Saturday, April 30, 2011

Confession Time

Beef Stroganoff by terpkristin
Beef Stroganoff, a photo by terpkristin on Flickr.

So, I have a confession. I've never bought beef other than ground beef. Nor have I ever cooked beef other than ground beef/hamburgers. That all changed today.

In continuing with my new year's "resolution" of cooking at least one recipe from each cookbook I own, the next cookbook on my shelf was Light & Healthy 2010 from America's Test Kitchen. While I was going through the cookbook, I had to force myself to try something different. There were a lot of recipes in there that look like things I like to make and eat regularly (such as chicken stew). After all, part of the point of the resolution was to try out some new things. Though there were plenty of recipes for things I've never made before (not just beef, but also pork--other than the pound of real bacon I bought for a party and the very occasional sausage, I've never bought or cooked that, either...just not a fan of the flavor). In the end, there were two recipes that fit all my requirements: beef stroganoff and spring vegetable risotto. Since I've just gotten over a period of doing a lot of vegetarian dishes, I opted for the beef stroganoff.

I'm not sure if my mom ever made beef stroganoff when I was growing up. I think I've only had it once or twice, and what I remember of it was a thick cream sauce. I think I remember coming across a recipe while in home ec in middle school that used cream of mushroom soup. This recipe did not.

I was surprised at how long this took to put together and cook. Including prep, it was a bit over an hour (albeit, a lot of it is just waiting for things to cook so it's not an active hour). I guess, though, that if you want to develop flavor without as much fat, you have to let things cook. I'm not complaining. The result was a supremely tasty brandy cream sauce with big chunks of beef and big mushrooms. The sauce isn't as thick as I remember it being (or remember seeing it at restaurants), but that might have been partially my fault. The sauce spends about 30 minutes simmering at medium heat; I think for the first 15 minutes, I might have had the heat a little too low. I kicked it up for the last 15. What I really like about this dish is that I can really taste all of the components in the sauce. I still get a touch of the brandy, the beef isn't hidden in salt, and a little bit of lemon juice and parsley added at the end round out the flavors. I'll be keeping this recipe in my repertoire.

So. Not a bad first beef experience. I actually didn't like the smell of the beef cooking in the skillet. Once it was cooked, though, the flavor was pretty good. I'm not sure that I've learned much about buying or cooking beef. I cooked the beef much like I cook chicken. And, if I were to be honest, if the cookbook hadn't told me to get tenderloin and showed a picture of how to cut it, I probably wouldn't have had any idea what type of beef to look for in the store. Sometime this summer, I'm going to have to buy more beef and figure out what one does with beef, other than grill it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Vegetarian Paella

Vegetarian Paella by terpkristin
Vegetarian Paella, a photo by terpkristin on Flickr.

With one week left in Lent, my "forced" vegetarianism is almost over. It seemed like as good a time as any to make a recipe out of a third cookbook, to keep up with my New Year's goal (yes, I'm behind on that goal...I'm still having back issues, which is making it harder to cook).

I've never had paella. It's always associated with shrimp and other things that will kill me, so I've avoided it when going out. I have yet to come across a non-shellfish version of it that looks appealing or doesn't look like a lot of work. Thus, when I came across a vegetarian version in Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, I was intrigued. It looked fairly straight forward and fairly quick to make. Truth to tell, I wanted to order pizza for dinner tonight so these were very good attributes for a recipe. ;)

I made the mushroom variant of the "Paella with Tomatoes" recipe and, based on a suggestion in the book, added 4 eggs to the pan (I wanted to be sure I was getting enough protein). The recipe is straight-forward enough: stock or water, olive oil, rice, onion, garlic, mushrooms, tomato paste, saffron, and smoked paprika. Throw it all together and bake for 15 minutes, and then keep it in the oven for another 15 with the oven off. I was surprised by how soupy the dish was when it went into the oven--I wasn't even sure it would hold the eggs very well. In retrospect, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised, as the cooking technique is very similar to how I make my tomato-based chicken and rice dish.

The dish turned out all right. I think I could have cooked it a smidge longer with a little more liquid; the rice came out very slightly underdone. Also, I think it would have been better with butter instead of oil (for a better brown on the bottom). Bittman, in the book, suggests putting the pan over high heat for a few minutes when it comes out of the oven to give it more of the characteristic "crust" on the bottom. I'm not sure how well that would have worked with an electric range, though. Also, to make this dish I used mushroom broth in place of normal vegetable broth. I've found that mushroom broth is a bit more flavorful. If I make this recipe again, I may use vegetable broth and a bit of wine; the mushroom was a bit too earthy when combined with the baby bellas on top.

All in all, I think it was a success, but I think the next time I make "paella," I'm going to try a non-vegetarian version. I think this would have been tastier with chicken broth instead of vegetable broth. This isn't the first time I've found vegetable broth to yield results that have left me wanting a bit more. I make a wicked lentil soup that when made with chicken broth is rich and flavorful, but when made with vegetable broth, falls a bit flat.

Bittman's cookbook is a large tome, I'm going to have to try some other recipes out of it...after I get through the other cookbooks.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Gordito by terpkristin
Gordito a photo by terpkristin on Flickr.

It's been a long time since I posted. Truth to tell, it's been kind of a rough year. As I posted on May 9, 2010, I fell and hurt my back. I ended up with a left-sided herniated disc at the L5-S1 level. After epidural steroid injections, therapy, and anti-inflammatories didn't work, I ended up having surgery on June 2, 2010 (#12 for those playing at home).

Things went well at first, but then I ended up having continued pain down both legs. An MRI revealed that I had re-herniated my disc, and this time it was bilateral. 2 more injections and a lot more therapy later, I found myself scheduling a revision diskectomy. Two days after scheduling it, I fell in the shower and made things worse. I finally ended up having the revision on 1/6/11. So it's been about two months and my recovery hasn't gone nearly as smoothly as it did the first time. It's a bit frustrating. I have a feeling my Ehlers-Danlos is playing a role in this.

Before my surgery, though, I'd made a New Year's resolution to cook more and take more photos. As far as "cooking more," I cook a lot. But I have a lot of old stand-by recipes, and I wanted to move away from those. So I resolved to make at least one recipe from each cookbook I own. So far this year, I've done two. About 3 weeks ago, I made Cuban-style Black Beans from Betty Crocker's Slow Cooker Cookbook. They were OK. They didn't have a lot of flavor, but when served with some green salsa on top, they were pretty tasty.

Today, I made recipe #2, from cookbook #2. This time, I made the Gordito recipe from Quick and Healthy Meals from Trader Joe's, which was a Christmas gift from Wendy. I had no idea what "gordito" meant, and nor was I sure what the texture would be. The cookbook actually has an error in it--the directions call to add marinara sauce, but only tomatoes are on the ingredient list (and it didn't say what to do with the tomatoes). Turns out "gordito" means "sloppy joe." Or, something like that, because that's what this came out looking and tasting like. It's vegetarian, made with the Morningstar Farms Grillers. Full disclosure, I didn't end up actually using anything from Trader Joe's to make this, I picked up ingredients at my local Wegman's.

I served it like you see, on top of some flatbread. I also had mixed vegetables on the side. Turned out pretty tasty, I'd recommend this recipe to others. The recipe makes 4 generous servings, though one serving was too big to be sandwich-able. I think when I eat the leftovers, I'll throw a little cheese on top. Maybe some avocado, if I can find any that look good.

Next week, hopefully another recipe.