I Am Dense

You know these Rubbermaid/Gladware kitchen storage containers? I recently, as in just a few minutes ago, discovered they were microwave safe. For at least two years now I've been using these to save all sorts of leftovers and every time I would empty the food onto a plate before I reheated it in the microwave.

Some years ago there was a disaster at my parents house with a bowl from the old, expensive kind of tupperware. It melted, the whole house stunk and the microwave was nearly ruined. I think ever since then I've assume that plastic + microwave = bad.

However today I had some leftover Shepherd's Pie that Lauren and I made last night. This morning I put some into a Rubbermaid container and (as I tend to do with food items in the winter) rather than take it home and stick it in the refrigerator I figured I'd just throw it in my car, leave it there (since its 10 degrees outside) and eat it when I drove home for lunch. By the time noon rolled around the thought of braving the cold walk to the car and cold drive home (its barely far enough for my car to warm up completely) just wasn't doing anything for me. So it finally dawned on me that the Rubbermaid container I had packed my food in might be microwave safe. I looked it up online and then checked the container, both of which said "microwave reheatable".

And thats the story of how I ate a warm lunch in my warm office today.

The more I think about it I am pretty sure I've seen Lauren put those things in the microwave, but I always assumed she was just extremely foolish and willing to risk a plastic in the microwave meltdown for the sake of convenience.

Beer Lab Revisited

Back in November I posted about some beer that I had brewed as Christmas gifts. Each batch got its own custom label, personalized for its recipient. However I got a late start on two of the beers because it takes about 6 weeks to really get from start to "this would pass as a beer you could buy in a store". Well, its been at least 8 weeks since then, so this weekend I'll be giving them a taste test.

The first beer was an American Amber Ale that went to Debbie's in-laws. I don't have a picture of the label we created, so I am instead going to use the Red Dragon Ale bottle from the beer that Peter & Rachel gave to Peter's dad for Christmas. Both beers used the same ingredients so the end result should be the same, though I must admit I'd be a lot more comfortable if I had a bottle of Debbie's beer so I could be sure nothing went wrong.

Peter and Rachel gave me the idea for what they wanted on the label, that being the Welsh lion and the traditional Sheldon family crest. It was a good idea. So good in fact, that I kind of ripped it off for a Christmas beer I was giving.

American Amber Ale (Brewed Saturday Nov. 22)
6.3 lbs - Liquid Amber Malt E
1 lb - Crystal 10L
1oz - Amarillo Hops (60 min to boil)
1oz - Cascade Hops (15 mins to boil)
White Labs California Ale Yeast (WLP001)

The second beer I brewed was called Murphy's Irish Ale and was given to Lauren (Murphy)'s dad. This time I used the Murphy crest, with some slight alterations. Being that they're from South Carolina I used a Palmetto moon for the I in Irish. I also cut out the apples on the apple tree and replaced them with Clemson Tiger paws, since Lauren's dad is a proud graduate of Clemson University.

The beer is an Irish Red and used the following ingredients:

Irish Red Ale (Brewed Nov. 21)
6 lbs - Liquid Pale Malt Extract
1 lb - Raw Honey
0.5 - Cara-pils
3 oz - Roasted Barley 300L
1oz - Amarillo Hops (60 min to boil)
1oz - Amarillo Hops (15 min to boil)
White Labs Irish Ale Yeast (WLP004)

The entire process was really fun, and if the other beer recipients appreciated it as much as Lauren's dad did, it was well worth the time and effort. Ideally it would be cool to start a business with this sort of thing, in the mold of Vermont Teddy Bear setup. But up to this point it appears as though I'd need a $100,000 commercial brewer's license to make it happen.

Later tonight or tomorrow morning I'll attach an update at the bottom of this post and provide a comparison for what each beer tasted like.

Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

Last night I took the fresh pasta that we didn't give away and made some chicken fettuccine alfredo. Unfortunately we had some issues with the sun dried tomato fettuccine. It refused to unravel from the coils we rolled for freezer storage. I think it was because ours were at the bottom of a bag full of noodles, and they simply got packed a little more tightly than we intended. I hope the bags we gave away didn't have the same problems. If they did, I apologize.

Anyhow, fettuccine alfredo isn't exactly the type of thing you post a recipe for (all we did was add sauteed mushrooms, onion and broccoli to the jar of sauce) but it looked to good to just ignore, so instead I'll tell you what I did with the chicken:

  • two fresh/thawed boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • rub with salt & pepper
  • roll in flour (shaking off any excess)
  • dip them in egg wash
  • roll in 1/4 cup bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 350. Then heat 3-4 tbsp olive oil in a skillet until it just barely starts smoking (not burning). Saute (pan fry is probably more accurate) the chicken breasts for 4 minutes per side in the skillet. This will give the chicken a nice crispy breaded crust. When finished, place the chicken breasts in a glass baking dish, cover with tin foil and bake for 20 minutes.

Also, I don't know if I've mentioned this before but if you're wondering why my pictures are often up close and crooked its because that is how I turn things from a simple picture into art. Zoom in real tight, and tilt the camera towards 45 degrees.

Yeah, I'm on to you professional photographers. Your secret is now on the internet for everyone to see.

Good Job Moms

Sunday has become pasta day over at Lauren's house. After brunch we usually get out the eggs and flour and make a pound of pasta for quick dinners later in the week. Yesterday I made some to give to a friend for letting me commandeer his computer Saturday afternoon. The use of semolina flour made things go so quick and smooth that we finished up without any bickering and decided we wanted to make more. So I went to the grocery store and got more flour and eggs so we could make tri-color fettucine gift bags for our friends with children. I hope nobody takes it the wrong way, we were just thinking it might be nice to give some friends an easy dinner starter for some night when things get a little hectic.

The green pasta is spinach fettucine. The red is sun-dried tomato fettucine and the light-colored pasta is basil & oregano herb fettucine. The pasta will keep for about a month in the freezer. When you're ready to cook it just boil some water, add salt and cook the noodles for about 4 minutes. I think its just under a pound of fettucine, so it should be good for 2-3 servings, but to be honest I haven't quite figured out how to do the conversions between the weight of the pasta dough (1.5-2 lbs), the weight of the rolled and cut noodles (presumably 1.5-2lbs), the lighter weight of the dried/frozen coils and the number of cups of pasta when its cooked.

I'll be making deliveries tonight after work.

Breakfast On The Go

Here is a recipe for some awesome French Toast. It freezes extremely well, so you can make it on Sunday, freeze it and then pop it in the toaster in the morning before work. I do this about once a month but the French Toast only lasts about 3 days. I didn't think to take a picture of the fresh product, so this is a picture of the freezer bag. It looks like it has freezer burn, but thats just some moisture from the French Toast. I put it in while it was still warm.

6 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cinnamon, optional
1 loaf Texas Toast sliced white bread

Mix together all ingredients except bread slices. Dip bread in the egg mixture,
coating both sides. Place on heated griddle and cook until golden. Turn and
cook opposite side until golden. Serve immediately with your favorite topping.

Vegetarian Enchiladas

In between our second and third dates, Lauren invited me over for dinner. It was the middle of the week and was a bit of a return favor for a time when I made her sweet tea and dropped it off in the middle of some remodeling she was doing on the house she lives in now. Her words specifically were "do you want to come over for dinner tomorrow night? We're having enchiladas." So I thought "cool, I love cheesy Mexican food."

Anyways I'm sitting there in the kitchen volunteering to help assemble the food and I'm taking inventory of everything (internally):

"Black beans, refried beans. Alright."

"Corn is good."

"Salsa, cheese, onions, cool. Mushrooms? Um..."

"Bell peppers. Cool, I probably won't taste them but filler is always good."

"Squash!? Zucchini!? WTF? I hate squash and zucchini."

"So, I noticed there isn't any chicken in sight."

"This is going badly. I am pretty sure this is more fiber than I've had in a month."

So we assemble everything without chicken or any meat whatsoever and while its baking I am sitting at the counter thinking "alright, here is how I'll get through this: one enchilada to be polite, with lots of sour cream, large bites and quick swallows, because if I bite into a chunk of cooked squash or zucchini I'm going to feel like vomiting".

The meal gets served, I take two enchiladas and execute my plan with very little spilled filling. Some weeks or months later I finally decided to tell Lauren how devastated I was at the surprise chickenless enchiladas.

Today they are one of my favorite dishes. The squash and zucchini are still bites I try to avoid, but these enchiladas are dynamite.

The Recipe:

1 can enchilada sauce
1 medium squash
1 medium zucchini
4 bell peppers (green, yellow, orange and red)
1/2 pkg sliced mushrooms
1 medium onion
1 can corn
1 can black beans
2 cups shredded cheese
15 - flour tortillas
1 jar salsa
sour cream

Heat the oven to 350. Dice and saute all the fresh vegetables until tender, drain the canned vegetables and add to skillet. Slather a spoonful of refried beans into the tortillas, 2-3 spoons full of filling and a spoonful of salsa. Roll tight and set in a 13 x 9 inch baking dish. The filling and refried beans should fill about 13 tortillas. Pour the enchilada sauce on top of the filled baking dish and spread, covering any exposed tortilla (to prevent drying). Bake for 15 minutes, then top with 2 cups shredded cheese and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove and serve with sour cream.

Cornish Pasties

This was a combination recipe, using Emeril Lagasse's dough and Robert Irvine's filling preparation, minus his seasonings. No real story behind this, we usually get them if we go to Graydon's Crossing and decided we'd figure out if we could make them at home. If you have some rather basic grocery staples like potatoes, onions, eggs and flour, they're really quit simple and inexpensive. We substituted ground turkey for the ground beef. The only issue we had was the crust. The recipe had them coming out somewhere between hot pocket and individual pot pie size. Ours were quite a bit bigger because the dough was not as smooth and stretchy as expected.

Short-crust Pastry:
* 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 teaspoons confectioners' sugar
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 3 ounces cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
* 4 ounces lard or vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
* 1 egg yolk
* 6 tablespoons cold water

Sift the flour, confectioners' sugar, and salt into a mixing bowl and add the butter and lard. Using your fingers, 2 knives, or a pastry blender, cut the butter and lard into the dry ingredients until mixture resembles fine crumbs. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk and water together and add to the flour mixture. Mix quickly, but thoroughly, until mixture just comes together to form a dough. Knead briefly until pastry is smooth with no cracks; the trick to making this delicate pastry easy to work with is kneading it just enough so that it can be rolled out and manipulated without breaking but yet retains its lovely crumbly texture. Press into a flattened disk shape and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight before proceeding.

Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and unwrap. Allow to soften slightly, then place on a lightly floured work surface and roll the pastry to a thickness of 1/4-inch. Using a small plate or saucer as a guide, cut out 6 (6-inch) rounds. (Scraps may be combined and reformed if you cannot get 6 rounds out of the first batch.) Stack the pastry rounds onto pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper (with pieces between each round to keep them from sticking together) and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.


* 1 lb ground turkey
* 1 small onion, very finely chopped
* 1 medium carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
* 1 small Idaho potato, cut into 1/4-inch dice
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 1 egg, lightly beaten

Heat oil in a skillet and saute the carrots, onion and potatoes until al dente. Add ground turkey and brown.

Place the pastry circles on a clean work surface and place about 1/2 cup of the filling in the center of 1 side of the pastry. Using the beaten egg, brush the edges of the pastry and then bring the unfilled side over the filled side so that edges meet. Press edges together to seal and then crimp using your fingers or a fork. Repeat with the remaining turnovers and then transfer to a baking sheet. Brush the tops of the turnovers with the remaining egg and then cut several slits into the top of each pastry. Bake for 20 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown around the edges. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and continue to bake until the pasties are golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

They were good. A little dry in the middle, but now that we have a baseline method established its easy to see ways to incorporate creams, cheeses or rouxs into the filling to fix that.

Good Eats

In the new year Food Network has changed their schedule around just a little bit with certain shows in their off-season and other shows, like Ace Of Cakes, starting their new season. That seems to have opened up the 11pm time slot for a new set of reruns, which is currently being filled by Good Eats. I never used to watch it, but lately Good Eats has turned into my nightcap. Of course that makes it a little more difficult not to go to bed hungry or have weird dreams where I'm in charge of preparing dinner for crazy medieval feasts. But Good Eats is so fascinating and informative that I just can't turn it off. I also like that it doesn't really center on recipes, but instead gives you a better understanding of how to make minor procedural adjustments that improve the quality of your food.

This episode (Season 5, Episode 4: Celebrity Roast) is the one that really turned me on to the show.

I am sure I might regret this because I'd never watch or re-watch them (like my Sopranos DVDs), but right now I want the complete set of Good Eats on DVD, just not at that price.

Black Bean Croquettes

Last night we were looking for something new that made use out of the odds and ends grocery items we've accumulated during the couple of weeks. So I checked Food Network and found a writeup on the 30 Days of Healthy Eating recipes they're promoting. As is the case most of the time, I found and suggested the recipe and Lauren approved. Only this time I got a little bonus because the Black Bean Croquettes can double as a vegetarian entree. Her roommate is vegetarian so I tend to perceive my ravenous desire to cook and eat meat as somewhat of an albatross. I hate to see somebody make a grilled cheese sandwich while I'm in their kitchen making chicken Parmesan. It make me feel guilty.

So this recipe was not only good on its own merit, but it scored brownie points from Lauren and my own conscience.

Black Bean Croquettes
* 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed
* 1 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
* 1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup plain dry breadcrumbs, divided
* 2 cups finely chopped tomatoes
* 2 scallions, sliced
* 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
* 1 teaspoon chili powder, hot if desired, divided
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 avocado, diced

Preheat oven to 425°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Mash black beans and cumin with a fork in a large bowl until no whole beans remain. Stir in corn and 1/4 cup breadcrumbs. Combine tomatoes, scallions, cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder and salt in a medium bowl. Stir 1 cup of the tomato mixture into the black bean mixture.

Mix the remaining 1/3 cup breadcrumbs, oil and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon chili powder in a small bowl until the breadcrumbs are coated with oil. Divide the bean mixture into 8 scant 1/2-cup balls. Lightly press each bean ball into the breadcrumb mixture, turning to coat. Place on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the croquettes until heated through and the breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Stir avocado into the remaining tomato mixture. Serve the salsa with the croquettes.

We added shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream on our own. We also elected to cut the recipe in half, make the croquettes in 1/4 cup balls and have them as a side dish with the lemon pepper chicken I made. But I almost made a completely vegetarian meal.

Spaghetti & Meatballs

Early yesterday I felt a need to revisit fresh pasta, considering how poorly my attempt at ravioli went. Throughout the week I did some minor research and noticed that about half the recipes or people I talked to mentioned the use of semolina flour. Evidently its a coarser flour used in commercial pastas and lends yellow color and stretchiness (less tearing) to the final product. I didn't want to like it because even at a store like Meijer, semolina flour is $3.50 for 24 oz. Essentially a dollar per cup for flour is ridiculous. Not only that but 24oz was the biggest bag they had, so even I am willing to pay that much for flour I'll probably need to go to the grocery store to buy it at least every other time we make pasta. In the end though, it was worth it.

Spaghetti is by far my least favorite pasta. It is not very creative or flexible and I think that as a child I just had a few too many bad spaghetti dinners when it was dad's night to make dinner. But fresh spaghetti is awesome. I can't really explain it because it seemed pretty ordinary while I was eating it. But some hours later I was still thinking about the spaghetti and realized how much better it was than the last time I boiled a box of store bought spaghetti.

In addition to the pasta we had homemade turkey meatballs from Giada DeLaurentis.

Semolina Pasta
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups semolina flour
4 large eggs
2 tbsp olive oil
3tbsp water

Turkey Meatballs
1/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs
2 tablespoons whole milk

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated Romano

1 pound ground turkey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 cups tomato sauce

In a large bowl add bread crumbs milk and mix until well combined. Mix in eggs and 1/2 cup Romano cheese and mix well. Add turkey and gently combine, being careful not to overwork the meat. Season with salt and pepper. Shape into golf-size balls.

In a large skillet heat the oil over medium high heat. When almost smoking, add meatballs and without moving or turning the meat, allow it to brown for about 3 minutes. Turn meatballs and brown other side. Continue to cook until all sides are golden brown, about 8 minutes total. Add tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Lower heat and allow meatballs to simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and keep warm on stove. Be careful not to overhandle the meatballs since they are soft and fragile.

In a large pot, bring to a boil 6 quarts of salted water. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain pasta in a colander. Do not rinse pasta with water since you want to retain the pasta natural starches so that the sauce will cling to the pasta.

Remove meatballs from sauce and place in serving bowl. Pour some tomato sauce over meatballs, but leave about 1 cup of sauce in skillet. Place the cooked pasta into the skillet with the remaining sauce and toss well. Pour sauced pasta into a large serving bowl. Serve alongside the meatballs.

I don't have pictures of the meatballs but they turned out very well. If you decide to make them you need to know that during the first three minutes they have the ability to get very brown on the bottom without showing any other signs that they're cooking. So you need to keep on top of them and turn them per the instructions in the recipe. If you do let them get a little crunchy on one side just make sure you let them simmer in the tomato sauce a little longer to soften them up.

Lastly, we made about 1.5 - 2lbs of pasta so we had quite a bit extra. The simplest way to store fresh ribbon pasta is to make coils with a large spoon, and freeze them for 1-2 hours on a baking sheet. After 1-2 hours remove the hardened coils from the baking sheet, place in a freezer safe storage bag and freeze for up to a month.

Spinach & Chicken Ravioli

Yesterday I decided to again test the abilities of the KitchenAid pasta set by making my own ravioli. I don't have the ravioli maker attachment so I prepared for a fairly long and tedious process in order to have ravioli with chicken on the inside instead of the outside. As far as recipes go, everything was very simple. I used a basic pasta dough recipe, ricotta cheese, spinach and chicken. To top it we used some store-bought alfredo sauce with sauteed bell peppers.

The first mistake I made was in buying fresh spinach instead of frozen. On Wednesday when we made spinach pasta we used frozen spinach, but even after being thawed and squeezed it still retained enough moisture to make the dough very sticky. In hopes of avoiding that a second time I bought one 10oz bag of fresh spinach. Of course in order to use it for filling I had to trim all the stems, pulse it in a food processor and cook it in a skillet, all of which yielded exactly the same 10 oz of spinach as the frozen package with just as much moisture.

Once I dried the spinach, I mixed it with the ricotta cheese and some diced cooked chicken I had also pulsed in the food processor.
At this point Lauren joined the process and we rolled out some dough. Some very sticky and stretchy dough. But with some patience (and frustrated bickering) we managed to put together about 25 finished ravioli.

We had a ton of leftover filling, but by that point we were both so annoyed with process that we decided to refrigerate it and figure something else out. In my estimation there was enough extra filling to make another 30-40 ravioli.

Once we cooked the ravioli, we ended up losing about four ravioli to leaks and holes in the dough.

So to review, we started this process around 3:30pm. We finished at almost 6pm. And we netted 21 cooked ravioli.

This was so not worth it, regardless of the actual taste of the finished product. I blame the dough. It was too stretchy, which was probably my fault. This dough might have worked for cut noodles, but it was never going to work for ravioli.

In summary, with some refinement (and possibly the ravioli maker) in the assembly process homemade ravioli would be a worthwhile process if your plans were to eat a small portion (25 or less) and freeze the rest (50+) for easy meals later in the week. But at the moment for me it just isn't worth the effort.

Chocolate Scones!!

For a few days now Lauren and I have been contemplating an attempt at making scones, because I got the 75th Anniversary edition of The Joy of Cooking and it seems to have a recipe for everything you can think of amongst its whopping catalog of 4,500.

So this morning we tried our hand at Chocolate Chip Scones, or at least she did. I mostly watched while I washed dishes. The recipe was as follows:

1 3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup cold butter
2 eggs

1/3 c heavy cream

Sift flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt together into a large bowl. Cut butter into small pea sized cubes. Mix into dry ingredients with pastry blender. Beat eggs in a separate bowl. Reserve 2 Tbsp of egg. Beat cream into the remaining egg. Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour in the liquid and combine with a few rapid strokes. Handle the dough as little as possible. Place it on a lightly floured board. Flour hands, and pat dough to 3/4 inch thick. Cut into diamonds, squares, or whatever shapes you want. Brush with reserved egg and sprinkle with salt or sugar. Bake 15 minutes at 450.

We added chocolate chips, or rather shavings of bittersweet chocolate from a baker's block because we didn't have chocolate chips.

Warm scones are delicious.

Shrimp Scampi

Using the KitchenAid pasta attachment set I got Lauren for Christmas we made an awesome Shrimp Scampi with Fettucine. We used a mix between an herb pasta (light) and a spinach pasta (green) for the noodles. The shrimp was caught wild, then frozen by Lauren's dad back in September. All in all the meal took us about 2 hours. Not all that time was active but we had to figure out how to use the pasta attachments, thaw the shrimp, then peel and devein them.

Herba Pasta
2 cups unbleached flour
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup mild herb (basil)
1/4 cup strong herb (oregano)

Mix the ingredients and knead into a reasonably smooth lump of dough. Cut into 4 pieces, wrap loosely in plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour before using.

Spinach Pasta

2 cups unbleached flour
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil
1 pkg (10 oz) frozen spinach, thawed, dryed thoroughly

Mix the ingredients and knead into a reasonably smooth lump of dough. Cut into 4 pieces, wrap loosely in plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour before using.

Shrimp Scampi

1 pound fettucine
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 shallots, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley leaves

Cook pasta in boiling water 6 - 8 min or to desired doneness.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes (if using) until the shallots are translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper; add them to the pan and cook until they have turned pink, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the pan; set aside and keep warm. Add wine and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil. When the butter has melted, return the shrimp to the pan along with the parsley and cooked pasta. Stir well and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over a bit more olive oil and serve immediately.

Yes, these are the actual pictures of our creation. I got a digital camera for Christmas.