Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Honey and Apple Ribs

A few weeks ago, when I was at Costco, I eyed a 7 lb. pack of country-style pork ribs for about $1.50 a pound. While this is priced higher than what I'd normally buy them at, they sounded good, so I grabbed 'em. When I returned home with the package, I divied them up among three freezer bags. Tonight, we had the second of three, using a recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook:

Honey and Apple ribs

  • 2-2.5 lb pork country-style ribs
  • 1/2 c chopped onion (1 medium)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 c bottled chili sauce
  • 1/2 c apple juice Pomegranate-Blueberry juice
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
Place ribs in a 7x11 baking dish.

Bake, uncovered, in a 350°F oven for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, for sauce, in a medium saucepan cook onion and garlic in hot oil until tender. Stir in chili sauce, juice, honey, Worcestershire sauce, and dry mustard. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. (You should have about 1-1/2 cups sauce.)

Transfer ribs to a plate, drain fat from baking dish, return ribs to baking dish.

Spoon half of the sauce over the ribs. Bake, covered, for 25 minutes.

Drain additional fat, turn ribs and spoon remaining sauce over ribs. Bake an additional 35 minutes, covered.

Serve with a sweet potato and some steamed green beans and you have dinner.

Notes: the apple in the recipe title is supposed to be due to apple juice or cider. Since I didn't have any, I used what I had on hand. The sauce smelled a little different than usual, but the pork was just as yummy.

As for cost:
  • ribs: $1.50/lb = $3.75
  • onion: $0.50
  • chili sauce: $2.50/12 oz.
  • juice: $2.99/2L
It looks like we spent $10-12 to make these ribs. About six bucks a person and we gorged on good food.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Buttermilk-Brined Fried Chicken

Normally I try to avoid food that is loaded with gobs of calories, fat, and sodium per serving. Not that I'm worried about having too much per serving, but that Rodney will have seconds (and maybe thirds) and I feel I should reel it in a bit. I'm not trying to kill him, after all. But sometimes, fried chicken just sounds real good.

A month or so ago I tried this recipe and before I was even finished frying the bird, knew I had to improve on my chicken breading and frying skills. Click the link for the original recipe and keep reading to find out how round two worked for me.

Buttermilk-Brined Fried Chicken
  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup coarse salt
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 5 lb. whole chicken, cut into pieces
  • 2 heaping cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • Soybean oil (about 1/2 a gallon)
In a 1-gallon resealable plastic bag set in a bowl combine the 3 cups buttermilk, the coarse salt, and sugar.

Cut up the chicken; cut chicken breasts in half crosswise to get 10 pieces. Here's a photo of my bird after I cut it up. I arranged the pieces to sort of reconstruct the body. From left to right: wings, top quarters of breasts, bottom quarters of breasts, thighs and legs.

Add all chicken pieces to the brine; seal bag.

Chill for 2 hours; remove chicken from brine and place it in a colander to drain a few minutes. Last time I did this, I put it on paper towels then tried to "pat dry" which led me to using half a Costco-pack of Bounty.

Put half your chicken (1 piece of each type) on a bed of about 4 paper towels and let them sit a minute. Flip them and put them on a dry spot for another minute. It's way easier than patting them dry. This photo shows the pieces I had just placed on the towel. Clockwise from top left: 2 breast quarters, leg, wing, and thigh.

Combine flour, the 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a medium bowl; transfer to a 9x13 baking dish. Place the 3/4 cup buttermilk in a bowl big enough to roll a leg in comfortably.

Coat chicken with flour mixture. Dip in the buttermilk; coat again with flour mixture. They'll look like this:

Meanwhile, in a deep, heavy Dutch oven, heat 2-2.5 inches oil to 350°F.

This takes a while, about 15-20 minutes. In the future, I will start heating the oil as soon as I pull the chicken from the brine. I should've realized that's what is meant by "meanwhile."

Using tongs carefully add the 5 pieces of chicken to Dutch oven. (Oil temperature will drop; maintain temperature at 325°F.) Fry chicken for 12 to 15 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink (170 degrees F for breasts; 180 degrees F for thighs and drumsticks), and coating is golden.

The amount of oil I used (about 2.5 quarts) was enough so all the pieces were completely immersed, which meant I didn't have to stand around waiting to flip them. You can sort of see that I put the chicken in a ring along the perimeter rather than plopping them all in the middle. After the first batch was in the "fryer" I breaded the rest of the pieces.

Place chicken in a metal colander on an oven-friendly plate, allowing oil to drain. Keep fried chicken warm in a 300 degree F oven while frying remaining chicken pieces. Fry the other second batch of five pieces.

Taste was fantastic as well as the appearance! It turned out much better than when I made it the first time. We had it with buttermilk mashed potatoes, corn, cole slaw and warmed garlic bread. (Sorry the plate photo is out of focus, Rodney was hovering and I may have been suffering from hypoglycemia).

  1. Breading the pieces in two steps helped a lot. The first time I did this, I breaded all the chicken at once and piled them onto a plate. By the time the oil was hot enough, the pieces were all glued to each other with wet breading. As I pulled them apart, some pieces ended up with bare patches and others had really thick breading. So thick the breading would fall off the fried chicken in a whole chunk when pierced with teeth/fork.
  2. Frying in two batches resulted in more even browning since the Dutch oven was at capacity each time but not over full. There was room enough for each piece to fry without touching another. Last time I did this, I put 2 pieces of chicken in to fry on the first batch (due to a frying-chicken-for-the-first-time paranoia) and they were really brown; subsequent batches had 4 pieces each so they were more golden.
  • 5 lb. chicken: $0.69/lb = $3.46
  • buttermilk: $3/half-gallon
  • soybean oil: $8/5 qt.
So it cost me about $15 to fry some chicken. I have enough oil left to do it again, enough buttermilk leftover to make a variety of other things (I'm thinking pancakes!), plus leftover fried chicken.

Ultimately, it is definitely worth doing again. Now I have to remember to get a funnel to drain the used oil from my Dutch oven.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Shrimp, Tomato, and Basil Pasta with Garlic Bread

This shrimp dish will be the last of the shrimp for a while. We usually have shrimp once a month. This shrimp-spree was to indulge my insane craving. I bought three pounds of them without even knowing for sure what I was going to do with them. Anyway, I know Rodney prefers shrimp to be prepared simply so the shrimpiness isn't masked. According to him last week, shrimp scampi has too much garlic and overrides the "shrimpiness".

Since I had my way with the shrimp the past couple days, I figured I'd do a recipe with Rodney in mind specifically. I went on a hunt for a shrimp linguine recipe that didn't require milk, scads of cheese or a "good" white wine. We don't drink wine and I'm not going to the store and buy a bottle just to use half a cup. And Rodney's lactose intolerant.

When I came across this recipe, I wasn't too sure if it would be too tomato saucy, but because it called for shrimp, linguine and fresh basil, I figured what the hell.

So, here's how I did the Shrimp, Tomato, and Basil Pasta:
  • 1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (tails removed)
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 6 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes in juice
  • 2 small tomatoes, diced
  • ½ pound linguine
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
Season shrimp with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet, heat 4 teaspoons oil over high heat. Add shrimp; cook until opaque throughout, turning occasionally, 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; set aside.

Make sauce: To the same skillet, add remaining 2 teaspoons oil and garlic; cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add canned tomatoes and their juice, along with 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have softened and are saucy, about 15 minutes.

Remove sauce from heat; stir in diced fresh tomatoes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente, according to package instructions.  Drain; return pasta to pot.

Add tomato sauce, shrimp, and basil to pasta and toss.

Serve immediately.

Garlic bread:
  • French loaf
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • tsp. basil
  • tsp. oregano
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Stir butter until smooth.
Add garlic, basil and oregano; mix thoroughly.
Split French loaf in half horizontally.
Spoon garlic butter evenly across the bread halves.

Bake on a baking sheet for 15 minutes.
Cut into serving portions.

So, there you have it: Shrimp, Tomato, and Basil Pasta with Garlic Bread, it's what's for dinner.

Definitely a winner, this pasta recipe, as well as the garlic bread. It was fast (prep to plate in less than an hour), simple, looked and tasted great. Rodney said it is worthy of two gold stars before he went for a second helping.

The original recipe calls for 1.5 lbs of shrimp, but with 1 lb, it definitely wasn't lacking. When I make this again, increasing the amount of basil is a must as its presence in the dish wasn't noticeable. The original recipe called for about 6 times what I used! Today I simply didn't have enough on hand. Also, I think I might increase the simmering time for the sauce or decrease the amount of added water as it was fairly soupy in the pot.

I was pretty pleased with how the garlic bread turned out. Since it was the second loaf of the French bread I'd made the other night and I didn't have a recipe to make garlic bread, it was iffy. The bread was soft while the crust was crisp. The seasonings weren't overpowering and the amount of butter was good. The only thing I noticed immediately is it could have used is a couple minutes under the broiler to improve appearance, but I was afraid I'd end up making it too crispy.

  • 1 lb medium shrimp: $6
  • 2 small tomatoes: $1/lb
  • linguine: $0.5/0.5 lb
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves: $2.29/2 oz.
If you had to buy everything to make this recipe, estimating what I paid for each whole component (entire 500 mL bottle of light olive oil though I used 6 tsp etc.), this would cost $40. For me, it cost roughly $12 to make this meal which yielded 4 servings (Rodney's 2, my 1 tonight and my lunch for tomorrow). I added in the $2 to include the cost of the staples. Not too bad!

Shrimp BLT's and cole slaw

When I was at Costco yesterday, I was alone. Not literally, of course, but in that Rodney didn't drive me to the store and accompany me by pushing the cart while I make selections (unload the cart at the checkout, load the goods into the truck and haul it into the apartment) like he usually does. Thus, I could browse and look at all the things I'd normally ignore with 100% possibility I'd buy stuff we don't need, because it was such a great deal that I couldn't resist. Like a gallon of EVOO.

I wandered (or rather, was herded by the people traffic) into the book section. I know Costco has a team of people specifically to purchase books for their stores and the books they choose are hot sellers because they told me so in one of their Costco Connection magazines/ads recently. Some are interesting, like the cookbooks. So, since I was there, I browsed. And that's when I found THE recipe. Shrimp BLT's!

Use the link above to find the original sandwich recipe, but here's how I did it:
  • 1 lb. Kirkland 50% less-sodium bacon
  • 0.5 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails-on
  • 2 small tomatoes
  • French bread loaf, sliced on a serious diagonal
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • iceburg lettuce leaves
In a large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat, cook the bacon slowly until crispy. Remove the bacon from the skillet (leaving any fat in the skillet) and drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Add the shrimp to the skillet and cook over medium-high heat,

turning once, until just cooked through, about 4 minutes.

Remove the shrimp, let cool and remove the tails.

Slice the tomatoes.

Lightly toast the bread. Spread mayonnaise on one side of each slice. Place a lettuce leaf, a tomato slice, and a slice of bacon, halved, on 4 slices of the toast. Top with two shrimps each and then with the remaining toast slices.

What to have with sandwiches?

Cole slaw:
  • 1 lb. cabbage, about half a head
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 tablespoons diced onion
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Shred the cabbage. (Seeminutes 1:30-3:00 of this YouTube video where Alton Brown shows you how to do it). Shred the carrot. Combine cabbage, carrot and onion in a large bowl.

Whisk together the salad dressing, vegetable oil, sugar, vinegar, and salt in a medium bowl; blend thoroughly.

Pour dressing mixture over coleslaw mix and toss to coat. Chill at least 2 hours before serving.

Shrimp BLT's and cole slaw, it's what's for dinner.

  1. cabbage: $0.50/head
  2. carrot: $0.10
  3. onion: $0.20
  4. mayo: $2
  5. oil
  6. sugar: $2/lb
  7. vinegar: $2/gallon
  8. salt: $1/lb
  9. bacon: $2.50/lb
  10. shrimp: $3/0.5 lb
  11. tomato: $2/lb
  12. French loaf: $2
  13. iceburg lettuce: $0.89/head
About $16 if you had to buy each item, which made 8 servings of cole slaw and 7 sandwiches, plus stuff leftover. Except for the shrimp and bacon. We ate all of that.

One thing I'd change in the future is the bread. Even when slices on a diagonal, or bias cut, the slices weren't that big. (2 shrimps per sandwich?! Tiny bread and that's the only reason why!) Plus, when toasted, the crust was really crusty so care had to be taken when biting into the sandwiches. Overall, though, it was a definite winner and I'll be doing it again.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

French bread

I have a couple of sandwich recipes I want to try. They call for sourdough and Italian bread. I've decided to make a couple of French loaves to stand in since I don't have an Italian bread recipe on hand and don't have the time to prepare sourdough.

The recipe I followed is from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. I've listed the ingredients and steps below. Included are additional information/tips I've used in the past when baking bread that have helped a lot in my being successful with yeast breads.

Yield: 2 loaves Time: about 3 hours total
  • 5.5-6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1.5 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups water (120-130F)
  • cornmeal
  • 1 egg white, slightly beaten
  • 1 tbsp. water
  • oil, whatever type you like
    • I used extra-virgin olive oil, aka EVOO, since I am a Costco member and bought a 2-pack of 2-liters of the stuff because of the great deal. So, yeah, I have about a gallon of EVOO. Since we are a 2-member apartmenthold, I try to use it whenever possible since the clock is ticking before it, eventually, goes rancid.
In a large mixing bowl stir together 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, and salt.

Add the warm water to the mixture.

Beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed for 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes.

Using a wooden spoon (or Pampered Chef spatula), stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (8 to 10 minutes total). Shape dough into a ball.

Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease surface.
Tip: use a bowl large enough to hold 2-3 times the amount of dough, put in about a tbsp. of oil, and roll the dough around in it. It'll seem pretty greasy, but it will make the dough fall out of the bowl (and won't be nearly as greasy) later.

Cover; let rise in a warm place until double in size (about 1 hour). 

Tip: Use your oven as a proofer. Adjust the racks (i.e. remove the lower rack) in your cold oven to accomodate a big bowl of hot water in the bottom and your bowl of greased dough, covered with a clean kitchen towel, in the middle. I used the giant bowl I mixed the dough in and filled it with hot water from the tap (which comes out nuclear reactor hot in my apartment). It'll help proof the bread, plus the doughy residue is soaking in water for easier cleaning later. Total win-win!

Punch dough down. (Literally, push your fist into the super puffy dough and you'll see/feel it deflate).

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough in half. Cover (with the same clean kitchen towel used during proofing above); let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile lightly grease a baking sheet with Pam, butter, or do as I did and use EVOO dispensed via MISTO. Sprinkle generously with cornmeal as those beads will prevent your bread from sticking to the sheet.

Roll each portion of the dough into a 15x10-inch rectangle. Roll up, starting from a long side; seal well. Pinch ends and pull slightly to taper. Place seam side down on prepared baking sheet. In a small bowl stire together egg white and water. Brush some of the egg white mixture over the loaves.

Let rise until nearly double in size (35 to 45 minutes).

Preheat oven to 375°F. Using a sharp knife, make 3 or 4 diagonal cuts about 1/4 inch deep across the top of each loaf. Bake for 20 minutes.

Brush again with some of the egg white mixture. Continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes more or until bread sounds hollow when lightly tapped. Immediately remove bread from baking sheet. Cool on wire racks.

As you can see, the loaves turned out great (one better-looking than the other), tasted fantastic and had excellent texture.

Total cost is hard to determine since I had all the stuff on hand and didn't have to shop for anything to make this, but here's an estimate, assuming I bought everything required specifically to make the bread:
  • 5-1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose flour = $4 for 5 lb.
  • 2 packages active dry yeast - $1 each
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt =$1 for a lb.
  • 2 cups warm water (120 degrees F to 130 degrees F)
  • Cornmeal $2 for a lb.
  • 1 egg white, slightly beaten = dozen eggs is about $2
  • 1 tablespoon water
That puts the total cost of 2 French bread loaves at $11 or $5.50 each. Seems pricey, but if you were to use all of the ingredients to make French breads alone, you'd likely yield 4-6 loaves, which reduces the price per loaf drastically, to about $2.20 a loaf. That's not bad when you consider this bread uses 7 ingredients you can pronounce. Check that against what you'd get from the store. I dare ya.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Chipotle Shrimp Fajitas and Spicy Refried Beans

As a member of the Cooking Club of America, I receive a copy of their magazine, Cooking Pleasures, every other month. I've made some really great meals from recipes in this magazine and some pretty bad ones as well. This one turned out to be a winner. Even as Rodness was chowing on a fajita, he was giving me the thumbs-up (and, if I was hearing correctly, moaning due to the tasty goodness), which means we'll be having this again, for sure.

Below is the recipe as I made it, which slightly deviates from the original recipe:

  • 1 medium-large red pepper, julienned, then cut in half to yield pieces about 2" in length
  • 1/2 medium-large red onion, cut into thin wedges
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1.5 lb. shelled, deveined uncooked medium shrimp
  • 1/2 cup chipotle-flavored salsa
  • 4 tbsp. chopped cilantro, divided
  • 8" flour tortillas, "soft taco size", warmed
  • purchased guacamole
  1. Cook bell pepper and onion in oil in large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat 3 minutes. Add shrimp, cook 3-4 minutes or until shrimp just turn pink. Add salsa; cook 1 minute. Stir in 2 tbsp of the cilantro.

At this point, I diverged again from the original recipe and simply transferred the shrimp fajita mix into a bowl and put it on the table alongside the warmed tortillas, chips, guacamole, and beans (see recipe below). We made our fajitas at the table on an as-needed basis.

Spicy refried beans:
  • 16-oz can refried beans
  • 1/3 cup salsa
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/3 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
  1. Combine beans, salsa and cilantro in microwave-safe dish, top with 1/3 cup shredded cheese. Cover and microwave on high for 1/2-3 minutes or until hot and cheese is melted.

Reasons for deviating from the original recipe:
  1. Rodney has an intolerance to green peppers, so I went with red
  2. I had olive, rather than canola oil, on hand
  3. 1.5 lb of shrimp was way above the call of duty. I didn't think 8 oz. of shrimp would satisfy us both, but looking back on it, 1 lb. would have been sufficient, however the ratio of pepper/onion/shrimp was great.
  4. I opted for the flour tortillas because we waste corn tortillas like crazy. While the corn tortillas are probably better for us and tastier, I feel like a jerk for using 12 out of a pack of 36 and having the rest go bad. With flour tortillas, we can get as few as 10 in a pack, so there is less or no waste.
  5. I didn't get a lime simply to use as garnish. If I thought we'd use the lime, that'd be one thing, but I know we'd push it to the side and end up feeding the wedges to the worms.
Cost of this meal as I made it:
  1. red pepper: $0.30
  2. red onion: $0.41
  3. olive oil, a few cents, I'd guess as I already had it on hand
  4. 1.5 lb. shelled, deveined shrimp: $9.82
  5. Herdez chipotle salsa, $3 for 16 oz.
  6. cilantro bunch, $0.39
  7. Mission tortillas, soft taco size in a 10-pack, $2.99
  8. Mission chips, $3.09
  9. Guacamole, Calavo brand, 3.99
  10. refried beans, $0.60
  11. Mexican blend cheese, $2.50 for 8 oz.
So, if you had to buy everything to make this, it would cost about $27. That's a bit more pricey than what we usually spend for dinner, I think, but was well worth it. It's fast (the part that took the longest was peeling the tails from the shrimp, but dinner was done, from prep to plating in less than an hour) and was tasty. Plus there are leftovers!

What IS for dinner?

That seems to be my question on a weekly/daily basis. I try to cook daily, though it can be difficult what with my work schedule, the time it takes to cook a meal, changing things up so we aren't eating the same thing(s) over and over again, and cost.

I've tried keeping track of what we eat and the related costs, but it seems we are always in the rut of eating the same ol' thing all the time and somehow we wind up wasting food. Hopefully, with the help of keeping a blog on what we eat, I'll be able to keep track of
  1. what I've made
  2. what I would change about recipes I've tried
  3. which recipes are total losers
  4. which are absolute winners
  5. how long it takes to prepare each meal
  6. an approximate cost to make them
  7. how the meal affects my main squeeze, who has a sensitive stomach and is lactose intolerant (though he'll gladly have a second helping of something completely dairy laden if it's tasty)
  8. how to use leftovers to make a new meal

and ultimately, put new recipes into the mix rather than falling back on the old standby's every day.

Let's see how this works out...