all of the cucumbers were canned, and there were only a few tomatoes left to ripen.

Then it got hot and humid, so the plants decided to go at it again.

I knew that vine-type fruits started a second round once the first was harvested, but these guys were taking so long to get to it, I thought I'd just planted to late.  Practically overnight, I found a new watermelon growing near the base of one of the plants.  The tomatoes started to bloom again, and a long-lost cucumber seed germinated.  I might end up with a passable harvest after all.

The fennel that I let bloom is starting to develop seeds.  I watched several videos on harvesting fennel seed, and they're not ready yet.  More on that when it's time.
Every time I think Eggy has had it, she cranks out another single-serving eggplant.  There's a big grasshopper that keeps eating the leaves, so that may be the ultimate downfall.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Chicken Keftas with Persian Rice

This is a lot like the last post because I had some of the same ingredients on hand.  It's actually closer to what I had in mind before trying the polenta.

This brings up a lesson in restaurant menu design.  It's cheaper to reuse ingredients across a menu than to have many only used in one dish each.  The biggest example that comes to mind is Taco Bell.  They combine a very limited ingredient list in dozens of ways to make different items.  Here, we're just reusing the broiled vegetables.  You could easily have this on the same restaurant menu as the polenta.  Put the polenta on the appetizer menu and this under main courses.  The description would be something like "seasoned chicken skewers over saffron rice, served with broiled vegetables".  Actually, I think I had something very similar to this at a Persian restaurant once.  Only a food critic or restaurateur would make the connection with the polenta.

And yes, those are Bread and Butter Pickles on the plate.  Many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes are often served with some kind of pickle.

1 batch of Persian Rice
1 lb ground chicken
*1/2 C finely chopped cilantro
*1/2 C minced yellow onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp each salt, paprika, cumin, turmeric
1/4 tsp white pepper
*1/2 red onion, frenched
*1 medium eggplant
*6 oz grape tomatoes, halved
olive oil

1.  While the rice is on its long steam, knead together the chicken, cilantro, yellow onion, garlic, and spices in a bowl until thoroughly combined.  If using bamboo skewers, start soaking eight pieces so the broiler doesn't set fire to them.

2.  Slice the eggplant crosswise into 1/4" thick slices.  Slice each round into 1/4" sticks.  In a medium bowl, toss together eggplant, red onion, tomatoes, and about 2 Tb olive oil.  Add more oil if they still look dry.  Spread out in a single layer on a sheet pan and broil until soft, about 10 minutes.

3.  That gives you time to form the meat around the skewers.  I tried to do it on a rack, but the meat was too soft and started oozing through.  I gave up and just laid them flat on a roasting pan.  When the veggies are done, swap them out with the chicken and broil until meat reaches 165º, about 10 minutes.  It depends how you formed it on the stick.  Mine were more like meatballs, but you could do longer and thin, like a satay look.

4.  The rice should be done around now.  Turn it out onto a plate and start dividing it for serving.  By the time you have rice and veggies on each plate, the skewers will be sizzling and you can place them on top.  Serve immediately.

Difficulty rating. :)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Goat Cheese Polenta with Broiled Vegetables

Ok, I hate recipes with long titles, but I couldn't come up with anything shorter without splitting this into two posts.

I had a handful of tomatoes, one small eggplant, and some cilantro to work with this time.  I was going back and forth with making something on Persian rice, couscous, or risotto.  Then I hit upon the idea of polenta, which I haven't really done on this blog unless you count the dessert one I grilled a couple of years ago.

There are a couple of ways to do polenta dishes.  As a main course, you often create a bed of mush and put a stew on top of it, or mound it like mashed potatoes with a chicken leg or something on the side and a sprig of herb in the middle for garnish.  Since we're in presentation mode, I did these as polenta cakes cut into shapes, with the veggies on top.  They could just as easily be on the side.  These are too fragile to serve as finger hors d'oeuvres, but they can be plated as appetizers.  To pick up polenta, it either has to be very stiff or very small.  Even then, I would put them in bon bon liners.

I need to broil onions more often.  They were the best part of this dish.  I was also pleased that the eggplant "fries" cooked through in the same time as the tomatoes and onion.  I was concerned they'd still be a little underdone.

For those really paying attention to the photo, yes there is lamb in it.  I made this a main dish by shredding about half a pound of lamb into the veggie mix, but it didn't really add anything extraordinary to the concept, and I like the vegetarian appetizer version.

I didn't buy fine-grain polenta and just used regular cornmeal.  The justification was the goat cheese, which will cream up pretty much anything.  It did not come out gritty, and I saved a little money.

*1 C cornmeal or dry polenta
4 oz goat cheese log or crumbles
1/2 C chopped fresh herbs (I used cilantro and basil) or 3 Tb dried
*1/2 red onion, Frenched
*6 oz grape tomatoes, halved
*1 small eggplant (or 3 Indian)
olive oil

1.  Early in the day, make the polenta.  Stir together cornmeal, 1 C water, and 1/2 tsp of salt in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a low boil over medium heat, and turn down the heat if it starts to spit at you.  Gradually add 2 more cups of water, stirring occasionally, until polenta is cooked and thick, about 15 minutes.  Stir in herbs and cheese.  Line an 8" square or round pan with plastic wrap and you can just lift the finished piece out of the pan.  Pour polenta into pan and refrigerate until serving time, at least 2 hours.
Because everything tastes better with a log of chèvre in it
2.  To prepare the eggplant, cut off the cap.  Slice 1/4" thick rounds, then slice into baton strips about the same size as the onion pieces.  Toss all three veggies with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, until thoroughly coated.  Spread in a single layer in a baking dish and broil for approx 10 minutes.
3.  Remove polenta from pan and cut into desired squares, triangles, or diamonds.  Plate, then spoon broiled mix on top.  Serve before the polenta starts to melt and run.

Serves 8-12 as an appetizer

Difficulty rating. :)

Friday, September 1, 2017

Repurposed Ingredients

I made a random pasta dish recently that only "cost" me 50¢ of pasta.  In reality, I had bought remaining ingredients for other dishes or grown them.  This has been going on for a while.
I had a cold, mezze style dinner and didn't finish everything, so I bought a bit of ahi and kept going.  More leftovers and some backyard produce made me buy a pack of pita bread and some feta to make Greek sandwiches.  There was baba ghannouj left from that, so it went on bread, and you can kind of see how it kind of kept rolling until I threw pretty much everything else together into two days of salad.
This continues my mantra of any food you waste being the most expensive thing you bought.  I can justify a more expensive ingredient here and there because I use it.  Even a bit of leftover pumpkin seed from the horchata came in handy on some overnight oats.

The only things I have that are in danger of spoiling are half a bunch of cilantro and maybe the milk, so I can feel free to look for deals the next time I shop.  A couple of days after Labor Day, all the meats they couldn't sell get discounted, so that's a good place to start.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

My Oktoberfest

A while back, I bought one of the expiring corned beef packs from St. Patrick's Day because it was dirt cheap and threw it in the chest freezer.  Recently, Edison shut off my power for the day to install a new power pole, so I inventoried the freezer a couple of days before.  Nothing was in danger of defrosting in a mere 8 hours, but I did decide to put the corned beef on my to-eat list.

I'm not sure why Oktoberfest starts in August.  Probably as an excuse to drink more beer.  It was a bit warm out to simmer a brisket all afternoon, but I've done worse.

I rummaged through my pantry, fridge, and blog for ways to make this a complete meal, and came up with something light enough to have during these warm days.

German corned beef and cabbage, served with the last jar of Oktoberfest Beer Mustard, and a hefty slice of beer cheese bread was enough for a meal.  I threw in some quick pickles that were ready to eat and this rather boring-looking meal was plated.  Two baggies of cooked and sliced corned beef went back in the freezer for another time.  This is quickly becoming the beef version of the year-old turkey.  Still, not a bad meal and the only new expenditure was the cabbage.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Pumpkin Seed Horchata

Drinks have weird names now that not all Americans are familiar with.  Horchata, Chai, Kombucha (that one set off the spell-checker).  What happened to good 'ol tea?

After reading this article about horchata in the L.A. Times, I realized that I've made it before.  The grapefruit barley water out of the Tea book is a form of horchata.  So are almond, rice, and soy milk.  It's about suspending a starch or nut/seed in water in a way that it doesn't settle out completely.  You usually have to shake them some, but the suspension should hold for a couple of days.

The recipe in the Times is amazingly easy.  Pour water over seeds and spices, refrigerate overnight, and run through the blender with a little sugar and salt.  It takes more effort to strain out the chunks than anything else.  I'm posting a half batch, since this blog usually serves 4 and I only had enough cash in my wallet for 1 cup of pumpkin seeds.  I'm not putting $2.25 on a credit card.

A quick word about the sugar.  I only used half of what I'm posting, and it was just barely sweet enough.  What really came through was the spices, which is what I wanted.  If you regularly drink soda or sweetened espresso drinks, your taste buds will probably prefer the full amount.

1 C raw, shelled pumpkin kernels
1 qt water
*1 cinnamon stick
*3 allspice berries
1/4 C light brown or turbinado sugar (or to taste)
1/4 tsp salt, or to taste

1.  Combine pumpkin seeds, water, cinnamon stick, and allspice in a bowl.  Let sit at room temperature for two hours or in the fridge overnight.

2.  Add sugar and salt and run mixture through the blender, in batches if necessary, until smooth.  This will take 3 to 4 minutes.  You're creating the suspension, so the kernels need to be broken down as much as possible.

3.  Strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer.  I started with a food mill on the finest screen so I could push the liquid through, then used a regular strainer for a second go.  Discard the solids, or combine them with an egg white and sugar to make macaroons.  (Sorry, I'm always trying to avoid waste.)
4.  If too thick for your personal taste, add water.  Serve over ice, or refrigerate up to 3 days.  You may need to shake it a little to distribute the suspension if it sits a day.

Makes up to 1 quart

Difficulty rating  π