Saturday, February 28, 2009

And now for something COMPLETELY different

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled mild Italian sausages
  • homemade egg noodles
  • buttery green cabbage
Dudes! I made homemade pasta for the first time ever! I am a little excited about it, so we're going to have to discuss it first, if you don't mind. I've been wanting a manual pasta machine for AGES and I finally got one last week. It's a really cheap-ass model, which may have been a mistake, but oh well. Homemade pasta! It's all good!

I used a recipe from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything. It was super easy: just combine two cups of all-purpose flour (I used unbleached), one teaspoon of salt (I used fine sea salt) and three eggs in a food processor until it forms a ball. Knead until smooth, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour. Then divide the dough into 4-6 pieces and work these pieces through your pasta machine one at a time until they're as thin as you want them. Cut into shapes, dry, then boil in salted water for 3-5 minutes. Easy, right?

WRONG, if you have a crappy pasta machine, which I apparently do. The first batch was a disaster -- it stuck to the rollers and made a godawful mess. Eventually I got the hang of it but it required adding a LOT of flour to the dough and I was worried that the end result would be super tough noodles. I pressed on, though -- making about five pasta sheets, cutting them into 5- to 6-inch lengths and then cutting those into 1/4-inch strips. I was going for a basic egg noodle kind of thing. I shook off all the excess flour I could and then spread them on my kitchen counter to dry for about an hour before cooking.

They actually came out really good! They were super tasty and the kids both had seconds. Next time I'll roll them a little thinner -- I was so aggravated by the sticky roller issue that I only did them to number 4 on the dial, and they thickened a bit while cooking, so the end result was vaguely dumpling-like. But still very tasty! Not bad for a first effort, I think. I'm excited about experimenting with this!

I cooked the sausages inside because it was WICKED windy/chilly outside today. First I simmered them in water for 15 minutes, as usual, then I browned them off on my beloved IKEA grill pan. You can just brown them in a skillet if you don't have a grill pan, or broil them in the oven until the skins are nice and crispy.

For the cabbage, I chopped half a head of green cabbage and sauteed it in a skillet with three tablespoons of butter. I had the heat up fairly high because I wanted the cabbage to caramelize and pick up some color. When it was just the way I wanted it, I seasoned it with salt and pepper, turned off the heat, and kept it covered until serving time. It was tender, buttery and delicious! I loves me some cabbage, y'all.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Tonight's Menu

  • grilled chicken thighs
  • whole-wheat couscous w/green onions
  • green salad bar
  • King cake!
  • hurricanes!
Hey! Happy Mardi Gras, y'all!

I told myself I was going to wait until daylight saving time (only a week and a half away now!) to start grilling every damn thing but, well, I lied. To myself. It happens. It was sunny and in the low 80s today, people -- how am I supposed to resist grilling under those conditions?! I ask you.

So yeah, I grilled some chicken thighs. They were bone-in, skin on and I just sprinkled them on both sides with some garlic pepper and Jane's Krazy Salt. I grilled them skin-side-down over medium-high heat until the skin was nice and golden brown with sexy grill marks, then I flipped them skin-side up for a few minutes, then I moved them to an unlit burner (with the other two burners turned up to high heat) and left them alone for a good 45 minutes. So, so yummy! I swear, grilled chicken thighs make EVERYTHING better (even having two members of the family on antibiotics at the same time, oy).

The couscous was packaged. I just stirred in some sliced green onions before serving. Easy!

The salad bar tonight was green leaf lettuce, sliced carrots from the garden, and more sliced green onions.

The King cake was purchased at my local supermarket bakery this morning. I'm guessing not every grocery store in the nation rolls out the King cakes on Fat Tuesday. Gotta love the South, y'all! My supermarket's version of a King cake is really just a big cinnamon roll type thing with powdered sugar icing and colored sprinkles. It's SO good, though. I'm going to have more for breakfast tomorrow with my coffee!

I improvised the hurricanes. They are NOT traditional -- I was just working with what I had. But for what it's worth:

6 oz. pineapple juice
6 oz. orange juice
1 oz. grenadine
2 oz. silver rum
2 oz. dark rum
2 oz. spiced rum (Bacardi 151 is traditional, but I didn't have any)

Shake all ingredients together and serve over crushed ice in hurricane glasses with straws. Makes about 2 or 3 depending on how big your glasses are and how much ice you use.

Woo! I am stuffed. Fat Tuesday, indeed!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Making its first appearance this season: garlicky flank steak!

Tonight's Menu

  • garlicky grilled flank steak
  • crispy potatoes w/garlic and rosemary
  • sauteed spinach
I would like you all to know that in the course of making this dinner I changed out propane tanks on the grill ALL BY MYSELF. And yes, that IS a big deal, because the whole propane issue kind of terrifies me. (There was a bunsen burner incident in college chemistry. I ... I don't like to talk about it.) Before I got my new grill with its sexy electronic starter, I refused to even LIGHT the thing. Now that I know how to switch out tanks, I pretty much only need DH for garbage removal, bill paying and occasional sex. Whee!

Oh, but you probably want to hear about the FOOD. Fine, then.

As longtime readers know, this flank steak is a HUGE favorite here and I make it umpteen times per year during grilling season. I've told you how to make it before, but it's easy enough to repeat: just bash up some garlic, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper with a mortar and pestle, then add fresh lemon juice and EVOO until you've made a nice slurry. Make diamond cuts in your flank steak and rub the garlic-lemon slurry all over it on both sides, pushing it into the cuts. Then pop it on a screaming hot grill for 4-5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of your steak. Let rest for 5 minutes or so, then slice thinly across the grain and devour. It is the BEST THING EVER.

For the potatoes, I just cut some russets into chunks and put them on a foil-lined baking sheet. Then I drizzled them with olive oil and tossed them with some bashed-up garlic cloves, snipped fresh rosemary, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. They roasted in the oven for about 30 minutes at 450 degrees, and I stirred them every 15 minutes or so to make sure they browned evenly. Delicious!

The spinach was SUPER easy -- just fresh baby spinach sauteed in olive oil until wilted and then seasoned with salt and pepper.

This is one of my favorite dinners, and it's so easy! I started heating up the grill when I put the potatoes in the oven. (And then the grill burned out, and I had to change tanks, oy.) I put the meat on the grill when the potatoes were halfway done, then sauteed the spinach while the meat was resting. It's a no-brainer, y'all!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Pasta & 'shrooms

Tonight's Menu

  • spaghetti w/mushroom-herb sauce
  • green salad "bar"
I am in such a rut with pasta that I usually don't even bother to tell you when I make it. I tend to do one of three things with it: spaghetti with my quickie tomato sauce, some sort of pasta shapes (penne, usually) with Knorr Parma Rosa sauce (a packet of powder to which you add milk and butter), or any sort of pasta with just butter and shredded cheese mixed in.

I know, right? BORING.

So tonight I decided to experiment. I know what you're thinking -- that NEVER ends well, at least for me -- but this time it came out pretty darn tasty! As usual I didn't measure anything, but here's essentially what I did.

First I sliced some crimini mushrooms (these are sometimes called baby bellas) and minced some fresh garlic. I melted some butter over medium heat in a skillet, tossing in the mushrooms and garlic and letting them sweat out fairly slowly without picking up any color. Then I added some fresh thyme, some minced fresh rosemary, salt and pepper and just tossed it around a bit (this smelled AMAZING) before adding in some heavy cream (left over from the pork and gnocchi the other night). I let that simmer over low heat until the cream had thickened just a bit. Then I drained the spaghetti (which had been cooking all this time) and dumped it right into the skillet with the mushroom sauce. Toss, throw on some chopped fresh parsley, and serve! This was really pretty darn tasty and a nice change from our usual boring pasta dinners!

The salad was still boring, though -- just green leaf lettuce and sliced carrots from the garden. We ate up the last of the CSA greenhouse tomatoes last night when I made hamburgers so this salad was even more bare than usual!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cookbooks to the rescue!

Tonight's Menu

  • mustardy pork chops w/gnocchi
  • green salad "bar"
Whoops! Didn't mean to disappear on you for a couple of weeks there. Would you believe I got sick AGAIN? This time with some nasty fever virus thing that mutated into a sinus infection. Fun! So yeah, there's been a whole lot of takeout pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches happening around here.

HOWEVER, tonight I did something different. I have a metric ton of cookbooks but I've realized lately that I hardly ever actually cook from them! Determined to remedy that, I was flipping through Nigella Express looking for something that would use ingredients I already had on hand and came up with this one. It wasn't bad -- I don't usually cook bone-in chops in a skillet without braising them because they always end up tough and dry, and these did, but the sauce made up for it somewhat. The gnocchi were just packaged (I DID have to go out and buy those, and the cream), boiled quickly and then tossed in the mustard cream sauce.

Tonight's salad was just green leaf lettuce, wedged tomatoes (greenhouse-grown, from our last CSA box) and sliced carrots (from my garden!).

Did I tell you all we let our CSA subscription expire? We picked up our last box last week. We just weren't keeping up with the supply of vegetables, and I HATED wasting them. I've decided to redouble my efforts to feed us from my backyard garden, along with making more frequent trips to our local farmer's market(s) and food co-op. We'll still be eating local food as much as possible, never fear!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Typical weeknight meal

Tonight's Menu

  • spiced pork tenderloin
  • whole-wheat couscous
  • sweet and sour red cabbage
I'm feeling MUCH better today so tonight I made what is pretty much a typical meal for us.

The pork tenderloin recipe is here. It's pretty easy and a nice "bridge" entree between cold-weather oven meals and warm-weather grilling meals.

The couscous was just made according to the package directions. The final vote is in for our family on the couscous: the boys prefer it to quinoa, while the girls have the opposite preference. Go figure!

The sweet and sour cabbage is a favorite of mine, but it's been ages since I've made it. It's really pretty easy, though it does require some babysitting while it cooks.

Sweet & Sour Red Cabbage

1 small onion, halved lengthwise then sliced cross-wise
1 Tbs canola or other vegetable oil
1/2 head red cabbage, shredded (ours was from the CSA)
1/2 cup water
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs red wine vinegar
1 Tbs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

In a large skillet, saute onion in oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, cover pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is tender. Uncover pan, turn heat up to high until all liquid has evaporated.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Just like Mom used to make

Tonight's Menu

  • beef roast with veggies
  • green salad "bar"
I've had some sort of rotten head cold for the past several days and now that I feel good enough to actually cook dinner, I want comfort food! I had a big hunk o' beef in the fridge and a bunch of veggies in the crisper, so I decided to make a pot roast similar to the way I remember my mom making it when I was a kid. (I could have actually called her to get the recipe, I suppose, but I enjoy trying to reconstruct dishes from memory. I'm weird, I know.)

ANYWAY. What I did was generously season my hunk o' beef on both sides with salt and pepper, then brown it in a big enameled cast-iron dutch oven. After removing the pan from the heat, I arranged some red-skinned potatoes, yellow onions, celery and carrots, all cut in fairly large chunks, around the meat. Then I poured in some wine (a Malbec, I think -- something red, anyway) and sprinkled on maybe a tablespoon of whole peppercorns before nestling some fresh thyme sprigs and bay leaves in amongst the veggies. After that I covered the pot, stuck it in the oven, and let it cook for about three hours at 325 degrees F. It was delicious! Mom would be proud.

I put the roast and veggies in the oven right after picking up the girl child from school, and there was absolutely nothing else I had to do (for dinner) for the rest of the afternoon/evening except make the salad! How easy is THAT?

Oh, and the salad was just green leaf lettuce, shredded carrots, sliced radishes from the CSA, and wedges of tomato (ditto).