Monday, December 14

Zucchini fettuccine

I blame Jimmy Buffet. You may be wondering how I got to that. Rock Band is involved. You can download "Cheeseburger in Paradise", and the lyrics just wouldn't leave my head. In particular, "Not zucchini fettuccine or bulgur wheat." That actually sounds good.

Okay, maybe not the bulgur wheat. I have no idea what that is. I don't think I've ever seen it in the grocery stores either.

Aaaaaanyway, zucchini fettuccine. I always thought it sounded good, but then I had an idea -- there's this stuff called "spaghetti squash," so named because you can get the flesh to render into spaghetti-like threads when you rake them with a fork. Zucchini's a squash, right? Hmm....

Slide your zucchini through your mandolin slicer with the large julienne attachment. And use a cut-proof glove! They're only like $25 at your local cookware store, plus they're like chainmail. Oh yeah.

I tried adding a yellow squash to the mix, but they don't take to noodling quite as well as the green ones, particularly because of the seedy middle.

Mince a handful of garlic, and french an onion.

Sweat all of that in some olive oil and some salt, then add some roasted red peppers in their liquid. Let the liquid boil off so you're down to a little oil and vegetable goodness. Over in the land of pasta, boil the fettuccine to about 1 minute short of al dente, then add your fettuccined zucchini. Boil for 1 more minute, then drain.

Throw in your oil and other vegetables, toss, and serve.

Hey, even I can go vegetarian periodically. And now, for a big warm bun and a huge hunk of meat. And maybe a margarita.

Tuesday, November 10


Hi, hello, I'm back, and I bring another act for What The? Theater. This one needs a little backstory. When I was 10, my Mom brought me and my brothers to the Philippines to meet her side of the family. We're out there in the Batangas, a rural area. And there under a tree were a bunch of starfruit, fallen on the ground. Little math geek Bayani is immediately drawn to a food that has its own strong sense of geometry. Naturally, I reach down for one, figuring I can wash it off.

"Don't eat that," Mom says.

"Why not?" I ask.

"That's not for people to eat. We feed that to the pigs." And I left it at that.

Years and years later, I'm cruising through the local grocery store, and what do I see?

That's right. Pig food at $2.99 a whack. But the real "What the?" moment came a few months ago when starfruit appeared in the basket on Chopped. (Food Network show. Look it up.) And there's Alex Guarnaschelli saying, "Starfruit has a light, delicate flavor that's really wonderful." In pig food? What the?

I grab a couple of them and decide to solve the mystery for myself.

It's citrusy alright. Take a look at the cross section. It's like... when was the last time you had artificial "tropical fruit" flavored drink? It's just like that. Yeah, I was pretty thrown too! Now there is this nasty little problem about those seeds up the middle. But we can solve that when you think citrus again -- supremes. A gentle little knifework will extract fingers of tropical sweetness for you to enjoy.

Of course, in What The? Theater, we can't leave it there. Well, here's something else we haven't tried at Watch Us Eat! yet: a drink. I've got the supremes of two starfruit in my shaker with some mint leaves and a shake of sugar. I'm not a bartender like Raoul is, but you know what? I bet he doesn't own a muddler either (Christmas gift!) I improvise with the butt end of the strainer and muddle away.

The rest of it is pretty standard mojito procedure.

Top it off with seltzer, club soda, or lemon lime soda. Nice and refreshing.

Give it a try. I can think of dumber things to do with $5.98.

Wednesday, November 4

Chicken Pot Pie, Part Two: Something Clever Regarding Pie

Welcome back! It's Day 2 of our little project, and while this stage requires more work, we don't have to wait four hours for it's conclusion. Forgive the size of the pictures today; I was in a hurry, so everything came out blurry. Hey, that rhymed. I'm so clever. Anyway, smaller pictures are forgiving, so you'll have to deal with 400x300 imaging for this round.

Now that we have assembled our stock, our chicken meat, and our schmaltz, it's time to put them to work. But first, our mise en place!

(of course, for those of you qui ne parle pas le francais, that means "stuff we's gon toss into other stuff.)

Behold, our vegetation!

Nothing exciting here. Yes, those pearl onions and peas are frozen. They're easier to work with. Also, as a side note, nomming on a frozen onion is not as good an idea as it sounds. Onionsicles = thumbs down.

Other flavorants?

Mmm. Next to the garlic, you can see some grated ginger. I love ginger in any sort of chicken soupish application. Try it, you'll see what I mean. Can't identify the powdered stuff? I don't blame you, the picture sucks. That's dried thyme, ground allspice, and fresh-grated nutmeg. Not in that order, though.

Now that we've got all our ducks in a row, let's hop to the action. Chicken pot pie gravy, like all good thickened-broth things, starts with a roux. And a roux, as you all know, is equal parts fat and flour...

(in tonight's performance, the part of fat will be played by schmaltz, bolstered with butter.)

...mixed together over low heat until it tans into a pasty concoction.

To this, we add, in order, two quarts of stock, a healthy dose of salt and pepper, the spices and whatnot, and the vegetation. Bring all this to a boil, and you've got:

Soup! Gravy, technically, but whatever. Regardless of what you want to call it, we still have to stir in one last ingredient.

Fare thee well, Murray. You have served us nobly. Now get in there.

Whew. Fun times. Now just ladle into a big ol' baking dish...

Top with rounds of puff pastry...

And bake! And if you've been a really good boy/girl, Santa will swap out that gooey mess you put into the oven for this:

Ta da! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of my first attempt at chicken pot pie. I'll be honest, it was a bit of a disappointment in places. The gravy was far too watery, the puff circles were limp and flat. But it still tasted darn good. And the recipe had a lot of soup left over... I think I'm going to freeze it and take another swing at this in the future. A little extra thickening, some fancier puff pastry work, and I think I'm there.

Cheers, kids. I'll see you on the morrow. I think.

Tuesday, November 3

Chicken Pot Pie, Part One: The Brothening, Part Two: Extrication at Dusk

Just a little side note 'bout little Murray - he likes to float. So how do I keep him submerged?

That's right, a small glass bowl will do just fine. Really, any heat-resistant ceramic or glass thingamajig will do. It's not like the stock's at a rolling boil; it's at around 185 degrees or so.

So it's been four hours now. Let's see how ol' Murray's doing.

Hmm. Doesn't look so appetizing, does it? Well, it's not supposed to. After all, we just boiled all the flavor out of a chicken and two pounds of his vegetable friends. Well, maybe not all the flavor, but certainly most of it. The smell, though... mmph. It's serious.

Since we need the meat for the pot pie tomorrow (really, it's the only part of Murray that has any flavor left), let me extricate Murray...

...and pull out the leftover vegetation.

See why I used a pasta strainer pot thing stuff pants? Now, with one fell swoop, I am left with a pot full of liquid chicken.

Mmm. Deelicious.

Okay, that's enough work for today. Let's take a minute and see what we've produced here, shall we? We have:

Three pints of shredded chicken meat. One quart white, one pint dark.

A little under a gallon of chicken stock. And, last, but not least...

A wee bit of schmaltz. Measuring cup says 1/3 cup, and I'm not about to argue. Pyrex is a tough debate opponent.

Well, that's all for tonight. See you tomorrow, kids!

Chicken Pot Pie, Part One: The Brothening

That's it. Camera or no, I'm getting tired of not posting.

Turns out I've been doing a lot of cooking lately, of all shapes and sizes. I've done salads, I've done chili dogs, I've done pork tenderloin with blueberry-cheddar pastry puffs... you name it, I've been futzing around with it. So rather than try to backtrack and fill you in, I'm just going to go ahead and chronicle what I'm up to right now.

For those of you who, by Fate's rancorous hand or Chance's fickle affections, have not yet heard, a-well-a bird bird bird, buh-bird is the word. My doting aunt was kind enough to bring by a family-farmed, raised without antibiotics, free-roaming chicken. Ch-check it out:

Now, what the difference is between this little fella and an organic chicken eludes me at the moment. I can at least hope that he wasn't raised like those poor clipped-beak little buggers that run around in their own filth for their pitifully brief, miserable lives that Perdue markets. That doesn't mean I don't pick up a family pack of Perdue chicken thighs when they're on sale for $1.09/lb., but I do usually have to brine them to get the guilt out.

Anyhoo, I'm-a name this little guy Murray. Looky - he looks so comfy sitting in his bathtub...

Now, I'm planning on making pot pie out of Murray, and that starts with a good chicken broth. Of course, I could have just grabbed a carton of the stuff while I was at the store scoping out meat specials and on-sale leftover Halloween candy, but where's the fun in that? I'll just make my own, and cook my chicken while I'm at it.

Roll call! Onions and garlic?


Other aromatics?

Here! Oh, hey, even Parsnip made it. How's it been, man? Really? Man, I told you that bitch was crazy. You're better off, trust me.

Oh, right. Sorry. Herbs and spices?

Here! Peppercorns, you brought your Chinese cousins? Wicked. Everybody into the pot.

At this point, you people know the drill. Add a gallon of water to the mix:

(No, I'm not so snooty as to use spring water for this, this is just easier than refilling my measuring cup a couple of times. Also, easier to photograph.)

Set on stove. Bring to a boil, then simmer for four hours.

We'll check in on little Murray then, won't we?


So in case you're wondering, Raoul is without a camera. Hey, I know what to get him for Christmas! In the meantime, I'll be picking up the slack. Here we have a little environmentally friendly cooking. Take a look here for Aida Mollenkamp's recipe for Shoyu Chicken. (See, it's not all Church of St. Alton here.) It's really tasty, involves a bunch of soy and chicken broth with some ginger and garlic and other things.

I always cut the recipe in half, not just because I can't get 6 pounds of chicken thighs in most of my pots, but neither can I cram that much liquid in them either.

Serve with rice, drizzle sauce over everything. But we're not done yet.

Stash all this in your fridge overnight. The fat that renders off the chicken will float to the top. Skim it off, if you want... ya pansy. Fat is flavor, so says Kate's mother, and I'm inclined to agree. So just fish the chicken out and set it aside.

Oh, it's still good, you'll still eat it, but you want to just heat the sauce through so it becomes one consistency again.

It's a coincidence that I mentioned fish, because that's what we have here, along with a two pound bag of stir fry veggies. You know where this is going, right?

Do this in reverse order: if you flake the fish, it'll cook in no time flat, so start your stir fry with the vegetables.

Add the fish, and some of the shoyu sauce left over from the chicken.

And serve with rice.

I'm going to have to find new things to do with this sauce... Maybe mix it with ground beef to make shoyu meatloaf? I'll let you know.

Monday, October 26

Mire poix pork chops

It ain't much, but we want you to know we haven't abandoned you.

Well, I'm a big fan of one-pot meals. Easy to prepare, easy to serve, and less stuff to clean up afterwards. What's not to love? Okay, so I'm actually using 2 pots here, okay a pot and a baking dish. But the concept's the same. Especially since I'm using a non-stick pot. Good ones are criminally easy to clean. Start by lubing up a 9x13x2 baking dish. I used spray. Like I said, I cheated.

Up next, prepare a mire poix. I think mine isn't exactly right, because I used equal amounts carrots, celery, and onion, but it still tastes fine. And smells great too. Use a little butter to induce a little color in the onion and carrots. (According to Greg Dean, it's an old culinary school hazing prank to tell the freshmen to brown celery. Celery doesn't have the required sugar to undergo the Maillard reaction, so it doesn't brown. Think about it: You spend more energy chewing celery than you get from eating it, so how much nutritional value do you think it has?)

When you're done with that, add some cubed bread to make croutons in there, and mix it up.

Now lay down a little stuffing, followed by some pork chops. I've used cuts of loin. Salt and pepper each layer, then lay down more stuffing and repeat.

Bake until the pork chops are done. Umm... I really don't know how long. When in doubt, go with 350, and just check on it at 15 minutes, and every 5 after that until your pork is the doneness that you like.

Voila! One pot meal, with your starch, your vegetables and proteins. Easy money.

Something more interesting next time, when I'm not getting crushed. Stay tuned, I promise it will be more entertaining next time.