Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lacking on Theme, Heavy on FUN!

The start to tonight's dinner was in no ways an inappropriate way to begin thematically. I generally spend far too much time grasping onto extremely unnecessary tie ins rather than actual tie-ins that are related to flavor, ethnicity, or flavor. If you need another example of this to be convinced please refer to last night's dinner.

We had a dinner guest, so I went with my favorite theme: foods I enjoy!

French(ish) Start

To start I got a fresh baguette, some La Tur cheese, and some sour cherry spread. This in no way set the stage for the rest of the food that was about to come!

Vaguely Asian First Course

For a salad I made this salad using up some broccoli stems, florets, carrot, sesame seeds, mirin, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and Sichuan pepper. I served it over some mixed greens which I'd tossed in sesame oil, lime juice, salt, and more Sichuan pepper.

Slightly Less Asian Main Course

For the main course I boiled some potato with celeriac, mashed them together with butter, milk, salt, and pepper, and served with some freshly seared tuna loin. I coated the tuna in a little salt, wasabi powder, and raw sesame seeds before searing it lightly in safflower oil with a drizzle of sesame oil.

American Wine Accompaniment

For a wine I served this Reisling because on the back label it said it was good with Asian food. I love how one wine can go with the foods from an entire continent. That's right, any food made by nearly 3 billion people can be matched up with this wine. Now that, my friends, is versatility.

American Beer Accompaniment

While the ladies enjoyed the extremely versatile wine I had the Fixed Gear American Red Ale from Lakefront Brewery. Even if you take this label at face value it really only works in North and South America which is probably less than 1 billion people. Nowhere near as all purpose as the wine served this evening.

Canadian Homestyle Dessert

For dessert Jen brought out her grandmother's tried-and-true "Napoleon" recipe. This is simply vanilla pudding and whipped cream layered with graham crackers and drizzled with melted chocolate. It's way easier to make than actual Napoleons and (in my humble opinion) a bit tastier.

I think the only thing that could have made tonight's dinner more incongruous would have been a pasta dish or perhaps some smoked salmon.

Sticking to themes is for weenies.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Tale of Three Monks

One thing I love is finding a theme for a meal. No theme is too forced, too ill-conceived, or too baffling for me to give a try. Tonight's meal is no different.

Meet Mr. Monk . . . fish. Some people hate monkfish because of its texture and its disgusting appearance which is similar to that of a hideous demon from hell.

Fair enough. I hate it because it is a huge pain to clean. It is actually one of my favorite fish in general. Since I was lucky enough to have a fishmonger agree to clean it for me it made cooking it this evening a pleasure.

I halved the remaining radishes in the fridge, roasted them in the oven with some garlic, shallots, and olive oil, then did the same with the monkfish. I served it all over mustard greens which I prepared the same way.

Meet Monk . . . brewed beer. Chimay blue label was the last variety in the fridge, the remnants of a Christmas gift to me. I've had approximately one Chimay a month, savoring it along the early parts of 2011.

Those of you that know me know that I am partial to beer brewed by monks. Most monks live in Belgium (well, the beer-brewing sort do) and Belgian-ness is another quality I look for in a beer.

Monks know their beer. They also know their fish. One other thing they know is . . .

Meet Mr. Monk . . . just Mr. Monk. What better way to enjoy this monk-themed meal than by watching some episodes of Monk? This is arguably Tony Shalhoub's finest role and a great way to enjoy any meal.

Okay, this is a lie. We didn't actually watch Monk this evening. I did, however, stage this photo when I got home from work as I continued to test out my new flash transmitter which (as you can tell) I am still not very adept at using.

What does this say about me that I did this? No need to comment.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dinner in a Flash!

Tonight I got a wonderful present from a photographer friend of Jen's. We'll call him Mr. Nice Guy. Mr. Nice Guy, when hearing of my horrible lighting situation was kind enough to lend Jen (and by extension, me) his flash transmitter. Since Jen had helped him by bouncing flash for him before she was able to sort of show me what to do.

Bouncing flash. That sounds like a euphemism for drug dealing.

Tonight's dinner was pretty lame but I had a lot of opportunity to test things out with this new setup. I made a salad with watercress, radishes, shallot, lemon, olive oil, salt, and pepper. This used up a lot of items from the fridge and Jen even went back to the fridge to retrieve some of the remaining ranch dressing.

I had this bruschetta topping that I found over the weekend so I was able to start using it up. The topping itself was not very good. The picture on the jar looked like delicious fresh diced tomatoes. This more closely resembles pasta sauce in flavor and visually. This picture is also one of the most poorly composed I've ever taken. However, the lighting is not bad compared to what I've been putting on here lately.

For dinner I literally grabbed a bunch of things from the fridge, tossed them together in a bowl, and baked them in a casserole dish. This casserole contains: leftover cauliflower, broccoli, the end of a cubed up loaf of bread, hot sauce, leftover cheese sauce, leftover grilled skirt steak, diced concasse of tomato, and the remnants of a box of dried penne. It wasn't the most delicious dinner ever crafted but it was likely the most practical.

And, finally, for beer I had this blonde by Caulier. This beer was not at all what I expected. It didn't taste like a Belgian beer, it was very heavy on the molasses flavor, and it had a ton of sediment floating in the bottome, perhaps the malted barley it warns of on the label. The flavor was good, just not what I was expecting.

However, this is maybe one of the better lighted pictures I've taken here in a while. That, in itself, is exciting enough for me.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Fajita, Are We There Yet?

Tonight I continued to spelunk my way through our cabinets to find new culinary treasures that we would be forces privileged to use for our dinner!

For salad I cleaned up some mustard greens and tossed it together with the leftover iceberg lettuce. I topped it with sliced radishes, croutons, feta cheese, salt, pepper, olive oil, and lime juice.

I had been hoping to use up this fajita sauce from Fajita Joe's after rediscovering it in the cabinet this weekend. Rediscovering things in your cabinet is kind of like rediscovering albums you'd forgotten about. The only difference is that sometimes when you rediscover them they are rotting and full of mold.

I sauteed some onion, garlic, jalapenos and bell peppers with a little salt and pepper then added the fajita sauce and some slices of leftover skirt steak from last night that I thinly sliced. I served it with sour cream, avocado, green onion, and shredded cheddar cheese.

I wish that I had one of those hot plates that I could have left in the oven and then taken to the dinner table so the fajita toppings were sizzling when I served them. I feel that it really would have classed this dinner up like we were in a fine-dining establishment like a Chili's or an Applebee's.

Last night I established that I liked anything served in a small squat container. I proved this by having a Session lager (one of my least favorite types of beer) from Full Sail Brewing Co. Tonight I continued this trend by having their black lager. This one was not quite as good as the regular lager but a fairly decent accompaniment to fajitas.

Now there is only one more lager left in the fridge that I have to work my way through. That story, I'm afraid, will have to wait until another day. Since it's from my least favorite drinking establishment in all the world (and it's my least favorite type of beer in the entire world) I'm in no rush to tackle it just yet.

Eventually my time will be up, however, and I'll be forced to.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Skirting the Issue

Today was a glorious continuation of yesterday's virtuous move through our kitchen stores.

We had set aside the ingredients for lunch yesterday when we cleaned out our freezer. It was pretty much everything we were tired of having in there: a single pork medallion left over from Jen's Rockin' New Year's Eve Dinner, some frozen potato samosas, some frozen naan, leftover salad with buttermilk ranch dressing from last night, a cheddar scallion biscuit from Shrove Tuesday, and some Major Grey's mango chutney.

Out of the Grey family Major Grey has got to be my favorite. He's far better than his asshole cousin Earl Grey and his lousy, lousy tea.

For salad I put together what I called "Pepperoni Pizza Salad" which is not particularly accurate nor does it sound very appealing. I took all the leftovers from last night, the leftover pepperoni, mozzarella, broccolini, radishes, ice berg lettuce, and buttermilk ranch dressing and combined them all together.

The result was better than you would think. Even if was terrible I wouldn't have cared because it would have gotten all that crap out of the fridge.

For the main course Jen and I split up. Jen stayed inside and made cauliflower with cheese sauce while I went out into the freezing cold to grill up a skirt steak. At 25°F this evening I should probably have worn something warmer than a T-shirt. What I did was flip the steak then run into our basement and read a copy of Vogue magazine from November of 2010 about Marilyn Monroe's lost diaries. Then I dashed back outside, flipped the steak, and ran back in to learn about how Paul Newman was a film icon. I learned a lot this evening about grilling in the chilly spring air and, indeed, about myself.

Jen makes this cheese sauce fairly often but this was undoubtedly her finest batch yet even though we were completely out of Worchestershire sauce. It was a true triumph which went beautifully with the skirt steak. And then later with some bread.

For beer I had this Session Lager from Full Sail Brewing. Lager is one of my least favorite types of beer but here's a quick fact about me: I'm a sucker for anything that is packaged in a little squat bottle like this. I'd buy deer urine if it was packaged in a little jug-like bottle like this. I just probably wouldn't drink it. Unless it was a really cool little bottle!

As far as lagers go this was quite good. It may have had more to do with the food than the lager (as is often the case with this type of beer) but I will remember it fondly nonetheless.

The deer urine, on the other hand, takes some getting used to.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Great Pizza Cleanup!

Today began with a massive cleaning of our fridge, freezer, and pantry. I was feeling quite proud of our progress in moving through our inventory in those areas until we began this task. Apparently we haven't even made a dent in our stores.

We have more jams, jellies, and mustards than I care to describe. One thing is for sure, we need to redouble our efforts in using up some of this stuff.

We had buttermilk in the fridge that was past its expiration by a few days. We also had croutons in the pantry that were past their expiration date by several years. I decided to combine them together by making this iceberg lettuce salad with buttermilk ranch dressing.

For the dressing I used buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, smoked paprika, mustard powder, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, fresh dill, fresh parsley, and fresh green onion. It came out well. I think Jen enjoyed it more than I did but it was nice to make. I don't think I've made ranch dressing in at least ten years.

For pizza I used up some of the pizza sauce in the cupboard along to make this pepperoni and broccolini pizza with fresh mozzarella. It was one of the better pizzas I've made in the past year. It was also nice to scrape up the leftover buttermilk ranch dressing on the salad plate using the pizza crusts. It was like when I used to do that same thing with Dominoes pizza when I was in college except far less repulsive.

For beer I had yet another jazz-themed beer called Brother Thelonious from North Coast Brewing in California. The last jazz-themed beer I had was the Miles Davis Bitches Brew which was a stout, a variety of beer I am not all that fond of. This beer combined a jazz musician who I am a much bigger fan of, Thelonious Monk, with Belgian beer which I am also a much bigger fan of. The result was a smashing hit.

I followed Brother Thelonious's lead and drank it out of a goblet, much as he is doing on the label of the bottle. I did not, however, hold on to a skull at the same time. I think I may have missed out on an opportunity in that regard.

I also did not listen to Thelonious Monk's music, which I would have loved to do. The only problem with that is that Jen has a deep and abiding hatred for jazz music. There's just too much noodling around on instruments and, in Thelonious's case, no singing or lyrics to distract from the intense piano work.

As Jen needs to leave tomorrow morning to do yoga, perhaps I can take that opportunity to make up for last Thelonious Monk time.

I don't know why she hates jazz so much. Bill Cosby would not be impressed.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Roast Cod is Better Than Appendicitis

Yesterday was supposed to be a night for making roast cod loin. Instead it ended up with an unexpected trip to the hospital and being tested for appendicitis! Instead of dinner I had two tall glasses of disgusting Crystal Light with red dye in them (more dye than usual, that is). Contrary to what you might think that was not as much fun as as staying home and roasting cod loin.

Tonight I decided to stay in and avoid CAT scans all together. Since I'd foregone a decent meal I rummaged through the fridge to see what I could do with this cod.

I felt much better so I pan-roasted the cod loin and served it over escarole which I braised with garlic and garbanzo beans. Why garbanzo beans? Because I didn't have a more appropriate bean handy. I would have preferred cannelini beans but that wasn't in the cards. It wasn't in the cupboard either.

To accompany the cod I opened this bottle of white wine from our trip to Michigan in 2009. It was the white table wine from Contessa Wine Cellars.

But that was just dinner for Jen. Since I'd gone through a great deal of abdominal strife yesterday I made myself . . .

. . . a pile of toast.

I don't normally post recipes here but I know a lot of you will be wondering how I did this:

2 slices of any kind of bread you like
1 amount of your favorite butter

Method of Preparation:
1.) Cut bread to desired thickness.
2.) Place slices into a toaster at desired darkness setting.
3.) Remove from toaster but only after the toaster pops up. (Note: If you see smoke coming out of the toaster remove your bread sooner.)
4.) Apply butter to hot toast using a butter knife.
5.) Eat while watching someone else eat some cod loin.

Email me if you have any questions!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Getting Caraway'ed with Kielbasa

Yeah, sorry about that blog title. Sometimes it takes me twice as long to write the title as it does to cook the meal, write the entry and take the pictures. And that's still the best I can do!

I had thoughts of starting the grill back up tonight but instead I opted for simplicity. I'd like to imagine that my shot at simplicity is from some Mark Bittmanesque wish to return to basics instead of some Nate-esque wish to not have to start up the grill.

For salad I tossed some escarole with tasso, Marcona almonds, feta, lemon juice, and olive oil. Jen's plate was completely bare except for a small pile of perfectly diced tasso. I thought that perhaps she did not like the tasso but it turns out she had reached her "meat limit" for the day.

It's been a long time since I've made one a one pan meal. If you're a reader of the blog you'll know that these are my favorite dishes because I'm lazy and hate doing dishes it is a rustic celebration of food which takes us back to our culinary roots.

Tonight I sauteed up some crushed garlic cloves, sliced onion, cabbage, and Yukon Gold potatoes in a little olive oil. I tossed in some red pepper flakes and caraway seeds. That went far in using up a lot of items from the crisper.

At the end I sliced up some Polish kielbasa (which I've been craving for the past week or two) and stewed it together for a bit. I contemplated adding a beer to the pot but I didn't have a beer in the fridge that I felt I could waste on cooking so I left it as is.

For beer I begrudgingly poured out the Golden Delicious from Captain Lawrence Brewing Company. It's beer that's aged in apple brandy barrels. I figured an apple taste would go quite nicely with the pork on the menu tonight. It turns out I was right!

The reason I was resistant to have this beer was because they didn't list the alcohol by volume. I even checked the website and it lists the ABV as "NA." I find this to be quite unacceptable especially since I've had one snifter and I feel like it might as well have been filled with pure apple brandy instead of merely beer aged in apple brandy barrels.

I guess that's the price I pay for being enough of a pretentious jerk to drink my beer out of a snifter.

Lesson learned.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Just Grilling in the Rain (What a Glorious Feelin')

Ah, spring! A time for rebirth, a time when the brooks run with the melted snow, a time when a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love!

As today was the first day of spring we had big plans to fire up the grill for it's inaugural meal of 2011. Sadly it was snowing this morning and in the low thirties. When I returned home from work it was merely raining and in the high thirties. Perhaps we should have taken advantage of grilling this weekend when it was in the seventies but it was still the winter this weekend! Who grills in the winter? That's just silly!

Well, I wasn't about to let a little rain stop me from lighting up the grill. I probably should have because it wasn't that easy to get started in the rain but I persevered.

Tonight, for salad, I threw a lot of what was leftover in the fridge together. What I came up with was sort of what you'd have if Pasta Puttanesca, a Caesar salad, and a health nut procreated in some sort of unholy manner. I used up the remaining red kale, tossed in some leftover capers, anchovy fillets, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, hot sauce, olive oil, salt, and pepper. The result was far better than I'd have expected. I would definitely make this one again. That is, of course, if I ever made the same salad more than once or twice.

On second thought I'll say I'd make this again then I will promptly forget I ever made it and it will be lost in the annals of time.

The first thing to make it onto our grill was this fantastic pork chop from Lucki7 Livestock Company, a Step 4-rated farm in Rodman, New York. I spotted this at my local butcher shop and made the wise idea to purchase it. Any time I see pork from Lucki7 I pick it up since their pork is so great. Even if I have a fridge full of pork, I'll just throw all that stuff out and replace it with this.

I hesitate to do much to their pork so I just served it with some sauteed chard, boiled potatoes with butter and olive oil.

I had made and frozen some corn muffins out of the leftover batter from the Mexican shepherd's pie I made the other night. I sliced a couple in half, buttered them, and fried them up in the pan.

For beer I had this Traquair 2020 from Scotland. Apparently they brewed it to celebrate the first decade of the millennium to be consumed in the second decade of the millennium. It's not supposed to age or anything, you're just supposed to drink it within these ten years.

I found that very easy to do and I found this beer quite tasty. It's very similar to the Gouden Carolus I had last night in that it is very much like malt and molasses. Just the kind of beer you can enjoy out of a snifter as long as you close your blinds to make sure no one is looking in to see how much of a jerk you are.

Today someone at work gave me a tiny portion of baklava and it got me to thinking about how I hadn't had baklava in ages. Since I had the leftover filo in the fridge I decided I'd throw together a quick one. It was really just scavenging whatever what left in the fridge together so it was a little thin. I used equal parts walnuts, pecans, and almonds from the cupboard and made the sauce out of water, palm sugar, and honey.

Baklava isn't really spring-themed but it was fun to make and get to use the rest of the filo dough that I was convinced I'd end up throwing away.

Blossom by blossom the spring begins.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Italian Pasta, Italian Wine, Made in New York

Don't be a chump, follow our blog!

If you read this blog at all you know that I like to reward myself with a delicious Belgian beer when I feel I've endured some hardship.

Tonight I started off with this Gouden Carolus Classic. After trying their Christmas beer I was excited to try this. "What was the hardship?" You ask. Well, it was having to have a bunch of really sub par beers in the course of this St. Patrick's Week. No one should have to endure that. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy.

This beer was all malty and caramely and delicious. When I gave Jen a sip and she wrinkled her nose at it in disgust that only confirmed that this was my kind of beer.

Jen made the salad tonight with red kale, sunchokes, peanuts, feta cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

We got some really fine-looking seafood at the store today so I cooked it up with this funky pasta whose shape I do not know the name for. I toasted a good amount of garlic in olive oil and butter, then added some diced tasso, bay scallops, shrimp, little necks, and crawfish. I also added the juice of half a lemon and some white wine before tossing the cooked pasta into the pan.

The result was extremely tasty. The last time I cooked with tasso Bill Clinton was in office and I made the tasso myself from scratch. When I saw the tasso at the store I just had to make something with it. That's the way President Clinton would have wanted it.

For wine we cracked open a bottle of Tocai Friulano from Millbrook Vineyards, one of our favorite wineries. Why is it one of our favorite? Well, because we've been there once. It was pretty cool. Know this, aspiring wine-makers, if you wish to have your vineyard be amongst our favorites all you need do is give us a tour and a few free sips of wine and we're yours.

You had us at "free wine."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Irish Arancini, Air Guitar Memorial, and the "Supermoon"

Today marked a first. Not a culinary first, per se, but a musical first. Jen voluntarily requested to listen to some early Ozzy Osborne. Even she was moved by the 29th anniversary of Randy Rhoads's death. I was more than happy to oblige.

I was also more than happy to play air guitar to some of my favorite Randy Rhoads solos. Jen thought that because I could go dweedly-dweedly-dweeeeeeeeee along to the solos that I should be able to also play them on an actual guitar. It took me a bit of time to convince her that this was not the case.

She still doesn't seem to understand how this works.

I was excited tonight to have a beer that was not disappointing. The past week or so has been filled with Irish beers that I don't really care for. Even before that there was that German pilsner that I didn't enjoy that much. So I was thrilled to pour myself an Irish Red from Thomas Hooker Brewing Company.

Unfortunately it was a little disappointing. It had a little bit of a vinegar taste to it (which seems to be intentional). I'm a huge fan of every other Hooker beer I've had (the limited edition Munich in particular) but I guess they can't all be gems. I much preferred the Irish Red from Saranac that we had last year.

I had an unusual idea to make a sort of croquette (similar to what I included with last night's salad) for dinner this evening.

I took the leftover batter from the fritters last night and stuffed them with a chunk of corned beef, braised cabbage, and Irish cheddar.

After that I fried them and finished them off in the oven, serving them over the remaining Guinness-braised cabbage. Essentially this is corned beef and cabbage wrapped in colcannon. I call it: Irish arancini.

For dessert we enjoyed another flavor of yogurt form White Cow Dairy. They don't include any nutritional information on their packaging which is fine because it's better that we don't know that this tiny amount of yogurt contains more fat and calories than an equivalent sized portion of pure lard.

After dinner I took this rather lackluster picture of the moon. Tonight was a "supermoon" (a term I'm pretty sure they just made up) meaning that it was the brightest and closest to the Earth the moon has been in eighteen years! That was disappointing because I thought it was going to have something to do with that scene in Superman IV where Superman flies that solar-powered baddie up to the moon and buries him in moon dust so he can't do any more harm.

I tried using the camera way beyond my normal wheelhouse of using whatever automatic setting I can find. I was adjusting all kinds of aperture and ISO setting. I even changed the f-stop! As you can see it was well worth it for this microscopic picture of the Earth's natural satellite.

Look out, Leibovitz, there's a new sheriff in town.