Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shells with Sausage, Beans, and Mascarpone, take one

This week's new ingredient is mascarpone.  Mascarpone is a dessert cheese I've seen used a number of times on competition cooking shows, but had never seen in person.  It was a pain in the butt to find at Meijer, which is why I didn't write this post last week.  Its texture is very creamy, almost frosting-like, and it tastes something close to cream cheese, but more bland.  The cheese itself originated in Italy, first appearing around the 17th century.  The name comes from the word mascara, which is a dairy product made from the whey of another type of cheese.  The most common dish it's used in is called Tiramisu, an Italian cake.  In the dish I made last night, it was used as a component in the sauce, but it can be used raw with fruit and bread.

Another interesting tidbit is that most people pronounce it "marscapone" rather than "mascarpone".  I did so myself until I saw the spelling of it; apparently a lot of tv folk mispronounce it.  Shame on them.

This recipe, especially in comparison to the Savory Beef bowl recipe, is pleasantly simple.  The first thing to be cooked was the pasta.  Normally I don't care for shell pasta (it's difficult to grab with a fork), but the original recipe called for a small type of pasta, and small shell is the only thing at my grocery store that fits that description. 

Next was to cook turkey sausage, removed from casings, on a skillet with onion.  Unwrapping the turkey sausage from the casing was an interesting challenge; the result from the insides was remenicint of ground turkey, while the thing in my hand looked like a broken condom. 

The next ingredients were cannellini beans and oregano.  Cannellini beans are also known as white kidney beans, and have a nutty flavor.  Once the oregano started to cook, the dish became pleasantly fragrant.   Reserved pasta water and the mascarpone were added to create a sauce, and the pasta was added to the dish.

The result was good looking, but bland.  Damnit, turkey!
The most flavorful part of the dish was the garnish of oregano, which I regretted eating afterwards.  Lesson learned.  Despite my bland success with this dish this week, I intend to try again next week with spicy turkey sausage.  (According to my resources, this is more flavorful than spicy.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Savory Beef with Pickled Vegetables

I blog this while there is a tornado warning, which is always a great time to blog.

A side note, I know my goal was to have a new ingredient each week, but life happens.  It's a goal, and I can try at least. This week I'm pretty sure it will happen, considering last week I couldn't actually find the ingredient I wanted to use.

Last night I made a delicious dish that is so complicated I originally had to make a spreadsheet to get organized on the timing.  It involves about five layers of food, which the original instructions instructed to make one by one.  The spreadsheet's purpose was to make sure everything was completed at the same time.

An experiment was conducted last night to prove the spreadsheet was a better way; I've already tried the spreadsheet version three times, so I needed to try the full version. 

The last layer of the dish needed to be prepared first.  Bean sprouts, carrots, and cucumber were to be pickled in the refrigerator while the rest of the dish was cooking.  The oven heated to its lowest setting, bowls are placed inside to heat up.

The first layer that goes in the bowl is short grain rice, cooked and cooled, then browned.  The second layer is a mixture of beef and shiitake mushrooms.  It's important for the mushrooms to be cut (or broken in my case) into small pieces, that way they can cook quickly, and you don't have to overcook the beef trying to finish cooking the mushrooms.  The third layer is garlic and spinach that is cooked until wilted.   The fourth is just an egg cooked sunny side up, and the fifth layer is the pickled vegetables.  Each layer is added on top of the other to the bowl in the oven after completion.

As you can imagine, from that description it is more than complicated to have each of these items done at the same time, but it can be done.  And, for the sake of time, it should be.  The time it takes to cook everything using the spreadsheet, not counting food prep, takes about 30-40 minutes.  Doing each item 1 by one takes about a hour and a half. It's so worth the effort.

Savory Beef with Pickled Vegetables

Ingredients (Serves 2)
1/2 cups bean sprouts
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1/2 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup short grain rice, rinsed
1/2 cup water
8 ounce steak, trimmed and cut into 1/8 inch thick slices
2 tablespoons soy sauce
6 ounce shiitake mushroom, stemmed and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 ounces baby spinach
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Toss the bean sprouts, carrot, cucumber, and vinegar together in a medium bowl.
Press lightly on the vegetables to submerge in the vinegar as much as possible, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 24 hours.  Drain when ready to use.
Place oven rack in the middle of the oven, and place two bowls on the rack.  Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Bring the rice and water to a boil in a skillet over high heat, then cover and reduce heat to low, cook for 7 minutes.
Remove rice from heat and let sit, covered, for 15 minutes.
Return the rice to the skillet over medium high and cook uncovered for 7 to 9 minutes, letting the rice crisp.
Divide rice between bowls in the oven.
Toss the beef and soy sauce together, and heat 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium high until just smoking.
Add the beef, soy sauce, and mushrooms, and cook until beef is medium rare.
Divide beef and mushrooms between the bowls in the oven.
Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil to the skillet and heat to medium high, and add garlic until fragrant.
Add spinach to the skillet, and cook until wilted; season with salt and pepper, divide between bowls in oven.
Add 1 teaspoon of oil to the skillet, and heat to medium high.
Slide the eggs onto the skillet from opposite sides of the pan, and season with salt and pepper.
Cook until the whites are set, but yolks are still runny, 2 to 3 minutes.
Slide each egg onto the bowl, and remove bowls from oven.
Drizzle bowls with sesame oil, and add pickled vegetables, and serve.

This recipe was adapted from one in the book America's Test Kitchen - Cooking for Two.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Salmon and clam leftovers

This week, I had a plan.  I had a plan to combine two awesome things, and find out if they were awesome together. 

The first awesome thing is salmon, which over the years I have grown to dislike.  The second thing is the pasta and other goodies from the clam recipe that I loved so much. 

Something interesting just happened regarding the salmon.  I was trying to find the recipe where I had made this awesome salmon, but I couldn't find it.  I tracked it in my pictures, and found the date to be September 22nd.  Apparently, I never blogged about it.  The rest of the dish must not have been spectacular.  Very confusing.

Salmon was a fish that my mom would often cook for us when I was little, and I would always drown the dry flakey bits in tartar sauce.  Because of the frequency, I grew out of it and decided not to like it any longer.   The times I have cooked it since I have started cooking I've had mixed results.  On the stove, the salmon has always turned out rediculously dry, even when poached.  I found that broiling the fish yealeded the best and easiest results.  I also learned that pre-frozen salmon is always a terrible idea.  

On the day of the 22nd, I found out one remarkable thing.  All my life, I've been eating overcooked salmon.  Salmon is not supposed to be flakey and dry, it's supposed to be moist, tender, and flavorful.  You shouldn't have to drown out the flavor of the fish with anything, ever, if done right.

The trick is doing it right.

Here it is:  Season with salt and pepper, cook for 2 minutes on each side.  That's it.  Simple.  Delightful.  Tasty.

I made the pasta the same way as was done in the clam recipe, along with forgetting that 1/2 lb of pasta is way too much for two people.  In fact, I'm going to change that in my book right now.

And, back; 4 oz is what it should be.  The main lessons that I have learned from the pasta part of this recipe are that cooking pasta in half water and half chicken broth is always delicious, and that cooking onions in sherry is also delicious. 

As for the true question, whether or not these two awesome things would go together...

Not really.  But they both tasted good individually.  And that's good enough for now.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Beef Taquitos (aka Taquito Night!)

Long before my days of cooking consistantly, Jeff had a few staple frozen dinners he would consume on a regular basis.  One of these staples was El Monterey's taquitos, either in chicken or beef flavor.  Jeff had a wonderful method figured out for preparing them: microwave them for a minute, then cover them in shredded cheese, then microwave them another minute or so.  After all this, top with salsa, and eat.  Delicious. 

Then came the age of Hamburger Helper, aka introductory cooking, where I was looking for easy recipes to experiment with.  I found a recipe for baked taquitos (I believe they are normally fried), and Jeff and I tried it.  In comparison with the El Monterey taquitos, well, there were no comparison.  These were way better, and likely much healthier.  After a lot of modification, we found that we could make a large batch of taquitos in a night and freeze the rest of them.  Now, we were able to make our own staple, and feel good about it.

Doing this recipe takes both me and Jeff, because I cannot roll taquitos as well as he can.  When we are making the taquitos to freeze, we make a batch of twenty in a night.  First, we cook the onions and ground chuck, and drain the extra fat.  We add "vegetables" (salsa) and spices to the beef, and cook until the flavors mesh together.  After the meat is done cooking, put the beef onto the toritillas, and bake.  Very simple, but time consuming.  And delicious. 

Beef Taquitos (10 Taquitos)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup salsa
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
10 6-inch flour tortillas
1/2 cup shredded cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add the onion and garlic, cook for 3 minutes, stirring often.
Add the beef and cook until browned; drain.
Stir in the salsa, chili powder, salt, and pepper.
Cook mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes.
Place 10 tortillas on a plate, and cover them with a damp paper towel.
Microwave tortillas until warm and pliable, about 45 seconds.
Top each tortilla with 1/4 cup of the beef mixture, spreading it in a line slightly off center.
Sprinkle cheese evenly over the beef.
Roll up tortillas and place them on a foiled lined baking sheet.
Brush the taquitos lightly with oil.
Bake them for 8 to 12 minutes.

3 taquitos is a serving size.

To reheat in microwave:
Cook for 1 minutes on high.
Place shredded cheese on top of taquitos, cook for 1 minute 30 seconds.
Top with salsa.

When Jeff and I were making these, we eat some the same night.  Instead of microwaving them, we take advantage of the oven's heat to melt the cheese.  After we are done cooking all of the taquitos, we put our six, topped with cheese, back in the oven for 3 minutes. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Poaching Eggs and Eggs Benedict

Jeff and I's special thing to do is to go to IHOP at obscene hours of the morning, where I would get strawberry banana pancakes, no whipped cream, and extra strawberries, and Jeff would get nutella crepes.  One day, Jeff decided to get something different to mix things up: eggs benedict.  Being a person who is not particularly fond of the taste of eggs, I wasn't up to date with different type of egg dishes.  I do like to experiment, even on things I don't like, so I asked for a taste.   The combination of meat, bread, egg, and sauce created a dynamic array of flavors, and I was hooked. 

At home, I looked into creating a version for myself.  I bought English muffins, eggs, and ham (Jeff doesn't like bacon).  The first step was to learn how to poach eggs. 

Poaching Eggs

4 eggs
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Pour water into a large tall skillet so the water is at least 1 1/2 inches deep.
Heat the water and bring to 190 degrees.
Add the white wine vinegar.
Gently crack each egg into a different custard cup, being careful not to break the yolk. 
Slowly lower each cup into the water, and gently pour into the egg.
Cook for 4 1/2 minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain the temperature.
Carefully remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, one at a time, to a paper towel lined plate.
Trim the sides of the egg whites with a spoon to clean up the appearance, and serve.

I learned recently through an episode of MasterChef that you can create a poached egg by filling a tall pot with water, spinning the water, and placing the egg in it.  While this might do the job for one egg, my way successfully creates 4 poached eggs at the same time.

The next task was to create the hollandaise sauce.  In the multiple times I have created this dish, I've tried many different versions, but I still haven't found a version I'm satisfied with. 

There are two common ways to create hollandaise, with a blender, or over a double boiler.  The two main components of the sauce are egg yolks, butter, and lemon juice.  The blender version is considerably easier to make;  mix the egg yolks, lemon juice, and other spices into the blender and blend, then add melted butter and mix.  The double boiler version is trickier; mix the egg yolk in a metal bowl over a pot of boiling water, whisking constantly.  Remove the bowl once the egg is the consistancy of whipped cream, and add the butter, lemon juice, and other spices. 

Today I attempted a version of the double boiler, and failed in multiple ways.  I kept the eggs on the boiler too long, and it started to turn into micro scrambled eggs.  I dumped that batch, and started with a new, being careful to not go too far this time.  I'm pretty sure I ended up undercooking them.  The whole batch was super watery, as you can see in the picture coming up.   I'm still seaching for the perfect thick consistancy that I see at IHOP.  Even though the consistancy wasn't right, it still tasted good, which is the most important thing.

Eggs Benedict

Ingredients (2 servings)

4 eggs
4 slices ham
2 English muffins, split in half
spray butter
hollandaise sauce
chives or green onions

Poach 4 eggs.
While eggs are poaching, warm ham in skillet, and lightly toast the English muffins.
Spray butter over the English muffins, top with ham, with one poached egg, and topped with hollandaise sauce.
Sprinkle with chives or green onions, and serve.