Archive for February 2010

Stir Fry II

February 26th, 2010 — 9:38am

Pork Stir Fry With Noodles

The stir fry earlier in the week turned out so well that I decided to try it again using pork and tweaking the recipe just a bit. I had a grilled pork tenderloin left over from grilling earlier in the week. (Another one of my bargain finds this week.) This made the dish much easier to prepare. If you do not have a grilled pork tenderloin hanging around you can buy the cubed pork at the store and cook it before you stir-fry the vegetables.

I also used chicken stock, instead of white wine, as the primary ingredient for the sauce base. With the pork I think you need something a bit more substantial to stand up to the heartiness of the meat. It turned out to great, although the chicken stock seemed to overwhelm the more subtle elements like the fish sauce and the rice vinegar.

I used kale and snow peas to fill out this last part of the recipe. I wanted to taste the green elements in the stir fry. Both were a great option. If you do not have kale I think spinach would work just as well. When it gets a bit warmer I think I will try this with arugula. I think the bitterness will contrast well with the other ingredients.

Finally, I found some wide udon noodles in the grocery store. They are a buckwheat noodle. They did not taste dramatically different from the egg noodles from earlier in the week. I guess I’ll have to break down and go to the Asian market to get the wide rice noodles. All in all though, it was not a bad week for stir fry. You can find the pork stir fry here.

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Bargain Stir Fry

February 24th, 2010 — 9:58am

Shrimp Stir Fry With Noodles

It’s not often that I will go out of my way for a sale on groceries. It is one thing if you are buying expensive electronics. It is a whole other thing when jumbo gulf shrimp are $5.99 per pound at Kroger. But I went out of my way yesterday, well 5 minutes out of my way, to get the jumbo gulf shrimp.

And once you buy them you have to ask yourself, “Now what do I do with them?” I am a big fan of the “Blazing Noodles” at Pei Wei. It seems like they have just the right amount of heat with the right amount of stir-fried vegetables all tossed together with a nice amount of rice noodles. So I went in search of the rice noodles to go with my shrimp. There were none to be found at Kroger and none to be found at Tom Thumb. And I did not feel like driving all the way to the Asian market; it would have been 5 more minutes out of my way.

So compromise was in the air. And egg noodles became the noodle of choice. I also had to compromise on the baby bok choy. What was in the grocery stores looked a bit dated. Some chopped romaine lettuce filled in nicely. And after a bit of slicing and dicing and a quick fry in the pan I had my own version of blazing noodles. Not quite as good without the rice noodles, but a good version none-the-less. You can find my version here.

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A Hint Of Spring

February 22nd, 2010 — 8:00am

Orzo Pasta Salad

The other day it actually made it to 60 degrees which is the normal high temperature in Dallas this time of year.  It has been so cold that I have not been able to use the gas grill for weeks.  So I thought I would take advantage of the weather and cook a rotisserie chicken. 

Of course I had to have something to go with it that would match the mood for spring.  I always like to have pasta salads in the warm weather.  So I decided to whip up a pasta salad using some orzo and the usual suspects; tomato, cucumber, pepper and onion.  To make it extra special I went all out and added some feta cheese as well.  Why not go all the way?

So when the weather gets a bit warmer in your part of world, you are welcome to use the recipe which you can find here.

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Helping Hands

February 20th, 2010 — 8:00am

Eggplant Napoleon

I usually pick up the largest share of the cooking duties in our house. But between the weather and the delays and cancellations of my flights while traveling, I have been a less than energetic cook over the past month or so. Luckily the Master of Mélange, Will, has stepped into the breach to prepare some nice and sometimes innovative meals.

Last night he turned a couple of eggplants and bit of cheese and some tomato sauce into a nice casserole. I went in search of a name for this on the internet figuring that although this was the first time we had eaten it, there must have been someone else in the world who had also discovered this recipe. It turns out I was right. Will had created what people in the ricotta cheese industry call an Eggplant Napoleon.

This is not to detract from his skills in the kitchen. He made this on his own without the aid of a recipe. And, candidly I was a bit skeptical about the outcome. (I think cold weather makes me that way). It turns out it was very hearty and delicious and deceivingly filling. The normal portion we would serve as an entrée needed to be cut in half.

This is also a much healthier version of the Eggplant Napoleons dishes I saw online. Will chose to grill his eggplant, eliminating the need for gobs of oil in the other recipes which fried the eggplant. The grilling gave it a nice smoky flavor. Even with the grilling the result was very filling. You can find Will’s innovation with eggplant here.

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Endless Winter

February 18th, 2010 — 4:27pm

Winter Evening

It is usually about this time each winter when I remark that we should be planting in the garden pretty soon.  Normally we would be harvesting our own winter greens and using the heartier herbs from the garden.  But this year winter seems like it will never end.  Today is the first time in about 30 days that we will actually reach our normal high temperature of about 58 degrees.  We continue to see frosts just about every night.  And the hopes of having some winter greens in a salad are all but forgotten.

I have had to break down and buy salad greens at the grocery store this year.  This is the first time in a long time; years to be exact. The greens from the grocery are never quite as good as the home grown variety.  But every once in awhile you do crave a salad.  To cheer myself up I have experimenting with some new salad dressings.  One of the ones to keep in the recipe log is a mustard and horeradish salad dressing.
The other thing to do is of course just give into the will of the winter gods and buy some things that usually taste best in the winter.  We have been having some beautiful fennel this year, mostly from Mexico.  I decided to forgo the usual salad route and bake some in the oven.  The fennel gratin was quite tasty and an interesting way of presenting them as a side dish.

Unfortunately our warmish weather is not supposed to last.  We’ll be back to the 30’s early next week.  Maybe the heat from the horseradish or the licorice flavor in the fennel will keep me warm.

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Genoa On My Mind

February 17th, 2010 — 10:07am

Lasagna al Pesto

I decided it was time to do something with the frozen pesto from last Fall’s harvest.  I am always afraid to start eating it too early. You run the risk of running out.  Or if you start eating it too late you have new basil growing.  Then you have to decide to toss out the frozen stuff or just make it from the new basil.

Ever since we have returned from Italy I have been waiting to make a version of the Lasagna al Pesto we had in Genoa.  It seemed that every little café, bar, and restaurant had this type of lasagna on the lunch menu.  The Genovese version is a very unassuming dense lasagna with many layers of pasta separated by thin layers comprised of béchamel sauce, cheese, and pesto sauce.  And every bite has a hint of nutmeg.

I am not sure why I keep doing this, but I went to do my research on the internet, and I found such an array of recipes called “Lasagna al Pesto” that have no resemblance to the real thing, I just wanted to throw up my hands in despair.  In fact one of the so-called “chefs” from the Food Network actually used layers of green beans with pesto in between the layers of pasta.  I think you would call this a green bean lasagna, but then again I do not have my own cooking show.  What do I know?

I finally narrowed down the core ingredients and went to work.  It actually is assembled very quickly.  My pesto, without the cheese, had already been made.  The rest of the ingredients just fold together in layers.  I have to say that my version screamed pesto, when the Genovese version is a bit more subtle.  I liked my version.  But if you want the more authentic version just cut down on the amount of pesto.  You can find my version and my suggestions on making the Genovese version here.

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Bread, Wine, and More Bread

February 14th, 2010 — 8:00am

Catalan Bread

As someone who likes to cook I do have the annoying habit of trying to figure out what is in a recipe when I taste a new food or dish.  I am that person in the restaurant who puts a full fork-load of food in their mouth and then slowly masticates, taking in all the flavors and textures.  And if I am confused about what is in the recipe, another fork load goes in, only this time I chew it more slowly.  Annoying? Yes.  Embarassing? Not for me but usually for the people who are dining with me.

When we were in Barcelona last November we decided to have an evening of wine and tapas.  I relied on the waiter to help us out with our order.  I wanted to try what the local people ate.  Along with our plates of tapas came a large plate of bread that looked like it had been brushed with some red substance.  I ignored the bread and began actively evaluating all the tapas, one agonizingly slow bite at a time.

In between the whirlwind of tapas deliveries I decided to try the bread.  Not thinking it would be terribly interesting I began to chew it with gusto when my mouth filled with the most delicious sensation of what I thought was a garlicky, tomato sauce.  The bread had been grilled to hold up to the moisture of the sauce.  The little bit of char added to the delight in my mouth.

Of course not really knowing how it was made I had to order more.  I could have just asked the waiter how it was made, but then it would have ruined my evening out.  So we ordered plate after plate of this bread until the Maitre d’ came over and asked us if we hated his tapas.  “No, Seňor. But how do you make the bread?” I asked.  Incredulous he said that it was grilled, then rubbed with garlic, and then rubbed with fresh tomatoes.  “That’s it?” I replied.  “Si, Seňor, that’s it.”

It turns out that we ate so much of the “free” bread he had to charge us for it.  I was not irate.  Candidly it was better than most of his tapas.  So I thought I should go ahead and share this with you in case you go to Barcelona and make a total fool of yourself by consuming whole loaves of the grilled Catalan bread.  Just in case you are going to Barcelona I have updated the Travel Section to include my take on what to do there.  And if you just want to feel like you are in Barcelona, I include the recipe for the bread here.

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On The Lighter Side

February 12th, 2010 — 8:00am

Shrimp, Spinach and Pasta in Lemon Garlic Sauce

I think we do a pretty good job of watching what we eat. But Will came back from the doctor’s office with a diagnosis of high cholesterol this week. So he is in panic mode about everything he

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puts in his mouth. “No more butter,” is the new battle cry. In reality I rarely use butter so the cholesterol issue must be being triggered by something else.

I do enjoy cheese. I eat a lot of it. So we can cut out the cheese on his stuff and I’ll just keep being cheesy. Will likes dessert, which tends to have fats of all kinds in it. He can skip dessert. I will not miss it. As for the red meat once a week; no crying here, get rid of it.

This leaves us with a few options; more fish loaded with omega three fatty acids, restricting sauces to an olive oil base, and adding flax seed whole or in meal form to just about anything. This works with the usual consumption of green leafy vegetables and fruits. I found an interesting web site sponsored by the American Heart Association which tells you which fish are best for omega three and the risks involved in increasing consumption. Salmon is by far the best fish for your heart health. I guess I will have to get used to cooking it more.

So I got to it last night, and got a bit creative with some ingredients. With the exception of the flaxseed I was able to prepare a dish incorporating most of the changes. It consists of shrimp, spinach and pasta in a sauce of lemon and olive oil. It turned out to be pretty tasty and it was also pretty in the bowl. You are welcome to try out the recipe here.

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I Am Not A Cat

February 10th, 2010 — 8:00am

Marinated and Broiled Salmon

Yesterday I wrote about how my cats only like foods containing tuna or salmon.  While I do not have an aversion to these fishes they are not something I cook on a regular basis.  I definitely like a nice tuna steak now and then.  But salmon is almost never on the menu at our house when I am cooking. 

I think I have a couple of aversions to salmon.  The first are all the little bones you have to be careful about pulling out.  The second, I always seem to have a hard time keeping the salmon together when I cook it.  Inevitably when I put it on the plate it turns into a crumbly mass.

I thought I would give it a try again.  We had some salmon in the freezer.  And my sister Jeanne had sent me her recipe for broiling salmon.  When she prepares it she uses one large filet, which is really one half of the salmon.  It makes a nice presentation.  And it looks like you spent the whole day making it when in fact it takes about 10 minutes under the broiler.  It is also a bit tricky to get onto the serving platter.

My version was for a very small filet of salmon.  This takes even less effort and with a large spatula you can easily get it on the plate.  My presentation was not so elegant.  But in the end it tasted pretty good.

You can find the elegant version and the not so elegant version of the salmon here.  Either way it is a very quick fix when you get home from work.

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Mélange Of The Week

February 9th, 2010 — 9:53am

Tuna and Pasta Salad

In addition to accommodating the dietary needs of family and friends we have had to begin accommodating the diets of two aging cats. As cats age they begin to loose kidney function. They then have to go on a special food to help slow the process. Unfortunately our cats are two of the pickiest eaters in the world. They will only eat foods containing tuna or salmon. And the special kidney diet contains neither. So as a compromise we add a little bit of the liquid from the tuna can to their food to fool them into thinking they are actually eating something they would enjoy.

This of course leads to the problem of what you do with all the tuna left over when all the liquid is drained from the can. Well of course you add it to the pasta and broccoli left over in the refrigerator and you get your mélange of the week; tuna and pasta salad. This is our first mélange recipe which is not a casserole. So, you see, they do exist.

You can find the version that Will prepared here. As always use your imagination with these things. You can substitute just about anything in a mélange recipe. Which is after all the whole point.

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