Monday, August 31, 2009

96. Mango Salsa

Date Cooked: August 22, 2009
Page: 584
Rating: B+

When I made the Peach Salsa a few weeks ago I truly loved it. I liked the fresh taste it brought to the meal and I viewed fruit at dinner time in a new way. I decided I wanted to try the other fruit salsas from the grilling chapter of the book and I figured the mango one was a simple choice.

I love mangos but I do notice I am very picky about the time to eat them. Under-ripe and they have a starchy taste to them. Overripe and they are sickeningly sweet. Unfortunately I think these might have been a little too under-ripe. The other problem I face with mangos is a good way to cut them. I normally just cut down the side of the pit and then skin the “halves” but I feel so much gets wasted. Anybody know a good way to cut mangos?

Anyway let’s stop whining about the difficulties with mangos and discuss this dish. So after processing two mangos, I finely chopped half of a red onion and half of a jalapeno. Well the recipe called for half but since I had already used these jalapenos in another dish I knew they weren’t too hot so I used the whole jalapeno. Some lime juice was added to the mix and then a little chopped cilantro. Everything was tossed together and then I put it in the fridge to rest for an hour.

I have these nested stainless steel mixing bowls (Wolfgang Puck) that I purchased awhile ago before I really started getting into cooking. They sat unused for quite awhile since the only use I had for bowls was heating things up in the microwave and I’m sure big metal bowls and microwaves aren’t supposed to play together. Anyway, these bowls have seen a lot of use since the lids they come with seal perfectly and are great for coating foods in oils or dressings. Just thought I would let you know… in case you cared or were in the market for mixing bowls.

Rating: B-. I didn’t like this one as much as the peach salsa I had made. The mangos were a little under-ripe as I had mentioned before and the overall flavors weren’t as complex as the peach salsa. It was delicious mind you, but given the choice I am going to make the peach salsa again first.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It’s My 1st Blogaversary!

Wow, I have actually stuck with something for a year! I am impressed with myself and I have a renewed vigor to make more recipes this next year than I did this past year. While 365 days may seem like a lot of cooking time it only translated for me into 95 recipes from the book. But they have been an interesting bunch for me. I started this blog with hummus, white rice and peas, to my more impressive dishes of Gumbo, Pan-Roasted Halibut Steaks and Pad Thai. I still won’t classify myself as more than mediocre but I have learned a lot in the process of writing this blog. So what have I learned?

1. Where Food Comes From: I am not some kind of food snob that only eats local or shies away from unsustainable food. But I do appreciate where my food comes from, the process involved in getting it to my table and the content of the food. I try to make better selections from my supermarket and I am really trying to learn the seasons for my vegetables.

2. Nutrition: I don’t believe all fat is bad or that sugar must be avoided. But understanding its effect on my family and its role in our health has become important to me. Sometimes full fat is better than the chemical alternatives… sometimes it’s not.

3. Food Likes/Dislikes: I am absolutely appreciating trying new foods. Things I thought I disliked I find I enjoy and even those I still dislike I am beginning to tolerate.

4. Confidence: I don’t feel as inept in the kitchen as I used to. I figure I still have a long way to go before I can truly begin leaving the recipes behind and creating unique meals on the fly.

I also figured this would be a good time to recap my top five recipes of the past year. These are the recipes that I have created numerous times.

1. Pad Thai: I never liked Pad Thai from a restaurant and never thought much of the dish until my wife asked me to make this. I’m so glad she did because I do love this recipe, with a few modifications of course. In fact the best compliment I have received to date was from my wife when she told me she preferred this to what she used to order in the restaurant. A true moment of pride.

2. Hearty Meat Lasagna: Absolutely the best meat lasagna I have had to date. It is meaty and not greasy and has great structure. The recipe feeds an army so we only cook this when more than us will eat it or I feel like eating it for a week.

3. French Onion Soup: Like it in the restaurant, love it at home. The smell while it cooks, the ability to control the cheese factor and the fact that I can create about 10 bowls of this stuff for the price of a bowl in the restaurant.

4. Buffalo Chicken Wings: I am a huge fan of chicken wings and now that I know how to create them at home just the way I love them is truly astounding! I’ve made several pounds of wings, probably over 20 lbs since I first made this recipe. In fact I bought a deep-fryer just so I could make these even easier.

5. Roast Leg of Lamb: While I have not made it again I was extremely proud of myself for cooking it so well. I absolutely intend to make this again for a special occasion.

I really look forward to tackling more recipes and I hope that I can complete more than 95 during this next year. I would like to finish this project in less than 10 years.

For all those that have been following along, THANKS!

** I have created an index of my progress by chapter which can be viewed in this Index of Progress post.

Monday, August 17, 2009

95. Grilled Corn with Soy-Honey Glaze

Date Cooked: August 10, 2009
Page: 158
Rating: B-

This dish was an afterthought as I was cooking up some leftovers. This recipe is basically grilled corn that gets a glaze after the initial grilling and then spends a few more minutes on the grill to caramelize it. We had some grilled corn the night before with several cobs left over. I figured this would be a good use for the corn.

An extremely simple recipe to make, I basically reduced equal parts honey and soy sauce and then generously coated the cobs of corn before putting them on the grill for a few minutes.

Rating: B-. I don’t know if it the fact that they get grilled a second time or because I used corn that had been sitting in the fridge overnight but the corn was definitely cooked a little too much. The kernels didn’t have enough crispness to them. The flavor was good but the soy sauce was definitely dominant and not sweetened enough by the honey. If doing this again I would cook the corn a little less the first time on the grill and I would probably use more honey than soy sauce.

Friday, August 14, 2009

94. Grilled Asparagus with Orange-Sesame Vinaigrette

Date Cooked: August 7, 2009
Page: 135
Rating: B-

I almost didn’t realize it but this is my 100th post! While it’s not the 100th recipe posted from the book, that is still to come and a milestone I am looking forward to, it does mark a commitment to something I wasn’t really sure I was going to stick with, especially back in May and June. I’m glad I have stuck with it and I am really enjoying trying new things and learning new (and sometimes basic) techniques. Well on with the show!

You may have noticed that I cook an abundant amount of asparagus from the book. The actual number at this moment is 50 percent of the recipes in the vegetable chapter cooked so far are asparagus recipes. That’s a lot of asparagus! I used to actually hate this stuff. Well this was the last grilled asparagus option in the book so I figured why not give it a try. Sounded tasty!

The recipe is basically a grilled asparagus recipe with a vinaigrette added to it. I started by prepping the vinaigrette. And the very first step to that was to toast some sesame seeds. Toasting seeds… in fact toasting anything in this manner is something I had never done until I started this project. So as I toast each ingredient for the first time I am trying to figure out when something looks done and smells done. I think I may have done a good job with the sesame seeds. Of course I didn’t do anything else while they were toasting for fear they would quickly turn into something akin to tiny pieces of charcoal. Time really does crawl when watching something cook. I think paint drying is more exciting to watch.

Once the seeds were toasted I went to work on the rest of the vinaigrette. The recipe really should just be called, sesame vinaigrette. Along with the toasted sesame seeds, I added toasted sesame oil and tahini along with some olive oil. I also added some rice vinegar and of course some orange juice (freshly squeezed!). Once it was whisked together I took a little taste. I will withhold commenting until later. I let the vinaigrette rest while I finished grilling the asparagus.

Grilling asparagus on my new grill is much easier. They don’t seem to slip through the grate like they did on my old grill. The asparagus was tossed with some EVOO, salt and pepper before being placed on the grill. In about 7 minutes I have nice tender, tasty asparagus.

I then ruined it by pouring some vinaigrette on it.

Rating: B-. The only thing preventing this from being a C is that I like asparagus and it has a strong enough flavor to shine through the vinaigrette. The vinaigrette is strongly flavored of toasted sesame. It needs to be better balanced. I don’t know if it’s the ingredients I used but I ended up mixing in some more orange juice and that did seem to balance it out. I doubt I would make this again as written.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

93. Grilled Hamburgers with Garlic, Chipotles, and Scallions

Date Cooked: August 7, 2009
Page: 449
Rating: B+

I’m still on a grilling kick and I have been trying to use my grill a lot more this summer, especially since I won the new one. I figured I would try my hand at burgers again considering my previous failure with them. I am not as dense as those previous burgers were though and this time I picked up ground beef that had a higher fat content. I will spoil the ending by saying that it changed things greatly.

I might have deviated a little from this recipe. I’m supposed to start with 1 ½ pounds of ground beef but once I had measured it out I felt it looked a bit... weak? I figured I would just add the rest of the package since I wasn’t really going to freeze a ½ pound. So I am already courting failure but increasing the amount of prime ingredients. The next step was to mix in minced scallions, chipotle chile in adobo sauce and garlic… okay I need to back up a step.

Let’s talk about garlic. Ladies and Gentleman, this was my very first attempt at dry roasting garlic (not counting roasting it in the oven with other foods), and since I had never done it before I didn’t quite know what to expect. After toasting them on the stove I removed them and was marveled at how soft they become and how much more fragrant, as well as the fact that the bitterness mellows out completely. I loved it! So they were minced and thrown into the ground beef.

Some salt and pepper added to season and then I got my hands dirty. There is a relaxing aspect to working the ground beef with bare hands. The only problem is you have to be careful not to overwork it so the relaxation needs to end. Once everything was mixed I left my math and reading skills behind and began to form the patties. Somewhere in my mind I thought the book wanted six patties (from an initial 1 ½ pounds) meaning scrawny little 4oz patties. This was unacceptable so I made fewer of them but larger. I ended up with 5 of them from the two pounds I used, around 6.5 oz each. Turns out that as I review the recipe while typing this that I was illiterate. The original amounts were supposed to make 4 patties not the 6 I had assumed. If you are as confused about this paragraph as I am then don’t worry. I’ll summarize it as follows. It all worked out in the end.

Once the patties were formed with their little divot in the middle (to help them cook up a more uniform thickness), I prepped the grill which had been heating up nicely. The burgers only took a few minutes on each side to cook through nicely. They were removed and left to rest for a few minutes while I grilled up a side dish.

Rating: B+. Definitely getting better. The chile came through nicely but I felt that the garlic and scallions were lost in the burger. The burger definitely turned out moist although a little smaller than I would have liked. I can see myself practicing many burger variations in the coming weeks. I am having my doubts that these burger recipes are the “best” though.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

92. Lemon, Garlic, and Parsley Butter

Date Cooked: August 6, 2009
Page: 563
Rating: B

I felt like I need to have something with the steak. Ok, I really just wanted to knock off another recipe from the book and I didn’t have any fresh vegetables on hand to grill. I liked the idea of adding butter to steak and there were a couple compound butters in the book. It just so happens that I needed to use up some parsley and I had all the ingredients for this particular recipe.

I added lemon zest, garlic, minced parsley, salt and pepper to some softened butter. Whipped it with a fork until combined and then doled out a little on the steak. By the time I was sitting down to eat it had started to melt nicely.

Rating: B. It was a pretty good butter. I really don’t have much to say about it. The garlic dominated the flavor profile and while I like garlic I was hoping for something more. Didn’t ruin the steak which is good I guess!

Monday, August 10, 2009

91. Gas-Grilled Strip Steaks

Date Cooked: August 6, 2009
Page: 564
Rating: A

A few weeks ago my wife and I spent some time at our bank taking advantage of the excellent mortgage rates and doing a little adjusting of our finances. In the process we put our names in for a draw for a new grill. Well it turns out we won it! I was very happy especially since we were looking to buy a new grill at the end of the summer season and now I can put that money towards something else! So of course there is only one thing to do with a new grill and that is to try it out.

To break in the grill I figured nothing was better than a good steak. So a quick trip to the store and I picked up a nice strip steak. As my wife is still away, I picked up just a small one for myself. I notice that I tend to eat a lot of strip steaks and need to start trying the different cuts to determine if I can tell and appreciate the difference.

I fired up the grill with ease. My old grilled had the electric starter break on it so I was constantly sticking matches in to light it. The problem was one side would light while the other burner would take a bit to get going. I frequently had mini explosions when lighting the grill. I would literally have to take a few steps back to avoid facial hair loss. This new one seems so much safer!

While the grill was heating up I seasoned the steak with just salt and pepper. Once the grill was hot enough I placed the steak on the grills and listened to it sizzle. 2 minutes per side and then I moved it over to the cooler side to finish cooking for another 6 minutes. I like my steaks more on the rare side.

I am pretty proud of the grill marks on the steak, something my old grill never seemed able to produce. On a side note I did singe the hairs on my arm without realizing it. The grill can throw off some serious heat!

Rating: A. The steak turned out great although it was a little more on the well-done side of medium than I would have liked. That is simply learning the new grill and I am excited to learn!

Friday, August 7, 2009

90. Peach Salsa

Date Cooked: July 31, 2009
Page: 584
Rating: A-

This was an accompaniment for the pork chops I had grilled from the previous post. I have watched on numerous cooking shows (especially those covering grilling) the use of fruit salsas with grilled meat. I have never actually made one until now.

It was a fairly simple recipe to make although I almost lost a finger in the process. While I could spin this story into a near tragedy I won’t, because I simply wasn’t paying attention and caught myself before a very sharp knife slid across my pinky. Two peaches were split and then chopped into large chunks. A red pepper and red onion were chopped fine and a jalapeno was minced. It was all tossed with some chopped parsley and garlic and some lime juice and pineapple juice.

This sat for about an hour while the pork chops marinated and cooked.

Rating: A. Absolutely delicious! The flavors went so well together and added a fresh layer of flavor to the pork chops! The peaches could have been riper but this was a great dish and I will prepare this in the future for serving with more grilled meats. The next day I had some more with the leftover pork chops and it was even better once the flavors mingled overnight.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

89. Gas-Grilled Pork Chops

Date Cooked: July 31, 2009
Page: 583
Rating: A

I am a fan of pork. It is a meat that I thoroughly enjoy the taste and texture of. When cooked properly. Nothing can be worse than a dry pork chop. So I was happy to see that this recipe starts with brining the pork chops in a mixture of salt and sugar. The brining is meant to help keep the pork chops juicy and boost their flavor. The book recommends rib or center-cut loin chops and while at the grocery store I picked up center-cut loin chops because they were thicker. Pork chops should be about 1 ½ inches thick and maintain a uniform thickness. My chops weren’t that thick unfortunately. I am still searching for a local butcher that can provide me with my meat needs without paying a hefty premium for the service. Until I do I will be reduced to the supermarket offerings.

The chops brined for a little over an hour while I prepped the rest of the meal. Once the brining was complete I patted them dry and seasoned them liberally with the spice rub from the previous post. When I say liberally I mean they were encrusted with the rub.

I am getting better at grilling. Or more importantly I am getting more confident on the grill. I had one side of the grill set to high and the other side to medium. The pork chops were grilled about 3 minutes per side over the hot section of the grill before being cooked for another 7 minutes over the cooler section. When they were done the chops looked and smelled great.

They were served with a peach salsa (covered in the next post but you can see from the picture above).

Rating: A. The only real improvement I could have made to these chops would have been to get thicker ones. These chops were delicious with the rub really accenting the juicy and flavorful pork. I am craving these again as I type this. I might need to make some pork chops tonight!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

88. Basic Spice Rub for Grilled Pork

Date Cooked: July 31, 2009
Page: 582
Rating: B+

From a recipe perspective there isn’t much to say about this. I mixed cumin, curry powder, chili powder, black pepper and sugar. Simple as this is though I almost failed. Once again I need to pay closer attention to the quantities. Everything except the black pepper was measured in tablespoons. The pepper was measured in teaspoons. If it wasn’t for the fact that I ran out of black pepper, I would have added too much. Anyway the potential disaster was averted and the rub was ready for application.

Rating: B+. It was a great rub and definitely enhanced the flavor of the pork.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

87. Grilled Eggplant with Cherry Tomato and Cilantro Vinaigrette

Date Cooked: July 31, 2009
Page: 162
Rating: B+

I’m living the week as a pseudo-bachelor. My wife is away with my eldest on a vacation in Florida and I am at home ‘relaxing’ with my youngest. This actually translates into attempting to accomplish as many home renovation projects as time and money allows. I also figured this was a good time to cook items from the book that my wife would probably not enjoy. Anything with tomatoes is very low on her list of enjoyable menu options. I’m not the biggest fan of tomatoes either, but I have been making a conscious effort to change that. This project has been a big help in that goal. I’m still not looking forward to the recipes containing anchovies. That is going to be a challenge.

Eggplant is not the first vegetable I would go to when looking for something to pair with… well anything. I have had this aversion to it for no good reason. Maybe as a child the name turned me off and since it was never a childhood staple I have had no reason to try it. Awhile back I made a stir fry with it and I enjoyed it. But I had yet to eat it as the star of a dish. I figured now was a good time to change that, especially since this recipe was made for the grill.

Prepping the eggplant was as simple as slicing it into thick rounds and brushing them with garlic, oregano and olive oil. The vinaigrette on the other hand required a little more work. The cherry tomatoes were quartered and then I diced a shallot and minced some garlic. I roughly chopped some cilantro and everything was tossed with some olive oil and lime juice. I let the vinaigrette rest while I prepared the rest of the dinner.

Now I am getting much better on the grill but I still have a lot to learn, especially timing. I placed the eggplant on the hot grill and closed the lid. I figured that they should take about 8 minutes and I should probably flip them at the 4 minute mark. I would like to point out that my grill has hot spots and I am not talking about areas that are warmer. I have spots on my grill that that approach molten metal temperatures. After 4 four minutes several pieces were glowing red, but of course other pieces were beautifully grilled. So I flipped them all over and moved the pieces away from the molten sections of my grill. I only let them go a few more minutes before removing and plating.

I poured the vinaigrette over the eggplant and served.

Rating: B+ I really enjoyed the flavors of this dish. I didn’t even mind the tomatoes in it. This could almost of had an A- rating except that the skin of the grilled eggplant was extremely tough and detracted from the smooth texture of the eggplant. The best I could describe it would be like eating a cupcake and then biting into a hidden piece of the cupcake paper cup. Next time I’ll skin the eggplant and I am surprised it didn’t mention it in the book… then again maybe it did. I think I will double check that.
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