Author Archives: artandliterature

Making The Most Of Our Resources

A couple of weeks ago, when we tried our hand at turkey burgers, we happened upon a “buy one, get one free” deal on ground turkey at Safeway, the get-one-free of which has been taking up space in the freezer since then. A couple of days ago, I found myself in a mood of cleaning up and cleaning out. So I sold the cats.

Hahahahahaha!

No, actually I didn’t. But I did cast an eye toward that frozen turkey — and then cast my Google search on recipes centered around that ingredient. Lots of other turkey burger recipes out there, and I almost chose one of those just to see what kind of variety we could fine. But then Myrecipes.com offered up an alternative — and once more did us right.

Mini Pesto-Turkey Meatloaves drew on several items that we already had in the fridge or the cupboard: panko, onion, egg, basil, etc. The only thing we really needed to pick up was the refrigerated pesto and the mozzarella cheese. And I was particularly pleased to see that a reviewer on the recipe’s website had suggested a way to use the balance of the packaged pesto, since only three tablespoons were used in the meatloaf: Get a package of gnocchi and mix the remaining pesto with it as a twist on the standard mashed potato side dish. An inspired idea! And avoided more half-packages of things in the fridge (slowly piling up).

This really was a delicious dish. Tara and I love meatloaf, and the turkey here provided a healthy alternative with plenty of flavor. And the gnocchi? Inspired. We loved it! The recipe does make a lot, so we’ve got at least two more meals of meatloaf for later this week (and Tara’s got a gnocchi lunch that she’s looking forward to). Make this one for friends.

EDITOR’S NOTE: No cats were discarded (or included as ingredients) in the process of completing this recipe.

A Slow Boat To Louisiana…

…or at least a slow cooker in that direction.

Last week’s early burst of winter weather prompted us to search out a comfort food recipe, and Tara and I turned once more to our Williams-Sonoma Slow Cooker cookbook. I’m a big fan of gumbo, so I zeroed in on the Chicken & Sausage Gumbo. Tara had never had gumbo, so she was more reluctant but was ultimately game to give it a try. Here’s the recipe, direct from the cookbook:

Olive oil, 2 tablespoons

Skinless, boneless chicken thighs, 4, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

Andouille smoked sausages, 3/4 lb., cut into 1-inch slices

Okra, 1/2 lb., cut crosswise into thick slices [Note: We used frozen, thawed]

Red or green bell pepper, 1, seeded and chopped

Celery, 3 stalks, chopped

Yellow onion, 1, chopped

Flour, 2 tablespoons

Chicken broth, 2 cups

Diced plum tomatoes, 1 can (14 1/2 oz.) with juice

Salt

Cayenne pepper, 1/4 teaspoon

Steamed white rice, for serving

Cook the chicken: In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to the slow cooker, then add the sausages. Scatter the okra, bell pepper, celery, and onion on top.

Make the roux: Return the frying pan to medium heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Sprinkle the flour in the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Stir in the broth and the tomatoes with their juice and raise the heat to medium-high. When the mixture comes to a boil, remove the pan from the heat. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and the cayenne and then pour over the vegetables, chicken, and sausage.

Cook the gumbo: Cover and cook on the high-heat setting for 4 hours or on the low-heat setting for 8 hours. Season to taste with salt and cayenne. Ladle the gumbo over steamed rice and serve.

***

There’s a fair amount of chopping here, and as with most of the recipes in this cookbook, the meat is braised first, so it’s not as easy as just throwing some things in the slow cooker, turning it on, and checking back in eight hours. Still, there is indeed something nice about having the aroma of the stew slowly fill the house over those hours while we watched football. And — again with the temperatures in the 40s — the prospect of the stew warmed us mightily even before we ladled it out.

And how did it taste after that ladling? Hmmm…. Tara still doesn’t like gumbo; just not her thing, she says. I like it more than she did, but not as much as other gumbos I’ve made in the past from different recipes. For one thing, it didn’t seem quite hot enough for me — neither in terms of the temperature or in terms of the spiciness. The first problem is an odd one: Eight hours in the slow cooker apparently gets stuff warm but not piping hot, leading me to wonder if we shouldn’t pop it up to “High” in the last half-hour of cooking. (I’ll need to check on that as a tactic.) The second problem was easily remedied: A few more dashes of Tabasco did the trick! (A few dashes per bowl, I should stress — so many dashes for the full recipe.)

A while back we made Jambalaya for one of our True Blood evenings and that proved an instant favorite. This one didn’t entirely, but we’ve got plenty more slow cooking during the season ahead and will keep looking for recipes to make it really pay off.

It’s Pronounced kəˈkou!

Ever since our first adventure in homemade ice cream, Tara and I have been planning to try another batch, and as soon as we saw the recipe for Cacao Nib Gelato in Bon Appetit, we knew what our next flavor would be. Some of our favorite chocolates have been laced with cacao nibs, so that ingredient was a serious attention-getter, but we’d actually never tried them on their own — and honestly we weren’t actually sure we’d be able to find them in the grocery store.

That was our first challenge here. Safeway ultimately didn’t carry them, and there was great confusion among a group of managers who tried — valiantly — to help us. The baking section at Whole Foods also didn’t have them, and the stockperson there said that no, no, nothing like that in the store. Undaunted, Team Taylor looked in the “snacks” aisle and found not one, not two, but three different brands. One challenge down! (And a reminder to Whole Foods to know their inventory.)

Our next challenge — an easy one — was using a vanilla bean for the first time. This one was pretty easy: Cut the bean in half, slice it vertically, and scoop out the beans. No problem and sort-of fun. However, as a side point I should mention that vanilla beans aren’t cheap, so the cost of this recipe might be a factor.

Beyond that, the recipe was fairly straightforward, requiring just a little more time than our last ice cream because of steeping the cacao nibs and the vanilla bean overnight. And since you’re putting all that time in, we’d also suggest that you DOUBLE the recipe here, since we ended up with half the ice cream we expected. We had enough ingredients to make a second batch; there was certainly room in our ice cream maker for more batter; the whole thing keeps well in the freezer (needless to say!); and since we loved loved LOVED the flavor of this one, we would also have loved to have more of it to eat.

Plus, cacao is so much fun to say, as Tara learned from my repeating it about 350 times over the course of our shopping and cooking. If you need help, the pronunciation is at the top of this post. :-)

A must-make!

Turkey + Burger Shape = Turkey Burger

As bizarre as it may sound, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a turkey burger. Despite the fact that turkey is a standard lunch option for me, despite the fact that I’ve long praised turkey as the king of the poultry family, and despite having been long urged by my health-conscious parents to try turkey burgers as a better-for-you alternative to the red meat version — despite all that, I’ve never given it a try. Until now.

Earlier this week, I’d chosen a recipe from the new book Chefs of the Triangle: Their Lives, Recipes, and Restaurants — a trio of inter-related recipes, in fact, from J. Betski’s in Raleigh, NC: Pretzel-Crusted Pork Tenderloin, Cooked Sauerkraut, and Beer Jus. But the list of ingredients for that dish ultimately seemed prohibitive: several jars of spices to buy for just a small amount of the spices themselves, and a six-pack of pricey German beer just to use a single bottle, and… And with more of that kind of experience, about halfway through the grocery store, I started putting things back, then came home and started searching for another recipe. The one thing driving me? We had some whole wheat hamburger buns leftover and I wanted to use them. So I searched sandwiches on myrecipe.com and came up with Cilantro Turkey Burgers with Chipotle Ketchup.

This one was not just easy (mix a few ingredients, pan-grill the turkey, plop it on a bun) but nicely flavorful — if you like cilantro and chipotle chiles, that is! And, yes, it tasted healthy too, which can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. While I’d personally still prefer the ground beef burger, I felt good about eating this one. Another plus: Much of this relies on things you likely already have in your cabinet or refrigerator, and Tara and I lucked out on the ground turkey too, finding a buy-one-get-one-free special at Safeway, so we have a pound of turkey in the freezer waiting for next time we make this recipe.

And we certainly will make it again.

You See The Word “Spice” Too, Don’t You?

Catching up on our resolution, Tara and I have made a number of new meals lately. Just after the pesto pitfall of the previous post, we tried Spice-Rubbed Pork Chops with Sweet Potato Wedges from the new Cooking Light. Tara and I love sweet potatoes and have a great (older) recipe for grilling them along with a spicy chicken, and after all the vegetarianism of the previous night, I was ready for a nice cut of meat.

I was also, however, interested in flavor, and the scant amount of spice on these pork chops (less than a teaspoon total for the entire recipe) left the end result tasteless and bland. I think we could’ve pan-fried the chops without any spice and gotten a similar result.

The sweet potato wedges fared better, perhaps because of the inherent yumminess of that vegetable in its own right. The recipe there (not available online?) is pretty simple. Peel a single sweet potato and cut it lengthwise into 10 wedges. Combine 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon garlic and 1/4 teaspoon paprika. Toss the potatoes to coat. (We just put it all in a bag and shake it up.) Then arrange the wedges on a baking sheet and bake at 500 degrees for 16-20 minutes, turning once. Not a lot of spice here either, but again “inherent yumminess” shines through.

An added bonus: Since the recipe recommended a riesling to help bring out the flavor, we pulled out a bottle Tara had picked up at the story: A Loosen Bros. 2008 Riseling called Dr. L (from the Mosel Valley of Germany). Tara had liked the bottle, and we both very much liked the taste. I can’t say it added anything to the pork, but it certainly added to the meal. And with the sweet potatoes, at least two-thirds of this dinner proved to be a keeper — better odds than we’ve had with other meals lately!

Pesto Pitfalls

Back in May, Tara and I made homemade pesto for the first time — an arugula pesto in that case — and it was simply wonderful: simple to make, delicious to eat, and definitely a keeper. After that success, we were eager to try another pesto earlier this week, yet another recipe from the October Bon Appétit (from which we also took a Panko-crusted chicken earlier).

Multi-Grain Penne with Hazelnut Pesto, Green Beans, and Parmesan sounded like a sure-fire hit. The hazelnuts promised a nice twist of flavor on the pine nuts we’d been accustomed to in pesto; the multi-grain pasta sounded healthy; and along with a few green beans, the meal suggested healthy and light. Eating it, however, Tara and I both agreed that this pesto fell flat. But while the bitter taste of the arugula in that earlier recipe gave our first pesto a pleasant bite, the parsley base of this second attempt left a relative void of flavor. It’s true that the hazelnuts offered a distinctive taste, but not enough to carry the dish singlehandedly, and what stood out instead was all that lemon juice and lemon peel — ultimately the flavor that predominated.

We made the full recipe — six servings — so we’re still working through leftovers. To the pasta’s credit, it wasn’t bad necessarily, and Tara says she thinks it improves with reheating. But the fact is that we just wouldn’t make it again, especially with such another fine pesto recipe already in our repertoire.

Middling scores all around. If you make it yourself, get a nice garlic bread to help boost the flavor of the meal overall.

Panko Paradise! (…because “Thanko For Panko” sounded dumb)

Photo from Bon Appetit

I’m writing this far too belatedly — but with good reason.

A few weeks back, just before the madness of the Fall for the Book Festival (which I help to organize), Tara and I invited festival manager Ruth Goodwin and her husband David over for dinner: a calm evening before the storm. Then — indicative of how busy things quickly became — I never got the chance the write up the recipe! So now that the festival has come to a close (last night!), I’m catching up….

And in the process, I’m glad to give a big thumbs-up to Panko-Crusted Chicken with Mustard-Maple Pan Sauce, from the October 2009 issue of Bon Appétit. (Confusing, yeah? Writing now about a recipe from several weeks ago that was taken from a magazine that’s dated next month?) Tara and I love panko, and this recipe offered up a terrific combination of flavors and textures — and with our oven’s temperature gauge still on the fritz, the whole meal (including rice pilaf and some vegetable that I can’t remember now) was stovetop friendly.

We’ve fallen down on our grading system a little, but did discuss it that night — Taste, Appearance, and Ease — and the four of us all ranked this one high, 4’s and 5’s all around.

Much recommended! Check it out!

A Quickie That Was Far From Satisfying….

We’ve been talking for a while about adding a beverage recipe to the blog here — and suddenly we were presented with the perfect opportunity. A hectic week and a looming to-do list meant that we had little time for a real recipe, and that busy-ness also left us with a need for a cocktail to slow down the pace, even if briefly. All that in mind, I picked a recipe that Tara had found in Pennsylvania’s Official Wine & Spirits Quarterly, a surprisingly nice little mag that she picked up at a liquor store on her last visit home. Here’s the recipe:

Bourbon Quickie

2 oz. Jim Beam Black Bourbon

1 oz. Cruzan Rum

1/2 oz. Triple Sec

1/2 oz. cranberry juice cocktail

Shake all ingredients over ice and serve chilled, straight up.

How could a recipe be any easier? Well, we actually made it easier, because we didn’t have a bottle of Jim Beam Black (so we used Ancient Age) and we didn’t have Cruzan Rum, so we used Captain Morgan — and those substitutions were easier than going to the ABC store. I mention this because it’s possible — entirely possible — that the brands would make a tremendous difference in the taste. In fact, I hope that it might, because all of the alcohol that we put into our two drinks (3 1/2 ounces per glass!) was mostly wasted on us. We drank them, ultimately, but we didn’t entirely enjoy them, and we sure wouldn’t make them again. Tara said tasted like turpentine — “not that I’ve ever tasted turpentine,” she added, but still I’d gotten the point (and didn’t disagree).

This one: Not recommended by our two-person panel of experts. Go get your quickie in some other form.

Chile Verde Wasn’t Verde Good…

…but it might be our fault.

After debating about how to fit in a recipe in the midst of a very hectic September, we decided to slow it down. Chile Verde, from the Williams-Sonoma Slow Cooker cookbook, looks promising and easy — one of the few meals in the book that doesn’t require browning beforehand. The recipe can be found here.

Unfortunately, we delayed the decision until the night before we were going to make it. At near midnight, I ran to the store to hustle up the ingredients, and because the meat department didn’t have a pork shoulder on the rack, I grabbed a pork roast, hoping the substitute didn’t make too much of a difference. In retrospect, I’m afraid that it did.

I love a good pork shoulder. My dad has a fine recipe for slow-roasting a pork shoulder over the course of a day, to the point that it will literally fall apart: tender and juicy. I can’t help but think that the right piece of meat would’ve done the same over the course of a day simmering in the slow cooker. But the pork roast I picked up was denser and ultimately retained that density, turning a pink color, almost ham-like. And for whatever reason, the sauce itself didn’t seem to meld together properly, at least not to my taste. Adding further to the trouble: When we finally sat down to eat, I realized I’d forgotten to make a little rice to serve it over. Hmmm…..

Tara liked the recipe more than I did, and our dinner guest that evening was kind and considerate, gracefully so, despite the mishaps on our part.

More slow cooker recipes to come, of course. ‘Tis the season! Stay tuned for more.

We’re Lunatics For This “Caffe Luna” Recipe!

Years ago, when I lived down in Raleigh, NC, one of my favorite restaurants was Caffé Luna on Hargett Street downtown. Delicious food, a warm atmosphere, and a charming host in owner Parker Kennedy. The News and Observer published a couple of recipes from Caffé Luna back in December 2007 when I was down for Christmas break, and Tara and I have finally gotten around to making one of them. And all I’m thinking is: Why did we wait so long?!

The two recipes printed in the N&O‘s “Specialty of the House” column were Linguine Fra Diavolo and Orecchiette Antica. Coincidentally, I went back and forth between these two dishes in my own visits to the restaurant, so it would’ve been tough to choose between them. But since Tara’s not a fan of shrimp, we made the latter (that’s why those words are in bold).

IMG_5518

I’ll admit that I have little to say about it except that it’s easy to make and simply delicious. The spices in the crumbled sausage pair with the oil and garlic to add a lot of flavor. Part of me would prefer for the garlic to cook a little more — I always liked it to be a little softer, almost like it had been roasted slightly — but it was fine, if firm, even with only a couple of minutes of cooking. And to tell you something about Tara and me, Tara ended up passing some of her extra sausage my way, while I in turn passed her a few of my broccoli florets in exchange. Everyone was happy.

This is a definite one to make again — and make often.

post to facebook