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Pot Roast

We don’t eat a whole lot of meat around here, and when we do it tends to be chicken. This is partly about cost, and partly about environmental concerns, but it’s also partly due to the fact that I’m not very familiar with cooking beef. When I was cooking for my family, my mother would shop specifically for simple meals I could manage without a great deal of instruction, and generally that meant chicken casserole-ish things, or vegetarian meals, or ground beef. And now that I am on my own, non-ground beef is intimidating. There are just so many parts, and sometimes the names of the meats in Kroger don’t quite match up with the cuts the recipes tell me to buy, and each one requires a different approach to cooking it or else you end up with something gross and inedible. Chicken is so simple, and familiar, and flexible. But it’s finally gotten cold in these here parts, and I found myself craving something hearty and beefy. I looked for roast beef recipes, but they need things like “roasting pans” and “racks” and you know, things I don’t have. I do, however, have a big pot that came in a box of Ikea kitchen equipment. So, pot roast it is.

For recipes that are staples of American home cooking, I like to check Simply Recipes first. Well, I like to check Simply Recipes first a lot, but I was certain Elise would have a good pot roast recipe, and I was not disappointed.

I got a late start on it, so it’s still in the oven as I write this part of the post, but it sure smells delicious.

Ingredients

* 3 1/2 lb of beef shoulder or boneless chuck roast
* 1 Tbsp olive or grapeseed oil
* Salt, pepper, italian seasoning to taste
* 1 large yellow onion, chopped or sliced
* 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
* 1/2 cup of red wine
* Several carrots, peeled and cut lengthwise

Preparation

I’m just going to tell you to read the Simply Recipes post, because it’s quite thorough and helpful.

Notes

Elise’s post and the comments just about cover it, but I did cut up two parsnips and added them with the carrots. My mother’s beef stew has parsnips in it, so I associate them with comforting beef-based winter food. Her stew also has rutabega, but it’s that pungent parsnip flavor that stands out to me and that I end up craving. Alcohol is another thing my roommate and I don’t consume much, so rather than buy a whole bottle of wine just to use 1/2 a cup, I got one of the mini bottles, in this case, Barefoot Wine Merlot. It’s 3/4 of a cup instead of 1/2, but since a little extra liquid means I’m less likely to dry out the roast, I figured putting in the whole bottle was ok.

Ok, it’s now 11 pm and the meat is done. I had a bit of carrot and parsnip, and they were tasty, and the broth smells awesome. The little chunk of meat I had seemed slightly overdone, which is probably my fault. The last half hour or so I got worried that I hadn’t had enough of a simmer going in the pot, so I turned the heat up a bit. There was still more than enough liquid, so the meat isn’t dry, precisely, but the edges at least are not as tender as I’d like.

So let that be a lesson: if the liquid is just sort of quivering, that is enough. I am an impatient person, and so the concept of “longer cooking at lower temperatures” is one that takes some getting used to for me.

Still, apart from the waiting this was really easy. About the only difficult part was flipping over a giant piece of meat inside a tallish pot. Much better than crying because I managed to ruin another roux. To successfully make a roux I need not only patience but a third friggin arm.

My next big plan is to try and make shortbread cookies for the Women in Computing group’s holiday cookie exchange. I’m hoping that if I’ve got a recipe with only four ingredients, I won’t forget any of them.

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Baking Fail

Tonight was one of those illustrations of why I should stay far, far away from jobs where important outcomes hinge on my ability complete a task correctly the first time I try. At the very least, not until I get my sleep difficulties under control. Grad school combined with a significant other living 3 times zones west of me makes it difficult for me to manage my DSPS. So it’s a good thing I’m not in, say, medical school. Fortunately sleep deprivation actually aids my non-linear creative endeavors, so being in a species of “design” program works out well.

I also ramble when I’m sleep-deprived, maybe you’ve noticed? The point is I tried to make this gem from my trusty Better Homes and Gardens called “brownie pudding cake” but I forgot to put in baking powder, the recipe’s only leavening agent. Turns out unleavened brownie pudding cake bears no resemblance to brownies, or pudding, or cake. The watery liquid on top of the doughy bottom layer did bear some resemblance to crappy hot cocoa.

I should probably leave the baking for days when I am a little more well-rested.

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Chicken Piccata

I am tired and just spent 90 seconds standing in front of an on but empty microwave before realizing I forgot to put my cup in it to heat, but I really do want to keep up the blog, so here is a link to a recipe that is already basically perfect, on one of my favorite recipe blogs, Simply Recipes.

Chicken piccata is another of those simple and delicious staple recipes. The basic ingredients are all parts of my regular pantry stock, though I’ll admit I keep the capers around almost exclusively for the sake of this and tuna salads.

It’s even what I made to eat this week, along with a butternut squash dish that I might post when I have had a little more sleep.
Go try it.

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Dinner: Ham Steak and Acorn Squash

The most food-centric holiday of the year in the US, and I didn’t post any recipes. Clearly I am not ready for the big leagues of food blogs. But I’ve never actually done any of the cooking for my family’s thanksgiving celebrations, and I don’t know the recipes for the food we traditionally eat. Well, except for green bean casserole, but you don’t need me to tell you how to make that one.

Tonight I will make up for it with TWO simple and delicious recipes I just made for dinner. It’s been getting truly cold and wintry around here, and I managed to have on hand the perfect ingredients for a hearty and comforting winter meal.

Baked Acorn Squash

Ingredients

1 Acorn squash
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp brown sugar
Cinnamon

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400° F. With a sturdy chef knife, cut acorn squash in half (I recommend having a rubber mallet handy for a large squash). Scoop out seeds and stringy bits. Put 1/2 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp brown sugar into each half, sprinkle with cinnamon. Fill a baking pan with 1/4 in water to keep the squash moist, and place the halves cut side up. Bake for 1 hour.

Notes

I love winter squash, and I had baked acorn squash all the time growing up. It takes a long time to cook, but is super-simple to make as long as you have a knife that is up to the job. Maybe you’ve heard this before, maybe you haven’t, but a good 8-inch chef’s knife is just about the most important kitchen tool to have. I cannot stress enough the importance of buying the best chef’s knife you can afford. That and a paring knife will get you through just about anything. They’re the only two knives I own and I am SO glad I have good ones.

Anyway, ham.

Autumn Spice Ham

Ingredients

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 (2 pound) ham steak
1 red apple, cored and thinly sliced
1 green apple, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup maple flavored pancake syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preparation

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the ham on both sides in the butter until browned. Lay the sliced apple over the ham. Pour the syrup over the apples and sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally until the apples are cooked through.

Notes

My ham was leftover from the red beans and rice I made for lunch this week (straight from a box of Zatarain’s, all I did was add the ham, so no recipe there. Zatarain’s red beans and rice is totally delicious though, and I highly recommend it.), so I had a lot less than 2 pounds. I just used one apple and the last of our log cabin syrup, which was not quite enough to coat the apple and ham as well as I wanted, so I added a splash of apple juice, too. It turned out really well.

Together with some toasted dinner rolls, this was just what I wanted on a chilly December evening.

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Bread Pudding

I have several main dish recipes to write about, but my boyfriend is in town and tonight I had some friends over to meet him and I made bread pudding by myself for the first time, and it actually went sort of perfectly.

So here I was, trying to decide what to make for this little party thing, and also my roommate wanted to know what I was going to do with the bagels I’d left sitting on the counter for two days, and so I thought, “can I make bread pudding with bagels?”

The answer, it turns out, is yes. First I googled “bagel bread pudding” to see if other people had tried it and liked it, and they had, so then I compared the bagel recipes to the normal recipes to see if you had to do something special to make it work, and it looked like you could just use the bagels like normal bread.

So, finally, I pulled out the trusty Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook for a good basic recipe, and modified it to suit my ingredients and taste. I stuck it in the oven about half an hour before I’d asked people to show up, and voila, awesome bread pudding.

Ingredients

2 stale bagels, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1/3 cup raisins
1 large apple
5 eggs
2 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp allspice or nutmeg

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325° F. Arrange bagel pieces in a single layer in shallow baking dish. Core apple and cut into thin slices, halved lengthwise. Combine apple slices and raisins with bagel cubes. Whisk together eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Pour over fruit and bagels. Sprinkle allspice over the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Notes

The apple I added basically because it had been sitting in our fridge for three weeks and hey, fruit is good in bread pudding. I also ended up using about 1 1/2 cups milk and 1 cup half and half. Again, partly because it was in my fridge needing to be used up.

After so many misadventures, I was paranoid about baking time. I set my timer for half an hour and checked every five minutes until it was done, which ended up being about 45 minutes in my oven. When in doubt with custards, keep the temperature on the low side and let it cook longer. For the truly worried you can put the baking dish into a water bath (I didn’t have a dish larger than the one I was using), which lets you turn up the heat a bit.

At any rate, the pudding was delicious and a big hit with my guests. In terms of fruit and flavoring, bread pudding is flexible. I particularly enjoy it with berries when they’re in season. You can basically add whatever is around and tasty, as long as you have enough egg and milk mixture to soak into the bread.

I’ve seen variations on the bread-to-egg ratio, I like mine pretty bready. The texture of plain custard weirds me out a little, and since my mother used to make custard for me when I was sick, it reminds me of being ill. I also fear that the more purely custard-like, the more likely the baking is to go wrong. I have no idea if this is a valid fear or not, but these proportions worked out great, so I don’t intend to experiment soon.

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What I’m Eating: Winter Frittata

This frittata was an experiment; I’d never made one before. I’d never even used a broiler before. And so of course I managed to screw it up: I didn’t cook it on the stove top long enough before I moved it to the oven, and then I forgot to move the oven rack to the top position. Which meant that the edges of my frittata were fully cooked, but the middle was still runny. After a few minutes of panic because I was out of eggs and had no other food planned, my roommate and I cut off the cooked edges and I redid the whole thing according to directions. Much to my surprise, it worked beautifully. I had been afraid that the top would get rubbery, but it ended up rather appealingly brown and crispy instead.

The frittata itself is full of protein and vegetables, making it a great one dish meal to take with me during the day. My only disappointment was that it wasn’t really big enough for a whole week. Maybe next time I will make a frittata and another main dish, and alternate. And of course I skipped the “fat-saving” details of the original recipe. I need the energy!

Ingredients

5 slices bacon
2 cups thinly sliced red potato
2 cups sliced red onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped spinach
2 tsp minced garlic
10 eggs
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled

Preparation

Cook bacon until crisp. Let cool. Chop and set aside. In a 10-inch skillet, sauté potato, onion, bell pepper, rosemary, and 1/2 tsp salt in 1 tbsp oil 5 minutes over medium heat. Cover and cook 10 minutes. Stir in spinach and garlic and sauté 1 minute. Remove from heat. Beat eggs and remaining salt in a large bowl. Add vegetables, bacon, black pepper, and feta. Preheat broiler. Place cleaned 10″ skillet on a burner over medium heat and add remaining oil. Pour in egg mixture and cook 4 minutes. Move skillet to broiler and broil, uncovered, 3 minutes. Slide onto plate. Cut into 6 wedges and serve hot or cool.

Notes

Leave out the bacon and this would be a great ovo-lacto vegetarian main dish. Next time I make it I might try to find a larger container of feta. The cheese was not especially noticeable, and I love feta.

You can cook the bacon in the oven, which will leave you and the skillet free to start sauteing vegetables.

I think I’ll be making this recipe again soon. Just writing about it is making my mouth water!

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Long time no food!

Yes, it’s been ages since I posted. Sorry for the long silence. There’s this thing where grad school is a lot of work! I was hoping to make a habit of posting soon after I cook, but I keep cooking on Sunday nights, and then when I’m done I just want to sleep, and then suddenly another week has gone by…

Ahem. I have indeed been continuing to cook, and I will do my best to write some recipe posts this weekend. For now, I will share some links. For example, my adventures in unfamiliar culinary territory have tended to go something like this. Bitten, by the way, is an excellent food blog by the author of How to Cook Everything, which will probably be the next cookbook I buy, to join Better Homes and Gardens (I have the 10th edition) and Vegetarian Planet, a much-appreciated graduation gift.

For the most part though, when I am trying to find meal ideas I go first to Tastebook, which is a great resource for finding and organizing recipes. You could also probably help them stay in business by ordering one of their beautiful custom cookbooks, if keeping a stack of recipe printouts on top of the microwave isn’t your style.

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