Mashed Potatoes

I have never made mashed potatoes before.  Which is a part of the reason we’re doing ‘Mashed Potatoes’ this month, instead of something a little more complicated.  Also it’s November, which means Thanksgiving and Friendsgiving, and obviously mashed potatoes are pretty central to that.

At some point last year (I think when we were prepping for Friendsgiving 2016 which Lisa hosted and was not featured on the blog) Lisa signed up for American’s Test Kitchen, and being the good friend that she is, she shared her login.  This is an online recipe resource that I trust. I also like watching the show on Saturday mornings on PBS.  I typed in mashed potatoes and returned tons of recipes.  Including the ‘Master Recipe for Mashed Potatoes:’

  • 2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup half-and-half, warmed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • pepper to taste

Place potatoes in large saucepan and cover with 1 inch water. Bring to boil over high heat; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are tender (a paring knife can be slipped into and out of center of potatoes with very little resistance), 20 to 30 minutes. Drain.

Set food mill or ricer over now empty but still warm saucepan. Spear potato with dinner fork, then peel back skin with paring knife. Repeat with remaining potatoes. Working in batches, cut peeled potatoes into rough chunks and drop into hopper of food mill or ricer. Process or rice potatoes into saucepan.

Stir in butter with wooden spoon until incorporated; gently whisk in half-and-half, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve immediately

The America’s Test Kitchen recipes tend to have a few more steps than I’m accustomed to. The flavors always check out, and it’s great that they provide reasoning for why you take certain steps.

Cheap potatoes!

Potatoes post-boil. I’ll def take the skins off pre-boil next time as this was really hot and difficult. I’m also not 100% sure why the recipe included this step. Anyone have insights?

Mashing away! I picked up a grocery store masher, instead of a food ricer. This was a decent workout!

Finished! They were delicious! I might not make them regularly, but I’m so glad I’ve done it once!

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Apple Cider Pork Chops

I planned this recipe before I made my “no more internet recipes” proclamation, so I promise I’m not too much of a hypocrite.  Thought this one comes from Pislbury.com, so it’s hopefully one they’ve tested?  If you can’t trust that weird little dough-person in a chef’s hat, well, who can you trust?

Our friend Matt hosted his annual Cidermaking party, and we went down to crush some apples and get some yummy cider.  Lisa couldn’t make it again this year :(.

I brought home some Cider and was looking for a fun way to make use of it, and pork chops always seemed to be paired with some kind of fruit: apricot, pineapple, etc. Lisa scrounged up this recipe for me!

This recipe was super easy!  I still had thin pork chops and made sure to pay attention to the time.  The recipe didn’t specify, and I had both dark and light brown sugar, so I went with dark.

I liked using the one skillet method, and the drippings from cooking the pork chops were a nice addition to the sauce, but it took a little longer.  I wish I’d cooked the sauce on a higher heat from the beginning, and made sure to watch it.  The pork chops ended up getting a little cool before I could cook them.

The sauce was a sharp sweet from the apple with a touch of vinegar from the mustard.

This won’t be added to my go-to recipes, but I might keep it in mind for the next time I’ve got leftover cider.

 

Parmesan Crusted Pork Chops

Lisa and I have been in the blogging game for a little over two years now (with a 6 month break in the middle). I think we’ve both learned a lot about cooking and blogging.  I have a massive and unwieldy spice collection, I know not to touch certain peppers with my bare hands, and I know how to do some really interesting cooking techniques.

Apparently, though, we haven’t learned not to trust recipe/food blogs.

There’s that assumption that if it’s posted on Pinterest with an artfully stages photograph and a nice graphic, then it’s a good recipe. Or those well-shot recipe videos on Facebook are as easy and delicious as they look.

Now, I will readily admit that a lot of cooking mistakes can be blamed on individual user error, but there’s a reason that cookbook authors test, and re-test, and re-test their recipes.  And that there are entire websites dedicated to ‘Pinterest Fails’

I definitely learned my lesson this time. Instead of linking I’ll just copy and paste it here:

  • 4 boneless pork chops
  • ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2-3 TB Italian breadcrumbs (dried)
  • ⅛ tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • ¼ tsp. pepper

Mix Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, paprika, parsley and garlic powder and place on a plate.

Dip pork chops in the mixture (making sure mixture sticks) and sear in a pan of olive oil on medium-high heat. Sautee for 5 minutes on each side.

Place pork chops in a glass baking dish and cook according to thickness. Ours were an inch thick and we cooked for an hour at 300. If yours are regular thickness, cook at 350 for half hour.

It seems pretty straight forward. And then you notice that it doesn’t call for an egg to help the dried mixture stick. So I ended up with chunks of cheese cooking to the pan. That may have been my choice to use shredded instead of grated cheese, but this is the better ingredient choice, to me.

Or the cooking and baking times. In hindsight I went back and read through the comments and a large portion of commenters automatically reduced the baking time based on their own experience. I messed up when I bought my pork chops and got 4 thin cut chops so I already planned to keep times short. Had I relied on the blog I might have started a fire

In the end, they tasted fine, but weren’t anything special. I’d try it again, maybe with the egg to get the dry ingredients to stick. The strongest flavor was the smoked paprika, which was de-lish.

When we started “Lisa and Janine Try to Cook” our main goal was accountability.  If we were going to cook for 52 weeks, having a recipe we needed to cook and a blog we needed to update every week, would help us rise to the challenge.

We don’t really consider ourselves food or recipe bloggers, who are developing a new recipe or meal to share.  We’re taking you on the ride as we start our kitchens on fire, de-seed pomegranates, and find that roasting whole chickens is not for the faint of heart.

The most important part of this, for me, has been cooking and learning. I’d love to develop the knowledge on how to throw together something for dinner with the ingredients on-hand or know what I need just walking through the grocery store. No recipe needed.

The internet is an awesome resource, but I think I’m going to ban myself from using random internet blogs and posts if I’m trying to learn. I’ll stick to the websites I trust, cookbooks, and friends’ recommendations. Relying on poorly written recipe blogs is not going to help me accomplish my goals and hone my instincts.

If you’ve got any blogs or recipe sources you absolutely rely on and trust, or another resource you can point me to, please leave a comment!

A ‘crock ton’ of tomato soup

When we were kids, my Mom made tomato soup from a can (this was because of her own bad childhood encounter with tomato soup).  It was the Campbell’s tomato soup, and it never, ever tasted good.  As a result, all tomato soup was repulsive to me.

I don’t know when I changed my mind on it.  It was probably some event or dinner, where tomato soup was served, and I kind of had to eat it to not look ridiculous.  Whenever it was, I realized that tomato soup that’s not from a can is actually kind of amazing.

Lisa gave me this recipe for Slow Cooker Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup which combines some of my most favorite foods: tomatoes, cheese . . . well that’s it.  Lisa warned me that it makes a ‘crock ton.’ (haha) And it really does.

Like all crock pot soups, it’s a lot of ‘toss in the pot & cook.’


Diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, onion, basil, garlic, salt, and pepper.  The recipe called for 1 tablespoon of salt and Lisa warned me that it was way too salty, especially when you add a salty cheese like Parmesan.  I am not a salt person at all, so I dropped it down to 1 teaspoon.

Chad, my regular taste-tester, adds salt to everything, and he said the salt level was juuust right.

Cook for 2 hours.  Then I got to use my handy new blender.  I also need a ladle, because transferring the soup to the blender was a bit of a hassle.  Then I whipped up a roux.  I grabbed the wrong measuring cup and added 1/2 a cup of flour instead of 1/4.  I don’t think it caused any real problems.  Finally I tossed in the cheese, which I didn’t measure, so there was probably a little too much. Though, I mean, you can’t really have too much cheese.

On to the grilled cheese.  I’ve never made it before (gasp!) which is a little ridiculous, I know.  For whatever reason it always seemed way too simple to just butter the bread, but it on the pan, add some cheese & flip. I did a whole bunch of googling and decided to just go for some sourdough bread some American cheese slices – don’t judge, it’s the best melting cheese.  Something I read said go for mayo instead of butter so I gave it a whirl – I burns a lot more quickly than regular cheese, but the taste is still amazing.


There was a crock ton so Mom & Dad got some (Mom said it was good!), so did Chad, and I brought some in for another co-worker.

I will absolutely make this soup again, and of course I’ll be living off of grilled cheese from now on.

 

Rustic Marinara, I guess?

I grew up on Prego. I’m sure my mom made homemade sauce at some point,  but I’m not sure what her go-to recipe was. I don’t have a go-to recipe either. When I make pasta at home, I go for low maintenance and quick.

This recipe was pretty low maintenance and quick, and pretty boring, too. This came from a Martha Stewart Food magazine from about 5 years ago.  I have a binder full of ‘found’ recipes that I turn to on occasion, or when I can’t find another option.  I probably should have done some more searching for this one.

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2 – 28 oz cans of whole tomatoes, crushed
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Heat up the oil, get the garlic and red pepper flakes fragrant.

I forgot to crush the tomatoes before I poured them in. I’ve also, apparently, misplaced the power half of my immersion blender.

I made do with this black tool and my hand crank egg beater.  That tool, by the way, is super useful when you’re browning ground meat and other random things.  Useful for this, too. It’s Pampered Chef and it’s apparently called a ‘Mix ‘n Chop.’

Heat it on a fast simmer for 15 minutes.

The sauce was super bland. I definitely need to spice it up. This made 4 cups so I’ve got about 3 more in the freezer that I can improve upon later.   (Not pictured: the cheese that was necessary to make this yummy).

Anyone have any tips or great recipes for marinara, please pass them my way!!   I’ve found a good one on Cooking Light that takes 7 hours instead of 15 minutes. I’m super intrigued!

State-Themed Drinking in July

This has obviously been my favorite challenge so far.  (Also, July was my birthday month, so more reasons to celebrate).

I’ve got two cocktails for you in one post!

Colorado Bulldogs

Lately, my friend Liz has been on a Colorado Bulldog kick.  I’m not sure what started it, but she’s been drinking them all summer long.  Sometimes I join, sometimes I pass. To me it’s not the most summery of cocktails, but it’s super yummy and very easy (almost too easy) to drink.

The basics:

  • 1 shot of Kahlua
  • 1 shot of Vodka
  • 1 shot of Half & Half (or cream)
  • Ice
  • Coca-Cola

 

 

Pour the shots over ice & top it off with Coca-Cola!  The cocktail might be something that would benefit from a martini shaker just to get everything really well mixed.  Though it could also make a big mess.

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It’s a 1:1:1 ratio, so if you want to up the ante a little, just make sure you double the Kahlua, Vodka, & Half & Half in equal measure!

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I def want to whip one up in the fall some time, or maybe toss in a scoop of vanilla ice cream? This is a cocktail that is designed to be doctored.

Recommendation; don’t drink through a straw, it goes down waaaaaay too easy!

Hawaiian Mimosa

I was looking for something a little more fruit-based for my second cocktail, and I stumbled upon this post: Hawaiian Mimosas.  It has 3 things I love: Prosecco, Pineapple, and Malibu.

(I’ll confess, 22 year-old me spent a summer drinking Malibu + Pineapple cocktails at crappy dive bars).

The details:

  • 1 shot Malibu
  • 2 shots pineapple
  • Top with Prosecco
  • Garnish (if you’re so inclined)

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Chad & I were both so excited to try this one, it sounded delicious.

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It was just, too sweet!  It might’ve been different if all the ingredients were well chilled (only the Prosecco was).  But I still think the Malibu & pineapple combo was just a little too much sugar.  You know something is sweet when you can feel it in your jaw.

I loved the kismet element of both these cocktails being state themed.

Any bartenders out there have tips on how to make these even more delicious?!

I’ll be back soon-ish with some red sauce.  In the meantime check out Lisa’s 10-ish minute red sauce recipe!

 

Say it Ain’t Cilantro Burger (Actually, black bean burger).

OMG this burger is so good.  Just.  So. Good.

I first tried a black bean burger at a local restaurant, I never thought I’d like it, but it turned out to be something I’d crave from time to time.  When this month was burgers, I knew I wanted to give black bean a whirl at home.

The recipe I chose is super easy, but it involves lots of ingredients, and each requires at least one prep step.  I pulled the recipe from a great local cookbook (this one is from a local TV personality).

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In my research I found that most black bean burger recipes are pretty labor intensive when prepping the patty.

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The recipe calls for: onion (chopped), garlic cloves (whole), cumin. Into the food processor and pulse until roughly chopped

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Plus: black beans, bread crumbs, and chopped cilantro.  Add these and pulse until it’s just combined.

Then toasted chopped walnuts, salt, pepper, and one beaten egg. Mix it up.  Into patties and then into the fridge for an hour.

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While it was chilling I made some I topped it with some cilantro lime aioli with: mayo, Greek yogurt, lime juice, cilantro, garlic, salt & pepper.  The recipe calls for finely chopped cilantro, but I didn’t like the cilantro when chopped by hand, so I went after the mixture with my immersion blender.

The recipe called for cooking this on a grill pan for 4-6 minutes per side.  Since I’m grill-less I did some googling and decided that 6 minutes on my George Foreman should be good.

Things started to fall apart a little as I took the patties off the grill.  Next time I will pulse for longer, and maybe add another egg yolk to help keep the patties together.  Uniform sizing would probably also help.

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Final burger included some guacamole on the bottom, burger, a little bit of feta cheese (I had it on hand), and the cilantro lime aioli.  Yum!

I’m a definitely adding these to the my regular rotation!

 

(also, fun fact, the titles for both my blog posts come from the TV Show Bob’s Burgers.)

 

 

The Say Cheese Burger

The weather ’round these parts is pretty nice right now, though, it’s been a little humid and my hair is frizzy.  The demon bugs that shall remain nameless (aka mosquitoes) are out in full force and my ankles are becoming well-acquainted.

Basically – it’s grillin’ season.  And with June being burger month, I demanded that Chad teach me how to make one of his most excellent cheeseburgers.

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I got some meat, an onion, and some buns at the grocery store, the rest of his regular components he had on hand.

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Chad kindly chopped up an onion for me.

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Beef, onion, an egg yolk.  Apparently adding the white would make it more meatloaf-y.

Some Worcestershire, shredded cheese (Rob says this is a new addition) and something called ‘Brady’s Cheese Sprinkle’ from Penzey’s.

Then time to get my hands dirty, literally.  Mix it up, until it’s combined, but not for too long or it gets tough.

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Into patties, with a little smush down at the center to help cook.

Then on the grill!  (plus some cheese, of course).

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Dinner is served!

These make a super yummy burger.  I’d go for this combo if you’re ever looking for ways to doctor things up a bit.

Chad’s grilling word to the wise “It’s not about charcoal or gas, fancy or basic, you just have to know your grill.”

 

 

 

I want cheers

My original plan was to make the same pizza dough recipe, but try it with my stand mixer instead of hand kneading.  Over the weekend I spent some time with my friend Madeline and her two adorable kiddos.  Madeline’s plan was for us to make homemade pizza, so I decided I’d give you a blog post featuring those two adorable mini-chefs.

Madeline’s pizza dough recipe is pretty similar to the one I originally used.

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She puts the yeast in the warm water to get it going.  Once it’s foamy she adds all-purpose flour, salt, olive oil, and honey.  (My original recipe called for sugar or malt syrup, and I used sugar).

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Got it mixed up, and we kneaded with the combo of hand and spoon in the bowl.  This was different from my 8-10 minutes of kneading (and then throwing in the air like a fool).

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Once it’s combined and stretchy, it goes into the oven to rise for awhile.

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Chef Dane popped up onto his stool with cookie cutters in-hand, because when he sees Madeline with a rolling pin, he assumes it’s sugar cookie time.

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Chef Dane spreads the marinara sauce, attempting the new technique of ‘sauce-under-crust.’

Chef Andren assists in artfully distributing the cheese on top of the marinara.

Spread some olive oil on the crust, pop in the oven, and bake til delicious!  Chefs Dane and Andren sample the cheese to ensure quality & deliciousness.

The dough was much better, more even, and not quite as tough or bread like.  I also preferred the traditional cheese pizza (my favorite, seriously) to the Margherita.

Madeline has always had a good ‘touch’ for cooking.  She makes delicious, simple foods with a little bit of flair and a lot of confidence. She just kind of wings it with some recipes, not worrying too much about being exact.  While making the pizza, the best part wasn’t eating it, but it was enjoying the experience of cooking and the help of our 2 adorable assistants, and who can blame her.

I’m sure you’re thinking: “Janine, that title is in no way relevant.”

Chef Dane enjoys the art of toasting.  Well mostly just the glass-clinking part, not the speeches.  Every 2-3 bites of pizza, he stops, raises his bottle of milk and announces “I want cheers!!”  Demanding that we clink glasses with each other before moving onto the next bite, it was probably my favorite part of the meal.

Pizza Margherita

I have never made a homemade pizza crust before.  That’s three for three on the ‘new experiences’ front for this blog!


(Here’s a preview!)

I busted out my trusty baking cookbook (that has amazing and detailed instructions) and decided for this first pizza I would hand knead the dough. Next time I’ll use my stand mixer instead of kneading by hand.  This recipe calls for yeast, which seemed appropriate.

Yeast is one of those things that can be pretty easy to work with, if you know what you’re doing.  It can also be super intimidating.  I feel only vaguely confident with yeast.  This time I got pretty lucky.

This pizza dough recipe is pretty basic: flour, water, yeast, sugar, and salt.  There’s enough for two 12 to 14 inch pizza crusts.

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The yeast got all foamy.  I wasn’t as exacting with the water temperature and the time as I should have been.

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Added the flour.

Mixed it up.

Up next was the hand kneading for 8-10 minutes.  Unfortunately kneading is a two-handed job, and I didn’t have any assistants around to photograph the process.  I will admit, kneading the dough was pretty soothing.  It was a good way to get out a little stress.

I let the dough rise for about 2 hours, and then punched it down (beware – don’t punch the bowl), covered it in plastic wrap, and let it rise in the fridge overnight.  I wish I’d caught a picture of it while it was on the first rise, it almost blew up out of the bowl.  (This is maybe a sign related to my poor timing skills with the yeast).

The next day, I got the dough out to rest and started on prepping my tomatoes for the Pizza Margherita.

Blanch, peel, & seed.  Then they’re chopped.  I didn’t get quite all of the moisture out, which was a problem when baking.

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Prepping for the margherita (that’s sliced basil on the right).

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Divide it in half, cover, & let the dough rest a little longer.

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Rolling it out.  It’s much stretchier than a traditional dough, and rolling it often involves the dough shrinking back in on itself a bit.

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Trusty assistant, Chad, sliced the mozzarella.

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After I rolled out the crust, we decided to give the whole pizza toss thing a chance.  It worked pretty well, and I think stretched things out a little more.  It didn’t call for it in the recipe and I admittedly have no idea if this is the right kind of pizza dough to toss.  This may have contributed to the tougher nature of the crust, things might have gotten overworked.

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In the oven.

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Final product!

I definitely don’t think I’ve mastered things, but I was pretty happy with the results.  The original recipe called for heating up a pizza stone for 30 minutes, and then placing a prepped pizza onto the stone.  Once the pizza was ready, it was to heavy to move, or I didn’t have the appropriate tools.

Also I wasn’t in love with this margherita recipe.  The tomatoes still had too much moisture.  I think I’d do it with a really basic pizza sauce next time, instead of fresh tomatoes.

The crust I think was a little too thick and dense, which may have meant there was something wrong with my kneading, the yeast sat too long or something else.  It did not reheat well.

I’m looking forward to trying it again!  Let me know if you have any suggestions or tips or help for things I did wrong/can do better next time!