Monday, July 28, 2008

it came to me in a dream

my friend the viper, inspired by this, tells me i need to include more breakfast foods.

i like breakfast. i LOVE breakfast.
sometimes i make breakfast for dinner.

however, i dislike going out to breakfast. breakfast should be cooked at home, in your jammies, whilst nursing a hangover. it should not be eaten in a tacky chain restaurant like this one or worse this one for a number of reasons (awful decor and old timey games and crying children accounting for nearly half. seriously, who wants that at 9:00 am with a ragin' hangover? not me.)

first of all they do not know how to properly cook my eggs (only i know how to do that) and also the food is freakin' outrageously over priced! why pay $5-$10 for something mediocre when you can make something marvelous at home for like 50 cents?!
don't get me wrong - a good greasy spoon is a whole other story. there just aren't too many in my neck of the woods and i still hate spending money on breakfast.

so, once again i channeled my latest hero and set out to make myself some egg-in-a-hole.

any breakfast requires a lot of butter so this should probably always be your first step.

i used a glass to cut a hole in the middle of a piece of rye bread and i plopped it into the melted butter. i let it cook a little bit so the bread would be a little toasty and then
i cracked an egg right in the hole.

i like my eggs dippy but not slimy so i flipped my egg-in-a-hole. i also threw the cut out circle of bread into the buttery pan and crisped it up so i could dip that.

i would say this was a pretty delicious breakfast. i don't think it will replace my standard weekend morning fare of two dippy eggs, toast and fried potatoes but i might make it again some morning to impress a friend.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

friday night's all right for steak

after i discovered that my friend's birthday gathering was next friday not this friday i weighed my options for fun. shortly i discovered that everyone had plans. rats. well, looks like the only thing i could do
was cook myself up a killer dinner.

i decided on steak. the other day i hung out with my friend rick and he told me he knew the secret of the best steak ever.
cast iron. and then he told me how he did it.

before i even started doing anything i took my steak out of the package and let it sit on the counter for about two hours so that it would come up to room temperature. i picked this one because it was only $6.50 at acme.

while that was resting i decided to make myself a pseudo caprese salad. i've had basil for a while but i finally got two lil' red tomatoes and i was psyched to use them. i didn't have any fresh mozzarella but i did have a block of parmesan and i love using my brand new zester/grater.

i mixed it all together with a little olive oil and pepper. yum.

after enjoying my lil' salad i put my cast iron skillet in the oven and cranked up the heat to 500 degrees. while that was heating up i started my twice baked potato. i used to make these ALOT when i was living at home.
super easy and really good.

i baked my potato in the microwave and once it was done i cut it in half and scooped out all of the insides.

to the potato i added sour cream, cheddar cheese, chopped up green onion (also from my garden!) and some salt and pepper.

i mixed it all up and then put it all back into the potato skin and
put it in the oven.

by now my skillet was nice and hot so i moved it to my stove top at medium heat. i seasoned my steak with some season salt and lemon pepper a la pioneer woman and i rubbed a lil' bit of olive oil on one side. then i put it oil side down into that sizzling hot skillet.

i seared the steak for two minutes on each side and then i moved it to the broiler. before that though i plopped about a tablespoon of butter right on top. mmmmmm.

i left the steak in the broiler for about five or six more minutes (for medium rare) and then i transferred it to a plate, covered it with foil and let it rest for about five more minutes.

whoa. look at this. holy cow. i paired these meal with gentle ben's final stella artois and no joke - it was the best steak i've ever eaten.

Friday, July 25, 2008

cheap - KILLER - eats

i had an amazing italian dinner last night for $6.50. holy cow! some friends and i went to ristorante abruzzi aka the
tallmadge/akron italian center.

they do it every single thursday night and it is some homemade goodness. for $6.50 you get a delightful little salad, fresh bread and your choice of rigatoni & meatballs or spaghetti & meatballs (VERY healthy portions). they also have a full (kinda) bar and beers are like $3.00! FANTASTIC food and it is served to you by the most wonderful lil' old italian ladies. i just love it!

you're busy on thursdays? what about tuesdays? the carovillese club holds a similar dinner (they have ravioli in addition to the spaghetti and rigatoni and it is AMAZING!) on tuesdays. i think it is even around the same price.
same set up and a whole other bunch of adorable italian women servin' up the good stuff.

both of these places have incredibly good food at insanely reasonable prices. plus it is good to support these little local establishments. go check 'em out. delicious!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

down in the dumps? fry your dinner!

my place of employment currently has me down in the dumps. i love my job. the problem is i am sick and tired of getting paid nothing to do it. there are numerous factors at play here (and this is not the venue in which to discuss them) so instead i will discuss the thing that brings me out of the dumps -
fried chicken! and i'm not talking about that impostor KFC crap.
i'm talking about the real thing!

i had a couple of chicken breasts in my freezer so i took one out after work and defrosted in a bit. the key is to soak your chicken in buttermilk. i don't know why that is key but it is. usually you want to soak it overnight up to 24 hours but i didn't have that kinda time. i got about 2 hours of soaking in. while my breast was soaking (heehee) i mixed up a little spice rub. another key - don't season the flour. flour is for dredging only. season the actual piece of chicken. this spice mix was some sea salt, garlic powder, paprika and cayenne pepper.

once that is all taken care of you want to melt some crisco. this is another key. vegetable oil can just piss right off. melt yourself down some crisco and fry in that. try it. you will never stop thanking me for that tip!

also important - a good cast iron skillet. thank you grandma for giving me this well seasoned gem. it is a beauty and i LOVE it. melt the crisco slowly over low heat. once it is all melted turn the heat up a little and heat up the oil to about 325 degrees - not hotter! also, if you're doing a bunch of chicken you want the oil to come up about 1/3 of the way in the pan. since i was cooking for one i opted to waste less crisco and ended up having to cook the chicken longer.

a side dish? i decided to throw some potatoes right into the crisco with the chicken. sizzly and delicious.

now i could lie to you and say i whipped up some kind of healthy vegetable or a side salad to go along with this fine fried meal but that would be a lie. salads don't get people outta the dumps. fried chicken and potatoes get people outta the dumps. i put my sanity in crisco's hands.

yum. yum. yum. fired goodness. fried happiness. a lil' piece of fried sanity. i decided to pair this meal with a stella artois since my good friend gentle ben brought a 12-pack over the other day and left a few in the fridge for me.

thank you crisco.
my paychecks still suck but at least i have enough money to buy
the fixin's for fried chicken.

Monday, July 14, 2008

in honor of my lil' bro turning 21...we feast!

last week my youngest brother turned 21 years old. whoa. for some reason i thought he would stay 12 forever. no such luck. when birthdays roll around i usually host a "cousin's sunday dinner" at my place and the whole gang comes over. i let the birthday boy pick the menu. my little bro went with stuffed peppers. the other day i posted a picture of my trusty old better homes and garden cookbook and the recipe in there for stuffed peppers was the one i went with.....more or less.

growing up i cooked stuffed peppers for us alot. everyone loved them and they were really easy. i guess he must've remembered that they didn't suck.

i picked up several kinds of peppers from the market along with all of the other feast fixin's.

my other brother emailed me asking for some heat. to accommodate him i picked up some poblanos and some hungarian hots in addition to the mild and sweet bell peppers. i cleaned these and prepared the stuffin' well in advance so when they got here i just had to pop 'em in the oven. for the bell peppers i used the traditional hamburger, onions, garlic, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, rice and cheddar cheese filling. for the poblanos and hungarian hots i used all the same stuff but substituted chorizo for the hamburger.

with the pioneer woman as my inspiration i tried my hand at some bacon wrapped jalepeno thingies for the appetizer.

first you have to slice the jalepenos in half and scoop out all the seeds and the membrane. now, i know this stuff is hot. that is where all the pepper's heat comes from. and i have cut 'em up before and burned my hands a smidge. one time i even had the misfortune of itching my face (YOWZA!) but nothing and i mean NOTHING compared to the burn these babies gave me. my entire left hand was on fire. it was damn near debilitating. i called my aunt for a possible remedy and she suggested the following: soak your hand in vinegar or milk. i called my boyfriend and he suggested the same. i also asked my neighbor and he too said milk and also mentioned that he'd heard somewhere that chocolate syrup might take the sting away.
they also all suggested washing my hand with dish soap and really scrubbing.

first i tried milk.

that didn't work. then i tried vinegar and that didn't work. then i thought to myself, 'what about buttermilk? that is like the best of both worlds.'

nope. nothing. i smeared hershey's syrup all over my hand and really rubbed it in. i scrubbed them with dawn dish soap and scrubbed at my hand with my lil' potato brush. nothing worked. nothing. and it was horrible.

in the end i just took some tylenol and kept a bowl of cold water and ice cubes to my left on the counter and when the burning got too bad i just soaked it for a minute to relieve the pain. i persevered though and this was the end result:

delicious! you stuff 'em with cream cheese, wrap 'em in bacon, and cook 'em until the bacon is done. these were a smashing success. like off the charts success. thank you pioneer woman!
(and thank you to aj for sending along a beautiful gift bag full of plastic gloves so that i can make these babies again burn free!)

and this is where the photographs end. when cooking up a feast like this for a crew this size there is no time for photo snapping.
maybe i should review my menu for you:

bacon wrapped jalepeno thingies
spicy shrimp and grits
stuffed peppers
steamed broccoli and cauliflower with cheese
lemon tart aka glorified lemon square

wear plastic gloves while scooping out 3 dozen jalepenos! i will also cut the bacon in half instead of thirds - or maybe try to buy longer bacon - so that it wraps all the way around that lil' nugget of goodness.

for the grits - these ones were definitely not as good as the ones i made last week during my cheesy experiment. those were way better. using half milk and half water really made a difference. i of course could not do that this time around since i used nearly all my milk to soak my scalding red peppery hand. (you know i had to take a cold shower? seriously the hot water burned it so bad it was awful. this was some serious shit.)

spicy shrimp - killer! i won't adjust this too much other than to use more beer. thankfully i left a UFO hefeweizen behind on saturday knowing that i would need it on sunday for this dish. however, i had no other beers in the house and i was really thirsty after slaving over a hot stove and i drank about half of it. oops. it was a really, really good sauce and the shrimp went great with it. served over the grits with a spoonful of sauce was pretty damn good.
next time - milk in grits and more beer in sauce.

stuffed peppers - no adjustments. i think i have this one pretty well down. i might try hot italian sausage next time in the hungarian hots and maybe some different cheeses.

cheesy broccoli and cauliflower - i don't really know how to make a cheese sauce so i usually opt for velveeta in a case like this. sadly i lost my shopping list and velveeta was omitted. shit. i had some mild shredded cheddar so i tried nuking it with a little milk and stirring it. eh. it was stringy and not too awesome. next time - don't forget the damn velveeta.

lemon tart - i didn't have a tart pan so i used a springform pan. it worked ok but my crust didn't look very pretty. the whole thing tasted pretty good but it was really just a round lemon square. i'll use this recipe again but just smush the crust down into a pyrex dish and pour the lemon mix on top.

it always feels good to have the people you love most in the whole wide world praise the meal you just cooked for them. really, i can't think of a single better feeling. that is tops for me.

Monday, July 7, 2008

a cheesy experiment

i am like a mad scientist these days with my meals. and why not? i've got nothing better to do and maybe i can learn a few things to impress my friends at a later date. tonight i decided - shrimp and cheesy grits sounded like a good thing to try. i found a kick ass recipe by my home girl paula deen and i went for it!

after work i stopped by klein's seafood and picked up some shrimp. since i was dining solo and didn't want to spend a lot of money on too much food that i couldn't eat i opted for 1/4 pound of shrimp. this is what that looks like:

ha! it's only 6 prawns. it was only like $2 though so that was sweet.

thankfully my ol' friend gin gave me some delicious carolina stone ground grits a while ago. i've only tried them two other times and i just made them like it says on the bag and added a lil' butter at the end. the cheesy, creamy grits i was going for were something brand new. woohoo! so exciting!

according to paula if i have everything chopped and ready to go it only takes about 15 minutes. look - it's just like a cooking show!

instead of just using water i boiled a cup of water and a cup of milk. once it was going i added the grits. paula says it should only take 10 to 15 minutes for all the water to be absorbed but other recipes i investigated said it could take up to an hour. i put 'em on low and let them do their thing. in the end it took about 30-40 minutes.

in the meantime i started frying some bacon and went to my trusty old better homes and gardens cookbook to review my old stuffed pepper recipe for the sunday cousin's dinner i'll be hosting. it was my first cookbook. it was just at the house and honestly i don't know where it came from. anyways, it's old. and used. well worn.

see - look how often i made stuffed peppers. and see those notes? i must've made those when i was about 16 or 17. memories.......

now - back to the grits. they were looking good and my bacon was nice and crispy. i took the grits off the heat and threw in some butter and a bunch of sharp cheddar cheese. i stirred it all up and put the lid on. i took the bacon out of the greasy pan and threw in the shrimp.
mmmmmm. anything tastes great cooked in bacon grease.

after about 2-3 minutes when the shrimp was pink i added some chopped green onions, garlic, and some fresh squeezed lemon juice. i turned off the heat and just stirred it around for another minute or two.

then i threw it all together. i decided to pair this lovely meal with a labatt blue since i picked up a 12-pack for only $8.99. score!

things i would do differently next time - less grits, more shrimp, and even though i love bacon grease i'd tone that down a bit too. not too bad on my first go round though. i just may serve a different version - perhaps this one - as the appetizer for the cousin's sunday dinner.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

garden update and homebaked experiments

my garden is really kicking ass. i am so pumped!

huge ass tomato - it's like up to my waist!

baby eight ball zucchini

baby summer squash

i took these photographs while waiting for my bread dough to rise. i've never made real homemade bread before but i was feelin' like getting crazy on a tuesday night so i went for it. oh, and i also just picked up a sweet new cookbook about breads for only $6. the book is by margaux sky and apparently oprah loves her. now i love her.

so i've never bought yeast before and i've only ever noticed it in the cold section near the eggs. turns out that is compressed cake yeast which is hard to measure and confusing. use dry active yeast. it's in the baking section.

her recipe yields four loaves. i thought that was a bit excessive for my first time so i cut it in half. you dissolve the yeast in a large bowl with milk and half-and-half. then you add some melted butter and a lil' powdered sugar. in another large bowl mix together the flour and salt. slowly add the west stuff - like this:

then you mix with your hands. your hands will look this this:

now, even though the recipe clearly states, "keep the dough moist for a soft, tender bread" i thought it was too sticky. so i added more flour which in the end turned out to be much too much. (note - sticky wet dough is good).
i tried my hand at kneading:

after i kneaded for the suggested 7 minutes i put the dough in a buttered bowl, covered it with a towel, and let it rise for 60 minutes. while it was rising i took photos of my garden, drank a beer or two and read some roald dahl . (check out his adult short stories - twisted and sick and awesome). i also started some coals going in my grill for dinner.

after 60 minutes it had risen a little bit. it was not as buttery and big as i remember my mom baking (perhaps due to my flour overload) but i punched it down anyways and divided it in two and put it in some bread pans. it needed to rise to another 45 minutes and my coals were good to go so i started dinner.

remember i said my herbs would make an appearance?
rosemary, thyme and chives. the shallot is from the market.

i had some chicken and and a half of a gigantic potato. i also had a lil' leftover yard sale blow out bbq sauce. just enough in fact for the one piece of chicken (a leg/thigh combo) that i had left. i quartered the potato and tossed them with a little olive oil, some rosemary and salt and pepper and the minced shallot. i folded all that up in the heavy duty, grill worthy non-stick aluminum foil (one of the few things i don't skimp on - cheapo foil sucks) and
tossed it on the grill.

back inside i lifted the skin up off the chicken and stuffed a few sprigs of thyme underneath. after the potatoes had been cooking for about 20 minutes or so i threw the chicken on the grill. oh, and before that i stuck the bread in a pre-heated 400 degree oven.

i took this photograph from my chair behind the grilling while sipping beers, enjoying a nice breeze and really lovin' some roald dahl. seriously - check him out. if he sounds familiar it's because he wrote some kick ass children's stories that everyone knows - "james and the giant peach," and
"charlie and the chocolate factory" for example.

just when the chicken was almost done i started saucing and flipping. i sauced and flipped for about 7 more minutes. to finish up i added the fresh chopped chives to my potatoes.

i paired this meal with a blue moon because i had some in my fridge that a friend left. free! woohoo!

no need to show you a photo of the finished bread. it looked nice. real nice. just like homemade bread should look. however, it tasted like bad pound cake. much to much flour. i redeemed myself though. thursday night i tried my hand at margaux's recipe for english muffins. i bought dry active yeast and started kneading the dough while it was nice and sticky and wet. after the required rising time i spread out the dough with my hands and used a jar to make cut outs. after more rising i cooked them in a skillet for about 5-7 minutes per side.

those babies were delicious! thomas's better watch out! friday morning (pre-4th of july flea market outing) i made breakfast sammiches with them for my peeps. i toasted the muffins and loaded 'em up with a slightly hard dippy egg, sausage and cheese. YUM!

my new goal this summer - make (and possibly perfect) classic old school food stuffs. baking bread is my first real challenge and i've got a ways to go. sometime this summer i'd also really like to try some fresh cherry pie with white cherries. i am currently on the look out for one of those old cast iron cherry pitters. this summer i plan on kickin' it like it's 1908 instead of 2008. stay tuned if you like the old school.