Friday, April 10, 2009

The Sweet Sounds of Risotto

Ryan and I have started playing music together. After nearly three years of living with the dude, this is a task we've never been able to work together on. Growing up in formal, private piano lessons really gives me a leg up on understanding music theory. I can read music and I sort of understand why it sounds good but asking me to write something is tough. Ryan, on the other hand, plays the guitar but has never had a private lesson. He's always played simply because he loves playing. I love playing too, but nowhere to his level. His pure passion for music is sort of overwhelming at times because he gets frustrated with me for not being able to "feel" the music like he can. I suspect feelings like that aren't something everyone can understand. True passion is a capability and I simply don't care enough.

Anyway, we've decided to stop watching so much TV and start using the gifts we both have to learn from one another and hopefully make some cool music together. It tests both of our patience but we manage. All I know is that he's easier to deal with when we've both eaten something decent. Tonight, I'm trying a new recipe: Asparagus-Leek Risotto.

3/4 cup asparagus spears, trimmed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cup sliced leeks
1 cup Arborio rice (if you can't find it, any short grain rice will do)
3 cups chicken broth (preferably reduced sodium)
1/3 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. snipped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp. finely shredded lemon peel
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
ground black pepper
lemon slices
lemon peel

1. Place asparagus in single layer on baking sheet. Brush with half the oi; lightly sprinkle with salt & pepper. Bake, uncovered, in 450 degree oven about 10 minutes or until crisp-tender. Cool slightly, cut in 2-inch pieces, set aside.

2. In a large saucepan cook leeks in remaining oil until tender. Stir in oncooked rice. Cook and stir over medium heat about 5 minutes or until rice begins to turn golden brown.

3. In another saucepan bring broth to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer. Carefully stir 1 cup of hot broth into rice mixture. Cook, stirring frequently over medium heat until liquid is absorbed. Then add 1/2 cup broth at a time, stirring frequently until brother is absorbed before adding more. (This will take about 20-25 minutes).

4. Cook until rice is tender and creamy. Stir in asparagus pieces, cheese, parsley, lemon peel, lemon juice and pepper. Garnish with lemon slices and peel.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Working is Sick Without Creamy Spinach

Maybe I'm not getting enough nutrition or maybe I work in an office. I have taken today off due to a gnarly cold that I'm fighting. Two weeks ago, one girl came into work with this cold. Last week, about six other people had it, they all also chose to come into work. I'm going against the grain by NOT going to work when I'm sick with a contageous cold. I spent all weekend in my PJ's, lying on the couch. Today I decided that since I'm not at work, I should at least get something done around the apartment, so I did some dishes and took out the trash.
Today is a beautiful in Portland. It's sunny and pushing 60 degrees outside. After taking the trash out, I walked back into my apartment to a wall of stick that reminded me of a hospital ward. Thank goodness it's finally getting warm enough to open a window and air this place out. I guess it's also getting to be time for some summer food.

Today's recipe is Creamy Spinach. While it's not a summer food, I felt it was appropriate since spinach qualifies as a "super food", which I need in my time of coughing and hacking.

6 tightly packed cups of fresh spinach (6 ounces)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. butter
salt & pepper

1. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the spinach and blanch until bright green, about 30 seconds. Transfer the spinach to a bowl of ice water to cool. Drain, squeezing out the excess water.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a simmer. Pour the cream into a food processor and add 1/3 of the spinach. Process into a smooth puree. Scrape the puree into the saucepan. Add the remaining spinach and bring to a simmer, stirring. Stir in the butter. Season w/ salt & pepper.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Danny, Emily, Peanut Butter and Jelly

I get frustrated when people have pet names that are the names of humans. I always felt like pets should have sidekick names or ridiculous names. I have a neighbor who was dating a guy named Danny. Danny was a funny dude with an absolutley amazing mullet and a Mustang. This neighbor of mine has a dog that is so sweet and friendly. It doesn't bother anyone but is still pretty happy-go-lucky. One day I saw Danny taking the dog for a walk and I got talking to him for a few minutes. Come to find out, the dog's name was Emily. Sharing a name with a dog is bad enough but having the keeper with the same name as your brother...that's just adding insult to injury.

Who doesn't love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?? I had a conversation once about how people make their PB&J. Come to find out, making them the way I do makes me a complete freak. However, everyone has their own method and I decided to do a psychoanalysis on people's method of making their sandwiches. What kind of bread? Creamy or crunchy peanut butter? What kind of jelly? Do you use the same knife for both ingredients? Do you toast the bread? A lot of factors went into the questioning but sadly, the results were inconclusive.

Today, I'm sharing one of my favorite recipes ever: Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars. This treat has made me pretty popular up here in Oregon so next time you need someone to tell you you're amazing (if only because you made a good snack) give these a shot.

2 sticks butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 extra large eggs
2 cups creamy peanut butter
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
18 oz. jam (I like strawberry or raspberry but you can whatever kind you'd like)
2/3 cup salted peanuts, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grean & flour 9x13x2 baking pan.

2. Cream together butter and sugar. Add vanilla, eggs, and peanut butter.

3. In a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Combine with peanut butter mixture.

4. Spread 2/3 of the dough in the pan then layer all the jam over the top. Drop small gobs of dough on top of the jam and sprinkle the top with the peanuts. Bake 45 minutes and let cool before cutting up and serving.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Broken Doors and Creole Shrimp

A while back, one of my neighbors died in his apartment. The police were called and the landlord had to come over with the spare key. Unfortunately, the guy had the chain lock on the door so despite having a spare key, they had to break the door down anyway. I wondered why they didn't climb in the window. That way, nobody would have to break the door down. I wonder who pays for the door. The landlord, the city, or does it come out of the dead guy's pocket? I suspect the landlord had to pay for it, in which case, I think it he kind of got screwed on that deal.

Today's recipe is a simple one that is really good. Also, it's nearly impossible to screw up.
Creole Shrimp with Garlic & Lemon:
1lb. large shrimp; shelled & deveined
1 1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. creole seasoning
1 red bell pepper; finely chopped
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

1. In a bowl, toss the shrimp with the garlic, creole seasoning and bell pepper.
2. In a skillet, saute shrimp in the oil over medium high heat, turning the shrimp once until just white throughout.
3. Add lemon & parsley, take off heat and serve warm.

April Fool's cut-up

Every year at about this time I start missing Salt Lake. Of course, this is only because this is the time of year that I instinctually began plotting my April Fool's mayhem on my Mother. I feel really fortunate to have a Mom with such a fun sense of humor. A lot of Mom's out there would most likely get irritated with the tricks the four of us pulled on her all the time. I think Andy and I really were the instigators of the highest levels of pranking torture for her as I have many memories of Andy finding snakes in the yard and using them as his weapons of mass destruction. Obviously, being in Oregon really puts a damper on my April Fool's tricks. I'm completely convinced that one of these years, I'll find a way to get her though.

I find it outrageous and depressing that there are so many cooks out there who don’t have good knives. While I don’t think anyone really NEEDS a full set of amazing knives, I do think that having one or two that are really nice is worth the money. In my mind, the best knives out there are Shun brand knives.
These are a Japanese knives that are made in the same fashion as Samaria swords. The knife starts as a very thin layer of what is called VG-10. What is impressive about this material is that not only is it wicked hard and durable but it also holds an edge for a long time because it carries properties similar to memory foam in the sense that it will bounce back from each time it smacks a cutting board. On top of the VG-10, they add 16 layers of forged steel to each side (32 layers total plus the VG-10 in the middle makes the knife 33 layers thick). This gives the knives a beautiful, wavy pattern but also adds stability and strength to the knife.
The important thing to understand about these knives is that the VG-10 has a really high carbon count. The carbon count is how they measure the hardness or strength of the knife. Honing steels generally have a very high carbon count but with Shun knives, you need to make sure you get a Shun steel, otherwise instead of the steel honing the knife, the knife will cut into the steel. Very fascinating stuff.
When purchasing a knife, it’s always good to know what kind of knife it is, a German knife or a Japanese knife. At the sharp edge, German knives are at a 22 degree angle. Japanese knives are at 16 degrees. While German brands like Henkels and Wusthof are very nice knives, they will not be as sharp or hold their edge as long as any Japanese knife on the market for that reason. A sharp knife will always be a safer knife to use as well as it is less likely to slip of the edges of any found foods and will instead slice right through them. The handle of the Shun is made of Pakka Wood. It’s essentially a fusion of white birch (dyed black) and plastic resin. They are a beautiful and comfortable knife to hold.
A lot of people have a hard time putting the money into a Shun knife which I certainly understand but with a lifetime guarantee and free sharpening for life, I will always recommend these knives to any cook, regardless of skill level.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ricky Gervais LOVES vermicelli!

I have recently fallen in love with Ricky Gervais, Steven Merchant and Karl Pilkington. I've purchased several of their audiobooks and subscribe to their podcast. During my lunch today I was listening to a bit about Halloween and the idea of the morgue having more fun with this holiday. The suggestion was that they dress up the dead people. It's rare that I'm sitting alone and find myself actually LOLing. As I did it, I considered the idea that most people who use dweebie terms like LOL frequently are liars. Most of us LOL very infrequently when we're alone but emails, text messages, and everything else would suggest otherwise.

I was talking with a co-worker about a strange spaghetti dish I made recently. I've decided to share it. When making it, I took the really easy, really lame way out by using store bought pasta sauce but who cares? With a meal like this, it really wasn't a big deal. This was so easy to make and while it felt awkward to assemble it, I really enjoyed it. It would be really simple to personalize with different meats, spices, etc.

Baked Beef Vermicelli Cake:

1/3 cup butter
1 onion, chopped
1lb. ground beef
1lb. 12oz. tomato pasta sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
9oz. vermicelli or spaghettini
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk
1 1/4 cups grated cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a deep, 9" round springform pan. Melt a tablespoon of the butter in a large, deep frying pan and cook the onion over medium heat for 2-3 minutes until soft.

2. Add the ground beef, breaking up any lumps and cook until browned. Stir in pasta sauce and tomato paste, reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes.

3. Cook the pasta in salted water, drain and rinse. Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan over low heat, stir in the flour and cook until pale and foaming (about a minute). Remove from heat and gradually stir in milk. Return to heat and stir constantly until sauce boils and thickens. Reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

4. Spread the pasta over the bottom of the pan then cover with half the meat sauce. Cover with remaining pasta, pressing it down. Cover with remaining meat sauce then pour on the white sauce. Sprinkle with cheese and cook for 15 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

If Looks Could Eat Asparagus Soup

You know that phrase "if looks could kill"? Well, if it were possible to die of cute, this English Bulldog puppy would totally do it for me! Haver you ever seen anything so adorable in your life?? Yeah, sure, your kids are cute or whatever but oh my GOSH!! Have you even SEEN this puppy??? Cutest. Thing. Ever.

Whenever I think of Asparagus Soup, I think of a cream based soup. I love asparagus and find it tragic that oftentimes the taste of the asparagus is overwhelmed by cream, milk, cheese, what have you. This is a really simple soup that you can cook quickly and focuses on the hearty taste of the asparagus. It’s pretty earthy but is really good with some French bread for dipping.

½ onionSplash of oil

4 cups vegetable stock

1lb. asparagus

4 celery stalks



Dice the onion and sauté in a stockpot with the oil.Once onions are soft and lightly browned, add vegetable stock. While stock is cooking, finely chop celery and snap ends off asparagus. Add celery and asparagus to pot. When asparagus is bright green and soft, pour all the soup into a blender and puree. (I used an emersion blend and just pureed the soup in the pot.)Pour soup back into pot, salt and pepper to taste. This recipe is super, super easy and I love the outcome! I added about 1/3 cup of milk to mine at the end to make it a tiny bit creamier. If you want your soup to have a creamier taste to it, substitute some of the stock for milk or cream. You could also add a potato to the soup as well, although I chose not to. I seasoned mine with a lot of white pepper but you could really have a lot of fun with this.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

All National Cuisine Can Be Cooked In A Scanpan.

I'm being "treated" to dinner tonight. I bought ingredients, Ryan is cooking. We've decided on stir fry tonight. It seems weird that Ryan and I each have certain nationalities we're better at cooking. He's good at Asian and Italian, I make good Mexican and family comfort food (what I call, "Downhome American"). If you look closely enought into it, you'll realize that I can only have one or two things going on at once in a kitchen but Ry can have 5 or 6. I'm better at baking though, so as far as I'm concerned, I'm still carrying on those qualities that a woman should. *sigh* I always try not to be but I'm pretty old-fashioned.

I’m generally not a fan of non-stick cookware because it needs to be replaced so frequently. We’ve always kept one 8” nonstick skillet for eggs but that’s literally the only one. Recently though, Ryan came home with another 8” non-stick skillet. While I thought he was an idiot at the time, I now realize that he was presenting me with the most amazing non-stick skillet that has ever seen the light of day.
A product of Denmark, the brand name of this pan is Scanpan. Its nonstick coating is made of a ceramic, titanium blend which makes it ridiculously lightweight but with an aluminum base, it heats and cooks really evenly. The nonstick is what they call a “closed” nonstick surface that offers optimal food release every time. No need to pre-oil or season before using it. The construction of this pan is what really blew me away. They forge the shape of the aluminum under 200 tons of pressure to ensure that they will have a perfectly even pan base and that it won’t create any hot spots. This also makes it easier for the pan to heat quickly and evenly. They then create a mixture of ceramic and titanium which they heat to over 30,000 degrees Fahrenheit at which point, it liquefies (Scanpan calls it a “liquid plasma state”). The next step is to get the ceramic-titanium liquid plasma nonsense onto the pan by firing it on at under a ridiculous amount of pressure. The combination of heat and impact makes this mixture really anchor itself onto the aluminum. Ever heard of the MOHS scale that measures the hardness of gemstones? Diamonds are a 10, Scanpan is a 9.5. The significance of this is that this pan is nearly impossible to damage. Use any utensil, put it in your dishwasher, hit anyone over the head with it, it doesn’t matter...this bad boy is staying as is! Obviously, with this kind of production and craftsmanship, they give these pans a lifetime warranty.
I know it sounds like I’m just doing an ad for Scanpan but I seriously, seriously love this product. If I want to make a quesadilla, I melt the cheese directly on the pan and simply flip the pan over on my tortilla; the cheese just slips right off. And with nonstick properties this impressive, cleaning the pan is maybe the easiest thing ever. The handle is ergonomic (not that matters because you never have to hold the thing for longer than about 5 seconds), riveted on and cool to the touch. Yes, they’re pretty expensive but if you try one, you’ll be blown away. I promise!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Portabello Mushroom Lasagna made with the left hand.

Who do these lefties think they are? One of my good friends here is a leftie, which is pleasant for me because anything that ever goes wrong with his life, I can blame on left-handedness. Surely, he wouldn't have problems with his landlord if he were right-handed like the rest of us. I mean, if he's afraid of heights, that's not my fault! He's the ones who's left-handed! Bad day at work? That's probably because he's left-handed. You get the idea.

This friend of mine hates onions and mushrooms. Did I mention that he's a leftie? So, in honor of Bracken, here's a recipe for Portabello Mushroom Lasagna. All creamy, all delicious, all right-handed.

Kosher Salt

Olive Oil

3/4 lb. dried lasanga noodles

4 cups whole milk

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. ground nutmeg

1 1/2 lbs. portabello mushrooms

1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bring large pot of water to a boil with a little salt and a splash of oil. Cook noodles, drain, set aside.

2. Simmer milk in saucepan, set aside. Melt 1 stick of butter in a large saucepan. Add flour and cook for 1 minute over low heat, stirring constantly. Pour milk in mixture. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cook over medium-low heat stirring, then whisking about 5 minutes. Set aside, off heat.

3. Pop mushroom heads off stems and discard stems. Slice caps 1/4" thick. Head 2 Tblsp. oil and 2 Tblsp. butter in large saute pan. Add half the mushrooms, sprinkle with salt, cook at midium for 5 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the mushrooms.

4. Sauce bottom of 8x12x2 pan. Layer noodles, sauce, mushrooms, parmesan. Top with noodle and sauce, sprinkle parmesan. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.

Anyone who's anyone likes portabello mushrooms, Bracken!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Chile Verde: better than snow.

I hear it's supposed to snow tonight. Nothing gets under my skin more than hearing news like this. The news always throws the weather report on after the worst story of the night to try to lighten things up a little - I get it but it's like, "oh! kids are being killed all over the world AND it's going to snow?!" Total insult to injury. Better make something warm tonight.

How on Earth is it possible that I have gone this long in life without ever trying to make Chili Verde? I LOVE the stuff and decided that it’s absolute crap that I haven’t perfected it yet. I feel a little like my sensibilities have been ambushed, particularly with how amazing this turned out. Before Ryan could even take a bite, I was already saying "you're welcome"'s THAT good!

I’ve become quite a fan of roasted EVERYTHING so in the spirit of that, I’ve tweaked this recipe to accommodate my satisfaction and I’m glad I did. Browning the skins of the tomatillos brought out a lot of great flavors and only added about 10 minutes to my prep time. Totally worth it.

¾ lb. tomatillos
2 or 3 garlic cloves, not peeled
1 or 2 jalapenos, seeds removed, chopped
1 Anaheim or Poblano chile (not recommended if you're Delwyn Roper)
1 bunch of cilantro leaves, cleaned and chopped
2 lbs. pork shoulder (also called pork butt), trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 to 2-inch cubes
Black pepper
Olive oil
1 yellow onion
1 or 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 Tbsp of chopped fresh oregano
About 1 cup chicken stock
Pinch of ground cloves

1. Remove papery husks from the tomatillos and rinse well. Cut in half and place cut side down, along with unpeeled garlic cloves, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place under a broiler for about 7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin. Remove from oven, let cool enough to handle.

2. Place tomatillos (skins included) into blender. Remove roasted garlic from their skins and add to blender. Add chopped jalapeno, other chilies (if you're using them), and cilantro into the blender. Pulse until finely chopped and mixed.

3. Season the pork cubes generously with salt and pepper. heat olive oil in large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium high heat to brown pork chunks well on all sides. Once browned, life pork out of the skillet and place in a bowl, set aside.

4. Place onions and chopped garlic in the same skillet and cook, stirring occassionally until limp (about 5 minutes). Add pork, oregano, tomatillo chile verde sauce, chicken stock and ground cloves.

5. Bring to a boil and reduct to a slight simmer. Cook until pork is tender (the longer, the better!)

I served mine with tortillas and Mexican rice although this stuff is great in burritos and enchiladas too.