Author Archive: Marshall

Herbs and Spices

Just a short note about my writing conventions here. You will see me say “spices” generically to mean both herbs and spices, which are technically two different things. However, they are both flavoring or taste enhancing ingredients used in cooking or embellishing food, achieving the same result. So please bear with me when I shorthand them, much as I might say “his” to mean “his or hers” or “people’s” generically.

Way Too Many Words About Italian Seasoning

Making spaghetti with red sauce last night made me think about Italian seasoning.

I start with jar sauce, usually Francesco Rinaldi. Wal-Mart’s store brand works too, but requires modification, whereas if I had to I could eat the name brand as is. That used to be the case for my long time favorite, Prego, preferably the chunky garden veggie variety, but a while back they changed the flavor for the far worse and sent me wandering in the sauce wilderness.

Generally I am taking a pound of ground beef, less if it’s all I have, crumbling it into a pan with a little butter and spices, cooking it up, dumping the sauce in, stirring, simmering, and further flavoring to taste. It’s never exactly the same, but it’s always good, and always within a certain range.

Anyway, a key ingredient is Italian seasoning. Was what is The Matrix Italian seasoning?

Apparently that’s a matter of opinion or taste, within a certain range. I have two brands. One is better, and the list of ingredients differs.

Before I go on, let me note that I am not at all a snob about premixed convenience mixtures of seasoning. Heck, that’s what chili powder is. Not to mention curry powder, which I don’t own (though I think I have all the component ingredients to make my own) but I know many people do. Pumpkin pie spice. Apple pie spice. Garam masala. Celery salt. Garlic salt. Pickling spice. Lemon pepper. You name it.

The Italian I use most is a plastic bottle by McCormick, subtitled “Classic Herbs.” When I open and sniff it, the smell makes me think of two or three herbs that each have a similar smell. Sure enough, one of those is first on the list, which goes:
Marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano, and basil.

The alternate Italian was part of a round spice rack, an awesome gift from my in-laws, and is one of twenty spice bottles that came with it. Speaking of Italian, we’ve entirely used and refilled the oregano bottle since getting the set.

When I open and sniff that Italian, it smells of basil. Which you’d think would make me prefer it, as basil has a sweeter taste. Perhaps I’ve been misguided all this time. Anyway, sure enough, the list on that bottle goes:
Basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and garlic.

The difference is in the lack of sage, which I think of as more of a poultry seasoning, and savory, and the addition of garlic, which I happily add – but not always, and not necessarily in large amounts – myself.

Interestingly, I’ve cooked things like what I call random chicken with exactly the spices in the McCormick Italian, except the basil. Well, except I usually include red pepper, black pepper, ginger, and maybe things like celery. Which is why I’ve taken to sometime sprinkling in a bit of that, as well as whatever individual items I include.

None of the above tells us the proportions of the ingredients in the Italian seasonings, but it’s easy to imagine mixing and matching to create your own to taste. Or skipping the blend and using the separate ingredients. In my sauce, I usually use one or more of the individual ones to modify the flavor anyway.

Still, I’m likely to buy more of the McCormick after it runs out. Too convenient, and it has an excellent flavor. I’ve used it to season chicken that was fried, or baked with a crumb coating, and in other things. Makes me wonder how many other variants on “Italian seasoning” exist in the world.

Burritos

[Edited]

One thing we eat all the time is burritos and related items. They’re easy, flexible and tasty.

The ingredients start with flour tortillas. These can be from the store, or they can be homemade. For the former, we prefer Manny’s brand Market Basket’s store brand. Usually it’s the burrito size, but the smaller ones work fine too. For the latter, we naturally like Mama Jedi’s Flour Tortillas. These are much tastier than store bought, if a lot less uniform.

That is perhaps all that is consistent about the ingredients here, though cheese is also customary. I could imagine leaving it out if there were no cheese or you were not a cheese eater (the youngest is not a cheese eater in some contexts, despite outgrowing the dairy allergy, and this is one of them). Thus the list of ingredients is mix ‘n’ match, with some combos more likely than others. Possible ingredients are:

Meat – Chicken, Steak, or Hamburger. Presumably pork, venison, etc. could work too.
Cheese – Usually shredded with a grater, normally some combination of cheddar and/or jack.
Refried beans, usually canned but can be homemade easily and cheaply.
Shredded lettuce
Chopped tomato
Corn
Rice
Sour Cream

I’ve also tried adding salsa, and if you were fanatical about onions or such those could work.

Corn or rice are potential sides, as well as potential ingredients [in practice those have become primary, due to preference of the kids, and we have abandoned lettuce and tomato for the most part]. We are more likely to use them if we don’t have beans, lettuce or tomato, or have eaten too many beans too recently.

For chicken, I thaw if needed, cut into small pieces or strips, and cook them in butter or oil I’ve heated with spices. Cook until somewhere between done enough to eat and crisped fairly well. Spices vary to taste. More can be added later in the frying. Typically I use black pepper, red pepper, garlic powder, cumin, cilantro, and a touch of powdered ginger. [I don’t remember ever using ginger! I do use Turkish oregano, which I prefer to Mexican oregano despite the context. Sometimes also paprika or chili powder in modest amounts. Amounts vary depending which meat. I sometimes add a tiny bit of powdered cloves to burger, but would never add that to chicken. Also, I left out salt.] Only the first two are what I would consider absolutes. You can also use chili powder instead or in addition. that is essentially a mix of red pepper, cumin and garlic, though somehow with a distinctive flavor I don’t seem to get from combining the individual items. You can also use some oregano, some celery flakes [I don’t remember ever doing this, though with chicken it could work] or salt, or a touch of allspice [applies more to beef, just as with cloves]. That’s just what I have tried or what comes readily to mind; the sky is the limit. You could make a more traditional poultry spiced chicken to serve in wraps with other ingredients; use the tortilla as a delivery system without pretending to be Mexican about the flavor.

For steak, I thaw if needed and then fry it whole. I either spice the butter or apply a dry rub. The dry rub came out so amazing when I tried it recently that it is likely to become my method of choice. The spices are similar to what I’d use for chicken, but stronger to be able to penetrate. You could use a grill if you have one, make a marinade, pretty much do whatever you want. Cook to your preference. I like steak well done [I’ve become less vehement but still prefer it not too rare], but it’s better if you get it off the heat still slightly pink, or at least not too overcooked. I slice it into thin/small pieces and try to ditch any fat or gristle you’d not want to run into while chewing.

For hamburger, I spice the butter [actually, I don’t normally use any butter, especially for fatty burger, and I just spice the meat], crumble in the burger and cook it up as if I were going to make scrambled hamburger, or were doing the initial prep for a store bought taco making kit. Speaking of which, taco seasoning from one of those would also work [turned out the kids hated commercial taco mix compared to my own], with or without other spices, especially in the hamburger variant. Hamburger can be stirred into the beans if you’re using them, or used as a separate ingredient. You may want to add a dribble of water to the beans to thin them and let the meat mix better. The result can also be served with tortilla chips, rather than as a burrito filling.

Chop, grate, and heat as appropriate for the other ingredients of your choice. A can of refried beans – we have a mild preference for Old El Paso, with Taco Bell probably second, but none we’ve tried are actually bad, and we prefer traditional, but low fat/no fat/vegetarian labeled ones can be okay – heats up quick in a saucepan. [We’ve come to prefer Ortega, which conveniently cost the least, at least at Market Basket.]

You’ll want a big flat frying pan. We have a round one, flat like a griddle, the kind of thing good for pancakes, which is perfect. Use that to heat your tortillas one at a time. Call it medium heat. Lay it down, give it a moment, flip it over, give it another moment. If it starts to have pockets inflate with hot air, it’s probably ready to flip or remove. The goal is to warm and soften, unless you like them crisped a bit. You can use the microwave, but they aren’t as good that way.

With the ingredients and tortillas at the ready, everyone can start piling on whatever they like. If it’s with beans, I usually put beans, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato if available, and sour cream. Speaking of which, we’ve found sour cream is best served with a small plastic “baby” spoon, to get dabs the right size. If there’s no beans, usually I’d smear on sour cream, add meat, rice and/or corn, and cheese.

Fold up the tortilla around the fillings, burrito style, or fold it like a taco if you like. Leftover meat, beans or cheese can be used to make quesadillas the next day.

The beauty of all this is it needn’t be spicy. When I make it, it’s usually less spicy than it probably sounds. Or you can make it more spicy. You can make them more or less meaty. You can make them vegetarian-ish, using just beans plus other ingredients. In fact, bean burritos are quite good, and can be faster to prepare.

Do you make anything similar to these? Any ingredients I’ve overlooked or ideas I’ve not tried?

Moroccan Carrot Salad

[Edited]

I mentioned in my intro post that I might repost past stuff from the other blogs. I’d stumbled across a Moroccan Carrot Salad post from June 25, 2006, and wanted to remind myself I’d intended to experiment with the recipe. It’s summer, or at least the weather deities believe it should be in these parts, so now’s the time.

Last night I made Moroccan Carrot Salad, as seen on the rec.food.recipes newsgroup. It sounded intriguing and I figured it would supplement our contribution of mass quantities of beverages to my grandmother’s birthday party today.

I upped it to two pounds,¦ highly approximate on the carrot front, as it was the end of a 3 lb bag and part of a new 3 lb bag. We’ve been going through carrots lately, cooked and in salads. Sadie loves carrot sticks, though it’s freaky when she chipmunks them and spits them out an hour later in favor of eating something else.

I bought a real lemon on my trip to the Farmer’s Outlet, with no clue how much juice a lemon produces. It turned out to be exactly the needed 4 tablespoons. Cool.

Having no idea what orange blossom water even was, but being intrigued by the idea of a slight orange tinge, I added some juice squeezed from an orange section. That, maybe a tablespoon, was too much. The half cup of extra virgin olive oil seemed to be too much, too.

I was unimpressed right after it was done and well stirred together. It was sour/oily/orange enough then that I added two extra tablespoons of honey.

After sitting overnight, it’s good. Not fantastically amazing, and still needs to be tried with variations to make it more to my taste (might be as simple as adding more ginger and/or cinnamon, of which I added almost none), but sort of tangy, sweet and nutty at once. Sadie seems to like it a lot. Deb likes it but thinks the lemon and honey taste like they’re doing battle. Indeed. I suspect it’s going to be a matter of taste, who likes it a lot or not so much.

For convenience, here’s the actual recipe as I originally saw it on Usenet and used it in slightly modified form, all credit the the source link:

Moroccan Carrot Salad

1 lb sweet carrots peeled and fine grated/fine shredded
1/2 cup light or dark raisins
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp orange flower water or to taste
cinnamon and powdered ginger to taste
salt and pepper to taste

The orange flower water adds a delicate and exotic orange flavor to this different but pleasant tasting salad. I serve the salad in a dark blue serving bowl for a striking appearance. Mix all together and adjust flavoring ( honey, lemon spices etc. ) to taste. Chill very well. Garnish with fresh mint. Yield 4 to 6 servings. Multiply recipe as needed.

(And yes, I did use a blue bowl, which coincidentally happened to be my best option for one-bowl prep and serving. It is a nice visual.)

I’m thinking that allspice might be another flavoring option, besides ginger and cinnamon. Indeed, allspice is one of those things I use surprisingly often, now that I have some. Not in the traditional ways – for instance, you can taste allspice if you eat a blueberry cake donut from Dunkin’ Donuts – but as dashes or pinches in things that could use a flavor adjustment.

When I get around to trying this again, I’ll make a small recipe, just for us. It was kind of risky, making an unknown item for a crowd.

Mmm… Butter

Take this test at Tickle

Your celebrity chef match is Julia Child

Butter, anyone? She may look down upon anyone who sacrifices fat for diet, but Julia Child is the grand dame of French cooking — for butter or for worse. Like Julia, you tend to enjoy the rewards of classic cooking and traditional life.

Maybe you don’t whip up lobster thermidor on a nightly basis, but when you do ramp up for a special meal — entertaining friends, for example — you tend to pull out all the stops. Experience has proven that “from scratch” does tend to make a difference, so if time allows, we’d guess you like to spoil your guests with everything from fresh fish to homemade pie. That’s not to say you’re not up for some shortcuts in the kitchen. It’s just that when it comes down to it, you like to do things right, and don’t mind taking the time to make sure that happens.

Who’s Your Celebrity Chef Match?
Brought to you by Tickle

Via Emeril

Introducing The Married Guy Cook

[Edited because certain things have changed, though this blog was a continuation from an earlier one for which I no longer own the domain, in response to actual or expected life changes.]

This place needs work! I’m busy right now, to the point where starting a new blog might be silly, but it’ll get there. This default template is odd in that replacing the header graphic with one of the same dimensions leads to overhang at the edges. I’ll change that when I can.

Anyway, The Married Guy Cook was inspired by Jeff Soyer’s secondary blog, The Single Guy Cook.

I’ve always done a fair number of food posts in my history of general blogging. I wouldn’t mind doing more, and it was a good candidate to become a distinct brand.

While I’m sure I’ll post recipes and descriptions, I anticipate going way beyond that here. I especially want to see a lot of reader interaction, and many posts will be little more than open invitations to discuss food or cooking topics. I figure I have a lot to learn. I also have things to share. While this is called Married Guy Cook, in light of my status and the fact I really got into cooking after I had a family to cook for, I may have advice in retrospect for singles. Cooking for one can be a drag. It will probably show in my posts that I like to keep costs down.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and return regularly. I’ll try to update the appearance and content within the next week, rather than letting it drag before I get back here.