Friday, February 25, 2011

Presto Pasta Nights #202 Roundup!

Welcome to Presto Pasta Nights!!!

 I want to thank everyone who submitted their lovely dishes for this week's roundup. Each and every one of them had me drooling and making notes on my grocery list!
 So, let's not waste any time getting down to the goodies!

Claire of Chez Cayenne submitted Masala Rice Noodles and Vegetables. Just looks at those gorgeous noodles!

Marie at Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor brings us Julie's Noodle Casserole which she describes as DE-lish-ous! and I couldn't agree more!
Our next offering is from Katerina from Culinary Flavors out of Athens, Greece made a lovely Creamy Pasta with Broccoli, comfort food at its finest!
I worked on my own submission last weekend with Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu.
Michelle at Ms. Enplace had me at "shrimp" with her Linguine with Shrimp and Lemon Oil. Yum!
I was very intrigued by Kankana's dish over at Sunshine & Smile. Her Bruschetta with Spinach Pasta Topping had me drooling! Can't wait to try this at home!
Kirsten of From Kirsten's Kitchen to Yours came up with this lovely Fusilli with Romanesco. Romanesco is something I have never tried before, but I'll be sure to be on the lookout for it now!
Next up is Claudia, of Honey From Rock, with her Cold Hiyashi Soba Salad with Tempura. The name alone is making my mouth water!
We have a newcomer to Presto Pasta Nights this week! Anne, from Anne's Kitchen, brings us a Quick and Creamy Tuna Farfalle.
Krista over at The Beet Reporter made some tasty-looking Thai Fried Noodles.
And finally, our very own Ruth of Once Upon a Feast put together this gorgeous Four Taste Pasta with Shrimp.  
I had a great time reading each and every mouth watering post. Thank you all for your participation this week and don't forget that next week is the big Fourth Birthday Bash for Presto Pasta Nights and will be hosted by Ruth, herself, over at Once Upon a Feast. Send your entries for next week's roundup to ruth (at) 4everykitchen (dot) com by March 3rd! I hope to see some extra special dishes over there next Friday!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

I am special....and so are these potatoes

I know what you’re thinking. “What makes YOU think you’re special?” Well, let me elaborate.

See, I got home from work last night to find three, count ‘em THREE, packages waiting for me. Naturally the hubs gave me the “what in the hell did you order NOW” look. (please, like I didn’t learn a long time ago to have my purchases shipped to my office) Fortunately for me, I didn’t order ANYTHING!

Package number one was actually a birthday gift for Little Man from his Auntie Anne. I stashed that one in a secret place.

Package number two was the cookbook that was part of the blog giveaway I won over at Krista’s Kitchen from Maple Leaf Farms. Said cookbook also came with a very nice hand-written note congratulating me on winning.

Package number three was....well... a mystery. It was return addressed to a woman in Canada. A woman whose name I didn’t recognize. And the customs form affixed to the box was marked as “gift”.

Hmmm...interesting, no?

Well, to make this all clear, I need to give you a little history.

Back in January, I participated in a bloggy cookie swap. In this swap, you are assigned a partner and you send each other cookies. Well, long story-short, I got no cookies. Which is okay, you know, because my thighs are really screaming for “one more cookie, please” right now. But the point of the story is that I never heard back from my partner. Emailing the swap organizer one day, the subject came up and I told her about it. That it was fine, but thought she should know.

Well, she was aghast.

And apparently she told a friend about it.

Who was equally aghast.

The friend requested my mailing address from Steph (the swap organizer) and promptly proceeded to mail me....cookies! And, since she’s a crafter like me, she also crocheted me a lovely hat! Just because.

Is that not awesome? Knowing all of that, can you deny that I am, indeed, special? I didn’t think so.

I was truly touched by both the thoughtful gift and the handwritten note that accompanied it. There is just nothing better than a completely random act of kindness. You should all consider trying it sometime. I may be planning one of my own as we speak....

In any case, thanks bunches to Jeanne and Steph for brightening a day otherwise rife with sinus infection and work frustration.

Give them both some love, would you? You can find Steph at

And Jeanne at her blog:

Since I was feeling extra special after opening my packages, I added something a little extra special to dinner for the hubs last night. I had planned to make Osso Bucco (except with beef), but feeling under the weather as I was, I wasn’t exactly highly motivated. After my little air mail mood booster, I was inspired. At Walmart earlier in the day, I spied a rare bag of lovely little fingerling potatoes, the likes of which are rarely seen in these parts. Naturally, they were whisked into my cart with reckless abandon.

I put those babies to good use last night. Want to make your honey feel extra special? Make these for him the next time YOU see fingerling potatoes hiding in the produce section.

Scrub your potatoes (about a pound or so) and toss them with olive oil. Scatter them on a baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Roast them whole at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until tender. Serve them up with a shower of freshly grated parmesan.

This worked out perfectly last night. I started the potatoes after I had the meat in the oven, they roasted at the same temperature and came out at the same time.

So, last night, we both got to feel a little extra special. Look out for those Random Acts of might be next!

DON'T FORGET!!!! You only have until midnight tonight to submit a dish to Presto Pasta Nights #202 this week!

To enter, email your entries to: bethanneleach (at) gmail (dot) com and cc to ruth (at) 4everykitchen (dot) com & include:

~Your name & the name of your blog
~The name of your dish & the permalink to your post
~Attach a photo or I will pull one from your post to include in the roundup
~in your email, use the subject line: PPN #202 submission

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu

When my husband accepted an invitation to go Boar Hunting in Alabama not long ago, I told him, “You better bring some back for me to cook.” As is typical, he gave me that look. You know, the one that makes you wonder if you accidentally waxed an entire eyebrow off or something. But I persisted. “Dammit, Matt, if you’re going leave us here for a week so you can go hunt Wild Boar, you’re going to bring some back for me so I can cook it and post it on my blog.”

Well, as that left no room for discussion, he arrived home with a cooler containing the iced down haunches of a Wild Boar, as requested.

Sadly, those little piggies have been lounging in my freezer ever since. You know, a boar leg is a pretty sizable hunk of meat, which not only takes a lengthy cooking time, but also a lengthy DEFROSTING time.

Being that we live in the country and are a family of hunters, we have a significant amount of freezer space. But, well, my freezers are getting full. And those boar legs are taking up more than their fair share. It became clear that one of them had to go.

I declared that we would be dining on wild boar this past weekend, and the hubs looked at me not with that “look”, but with a mixture of mild surprise and curiosity. I really think he didn’t expect me to ever get around to cooking it. But when I ran across short ribs at the local grocery last week and had a hard time finding a home for them in the aforementioned freezer, well, it was time.

Taking inspiration from The Silver Spoon, in my opinion the end-all and be-all of Italian cookbooks, I started with a soffritto, sautéing carrots, onion, and celery until tender. Then I added some seasonings (a little garlic and red pepper) and deglazed the pan with a hearty helping of red wine. I opted to slow cook the leg, instead of braising it in the oven, so I seasoned it with salt and pepper, and fitted it carefully into my slow cooker. I finished by pouring the soffritto/wine mixture into the cooker and added about four cups of beef stock (another way to free up space in my freezer).

I then let it cook away the afternoon, and when I couldn’t stand the smell anymore (yes, my nose kept leading me back to the kitchen), I rescued the leg from its cooking juices and picked the meat off the bone. Which was no small task. The boar leg is chock full of cartilage, tendons and other fatty bits scattered throughout the meat. While this was going on, I poured the cooking liquids off into a saucepan and turned the heat on high, letting the liquids reduce down by about half.
When the hubs finally got home last night, I put on a pot of water for the pasta (I just love pappardelle, don’t you?) and while it was cooking, I swirled a couple of tablespoons of butter into the sauce to make it just a little silky. A quick shave of fresh parmesan on top, and this was a meal fit for a hunter, for sure. Matt was standing over the counter slurping the noodles out of their saucy bath, and I just stood there, smiling.
One thing I might have done differently, next time I think I will roast it in the oven instead (and there will be a next time, since I still have three legs in the freezer) to get that lovely caramelized color that you can never quite get from a slow cooker. Other than that, I call this meal a roaring success. The flavor of boar meat is a subtle mid-ground between beef and pork. Not gamey, as you might expect, but rich and flavorful.

This is my submission for Presto Pasta Nights #202, which I am hosting this week, and I am also linking it up to the Italian Fest going on this week over at Seaside Simplicity

Don't forget to get me your Presto Pasta Night submissions by midnight on Thursday, and work something good up for the Presto Pasta NIghts fourth birthday bash, hosted by Ruth at Once Upon a Feast next week!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Presto Pasta Nights #202

I am very pleased to announce that I will be hosting Presto Pasta Nights #202 this coming week and I cordially invite all of you to participate!

Presto Pasta Nights is the brainchild of Ruth over at Once Upon a Feast, and obviously it has been a very successful one, as it has now been FOUR YEARS that we have all been cooking, enjoying, and posting our lovely pasta dishes for all the blogosphere to drool over.

If you have never participated before, it is very simple. All you have to do is make a pasta dish, post it during the week of the roundup, and then email me at bethanneleach (at) gmail (dot) com and cc Ruth at ruth (at) 4everykitchen (dot) com by Midnight on Thursday. The roundup will be posted next Friday, February 25th, right here at The Seventh Level of Boredom.

Some of the rules for participating in this event:

• Cook a dish that includes PASTA.

• Blog about it with a link back to THIS post and to PRESTO PASTA NIGHTS. Use of logo is optional.

• Email your entries to: bethanneleach (at) gmail (dot) com and cc to ruth (at) 4everykitchen (dot) com & include:

          ~Your name & the name of your blog

          ~The name of your dish & the permalink to your post

          ~Attach a photo or I will pull one from your post to include in the roundup

          ~in your email, use the subject line: PPN #202 submission

If you have any questions at all, please email me and I'll be happy to answer them for you!

And last, but not least, don’t worry if you can’t decide which recipe to make – NEXT week is the big Fourth Birthday Bash over at Presto Pasta Nights and the special roundup will be hosted by Ruth at her own blog, Once Upon a Feast. We are hoping that next week’s roundup will be extra special (and BIG!) so please join us next week as well.

Now, you have your mission.....get cooking!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Old Man Winter – get the heck out!!!

Yessir....the weather around here is a-changin’..... and I love it! I am not a winter person to begin with, and I tried very hard this winter to NOT complain about the cold and the snow. Every time the ground would get covered in white, I’d say, “It could be worse. At least we’re not having ice storms like back in ’06. I’ll take this ANY day over THAT.”

And every time I said it, I meant it a little bit less.

And then... we DID get an ice storm. Granted, we dodged a bullet and managed to keep our power on for the duration. But the ensuing snow, the ridiculous amounts of ice that just WOULD. NOT. MELT. And the cumulative total of nine, count ‘em, NINE snow days, was just more than this sunshine girl could handle.

I’m done. I’ve had enough.

And so, this weekend I joyously welcomed the first decent weather we’ve seen in months. I felt the first stirrings of spring fever. I recognized the subtle itch that always precedes the urge to start my spring cleaning. And. I fired up the grill.

In my world, there are two sure signs of spring. One being the first day I leave the house without socks. The other being the fiery baptism of a choice cut of meat out on the deck.

Well, I haven’t been brave enough to bare my tootsies as of yet, but as far as the grill goes.... let the flames begin!

And what was the inaugural dish this season, you ask? Root Beer Glazed Pork Chops.

As you may have noticed in a couple of recent posts here at The Seventh Level of Boredom, I have mentioned that there is a new store in my small town. A new store I have become quite enamored with. Let’s just call it a ‘shopping crush’. See, when you grow up with absolutely anything you could desire to shop for at your fingertips, and then move to a small town that has....well....WALMART, you gladly welcome any and all bright new opportunities that arrive on the scene. The Market on the Square is particularly near and dear to my heart because they only sell items made in Illinois, supporting the “shop local” movement; there are many crafty and foodie items, both of which hold a special place in my heart, being the crafty foodie that I am; oh, and of course, the fact that they sell wine. And very nice wine, at that. We’ll talk about that another day. Promise.

The lovely folks over at Market on the Square recently enthused over a recipe I posted here and then shared on their Facebook page, featuring an ingredient I purchased at their little shop. You know me... a little praise goes a long way. That and I’m just a food-junkie and I can’t help myself.

So I’m doing it again!

As a matter of fact, you might be seeing various new posts referring to the Market on the Square and their wares. I have designs on a recipe involving the “Dreamcatcher”, a fantastic little port-style wine from the Piasa winery. But I digress.

Today we’re talking about root beer. Its not just for drinking, you know. My favorite new store stocks a line of craft sodas made by Goose Island, including Chicago Style Root Beer, Ginger Soda, and Orange Cream Soda. I was first drawn in by the Ginger Soda, but when I went to the register to buy a bottle, the proprietor started to tell me how people have been raving about the Root Beer, becoming addicted and frequenting the store with the sole purpose of picking up another four-pack.

Well, you don’t have to threaten ME with a good time! You know I love me some Root Beer!

What to do, what to do, what to do...... well, it didn’t take me long to come up with an idea.

My mind quickly drifted to the butterflied pork chops I couldn’t resist picking up at the store over the weekend. When the weather started turning back to gorgeous, it all came together. Root Beer glazed pork chops, anyone? How about some nice grilled zucchini and yellow squash to go with it? I’ll even throw in a foil pack of potatoes for the hubs, just because I’m feeling generous. Nice weather does that to me.

After work last night, I hustled us home and got to work. First, of course, there was getting the grill set up. I brought a fresh bottle of propane home with me and hooked it up (yes, I know, I should grill with charcoal. I just don’t have time for that on an average night). While the grill was heating up, I reduced the sauce and got the veggies ready.

And what happened? See for yourself! Just look at this gorgeous platter.
The meat was tender and flavorful, and the glaze gave the meat a sweet and tangy taste. I make a similar dish with some of my Hot Apple Pie liqueur, and I think we love them both!

If you love the Goose Island Root Beer (or any root beer!) give this one a try when you get YOUR grill going this season!

OOOPS! I forgot to include the recipe!

Root Beer Glazed Pork Chops
1 bottle Goose Island Root Beer
1 cup beef broth
1 tsp Sriracha (or more if you like spicy!)
1/3 cup brown sugar

Mix all the ingredients in a sauce pan and cook over medium high heat until reduced by about half, or until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, but no longer.

Season your pork chops with salt and pepper and grill until cooked basting with the root beer sauce until you get a nice glaze.

***NOTES*** I had a hard time keeping my grill hot enough in the cool temps on my deck, so I didn't get a nice char on my chops, but you bet i will next time!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Linguine with Olives and Breadcrumbs

After my weekend of “whining” and dinning my Valentine (otherwise known as Little Man), I was looking for a nice, simple supper to fix last night. Just such a dish came to me, care of Giada de Laurentiis and her Spaghetti with Olives and Breadcrumbs. Spaghetti? Olives, you say? Two of my favorite things! And it doesn’t hurt that I still have a couple of tubs of wonderful mixed olives from The Hill in St Louis lingering around in my fridge. Other than the fresh parsley, which I was fresh out of, this was a perfect meal straight from the pantry for me.

I call that... DESTINY.

Spaghetti with Olives and Bread Crumbs
1 pound spaghetti (I used linguine)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup seasoned dried bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
3/4 cup pitted and roughly chopped black olives (recommended: kalamata)
3/4 cup pitted and roughly chopped large green olives (recommended: Bella Di Cerignola)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the bread crumbs and 1/4 teaspoon each of the sea salt and pepper. Stirring constantly, cook the breadcrumbs until golden brown, about 2 minutes.

Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. Stir the pasta into the bread crumb mixture. Remove the pan from the heat and add the black and green olives. Add the Parmesan cheese and 3 tablespoons of the parsley. Season the pasta with salt and pepper, to taste. Gently toss to coat, adding reserved pasta water, if needed, to loosen the pasta. Transfer to a large serving bowl and garnish with the remaining parsley.
I love the briny flavor the olives bring to this dish, and the fact that it wasn’t loaded down with a heavy tomato sauce. Don’t get me wrong, I adore a good marinara or Bolognese, but with the weather ever-so-slightly turning to spring, I was in the mood for something a little lighter. Even though I would be the only one at my house to eat this, I went ahead and made the full amount and I will be enjoying it for a couple of my lunches at work this week. Next time I think I may add a little lemon juice or zest, some capers and little grape tomatoes!

This is my submission for this week’s I Heart Cooking Clubs theme, “Using Your Noodle”, and to Ruth over at Presto Pasta Nights, being hosted by Pia of Cook Healthy this week.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hearts from the Heart

I had a hot date this weekend.

With a younger man.

He’s loving, and attentive.

He’s also my son.

Yep, for Valentine’s Day this year, I celebrated with my Little Man. We had planned to have Ty’s best buddy over for a sleepover, but there was a last minute change of plans when the “Braydens” (Ty’s buddy and his parents) woke up under the weather on Saturday.

In spite of the change, Ty and I had ourselves a sweet night out, starting with a matinee of Gnomeo and Juliet, and ending with a quiet supper at home, made up mostly of chocolate.

While it was a lovely evening, we did miss out on the “little boy” time we’d been looking forward to. See, Ty’s conniving momma (yep, that’d be me) had a sweet little Valentine’s projects all lined up and ready to go for the boys to do together on Sunday morning. Instead, Ty and I rolled up our sleeves and got chatty.

Yep, I said chatty.

We made conversation hearts. This is an idea that my sister gave me last year, but I didn’t get the supplies ready to make them in time for Valentine’s Day then, so I set my mind on 2011!

These little treats are so easy to make at home. The one thing to remember if you want to make these is that they require an extensive drying time of about 24 hours before you can write on them. I bought a package of food markers and we were ready to go! Don’t be intimidated by the long instructions, these are really as basic as making up a simple dough, coloring it, rolling it out and cutting it like sugar cookies. Try and find a heart shaped cookie cutter that is no bigger than an inch in diameter. I got mine at Hobby Lobby for about 30 cents, and the Gourmet Writer food markers by Americolor for about $8.

Conversation Hearts
• 1 packet (1/4 oz, or 2 tsp) unflavored gelatin
• 1/2 cup water
• 2 tsp light corn syrup
• 2 lbs powdered sugar, plus additional for dusting
• Assorted flavoring extracts of your choice (we used peppermint)
• Assorted food colors of your choice
• Heart-shaped cutters
• Food coloring markers

1. Place the corn syrup, gelatin, and water in a small microwave-safe bowl. Stir until the gelatin is well-distributed. Microwave the mixture for 30 seconds, so the gelatin dissolves, and stir well.

2. Pour the gelatin mixture into the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Alternately, if you are using a hand mixer, pour the gelatin mixture into a large bowl. Add 1 cup of powdered sugar and turn the mixer to low, mixing until the sugar is incorporated.

3. Once the sugar is mixed in, add another cup of sugar, again mixing on low until it liquefies. Continue to add the remaining powdered sugar, one cup at a time, pausing in between additions to allow the sugar to mix in, until the full two pounds of powdered sugar is added. Periodically, stop the mixer and scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. The candy will progress from a thin, watery liquid to a very stiff dough.

4. Once all of the sugar is incorporated, dust a work surface (counter or large cutting board) with powdered sugar and scrape the candy out onto the work surface. The candy will be very sticky and stiff. Generously dust the top of the ball of candy with powdered sugar, and begin to knead the candy like bread dough: fold the ball of dough over onto itself, then use the heel of your hand to push it down. Give the candy a quarter-turn, and repeat the process, dusting it with more powdered sugar as often as necessary to prevent it from sticking to the board or your hands. Knead until the candy is satiny and not sticky.

5.Decide how many colors/flavors of conversation hearts you want to make, and divide the candy dough into that many portions. To flavor and color the candy, take one of the balls and flatten it into a palm-sized disc. Add a few drops of food coloring and flavoring extract to the center of the disc, and fold it over on itself. (It is a good idea to wear disposable plastic gloves during this step to keep your hands free of colors and odors.) Knead the dough ball, just as you did before, until the color is evenly dispersed throughout the candy, and all streaks have disappeared. Repeat this process with remaining candy balls and colors/flavors, until all of your candy is colored and flavored.
6. Dust your work surface and a rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out one of the candy balls to your desired thickness. Small store-bought conversation hearts tend to be fairly thick, generally over 1/4” thick. I find that this thickness works well for small hearts (under 1”), but it makes larger heart sizes very substantial and a little overwhelming. However, the thickness is entirely a matter of personal preference and does not affect the taste of the final candy.
7. Use heart-shaped cutters to cut hearts out of the rolled candy, and transfer the hearts to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Smaller hearts are more realistic, but larger hearts are easier to write messages on. Once you have cut out your hearts, you can re-roll the scraps to get more shapes out of the candy. Repeat with remaining candy balls.
8. Allow your hearts to air-dry for at least 24 hours before you write on them. This step is VERY important, because the extra moisture in the hearts will cause the ink to run if you do not let them dry properly.
When I was done cutting out the hearts, I rolled all my scrap dough together and made swirly hearts!
9. After the hearts have dried for a day, use the food writing markers to write messages or draw designs on the hearts. Store your conversation hearts in an airtight container at room temperature.
Ty and I had fun writing messages to his favorite loves!
These were super easy to put together. I did all the prep work and had them ready to decorate the next day. It was tons of fun and made sweet little Valentines treats for Ty's favorite people.

Friday, February 11, 2011

That's Amore!

Every year when February rolls around, I waffle back and forth about what I think of February’s Hallmark holiday. On one hand, I think its great that there is a date set aside every year to encourage couples to show their appreciation and love for one another. On the other, I think it just gets out of control. Who takes who out? Who buys the gifts? Why are gifts necessary? It goes on and on. And with us, it gets even more exhausting as we just got through Christmas, and both of our birthdays are in January, so by February, the last thing we need is another gift-giving holiday. So, in our house, we long ago came up with a compromise. First of all, we don’t do Valentine’s gifts. Same for our anniversary. No gifts. The deal is that we get a sitter, and we go out and do something fun together. And to ward off any jealousy or bitterness over who gets the special treatment, we take turns. One year, I do the planning and take him somewhere that I have chosen specifically because HE will enjoy it. On the alternating years, he does the same for me (ok, so his turn usually comes down to me picking a place to eat and him paying, but hey, I’ll take what I can get. Casanova, he is not). That way, everyone gets special treatment at some point, and we both like this arrangement.

What are we doing this year? I have no idea. We keep bringing the subject up and neither one of us has made a suggestion. We have lost track of whose turn it is, and with the big day being on a Monday this year, we have to try and decide which day we are going to celebrate. So far, all we know is that it is not going to be this weekend. Instead, Ty is going to get a treat. He doesn’t know it yet, but his best friend is coming to our house for a sleepover tomorrow. There will undoubtedly be pizza and cookies, movies, and probably a tent in the living room.

Since, at the earliest, we will have our own date NEXT weekend (if we can decide on something to do) I went ahead and showed my appreciation for Matt last night. (get your minds out of the gutter – he isn’t THAT lucky!) So how do I show my appreciation for my husband?

I feed him.

And when you’re talking about food, in the Big Man’s mind, love equates to beef. Preferably with potatoes. But definitely nothing green. Or red. Or really any other color at all. Cheese is permitted, and bread, but no vegetables. And so I made a Matt-worthy meal, just for him, to show him how much I love him. Although I’d love him more if he’d eat a green bean or two now and then. Or a carrot. Something.

So, what was on the menu? Well, when I did my grocery shopping earlier this week, my local grocery had a nice looking flat iron steak and some adorable little bitty new potatoes, so I turned to Giada de Laurentiis and made her Steak with Balsamic BBQ Sauce, and Smashed Parmesan Potatoes.

I was intrigued by this recipe when I ran across it, but I admit that I tweaked it a little to our own tastes when I read the list of ingredients. For example, I didn’t have any Dijon mustard, so I just mixed in a little ground mustard. And ketchup? Really? I don’t think so. The tang of balsamic vinegar is something I love, but it can be a little too much for Matt unless there is something else in the mix to temper it a little bit, and I really didn’t see ketchup doing that. However, we have a new favorite BBQ sauce in our house that is made right here in Illinois, called Uncle Joe’s BBQ, and comes in a variety of flavors. I picked up a couple of bottles at the Market On The Square here in town recently and we ADORE it. SO I took the bottle of the “Sweet Smoke” and added some of that to the sauce in place of the ketchup. Sorry, Giada, I just couldn’t do the ketchup.

Now that we have the menu, I have to tell you how this all went down. See, its winter. And not only is it winter, we recently survived a Blizzaster here in the Midwest. So, while this recipe calls for grilling the steak.... there ain’t no way that was happening last night. There isn’t enough love in the world to make me stand out on my deck right now grilling a steak for my husband. And you know what? That attitude came back to bite me on the ass.

We have an electric indoor grill. We got it for our wedding. We haven’t used it in YEARS. Last night I found out why. Its because I hid it. Because Matt was always wanting to use it and it is a BITCH to clean. SO I hid it and he finally forgot we had it. I didn’t forget. I knew right where it was. And I pushed aside all thoughts of the hell I’d go through cleaning it because... I LOVE MY HUSBAND. And he’s worth it. Right?

Were your ears ringing last night? If they were, its not because we were talking about you. Its because you could hear the smoke alarms going off at my house. That sucker can smoke up a house like nobody’s business. So while I was planning this meal, and opting to avoid standing outside on a February night to grill the steak. I ended up in the frigid winter air anyway. Standing in my kitchen with the windows wide open waving my arms like one of those guys on an airport runway. Except that I was waving newspapers around instead of little light wands....and, you know, the fact that I probably looked like I was on crack.

SO, for dinner last night, the hubs got dinner AND a show! Oh, and we’re now officially short one small kitchen appliance. Because I chucked that grill out into the skating rink that is our driveway and left it for next week’s trash pickup. I hope they aren’t dumb enough to take it home, thinking it’s a perfectly good grill that shouldn’t have been thrown away. The bonus for me is that now I don’t have to clean it. But if your ears are ringing next week.... well, its probably the smoke alarms going off at the house of our trash pickup guy.

Honey, if that ain’t love, I’ll kiss your ass.

This is my submisison for this week's "That's Amore!" theme over at I Heart Cooking Clubs
Notice there is absolutely nothing green on this plate....


For the Balsamic BBQ sauce:
• 1 cup balsamic vinegar
• 3/4 cup ketchup
• 1/3 cup brown sugar
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
• 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the steak:
 • 4 pieces of New York strip or Club strip steak (I used one nice sized flat iron steak)
• Salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and stir until all the ingredients are incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Simmer over medium heat until reduced by 1/3, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Place a grill pan over medium heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Lightly coat with some of the BBQ sauce using a pastry brush. Place the meat on the grill. Place the remaining BBQ sauce, still in the small saucepan, over low heat or on the edge of a gas or charcoal grill and allow to gently simmer while the meat cooks.

Cook the steaks starting at about 4 minutes per side until a meat thermometer reads the desired temperature, 120 degrees F for medium rare, 135 degrees F for medium (about 6 minutes per side), 155 degrees F for well done (about 9 minutes per side). Continually brush the meat with BBQ sauce every few minutes. Remove the meat from the grill and let rest for at least 5 minutes. Serve with the heated BBQ sauce alongside.

3 pounds baby red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled, halved  (I used about half that amount)
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the potatoes in a large pot of water. Cover and bring the water to a boil. Continue boiling until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Return the potatoes to the pot. Coarsely mash the potatoes, adding enough reserved cooking liquid to moisten. Using a large fork, stir in the Parmesan and the oil. Season the potatoes, to taste, with salt and pepper and serve.

**NOTES** This steak was AWESOME. We ended up finishing it off in the oven when the smoke got out of control, but it was wonderful and tender (cut flat iron steaks across the grain) and the sauce was a wonderful explosion of flavor. The switch I made for the ketchup was definitely a winner. The potatoes were also nice, and very easy to put together. I would probably add more cheese next time.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Standing Over the Stove with a Spoon...

...eating straight out of the pot.
(see those beautiful little droplets of toasted sesame oil swimming around with the red pepper flakes? They look happy, don't they?)
That’s how good this soup is. For about the last two months, I have had a very insistent craving for Chinese food. Or Thai. Or Vietnamese. Pretty much anything spicy with noodles. So, when I was browsing around at the Market on the Square (fabulous new shop in Carlinville that stocks only Illinois-made products) and I ran across some adorable little egg noodles called Soup Buds (by a company called Pasta Alley), I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them.


After all, that’s what they are for... and it has been an excruciatingly long, vicious winter around here. In that kind of situation, you can never have too much soup. These little gems look like egg noodles that someone took a hole punch to. Less than a half inch in diameter when fully cooked, they fill up with the broth from the soup, but stay slightly firm, giving you a wonderful mouthful of noodly goodness, without the treachery of the random noodle that inevitably flings itself over the edge of the spoon, scattering its juices on your chin (or shirt) in a last-ditch effort to escape.

Now, set on my path to a steaming pot of soup, I started searching for recipes. I go through this several times every winter. Looking for something new, something flavorful and earth shattering.... and without fail I seem to end up with....chicken soup. No matter how good the recipe claims to be, regardless of how enticing the ingredient list appears, it always just ends up as being some generic chicken soup.

I wanted more.

So when I ran across this recipe, suffice it to say I remained skeptical. Nevertheless, I trudged ahead, making a few minor tweaks here and there. And what did I end up with?

Sheer bliss.

The hubs came in from feeding the dogs and found me hunkered down over the stove with a spoon in hand, eating straight out of the pot. It started innocently enough, with a taste to check the seasoning....but you know, first tastes can be deceiving, so you should always check twice. But in the second bite I really didn’t get any chicken, so I tried again. And then I wanted to make sure it was seasoned consistently throughout.... and I might as well double check those noodles to make sure they were thoroughly cooked.... Well, it was shameful, really. I ate enough of it standing there at the stove that I didn’t need to actually fix myself a bowl. I was full. And gloriously so.

Sadly, I was so enthralled with my brothy discovery that I completely missed the recommended garnishes. Imagine how much more pleased I was when I dragged the pot back out again this morning (yes, at 5:00 am) and fixed myself a bowl, complete with savory garnish, and had another serving for breakfast. Yes, you heard me right. And then ladled up another generous serving to take to work with me for lunch. I see no reason to ever make another kind of chicken soup again. Ever.

Here is the recipe (originally from America’s Test Kitchen), with my changes. I strongly urge you to make this at home. And eat it standing over the strove with a spoon. And maybe for breakfast...

Spicy Asian Chicken Noodle Soup
adapted from America's Test Kitchen

8-10 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon Asian chili garlic sauce (this had a lovely amount of heat without being too spicy, but I LOVE spicy, so if you don’t, then cut back on this ingredient)
2 cups chicken (I picked the all meat off a rotisserie chicken)
1 cup Soup Buds or other egg noodle (or 2 packages of dried ramen noodles, seasoning packed discarded)
3 scallions, sliced thin
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, minced
4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
pinch of red pepper flakes for garnish (optional)

Bring broth, soy sauce, mirin, ginger, and chili garlic sauce to a boil in a large saucepan.
Add the egg noodles (if using) and cook until almost done.
Add the cut up chicken to the pot and simmer, covered, over medium-low heat until chicken is warmed through.
If using Ramen noodles, add the dried noodles into the broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until they're just about cooked.
Stir in the scallions and cilantro and serve in bowls.
Garnish each bowl additional fresh cilantro leaves and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and sprinkle with a few red pepper flakes, if you like.

I am submitting this to Presto Pasta Nights, the brainchild of Ruth at Once Upon a Feast. Be sure to check out this week's roundup tomorrow hosted by Helen at Fuss Free Flavors!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Marinated Crab Claws

One of my most favorite foods on earth (and trust me when I say that getting on THAT list is no small feat) is crab. Particularly snow crab legs greedily snatched from an all you can eat buffet, but crab in any form gets the drool juices flowing for me.

I was in one such state recently when I was browsing the seafood counter of a local (ok, so it was an hour away, but you know my truly “local” resources are limited) supermarket. Knock me over with a feather....right there in front of me were some lovely little red crab claws. Those bad boys went into my cart so fast, it had my Little Man doing a double take. There is very little that boy misses, but he had to reach over and peer in the cart to see what exactly had made its way into my seafood-starved possession.

And they were never heard from again.

Okay, well, maybe they were. But just briefly, in the privacy of my kitchen, where I pulled a chair up to the kitchen counter (that’s right, I didn’t even make it to a table) and devoured the little beasties with an almost horrifying display of gluttony. Which is why I never left the kitchen. Because my love affair with crab is something that is really best kept in private. And besides.... it was much closer to the trash can....I mean, why dirty another dish just for the shells, right? I was just being efficient.

That’s my story and I’ll tell it how I want to hear it.

What did I do to the little claws, you ask? Other than make a glorious mess of them, that is? Well, I marinated them. See, since crab is generally always precooked, unless is it still alive, there is really no cooking involved. I whipped up a marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and red pepper flake. Then I tossed the claws in the marinade and let it swim around in it (in the fridge, of course) overnight, tossing them around occasionally to make sure all the little crevices got coated.

While these crustaceans weren’t very photogenic, but considering the willpower it took to take pictures before wolfing it down...well, you’re lucky there are pictures at all. I’m just sayin’.

While I thoroughly enjoyed these sequestered in my little corner of the culinary world, and they look like they would make marvelous appetizers for your next party, don’t do it. I strongly urge you to resist serving these to your friends. And not only because you will want them all for yourself, but because you will likely have a number of dry cleaning bills foisted upon you. These little buggers are MESSY. Drippy and oozing soy sauce, this is not something you want to eat in your dressy dinner attire. Besides.... seeing someone else eat like this.... can be a tad frightening. And it might give you insights about said friends....insights you may want to burn from your retinas later. Resist....I beg you.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Because She Told Me I Had To

That’s right, I am posting today under strict orders from my friend Mendi. See, its like this. We had our monthly book club meeting this past Friday at Mendi’s house, and naturally, as frequently happens when I’m around, talk turned to food.

At which point, Mendi emphatically protested about my last post STILL being up on my blog.

Clearly, I have been neglecting my foodie friends.

Admittedly, my blog posts have taken a hit recently, as I have noticed a steep incline in the pressure I’ve been putting on my bathroom scale at home. And so, I’ve been cooking more for the hubs, and much less for me, in the hopes that I can reverse the trend.

So, apparently, I will have to start cooking again – just with a healthier twist, if I’m going to keep people happily returning to my little corner of the blogosphere.

And so I promised Mendi that on Monday, she would see a bright, shiny new post on my blog. And here it is.

Sadly, I don’t have much enthusiasm for this recipe. I was excited about it when I ran across it, sure. I even made the special oil it calls for over a week ago. Truth be told, I’ve had shrimp in the fridge (ok, TWICE) already for this dish and had to throw it away because time got away from me. And that’s just wrong.

Thinking of Mendi, I settled onto my new ChefMat last night (thanks to a lovely birthday gift I received from My mother in law and sister in law) and got started. After all, the hubs was off in “Guy Land” watching the Big Game last night, so I had the house to myself.

The recipe is exceedingly easy. Chop about ¼ cup of jarred pepperoncinis, and simmer them in a skillet with about a half cup of oilive oil until it is fragrant, and then let it cool to room temperature.

Toss some shrimp in a few tablespoons of the oil and let it sit for a few minutes. Then sautee the shrimp in a hot skillet just until done, after which, you give the little guys another toss in the oil (I used fresh oil the second time even though the recipe didn’t say to).

Easy peasy, right?

And it was. Maybe I should have gotten the pan hotter before putting the shrimp in, or maybe I shouldn’t have crowded the pan (it is my perpetual fatal kitchen error, this I admit) so the shrimp might have gotten a nice sear to them.

I served this with a bit of angel hair pasta tossed with more of the oil and topped with breadcrumbs.

And it was....satisfactory.

Yeah, that about sums it up. I ate it. Not gonna lie. But frankly, I wouldn’t make it again. Well, let me take that back. I MIGHT make it again.... except with some nice hot chiles instead. It really needed more flavor. I expected it to have more punch to it, I suppose. And it saddens me that this was a Giada recipe that I was hoping to post to I Heart Cooking Clubs. But, alas, I won’t be doing that. Because I’m just not that proud of it.

So, why am I even posting it out here, you ask?

Because Mendi told me to.