Thursday, January 1, 2015



This is a very simple dinner, something I throw together to use up leftovers, beans in particular.  I'll post my bean recipe later on, though that's pretty simple, too.  You can also brown up some ground beef, or sometimes I like to stir-fry up some chicken with some bell peppers and throw that in there.

As you can see, I chopped up olives, tomato, grated cheese, and cooked up some homemade tortillas.  The homemade tortillas make this, I haven't bought tortillas since I first made these.

Looks tasty on the plate, doesn't it.  Here's a link to the tortilla recipe I use:

Homemade Tortillas

This is the first recipe that I ever saw that suggested mixing dry ingredients with a whisk, and now that's my favorite way.  A couple things, if you make these tortillas:

I make each tortilla about 58g, give or take a gram. If you don't have a kitchen scale, just divide them up by eye.  Some end up bigger or smaller, but no big deal.

I cook these on a dry cast iron skillet at medium, and I let it heat up a long time before I use it. I cook them for about 30-35 seconds on a side. The photos above are actually a little overcooked; they get crunchy and cracker-like when overdone.

It says to roll out all the dough balls first, but when I did that and piled them up, they stuck to each other.  I could put paper towels between them (what a waste!) or I could roll them out as I go.  I cook one while rolling the next until they're done.

I find they store pretty well in the fridge in a gallon storage bag, and heat up easily in the microwave the next day.

If you want me to post the recipe with my own pictures and comments, let me know.



(Note: this needs lots of updating, I have a whole new technique these days. Next time I make this I'll take new photos and everything.)

This would be called "spaghetti with meat sauce" if I didn't love to make it with short pasta.  I've made it with rotini, medium shells, farfalle, capanelli, and occasionally spaghetti, and I like it better with short pasta. It's an absolute staple in my family, I make it at least once a week. It takes 45 minutes give or take.

Here's what you need:

Three 15oz cans of tomato sauce
Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Salt and Pepper
Minced garlic
Half a medium onion
6-8 medium white or brown mushrooms
1 lb pasta, your choice
1-1.5 lbs ground beef.  I use 80% lean because it's cheaper, but go as lean as you want.  We'll be draining it later.

Put the water on to boil right at the beginning.
Brown the ground beef in a saucepan big enough for everything.  Mine's a 3qt, that's about perfect, but you could go bigger.
I inherited this cute little food processor which I use A LOT.  It makes things easy.  I chop my mushrooms and onion up in it while the beef is browning, but if you have to do it by hand, it's a good idea to cut them up before you start.  Whatever size you like is fine.  I grind them up superfine, because I  have kids that will pick out onions if they're too big.  By which I mean visible.

Drain the ground beef once it's brown and put it aside.

Except for just a little bit, a tablespoon or so, of the beef grease.

Add however much garlic you like.  I like to use a couple of tablespoons worth, about this much:

Saute that for a few seconds, then get the onions in there.

Cook those up for a while, 4-5 minutes, until they start kinda sticking to the stirrer.  You don't have to stir it the whole time, but don't forget about it, either.  This is important; if you don't want your sauce to taste just like raw onions, make sure you cook them well.  A little browned is okay, but not necessary.

If you're about as fast as I am, your noodle water is boiling about now.  Don't add your noodles just yet.

Good!  Now it's time to add your tomato sauce.  Get it all in there, use a spatula to scrape out the cans.  Now, if I had a crop of fresh tomatoes for cheap, I would try making sauce from them, but until then, cans.

Now for the herbs.  I measure them with my hand, so it's hard to say exactly how much I use.

Looks like maybe 2 tbsp of basil.  I love Basil.  I think I would marry Basil if I wasn't already married to Ollin.

Maybe 1 tbsp of Oregano.
About 1 tsp of thyme.  If you use the leaves like me, really grind it up with your fingers before you put it in.  Thyme is like a bunch of little sticks, and the smaller you get it the less likely you'll end up with one stabbing you in the gums while you eat.

I throw some pepper in there, too.  Just a little.  Because I use canned sauce I don't add any salt to it when it's cooking; I figure there's plenty already and people can always add it later.
These are the spices I like to use.  The Trader Joe's ones are high quality and inexpensive.  Safeway basil and oregano is gross.  I love the rainbow peppercorns that come in their own grinder.

So, stir all that in there, and now it's time to put in your noodles, wait for them to reboil, and set your timer.  My rotini go for 7 minutes.  It's a good idea to taste them to make sure they're to your liking before you remove them from the stove, but I never do that anymore.  For Barilla at least, I trust the package.  An unfamiliar brand I would probably taste.

Here's a bit of a tangent while we wait for those noodles.  I tend to run my dishwasher before I go to bed and empty it first thing in the morning.  This morning I put it off because I was feeling blargh and had like 3 cups of tea just to get Simone to the bus stop.  I did it later on, but it threw off dishwashing for the whole day, and so now I've got this to deal with:

Yes, that is the greasy chicken pan from last night, how kind of you to notice.

But I managed to deal with it while the noodles cooked.  I never rinse my noodles, BTW.

So all that's left to do is dump these back into the pot, put the meat and sauce in there too and mix it all up.

 The only reason I don't cook the meat and the sauce together is that it makes the sauce so thick I feel I don't get a good simmer.

And there you have it. Beefaroni.  I like to serve this with a salad and maybe some garlic bread, but today it was just the beefaroni because of that blargh feeling I mentioned earlier.


Butter Chicken and Cheesy Noodles

This is a huge favorite with the kids. They love cheesy noodles, and the chicken is lightly flavored and moist.


For the chicken:
b/s chicken breasts, 1 or 2 per person depending on size (I went crazy and used like 8)
some flour; I never measure and I always use too much
2-5 tbsp butter, depending on how much chicken you have to fry and how big your frypan is

For the Mac and Cheese
1lb short pasta; I used medium shells.
3tbsp butter
about 3 tbsp flour
2+ cups milk
About 2 cups grated cheddar.  Sometimes I add Jack, too.  Whatever cheese you like is good.  I recommend against buying it already shredded.  They coat it with something that keeps it from sticking, which will affect the texture of the sauce.

So this is how I started.  Put on the noodle pot to boil.  Get out a stainless steel saucepan, or anything that doesn't have a coating you can scrape up, because I find the cheese sauce requires some pretty vigorous stirring.  Toss 3 Tbsp of butter in that pan.  Then, in a big fry pan, throw the rest of the stick.  You may adjust these amounts based on the size of your pan and how much chicken you're cooking.

Put some flour in a shallow bowl.

Did I mention that I use this little food processor a lot?  Well, I don't.  I use it ALL the FUCKING TIME.  Please pardon my language.  It grates cheese!  They don't make them anymore but you can get one on ebay for like 20 bucks.  Oh, and see that block of cheese?  Use about twice that much.

 Here are the chicken breasts.  You'll want to pound them to an even thickness.  Throw some plastic wrap over the top of them first or you'll splatter salmonella everywhere.  I was lucky this time, they all came out of the bag pretty even and thin, so all I had to do was threaten them with the mallet.  Oh, and please ignore that tortilla in the background.  Rather than part of this meal, that is merely evidence of my slobbishness.

Melted butter!  That's a Leonard Part 6 reference.  Yes, I know, only about 3 people saw that movie.

Mix the 3 tbsp of flour into the melted butter.  You're going to want to cook this on medium low (3-4 if your stove is like mine) for a while, or there will be a stale flour taste in your sauce.  Brown it a little, but don't burn it.  I got distracted by the chicken here and burned the heck out of mine and had to start over.  Burned butter smells really, really bad.

Once the butter is all melted in the frypan, dredge (I love that word) your chicken in the flour, shaking off the excess, and put it in the pan.

You want to cook these at medium (5 if your stove is like mine) maybe 4 minutes on a side.  To be honest I never timed them, I just flip them when they look golden brown.  I do use a meat thermometer to check for doneness; anything over 170F I figure won't kill us.  If they get brown but are still cold inside, A) you didn't pound them enough, for shame, and B) throw a lid on it and turn it down to low, med-low (about 3) for five minutes or so.  That will keep cooking them without browning them further.  The breading won't be as crisp, but it'll still be good.

 You can plate them whenever they're done.  That's Simone's hand, showing off the chickeny goodness.

Okay, the burnt stuff got dumped out and it looks like the new stuff is cooked enough.  It's just a little brown, and when I stirred it I could see brown forming on the bottom of the pan.  Good enough.  The official name for this is "roux". We made a roux!  Hooray. This isn't just good for cheese sauce btw, this is how I make gravy for my pot roast, too, except I use the drippings instead of milk.

Did I say milk?  Let's add some milk! This is what I meant by 2+ cups.  I fill up a 2 cup measuring cup all the way.  It might be 2.5 cups. 

Stir this continuously until it's mixed, and then keep stirring it almost continuously after that.  You can stop for a moment or two, to do something like add noodles to the boiling noodle pot, but don't leave it alone for long because it will thicken and burn on the bottom.  Not a disaster if it burns a little, just stir it up really good.  That's why I have a whisk standing by, just in case.

It seems to take a long time to thicken even a little, but once it starts to thicken a little it'll thicken all the way very fast.  You can decide how thick you want your sauce, but you want it to thicken all the way before you add the cheese.  Oh, and if you just add salt and pepper to this sauce, it's a basic white sauce or bechamel.  Okay, traditional bechamel has onions in it, but I like the fancy name.

Add your cheese a little at a time, stirring after each addition.  The idea is you don't want to cool it down too fast by adding too much at once, because then it will take longer to melt.

 I tend to add a bit of salt as the last step.

 I just pour the noodles back into the pot and dump the sauce on them.  

Then mix it up.  Some people like to bake it.  I don't know why anyone would bake it.  It might be good to put it in a casserole and spread some bread-crumb/butter mixture on top and throw it under the broiler for a minute or two to make a yummy crust.  Mmmm...I might try that some time.

Here it is plated.  Yes, this is my favorite plate.  And, yes, it seems that Phoeb sometimes enjoys a beer or two with dinner.

Adobo (updated 1/1/15)

This feeds my family of 4 with no leftovers ever because they love it and so do I:

Prep: 10-30 minutes, depending on what kind of chicken pieces you're using.
Marinate: As long as you want, I like to marinate it for a couple hours
Cook: about 45 minutes

6 pieces of chicken.  I use 3 chicken quarters, because it's least expensive, but you could use boneless breasts or drums, or whatever you like.  Skin the chicken if it has skin.

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup vinegar (I like to use rice vinegar, but you can use whatever kind of vinegar you have, even mix types)
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp brown sugar
6-8 cloves of garlic, smashed, halved or chopped (or 2-3 tbsp prepared minced)

Toss the chicken in a pot; I use my lower-sided noodle pot, but you can use any pot.  Toss the garlic on top of the chicken.  Mix together remaining ingredients, making sure the sugar is pretty well dissolved.  Pour the mixture over the chicken and marinate anywhere from a few minutes to 3 or more hours.  I just leave it in the pot on the burner I intend to cook it on, comme ca:

Ugh, I need to clean the back panel, look how greasy!  Stupid bacon.

When you're ready to cook it, turn on your burner.  Get it boiling, then put a lid on it and simmer for 15 minutes.

lid on, timer set.  I turned it down to 3 a minute later because it was boiling too much 

Then take the lid off, turn the chicken, and simmer it uncovered for another 10 minutes, then turn the chicken again and simmer it for another 10 minutes.

looks done!

Then you're done!  Serve over rice; pour that yummy sauce all over that rice and enjoy.


Any time after the first 15 minutes this will be safe to taste.  I recommend leaving it alone (partly because I ALWAYS burn the frak out of my tongue when I taste it), but you can adjust your flavors as you go if you want to, adding soy sauce if it needs salt or vinegar if it's too sweet, or water if it's too salty or sour.  Also, I've read some people add a bay leaf to this, but bay is not my favorite, so I skip it.

UPDATE 1/1/15: Simone has lost her taste for this recipe, so she has leftovers these days when I make it. Given that, I decided to experiment with the recipe a little. I use 4 chicken thighs, and have replaced one tbsp of brown sugar with 1 tbsp sriracha. It doesn't seem to make it any less sweet, but makes it a little (but not too much) spicier. I like it!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pumpkin Pie

This is one of a series of recipes I'm posting in order to NOT keep my recipes secret.  Some of them are family recipes, others I've cobbled together over the years from various sources, adding my own twists.

I hear some of you have been awaiting this recipe for quite some time.  I had been keeping it a secret, because I like being renowned for making something "only I" can make, but that's just selfish.  Everyone should be able to eat delicious pumpkin pie if they want to take the time to make it.

The first step is to buy a pumpkin.  This is important, and I understand it may be too late in the year for this now. It doesn't have to be a "pie pumpkin".  I've never used one.  Just buy a medium Jack O'lantern pumpkin that is heavy for its size and is intact with no visible mold. Each recipe makes two pies, and a medium pumpkin will make 3-4 recipes.  Wash off any dirt, then chop it up, take out the seeds (you can toast these in the oven if you like; they're not my favorite, but Ollin and Simone can't get enough) and most of the strings, and toss it in a stock pot, or whatever pot you have.  You can always do more than one batch if it doesn't all fit.  Put an inch or two of water in the bottom and get it boiling.

This is my stock pot, it's big.  It fit the whole pumpkin perfectly.  Actually, I should call this my pumpkin pot, because I've never made stock in it.

Throw a lid on that and turn it down to medium low.  Peek in once an hour and drop a salad fork on whatever pumpkin flesh is showing.  If it goes in pretty far, it's done.  If it bounces off, cook it longer.  You don't want to undercook it, but I've never had it be too soft.

 Drain it in your sink in a colander.  You might notice some little white spots on the edges of the pumpkin.  I have no idea what this is and a google scan revealed nothing, but it always happens.  The pumpkin is still usable and will make tasty and delicious pie.

Peel the skins off.  Alternately, you could freeze the chunks as they are, and when you thaw them the skins will come right off.  I prefer to peel them fresh and freeze them in freezer bags all measured out for pie (3 cups per recipe).  That way I can just grab a bag to thaw and throw it right in the blender without having to measure again.  Some people leave the skins on; these people are insane.  Associate with them at your own risk.  If you don't have fresh pumpkin available, you might feel like trying canned.  I never have, so I can't tell you how it will come out, but freshness makes all the difference in every other recipe I've tried, soo...

Anyway, enough about pumpkin.  Now let's talk about crust.  I've heard the debate.  Butter or Shortening?  A combination?  What do?

Well, I've never used either.  When I've eaten other crusts, they are very heavy.  They taste good, but they are thick and kind of crunchy, almost like shortbread.  This is not a good texture, in my oh-so-humble opinion.  I like crust to be light, sort of flaky, and rather thin.  So I use liquid oil, usually canola, in my crust.  I've used olive, too, but just regular, not extra virgin.

Note: Somewhere in here you're going to need to start pre-heating your oven to 400 degrees.  When the best time is depends on how fast you are and if you want to heat up your kitchen.

Here's what you'll need:

Slightly less than 2 cups of flour, or 250g.  All-purpose is fine, unbleached is what I like.
1/2 cup of oil (a little more is perhaps beneficial)
1/4 cup milk

I like to measure the oil and milk together in the same measuring cup, then beat it up with a fork until it looks like a bunch of little white and yellow gems, but you can just dump it on top of the flour.  Make sure the flour is all incorporated, but don't mix it any more than you absolutely have to.

 Smoosh it all up into a sort of a ball.

 Cut the ball in half.  This recipe can also make the top and bottom crust of one fruit pie instead of just bottom for two pumpkin pies, if you like that sort of thing.

Take one half of your dough and put it between two pieces of waxed paper.  This is another thing I don't understand; people say a lot about how hard it is to roll out pie crust.  I just don't see it.  Maybe other crusts can't use wax paper because they need to incorporate more flour?  I use two pieces of wax paper, about as long as the roll is wide.  This is perfect for a 9" pie plate, which is what I use.

 Roll it out until it's as big as the width of the wax paper and kinda round/square.  If you don't have a rolling pin, try other stuff, like the wax paper roll or a jar.

 Peel the top paper off the rolled-out crust.

Flip the crust over onto your 9" pie plate and push it gently down into the bottom, going from the center to the edge, sort of like applying a window-cling.  Try to prevent large bubbles from forming, because air trapped in them will expand and can make your pie funny-looking.

This is the tricky part.  Carefully peel the wax paper off.  I do the edges first, peeling the paper and pressing the crust against the sides of the plate.  Sometimes you have to scrape it with your fingers, if there's a fold.  Don't worry if it breaks in a few places.  Once the edges are free, the bottom should peel right off.

Now it looks like this.  Pierce any big air pockets with a fork and press the air out of them.  Pull off any crust that's hanging over the rim and use it to repair any breaks, or fold it over onto the inside edge to make the upper edge thicker.

My lovely model Simone is showing you how to "scallop" the edges.  You see the little ridge at the top? That's where I folded over the edge of the crust.  To make it pretty, you can pinch it like this between your fingers.  You can also leave it rough, it's up to you.

Now go do the same thing to the other half.  I'll wait.

Done?  Good.  Now it's time to make the filling.  You'll need a big, big bowl for this, and a blender or food processor.  Or a potato masher, if you're some kind of technophobe or your blender exploded.  It happens. I was given a new blender for my birthday, Just In Time for me to use it for pie.

4 large eggs
3 cups pumpkin
1 1/2 cups sugar (this can be reduced by as much as half without affecting the texture, if you like your pie less sweet)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 12 oz can evaporated milk
optional: 1/2 tsp ground cloves
optional: 1/4 tsp nutmeg
note:  I've used cloves, and I like it that way, but my standard recipe doesn't use them.  I've never used nutmeg because my mom, who taught me this recipe, HATES it and she often eats some of the pie I prepare, but a lot of people like it.  If you're one of those, feel free to experiment.

 Break out your blender.  Crack your four eggs directly in.  I'm using a knife here because my blender has a plastic jar to which eggs are impervious.  When I was little, I remember my mom slaving away at this with a potato masher until she realized the blender was way more convenient.  She had some ropy arm muscles.

Here's one of those pre-measured 3-cup bags of pumpkin, how awesome is that?  Toss it in the blender with the eggs and run it until it's smooth.

It doesn't really matter what setting you use.  I progress up to liquefy.  Sometimes if you progress too quickly, the blades will knock the entire mixture up above the blades, and they'll just spin.  This sucks, but just give the jar a shake and start again.  The point is to get it super smooth and mixed up really well.

Pour it into your big big bowl.

Add your sugar.

Mix it with a whisk.

Add your spices: Salt, Cinnamon, Ginger, and the optional Cloves and or Nutmeg.  Whisk that all up.

Pour in the evaporated milk. and whisk it all up nice.

Looks good already! 

Pour it into the prepared crusts.

These are ready for the oven!  Put both of these in your preheated 400 degree oven and cook them for 15 minutes or so; this helps to brown the exposed crust.  Then turn it down to 375 and cook them 45 more minutes.  You can tell it's done if the crust is nicely browned and the top of the pie looks dry.  It may crack a little around the outside, too.  That's okay, but if you see that, you better take it out.  It'll be a bit puffy at first, but it'll settle as it cools.

 Fresh out of the oven, a little puffy.  Cool it on a rack if you want to eat it before the end of time.  Seriously, time dilation occurs while waiting for a pumpkin pie to cool.  If you don't cool it on a rack, the universe might come to an end before you get to eat the pie, and that's a real tragedy.

Two glorious looking and delicious pumpkin pies!  You can serve it by itself, or with your favorite topping.  Mine by far is fresh whipped cream, but reddi-whip or cool whip are acceptable.  Oh, and that little burnt spot on the crust on the left-hand pie is where I spilled a drop of filling on the crust.  It looks a little funny, but has no effect on the taste.

This will keep for a few days in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap.  I've never had one last long enough to go bad if kept in the fridge.  If you leave it on the counter overnight, it's probably okay the second day, but after that you probably don't want to eat it.

And there you have it!