Yesterday was Mrs. NH’s birthday. I’m not much of a baker so I always hate baking cakes or something for her birthday. I always end up looking like some jerk out of a sitcom with flour all over my shirt and face.
Well, the same thing happened this year (thanks to Little NH2 TURNING THE MIXER UP TO 5) but the end product was much better than the crappy cakes out of a box that I usually make.
It is called “Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie” and man, is it tasty. We doubled the chocolate chips in the recipe and my blood sugar still hasn’t regulated but what a terrific way to die. (It’s a chocolate mess with double the chips. But Mrs. NH apparently likes it this way so it’s all good.) It’s also really simple. No plopping cookies on the sheet and waiting around. Just throw the dough in the pan, toss it in the oven, crack a beer and prepare to be a hero. It also pairs really well with bourbon. Natch.
I think I’ll do it again substituting chocolate chips for chili pepper infused dark chocolate and then sprinkle the top with sea salt. Cross your fingers that you get an invite to that dinner party!
This weekend, with one confirmed case of strep in the house and everybody generally worn out from a big week, I made some family comfort food. Thai Basil Pork is supposedly Thai street food. I’ve never been to Thailand so all I know is, it’s absolutely delicious.
Mrs. NH recommended that instead of pairing it with rice or rice noodles, we whip up some carrot “zoodles” instead. What we got was an absolutely flavorful dish that scratches an Asian food itch while seeming sorta healthy.
I tweak the recipe a bit each time. This time, we couldn’t find “Golden Mountain Sauce” so I just added more lime and oyster sauce. I also tend to add two eggs to the mix, partially to bulk it up some because of my ravenous family and partially just because I love the eggs in there. Fresh lime is key in this recipe.
It takes a bit of time to make with all of the prep work but once you’re done it is worth the effort.
Now comes the fight for the leftovers.
It has been two days full of cooking around the NH homestead this weekend. I’ve made and frozen several pounds of crock pot carnitas and crock pot chicken tacos for the return of the NH girls. I’m also getting ready to whip into meatloaf gravy to be used as pasta sauce and a batch or two of pizza crusts for the freezer to boot. I’ve also tackled a bread recipe that I’ve always wanted to make – focaccia.
My fondest memory of focaccia is from Monterosso, Italy. After spending the day on the beach in Monterosso, we stopped in a bakery for a Peroni and wedge of focaccia to take on the boat ride back to the little village of Vernazza. I just remember that bread being some of the most simple and flavorful that I had ever tasted. Moist with olive oil and each bite held a little crunch from the generous sprinkling of sea salt on top. Bolstered by the Peroni and post-beach euphoria, that bread is the pinnacle of flatbreads in my mind.
The recipe I used was from the always reliable “Crepes of Wrath” and was very simple. If you’re interested in trying it yourself, I would only offer a few observations. I did mine in my stand mixer and couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. After adding all of the recommended flour, it still seemed to thin so I added about a 1/2 cup more. That did the trick. Also, in the final step, instead of drizzling the olive oil on top of the bread, I’ll brush it the next time for more of an even coating and even browning. As it was, the top of my bread had zigzags left by the olive oil.
That said, the flavor definitely brought me back to Cinque Terre. Hmmm. Time to get planning summer vacation.
Bachelorhood gives me the opportunity to try cooking some foods that I wouldn’t get the chance to with the whole family in town. The kids and Mrs. NH are in Texas and I figure they’re eating well so why shouldn’t I? So when I saw a kilo of pork belly at the Tesco Express last week, I grabbed it.
Pork belly is not something I’ve ever attempted to cook. I’ve eaten it several times out at restaurants and always loved it. It’s fatty, flavorful and probably isn’t very good for you – which makes it just a little more fun to eat, right? So after I had the belly in my possession, I had to get a recipe. I asked Scamp if he had a recipe – I thought this would be a slam dunk. He’s roasted, cured and smoked just about every mammal and fish known to Kansas and beyond and I figured pork belly would be an easy ask. Not so.
So I went out searching for a recipe on the web. I found this one on Jules Food which is a less fussy, slight variation on a recipe from Jamie Oliver. It’s this simple: Season your belly with salt and pepper, put it on a bed of sliced onions, blast it for 30 minutes on 450, then lower oven to 350 for 2 hours. Drool, drool, drool.
The belly came out moist and the skin was all “cracklings” in the best sense of the word. Unbeknownst to me, the belly I picked up actually had the very tips of rib bones in it and the flavor of the meat around the bones was the most delicious of all. I plated it up alongside some Parmesan-roasted broccoli and olive oil quinoa and a glass of punchy Austrian Blauer Zweigelt. It was really, really delicious. However, those that are looking to try it should know that a flavorful red wine is recommended to cut through the richness of the meat. And oh, the meat. Fork tender and juicy without being oily. The added bonus at the bottom of the pan were the confitted onions that had cooked to sweet perfection.
Little NH loves bacon and I told her about this recipe. She said she wanted me to save her some. Not a chance. A couple of nights later I made pork belly tacos on corn tortillas with a generous dash of SaSo finishing sauce. No, Little NH won’t get a bite of this batch but if I ever run across a belly again, Katy bar the door!
We didn’t have plans for Sunday. Mrs. NH was kind enough to brave freezing temperatures to go for a quick supermarket trip while the girls and I puttered around the house and watched vacation home movies on my newly reconditioned Windows Media Center. Of course in the Not Hemingway household, a day without plans usually leads to cooking of some sort. This Sunday was no exception. Over the course of the afternoon we churned out a hearty Italian vegetable soup, chicken salad, homemade soft sandwich buns and cheesesteak sandwiches.
We’ve made cheesesteaks before but have always been at the mercy of awful Czech supermarket rolls. Czech bread is an absolute abomination. The problem is, there is a wide selection of shapes and sizes of buns and rolls at the supermarkets but all taste pretty terrible. The sandwich buns are always awful, dried, grainy affairs. To add insult to injury, they have a picture of the American flag on the bag. Not cool, peeps. Not cool.
On Sunday I took matters into my own hands and made the sandwich buns that I had been threatening to make for years. I followed this recipe that I found online and was quite pleased with the results. The finished bun was firm and dense but fluffy – just firm enough to hold up to our gooey cheesesteaks and I can only imagine they would be a fine match to a juicy burger.
For the cheesesteaks I halved and sliced two large onions and caramelized them over low heat. After they finished I set them aside and threw a little over a pound of super-thinly-sliced sirloin, trimmed of the majority of fat. I’ve been making these sandwiches ever since we moved here and have learned a few things along the way. There’s no need to freeze your beef to get thin slices – just make sure you knife is sharp. Also, get your pan as hot as it will go before throwing in your beef. As it hits the pan it gives off lots of liquid. If your pan is hot that evaporates and your beef gets a nice brown crust. If the beef is cooked slowly, it boils in its own juices and that ends up in tough and spongy meat. Not good. Last but not least, make your sandwiches like they do in Philly. Mrs. NH and I frequented Pat’s every chance we got and we always ordered our steaks “wit’ Wiz.” That’s with Cheese Whiz for any of the uninitiated. It’s an everyman twist on some real comfort food. Adding provolone just seems to high falutin’ now.
Paired with the new buns, the steaks were out of this world. With no tough bun to contend with, I really appreciated the tenderness of the steak, the sweetness of the onions and the salty, tangy punch of the Whiz. We paired our sandwiches with some sweet potato fries and a couple bottles of Delirium Tremens. Now that’s a Sunday dinner. Thanks for the memories, Passyunk!
As I sit in my office and fret about the fate of the freedom of information in far flung countries, my wife agonizes, yes, agonizes about cakes for the birthdays of my two little girls. To her, a good crumb coat is just as important as stemming nuclear proliferation. The search for black food coloring in Prague triggered a sort of culinary Amber Alert with all of my Czech associates. The lady takes her cakes seriously. And it shows.
Here is the first one she did while home with the girls in Texas to celebrate Little NH1’s fifth birthday. For those of you who don’t know, this is Belle, from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I don’t think Little NH 1 has even bothered to sit through that movie. Nevertheless, Belle stuff is all over my two bedroom apartment. Books by the toilet (er, potty), stickers in drawers, costumes and shoes in corners. So I guess it was fitting that this cake was featured for Little NH1’s 5th. I didn’t get to eat the Belle cake but all who were in attendance proclaimed that it tasted as good as it looked.
When I was a little kid I had a Cookie Monster cake one year and then a Darth Vader cake a few years later. I mention this because for some of my faithful readers who were in attendance, this will conjure up some funny memories. But I digress…
Using her freshly honed cake decorating skills, Mrs. NH traveled across the Atlantic, Hello Kitty cake pan in hand. She decided she was going to go simple for Little NH1’s family birthday celebration in Prague. I stopped off at the local pizza joint and got some margherita pizzas to go. When I got home, I found the Hello Kitty cake below.
The frosting was from scratch. Butter cream, I think. I can only imagine how long piping that thing took. Kind of made my pizza contribution look mediocre. I’m getting used to that. Think they are, too.
Yes, she’s a heckuva mom. Not a bad baker, either.
This was an improvisation about a month ago and it’s so easy and good we ended up doing it again for Easter. Mrs. NH and I were both sick and this was a nice mix between gourmet and easy. I marinated the tenderloin in a Ziploc with dark soy, olive oil, lime juice and honey for about 3 hours before grilling it. The outside had just the right amount of crispiness from the sugar in the marinade and inside it was fork tender. Served alongside some brown rice and fresh green beans, it was a meal packed with flavor.
Oh, the life of a bachelor. Canned food.
Of course, if you’re this bachelor, it’s duck confit from a can. Don’t cry for me, Argentina. Er, Prague.
Yep, duck confit and these sprouts that I have told you about before were dinner on Sunday night. Crackly skin, puffy almost candied chunks of garlic and a good Pinot made the night quite enjoyable. It almost made it easy to forget the fact that my family was just minutes away from some of the best BBQ in the world. Almost.
There’s something fishy going on at NotHemingway.com. It’s a guest commentary from the culinary troubadour, Fredericksburg Flash. He first brought you a commentary on the Salt ‘ till ya Drop post a few years back. The spirit has moved him again and he’s decided to contribute even more great food experiences to the blog. This man has tasted food in more countries than I can count so if Flash says it’s good, take note. Welcome back, Flash!
6 March, 2012, by Fredericksburg Flash
Awhile back while traveling, Mrs. FF and I saw an item on the menu that piqued our curiosity. It was listed in appetizers as Salmon Tartare.
Something must have had a greater attraction, because we did not order it that meal. It has always been in the back of my mind, and last week I decided I would experiment with a recipe. I should explain that Mrs. FF and I both really enjoy cooking but I rarely use a strict recipe. I will attempt to give you the building blocks I used, but feel free to add your own flavor touches.
Start with a skinless salmon fillet. Cut into 1/2” chunks and in a nonreactive bowl, squeeze the juice of a couple limes over the salmon. As in ceviche, the lime juice “cooks” the fish. Stir to expose all of the fish to lime juice. I then refrigerate for no more than 2 hours. Now I add Dijon mustard and whole grain mustard. Add just enough to coat the fish. This also acts to stop the cooking process. Next add capers, sea salt and lots of fresh dill weed. Cover to seal and refrigerate for a couple of hours to let the flavors marry. I served it with a slice of just baked “One Minute Ciabatta”, as previously presented on NH’s blog. Mrs. FF and like wine…all kinds of wine. Not being wine snobs, we don’t always follow all of the”Wine Rules” We chose a Merlot from Cap Rock Winery, Lubbock, Texas. We also had a baby spinach salad with a light coating of quality olive that we recently brought back from Tuscany.
I think presentation is always a major part of the meal. We had purchased 16, two ounce martini glasses from Crate and Barrel. We’ve used them for other appetizers and drinks, and they worked well for this. I’m pretty sure this will be featured at our next home dinner party.
Roasting duck is a pretty involved process. I’ve done it once or twice in the past and have always been pretty happy with the results. However, the process of rendering the fat off the bird is not for the faint of heart so if I can avoid it, I do. I order duck out at restaurants often and when I’m in France I buy a lot of it in a can. Yep, a can.
I buy big old honkin’ (pun intended) cans of six leg/thigh combos packed in enough duck fat to swim in. The confited fowl work well in the oven by themselves or I’ve also used them to make a delicious sauce for pasta that includes a squeeze of fresh lemon. Flavor city. I have never eaten that meal without a short nap afterward. It’s that good.
So imagine how intrigued I was during my last visit to France where I sampled duck cassoulet. I’ll admit that I had never had cassoulet before but I’m glad I tried it. It’s a good mix of beans, sausage, spices and tasty duck legs. Little NH managed to steal most of the pieces of duck off my plate. I was willing to share just to let her widen her gastronomic horizons. Eating it at the base of a castle didn’t hurt my mood either. Or the wine. But I digress…
Fast forward to the last day in France where my wife told me to stop at a grocery store to stock up on wine and any other local goodies. For me that means wine, foie gras, canned duck and, lo and behold, canned duck cassoulet. Très bien! (Or, SCORE! in English.) The cans ran about 15 euros if I recall correctly. They’re big and they expire in 2015. Not that they’ll last that long.
I opened one up last weekend and surveyed the goodness inside. Beans, four duck legs and four sausages. I quickly split it into four equal portions and froze two in ramekins for a bit later. The flavor was better than anything from a can deserves to be. The duck was perfectly prepared, the sausage was delicate and full of flavor while the beans and seasoning helped to balance the whole dish and act as a counterweight to the intense richness of the meats.
I paired it with a Chardonnay to cut some of the heaviness of the dish. It would have worked just as well with a light French red. I can also imagine doing this with a Duvel and having it work out very well.
So yes, great things do come in a can – and not just those hot tamales I used to eat back home.
Who would have thought that two of my favorite flavors in the world, egg and avocado, would go so well together? The recipe is straightforward. Put your egg in the avocado where the seed would have been (hollowed out a little more to fit the egg), and then put the whole shootin’ match on a cast iron skillet or oven safe plate in a 425 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until your egg looks done the way you like it.
The egg was very flavorful surrounded by the avocado. The fruit was warm and firm but not a weird consistency. I topped mine with a little bit of SaSo for an extra kick in the flavor department.
Having tried this recipe, I’m now curious about what other great egg avocado parings there are out there. Avocado in egg salad, maybe? The possibilities are endless.
Before going to work on Friday, I took a nice, thick pork chop out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to thaw. I hadn’t actually planned what I was going to eat with it. That is until I spied some week old cherry tomatoes on the counter; I decided to take care of them in one go. There was nothing to this recipe but I thought I was pretty crafty for using the tomatoes and making a delicious side dish.
I followed the regular directions for making quinoa and put the 10 cherry tomatoes in the water even before it boiled. A little olive oil, a couple teaspoons of oregano and several handfuls of grated parmesan and I was good to go. The exploded tomatoes added nice acidity to the dish and put a little extra color on the plate. Not bad for a seat-of-the-pants side.
I didn’t choose; the Pakistani Embassy in Prague chose for me. I didn’t get a visa to visit Pakistan in time so I did what any smart man would do. I stayed home and cooked. From Friday night through Sunday night Mrs. NH and I made/ate/froze:
2 Pizza Margheritas
14 doughs for pizza crust
1 Breakfast Burrito
2 Cheesesteak Sandwiches
48 Flour Tortillas
1 Batch Tortilla Soup
It was an incredible weekend and the freezers are full. And my pants still fit.
That beats Islamabad any day.
Yes, I know I’ve blogged this before. But it is worth repeating. I guess having two daughters makes you like pink. Especially when it is in the form of this great concoction. After 24 hours of infusion I have something that will help cool off a muggy summer evening. Yes, it is pink, but it’s still vodka. It tastes great straight, with a splash of soda and a twist of lime, or for an adult dessert, mix it with vanilla infused vodka. It tastes like a dish of homemade vanilla ice cream topped with rhubarb sauce – in a tumbler glass. Yum.
“I gotta go get the camera!”
“You’re not going to blog this, are you?”
“Sure, you can blog your failures, too. Besides, it’s so lame it’s kinda funny.”
“Yeah, it is.”
This was the conversation Mrs. NH and I had as we were peeling apart once beautiful fresh penne (pictured above) that had become stuck together (pictured below) after we failed to separate it and put it on a floured surface. We’re still trying to perfect the procedure with our new KitchenAid pasta attachment and last night’s attempt was an abject failure. We salvaged what we could and what we couldn’t turned into more of a spaetzle than a penne. The sauce was delicious as usual (alla Vodka) but we’ve got a ways to go until we take this pasta maker to prime time.
However, last night’s failure brought back memories of family failures in the kitchen when I was a young kid. The one that is most memorable was the time the wine bottle fell off the top of the fridge and smashed into the batch of freshly made green tomatillo salsa. And of course, our numerous attempts at frying stuff always seemed to yield greasy and soggy results. The failures weren’t terribly numerous but were always a letdown. But still, we laughed.
Mrs. NH and I laughed last night as well. This wasn’t our first failure in the kitchen and it won’t be our last. I’m just glad we didn’t do it in front of company. Of course, by posting it here, you can laugh but you don’t have to be polite and eat it. You’re welcome.