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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Risotto

I used shallots and celery for aromatics, tilapia for protein,
seafood stock, chopped fresh spinach for veggies, savory
for flavoring
I've worked with a delicious seafood risotto recipe for many years.  It's from a fundraiser cookbook called Dewey or Don't We published by the Dubuque Public Library.

I used to follow it to the T, and finally understood that really, it was more like guidelines (as so many recipes truly are).

And then I started being able to use the technique given in that recipe and substitute my own flavors and ingredients, depending on what was in season and available.

No matter what ingredients you use, this is definitely a prep-ahead-friendly recipe.  Chop and measure everything ahead of time, combining ingredients by category.  You can also freeze this as a meal kit...combine ingredients by category, put them in vacuseal bags or ziptop bags, and freeze.  Thaw before cooking.

The use-what-you-have components are:

  • fat for sauteing: use butter, olive oil, canola oil, lard, mojo de ajo
  • aromatics: use onions, shallots, celery, carrots, leeks or any combo thereof
  • stock: chicken, seafood, veggie (not so much beef here)
  • protein: fish, chicken, shrimp, scallops, crab (again, not so much beef)
  • veggies: chopped bell pepper, snow peas, chopped greens, broccoli, peas, corn kernels, pre-cooked squash cubes
  • flavoring: citrus zest, minced herbs

Some favorite combinations are shallots with shrimp, green peas and thyme; celery/onion/carrot with chicken, pepper and savory; crab, leeks, spinach and lemon zest.

Chop, measure, and fridge everything in advance for next-day or same-day cooking.  You can also freeze the components ahead.  To save space with liquids, either freeze wine and stock in ice cube trays beforehand to include in the freezer kit or pour the liquid into a ziptop bag, carefully press air out of the bag, seal and lay flat on a tray to freeze.

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Blood Mary Cocktail Bites

Finished in-tact celery ribs 
This is adapted from Time Ferriss' The Four Hour Chef.  His recipe uses a thickener called agar agar which I do not typically keep in my kitchen and would have to go a bit far afield to acquire, so I use the more easily found unflavored gelatin.

Agar agar is a vegetarian thickener, whereas gelatin is an animal byproduct, one reason to choose agar agar instead of gelatin if that's your thing.  Agar agar evidently sets up with a more solid, toothier, less jiggly texture than gelatin too (I think this is the reason Ferriss uses it...the section in the book on hunting game and cooking it in the field suggests to me that he's not a vegetarian LOL)  It may also set up somewhat more quickly than gelatin, but I've never actually used it so that's speculation based on what I read on the interwebs when I was trying to figure out whether I could successfully substitute gelatin for the agar agar.

I don't know what the exact conversion from agar agar to gelatin (or vice versa) should be, but I know 1 packet of Knox gelatin thickens 1 cup of liquid so that's what I used (the OR calls for 2 tsp of agar agar to thicken approximately 3/4 cup of liquid).

So my execution notes...
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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Fettucine with (vegan) White Pesto


Oh my, this is my 300th post!

One of my pet peeves about special diet (vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, sugar-free, whatever) cooking is the convention of naming a recipe after a foodstuff that it kinda sorta resembles if you pinch your nose and squint real hard while you eat (e.g. Mock Sausage, Sugar-Free Caramel, Scrambled You-Won't-Believe-They-Aren't-Eggs, and all those plant-based "cheeze" sauces out there).

C'mon (vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, sugar-free, whatever) folks...you know these are tasty recipes that stand on their own without trying to stand on the shoulders of a "missing" ingredient.  The practice reeks of an inferiority complex and besides, you're inevitably setting your dining companions up for failed expectations if you tell them you will be serving something like is *almost* like sausage/cheese/eggs/etc. but isn't.

This is one such recipe.  It's from Christian Pirello of Christina Cooks and she calls it Vegan Fettucine Alfredo.  Actual alfredo sauce is buttered heavy cream, cooked down until it's super-thick and finished with fistfuls of parmesan cheese.  It's a heart attack in a pot.

This heart-healthier, plant-based "fettucine alfredo" is really NOTHING like real fettucine alfredo.  My husband made the snooty-face when he first tasted it because he was expecting something alfredo-y.

What it IS is awfully darn good once you get around that misnomer.  Once he got over his "this isn't alfredo" reaction, my husband loved it (ofc he did sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top of his, because pasta just isn't pasta until there's a flurry of parmesan on top in his world).

What the recipe IS is a white pesto...the only difference between this dish and a "true" white pesto is the relatively small amount of parmesan cheese which is understudied in the vegan production by miso paste.  No need to pretend like it's alfredo...it's pesto!

My one serious deviation from her recipe (aside from changing the name) is to omit sweetener.  I'm not quite sure why, but she feels the need to put brown rice syrup in everything.  This dish doesn't need it.

Lastly, the pesto (as with all pestos) can be made in advance and frozen. Just thaw it and add it to cooked pasta.

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Bacon Cookies

Ohmahgersh YES.  Just do this.  Especially if you're also making these beer marshmallows and need something else to do with them (I made them without dipping them in chocolate, FYI, but I bet they'd still be good as fillings for these cookies with a chocolate dip). Original recipe from "Fat" by Jennifer McLagan.

Probably any spice/molasses type cookie recipe could be modified by swapping out butter for bacon grease.  What I lerve about this recipe is that a) you make it in the food processor (everything is faster and easier to clean up in the food processor) and b) it makes a reasonable number of cookies.

I continually keep drippings from my bacon in a container in the fridge.  I don't do anything special with them to get the bits of bacon out.  For most of my bacon grease cooking needs, a little bit of actual bacon particulate matter is A-OK.  These cookies are not any different.

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Beef Roast & Beef Manhattan

Beef Manhattan is one of those looked-down-upon dishes because you typically see it in cafeterias and hospitals.  Really, it shouldn't be overlooked.  It's a great way to repurpose leftover roasted beef.  The first day after we have roasted beef, there's an excited flurry of roast beef sandwiches for lunch, then...it sits.  Beef Manhattan revives and reinterests the dinner-time audience ;)

If you don't want to use Russian dressing (because, really, it is a bizarre form of salad dressing that's far better suited to marinades than dressing salad IMHO), use an equal amount of ketchup with liberal dashes of salt, pepper and garlic powder with a splash of red wine vinegar.  If you do use Russian dressing but wonder what else to do with it, I recommend this freeze-ahead chicken dish.

To make the gravy for Beef Manhattan, I used a red wine reduction to happy up the stock.  If you'd prefer to skip the wine, use 1 tbsp tomato paste and brown it very well (5-ish minutes over medium heat without oil) in the saucepan instead.

If you're planning well in advance, you can make the gravy without the cooking juices from the beef and freeze it.  When you're ready to serve the second-round Beef Manhattan, thaw the gravy, warm it to bubbling, add the reserved juices and chopped beef and simmer until it's a good consistency.

You can serve Beef Manhattan over bread (white or whole wheat) or over mashed potatoes.  If you're looking for a lower-carb version, serve over pureed cauliflower.

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