Post #687 Cooking the Easy Peasy Way

January 12, 2020 at 1:15 PM | Posted in Basics, Easy, Main, My Recipe List, Standard | 3 Comments

**** NOTE ****  Sorry, I started this post five days ago, but my gut system acted up on me (probably rushed the whole fatty element part of the plan) and I spent a couple of days feeling like a slug.  I’m much better now, so here’s the finished post!

 

Unfortunately, for this post, there are no pictures for the meals we cooked.  But each one was so good and in such different ways, I wanted to share what’s been going on here.  But first, health update.  Things have been going exactly the way they were expected to.  I’ve been introducing more of the fatty elements into my diet and have suffered no ill effects.  So, yay me!  There’s still one more thing, ice cream, but since I’m not a big fan of the stuff, it shouldn’t pose any kind of a hurdle.  Had bacon one day over the weekend, and sausage the next.  Both times I had bread of some type with butter and not even a twinge.  I’m not overdoing it, and I’m always trying to eat healthy, but for the moment, it looks like normal eating habits are around the corner.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog regularly that Partner/Spouse and I are big fans of Mexican cooking.  We both grew up with it, and have missed it tremendously since moving away from the southwest.  So we try to keep the flavors going as best we can wherever we are.  Sometimes it means growing the ingredients ourselves, and other times it’s just finding good local sources.  Here, we have good local sources, but since the growing season is so short, winter time can be rather a dry time.  Don’t get wrong.  We do tacos any time because we love them so much.  As long as we can get corn tortillas, or make them ourselves, we can do tacos.  But there’s so many other things.  So I was casting about for something to fix for dinner that was going to be easy, and quick, and tasty.  I took out some chicken thighs cuz they’re just so darn good.  I wanted to make some kind of braise, or stew, but not a soup cuz we’ve been eating a lot of soup recently due to cold weather.  I noticed some pico de gallo (think a very very chunky salsa) and some hot salsa, although around here, nothing is really very hot to our taste.  I also found a tube of cilantro paste that we’ve been using that has actual chunks of cilantro in it.  I browned the chicken, added the two salsas, some “Better Than Bouillon” roasted chicken flavor, and some fresh garlic.  I let that all simmer for a couple of hours, adding water when it was in danger of burning.  When it was close to being done, I put on some white rice and added a good helping of cilantro and some lime to the rice to flavor it.  Since there was still a good healthy squeeze or two of cilantro paste in the tube, I put the last of it into the chicken.  When the rice was done, I set it aside to stay warm, and finished up the chicken by adjusting the balance of salt and water for thickness.  The chicken was served over the rice and was spicy and tangy and warm and chickeny (is that a word?) and so good we both said it would have to become one of our staple recipes.  There was enough leftover for lunch which I enjoyed a couple of days later and it was still so good.  It helped that the salsas were so good.  Oddly enough, they were both store brand salsas that we got right here in Vermont.  As I’ve always said, anyone who can read can cook.  They must have been following the right recipe.  We just like a little more heat.

On Saturday, to test out my new digestive system sans gall bladder, we wanted to make steak and salad.  You’re probably saying to yourself “They’ve had that since his operation.” and you’d be right, except for one thing.  I’ve had the leanest cut of steak known to mankind, the sirloin.  Apart from a strip of fat on the outside, there is no internal fat to a sirloin.  Some people call it flavorless and coat the thing with all kinds of spice rubs.  I like the flavor of beef, so I cook it rare, sprinkle it with a light coating of salt, and eat it hot or cold.  But this time, I got a rib eye!  Bone in for flavor, and well marbled throughout.  It’s the tenderest cut of beef, and the marbling adds so much flavor it’s like the meat is basted from the inside.  I used our cast iron griddle pan for both steaks, and did the Bobby Flay method of getting the cast iron blazing hot, and searing the steak for two minutes a side, flipping the meat until it’s done to your liking.  The salad was a standard garden salad, but that steak was so good!  I made fresh bread to go with the meal, and had cold steak and fresh bread the next day for lunch.  So Yum!!

On Sunday, Partner/Spouse decided he wanted tacos.  It was fairly late in morning when he decided that, so there wasn’t really time to thaw out a piece of roast beef to cook until tender, then add seasonings, etc. to get the full flavor of Mexican.  But, we could thaw out some chicken pieces pretty quickly and get them cooked well for tacos.  However, while the chicken was thawing (and I was working on loom knitting a scarf that was his last Christmas present, and I’m very nearly done), he changed his mind and decided to make a crockpot full of chicken chili.  I will say that although I offered suggestions, he made this on his own, following his own designs, and I didn’t watch or participate since I was sitting in the living room with balls of yarn around me.  But the aroma as it cooked slowly filled the house and was so tantalizing.  By the time it was done, it smelled perfect.  Then, he made home made corn tortilla chips that were excellent!  Scooped into a bowl with a small sprinkle of local cheese and tortilla chips sitting on top, it had just the right amount of spicy heat without being killer.  Against the backdrop of snow falling lightly for three days, it was a cozy homey meal.

During all this, we were trying to schedule with our local auto glass shop to get our windshield replaced.  We got a small chip which the cold temperatures turned into a large crack running from one side of the thing to the other.  Not at eye level which is typical, but at the bottom where it could easily be ignored, but we didn’t want to.  They were originally supposed to come by on Friday morning, but the tech split his hand open on the previous job and the poor guy called from the ER to explain he was going to be late.  I called and rescheduled for Monday morning, but because of the incessant snowfall, I ended up going into the shop.  From there, I drove to Partner/Spouse’s office and waited about a half hour for him to get off work.  We got home later than usual, and I wanted something hot and satisfying.  I made Beef Mushroom Risotto.  What I did was cut up some chuck roast and onions.  I fried them up in a tablespoon of olive oil for the onion to soften and the beef to brown, then added a cup of Arborio rice.  I’ve written about the different types of rice before; Arborio rice is short and plump and very starchy.  It absorbs three to four times its weight in liquids and takes on the flavors of whatever liquid is being used.  Once the rice had cooked for a couple of minutes, I started adding mushroom stock that was heat to simmering.  I’d added minced garlic to the stock while it was heating so it would pick up that flavor.  I added the stock to the rice and beef by the cupful and stirred the rice constantly.  There are two reasons to stir the rice.  First, so the liquid is all evenly absorbed and the rice doesn’t scorch; and second, so it creates a sauce with the starch from the rice.  For one cup of rice, I had five cups of stock simmering.  Cooking risotto isn’t an exact science, so it’s best to have too much liquid than you think you’ll need, just in case.  I ended up using all of it to make the rice more fluid at the end.  Normally, when the rice is done, you finish it off by added about a half cup of finely grated parmesan cheese.  Instead, I added a quarter cup chilled butter in small chunks to give the sauce a silky finish.  It can take up to an hour to cook properly, but the best way to figure out when it’s done is to cook for about 30-40 minutes, then keep sampling small bites till the rice is al dente.  It was so good!

Then, the next day, which would have been “yesterday” from the original timing of the post, with the snow still falling lightly, I made lemon chicken and pasta.  This is one of those dishes that is so quick and easy that the longest part of the process is getting the water to come to a boil.  While I was waiting for the water to boil, I cut up onions and chicken thighs to bite sized pieces.  I was heating a large skillet while doing this, so when I added a touch of oil it shimmered immediately.  I used a Myers Lemon infused olive oil for the flavor.  I started the chicken and onion cooking then put the pasta in to boil.  I used a shaped pasta rather than a long pasta because we like them better.  Then it was just a matter of letting everything cook.  Once the pasta was done, it went into a colander.  By this time, the chicken was done.  I added more of the Myer’s Lemon oil, and then some lemon juice.  I added a handful of pine nuts, too.  Oddly, while the lemon flavor was there, it seemed bland to both of us.  So I added some lime juice and that made it turn the corner.  The oil became saucy, and the flavor when Boom!  I added the drained pasta and flipped it all around.  From beginning to end, thirty minutes, give or take a minute or two.

So, that’s been the menus for the week.  Nothing took long, except the slow cooked chili, and nothing was to hard or too intricate.  I love cooking!

So how is everyone else bearing up to the winter?  Are there any recipes that make you feel warm?  Or do you prefer to embrace the cold and reflect that in your meals?

Feel free to share the post far and wide.

As always,

Post #683 Top Five Favorite Salads

December 15, 2019 at 1:02 PM | Posted in Basics, Main, Vegetable | 6 Comments

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything about a salad.  It’s one of my favorite things to eat and I’ll get into that in a minute, but I thought I’d let you know how I’m feeling after the operation.  In a word, weird.  I’ve got four “hole” in my abdomen that are healing up.  These holes are where the instruments went in and the diseased gall bladder came out.  Should have only been three but years ago I had an umbilical hernia repaired so the fourth hole was to make sure that nothing happened to that.  Since the gall bladder is gone, I’m having to rediscover the things I can eat and tolerate versus those I should avoid.  So far, it’s all been good, no real troubles.  I haven’t had any cheese yet.  I’ve had real butter once and did okay.  I had some pre-processed foods and didn’t act up, but I was still pretty doped up too.  I’ve also had a glass of wine that was so much fun!  But it’s time to get serious about this and figure it out.  Partner/Spouse has been Tony the Tiger Grrreat! throughout all this.  So, once the full recuperation is completed we’ll both be paying close attention to what goes in and what goes out.

Luckily, salads can be as no-fats as you need the to be.

Whenever I say “salad” there are a few memories that come rushing to the front of my brain.  As a kid, salad was always eaten with anything that was cooked on the outdoor grill.  Didn’t matter if it was burgers, hotdogs, steak, chicken, or anything else.  If it was cooked outdoors, there was a salad.  And it was always the same salad.  Iceberg lettuce torn to shreds, chopped tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and onion of some kind.  There might be other things in there, but those four were the basic.  If they weren’t there, it wasn’t salad and wasn’t put on the table.  The dressing was typically Italian, French, and/or Thousand Island.  We weren’t too adventurous or inquisitive in those days.  In my teen years, we branched out more.

When I moved to go to college, I was living with my sister and her husband and one of the weekend go-to dinners was what she called The Big Salad.  They’ve always eaten fairly healthy, but in those days it was a religion for them.  I dubbed it the Garbage Salad because they put things in it that I would have tossed, but I quickly grew to enjoy the salad.  The base was a whole red cabbage sliced thinly.  They did that so it would last a couple of days without wilting.  They also put grated cheese in it, something I’d never done before but made absolute sense when I thought about it.  They put in every fresh vegetable they could find in their garden and from the produce section of the store.  Tomatoes were always in there, the fresher the better.  And they put bacon-flavored soy bits in it.  I hated those things.  And they put firm tofu chunks in it.  And something called vegetable protein bits.  And if we’d planned it right, seed sprouts, which were actually kind of good.  The only dressing was lemon juice from fresh squeezed lemons.  I became addicted to these salads.  For years, the only dressing I’d have on salad was fresh lemon or lime.  I’d never had a salad as a meal before this and it’s still a staple for me now.

When I moved to DC, the two guys I shared the apartment with nominated me to be the cook, which was fine.  They said they liked salad with their meals, so I kept putting salad on the table, which they ignored.  After a couple of weeks, I stopped.  There was no comments made either way, until after several months they started complaining about the meals.  I asked them again what they’d like, and they again asked for salads.  I explained they hadn’t eaten a single mouthful of salad I’d made and they said, “You put stuff in it I don’t like.”  When we finally pared it down to the what would be eaten, it was shredded lettuce.  When I put out a bowl of shredded lettuce, it disappeared.  Go figure.  But that’s what they’d eat, so it made an appearance a couple of times a week.

When I was traveling for the State Dept, I was in Northern Ireland for a couple of weeks by myself.  When I was with a team, we usually would find a restaurant for meals, but when I was alone, I’d find something cheap, easy, and cheerful.  There was a convenience store on the walk back to the hotel that had a nice sandwich counter at the back.  I ordered a sandwich and they asked if I wanted salad?  I said, yes, absolutely, whereupon they put a pile of veggies on top of my sandwich.  I mentally shrugged and accepted it, went back to the hotel, scraped my salad into a bowl and ate it separately alongside my sandwich, which had just enough veggies on it to be interesting.  I did that every night I was there, partly because the shop owner kept me a copy of the USA Today paper every day.  She was sweet.

So, now, when I eat salad, it’s either as a side, or as a meal.  We usually have it with the grilled flesh of some animal on top of it.  We’ve become quite attached to the salad kits because they’re the perfect size for the two of us with no leftovers.  They’re also pretty versatile.  In recent years, we’ve steered clear of any kit that has Romaine lettuce, indeed, Romaine lettuce of any kind, but that’s only re-opened our eyes to all the other fun salad greens out there.

If you like a nice wilted spinach salad, instead of making a hot bacon vinaigrette, try heating a half cup of your favorite dressing, whatever it is.  Use that to wilt the spinach, then top with whatever will complement the dressing.  We’ve used Catalina, blueberries, walnuts, and gouda to create a different salad with spinach that tasted great.

We’ve also started making our own croutons.  My younger brother, when we were in our early twenties, went with his welding crew to our state capitol to work on a job.  He was gone a week and was telling us about his adventure.  They ate at McDs for the most part to save money, but on their last night decided to treat themselves to a nice dinner at Denny’s.  Yeah, I know.  He said, “They put dried up stale bread crumbs all over my salad.”  I laughed and explained what they were, and that they were supposed to be there.  “I don’t care what you call ’em,” he said. “I made them take it back and take them off.”  He eats croutons these days because I showed him how to make them properly.  So easy.  Heat a couple of crushed cloves of garlic in oil until they start to sizzle and remove them.  Cut some bread into half inch squares.  When the oil is shimmering and just starting to smoke, add the bread and stir them around till they brown.  Take them out of the oil and drain them, then add to the salad.  He eats them now like popcorn.

We also make taco salad with the leftovers when we make tacos for dinner.  When you look at it, tacos are designed for leftover taco salad.  I used to think that when I was a kid, but wasn’t allowed to try it out.

So, what are your favorite salads?  Do you prefer fruit salads or vegetable?  Combination?  Let us all know.

as always,

 

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