Monday, April 26, 2010

Pesky garlic

It's so not a secret, but when cooking for myself, I do everything possible to find a shortcut. However, I'm aware that sometimes the easiest way isn't the best. Hence, my dilemma - I love garlic but it's so much effort to cut it up all the time and usually I opt for either dry, minced garlic or what I call "semi-fresh" garlic.

Being perfectly honest, dry garlic is seriously lacking in flavor when compared to the real thing but it's just right there in it's little jar ready to go. Just use twice as much! Semi-fresh garlic, is what I have termed the stuff that comes pre-minced in a jar, it's moist and it needs to be kept in the fridge. It's better than the dried stuff but still a poor substitute for the real thing and it requires the use of a spoon. I mean another dish to wash?!?

A couple of years back, my beef was the amount of time it took to peel garlic. Then I read (somewhere...?) that if you pop it in the microwave for 2-3 seconds to warm it up the peeling will slip right off! And what do you know, it does! Don't put it in longer than 2-3 seconds, it gets hot really quickly.

Recently, I haven't been feeling like expending the effort to slice/mince the garlic. I'm lazy, I know. Then I saw a niffty looking trick on thekitchn. Use a fork! It's recommended by thekitchn when you're mincing only 1-2 cloves. I haven't tried it for more than that but I probably will, when I have more than that to mince. Keep in mind this technique will not get you equally sized pieces of garlic perfection but do you really care? I sure as hell don't.

Sorry for the less than fabulous photo, my camera ran out of batteries!

So there you have it - 2 tips leading to garlic perfection.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Organics - do you or don't you?

In honor of Earth Day, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day no less, I'm positing on organics.

When it comes to buying organic produce, I have good intentions but very little follow through. I want to buy them. I feel that they are better for the environment and in turn, better for me. But I have a really hard time justifying the cost. When fruits and veggies are 2-3 times more expensive, I just can't do it. I tell myself that when I make more money, this is something I'll spend it on.

So I compromise and I compare. I look for places where I can do something good for the environment and myself, without spending significantly more.

Things to consider buying organic:
-Salsa (similar cost)
-Carrots (similar cost)
-Apples (lots of pesticides)
-Bell peppers (lots of pesticides)
-Milk (I think it tastes better, and hormone use)

When considering what meat to buy, if you don't want to pay big bucks for organic beef, eat more poultry and pork. USDA regulations prohibit the use of hormones and growth promoters in pork and poultry, so while you might not be buying organic at least you will be getting hormone-free meat. Note that the packages will most likely not say "hormone-free" because since all poultry & pork is raised without hormones in the US, it can't be stated on the package unless it also says that the USDA prohibits hormone use for these products.

Update April 29th, 2010: I just found a list of the produce "dirty dozen" on Yahoo! Green, click here to see the fruits and veggies that have the highest pesticide use.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Guacamole weekend

I ate enough guacamole this weekend to make up for not eating it my entire life. wow. I bought 5 avocados last week and 4.5 went into guacamole. Why would I buy 5 avocados you may ask? Well, I like avocado (a lot) and they were on sale for a $1. Ok, they're on sale for a $1 like every two weeks but these were actually good, not ones that had been sitting around for a week and were over-ripe.

Moving on, I think I tried every possible incantation of Jess' guacamole recipe. When I was at the store buying my ingredients, I was talking on the phone...yes, I was THAT person...which was a bad idea, because I forgot something - the lime.

Jess and I had a whole text conversation about the lime juice and if it was actually important, poor Jess has become my guac consultant. I asked her if I could just use a little OJ instead, you know still citrus and will prevent the guac from oxidizing (ie turn brown). Jess was anti-adding OJ, too much sugar. Did I do it anyway? Yea...and I'll be honest, I don't think it mattered much. The little splash of OJ I used did not really add that much sugar and I'm sure it was useful in preventing oxidation.

Jess's recipe is:

I omitted onions in all versions. ewww!

Guac round #1 (2 avocados, Friday night)
Jess' recipe with OJ for lime juice

Round #1 was pretty tasty, I had some friends over Friday night and they hardly touched the guac. Ok it was pretty soon after dinner, but basically I ended up eating it all myself and it was a huge bowl.

Guac round #2 (1 avocado, Saturday night)
OJ for lime juice and no Jalapeno

This was just for me, and I was feeling I really need to cut up Jalapeno? I decided no. This one was the worst, I guess it needs a little zest, even if I don't particularly like spicy food.

Guac round #3 (.5 avocado, Sunday afternoon)
Jess' recipe

Around this time I was tired of guac, especially since the two times I had made it were less than fabulous but I had all those avocados in the fridge! So in the morning I made it to the store and bought a lime and it really made a difference. This was amazing and I remembered why I could not stop eating it at Jess' house! The lime juice gave it a fresh quality that it was just missing without it.

Guac round #4 (1 avocado, Sunday night)
Jess' recipe

Yes it was so good I made more later the same day, that 1/2 an avocado was just not enough! I think the photos is this version - doesn't it look deliciously chunky? Oh looking at it make me want guac again!?!

Just goes to show you, don't mess with perfection and sometimes it's worth it to go all the way back to the store to get that one item you forgot.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A new way to make carbonara

When I was a kid, I always hung around the kitchen. When Mom was baking a cake, I was there waiting to lick the bowl - before my sister got there - and I would chat with my mom asking her a million questions about everything under the sun...needless to say I was kicked out a fair amount.

Little did I know that I was also learning to cook. I would sit at the bar (jabbering away) and she would be cooking on the other side. As an adult, I've always liked going to restaurants with open kitchens and watching what they are doing and learning new techniques and dishes. I was definitely hanging around Jess' kitchen while she was making the guacamole.

So there is this Italian restaurant called Vapiano's, it's a chain operated by a German company I believe and there was a location in Den Haag that I used to go to when I lived there and there are also a few in the DC area. Vapiano's has an open kitchen and they cook pasta dished in front of you. I almost always order spaghetti carbonara.

So I've made cabonara at home too, several times but the recipe I used was sort of hit and miss, it was better from Vapiano's. Plus what they were doing was simpler! I was mixing egg and cream and pouring it on hot pasta, mixing it quickly to cook the sauce. Sometimes it was really tasty and other times I ended up with pasta and scrambled eggs.

After watching the chef's at Vapiano's make my carbonara about 10 times, I thought I can do this, I'm gonna try it and if it doesn't work there is always a Lean Cuisine in the freezer.

Spaghetti Carbonara a la Vapiano's

1 serving of spaghetti/linguine pasta (cooked, hot)
1 1/2 cup cream
1 egg yoke
garlic, chopped
olive oil
chopped bacon
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Pour a small amount of olive oil in a small sauce pan and add chopped garlic and bacon. Cook garlic for about 1 minute until it becomes fragrant. Pour cream in sauce pan and cook on low-med heat until the cream boils around the edges, stirring frequently. Stir in egg yoke (can add additional spices here, basil ect). Reduce sauce, stirring frequently. When sauce reaches desired thickness, mix in pasta and serve. Garnish with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

This recipe was so simple. I actually made this on a whim, I had some extra cream in the fridge from making cinnamon rolls and pasta and an egg are pretty easy to come by in my house. I actually skipped the bacon and just added a bit of salt because I did not have any around, so I guess mine wasn't really "carbonara."

I've always been really interested in what is going in my food so, I've always liked hanging out in kitchens to watch, but for anyone who likes to cook or wants to learn more, definitely watch every chance you get - never know where you will learn something new!

Taste: B+
Cost: A
Wast: A+ (single serving!)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tequila lime mussels

For my first attempt at making mussels I went for the classic Mussels a la Marinere, mussels in a nice wine sauce. So recently, I was walking around Eastern Market and I saw that they had fresh mussels for sale ($3.25/lb!) and I just had to buy them. What am I gonna do with them? No idea.

I took my mussels home, deciding that I wanted to try something different, so I browse around and I find a recipe for "Mike's Drunk Mussels." Tequila, lime and mussels, sounds fabulous, right?

1 teaspoon cooking oil
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 cup tequila
1/4 cup water
1 lime, juiced
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons diced jalapeno peppers (optional)
2 pounds fresh mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Cook red pepper and onion in oil, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
Stir in tequila, water, lime juice, fresh pepper and jalapenos. Bring to a boil, and dump in the mussels. Sprinkle the cilantro over the mussels, and cover with a tight fitting lid. Allow to steam for 3 to 4 minutes, or until all mussels have opened (discard any that don't).

I went to the grocery store and liquor store and made me some drunk mussels. Were they good??? They were alright. The mussels were normal, tasted like mussels. I like cilantro, so having boatloads of cilantro in there was nice...all the green in the photo is cilantro.

The negative was that the sauce so was so alcoholic. The tequila only cooks for a few minutes with the mussels so it still has a lot of alcohol in it. After I dipped a few pieces of bread in the sauce I was practically drunk, each one was like taking a shot. Which is ok if that's what you're going for, but I wasn't. My favorite part of mussels is dipping bread in the sauce, so not being able to do that (without a hangover the next day) is a big negative for me.

In short, this is a good alternative to the classic French style of mussels but I don't think it's something I'd make regularly, maybe with less tequila or with reducing the sauce a bit.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Broiled chicken tomato toppers

You may recall my dissatisfaction with a recipe called Feta topped chicken. I was especially disappointed because I felt that it was a good concept but just not working functionally. Too bad because I love my feta.

So now that I've had some time, I've reworked it. This is what I've come up with:

Broiled chicken tomato toppers

4 chicken breasts
6-8 slices of tomato
2 slices provolone cheese
2 TB prepared pesto sauce (or 8 fresh basil leaves)

Set oven to broil and allow to preheat. Lay chicken breasts on lightly greased broiling pan and broil (on top rack) for 5-6 minutes. Remove chicken and flip over. Spread pesto on chicken and top with tomato slices. Place provolone cheese on the top and place back in oven. Broil an additional 4-5 minutes until chicken is fully cooked, taking care not to burn the cheese. If need be, you can move the chicken to a lower rack.

This was really tasty. I served the chicken with some pasta and marinara sauce to make it a meal, though veggies would be a good route too. I used provolone because I had it on hand but I think mozzarella would be equally good.

Taste: B+
Waste: A
Cost: A