Saturday, July 30, 2011

Carne asada calabacitas

On Thursday it didn't seem quite as miserably hot as usual so the idea of putting something to cook in the slow cooker seemed like a good idea. I found some stew meat at the grocery store and I started thinking of some sort of Mexican inspired carne asada, with vegetables; a thick stew with vegetables and served with tortillas.

I didn't want to do any real prep work, so I pretty much threw everything into the cooker, turned it on high and waited. I started with the beef, a can of tomatoes with green chilis, about a cup of tomato juice, a few tablespoons of cumin, another couple of chili powder, a yellow squash, a zucchini, about half of a large sweet onion, two cloves of garlic and salt and pepper. After about four hours it was smelling awfully good, but even the slow cooker was putting out a heat I could feel from across the room. Ugh. I pointed a fan at it, turned it to low, and kept my ass out of the kitchen, for the most part.

It turned out well, though if it hadn't been so hot outside, I would have baked this dish in order to reduce and thicken the sauce. It was delicious scooped into flour tortillas, but a little messy. With a thicker sauce, that wouldn't have been an issue. Alongside I simply added some corn kernels to a drained and rinsed can of black beans and tossed them with a bit of vinaigrette.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Did you carry out those threats I heard /Or were you only playing macho?/And the stains on her Versace scarf/Were they really just gazpacho? - Meatless Monday's gazpacho and cheese panini

It's too hot for nearly, well, anything, but Sunday night's cool down did bring the temperature down in the house a bit, making it almost comfortable all day Monday. Comfortable enough that I was willing to chop and stir for gazpacho, and even added cheesy paninis to the Meatless Monday menu. Unlike my usual litany of ingredients and methods, I will actually detail the recipe like a normal person (and will my blog every get famous if I don't recount the recipes with exact ingredients and measurements?).

Let me state right now that I have no garden and no current access to fresh tomatoes so there are none in this recipe (which is sacrilege to 'real' gazpacho, I know), but this was a very good batch, so take that for what it is. I looked at a few recipes and took the parts I liked and came up with this one.


2 stalks celery, thinly chopped
1/2 large (or 1 whole small) green pepper, chopped
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/3 large sweet onion, finely chopped
1 large fatty clove of garlic (I used a press for mine)
About a quarter cup of fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 12oz can fire roasted tomatoes, with juice
4-6 cups tomato juice
Salt and pepper to taste (you probably won't need much salt due to the tomatoes and tomato juice)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
Several dashes of hot sauce (I used Extra Hot Valentina)
2 tsp. sugar

Stir all ingredients together and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

For the paninis I had a lovely flat-ish sesame seed loaf which I cut in half lengthwise and spread each side with a teeny bit of mayo. I had grated cheeses so I used half sharp cheddar and half of a pizza blend. I only had a teeny amount of those delicious sweet salad peppers left (how have I lived so long without Mt. Olive's Sweet Salad Peppers???), but I stuck them on too. Ten minutes or so in the panini press and they were crispy and gooey and a perfect accompaniment to the chilled soup.

It all also seemed to work as an aphrodisiac, an added bonus, since nothing else has worked in this weather!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dinner via assemblage

Today, the culmination of several days of 96+ temperatures, was too hot to even contemplate chopping vegetables for salad. The most I could fathom doing was putting things on a platter and maybe slicing some bread. So, at the grocery store today I bought things that required no preparation, no heat, no fuss. Thus it was a platter of meats, cheeses, bread and some other bits and bobs like sundried tomatoes, olives, sugar snap peas, and sweet/hot banana peppers. I forgot to take a photo before we started eating, so here's one mid-way through.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sesame peanut noodles and spicy cucumber salad

To continue the theme of cold meals, I couldn't get my mind off of cold peanut noodles today. Perhaps I have an unnatural love of peanut butter, but PB&J sandwiches, satay sauce, peanut butter cups, peanut butter cookies and peanut noodles are some of my favorite foods.

Since I had that grilled chicken frozen from the weekend, I decided that I would slice some up and add it to the noodles for a little added protein. For the noodles I cooked about eight ounces of vermicelli in my trusty Pasta Boat, drained it, and rinsed and soaked it in cool water. In the meantime I mixed up a sauce of about half a cup of crunchy peanut butter, a quarter cup of smooth peanut butter, about a quarter cup of hot water, a nice slosh of seasoned rice vinegar, a good glug of toasted sesame oil, some shakes of soy sauce, around a quarter cup of sweet chili garlic sauce, and about a tablespoon of siracha. Because I like oniony goodness, I also sliced up the green parts of about four scallions and added them to the noodles and chicken. I tossed it all with the sauce and let it chill for about three hours.

For the cucumber salad I peeled (with one of my very favorite kitchen utensils - my bird peeler - a Christmas gift from my sister Carol) and thinly sliced the cucumber and dressed it with seasoned rice vinegar, a bit of sweet chili garlic sauce and a packet of sweetener as it seemed a little salty from the vinegar and I didn't want to add more real sugar. They were nice and tart, a little spicy and very garlicky.

Now to think about what happens tomorrow night...

It's too hot to live, way too hot to cook - Meatless Monday white bean salad/chicken salad

Do I need to say anything about the temperatures we've been experiencing here? It's hellish and miserable and it's making me angry (because I want to speak to someone about it!), but there's nothing to be done, is there? Cooking anything that requires standing in front of a burner or a grill is out of the question, but I am also not satisfied with salad greens for dinner. As it was Meatless Monday, I thought some kind of bean salad would be good and filling. I cooked a half pound of navy beans in the pressure cooker and rinsed and cooled them once they were finished cooking.

For the salad I chopped a tomato and a little bundle of parsley, added a spoonful of capers and probably a quarter cup of black empeltre olives, chopped. I got a big jar of these beauties at Marshall's for a mere $4.99, a total bargain even if they have to be pitted. Then I started feeling ambitious, even with the heat. I had the majority of a bag of frozen mixed pepper strips so I sauteed those and a quarter of a big sweet onion in a little olive oil until softened and added it to the rest of the ingredients. I already had a bottle of homemade balsamic vinaigrette which I sloshed on and mixed around. The salad went into the refrigerator for a bit of chilling and when I served it I dusted it with some parmesan cheese. If I do say so myself, it was a delicious cold, meatless meal on a hot day.
On Tuesday night we were kindly treated to a delicious and oh-so-decadent Italian meal at Bill Gianino's in South County by my sister Carol and brother in law John. We were celebrating the presence of my niece Kate, her husband Saksiri, and the star of the show, my adorable great-niece Sophie. Steve had tortellini and I had the ravioli proscuitto which was amazingly good (beef ravioli that was flavored with a lot of basil - yum - in a garlicky cream sauce full of broccoli, proscuitto and mushrooms). Really, I think this place pretty much trumps all the joints on the Hill as far as St. Louis Italian food goes. Delish!

Last night I decided to open a can of chicken and make chicken salad for sandwiches. I've never really eaten much canned chicken and now that I've had it a couple times, I have to make some apologies to Jessica Simpson. Seriously, I now I completely understand her "is it fish or chicken what I'm eating?" dilemma. Canned chicken tastes a hell of a lot like water packed tuna. At any rate, I added some celery, a bit of onion powder and a spoonful of mayonnaise (sadly, Duke's light mayo is not anywhere near the sublime heights of their regular stuff) and piled the resulting salad up on a couple of cheesy onion rolls. For a salad I took the easy way out and ripped open a bad of salad greens, dumped on the leftover white bean salad and drizzled with a little more vinaigrette.

Next up: Cold sesame peanut noodles and spicy cucumber salad.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen {as much as possible} - Crock pot pork/Grilled chicken Caesar salad

If you live in St. Louis, you know it's been hot. Really really fucking hot. And humid, as usual. Aside from a window unit in our bedroom, we are air conditioned splendor-less. Mostly we can deal with it, but when there are sequential days of mid-90s and beyond, it gets rather uncomfortable. We are now preparing for five or six more days of uncomfortable. I am dreading it, truly.

In this kind of heat, cooking becomes fairly unattractive. Last week I had a hankering for roast pork with the peach and jalapeno jam I made a couple weeks ago. I found a nice boneless rolled pork roast, sprinkled it with salt, pepper and garlic, and stuck it in the crock pot for a few hours. When it was basically completely cooked, I poured a little of the jam over it and let it cook for about an hour more. Although the jam wasn't as spicy as I would have liked, it did add a nice flavor to the pork. Steamed new potatoes and salad were nearly heatless sides.
The next day it was still hot, but I managed to make a batch of pesto (effectively bringing about the end of my 15+ year old mini Cuisinart processor) and shredded the leftover pork and added barbecue sauce. I had bought a loaf of Marconi bread and used it for open-faced sandwiches with penne pasta, pesto and chopped tomatoes.
I couldn't imagine cooking anything today in the heat (or in this week's upcoming misery) so when we were grocery shopping I was trying to think of cool things to prepare and eat. Caesar salad sounded good for tonight, but I wanted some kind of protein. A big package of skinless, boneless chicken thighs solved that issue. I seasoned them simply and cooked the lot on the indoor grill, freezing two-thirds for later in the week. A grilled chicken Caesar salad hit the spot.
For dessert this past week I've been making s'mores. Easy, gooey and so good. Tonight's messy specimen:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Not Quite Meatless Monday and Chicken Thighs

I feel a bit of a failure, missing out on two Meatless Mondays in a row. I succumbed to barbeque on the Fourth of July and yesterday the lure of another Nicoise salad overcame me. Plus I could prepare the components in advance, meaning I didn't have to do any meaningful cooking in the oppressive heat of yesterday afternoon and evening. And, well, I fucking love Nicoise salad. This time I opted for canned tuna and I think it was better than the fresh grilled stuff. I have fairly recently become a convert to the olive oil packed tuna and it was perfect for the salad. Water-packed tuna just seems so very bland and boring now.
Tonight I decided to marinate some chicken thighs in white wine vinegar, some oil, garlic and a little pile of herbs from my garden - rosemary, oregano and basil. Some corn on the cob, shucked and put right on the grill (I have no idea why people bother with the process of pulling the husks back, removing the silk and putting the husks back on) to get a bit of char on it. Some asparagus sauteed with a bit of mushroom (I would have used a lot of mushroom but my container had mostly gone slimy) finished it off.

It was an actual pleasure to grill outside once the rain came and went. Nothing like being outside and not instantly sweating, for a change.

Odds and Sods...

Last week I finally took my very first batch of real clay (you know, the actual mud stuff) items to the pottery store (Baked Goods) to be bisque fired. I was rather nervous, not knowing if I had made things the "right" way so that they wouldn't get ruined in the firing process. (I'm so uninformed about clay, really, that I don't even know what that would mean!) Apparently, I mostly did it right as everything except for one teeny bowl came back unscathed; and I assume the little bowl just got dropped or something. I was giddy looking over my two little containers of stuff. It was no longer just shaped mud - it was ceramic! The pieces were bright white and they tinkled like china when clinked together.
I only managed to get a photo of the egg carton full of mostly plain beads prior to adding glaze. I was so eager to start glazing the pendants and larger pieces, I totally forgot to photograph them. Here they are with the requisite layers of glaze.
Unlike paints and some other glazes, the pottery glazes I want to use look completely, well, boring and awful before firing. The muddy grey pieces will hopefully look like this; the pale green stuff in the upper left corner will look like this; and the red will be completely different and be blue like this. At least, that's the plan. Apparently with ceramics and pottery, you can never be 100% sure what you are going to get post-firing. It's exciting and a little nerve-wracking at the same time. Hopefully the layers of glaze have not obscured the texture in all of these pieces, most of which are faux-bois.

Regardless of how they turn out, I have Karen Lynn Miller, friend and fellow artist (and proprietor of Binx Ceramics), to thank for giving me a huge chunk of clay to try out and for being patient with my many many questions about the process. I have looked longingly at finished pottery pieces for years, wanting to work within the medium but being a bit afraid to try it out. Karen pushed me right in and I'm very grateful to her. It just feels right working with the stuff. I can't wait to do more.

While I was out on Gravois picking up my bisque, I saw that the Eckert's store was open and ran in to get some peaches and other produce. Since it has been hot as hell, I intended to do something with the peaches rather than save them for eating (and thus, letting them rot). I decided on a sweet/savory peach and jalapeno jam which I think will be lovely on grilled pork and chicken, particularly in the colder months when a blast of sweet spicy peaches will be so welcome and fresh tasting. I'm a little afraid my jalapenos weren't hot enough, though. I suppose I will eventually find out. I canned these the "right" way so the seven jars I got are good for the next decade or so.
I was very much dreading work today as the temperature was predicted to reach nearly 100F again. I survived it, and it was sweaty and very hot, but it wasn't completely miserable. What amused me is that the tropical hibiscus plants seem to be having a jolly old time in the heat and humidity. Last week I nearly lost a bunch due to [someone else's] negligent watering, but they've all sprung back and are producing flowers like crazy. I couldn't resist pulling out my mobile cam and recording some of them, even though it meant standing still in the sun a bit longer.

This is possibly the most beautiful hibiscus flower I've ever seen. Triple-petaled in a lovely soft pink.

The triple peach is a close runner up.

 The yellow ones are so pretty they seem to be ascending to heaven on sunbeams!

Another gorgeous peach version.

And finally, this is the prettiest echinacea variety I've ever seen.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Goes and shows up with/More bowls and more/Cups and the riot for the/Last hot meal erupts - Vegetable Tostadas

Maybe because it's summer and there are actual ripe tomatoes around, I keep craving things piled on corn tortillas. Today at the grocery store I saw mushrooms on sale and immediately jumped to a vegetable tostada night. I know mushrooms don't seem to immediately scream "Mexican food!" but I thought that they would add a nice texture to the dish.

First task when I got home was to put about half a pound of pinto beans into the pressure cooker. Have I said how much I love my pressure cooker? Even if I use it for nothing but beans and brown rice, it is still beloved and invaluable. I do have to confess that I have no idea how long I cooked them; at one point I had been upstairs showering and on my way back down I suddenly smelled beans and rushed to turn off the fire. Luckily they were just right, particularly for my purposes.

I also bought a packet of Mrs. Wages All-Natural Salsa mix, intended to be mixed with chopped fresh tomato or canned petite diced tomato in juice. I opted to use canned tomatoes, just to see if it was any good (and to save my fresh tomatoes in case it was not). Surprisingly it was pretty good. I'd never seen Mrs. Wages anything until a couple weeks ago but there seems to be a pretty big line of stuff. I also smashed up an avocado with salt, pepper, onion and garlic powders.

For the vegetable mixture I heated olive oil in my wok pan [The wok's another beloved kitchen tool I've had for 15 years. My sister Carol gave it to us as a shower gift and after about 10 years it was seasoned well. Now it is perfect and I use it several times a week. Couldn't live without it.] and added Vidalia onion, banana peppers, summer squash (thanks again, Allison!), mushrooms, chili powder and cumin and cooked it all until the vegetables were tender, but not squishy.

To assemble I spread some beans (which I had smashed and added a bit of water to when reheating) on the tostada, then the vegetable mixture, salsa, lettuce and tomato, sour cream and guacamole. I totally forgot about getting the cheese out, but we really didn't miss it.

Tacos and tostadas seem way more rich and caloric than they really are, and you get a ton of fresh vegetables in every serving. Almost virtuous!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Yo, I rearrange your wholesome change/Complicate your vision and make the world look strange - Chicken pesto pasta and fudge

After waiting it out for a couple days it was finally time for pesto and pasta today. I got a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store the other day so I cut up the white meat from one breast and threw it in a bowl. When the pasta was cooked (thank you once again Pasta Boat!), I drained it and then dumped it into the bowl to heat up the chicken and then added a big ass glob of my pesto and mixed it all around. I loooooooove the smell of pesto hitting hot pasta - the garlic and basil just become so aromatic. The Boy declared, "I could eat pesto every day!"
 I got a chocolate craving today and I needed to stop myself from eating a whole can of sweetened condensed milk. I had also caught a glimpse of a spare bag of chocolate chips so...fudge! And since I had some almonds around, I chopped a handful up to add to the fudge. Then I took some moody photos of it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

There'll be no sorrows left to drown/Early in the morning in your evening gown - Elvis and salads and pesto.

A week of ridiculously, dangerously hot weather culminated in an incredible Elvis Costello show at the Pageant. I'll let Christian Schaeffer of the RFT tell you all about it. I love Elvis and I've seen him many times, but this was absolutely one of the very best performances. I even managed to get myself right down front and center, within just a few feet from the man himself. I'm sure my exuberance, and my unwillingness to give up my spot once I claimed it, pissed off a few people, but I like to think that I do a pretty decent job of keeping Mr. Costello front and center on the airwaves here in St. Louis via my radio show, so tough shit, people!

Anyways, to get back to food, let's start with the most recent first. I bought a nice package of chunks of albacore tuna at Trader Joe's the other day and all I have been thinking of is Nicoise salad, but just hadn't had the opportunity to make one until tonight.
What a perfect combination of ingredients. A perfectly boiled egg, lovely steamed and creamy red potatoes, thin blanched green beans, grilled tuna, tomato wedges and black olives, on a bed of spinach, all drizzled with a garlicky Dijon vinaigrette. Gosh, I already want another one. It was perfect for a warm day.

Earlier today I finally made pesto out of the basil I plundered from Allison's garden the other day. She left town and forgot to harvest the ripe stuff so she gave me permission to gather a few things. The banana peppers were delicious in a beef mixture for tostadas, and I will be eating the yellow squash soon. But today, it was pesto. I bougtht a bag of almonds in the shell weeks ago but had been too lazy to crack them until now. I don't love pesto made with pignoli so I usually use walnuts, but I was thinking that the creamy richness of almonds might be very good. I toasted them a bit in a hot pan first, then used about a palmful of nuts with maybe a cup and a half of basil leaves (loosely packed). Lots of garlic, some parmesan cheese and a generous amount of olive oil results in this emerald green dish of goodness.
I have to think about how I want to use it though it probably won't be till Tuesday. I think it will be good to let it sit and meld all the flavors even more. I like how the skins on the almonds made the little reddish brown flecks in it. Festive!

Last night we had a very late dinner after Steve got home from work. Considering how incredibly hot it was, I wanted to make a big salad. I had bought strawberries and blueberries for salad, and a roasted chicken so it seemed like a natural combination. I thinly sliced some Vidalia onion, added iceberg lettuce (I purposely wanted iceberg for its crunch and water content) and spinach, then chunks of strawberry, a handful of blueberries and some shredded white meat chicken. I wanted a poppyseed dressing and I really like the bottled kind mixed with a bit of vinegar to cut the sweetness. Oh, and I threw in some croutons for more crunch.
I apologize for the crappy photos. I'm out of batteries for my digital camera (and keep forgetting to buy more) and I have to make do with my mobile's cam.