Red Red Rice You Make me Feel so Fine…

You keep me rocking, all of the time!!  Okay, okay red, red wine is better than rice.  But I don’t have a recipe for wine, so rice will have to do!

ANYWAY.

Who would have thought that I would be sitting here today writing my first guest blog post?  For that matter, writing my first blog post?  But when Hilary asks Facebook for help, you don’t just scroll on by!

I met Hilary around 1990-1991 at Noble Elementary School.  Don’t ask me what grade that was, I know you are just trying to be sneaky and find out how old we are!  We are old enough to appreciate slap bracelets and . Throughout the years, we have been best friends, mortal enemies (middle school, you know how it goes), acquaintances…we have laughed and cried and sang.  And we have ate.  Eaten?  We eat.

One thing my family eats all the time is rice.  I don’t speak Spanish, so when people ask me what I am cooking, I generally say Puerto Rican rice, or sometimes red rice.  Though people tend to associate “red rice” with a specific rice they’ve eaten, and I want them to know that my rice is not the red rice they’ve enjoyed in the past.  Mine is special.  ¡It’s Boricuan!

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In actuality, it is Arroz Con Gandules (or Con Pollo, or Con Italian Sausage, or Con whatever you have in the freezer).  I would call it by the correct term, but all that happens is a discussion of my terrible accent, and everyone forgets about the meal.  I am Not Puerto Rican, but my husband is.  His mother and sister taught me how to make this rice, which Victor is forever grateful for.  When they showed me, it was all done verbally and manually, I have no written directions.  I am positive that throughout the years, I have forgotten steps, and that this rice is not the same as the rice his mama makes.  It is still delicious, and a perfect side to almost any meal.

This is going to be more of a guideline than a recipe.  I do not have exact measurements, and it sometimes takes a little trial and error for people to get a great batch.  I have yet to had a batch my husband wouldn’t eat, so even if it’s not great, it’s still good- and you’ll know what to tweak next time!

Things you will need:

Olive oil

Sofrito (This is best homemade- blend a couple tomatoes, bell peppers, cilantro, garlic, and onion together.  It’s great in eggs as well!   It can also be found in the frozen food section at some grocery stores, as well as in the Hispanic foods aisle.  Don’t use the glass jar in the food aisle, it’s flavorless.  I used the frozen one tonight, and it’s my first time using that one.  It works just fine)

Sazon (seasoning packets, found in Hispanic food aisles)

Sriracha or other hot sauce if you’d like to add a little more spice

Rice (I use long grain)

Water

Anything you want to add.  I’ve used combinations of

Italian sausage (I’ll be using this tonight), chicken, steak, gandules (pigeon peas), pinto beans, green olives, chorizo, etc.

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Victor (my husband) is always in awe because the rice is generally done in 30-45 minutes.  He remembers his mother having the rice cooking all day long.  This could be a hint to some large step I’ve removed.  Or, it could be because I am usually cooking it for 2 people, while his mother was usually cooking it for 7 people.  More than likely, Victor just thought it took his mother that long because he was hungry and impatient.  I couldn’t tell you.  I would suggest not having an important timeline the first time making this, just in case.

First step is to pour a little bit of olive oil in the pot.  Listen.  What I have always been told is “The more oil, the more pegua”, which is the crispy rice you’ll get at the bottom.  I was told by Victor’s Grandma Nancy that only real Puerto Ricans like the Pegua, so I guess I AM actually the Puerto Rican in this household, and my husband is actually Not.  Since he doesn’t like it as much, I never cover the bottom of the pot completely, just a quick glug or so. However!  Tonight I used more oil than normal, and I ended up with ZERO pegua!  I am now questioning everything, mostly my listening/hearing skills.  Use however much oil you want, and let me know if you get pegua or not!

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Add in the sofrito.  If I’m going to be using 2 cups of uncooked rice, I use two large cooking spoons of sofrito.

Next, a packet of Sazon.  I use another packet for every 2 cups of rice.

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If you want to make it a little spicy, squirt in some sriracha here.  Mix it all together, and put the heat on High.

Once the mixture is boiling, pour in the uncooked rice, and stir it in to cover it in the mixture.  I let it sit like that for a minute or so, but I don’t know if that is necessary.  It just makes me feel fancy.

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Next, we add the water in.  This is the toughest part, since it can depend on what grain rice you are using, as well as the sofrito. I generally fill up the measuring cup with 4 cups of water (for the two cups uncooked rice), and pour in 3 cups, and then pour in some more little by little.  The rule of thumb is about an inch of water covering the rice.  I mean, I could probably figure out an actual amount, and have a recipe with measurements, and it’s perfect every time…but that’s a lot of work it’s much more fun this way!  Kind of like Christmas, or Hanukkah, or any other day you may open up a wrapped present and you don’t know what you’re going to get but you know it’s from someone that loves you, so it must be good!

SO, put in however much water you feel comfortable using. For this batch, I used about 3.5 cups.  If you are using medium grain rice, it may be closer to 3 cups.  Don’t quote me, I’m kind of making that up.  Boil until almost all of the water is dissolved.  Don’t stir too much!  I just stir once or twice when I first add the water, then a couple times once it looks like most of the water is gone.

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Don’t let all the water evaporate!  When there is just a little left, add in your extras.  Sausage, in this case.  Do a quick stir, then cover up the pot and put the heat on low or medium low.

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I let the rice sit until I’m ready to eat, but I think it takes about 20 minutes from when the cover is on.  Just taste it until it gets to the softness that you want.  It’s a perfect side for anything, and if you cook like I do, you’ll usually have enough for leftovers too.  Not because it’s bad, but because I make too much.  I swear.  Tonight we are having it with baked steak and butternut squash quesadillas, with a couple glasses of red wine in honor of Mrs. Matthews!

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Strawberry fields forever

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Admittedly, not a very creative title, but I love the song and I’m feeling more tired than creative these days.  Sue me. 😉 (But really, don’t.  You won’t get much, I promise.)

Last weekend I feel a little more in love with North Carolina.  I know that the scenery out west is to die for, but IMHO, the next best thing is North Carolina.  I’ve already mentioned how beautiful the fall season is here, and spring has been gorgeous, too.  There were so many colorful, flowering trees that it felt like fall all over again!  Except lots and lots of green, too.  Now it’s all pretty much green and feels quite like summer.

Anyway, back to last weekend.  Some friends and I visited the Winston-Salem Children’s Home farm, where we picked strawberries (well, I watched and chatted while they picked, then bought strawberries that had been picked by someone else that morning… same diff).  I have never gone strawberry picking to my recollection and I truly have to wonder why.  Even though we were within city limits, the little farm was so peaceful and serene.  The strawberries were completely out of this world.  Like nothing I’ve ever tasted!  Even Dr. Matthews liked them, and he doesn’t usually like fruit (his one weakness 😉 ).  I actually feel bad for grocery store strawberries – it’s not their fault we tried to genetically engineer them to look great and last longer but taste terrible in comparison!

We got so many that, in addition to eating several as is, I froze a bunch for smoothies later (tonight…?) and decided to make shortcake to serve them with.

 

Above pictures are of my friends and me at the farm.  We all wore purple to support one of my close friend’s daughter, Sera, and raise awareness of Cornelia de Lange syndrome, with which Sera was diagnosed this past year.  I am the pregnant lady with the puffy face.  Someone kindly told me I’m “glowing,” but in reality I think it’s the puffy face giving me that look 🙂

Photo credit: Nicole Kornblatt

Photo credit: Nicole Kornblatt

Photo credit: Nicole Kornblatt Here are my friends industriously picking their strawberries while I chill and chat.

Photo credit: Brittany Parker
Here are my friends industriously picking their strawberries while I chill and chat.  Look how green it is!

Shortcake muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour*
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar**
  • 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

*I wasn’t sure what the difference between this and all purpose flour was, but learned here that using cake flour allows for a more light and airy result, whereas all purpose provides more density (like for bread).  All I had was all purpose so I went with that.

**I used vanilla sugar I’d made from vanilla beans I had left over after scraping the seeds out (which is what’s featured below in the mason jar).  I used the seeds for an amazing vanilla rice pudding (which I’ll share with y’all sometime) and just poured some regular old sugar over the beans in the jar and let it sit.

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 6-cup shortcake or muffin pan; set aside.
2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
3. In another bowl, beat butter and sugar together at medium speed with an electric mixer for 3 minutes, or until creamy. Add yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. Add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with milk, ending with flour. Beat at low speed until well combined. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add vanilla and beat for 10 seconds. Pour batter into prepared pan.
5. Bake for 15 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean.
So, we’ve already discussed that I’m not much of a baker.  Which is perhaps why my muffins turned out looking equal parts under/overdone:

Dude in the top row, third from the right- Get it together!

Anyway, they tasted fine.  Not too sweet, which was a good compliment to the sweetness of these amazing berries:

 

Cut your shortcake into chunks, add your strawberries, throw a little Redi-Whip on that bad boy and you’re good to go:

 

Served as dessert following this amazing meal of ribs, broccoli and home made macaroni and cheese:

Let me know if y'all are interested in the mac n cheese recipe.  It's for sure in my top 5 foods of all time and very easy to make!

Let me know if y’all are interested in the mac n cheese recipe. It’s for sure in my top 5 foods of all time and very easy to make!

Have to give a shout-out to this great BBQ sauce from TJ's.  Pretty spicy but both Dr. Matthews and I were satisfied!

Have to give a shout-out to this great BBQ sauce from TJ’s. Pretty spicy but both Dr. Matthews and I were satisfied!

It was a great southern meal, prepared and consumed in a great southern state.

I may get ambitious and post again this month/before baby is born, but I’m starting to feel slightly overwhelmed with things I want/need to get done before she’s here.  However, I do not plan to leave you all high and dry!  Some very sweet and thoughtful friends and family members with either culinary prowess and/or literary skills have gracefully agreed to provide us with some guest posts.  I know I sure can’t wait to see what they come up with and I hope you all check it out, too!

Aside

The ride

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We’re down to our last two months and Dr. Matthews and I are getting so anxious to meet little Miss Natalie Rose! He even dreamt about her the other night and he NEVER remembers his dreams. I keep picturing her coming out with this dark head of hair- the doctor said she has a lot of it (which is causing a lot of indigestion for me!) but no idea what color it is yet. From our 3D ultrasound, I think she looks like Dr. Matthews’s side of the family, though, and they all have beautiful dark hair. 

I’ve had a relatively easy pregnancy (as easy as it can be, anyway) and am not too worried about labor or being a new mom. I figure there will be plenty of worry when the time comes and I’m really just very excited. However, there are moments when I feel like, “What did I just get myself into?!” I sort of equate it to the experience of waiting in line for and riding a roller coaster. 
I grew up in Ohio not far from Cedar Point and the now closed-down Geauga Lake amusement parks, and riding roller coasters is one of my absolute favorite pastimes. I am not, however, above having some apprehension about it. Initially, you just can’t wait to be at the front of the line (I have waited several hours to ride a coaster before) and are so envious of all the riders you see whirling past you in the carts as the ride goes by. You would give anything to be out of the hot sun and under the shade of the overhang, which also means you’re that much closer to getting on. 
Finally, you are the envy of all of those in the back of the line. You are getting into the cart and being strapped in and your heart rate picks up and you’re smiling like a big goof ball and looking around at your friends getting all jazzed up together because you’re ALMOST RIDING THE RIDE FINALLY!! You begin your ascent up the initial (and normally tallest) hill and suddenly you’re getting closer to the top and you start to think that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea and this hill didn’t seem so high from on the ground but now you’re 100% locked in and there is NOTHING you can do to get out of it now. But thousands of people have ridden this ride before and lived to tell the tale so surely it’s going to be ok, right? 
That’s sort of how I feel about giving birth and caring for a newborn. Sometimes. Like I said, mostly I’m just excited because I have waited a long time for this and I knew what I signed up for when I got in line. Now I’m strapped in and climbing that hill…

Bake these cookies and everyone will love you

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I have never had anyone do anything but LOVE these cookies!  They are perfect for me because they do not have any chocolate (although you can make them chocolate by using chocolate cake mix instead of butter).  And they’re small, so you can eat several and not feel too bad about it.  Whether or not you should is a different story.  The recipe I found here says this makes about 2 dozen cookies, but rolling them into walnut size gave me almost 5 dozen.  They also recommend trying different cake flavors, which I have done with coconut cake mix and it was amazing.  Adding coconut flakes dried them out a bit, though.

Gooey Butter Cookies (a Paula Deen recipe)

Ingredients

  • 1 box Duncan Hines butter cake mix
  • 1 egg
  • 1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract (I usually use about 1 tsp)
  • confectioners sugar

Directions

Combine all ingredients with electric mixer until well blended. Chill dough for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Roll into balls (about walnut size). Roll balls in powdered sugar. (Tip: if the cookies start getting difficult to roll, stick the dough in the freezer for a few minutes to harden it up a bit.) Bake on ungreased cookie sheet in 350 degree oven for 10 – 12 minutes (mine take 10). Dust with powdered sugar when completely cooled.

My assembly line

My assembly line

Fresh out of the oven

Fresh out of the oven

Paper-plated and ready to go to the neighbors - take care of our cats and I will take care of you :-)

Paper-plated and ready to go to the neighbors – take care of our cats and I will take care of you 🙂

That’s all there is to it.  If I can bake these, anyone can.  Enjoy!

A nontraditional Easter

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So, since my post entitled “A nontraditional Thanksgiving” mysteriously disappeared and WordPress failed to help me retrieve it, I figured I’d recycle the title for my Easter post.  We hope everyone had a wonderful Easter holiday!  Since it was just the two of us this year, we decided to do something a little different for our dinner.  Ever since seeing the movie Chef, I’ve wanted to make carne asada.  Jon Favreau just made it look so dang exciting and delicious (highly recommend that movie, BTW).  I browsed around for some recipes and found this one, which I modified slightly after reading this article on how to grill it.

Carne asada calls for cheap, thin cuts of steak and I used 1.14lbs of top round steak (thin).  Marinating overnight helps to tenderize, but the recipe states that you can also use kiwi to break down the protein in the meat if you do not have that much time.  I did not try the kiwi method this time but might next time, just to see.

Carne Asada

Ingredients

1 skirt steak or 2 hanger steaks

Marinade
juice of 1 lime (I used equal parts lime and olive oil – 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup minced cilantro
1-2 Serrano chilies, minced (to taste) (I used 2)
1 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
1/2 teaspoons Mexican oregano (I just used regular oregano)
1/4 teaspoons ground cumin seed
2 teaspoons kosher salt (less if using table salt)
black pepper to taste
1 tablespoons pureed kiwi (optional)

*I did not get a pic of all the ingredients together like I usually do, but wanted to show you what I used for Serrano chilies, since they were not marked as such at the grocery and I always get confused when it comes to anything but bell peppers and jalapenos:

Directions

Lay the beef in the marinade and cover the dish with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the preparation for at least 2 to 3 hours, or overnight. Turn the meat over once halfway through.

Remove the meat from the marinade about 1 hour before cooking time. Let it dry and come to room temperature on a plate to promote even cooking. Throw the marinade away, as it’s been contaminated by raw beef. Clean the grill and grease it with nonstick spray, then preheat to high heat in the last 20 minutes or so of this resting period.

Lay the steak on the grill. Cook skirt steak for about 3 to 4 minutes per side or flank steak for about 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium. The outside should be nicely browned while the inside should remain pink and juicy. (I think Dr. Matthews did closer to 3 minutes per side, as our meat was quite thin).

Rest the beef for around 5 minutes. Cut it into strips of the desired size. Hold the knife at a 45 degree angle to the top of the steak and cut across the grain.

Grilled carne asada

We served ours with avocado and pico de gallo on grilled corn tortillas:

Grilled carne asada

To accompany this dish, we had my favorite Spanish rice, Rice a Roni:

Just make sure you have a can of diced tomatoes on hand to make this!

Just make sure you have a can of diced tomatoes on hand to make this!

And a spicy corn and black bean salad from The America’s Test Kitchen The Complete Cooking for Two cookbook that our friends Grace and Doug sent us for Christmas.  Thanks, Grace and Doug!

Spicy corn and black bean salad

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 ear corn (in hindsight I would have used at least 2)
  • 3/4 cup black beans, rinsed (I threw in the whole thing cause honestly, who throws away 1/4 can of black beans?)
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped fine
  • 1/2 jalapeno chili, stemmed, seeded, and minced (again, I used the whole thing.  I hate to waste a good jalapeno!)
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Heat oil in 10-in nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add corn and cook, without stirring, until well browned and toasted, 5-7 minutes.  (My corn started popping out of the pan like crazy well before 5 minutes.  I turned down the heat some but am not sure how to prevent this in the future.)  Transfer corn to medium bowl and let cool slightly.

Stir black beans, bell pepper, jalapeno, lime juice, cilantro, and garlic into toasted corn and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and refrigerate until flavors meld, about 15 minutes.

Spicy corn and black bean salad

This was very flavorful and added a lot to the meal.

Our spread

Our spread

We served everything up with some ice water with lime juice and Tostitos cantina chips, which are the best:

This was a great meal but I definitely recommend eating the meat the same day, if possible.  It loses some of its tenderness when reheated, although the flavor is still delicious.  Oh, and don’t worry – we kept it super traditional when it came to dessert and ate a boatload of Reese’s peanut butter eggs and Starburst jelly beans 🙂

Have any of you made carne asada before?  What recipe did you use?

Don’t crowd the shrooms!

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So, I feel like I’ve been getting away somewhat from what I originally wanted to do with this blog, which is to post recipes with more in-depth instruction for folks (like myself) who are continuing to work on the basics of cooking while also branching out and trying new, occasionally more detailed recipes.  Having been employed at a gourmet kitchen store for over a month now, I have sat in on a few cooking classes and learned quite a bit from the chefs there.  Today I would like to expand on a fairly basic recipe and share some of those tips as we go.  I have also been learning a lot from this amazing book that I highly recommend to any aspiring chef (even just a home chef!): The American’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook.  I used the section on stir-frying, along with some of this recipe, to inspire the following Beef and Broccoli stir fry recipe.

My first instinct is to say that stir fry is an easy meal, and it can be.  But for some reason I often mess it up- overcooking the meat or vegetables, not having enough sauce, sauce is lacking in flavor, etc.  This time I took a tip from one of my favorite local chefs, Dianne McConnell (you can find her blog here).  She is awesome.  And Dianne recommends sauteing in batches.  I have heard her say many times that you do not want to crowd the meat in a pan, or it will not cook properly (advice echoed in the America’s Test Kitchen book).  She has also given this instruction with mushrooms.  I also learned from Dianne about blanching vegetables in order to reduce cook time in the skillet and avoid over-cooking.  I will explain this further in the recipe instructions.

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp dry sherry, divided
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce, divided
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp hoisin sauce, divided
  • 1 lb boneless sirloin steak, cut diagonally across the grain (I used a method from America’s Test Kitchen where I stuck the meat in the freezer for 20 minutes before cutting, which made it a little easier.  Also, cutting across the grain means perpendicular to the lines of fat in the meat.)
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1/2 tbsp cornstarch (or more if you like a thicker sauce)
  • 2 tsp sriracha
  • canola oil (I am not adding a measurement here since I did not keep track during the sauteing process- let’s just say I used a bunch)
  • 1 tbsp fresh ground ginger (I used the refrigerated kind in the tube to save on time and serious frustration.  What is worse than peeling and grating an uneven piece of knobiness- you tell me!)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 oz broccoli florets (I got the pre-diced kind from Trader Joe’s and loved every minute of NOT cutting this up)
  • 8 oz sliced baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced into 2-inch chunks
  • Rice or noodles for serving
I didn't end up using the carrots or onions, but if you do, blanch the carrots with the broccoli and add the onions right before the garlic and ginger.

I didn’t end up using the carrots or onions, but if you do, blanch the carrots with the broccoli and add the onions right before the garlic and ginger.

Directions

Combine 1 tbsp sherry, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp hoisin, sugar and beef.  Marinate for at least 10 minutes but no more than 1 hour (I did 30 min).  Bring to room temperature and drain off any moisture from the marinade.  Pat dry.

While meat is marinating, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add broccoli florets.  Boil for about 2 minutes then strain and run cold water over them to stop cooking.  This is called blanching.

Whisk together broth, 2 tbsp sherry, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp hoisin and sriracha.

Get your materials prepped, as stir-frying is a whiz-bang process:

I obviously did not have the burners on under the plate and bowl to the left, just for the record!

I obviously did not have the burners on under the plate and bowl to the left, just for the record!

Broccoli is blanched, mushrooms rinsed and dried and peppers chopped.

Broccoli is blanched, mushrooms rinsed and dried and peppers chopped.

Cover the bottom of your pan with canola oil and heat over medium high heat.  When oil is hot (but before it begins to smoke) add meat and cook for 3 minutes, turning once.  Do not crowd your pan!  Do not move meat around as it cooks, which will prevent it from browning well.  Cook in batches if you need to and remove from pan.

Reduce heat a bit and add more oil to the pan.  Add mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes, turning once.  Remove from pan.

Don't crowd the shrooms, man!

Don’t crowd the shrooms, man!

Finished shrooms

Finished shrooms

Add peppers to pan and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from pan.  Add broccoli and cook about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from pan (continue to add additional oil, as needed).  Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant (about a minute), mashing into pan.

America's Test Kitchen calls these the "aromatics."  I love that.

America’s Test Kitchen calls these the “aromatics.”  I love that.

Re-whisk sauce to mix up cornstarch and add to pan with vegetables and meat.  Heat through until everything is sizzling and sauce is slightly thickened, about a minute.  Serve over rice or noodles (this time I steamed our rice with 1/2 water and 1/2 beef broth).

Enjoy!  I did.  Thoroughly.

As noted in the caption, I omitted the carrots and onion due to feeling like there was already too much going on.  Plus chopping onion makes me wish I wasn’t.

On a side note, I recently became the proud owner of a Le Creuset fry pan, which is my only gourmet-scale piece of cookware and my first experience using stainless steel as opposed to nonstick.  It is a beautiful piece of metal and I absolutely had to use it to make this recipe, even though ideally, I would have used a larger vessel.  I also learned that, with cookware with an aluminum core, such as the Le Creuset, you are not supposed to cook on high heat at all.  I reduced the temperatures a bit for this recipe, but wrote it out for you as though you are using what I normally do (something cheap and nonstick).  If you are using something with an aluminum core, you can reduce the cook temperatures as needed so as not to scorch your food.

Cooking with stainless steel is definitely a learning curve and I have already burned a grilled cheese sandwich and some fried eggs (since yesterday).  If anyone has tips to offer on how not to continue burning things, I would love to hear them!  Shockingly, I did not burn the stir fry.  It was a stir fry miracle!  Anyway, I have a sweet panini pan which I should really be using for any and all grilled cheese endeavors.  So that was just my own irresponsibility.

Club Frommage, A-D

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Hello and happy Spring!  I apologize for my extended absence.  Dr. Matthews and I were on the road earlier this month to visit our families and attend my baby showers in each respective location.  Needless to say, they were both expertly executed and such sweet celebrations of our upcoming addition.  We felt so loved and getting all that gear made us even more excited about Baby Matthews.  Other than that, I have no great excuse for not posting other than enjoying the nice weather and working at my job.  Which, by the way, is awesome.  I have learned so much from sitting in on the cooking classes and can’t wait to share it with all of you!  But for today, we are actually going to take this thing in a different direction and discuss The Cheese Club.

The Cheese Club was an idea by my bro-in-law, Matthew.  My cousin-in-law, Kim, and I latched on to the idea and the three of us have now taken on the task of going through the alphabet of cheese.  We are trying to stick to new cheeses that none of us have tried, which was difficult during our first deliberation due to my inability to eat unpasteurized cheeses.

The initial meeting of The Cheese Club covered letters A-D.  Our method went as follows:

  • Taste cheese
  • Discuss flavors experienced
  • Look up official description (using cheese.com as a reference)
  • Eat lots more cheese

Appendaam (a form of Appenzeller)

Our description:

This version of Swiss cheese had a nutty, “feet-ish” aroma.  It was creamier than your average Swiss in texture and a bit milder in flavor.  I felt that it would be good on a ham sandwich, which is typically the only way I enjoy Swiss anyway.  According to my 3 year old niece, Gwen, “It’s good.”

Official description (I’m sharing the bullet points for this cheese due to the initial description lacking in detail):

  • Made from cow’s milk
  • Country of origin: Switzerland
  • Region: Appenzell
  • Type: hard, artisan, smear-ripened
  • Texture: firm, open and smooth
  • Rind: washed
  • Colour: straw
  • Flavour: fruity, spicy, tangy
  • Aroma: mild

Butterkase 

Our description:

Little odor.  Buttery, creamy flavor.  A finish similar to Havarti but more mild.  According to Dr. Matthews, it was “a hit” among tasters, but almost too mild.

Official description:

Butterkase is a semi-soft cheese with a golden natural rind, very popular in Germany and Austria for its creamy texture, buttery like taste. Its name, when literally translated means “butter cheese,” but the cheese is butter free. However, the appealing flavour and appearance makes it a great hit on a cheeseboard. Produced in Landhaus with original cultures and traditional German production methods, it is aged for a very brief period resulting in a mild taste and flavour.

This cheese ripens in one month and has a fat content of 50 per cent. Since Butterkase can be sliced, spread or melted it is a perfect table cheese. It is very good with a glass of beer.

Cotswold (Double Gloucester with onions and chives)

Our description:

A little sour.  Strong flavor, with aftertaste reminiscent of cheddar.  Dry.  Needs crackers or a sandwich (this was later confirmed when I had some on a burger and it was DELICIOUS).  Smell reminded me of everything bagels.

Official description:

Cotswold is a variation of Double Gloucester, which has been supplemented with chopped onions and chives for added flavour. A whole milk cheese that can be either pasteurised or unpasteurised; Cotswold originates in Gloucestershire County of England. The colour varies from golden yellow to orange and is a firm cheese similar to cheddar but not as hard. Shop owners usually sell pieces cut away from the hard and grey rind.

The taste of Cotswold is creamy, buttery, sweet and mild yet full-flavoured like cheddar. The savory taste of chives and onions gives it that extra zing. This variation of Double Gloucester pairs well with beer, Zinfandel or Shiraz and is popular as a pub cheese in England.

Derby (Port Wine)

Our description:

The most attractive of the cheeses (hence the second photo), the derby smelled like wine and tasted like grape juice and mild white cheddar.  It was creamy.  It was my favorite.

Official description:

Derby is a traditional British cheese made in Derbyshire, England since the 16th century. Hard to find these days, it is England’s oldest and most famous cheeses made in several varieties including sage and port wine.

Made with cow’s milk, Derby is a semi-hard cheese with a mild flavour and creamy ivory to a rich yellow pate. It is sometimes compared to mild cheddar because of the texture but Derby is more mild with a buttery, creamy flavour and strong melting ability.

Only a few farms in England make Derby cheese the time-honored way. Traditional Derby matured for nine months has an open texture with smooth creamy body and a nutty flavour. It has smooth melting characteristics that pairs with everything from fresh fruits, vegetables to poultry dishes. Couple the cheese with a nice Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc.

We were satisfied to see that many of our interpretations were similar to what was described on cheese.com.  Next time, when I am not with child, we will have to try the suggested wine pairings, as well.

I hope you learned something interesting today.  The Cheese Club members sure enjoyed learning more about one of our favorite subjects!

Risotto me

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I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been trying to stick to simple meals that don’t require a whole lot of standing time since my feet have really been feeling the effects of my added weight. I also stand for long periods at work sometimes so I try to avoid it at home. Dr. Matthews has been a gem about getting up to get me things and clean up, etc.

Speaking of work, I started a new job at this awesome, locally-owned store called Southern Home and Kitchen, where you can find all the kitchen gadgets you never knew you needed, plus really nice cookware such as Le Creuset and All Clad (which will someday fill my kitchen cupboards). They also host cooking classes and I’ve been learning so much through working those and just learning more about the products they carry. I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the Winston Salem area, especially on Saturdays, when they sample some of their scrumptious edible products.

Today I will share a recipe that does not quite fall under the “not on my feet for long” category, but wasn’t too time-consuming or difficult to make, either: Martha Stewart’s tomato and sausage risotto.

Tomato and Sausage Risotto

Ingredients

  • 1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, in juice 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 3/4 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed 
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped 
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper 
  • 1 cup Arborio rice 
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine 
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf spinach (10 to 14 ounces), washed well, tough stems removed, chopped (about 7 cups) 
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving (optional) 
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Directions

  • In a small saucepan, combine tomatoes (with their juice) and 3 cups water. Bring just to a simmer; keep warm over low heat.
  • In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add sausage and onion; season with salt and pepper. Cook, breaking up sausage with a spoon, until sausage is opaque and onion has softened, 3 to 5 minutes.
  •  Add rice; cook, stirring until well coated, 1 to 2 minutes. Add wine; cook, stirring until absorbed, about 1 minute.

  •  Add about 2 cups hot tomato mixture to rice; simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until absorbed, 4 to 5 minutes. Continue adding tomato mixture, 1 cup at a time, waiting for one cup to be absorbed before adding the next, stirring occasionally, until rice is creamy and just tender, about 25 minutes total (you may not have to use all the liquid).

  •  Remove pan from heat. Stir in spinach, Parmesan, and butter; season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately (risotto will thicken as it cools), and sprinkle with additional Parmesan, if desired.

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This was tasty, but the risotto was a little mushy.  If anyone has tips on how to cook the perfect risotto, I’m open to suggestions!  Mine tends to vary each time and I’m not even entirely sure what I’m doing differently.  Methinks this time I didn’t stir often enough…?

I will try to post again before Dr. Matthews and I head up north to visit family and shower baby girl with love (and presents!) but it’s a busy week at work, so no promises!

Not the best pic, but I was hungry and in a hurry to get to the eating part 🙂

 

2 for 1 Pork tenderloins: Part 2

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Today, I will share how I prepared the second of 2 pork tenderloins I got for the price of 1 at Harris Teeter recently (can you tell I’m proud of having snagged this deal?).  This was Dr. Matthews’s favorite of the 2 recipes, and lasted us for quite a few meals (even after I froze some for later!).

Shredded pork tacos

Ingredients

1 lb Pork Tenderloin (mine was almost 3 lbs)
12oz jar of Medium Salsa (to compensate, I used 2 24oz jars of salsa- this may have been a little too much, but made it so we did not have to add additional salsa at the end, which we usually do)
1 Tablespoon Chili Powder (I used about 1-2 tbsp sriracha instead but sprinkled chili powder over the top before cooking)
1 Tablespoon Ground Cumin (I increased to about 2.5 tbsp)
1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar (increased to about 2 tbsp)
1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (increased to about 2.5 tsp)
1/2 teaspoon Salt
3 Garlic Cloves, minced (increased to about 5 cloves) 

 
 
Directions
Place pork in a slow cooker.  In a medium bowl, mix all remaining ingredients.  Pour over pork and cook on low for 8 hours.  Remove to a large plate and shred using two forks.  Return to the slow cooker and mix it back into the salsa mixture.
*Note: I do recommend using forks for shredding in this recipe, rather than trying it in the kitchen aid like I normally do.  The consistency of pork prevented it from shredding  properly using that method.
Serve in warmed tortillas topped with cheddar cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and sour cream.

Shredded pork tacos

This is, of course, a Dr. Matthews plate. I prefer mine with tostitos.

2 for 1 Pork tenderloins: Part 1

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I hope you all enjoyed the guest entry from my favorite MD.  I’d love feedback on whether my readers would like to see more guest entries, or if any of you are interested in doing one for me.  That would be especially helpful come June/July, when I am sure to be doing less cooking and more learning how to deliver and care for a newborn 🙂

Last week I bought 2 for 1 pork tenderloins at Harris Teeter, which I thought was a great deal.  Today, I will share one of the recipes I made and the next entry will detail how I fixed the other tenderloin (spoiler alert: they’re both slow cooker recipes!).

Savory slow cooker pork tenderloin

Ingredients

  • 1 2lb pork tenderloin (mine was almost 3 lbs)
  • 1 1oz envelope Lipton dry onion soup mix
  • 1 cup water (I used about 1.5 cups to compensate for my larger piece of meat)
  • 3/4 cup red wine (I used about 1.5 cups)
  • 3 tbsp minced garlic (I used 4 large cloves)
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce (I used 4)
  • freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Place pork tenderloin in a slow cooker with the contents of the soup packet. Pour water, wine, and soy sauce over the top, turning the pork to coat. Carefully spread garlic over the pork, leaving as much on top of the roast during cooking as possible. Sprinkle with pepper, cover, and cook on low setting for 4 hours. Serve with cooking liquid on the side as au jus.

Savory slow cooker pork tenderloin

Since my tenderloin was almost a full pound more than what was used in the recipe, and I’ve been paranoid about eating under-cooked meat ever since I’ve been pregnant, I actually increased the cooking time for the first time in my life (4.5 hours on low).  I thought it turned out really tender and delicious, anyway, though Dr. Matthews (who prefers his meat almost still breathing) thought it could have used a little less cooking.  He’s probably right, but, like I said, this turned out A-mazing anyway!

Served with broccoli and garlic mashed potatoes

Served with broccoli and garlic mashed potatoes

Random aside, I also found this at the grocery store last week, which was another great culinary highlight of my life:

It's back!

It’s back!

And now, all feels right with the world.  See you next time!