Beef Stroganoff

September 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

When Brad and I started dating, neither of us had a kitchen. Well, that’s not completely true. The house Brad was renting a room in had a kitchen, but it was not unusual to find bums sleeping at the table and I’m pretty sure there were rats living beneath the dishes in the sink. So, for all intents and purposes, neither of us had a kitchen. We ate out (lucky for us, Berkeley has some of the best cheap food I’ve ever encountered) and at the dining hall most of the time. I think one time we may have made Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in the bum kitchen but, needless to say, we weren’t cooking very much at that point.

Soon after, when Brad had moved out of the House On Paper Street and had a proper apartment with a proper kitchen, our culinary prowess evolved to the next logical stage – boxed dinners that required minimal preparation. We pretty much survived on Kraft Macaroni & CheeseStouffer’s frozen lasagna, Bertolli frozen meals and Hamburger Helper.

God, I don’t even want to think about how high our sodium intake must have been in 2005.

Brad’s two favorite Hamburger Helper ‘flavors’ were Lasagna and Stroganoff, so when I started cooking real food, these were some of the first dishes I learned to make. Since we’ve covered lasagna, I figured it was about time we go over how to make beef stroganoff.

Most of the recipes I make come from adaptations of recipes I find online. Allrecipes.com is a major resource for me, because most recipes have multiple versions to reference, hundreds of ratings, and reviews that give suggestions on alterations. My recipe for beef stroganoff, however, comes from an ACTUAL COOKBOOK. (Whoa! Those still exist?!?) The Joy Of Cooking was the first cookbook I purchased and is a great resource for all aspiring cooks.

I have, of course, changed the recipe a little bit to fit our tastes and resources (i.e. Brad will not eat mushrooms, so I normally make a version without). It is such a basic recipe, it really responds well to changes, so feel free to interpret the dish however you like it best. If you read the history of beef stroganoff, you will find the versions are so wildly varied, pretty much the only cohesive ingredient is sauteed beef.

Beef Stroganoff
serves 2-4

One pound, one pan, one happier, healthier family.

1 lb. beef (the quality of beef is your choice), sliced against the grain into 1/4 inch strips
1/2 small onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)
1 tbsp butter, oil or margarine
salt, pepper & nutmeg
1/2 tsp basil (optional)
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup sour cream

cooked egg noodles

In a large skillet, heat the oil/butter and saute the onion, garlic and mushrooms (if using) until onion is soft and translucent. Add the beef and cook until brown. Shake some salt and pepper into the mix and a DASH of nutmeg. (Really, don’t overdo it on the nutmeg. You just want a HINT. You can always add more, but you can’t undo putting too much.) If you’re feelin’ it, add in a little dried basil, or finely chop some fresh leaves. Add in white wine and cook for a minute or two. Stir in sour cream and mix until well combined. Stir in cooked egg noodles and cook for a few more minutes. Remove from heat; sauce will thicken as it cools a bit.

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Homemade Indian Dinner

September 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

My introduction to Indian food was in college, in the form of a reasonably priced place called Naan & Curry, located conveniently right next to campus. If someone in the dorms brought Naan & Curry home for dinner, everyone could tell by the intense curry smell that permeated the floor. This was only bad if you had already eaten, because then you didn’t have an excuse to go get some for yourself.

The dish I was first recommended, and subsequently always ordered, was chicken tikka masala with a side of naan. The spices were so unique, like nothing I had tried before, and the sauce was somehow creamy and acidic at the same time. I had no idea how it was made, but I could eat it AT LEAST once a week and never tire of the flavor. As a poor college student, I appreciated that the tikka masala was $6.99, and naan was only $1.00 per big, fluffy order. Garlic naan was a 99 cent upgrade that I often indulged in. For not much more than a combo at McDonald’s, I could eat like a Little Princess.

Chicken tikka masala, garlic naan & mango lassi

So when I moved to LA and found that the cheapest Indian food runs about twice that price, it was vital that I learn how to cook my own. I found a recipe and have adapted it to create the appropriate sauce-to-chicken ratio for my naan-dipping needs. You can definitely eat this with rice, but I find the rice an unnecessary addition. Just give me more naan, please!

I’ve made chicken tikka masala in the past with heavy cream, and it is definitely amazing, but so calorie dense that it is hard to justify making very often. This time I substituted milk & a little cream cheese for the cream, and it turned out acceptably delicious. For special occasions, however, I’m still gonna splurge on the cream.

Because there are so many parts to this meal, and a lot of down time, this is my recommended method for interlacing the preparation: Combine yeast and water for naan. While the yeast is proofing, make the chicken marinade and put it in the refrigerator. Return to the naan and mix the dough. Let the dough rise for an hour while the chicken is marinating. In the meantime, mince your garlic (for the naan), garlic and jalapenos (for the tikka masala) and mango (for the lassi) and set everything aside. At the end of the hour, prepare the dough for the second rise. While the dough is rising for the second time (30 minutes), heat the grill and skewer the chicken. Grill the chicken and get the sauce started on the stove top. When the chicken is cooked, set it aside and leave the grill on. Roll out the naan. Remove the chicken from the skewers and add it to the sauce. Grill the naan, and cover it to keep it warm and moist while you finish everything up. Make the lassi, and plate everything.

It seems like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. Even if it was, it really is worth it.

Chicken Tikka Masala
serves 2 

Parsley, to make it look a little closer to how good it tastes.

For marinade:
1 cup yogurt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp salt, or to taste
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
4 long skewers

For sauce:
1 tbsp butter
2 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (or 2, if you like it really spicy)
3 tsp ground cumin
4 tsp paprika
1 tsp garam masala (or add an extra tsp cumin)
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
2 cups heavy cream (can be substituted with 2 cups milk & 1-2 oz cream cheese)

Combine yogurt, lemon juice, ginger and the following four spices in a bowl. Add 1-2 teaspoons of salt, to taste. Add chicken to the yogurt mixture and stir to coat. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. While the chicken marinates, soak your skewers if they are wooden.

Skewer the chicken pieces and BBQ on a hot grill for 3-4 minutes each side. Set aside.

In a large skillet, melt butter and saute garlic & jalepeno for 1-2 minutes. Add cumin, paprika, garam masala and salt, and quickly stir. Add tomato sauce and cream or milk. Let sauce simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes, until it thickens. Remove chicken from skewers and add to the sauce. Continue cooking for about 10 minutes. Serve immediately, with naan and/or rice.

Garlic Naan
Makes 5-6 pieces

Naan-stop deliciousness!

1/2 package (1 1/8 tsp) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 tbsp white sugar
1 1/2 tbsp milk
1/2 egg, beaten (I know, I know; this is totally annoying.)
1 tsp salt
about 2-1/4 cups flour
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter, melted
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes, until frothy. (This is called “proofing the yeast.”) Stir in sugar, milk, egg, salt, and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or until smooth. Place dough in a well oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise for 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.
Punch down dough, and knead in garlic. Pinch off small handfuls of dough and roll into balls about twice the size of a golf ball. You should end up with 5-7 pieces. Place on a greased or floured tray, cover with a towel, and allow to rise for about 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.
Preheat grill to high, or leave it on when you are making the chicken skewers.
After the second rise, melt butter. Roll out dough, one ball at a time, until flat and oval shaped. Brush with melted butter and set aside on a plate. Repeat until all the dough is rolled and buttered.
Brush grill with remaining butter. Place dough on grill, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until puffy and lightly browned. Turn over and cook until browned, another 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from grill, and continue the process until all the naan has been prepared.
Mango Lassi
serves 1-2

Lassi helps to cool down the spicy.

1 cup plain yogurt OR 1 (5.3 oz) container frozen Greek yogurt*
1 mango, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup milk
dash cardamom
sugar, to taste (optional)

Combine first 4 ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Blend in sugar to sweeten to your tastes.

*The original recipe calls for 1 cup plain yogurt, but I used a individual sized vanilla Greek yogurt that I had in the freezer because I ran out of plain yogurt making the chicken marinade. Because the yogurt was already sweetened, I did not use any sugar.

Potato, Bacon & Cheese Pierogies

August 31, 2011 § 1 Comment

Have you ever had a pierogi?

Apparently, no one at Google has either, because Chrome’s spell check refuses to accept that pierogi is a real word.

In case you haven’t, pierogies are like eastern European potstickers – little dough dumplings filled with typical eastern European ingredients like potato, onions, cheese, sauerkraut or meat that can be baked, boiled or fried. My first experience with these little pockets of carbohydrates was by accident, when I came across these in the grocer’s freezer section:

As you might expect, dough filled with mashed potatoes and cheese was a huge hit at our dinner table, and I continued to rely on Mrs. T to provide our monthly dose of Eastern Bloc culinary adventure. I’ve baked ’em, boiled ’em, pan fried ’em, even put ’em in a casserole and they never disappointed. One thing I never thought to do, however, was make them from scratch. Making small, artfully wrapped items like dumplings or ravioli seemed to me like something I should leave to the professionals. I was sure all these things are much, much better when made fresh, but I just assumed it wasn’t in the cards for me and made due with the frozen variety.

But one day, while obsessively browsing FoodGawker, I came across a recipe for home made potato and cheese pierogies. I was shocked at how few ingredients were needed and how simple the steps looked, so I bookmarked it and a few days later decided to give it a go. I also decided to add bacon because when potatoes and cheese are involved, I think it is nearly a mortal sin to leave out the bacon.

I was right about fresh pierogies being much, much better than the frozen variety.

Potato, Bacon & Cheese Pierogies
makes 24 dumplings

Pile of happiness.

For the dough:

2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup water

For the filling: 

1 lb. potatoes (about 1 1/2 large russets)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
4-6 slices bacon, pan fried and chopped into bits
1 tbsp dried chives
salt/pepper

To make the dough:

Mix together flour and salt. Beat the eggs and water and add to the flour mixture. Mix the dough (with your hands) until it becomes elastic and can be molded into a ball, adding more flour if it is too sticky. Wrap the dough ball in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To make the filling:

Peel potatoes and cut into cubes. Boil until they can be easily pierced by a fork, then drain and return to the pot. Mash them up and add in cheese, bacon and chives. Salt & pepper to taste. Set aside to let cool to room temperature.

To make the final product:

Cover a work surface and your (clean!) hands with flour. Roll the dough ball out into a long rope, and cut into 24 even pieces, rolling each piece into a ball. Flatten a ball in your hand (or with a rolling pin) and place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center. Fold in half and crimp the edges with a fork. Set aside on a floured surface and repeat 23 times. You will probably have extra filling, which you should definitely eat, because it is potatoes, cheese and bacon. Duh.

Don't eat them yet!

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Working in batches of 4 or 5 at a time, add pierogies to the pot and boil until they float (a few minutes). As they begin to float, remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with a paper towel. When the pierogies are mostly dried, transfer them to hot frying pan coated with oil, butter or bacon grease (because you just cooked bacon, remember?)  and cook until both sides are slightly crispy and golden brown. Remove to a different plate and repeat until all pierogies are cooked.

Serve with sour cream and sauteed onions (another great use for that bacon grease).

Grilled Lemon Chicken Pasta

August 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

A few things have held me back from getting this blog off the ground. One is that I normally cook without any recipes. Once I learn to make a dish, I nearly always improvise with measurements and different ingredients. The thought of trying to calculate everything I do while cooking in order to post a recipe just did not appeal to me.

The second hurdle is photos. When I finish making something, I want to eat it. Typically, I eat it before I cook it and while I’m cooking it as well. Thus, it is extremely hard for me to remember to take a good photo with my fancy camera of all the meals I cook. However, it’s really easy for me to take a crappy photo with my phone. So, in the interest of getting a blogging routine started, I’ve decided to adopt a few abnormalities on this blog, one of which will hopefully change and another which probably won’t.

1) Some posts will have crappy iPhone pictures for accompaniment. I am going to try my darndest to get into the habit of taking real photos, and I feel like that will be easier to do when I have this thing up and running.

2) Some/most posts will not have recipes. I will explain what ingredients I used and how I prepared them, but I won’t be listing measurements and steps like a traditional recipe. If you like cooking, which you likely do if you are reading a food blog, then you will probably be able to recreate the dish. If you don’t like cooking, let’s be honest- you probably weren’t going to make it anyway.

So, without further adieu- Grilled Lemon Chicken Pasta- a non-recipe with an iPhone photo.

Grilled Lemon Chicken Pasta
Serves 3-4 

Bright and blurry...

A few years ago, Brad and I decided we were going to try the Master Cleanse diet, which involves only drinking a spicy lemonade concoction for 10 days. I hunted down a wholesale lemon dealer and bought a 40 lb box in a back alley. Needless to say, this diet was miserable and we only lasted about 4 days. As a consequence, I had to find recipes to use of the crisper-drawer of lemons we had left over. One such dish was a lemon chicken pasta, which I have continued to make regularly.  I no longer have a written recipe for it, and change the vegetables, pasta shapes and marinade quantities every time I make it. In my most recent adventure, I decided to grill the chicken before adding it to the pasta, rather that dice and stir-fry as usual. The result? Fantastique!

Early in the day I put two chicken breasts into a ziploc bag and added some olive oil, a juiced lemon, a sliced clove of garlic, salt, pepper and smoked paprika. Zipped the bag, shook it up and put it in the fridge for later.

Later…

I threw those chickens on a preheated BBQ and closed the lid. There are people who will argue that you should leave the lid open when you BBQ, but I am impatient and always close the lid because it helps the food cook faster.

Inside, I was boiling water and had a big skillet coated in cooking spray and ready to saute some chopped onions and garlic. After adding some salt and pepper to the pan, I chopped up a bunch of asparagus to about 1.5 inch pieces and threw them in there as well. After a few good stirs, I zested and juiced one lemon into the skillet and dumped a can of diced tomatoes in there. Stir it a few more times to mix everything together and cover, so the asparagus steams a little bit.

At this point, the water is boiling, so I dunked a hearty amount of broccoli into the bath for about 3 minutes.  I probably could have gotten away with only blanching them for 1-2 minutes, since they go into the hot skillet (with the help of a slotted spoon) with the rest of the ingredients and inevitably continue to cook. I guess it just depends if you like your broccoli with a little bite or not.

Once the broccoli is into the skillet, take the lid off and keep it off. Stir it around.  Add about 2-3 cups of dry pasta (I used rotini this time, but it really doesn’t matter) to the boiling water (it’s okay that the broccoli left it green!) and go flip the chicken on the grill.  The chicken should be flipped around 8-10 minutes after they start cooking, so plan accordingly.

When you get back to the stove, stir the pasta around so it doesn’t form one big pasta mass and stir the other ingredients around to feel useful.  At this point, I like to shake-shake-shake some red pepper flakes into the mix because I like spicy. If you like spicy, I recommend you do as well.

So, after a few more minutes, the chicken should be ready. Chop it up into bite-sized pieces and add it to the vegetable mixture. When the pasta is ready, scoop it out with a slotted spoon or drain it and add it to the skillet as well.  Mix everything together and turn off the heat. Stir in about 1/2 cup of sour cream- not so much to make everything white, just enough to make the dish creamy and tangy.

Scoop generous portions onto plates and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Eat and enjoy.

Guinness Beef Pot Pie

August 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

As a kid, I pretty much hated chicken pot pie.  I was not a fan of gravy, and my only experience with the meal was the frozen Marie Callender’s variety. Lately, however, my distaste for gravy has turned into an obsession (is it normal to dip baby carrots in gravy?) and since the boy has been asking me to make a chicken pot pie for years, I decided to finally try my hand at it.

My chicken pot pie turned out delicious, and I’ll surely write about it next time I make it, but now is not the time. Today, I am talking about beef. While making the chicken pie, I realized the recipe would be very easily adaptable to beef.  Additionally, there is an Irish bar in downtown LA, Casey’s, that makes a delicious beef pot pie dish called Guinness pie.  Serendipitously, I had one bottle of Guinness left in my fridge… could it be a sign? So, working off of this chicken pot pie recipe and my memory of Casey’s dish, I invited a friend over and whipped up this Guinness Beef Pot Pie.  It was flakey, hearty, comforting and delicious.  Like stew inside of pie crust.

Guinness Beef Pot Pie
makes 1 9″ pie

1 bottle Guinness beer
2 cups beef broth
1 lb. beef stew meat, cut into 1/2-3/4 inch pieces
1 cup potatoes, diced into 3/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 tbsp diced onion
1 garlic clove
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
salt & pepper

2 9″ pie crusts

1. Early in the day, fill your crock pot with beef, beer and broth. Set on high (for a shorter cooking time) or low (if you do this at 8AM and won’t be home until dark).

2. After several hours (I left mine on high for about 6 hours), add potatoes, carrots and celery to the crock pot.  Let cook for 1-1.5 hours, or until potatoes are easily poked with a fork.

3. Add peas to the crock pot. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Roll out one pie crust into a greased (or cooking sprayed) 9″ pie dish.  Pop it in the oven for about 5 minutes. Take it out and leave it on the counter.

4. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a saucepan.  Add onions and garlic and saute until aromatic and translucent, about 1-2 minutes. Add remaining butter. When the butter is completely melted, whisk in flour gradually, until completely combined.  This will create a lumpy sort of paste.  Heat for 1-2 minutes, whisking frequently to keep it from burning.

5. Take 1.5 cups of liquid from the crockpot at whisk it slowly into the flour/butter mixture.  The liquid will pop and sizzle at first, so add it very gradually.  Once the liquid starts to combine evenly into the pan, it will be easier to add more at one time.  When all the liquid is added, reduce heat and stir frequently as the gravy thickens, 3-4 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste and kill the heat.

6. Using a slotted spoon, move the beef and vegetables from the crock pot into the pre-baked pie crust.  Next, pour the gravy into the crust over the beef and vegetables.  Cover the pie with the second pie crust and cut 3-4 slits in the top crust to vent.  Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until top crust is golden brown.  Remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Lasagna with Zucchini

August 19, 2011 § Leave a comment


Layered for your pleasure.

Lasagna is a favorite in our household. Brad orders it whenever we go to a fancy Italian restaurant, and I find it a shame that most only experience it in the form of Stouffer’s frozen lasagna brick. It really is not very hard to make for yourself. It’s also infinitely customizable, like all pasta dishes. In this case, I used ground beef and zucchini, but I also like to use spicy Italian sausage, or seasoned ground turkey or whatever I happen to have in the fridge. Meat, pasta, sauce, cheese and a possible veggie- it’s really hard to screw up.  Exact measurements are pretty irrelevant in pasta dishes, which is partially why I love to make them so much.

So next time you reach for that frozen lasagna at the grocery store, turn away and pick up the ingredients for this. It will take barely any more effort, no more time, and taste at least twice as good.

Lasagna with Zucchini
Serves 4-6 

1.25 lbs ground beef
1 jar pasta sauce
Dash red pepper flakes
5-6 lasagna noodles
3 small zucchini
1 cup of part-skin ricotta
salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregeno, basil to taste
1-2 tablespoons of milk

Start by filling a pot half full of water and turn on the heat.  Well, I actually started by turning on the oven to 375 degrees. Then I put the pot on. But anyway, once you have that going, work on browning some meat. This time I used 1.25 lbs of 93/7 ground beef. Like I said earlier, you can use pretty much any kind of meat, though I have always stuck with meat of the ground persuasion. Italian sausage is really, really good, but I had beef this time, so that’s what I used.

While the meat is cooking, slice up three small zucchinis lengthwise, about 1/8 inch thick. Sprinkle with salt and let them sit for a while. When the beef is cooked, drain the excess grease and add pasta sauce (I used Classico Traditional Sweet Basil) and a dash of red pepper flakes. Stir it up and let it simmer on low heat.

When the water started boiling, add in about 5-6 lasagna noodles. I’ve found that breaking off about 2 inches from the ends before cooking makes assembling the lasagna easier, but you can always cut the pieces to fit after they’ve cooked. Let those noods boil until they are al dente or whatever dente you like.

As the noodles cook, mix 1 cup of part-skin ricotta with salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregeno, basil and 1-2 tablespoons of milk. Some people use eggs in their ricotta, but I don’t really see the point. You can also add Parmesan to this mixture but I happened to be running low and wanted to have some for topping. I use the milk to make the ricotta mixture smoother and easier to spread on the noodles, so don’t panic if you don’t have any.

When the noods are finished cooking, drain ’em, set them aside and kill the heat on the meat sauce. Using a paper towel, wipe the salt and excess liquid from the zucchini slices. Doing this salt/wipe helps to keep your lasagna from getting too soupy from the water in the zucchini.

Now- for assembly. Put an 8″x8″ glass baking dish in front of you. Add a little of the sauce mixture to the dish and spread it over the bottom so the noodles won’t stick. Add a layer of noodles on top of the sauce. I use two noodles and then fill in the rest with the broken end pieces. You can, I suppose, use 3 noodles and discard the broken ends, but that seems wasteful to me. Anyway, after the noods are in place, smear half the ricotta mixture on top of them. I really hate this step because it is frustrating, since you won’t really be able to evenly cover the whole thing but you know what? It doesn’t actually matter. Just do your best and it will turn out great anyway. On top of the ricotta, layer half of the zucchini slices. I put mine in the opposite direction of the noodles, but I had no particular reason for doing so. Add half the remaining sauce in a layer on top of the zucchini, and repeat the layering process above. The top layer should be the rest of the sauce.

Finally, cover (I mean COVER) the top with shredded mozzarella cheese. You can also add sprinkles of Parmesan on top of this. Pop that baby in the oven until the cheese is melty and bubbly and browning on the edges.

Again, as with bread pudding, lasagna is a dish that is best served cooled. Let it sit on the stove for 5-10 minutes to cool. This will allow it to solidify a bit and make it a lot easier to serve. While I was waiting, I made a simple side salad, which made the time go by quickly and I wasn’t tempted to cut into it before it was ready.

Cut, scoop out with a spatula, top with Parmesan and devour. Nom nom nom.

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