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!

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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.

Rainy Day Blues

Today (Wednesday) was definitely a comfort food day. I didn’t have any pastina or chicken broth, so I made a box of rotelle and had a couple servings of it with tomato sauce. Add a little cheese and … yeah, it makes a really good comfort food. Chicken soup, you now have a worthy opponent.

I’ve been trying really hard to eat more fruits and vegetables and be more physically active, but it’s not easy and I’m having trouble objectively evaluating whether I’m accomplishing my goals at all. I need to actually track what I eat – or better yet, plan ahead! The main problem is that I keep grabbing convenient snacks such as a serving of WhoNu “nutrition-rich” cookies or a scoop (or two) of ice cream. Those seem relatively insignificant when taken individually, but they really add up!

Having apples in the house helps a lot. I love apples. I keep trying to convince myself they’re the most delicious things ever, because if they’re not THE most delicious they’re definitely near the top of the list. Maybe I should try making apples with garlic. Then, I’d almost definitely eat them more regularly. I’m not sure if I’ve had an apple yet today -probably not. I’ll have one as a midnight snack.

I did try having some vegetables, at least one whole serving and possibly two! First I heated up some olive oil on a high flame. Then I chopped up a clove of garlic and tossed it in the frying pan. The garlic turned brown almost instantly and some of the pieces turned black. Oops! Flame too high!!! I lowered it but the pan was still too hot when I tossed in some frozen green beans, so I got a nice little miniature fireworks display. Thank goodness I have good reflexes! I jumped out of range, just in time, and carefully lowered the flame some more. In went the frozen bell pepper slices, and then I was able to stir everything around for even heating and whatever garlic flavor might have been left. I added some orange ginger sauce, which provided a nice flavor. Simple. Yum. I hope the veggies maintained their nutritional value …

Lately I’ve also been really into eggs. They’re a very convenient source of protein. I have mixed feelings about the yolk, though. Nearly all the nutrients that make eggs healthy are in the yolk – but so is most of the fat (eggnutritioncenter.org). Unfortunately eggs are also quite high in cholesterol (not too bad if they’re your only/main source, but something to watch out for). Today I decided to have the white without the yolk. In the future I might have one whole egg. If I decide to have a second egg I’ll remove its yolk.

Removing an egg yolk is surprisingly easy. The video below starts off a bit slow but is a good example of the method. It’s a useful skill to develop for baking as well as being a picky eater.

 

Well, thanks for checking in. Hopefully tomorrow (Thursday) will be a bit less gross and I can work on the whole physical activity thing.

The Quest for the Ultimate Comfort Food

I haven’t been feeling well for the past week or so – most likely a cold or something – and the way I know it’s something serious and not seasonal allergies is because my eating habits have changed. I’m drinking hot tea like water, I’m drinking more juice and water than usual, I’m often only eating at all because I know I need to, and I’m craving chicken broth. Usually, chicken broth might add a nice flavor to a dish, but my general attitude is “take it or leave it.” Instead, it’s been a staple of my diet for the past few days.

So begins the quest for the ultimate comfort food. I’ve experimented with pastina, by which I mean a mix of different tiny pastas that come in a variety of shapes. I like to cook half a cup of it in 2 cups of chicken broth, which I’ll season according to my current mood. The pastina soaks up all the broth and tastes amazing. It’s one of the few foods I’ll continue eating until it’s gone, regardless of how little it takes for me to actually stop feeling hungry.

But when I’m sick I want chicken soup. It’s about the only time I really want chicken soup. The chicken itself is good because my rational brain knows I need protein, but mostly I want the broth. In liquid form, thanks.

So, today I decided to try working things out a bit differently. I prepared the pastina in salted water instead, cooking it until it was about al dente, then turned off the heat and let it sit so it could soak up the remaining water. Then I heated 2 cups of chicken broth (College Inn Light & Fat Free) over a very low flame. I added some fresh herbs my aunt grows in her backyard and was kind enough to share with me: oregano, lemon-thyme, and lavender. I also added some salt, ground ginger, and of course garlic powder. (better suited to seasoning a broth, I think)

I put 2 oz chicken breast in the broth, and once that had turned white, I added cut green beans and the pastina (complete with the cooking water it hadn’t yet absorbed). Some time cooking over a slightly higher flame, a sprinkling of (dried) Italian seasoning, and several stirs later, I had a rather promising soup.

chicken soup with pastina and green beans

The flavors are subtle but pleasant, and there’s a bit of a kick to it that sneaks up on one. (most likely from the ginger) The soup clears out the sinuses and satisfies hunger quite nicely. I think, if a vegetable is needed at all, it should be in smaller pieces and cooked so it’s no longer crunchy. Measures should be taken to keep the chicken from drying out. But overall, I’d say this soup is a pretty good contender.

What’s your ultimate comfort food?

Love Your Ingredients List

What better way to start out a cooking blog than with a recipe that didn’t work out so well? I love macaroni and cheese, especially the way my grandmother used to make it. The top would become brown and crispy; that was the best part. You just don’t get that with other macaroni and cheese (especially not the pre-packaged, microwavable stuff). I could really use a good macaroni and cheese recipe.

I recently acquired a copy of The Food Matters Cookbook. It has several delicious recipes, mainly centered around vegetables with starches and proteins as supporting characters. And lo, it includes a recipe for macaroni and cheese that uses cauliflower to make the sauce nice and creamy. I thought it would be fantastic – macaroni and cheese, and its primary ingredient is a vegetable … so it has to be healthy, right?

I really should have known better. First of all, I don’t like cauliflower. I’ll eat it, it’s relatively inoffensive, but I don’t like it. It’s not something I usually choose to eat. As I mentioned, the primary ingredient in this recipe is cauliflower. A whole head of it, the size of a bowling ball! And, to make matters worse, the recipe doesn’t call for a single clove of garlic. I should have seen the red flags, but no. The appeal of healthy macaroni and cheese was just too strong!

In the recipe’s defense, it does call for Dijon mustard and nutmeg, neither of which I used. I don’t like the former, and I didn’t have the latter in stock. They might have helped, but I’m pretty sure that, without garlic, the recipe was doomed!

Long story short, we boiled the cauliflower until it was very tender, then pureed it with chicken broth, a blend of cheddar cheeses, and some salt and pepper. I was dismayed to discover that this mixture tasted like cauliflower, not cheese. Adding more cheese only meant that there was less of the delicious cheddar to put to other purposes. But, cooking can be like watching a train wreck. It’s painful to watch, but just too hard to pull oneself away.

The saving grace, once the mixture was poured over half a pound of not-fully-cooked macaroni and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, was that the recipe recommends a topping of breadcrumbs. My accomplice and I agreed to use seasoned breadcrumbs. (They were Italian seasoned breadcrumbs, so they must have included at least a small amount of garlic.) We sprinkled on a very generous layer, put the macaroni and cheese in the oven to bake, and prayed.

Our prayers were not heard. Or, if they were heard, they were laughed at and ignored. The only reason this monstrosity was edible at all was because of the bread crumbs! (see? garlic.) Usually very enthusiastic eaters, we each consumed only enough to quiet our rumbling stomachs. The leftovers sat in the fridge for longer than I’m willing to admit. I finally disposed of them a couple of days ago in order to rescue the baking dish and free up some space in the fridge. It was so painful to see so much pasta go to waste!

So, whatever you do, always check the ingredients list before deciding to follow a recipe. If you don’t like the ingredients, you probably won’t like the finished product, no matter how tempting the idea of is.

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