Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I found this cooking blog that has a terrific approach: recipes documented with photographs at every step.  The recipes are sometimes way beyond my skill level (not to mention available time), but it's great to see how things are done.  Enjoy!

Cookie Update

When I made the molasses cookies, I was a little concerned that they would turn to rocks after a day or two.  I am pleased to report that they were still pleasantly soft after two days.  Unfortunately, it proved impossible to continue the experiment beyond two day, due to an insufficient quantity of test subjects.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Molasses Cookies

It's the holiday season, and that means cookies!

This evening I tried a molasses cutout cookie recipe that I found in the local paper.  Every year our paper runs a feature of reader-submitted holiday cookies, and this year it had a bunch of things that sounded good.  This was our house's first foray into cookies for the year, and so far, it promises to be a merry Christmas, indeed!

The cookies are kind of ginger-snappy in their flavor, but with a distinct molasses flavor backing them up.  I frosted most of them with a simple vanilla sugar frosting, but my wife insisted that I leave a few of them plain, because she likes them on their own.

One mistake, I crowded my cookie sheet a little, so a few of them a a little rough around the edges where they expanded into one another.  Next time, I'll use two sheets.

Teriyaki Pork

I think my stir-fry woes are not so much with the technique, but with chicken. Last night I took a teriyaki chicken recipe that had not been successful, and took only the parts of the recipe that had to do with the sauce. I cut up some pork loin chops, and marinated them in the sauce. After letting them sit for a bit, I stir-fried the pork, and set it aside. Then I threw some sugar snap peas into my pan, stir fried those for a few minutes, and added some sliced baby-bella mushrooms. I whisked a little bit of cornstarch into what remained of the marinade, added that to the veggies, and let it thicken. Then I added the pork back in, and heated it through. My roommate (who is a dedicated pigivore) declared it delicious.

Next time I do chicken, I'm going to try to think of it enough ahead of time that I can let it soak in the marinade for a while.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stir-fry efforts

I've been struggling with this stir-fry thing of late.  Seems like I end up with too much flavor or too little.  On one end of that spectrum, I made some ginger-garlic beef, from a recipe in the stir-fry book I got a week or so ago.  The recipe called for 3/4 of a cup of soy sauce, and was just plain too salty.  On the other end, I've made a couple of chicken recipes in the past week, and I can't seem to get much flavor into the chicken itself.  Is there something basic that I'm missing?  Do I need to marinade the chicken for a longer period of time?  I'm stuck.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Garlic Lamb with Mushrooms and Noodles

So, I got this book on stir frying.  It was one of those bargain books that Borders always has on sale just inside the front door.  I figured that for eight bucks I couldn't go wrong, and I know how to saute, so stir frying would be playing to my strengths.


First of all, the measurements are mostly in ounces of weight, not volume.  Since I don't have a scale, that leaves me eyeballing things and guessing based on package size.

Second, the book uses a lot of ingredients that I haven't used previously, and doesn't really explain what they are.

Third, the directions tend to compress several steps into one, so it is really easy for the novice to miss something.

All that notwithstanding, the recipe I used tonight came out pretty well, albeit with way too many noodles.  I really liked the technique for cooking up teriyaki mushrooms.  You stir fry them for a couple of minutes, then add two tablespoons of teriyaki sauce, toss thoroughly, and then cover the lot and let them steam for about 10 seconds, just to force the flavor into the mushrooms.  I'm thinking of using this technique to go with some chicken at a later date.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Garlic Chicken

Now this is some high-testosterone cooking!  Once everything is prepped, it all has to be added to the pan in the right order, and cooks up very fast! 

The result was good, but a little light on the flavor.  That's what I get for making Chinese food from a recipe in a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook!  I was thinking of adding a little siracha next time.  Any other ideas to add a little zing?

Broiled Cajun-Spiced Chicken

OK, so this was my first real "What've we got?" meal.  My roommate had some boil-in-the-bag rice (not my first choice, but he wanted to contribute, so household politics trumped gormandizing), and there were some frozen veggies -- snow peas, carrots, and cauliflower -- in the freezer. 

This left the meat to figure out.  I was going to the store anyway to get a gallon of cider, since we're having a very welcome cold snap here, and what could be better than hot cider?  So, I picked up a couple of chicken breasts, which I rubbed down with cajun spices and broiled in the oven for about 12 minutes.

The meal came out all right, given the pre-fab ingredients.  The chicken was pretty juicy, except for the very thin bits at the ends, which got a bit tough.  Next time, I'll break out the rice maker, though!

Monday, October 20, 2008

"Uncle Norman's" (Buckwheat) Pancakes

I've been making my Dad's pancake recipe for years, with almost no variation. It's the recipe I grew up on, so the sentimental value is pretty high. Recently, though, my wife has been asking me to try the recipe using buckwheat flour. I was a bit unsure of the consequences of this sort of alteration, so I called the source. Dad said that he recalled not having very much success with buckwheat flour, but that I might try using half buckwheat and have all-purpose flour. I followed his sage advice (don't tell him -- he'll have a heart attack), and the pancakes turned out quite well. The buckwheat flour gives them a nice texture, and they seem to soak up a bit more maple syrup, as well.

My one grumble is a technical problem, not a matter of product. The buckwheat flour makes for a browner batter, so it's a little tougher to tell when the pancakes are cooked enough. That's just a matter of practice, though.

My wife suggested that we try letting the better rest for a while next time, so that will most likely be my next experiment.

I also incorporated Mom's suggestion of using powered buttermilk, and that worked pretty well, although next time I'll actually sift it into the rest of the dry ingredients, rather than adding it afterward.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Grilled Lamb Chops

My wife wanted lamb burgers for dinner, but there was no ground lamb to be had, so we settled for lamb chops. I used the marinade from this recipe, but opted for grilling instead of broiling. I always struggle a little bit with grilling, because I'm afraid of over-cooking the meat. As a result, I typically end up under-cooking it. Tonight, though, it came out ok. I'm not sure I can replicate it, but it was ok tonight.

I noticed that there was an awful lot of flame-up on the grill. Not sure if this was the marinade or the lamb-fat, but it gave the chops some nice blackening, without over-doing the interior meat.


I found this bread recipe in my feeds the other day, and it looked pretty easy, so I thought I'd give it a try. It has to be about the simplest bread recipe possible -- just flour, yeast, salt, and water. Mixing the dough takes about 20 minutes, and then you let it stand for 4 hours.

The only problem I encountered was the difficulty of getting the right temperature in my oven. I bought an oven thermometer, but getting an electric oven to exactly 450 is a challenge, especially the first time you try to figure out just how off the oven's gague is! I think I ended up with an oven that was just a little bit too hot. My bread was good, but a little crusty. We'll see how it goes with dinner tonight.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Shrimp Scampi and Sugar Peas

Seafood scares me. I don't eat a lot of it (sushi notwithstanding), so I've never been really comfortable around it. So when my wife said that she wanted seafood tonight, I was more than a little nervous. That's my new trick for forcing myself to try new recipes, by the way. I ask her to tell me what she wants for the meat in that day's meal, and then I look for a recipe. I can (and do) eat the same things all time, so I need some way to force me to stretch. My wife is always happy to make me try new things, so this scheme works out well.

Anyway, she wanted shrimp, so I started poking around. I found a shrimp creole recipe in my trusty Better Homes cookbook, but it sounded too much like the jambalaya I made the other night, so I settled on shrimp scampi.

Scampi, I gather, is Italian for "boiled in butter." This recipe calls for six tablespoons of butter! That's a whole lot of oil and dairy solids. I used the real stuff, too. I figure that I can get away with cooking with real butter as long as I don't do it too often. If I was making things with butter every day, I'd probably use spread, but since I don't use it too often, butter it is!

The other thing that I'm working on is learning to eyeball the ingredients. Other than the butter and the shrimp, I didn't actually measure a thing in this recipe. I imagine that this won't work for all recipes, and I know it won't work with baking, but for something like this, I figured it would be safe. As it turned out, I was right. The flavors were strong, but well-balanced, and we were both pleased. My guess is that I over-estimated all my ingredients in the same proportion, so I got away with it. My wife did suggest that I add a touch of Dijon mustard or some black pepper, but that was more in the way of variations. She did think to squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the shrimp after it was plated, and that really tied it all together. She also proposed an un-oaked Chardonnay to go with it, and it was perfect. Her taste in wine really is exquisite.

One thing I really did goof on with this meal was the heat. I had the peas on the back burner, and the shrimp on the front. Naturally, when I needed to turn down the heat under the peas because they were ready before the shrimp, I turned the wrong burner down! Fortunately, I do know what cooked shrimp looks like, having eaten a lot of it, so it came out all right in the end. Hmm. I wonder if the lower heat allowed the flavors of the garlic and onion to mesh with the shrimp a little more? I don't know enough about the chemistry to answer that.

The sugar peas were just steamed, and a little bit of salt sprinkled over them afterward. No big deal, but they went well with the shrimp.

My wife made a spinach salad with apples, bleu cheese, and balsamic vinegar dressing. She's made this a number of times, and I really like it. I much prefer spinach to lettuce.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

10/7/08 -- Jambalaya (again)

I had a good deal of leftover chicken from Sunday's pasta, so I decided to tackle the jambalaya again. My goal was to get the spices a little closer to right this time, and give it some more flavor. I made the full recipe, instead of halving it, and added one of my wife's jalapenos. This particular pepper had been sitting in the fridge for quite some time, which reduces the heat of it, and I copped it up very fine. The result was that I got a good deal of jalapeno flavor, without a lot of the heat the often goes along with it. It was pretty good.

Now for the downside: This is one of those recipes that says "reduce heat" without telling you what to reduce it to. I didn't reduce it enough, apparently, and managed to burn a layer of rice to the bottom of my saute pan. Cleanup wasn't too bad, since I know enough to soak it for a while first, but it meant that, even though I made a full recipe, I didn't get a full recipe's worth of servings out of it. Next time...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

10/5/08 -- Pancakes

Sometimes you just have to try something new.

My dad makes legendary pancakes. They're light, fluffy, and go great with real maple syrup. When my mother's family gathers for the annual Week At the Beach, Dad gets roped into making pancakes at least two mornings. For the past few years, I've been his assistant in this process, and I can pretty well replicate his pancakes.

But, they require buttermilk. And when I'm at home, I don't really think about making pancakes until I get up on a Sunday morning, so it's pretty rare that there is buttermilk in the house at that time. Thus, I either have to plan to make pancakes a day in advance (Hah!), or I have to go to the store before breakfast. This is not something that typically appeals to me. So, this morning, at some risk to my inheritance, I went looking for a non-buttermilk pancake recipes.

I ended up using this recipe from, modifying it according to the suggestions in the comment from Esther on January 3, 2006 (I did not chill the batter, but I took her other advice). The best of these ideas was the addition of cinnamon to the batter. This gave the pancakes a nice, light cinnamon flavor that complimented the maple syrup beautifully. The one thing that didn't work was her suggestion to cut the milk down to 3/4 cup from a full cup. The first pair of pancakes were pretty heavy, so I added more milk to the batter, and the rest came out nice and light.

My wife felt that these were pretty good, but needed butter and/or syrup. The pancakes were very porous, so they soaked up a lot of whatever you put on them. My view of pancakes is that they are really just vehicles for syrup, so this wasn't a problem for me. All in all, a pretty good recipe.

Dad's are still better, though.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

10/4/08 -- Vodka Sauce

So, I found this recipe for vodka sauce in the local paper a few weeks ago, and I finally got around to trying it out. It's really very simple: you just chop up an onion very fine, saute it up in olive oil, and dump in a big can of crushed tomatoes. Let that cook down for about 20 minutes, add 1/4 cup of vodka and cook the alcohol out for a few minutes. Then you stir in 3/4 cup of cream, and heat it through. That's it.

One thing I like about the way this recipe is written is that when it said to "reduce heat," it told me what to reduce it to (medium, in this case). That's something that is tough for guys like me, who don't really know what we're doing. I had a recipe a while back that just said "reduce heat." Ooooookaayyy, um, reduce to what? Medium? Simmer? Tears? It's very confusing.

Anyway, the sauce came out great. My wife was impressed, so I guess it's a keeper. Pity that asparagus is so expensive just now. It would go really well with this. Ah, well.

10/4/08 -- Spanish Omelet

Well, this wasn't quite a disaster, but it didn't quite come out the way I wanted it to, either.

This particular Spanish Omelet was made with red potatoes, bell pepper, onion, jalepeno pepper, and tomatoes. The big problem is that I really need to learn to judge quantities more effectively. Even after deciding to not put in all the potatoes that I had cut up, I still had too many, and that threw off the rest of my quantities of chopped veggies. I chopped up three or four potatoes, and ended up not using all of that, so it looks like two red potatoes provide enough for a two-person omelet. That scales it down to two slices of bell pepper, a quarter of a small yellow onion, and one small tomato. The jalepeno came from my wife's plant, and had been allowed to ripen to the point where it turned red, so it was sweeter. I only used about a third of the pepper, and chopped it up very fine, almost like I would garlic. I should have used a little more of that, I think, because it gave a very nice flavor without being too hot.

Anyway, I ended up having to use six eggs to hold it all together instead of four, so there was a significant leftover portion. This went into the fridge, but I can't imagine that it will reheat very well.

The really cool thing about something like a Spanish omelet is that it lets you use up a bunch of things that are lying about in the kitchen. For example, in this case, we had (and still have -- they're like loaves and fishes) potatoes that need to be made into something, and leftover tomatoes and bell pepper from the other night's jambalaya. But really, I could put just about any sort of non-leafy vegetable into this thing. Come to that, I might even try some chopped spinach. I should try to find some more recipes that do things like this, because we always end up with leftover fixings.

Side note: anyone know the "correct" spelling for something made of various stuff held together with scrambled eggs? My spell-checker likes "omelet," but I've also seen "omelette."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

10/1/08 -- Chicken Jambalaya

I came home from work today really wiped out, the result of a late night fencing and another late night talking with my housemate. I was looking for something to make for dinner, and my other housemate (yes, we have two), told me that there was a chicken breast in the fridge that needed to be cooked up, so I started looking through my trusty old Better Homes & Gardens cookbook. On one page, there was a recipe for Chicken Jambalaya labeled "FAST!"

Ha. Maybe I'm too much a creature of the Internet Age, but I don't think of something that takes a good, solid hour to make as "fast."

It was good, though. I halved the recipe, since I had only one chicken breast, and I needed tomatoes. Housemate #2 was going to the store anyway, so she picked up some Campari tomatoes for me. I chopped up a couple, and used them in place of the canned tomatoes the recipe called for.

OK, confession time: I really like cutting and chopping. Even something as pain-in-the-elbow as tomatoes, with a really sharp knife, is just, I don't know -- satisfying -- for some reason.

Here's the question of the day -- should I have washed the rice? It came out all right, so I guess the answer is, "yes," but I have never had real jambalaya before (Zatarain's doesn't count), so I can't really be sure.

A couple of notes on the spicing:
  • I didn't have any garlic salt, so I used garlic powder and added some salt. Wild guess, but it seemed to work.
  • My one grumble is that it could have been hotter. Next time, I'm thinking about adding part of one of my wife's homegrown jalapenos.
Oh, and it looked like this:

Sunday, September 21, 2008

9/21/08 -- "Party Chicken" and Broccoli w/ Cheese

Tried out the main dish from this recipe.

  • The recipe says it makes enough for four, but I think it's more like six. It might be four if a couple of people want seconds.
  • It took a bit longer to cook than the recipe indicated. I'm guessing that this is because our oven isn't terribly accurate. I used the fancy electronic cooking thermometer my wife got for Christmas to determine done-ness. It worked really well, although the display kept switching back and forth between Fahrenheit and Celsius, for some reason.
  • This recipe is filed under "Homestyle," and it's easy to see why. The sauce is a can of condensed cream-of-chicken soup and a half-cup of light mayonnaise. This gives making the recipe a sort of 1950's feel, at least to me (granted, I'm way too young to remember the 50's, but I know that this was the introduction of using a lot of pre-made ingredients).
  • One of the ingredients is panko, or Japanese-style breadcrumbs. Something I've never worked with before, but neat stuff. They give the topping a nice crunchy texture, while still keeping things light.
  • I did make a minor mistake: my butter was frozen to start with. We don't use a lot of butter unless we're baking, so we typically keep it in the freezer. I sliced it up into very thin slices, put them in a bowl, and then set the bowl on top of the oven while I prepped the chicken. It worked to some extent, but I think the topping would have mixed up a little better if the butter were a bit softer. I gave up on mixing the panko in to the butter with a wooden spoon, and just kneaded it all together with my hands. Messy, but fun!
  • My wife is concerned that that texture will be lost on re-heating. it does seem likely, but the flavors will be retained, so it should still be good. We have four servings left over, so we'll have plenty of opportunity to find out!
  • The broccoli was pretty simple: I bought fresh broccoli, chopped the brussels off, and steamed them. Then I dumped them in a bowl, sprinkled some shredded cheddar over the top, and covered the bowl with a plate. The whole thing went onto the top of the oven while I waited for the chicken to finish cooking. I thought the cheese (which was also in the topping for the chicken) tied everything together nicely.
  • The whole process took about an hour, start to finish. I might be able to shave off about fifteen minutes with practice, and if I had a good oven thermometer, so I could heat my oven properly.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

9/14/08 -- Beef Stroganoff

I used this recipe, from Publix. I really like these recipes, in general, because they have very easy-to-follow directions. This is critical for a beginner like me. In fact, having this set of recipes available to me was a factor in my decision to undertake this project. I like having a set of "safety" recipes to start out with. It came out pretty well, although I think a little more pepper, or spice of some sort, is in order. My wife suggests mixing in some vegetables, as well. For our veggie tonight, we just microwaved some frozen broccoli. Not too exciting, but when mixed in with the stroganoff, it did add some color.

Another nice thing about this recipe: it makes enough that we can toss acouple of meals' worth in the fridge, giving us easy heat-up meals for the rest of the week. Given the complexity of our schedules (I work days, and she is a full-time student and works two nights a week), this is useful, to put it mildly.

9/14/08 -- Chicken Broth

My wife is making broth from the remains of a chicken she cooked last week. These are my notes on the process:
  • In a stock pot, boil up some water with a few bay leaves in it.
  • While that is heating up, chop up some vegetables. This time, she used carrots, onion, and bell pepper. Apparently celery would have been included as well, had we had any. A food processor is ideal for this.
  • Once the water starts to boil, put in the veggies, the chicken carcass, and some herbs. My wife is fond of her home-grown herbs, and this particular broth includes fresh-cut rosemary and basil. When I asked her to remind me what she put in so I could make these notes, she remembered that she had some sage, which soon found itself swimming with the rest of the stock.
  • The whole concoction is brought to a rolling boil, and then reduced to a simmer (we consulted this page on the matter). I got left to keep an eye on it, while she went upstairs for a shower (this is all happening on Saturday night, after she got home from work).
  • The simmering continues for a couple of hours or so, and then all the solid bits are either removed or strained out. The broth is cooled by sitting in a bowl nested inside another bowl containing ice water, then boxed up into plastic boxes (Yea, Chinese take-out soup!), and placed in the freezer.
  • While this last process is going on, my wife cleans the last of the meat off the bones. Tomorrow (later today, technically), this will become her famous chicken soup!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

9/13/08 -- Burger and Fries

I had half a potato leftover from this morning's Spanish Omelette, and my wife tells me we need to use up the bag of onions in our kitchen, so I got some ground beef, and made myself a burger and some fries.

Let me start with the fries. I took my half-potato and sliced it into strips. Then I heated up a little bit of olive oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat (I tried high heat this morning, and got smoke -- lesson learned), and essentially stir-fried the strips of potato. This is still a bit of a wonder to me. I always associate fries with vats of oil and a huge mess, but this was remarkably easy. The fries came out nice and soft on the inside, but could have been a little crispier on the outside. Next time, I'll turn the heat up just a notch, and hope I don't get smoke again. Still, they tasted good.

So, on to the burger. I started with somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of a pound of lean ground beef, and added a few things: half a slice of chopped onion (not much progress on the bag, but it's just me tonight, so I did what I can), a small clove of finely chopped garlic, and some Gorgonzola cheese crumbles that I found in the fridge. The resulting patty got place in my new Foreman grill* at 350 degrees for 7 minutes. This proved to be a bit too much time, as the burger ended up a bit dry. The Gorgonzola flavor remained, though, and was quite good.

No real veggies in this meal, for which I will no doubt be taken to task, but nevertheless, pretty satisfying. I'll definitely try these again, making a few tweaks in the process.

*Story about the grill: Recently both our old grill and our roommate's grill had some issues. We had a big grill, which developed a dead spot on the top cooking plate. He had a small one, on which the top plate died completely. Both were several years old (his much older than ours), and were well-used. They were also a pain in the elbow to clean, because they had to be done by hand, and, of course, couldn't be immersed. Shortly after the little grill died, Target had a sale on the newest generation of Foreman grills. So we donated ours to Goodwill, tossed the roommate's in the trash, and got a new grill. Two advantages: First, we gained a little bit of much-needed shelf-space, and second, the new grill has cooking plates that can be removed and put in the dishwasher!

Getting Started

I hate half-knowing how to do things.

I don't mind being terrible at something. For instance, I am a notoriously bad dancer, and I have no desire whatsoever to change that. Doesn't bother me.

But if I'm going to be able to do something, I want to be able to do it well. I want depth and breadth of knowledge, I want background, I want a certain level of expertise. I want to be able to have an intelligent conversation on the subject, and I hate being reduced to smiling and nodding because I just don't get it.

So, I'm learning to cook.

I learned a while ago that one of the best ways to really learn something is to experiment, and then to reflect on that experience. This blog is a little bit of that. I'm planning to use this space as a sort of diary of my cooking. Hopefully, the process of writing things down will help me remember what worked, and what didn't. I'm also hoping for a bit of advice from you, the reader. Please feel free to leave comments on any post that strikes your fancy. Be gentle with me, for I am truly a novice in the kitchen, but any and all constructive criticisms are more than welcome.