Impromptu Risotto-ish

Garlicturino86 (GT8) and I were hungry, so we decided to cook together. We took a look at the fridge and pantry and pulled out the items that were available for us to use. They were surprisingly limited: black beans, chicken broth (with vegetables and herbs), garlic, jasmine rice, pasta, a very small amount of frozen broccoli, fresh carrots, and milk.

“What can we possibly make with this?” I asked.

“Well, we can use the rice and chicken broth to make a sort of risotto,” GT8 replied.

I set to work peeling carrots and GT8 finely chopped 3 cloves of garlic. We heated 1.5 cups of chicken broth to a boil, then added 1 cup of jasmine rice and let it cook, covered, for about 15 minutes. I defrosted the broccoli and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Once GT8 had cut the carrots into bite-sized pieces we set them to boil as well, allowing them to cook for nearly as long as the rice. I also rinsed and drained a can of black beans.

Once the carrots were fairly soft and sweet, we drained them. We heated some olive oil in a frying pan, browned the garlic, then added the broccoli, followed a little while later by the carrots and the beans. By the time they were ready, GT8 had taken the rice off the heat and transferred it into a large bowl. I mixed in the beans and vegetables. The flavors all blended together marvelously, especially the rice and beans. This is definitely a meal we would both like to make again sometime.

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I’ve committed a grievous offense against the Italian cooking gods. Perhaps it was eating home-made tomato sauce and meatballs with pasta while watching the Superbowl. Or perhaps it was not paying 100% attention while removing said sauce from the refrigerator today. Whatever offense I committed, I can ask only that I somehow manage not to commit it again. Because the penalty was far greater than giving 5 yards to the other team or making poor use of a time-out.

I dropped the plastic container with the leftover sauce and it shattered, causing the majority of its contents to splatter on the floor and in the refrigerator. I was in shock. I think if I hadn’t been so surprised by it I would have cried.

In The Callahan Chronicals, Spider Robinson explains an Irish belief that spilling or otherwise wasting alcohol is a mortal sin. When you die every drop of which you’re guilty is gathered in a container of some kind and you’re suspended upside down in it. “And if you die, to hell with ya!” It wouldn’t surprise me if Italians have a similar belief regarding tomato sauce (or gravy, the term preferred by some). If they do, my soul is in mortal peril. I spilled enough today that another mishap could cost me an eternity of eating macaroni and cheese that tastes like cauliflower.

So, it seems most wise to make some attempt at appeasing the Italian cooking gods, just to be on the safe side. Perhaps it is time I repent of my recent pasta-avoiding ways and eat more of it, preferably with garlic. Perhaps I must attempt my mom’s sauce recipe by myself (and blog about it, of course). Perhaps I must resist the temptation of cream cheese and jelly sandwiches and re-dedicate my efforts to advancing the culinary arts.

I pray that the Italian cooking gods will guide me in this quest. (Suggestions from readers are also more than welcome.)

Day 2 of Cooking Adventures

The gathering mentioned in my previous 2 posts was quite a success (A Day of Cooking Adventures, Part 1 & Part 2). In addition to the olives, roasted peppers, and shrimp, I also made oven-roasted garlic and a soup with vegetables, garlic, beer, and cheese.

The roasted garlic was very straightforward – each head gets a tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkling of water, then they are covered with foil to roast in the oven for an hour and 15 minutes. Uncover and roast for an additional 15 minutes or “until golden.” Of course, GT8 did not realize they were supposed to be covered with foil until they’d been roasting a while, and after the 1 hr 15 min they came out, beautiful and golden. They were a huge hit, particularly spread on Italian bread. I would be enjoying the leftovers, except that my stomach demanded a respite from consuming vast quantities of garlic.

The soup was a more complicated recipe that I followed as well as I could while socializing with guests. It called for items to be added in stages, with about 10 minutes of cooking time in between. I was referring to the cookbook between steps because I had not yet internalized the recipe. So, the whole thing probably cooked a lot longer than it was supposed to. This relaxed approach to the timing worked well, though. I was also able to reverse the order of adding the cheese and the ingredients due to come after it, so a friend who does not eat cheese could enjoy some of the soup. The end result was less creamy and cheesy than I had expected, but had a very nice flavor. Those who tried it liked it, so I was pleased.

The biggest success of the evening was certainly the shrimp. They disappeared rather early in the night. The recipe created way too much of their dipping sauce, even though it was also fairly popular. That portion of the recipe can be quartered (at least!) and still produce plenty of sauce for the shrimp. I’ll probably double the shrimp portion of the recipe if I make it again for a gathering of this size. And, I’ll leave out the thumb nail.

The olives were tasty but the vinegar taste is extremely strong, to the point of overpowering the other flavors. I think I’m the only one who really ate them. If I follow their recipe again, I will use 1 part vinegar to 3 parts olive oil, instead of the 1:1 ratio recommended by the recipe. The peppers were slightly more popular. I was exceedingly pleased with their flavor, especially when spread on the Italian bread with a clove or two of roasted garlic. They also make fantastic leftovers.

The Aftermath:

The 2011 holidays hit my waistline very hard. Between the tasty food I cooked and treats that others brought, I spent the entire day eating. Add to that the consequences of several other gatherings throughout the month of December, and it is no surprise that I gained 9 pounds!

A Day of Cooking Adventures Part 2

Our culinary adventure (see Pt. 1) began with the decision to turn Spicy Mediterranean Olives with Garlic & Herbs (p. 42 of Garlic, Garlic, Garlic) into non-spicy olives by eliminating the chile peppers. We also had to half the recipe because we had only acquired 2 cups of olives. I measured out the oil, vinegar, ground black pepper, and fennel seed, then attacked a lemon and an orange for their zest. I also minced the zests even though that’s not part of the recipe. Oops! I also cut each garlic clove more than once, so there are several slices in the marinade. The ingredients (except for the olive oil) all went in a pot to boil and then simmer for a few minutes.

sliced garlic cloves, fennel seed, orange and lemon zests, and vinegar in a reflective potThe color – and the smell! – were amazing.

Once that mixture was ready, I added the olive oil, followed soon-after by the olives themselves. I had to double the amount of vinegar and oil in order to make sure the olives were covered by the marinade. I then learned that I did not have the rosemary the recipe calls for, so I sprinkled on a blend of Italian herbs: oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, and sage. This concoction was then well stirred and placed in a sealed container to marinade for 24 hours. We’ve been taking turns stirring it periodically.

Next up were the Marinated Roasted Red (Orange, and Yellow) Peppers with Garlic and Anchovies (p. 62). Garlicturino86 (henceforth to be referred to as GT8) had a blast smashing and mincing 5 garlic cloves.

GT8 smashes a clove of garlic under his knife while soon-to-be victims watchGT8 smashes a clove of garlic under his knife while soon-to-be victims watch on

I measured the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. GT8 passed me bell peppers and I placed the in the oven to roast. I doubt the contents of the oven have ever been so colorful!

They don’t know what they’re in for …

While the peppers roasted, and later cooled, we set to work on the third and final recipe for the evening: Beer-Braised Shrimp with Creamy Mustard Dipping Sauce (p. 56). Sadly, this recipe was not without injury. GT8’s eyes were too irritated by the process of mincing the shallot, so I took over. Somehow I managed to catch my thumb nail with the knife, removing part of it! (Thank goodness it was just a shallow cut, and the rest of the thumb remained intact.) I now have a raw, red spot where I used to have a nail; it is extremely sensitive to the touch. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more painful cut, and the worst part is that completely random movements that are normally painless hurt horribly.

This minor setback did not deter our cooking insanity, however. The beer, garlic, shrimp, and other ingredients all went into the pot. GT8 informed me that regular salt is stronger than the Kosher salt the recipe calls for just in time for me to use only 3/4 the amount the recipe calls for. We brought our concoction to a boil and let it simmer until the shrimp turned pink. When I removed the cover I was greeted with the fantastic smell of beer and garlic, oh, it was amazing!

A pot with seasoned beer and shrimp, cooked and bubblingIt smells even better than it looks!

The recipe also calls for a creamy dipping sauce of yogurt and sour cream mixed with 2 different types of mustard, garlic (of course!), Worcestershire sauce, and the whole zest of a lemon (minced – I let GT8 do that). Mixing that mess together was rather entertaining, but the results were well worth it: nice and tasty, with quite the kick! The dipping sauce and shrimp in their beer mixture went into the refrigerator to chill overnight. I felt very proud as I cleaned the edges of the bowl for the dipping sauce and contemplated serving the dish the next day.

Finally, we had the gooey and slimy task of removing the skins from the roasted peppers. It was gross and fun at the same time. As I removed the skins, GT8 cut the peppers, removed their innards, and laid them on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil. He sprinkled smashed and minced garlic over them, followed by half the oil and all of the balsamic vinegar. We baked them for 10 minutes, then added julienned basil. After a quick photo shoot, they went into a bowl with the remaining oil to marinade overnight. Two of the slices most certainly were not stolen, and they weren’t absolutely delicious!

Roasted Peppers fresh out of the ovenFinally complete, the roasted peppers are as delicious as they are beautiful.

Now it is the next day. Guests should begin arriving soon. And there’s more cooking to do! This should be quite entertaining …

A Day of Cooking Adventures

Today garlicturino86 and I had some rather crazy cooking-related adventures. They began with going through the cookbook: Garlic, Garlic, Garlic and discussing which recipes would and would not be practical for a gathering planned for the next day. I had already picked recipes I was interested in trying. I then narrowed down the options based on my comfort level and the needs and preferences of my anticipated guests, some of whom have food allergies. Further discussion eliminated recipes such as the garlic walnut bread with rosemary, a recipe that calls for equipment I don’t have, and confirmed the ones that would be best for our gathering. Even the confirmed recipes required modifications or substitutions. I was surprised by how much work went into simply deciding what to cook for my friends.

Once we had looked at the ingredients for each recipe and created a shopping list, garlicturino86 and I ventured forth to a new grocery store! There we found our way through previously-unexplored aisles of various items, mostly selecting ones that were relevant to my goal of filling an entire neighborhood with the savory aroma of garlic (and other tasty things). We were able to find everything we needed … except for the cerignola olives I wanted to be part of my Spicy Mediterranean Olives with Garlic & Herbs (p. 42). I’d tasted some black cerignola olives at a holiday party and absolutely loved them. So, they seemed well worth traveling out of my way to visit a specialty Italian store.

This is where things started getting interesting. garlicturino86’s mom suggested one store, which seemed excellent but only had one small jar of red cerignola olives. I was hoping to find black ones, so I decided to try somewhere else. So, I searched for a store on my trusty GPS (which really should have the GLaDOS voice) and traveled a couple of miles in the opposite direction, just to find that the store was closed.

Not to be deterred, I searched for another store. Avoiding tolls, the route my GPS suggested would have taken far too long. So, I searched allowing tolls, and found a considerably shorter route. Then next thing I knew I was going over a bridge with a $12 toll and entering another state! That was completely unacceptable, but the only thing I could have done about it was make a highly illegal U-turn across multiple lanes! So instead I yelled and became positively determined not to leave my new location until I was in possession of olives.

garlicturino86 then discovered that a fourth store, which we had previously ruled out due to its location, was actually located a stone’s throw away from where we had come off the bridge. We drove, parked, and hurried up to it – to discover they were in the process of closing. “No, please let us buy olives before you close!” we called, rushing into the store. The gentleman there only had green cerignola olives, but I gladly bought them mixed with other olives as part of a medley. One bite was enough to satisfy my olive craving. We had completed our quest! garlicturino86 invited me to celebrate with him by sharing the prosciutto bread he had just purchased at the same store.

By the time we arrived home we were exhausted and laden with a million groceries. They found their homes surprisingly quickly, and then we embarked on a culinary adventure. I would love to share that adventure with you, reader, but garlicturino86 wants to sleep for some odd reason.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all!

I must apologize for not updating in such a long time. This semester was extremely busy. On top of all the academic work, I also moved (about 30 minutes away, within the same state) earlier this month. That was fun and exciting and the actual move itself went surprisingly smoothly and quickly because I had several friends help. They were awesome! But it did throw a bit of a monkey wrench in the works.

I cooked many tasty things when I went to visit my best friend in November. We worked together on them, myself mostly following her lead. They included chicken with roasted potatoes and whole cloves of garlic, a delicious stew with turkey meat and vegetables, and apple pie.

I haven’t cooked as much as usual since Thanksgiving, but I did get to bake about a week ago. I followed the Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe (a lifetime favorite that I’ll be repeating with my mom in several hours – our yearly tradition). I left out the nuts, but added a shot of Frangelico to the dough around the time I also added the chocolate chips. The result was absolutely delicious – and quite popular at the 2 parties I attended that weekend.

I spent Christmas Eve with my best friend and her family. She and I played viola and sang at the services at a church where we’ve known the choir director for years. It was so wonderful to play music with an extremely talented and dedicated group!

When we got back to her parents’ house we exchanged presents. One of the gifts she gave me was Garlic, Garlic, Garlic: More than 200 Exceptional Recipes for the World’s Most Indispensable Ingredient. It has more information than a chef could ever want about garlic, as well as recipes that range from starters to pasta and seafood to even dessert!

I just might have to follow in Julie Powell’s footsteps and cook my way through this book.

Crisp Noodle Cake with Stir-Fried Greens and Shrimp

On Sunday garlicturino86 and I cooked a recipe in Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook, a collection of recipes designed to help people eat healthier (including a high ratio of vegetables to meat). The Crisp Noodle Cake with Stir-Fried Greens and Shrimp can be found on p. 236 and calls for an Asian green, rice/soba/wheat noodles, soy sauce, sesame oil, vegetable oil, ginger, garlic, shrimp (or tofu), scallions, and salt and pepper. According to Mr. Bittman it takes 45 minutes to prepare, but we disagree. This was our second time attempting the recipe and it still took us at least 90 minutes. His claim that the recipe makes four servings is accurate, however.

chopped scallions in a measuring cup, the cookbook, bok choy in the process of being cut

Allow extra time for chopping up the garlic, scallions, bok choy, etc.

We decided to use bok choy and soba noodles, both of which work extremely well for this recipe. The bok choy provides two very different textures: the stems come out crunchy and absorb the flavor well (especially from the ginger), while the leaves come out tender and mix extremely well with the noodles and shrimp. The soba noodles were rather sticky, but that characteristic made forming a cake a lot easier than it had been with the rice noodles we used on our first attempt. They also have a very distinctive, almost nutty taste and satisfying texture. We were extremely pleased with the results.

noodles in their original packaging

Before

fried noodle cake in a non-stick pan

After

The adventure came when we decided to make two noodle cakes, because we both love this recipe so much and don’t want to fight over left-overs. Making the cakes was relatively easy – once the bottom had browned, I put a plate on top and used that to flip it over, added more canola oil to the pan, then slid the cake back on. But we quickly found that one frying pan had no hope in hell of containing all of our bok choy! The stems alone filled the first pan. Thinking quickly, I grabbed a second pan, transferred half the contents of the first pan to it, and asked garlicturino86 to likewise divide our remaining ingredients.

two frying pans with leafy greens on the stove, one is being stirred

We needed to work at the stove simultaneously.

Once the “crisis” was averted, it was simply a manner of cooking down the greens and letting the shrimp turn a healthy shade of pink. Our doubled recipe made 8 servings, two of which were delicious that night. I’ve been enjoying my share of the leftovers as convenient, healthy meals.

bowl with stir-fried veggies, shrimp, and noodle cake

Buon Appetito!

In addition to enjoying the large serving of vegetables and wheat noodles featured in this recipe, women (or at least prepubescent girls) can reduce their risk of breast and cervical cancer by avoiding meat and milk from animals that have been treated with hormones. Please read “A Letter that All Chefs (and Anyone Who Eats) Need to Read” posted by Mark Bittman.

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