Friday, September 21, 2012

Sweet Pear and Onion Porkchops

Maybe a year or two ago, maybe more, I remembered cooking pork chops with some apple or pear and onions on top. I couldn’t remember all the details, so I Googled similar recipes, noted similarities in some, and threw ingredients together. The end result was sweet, salty, crispy and soft, and so insanely tasty I wanted to lick the plate. It must be a blue moon, because that never happens.

Wanna make it yourself?


Pork Chops (one or two for each person, I prefer thin cut)
2 Beurre Bosc pears
1 small white onion (I actually used half  a medium one)
1-1/2 tablespoons rosemary (dried or fresh is fine)
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1/8 – 1/4 cup white cooking wine
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons brown sugar
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
3 tablespoons butter
cooking oil of your choice (I used peanut)

 (Please keep in mind my seasoning amounts are totally approximate — the only thing I know exactly how much I used is the meat, pears and onion!)

Place one skillet on the stove on medium/medium-high and heat your oil, and melt your butter in a medium saucepan.

Chop pears into small pieces, and finely chop onion as well. Put those two into your saucepan with the butter and stir to coat evenly.

Generously salt and pepper both sides of pork chops, and lay on skillet with oil. Be generous with your salt and pepper.

Once the onions are soft and the pears are starting to come apart a little, sprinkle a generous amount of rosemary, garlic powder, and white wine and brown sugar, and stir well. Allow to come to a boil, then turn down to simmer.

Flip pork chops as necessary, and cook until there is a nice dark brown crispy crust on both sides.

I ended up adding some water to the pear/onion mixture because as it started to cook out the liquid, I realized I did want some juice to it. I poured in the water and turned it back up to boil, then turned it down only a tiny bit, constantly stirring so nothing stuck or burned on the bottom.

It had been my intention to then pour the mix over the finished pork chops in the skillet and let them mix together for a bit, but I didn’t end up actually doing that. Instead, once the porkchops were nice and browned, I just scooped pear/onion mix on top of them, and this made enough for about 6-7 pork chops with generous amounts of topping. SUPER tasty.

*This recipe was originally posted on my parenting blog, Daily Momtra.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Soy Scallion Flank Steak

This recipe is so easy, and so mouth-wateringly yummy, it's bound to be a favorite.  It is in my house...I can tell because my two youngest kids keep asking "When are we gonna have THAT steak again?"

You'll need:

1/3 c. soy sauce

3 cloves garlic - crushed (the jarred stuff saves time and effort...get some asap)

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger (again, they sell this stuff in jars, pre-grated.  It's awesome, and I'm never without some in my pantry.  You have to be pretty hard core to buy ginger root and stand there and grate it with a zester.  I mean, come on.)

2 tablespoons rice vinegar (I know.  Calm down.  WTH is RICE vinegar?  Simply go to the grocery store, and go where they sell the white vinegar.  It's usually on the bottom shelf.  Now, look up.  The fancier vinegars will be up on the top shelves.  Get regular rice vinegar.  Not garlic, or any other fancy schmacy flavor.  Just rice vinegar.  No, it's not expensive.  Yes, it's really worth it.)

1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil (found with the Asian foods - top shelves.  Easy peasy)

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper - aka cayenne pepper

1 bunch green onions - chopped (the ones that look like giant chives, you dig?)

2 1/2 pound beef flank steak (Okay.  That's what the recipe calls for, but I have yet to find a damn 'flank steak'.  So, go ahead and get crazy.  Use a London Broil!  Use...*gasp* Sirloin!  Any cut of steak will do!  It will be oooookay.  Trust me.)

Now do this:

Mix all of the marinade ingredients in a bowl, except the green onions.  Stir it up until blended.  Now, pay attention.  You need to reserve some of the marinade!  Don't pour it all in the ziploc with the steak!  Save 1/4 cup of it to the side.  (I say this because this is EXACTLY the type of thing I'd do...and then smack myself in the forehead.  I'm tired of smacking myself in the forehead.  I hope to save you from the same fate.)  Go ahead and poke a bunch of holes into the steak with a fork, on both sides.  This will allow the marinade to penetrate the meat better.  (My mouth just started watering thinking of this steak...that's how good it is)  NOW pour the marinade in the ziploc with the steak.  Marinate for at least 2 hours (the longer the better, even 24 - 48 hours) turning occasionally.

Fire up that grill - or yell at the husband to do it.  Grill the steak to perfection.  As 'perfection' is an opinion, grill it to your liking, meaning - rare, medium, well that.  When it's done, remove it to a plate.  Mix 2 tablespoons hot water with the reserved marinade, pour over steak.  Sprinkle the top with generous amounts of green onions.  Enjoy!  Om nom nom...wish I had steak to make this tonight.  Drat.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Grilled Lemon Chicken

I got this recipe years ago out of a magazine...Family Circle, I think.  This stuff is hands-down THE best grilled chicken I have ever tasted and is now a family favorite.  Here's a little secret, you can make this to impress your in-laws, your boss, your neighbors and your friends.  They will think you are a culinary genius, and guess what?  You'll feel like one.  Bonus?  It's easy.  We like easy.  

So it goes like this:  

Juice of 1 lemon (2 - 3 tablespoons - go ahead and go with 3.  Be daring)

1 tablespoon of white vinegar

2 tablespoons of chopped fresh dill - or 2 teaspoons of dried dill

2 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil - or 2 teaspoons of dried basil 

1 tablespoon of honey

1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard  (Yes, Dijon...don't go getting all lazy and tossing regular unfancy yellow    mustard in there.  What are we, animals?)

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

6 medium-size boneless, skinless chicken breasts - about 2 1/2 pounds total

1 lemon, thinly sliced

1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives  ( I leave these out, as they offend my sensitive, rather picky palette)

Now do this:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, dill, basil, honey, mustard, 3/4 teaspoon of salt (I go ahead and put all the salt in the marinade, and skip the salting of the chicken when it's done) and the pepper until well blended.  In a slow stream, whisk in the oil until blended.  (yes this is important...slow because it helps to emulsify the oil with the other ingredients.  If you go throwing it in there all impatient like, you'll end up with your lemon herbal layer, and your oil layer.  This is no bueno.) 

Place chicken in a large resealable bag.  Add 1/3 cup of the dressing and half of the lemon slices.  Seal bag; refrigerate for at least 2 hours to marinate, turning once.  Reserve remaining dressing, stirring in the rest of the lemon slices and olives.  

Heat gas grill to medium-high or prepare charcoal grill with medium-hot coals.  Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade.  Grill chicken 5-6 minutes per side, turning once, until chicken registers 160 degrees on an instant read thermometer, or until your husband deems said chicken to be cooked to perfection.  Either method works.  Remove to a plate.  

Pour reserved dressing over chicken; season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt. (or don't, if you did things Lori-style, as explained in the ingredients list)  If grilled ahead, let come to room temperature before serving.  (about an hour)  

Notes:  I always double the dressing recipe, since it's so mouth wateringly good, you'll end up wanting LOTS of it to put on your grilled to perfection chicken.  You will weep with regret if you only make the single recipe.  Don't come crying to me if you up and ignore my advice.  Ya been warned. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Rosemary Focaccia Bread

Look at me, all fancy like, being a guest blogger!  This is my first blog post, all honored and stuff.

Anyway, Rosemary Focaccia Bread is easy to make and so freaking yummy you can't help but make inappropriate noises when eating the finished product.  I use the recipe from The Taste of Home Baking Book.  Observe:

You'll need:

2 medium onions, chopped (or, several generous shakes of dried onions, which is what I do)
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (I always just use the whole little envelope - works out fine)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1-1/2 cups warm water (not too warm, or you'll kill the yeast), divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 cups all purpose flour (I'm a flour snob, I only use King Arthur's unbleached flour.  Do as I do and                                                                                                                                                                                   you won't be sorry)
2 tablespoons snipped fresh rosemary or 2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed, divided

Coarse Salt

Now do this:

If you're using regular onions, saute them in 1/4 cup olive oil until tender; cool.  In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar in 1/4 cup warm water; let stand for 5 minutes.  (This is called proofing the yeast.  Don't skip doing this, don't rush it, it's important)  Add 2 tablespoons oil, salt and remaining water.  Add 2 cups flour.  Beat until smooth (I use a Kitchen Aid mixer with the paddle attachment for this part) Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.  (I switch to the dough hook attachment at this point.  Soft dough means that it's not sticking to the sides of the bowl when the beater is going around.  You don't want to add TOO much flour though, a little at a time, or you'll end up with tough, dry bread.

Turn dough onto floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.  (I've done this both ways, I like kneading dough by hand, but if I'm short on time, I'll use the dough hook attachment on the mixer for 6 minutes)  Add onions (either the sauteed ones or a few generous shakes of dried onions) and half of the rosemary; knead 1 minute longer.  Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Punch dough down.  Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half.  Pat each portion flat.  Cover and let rest for 5 minutes.  Grease two baking sheets, or one very large one, and sprinkle with cornmeal.  (I don't use the cornmeal, I generously grease the pans with olive oil)  Stretch each portion of dough into a 10 inch circle on prepared pans.  Cover and let rest until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Lightly dimple the tops of the bread with your fingertips and brush with remaining oil.  Sprinkle the top with coarse salt and remaining rosemary.  (You can do this, or you can brush the tops with the garlic and herb infused olive oil you've made to go with it) *  Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from pans to wire racks to cool.


*Garlic and Herb infused Olive Oil

Don't be scared, this is so easy...and the yum factor is off the charts.

You'll need:

1/2 cup olive oil
4 tsp. dried herbs, such as basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, rosemary or sage.  (I use all of them)
3/4 tsp. kosher salt (don't sweat it if it's not kosher - any old salt will do)
1-2 finely minced cloves of garlic (I use the pre-minced garlic in the jar)

Now do this:

Warm 1/2 cup of olive oil over low heat in a small saucepan.  Add herbs, salt and garlic.  Allow to remain on low heat for an hour to an hour and a half.  (See?  Easy peasy)

Store any leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

I double this recipe, since it's so good and you'll want to dip every single bite of bread in it.  It's also good with a little balsamic vinegar stirred in once it's done.  I serve it in individual cups so as not to offend with the inevitable double dipping that will occur.  Bonus: when it's simmering it will make your house smell like a fine Italian restaurant!  *drool*

Friday, June 8, 2012

Poaching, Simmering, Boiling -- What the heck?

image from Sterlic/Flickr
Many the recipe for simple foods as well as complex has listed "bring to a boil, then simmer" or something similar. We already talked about boiling. If you didn't read that, go to Technique 101: Boiling Water. I'll wait.

*taps foot*

So, BOILING, as you already know (because you read that post, right?!) is huge, rolling bubbles, and when you stir, they don't disappear or anything of the type. The water is 212 or above if you're at sea level, but can vary depending on altitude or if you salted the water. While most people are familiar with boiling, it's often too violent for many forms of cooking and can destroy veggies, tear apart pasta and break the crap out of eggs. In general, Boil is a big bully who beats up innocent nommables.

Now, SIMMERING is where you see those little bubbles in the pot, rising slowly, but the water isn't rolling or anything. The temperature is somewhere between 185-200 or so. Most stuff says "Bring the water to a boil, then lower to simmering." Why? Beats me, but I'm assuming they're telling you to just get it hotter faster. If I'm wrong, someone please tell me.  Anyway, simmering doesn't beat things up. It's nicer than the Bully Boil, and much more appropriate of a guest for most meals. Simmering is good at taking the time on soups or sauces, and also sweet talking tough meats down to their most gentle side, but if you stick a lid on him, be aware it can get him angry and up to being a Bully Boil. So just watch the temperature.

POACHING sounds like a big meanie, going and stealing things that aren't his, but the only thing he steals is the softest of foods from the other two rougher types. When you're poaching water, you'll see just the start of the bubbles on the bottom of the pot, and your water will be somewhere around 160 ( high-end latte temperature) and 180. Poaching is ideal for very soft and sensitive foods, like eggs, fruit and things that are at risk of falling apart, like gentle hearts (no seriously) and livers and other nasty inside chunks. Most food needs to be completely covered in the water though, as it's not going to build up enough ambient heat to cook the stuff sticking out the top.

So, when a recipe calls for poaching, simmering, or boiling, you're not gonna mess it up anymore, right? Good. Me either. Usually.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

How to Make Brussels Sprouts That Aren't Disgusting

via Nathalie Arruda

I had always heard that brussels sprouts are nasty. From basically, well, everyone. Friends, cookbooks and TV -- and TV never lies, right?

But I wanted to try them. They look so cute! I found a bunch of recipes online and saw over and over again boiled, steamed and whatnot, with a lot of "These are bitter!" comments.

Surely they can't be THAT bad, right? Then I came across a couple that were just quick, on the stove, and they had amazing reviews. More importantly, it mentioned that the reason people hate them so much is they almost always overcook them. Boiling and steaming? Overcooking!

So, I tried their method, and sure enough, these were REALLY, REALLY good. Even better, it's very simple. You need:

  • Brussels sprouts, cut in half from base to tip
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil (or whatever oil you prefer)

Seriously, that's it.

Warm your pan on the stove on medium-high. If it can't heat dry, put a tiny bit of olive oil on it.

Now, put the chopped sprouts in a bowl, coat with olive oil, salt and pepper, then stir to evenly coat. Or, my preferred method is to put a plate or something over the top and shake them.

Now, place all of them (carefully!) into your pan, cut-side down.

They may pop and jump a little, which I find entertaining.

Check them occasionally to see if they're browned some, like in the pictures above. The bottom photo is about as light of browning as you can get and call them cooked. The top is better! The browner, the better, really.

You kind of want to stop right when you're starting to think, "Um, are these about to burn?" The leaves should be tender, a little darker, and tender, not soggy.

Then serve.

If you don't love these, you'll probably always hate sprouts. Oh, and DO NOT MICROWAVE these to heat them up for leftovers. You will overcook them and make them bitter!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Another Day, Another Thing Ruined

image via
Ode to my whistling teapot:

You sat on my stove
So shiny and black
You whistled so sweetly
And never talked back

Til one day I asked you
To boil water hot
And I couldn't hear your whistle
My poor black tea pot

Then from the kitchen
There came a smell
I bounded up the stairs,
and yelled, "Oh hell!"

I'd left you on "hot"
til the water was gone
And now you're dead
my shiny tea pot.

Damn it.

Here is my teapot, forever immortalized on Good Morning America:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Don't DO That!" tip #1: Don't Crowd the Mushrooms

wordridden via Flickr

"Don't crowd the mushrooms!" was one of my favorite reoccurring lines in the adorable Julie vs. Julia movie. What it was in reference to was browning mushrooms for a super tasty dish.

So, my tip here?

Make sure you're using a big enough pan for what you're cooking.

Although there are exceptions, if you're not sure, always go with the bigger size. A couple pork chops may look lonely browning in a huge skillet, but they'll still cook better than if you tried to cram them together in a tiny one. Nothing sucks more than trying to cook something and having it all go wrong simply because you didn't use a big enough pan.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Elusive Baked Potato

image credit: Chion's Run via Flickr
As I mentioned in my intro post, I came into cooking seriously lacking. Even a baked potato was something I needed written instructions for. For the record, never microwave a small one for 8 minutes. The smoke is black, the smell is terrible... really, it's just not pretty.

Fortunately, oven baked potatoes are ridiculously easy. You don't even need to dirty a pan! For the most basic way to do this, you seriously just need potatoes (russet is most common) and an oven.

Set your oven at 350°F.

Clean your potatoes... get dirt off of them, and using a knife or even a clean fingernail, take out any little weird looking parts.

Now, here comes the choices -- you can either just stab a couple holes in it with a fork, or wrap it in tin foil, and then just stick it in there, right on the rack.

An hour later (1 hour, 15 minutes if you're doing 4 or more potatoes, usually), you have a baked potato.

Seriously, it's that easy.

Now, if you wanna fancy them up a little, it STILL doesn't take much effort. After washing them and cutting out anything funky, rub or roll the outside in olive oil, then cover in kosher or rock salt. THEN bake, again either just on the rack or in tin foil, either way.

So simple even I can do it. And I have yet to really screw them up since the microwave incident...

Is there anything you do differently?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Technique 101: Boiling Water

image credit: Sterlic via Flickr
Okay... I know this sounds totally simple, but I promised I was starting basic. This is about as basic as it gets.

Get a pot where you can put all your water in it and still have 2/3rds to 3/4ths of room left at the top. You're going to add things to this, remember. When in doubt, use a bigger pot.

Now, here's where this gets a little technical and annoying: don't use hot water from your tap. I know, I know, it seems like it'd take less time to get to boiling if it's already hot when you start, but the thing is, you never want to use water from the tap for consumption or cooking that is hot. It actually carries lead and other built-up gunk from inside your pipes. Instead, run your water on cold for 20-30 seconds, then fill your pot.

Then just turn on your stove, all the way on high -- it's okay, you can turn it down when it's going.
Here's the thing about boiling too: it happens at different temperatures depending on your altitude. Around 212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level, around 203 degrees up here where I am, at almost 5000 feet. But because no one expects you to use a thermometer, know that a simmer is some little bubbles and slight movement, slow boil is some large bubbles, and a real or "rolling" boil is, well, giant, fast bubbles, "rolling" water, and it keeps bubbling WHILE you stir it.

Learn about how long it takes to boil on your stove, because while a watched pot is a safe one (and yes, it will eventually boil), most people don't hang out right in front of their stove while waiting, and once it's boiling, it'll start to evaporate quick. And if you have cheaper pots that have the coil glued on the bottom and your pot boils dry, you can melt the bonding glue... then you pick up your pot, the hot coils fall off onto your kitchen rug and catches your kitchen on fire, which your husband has to put out while you stand there gaping like an idiot.

Not that I'd know or anything... *cough*

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tools of the Trade: Sharp Knives

Cooking can be hard. In fact, it can be infuriating. Especially when you don't have the right tools. But unlike other blogs or chefs, I'm not going to tell you to run out and spend tons of money -- I promise. In fact, I'm cheap. With cheap, comes, well, cheap things. But first thing's first... you know what sucks worse than trying to chop through an acorn squash by doing motion like you're wielding an axe? Doing it with a crappy knife.

I had a big set of 20 knives, in one of the wooden blocks. Steak knives, paring knives, giant knives... and you know what? It wasn't worth it. Sure, steak knives are handy for individual place settings, but I found that all those different knives people recommend for so many different tasks really just gave me a headache.

I know I said I have three. The other is dirty. So what?
Instead, after one trip to my mom's, I used her santoku knife. Santoku knives are the "general purpose" knife in Japan, and now in my house too. I have three... and I stopped using other knives. Two were a little expensive for my tastes ($15 and $20) but the third is flimsier but still does its job beautifully and cost $7 at a grocery store. You don't have to pay big for good results.

 So, these THREE knives replace my huge, $40 knife set. But I said I wasn't going to try to sell you on certain things -- I'm not.

The most important thing about your knives is that they are very SHARP.  

After using my poor quality and very dull knives, then switching to these, which are very, very sharp, cooking suddenly became a hell of a lot easier, less frustrating, and even at times, enjoyable.

In fact, you will cry less chopping onions if your knife is very sharp because you won't smash the cells that release the gas that burns your eyes. So it's a win-win.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Just How "From Scratch" Are We Talking?

image credit: pressurechief_redux on Flickr
If you're wondering if this blog is going to help you, ask yourself two questions:
  1. Do you base your success on whether or not something is edible?
  2. Do you find most recipes to be confusing?
If you answer 'yes' to those, either or both, then yeah, this blog will help you. A little background -- my friends literally did gauge my cooking progress by how long it had been since I'd burned something... and it was a good gauge, to be honest.

We used to spend around $800 a month on food for the two of us, at Super Wal-Mart in Georgia. Because honestly, I had no idea what I was doing, bought almost all prepackaged foods and ingredients, because the idea of cooking even a premade meal was kind of daunting. I made nothing from scratch.

My parents bought me a book when I first got married called 'Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen' which claimed to have "foolproof" recipes. They are basic. I'm talking, instructions on how to do a baked potato. Sad thing? I needed those directions, and referred to them frequently. But amongst those simple instructions were also recipes that I feel were a little too advanced for the target audience, and that there were some basics, like chopping an onion, that were overlooked. It seems like common sense, but to someone who's never done it, it can be daunting... and when you cut an onion wrong, it can make you cry -- literally. So, that's where I'm starting. The SUPER basics. I'll mix in recipes and other things along the way, but I'll make sure that I'm not overlooking people who start where I did.

I do shop healthy. Well, not as healthy as some, but the Standard American Diet (SAD) is frightening to me. If something comes up where I am talking about specific ingredients I avoid, brands, or whatnot, I'll mention why, but in general, that's going to be your own preference -- no lectures, I swear.

Please feel free to ask questions, give friendly advice, or make suggestions along the way as well!