Tuesday, August 30, 2016

What I'm Cooking, September, 2016

-Brie & scallion frittata, salad, fruit
-Chicken Mozzarella, pasta, salad, crusty bread, hot chocolate cake 
-Japanese chicken salad, rolls, fruit
-Mujadara, salad, fruit
-Turkey hash, green beans, salad
-Scrambled eggs, pigs in blankets, fruit
-Corn chowder, crusty bread, fruit
-Garbanzo salad, gourmet grilled cheese, fruit
-Masitas de puerco, black beans, rice, maduros, avocado salad
-Provençal tuna salad sandwiches, chips, salad
-Cheeseburgers, potato salad, green beans
-Fried chicken, baked baby limas, broccoli, spoon bread
-Beef, green bean, & water chestnut stir-fry, rice, fruit
-Hamburger casserole, broccoli casserole, salad, apple crisp 
-Artichoke & Jarlsberg omelets, fried potatoes, mixed greens, fruit

-Turkish poached eggs
-Curried shrimp
-Chocolate mousse brownies
-Lemon cream stelline

This year's First Rainy Day of Fall Soup will be cheddar chowder, which I'll serve with pumpkin muffins.

Cuba Cuba, August 29, 2016

As my regular readers know, each month on the 30th, Jeannene and I try to go out to dinner to celebrate our monthiversary. Today, we have been, at least in the eyes of family and friends, if not the law, married 14 years and 8 months. However, since she is on a plane for Illinois right now, we won't be going out tonight. Instead, we went last night.

I love Cuban food and was delighted to discover there's a Cuban restaurant in Denver. I've wanted to go to Cuba Cuba since I discovered it exists, so last night, I made it so. It was an easy half hour drive from home and I even found close parking on the street.

Jeannene is not as nuts about Cuban food as I am and she felt a bit skeptical when she saw the two brightly painted houses with the palm-lined walkway in front. I, on the other hand, found it completely charming. We were seated quickly, in a Florida-room-like space. There were large, colorful portraits in the walls and graceful lamp globes above. 

The service was typically Cuban, warm and friendly. My mojito, while not as good as the ones I get in Miami---or the ones I make at home---was much better than the super-strong drinks many American bars pass off as mojitos. They're supposed to be light and refreshing, not get-you-drunk-quick strong.

We started with a trio of empanadas, each with a different filling. Usually, picadillo, a sort of ground beef hash, is my favorite, but the ropa vieja one was also delicious. I liked the mushroom one least. I was very impressed with the crust, done in proper Cuban fashion. I was only sorry they didn't have a guava & cheese empanada for dessert. I certainly would have ordered that!

For my main course, I had the lechon asado, juicy shredded pork that had been marinated in mojo sauce, a limey, garlicky concoction central to Cuban cuisine. On the side were black beans, white rice, and maduros, fried ripe plantains. It was all delicious. Jeannene had the vaca frita, a sort of frizzled beef dish, with the same sides. Elijah ate lots and lots of black beans & avocado, along with samples of the rest.

We split the tres leches cake for dessert. It's very Cuban, if not my favorite. This rendition, though, was very yummy and I liked the use of meringue topping in place of whipped cream.

My favorite thing about the whole meal, though, if I'm being honest, was the excellent cafe con leche I sipped with my dessert. The stuff of dreams!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Kidney Beans with Cheese

Last night, I made a delicious, practically vegetarian dinner. Had I subbed veggie broth for the chicken broth in the beans I made, it would have been totally vegetarian. I served the beans with Mexican corn cakes, and a green salad. The two recipes originated with Martha Stewart, but have been altered by me.

Kidney Beans with Requeson
1 can kidney beans
1 can chicken or veggie stock
2 bay leaves
1 onion, quartered
1/2 jalapeño, seeded 
1/2 tsp. cumin
A pinch of salt
1/4 c. Requeson cheese (can sub grated cotija or asadero)

Bring everything but cheese to a boil. Reduce to a brisk simmer and cook another 15 minutes. Set aside 1/4 c. cooking liquid. Strain beans, discarding everything but the beans. Mash with reserved liquid & the cheese. Adjust seasonings. Serves 2-4.

Mexican Corn Cakes
3/4 c. masa harina or cornmeal
1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
Pinch salt
1/4 c. Requeson cheese (can sub grated Cotija or Asadero)
1 c. corn
Oil for frying
Avocado slices, tomato chunks, sour cream/crema for serving

Whisk the dry ingredients together. Add cheese and corn. Stir in water, 1/4 c. at a time, just until it holds together---kind of like scone dough. Heat oil in large skillet. Shape dough into small parties and fry until golden on both sides. Keep warm in 200 degree oven on paper towel lined plate. Serve topped with crema, avocado, & tomato. Serves 4.

Pork Chops with Tomato Gravy

I am delighted to be in our new house and have the kitchen unpacked enough to be able to cook dinner! The first meal I made here at Greenleaf Cottage was last Friday night. I made pork chops with tomato gravy, mashed potatoes, lima beans (whose water boiled over into our glass cooktop, getting the pan stuck to the burner and creating an unholy mess), and sweet corn. I got nice, thick pork chops and baked them before serving them with the tomato gravy, which I made by draining a can of petite diced tomatoes and bringing it to a boil with some butter, salt, & pepper before covering and simmering it about half and hour. Delicious!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

First Colorado Cooking

Upon moving to Colorado, we spent just over 3 weeks in temporary housing with a very limited kitchen. It took some planning, to make sure I wasn't trying to make a quiche with no pie plate or something like that, but I cooked several quite good meals in that time. There are plenty of great restaurants to explore, but who wants to eat out for a month straight?

Our first meal was a simple one of fruit, cheese, and bread. Others were similarly simple, if a bit less elegant (hot dogs & cucumber slices one night, fried eggs & sausage another, and some meals out). 

A week in, I finally made a little more elaborate meal. Despite my worries about high altitude cooking and the way my pasta might turn out, we had bucatini with Bolognese sauce, bagged Caesar salad, and Pugliese bread from the King Soopers. With plenty of extra water, a lid, and a little extra cook time, the pasta turned out perfectly al dente. The sauce was not as good as it should have been, due to the fact that we had no idea where to buy red wine. In Michigan, we could get Bacardi 151 at the grocery. In Colorado, we must go to a liquor store for wine or even beer above, I think, 3.5% alcohol. It was, however, pretty dang tasty.

Simple Bolognese Sauce
1/4 c. butter
1 large onion, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. ground beef (I like the 90% lean)
1/4 c. dry red wine
1 c. tomato sauce
3/4 c. water
Salt & pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy pot. Cook the vegetables until tender, adding garlic at the last 30 seconds or so. Add beef & brown, breaking up well. Add wine & cook until it has evaporated. Add tomato sauce & water. Bring to a boil,then reduce heat to low, cover, & simmer a couple hours. If you don't have a couple hours, it'll still taste good. Season with salt & pepper. Serves 4. (I had no garlic or wine, so I added a little Italian seasoning & garlic powder)

A couple nights later, I made a chicken cordon bleu that I found a bit blah. My wife thought it was great, though. I served it with rice pilaf (Near East with slivered almonds) & green beans. 

Chicken Cordon Bleu
2 thinly-sliced skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Ham slices
Swiss cheese slices
Beaten egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Layer ham and cheese atop each chicken breast. Fold into a neat bundle, with the chicken's edges tucked around the filling. Dip chicken in egg, then breadcrumbs, coating evenly. Bake about 20 minutes. Serves 2.

Another dish I made during our temporary housing time seemed a little weird to me, noodles with brats and rye croutons, inspired by a recipe from a cookbook called "The Rustic Table." It turned out to be a little bland, but I think it would have been lots better with a better meat to noodle ratio than what I used. I served it with a black-eyed pea salad, from a recipe my mom gave me, that was simply scrumptious and could have served as dinner. The original recipe came from Paula Deen. We had fresh plums for dessert. This season has been terrific for stone fruit. 

Noodles with Brats & Rye Croutons
2 slices rye, cubed
1/2 pound egg noodles
1/2 stick butter, cut up
1/2 lb. brats, sliced thickly

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Bake rye cubes until dried out, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook and drain noodles. Melt butter in skillet & fry brat slices. Remove to drain on a paper towel-lined plate (I might skip the draining next time). Toss bread in butter and brat grease until browned & crisp. Set aside. Toss noodles and brats together in same pan. Serve with croutons. Serves 4.

Black-Eyed Pea Salad
2 cans black-eyes peas, drained
1 can diced tomatoes, well-drained
4 oz. chopped pimientos, drained
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. olive oil
A splash of balsamic vinegar
A handful of finely diced red onion 
A handful of chopped parsley
A smidge of minced pickled jalapeño 
1 tsp. sugar
Salt & pepper

Mix everything gently together and adjust seasonings. Serves 6.

On the anniversary of my grandmother's death, I always make her Russian sandwiches, with sweet corn. These sandwiches are something I grew up eating. Every August, at the peak of Ohio tomato season, my grandies stopped most days at a small farm stand on their way home from water workout & table tennis. There, they would select the juiciest tomatoes, along with freshly-harvested sweet corn. For supper, they would later tomato slices, crisp bacon, and sharp Cheddar (usually Cabot) on bread slices (I toast mine) and broil until the cheese was bubbly. They ate these open-faced sandwiches (who knows what made them "Russian"?) with corn barely allowed to relax in the pot of boiling water. I added a salad & watermelon this year. Great stuff!

Another night, Nene made steaks, on which we slathered butter I'd mixed with hot sauce & chopped parsley. We had baked potatoes & an arranged salad of tomato and avocado slices with bocconcini, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt & peper. My basil had gotten frozen by the hotel room fridge or I would have generously added that, too.

The last hotel meal I made was a gooey, cheesy, Mexicanish (via small-town Alabama) casserole I found in one of those spiral-bound town cookbooks which usually have half a dozen deviled egg recipes and at least as many for sheet cake. We had that with Fritos for scooping, salad, corn, and guacamole.

Mexabama Casserole
1 lb. ground beef, browned
1 package taco seasoning
1 package Mahatma yellow rice
1 can cheddar cheese soup (I used the lower sodium, lower fat sort)
1 c. shredded asadero cheese

Mix beef with seasoning and water, as directed on package. Cook rice according to package. Mix everything together & heat through. Serve with Fritos, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, sliced olives, sour cream, and extra shredded cheese. Serves 4-6.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

What I'm Cooking, August 2016

Boy, I tell you what: moving is crazy! My talented, smart wife was just given a promotion that takes us from Hoth (AKA Michigan) to Colorado. We're not moving the right direction for me (Southeast), but I think we're going to love living in the Boulder/Denver metro area! So, yay! We even made our cross-country drive with baby, cats, & tempers intact.

However, life is still a little off-kilter, as we're staying in temporary housing designed for people who are more likely to head out to a restaurant or order in while staying here than to cook a big meal. So, I am challenged with figuring out which meals I can make without buying a bunch of duplicate seasonings and kitchen ware. 

It's been an interesting exercise in becoming aware of just how much I take for granted. I have a very well-equipped kitchen and a wide variety of ingredients at my disposal at any given moment. People are always complimenting me on what a great cook I am. Really, it's due, in large part, to what I have available to me. It makes me think about what it must be like for homeless people or people with only one cooking pot and a fire to figure out how to create meals. So, really, this is a classic case of #firstworldproblems. 

Problem solved, here is what I've come up with:
-Hot dogs, baked beans, fresh veggies
-Scrambled eggs, sausage, fruit
-Pasta with Bolognese sauce, Caesar salad, good bread
-Chicken Cordon Bleu, rice pilaf, green beans
-Scallion & cheese frittata, sesame kale, fruit
-Fried egg BLTs, fried potatoes, salad
-Egg noodles with sausage, black-eyed pea salad, fruit
-Russian sandwiches, sweet corn, watermelon
-Steak with hot sauce butter, baked potatoes, avocado caprese salad
-Taco casserole, corn, salad, chips & guacamole
-Turkish pizza, salad, fruit with dip
-Pork chops with tomato gravy, mashed potatoes, lima beans
-Kidney beans with cotija, Mexican corn cakes, salad
-Asparagus Parmesan tart, rosemary potatoes, salad
-Savannah red rice, green beans, salad