Monthly Archive: June 2007

Hell’s Kitchen 2007, Episode 4

I guess I should get around to writing a Hell’s Kitchen post for the last episode. Not that it was that exciting, as Rob Sama noted in this post.

Well, except they did the tasting challenge, which to my disappointment ended in sudden death as soon as the men were in a positiong to be impossible to win. I’d have liked to see how the last pair did on the whole set of three foods. I couldn’t believe how bad some of them were. Not that I’d have known something like bok choy, but really; pears, carrots and egg yolks?

Then there was the punishment. The other punishment, besides doing the prep for both kitchens and being given the apparently untaken opportunity to sabotage the girls. They had to eat offal types of meats, like tongue, tripe and organs. Yuck. I mean, if you gotta to survive, yeah, but they didn’t even prepare it to look that appatizing, just to be cooked rather than raw. As I recall, my grandmother actually developed a taste for tripe from eating it when she was a kid, and would make herself some once in a while through adulthood. Apparently Rock was the one with the weakest stomach for that stuff.

Things were a mess, and Melissa didn’t look so golden this week. Maybe it’ll be Rock versus Julia in the finale, with Rock winning but Julia showing everyone not to scorn Waffle House cooks.

Rock was the only bright spot, and Jen didn’t suck, so with no winning team declared, they each nominate one. They both decide to go with playing the game to get rid of threats or people they dislike or targeted, rather than who was actually bad. Josh was not a bad nominee by Rock, but Melissa was a silly nominee by Jen, purely strategic.

Ramsay overruled them both, no surprise, bringing forward Vinnie and Bonnie. They would have been the correct choices to avoid irritating the chef. Bonnie expected and even wanted to leave, yet gave the better reason why she should stay, Vinnie couldn’t stop being full of himself, or something, and got sent home as well he should have.

One of these weeks real soon, though, Rock will nominate Josh again, Josh will go and we’ll be glad.

Next week will be the shopping episode. Is it perhaps a little wrong that we have an idea what each episode will be like and that they’re already rutting enough that there are no real surprises?

I know it’s a game show, and it continues to hold some interest as such. Yet I’d still love to see more behind the scenes, more about where they show them how to cook things and boot camp them into being able to handle dinner service even to the extent that they can despite some of their minimal backgrounds.

Oh well. Let’s see what Bonnie does this week to get sent home. Or hey, maybe there will be a surprise!

Pancakes

For lunch today I made blueberry pancakes at Sadie’s request. She’d never had them, but was intrigued by the blueberry pancakes in a Curious George book. The kids absolutely adored them, and they were right to do so. That was half or so of the batter, matched to the amount of blueberries remaining from a recently on sale pint the kids had been enjoying.

While I was at it, I used strawberry pieces in some of the batter, for strawberry pancakes, which are something I don’t recall ever having or hearing of before, though I could be mistaken.

The last of the batter made four plain pancakes.

This is intended in large part to be an audience participation post, and it occurs to me it goes beyond what fruits or other things you might have tried in pancakes, to the very stuff of pancakes themselves.

We buy industrial size boxes of Bisquick at BJ’s and have them around for months to use when the need arises, for pancakes or otherwise. I tend to add far more milk and often more egg than called for by the box recipe, but otherwise it’s that simple and they are pretty yummy. Sometimes we have corn pancakes, made from small boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix, also quite yummy. I haven’t tried making pancakes from scratch, but surely it’d be no big deal. Ironically, I have made crepes from scratch; similar enough. My father has at times made excellent pancakes out of a grainy mix that he further embellished. How about you; box, scratch, something unusual?

The most common fruit pancakes I’ve made, or had as a kid, are banana. Blueberry would have to be next. We had wild blueberries right around the house so in season there would be no shortage, Ditto for both wild and cultivated strawberries, which is why I am intrigued that I don’t recall strawberry pancakes. They were good today. I believe I’ve had peaches in pancakes. Not sure what else. Do you have a preferred addition to your pancakes, or something you tried that may or may not have been such a good idea?

I found myself wondering why we don’t eat them more often, apart from wanting to sleep afterward. We were low enough on syrup, I also used some boysenberry jam on some of mine, and shared it with the kids. That was good! Brings back memories of boysenberry syrup at IHOP when I was a kid.

What do you put on your pancakes? Real maple syrup? Fake or sugar free syrup? Other syrup flavors? Jam? Butter? Something else? Cold or warmed syrup?

Look at how something so simple as pancakes can turn into such a variable culinary delight.

Hot Dogs

I am ashamed to say that I recently bought a package of hot dogs for 68ยข at Wal-Mart. Brand? I forget, but nothing you ever heard of.

The kids devoured them, I liked them okay, and we actually finished the package, which sadly, considering the absurd price of (most) hot dogs, often doesn’t happen Amazing.

My normal hot dog of choice is Kahn’s, a preference I picked up from my older brother many years ago.

The one brand I know I dislike specifically is Oscar Meyer, catchy old jingle notwithstanding.

How about you? Any brand preference? Or price preference, as the case may be.

Tomato Soup

Sadie today decided that grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup sounded good for lunch, and she was right. That inspires a preference question for the readers.

The rare times we ate (Campbell’s) tomato soup when I was a kid, it was made with milk. I just assumed that was how it was done. In fact, milk is the alternate if you want a creamy result rather than the way it turns out with water.

We usually make ours half water and half milk, for an in-between compromise that’s also good.

How about you; milk, water, both, or it’s making you queasy even thinking about the concept of tomato soup?

Barbecue Shredded Pork Experiment

Wednesday I decided to try making up a barbecue shredded pork dish, not following a specific recipe, starting similarly to my barbecue shredded beef.

I had two pounds of boneless pork loin steak that had been on sale for $1.29/lb and was due either to be used or frozen. In the crockput I put a cup of water, just over an eight cup of cider vinegar, and about a quarter cup of brown sugar. I added the pork, cut into large chunks, with the worst fat removed but not a lot of effort made along those lines. I set the crockpot for the 4 hours on high setting and went to do things.

After three hours or so, I tossed in some celery flakes and pepper flake. I’d guess it was a teaspoon or so of each. It was nice to make something in which the pepper flakes fit logically, and it gave me a chance to see what they were like essentially rehydrated and cooked, as opposed to the more common use, in which I don’t partake, sprinkling them on pizza. Which isn’t as bad as pouring salt on your pizza, as my cousin used to do, before it turned out he had a funky heart problem for which low salt was legitimately helpful.

After the four hours was well over and it was sitting there on the automatic warm cycle, I scooped out the meat and shredded it, which meant touching it with minimal force and watching it fall apart. I put the liquid aside, except enough to cover the bottom of the crockpot.

I added a quarter cupt of honey to the crockpot before I shredded the pork. Timing probably doesn’t matter.

I added back the pork and ended up adding back all the liquid, but your mileage may vary, and it turned out more watery than it seemed it would.

I used dry mustard, ketchup, more vinegar, a little red pepper, a little onion powder, a little black pepper, and more brown sugar. This is subject to taste and to varying, and the flavor changes as it sits. I started with 1/2 cup of ketchup and ended up with a total of 3/4 cup or more. Brown sugar was probably 1/4 cup, maybe less. Vinegar was maybe a tablespoon. Dry mustard, the main source of heat, was perhaps as much as 1/2 tablespoon, but no more. The other spices we’re talking a dash or two or three.

It came out sweet, with clear overtones of honey flavor, with a tang. It was very different, but delicious. I’ll change it up next time, which Deb is eager for, and see if I can make it even better.

I had bought rolls at the farmstand, but we still had French bread needing to be finished. The rolls went in the freezer. We served the shredded pork on slices of French bread, with some cheddar cheese on top, and ate it with forks rather than as sandwiches. On the side we had corn on the cob, which I can no longer buy three ears of at a time, as the kids need a full ear each.

It is worth noting that after cooking in the crockpot with the vinegar, water, brown sugar, and addition of celery and pepper near the end, the pork was fantastic and would have made yummy sandwiches with no further ingredients added. Or it could have been served as a meat dish with sides, rather than on bread.

I could also see cooking up the meat to where it shreds, then adding a commercial barbecue sauce for convenience. No spices or guessing needed.

As usual, I took some pictures. As usual, they are on the camera as yet.

Hummus Blog

Somehow in the course of finding the reference recipe there for hummus that I used in my experiment, I neglected to note that the source was in fact a blog; The Hummus Blog. It’s a cool source of info on hummus, chick peas, tahini and falafel. It’s also quite critical of American takes on hummus, and recipes that call for canned chick peas. That explains why that recipe actually called for dried ones, which were what I had.

Pita Pocket Bread and Hummus Experiments

So I experimented making two related foods: pita bread and hummus. The recipes linked are what I followed most closely, though I tend to do a survey of various recipes for a given item and get a feel for what they involve and have in common, and what might make good variants. It is worth noting that Triticale has an interesting hummus recipe that goes into the many possible variations.

Pictures are at the end of the post.

Pita is basically just one of the many forms of flatbread that seem common in wide swaths of the world. You start to see what the differences and commonalities are, but whether it’s made with lard and salt water, milk and yeast, water and yeast, in the oven or on a pan, coated with egg yolk, clarified butter, oil, or nothing, it all starts with some form of flour and results in a more or less flat result that can be used to wrap or pick up food. Pita pocket bread is different in that it’s commonly encouraged to puff up so there is a pocket when you’re done. Perhaps it will work that way for me next time.

The result tasted awesome. We learned it does not keep long out in a zipper bag in the kitchen in summer. Next time, we refrigerate, as you do with flour tortillas.

We had them with the hummus, but more so with butter, peanut butter, or honey. I even tried a little straight tahini on a pita chip. Tahini is essentially natural “peanut butter” made out of sesame seeds; sesame butter, if you will. It has a nutty flavor, and will make your mouth stick together worse than any peanut butter I ever tried. I’m convinced it mainly needs to be used in other foods, or with something else; perhaps tahini plus honey on a cracker or bread, for instance.

The dough turned out way too sticky. To work with the stuff at all, the rolled out dough was thick with flour on the outside. They were baked that way and it looked funny. This recipe called oil in the bowl in which the dough rises, such that the whole thing has a coating. Other recipes called for brushing a little oil on the rolled out pita before it baked. Afghanistan’s variant of flat bread is essentially the same as pita bread, but you score it and brush it with egg yolk before baking.

So, next time the dough gets more flour or less water in it to keep it from being so sticky, and I’d be inclined to brush them with olive oil before baking.

Also, the oven needs to have more time than I gave it to warm up, and the higher the temperature, the better. The recipe says 500. I ended up at 550, and it’s apparently traditional to do them in ovens that can be more like 700. The first batch was cooked, but just.

I did get some puffing. Any degree to which I was able or bothered to turn any of the result into pockets required a knife to insist that they open.

They were just plain tasty. The kids loved them. They also made pretty good chips. I cut one into little triangles and used top brown in the toaster oven to crisp them. That worked perfectly.

They were kind of a pain in some ways, but overall pretty easy.

Hummus is basically cooked, ground up chick peas, also called garbanzo beans, with some other stuff, most notably tahini. Most of the time you are using lemon juice, and I wish I’d had fresh. They also call for garlic. All the recipes I’ve seen call for canned beans, and I can see where that would be convenient. I just happened to have dry beans.

I used have the 16 oz package, quick soaking them as I would pinto beans. That is, put them in a pan of water, bring it to a boil, then immediately turn it off, let them soak and hour or more, then drain, add fresh water, and cook.

I used two cloves of chopped garlic. That was too much, without having used more lemon juice or something else to balance it.

When the beans are ready, you’re basically running them through a blender or food processor to turn them and the other ingredients into dip-like paste. I used the cooking water from the beans as needed when it was too thick.

I departed from the recipe by adding a little red pepper and cumin from the spice cabinet. I also goofed and forgot to add the olive oil, which I should have remembered after looking at a variety of hummus recipes. It does work as an addition when serving, but the hummus would have been better with it added. Finally, I see it says to grind the chick peas, cool them, then add the rest. Oops. I was only half paying attention to the recipe.

Frankly, I am more interested in making pita bread again than in making hummus again, but Deb enjoyed it enough that it might be worth an experiment… with real lemon and more of it this time, and some other adjustments. The pita bread is just a nice variant to have for sandwich-like usage, it doesn’t need the hummus as an excuse. Plus the kids loved the bread and hated the hummus, and there’s pretty much nothing they don’t eat.

Okay, here are the pictures. First, the beans cooking:

Hummus in the blender. I started with the food processor but it was both too small to hold it all at once, and surprisingly ineffective at complete and consistent choppage:

Hummus as served in a bowl, with a little olive oil and red pepper added:

Now the pitas, starting with the dough, still there despite having risen:

The dough after splitting it up. I made 13 of these, but might have been better to make no more than 10 and roll them a bit thicker:

Uncooked pita dough, rolled and ready for the oven:

Pitas on the cookie sheet:

Stack of cooked pitas:

Pita chips:

Hell’s Kitchen 2007, Episode 3

That was a bit more interesting this week. I’m relieved to see that the doctors the producers told Aaron he was off the show because he was too sick was too obviously a plant and people were talking, besides it was time to decrease the pathos level.

Doesn’t eliminating an actor and a contestant in one episode reduce the total episodes in the season by one?

This episode’s challenge was scripted to highlight Julia’s skills. The other girls harp on her lack of knowledge of fine dining, and granted that doesn’t help her any. However, she has basic competency, is capable of being a leader and a manager, is capable of learning, and would be surrounded by staff who do know details she doesn’t. It’s a different set of skills, but she strikes me as this year’s unassuming Elsie, only with a better chance of taking it.

Vinnie seems to be little more than a jerk. Again, they edit to give you the characters they want, who are not necessarily really how the contestants are, but there’s at least a little core for the editing to work with. He and Josh are the guys who will probably go first, maybe even beating Jen and/or Bonnie out the door. Brad seems more together, if not like Rock.

Melissa disappointed me tonight. She has a lot to offer, and is a likely finalist, but that was absurd to push for Julia to be nominated to go based on overall knowledge rather than performance that day. Certainly cumulative knowledge, attitude, ability and performance count for something, but not in the face of clear choices.

Joanna redeemed herself in the end in a couple ways. She self-nominated when the girls were talking over who to nominate. She knew she was gone. Then when she was telling Ramsay who the other nominee was, she made it clear she disagreed with their choice of Julia.

Jen stepped up by self-nominating and confessing about taking spaghetti out of the trash, the vehement halting of which was another way in which Julia stood out.

Jen and Bonnie are both kind of inconsequential, so I barely notice they are there. Joanna was a bitch, but she was alive. It’s very strange, but it has to mean they have no chance. Again, leaving the final four in my mind as Melissa, Julia, Brad and Rock. I almost have to hope things turn upside-down, as it shouldn’t be that predictable. Perhaps Brad will prove to have a bad nose like Joanna, when the producers plant rancid food in his kitchen. Or perhaps he’ll try to pass raw food through to the dining room.

I was surrpised how much trouble they had with breakfast. How do you get cold hash browns? Then again, I’m always surprised when they turn out anything seriously cold or raw, or aren’t even close with something seemingly basic. But then, I’m not under that pressure.

The big punishment, peeling all those potatoes and onions, just didn’t seem that bad to me. Kind of high volume, and the onions would be inherently rough, but hey.

Next week features my favorite challenge; the blindfolded taste test! It’s remarkable how badly people do each year. Perhaps they should do a smell test, in memory of Joanna. I can’t wait. Of course, they tend to include some strange things. I’d be nervous about what they were making me taste.

Chili and Refried Beans

Sharon has what sounds like a tasty and easy chili recipe, complete with actual measurements. I notice it doesn’t call for chili powder, but you’ll note that it includes all the components of chili powder: cumin, cayenne pepper, garlic and oregano. I also love cornbread with chili. Her post and the cold weather inspired me to make some last night, even if it is nontraditional with pasta and red sauce. The kids just love it, until they get full and merely turn it into tiny crumbs.

I made my version of chili the other day and meant to write about it, so I thought it was funny we were doing unplanned chili synchronization between households.

First a bit about history.

Once upon a time, I used to make what I call faux chili based on cheap cans of Campbell’s Pork & Beans. Which isn’t so odd, in that they are pinto beans in a tomato-based sauce, and chili seems to be made normally with pinto and/or kidney beans. I considered it both tasty and part of eating cheap, which will be the topic of another post Real Soon Now. Let’s just say I didn’t know from eating cheap, and didn’t know at the time that cans of those beans on sale 3 or 4 to a dollar was not that cheap.

Back then, I’d cook up some pepper and onion if I had it, ground beef, toss in beans, season it mainly with chili powder, add some ketchup and a squirt of yellow mustard, add sugar or brown sugar as needed, and serve it to myself for 2 or 3 big meals. It was quite good. I believe I also used tomato paste at least sometimes.

Lately I’ve discovered the joys of dry beans, taking it back closer to scratch and being really cheap. When I knew I was spending my last cash for probably a couple weeks on stocking up groceries last week (except a little reserved for milk and a few other run-outs), knowing the rate we’d been using them and comparing the unit price, I bought a 64 oz. bag of pinto beans instead of the customary one or two 16 oz bags.

Dry beans require planning. You can’t get to 5:00 or 6:00 and say “hey, let’s have beans!” We put them in a pot of water, bring it to a boil, then turn them off and let the gassiness soak out of the beans for an hour or more before draining them and adding fresh water for the actual cooking.

At that point you have beans on their way to ready for whatever you mean to make. Heck, you could serve just beans with some butter, salt and pepper on them, the way my father loves shell beans. When I set out to make chili, I wasn’t sure if it would be truly ready on time, and even if so, we would also want refried beans around in the next couple days for burritos.

I cooked 16 oz. of beans, 2 cups dry, and when they were cooked enough, I took two cups or so wet out of the pan, and some of the water as needed, for refried beans.

For the refried beans, I actually used a medium sauce pan. I threw in a generous chunk of butter (probably 3 tablespoons), cooked a handful of chopped fresh garlic, onion and green pepper, all of which are optional or could be replaced with dry seasonings. All you really need is beans, if you want nothing more than their yummy flavor. What I missed is an effective masher, and I’d not cooked the beans to the point of mush before splitting them for refried and chili.

When the flavoring veggies were cooked right (translucent onions, for instance), I threw in the beans, did a lot of smooshing and stirring as best I could, adding liquid as needed to keep them from being too stiff and dry to work with or to cook without burning. I also added I forget what else, but mainly cumin, not a lot, and possibly some red pepper, cilantro or oregano. The beans came out tasting mostly like beans, to give some idea; more enhanced than flavored. They were absolutely fantastic and got raves. We did indeed have burritos that night and let the chili simmer longer. It was interesting making two suppers at once, but a huge treat not cooking the second day.

The stiff texture of the beans made me picture making sandwiches based on them. I figured mix a small amount of finely shredded meat in with them, maybe use meat broth to imbue them with meat flavor, and there you’d have a serious meat stretcher or substitute. Which means I just reinvented the idea of falafel, sort of.

Back to the chili…

My new favorite thing to do is make chili not with expensive ground beef, but with the cheapest on sale beef, like top round for London broil at $1.69 or whatever. By comparison, I recently bought 90% ground beef and by buying it in a 6.67 lb package at BJ’s got the remarkably low price of $2.29. Chili would be fine with the fattier ground beef, fortunately, but we normally buy and freeze one kind and use as needed, rather than running to the store specifically for a variant for a meal we decided to make.

I cut the beef into small chunks and add it to a frying pan with, optionally, stuff like chopped garlic, pepper and onion. I add spices to it, or to the butter before it goes in, including but not always celery flakes, cilantro, red pepper, black pepper, paprika, allspice, ginger, cumin, oregano, and chili powder. Without the real versions added, that would include garlic and onion. I basically stir regularly and cook until done, letting some of the juice cook off but keeping some.

If I ever remember, I will probably throw a small amount of vinegar in with the meat not long after it starts cooking.

In the meantime, I’ve thrown some chili powder and maybe other spices into the beans. Tomato-based stuff can go in before or after the meat. I normally use tomato paste, as small can, and ketchup, using more as needed later to adjust the flavor. Diced tomato, tomato soup, or whatever would work, depending what you have and what you like. The beauty of chili is it’s highly variable and a matter of taste.

A little vinegar can be good, giving it added tang, especially if you are not using ketchup, or have too little ketchup on hand. I keep forgetting until the chili is well underway, and then this time I added too much. The small dribble turned into a good sized glug. It didn’t ruin the chili, but it added more tang than I planned and needed to cook and soak in far longer to balance the flavor.

After everything is mixed together, it’s just cook, stir, taste, adjust as needed. I normally throw in a not insignificant amount of brown and/or white sugar. I normally add more chili powder at least once, and perhaps other spices depending how strong the flavor seems. If you get it too spicy, it remains too spicy, but at least sugar tends to ease the bite.

What amounts to no more than 3/4 of a 16 oz. bag of beans and no more than 2 lbs of beef makes us two good meals. It can be served with shredded cheese, a dab of sour cream, tortilla chips, bread and butter, or corn bread as mentioned earlier. It can be made thinner or thicker. It can be made in greater or lesser proportions of beef to beans. It can be made hotter or milder. Whatever I start with, mine tends to come out in a particular taste range, frankly almost identical to the taste I used to achieve starting with Campbell’s beans and owning a smaller variety of spices. I haven’t tried it on hot dogs yet…

I actually have pictures off the camera in time to use them in the actual post. Some orphan pictures should follow today in their own post. I had some fun with raw ingredient or cooking stage pictures this time around, just plain trying to get interesting pictures.

Partially cooked and then mostly done refried beans:

The chili, done or near the end: