Thursday, October 24, 2013

Whole Roasted Artichokes

My father was a huge fan of pickled artichoke hearts. As a kid, they were too much for me, too much vinegar, too much... flavor. Even though I can eat them today, remembering my childhood aversion to them still makes my esophagus... uncomfortable. (I'm not going to say the thought makes me gag... but it comes close.) Unfortunately, this meant that until my mid-20s, whenever anyone said "artichoke," I thought of those floppy, briny veggies that I always avoided on the salad bar.

Over time, like most of my childhood food preferences, my aversion to this particular vegetable melted away as I was introduced to various other treatments of this divine thistle. Artichoke pizza, artichoke soup, spinach-artichoke dip... they've all contributed to the rise of the artichoke on my favorite veggies list.

So, every time I walked through the produce section I was drawn to these beautiful giant green flower buds.
I've always been intimidated as well. Everything that I've read says that whole fresh artichokes are way too much hassle for the small amount of reward. So much inedible, fibrous greenery with just a tiny little nugget of tasty yumminess.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Football Memories

I'm sitting here, on a Monday afternoon, watching ESPN's esteemed football roundup, "NFL Primetime."

I am sad.

Most Sundays throughout football season, my father would sit in his chair, watching his favorite team (Buffalo) play his favorite game. The supremely comforting aroma of my mother's spaghetti sauce permeated every room. Every once in a while, an excited yelp would emanate from my father and you would then hear my mother's response, "Did we score!?!?!"

Sometimes we would eat dinner in the kitchen. Sometimes we would eat in the living room, bowls of pasta balanced on tv trays. It didn't matter. We were all excited for Sunday evening television.

While I'm sure my sisters were excited for The Simpsons (okay okay, we all were) we also were looking forward to the best hour of football news anywhere. With the afternoon games still fresh in my mind, we would watch Chris Berman and Tom Jackson (with others including John Saunders, Pete Axthelm and Robin Roberts) break down every game.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Accidental Grandpa's Chicken #1

I wasn't going to blog about this. In fact, I should apologize to my family in advance. I may make historical errors in this post. I am working entirely from memory. Feel free to add to the story in the comments section!

It was late, about 8 o'clock. I had a large chicken breast thawed. I was considering my options, thinking maybe I'd caramelize it like the pork from the other day. I then decided that I wanted to use up the last package of instant potatoes and that can of sweet corn that I had in the pantry. The caramelized version wasn't saucy enough for that. I wanted a sauce to pour over the corn and potatoes, so I decided to cook down a lot of onion and garlic and make a basic pan sauce. I didn't start taking pictures until it was almost done. (It's hard to get good pictures in this house with no natural light. The fluorescents just don't work as well.)
My grandmother taught me to mix my vegetables with my potatoes. This works with peas, beans, carrots. etc.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Avocado Tuna Salad

Ever since I was little, I've loved tuna salad sandwiches. Particularly grilled tuna salad sandwiches with gooey, melty cheese. Through college, my most-ordered lunch at the grille in Tarble was a tuna melt. In the 10+ intervening years I have reworked and refined my own personal tuna salad recipe.

The first addition was a teaspoon of soy sauce. Because, well, duh.
Then I started adding a pinch of dried dill.
When I had it on hand, a small clove of raw, minced garlic entered the fold.
Over time, I kept reducing and reducing the amount of mayo until I had a moist, flavorful cheap sandwich that I could make in minutes.

Then, a couple of days ago something happened.

I purchased an avocado.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Vietnamese Caramelized Pork

I pulled two lean loin chops out of the freezer yesterday morning. In my normal fashion, I spent the afternoon at work pondering what to do with them. When I got home, I went through my pantry and started sketching out ideas. Eventually I looked down at what was a pretty solid plan, and realized that it was pork with a mustard-dill pan sauce. This is not to say that I don't freaking love that mustard-dill pan sauce.  It's just that I've been using this kitchen for about two months now and I'm ALREADY in a rut.  Luckily, at about the time I would have been starting to make dinner, I found out that a housemate of mine made a big pot of new england fish chowder. So I left the pork in the fridge, scrapped my plans, ate some soup and started rethinking the possibilities.

Sifting through recipes online can get freakin' daunting.

First, there's that one recipe that is re-posted 800,000 times (say it out loud... "eight-hundred thousand times," it rolls so nicely, don't you think?) And then there are those intriguing but insanely complicated, expensive, ridiculous recipes. Screw. That.

However, if you're persistent and you take your time, you will find the occasional jewel, like this one.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013





So seriously... holy crapola.  That was easy... and delicious. That is all that needs to be said.

Here's how I did it.  (Since I used a large loaf pan, after 60 minutes the center was still very underdone, so I popped it back in for another 15 minutes.  When you pull it out of the water bath it will be very jiggly. Let it cool completely in the fridge before unmolding.)

Update: After purchasing an oven thermometer, I realized that my oven wasn't coming to temp as fast as it thought it was. I made this last night at my sister's house, and this time it only took 1 hour, and could probably have been pulled out after 50-55 minutes.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Lemon Thyme Chicken and Pan-Steamed Asparagus with Lemon Caper Mayonnaise

Sometimes I let my vegetables tell me what's for dinner. Case in point... the other day I was scanning the produce at the grocery store and I noticed some very nice-looking asparagus.

Now, I know it's not asparagus season but they were pencil-thin and a beautiful color. I dutifully ignored the "country of origin" portion of the price sign and snagged a full bunch off of the shelf. The next day I came across this delightful recipe. The best thing about it is the fact that the only ingredient I didn't already have was the lemon...

That was easy enough to fix.

That's about all you need to know about the asparagus.  It took all of 8 minutes to make. You should try it (though, if you want to wait until next spring, I understand.)

But now, what do I do with the other half of that lemon? What do I have in my freezer? Chicken! Specifically, my favorite cheap-like-a-fox protein... chicken thighs.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Burger in the Oven

I'll admit it. I am an Adam Roberts fan. You could say that he is one of the top 5 influences of this humble experiment of mine. So naturally when I googled "How to broil a burger in the oven," I was very happy to see this 2011 post of his come up first. It gave me all of the inspiration that I needed to make a delicious burger out of the 1/3 lb of lean ground beef that I took out of the freezer this morning while I was making coffee.

Some of you may still be stuck on one part of that last sentence.

Yes, this burger was made with 95% lean ground beef.

Do not fear for my (remaining) sanity, my friends. I will admit, up front, that I stuffed this burger with 1/2 tablespoon of cold butter before I put it into the oven. So yes, you can keep reading. I'm not blowin' smoke here.

I'm not going to go into a tedious step-by-step for this recipe. All I did was mix the meat with a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, stuff a chunk of butter in the middle of the patty, and roast the burger on a rack at 475 degrees for 14 minutes, plus another 30 seconds to melt the sharp cheddar I placed on top.

Next time, I may cut the cooking time down by a minute or possibly two, but if you're looking for a solid medium (cooked all the way through with the interior meat retaining just a hint of beefy color,) 14 minutes is perfect.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Convenience Store Breakfast Sandwich

So, the title of this post is somewhat misleading. This post is not about one of those frozen, pre-made breakfast sandwiches that are nestled next to the frozen pizzas and burritos in the gas station freezer section.

I admit that I am a breakfast sandwich snob. A connoisseur of sorts. I have searched far and wide through many a freezer section for a microwave-friendly quick sandwich treat... with disastrous results. I have not found a single edible sandwich... and there is an incredibly small list of foods that I will not eat.

Part of the problem is this. In the time that it takes you to microwave one of those hideous concoctions, I can toast bread, fry an egg, and clean up any mess that I made. A basic egg on toast is somewhere near thirty-thousand times better than those gummy, hot on the outside, frozen on the inside monstrosities. (Yes, these numbers are based on incredibly complex calculations that I just made up.)

What this post is actually about is the very questionable act of shopping at a small convenience store while hungry.  And I don't mean "a small bag of chips will satisfy me" kind of hungry.  I mean the "holy crap, I've been awake for about 5 hours and still have not eaten a single bite of solid food" kind of hungry.

There is a little country convenience store less than two tenths of a mile from my house. This place is fantastic... for what it is.  This is not a farmer's market.  In fact, the only "fresh" items it has are the occasional small tubs of local seafood (clams, wrinkles, etc.) The #1 reason I go to this store is on the oft-encountered occasion where I have made a pot of coffee and realize that I have somewhere between 1 and 2 teaspoons of milk or half-and-half left in the refrigerator.

It is also fantastic as it contains a single wall full of the most eclectic and useless pantry items I have ever seen. Yes, there may be a single can of tuna, but it is sitting next to several tins of kippered herring. Yes, there are canned tomatoes... however, they are not whole, diced or sauced.  They are "stewed and sliced" tomatoes.  In a can. W.T.F.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sausage and Mushroom Gravy

Oh man, you should definitely check this recipe out.

However... don't do what I did.

Don't eat it for dinner at around 9pm.

It is almost certainly going to give me nightmares...

And heartburn...

And nightmares about heartburn.


Mustard-dill Pork Chops and Green Beans

I often try to plan ahead when I think I'm going to have enough free time to make a good meal. Case in point, the other day I thought I was going to be home from work before 8pm, so I wanted something quick but delicious because I knew I could have something ready before 9 o'clock.  Before leaving for work, I scanned the options that I had in the freezer.

The sausage was already earmarked for something special.
I'd been eating chicken thighs quite a bit recently.
Fish sticks were fast, but not fancy enough.

Then I noticed a bag with two pork chops, each about 1/3" thick. That was going to be the perfect protein to make a quick an easy dinner. I took them out, popped the bag in a bowl and set it in the refrigerator to thaw while I was at work.

Sadly, I did not get home that evening until late.  Like, 9:30 late. I was certainly in no mood to make anything too involved, so the pork chops were left in the fridge overnight. Luckily, the next morning I was hungry and I didn't have to be to work until 1:30. This was when I decided that lunch would be my fancy meal of the day. (Also, I wasn't scheduled to get home until after 10 that night anyway).

So here I was... searching for pork recipes at 7:30 in the morning on a random weekday.

First, I looked at this recipe. While it looks simple at first, it requires the triple-dredging technique to make the pork crispy.

I love crispy.

I love crispy long time.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Recipe Recycling - Chinese Chicken and Broccoli

My favorite trick for cooking from my pantry is to take the ingredients I have on hand and drop them into an existing recipe that does not necessarily call for those ingredients.  Substitutions do not necessarily need to give similar flavors, textures, etc. to a dish to make something tasty.  For example, when I see a delicious looking mustard-dill pan sauce designed to go over lamb chops I will readily grab chicken out of my freezer and go to town.

Two days later, I tried it with some pork cutlets, yum. And even now, I'm envisioning it reduced a bit more and spooned over roasted asparagus and fennel. (I promise, if/when this happens I'll post a picture or two.)

For today, however, I need to figure out what to make myself for my birthday dinner.  Yes, today I turn 33. Being the youngest of 6 kids, birthdays (particularly ones this close to a new school year) did not garner a huge amount of fanfare. Sure, there was a ridiculously dense and moist fudge cake that I still dream about from time to time. Sure, everyone was forced to pay just a little bit more attention to you than normal. But the absolute best thing about a birthday in my family was that it was the one day of the year when you had the right to choose what was for dinner.

Think about it.  We had so many people eating dinner together every night that some of us had to sit at the kitchen counter because the kitchen table was not large enough to seat 8. If mom made something for dinner that you didn't like, you either sucked it up and ate it, or you poured yourself a bowl of cereal. (I've heard stories from the early years when my parents tried to force their children to eat what was made for them, but by the time I arrived, they had given up all hope.)

So, you can imagine how exciting it was to know that you could have mom make whatever YOU wanted for dinner, older brothers and sisters be damned.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cube Steak Sandwich

My mother was a financial genius.  Anyone able to feed a family of 8 (six kids and two adults... well okay... six kids, one adult and one Dad.) as well as she did on the budget that she had is nothing short of a miracle worker.  So, needless to say, every single "budget friendly" trick I know, I learned from watching her.

Our primary source of iron was ground beef.  From her famous spaghetti sauce chock full of meatballs to her beef stroganoff to burgers that dad cooked perfectly on the grill, we rarely strayed from this staple of American cuisine.  However, both my parents were steak fanatics.  They absolutely loved a nice rare hunk of unadulterated beefy goodness on their plate.  Unfortunately, big juicy ribeyes (and of course, filet mignon for Mom) were not budget friendly enough to make this more than an incredibly rare treat.  So, to break up the ground beef monotony, mom would occasionally pick up cube steaks from the grocery store and pan fry them for us.  To us kids, it was awesome.  The portions were generous and we could drown those tough, beefy cuts in A1 sauce and devour them with our mashed potatoes.

So, when I "grew up" and started living on my own (you know, almost 10 years after graduating from college) I had an epiphany. I was walking through the grocery store, checking out the price per pound of various proteins and lo and behold, there was a small package of three cube steaks for about $4/lb.  After subsisting on ramen and $1.99/lb packages of chicken thighs, I thought I would treat myself.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Double Dill Tartar Sauce

My sister calls me "Condiment Boy".  This does not bother me at all.  In fact, I embrace it.  I love creating interesting sauces, dips and spreads.  They're usually easy to create, easy to put together and easy to clean up after.  Also, you can eat the same basic meal over and over and over and by simply switching out the condiment(s) you use, you will never get bored.  Or at least I won't get bored.  You might... but then, you aren't "Condiment Boy".

This fascination may stem from a deeply ingrained need to avoid being bored.  A ham and cheese sandwich is a perfectly tasty lunch. Some snooty restaurants may try to spice this up with Spanish ham and shaved truffles.  For me, some jarred roasted red peppers and some homemade honey mustard makes this boring lunchbox fare into something... fancy.

Vegetables For Lunch - Chinese-style sauteed green beans with garlic, ginger and soy

Over the past year, I have had the immense pleasure of going to my sister's house for dinner, sometimes several days a week.  Over the past decade, I didn't realize how much I was missing vegetables in my diet. A simple salad, steamed broccoli, or even just mushrooms on a piece of pizza... I can feel my body reveling in the addition of whatever goodness vegetables inject into it.  This was the inspiration of today's pantry-purging light lunch.