Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Chuckie's Pasta Salad

My brother makes the best pasta and potato salads.  Seriously, if I go home and he doesn't make at least one of them, I'll probably die.  These salads are so delicious (how delicious are they??) that they make me buy things I never do like bread and butter pickles and mayo.  I think mayo is one of the most over-used condiments ever and I don't like the way it feels on my finger when I'm wiping the last of it off the spoon I just used to make pasta salad.  It's the definition of sqwick.

But back to pasta salad!  I had some leftover pulled pork and needed a side to go with it so I called my brother and wrestled the recipe out of him.  He learned to cook from my dad who never measures anything so I basically scribbled down a list of ingredients and ranges of how much of each to put in.  That's how we do.  The recipe below is for a full pound of rotini but the picture shows but 1/3 of a bag of pasta.

Pasta Salad

1 lb rotini, cooked according to package instructions
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp mustard
2 tbsp bread and butter pickle juice
1/4 diced bread and butter pickles
1 tsp garlic powder
generous sprinkling of black pepper

While the pasta is cooking, mix the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl.  Drain pasta and give it a quick rinse with cold water.  Pour the drained, cooked pasta into your dressing and stir well.  Chill at least an hour and then devour!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Thai Red Curry

Curry is one of those things that can be really good or really crappy. At least for me. Red curry seems to be my favorite, and the others I could take or leave. One of my favorite Thai restaurants has a lunch buffet and they often serve red curry and it is always one of my favorite trips. I even talked my mom into it on my last birthday and she liked it, which is saying a lot because my family does not eat very adventurously.

I have had a little bottle of red curry paste in my pantry for a few months now and I finally got around to breaking it out.

These were all my ingredients, aside from the meat. I used this handy recipe from the Thai Kitchen brand since that is the curry paste I had. Basically it just says chop up whatever vegetables you want and some meat. I used chicken and shrimp, but the shrimp wasn't so great it in, so I would stick with chicken in the future.

I pretty much followed the recipe exactly, heating the paste, adding the stock and coconut milk, then adding the fish sauce and brown sugar. Simmer for a bit, then add the meat & veg and simmer some more. So simple!

I think I simmered mine a little too long while I was cooking my rice, because it began to separate a bit. So don't over cook it!

Still tasted good anyway! I finished my bowl and thought about having another! The mushrooms tasted particularly good in there, and the asparagus worked too, even though I was a bit skeptical. I might even go heavier on the curry next time because I think it could have been a bit spicier than the recipe suggests and I already added a bit more than a tbsp.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Faux Soba Salad

I have never been a huge fan of pasta. Blasphemy, I know. It is occasionally a good vehicle for a worthy sauce, but I am ambivalent about it on it's own. I have become interested in finding alternatives for pasta and so far vegetables have done a damn good job! Spaghetti squash will be coming in a future episode, but this time I am using zucchini.

I found this interesting-looking recipe and wanted to modify it not to contain noodles. As soba are fatter noodles, I decided to slice up some zucchini and use it instead.

I sauteed julienned zucchini in sesame oil with some sesame seeds until it was slightly softened. This was one zucchini, which ended up not making a whole lot, maybe enough for 3 people as a side, so multiply as needed. Then cut up some tomatoes (I used cherry), avocado and cilantro.

For the dressing, I whisked together tahini, soy sauce, red wine vinegar (they suggest rice vinegar in the recipe but this seemed fine too), sesame oil, a little water, salt and pepper. I added a little sugar since I wasn't using the tofu cooked with sugar. The dressing seemed to need that sweet element and just adding a bit of sugar did the trick. As you know by now, I don't measure anything, and with a dressing like this, putting things in to your taste works best.

Then just stir it all up in the dressing! I am pretty impressed with this. It seems really fancy but is really easy.

My dressing ended up a bit thicker than that shown in the recipe, but I liked the flavor even thought it looks a bit less colorful and pretty than in the pro pictures.

I didn't realize what a peanutty flavor tahini has. I had to buy a gigantic can of it so I hope I find some good uses for it. This salad was a great departure from most of the flavors that I use all the time, without much of a change of ingredients. It almost has that Asian peanut sauce taste. I hope it holds up in the fridge overnight so I can have it with lunch tomorrow!

Post script: Thick dressing = bad idea. After being refrigerated overnight, the consistency was a little unappetizing. Definitely thin your dressing with more vinegar, soy or water based on your taste if it ends up looking like mine above!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Pork and Carrots, Take 2, only much better

So my leftover pork and carrots needed to be used, and this time I am much, much happier with the results. This time I decided on stuffed pork chops with apple and raisin filling. The carrots come in later, for a little spicy Moroccan dip.

First, assembling the filling:
1 peeled and chopped apple
1 small diced onion
ground sage
1 cup white bread cubes
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp butter
salt & pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth
Several small pork chops (I pounded out mine)

Sautee the apple, onion and sage in olive oil until onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the bread, egg, butter, salt & pepper, then as much chicken broth as the mixture will soak up.

Lay out your pork chops on a lined baking sheet, and fill them to your hearts content!

Roll the pork chop over a bit to get it to stay pretty well closed. I didn't put in the energy of tying them up or skewering them and it was fine. Also, I put the extra filling between the chops on the sheet to cook it up, because I didn't want to leave any deliciousness behind. Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes, it probably depends on the thickness of your chops, you may need more time. Pork should be cooked to at least 160 degrees.

Plate up and enjoy the amazingness! This was so so good that I can't recommend it highly enough... go... make them now! (Despite the kind of obscene color and texture of the pork, ignore that, I promise, no regrets)

Also, the small bowl of orange on the plate is this Morrocan-Style Spicy Carrot Dip, and it was also very very good. WAY better than yesterday's mash. Definitely choose this over that.

Successes and Failures, know your cauliflower limits

I tried to take on Whole30, and failed, but I still got some good things out of it. Meal planning is a super smart thing to do. It makes shopping and cooking much easier. I, however, very much require dairy and sugar. And "paleo" baked goods are disgusting, but cauliflower makes a good replacement for some things like rice and grains. I am going to continue to strive for a close-to-Whole30 30 days, but I have pretty much broken every rule in the 2 weeks up to now. According to the creators I am not doing it right, but it is still eating better so screw the rules!

So that leads to last night's meal. I decided to make all new things: breaded pork tenders with mint cashew pesto and carrot cauliflower mash. Spoiler alert... the pork tenders were the only really good part.

It all looks good right? Well, the pesto was way too salty and the mash had very little flavor. The pork tenders however were quite good. I just chopped some slices off a pork loin, dredged them in flour with salt and pepper, dipped that in beaten egg, and dipped that in a mixture of panko and parmesan (not at all Whole30). Popped it in a pan until brown and they came out moist and tender. Perfect!

I think part of my pesto problem was that I didn't have enough of the ingredients to adjust my flavors. I think it could be good. It is just spinach, mint, cashews, salt, pepper and olive oil blended together. I couldn't get it well blended because there was so little, and once it was too salty, I was out of spinach and mint to try and fix it. Not sure if I will try again or not.

The carrot cauliflower mash I had high expectations for because the ingredients were so good!

Even just in the pans it looks so good! For some reason my carrots never steamed. How does that happen? I boiled water under the steamer...? I am still confused by it. The onions were delicious on their own, I should have just eaten them: chopped onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme and olive oil. I steamed some grated cauliflower from another recipe in the microwave and then added it all to the blender.

I think I might try this again without the cauliflower. I had used cauliflower in so many recipes lately that I think I wore myself out on it. With salt and pepper it was edible, but I didn't eat much of it. Mostly I just ate the peppers out from underneath with the little bits of mash I didn't flick off. Also, maybe I just don't like mashed things... I am not sure about that, but it could be part of it. I am going to try another version of carrot mash, to be used as a dip, so maybe that will provide some more insight!