Monday, June 29, 2009

Various Greek and Middle Eastern Stuff

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned that I inherited my love of food from my parents. My dad would cook sometimes (particularly breakfast on Saturdays) and my mom made at least one meal for the family a day. They lived in Boston for decades but moved out into the middle of nowhere in the high desert some years ago. They have a hard time getting a lot of the things they could get in Boston out there, of course. My mom says she can get any Mexican spice she wants, but nothing Asian for example. So when they come to visit there's a lot of stuff they want to eat. They've been visiting for the past few weeks and as usual all kinds of stuff has been made. They always stay at my brothers (since he has someplace for them to sleep), so I wasn't there for everything. But we did do some cooking together, like this, on Fathers Day. Although admittedly I didn't do much of the work, I mostly got in the way and took pictures. Heh.

One thing my parents said they can't get easily is Middle Eastern and Mediterranean stuff, hence the theme. They picked up some lahmajun (think a thin pizza with no cheese), stuffed grape leaves (not sure what they are stuffed with, I don't care for them myself), pita, some fancy pants olives, marinated feta and a couple different hummus... hummuses? Humusi? What's the plural of hummus? Doesn't matter, there were two kinds, both good. My sister in law made some spanakopita (Greek spinach pie)and falafel (deep fried ground chickpea patties). She makes the best falafel, I need to get her recipe. My brother made some tzatziki and some chicken souvlaki. The souvlaki was wicked good, but he doesn't really measure the marinade which makes it hard to get a recipe. He just tosses together some lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano, black pepper... I think that's it. Marinates the chicken chunks for half an hour or so, then grills it. So very good. We also had a red blend, Cardinal's Crest, from Biltmore Estate that went well with it all. And finished it off with some homemade baklava. Which I also didn't get the recipe for. My brother makes it, it's also wicked good. He puts orange juice in it, which is awesome. There was also tabbouleh, but I didn't get a shot of by itself. It's here in the table shot though. We don't often bother with fancy china and stuff, we're simple folk. Heh. It was a great meal for a hot day (not that it was that hot here), most of the stuff was great at room temperature or cooler and there were lots of light but assertive flavors. Good times.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Cats

She's very sweet.
But she's right where I want to put my head. She does this every night.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

It's My One Year Blogiversary! I Made Cake!

1 1/3 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, set them aside. Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla, mix to combine. Add the dry mix, stir, then the milk. Beat for a couple minutes (o n medium for 1 minute if you're using an electric mixer). Pour into a greased 8 1/2 inch round pan and bake for 20-30 minutes or till a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for a few minutes in the pan then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.


That's right, it's been a year since I started doing this to kill time during a period of unemployment. I know it's a cliche, but it really doesn't seem that long ago. I've met a lot of great people because of blogging and improved my cooking skills immensely. It's been a really good time all around. But I think I'm going to move straight on to the cake before I start getting all emotional. Heh.

I bet a lot of you are thinking, "Ok, that's great and all, but what about the kind of lame recipe up top?" Well, that's "Busy Day Cake" from the 60's Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and it was the first cake I ever made. And since I'm poor and can't afford to give away cool stuff you're going to get nostalgia for my one year post. Some of you have heard this story before, it's in my profile at Bakespace, but I haven't put it up here yet. So.

My mom always did a lot of cooking/baking when I was a kid. I would sit on the counter and "help" her by pouring pre-measured cups of flour or slightly eaten cups of chocolate chips into the bowl. As I got older my helping became more helpful because I could fetch stuff or stir something while she got stuff out of the fridge or chased a toddler she was taking care of around. It was fun and it really kick started my love of cooking. So one day when I was eight years old I walked up to my mom and said,

"Mom, I want cake."

She looked me over, walked over to her wall of cookbooks, pulled down the BH&G one (you know the one, the red and white check cover, it's been around forever), opened it up to this cake and handed it to me.

"You know where everything is," she said and walked off.

So I made a cake. And a mess. But it turned out just like it was supposed to. Which I guess isn't too surprising, since this cake is practically foolproof. But it was still very exciting for me to have baked a cake. Which of course I then got to eat. Here's how you make it.

First, butter. Because what kind of cake recipe would it be without it? Sugar, also key. Then you cream them together a bit. No need to go crazy, this isn't a delicate confection. Add an egg and start to mix it before you realize you forgot the vanilla. Add that. Finish mixing and add the dry ingredients. Mix that up, think that it looks more like unkneaded bread dough than cake batter, then add the milk. There we go, that looks better. Now you just pour it into a greased 8.5" round pan and bake at 350 till a toothpick comes out clean. Let it cool for a couple minutes then turn it onto a rack to cool the rest of the way.

Now you may have noticed I didn't frost it or anything. That's just because when I was a kid I never did. Normal frosting wouldn't really fit, since flavor-wise it's more like a coffee cake than anything else. In fact it's an awful lot like cocoa ripple ring without the chocolate (funny, that. They came from the same cookbook.). How does it stand up to my memories? Well, it sure doesn't thrill me like it did when I was eight and it was my first solo baking experience. But now that I have some kitchen skills I can think of a couple changes I would make to it that would make it better. I have plans. Oh yes, I have plans.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Strawberry Pecan Banana Bread

Just a quickie today, kids. Banana bread is one of those things that just kind of happens. We never plan on it, it's just that sometimes we happen to have three overripe bananas and that means it time. Time for banana bread. This is the thing my girlfriend bakes and this is the recipe she always uses. This time when we had bananas that were ready for bread we also had some strawberries and pecans that wanted using as well, so she tossed them in. It came out wicked good. The big chunks of strawberry and toasted pecan added great sweetness and texture to it.

When she cut up the berries she let them sit for a minute and then drained off some of the juice, so the bread wouldn't get gummy. Other than that she just followed the recipe, adding in about a cup of strawberries, cut into bite sized pieces, and a half cup of toasted, chopped pecans. I liked it even more than the chocolate chip one. So what's your favorite add in to banana bread?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Cats. And Some Pasta.

I recently made this, which is based on this. It's pasta in a tomato cream sauce with other stuff in it and it's wonderful. But I realized that I had never properly attributed the inspiration (read, person I stole it from) for it. What it was, to begin with, was this recipe from Pioneer Woman with Italian sausage replacing the shrimp. And it's amazing just like that. But I've changed it up, because I'm like that.

This most recent time it had sausage, peppers, basil and oregano. I've done it with sweet chicken sausage, basil and sage too, that was really good. I think prosciutto and sauteed chicken would be good in there, or bacon. If you're into mushrooms then I can only imagine that would be a good time. My sister made it once and used diced tomatoes instead of the sauce to make it chunky. Another thing to think about. Broccoli, zucchini, peas, green beans, whatever you wanted to put in it would be good I think.

Anyway, cats. Living beings can be hard to take pictures of, since they tend to move around a lot. So when Noodles decides to sit still in a bright patch of light I grabbed the camera to see if I could get some shots. I got one before the real Bob wanted to know what was going on. Which made Noodles hit and chase him. I did get a shot of him in the same spot a few minutes later though, looking particularly vacant.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Product Review: POM Wonderful Juice

I had never had any kind of pomegranate stuff before trying this juice. It's just one of those things that never really happened. So when the POM folks offered to send me some I was pretty excited, I like new things. Plus I had heard such good stuff about it all over the blogs. So it arrived and cracked one open to try it out. It was... sweet. And tart. Hm.

I was expecting a little more... something. I'm not sure what. But it was still good and I figured I could do something with it. In fact, I've done two things. One was the lamb shanks I posted about the other day. In fact the half Merlot/half pomegranate juice base was really, really good all by itself. Heh. But the juice went really well with the other flavors in the dish, which was nice. The other thing I did was some beef teriyaki. This was just 3/4 cup pomegranate juice, 1/4 cup soy sauce, a couple cloves of garlic, some ginger, a little sugar and salt and pepper. I kept it very simple to try to showcase the juice and they came out quite well. The sweet/tart juice and salty soy sauce complimented each other nicely. I'm going to work on that recipe a bit, I think it has a lot of promise.

So, POM Wonderful juice. Frankly, I wouldn't buy it to drink on it's own (although apparently it's quite good for you). But I would definitely buy it to use in all kinds of things. In fact, I'm almost out of the bottles they sent me and I don't think I have enough to make what I already have plans for. So I'm probably going to be getting more soon because now I have ideas that I need it for. So that was their plan all along...

Sausage, Onion and Pepper... Calzone, I Guess.

I woke up at around seven AM the other day (I usually work nights so that's really early for me) and couldn't get back to sleep. So once again I got bored and wrapped something in pizza dough. Hey, I needed something to do. Making the dough took up a couple hours and while I was waiting for the dough to rise, I spent some time cleaning. Two birds and such. I had a couple cooked Italian sausages left over from a previous meal, so I figured I would just wrap them up with some sauteed onions and peppers. It came out really well, here's a pre roll shot. Please ignore the stuff on the counter, it's all from this meal I swear. I also put some mozzarella and a little Dijon mustard on there. Then I popped it onto the pizza stone in the preheated 500 degree oven. And I pulled out this. Kinda.. popped open a bit. Had a cheese explosion or two as well. But whatever, look at that. It was wicked good, even lukewarm after I took a million pictures. Heh.I meant to brush it with olive oil before it went in but completely flaked. That would have made it brown much more evenly. Darker, too. You could just as easily cut up the sausages and put little bites of them with some diced vegetables in a smaller piece of dough and have some appetizers if you wanted. Good times.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Rotini with Broccoli, Peppers, Spinach and Italian Sausage

2-3 Italian sausages (1/2 a lb or so)
1 bell pepper, cut into bite sized pieces
1 medium head of broccoli, cut into florets
2 cups spinach, ripped into pieces
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
1-2 tbl fresh basil
1-2 tbl fresh oregano
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup diced onion
1/2 lb mostly cooked pasta
salt and pepper
(all these measurements are just guesses I'm afraid)

Crumble and brown the sausage in a large pan. Remove it from the pan to a paper towel lined plate, but leave a tbl or two in the pan. Brown the onions then add the garlic, saute for 30-40 seconds. Add the wine and scrape up all the brown bits. Simmer until the alcohol smell is gone then add the broth. Reduce until there's about 3/4 of a cup left. Add the herbs and pasta, stir to combine. Let cook until the pasta has absorbed most of the liquid, stirring frequently. Serve hot or cold.


This is another one that doesn't have a real recipe. I actually only barely remember making this and didn't seem to write down what I did. But I found the pictures when I was organizing my photo folders the other day and remembered it being good so I thought I'd try to reconstruct it. So let's see what's what.

It clearly started with Italian sausage. I do a lot of pasta with Italian sausage. In fact as I'm writing this I have a belly full of pasta with Italian sausage, but with a tomato/cream sauce. But that's another post entirely. This one was visibly much lighter, I'm pretty sure the sauce was based on chicken broth and white wine. But I'm getting ahead of myself, after the sausage came the onion. I browned it up pretty well. Then a small mountain of garlic, I'm guessing three cloves. Nothing too surprising so far. Heh. I deglazed with the broth and wine. I've found you should always add the wine first and let the alcohol smell cook off before adding broth or tomatoes or whatever else you're adding. I remember using a lot of liquid and letting it reduce to get a stronger flavor. I'm going to guess a cup each of wine and broth, reduced down to about three quarters/half a cup. Then I added herbs, salt and pepper. I actually remember this was just oregano and basil. Fresh, though and lots of it. Then broccoli and I let it simmer for a minute to take the edge off it. My views on squishy vegetables are fairly well known, I believe, so I can only imagine the next few steps didn't take long. Then the spinach (which I think I tore into pieces), peppers and sausage. Add the pasta and some stirring. Now I'm pretty sure I let it sit on low heat, stirring every once in a while until the pasta had absorbed most of the liquid. That's why everything looks so distinct. Another thing I remember is it was good hot or cold, which is cool. It was a nice and light, you could use it as a side or main dish. You could also add anything you can think of to it. Some diced tomatoes would be good, you could cut back a bit on the broth to account for all the liquid. Or some asparagus or shredded zucchini. You could take out the sausage, use vegetable broth and have a good vegetarian thing. Toss some cream or bacon in to make it more rich. It's a concept not an absolute, take the idea and make it your own.

Oh, and I submitted this to this weeks BSI: Greens over at Girlichef. There's a ton of good stuff over there you should go check it out.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin