Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

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31-recipe challenge Day 16: Miso-glazed cod

I know there have been a lot of things I’ve written about that I’m not a big fan of but ate anyway, but this was the biggest one. I’ve never, ever been a fish eater. I eat lox (Jewish girl at heart), shrimp and I’ve recently started branching out in my sushi selections. But, for the most part, growing up and into adulthood, I’ve never been a seafood person, and I’ve certainly never eaten a full filet of fish, let alone prepared it. Yet, for this recipe, I did both.

I was literally the dumbest fish buyer ever. I asked the seafood purveyors at ShopRite and Wegmans a million questions, then asked my mom even more about preparing and serving it and determining its freshness and if that “fishy” smell is okay. But now I’ve been de-virginized…in cooking fish.

Miso-marinated cod with rice and broccoletti

This recipe, from the ironically named No Recipes, was originally for miso-glazed black cod, which is apparently extremely hard to find on the east coast. I spent about two weeks asking around and trying to track some down, but when I discovered it could only be ordered in 15-pound cases, it was time for Plan B. After some inquiring, I ended up purchasing Alaskan cod instead, which is a good, mild starter fish. Black cod isn’t even technically cod–it’s sablefish. But, somehow Alaskan cod is readily available on the east coast, but west coast black cod isn’t. Not gonna question it.

The miso-mirin glaze was super quick and easy, and the fish cooked up in no time. The only time-consuming part of this recipe is marinating the cod for one to two days.

And the best part? I liked it! As did Kevin, who eats even less fish than I do. As a matter of fact, I ate most of mine, but left some of the less-marinated parts behind, but Kevin cleared his plate. I think I just added a fish dish to our repertoire. Look at us growing up!

I served it with some white rice and sautéed broccoletti. A quick, healthy satisfying dinner in under 15 minutes. Can’t be beat. And I ate and enjoyed fish! That’s growth, people.

Miso-marinated cod

31-Recipe Challenge: Day 3–Super Bowl Sunday!

If you remember my Super Bowl post from last year, you know I like to throw a Super Bowl party. This year was no different, except Kevin hosted and I had even better recipes to work with.

The Super Bowl menu? Beer and bacon butter beans, four-cheese macaroni and cheese and pumpkin pie bread pudding. Plus, Kevin made chicken fajitas and pigs in blankets.

Yes, this was a far departure from Day 2’s vegetarian recipes.

On to the recipes! First let’s start with the one I know you’re all looking at–Beer and Bacon Butter Beans. Let me repeat that one. Beer. And Bacon. Can you think of a better football food? I used this recipe from Crepes of Wrath and pretty much didn’t change a damn thing.

Despite the beer and bacon (or should I say, THANKS TO the beer and bacon), this is actually a very complex and sophisticated side dish, especially thanks to the whole sprig of rosemary that goes in. But seriously, just in case you had any doubt that beans slow-cooked in beer and bacon fat would be delicious, these were drool-worthy. I’ve never appreciated a plate of beans so much. And puff-pastry wrapped pigs in a blanket were a much better franks-and-beans accompaniment than plain old hot dogs.

Beer and bacon butter beans

As much of a bacon lover as I am (and I’m a huge bacon lover), I rarely cook it. Sunday I cooked it. A lot of it. 8 thick-cut strips, to be exact. And I chopped it first. I never want to do that again. Trying to cut through thick, chewy, raw bacon fat can make you never want to eat bacon again. (OK, that’s not true. But it doesn’t make you want to prep it again.)

But once that starts cooking, it’s a whole different story. The salty, smoky, bacon-y smell fills the kitchen, and all is right with the world.

Then, you strain out the bacon and cook the beans IN THE BACON FAT. Add chicken stock, lemon juice, honey, a whole bottle of malty amber ale (I used Sam Adams Boston Ale), spices and a sprig of rosemary, and pop that bad boy in the oven for a solid two hours. Then top with crispy bacon. 1) your house will smell amazing and 2) what comes out at the end of those two hours is well worth the wait.

I can’t believe I’m waxing poetic about baked canellini beans, but these beans were off-the-wall good. Granted, cook anything in bacon fat and beer and it will probably be off-the-wall good.

I’ll put it to you another way: my friend J, who still doesn’t even consider beans a viable food group, said these were good. That’s, like, Kevin loving the sweet potato tacos huge! (This has been a pretty good weekend!) Heck, the fact that he even willingly ATE the beans was a good enough compliment for me.

UPDATE: In hindsight, I realize I skipped the very last step of the recipe, which is to stir in a tablespoon of unsalted butter once the beans come out of the oven. Oh well, I didn’t miss it.

For dinner, I made Four-Cheese Baked Rigatoni from How Sweet It Is. I’ve made TONS of macaroni and cheese in my day–it’s almost become a staple for me–but this one was unique. In addition to cheddar, fontina and gruyere, this mac and cheese uses 1/3 cup of mascarpone, which is super luscious and creamy and smooth. And, as she warns, does give the mac and cheese extra oiliness, though not in a bad way. I’ve had mac and cheese like this before, and the extra oil actually lent itself well to reheating. It’s super gooey and cheesy. I used fat rigatoni noodles, like the recipe originally called for, which trapped lots of extra cheese sauce inside.

3-cheese mix

Come. To. Mama.

Although, I didn’t have any panko bread crumbs on hand, so I used regular whole wheat ones, which were fine. I also subbed a pinch of dried mustard seed for the nutmeg, since one of my friends in attendance has a nutmeg allergy. (The goal is to not kill people.)

One interesting thing about this day was that a sort of theme emerged: one pot wonders that I turned into two-pot wonders. You see, both the beans and the mac and cheese were supposed to go from stove to oven in the same cooking vessel: the beans in an oven-safe pot or deep pan, the macaroni in a cast iron skillet. I do not own either of those things (sadly), so for the beans, I cooked everything in a deep pan and transferred into a covered deep casserole dish to bake. I cooked the macaroni and cheese in the same deep pan and transferred to a traditional casserole dish to bake. I really need to get my hands on a cast iron skillet, because as ooey-gooey and lovely as that mac and cheese was, I bet it would be incredible in cast iron.

Mac and cheese

Then came dessert. Let’s just say I’m really glad someone brought cookies. I was probably the least impressed with this of everyone who ate it, but then again, I am always my own worst critic. I’m also picky about my bread pudding. I made this gorgeous-looking Pumpkin Pie Bread Pudding with Bourbon Icing from Eats Well With Others. (Well, hers was gorgeous-looking.)

It wasn’t a terrible recipe, I think I just executed it wrong. Though granted, three pounds of butternut squash to one pound of bread in a bread pudding does seem a tad imbalanced. I’d probably recommend trying something closer to a one-to-one ratio.

When the finished product came out of the oven (after it baked for way longer than called for yet barely felt done), there were more chunks of hard, raw squash than soft, melty baked ones. And the inside was decidedly, well, mushy. Too mushy for my taste. Not so bad for a bread pudding, but, like I said, I’m picky. I feel like if this was perhaps baked in individual-sized ramekins rather than one large springform, it would be more up my alley–lots of crispy outside and a semi-liquid center that’s still mostly baked.

There are a few things I think contributed to my underwhelming result: For one, I’m assuming I didn’t pre-cook the squash long enough on the stove, though I feel like I let it go even longer than the recipe called for. Also, while the recipe called for a 10-inch springform, I only had a 9 1/2-inch. So although I left some filling behind,  perhaps I still overstuffed the pan, leading to the longer-than-called for baking time.

I also made a couple of *slight* tweaks to the recipe, but I doubt they were disaster inducing: again, I cut the nutmeg so as not to send anyone to the hospital, and I subbed one cup of almond milk and two cups of regular milk (1%) for the three cups of almond milk because I didn’t have enough on hand.

Nonetheless, this is definitely one I won’t be making again, even though Kevin wants me to re-attempt it with apples in place of the squash. This one brought me back down to earth a little bit–I was getting pretty confident in my baking skills after the pizza dough victory on Day 1, but this proved I’m really still not a baker. I’m gonna stay on the stove top where I belong.

However, it wasn’t all a bust. There was that bourbon icing. Oh man, that icing. I don’t even like bourbon and I couldn’t stop stealing tastes of this stuff. Which was bad, because I’m on antibiotics and not allowed to have alcohol!

Pumpkin pie bread pudding w/ bourbon icing

But if you need a dessert topping for, well, pretty much anything, throw this together! A stick of butter, 2 cups confectioner’s sugar and 2 tablespoons bourbon. Whisk and imbibe. And to get it more glaze-y and less icing-y, just pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so.

Because, dude, you want this icing on EVERYTHING. It was pretty good on the cookies, I was told. (I had eaten enough off the spoon by that point, I figured it was better if I cut myself off.)

I’m exhausted just writing this, so it’s no surprise I nearly forgot to cook on Monday. (Don’t worry, I did!)

Semi-homemade Superbowl

I know this is a few days late (the Superbowl was Sunday, after all), but I had to come right off the fun and pull a double, so here it is now.

This past Sunday, I threw a small Superbowl party for a few of my friends and family. It was a lot of fun, but to spare my sanity I took a semi-homemade approach to the party.Cover of "Bobby Flay's Grill It!"

To start, the menu:

Chipotle-honey glazed chicken wings (courtesy of Bobby Flay’s Grill It!. Recipe to follow.)
Plain baked chicken wings with three sauces: barbecue, sweet Thai chile, chipotle-honey
Homemade pizza
Giants blue margaritas
Snacks and appetizers: veggies and dip; chips, pretzels, salsa; mixed cookies

The first “homemade” part of the night was the chipotle chicken wings. It’s a recipe from Bobby Flay’s Grill It! cookbook that I’ve made before and really, really enjoyed. The original recipe calls for grilled wings, but since it’s February in New Jersey, I baked the wings instead. They were still delicious.

For anyone that doesn’t know, a chipotle pepper is a smoked jalapeño. It’s a bit spicy and quite smoky. You can find them canned in the grocery store in adobo sauce. The recipe calls for pureed chipotles–I used my bullet blender to puree them quickly and with minimal mess. It took about 30 seconds. It also calls for ancho chile powder. An ancho chile is a dried poblano and also takes on a bit of a smoky quality, but it, too is on the milder side of the chile spectrum.

Image courtesy of Clarkson/Potter Publishers and Bobby Flay's "Grill It!"

Courtesy of Clarkson/Potter Publishers and Bobby Flay's "Grill It!"

The recipe also includes a step for trimming and dividing the wings, but I didn’t need to take that step. I used a combination of frozen wings and packaged fresh, divided wings. Both were from Perdue and had no added hormones or chemicals, and both saved me a lot of time!

Chipotle-honey glazed chicken wings with toasted sesame seeds and green onion

1 cup honey
3 tablespoons pureed canned chipotle chiles in adobo
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons ancho chile powder
Salt and pepper, for seasoning
4 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil (The recipe called for canola, I used vegetable because I had it on hand)
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons Spanish paprika
3 pounds chicken wings
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted (see below)*
Green onions, thinly sliced

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Whisk together the honey, chipotle puree, mustard, 1 tablespoon of the ancho chile powder, 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 tablespoons of the oil in a small bowl. Divide the glaze evenly between two bowls–a small one for brushing the glaze and a large one for tossing the wings later.
3. Stir together the remaining 3 tablespoons of ancho chile powder with the coriander, cumin and paprika in a small bowl.
4. Rinse the chicken wings under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the tips off the wings if necessary and discard (or freeze and use for chicken stock.) Cut each wing into two pieces through the joint, if necessary.
5. Place wings in a large bowl, add the spice rub and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and place wings on a baking sheet in an even layer. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-11 minutes until golden brown. Turn wings over and brush with the small bowl of glaze. Place wings back in oven for 15-20 minutes, brushing with the glaze every few minutes and turning once during the last 10 minutes of cooking.
6. Remove wings from the oven, toss with the remaining glaze and place back on the baking sheet. Turn the oven to broil and broil the wings until glaze caramelizes and the skin is crispy.
7. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and sliced green onions.

*To toast sesame seeds: put a single layer of seeds in a frying or saute pan and toast over medium-low heat, shaking the pan every couple of minutes to prevent burning, until lightly golden brown and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool completely.

Make ahead: Follow the recipe up through Step 5, then put wings aside or refrigerate. Before serving, reheat wings in the oven at 375 degrees, then broil.

These wings were a hit and cleared off the plate completely. But, I have friends who are somewhat picky eaters, so to accommodate everyone’s taste, I also made plain baked wings (just salt and pepper) with three dipping sauces. I bought bottled barbecue sauce (Jack Daniel’s Master Blend). I put out the remainder of the chipotle-honey sauce, and I whipped together a Thai chile sauce. I used the leftover sweet chile sauce from the last post’s Thai lettuce wraps and added some store-bought sweet chile sauce to fortify it and make it a bit thicker. (Mine was more like a vinaigrette; the added bottled sauce was thicker and more gelatinous, so together they made a good dipping sauce.)

My boyfriend Kevin also made his “famous” pizza, which is a semi-homemade masterpiece. It uses store-bought or pizza shop dough (you can walk into pretty much any pizzeria and ask for their dough. They’ll usually sell it to you for just a few dollars, and if you know it’s a good pizza place, you know you’re getting good dough.), jarred tomato sauce and a store-bought shredded mozzarella mix. Of course, you could certainly make the dough and sauce from scratch and shred your own cheese, but this way is quick and still yummy.

Kevin’s “famous” semi-homemade pizza

1 package store-bought pizza dough or pizzeria dough (I like the stuff in the refrigerated section that comes in the bag, not the frozen or canned ones)
1 jar tomato sauce (this time, we used Ragu 7-herb tomato sauce–the more flavor, the better)
1-2 packages pizza cheese blend (I prefer 4 or more–this one had mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan and Romano)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pat out pizza dough as per instructions on the package and stretch onto a baking sheet. Bake for 2 minutes to par-bake the crust. Remove from oven, spread with sauce and sprinkle with cheese. Add any spice you desire (oregano, garlic, basil, rosemary, Italian spice blend, etc.) Add any toppings you would like, as well (pepperoni, mushrooms, sausage, peppers, the list goes on.) Bake pizza at 375 degrees for 12 to 18 minutes or until you start to smell the spices. Remove from oven and let cool at least five minutes before cutting into slices.

In addition to some store-bought snacks and desserts and plenty of beer, I made one signature cocktail for the game–Giants blue margaritas. (I’m from New Jersey; it’s no secret who we were rooting for.) The blue color can be off-putting, but this recipe uses no food coloring, just orange-flavored blue liquor in place of the usual orange-flavored triple sec, so the taste is very similar. When I usually make margaritas I use pineapple juice as a sweetener, but the yellow juice would have turned the color green, so I had to come up with a clear alternative in the form of lemon-lime soda. It also added a bit of fun effervescence.

Giants blue margaritas

2 parts gold tequila (Jose Cuervo is my go-to)
1 part Blue Curacao
1 part fresh lime juice
1 part lemon-lime soda
1/2 part Rose’s lime juice
Agave syrup to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a pitcher or shake together in a glass and add agave syrup to sweeten to taste. For a large group, my one part was 1 cup. For individual margaritas, one part can equal one or two ounces. In that case, the recipe would call for 2 ounces of tequila, 1 ounce of Blue Curacao, 1 ounce of fresh lime juice, 1 ounce of lemon-lime soda, 1/2 an ounce of Rose’s lime juice and agave to taste.

If you want to make the same margarita but you don’t want it to be blue, simply substitute triple sec for the Blue Curacao.

This was adapted from my usual margarita recipe, which are pineapple-cilantro margaritas, inspired by the flavor profile of pineapple salsa:

Pineapple-cilantro margaritas

2 parts gold tequila
1 part triple sec
1 part fresh lime juice
1 part pineapple juice
Agave syrup to taste
Fresh cilantro

Muddle some fresh cilantro at the bottom of a glass. Mix all other ingredients together in a pitcher or in the glass and pour over the cilantro. (Note: do not add the cilantro directly to the pitcher; add cilantro to each glass individually. As the margaritas sit, the cilantro flavor intensifies, so if you leave the fresh cilantro in the pitcher, it will eventually become over-infused with the cilantro flavor.)

Like I said, this was inspired by the flavor profile of cilantro salsa. I’m not a fan of spicy drinks, though, so I do not add any jalapeños to my margaritas. If you like the heat, though, you can definitely shake a few jalapeño slices into the cocktail for the full pineapple salsa effect.

If you like salt with your margarita, salt glasses as follows: on a small plate or saucer, pour a bit of Rose’s or fresh lime juice, enough to just cover the bottom of the plate. You can also run a small slice of fresh lime along the rim to dampen it. Cover the bottom of another small plate with Kosher salt. Dip the rim of the glass in the lime juice, then in the salt to cover the rim. Pour in your margarita and enjoy!

All in all, the semi-homemade approach to the Superbowl was a success both with my guests and with me. By the time everyone arrived, we had delicious food for them and I was able to fully enjoy myself since everything was done. Made from scratch can be great, but when it comes to entertaining, sometimes it’s more important to have the time to enjoy yourself. The best part is, these recipes are great any day of the week, not just for the Superbowl. Enjoy! (And by the way, congratulations New York Giants!)

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