Sunday, January 22, 2012

It's a tie - Recipe: 1 Invention: 1

As you likely can tell, much of my cooking is done just by throwing in things that I happen to have around.  There's not a ton of pre-thought on what I'm going to do.  I often look at a recipe and then modify it as I'm inspired.  Tonight, I did that twice with dinner.  One was a success; one was a failure.

Roasted Beets.  ::sigh::  This was the failure.

I don't know why I didn't stick with the recipes I saw online for this one as it was the first time I had ever cooked beets.  I don't really like them (or haven't traditionally, though I am somewhat determined to grow to like them, especially since I'm growing them in my raised bed out back).  But I kept hearing great things about "roasted beets" and how the sugars in the beets make them sweet and tasty through a high temperature bake.

Most of the recipes talk about taking the whole beet, wrapping them in tin foil, and roasting them at a high temperature for 60 to 90 minutes.  After taking my CSA box beets out of the fridge and looking at them again, I thought...maybe I should do this differently.  You know, buck recipe convention.  Someone should have smacked that peeler out of my hand.  Here's what happened.

I cut off the greens (sorry folks, didn't keep them...too wilted) and the little root end.  I held a couple of the root ends to my head and wiggled them around.  I walked up to the boyfriend who was on the couch with the dogs and said, "take me to your leader!"  The boyfriend felt he had to console one of the dogs by saying, "don't worry, she's just kidding."  I'm not sure it was necessary.  He knows I'm an oddball. 

But I digress.

While the recipes included foil, I decided that I would peel the beets (sadly, removing their lovely scarlet color) and quarter them.  (The boyfriend and I decided that they smell like dirt.  More specifically, the smelled like top soil.  We were hoping that the cooking would, well, develop that scent into something more appealing.)  I then put olive oil, salt, and pepper on them and tossed them onto a baking sheet.  I put them in a 425 oven for about 35 minutes.  (I put the timer at 45 minutes to check on them, but they looked pretty pathetic once 35 minutes had passed.)  I took them out.  They had one really caramelized (read: burned) side and the rest of it looked sad.  Once they cooled, I tried one. 

Let's just say, Recipe: 1  Intuition: 0

The night was not yet finished.  Not too long after I had put the beets in the oven, I cut up the rest of a bag of red potatoes into quarters, put some olive oil, salt and Garlic Herb Mrs. Dash (yes, I realize the salt sort of defeated the purpose of Mrs. Dash) and tossed them into another baking sheet.  They went in with probably 35 minutes left on the timer.  I was trying to recreate some amazing roasted red potatoes that I had made earlier in the week.  They came out pretty dern tasty, but should have stayed in a little longer to really crisp up as they had the first time.  I should have probably left them in for 45-50 minutes, but they were just dandy.

The boyfriend wanted to consume some sort of meat for the protein.  The only non-canned meat we had were two pre-cooked chicken, apple, and smoked gouda sausages. That wasn't going to work the same way a regular spicy sausage would, so pasta with tomato sauce was off the table.  I tried to think about what I had that would support the apple flavor in the sausage.  I opened the fridge, and stared. 

I got it.  Grapes. salted caramel pear butter from Confituras.

I sliced the sausages lengthwise so there was a flat side.  I put a little bit of olive oil in a non..non-stick pan (as in, would brown up and caramelize nicely) and cranked up the heat.  Once the oil was shimmering, I put the sausages in, cut side down.  I let them brown up a bit and then flipped them.  After I got a little color on the other side, I put them aside on a plate and turned down the heat a little bit on the pan.  I then put about a cup of red seedless grapes into the pan. They immediately started getting a little brown, which was fine, but I realized they weren't going to be able to deglaze the pan if none of their juice was getting out. 

So, I grabbed my kitchen shears and started cutting them.  Thank goodness those things were sharp.  We had no flying grapes.  Once they had cooked a little bit, I started scraping the brown sausage bits off the bottom of the pan with my wooden spoon and smooshing the grapes at the same time.  I then added about a tablespoon and a half of the pear butter.  I stirred that around and made sure to get all the brown goodness off the bottom of the pan.  I squeezed a little bit of grapefruit juice into the sauce to brighten things up (and to avoid an over-sweet sauce).  While I was letting that cook down a bit, I put the sausages back in the sauce (to make sure they were heated all the way through and that they melded a little bit with the sauce). 

Because I wasn't 100% sure how successful the sauce would be, I decided to make sure the potatoes, which I knew were good, weren't going to be defiled.  I put the potatoes in a bowl and put that bowl on a large plate.  I then served up one sausage (two split halves) each and spooned the grape/pear butter sauce on top.  It worked.  It was rather tasty.  I'll likely try something like that again.  I think it would have been a really good sauce on a pork chop, or something like that.  If I had had some calvados or apple cider, that might have even been a great deglazing liquid to use prior to putting the halved grapes in the pan. 

Invention/Inspiration: 1 Recipe be damned.  :-) to be posted at some point in the near future.

Friday, January 20, 2012

CSA box take...3?

I am a sucker for coupons.  I'm actually fairly sure I am on the verge of having an actual diagnosed problem.  These dern groupon-y things (coupons sent to you via email every day...yes EVERY DAY) really get me.  And lo and behold, there was recently one to start receiving a CSA box (either weekly or bi-weekly) from Johnson's Backyard Garden.  I have been a customer of theirs before, and while the produce is certainly lovely, you don't have the ability to add on any additional produce items (poultry, cheeses, etc.).  And then I can with Farmhouse Delivery.  I couldn't refuse.  

So, I signed up to receive a bi-weekly CSA box from Farmhouse Delivery.  In truth, the concept of getting a bushel after bushel full of winter veggies I don't typically enjoy didn't excite me.  However, the ability to add a chicken onto my bi-weekly order was too appealing to pass up.  And, with my recent discovery of kale and how much I like it, I thought that I was bound to like other veggies that had before been on my "no fly" list. 

This first week contained the following:
  • a SIX POUND roaster (I'll just roast it like I do chicken every time. Always turns out good)
  • cauliflower (on the no fly list)
  • beets (on the no fly list)
  • chard (I figure it's pretty similar to kale, so it's probably ok)
  • spinach
  • two of the world's smallest avocados
  • cilantro (on the no fly list, but I do like it in pho, so I might have to try to make some of that)
  • lettuce
  • a large grapefruit
  • a cabbage (on the cusp of the no fly...but I like it in soup, so that's where it's probably destined to land)
I think that's it.  Stay tuned to see what I do with all this.  

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Quick Post: Tonight's cooking in pictures

Roasted Farmers Market Chicken

Kale Chips

Baked Brown Rice with Zucchini

Quick Post: What's eating me...

I don't understand how a large major-name grocery store in a decent neighborhood that is always packed can be this bad. 
  • I've returned 3 half gallons of milk (one of their store brands, nonetheless)
  • The turkey the boyfriend bought recently seemed about a day from going bad
  • The salmon I bought yesterday evening already went bad before I could cook it tonight for dinner
  • Last night when we went to the store, the milk seemed like it was being kept, well, not so cold
  • Last night they were out of bananas.  Not just the organic ones.  All bananas.  ALL OF THEM

It's entirely likely that I might start going to another grocery store going forward, but this company is so omnipresent.  And I really like a couple of their stores, so I'm just not sure what I should do. 

Regardless, my first step is to bring the salmon back first thing in the morning and let them know about all the other issues.  grumble grumble

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Quick Post: Another goal?

Alrighty.  I didn't succeed in my goal last year of posting 25 times.  I got up to about 20, but that's not 25.  This year (2012: The Year of Productivity), I will choose the same goal - 25 posts in the year.  I need to make sure to post 2x/month, and I think that's do-able.  Of course, I thought that was do-able this year too, so hey. 

But this year, I'm going to add reminders on my calendar and  hope for the best.  :-)

Christmas Cookies

I've always been a little jealous of the people who have fun holiday traditions with friends like cookie swaps.  I never really think about it, though, until I hear that my friends or co-workers are participating in one.  So, when we were asked to bring desserts to my work holiday lunch and that there would be a contest to see who has the best ones, I knew I had to get to work.

I've gotten a bit of a reputation at work for cooking, so making sure I did something worthwhile.  I immediately hit the internet to find some impressive cookies.  What I did not do was to consider the weather outside when I was selecting my two entries into the contest.

My first selection was peppermint meringue cookies.  It was easy enough - just use some egg whites, add some sugar, add some peppermint extract, and then add in some red food dye.  This was a good excuse for me to buy food dye and a piping back with four different frosting tips. I love an excuse to buy new cooking gadgets.

As I started mixing them, they looked really promising.  What's fun (and rather effective, I think) is that you're not supposed to actually mix in the red dye.  The recipe says that you should add some drops, but then as you are putting the meringue into the piping bag, it mixes itself somewhat, but not completely.  It ends up being a pretty interesting effect.  Mostly pink, but some stripes of white and red.

The instructions also suggested that I use parchment paper, and since I (surprisingly) didn't have any at the house, I had to buy some of that too.  Aw shucks.  I piped them out onto the two half sheets lined with parchment paper and baked them per the recipe.  They turned out pretty good, but then you're supposed to let them dry out and become crispy.  Ay there's the rub.  More on that later.

The second selection was Christmas wreath cookies.  The recipe was easy enough.  Essentially, you're supposed to make rice crispy treats but with corn flakes instead of rice crispies, add some green food coloring, and decorate with red hots to represent little holly berries. 
The recipe was pretty accurate in terms of "ease of creation" however I think they had the order of steps in, well, the wrong order. They suggested that you mix the melted marshmallows and butter with the cornflakes and then add the green dye.  Well, if you know anything about marshmallows, you know that they become stickier and harder the cooler they get.  By the time you are stirring the last of the marshmallow mixture into the cornflakes and everything is sticking together, it's pretty much impossible to stir much more. 

When I decided that the recipe did not include enough marshmallow mixture, I added what was left of my green dye to the mixture before adding to the corn flakes.  It was much easier.  But, I will say, the recipe also called for only about a teaspoon of green dye.  I guess the dye that I bought must have been weaker (though it was the exact same dye that my mom used to buy when I was a kid), because I ended up using the entire little bottle of the stuff.  They still didn't turn out as dark as the picture in the recipe.  

That said, I think they turned out pretty good.  My lovely silpats were fabulous.  It was no problem getting the slightly-dried, sticky, and still delicate concoctions off them.  It was great.  Only problem?  They didn't dry.  I'm sensing a theme here. 

The lesson of the day??  Don't make two types of cookies that require drying out for success on a day that is wet and drizzly.  Both of the cookies tasted good, but they were sticky as all get out and chewing the not-so-dried meringues ended up more like chewing peppermint gum than a crunchy cookie.  I'll definitely make them again, but I'll check the weather forecast first.