Posts tagged ‘cooking’

Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad

I like to make pasta salads in the summer, but it’s hard finding the right balance of ingredients.  This time though, I think I really hit the nail on the head.  So I figured I’d pass along the “recipe” in case anyone else needed a little dinner inspiration!

I started by thawing some boneless chicken thighs and marinating them in some cheap Italian salad dressing, with garlic powder, onion powder, lemon pepper, some salt (because I knew the dressing I was using was on the sweet side) and pepper.  While that was marinating, I cooked up some tricolor bowtie pasta.

For veggies, I chopped one medium zucchini, some broccoli, and some cauliflower.  To keep them from being too crunchy, I steamed them for a few minutes.  Then I de-seeded and chopped two tomatoes, and for a little extra protein I chopped a few string cheese sticks into rounds.

When the pasta was done, I threw several ice cubes on top and ran it under cold water to cool it down.  I tossed it with more Italian dressing, added some garlic rice wine vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper and parsley flakes.  Then I threw in the veggies, tomatoes and cheese to soak up some of the dressing.

I then heated up the grill, grilled the chicken thighs on medium for a few minutes on either side to get some nice grill marks on them, and finished them with indirect heat on low for a few more minutes.  I put the chicken in the fridge for to cool, then cut it into bite-sized pieces.

Everything got tossed together — pasta, veggies, tomato, cheese, and chicken.  The veggies were tender-crisp, the cheese softened a little from the residual heat in the pasta, and the char on the chicken complemented the zing of the dressing.  Yum!

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Corn on the Cob on the Grill!

I have been cooking everything I possibly can on the grill recently, including veggies.  So I decided to check around online for a way to cook corn on the grill.  I found a recipe at Whats Cooking America, tried it out, and it’s a new favorite!

Boiling corn on the cob always seems to take forever, and microwaving it always overcooks it.  I had almost given up on it before I tried this recipe out.

I had heard of grilling corn in the husk, but that you had to soak the corn in water for 15-20 minutes in advance.  Too much prep time for my average dinner.  But with this version, no soaking is necessary.

Shuck the corn, and lay each ear on a square of tinfoil.  I brush the corn with oil, then sprinkle it with powdered garlic, onion powder, salt and pepper (or you could go with whatever seasonings you like).  Roll up the corn in the foil, twisting the ends shut.  Preheat the grill on high.  Put the corn on while the grill is still on high, turning 1/4 turn every minute or so, until you have grilled all sides.  Then turn the grill down to low, and move the corn to cook with indirect heat for another 15 minutes.  When it’s done, unwrap the corn, slather it with butter or margarine, and serve.  Not only does it make perfectly-cooked corn, but it comes pre-seasoned!  And it won’t heat up your kitchen.  *smile*

36 and 1st

T and I had a great weekend, where I got spoiled silly.  Saturday was my birthday, and Monday was our first wedding anniversary, but because our schedules would keep us from seeing each other on Monday, we decided to celebrate a little early.

On Saturday morning, T took me out for breakfast, so that I could get my favorite, eggs benedict.  Then we went shopping for a birthday present for me, a nice tote that I could carry my teaching materials in.  After hitting every store that sold luggage in the mall, I decided on the cheapest and best-looking one of the bunch, one we had seen at Burlington Coat Factory, and we headed home.

We got a gift certificate as a wedding present that we decided to use on Saturday night. I was thinking of it as an early anniversary celebration, but I think T still considered it part of my birthday.  So after leaving the dogs in the capable hands of T’s dispatcher’s son, we headed up Provo Canyon to the Sundance Resort on Saturday evening.  On the way, we stopped and had dinner at Carrabba’s Grill in Provo, which was the restaurant we chose for our rehearsal dinner.  They always have amazing Italian seafood dishes and great service, and we even tried their limoncello bread pudding for dessert.  Yum!

After dinner, we continued up to the resort, where we checked into our “room,” which was the bottom half of a little cabin in the woods.  I tried taking a photo, but my cell phone was out of battery, so visiting their website’s photo gallery will have to do if you want an idea of how beautiful it is.  There were flowers blooming all over the place — purple spikes of lupine, cobalt batchelor’s buttons, and at least 6 different colors of columbine.  Our cabin had a fireplace, a tiny kitchenette, a big flat-screen TV and a nice deck to sit on.  We relaxed, read on the deck, listened to the birds in the trees, and got thoroughly scolded by a young red squirrel as he ran up and down the trees around us.  The room had lots of nice rustic touches, like Native American tourist arts pieces and photographs, and board-and-batten panelling on the walls.  The bed was half pillows, and was very comfortable.  We had a wonderful night.

The next morning we got up and went down to the Foundry restaurant for their Sunday brunch.  There was a wide variety of excellent gourmet food — asparagus, lamb, made-on-demand omelettes, potatoes, pastries, fruit salad, bagels with lox and shmear, and a whole table of desserts, including banana split cheesecake made with fresh strawberries and banana chips.  The tab was a little steeper than your average breakfast buffet, but it was definitely worth it, and we got to sit outside on the patio, which was lovely.

We headed home in early afternoon, waved goodbye as we passed our dogsitter on his way out, and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon at home.  T and I collaborated on a yummy dinner of marinated pork loin, pasta, and shredded cabbage.  Then for dessert, we unwrapped and thawed our wedding cake topper.  I was afraid that it was going to be dry and terrible tasting, so I decided to make some blackberry ice cream (more on that later), in the hopes that at least part of our dessert would be tasty.  I got impatient waiting for the cake to thaw, so I cut two wide slices, found the center was still icy, and then popped them into the microwave.  I was also being impatient about letting the ice cream set up, so we had soft-serve with our cake.  As it turned out, the ice cream was tasty, but the cake was still moist and absolutely delicious!  It was lemon cake with strawberry filling and royal icing, and while the icing was falling off the cake, it was amazing!  Cakes by Dawna definitely did an amazing job on this cake. (The two layers of cling wrap and about 10 layers of tinfoil probably didn’t hurt, either.  *smile*)

(we didn't feed each other this time around)

Better Eating Through Chemistry

I never ate cooked cabbage as a kid.  But T is a big fan of cabbage as a side dish, so in the past few years I have started to make it fairly frequently.   He grew up eating boiled cabbage with lots of white vinegar, which is a little strong for me. I typically use a few seasonings, pulling inspiration from a Joy of Cooking recipe I’ve got.  I take half a head of green cabbage, cut it in half again, core it and then shred it thinly, and boil in plenty of salted water for 4-5 minutes, or just until it’s tender and I start to smell the cabbage cooking.  Then I drain it and toss it with 3/4 tsp. of salt, 2 tbsp. of sugar, and 1/4 c. of cider vinegar.  A really good, quick side dish.

Raw red cabbage was one of my absolutel favorite vegetables as a kid, but we never cooked it.  I grabbed a red cabbage last week instead of a green one, thinking I would cook it the same way.  When I did, the colors were simply spectacular!  I knew I needed to take some pictures when we were ready to have the second half of the cabbage.

Now for the science.  When I was in the Peace Corps, I was primarily an English teacher, but my secondary project was working with a kids ecology education program called GLOBE (Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment).  I never had an advanced group of students to work with, but I remembered that one of the other GLOBE teachers had found an experiment for making litmus paper out of red cabbage.  So while I started out just admiring the color the boiling cabbage turned when it was cooked, once I added the vinegar I knew exactly what was going on.

Litmus paper is used to gauge pH (not just political appointees *wink*).  Acids are low on the pH scale, and compounds that are alkaline, also known as bases, are on the high end of the scale.  Pure water is completely neutral, and located right in the center of the scale.  Litmus paper turns different colors depending on which end of the scale you are on.

Well, I started with raw red cabbage, which you know is naturally a reddish-purple color.

raw cabbage

When I sliced and then boiled the cabbage in salted water, I noticed that the water almost immediately took on a lovely blue color, as did the cabbage.

cabbage water

blue cabbage

(Now, I have to admit, I’m a little confused about why exactly the cabbage turns blue here.  Typically, blue would indicate an alkaline, or a high pH.  But water is neutral, and since salts are formed specifically when an acid and a base join up with one another, they should be neutral as well.  So I’m not sure if the heat is changing the properties of the pigment in red cabbage, if the cabbage itself is alkaline, or if there is another chemical explanation for the change.  Either way, it’s pretty.  *smile*)

Once the cabbage is drained, I add the sugar and salt, toss to coat, and then pour in the vinegar.  Vinegar is, of course, an acid (things that taste sour are usually acids, while things that taste bitter are typically alkaline).  You can see the color change almost immediately, but it becomes more pronounced the longer the vinegar is in contact with the cabbage.

color change

  Tossing the cabbage to distribute the vinegar evenly will eventually change all of the cabbage from blue to pink.

mixing

By the time you plate, you should have a lovely, hot-pink side dish to accompany your meal.

pink cabbage

Now, I should say that, as fun as playing with your food may be, I actually like this particular seasoning on green cabbage better than on red cabbage.  For some reason, the extra sweetness of green cabbage works especially well with the sugar and cider vinegar combination.  But I think the color is too amazing for me to not make this version at least every once in a while.  *smile*

Three Sisters Dinner Inspiration

image borrowed from thekatsgarden.blogspot.com

So last night I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner.  I knew the protein I wanted to use was some leftover smoked kielbasa, but I didn’t want to make the same dish I usually make with kielbasa (a take on a mashed potato bowl).  I decided to make what my mom would call a “fricasee,” basically just a mishmash of ingredients, and serve it over rice.

T did the grogery shopping on Monday afternoon by himself, so I hadn’t really inspected the veggies he’d chosen.  I looked in the crisper drawer, and I had broccoli, asparagus, a zucchini, and a tub of precut winter squash chunks.  I could definitely see the squash and kielbasa complimenting each other.  Then I looked in the pantry, and spotted a can of black-eyed peas.  There was canned corn, too.  I’d just seen an episode of Good Eats on summer squash, where he invoked the Three Sisters of Native American agriculture: corn, beans, and squash.  Why not throw in the zucchini (a summer squash), and some canned tomatoes (also with American origins), and call it a stew?  I was pretty stoked about the whole idea.

I started with the squash chunks, since I knew they’d take the longest to cook.  I threw them in the steamer.  Then I started some instant rice, with a generous dollop of vegetable stock base in the water to flavor the rice.  I cut both the kielbasa and the zucchini lengthwise and then into 1/4 to 1/2 inch chunks.  I sauteed the kielbasa to get it a little bit browned around the edges, and then sauteed the zucchini with salt and some lemon pepper for a few minutes until it had softened.

I dumped the whole can of diced tomato into a saucepan, followed by the drained can of corn.  I rinsed most of the paste off the canned black-eyed peas before putting them in.  The squash was quite tender from steaming at this point, so I scooped that into the pot, along with the zucchini.  It looked like way too much food, and the ingredients really didn’t look like they were going to go well together, so I got pretty nervous at this point.  But it was too late now.

I realized that I needed seasoning.  I added salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  I should have sauteed some onion for the base, but instead I added a little onion powder.  I also had to consider the black-eyed peas, which are really beans.  An old minestrone recipe from when I was in the Peace Corps had called for soaking dried beans with ginger, to cut down on the gas, and it had always seemed to help.  So I threw in some powdered ginger too, since the flavor is pretty mild and goes well with garlic.  I let that heat for a few minutes, and then tossed in the browned kielbasa and put it on medium-low for 10 or 15 minutes to stew.

Like I said, I was pretty nervous about this concoction, so I tasted the broth after a few minutes.  Turned out, it was pretty darned good — the sweetness of the squash  and corn complimented the sausage, the tomato added a little acidity, and some of the squash dissolved into the tomato juice, along with the beans, adding a little bit of a thickening agent.  I had T try it as well, and he agreed that it was surprisingly tasty, but a little more salt would do it.  Then I served it over the rice.

Remember the generous dollop of veggie stock base in the rice?  Well, it was a little TOO generous.  The rice was so salty, it almost overpowered the stew.  But overall, it was quite a successful meal, tasty, hearty, and quite filling — and I only have a small portion left over!  It was so good, I forgot to take a photo.  *laugh*  I definitely think I’ll do something like this again.

(I can’t tell you whether the ginger really worked its magic, however, since we started the meal with a Beano appetizer just to hedge our bets.  *smile*)

My First Scones

I got a lovely belated wedding package from a good grad school friend, B, last week, which icluded three homemade jams.  All from the Pacific Northwest, we had blackberry, golden raspberry, and marionberry jams.  Something that wonderful deserved a quality vehicle for tasting, so I decided this weekend to try making my first batch of homemade scones.

scones and B's jams

(Yes, this is another cell phone picture, but don’t worry, the camera has finally been located and will be put back into use for better shots in the future)

The jams were incredible, especially the golden raspberry, since raspberry is one of my favorites.  The scones were only eeh, but I think they weren’t bad for a first attempt.

I used the lemon scone recipe from the Joy of Cooking, which suggested a variety of dried fruits to go along with the lemon zest.  Knowing how T feels about blueberries (love!), I decided dried blueberries would be the best choice.  He was responsible for shopping for heavy cream, a lemon, and dried blueberries first thing Saturday morning, and I took care of the rest.

The recipe called for a process very similar to making muffins: add all the wet ingredients to the dry ones, mix as little as possible, shape and bake.  Well, the dough simply wouldn’t come together.  So I had to try mixing in a bit more cream, which involved more kneading, and a very sticky exterior to the dough at first.  Also, I think I went a little heavy brushing on the egg wash on top, because the scones were decidedly past “golden brown” when all was said and done.  I did find them a tad tough from the extra kneading, and a tad dry — so maybe they were overdone, since this is a new oven for me.  But the jams added the necessary moisture, and were heavenly with the little bit of lemon zest in the scones to offset their sweetness.  One bonus of the dried blueberries is you would occasionally get one that had baked near the outside of the scone, and had that great chewy-crunchy thing going for it.  Yum!

Definitely a recipe that I should keep trying, until I achieve perfection.

A good dinner

This blog claims that I cook, and yet, I have been doing very little real cooking recently.  If I’m feeling really organized, I’ll make T grill a piece of meat while I steam some veggies and throw together a pre-packaged noodle or rice side dish.

But last night I wanted to really cook.  Nothing super extravagant, just good, real food from scratch.  And I wanted to take pictures and blog about it.

tri tip, savory squash, and Good Eats cabbage

Yeah, that’s the quick picture I took with my cell phone before I started scarfing it down.  I know, it’s tiny.  That’s because it’s out of focus.  I was hungry and wanted to eat it, and I have no idea where my real camera and tripod are packed, so I didn’t take much time getting a good picture.  So much for presentation being as important as the food, huh?  *smile*

The steak was tri tip, marinated in soy, ginger, garlic and lime, and grilled expertly by T.

The cabbage was a recipe from Alton Brown on Good Eats.  Apparently, it was his mom’s recipe, called “shred head, butter and bread.”  You shred a head of cabbage, and boil in water with 1 tbsp. of sugar for 2-3 minutes.  While that’s going, you brown 1/2 stick of butter, 1/2 cup of crushed seasoned croutons, 2 pinches dry mustard, 1 tsp caraway seed (which I hate and don’t have, so I leave it out), and 1 tsp of salt.  Drain the cabbage, and toss with the brown butter and crouton dressing.  Yummy.

The squash was something I typically have a little difficulty with — it never seems to cook all the way in the time I have allotted.  It was a small Hubbard squash that I quartered the long way, then baked at 375 degrees for 45 min in a baking dish with a little water in the bottom, skin side down.  I scooped out the flesh, mashed it with several tablespoons of butter, and then divided it into two parts.  One half I seasoned with brown sugar, ground ginger and a little cinnamon, and a pinch of salt.  The other half I seasoned with sauteed onions and garlic, and about a teaspoon of salt.  T got the sweet squash, I got the savory.  Mmmm!

The only problem with dinner?  I think I added a tablespoon of salt to the cabbage, instead of a teaspoon, because it was too salty to eat. Which was a bummer.  And there was a tense minute or five when I realized I couldn’t find the box with the tin foil in it, so that I could cover the baking squash.  Turns out, it was sitting in the kitchen all along.  *blush*