A Few Holiday Dishes

We had houseguests for a few weeks, and we also hosted two year-end parties, so I did a lot of fancier food prep than normal. I forgot to take photos of most of it, but I did manage a few shots before it was too late.

img_20161231_195658Just barely, in this case! This is (or was) my prize-winning Pomme-Pom Salad. It’s super-easy, if you buy the pomegranate seeds already removed. (Not so much if you remove the seeds yourself. But it’s not difficult, just really, really tedious.) Just chop up some apples, toss them in with pomegranate seeds, and stir in some yogurt. Here I used Noosa‘s honey flavor. In the past I’ve sometimes used plain or vanilla. I’m not sure what kind of apple I used here, but I often use Honeycrisp or similar.

For dip, I started with Michaela’s dill pickle dip recipe but made significant changes to it. For starters, I prefer sweet pickles, so I substituted them for the dill pickles. I think I used a slightly smaller jar of pickles than the 16 ounces she calls for, but it seemed to work just fine. I did use the 16 ounces of softened cream cheese, but as I got to chopping the first 4.5 ounces of dried beef, I quickly realized that 9 ounces of dried beef is a LOT of dried beef. So I still have another jar of dried beef and am looking forward to making and consuming another batch of this stuff.

Some of you may be wondering what dried beef is. I was just going to use deli-sliced corned beef until a friend sent me a photo of the jarred stuff from Armour. (That’s my photo above, but they are essentially the same picture.) Apparently Michaela got asked a lot, so she posted a photo of what she uses, which is a different brand (Hormel) and is in the refrigerated section. Maybe next time I will try that.

I used brick cream cheese this time but will probably try it with soft cream cheese (in a tub) soon. Even softened, this was a bit of a challenge to mix thoroughly. Either way, I recommend putting out rather sturdy crackers for this dip.

While at Costco (which is where I got the pomegranate seeds, in case you’re wondering), I bought a bunch of Medjool dates on impulse. My in-laws had purchased some bacon, and I pretty much always have chèvre on hand, so even though I had never tried it before, chèvre-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates just seemed like a no-brainer. img_20170106_194130

Other than being kind of messy to prep, they really are pretty simple. Pit a bunch of dates. Stuff the dates with a bunch of chèvre. Wrap them in bacon (just one time around), securing them with toothpicks, and pop them in the oven. I made several batches, and 380F seemed to work pretty well. I put them in for about 10 minutes, flipped them, and then gave them another 10 minutes.

I have some uncooked bacon pieces left over from last night’s batch, and I also happen to have most of a bottle of Dancing Pines bourbon left over from my attempt at sweet potato pecan pie with bourbon cream sauce (which was okay but needs some work), so I’m thinking I might try something called bacon-infused bourbon. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Simple But Tasty

This past weekend my friend Marta invited me on a little retreat to the mountains. I suppose I should have taken some photos of the mountains, but really, all we did was hole up in a condo and read and write and cook and eat. I’ll share the reading and writing at some point in the future, but here are the highlights of the cooking and eating part.

For Saturday dinner, we got some veggies and salmon and cooked those up. Marta baked the salmon with salt and pepper and olive oil, and I did a saute of sweet onion, red bell pepper, and zucchini in white truffle olive oil. For seasoning, I think I used powdered ginger, herbes de Provence, salt, and dried chives. Marta did a rice-quinoa pilaf with rosemary (Near East brand, I believe), and we stir-fried that in with the veggies.

The next morning I did a polenta crumble using up the remaining bell pepper and onion. The polenta was the kind you get in a sausage-style tube, so no fuss there, and it was already mixed with sun-dried tomatoes and some Italian-style seasonings, so I didn’t really have to do much at all. I think I added some powdered ginger and salt and fried the whole mess up in olive oil.

Yes, I have been lectured at length by an Italian shopkeeper in Wisconsin on the evils of pre-cooked polenta. But if you don’t have a gas range, it’s really the most reliable option.

Sunday dinner involved shortcuts as well. I did not have the energy required to make my own sauce for the angel hair pasta, so it came out of a jar. And the veggies came out of a bag in the freezer. I nuked them in butter (yes, real butter), salt, and herbes de Provence. And yes, I actually prefer cheap, sawdusty “Parmesan cheese” out of a can. Well, at least when it comes to basic pasta in tomato sauce. Seriously, I tried the nice stuff one time and didn’t enjoy it at all. It just didn’t seem appropriate. Anyway, super-easy meal, and we washed it down with Kon Tiki cabernet sauvignon. IMG_20160306_192254

Yesterday, I couldn’t resist the strawberries at Costco, and there are a lot of them (because Costco), so I had some for breakfast this morning. I also couldn’t resist the call of the Laughing Cow yesterday, so I spread a few wedges on some rice crackers and topped them with strawberry halves. I washed them down with a mug of “Rubiee,” an appropriately reddish tea from Dryad Tea. That’s my idea of a delicious and decadent breakfast that is also ridiculously easy. IMG_20160309_105514

 

 

Pineapple Fusilli Chicken

It’s nothing really fancy or challenging, but Brian wanted chicken for dinner last night, and we were pleased with how this turned out. IMG_20160303_184934One of the things I absolutely refuse to do is handle uncooked poultry, so Brian took care of that part, seasoning the chicken breasts with black pepper and garlic salt and baking them. They took rather longer than expected, but that’s okay, because I needed the time to prep the pasta mixture.

Not that it was a really complex task, though. First I chopped up a red bell pepper and set that to cooking on medium-high heat with a little bit of grapeseed oil. Then I chopped up about half of a medium sweet onion and added it in, along with a healthy dose of whatever white wine I had handy. I think it was a sauvignon blanc. I still have the bottle and can look it up if anybody really cares. Then I added in a bunch of powdered ginger, minced garlic, garlic salt, and herbes de Provence. I thought I was quite liberal with the ginger, but next time I’ll be sure to add more. That’s what I get for learning Chinese cooking from a housemate named Xinan. “When in doubt, add more ginger.”

While I was working on that, Brian opened a can of pineapple chunks and drained the liquid off for later use. I then added the chunks to the pepper-and-onion mix and waited for the pasta.

I am including a photo of the fusilli package here mostly for my own future reference. This is the best rice pasta I have come across so far. I always remember what the packaging looks like, but I can never remember the actual brand name, so if they ever change their packaging, I’m screwed. Unless, of course, I post this photo someplace handy, like the Internet. I cooked the pasta in salted, boiling water, but I didn’t cook it for the full time.

I strained out about half of the pasta and put it in the pan with the pepper-onion-pineapple mixture. Then I added the reserved pineapple liquid and increased the seasonings accordingly. This time I also added a bit of dried lemon thyme. IMG_20160303_183537 Then I reduced the heat and let it all simmer until the chicken was ready.

 

 

This Week’s Culinary Adventures

This morning I finally got around to making that 4-ingredient frittata recipe that keeps popping up in my Facebook feed. Of course, I made changes. For one thing, I needed to use up some sweet peppers, so I chopped them up and tossed them in with the onions. And I’m not particularly fond of feta, but I had some chèvre handy, so I used that instead — but just on my half, since Brian is lactose-intolerant. I’m notoriously bad about measuring seasonings, so I probably didn’t use enough salt and used too much pepper. IMG_20160212_095727Overall, I think this thing needed more seasoning, not just salt. So maybe I will try some herbes de Provence next time. And I’ll be sure to have tomatoes on hand next time. I think that would have been a nice touch.

Other than the ingredient adjustments, though, I actually followed the instructions, and it worked quite well. I’d definitely recommend this recipe for a quick brunch item that looks deceptively impressive. (Well, okay, maybe not so deceptively, seeing as how the entire world has seen this on Facebook already.)

The other recipe I tried was from the amazing Liz Huff-Kennon of the amazing Catalpa restaurant in Arrow Rock, Missouri. (Yes, I have eaten there. If you ever have the opportunity to do so, jump on it!) The recipe is for elk meatballs with chutney, and I’m sorry, but I don’t have any photos because I was in a big rush before and during the Superb Owl party.

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No owls were harmed in the making of this recipe.

 

Besides, I need to work on this one quite a bit, so I am sure I will have better photo ops another day.

Let me be clear that the work I need to do on this recipe is due to our dietary issues and poor planning on my part. You can count on Liz to provide an excellent recipe, so if you’re good with the ingredients as listed, just go with that. I’m providing commentary on my challenges in case there are others with similar issues.

Brian is allergic to olives, including olive oil, so that was the first item to address. I followed the garlic roasting instructions with argan oil, and it worked beautifully. By the way, I do not use any special tools for peeling garlic cloves. I have found that simply placing the clove on a hard, flat surface, oriented with the convex curve on top, and then pressing firmly until it makes a snapping noise nearly always works. Every now and then, you have to snip an end off with a paring knife first, but there is no reason to have a tool dedicated solely to peeling garlic.

The biggest change in the citrus-herb chutney was due to a brain cramp. I thought I already had a bag of dried cherries. Nope. They were goji berries. Oops! But they actually worked out very well in the recipe. I think it’s a change I will keep. I think I will also chop the apples a little more finely next time, but that’s just a personal preference.

The next problem I encountered was that I still haven’t found my good zester, which I suppose is still in a box in the garage. The last time I needed a zester, it was late at night and I had to make do with one from the grocery store. It sucks. And I guess I suck, too, because I’m still trying to make do with it. So zesting was a fail. I ended up just adding some orange juice to the recipe.

The other changes I made to the chutney recipe were that I used a sweet onion instead of a yellow onion, just because I almost always make that substitution, and I probably didn’t use as much thyme as I was supposed to. Because y’know what? I just frickin’ hate working with fresh thyme. If anybody knows of a quick and easy way to get fresh thyme off of its twig and into a pan, please share. Anyway, my apple-goji-orange chutney was a hit, and I suspect I will make it more frequently than I make meatballs.

Speaking of meatballs….first order of business was to substitute hazelnut milk for the whipping cream. I am certain this affected the consistency of the meat mixture, so this is probably the main reason that browning the meatballs in the pan of oil (I used rice bran oil for that part) didn’t work so well for me. I also had to use fake butter, but I used this stuff called Melt, and I’ve had good results with it in the past, so I don’t think that was much of a problem here.

I again wimped out on the orange zest and thyme. Next time I’ll try to do better. If I had expended a bit more effort, I probably could have also gotten just ground elk instead of a blend of elk and beef. Last time I made Swedish meatballs, I used a beef-and-bison blend for the Brian-friendly batch, and everybody loved them, so maybe next time I will try an elk/bison blend.

The recipe didn’t say to do this, but I had Brian Ninja the vegetable matter into submission before I mixed it in with the meat-and-panko mixture. I suspect it was a good idea. Oh, and the recipe’s instructions to freeze the mixture before browning? Excellent idea. Don’t skip that.

For my final ingredient substitution, I used Loose Leaf Session Ale from Odell Brewing, one of the local breweries. (I was pretty sure the Missouri beer would not be available here.) I’m generally not a fan of pale ales, but I had to dispose of the extra bottles of brew somehow, and I found this one to be quite drinkable.

So, yeah, the browning kinda worked. I got the things cooked through fine, but they crumbled a lot. And neither of us likes cooking with a lot of oil, so for the second round, I popped them into the oven at 350 F for about 20 minutes and then fried them up for a few minutes in a much smaller amount of oil before adding the beer. I think that worked a lot better.

At first I was a little underwhelmed with the finished meatball product. I was inclined to add more seasoning, but others disagreed, and the subtle flavors grew on me. The real difference, though, is serving them with the chutney. Though not highly seasoned itself, the chutney magically brings out the flavors of the meatballs. I would even recommend making two batches of chutney from the get-go. We ran out of chutney before we ran out of meatballs, and the store-bought stuff was a very sorry substitute.