Garden salad

I gave my neighbor some of my extra produce and she made me a meal in return. Seems fair, I give her a couple 3 tomatillos and a cucumber and she gives me an entirely cooked meal with salad. She’s Puerto Rican and an excellent cook. The whole meal was great but the salad was especially good. It was a chop salad that included tomatillos. That was eye opening. I never know what the hell to do with them except make salsa.

So I took it a step further. I used my little black tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers and onions, all from my garden (now in decline—although the green beans did not get that memo) and I added some corn I had lying around. And while her dressing was simply vinegar and I was good with that, as per usual, I felt the need to do something a little more exotic so I found a recipe for honey lime dijon vinaigrette on a site unfortunately named The Yummy Life (insert eye rolling emoji). You can see the recipe here.

I make a lot of salad because I like leftover salad. There wasn’t much leftover, my guests went right for it, but I ate what little there was standing at the sink cleaning up that same night.

Ottolenghi

Food group met again and the theme this time was Ottolenghi, or maybe more loosely Middle Eastern food. I chose mezzes which are appetizers more or less. I do like Ottolenghi (if you don’t know who I am talking about you can look here and clearly you are not a friend of Sharon’s because he’s pretty much all she talks about). Anyway, I settled on swiss chard stuffed peppers. This is not something that appeals to me very much but it’s, you know, Ottolenghi!!! so it was gonna be ok with Sharon no matter what.

I dunno, this was a case of the sum equalling more than its parts. They were delicious. And pretty.

Recipe below

Baby peppers stuffed with chard and mozzarella

Bags of mixed baby peppers, 5-6cm long and in red, yellow and orange, are available from most supermarkets (they’re sometimes labelled “chiquino”). They vary in size, so use more or less of the filling as required. Serves four to six.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large bunch swiss chard, trimmed, stalks and leaves finely sliced
Salt and black pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 mild red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
2 tsp dried oregano
30g pine nuts, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
50g pecorino romano, finely grated
80g mozzarella block, roughly grated
500g mixed baby peppers (ie, about 20 baby peppers)

Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Heat the oil in a large saute pan on a medium-high flame, then fry the chard, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of pepper for 15 minutes, stirring often, until the stalks are soft and starting to brown. Add the garlic, chilli and oregano, fry for another minute, then take off the heat. Leave to cool, then stir in the pine nuts and both cheeses.

Cut out a little V from the stalk of each pepper down almost to the base (reserve the bits of flesh for soup or salad), then scoop out and discard the seeds. Fill the peppers with the chard mix (you’ll need about 20g in each), then lay them cut side up on an oven tray lined with greaseproof paper. Roast for 18-20 minutes, until the peppers are soft and caramelized, then leave to cool for 10 minutes and serve warm (if you want to get ahead, they are also good at room temperature).

Fritternizing

My sister left me with a whole lotta shrimp when she went back to LA. I coulda made a nice salad but no, I thought, how about shrimp fritters? What could be better than shrimp fritters? Corn and shrimp fritters is what. Oh my god. Fresh corn-off-the-cob, shrimp, red and green peppers and onion. Ho-made tartar sauce (which I could eat for dinner with a spoon). Who cares that it’s a boat load of work and calorific to boot.

Yes. Deep frying is awful and makes me want to hang myself a combination of the spray of hot oil, the need to be entertaining but having to stand over the deep fryer, the understanding that your guests are waiting with only thinly veiled impatience). But so worth it, in the short run anyway, not sure about the long run.

Also clean up is really unpleasant—I did the deep frying outside and yet I could smell it in the house the next morning. A salad might have been the easier option but not the most delicious.

Thai thighs

After my coconut pineapple cake triumph, or possibly fiasco, I had a lot of leftover coconut milk, pineapple and pineapple juice and in an attempt to make the best use of all of it (without the torture of making another coconut cake) I decided on Thai. Seemed like a good idea. I’m not all that familiar with Thai food but peanuts, pineapple and coconut feels Thai-ish. At least it’s heading more in that direction than, say, Irish.

Unfortunately I only managed to get a picture of the salad, which is just as well since it was the most photogenic item on the menu. But the Thai marinated chicken thighs roasted on sweet potatoes were fabulous and the coconut pineapple rice, the idea of which several people of the royal mounted variety turned their nose up, was absolutely outstanding.

I was anticipating having leftover salad. This was a citrusy, bell pepper, carrot, radish and lettuce Thai salad (I have no idea if Thais actually eat salad) topped with peanuts and dressed with a sweet and sour lime, brown sugar and peanut butter (seriously) dressing that was AMAZING. There were no leftovers unfortunately.

Recipe links below.

Thai chicken thighs link here

I actually followed this pretty closely but I roasted them on cubed sweet potatoes so the sweet potatoes were bathed in the lusciousness of the chicken.

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Thai salad dressing link here

I only used the dressing recipe and was pretty fast and loose with it all. Not really measuring. It was helpful to have my 9 year old grandnephew here beforehand. He julienned the vegetables for me and did quite a good job. He was very interested in my knives.

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Thai rice with pineapple and coconut. You’re on your own here. I didn’t use a recipe, just leftovers.

Mea culpa

Bless me father for I have sinned. I cheated and used a box cake mix. On the other hand, it worked out pretty well. I might spend a few extra months in purgatory but I’m hoping there’s a bar there so it might be worth the risk.

I don’t think it could have been better if I’d made it entirely from scratch. I put dulce de leche, itself a miracle of deliciousness, and coconut in the middle. Coconut cream cheese frosting on top. O.M. G.

So very easy.

Green chicken enchiladas

My sister made these and they were great. So, of course I had to make them. And make them my own. I’m including the original recipe but giving my own. The original says it serves 6 but I’d guess it easily serves 10. Mine would serve 5 or 6.

While I riffed on the original recipe, I wrote this recipe out myself. I have immense respect for people who write recipes (Julia you are a goddess). I’m certain every person who writes them has a million thoughts whipping through their heads about the variations, additions, clarifications or mistakes that might crop up. Keeping it contained, which you will see I have not, is the real challenge. Plus, if you’re going to be writing a recipe you pretty much understand what you’re doing and just assume that everyone will know what they are doing. Pfft, as if anyone does.

The recipe follows. And now I’m getting a glass of wine. And yes it is 10 in the morning. So judge me.

Green chicken enchiladas

1 pound of cooked chicken approximately.

You can, as I did, poach or sauté 2 average sized chicken breasts, or use thighs, just cooked shredded chicken. Meat from one of those roasted ones from the supermarket works. Use a goddam envelope of turkey gravy for all I care.

1 bag of baby spinach

1 onion chopped relatively finely

4 TB butter

1.5 cups sour cream (don’t use fat free or lower fat, it will break, well, you can but don’t come crying to me)

1 can chopped mild green chiles

1/4+ cup milk (I used cream so I could clog my arteries more thoroughly)

5 flour medium sized tortillas, you can use corn for all I care

8 oz shredded Monterey jack cheese, I shredded my own but you can use pre-shredded, it’s in your supermarket next to the turkey gravy.

2 tsp cumin

1 egg, beaten harshly

Salt and pepper

Turn on the oven to 350° so it will preheat

Make the chicken and spinach:

Sauté the chicken in olive oil a medium sized sauce pan. Be sure to salt and pepper the chicken. Brown slightly add a little water, cover and simmer on low until it shreds, let’s say 20-30 minutes. Be sure to check it occasionally so it does not dry out and burn. Take the chicken out and let cool slightly. Then chop or shred.

Wilt the spinach (salt it too) in that same pan. Add water if none remains and if there is water in there, just leave it be. It will seem like a shit ton but it will reduce to practically nothing. You’re going to need to turn it hither and tither. If you’re using already cooked chicken you can just wilt the spinach in that pan with a little oil or water. It’s very easy. Take it out and let it cool and then chop coarsely.

So, make the sauce:

Sauté the onions in the butter in that same medium sized sauce pan, be sure to salt and add the cumin. When that’s are cooked, turn off the heat, add the sour cream, milk, green chiles. You’re going to want that to be almost pourable so add more milf, I mean milk, honestly it won’t make much difference if it’s too thin so err on the side of thinner. And taste it to make sure it’s properly salted.

Assemble the damn thing:

Butter or oil (I used Pam—I’ve spared you the joke I was going to make here) nine inch square casserole.

Take out half the sauce and reserve. To the sauce still in the pan add the egg and mix. Then add the chicken and half the cheese. Stir to combine.

Put half of the reserved sauce in the bottom of the casserole dish. Now take and fill the tortillas. You’re on your own here. Put some in one and fold it up, making little packages and putting them in the casserole as you go. Put the rest of the sauce on top and the rest of the cheese on that.

Bake covered for 20 minutes, uncovered for 20 or until it’s browning. Let rest 10-15 minutes. You’ll need a rest too.

Add’l thoughts

I have no idea why in the hell you’d wrap these things up like that. You cannot, or at least I could not, discern the shape of them once they were baked. So my suggestion is to just layer them like lasagna in 3 layers. It’d be a hell of a lot easier.

Also I should have drizzled green taco sauce on top of it.

Pasta é ceci

This is about the most simple thing I think I’ve ever made aside from opening a bag of Cheetos and eating them over the sink and calling it dinner. Encouraged by the Royal Indian Mounted Police who’s so, you know, Italianate, I tried it out. So so so good.

Onions and garlic in olive oil, chick peas, a can of tomatoes and some tiny pasta, in this case, ancini de pepe. I used the water I’d hydrated the chick peas in but I suppose you can just use water (he said rolling his eyes). And that was that.

I should have made a double batch but then probably I’d just have eaten it all.

Meat loaf in a slop format

A lot of what I eat is just what I can slam together with crap I need to use before it becomes something more at home in a compost pile than in a pot or a on plate. I had some old mushrooms, some ground beef that was getting suspicious, a potato, a quarter of a green pepper and more off the charts, the whey that was leftover from making butter. I really don’t know what one does with whey but I really didn’t want to waste it.

So I browned the meat with onion, the mushrooms and green pepper. Then I dumped the whey in. I’m not sure what I was going for but the whey changed the texture of the meat and made it taste, oh, I dunno, buttery. I threw in the potatoes and it reminded me of something my mother would have made when I was kid. Well, not with the whey.

When I was sitting down to eat it I realized it tasted a lot like my mother’s meatloaf. So I added ketchup and horseradish. OMG. It was fabulous. Not the prettiest thing I’ve eaten but I loved it. But you put horseradish and ketchup on anything and I’ll eat it, well, not on anchovies.

Making bread again, if you can stand it

In the past I have used the Julia Child recipe/method, as well as the Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated recipe/method, also that Irish guy Patrick Ryan and more recently I’ve been using the Slovak, Ethan Chlebowski’s YouTube video and recipe/method. I got to thinking about their respective recipes and decided to compare them. So I made a list converting everything into grams so I could be comparing apples to apples. And if you think that that exercise didn’t nearly break my head open, you are mistaken, numbers ugh—even with a computer doing the work. They are all different in their methods and in their recipes. And by that I mean quantities of every component is completely different in each recipe and the methods are wildly different.

So I decided to make my own bastard loaf. Two ingredients from the Cook’s Complicated, diastatic malt which makes the bread brown more deeply (and I happen to have a pound of it and you only use a teaspoon at a time) and a quarter cup of whole wheat sifted to remove bran. I essentially used the Slovak recipe which is the wettest dough but not so different from Julia and I used Julia’s salt quantity and I let it sit in the refrigerator for 2 days which is sort of the Irish guy’s deal. But I think they’d all agree that giving the dough a long cold rise really creates flavor. Or maybe I was creating monster. And it turned out I was!

But it was not the one I might have imagined. I try never to get angry or in any event express myself in anger. Really, anger is useless and so I try to remain as calm as I can when things aren’t working out (Which is not to say I won’t succumb occasionally to hysterical frustration). This, however, was not one of those remaining-calm occasions. As I may have mentioned before, when you have as foul a mouth as I do there is absolutely nothing you can scream in anger that feels equivalent to the situation since I use all those bad words all the time in circumstances not nearly as dire as this.

I was able to get one unblemished loaf out of this fiasco. And even the ones that weren’t prefect were pretty damn good. And home made butter for chrissake.

A recipe follows. I don’t want to put myself up there with the gods of bread I’ve mentioned here but for me this worked better than any of their recipes/methods and to be honest, I just want to have this as a record since I often gasbag on about how fabulous this or that is and then I don’t write the recipe down and it is then lost to the ages.

My French bread recipe/method

500 gr Flour (includes 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour sifted to remove the larger bran)

12 gr Salt

1 packet Yeast

1 tsp Diastatic malt

370 gr Warm water

Add the yeast and a tablespoon or so of flour to the water, mix and let sit

Add the malt and salt to the flour and mix. When the water has formed bubbles of yeast, add and mix the water into the flour. Probably I should have used my hands but I used a wooden spoon. Cover with a towel, not goddam plastic, and let rest 15-20 minutes

—As an aside here I have come to realize that the timing of stuff is super flexible. It’ll be fine but longer is better. Until it sticks to the goddam baking sheet, that is.

At this point I emptied all of it onto the counter and did a little kneading just to incorporate all of the flour and I put the dough in a clean bowl. Cover (I used a silicon cover thing) and let rest for a half hour.

Now comes the gluten production. Take a corner and stretch and fold, make a quarter turn and repeat, do this 4 times total then cover and let rest 25 minutes and repeat 3 times resting between each stretching session.

Now it goes into the refrigerator covered (I will admit to using plastic wrap here, which I reused later) for 48 hours. This seems like overkill but I dunno. I think you gotta do this. You may need to bop this down if it’s getting too big for its britches…I mean bowl.

After that you have to let the dough come to room temp or 65 degrees. I used a thermometer to temp it and it took over 3 hours to do this (Of course it was -5 outside)

When it’s reached 65 degrees you portion it out and shape the loaves. I put mine on that miserable bread pan to which my bread bonded. I had floured it but next time I will spray Pam on it or use parchment strips. Now it needs another long, say 1.5-2 hour rise. I covered it with that same plastic and a linen towel.

Preheat the oven to 475, or 450 on convection. I have aluminum pans with lava rock into which I pour boiling water so the interior of the oven is steamy. And then I cut the loaves and spray them with water like you use when you iron. Oh, like you iron.

Put the loaves in the oven and after 5 minutes turn them around and spray them again. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes. And then pry them off the pan and let them rest for at least 2 hours.

More mandoline magic

Scalloped squash was good. Sweet potatoes and regular potatoes were better. You don’t have to be as insanely anal as I was here but people will think you’re a better person than you actually are if you make this and if you make it with a mandoline they’ll think you’re a real gourmet. Which, after all, is our goal here isn’t it?

Recipe follows

Scalloped potatoes, sweet and otherwise

2 medium sweet potatoes

2 medium potatoes, any kind will do

2 TB butter, plus butter for the casserole

2 TB flour

1.25 cups milk (I made it half cream for, you know, extra lardassedness)

2 cups shredded cheese, I used Widmer’s brick cheese but any relatively melty cheese will work

Salt, pepper, nutmeg

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Preheat the oven to 350, butter a casserole

First make the white sauce, melt the butter add the flour and mix the two, add the milk in 4 additions. (A skin will form, it’s fine) Salt, pepper, nutmeg

Peel and slice the potatoes. You don’t have to use a Mandoline but it certainly ups your gourmet cred as I mentioned.

Layer the potatoes alternating sweet and white seasoning lightly with salt and pepper as you go.

Add the white sauce intermittently, (you can actually just dump it on top, although I don’t recommend that) and add the cheese by handfuls between the layers 2 or 3 times, saving a big handful for the top

I added small amounts of brown sugar and chili powder, like maybe a 1/4 tsp each every few layers. You could use sage or thyme. I hate it when the YouTube chefs say that sort of thing, “you can use whatever you want” Like WTF? Tuna? Clam dip? Bees?

Cover and bake this for an hour-ish, it will depend on how thick your casserole is. Test it by sticking a sharp object into it. It should not give you a lot of resistance like sticking it in the neck of the guy who sits outside my house with rap music on really loudly at 2am would.

Then uncover and bake until it’s browned, say 10-15 minutes and then you want to let it rest for 10 minutes.

No one will ever make this but, hey, I tried.