Monday, November 29, 2010

Shells with Sausage, Beans, and Mascarpone, final take!

This dish with the maple sausage is fantastic.  The sausage has the perfect amount of flavor that blends so well with the oregano.

(I know, it's the same picture as before.  It still applies.)

Shells with Sausage, Beans, and Mascarpone

Ingredients (serves 2)
1.5oz small shell pasta
1/4 tablespoon olive oil
9 Bob Evans Maple Link Sausages, casings removed
1/3 cup onion, chopped
4 oz great northern beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
1/6 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to boil.
Add pasta and cook until al dente, according to box directions.
Drain pasta and reserve 1/6 cup of the water.
In a large skillet (not non-stick), heat olive oil over medium high heat.
Add the sausage and onion and cook, breaking up the sausage as it browns.
Cook until the sausage is just golden and the onion is tender.
Add the beans and oregano, and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the pasta water and stir.
Add the mascarpone cheese and stir until it dissolves into a light sauce.
Add the salt, pepper, and hot pasta, and stir until combined.

Swiss Meatloaf

When my mom used to make meatloaf, I recall having to smother it in ketchup and mustard and enjoying mixing the red and yellow together to make a funky orange.  Mind you, this is the memory I recall, not anything regarding the taste.  That's because my dad had something to do with what into the mixture, something involving french onion soup mixtures.  In the first cookbook I owned, there was a few different recipes for meatloaf that were cooked in the microwave instead of baked in the oven, so I was intrigued by the easy possibilities.

The other unique thing about this recipe is the fact that it has Rice Crispies instead of breadcrumbs.  The end taste from this isn't any different than using regular breadcrumbs, but it's a fun twist.  The other ingredients are relatively normal:  onion, garlic, mushrooms, Swiss cheese (which is, as far as I know, the only Swiss thing about this meatloaf; let me know if I'm wrong), an egg for binding, and of course, ground beef.  The original recipe had a coating of chili sauce and mustard, but I dont like chili sauce, so I switched it with salsa.  What can't salsa do?  (Also, don't mix salsa and mustard.  Bad bad idea.  I speak from experience.)

The thing I was amazed at when I first made this was how flavorful it was, compared to my previous meatloaf experiences.  Now, after having had more cooking experience, I found the taste to be sub-par.  So, I am currently searching online for popular meatloaf recipes, and I will find one to test.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dill Cod

Back in the days of my early cooking, one of my go-to ideas was to find a sauce and cook a protein with it, and hope everything went well.  I found some gems from doing this, as well as plenty of mistakes.  I would often try to make educated pairings, such as fish with sauces that had lemon in them, and chicken, well, with anything else.  The most common fish I would use was tilapia, because it was cheap and simple.

I found a dill dressing somewhere, and paired the tilapia with it, adding some vegetables and pasta to make it more interesting.  The dill paired wonderfully with the fish, and it was a recipe I cooked occasionally for friends.

Fast forward to now, I no longer cook with tilapia.  I have since grown bored with it's flavorless taste, and moved on.  However, I wanted to do the recipe again, so I updated a few different things to bring it up to speed with my current skills.  The sauce originally contained vegetable oil, red wine vinegar, sugar, garlic powder, dry mustard, and dill weed.  The dill was the dry stuff, which is pretty powerful in itself, but I wanted to use fresh dill to see the true difference.  I kept the tomato, mushroom, and pasta pairing, but instead of using canned mushrooms, I sautéed the mushrooms beforehand.  And the most important change?  I switched the tilapia for cod, a fish I had worked with once before and, by golly, it had flavor.

Dill Cod

Ingredients: (2 servings)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon fresh dill, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 3-oz cod fillets
10 grape tomatoes, halved
2 ounces rotini pasta
8 ounces mushrooms

Saute mushrooms until almost soft, for ten minutes.  Do not crowd mushrooms.
Cook the pasta as directed.
Combine oil, vinegar, sugar, dill, salt, garlic powder, mustard, and pepper.
Put sauce into skillet, heat on medium high until simmering.
Cook cod in the sauce with the tomatoes, pasta, and mushrooms for 2 minutes on each side.

The most surprising part of this dish for me was how sweet  the pasta tasted.  The combination of the taste of the cod, tomatoes, mushrooms, and pasta made for a pleasantly complex meal.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese

In the second part of my mac & cheese Alton Brown experience, I tried the stovetop version he presented.  Knowing that I already liked stovetop mac & cheese (in comparison to baked), I was eager.  Most of the same concepts presented in the baked version, such as the "secret ingredient" being an egg.  One of the other main differences was that hot sauce was added to the cheese sauce (or in my case, cayenne pepper, because apparently, the hot sauce that has been sitting on top of the refrigerator in a nice gift pack expired in 2008...)

I like this version better not only for the final taste, but also for the amount of time it takes to create.  Mix the egg, evaporated milk, hot sauce, dry mustard, salt, and pepper together; cook pasta, add butter, add egg mixture and cheese, and eat.  Quick enough for one sentence.

Two problems, though.
1)  The cheese.  I found a mild cheddar to use, but it wasn't sweet enough for my tastes.  I need to find a cheesemonger, or go to the farmers market and go samplin'.
2)  Pasta.  Not as big of a problem, simply personal preference.  I have never cared for elbow pasta, originating from the Kraft mac & cheese boxes I had as a kid.  For some reason, the elbow macaroni was never as tasty as the fun Pokemon shapes.  While reading a few food-related articles, I found that wheel-shaped pasta was excellent for mac & cheese as well.  Considering how close in concept this is to the shapes they make at Kraft, it should be true.

Sausage Sampler!

After waiting eagerly all week for the day to come, I finally had a chance to make an evening of sampling sausages.

Before cooking:

I chose four basic sausages from Meijer to sample:  Bob Evans Original Links, Bob Evans Maple Pork Sausage Links, Johnsonville Original Breakfast Sausage, and Johnsonville Vermont Maple Syrup Breakfast Sausage.  I decided to test out both the flavor and the technique of cooking it in the pan.  Ideally, I would have done a "blind taste test", but Jeff and I aren't biased enough to care.

After cooking:

All the sausage's casings were removed before cooking, to keep with the style of cooking the recipe has.

Johnsonville Original Recipe Breakfast Sausage:
I accidentally cooked this with too much oil, which I was able to drain for the most part.  For the cooking, I added it as whole sausages, then worked with my flat ended spoon to separate it, like ground beef.  The taste was good, and we figured it could absorb any flavors presented with it well.

Johnsonville Vermont Maple Syrup Breakfast Sausage:
Upon opening the package, I could immediately smell the maple syrup.  Instead of separating the sausage in the pan, I tried it beforehand in the bowl with a flat ended wooden spoon.  Upon placing it into the pan, I found I had to separate my patty of mashed sausage.  A bit more difficult than not having taken the time to mash it at all.  Lesson learned.  It had a very pleasant mild syrup taste to it.

Bob Evans Original Links:
Instead of mashing with a wooden spoon, I attempted to keep more of the air in the mixture by using a fork to separate the sausages.  I still had to re-separate the sausage in the pan, but it wasn't nearly as troublesome.  I think this method worked the best.   The sausage had a very basic taste.  Not bad, just basic.

Bob Evans Maple Pork Sausage Links:
These sausages I let keep their sausage-y forms for a longer period, until they were about 1/4 cooked.  This actually made it way harder to break up than any of the other attempts, because the cooked meat was binded to the other cooked meat.  This sausage was deemed the winner of the taste test.  Even though the taste wasn't as syrupy as the other brand's, it had a richer flavor than the Johnsonville sausages.

One of the more interesting things we noticed was that there was a definitive flavor difference between the two brands sampled. 

While I realize there are plenty of other sausages available to sample, I'm quite happy with the choice we made.  Now, all that's left is to try it with the recipe!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Whole Wheat Linguine with Green Beans, Ricotta, and Lemon

I always enjoy finding dishes that don't include meat in them, not because of dietary agendas, but because it means there is one less thing to prepare.  The tricky part is to find something that will make a stomach full the same way that meat will.  Pasta, thankfully, does the job fantastically, usually.

The titular recipe involves, as one could assume, pasta and green beans as the "meat" of the dish.  The pasta was cooked, then ricotta cheese was added to the drained linguine.  The instructions said to toss, but that was easier said than done.  Even though the pasta was hot, the cheese didn't exactly melt, partially because of the nature of ricotta, and the quickly cooling pasta.

Next up was the green beans, along with aromatics, cooked first with olive oil, then suedo steamed with pasta water added to the pan.  The coated pasta was then added to the pan along with tomatoes, and topped with lemon zest. 

The dish has a pleasant contrast of flavors; the lemon and the ricotta cheese worked with the other surprisingly well.  I thought that the green beans were perfectly cooked, and considering that I don't usually care for green beans because of their natural squeekyness, it's a good thing.  Jeff, however, still isn't fond of green beans, so I need to find a substitute.  Any suggestions for a green bean substitute?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Shells with Sausage, Beans, and Mascarpone, take three

I bought some sausage.  Normal breakfast sausage, those tiny little cute ones.  They were a bit tedious to unwrap from their casings, compared to the larger ones I've been dealing with, but it make it somewhat easier to break up in the pan when they were cooking.

By golly, they were flavorful!  All twelve of them.  I've determined that it's time to do something I hoped, out of tediousness, I would never have to do.  It's time to do a taste test.
You see, while the plain jane baby sausages I bought tasted flavorful, I only bought the normal variety.  There are tons and tons of varieties out there, and how am I supposed to know that the plain jane ones are the best, without testing the others?

So, next week, I am going to buy lots of sausage.  It's going to be ridiculous.

(Because my freezer isn't already full of leftover sausage...)

I made oatmeal.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Honey Mustard Chicken (Cheating)

Every week, I plan my meals and purchase the appropriate ingredients.  I make a good attempt to use the ingredients that will go bad the quickest, and freeze what I need to.  Usually I'm successful at using all my food in a timely manner, but sometimes...things happen.  I've found for a lot of fresh herbs, if I put them in water by a windowsill, they survive in nice condition.

Asparagus isn't a vegetable I like to use very much, but it's not the worst thing in my opinion, and is definitely something I'm looking to improve with.  Asparagus was one of the unusual ingredient's in last night's dinner, but, apparently, the way I stored it wasn't effective.  I experimented with having it out on the counter, by the windowsill, with the bases in water.  I bought them on Saturday, and was intending to use them on Thursday, so, five days.  What do I find on them?  Mold.  No go on dinner plan.

I had the chicken I needed for the dish thawed, so I wasn't about to give up on cooking for the night just yet.  What did I have that I could use?

Carrots, various herbs, and, salad dressing.

Salad dressing, you ask?

Why, yes.

You see, I keep a stock of some different types of salad dressings for days when I need to cook for just myself, and don't want to spend too much effort on anything in particular.  They're flavorful, and, when used correctly, can be awesome when combined with different meats.

I know, it doesn't look like much, but I can say with much certainty that I want to make this again.

I cut the chicken into pieces, chopped a shallot and a few leftover carrots, and cooked pasta.  As the pasta was near finished, I heated my pan and added the honey mustard dressing, then the chicken, carrots, and shallot.  As the pasta finished, I added it to the pan, and, when needed, added more dressing.

AMAZING.  Honestly, I want to just have the dressing with pasta for lunch some time.

The reason this works so well is because of the components of the particular dressing.  The main ingredient?  Water.  The second ingredient?  Vegetable oil.  The majority of the rest of the ingredients were things that would not dissipate when heated, meaning that the flavors of the dressing would survive.   As it cooked, the water evaporated, the oils were absorbed, and this helped make the sauce thicken.  Gotta love physics.

My goal with this dish is to try to recreate the salad dressing so I don't feel like it's cheating, plus, I have a feeling it will taste even more fantastic if I do it right.  Oh, and find more ingredients.  Carrots were good, but it needs more.  Suggestions?

Beef and Tomatoes (was Pepper Stuffing)

In an attempt to salvage the good parts of my stuffed pepper recipe, I combined the stuffing mixture sans orzo with beef, and cooked them all together. One of my main concern was not overcooking the beef, as it's something I've done almost every time I have worked with it. 

After everything was in the pan over medium heat, I cooked the dish for intervals of 2 minutes at a time in an effort to watch the beef.  After four minutes had passed, the beef had cooked enough to brown on both sides.  The surprising thing was, however, even though I had heated the pan before adding the food, the food itself wasn't all that hot.  After sampling the beef, it was at serving temperature, at best, which was a little odd. 

The beef was too chewy.   But, overall, it was delicious.  I was scraping my plate for every bit.  Once again, some of the flavor of the original mixture had been lost, but not to the severe amount as baking had done. 

I think if I marinated the beef in the mixture for a few hours, that would help to tenderize it some.  

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

I have two heroes at this point in my life.  One is Cesar Millan, and the other is Alton Brown.  I've been binging on both of their shows way more than any reasonable person should; who said I was reasonable?

One of the first episodes I watched of Good Eats involved various was to make mac and cheese.  My personal favorite rendition is done quite nicely with Velveeta's Rotini & Cheese (with broccoli!).  Honestly, it puts Kraft's version that I grew up with to shame. 

I was never a fan of the cassarole form of macaroni and cheese, but I don't recall ever actually trying it.  It just looks bad; stiff clumps of wierd smells, almost gelaton with it's jiggle.  But, I'm open minded.  If Alton says that it can be good eats, well, who am I to deny him a try?

I compiled the ingredients that were not already in my kitchen.

1.  Cheese: The recipe on the show says English cheddar, but the one on says sharp cheddar.  I'm guessing if it's cheddar, it's ok.  That may have been my first mishap, as I couldn't find anything that was english cheddar, so I chose some cheese that was from England.  It didn't quite turn out to be cheddar, rather, a mild cheese with a distinct kick.  Lesson learned.  CHEDDAR!

2.  Elbow pasta:  This is, admittedly, my least favorite pasta shape.  When I was growing up, I always avoided this shape in the Kraft mac & cheese boxes.  It felt slimier in my mouth, and didn't taste as good.  Alton gives the shape a good case for it's use, claiming that the hole through it and the surface area are just the right size for the right amount of cheese to coat.

3.  Kosher salt (new ingredient of the week!):  Before this purchase, I already had sea salt and table salt. The main differences betweek kosher salt and regular table salt are that iodine is often added to table salt, and the grain size (kosher is larger).  Because of the larger size, it's easier to measure by hand.  Kosher salt isn't actually kosher itself, rather, it is used to make meats kosher.  I

4.  Panko (Also new ingredient!):  Panko is a type of breadcrumb that originated in Japan.  In some dishes, regular breadcrumbs can be a substitute for panko.  Panko is normally used in tempura dishes.

The pasta is cooked, then rinsed in cold water.  Alton claimed this was to stop the cooking process, but my main concern was that all the starches were being washed away down the drain.

A rue is made, and dry mustard, paprika, onion, and a bay leaf are added.  After combined, milk is added.  An egg is tempered into the mixture, and the cheese is folded in.  The sauce is poured into a cassarole dish with the noodles mixed in, topped with cheese and panko. 

Looks alright.  Tasted crappy.  However, this is personal taste.  Jeff informed me that it tasted pretty much like any other baked mac & cheese he's had.  It's good to confirm my taste bud's dislikes.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Shells with Sausage, Beans, and Mascarpone, take two

I bought spicy sausage. 

I cooked the spicy sausage.  The color was different from the mild.  The scent was pleasant.  There was a scent in the first place.

I tasted the spicy sausage, awaiting the flavor to come to my mouth.  But alas!  There was no flavor, merely spice.  Damnit.

Ok, so maybe turkey isn't the answer.  Ground beef?  Too easy.  Too much like Hamburger helper.   Pork?  That is what the majority of sausages are made from.  Let's try that next time.

A few other notes:  I used great northern beans instead of cannelini.  Apparently our supermarket has trouble keeping cannelini beans in stock, because this was the second week in a row that they were out.  I also added more oregano in hopes that the dish would be more flavorful; it wasn't.

Orzo Stuffed Peppers

I don't like peppers.  They're bitter.  It's a shame, too, because they're so colorful.

But I always like to transform foods I don't like into a form I find delicious.

Stuffed peppers are a pretty basic concept; peppers in which something is stuffed.  In the recipe I used, the peppers were stuffed with canned whole tomatoes, zucchini, mint, cheese, olive oil, and garlic, along with orzo.  I tasted the mixture before I added the orzo, and it was interesting.  Good interesting.  I was hopeful.

After stuffing the peppers (I used yellow and orange, in hopes that their sweeter nature would work better with my taste buds), they cooked in the oven for an hour. 

They came out attractive enough.  If only that was enough.

Cutting into the pepper, the inner "goodness" spilled out into a lovely mess on my plate.  Jeff tried it a different way, attempting to keep the innards inside the pepper after cutting into it.  Both were relatively successful.  Unfortunately, my first bite proved my fears - everything tasted peppery and bitter.  I have to wonder, why am I surprised at this?

Not only did it taste peppery, a lot of the flavor of the stuffing was lost.  Jeff ate it happily, regardless of peppery taste.  He's a trooper like that.  (Meanwhile, I stopped eating it after about five bites.)

I still think I can use the stuffing mixture, sans pasta, with something else.  Beef, maybe.  Beef would be good.

I created a new folder in my recipe application called "Good Parts, Bad Whole."  Recipes like this one belong there, ones that have parts of good ideas in it that don't work out when completed.  We'll see what happens.