Wednesday, September 28, 2011

September 28th, 2011: Kirkland Signature Bourbon, Grilled Chicken, Bruschetta and Balsamic Pea Pods

Today I made dinner with my mother. We marinated chicken with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic and rosemary and grilled it. I made bruschetta and sauteed some pea-pods on balsamic vinegar. Not a whole lot to tell.

I'm chilling in the 'burbs, feeling like there's nothing to do. I'm not sleeping well at night, but really rockin' those morning hours to get about 8-10 hours of sleep a day. I'm not working too much. I'm not really going out, too much, either. I'm finding myself fairly isolated. I listen to music, I cook. My videogames are all packed and the inspiration to pickup a guitar, right now, is fleeting. So, I guess I'll simply sit and wait it all out.

I'm chagrined, though, at the fact that the generic Bourbon from Costco turned out to be such a drinkable Bourbon. It marks in at $20 a liter (or $15 for 750ml) but doesn't suffer from many of the attributes of other Bourbons in that price range. Compared to Evan Williams, Old Crow, Ancient Age, High Ten and Benchmark or other similar Bourbons, it's a godsend. The flavors had a distinct "Knob Creek" mix in my mouth, but didn't have the smooth follow and suffered from a definitive ethanol taste. I was impressed for the price, it definitely won't take the place of Knob Creek, Makers Mark or Basil Hayden, but for the cost per ounce, it's a contender. I'll be keeping my ear to the ground on this one.

The dinner went well, with my family enjoying everything and being quite impressed by my bruschetta. So, all in all, a good day.

Monday, September 26, 2011

September 26th, 2011: Stuffed Chicken Breast with Italian Potato Hash and Corn

Why'd I cook this? On a whim. I felt like cooking again, so I prepared a meal for my father and I. I knew I wanted to do some kind of stuffed chicken, but I wasn't sure exactly with what. I went through a few iterations and what followed was going from it being stuff with marinara sauce and cheese to provolone and turkey to pastrami and mozzarella. The final iteration was probably the best idea. I hammered them flat and then rolled pastrami and cheese in them. Then I rolled the rolled breasts in panko bread crumbs and spices and drizzled it with olive oil and sprinkle parm on top. Baked it for about 40 minutes at 350 and the result was delicious.

So, I sided it with some potato hash. I didn't quite know how to match is up to my sort of "Italian" version of Chicken Kiev. I looked up Italian Potatoes on google and a Paula Deen recipe popped up, I didn't follow the recipe at all, but saw "green onions" and then decided "GREEN ONIONS AND GREEN PEPPERS!" Threw some spices in: thyme, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, onion powder and a dash of cayenne. I cooked it up in some peanut oil and just kept it cooking at low heat for a while. Turned out very delicious. I loved it.

I cooked up a bit of canned organic corn to go with it. It was, literally, the first time I've ever had canned corn outside of Scalloped Corn, which is a family must at certain get togethers. Something that is served at Thanksgiving and Christmas every year. I can't vouch for that recipe being accurate to what I'm used to eating, but it's delicious! Not very nutritious, but a side dish that stems from the canned food crazy of middle America in the 50's. It's a dish I'll hopefully serve to my own kids at future Christmases. But, I digress. I was raised on frozen corn as a standard side for dinner, covered in butter to add flavor. But, the canned corn didn't need that added flavor. It was sweet enough, on its own, that I didn't have to alter it at all. I understand my mother's use of frozen corn while I was growing up: it was easier to store and cheaper per pound, but lacked flavor. She made up for that with butter. This isn't a slant against my mother's cooking, but merely an observation.

The meal came together well. My father and I enjoyed it greatly, although he didn't eat the potatoes and instead opted into having a side of wild rice from the previous night. The chicken was instilled with the flavor of the cheese and pastrami, the potatoes had a delicious onion-pepper taste and were cooked to perfection and the corn... well, was corn.

A delicious meal, all in all.

Edit: it's just Chicken Cordon Bleu. Plain and simple. HA!

List of strange things seen in the pictures of this blog that you don't normally see on cooking blogs:
1. Nintendo 3DS
2. Android phone
3. camera lens cap
4. ancient bottle opener
5. car keys


September 25th, 2011: Duck Breast, Wild Rice, Grilled Zucchini and Squash

Look at that tight ass depth of field in that picture. I still do not know how to properly use this nifty-fifty lens on my camera. ugh. Anyway, it's my first meal post move. And it's a wowzer! See, I had gotten home, emptied the u-haul and made claim for beer! So, it was off to Binny's. I'm not used to stores that grand, I'm used to Budget Liquor and on a good weekend, before the break up, I'd hit up Friar Tuck's. But, Binny's, that place just about gave me a heart attack.

They had any and every Irish whisky one could crave, except for Paddy's, of course. But, they did have Sullivan's, which is my absolute favorite. They even had a great assortment of Single Malts, well... better than I'd seen in the center state, ever. So, I leave Binny's and stumble upon a meat market. So, I stopped in. It was full of weird meats. Like rabbit, duck, alligator and a few other oddities. So, I bought some duck breasts. Probably will never do it again, since they were like $20 for four. So, no thanks.

Using a book bestowed upon me as a graduation present by a family friend, I put together the meal in my head. I was just one side short in my head, when my mother volunteered a bag of frozen wild rice she had. I was ok with that.

I started the meal by making my sauce. It was a blueberry and ginger red wine sauce. I started by sauteing green onions and ginger in oil and then adding mashed blueberries to the mix. After a couple of minutes I pour about 1/2 a bottle of wine into the mix and let it cook down and mix.

After I felt the wine reduced enough, I strained out the fruit and vegetables and mixed together a roux of butter and flour and thickened the sauce. Turned out very tart and very specific to the duck. It was a sauce that was entirely unusable in any other situation.

After that I started on the zucchini and squash. I started by frying/sauteing some garlic in butter, then let the butter cool a bit. After the butter was cool enough to work with by hand, I threw the squash and zucchini in and coated it with butter.

After that, everything god grilled and microwaved in accordance to timing. The duck and fall veggies were grilled and the wild rice was microwaved back from its state of frozenitude.

When everything was said and done about this meal, it was a very worthy Sunday Fall Dinner. I attempted to keep it "classy," but feel it fell a bit short. It was sort of a farewell to the grill, as I see this awesome week of 50 degree and raining Chicago weather coming on. Cooking for people, again, is something that I'd been craving and producing a meal that would cost at least $20 a plate in a restaurant made me feel a bit more validated that previously meals I've cooked. Not sure what's in the books for me, now, but, I'm sure it'll be grandeur.

Friday, September 23, 2011

September 23rd, 2011: Leaving

I leave Normal, tomorrow, moving in with my parents. A fun situation. I'm currently packing and watching NBC's Thursday night Must See TV via Hulu. My god, I hate packing. I hate it so much. I hate it more than anything in the whole wide world.

I've spent the last week working and eating food from establishments that echo "life in Normal" for me. Papa Johns, Jimmy Johns, Great Wall, DP Dough, Pub II, La Bamba. You know, the normal stuff. HA! Big pun.

Tonight, I'll be finishing up packing, getting slightly inebriated and then go to sleep bright and early to meet my parents to move out. So, life's going ok.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

September 16th, 2011: Stuffed Artichokes, Hot German Potato Salad and Blackened Chicken

Getting a chance to share the kitchen with a friend is always a good thing. Getting the chance to share the kitchen and make ridiculous food and get my hair cut by a friend in my kitchen that I haven't seen in about 8 months is even better.

My great friend, who I definitely have not seen in far too long, spontaneously came up with the idea of cooking with me this unfathomable Friday. It was awesome. We went to Meijer and, in classic "me fashion," we ran around grabbing shit to make food. We settled on an odd assortment of food and ended up making, quite possibly, the most eclectic meal to grace the pages of this blog.

The kitchen was brimming with dishes and the dishwasher was actually run while we cooked. And emptied, too. And then filled again. The artichokes were stuffed with a breading that was fairly generic. I guess the steamed artichokes were the hero in this Dickensian play. Not so much Dickensian in its droll literary quality, but in the fact of how grandiose the side was.

The strangest sight ever seen in my kitchen arose when the 360 controller found itself nestled next to a glass of Scotch and a smartphone used as a cookbook. But we trudged on. The German potato salad wasn't anything new for me, it was a side I made before, but this time, I felt I executed it a little better than before. I integrated some diced dill pickles.

The chicken wasn't anything too insane. A plain-Jane blackening. Lots of ancho in it, gave it a bit of a bite.

The night wasn't so much about cooking or producing the best culinary invention in history. The night was about two old friends getting together and spending some time together like they haven't in years. And the kitchen made that possible. Quite frankly, the artichokes frightened me, I didn't much enjoy them. They are a very odd vegetable. Not one I'll enjoy too often, but at least a new experience. The chicken had a very southern vibe to it, quite delicious. The potatoes? My best iteration of the German potato salad.

I noticed that my blog, compared to a lot of other food blogs, lacks a lot of the recipes and cooking tips that others seem to thrive on. This is an intentional gaff. My blog isn't about the cooking and recipes, so much as it is about the cultural and personal identifying markers found lying in food.

I don't like to write about precisely what I put into the food, physically, but rather what the food takes and gives from me. Where one person may be interested to know precisely what I blacken my chicken in, I am more fond of expressing the communal power of food and the fact that unremarkable (from the point of difficulty and eloquence) food can bring people so close together.

Looking back on a lot of my past entries, I've grown a bit less sour of heart at my given situation. Seeing the elation that I feel cooking for and with friends and family reminds me that I'm not so alone. Even when I cook food for myself and have enough left over for 3 people... I have left overs. And sometimes they get picked at by my ex when she comes home.

But, for me, this isn't about giving the readers a recipe to follow, but to inspire them (what few there really are) to think about food in their life.

When I think about family holidays, food is something that comes to mind. The turkey with the tumor one Thanksgiving, the pot roast that caught fire one Christmas. And the Chex-mix. Dear god, the Chex-mix.

I'll do my best to provide you, the readers, with recipes that I follow, but I can't make any promises. This blog is more about the journey that food takes us on, rather than the food itself.

And, if I partake of culinary school, it will become about that journey in my life. Also, I apologize about the blurry last picture of the completed food. I'm still trying to get used to this new lens on my camera. It's really throwing me off.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

September 15th, 2011: DP Dough's Calzone

I know, fair reader, that if you could speak to me, you would say something along the lines of "Why wouldst thou partake of the restaurant 'DP Dough' after you so vehemently lambasted them not but a fortnight past?" to which I would reply "Shut up, Billy Shakes, no one cares about your opinion on this subject! Did they even HAVE calzones in 1600? Didn't think so, why don't you just go write a play about the invention of calzones? Oh, you can't? TOO BAD! Now, why don't you go get rescued by the Four of the Fantastick and sail to the end of the world with Count Otto Von Doom!"

And then the doctor comes with the pills that make the voices stop.

With 7 days left in Normal, I've decided that I should partake of some of the trusted institutions of ISU student life before I leave, one of them being DP Dough. A must visit restaurant for any student down here. I never got the draw of it, so I never went very much. I think this is the third time I'll have eaten it. It's decent, I guess. Nothing too super, but it gets the job done. It is a massive amount of food, though. Does cost a bit more than one would anticipate.

So, here I sit: Rum and Coke and Calzone with X-men on. Cause, well, Thor was out at The Movie Fan and I want to watch me up some Marvel films. X-men: First Class didn't sit with me too well, a lot of the film felt shoe-horned in. It was a fun time, and the casting was pretty decent, but it followed such a contrived plot line, that I couldn't love it. Kevin Bacon was not a believable Sebastian Shaw and I felt like January Jones was just... yerg. It was like "let's get that chick from Madmen in here and make people go, "it's the 60s!" And then Alex Summers? In his twenties? In the 60s? Bullshit, Marvel. Dude's older brother is in his thirties in 2000, no way Alex should be that old then! And he throws discs of crazy laser-ness? NO! Dude shoots kinetic energy out of his body, not frisbees of laser. And why the hell have I still not seen Gambit in anything?! (Not counting the dreadful Wolverine: Origins film, which reminds me: I should read me up some Wolverine: Origin, tonight. What a great book!) So, Marvel, after taking X-men and ramming it up my ass with three poorly though out films in a row, I'm going to give you one last chance with the Avengers. Although, I quite like Jon Favreau's treatment of Iron Man, and I did like the second Hulk movie (to an extent). And I've yet to see Captain America. But the Punisher reboot? God, no. Bring back Tom Jane! Do it! Throw him in the Avengers! And reboot Daredevil properly. Give it back to Kevin Smith, he'll make Ben Affleck kick ass! I really liked him as Matt Murdock (anyone ever realize that his middle name is Micheal? He's Matthew Micheal Murdock... god.... old Marvel with the alliteration). Wait... as I sit here and think about Marvel films...

No... two good X-men films, two good Spider-man films, one decent Punisher, one ok Hulk, one ok Iron Man... They really don't make good films, do they? Ah, well. I'll just read old comics and pretend like the world is a good place.

What an odd post. Odd odd odd odd odd. Time to read Marvel's Civil War and maybe watch me up a Punisher movie. Or what-not. Nerd time!

edit: I totally just realized that I made a totally bad ass Marvel 1602 reference, AWESOME!

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12th: Bacon-wrapped Tenderloin, Fennel Potatoes and Corn Bread

As has become evident on this blog, as of late, I am quickly preparing to remove myself from the center state and return to a life of relative ease in the suburbs. Relative being the key term in that sentence. As I live here, I'm seeking to find a way through the next couple weeks. Seeking home via cooking, video games, music and drinking seem like good ideas all the time. Unfortunately, some seem like better ideas when they really shouldn't be. I noticed I've been cooking a lot of "comfort" food, recently. Chex-mix being a blatant reminder of the good times I've had with my family, the burgers and biscuits being a mixture of "family get together burgers" and "down home, southern biscuits," attempting to assuage the feeling that I belong nowhere at this given moment. That I'm currently living on borrowed time in this apartment that I once shared with someone I loved.

Well, tonight really wasn't any different, except I ain't reaching for a bottle. 'Least, not yet. I had no idea what I wanted to cook, so I ran to Meijer and ran around the store looking for things to cook. Beef tenderloin caught my eye, an extremely similar cut to Filet Mingon (I believe Filet comes from the tenderloin cut) and I got to thinking "when was the last time I had Filet Mingon?"

That last time I had it, I was about 17 and in North Carolina with my family. I had Filet Mingon at the Breakwater restaurant and it was served with sauteed veggies and red potatoes. Plus, bacon wrapped. So, I decided I'd do a similar thing. My family often vacationed in the Outer Banks and that restaurant was a must visit every time. It was a much better time for me, back then, than it is right now.

I coupled that with some red potatoes and used this recipe I found on the Food Network's website. And the second side became cornbread. Something that my mother would make, quite often, while I was growing up. A box of Jiffy Corn Muffin mix came home with me.

The meal took longer to prepare than I thought it would. The meat took forever to cook. I seared it on both sides, then put the pan in the oven with the corn bread. The corn bread even took a while to cook. The potatoes were actually done first, which is something that rarely happens with my cooking... how odd.

The meal turned out to be really good. The Fennel Potatoes didn't really taste all that different from just boiled potatoes, at least after tasting something with a bolder taste. Next time, I'll have to roast more fennel seeds to produce a stronger flavor. Before eating the beef, the potatoes had a distinct flavor, afterwards, not so much. To top it off: my corn bread didn't really rise too much. It was flat, but tasted fine. I think a single box of jiffy isn't really enough to make corn bread for more than one person. Lucky for me, I'm cooking single, now.

Eh, can't really wait to be moved back in with my parents and have this whole chapter of my life over with. Talk about putting yourself into a tight position.

September 11th, 2011: Southern Brinner

I came home from work and wanted to make myself dinner. I was thinking some sort of cheese stuffed roasted chicken. But, you know what? My chicken had gone bad. Terribly bad. It smelled like fish. But it was frozen, how is that possible? So, I improvised. I started by just making grits and going through the kitchen to find stuff. What did I have? Eggs, sausage, grits, bread, cheese, butter.... hmmm... not a whole ton. Taking a page from the show Scrubs, it was time to make Brinner. Breakfast for Dinner. And with sausage and grits, it was going to have a Southern feel to it. Why not make it Creole in a sense and poach an egg? BAM!

So, I cooked up the sausage. Browned it's top and bottom and then tossed it in the oven at 350 while I cooked the grits. The sausage is Meijer brand "fresh pork sausage" and it's really good. Has a lot of flavor without being to salty and it actually is the only sausage I've had in a long time that doesn't leave me with a bout of horrible horrible heartburn.

I poached the egg in about 2" of water at a rolling boil and it turned out to by my first successful poached egg. It turned out perfectly poachy. Awesome. The grits? I added a handful of cheese to them to give them a bit more texture and flavor. Turned out great.

I got a new lens for my camera, a 50mm fixed, colloquially known as the "Nifty-Fifty." It's a sweet lens because it's faster than my other three lenses, with a 1.8f aperture stop. It's sweet to be able to take pictures in the kitchen without the flash, but, I find the depth of field a little extreme at such a low aperture and the fact that I'm shooting on a T3 makes it somewhat aggravating. Since the T3 isn't a full frame camera, it actually shoots at 1.6x magnification through lenses, so my 50mm is really more like an 80mm, which means I'm having to step further back from the subject than I'd like to, which then makes depth of field control tricky with small subjects like food.

Hope this pics look good to ya'll... all two of them...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

September 7th, 2011: Chex-Mix

I decided to make Chex-Mix to take into work. Turned out that salted butter sucks. I got stuck with a really salty batch of Chex-Mix that even I'm not too keen on eating. It works, but it wasn't nearly as good as my mom's. Plus, it was a little greasy. I was disappointed in the result and ended up not taking it to work like I was planning. It thought it would not be nearly good enough to share with my coworkers. I'll probably give it another shot to try and make a batch good enough to share.
I got the idea talking to a coworker and complaining about how I always make too much food. He suggested that I make food and bring it in to share. So I decided: I'll make Chex-mix. Eh. As usual, things go a little less than stellar for me. Ah, well.

As long as I drink enough water, the Chex-Mix is tolerable. And... I do love me some Chex-Mix. Our family always has it at holidays. We love the stuff, like it's our crack. Once, we joked that we didn't need ANYTHING at a
family get together but beer and Chex-Mix. If we just had a keg and a trough of Chex-Mix, we could party all night. Well, let's see if I can do this correct next time.

September 6th, 2011: Burger Monday and Paula Deen Biscuits

Labor Day came and went this year with little pomp and circumstance to me, something that I can't recall whether or not my family spent a lot of Labor Days together. I remember Memorial Day picnics, but not necessarily Labor Day. I had the day off from work, so, I made some burgers. I didn't do anything too spectacular with them, I just threw together some quick burgers. Put some fries in the oven and made some classic corn on the cob.

It's been very challenging for me to really put together anything too spectacular these days, given the situation. I'm two weeks from uprooting my life to move back in with my parents, living with the girl I loved and trying my best to keep myself from coming apart at the seams. It's pretty hard. Sometimes making a nice meal reminds me of a better time, when good food and emotional prosperity was the norm. But, at other times, the same thing reminds me that I'm not cooking for anyone, anymore and that I'm pretty damn alone down here in the center state.

I used iceberg lettuce on the bottom of the burger to prevent the grease from the burger soaking the bottom bun. It worked, kept the bun from getting soggy. The burger was topped with Cheddar and Four Cheese Mexican, bbq sauce, onions and spinach. They were tasty. I ended up eating all three of them myself before going to sleep that night. Kind of sad.

After the burgers, I watched terrible movies. I think... I don't remember what all I watched, but, I watched something. Maybe it was a TV show. I don't know. I decided to make biscuits for no reason. I looked up a quick recipe for biscuits and ended up using Paula Deen's recipe. It was a very simple recipe, but I didn't have enough baking soda, so I used some self rising flour. It turned out ok.

I didn't have a pastry cutter... or a biscuit cutter... or any biscuit molds and couldn't find the cupcake pan, so I just hucked the dough onto a greased pan and called it a day. I baked that stuff for the allotted time and it was delicious. I say: better than KFC biscuits. It was great with some honey. But at the end of the night, I had about 7 biscuits sitting around, an extra corn cob, fries and a burger. It was kind of telling of how alone I am in this apartment and it makes me look forward to getting back up north with my family.
And that was a holiday spent by myself. Fairly innocuous, yet still poignant. Ah, well... How about a funny picture of how I thawed my ground beef out?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

September 2nd: wtf italian thing

So, I wanted to get a calzone from DP Dough, but I hate their food. Why would I want to get food I hate? I don't know. So I decided I'd make my own. But I didn't have any dough made. What now, brown cow?


wait, I can just buy some premade dough. You can do that?

So I did that. And it turned out to be entirely too much. It made a huge monstrosity. It was decent. The dough sucked a little, but for the most part, it worked. I gotta make my own dough from here on out.

First I cooked up the sausage. Some fresh pork sausage from my local market. All the while, slicing and cleaning spinach, onions and pepper and mincing garlic. Once the sausage was mostly cooked through, I sauteed the onions and garlic in the sausage grease and diced the sausage. Step 1-4? Done.

Now? Now what? We make le 'zone. Yeah, I cheated: I used premade pizza sauce. It was ok. Nothing great, but I wasn't looking for the most massive of jobs. I spread the sauce, threw on some cheese, put the sausage, pepper, onion, garlic and spinach on, then more cheese and finally: WRAP!

Jeez, it's huge... but... wow was it tasty. It also made a great breakfast. It's a fairly healthy (if you ignore the 1/2 lb of cheese) meal and works on the go, too. Just look at that cheese oozing out.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 1st, 2011: bachelor dinner

So, I made myself dinner tonight.  Nothing too crazy, a totally bachelor dinner.  A chicken salad melt.  I threw some shredded cheddar on some premade chicken salad on bread and then cooked it in the trusty old cast iron.  It was delicious.  I played a bit of Deus Ex after that and then watched Drillbit Taylor.  A movie that is anything but underrated.  I'd say it's underwhelming, to be honest.  I'll probably make a dinner for my family this weekend, so watch out for that.  Much love.