02/25/14

Lemon Pepper Roasted Asparagus

Asparagus has a bit of an elegance. Perhaps that is because it is one of the few vegetables left that has a clear season. Even within the big supermarket chains, asparagus is sparse any other time of the year apart from when asparagus season arrives.

When that time of year arrives, I can’t resist picking up up a bunch. Nearly always, I have it steamed. Which is yummy but it does get a bit sameish. This year, it was time for a change. Putting my cooking muse on duty, I decided to see what roasted asparagus was like. As it turns out, roasted asparagus is rather lovely.

This is more of an idea than an actual recipe. Apart form the cooking times, the ingredients can be fully adjusted to suit your tastes. There is plenty room for experimentation.

Roasted asparagus
Lemon Pepper Roasted Asparagus
lemon roasted asparagus

Ingredients:

1 bunch asparagus
Olive Oil
Juice of half a lemon
Pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Trim, wash and thoroughly dry the asparagus before putting it on a foil lined baking tray.

Drizzle the asparagus with oil. Juice the lemon over the top of the asparagus and sprinkle liberally with black pepper.

Use your hands to moves the asparagus around, making sure the oil, lemon and pepper mixture is evenly distributed.

Put the tray into the oven and cook for six minutes. Take the tray out, turn the asparagus spears over and return to the oven for a further six minutes.

Serve.

02/18/14

Asian-Inspired Chicken Noodle Soup

Living alone and cooking for one has made me less excited to be in the kitchen.  Partially because there is less variation in what I cook each night. Often, I end up eating a dish several times in a week because the portions a recipe yield were far too much for just me.

On Sunday, I roasted a chicken for myself and Chris. If I do say so myself, it was delicious but it was also a whole chicken for just two people. After he had gone, it didn’t make sense for me to be cooking other types of meat when I had nearly a whole cooked chicken in the fridge.

There were only so many times that I could bare warming it up and eating the exact same meal for yet another night. Those are the nights when I resort to muse cooking.

Some years ago, I stumbled across a website that put  the name ‘muse cooking’ to something I think that most people do. We look what is around and rather than follow an exact recipe we put throw a bit of this and a bit of that into a pot and hope for the best.

I wonder sometimes if less experienced cooks are frightened away by formal recipes. The way they are composed looks as if everything has to be done an exact way or there will be no hope for the dish.

That may be true with the science of baking but in with the art of cooking, if you have the basic techniques down, there is room for experimentation.  Things are bit less intimidating when you know it is okay to make some mistakes.

Tonight, I took a look at what I had in my fridge and pantry and let my cooking muse speak to me.

Asian chicken soup ingredients

Apart from the left over chicken, I had chicken stock, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar in the cupboard. In the fridge,I found garlic, fresh ginger, mushrooms and a small head of Napa cabbage. I also had some frozen noodles that I had picked up from a trip to a nearby Asian supermarket.

Clearly things were pointing in the direction of Asian but I wasn’t up for a stir fry. Partially because I pretty much suck at cooking a stir fry. I’m not sure why but I came to terms with it several years back.

I decided to make a quick Asian-inspired chicken noodle soup. Soups such as that are quick and easy to throw together and adaptable for whatever vegetables you have laying around.

The noodles that I used tonight only take five minutes from frozen in boiling water. So, they were particularly perfect for a quick Asian soup. Don’t feel boxed in by any particular type of noodle. Anything that will cook up in the liquid and not have to be drained will work. I’ve used rice noodles before and they have worked great.

Here is my non-recipe for my Asian-inspired chicken noodle soup.  Consider it as a starting point for your own cooking muse.

Asian-Inspired Chicken Noodle Soup

Asian inspired chicken noodle soup

Ingredients:

Chicken stock
Soy Sauce
Rice Wine Vinegar
Fresh finger, minced
Garlic, minced
Mushrooms, sliced
Left over chicken, shredded
Nappa cabbage, chopped thinly
Asian noodles

Directions:

Put chicken stock into a pot with a few glugs of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. Bring the mixture to a  boil and throw in the fresh ginger, garlic and the sliced mushrooms.

Simmer for five minutes and then put in the leftover chicken and cabbage. Continue to simmer for a few more minutes before putting the noodle into the pot. Cook for the time dictated on the package. Once the noodles are done, the soup is ready to serve.

02/12/14

Crazy easy sun-dried tomato and olive dip

February should be named national detox month. Scrolling through my Facebook feed sees that friend after friend muttering about their juicing routine, weigh ins and new gym memberships.

I’m just as guilty as anybody else. I’ve been promising myself for weeks that I would get back on the diet wagon.  Several years ago, I lost nearly 100lbs and I’ve stayed within 10 pounds of that loss ever since. However, there is a massive difference in how I feel between those ten pounds.  I also think those ten pounds are where I start to look better but even with that in mind, for some reason, I am having trouble focusing.

All the more frustrating because I know exactly what works for me. I need to count calories so that I stay under 1500 for the day and exercise four days a week. The road map to feeling better is right there and I’m not using it.

So, here I go again. Just like so many of you.

My goal for the next week or so is to re-introduce higher levels of fruit and vegetables back into my diet and to get my ample bottom onto my treadmill after work.

The trickiest part of the day for me is lunch. It has to be both easy to make and to take to work. It also has to be filling enough that I don’t find myself snacking in the later part of the afternoon.

I’m bringing a crazy easy sun-dried tomato and olive dip recipe out of retirement for this initial healthy eating push.

It is as simple as putting all the ingredients into a mini chopper or food processor for a few seconds. Which means it easily fits into my morning routine. I scoop it into a container, load another one up with raw dipping vegetables and take them both to work.

Any taste buds that aren’t awake after the first few bites are probably dead because the flavors of this sun-dried tomato and olive dip are pretty intense. If raw vegetables aren’t on your list of favorite foods, you’ll take less notice of the raw taste when you dredge them through the dip before eating.

Usually, I use reduced-fat cream cheese for this but you could use full fat just fine if the calories aren’t a concern. This time around, I tried a Greek yogurt cream cheese that my local Ralph’s supermarket is selling. I’m lactose intolerant and for some reason, Greek yogurt products don’t cause a reaction. I was curious to see if it would work.  The cheese has a bit more of a tang to it than normal cream cheese but with everything else going on in this dip recipe, it worked just fine.

The recipe makes enough that I can take it to the office for several days worth of lunches.

Sun-dried Tomato and Olive Dip

sundried tomato dip

Ingredients:

2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup green olives, pitted
1/3 cup sun-dried tomato packed in oil, drained but with some oil still clinging
1 cup reduced-fat cream cheese
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 lemon, zest of
Directions:
Put all ingredients into a mini chopper or food processor.
Combine on the pulse setting for about 30 seconds until everything is well combined but there is still a chunky texture to the tomatoes.That’s it, it is all done.

 

02/2/14

Drunken Sloppy Joe Nachos

Was there a game or something today? Ha.

The years that I was living in the UK, I became a bit disconnected from the Super Bowl hype. The game is on tv in the UK but it is on in the wee hours of the morning and we didn’t get the commercials. As we all know, they are the real reason for watching the game. I would still stay up and watch it, sometimes with a bewildered British friend, and the junk food portion of the tradition alive.

This year, I watched the game alone. Chris was down visiting me this weekend but he had to start his journey home before the game started.  I wanted to get some junk food time in but I didn’t want to cook a bunch of stuff just for me. Nachos came to mind but it was Super Bowl day and I didn’t want to do a normal nachos.

Somehow, my drunken sloppy Joes recipe came to mind.  Years ago, they came out of a drunken meatballs recipes that I used to make. On a particularly lazy day, I couldn’t be bothered to make meatballs and it became a sloppy joe recipe instead. It became a go-to recipe for whenever I had friends over to my London apartment.

I thought it would probably taste good on top of tortilla chips and smothered with cheese and so the Drunken Sloppy Joe Nachos were born today. Really, it is a non-recipe, other than the sloppy Joes nothing is cooked or has to be measured. You pile chip on a plate and put the toppings on.

For the chips, I went with the Homeboy Industries tortilla strips.  They are a charity that teaches former gang members culinary skills and gives them the hope of a productive and honest work life.  Their bread is really good and can be found at most Los Angeles area farmers markets.  My supermarket carries their tortilla chips and salsas. Not only do they taste good but I feel like I am giving a bit back to an organization that is working to make my city a better place.

Homeboy Tortilla

For the cheese, I just went for a jarred nacho cheese sauce. Meh, I just didn’t feel like going fancy. At the last moment, I threw some pickle slices on top. The acid actually worked against the salty aspect of the chips and cheese.

Drunken Sloppy Joes

drunken sloppy joes

Ingredients:

Tortilla chips
Drunken sloppy Joes (recipe bellow)
Nacho cheese sauce
Pickle slices (optional)

Directions:

Put the chips on a place. Spoon the drunken sloppy Joe mixture on top of the chips. Smother with cheese and throw on the pickle slices. Eat.

Drunken Sloppy Joes

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup onion, very finely chopped (I used my mini chopper)
2 lbs extra lean ground beef
1 1/2 cups ketchup (I recommend using Heinz)
1 cup Jack Daniels or Southern Comfort
1 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (I’ve used brown deli mustard too)
Directions:
Heat the olive oil in a large and deep pan.
Add the onions and fry gently until they have started to go tender. This takes about 5 minutes, stirring often.
Crumble in the ground beef and cook, stirring when needed, until all of the meat is browned. This took me about 8 minutes.Add the ketchup, Southern Comfort and brown sugar and stir until everything is combined with the meat.

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring now and then.
Stir in the Dijon mustard and then let simmer for another 15 minutes or until the sauce is the thickness you like with a sloppy joe.
01/29/14

Easy Beef And Mushroom Unstuffed Pasta

What is your favorite dish that your mother cooked you as a child?  Have you ever seen that recipe written down?

Sometimes the best recipes are the ones that aren’t really recipes at all. The dishes that moms and grandmas made time and time again with a bit of this and a bit of that.  Maybe church cookbooks were as close as communities came to written records of these sort of family recipes.

My own mother is a great home cook with a good arsenal of go to recipes. One of which was a dish she simply called ‘Stuff’. It was big pasta shells filled with a beef and mushroom mixture and cheese baked on top. It was always a hit with me.

At some point in my adult life, I became a bit lazy with the dish.  I experimented with making an unstuffed version of the recipe. All the same sort of ingredients but mixed together rather than stuffed. I also took away the baking portion of the recipe and did everything on the stove top. It tasted pretty much the same and ever since it has been the way I get close to Mom’s original dish.

It is one of those dishes that has a lot of wiggle room. Any kind of pasta can be used but I usually use  penne or small shells. Both carry the creamy sauce  well.  Here I have used beef but, more than once, I’ve used ground turkey with success. I go for the low fat soup but, of course, the full fat works too. At times, I’ve thrown in  some frozen peas and, when I am feeling particularly fancy, I add a splash of white wine at the same time as the soup mixture.

Leftovers of unstuffed version of my mom’s stuffed shells are also great for taking to work for lunch the next day. If you ask me, it actually gets better after a night of sitting in the fridge.

 Beef and Mushroom Unstuffed Pasta

beef and mushroom unstuffed pasta

Ingredients:

4 ounces penne pasta
2 ounces onion,diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground beef
2 ounces mushrooms, diced
1 (10 3/4 ounces) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 tablespoons Parmesan,grated

Directions:

Put pasta into a pot of boiling water and cook the length of time directed on the box.

Heat a frying pan and spray with cooking spray. You could use oil too but I’m trying to stay away from unnecessary fat. Instead, I use the spray and then add a bit of water right at the end of the browning process. Once the water has evaporated,the onions have a similar texture to being fried. In this case, add the onions and garlic and cook until browned, stirring occasionally.

Add the beef to the pan and brown that off too. Then, add the mushrooms and cook for a further few minutes.

Stir the soup, undiluted, into the beef mixture and stir until heated through. Then, combine the beef mixture with the pasta and then mix in the cheese.

You may with to add pepper to taste but between the soup and the cheese, there is probably enough salt for most people.

The recipes serves two but it really easy to size up. Just add more of everything..lol

 

 

 

01/21/14

Citrus and Sage Roast Chicken

Several weeks ago, a Facebook friend of mine shared a link to one of those things you should do before you die lists. This list in particular was focused on foods you should eat before your time is up. Alongside a list of exotic dishes and goodies from famous restaurants was a listing for a roast chicken that you made in your own oven.

For a moment, it struck me as sad that knowing how to roast a chicken has now moved into the realm of the exotic. Then, I found myself wondering when had been the last time that I had put in the effort to roast my own chicken. Passing scorn isn’t particularly legitimate if I am just as guilty of not routinely putting my own basic cooking skills into practice.

Whole roasting chickens do feel harder to obtain these days. Most of the fresh chicken available in the supermarkets has already been chopped up to sell in parts. It makes me wonder if the scarcity of whole chickens is to better sell the store’s own rotisserie chickens or if the convenience of those chickens has caused the lack of demand.

As it happens, roasting chickens were on sale at Ralphs this week. I’m fairly sure that had to do with Foster Farms running a damage control exercise after their recent bad publicity. Whatever the reason, I picked up two sizable roaster chickens for just over $7. One went into the freezer and the other I kept out with the idea of forcing myself to practice my chicken roasting skills.

I found a pack of fresh sage in the produce department that had been marked down for a quick sale. Sage pairs well with poultry.  I figured it could be the starting point for an idea for my planned roast chicken recipe. In the end, I went for a citrus theme and lemon, garlic, sage and butter mix that was put under the skin of the chicken. Allowing the fresh flavors of the mixture to soak into the chicken as it roasts.

For ages now, I have had a bottle of blood orange olive oil sitting in my cupboard. Seriously, it has been moved to two different apartments and barely been used. Since I was going the citrus path, I decided to use it as the olive oil I used on the chicken skin. It turned out great but a lemon infused oil would have worked well too. As would just a normal olive oil. The lemons bring enough flavor to stand on their own.

citrus and sage roast chicken

Next to the actual tasting, the best part of roasting a chicken has to be the aroma.  Over the hour and a bit that the chicken roasted, my stomach began to rumble as a result of the garlicky lemon scent that was filling my small apartment.

Luckily, the roast chicken didn’t just smell good. The flavors had worked their magic to produce depth of flavor that was evident throughout the whole chicken. As good as the citrus flavors tasted fresh out of the oven, they tasted even brighter the next day when I used leftover cold chicken to make a chicken salad.

For sure I am wheeling this citrus and sage roast chicken recipe out on one of Chris’s next visits. I’m pretty certain he’ll enjoy it and if there is anything more satisfying than cooking your own food then it is cooking a good meal for the people you love.

Citrus and Sage Roast Chicken

citrus and sage roast chicken

Ingredients:

1 whole roasting chicken, mine was about five pounds in weight
1/2 cup softened butter
1 lemon, juice and zest
1/4 cup fresh sage,finely chopped
1 medium sized garlic clove, minced
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Removed the giblets from the chicken and then rinse off both the inside and outside of the bird. Pat it dry and put into a roasting tin.

Combine the butter, lemon zest and juice,sage,garlic and salt and pepper. Smush it all together until well combined. You can use a fork or get stuck in with your fingers. If you do use your fingers, you may wish to consider gloves because that lemon juice and salt will make a mission of finding even the slightest cuts you may have on your fingers.

Carefully separate the breast skin from the meat of the chicken. Fill the gaps between the two with the butter mixture, taking care not to break the skin. Place the remains of the juiced lemon into the cavity of the chicken.

Finish up by rubbing the olive oil over the surface of the bird and placing in the oven.

Cook until the chicken is properly cooked through and the skin is crispy and golden. In the case of my bird, that took about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

12/10/13

Blueberry lemon waffles at The Waffle

When work moved me to Los Angeles, I will admit that  it had never crossed my mind that this would be such a foodie city. I suppose that I had a stereotype of all the beautiful people shunning food in order to keep their Hollywood figures.

On the contrary,I’ve found that the more that I explore the city the more clearly a delightful foodie culture is revealed. Brunch places appears to be a specialty of this city. Abundant supplies of waffles and pancakes does make me wonder who exactly is that is watching their carbs.

I’m certainly not complaining though because breakfast is probably the meal I cook the least. For reasons that I have never fully understood, breakfast always tastes better when somebody else has made it.

On this occasion,myself and my brunch pal were trying out The Waffle on Sunset Boulevard. The restaurant, as my British friends would say, does exactly what it says on the tin. It is called The Waffle and it serves waffles. Well, it does serve pancakes and other breakfast dishes, as well as evening meals. It just feels that if you are going to go to a restaurant named after a particular dish that it is probably what you should try on your first visit.

My friend had their red velvet waffles and based on her occasional day dreaming about them since, she more than approved of them. My selection was the blueberry lemon waffles. The waffles have blueberries baked into them and then are served topped with a blueberry sauce and lemon curd.

the waffle lemon blueberry waffles

Lemon curd became a bit of a weakness of mine during my years spent living in London. Right this moment, I have a jar of Tescos Finest lemon curd sitting in my cupboard from my last visit home to London. I suppose I am waiting for the right moment to use it so that I don’t blow right through it and end up in a curd-less home. Once I saw it on the menu, my selection became easy.

I appreciate that the sweet and tart combo of the toppings assured that I didn’t need to bring any sort of syrup near the waffles. Syrup can be good now and then but I would rather have the flavors of the waffles themselves do the work than relying on the sugary syrup. Plus, then I get to pretend the waffles are somewhat healthy for me because they have blueberries.

The waffles themselves were good too. Slightly crispy on top and soft in the inside it just about perfect by my waffle standards.

Made better by the waiting staff who I couldn’t help but imagine had either just come from or were about to go to an audition. Perhaps one day I will be able to say my blueberry waffles were served by a starlet.

11/30/13

Apple turkeys – my family’s crazy Thanksgiving tradition

Part of the joy and craziness of being a family are those traditions that you grow up thinking are normal but you later find out existed only in that family bubble.

My family is a creative bunch. We are also all a tad crazy. Both aspects tend to reflect in our traditions. No more so than in our favorite family Thanksgiving tradition – Apple Turkeys.

I am not positive what year the apple turkeys began but I am 37 years old and I don’t remember a Thanksgiving without them.  So, they must have come in when myself and my cousins were pretty young.

Apple turkeys are a great activity to keep kids (and grown up) kids busy while the meal is cooking. They are pretty easy to do too.  All you really need are enough apples to cover every participants, a pile of various candies and toothpicks.

This year, it was just myself and my boyfriend Chris. So, my candy pile was smaller than usual but in general the idea is that everybody brings a couple kinds of candy that they think will lend themselves to apple turkey building. It all goes into the stockpile for everybody to draw from for the construction of their turkeys.

My sister, on the other hand, had her two boys, my parents and her in laws. So, her pile was a bit bigger.

apple turkey candy candypile1

With the tools laid out, the toothpicks are used to attach the candy to the apple to make them look your own personal brand of apple turkey.  The two bellow are what myself and Chris came up with on this Thanksgiving.

our apple turkeys

Here is a shot from a family apple turkey building day a few years ago. As you can see, possibilities are endless though and that is part of the fun. There isn’t a right or wrong way to do it as long as everybody is having fun.

Now, I will say that over the years that my family has added a bit of friendly competition in the mix. At the end of the build session, we line up all the apple turkeys and vote on who did the best job.  That was a bit more fair before my sister and cousins started to have kids. Now, they come with their own built in voting block. Not fair!

These days, the family is spread all over the world. Facebook has come to the rescue to keep our family tradition alive. In recent years, we have been setting up a Facebook event where various branches of the family add photos of their apple turkeys when they are done making them. We’ve been taking that opportunity to invite family friends to the event in hopes of growing the apple turkey Thanksgiving tradition to beyond our family. Why not grab some turkeys and candy and try it out at your next Thanksgiving family gathering?

 

11/28/13

Getting back into the kitchen

Home cooking comes from the soul.  If I am honest, it has felt as if my soul has been dulled for the past few years.  Al ot of big change have taken place. The most significant of which was going through a divorce that not only saw me leave my home but my adopted country.

I had been living in London for 15 years but when I made the incredibly painful choice to get a divorce, I thought that it would be easier to change everything around me rather than be constantly reminded of the situation.

I relocated to California. Yup, about as different from the United Kingdom! I loved London so much that I had taken dual British citizenship. There was as much,if not more,emotional turmoil from breaking up with the city as there was from leaving my ex-husband.

Cooking has always been something that I have enjoyed. As far back as my childhood, I enjoyed few things as much as I did flipping through cookbook collections. I suppose that was a bit like an old school Pintrest but with a ton of torn off paper used to bookmark recipes I thought looked good rather than pinning them to virtual boards.

When I was married, I cooked just about every day. Since being in California though, I have barely spent real time in my kitchen.  Part of that has to do with the challenge of cooking for one. The tiny apartment kitchen that I have at the moment hasn’t helped either. Truthfully though, I just didn’t feel a motivation to put forth too much effort.

Recently, that has changed. I met a man that took me out of my ‘never again’ stance and convinced me to allow love into my life again.  As I started to fall in love with him and feel the connection between us grow, my soul started to warm up.

Today was not only our first Thanksgiving together but it was the first meal I have ever cooked for him. Nothing like putting pressure on yourself!

From the menu planning, you would never have guessed that I was only cooking Thanksgiving dinner for two.  The focus of the meal was  British style roast turkey. Which pretty much just means covering the bird in bacon for the cooking, shoving herby butter under the skin and pushing an onion into the cavity rather than stuffing.   I also made caramelized Brussels sprouts, thyme roasted carrots, broccoli, whipped mashed potatoes, bacon wrapped cocktail sausages and homemade cranberry sauce.

How I thought I was going to manage to get all of that on the small table I have, I don’t know. As you can see, even Kermit was amazed by how much I cooked.

thanksgiving2

I was nervous about cooking for him but he really enjoyed it all.  Of all things, the sprouts were what he loved the most. A man who likes sprouts? Yeah, I am keeping him.

It felt so good to have filled a plate entirely with food I cooked rather than opening some packets or taking things out of the freezer. To have all that effort appreciated felt even better.

Thanksgivng meal

I am feeling the need to be back in the kitchen again. So much so that I am going to make that the focus of the Doughgasm food blog. I’m going to try to use it to motivate myself to try new recipes, learn new techniques and generally rediscover my passion for cooking.

Oh, he loved my creme de menthe brownies too.  🙂

creme de menthe brownies

Today, I am thankful for a new love and a return to a more familiar version of myself.