Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What's In Your Cauldren?

What are you handing out to the Trick-or-Treaters this Halloween? Johnnycakes and I must get a million trick-or-treaters since we live in the city, so we have to be conscious of what kind of candy we buy. Otherwise, we would end up spending a small fortune and we would run out of candy early, leaving many little witches, fairy princesses and warrior ninjas without candy.
I bought the candy last minute this year so I was subject to highway robbery-type prices downtown. I set my budget at $20 since all I had in my wallet was a $20 bill. I basically bought whatever I thought gave me the biggest bang for my buck. This meant that all the goodies, such as Kit Kat, Snickers, Twix and Baby Ruths ,were out of the equation.
We did, however, end up with Swedish Fish, Sour Patch Kids, giant Tootsie Rolls, Dum Dum lollipops, Whoppers, fun size Hershey bars and Almond Joys and Starburst. I felt that these selections were the most economical compared to the other candy available at the store.
I think it's a pretty well-rounded offering. Johnnycakes said I should be embarrassed of the cheap candy I am giving away. What do you think? Are we the boring or cheap house on the block?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Plenty of Pumpkin, Part 1...

I think I have carved a jack-o-lantern just about every year of my life. Somewhere in my teenage years, I started to save the pumpkin seeds and flesh for cooking. After all, it's a lot of work so you might as well reap some benefits.

Most people will agree that roasting the pumpkin seeds is one of the best parts and best rewards about carving a pumpkin. After rinsing some of the stringy pumpkin that invariably comes out with the seeds, I toss the seeds in a bit of olive oil before spreading them out evenly on a baking sheet. We coated the seeds in salt and pepper and Old Bay, this being Baltimore and all. We baked the seeds for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees but we made sure to check them frequently and toss them so they wouldn't burn.
After all the seeds were out of the pumpkin, the scraping commenced. It's a lot of work to scrape the inside of a pumpkin. We had a rather large pumpkin and it only yielded about 2 1/2 cups of pumpkin puree when it was all said and done. I use a handy dandy pumpkin scraper that I got in a carving kit a few years back but I've also used a regular old tablespoon a few times. Both will work. I think I could have scraped a little longer and gotten some more meat from the giant gourd but Johnnycakes was rushing me.

After scraping the meat from inside the pumpkin, I boiled the meat for about 15 minutes and then strained it in a colander. Believe it or not, but in the old days I don't think I knew you were supposed to boil the pumpkin and I would prepare pies and other goodies with raw pumpkin! It must not have been too bad because I always ate it.

Once the pumpkin cooled a bit, I pureed it in a food processor to create a smooth texture for the final product. As I stated above, after all that work, I only got about 2 1/2 cups of pumpkin puree.

Now for the fun part. After all that work, it was finally time to start making the pumpkin pie and anything else I could make with what ever pumpkin puree I had left...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bleu Cheese Mushroom Flank Steak

Johnnycakes has gone "all Raichlen", as in grill master Steve Raichlen, on me. He received the book "How to Grill" by Steve Raichlen for his birthday and has been his own grill master ever since. He's always been a fan of Steve's public television show Barbecue University, but the cookbook has really ignited his passion for grilling. While I don't think the steak came right out of the cookbook, it was certainly the inspiration. On a side note, I think Steve Raichlen is from Baltimore. Can anyone confirm this factoid?

The preparation for the Bleu Cheese Mushroom Flank Steak really began last night when he decided to show me up, as usual, in the kitchen. I was busy carving a pumpkin for homemade pumpkin pie filling, which is no small feat (a future post), while he decided to begin preparing tonight's dinner.

He began by slicing the flank steak in half so the meat was very thin and flat and placed the beef on top of a sheet of aluminum foil. He then seasoned the beef with salt and pepper and crumbled blue cheese. As you can see in the photo, he smeared the bleu cheese into the meat for an even flavor. He followed that by thinly slicing white mushrooms using an egg slicer and spreading them on top of the meat. He then rolled the meat together in the foil, sort of like a jelly roll.

The meat sat in the refrigerator soaking in all the flavors all day before we put it on the grill after work. He grilled the meat in the foil for twenty minutes on each side until cooked.

In an attempt to be helpful, I steamed some frozen broccoli spears and sliced sweet potato fries using a crinkle cutter. After slicing the sweet potatoes, I tossed them in extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and baked them for 40 minutes at 350 degrees and 5 minutes at 500 degrees. Unfortunately, they got a little toasty since we were preoccupied with slicing the steak. I've been burning stuff lately!

I made a tasty dipping sauce for the sweet potatoes. I prefer to dip sweet potato fries in a mayonnaise based condiment as opposed to ketchup.

Garlic Lemon Mayo
1/4 cup of Kraft Light Mayonnaise
1/4 fresh lemon, squeezed
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the above ingredients. Chill for 30 minutes before serving.

As you might suspect, the dinner was delicious. You could smell the blee cheese as soon as we brought the meat inside from the grill. Unfortunately, the roll fell apart a bit when we sliced it but it was tasty, all the same.

I know Johnnycake's is always outdoing me when it comes to kitchen creativity, but can I really complain? He can be my grill master any day!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Oktoberfest At Last!

Oktoberfest at last! Brews and brats! Freundes, as the Germans would say, and fun! With all the zeal that Johnnycakes and I pursued Oktoberfest festivities this year, one would think that we were of German ancestry. It all started in August really when we started talking about schnitzel, beer and the like with some friends. In the midst of the summer heat, we longed for cooler days filled with beer, friends and funny sounding food. As October approached, we resumed our talks and took some efforts to find or plan the appropriate activities. Several Internet searches, a drunken phone call to a friend, and the scanning of tons of neighborhood flyers and newsletters later, we had all but given up. As Halloween approached and threatened to overshadow any Oktoberfest events, we resigned ourselves to celebrate another year.

And then, out of the blue, we received an invitation to a cookout in endearing Ridgely's Delight. We weren't sure at first if it would be one last homage to summer cookouts, like we've been thinking about having, or something more seasonal. This party had all the makings of an Oktoberfest celebration.

What was on the menu? Brats, a curious veggie topping, grilled chicken, saurerkraut, potato salad and grilled corn on the cob. There was even a mixed cheese, cured meat and cracker platter that was all class, along with a crudite plate. As for beverages, there was plenty of "bier" to go around, as well as Dark and Stormy's, a rum and ginger beer cocktail worthy of a future post unto itself (perhaps the photos are a bit blurred because of the effects of all the alcoholic brews or maybe it was just the camera phone). I have to say that the feast lended itself a certain level of authenticity. I'm not sure to what extent our host intended it that way or not, but it certainly satisfied any demands I might have for an Oktoberfest party.
As for the preparation, I observed the brats, the exact kind I'm not sure but I will tell you that they were not the Johnsonville garden variety, being preboiled in an aromatic beer and onion mixture before being placed on the charcoal grill along side some chicken drumsticks. There was also a veggie topping, I would call it a relish, for the brats. It was a brew of beer, canned tomatoes, chopped green pepper and onions and a few seasonings. I don't think the sauerkraut was run-of the-mill either, as I observed some onions sauteing in butter for the additon to the kraut. Unfortunately, we had to leave as that fun was getting started. We would like to have stayed longer to enjoy all the offerings but, as I said before, Halloween loomed and threatened to overshadow our Oktoberfest efforts this year...
From a grilling standpoint, I even learned what a chimney starter was. I've never seen one of these devices before but apparently you stack the coals in the column to start the fire without the use of lighter fluid. A more natural approach, I am told:)

So after all that, I'm happy to report that we can put Oktoberfest to rest this year, and set our sights on Halloween related culinary pursuits. A round of thanks to our host for extending the invitation. Great party! Danke!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Can't Take the Heat?

Poor curry dish. This poor dish has been neglected all week! I prepared it on Tuesday, ate it several times and this is the first time I've gotten around to mentioning it. This is the beef version of the chicken curry dish we made over the Summer using the Saras flavoring pack from my friend's mom. It really came in handy for me tonight when I got home from work and wanted something quick to eat. There was just enough for one portion and Johnnycakes was eating last night's leftovers.

This dish was ultra spicy. Fortunately, that's how I like it. I served some to my neighbor and she couldn't eat it because it was so hot. Johnnycakes even commented on the heat. Maybe I'm weird but I like it that way. I did mix in some sour cream to cool things down a bit. I also originally served it with brown rice but that ran out a couple of days ago. Johnnycakes seemed to favor flour tortillas over rice. He made a sort of Indian burrito, if there's such thing. To mix things up a bit, I added peanuts. I think it was pretty healthy too because I added tons of veggies; potatoes, onions, celery, carrots and yellow peppers.

Not too shabby for a Friday night meal! Quick, convenient and tasty!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Insane Chix Parm

Johnnycakes and I are still blown away by the insane chicken parm I made for dinner on the fly tonight! It was damn good! I call this meal Insane Chicken Parm, because it was insane I even had the energy and stamina to whip this meal up solo on a weeknight and it was insanely delicious! I think I was possessed because I can't take much credit for it.
I had set out some chicken thighs to defrost while we were at work but I hadn't really thought much about what to make with them before 4:30 p.m. It's been cold and rainy here in Baltimore and I was struck with a desire for something warm and filling (i.e. comfort food). That's when chicken Parmesan popped into my head. The funny thing is, I would never order this meal at a restaurant because I find the dish to generally lack flavor.

I whipped this meal up like a mad woman in the kitchen in about 45 minutes after a trip to the gym. Johnnycakes had been to a work happy hour and wasn't hungry and was entertaining our neighbor while I cooked.

Insane Chicken Parm

4 medium chicken thighs

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup of oil ( I mixed olive oil and canola oil to conserve)

3/4 cup bread crumbs

2 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese

1 Tbsp. Italian Seasoning

Flour for dusting

1 16 oz. box of whole wheat penne pasta

Not So Insane Pasta Sauce

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 red pepper, chopped

6 medium white mushrooms, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 jar commercial pasta sauce

1/4 cup of water

1/2 cup shredded part skim mozzarella cheese

2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat oil in a large, deep frying pan. Heat water until boiling for pasta. Prepare pasta as directed on the box.
Mix bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. Coat the chicken thighs in egg and then dust the wet chicken thighs with flour. After coated with flour, dredge the chicken thighs in the bread crumb mixture until thoroughly covered. Lay the chicken thighs flat in the hot oil. Fry for about 15 minutes on each side until browned and crispy and thoroughly cooked. Remove from oil and place on paper towels to absorb excess oil.

Saute onion, red pepper and mushrooms until soft. Add garlic and stir. Add pasta sauce plus 1/4 cup of water (preferably starchy water from cooked pasta water) and mix all the ingredients together until fully incorporated. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add shredded mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese and mix until melted.

Plate and serve!

I could hardly wait to eat since it was 8 p.m. by this time and I'd already walked home from work and worked out. All that activity and cooking can build up an appetite. Johnnycakes, who was mysteriously absent and not hungry during the cooking phase, popped up just in time to eat! Our neighbor even gave us some props on the feast.

Johnnycakes and I parted ways when it came to our plating techniques. I chose to separate the items and garnish the plate as shown above. Johnnycakes went for a more combined approach.

All this cooking definitely trashed the kitchen, especially because of my super quick whirlwind technique. That's okay. It was well worth it for this tasty dinner. Plus, I have lunch for tomorrow, which promises to be another rainy day. The clean up wasn't so bad thanks to some good conversation...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Flour vs. Corn Tortillas?

I was halfway finished inhaling a homemade cheese and bean burrito with Johnnycakes when I realized I forgot to take a photo for the blog. I was starving after a trip to the gym and grocery store and I couldn't eat soon enough.
I did get to thinking about how I was loving the soft chewy flour tortilla and how I only recently began eating the flour variety after years of buying corn tortillas. I think I first got started on the corn kind when I heard they were a little healthier since they contained more fiber and less calories. I also liked their versatility for making taco shells and tortilla chips. They are also dirt cheap and last forever! The downside to corn tortillas is that they are usually small because they are not as pliable as a flour tortilla and tend to tear easily.
For a little while, I started buying some of the whole wheat tortillas because they were larger than the corn ones and some brands have very few calories. Despite those positives, the taste was usually lacking in the whole wheat varieties and that is strange coming from me because I usually love anything whole wheat.
Then one day recently, Johnnycakes bought good old fashioned flour tortillas. At first, I was resistant but once I tried one I was hooked! I realized that you just can't substitute that flavor, texture and taste. I was also happy to see that the rather large tortilla, probably around 8 inches in diameter, was only around 150 calories and contained a few grams of fiber. I was sold instantly. I even purchased some myself after we finished the first pack.
So which do you like? Flour or Corn? Or something else? I'm curious!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Cougar Pride! Fallston Meatloaf and Sides

Johhnycakes and I are both graduates of Fallston High School in Fallston, MD. In their infinite wisdom, the first group of students to attend the school in the late '70's chose the school colors orange, brown and gold (a cheer song just popped in my head) because it related to the "Fall" component of Fallston. Fortunately, this meal was definitely better than what the lunch ladies used to serve in the cafeteria lines.

As we served tonight's dinner, we were both struck by autumnal look to the meal. Since we are both boasting with pride for FHS, we both instantly thought of our old school colors. As you can see, this meal has a real Fall-like look to it. We both decided that Fall had officially arrived in our home. Until now the feeling had really been lacking. Perhaps the school colors are on our minds because my 10 year reunion is in a few weeks.

The cupboards are getting bare again but we were determined to eat at home tonight so we got a little imaginative.

Fallston Meatloaf

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup apple butter
1/2 cup of bread crumbs
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup finely chopped white mushrooms
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix ingredients together until well blended. Fill a standard loaf pan with the mixture and bake for 45 minutes or until the meat reaches 180 degrees.

To round out the meal we baked a halved butternut squash for 45 minutes until soft and warmed some canned creamed corn.

I have to admit, Johnnycakes and I both went back for seconds which I usually try to avoid especially with a 10-year high school reunion fast approaching. Thanks to the seasonal and nostalgic feel to tonight's meal, I am now ready to start baking some pumpkin pies or something!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Chix Teriyaki

This picture makes our dinner look rather spartan but tonight's meal was full of flavor! The menu consisted of chicken teriyaki, steamed cauliflower, brown rice with mushrooms and boiled edamame.

I marinated the chicken all day in a teriyaki and soy sauce concoction. When I got home, I chopped it into small pieces and pan fried it in sesame oil and lots of garlic until cooked. I cooked the rice in the rice cooker with chopped mushrooms. It turned out perfect. I steamed the fresh cauliflower in the microwave until soft. Unfortunately, I would call the texture closer to semi-soft. The veggies probably could have cooked for a few minutes longer. Finally, I boiled edamame in the shell according to the directions on the bag. I especially happy about the edamame since it's been tough to find on our local grocery store. I topped everything with a little soy sauce.

Johnnycakes was extra pleased with the meal, probably because he didn't have to lift a finger. He's been pitching in a lot in the kitchen lately so it was nice to serve him a meal he didn't have to prepare.

As I said in my last post, we're trying to get back on track with home cooking and being healthy. I'd say this meal fits those perimeters.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Starting Over

Truth be told, Johnnycakes and I haven't been cooking that much. Our schedules have been sort of nuts and I've been stressed out. We've been trying to eat remotely healthy but nothing worth writing about. I feel like I need to start over, so to speak.

Tonight we made some turkey Italian sausage on the grill while enjoying the beautiful Autumnal evening. We also chopped some red onion and green pepper, wrapped it in foil and tossed it on the grill along side the turkey sausage. In an attempt to embrace the "Oktoberfest" spirit occurring right now, I warmed some canned sauerkraut to top the sausage with. I love the stuff! I don't want the season to pass us by without showing a little spirit! To round out the meal, I burned some fordhook lima beans. I didn't mean to but I guess I had the heat to high when I threw the frozen legumes into the hot pan. I coated them with melted Smart Balance but they still burned.
I know it doesn't look too pretty but it least it was healthy, cheap and tasty!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Oops... I Forgot to Blog

Johnnycakes and I had to fend for ourselves tonight since our schedules were kind of nuts. We each had a turkey sandwich on rye. I tried to recreate my favorite sandwich "The Rachel" from Beach Bums. The only problem is that I forgot to take a picture. I was pretty hungry so I scarfed it down.

The Rachel consists of:

2 slices of rye bread

1/4 cup of cole slaw

2 tbsp. 1000 island dressing

3 slices of turkey breast deli meat

The sandwich was pretty good but it definitely did not compare with the excellence of Beach Bums.

I did whip up my own 1,000 Island dressing in a flash without prior consultation of a recipe.

1,000 Island Dressing

1/4 cup of mayonnaise

2 tbsp. ketchup

1/4 finely cup diced onions

2 tbsp. finely diced dill pickles

I later found out that traditional 1,000 island has chopped hard boiled egg in it. I guess that makes my version more like a "special sauce" a la McDonald's. It also reminded me of tartar sauce, minus the lemon. I still liked it and I'll probably use it to top several sandwiches over the next few days.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Backyard BBQ - B-MORE Style

I have a secret desire to be a true Southern cook but I don't know how likely that is. First of all, I am from Baltimore. True, I do reside south of the Mason-Dixon but I don't think Baltimore conjures up that Southern imagery of Live Oak trees, southern style mansions, and fried chicken and biscuits. Secondly, a lot of southern fare takes a lot of time to make and I am short on time lately.

That being said, I still enjoy eating southern style cuisine and cooking it with Johnnycakes when we can. Tonight, we made delicious ribs! We are sort of on a kick now that football season has started of making something yummy to enjoy at game time. Last week, we made these insanely good hot wings thanks to an episode of BBQ University with Steve Raichlen.
Thanks to Nick's Backfire brand of Baltimore barbecue seasonings, sauces and side items, we whipped up some tasty spare ribs.

I bought a big slab (may 4 lbs.?) of pork spare ribs and brought them home for Johnnycakes to manhandle. The prep was pretty simple, really. We patted them down w/ Nick's "Da Rub" which is a blend of southwest bbq seasonings and olive oil. We let the ribs soak up the flavors for about an hour before putting them on the grill.

Johnnycakes used an "indirect" cooking method to use a Raichlen bbq term. This means that he didn't sit the ribs right on the flame. Instead he placed them in the back of the grill away from the flame. We let them cook for about three hours. We basted them with good old fashioned Kraft barbecue sauce the last half hour of cooking.

We served these juicy, extra fatty ribs up with some extra bbq sauce, homemade mashed potatoes and cabbage. This southern style meal was super fattening and super good!

Next week I want to make fried chicken! Let's see if that actually happens.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Simple Slaw

I love cole slaw. It's strange because I only discovered my love for cole slaw in the past year. I used to shy away from the stuff but now it seems like I can't get enough of the stuff. I especially love to pair it with potatoe chips. I had some leftover cabbage from another dinner and decided to whip up some cole slaw.

Here's what I put together:

Simple Slaw

1/2 head of green cabbage, chopped

2 carrots, julienned

1/4 cup of mayonaise

1 tbsp. vinegar

2 tbsp. sugar

1 tbsp. yellow mustard

1 tsp. salt

Mix together all the ingredients in a medium bowl and chill for 30 minutes before serving.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Autumnal Grilling

What's the worst thing about grilling this time of year? It get's dark too early! I had to grill Johnnycakes and I's ribeye steaks in the dark. I know this picture looks kind of spooky. Now that it's October, my mind automatically goes to ghouls and goblins. Of course, it's kind of our own fault that I couldn't see what I was doing because we have not gotten around to replacing the faulty light that used to hang outside the back door to the kitchen.

I didn't get outside to start grilling until around 7:30 p.m. because I had errands to run and Johnnycakes was in school. I think it's getting dark around 7:20 p.m. right now. I did my best to turn on the grill in the dark and watch the steaks.

The hardest part was determining if they were fully cooked or not. I tried to cut into one of the steaks to see if it was cooked in the center. The beef still looked kind of pink but I thought it was done.
When I got inside into the light, it was obvious the steak was rare or medium rare at best. I was comfortable eating it but Johnnycakes was not and put his back on the grill for a few more minutes.
Despite all these efforts, we had a tasty steak dinner which was actually inspired by one of favorite cheeseburgers at Chili's. I'm not sure if they still have it, but Chili's used to feature a burger topped with black pepper, blue cheese and fried onions. Yum...