Sunday, December 27, 2009

Perfect chocolate chip cookies, great recipes, and some restaurants... writing for Examiner still

Granted, I'm not doing such a great job of keeping up with writing on this blog like I used to. It's difficult to come up with great material on one topic in two places, and frankly, I get paid to write for Examiner. So, while it's perhaps less than any readers I have left might hope for, here's another link-dump to stuff I've been writing on there as the Knoxville Gourmet Food Examiner.

Since it's coming up so soon, in case you missed it or just ran into this blog, you should definitely check out my list of New Year's resolutions that involve food and drink. I've already started doing some of them, and even if you're reading this in mid-April, it's never too late to start a new, healthy habit like trying out new foods or learning to cook.

In as big a surprise to me as it will be to many of you, Vienna Coffee Company (a popular topic here on The Untrained Gourmet because it's local to my Maryville/Knoxville area and because they do a great job) has thoroughly impressed me (and my wife and coffee-snob brother) with their high-quality Colombian coffee roasts that can't be missed.

Some of you might remember JB's beef and potato stew from way back when. I liked it so much the last time I made it that I decided it needed more exposure in my quest to have it be shared with the world on Examiner, so do check it out (especially if you're new here and don't remember it!).

I went to eat at Metro Pizza in Alcoa (between Maryville and Knoxville) recently and was quite pleasantly surprised. I'm glad to know there are still a few good non-chain pizza places around. I wrote a glowing review for Examiner that's worth looking at if you like Metro Pizza or are interested in checking it out. Metro Pizza serves authentic New York style pizzas that are hand-made by folks that know and love what they're doing. It's also a family-run operation, which is nice in the corporate-jungle world we live in today.

Another classic from this blog, way back when, the Madagascan chicken in coconut milk, akoho sy voanio, was also featured due to my belief that everyone should find (and love) this fantastic dish. Have a look!

Who doesn't like potato soup? A great variation on the classic using fried potatoes for a different taste and texture can be found on Examiner now thanks to my recent article on the matter. Oh, and if you don't like it, you probably just need more bacon in yours. That's a tip to take home with you.

My mom makes the best chocolate chips in the universe (probably). In fact, they're so good that I violate my long-standing, otherwise-firm rule about vegetable shortening to enjoy them (the rule is: don't eat anything containing vegetable shortening). I put her secret best chocolate chips in the world recipe up on Examiner for the world to find and profit from (with her permission). Thanks, Mom!

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Friday, December 11, 2009

More great stuff on from the Knoxville Gourmet Food Examiner (ME!)

So there's a project going on over at where we're supposed to try to write articles about New Year's Resolutions. At first I thought: "damn, I too bad I'm not in fitness/health/exercise; I'd be all over that!" Then I realized how many cool ideas there are for (gourmet) food and drink related New Year's resolutions (just in time for me to make some for myself, even). The link in the previous sentence takes you to a central article I wrote connected to all of the others. Take a look if you want cooking and food to be on your New Year's resolution list (resolutions that are easy to stick with!).

Here are the individual articles, to tell you more clearly what's there:

  • New Year's Food and Drink Resolution #1: Wine of the week. This is a project my brother and I did for months after I bought The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil (a must have for wine enthusiasts or anyone that wants to know more about wine). It was one of the best ideas I've ever had. For a while, it was even more social when we had "Wino Wednesday," in which we got together on Wednesday nights, shared wines (with a purpose of learning about them) and food, and discussed philosophical ideas until late, late, late. Way fun, way cool. I might have to look into doing this again, actually.
  • New Year's Food and Drink Resolution #2: Cheese of the week. Given Resolution #1, this doesn't sound too creative until you visit a major cheese display and realize how little you know about cheese (or go read about cheeses of the world on Wikipedia!). It also pairs perfectly with Resolution #1 since cheese and wine go famously great together. Cheese was very, very frequently another central feature of "Wino Wednesday." If you want a list of great cheeses to consider getting started with, check out this article on 6 excellent gourmet cheeses to try (with food pairing and drink suggestions).
  • New Year's Food and Drink Resolution #3: Food with friends. This also isn't a copycat, particularly when you take my idea of "using" one of your gourmet-skilled friends as a teacher (paid in the food and drinks, of course) and you use it as an excuse to learn and practice your own cooking, which is kind of the goal: let learning to cook be your resolution.
  • New Year's Food and Drink Resolution #4: Learn to cook. This here is what the real resolution for next year should be -- upping your skills. Everyone knows that chicks only want boyfriends (husbands) will skills. From personal experience, I can tell you that "cooking skills" win a lot of points with the lovely wife. Resolution #3 is a system of accountability and camaraderie to facilitate this resolution.
  • New Year's Food and Drink Resolution #5: Get out and try new things. This resolution really serves Resolution #4 by keeping you inspired, and it provides lots of great meal opportunities, vacation ideas, and potential dates to go on, not to mention all of the increased knowledge you'll have to impress said date with if you do #5 solo first for a while.
So, get a fitness-based New Year's resolution like everyone else... you'll need it once you start up some or all of these interrelated food-and-drinks-centered ones (all of which could very possibly improve your life immeasurably if you stick with them).

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gourmet food articles I've written for

As you know, I've taken up the gauntlet as the Knoxville Gourmet Food Examiner, writing for Since I'm trying to put nearly all original content on there, check out what I've had to say. There are a lot of great recipes and ideas there that you shouldn't miss.

So... if you're not visiting my Knoxville Gourmet Food Examiner page and keeping up with it (why not subscribe and make it easy on yourself), then you're missing the best of what I have to say about food lately! Check it out!

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Thunderhead Perk in Townsend, TN

"Far away from the daily grind," they say. Indeed. This place is magnificent. A tiny treasure that's all too easy to overlook just outside the lovely Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Townsend, TN.

To save you from seeing them twice, see my recent review of Thunderhead Perk as the Knoxville Gourmet Food Examiner. My wife and I had a great early-morning coffee date there today, and I can say with certainty that as coffee shops go, this one is a must-visit.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ginger root! Uses and ideas

I love ginger root (it's actually a rhizome, not a root, but this isn't that kind of blog). It's got to be one of my very favorite spices. I use it almost indiscriminately... well, okay, that's not true. It goes in an awful lot of my soups, stews, teas, and desserts, though. Why? Because it makes them all better!

I get the impression from folks that a lot of people don't know what to do with ginger root, but it doesn't have to be a mysterious ingredient. It's basic character is that it's spicy with a distinctive flavor that might be described by some as being a bit soapy. I don't think soapy is quite right, but spicy is. It's hot but not like peppers.

Actually, ginger is splendidly spicy, and its characteristic flavor can be great in teas, desserts, and many dishes. Plus, it is quite good for you. As an added benefit, Chinese medicine says that ginger root is warming (good for winter) and excellent for digestion. In fact, it is also an effective aid in reducing motion sickness, it's stomach-calming effects are so potent!

Although the rhizome looks a little alien, don't be afraid of ginger! Here are some ideas on how to use this wonderful spice, fresh or dried:

  • Gingerbread is a holiday favorite. If you don't just buy some ready-made and want to make your own, check out this popular recipe from The Food Network. Making gingerbread and designing gingerbread houses is a wonderfully fun thing to do with the kids around the holidays.
  • Ginger can go a long way to making tea a more warming and satisfying drink, particularly when it's cold outside. Slice fresh ginger root thinly into "coins" and drop one to three of them, according to your tastes, into the bottom of your teacup or teapot before adding the water to infuse your tea. If you use tea bags, that's fine too. You can eat the ginger if you want, but it's quite spicy!
  • Adding ginger to teas isn't just tasty, it's healthful too. Ginger is very warming, and adding some to tea, particularly black tea, in the fall and winter, it can help keep you warmer and healthier. I have it on good authority that a cup of black tea a day during the fall and winter is a very good idea to "keep out the cold." Adding ginger can help even more. Also, even though Chinese medicine labels green tea as "cooling," a few coins of ginger can really counteract that. It also is a great aid to digestion during this season of overindulging at the table.
  • Add fresh ginger, either in thinly sliced coins, matchsticks, or by mincing it to your beef stews. It's surprisingly good. Usually about "an inch" of the root for a large stew is appropriate, but use this seasoning to your tastes.
  • Any Asian fried dishes or soups will call for ginger. These are great with your homemade pasta, particularly the shaved pasta, which is very common in Chinese home cooking.
  • Add a little dried ginger to the filling mixture for cinnamon rolls, which are absolutely delightful this time of year. You can find a popular recipe for cinnamon rolls here, from The Food Network.
  • A small amount of finely minced fresh ginger is absolutely delicious in peach or berry pies and cobblers. Shh... that's a major secret of mine. Actually, in July when it's the right time, make your blueberry pies but add one peach, sliced very thinly and a half an inch of finely minced or grated fresh ginger. It will blow your mind!
  • Add several coins of fresh ginger to your stocks or some matchsticks, grated, or minced fresh ginger to your soups (like this one and this one) for a nice depth of flavor and a bit of indistinct, pleasant spiciness.
  • For the bold, flavor-loving, experience-seeking types, slice fresh ginger into very thin coins and enjoy them raw. It's quite spicy with a distinctive, interesting flavor.
  • Make very small matchsticks with fresh ginger and add them to salads. This is particularly good if a very light touch of sesame oil is added to the dressing.
  • Add half an inch or an inch of ginger to your fresh juice recipes if you are a fresh juicer. In fact, this much ginger with several apples and half a lemon, mixed evenly with club soda, makes a quick and easy drink similar to ginger ale. Several apples and a whole lemon (peel and all) with this much ginger makes a wonderful ginger-lemonade that can't be beat!

To make ginger "coins," slice the ginger in thin cross-sections to obtain a nearly round coin shape. To make matchsticks, stack up several coins and cut them into thin strips, all in one direction. To obtain a fine dice or mince on your ginger, take the matchsticks, and cut them into tiny pieces cross-sectionally.

Thanks go to the Knoxville Gourmet Food Examiner (that's me, haha!) for this article, which can be found on in a slightly different version.

Oh, and if you've missed it, here's another article I wrote on highlighting some of what was best in food last week from other food Examiners around the region and country. Check it out for some great ideas, particularly for holiday recipes!

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Fresh squeezed juices from the Fresh Market, a product review

Fresh squeezed ruby red grapefruit juice from the Fresh MarketI love beverages. I particularly love them when they're sweet, and especially even more so when they're good for me too. Hence, I go to The Fresh Market way too often to buy their freshly squeezed juices (and usually who knows how much other stuff as well!). In fact, because there is now an Earth Fare almost as conveniently located to where I work as there is a Fresh Market store, these juices are the primary item that keeps my patronage at TFM. This one, obviously, is the grapefruit juice, and as you can see, I've already dipped into it a little. That's because it's crazy good and impossible to resist... plus it's sort of the inspiration for this post, and I needed some direct inspiring.

For more about these juices, you can check out the article I wrote about them on as the Knoxville Gourmet Food Examiner. If you do, also check out the related post on tangerines and other citruses, perfect for the season since this is their season, including several awesome uses for the juices.

I'd call these juices one of the secrets to my success, if success can be measured in terms of how much happiness I think they bring to my life (plus some nice nutrition and vitamin-C!). Definitely check them out!

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Knoxville Gourmet Food Examiner

I've recently been named the Knoxville Gourmet Food Examiner, writing for Click on the link on my title to check out my profile, which contains links to all of my articles, to see what I've got to say for them!

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Homemade noodles featuring fresh squash juice

Homemade noodles featuring fresh squash juice? Squash juice? What is this, Harry Potter all of a sudden? Do I have house elves working in my kitchen? Seriously? Squash juice? And isn't it pumpkin juice? But isn't pumpkin a squash? Wait, wait, wait... squash juice noodles... you can't be serious.

Wrong. I'm serious. Look!
Here's (some of) the squash juice, specifically butternut and golden acorn squash... looks like pumpkin juice:
Here's the resulting lump of pasta dough:
"Double-double toil and trouble/Fire burn and cauldron bubble!" Here's the finished shaved noodles!
Nice and orangish, huh? Believe me... they were surprisingly good too. The squash flavors came through, sweet and a bit nutty with that nice, obvious taste that is only squash, but they weren't overpowering. They made a lovely accent to the chewy, doughy noodles.

Surprisingly enough, the "pumpkin juice" was stunningly good as well. It was a test of will to keep myself from drinking a glass of it, but that's probably because I used small, vibrant squash from my garden this summer that were amazingly sweet. Specifically, I got about two cups of juice from one small butternut squash and one full-sized golden acorn squash (interestingly enough, neither of which were planted intentionally -- they grew out of an old compost pile!).

To make this, you need some special equipment: a juicer (like the Jack Lalanne Power Juicer, e.g.). These are well worth the investment, considering the potential! Once obtained, it couldn't be easier... and if you get some small, sweet pumpkins, then you can entertain your Harry-Potter-crazy kids (or yourself...) by making yourself some authentic, super-healthy, fresh pumpkin juice sometimes (sweetened with some apples if needed with little extra effort or expense). You don't even have to peel the squash as long as you wash it really well first, though you certainly could. You probably do want to seed and gut it, though.

The rest of the recipe, which could use juices from essentially any veggies you wanted (carrots, beets, spinach, or parsley seem like other interesting pasta choices, as is potato and sweet potato, which I've tested), is simply to replace some, most, or all of the water in a recipe of homemade pasta with the juice you make. In this case, I replaced the entire cup of water for a three-cup pasta with the squash juice. In case you don't know how to make these noodles, see here for a recipe or read the summary of this recipe below! The noodles, incidentally, can be used as I typically use them, in Asian fare since that's how I learned about them, or in place of whatever usual noodles you put into a pasta dish. Click on the labels (to your right): noodles, pasta, and Asian for lots of ideas on how to use these noodles. I've read good things about doing lasagne this way and look forward to testing it out, probably with veggie noodles.

In case you want things to be specific, here's the actual recipe I used for these noodles:

  • 3 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted;
  • 1 cup of freshly made acorn and butternut squash juice;
  • A pinch of salt;
  • Elbow grease.
Add all of the ingredients except the grease in a bowl and combine until mixed. Once the mixture starts to become a dough, add elbow grease by kneading the dough until it is smooth and has a nice texture. Carefully with a very sharp knife shave the noodles from the ball of dough directly into boiling water, pulling and pinching the last few (or all of them if you get frustrated enough). Boil for about 3-5 minutes after the end of the shaving until the noodles are all done. Drain and use like pasta.

Oh... since I mentioned it above... if you get a juicer and get all excited and juice potatoes or sweet potatoes, for whatever purpose, don't drink it. It tastes pretty bad and seems to make me feel quite ill every time I try it. I don't think it's a good thing to do.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Pork Cubes with Garlic, Mushrooms, and Carrots over Shaved Noodles

This was another dish that my wife thought was just about perfect. My opinion is that the reason is centered in that I'm getting better at making the noodles.
The trick, really, is not overdoing the pork. Pork gets very dry very quickly when it's overcooked. Of course, it has to be cooked through, so don't underdo it either!


  • One 3-cup recipe of shaved noodles (see below);
  • About a pound of pork chops, cut into half-inch cubes;
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion, halved and sliced into quarter inch strips;
  • Two full-sized carrots, cut into two-inch boards and then halved;
  • About ten white mushrooms, cleaned and quartered;
  • Four or five cloves of garlic, crushed (first) and minced;
  • Approximately 1 inch of fresh ginger, minced;
  • 1-3 tsp (to taste) hot sauce;
  • 1-2 tbsp (to taste) soy sauce;
  • 1-2 tbsp canola oil;
  • Salt and black pepper to taste.
Directions Summary:
Start by putting a pan of salted water on to boil (for the noodles). Then prepare all of the vegetables and the meat. Set ingredients aside while preparing the noodle dough. When the dough is ready and the water is boiling (or very close to it!), heat the oil in the wok over high heat. Add all of the vegetables except the ginger and garlic and salt them. Then stir fry them momentarily. Shave the noodles into the boiling water, pausing occasionally to flip and stir the veggies, removing them from the pan when the onions start to caramelize. Set the vegetable mixture aside and add the pork to the hot wok. Season it with salt and pepper, and once it sears on one side, begin to stir fry it. Drain the noodles when they begin to float, after approximately five or six minutes in the boiling water. When the pork is nearly cooked through, add the hot sauce, toss the meat, and then add the vegetables back in. Add the soy sauce and mix thoroughly. Finally, either serve (traditional style, see below) or add the noodles to the pan and mix well.

Shaved Noodles:
To make shaved noodles, use a firm dough, approximately 3 to 1 (by volume) of flour to water, depending on the thirstiness of the flour. I add a pinch of salt and, in particular, King Arthur brand all-purpose unbleached flour. Combine the ingredients, mix until it starts to form a dough, and then knead well for 10-15 minutes (longer for chewier noodles, shorter for less-chewy noodles). Then, after the dough rests for a moment, use a very sharp knife to shave slices off the ball of dough directly into the boiling water (like this, only mine are shorter, probably thicker, and not nearly as professionally done... also, my pot is a lot smaller as is my ball of dough). When the dough ball gets too small to continue this safely, pinch it thin and pull/tear the noodles off by hand. Cook them until they float (usually 4-6 minutes after the shaving ends).

Traditional Style Serving:
Put some noodles in each of several bowls (one per person). Then, place a serving dish or the wok (with heat protection) full of the fried dish in the middle of the table. Condiments can be set nearby, if they're desired. Each person can spoon some of the fried dish into their bowl as they want and eat it directly that way, the whole family sharing in the meal process in an interesting, different, and somewhat more intimate way than we're used to in the West. Chopsticks, of course, enhance the experience!

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sweet Potato and Apple Cream Soup: An Unlikely Thanksgiving Post

Of all of the things that I could talk about on Thanksgiving, like poultry of some kind (turkey, goose -- I really wanted to make goose -- chicken (capon, anyone?), or duck -- I really, really wanted to make a roasted duck), I choose to talk about sweet potato cream soup? Am I serious? Yes. Because it was crazy good and something different and interesting. Plus, my mom beat me to the punch and cooked pretty much everything else last night, leaving me with a few sweet potatoes and a "do something with these... if you can!!!" challenge. Thanks, Mom.
"Wow, Jim, that's really, really, really, really good soup, and that's coming from someone who doesn't like sweet potatoes at all!" That was my mom's reaction to this stuff. Like I said, it was crazy good. So how did I do it?

It started with my small pile of sweet potatoes: five small ones, as I would reckon them, all of the orange variety. I peeled them and chopped them into roughly three-quarters-inch cubes and dropped them into some cold water. On a whim, I added a red delicious apple (the only kind I saw at Mom's house, though I would have preferred Granny Smith for this), peeled, cored, and cut up similarly. That water got boiled until the sweet potatoes were nice and soft.

Once it was done, I drained the pot and put all the solids back into the pan with about half a stick (2 tbsp.) of butter, probably 12 oz. of whole milk, a pinch of salt, a half teaspoon of good cinnamon powder, and a quarter of a cup of brown sugar. I also added a tablespoon of whiskey (by which I mean "bourbon" since I'm from the Southeast) because it's the holidays. After a few minutes of cooking on medium, I whipped out the immersion blender and blended it until it was quite smooth (this could be accomplished in a regular blender as well). Then I ran it through a relatively fine chinois to make it nice and smooth, putting it into a clean pan over medium-low heat.

To finish it, start off by adding 2 more tbsp. of butter and stirring it through as it melts. Then taste it. It should not taste flat. If it does, you probably need another pinch of salt to wake up the flavors and a little more cinnamon, sugar, and/or butter (or why not a little of all of them?). Use sugar to your desired level of sweetness. For what it's worth, I would have garnished this with a small dollop of marshmallow fluff right in the middle of the bowl, and, of course, it is served hot as a wonderful starter for a good fall (or any time!) meal. Oh.. and as much of the sweet potato could be substituted out for squash as you'd like. It would still work wonderfully!

Summary of the recipe:

  • Five small sweet potatoes or the equivalent, peeled and cut into cubes;
  • One apple, peeled, cored, and cut into cubes;
  • 4 tbsp. (half a stick) of butter;
  • 12-16 oz. whole milk, depending on desired consistency;
  • A pinch of salt;
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon powder;
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. whiskey or bourbon.
Summary of directions:
Boil sweet potatoes and apple until sweet potatoes are quite tender. Drain. Lower the heat to medium and add the sweet potato mixture, half of the butter, and the rest of the ingredients back into the pan. Let cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring, and then blend until smooth with an (immersion) blender. Strain (and press) the result through a chinois or fine mesh strainer into either a clean pan or back into the original. Discard the pulp (or use it somehow else?). Add the remaining butter, adjust the flavors, and serve hot with an optional garnish of marshmallow fluff or fresh crema.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cafe du Monde French Roast With Chicory Latte

I've been gone, working like crazy, for a couple of weeks, left off with a bunch of articles about beverages, and I come back with another article about something good to drink? Yes. That's me. Ask my wife: I love beverages (and often am carrying two or three or four around with me) -- only sometimes alcoholic ones. There's been a bunch of surpassingly good food, but unfortunately I've been too busy to jot down how I did what I did with it. No worries, though... there will be more!
So, this is really a post about a few beverages, though not the ones in the picture. Those are both the same and only one of the the things I'm about to talk about. As you can see, I used the Cafe du Monde French roast coffee and chicory, and I followed my normal plan to use my Aeropress to make a latte (which I've been referring to as a fake "cappuccino" but realize now that I use too much milk to justify that term).
That basic recipe again? Sure:

  • Four scoops (? tablespoons, I think) coffee, usually fresh and whole-bean as opposed to this pre-ground kind of stuff;
  • 12 oz. freshly boiled water (for the Aeropress, only about 10 oz gets used and it should be cooled to around 180-190F before using) or approximately four largish shots of espresso (or equivalent);
  • 8 oz. whole milk with 2 oz half and half, heated to just below scalding and then put in a blender on high for about twenty or thirty seconds;
  • One tablespoon turbinado sugar, divided into two equal amounts, one in the coffee and the other in the milk;
  • A dash of premium vanilla extract in the milk.
How does it come out? Well, alright. I think if you're a die-hard Cafe du Monde coffee with chicory lover, it's probably quite good. I'm not. I like the little bit of variety of the chicory, but personally, I don't like that much of it at once. So... how can I "fix" this?

Two options:
  1. Only use 1 scoop of the Cafe du Monde stuff and 3 scoops of my favorite freshly ground whole-bean stuff: quite good... surprisingly good... almost better than usual with just that little bit of chicory flirting in the background;
  2. Add caramel and cocoa to make it a turtle mocha-latte... superb! I used just a dash (half teaspoon or so) of the Rieme caramel syrup (also mentioned here) into the coffee and a heaping tablespoon of Ghiridelli unsweetened cocoa powder into the milk while it heated up, almost like making really weak hot cocoa.
If you are into experiments, give it a try. It's a bit of a shame that I can't get the Cafe du Monde stuff in a whole-bean and roasted chicory-chunk variety, but I'm sure the freshness wouldn't be terribly awesome (or could that also be possible in this advanced day and age of essentially instant shipping abilities??).

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Black Tea with Caramel Syrup

I'm still busy, so I still have to make short posts. I've made some wonderfully good stuff, but I have pretty much no time to talk about it. Let me talk about something I've been making a lot of that's quick and easy, though... something to get you through hard-workin' times when you've just had enough coffee: tea. According to my friend JB, who is Chinese and quite knowledgable, black tea is good in the fall to help the body warm up and adjust to the seasons, yet another reason to enjoy a couple or three cups of it a day as the leaves fall and the weather cools.
I drink a fair amount of tea, but it's sort of a seasonal thing. I'm also a tea snob (much like I'm a coffee snob). I recommend loose leaf, good quality tea, which can be a bit hard to find. A decent brand you might consider is Adagio. I usually try to stay away from tea bags (filled with "floor sweepings"), but if you're into that kind of thing, Newman's Own "Royal Tea" isn't terribly bad (and is pretty good for the price and being organic). They are quicker and easier, and we usually have them on hand (for the kids or making kombucha), so they get used quite often when I'm in a hurry. They also make a more "proper" British cup since I've noticed that many Brits seem to prefer "crap tea," a term courtesy of a dear Scottish friend of mine. My high-falutin' Assam from a single estate that I served him once was "nice, but a little too uppity" for him, which is really saying something if you know this guy.

The secret of my success in making a super-delicious, perfectly enjoyable cup of black tea around this time of the year is to flavor it a little: a splash of half and half, a half tablespoon of turbinado (hippy sugar) (I make my tea in 12oz. mugs), and a dash of Rieme caramel syrup: "for flavoring coffee." The trick is to use just a dash of the stuff, otherwise it becomes rapidly cloying and almost irritating, more like candy than a pleasant beverage. These, though, are definitely the best flavored syrups I've come across. Most, in fact, are pretty bad in my opinion, and this stuff is fantastic.

By the way, this stuff is fantastic in coffee too, so if you can get some, then you should.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Product Review: The Fresh Market's Double-Cream White Chocolate Milk

Behold the beauty of The Fresh Market's Double-Cream White Chocolate Milk, one of the greatest ideas to ever hit the market, if you ask me.
This stuff is naughty good. It's decadence in a glass. You'll probably want to have a seat before you have your first taste of it, and then you have to face the ultimate challenge of not downing it all in one go (which, I can tell you from experience, makes you feel very bad). It's delicious almost beyond words: like melted ice cream without the gross factor in a subtle, lovely, rich white chocolate flavor. This stuff is genius, perfect, and altogether bad for you in all ways except that it nourishes spots in your soul that you just love to nourish. How naughty good is it? Well...
...that naughty good. Observe the high sugar content (as high as soft drinks). Mmm.... Observe also the high fat content (higher than half and half... that must be what they mean by "double cream"). Calories, high. Fiber, low. Cholesterol, not good. All this goes together to make: perfect, in small doses. On the other hand, it is relatively high in protein, Vitamin A, and calcium, although I feel a little bit guilty for wanting to say that this is possibly the "ideal source for those nutrients," mostly because of all of the not-good-for-you filling that bottle with beautiful goodness.

So, in taste and experience, this stuff gets an 11 out of 10 on my meaningless scale of quality, but in healthiness, it scores a bit lower at about a -2. Then again, you could always drink lots of water and work out hard and regularly, and then it wouldn't matter so much....

If you haven't had this stuff and have access to a The Fresh Market that happens to be carrying it (they only seem to have it sometimes, though their good ol' fashioned (whole) chocolate milk is rather beautiful too), then you have to try it.

For what it's worth, it makes just about the best white chocolate mochaccino that I've ever had, as long as you're making it with decent espresso from a good coffee source. So rich... so delicious... so romantic with my wife in the mornings and sometimes afternoons.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Chinese Invention Dish: Steak and Eggs with Homemade Pasta

I'm almost sorry for posting yet another Chinese dish, but like I was doing earlier with the bread making, I'm completely into making these dishes again. I've made JB's beef and potatoes a couple of times, in fact, in the past two weeks, and that says nothing of these noodle-based dishes that are quite filling and excitingly delicious, particularly now that I'm feeling more adventurous. This installment's adventure is based on a favorite breakfast of a Scottish friend of mine: steak and eggs, but I made it for dinner and following the rough idea of JB's fried dishes.
This recipe used the other half of the beef roast that I used to make this yumminess, which by paying attention to the dates, you'll realize implies that I made this dish about a week ago. It incorporated a lot of noodles (because the last dish I made used too few), a recipe for which can be found here, scaled up to about three cups of flour and a cup of water (and still 11 gallons of elbow grease). Here's what all went into it other than the noodles:

  • Approximately a pound of beef shoulder roast, in half-inch cubes (steak could be used instead);
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed (first) and finely chopped;
  • 1/2 an inch of fresh ginger, finely chopped;
  • 1/2 a sweet onion, chopped;
  • 6-8 mushrooms, halved and chopped;
  • 3 eggs, salted, peppered lightly, and beaten in a bowl;
  • a healthy dash of red wine vinegar;
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce;
  • 2-3 tablespoons of canola oil for cooking.
After getting everything prepared and a pot of salted water boiling for the pasta, I started cooking the eggs first. I simply poured them into the hot wok and scrambled them until they were just short of being "dry." Once that was done, I transferred the eggs to a plate to await the completion of the dish. The onions and mushrooms were next, which I added to a re-oiled, re-heated wok and, once salted lightly, let cook until they were soft. Actually, I let them cook, stirring only occasionally, until I had shaved all of the pasta into the boiling water. Once the pasta was shaved, i.e. when the veggies were done, I transferred them to the plate with the eggs to await the meat. A little more oil in the wok, which I gave a quick chance to reheat a little, preceded the meat, garlic, and ginger along with a little salt and pepper for the meat. I stirred this around until the meat was browned on all sides, and then I added the soy sauce and vinegar. While that stewed, I drained the pasta and then immediately added the eggs and vegetables mixture to the wok and stirred everything together. When mixed, I let it cook for about a minute before adding the pasta, mixing, adjusting the seasoning. That was it. Done. Pretty much perfect.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monster Burritos for Fourteen!

One of my friends just turned 30, and so his wife and several of his friends decided it would be fitting to have a little birthday party for him (at an indoor water park, no less!) last Friday. My wife and I were invited and decided to go, and everything looked very promising for offering a great time. The only thing that wasn't settled at least a couple of weeks ahead of time was what we'd be doing about dinner. I suggested that we should make a roast or a huge amount of spaghetti (or both!) because it would be cheaper and more fun than everyone going out, and so in the process, my title "Untrained Gourmet" preceding me, I got hired to make something good. I decided on mega-sized, super-delicious pork burritos because of the overwhelming crowd-pleasing ability of burritos, particularly huge, sloppy, delicious ones. Here's mine, just before I tried to wrap it up and eat it, on a tortilla that easily measures fourteen or fifteen inches across (and that is flavored with chili!).
Apparently, folks raved about them. Some of the things I heard were about three or four variations on "That was seriously the best burrito I've ever had." and "Thanks for your gourmet expertise this weekend. Everyone raved about it after you left and all day Saturday. A great time was had by all." Well... that's what burritos are good for.

This was a bit of a monument for me, honestly, since I've never had to cook for more than 10 before in one go, so it was a little bit exciting and a little bit scary and a little bit trial, experiment, and error. There were three dishes: the meat filling for the burritos, some black beans (I say for the burritos, though I guess they could have been a side), and Spanish rice (again, I say for the burritos, though I originally intended them as a side). The entire undertaking was rather epic! Remember, this recipe feeds 12-15 hungry adults.

Meat filling and sauce:

  • A five pound pork (or beef) roast -- I used pork loin;
  • 2 1/2 sweet onions, halved and sliced thinly;
  • 8-10 medium-to-large cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped;
  • 1 large can of fire-roasted tomatoes;
  • 6 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped;
  • 2 thinly sliced fresh (red) cayenne peppers (more, optionally, for more heat);
  • 6 Nardello (or other sweet, red peppers), seeded and roughly chopped;
  • 2 tsp. whole (or freshly ground) cumin seeds;
  • Several sprigs each fresh thyme and (Mexican) oregano, finely chopped;
  • 4-6 bay leaves;
  • Zest and juice of half a lime, grated or very finely chopped;
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar or molasses;
  • 2-3 tbsp. red wine or apple cider vinegar;
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
As for the tortillas to serve it on, if you can get the giant, delicious ones that are available at EarthFare (sorry, I cannot recall the brand, but they come in a wide variety of flavors including chili and sun dried tomato), then get those. Otherwise, get other flour tortillas, as large as you like, or for a crowd, in a variety of sizes. We had three sizes, including the super-giants pictured above.

How to make it:
Start out by seasoning the meat with salt, pepper, and ground cumin, and then sear it in a relatively hot Dutch oven or other large pan. Remove the meat from the pan and set it aside and add some oil and the onions and fresh sweet peppers (Nardellos for me). Cook them until the onions are translucent, and then add the bay leaves, cumin seeds, cayenne, garlic, tomatoes with their liquid, and the vinegar and deglaze the pot, scraping up as much of the gramines (delicious burned-on meat bits) as you can. Then add the lime zest and chipotles, stir well, and put the meat back in, wiggling it so that it is mostly covered with the liquid. Resist the temptation to add more water. It will be okay. Salt and pepper everything lightly and let it come to a boil; then reduce the heat to low, cover it most of the way, and let it cook until the pork is quite tender (probably three or four hours -- having access to an indoor water park is helpful for this stage, though keep things on the very low if you're leaving a cooking pot unattended). *Alternatively, skip the searing/sauteing parts and just put everything in a big-enough crockpot, set to high unti it boils and then to low until it's done.* Once the meat is to pulling-tender, remove it from the pan and add in the freshly chopped herbs, sugar/molasses, and adjust the seasoning with a little salt and pepper. Allow the sauce to continue to cook, uncovered and preferably over somewhat higher heat so it reduces somewhat, while you let the meat rest and then pull and cut it apart. Once it is pulled, add the meat back into the sauce, mix thoroughly, and reduce the heat to low to await serving. Just before serving, add the lime juice.

For the black beans:
If you want to be a rockstar, use about two cups of dried beans and soak/cook them until tender according to the package instructions. Then set them aside and use as instructed below. Otherwise, use canned beans. We used six cans of black beans and had only a little left over.
  • 6 cans of beans, all black or with some pintos mixed in (at most 2 cans of pintos), thoroughly rinsed;
  • One sweet onion, chopped medium-fine;
  • Two bell peppers, chopped likewise;
  • A couple of tablespoons of your favorite not-crazy-hot hot sauce;
  • Salt and pepper to taste;
  • Half a stick of butter and a little oil for cooking.
Start out by preparing and then sauteing the onion and peppers in the oil and butter. Once they've softened considerably (and even caramelized on the edges somewhat), add everything else and stir. Cook over medium in this way for a few minutes until the beans are all warmed through, which takes roughly 5 minutes or so. Try to time this to finish around the same time as the meat, which is most easily accomplished by having someone else pull the meat apart. Assistants are great.

The rice, which we overdid, but if people are hungry or like Spanish rice on the side, then this will work great. I'll put up what I actually made for posterity's sake, but feel encouraged to half this recipe in practice since we ended up with plenty of left over rice (which is a fantastic ingredient, by the way, in scrambled eggs the next morning!). This is the proper pinkish-reddish-orangish "Spanish" (read: Mexican) rice made properly from scratch.
  • Four cups of white, long-grain rice;
  • Half a sweet onion, finely chopped;
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped;
  • 1 large can of crushed, fire-roasted tomatoes with liquid;
  • Half a stick of butter;
  • 1 tsp. whole cumin seeds (or the equivalent, freshly ground);
  • 4 bay leaves;
  • A little finely chopped fresh (Mexican) oregano;
  • 3-4 tablespoons hot sauce;
  • A heavy dash of Worcestershire sauce;
  • Salt and pepper to taste;
  • Enough water to mix with the tomatoes and their juice so that the total quantity of liquid is as specified on the package cooking directions (usu. 8 cups, or generally, two cups of water per cup of dry rice). NOTE: If you missed it -- measure the water, tomatoes, and juice together or you're going to have some soggy, not good rice.
Doing this stuff right isn't hard, but it isn't a freebie. You have to start by toasting the rice in a hot pan (the pan you'll cook it in). This requires moving the rice around pretty much the whole time while it's on a fairly high temperature, and it takes several minutes that cannot be used for anything else. When the rice is getting nicely toasted (it gets all extra white and some of the grains get a little golden), add the cumin seeds and bay leaves and continue this dry-toasting for about thirty more seconds or perhaps a minute. Next, add the butter, onion, and garlic, and continue swirling the rice mixture around in the pan. It will start to sizzle, and that's what you want. This should continue until the butter more or less melts, which takes about 2-3 minutes. Then, add the water, tomatoes with juice, hot sauce, oregano, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper and stir. Let the mixture come to a boil and cook on that relatively high heat for 2-3 minutes. Then reduce the heat immediately to low (on an electric burner that means you have to use two eyes or plan ahead knowing how your electric range works with heating and cooling times... kind of a pain) and cover the pot. Leave it this way until the time period stated on the package directions (probably 20 minutes) has elapsed. At that point, turn off the heat (remove it from the burner if electric) and leave it alone until you're ready to serve it. You can fluff and mix it just before serving. Again, plan ahead and try to time this to be finishing around the same time as everything else.

Once it's done, get out some tortillas and add some sides. The recommended list includes, but is not limited to:
  • Freshly grated lettuce (iceberg is popular);
  • Diced tomatoes (2 is probably enough);
  • Finely diced sweet and/or spring onions (1/2 of a medium onion is enough);
  • Some kind of Mexican blend, Monterrey Jack, Colby, cheddar, etc., cheese, freshly shredded if you have the time and manpower;
  • Sliced, pickled jalapenos;
  • Salsa, though not much will see action due to the sauce with the meat;
  • Hot sauce;
  • Sour cream or Mexican creme, optionally enhanced with some freshly grated lime zest;
  • Guacamole (preferably homemade);
  • Whatever else you like on burritos.
A good time will be had by all... guaranteed!

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Coffee Review: Vienna Coffee Company's Thunderhead Espresso

I haven't yet met Jaimie, the owner of Thunderhead Perk in Townsend, TN, but hopefully I will be meeting her this week. My wife adores her and claims her scones are the best. Vienna Coffee Company in Maryville, TN, came up with an espresso blend for Jaimie that they fittingly call Thunderhead Espresso (organic) that happens to be quite delicious regardless of whether it is served alongside one of Jaimie's apparently legendary, warmed scones.

Their website claims that the blend is rich, which I think is a bit of an understatement. The smell, in fact, carries the very definition of rich coffee, and the flavor is full, balanced, and mild, like a pleasant riff of smooth jazz on a double bass. Vienna recommends that this espresso is great almost any way you can serve it: straight shots or blended into a latte (or cappuccino), and I tend to agree. It's nice straight, but in my opinion, it stands out blended. That could be because I just came off their Espresso Bella, which is undeniably nice to have in a wide variety of ways.

If you're into espresso blends, however you like to take them (even brewed as coffee instead of as espresso), this one is a nice one that I have to recommend, particularly if you like them smooth and easy without ostentation or fuss.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

(Chinese) Beef Cubes and Mushrooms with Red Wine Sauce and Homemade Pasta

I think of this recipe as being a bit inspired since I had a picture in my head from the outset and then did two things differently from that grand vision.
I wanted to make a beef and mushroom stir-fry with noodles again, and when I saw a good deal on a nice oven roast at the grocery store the other night, I was almost giddy with excitement. Yesterday, I got the opportunity to start cooking it up. My original plan had been to make something nearly identical to a previous recipe, but variety, or at least variation, is really the spice of life, and inspiration hit me as I was making it.

With Asian cooking, it's a wonderful idea to get everything arranged before you start because the stir-frying process is fast an furious. That means, since I wanted to make noodles, that my first step was to salt some water and start it on its road toward boiling, and my second step was to get the ingredients cut up. Here's what went into this:

  • About a pound of beef roast, cut into half-inch cubes;
  • Eight or ten nice shiitake mushrooms, trimmed of their stems and sliced thinly;
  • Six large white mushrooms, halved and sliced thinly;
  • Four medium cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped finely (first);
  • About half an inch of ginger sliced across and then into thin matchsticks;
  • Six spring onions, cleaned and chopped cross-sectionally including much of the greens;
  • Most of one fresh, red cayenne pepper, sliced thinly;
  • About a tablespoon of soy sauce;
  • About two or three tablespoons of a rich, table-worthy red wine;
  • About a tablespoon of red wine vinegar;
  • Salt and black pepper to taste;
  • Two or three tablespoons of peanut or canola oil for cooking;
  • One small recipe (about two cups of flour worth) of homemade shaved pasta (a recipe is here).
Once the water was heating, I chopped up all of the veggies except the spring onions (sorry, no pictures -- I couldn't find the camera until after I finished cooking!) and put them on a plate. Then I cut the beef and and spring onions and let them wait on the cutting board while I made the pasta dough. By then, the water was boiling and I had put the oil in my wok over high heat and let it get very hot. The veggies went in first, with a little salt and pepper, and sizzled and fried until they were getting soft. Meanwhile, I shaved the pasta dough into the boiling water with my freshly sharpened chef's knife.

After stirring and tossing the veggies and letting the mushrooms reduce in volume rather dramatically (about 5 minutes, probably), I took them out of the pan and put them back on their plate to wait. Once I let the wok get properly hot again (about a minute), I put the beef and onions in with a little more salt and black pepper, freshly ground, of course. Just a little stirring of that happened before the noodles were done cooking, so I drained those.

When the beef was approximately 2/3 of the way to being done (probably just two or three minutes), I added the soy sauce, wine, and vinegar, stirring things through, waited about thirty or forty seconds for some of the alcohol to boil off and flavors to mingle, and then I added the mushrooms back in. Another minute or minute and a half later, the meat was just finished, so I turned off the heat to the wok and added the noodles to the pan (going strictly against the traditional way of enjoying noodle-based Chinese food and not worrying about it at all). After a little stir and a little rest for the dish, I took the above picture and then dug in. It was absolutely fantastic!

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Vienna Coffee Company: Espresso Bella

Here's another review of a flavor of Vienna Coffee Company coffee, the one that I just finished enjoying several times in the mornings and afternoons: Espresso Bella.

When I visited the company a couple of weeks ago, I picked up this one along with the very delicious and yet interesting Organic Balinese Blue Krishna mentioned in that post (follow the link). I was told that "if I like pulling shots and just drinking them straight up, this was a great way to go." I don't exactly pull shots, as you all know, because I don't have a real espresso machine, but that didn't deter me from making it both in the Moka and in the Aeropress. My first experience, actually, came from the Moka, and my first impressions (which I'm glad I wrote down) were very pleasant: full, round flavors with a hint of toastiness and a little smokiness, properly understated. Even from the Moka, I recognized immediately the overwhelming smoothness of this espresso blend also.

In the Aeropress, which makes a slightly flatter, certainly less "cooked" tasting coffee than the moka, this coffee stood out as being very well balanced and wonderfully flavorful. It did a better job than many of the varietals and blends that I've tried at being equally pleasant (as cappuccino or "presso," what I call the concentrated coffee that comes out of the Aeropress) as a morning or afternoon cup, and so there were many days while I enjoyed this stuff that I enjoyed it twice a day. My wife was duly impressed by the flavorfulness of this coffee as well.

I think this is an outstanding espresso blend, actually, and I think I recommend it over the Espresso con Robusta, Little River Style that I also like a great deal, should buy again, and should review for you. At the moment, I'm lucky enough to be working on (and will write about soon!) some Organic Thunderhead Espresso, a blend worked out for my wife's friend Jaimie at Thunderhead Perk in Townsend, TN, a great coffee shop that my wife and step-daughters went to today while I was at work (though I'll find my way there sometime soon). Stay tuned for those reviews when I have time to talk about them: two more espressos and hopefully a coffee shop.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lamb and Barley Soup with a Parmesian Portabello Snack

First thing's first: I can't believe I forgot to take a picture of this wonderful stew when it was finished. Unfortunately, I can't show you the finished product, so we'll consider the cooking pictures to be teasers. I assure you, it looked like beef and barley soup is supposed to look only the beef was lamb, and it was spectacularly good.
The ingredient list is kind of long, so here's what all went into it:

  • About a quarter of a leg of lamb with bone (probably about a pound and a half of meat);
  • Three medium carrots, cut into quarters lengthwise and then into half-inch pieces;
  • Four small potatoes, cut into pieces of a similar size to the carrots;
  • One medium sweet onion, cut similarly;
  • Four cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped finely (and first);
  • Two red and one green Nardello pepper (mostly to use them, leave out or substitute any sweet pepper), chopped;
  • One red cayenne pepper, chopped finely;
  • Two stalks of celery, cut lengthwise four times and sliced rather thinly;
  • Eight white mushrooms, cleaned and quartered;
  • Half a cup of hulled barley (pearled is a fine substitute);
  • Two tablespoons Job's tears (optional);
  • Two tablespoons wild rice;
  • Two tablespoons brown rice (note: the rices are optional, but in Chinese medicine, mixing rice and barley is supposed to be very building to the system, so I usually include them in tandem when I can);
  • Four bay leaves;
  • Salt, freshly ground black pepper, Worchestershire sauce, and red wine vinegar to taste;
  • A long sprig of fresh rosemary and a handful of chives, finely chopped;
  • One bottle of beer (preferably something heavy and malty);
  • Four and a half cups of water;
  • Two to three tablespoons canola oil.
Here are all of the veggies cut up and ready to go. It's very helpful to have all of your ingredients prepared well ahead of time, although with a stew, I suppose it's not so important. I'm just in the habit, I guess. Having them this way is very helpful, however, if you want to saute the veggies first and deglaze the pan, which I usually do but didn't for this dish.
As for preparing it, I started with the lamb going into the oil and browning a little on each side. Once that was achieved, I put all of these lovely veggies except the garlic into the pan and stirred it around so that as much of it as possible got some pan time, although I wasn't aiming for perfection. After a couple of minutes, I added the garlic, bay leaves, and the beer.
Once that was in, I added the water and the grain along with a healthy amount of red wine vinegar. When all of that was in the pot, I stirred, covered the pot, and left it alone for about twenty minutes. Then I lowered the temp and added the herbs, by which point it looked like this. Right about then is when I was really starting to get hungry, and so while this did its thing, covered over medium-low heat, I whipped up a snack on the side for my wife and I: portabello mushrooms with herbs and balsamic vinegar, finished with a little Parmesian cheese (freshly grated reggiano, of course).
We ate those, mmm, and other than coming back to stir the pot occasionally, that was done and out of mind. I considered making a hearty, whole-wheat flatbread but decided against it figuring I wasn't feeding an army. It would have went perfectly with the soup, though!

A couple of hours later, there was something else to do: get the meat out of the stew and cut it up into little bite-sized pieces. I opted to cut it, instead of pulling it, because that way I could choose to go across the grain and have much more tender little morsels in there. The pieces, actually, were on par with those from the carrots and potatoes in size. It looked like this, in fact, just before I put it back into the stew:

To finish, I let the little meat bits cook in the stew for a while and get nice and saturated with the liquid. That also gave the barley, potatoes, and rice enough time to start to disintegrate a little, offering their starch into the broth to make it into a more gravy-like consistency. Finally, of course, I adjusted the seasoning (salt, pepper, and vinegar) and the served it in bowls. If more people had been around, freshly made flatbreads or (better) some nice crusty sourdough would have made the meal absolutely perfect. The lamb really gives it a nice touch being just a tad on the gamey side of red meat flavors, though not nearly so strong as venison (which makes an awesome stew of this sort also, hunters!).

You should try it, especially as the weather starts to turn a bit cooler like this. It's really wonderful!

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sweet Chile Colorado On Beef Fajitas Over Rice

Because JB came to my house the other day and basically made me pick all the peppers in my garden, I had a plethora of late-season peppers, mostly Nardello, though with several beautiful orange and green bells, and I had to do something with them. This was my almost inspired use of the little beauties.
Secretly, I'm not a big fan of fajitas, although I think essentially everyone else in the world loves them. Honestly, it's not that I don't like them as much as it's that there are a lot of other things in the Mexican restaurants that I'd rather eat than fajitas. If they did fajitas with chile colorado like I did last night, then I might be inclined to change my mind on that.

I started with a recipe for "New Mexico Chile" and made my plan from there, intending to use the Nardellos instead of the dried red New Mexico chiles that usually make up the dish. I cut up about fifteen of them and did a reasonable, though imperfect, job of seeding them. I also smashed two cloves of garlic and roughly chopped them into the pile, and for a little kick, I chopped up a single, rather small (red) cayenne pepper as well. With just a little chopped onion, a little freshly picked and chopped oregano, a heavy pinch of cumin seeds, and a little bit of chopped garlic chives, I was set to make the sauce.
With a little oil in the pan, I added all of those peppers, onions, garlic, and whatnot and started to let it sizzle for a while. After it did its thing for about ten minutes or so, stirring it occasionally, of course, I added a bit of water and some red wine vinegar along with some salt and pepper. After that bubbled for a bit, I added the herbs, and that's what this picture shows, steam-blur and all. It was starting to smell mighty nice in the kitchen right about then.

While the sauce cooked down, half covered over medium heat, I cleaned and sliced two green bell peppers and half an onion into some healthy-sized pieces. I also took two bottom-round steaks, which I got for a great price, and sliced them thinly across the grain, cutting them into approximately two-inch-long strips. Not shown in the photo is the lime that I cut into quarters.

After I got everything all cut up and decided that the peppers had stewed for long enough, I poured all of that mess into the blender and let it run for a while. When it came out, it was thick, almost like paste, so I had to add some water. Immediately, I put it back on the cook, and here's a photo of the smoothed-out version bubbling away.

Meanwhile, I started some oil in a large skillet, which I put over high heat and let get very hot. Not having made fajitas before, I screwed the next part up and put the meat in first. I should have done the veggies ahead of the steak so they'd kind of caramelize. In any case, I put in the steak and let it cook for a few minutes, stirring it around to cook it fairly evenly, added the onions and peppers, and let it all cook like that over vigorous heat until the meat was just short of done, which didn't take long. Once the meat was just barely short of being done, as in the picture, I added the red-pepper sauce to the pan and let it stew the meat and veggies the rest of the way. When I turned it off, I added the juice of half of that lime and stirred it through. It was brilliant.

As you can see in the picture at the top of the post, I served this delicious stuff over lightly cumin-scented brown rice, although it would have been absolutely incredible over wet polenta (meaning without doing the baking business) heavily loaded with colby-jack cheese. I also intended to add some black beans to the entire mix, adding them to the skillet with the sauce or serving them on the side, but as I wasn't feeding as many people as usual last night, I held off on those. They would have been great, though, as would have been a little dollop of sour cream off to the side.

Also, had I left out the cumin from the sauce recipe, replacing it instead with a pinch of fennel seeds and adding a bit of rosemary and basil (and perhaps a tomato or two for character), this sauce would have been mind-blowing over pasta (and easily vegetarian-friendly in that case). In fact, it would have been absolutely incredible with pasta, some sauteed veggies, and, if you're into getting some protein veg-style, dry, fluffy scrambled eggs. Peppers play very well with eggs. If we have another Nardello harvest still out there on our little bushes, then I'll try that soon and let you know. Otherwise, it will have to wait until next year!

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fried Potatoes with Leek

Leeks really are a beautiful vegetable: onion-like but mild and with an interesting shape and texture. They also play very well with potatoes, most often in a leek and potato soup, so I thought it would be interesting and tasty to try them fried with potatoes. Here's how it went!
First thing first, I crushed and chopped up two cloves of garlic, then I cut up the white and light green part of a leek, one Nardello (sweet) pepper from the garden (picked by the "famous" JB, who came to visit us last week from Beijing! Hence the lack of posting for the week), and four potatoes, washed and peeled. Other than seasoning, that made the entire ingredient list.
I put about two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in my large skillet and put it over medium-high heat next and added the potatoes. Since potatoes take a lot longer to cook through than any of the other ingredients, I let them fry like this for several minutes, getting soft and slowly browning, before adding anything else except a little salt and freshly ground black pepper. Occasionally I tossed them around in the pan to try to encourage some evenness in the cooking, but for the most part, I like to leave them alone so that at least one side gets a little toasty golden-brown.
That's when I added the leeks, peppers, and garlic, which I tossed through, seasoned lightly, and let cook until everything was done.

After it was done (see the main picture above), I topped it with a little freshly grated Parmigiano reggiano and plated it just as the cheese melted a little. It was LOVELY.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Stir Fried Mushrooms and Bok Choy With Pork and Homemade Noodles (Mian)

My wife loved this. In fact, she talked about it for days, which I can say because I have to guiltily confess that I made this a week ago and am only now getting around to posting it.
Doesn't it look good? I can tell you, like my wife surely would, that it was extremely good and very characteristic of real Chinese cooking, based on my experiences with JB this summer (n.b.: all of the dishes labeled with "JB" in the title are directly based on the meals I watched/helped him prepare and enjoyed dozens of times this past summer while living with him, and JB is short for Jinbao, which is a very Chinese name for a very Chinese guy that cooks very authentically Chinese food). That said, you won't probably have a dish like this in a Chinese restaurant unless it's a very authentic one, and although I'm not super-widely traveled, I do know that the vast majority of "authentic" Chinese restaurants aren't. I couldn't tell you what area of China this dish is typical of, but since it reminds me of JB's cooking, we'll say the area around the capitol and be willing to be wrong. I should point out that he never got bok choy while we were together, passing it over for Napa cabbage every single time, so to make it more characteristic of his cooking, replace the bok choy with Napa cabbage. He used a lot of it. I'm sure it's pretty common in his cooking.

Stories aside... how did I make it? Well, as so often happens, I found a cut of meat that's suitable for my purposes and a great deal and built the recipe around it. Bone-in pork steaks (not chops, though honestly I don't yet know the difference) were on sale when I went shopping and looked plenty fresh enough for my purposes, so I got some. I was surprised to see how little bone and fat there was given that it definitely carried a bone-in price per pound (i.e. low). As you'll see below, I ended up cutting it up into roughly half-inch cubes and setting it aside until it was business time, although that actually happened after I cut up the veggies, which happened after I put a pot of salted water on the boil to make the pasta.

The stars of this dish were the veggies, of course, and those required some prep work. First, I used three kinds of mushrooms, two ribs of celery, almost an entire head of bok choy, about half a sweet onion, and the obligatory garlic (two or three cloves, crushed first and finely chopped) and ginger (about three quarters of an inch, cut into fine matchsticks because I have a slight bent toward that shape over minced or coined ginger in dishes). The three types of mushrooms were baby 'bella (about 4-5 of them, halved and sliced thinly), shiitake (sliced thinly), and maitake (chopped roughly).

The cutting of the other veggies was like this: I cut the half of the onion so it became quarters and then sliced quarter-inch thick slices across it. Done. I then tore the greens off of the bok choy and sliced the whites and celery into thin cross sections... lots of them. Done. Finally, I sliced and chopped the mushrooms. Done. After setting all of that on a plate, I made a chiffonade of the bok choy greens and then cut up the meat and made the pasta dough (2 cups all-purpose or bread flour, about 2/3 of a cup of water, a pinch of salt, and a lot of kneading).

Once everything was in place and my pasta water was boiling, I started the heat on the wok at a high temperature and added a couple of tablespoons of canola oil. I'd have preferred peanut oil, but I don't have any right now because I didn't want to buy the high-falutin' kind and refused to buy almost two gallons at a go. Anyway, the veggies, sans garlic and greens, went first with just a bit of salt. After they had a few minutes of rather vigorous stir-frying, I added the garlic, greens, another light pinch of salt, and a small splash of toasted sesame oil to the pan, tossed it gently for about thirty seconds, and poured the mixture on the plate. That's what you see in this picture: the veggies waiting on the plate for Phase Two.

Before starting Phase Two, I shaved and pinched the noodles from the dough directly into the boiling water and let them get cooking. Once that was done, I made sure my pan was cooking hot again with just about half a tablespoon (or a little less, maybe) of fresh oil in it and added the meat, which I immediately salted lightly and peppered with freshly ground black pepper (because my first attempts to get Szechuan peppercorns failed -- I'll have to use the internet for those, I think). I let the meat cook until it looked like in the picture, meaning until it was definitely close but not quite done. Overcooked meat is tough and not good and defeats almost the entire purpose of the stir-frying over high heat. When the meat took on that appearance, I added a couple of tablespoons of rice wine and let it sizzle for about thirty seconds before adding the veggies back in. About a tablespoon and a half or so of soy sauce chased the veggies.

After a quick stir, it was time to drain the pasta, and as soon as it was drained and shaken, I added the pasta in and mixed it up, and that's what you see at the top.

Seriously. This was good. Really good. Definitely a thumbs up!

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