28 April 2010

Fun with Fish

I recently added yet another food blog to my daily read list - My Kitchen Moovement.   I originally stumbled upon his blog by following a link for Garlic Dill Pickles I found either on foodgawker or TasteSpotting. Unlike most of the other food blogs I follow, this one is authored by a guy.  And a really interesting, well-traveled guy.  I encourage everyone to check it out and be sure to read the 'About' section.

He used to keep a list of his Favorite Foods and their recipes (he has since removed it) posted on the right side of his page.  The Baja-Style Fish Tacos were on that list.  After talking with a coworker, and fellow Dinner Diva, about her own homemade Fish Taco experience the week before, I couldn't wait to attempt my own.

Prior to this experience I had never deep fried anything in my life and had always been a little intimidated by the process.  Thankfully I received a fabulous dutch oven and candy thermometer this past Christmas.  Both proved to be invaluable.

The hubby joined in on the kitchen fun! We had a blast and he was a fabulous sous chef - chopped the cilantro like a pro, measured ingredients with precision and manned the batter station.  And took all of the pictures. 

While R prepared the garnishes for our tacos (sliced the cabbage and made the sauce) I cut a pound and a half of Tilapia filets in to 2" pieces.

Once the oil reached 375 we started frying. 

R was in charge of dredging and battering and I was in charge of the frying part.  It was a little messy, but overall a great system.

The finished product was amazing!  We both loved the tacos and decided the only thing we would do differently next time would be to make the batter a little spicier. 

We both ate leftovers the next day and they were just as good Day 2.  If anything, the sauce was even better.

Although it was a delicious meal, my favorite part was spending time with my love. I can't wait to cook another meal together. 

27 April 2010

It's "Brinner" Time

We have a great butcher shop here in town called Midway Food Market.
I love the place. 
I stopped by after work Thursday afternoon and picked up a few links of their venison sausage and a package of beef jerky.  Their sausage is out of this world... it's one of only a handful of sausages I will eat. 

(We ate all of the jerky before I could take a picture...it's that good.)
I don't care if it's breakfast, lunch or dinner time, it's always a good time for Midway.

Last week on Facebook I was taught a new term: 'Brinner'.  Isn't that a great word?!?!  So much more efficient than saying 'breakfast for dinner'. 

I love 'brinner' because it's
  1. easy
  2. cheap
  3. and a great way to clean out the fridge

Even uncooked the stuff smells great!
(sorry it looks so phallic)

My trash pile. 
The garbage can is nowhere near my workspace of choice.

'Brinner' is served

19 April 2010

Easy Weeknight Dinner

Every Wednesday after work I follow the same routine  - get a snack, fix myself something to drink and check out the weekly food ads.  I am a frugal shopper, but refuse to sacrifice quality or deprive myself of good food, so the food ads are very important to me. 

I stock up on pork tenderloins whenever the price goes below $3/lb.  I love pork tenderloins because they are so versatile and so dang easy to prepare.  All it takes is a good meat thermometer and you're golden. 

My sister got me this one for Christmas 2 years ago and it changed my world. 

One of my favorite weeknight "Go-To Meals" is Raspberry Chipotle Pork Tenderloin.

It's super easy and utilizes several already prepared ingredients. 

Preheat oven to 375 F

After trimming the excess fat and silver skin off of the tenderloins,  season them with whatever spice rub you have on hand.  (Tonight I used Adams Reserve Peppercorn & Garlic Sean-n-Crust, but good old salt and pepper works beautifully too.) 

 I keep several of these in my cabinet at all times and use them on almost everything. 

Heat 1 T of olive oil and 1 T of butter in a skillet or fry pan.  Sear the tenderloins on each side for several minutes, forming a nice 'crust'.  Put them in a roasting pan, pop them in the oven for about 22 - 25 minutes (internal temp should register 140 when you remove them from the oven). 

As soon as you remove them from the oven you'll want to pour a little bit of Raspberry Chipotle Sauce over the tenderloins and tent them with foil.  They need to rest about 10 minutes before carving.

I think everyone and their brother makes a version of this sauce now. 
This just happens to be the one I had in the fridge. 

While the pork is resting, you have plenty of time to do side dishes.  I usually do some sort of whole wheat couscous and a green veggie. 

I love couscous for two reasons:
  1. the liquid to couscous ratio is 1:1 *I can never remember what the ratio is for rice*
  2. it cooks in 5 minutes 
Tonight's side dishes were Walnut Parmesan Couscous and Walnut Garlic Green Beans

For both dishes I toasted the walnuts lightly ahead of time and then later cooked them a little more in some butter and garlic... mmmmm.

From start to finish this dinner takes no more than 35 minutes and most of that is "hands-off" time.  Fresh, tasty food with minimal effort - now that's what I'm talking about.

17 April 2010

A Cheesey Post

I'm a cheese lover and rarely pass up the opportunity to add that dairy-based goodness to any meal.  However, I'm not a big fan of the processed stuff that is so rampant at local supermarkets. 

My favorite memories from trips (domestic and abroad) almost always involve food.  And not fancy-schmancy restaurant dishes, but food from street vendors or tiny markets.  I love hitting the local stores each morning and buying just enough bread, cheese and meat to make sandwiches for lunch that day.  And whatever the local cheese is, that's the one I'm buying.  I have had picnics in some of the most interesting and memorable places.

Fine dining on the steps of the Pantheon, drinking my favorite Italian birra

Last week while looking up information on homemade creme fraiche, I also came across several recipes for homemade ricotta.  They sounded simple, tasty and like something I just had to try myself. 

The recipe I chose was from a guest post by Dave Lebovitz on Simply Recipes.  It's very straightforward with only a few ingredients: 1/2 gallon of whole milk, 1 cup of yogurt, 1/2 cup of cream, 2 teaspoons of white vinegar and 1 teaspoon of salt.

After reading the comments about the recipe I decided to swap a 1/2 cup of my homemade creme fraiche for the cream. 

(I realize I neglected to mention this at the beginning of the post, but I'm sure by now everyone realizes that this was not going to be that Part-Skim Ricotta crap.  When given a choice, I almost always choose the full-fat dairy products.  They just taste so much better.  And when the flavor is better and the food is richer, you tend to eat less anyways.  It all balances out in the end.)

Back to the recipe...

Basically you dump everything in to a big pot and bring it to a boil for a minute or two, until the milk curdles.
 Then you pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined strainer and let it hang out over a large bowl for 15 or 20 minutes.  You can use it right away or store it in the fridge for up to 3 days.

The hardest part of this recipe was watching the milk curdle because normally that is what I try desperately to avoid.  It was strange and looked like lumpy ooze from another planet.  However, it smelled great!

I didn't even let it finish the full 15 minutes of draining before I snuck my first taste... I just couldn't resist.

WOW.  It was unbelievable.  So fresh and squeaky/chewy - you know, the way good ricotta cheese should be.  Reminded me a little bit of those yummy cheese curds.

Never again will I buy the stuff in the tubs at the big supermarkets.  It costs the same (or even less) to make it myself and there is absolutely no comparison when it comes to taste.

For dinner I ended up using the ricotta in a shrimp and pasta dish.  My mom The Easter Bunny brought me 4 packages of specialty pastas from Austin Gourmet Foods and I have been dying to try them out. 

I found a recipe to use as a starting point but ended up changing it around a little bit. 

I sauteed some garlic and crushed red pepper in a little butter, then stirred in 1/2 cup of milk and 3/4 cup of ricotta until it all combined.  I tossed in a little salt, some nutmeg and a couple of dashes of Texas Pete's Hot Sauce.  I wasn't totally pleased with the way things were headed, so I tossed in a 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes.  Good decision.  Next I stirred in 1/4 cup of cheese (I used a mix of gruyere and parmesan) then tossed in about a pound of raw, peeled shrimp and covered the skillet.

While the shrimp were cooking away I boiled the pasta... and dropped the almost full bottle of Texas Pete's.

12 oz on the floor looks like a lot more liquid than 12 oz in the bottle.

No, I'm not giving you the bird, I'm showing you my boo-boo.

Despite the huge mess, the cut finger and the fact that my kitchen smelled like a Wild Wings restaurant, we both thoroughly enjoyed the meal! 

(I realize it looks a little lumpy, but once it hits your mouth it completely melts.)

From start to finish the dish took less than 15 minutes to make.  Definitely a keeper.

15 April 2010

Cheese and Pasta

In honor of our upcoming trip to Italy this summer (and the fact that I have the day off of work), I am going to attempt to make homemade ricotta cheese tomorrow and then use it as stuffing in homemade ravioli.  I'm a little nervous, but so excited!

The ricotta cheese recipe I'll be using is one from David Lebovitz.  Pretty simple and seems fail-proof, I just need to run out and buy some cheesecloth in the morning. 

The jury is still out on which pasta recipe to follow - most seem pretty similar.  The only thing is that I don't have a pasta roller, so I'll be rolling all of it out myself.

Pictures and updates to follow soon...

12 April 2010

It's Official!!!

It's finally official - I get to go on R's trip to Italy and Spain this summer! 

I'm a little apprehensive since we'll be traveling with high schoolers and in a tour group (two things I have never done), but so excited to be tagging along after not traveling anywhere last summer.

I'm already drooling just thinking about the delicious food (and wine) we'll be consuming. 

11 April 2010

Weekend Fun and Food

I had a great weekend!  It was full of fun times, good food and great friends.

We kicked off the weekend with "patio time" at a neighbor's house on Friday afternoon.  I had a pitcher of Sangria left over from Dinner Divas so I brought it along.  Now this wasn't just any Sangria, this was The Pioneer Woman's recipe ... with a twist.  

Instead of using brandy like the recipe calls for, I substituted Tuaca.  Tuaca is an Italian liqueur from Livorno, in Northern Italy and is to die for.  I was only recently introduced to it and am hooked! 

The food we had out on the patio was delicious.  Kerry is such a great cook and made some absolutely phenomenal quesadillas - sweet and spicy.  

The theme of the evening was sweet and spicy, in fact.  Raspberry Chipotle sauce on cream cheese as well as a Pineapple Habanero Chutney on some cream cheese.  I also brought a jar of Pineapple Sweet Fire from Berrytown Produce (in Hammond, Lousiana).  It's a combo of pineapple chunks, bread & butter pickles and jalapenos.  Yum. 

Later on in the evening they fired up the chiminea and we roasted Peeps

Quote of the night, "It's like creme brulee on a stick"

Now, I normally hate Peeps and it took quite a bit of convincing on the part of others to get me to it, but holy-moly they are delicious!!!  They get this carmelized crust and are so ooey-gooey inside.  Next time I find Peeps at the store, I'm stocking up.

Last week on Facebook I got a recipe for homemade creme fraiche from one of the best cooks I know.  This woman is amazing in her kitchen... and in her art studio.  She is one incredibly talented woman who I admire very much.  The recipe is so simple, but so delicious. 

I put the ingredients together before we proctored the ACT on Saturday morning and by the time I woke up on Sunday morning it was completely ready. 

Only two ingredients.  Obviously not low fat.

Mix them up and let them hang out.  Couldn't be easier.

We had the creme fraiche for dessert this evening.  It was all I hoped it would be and more.  I served it atop fresh strawberries in a Balsamic & Red Wine reduction. 


08 April 2010

Matilda and Me

 I began this post two weeks ago and ... well, life got in the way.  So here it is.  Finally. 

This post is not for the faint of heart. I know my sister will tell me I'm morbid for writing this. 

Oh well, it is what it is.  I'm a morbid person - I know this about myself and am okay with it. 

Meet Matilda...

Matilda, otherwise known as bird #12994, and I became fast friends today.  She taught me a lot about the processing and butchering of poultry. 

A little backstory... FFA is a big deal at the school at which I work.  Each year I have more than a handful of students who raise rabbits, chickens, lambs, goats and even an occasional steer to show in the area's Livestock Show and Rodeo. 

One of my students raised chickens this year and I was offered the opportunity to purchase one of these well cared for chickens after it had been "processed".  I jumped at the chance to support a student and to get a high quality bird for a great price - I ended up ordering two.  They arrived late last week and have been chillin' in my freezer ever since.

I let my bird thaw overnight and was so excited to get to work on her this afternoon.  I haven't done much butchering of poultry before and typically the whole chickens I do work with are pretty processed already. 
Not so with this girl.  I mean, her head had been snapped off, and she was plucked (for the most part), but she still had many of her internal organs.  And not just the regular things like the gizzard or the heart, I'm talking about other stuff. 

Do you see the artery on the left side and the kidneys on the right?
(they kind of got pushed out of the way there, but still the tale-tell bean shape)

Just a few of the many feathers I had to pluck

I quickly realized that we were going to become intimately acquainted as I finished cleaning her out and butchering her. If this was going to be the case then she was going to need a name.  She was so large and heavy that the name Matilda just seemed to fit. 

Job #1 was to get the backbone out.  I do not have good kitchen shears so this was more than a little difficult.  In fact, I ended up hacking a little too much off her right side and somehow dislocated her hip... yeah, don't ask.

Job #2 was to remove the keel (breast) bone.  This was a little more difficult for me.  Alton Brown makes it look so dadgum easy on TV.  Let's just say I got a little frustrated and raised my voice a little... poor Matilda, it's not her fault I'm inept.  I felt bad about it afterwards.

Success!!!  Keel Bone removed.

Job #3 was to flatten her out, rub her with the Jerk Spice Rub and then skewer her. 

My Girl, ready for the grill!

So far so good.  Or at least, so far, so adequate.  But this is where things go south... quickly. 

The idea was to grill her skin side down for 12 minutes with a weighted tray on top.  Then flip her and grill for 15 more minutes. 

It was beautiful weather, so I brought a drink and my laptop outside with me to patiently wait for Matilda to cook. 

My 'setup'

I made one fatal mistake - making the grill too hot.

OOPS!!! Someone call the Fire Department...

All that work and nothing edible to show for it!!!! I was a little disappointed. Well, I guess I must have been more than a little disappointed because R kept calling me "Grumpy Gus" the rest of the evening... even while we were eating our Chinese Food.

Change of Plans

I'm down, but not out.  I learned many valuable lessons and added several really important skills to my cooking repertoire. 

As Scarlett O'Hara said, "After all, tomorrow is another day."
... and I still have Matilda's sister, Helga, waiting for me in the freezer.