The dog cart layout for 4×6, version 5.
We have the world’s tastiest Christmas tree- we decided that instead of buying a tree just for Christmas, or putting up the old faithful fake tree, we would buy a rosemary bush. I’ll plant it in the back year after the new year- assuming it survives, since I keep plucking off branches for our Christmas dinner roast!
Here’s a bit of a change of pace. I actually remembered to take pictures this time!
I usually get into a sort of creative trance when I cook.
It’d be pretentious to call myself an artist, but the trance is similar to that of a musician really getting into a song, or a writer really when the story is flowing.
I just don’t really see the world outside of my saucepan. Grabbing a camera, even if it occurred to me (I’m not a visual person), would be an unwelcome intrusion.
This is my apology to you for the paucity of photographs in my normal blog entries.
This time around, I was visiting my parents. They have attractively matched cookware and a better-lighted kitchen than I do; so I took a handful of pictures.
Please pardon the quality– this was a mobile phone.
Alfredo is a lot simpler than most people think. This version is not terribly genuine (roux and mozzarella) but it is quick and simple. If I were cooking for date night I’d’ve gone for the full traditional recipe, but this was a quick dinner with my parents and a chance to try out a new recipe.
The recipe comes from Delish, a site that Mattfood dreams of being when it grows up. It’s called Garlicky Shrimp Alfredo Bake. I used the recipe as inspiration, changing a few things because I like garlic (and I forgot to buy tomatoes).
- 1 lb penne
- 3 tbsp. butter
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed
- 3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 3/4 c. milk
- 1/4 c. low-sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella plus 1/2 cup saved aside
- 1/4 c. shredded Parmesan, plus 2 tablespoons saved
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Cook pasta to al dente, which is just a bit firmer than most folks prefer to eat it. Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Melt one tablespoon of butter in an oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter stops foaming, add the shrimp, garlic and two tablespoons of parsley. Sautée until shrimp is pink, about two minutes per side, then remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and save them. Leave the rest in the pan.
- Add the rest of the butter. When it has melted and stopped foaming, whisk in the flour. Keep stirring until the mixture has darkened a bit (about like coffee with a lot of cream), then add the milk and chicken broth. Mix well and bring to a simmer.
- Add cheeses (saving out the extra 1/2 cup of mozzarella) and stir. Once the cheeses are well melted and combined, return the shrimp to the mix and add the cooked pasta. Stir well (but gently) and spread the mixture evenly around the pan.
- Sprinkle the reserved cheeses on top of the pasta mix and bake for 5-7 minutes.
- Set oven to broil, and broil the mix for 2-3 minutes. Check often, because there is a fairly short period of time between ‘nicely browned’ and ‘looks like a lava rock.’
Serve with something green and bold- broccoli is a traditional alfredo favorite but a salad with spinach or mustard greens would work too.
We’re taking a road trip. A few years ago we had an RV, so I could travel and cook at the same time (not as we were driving, but you know what I mean). Now we have a Prius, so we get five times the mileage, but the kitchen facilities are somewhat more limited.
At my budget, road food tends to be served under a crown or a big yellow M. It’ll keep you alive (for a while) but if there’s a lowest common denominator, this is it.
Road snacks should be tasty, tidy, able to survive without refrigeration, and nutritious- in that order. Since I’m going low carb, cookies and the like are off the list. So, what is a good protein-y road snack?
I picked up dry roasted peanuts during my last stroll through Costco. Costco doesn’t sell small packages- I think it is around a bushel. Should last through any number of road trips. But peanuts, while they are a low carb snack, get a wee bit dull. But beef jerky can have quite a range of flavors.
So yesterday, during the height of the Texas summer heat, we went back to the restaurant supply warehouse and spent quite a long time looking through the beef roasts in their meat walk-in cooler. The fact that it is 45 degrees in there encouraged me to check every roast slowly.
I picked up a six pound roast for $20. Unlike my normal steak guidelines, I looked for one with as little marbling as possible- fat is not your friend in jerky.
Once home, I trimmed the roast into about two inch thick
steaks with no visible fat. Then I sliced the steaks into strips about 3/8 of an inch thick. That’s about 1cm, for the civilized folk out there. The actual thickness doesn’t have to be very specific but as much as possible you want all your pieces to be nearly identically thick so that they cook and dry at the same rate.
I made three batches and marinated them overnight- one A1 sauce, one oyster sauce, and one random mix of black soy, worcestershire sauce and sweet chili sauce.
I’m cooking each batch separately in the Nuwave for three hours at power 2, with some soup spoons elegantly jammed under the cover so that moisture can escape.
I’ll post more in a few hours when the first batch (oyster sauce) comes out.
My previous post, the low carb antipasto, was nutritious but too bland. With a July 4 cookout approaching, I made a double batch with a few modifications for more flavor.
Chicken wasn’t on sale this week, but steak was. Since this is a double batch, I picked up two pounds of somethingorother steak.
Now, the flavor upgrades:
- double strength ranch dressing
- double the capers
- sear the steak on a gas grill
- salt the cukes
- dance naked in the moonlight
- 8 cucumbers
- 2 ts salt
- 4 bell peppers
- 2 onions
- 2 lbs steak
- 2 lbs bacon
- 1 cup capers, drained
- 3 cups ranch dressing
- Peel the cucumbers, remove the ends, and slice in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to remove the seeds, then slice the halves again lengthwise. Cut the resulting spears in 1/2 inch sections. Put the pieces in a large collander and toss with salt. Let rest for two hours or more (refrigerated, over a bowl to catch the juice).
- I used a packet of ranch seasoning meant for a gallon, and made two quarts instead. I used half mayo and half yoghurt. You could use buttermilk instead of the yoghurt but the cucumbers release a lot of water, so I opted for the thicker dressing. You’ll use three cups of the resulting dressing.
- Cut the peppers and onions into 1/2 inch pieces. Set aside in a large mixing bowl.
- Trim the steak well, then grill on a hot gas grill to about medium. Cool the steak then slice into 1″x1/2″ pieces, and add them to the mixing bowl. Good strong grill marks will pay you back with a burst of flavour.
- Cook the bacon to crispy (using your favorite method- microwave or nu-wave work well) then crumble or snip it into small pieces in the mixing bowl.
- Add the capers and ranch dressing and stir to coat.
- Shake the cucumber pieces in the collander to drain out the last of the juice, then add to the bowl and stir to coat everything. Serve cold.
Some attractive add-ins would be cherry tomatoes, banana peppers, sliced Greek olives or cubed sharp cheddar.
I’m an Italian-American. I’m also a diabetic. Pasta calls me sweetly, but tries to kill me. It’s a dilemma.
Some foods are just not in my healthy future. Fettuccine Alfredo, my luscious tasty friend, is right out. I’ve looked at alternatives but a poor substitute is worse than no fettuccine at all, so I just wish. But there are other families of food that I can modify.
Antipasto is a perfect summer food. In western Texas where I live, the temperatures amble up into the low hundreds in June- that’s above 38 degrees Celsius, for the civilized folks out there. The idea of roasting a chicken for dinner has all the appeal of getting dental work performed by one’s bitter ex-wife.
My family has several favorite recipes for antipasto (all from my mother, who is a wonderful cook). Alas, they all pretty much start with a pound of pasta. So I was looking for a pasta-free antipasto. What could fill the role of the pasta: a good, mild, filling base for the rest of the salad?
I’ve heard of various miracle noodles- shiritake, for instance- but could not find any in my local stores. I could use rice, but getting away from carbs is the idea. I have made antipastos and simply left out the noodles but they were dense, gloopy, and unbalanced.
I used to have a ‘recipe’ for pasta salad which was more of an algorithm- take one from this group, two from that group, etc. I’ll see if I can unearth it if there’s any interest- it was good because no matter what was on sale that week, a decent pasta salad could be made without worry.
A local supermarket had a good sale on cucumbers, which seemed like a good match to the job. They certainly won’t distract from the leading flavors, am I right? They lack the chew of pasta, but they have next to no carbs, so I grabbed four.
Peppers were cheap too, so I grabbed three healthy orange ones. Bell peppers tend to be sweeter as they get brighter- green peppers have little sweetness unless you caramelize them, and purple ones, while pretty, are a chore to eat.
I’ve recently been experimenting with different recipes of ranch dressing, so I have plenty of it in the fridge. I used two cups in this recipe. European antipastos frequently are moistened with oil and vinegar, but I was working from the memory of a recipe with a yogurt/mayo moistening, so ranch wins for today.
Cucumbers are not pasta. They made that obvious in my first attempt, which was more like a chunky summer soup than a salad- I had only drained the briefly, and they released a dismaying amount of water. The second batch worked my better, with more draining, but still left a fair puddle in the bottom of the bowl. I’ll try salting and pressing them next time.
- 4 cucumbers
- 3 bell peppers, colorful (orange, red or yellow)
- 1.5 lbs flank steak, thin sliced
- 2 cups ranch dressing
- 4 oz capers
- 1 onion, minced
- Peel the cucumbers and halve them lengthwise. Use a spoon to remove the seeds, then slice each half in half again, and cut the spears into about 1/2″ sections.
- Put the cut cucumbers into a gallon Ziploc bag. Cut one corner off (smaller than the pieces so that only water can get out) and suspend it over your sink. Let them drain for an hour or so. If you own a salad spinner, you might well use it instead.
- Grill the steak over a hot fire until rare or medium but well-marked. let cool, then slice across the grain.
- Core, seed and cut the peppers in 1/2″ or slightly larger cubes.
- Add all the ingredients to a large bowl and mix.
Some possible add-ins would be crisp crumbled bacon, banana peppers, black olives, or cherry tomatoes.
UPDATE Drop the steak, add in 1.5 lbs of chicken breast (cooked and rough chopped) and crumble a pound of bacon in. Chicken Bacon Ranch Antipasto.
Some years ago, my family spent a year in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands, aka Holland, have been a fantastic crossroads for hundreds of years. For such a small country, their culinary heritage is quite broad, from the predictable Germanic history, to Spanish influences from several attempted invasions from Spain, through a strong touch of Indonesian due to Holland’s colonial past.
Furthermore, Amsterdam is a remarkable city for food. I remember wandering through streets that seemed dedicated to Argentinian steakhouses. I found shoarma for the first time in Amsterdam. Many of the bigger metro stations had high-end supermarkets where you could buy a surprisingly good selection of ingredients for that night’s dinner. Yes, Amsterdam is a good city for a foodie.
On the other end of the scale from the excellent steakhouses, the street food there is well worth checking out too. All of western Europe has frite stands (known as French fries to Americans, chips to the Brits), but the frites in Belgium are famous, and Amsterdam is just a short train ride away from Brussels.
Belgian frites (vlaamse frites) are thicker than the classic American shoestring fry. The ‘secret’ is that they are fried once at moderately hot oil, then left to cool, then fried again in hotter oil. They get a crispy crust and a wonderful flavour that shoestrings will never have. Generally, they’re served with mayonnaise.
Many Americans find the idea repulsive- but give it a try. If you simply must have ketchup, it is generally available, but mayo is traditional and very good. The Dutch have a fascination with mayonnaise that is hard to fathom- I’ve had sushi with mayo, in Amsterdam- Not my favorite.
Anyone who has read my blog knows my abiding affection for garlic. Knoflooksaus, which is a garlic mayonnaise, is widely available in frite stands and became my favorite sauce for frites the first time I tasted it, in a small shoarma shop just off the Dam Square in Amsterdam.
Since I’ve returned to the States and gone lower-carb, frites haven’t been a major part of my diet, but I still enjoy them time and again. I developed this recipe for a small batch of knoflooksaus just for those rare occasions when I have frites. I’m sure it could scale up but small batches are kinder to my diet!
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- salt and pepper to taste
- (optional) 1 tsp parsley
- Mix all ingredients.
- Let rest at least 30 minutes.
- Serve with frites, spiced lamb, pita chips or crisp veggies.
On North Loop, we found The Ribs Smokehouse. We’ve been there before and found it to be fairly good food at attractive prices, but we apparently came at a bad time this visit.
The Ribs is decorated and lit like a fairly clean sports bar. Five or six TVs showing the same football game, country and western decor, and the ambiance of a pretty good working-class bar. The tables have quite nice smoked peanuts to snack on while your food is cooked.
We visited on a Monday night and found one friendly but overworked waitress serving four groups. We ordered combo plates- pulled pork (which was our favorite from our previous visits), brisket, ribs, onion rings and a variety of sides.
The food was just plain badly made. The pulled pork was the best of the lot- juicy and flavorful, but just above room temperature. The brisket and ribs were dry, the onion rings simultaneously overdone and cold.
The mac and cheese had significantly underdone noodles (think almost crispy). The asadero cheese sauce at least was interesting but with the dish served at just north of room temperature, it was not nearly enough to save the dish.
To look on the bright side, the service was quick, the restaurant is clean, the prices are fairly good. The cornbread muffins were almost fresh. Maybe we just got there after some catastrophic failure of all of their kitchen equipment. But the cool, dry food was a real let-down.
We ate here before and enjoyed it. I can only say that if they were not training a new cook that night, they should be.
I’m not a bachelor, but sometimes I do think back on the simple days when I had no worries beyond how to stretch a twenty to cover a week’s groceries.
This week, friends delivered my long-neglected gas grill. It lit up perfectly, as though I hadn’t left it in the raw desert for a year. And I remembered why I’d missed it so.
Gas grills are simple creatures. Turn the knobs, sacrifice the hair on the back of your hand to the fireball, and you have a cooking tool that requires nothing more than a cold beer and a steady hand.
My son came home from school right after I set the grill up. He’s a fan of pizza, and with my Nu-Wave dying we hadn’t had pizza for a few weeks, so I made a simple bachelor pizza.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Poverty is at least an uncle. I didn’t have yeast but I have large tortillas- there’s a crust. simple tomato sauce, cheese, some giant pepperoni, and we had a thin-crust pizza in about ten minutes.
They joy of bachelor cooking is that almost any substitute will work. Don’t have tortillas? Pita bread, lavash, or sandwich wraps will work. Any spaghetti sauce can work. I used muenster cheese buy7 mild cheddar, colby, or monty jack will work fine- just avoid the stronger cheeses. Make this with gorgonzola and I won’t be held responsible!
My gas grill is an old friend. It has a few quirks, lacks a few knobs, and doesn’t cook things quite as evenly as a younger, better grill might. If you’re blessed with a good grill you may not need to rotate the pizza while it is cooking.
- 1 burrito-sized flour tortilla.
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce
- 1 cup shredded or sliced mild cheese
- 1 oz pepperoni
- Start the grill on high. Clean the grates.
- Pour the tomato sauce in the middle of the ‘crust’ and spread it almost to the edges. Ideally it should cover the ‘crust’ thinly enough that you can still see the crust a bit- if there is too much tomato, the pizza will be soggy.
- Spread most of the cheese evenly over the tomato sauce.
- Add your pepperoni and/or other toppings.
- Place the pizza on the grill and lower the cover.
- Every three minutes, rotate the pizza 90 degrees to keep cooking even.
- Pizza is done in about ten minutes. The crust should be neither floppy nor brittle- if you lift up an edge and can see just a bit of charring and the whole bottom sort of a dark blonde, the pizza is ready.
My NuWave oven has died, after six months of moderate use.
I called up the company, but they would not cover the warranty unless I had a receipt, which I did not. They offered to sell me a full-price replacement, but my budget doesn’t stretch that far. I very much enjoyed the NuWave while it worked. Some day maybe I’ll get another.
So, I’m going to change focus from my once-loved NuWave to the gas grill. Expect me to start trying out hobo packet recipes, dusting off my grilled chili, and questing for the perfect grilled brat. It’s getting to be perfect grilling season in El Paso anyway.
Do you have a favorite grill recipe, or one that you’d like me to try to improve? Let me know!