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Monday, June 28, 2010

Minced Garlic

From time to time, we have been garlic snobs. One year, with the help of a friend, we even planted and grew our own garlic. It was delicious. But it took work. We still use fresh garlic sometimes, such as when I make and bottle pizza sauce every summer. But we have embraced so many garlic-intensive dishes that we've seen the light: we now stock minced garlic from (where else?) Costco.

We aren't at all attached to this brand, and I know that you can buy smaller containers at your average grocery store. Truth be told, we discarded a number of containers of this garlic before they were completely consumed because we felt that they had passed their prime. But in recent months we have been polishing it off without a problem.

This works really well for garlic-intensive recipes as you might find in Vietnamese food (see here and here). We also use it for recipes requiring a much smaller amount. We love being able to use garlic to our hearts' delight without all that peeling and crushing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Cooked Carrots

For the past several years we have been on a quest to effectively cook carrots. We've eaten delectable carrots at parties, restaurants and family gatherings. We've eaten them glazed. We've eaten them buttered. We've tried any number of recipes that have fallen just a little bit short of our dream.

This weekend I discovered the secret of perfect cooked carrots. Perhaps all of you already know these secrets, but in case you don't, I'll let you in:

1. Cook the carrots in a little bit of chicken broth and
2. Don't cook them for very long.

The children were singing and dancing as they ate these carrots, even the ones who habitually avoid vegetables. Here's the complete recipe:

Cooked Carrots
1 pound peeled, sliced carrots (as you can see, I resorted to baby carrots)
1/2 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar (I used brown sugar, but I'm sure white sugar would also work)
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the carrots in a sauce pan with the chicken stock and salt over medium heat until tender crisp. You only need about 7 or 8 minutes. You should be able to stab them with a fork, but just barely.

Drain off the chicken stock. Add the butter and sugar and simmer until the carrots are lightly glazed.

Note: I haven't tried the carrots without the sugar yet, but I'm betting that they would be delicious simply buttered after they have been cooked in the chicken broth.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rice Pilaf

We arrived home from a vacation at the beach late Saturday night. I went through most of the day Sunday believing that we had ten pounds of russet potatoes in our pantry that would make a perfect baked potato complement to our roast chicken dinner (no, not even our family goes through an entire 10 pounds at one sitting). When I came to the realization that we in fact lacked potatoes, I made a double batch of this rice pilaf. We've used this recipe for the past several  years. It's a family favorite, and goes well with chicken, fish, or almost any other kind of meat. It dresses up the rice just enough to make it a standalone side dish.

I think the original recipe calls for either orzo pasta or spaghetti broken into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch lengths. Someday I will use orzo; it's prettier than broken spaghetti, but we never have it on hand. We always have spaghetti, and Jenny and Anna are well trained in the art of breaking it into tiny pieces.

Rice Pilaf
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup orzo pasta or spaghetti broken into small pieces
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup long grain rice

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Add the onion and saute until it is clear. Add the pasta and cook with the onions and butter on medium heat until the pasta is evenly browned. Stir in the rice and continue cooking until the grains look clear. Add the chicken broth, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to its lowest setting and continue cooking, covered, for 30 minutes or until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. Place two paper towels beneath the lid and let the rice cook on low heat for another 15 minutes.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


What is a BFB, you may ask. This is a family original, or perhaps I should say a family indulgence. It even looks good despite being poorly stage on the floral Corelleware. A BFB is a Big Fancy Burger. I don't remember whether we held an official contest for the name, or if it just evolved and BFB just seemed right. Recently we have considered renaming it the BSB (Big Sloppy Burger) or BMB (Big Messy Burger).

This is actually more of a meal idea than a recipe. There are just a few critical elements. First, use sourdough bread instead of a bun. Lightly butter the bread. Sprinkle and press grated parmesan cheese on the bread. It should look like this:

Then toast the bread on a griddle until it is golden, like this:

We use the sourdough loaves from Costco. You could also buy the square loaves from other stores, but the slices are quite large, so you would probably want to cut them in half. And of course pre-formed, frozen hamburger patties are a bit of an odd-size for this sandwich, so we usually form our own, adding salt and pepper:

The garnishes you add to the burger are really up to you. We usually make them into cheese burgers, and then offer lettuce, pickles (Claussen are our preferred brand), tomatoes, onions and (when we are being lavish) avocados or even bacon. However one of the key secret ingredients is homemade Thousand Island dressing, the recipe for which you will find below. Ketchup and mustard are definitely no-nos on this burger. Trust me. You'll like them better with special sauce.

Thousand Island Dressing
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons sweet pickle relish
1 teaspoon finely minced white onions
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 dash black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Stir well. Place dressing in a covered container and refrigerate for several hours, stirring occasionally so that the sugar dissolves and the flavors blend.

Quantity note: We make a lot of burgers at one time. We have never used all of the dressing made by this recipe. So make them again soon to use the rest, or use it as a salad dressing.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Chinese Chicken Salad

This recipe has been in my cookbook for a long time. I recently developed a hankering for it, and ended up modifying it slightly from the way I made it decades ago. Its distinguishing characteristic is the addition of ramen noodles--not too surprising, given that I acquired the recipe during my college years. The salad has a lovely Asian flavor and a wonderful variety of crunchies.

One modification I made to this recipe was to cook the chicken in much the same way I do for other Asian salads (see here and here). How can something with this much sugar be bad?

Chinese Chicken Salad
1 large or 2 medium chicken breasts
2 cups water
1 head cabbage, finely chopped
4 green onions, finely chopped
1 package chicken flavored ramen noodles, broken up (save the flavoring packet)
1/2 medium-sized green pepper, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Cook the chicken in the teriyaki sauce and water over medium heat for 30-45 minutes until they are easily shredded. Shred into small pieces.

Combine all of the vegetables, the ramen and the chicken in a large bowl. Add the sesame seeds and almonds. Toss with the dressing and chill one hour before serving.

2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
ramen flavoring packet

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Pour over salad.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Onion Straws

I mentioned onion straws in a post about steak and blue salad a couple of months ago. At long last, here's the (very simple) recipe. We made them a few nights ago for a lovely steak salad that we made with some leftover grilled tri tip. It was delicious. I can assure you, however, that our kids like the onions equally well as a simple side dish. The same recipe also works well for deep fried zucchini; it's light and more like a tempura batter than a standard onion ring recipe.

This recipe makes enough to batter one large onion. We actually even battered a medium-size zucchini with the leftover batter. We used a sweet onion this time, but have used regular yellow onions with great success.

Onion Straws
1 large onion, julienned
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 cup water
1 egg, beaten

In a medium mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients until you have a smooth batter. Stir in the onion slices and cover thoroughly. Drain slightly (I hold the onions over the bowl with tongs for a few seconds while they drip a bit), then fry in 1/2 inch of hot oil until golden brown. I usually turn them over half way through the cooking process.

Use as a side dish, or as a topping for salad.