Monday, May 31, 2010

Bell peppers with rice (p. 292)

There aren't many TJOC recipes that utterly fail for me but it does occasionally happen. Bell peppers with rice (p. 292) was one of these recipes. I will admit to not 100% following the recipe (I instead followed my mom's bad advice) but that wasn't the only problem.

As most of you know, I don't like bell peppers, so I tend to make the pepper recipes for my mom.

I hollowed out four bell peppers:

Problem 1: TJOC recommends to steam the peppers for ten minutes. That seemed ridiculous and my mother, a seasoned (teehee!) pepper maker thought it seemed like a asinine step, so I didn't do it.

I then mixed the filling. Mom thought that brown rice would be better than white rice and whipped some up. Poor rice-making skills must run in the family because it wasn't nearly done enough. She thought it was fine, so I mixed it with Cheddar cheese, chicken stock, basil, and a little black pepper:

I filled the peppers and noticed problem 2: they were only about 3/4 full and looked ridiculous.

After they were baked they looked even worse:

The peppers didn't seem tender but I figured that was fine because mom was going to have to cook them again when she heated them up in the future. Even that didn't make the peppers tender enough. Mom said they were undercooked and amazingly bland.

Mom's solution to this was to add tomato sauce and more cheese to the peppers. Still didn't help. Has anyone else made this recipe? Did you have more success? Even I knew these didn't look good and I wouldn't know a good stuffed pepper if it hit me in the face.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Green pea soup (p. 130) and Lentil soup with greens (p. 134)

I really like making soup but Josh doesn't love it nearly as much as I do. If I had to pick one type of food to eat for the rest of my life, it would be soup. I really don't like split-pea soup so I didn't have high hopes for Green pea soup (p. 130).

Boston lettuce was one of the required items and I had no idea what it was. Apparently it's a type of butterhead lettuce, like Bibb, and actually was readily available at the grocery store. I sauteed the lettuce (I've never sauteed lettuce before!), an onion, celery, and parsley:

It was go green! I added frozen peas, chicken stock, and a handful of sugar snap peas (mine were from the farmer's market but it would be a perfect use for your garden veggies).

I smashed some of the peas and then added a little more chicken stock and some salt and it was done. This soup is amazing! It was so fresh and healthy tasting! I had never had a pea soup that was made out of fresh peas and it was such a good experience. This would be an absolutely perfect recipe for someone with a lot of peas in their garden. If you like peas, this is the soup for you. Make sure to add plenty of salt, it really enhances the flavor.

Josh doesn't like lentils (and I don't particularly love them either) so I decided to make Lentil soup with greens (p. 134) for mom. Lentil soup with sausage and potato was good and filling, so I was optimistic about this variation.

Essentially, it's exactly like the linked version, except instead of sausage and potato, I added spinach.

It was good! There are a lot more lentils in the dish than the picture would suggest (they all sunk to the bottom). This is a main dish soup and was amazingly cheap to make, so it's perfect for those on a budget. It's also could easily be vegan if you didn't add the bacon (I, of course, added the delicious bacon).

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel on the "Stocks and Soups" chapter! Unfortunately, I have chosen not to make most of the soups that are left for various reasons. Either I don't have the equipment (ovenproof bowls for french onion or roasted garlic soups), am not excited about the main ingredient (cream of chestnut soup), or it's a seafood soup (Colorado does not have cheap, quality seafood). Even so, I'm probably at 50%! I'm pretty excited about that. I imagine this will be the first chapter that I actually finish.

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Spiced rhubarb conserves (p. 940)

Mom has a big rhubarb patch in the backyard and asked me if there were any TJOC recipes that could utilize some. I thumbed through TJOC and noticed Spiced rhubarb conserves (p. 940), out of the jellies and preserves chapter that I had not made a single item from. Mom is a seasoned canner and I thought that she could help me. I don't really like jelly or jam so the chapter hasn't been that interesting to me.

I froze and then sliced an orange and a lemon (freezing makes them easier to slice--and always use a serrated knife, it is so much easier that way). I peeled and cut some ginger into slivers and combined them with apple cider and boiled it until the citrus peel was soft, which took about an hour (it was supposed to take fifteen minutes):

I added rhubarb, golden raisins, cinnamon, mace, and sugar:

And boiled it all until it was thick:

Mom and I sterilized the jars in boiling water:

We poured the conserves into the canning jars (which I don't think were actually the correct size):

And finished the canning process!

It was very exciting and made 3.5 jars. I took two, gave mom one, and gave my dad one. I have absolutely no idea what they taste like because I haven't opened any of them up yet, so I will have to edit this post when I finally taste the finished product. Conserves, apparently, are served with poultry or meat rather than smeared on toast like jelly or jam. Does anyone eat conserves? For some reason, that seems really strange to me.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pimiento cheese (p. 179) and Sweet-and-sour pork (p. 504)

Pimiento cheese (p. 179) spread is something that I've seen at the grocery counter a thousand times but never actually eaten, likely because I don't like pimientos. Every grocery store from Kroger to Whole Foods has a version of it. So what interested me in making it today? Two things. First, my mom likes spreads and I was pretty sure she would like this one. Second, I had been reading the Jane Jameson (Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs, Nice Girls Don't Date Dead Men, and Nice Girls Don't Live Forever) books by Molly Harper and Jane encounters a lot of pimiento spread, which intrigued me. I read a lot and Harper's books are the only really good chick-lit I've ever read--I can't recommend them enough. They were laugh out loud funny and I kept dog-earring pages to read to Josh later.

I thought TJOC would be likely to have a pretty solid pimiento cheese spread and I wanted to know what it tasted like.

I mixed chopped pimientos, mayonnaise, garlic, lemon juice, dry mustard (which I must have bought for my mom before because she actually had it), Worcestershire sauce, and ground red pepper:

I then mixed in finely grated cheddar and colby cheese:

It was really simple and good! I still don't like pimientos, so I doubt I would whip this up for myself, but both Josh and mom liked it and said it was good on crackers or bread. It was nice and creamy with just the right amount of cheese. I think this would make a perfect dish for a potluck. It's funny that I find so many potluck recipes in TJOC when I never go to potlucks...

I don't like green peppers and I'm allergic to pineapple, so I had been holding off on Sweet-and-sour pork (p. 504). My mom always used to tell me that she used to make a really good sweet and sour pork, so I thought she'd be the perfect test subject for the TJOC version.

I mixed pineapple juice, chicken stock, cider vinegar, brown sugar, cornstarch, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. I thought the recipe called for an awful lot of salty ingredients so I looked it over again--I mistook teaspoons for tablespoons and had used way too much Worcestershire sauce. I threw it out and started again. It was a good thing that I had plenty of everything!

I added browned pork and simmered it for an hour:

I then added pineapple chunks, green pepper, and sliced onion:

And cooked it for a little longer. Mom said it was really good, although she would like the pepper cut more into chunks than slices. I wanted it to be that horrible red color it is at Panda Express but it was a boring brown. It didn't have much sugar in it, though, and the pork wasn't deep fried, so I'm guessing it's considerably healthier than the sweet-and-sour pork in most Chinese restaurants.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Au gratin potatoes (p. 297)

I usually adore potatoes in all their forms, so I thought Au gratin potatoes (p. 297) would be a perfect addition to the dinner that my father was making.

I sliced potatoes as thin as I could and cooked them with half-and-half, salt, pepper, and a bit of nutmeg:

I buttered a baking dish and rubbed garlic over it (I doubled this recipe and made two dishes of it):

When the liquid FINALLY started to thicken (which took a really long time), I poured the potato mixture into the dish:

Topped it with cheese:

And popped it into the oven. The liquid oozed! It started oozing all over the oven. Dad was not concerned but I was--it was making a huge mess, so I slid foil under it.

To be honest, these au gratin potatoes were one of the ugliest dishes I've ever made. They had an almost gray tingue, which was not appetizing.

They were amazingly bland. Incredibly bland. There are so many delicious potato recipes out there, I can't imagine ever wanting to make this particular dish again. I think it was really under-spiced. Has anyone else made these? Did it turn out like this?

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Ranch dressing (p. 576) , Creamy macaroni salad for a crowd (p. 172), and Creamy dressing for coleslaw (p. 578)

The week after my PhD "graduation" my brother Sam graduated from high school! Congrats, Sam!

(I will post a picture of Sam and I when Dad sends me one this weekend!)

My dad asked me to help him cook for the large graduation party and dad and I had a lot of fun puttering around the kitchen. Dad made a TON of pulled pork with different sauces and I whipped up some Western South Carolina sauce , along with my delicious blue cheese dressing. Most of the party food wasn't from TJOC but I talked him into letting me make Ranch dressing (p. 576) as a dipping sauce for the carrots/celery/dipping veggies.

I just don't get the love people have for ranch dressing. To me, it's boring and really high in calories. I've known people who dipped EVERYTHING in ranch, which always grossed me out. I understand vegetables or pizza. I don't understand getting an artery-clogging side of ranch with everything you eat.

Did you know that ranch was originally created at the Hidden Valley Guest Ranch? Interesting piece of random trivia.

I combined garlic and salt until smooth, and then added buttermilk, lime juice, parsley, chives, and a little salt and pepper.

It was really, really, really thin. The problem might have been that I quadrupled the recipe but it was a dressing as in 'dressing for cole slaw' and not a dressing as in 'dressing for a salad'. So, like TJOC recommended for thicker sauce, I added sour cream and mayonnaise.

It was still a no-go and was really, really thin. Disappointing! Has anyone else made this recipe? Did it work out for you?

Dad had already planned on making potato salad and had bought bean salad but I thought a pasta salad would really round things out. And I thought it would be the perfect time to make Creamy macaroni salad for a crowd (p. 172).

I chopped what seemed like a ton of peppers, carrots, and an onion--my knife skills are improving--while the pasta boiled away on the stove.

While that was happening, I whipped up some Creamy dressing for coleslaw (p. 578). It was a simple sauce. I mixed mayonnaise, cider vinegar, and sugar:

I mixed it all together:

It was really pretty and inviting. I thought it had the perfect amount of dressing--not much. I made the pasta salad the day before it was eaten and I really recommend doing that because the flavors melded together and improved. I think adding a few cucumbers or cherry tomatoes would make the dish even better. It was a sort of boring pasta salad but was very popular which make it a perfect dish for a potluck. The recipe does make a LOT of pasta salad, so I recommend only making it if you honestly do have a crowd.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Becker sour cream dip (p. 72)

I am so behind in posting (like usual) which means a bunch of the posts that I am writing now are never going to be read (they will get buried behind newer posts). And that's a real shame, because Becker sour cream dip (p. 72) is easily one of the best dips I've ever eaten.

My mom had bought chips but no dip. I am apathetic about chips but I LOVE dip, so I decided to whip up my own. I mixed sour cream, soy sauce, black pepper, garlic, and salt.

That's it!

The dip is very, very heavily peppered, which I loved. Two teaspoons of pepper for two cups of sour cream is a huge amount. And I may have added twice as much garlic as requested (which I almost always do) so it was nice and garlicky. I could not stop eating this dip.

My TJOC mantra is that I only make things from scratch if they are markedly better or cheaper than what I can buy in the store. Red onion dip, for example, failed that test. Becker sour cream dip passes with flying colors--it is soooo much better than anything I've ever bought.

Has anyone else made this? I would love to know what you thought.

**I have made it twice since the original time--it's a dangerous dip. Don't make it if you don't want to eat it all in a day or two**

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Grad weekend #6:Chicken and apple sausage (p. 516),Pan-broiled sausage (p. 517) Fruit salad or fruit cup (p.210),Honey dressing for fruit salad(p.578)

I originally meant to make a couple types of sausage for brunch but realized that I had only bought enough pork for my stuffing and not enough for my pork sausage. That left me with only one type of sausage--Chicken and apple sausage (p. 516).

I ground a couple pounds of chicken thighs--TJOC says to use the skin as well as the meat but I thought that would be too fattening for the crowd I was feeding, so I only used about a quarter of it. I boiled a cup of apple cider down to a syrup, and mixed my chicken, apple cider, dried apples, salt, pepper, sage, thyme, cinnamon, and ginger together.

I formed the sausage into patties and fried them according to Pan-broiled sausage (p. 517).

Essentially, the sausages were cooked until they were done:

The sausage was delicious but really heavy on the apple flavor. I'm usually not one for chicken sausage (and I still think the sausage would be much better with pork) but it was fun to make my own sausage mixture and I'm sure I will do it again.

I thought that it would be a good idea to have a fruit salad with brunch. I'm having trouble with the fruit section of TJOC because I'm allergic to most fruit (I have to carry an Epi-Pen) and it seems insane to make stuff that I can't eat when it's just the two of us. I became allergic to kiwi when I was about twelve, which was no problem, because I don't like it. Over the years the allergy has spread to papaya, bananas, mango, melon, and pineapple (I love pineapple, so that one I miss). Recently, strawberries have started giving me a reaction, which is really depressing. Piece of trivia--fruit allergies aren't that common, but kiwi is the fruit that is most likely to give a reaction (as well as leading to the worst reactions).

Even as a kid I liked making fruit salad, although I never liked eating it, so I'm known in my family for making a nice fruit salad (although how difficult is a fruit salad?). I decided to make Fruit salad or fruit cup (p. 210), without the honey.

I cut up and mixed together oranges, apples, a pear, a banana, and some blueberries.

I then made Honey dressing for fruit salad (p. 578). I mixed honey and lime juice:

It seemed like a strange combination to me. I assume the lime juice is to stop the fruit from browning. I mixed the fruit with the sauce and it was done!

Obviously, I didn't try the fruit salad but my family said that it was good. It had a strong honey flavor to it, so if you like honey, this would be a good choice. I think the combo of fruits was good but another colorful fruit would have made it much more pretty--if I made it again, I would probably add in some strawberries or peaches.

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Grad weekend #5: Brunch! "Artichoke frittata for a crowd" (p.202)

I was pretty excited to have a crowd for which to cook "Artichoke frittata for a crowd" (p.202). I was pretty excited to be able to knock off a few breakfast foods and serving a nice brunch was the perfect choice, since graduation started at 3.

**I know some of you really enjoy when I find mistakes and there was an error in this recipe--stay tuned!**

I whisked together a dozen eggs (yes, a dozen), half-and-half, Parmesan, basil, salt, and black pepper.

I ran into a problem here--I don't have a 12-inch ovenproof skillet. I had a 6-inch skillet and an 8-inch skillet. I figured I could just make two smaller frittatas instead of one big one.

So I melted butter in my beautiful skillet:

(You will have to visualize some of the pictures here--juggling these frittatas was not easy and I neglected to take many pictures.)

I added chopped leeks and a garlic clove and cooked until soft. I added chopped artichokes--I chose against adding red peppers because I don't like them.

I then read the recipe about ten times. I read it out loud to my mom. I read it to my Uncle Denny. The recipe never mentions adding the egg mixture to the pan. I assume you add it at this point in the recipe, so that's what I did:

I cooked the frittatas over medium-low heat for what seemed like forever. Frittatas are not a good choice for people (like me) who like to hover over their cooking.

Finally, the edges started to pull away from the pan, which my godmother told me meant it was ready to be put in the oven. I popped the frittata in the oven and broiled it for about five minutes and it was done!

Again, it wasn't easy to keep everything going:

But the frittata was beautiful when it was done!

It was really delicious! It was light and fluffy and perfectly seasoned. Honestly, it was kind of nice to have two frittatas because everyone ate the first one while it was hot, then the second one came out when people were ready for seconds. My dad has been on the Atkin's Diet for over ten years and it was the perfect choice--it was super low in carbs.

That all being said, I'm not sure I will make another frittata. I was very stressed watching it vvveeerrrryyyy slowly cook. Well, I guess that's not totally true, I will make at least one more since there is another frittata recipe in TJOC--I will have to see how that one goes.

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Grad post #4.5: The lost side dishes. Twice-baked potatoes (p. 297) and Creamed pearl onions (p. 287)

As I was reading TJOC, I realized I had missed a graduation post on the dinner side dishes. I am pretty proud of my graduation cooking--I was able to knock out about nineteen dishes over two days (putting me much closer to my 201 recipe in 2010 goal).

Twice-baked potatoes (p. 297) have always been interesting to me. I love potatoes but am usually underwhelmed by the twice-baked variety. They usually seem bland. I was nervous about making these because twice-baked potatoes have always seemed complex and time-consuming to me. On the other hand, they are a great side dish because they can be almost entirely made ahead of time and then just popped in the oven as needed.

Thankfully, for my nerves, my Uncle Denny was around and he was an expert on this particular dish! So he walked me through it. I took potatoes, cut them in half, and scooped out almost all of the potato. I added butter, hot milk, and salt to the pulp and then added it back into the potato shell. Well, to be honest, Denny added the mixture to the shell:

I sprinkled Parmesan and paprika on the top and popped them in the oven:

They weren't very difficult, which was a huge surprise to me. I've taken to making a ton of baked potatoes every couple weeks and this would be a really easy use for them. I think I could vary up the recipe with different cheeses and spices and really make a knock-out dish. They were tasty! I think they would have been even better with some bacon.

I also made Creamed pearl onions (p. 287). I'm not sure why I decided to make this recipe. If I was to refer to a vegetable as my enemy, it would be pearl onions, hands down. They are SUCH a pain. And you have to peel so many of them to make a reasonable dish. Even if you use the blanching method and force your mother to help you, it still takes about an hour. An hour than feels like twelve hours.

I like this picture because it looks to me like the potatoes are watching the caged onions.

I melted butter in a saucepan, added flour, and then added milk, half-and-half, salt, pepper, and a bit of nutmeg.

I poured the milk mixture over the onions and then topped it with delicious cheese:

It was baked for about fifteen minutes:

The pearl onions were really good! I would have thought that an entirely onion side dish would be way too strong but between the milk mixture, the mild flavor of pearl onions, and the delicious crisped cheese, it was really good. If you like onions, this is a dish for you. It's a pretty unexpected side dish.

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