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!

Steak on the grill

Well.  I can say, quite confidently, that I have eaten steak three times in my life.  One of those times was for this post.

(I’m not trying to be hyperbolic here, either.  I’m a cheap date, as they say.)

I also have only operated a grill maybe twice in my life.  And when I say operated, I mean . . . opened and turned the food, and then maybe closed the grill, or removed the food?  I like grilled food, but I don’t have outdoor space, or the patience to grill things.

So I asked my ol’ buddy Chad to fire up his grill and teach me a little about this fancy cooking technique.  He’s made burgers & chicken breasts on the grill that are quite delicious.  His response: “well, I don’t usually grill steaks but . . . sure!”  So off we went to Kowalski’s, where I made friends with Zeke the Butcher.  (I assume he’s a butcher, he may also just be a dude who works at the meat counter at a local grocery store).

Zeke was obviously charmed when I informed him that I knew nothing about grilling steaks and had only ever eaten steak twice in my life.  He was crazy helpful, informing us about cuts of steak, propane vs. charcoal (basically charcoal is life? I dunno), the meaning of blue rare (which I guess is like eating sushi but beef . . . ).

Zeke also gave some pro-tips:

  • Let the meat sit out for at least an hour.
  • Sear the steak on high heat to get those nifty grill marks.
  • Turn the heat down and cook for 6-7 mintues per side (or until its 150ish inside).
  • Stick the heat thermometer in from the side not the top.
  • Let it rest before you dig in.

Zeke said that since I didn’t have a ‘flavor preference’ or something, they had NY Strip Steaks on sale and that seemed like a good place to start.  We grabbed some steaks, some potatoes, and some vegetables and went to town.

We let the potatoes (with holes poked, coated in oil, and wrapped in foil) sit on the grill for at least an hour.

Rob kindly cut the fat off the meat, seasoned and oiled it for us. (I’m still recovering from the whole spatchcocking event).


He also chopped the vegetables, tossed them in oil, salt, pepper.

Veggies on the grill: they took a bit longer than the steaks.

Chad manned the grill for the most part.  But I got the gist of it. Put it on the grill.  Don’t futz.

I’m  fan of that, it’s the opposite of a lot of cooking where you’re stir stir stir all the time.

Finished:

The grilled baked potato was phenom.  The veggies were lovely and had a hint of that grill-flavor to them.  The steak was . . . a big piece of meat.  I enjoyed it!  I really did.  (I also busted out the BBQ sauce).  I probably won’t make one for just myself, or order it for my meal.  But I will probably end my self-imposed steak embargo the next time someone says ‘I’m gonna grill some steaks, want one?’

So long as they don’t throw stuff at me for the BBQ sauce.

 

April – Steak

Janine Here.  It’s April which means it’s Steak month!  I’m interested in this month’s challenge because I know absolutely nothing about grilling, unless a George Foreman counts (and I’m gonna guess that’s a no).  Also.  I don’t really like steak . . .

My plan:  Find someone to teach me how to grill a steak who also might be okay eating the steak that I grill (or not throwing a plate at me if I put BBQ on it).  I’ll probably do at least 2 steaks, maybe a salad?  A sandwich?  Teriyaki?  Let me know if you have any suggestions!

 

Lisa Here: I’m also not super thrilled about steak month. I like steak, but I feel like it costs more than it’s worth. Maybe I’ll find out if that’s true or not. I just think that when I go to a restaurant and steak is, let’s say, $20 and chicken is, let’s say, $10, why not just get chicken? I’ll enjoy it just as much, if not more, than the steak. But I recognize that others like steak and that I should learn to cook it. Also, chicken gets boring sometimes and steak might be a good thing to have for dinner once in a while.

My plan: I want to make it on the grill. I also want to make it inside on…the stove? in the oven?. I should also be the one to purchase it and learn about different types (cuts?) of it and their corresponding price.

Spatchcock

Remember, two weeks ago, how excited I was to do this roasted chicken, just because of the word?

Spatchcocking isn’t a fancy concept, it’s the same as butterflying a chicken, really.  But instead of simply butterflying the breast, you’re butterflying the entire chicken.

The word might come from a combo of dispatch (like to kill) and cock (as in chicken).  There is also apparently something called spitchcocking, which is the same thing except with an eel.

And how do you spatchcock a chicken?  Well, you take some scissors or a knife and you cut out the backbone of the chicken.  Then spread it open and roast or grill it with the breasts facing up.

Yes, you read that correctly, backbone.

I didn’t take any pictures of the process because honestly . . . I hated every minute of it.  I read some instructions and watched a couple of YouTube videos.  Then I grabbed my scissors (which I very quickly realized were not quite sharp enough for this task) and  . . . yeah.

I’m not the biggest meat lover. But I’m not naive, I know where it comes from. I may not have spent a lot of time on farms in my day, nor do I truly understand the process of raising and butchering of an animal.  But I do understand that the chicken I’ve got on my salad, was once covered in feathers and lived on a farm of some kind.

So when I took my dull-ish scissors to the backbone of this chicken, I tried to remember that this is a part of the process of butchering a chicken, how they get the chicken breasts I buy in packages at the grocery store, and I’m learning something new here.

They say that the meals you enjoy the most are often the ones prepared by someone else.  But sometime over the past year + (especially while doing our 52 Week Challenge) I really tried to focus on enjoying the process as much as I enjoy the meal itself.  And maybe this makes me childish or dramatic, but I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy eating this chicken very much.  And I learned a lot in this month’s challenge, but I never want to cut the backbone out of a chicken ever again.

I will say, though, that if you can handle the prep process, spatchocking is a pretty great way to cook a chicken.  Even with my 4.5lb chickens (because 3.5lb chickens don’t exist) it only took about an hour at 400 to get it up to temperature.

I used a recipe from Mark Bittman (who is a great cookbook author).

  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • salt & pepper

Mix it all up and baste every 10 minutes, rotating the chicken.  The sauce made the skin a little crispy, but it tasted delicious!  Carving wasn’t too bad, either.

I probably won’t be roasting a whole chicken ever again, or at least not without someone to assist during the not-so-fun parts.  But I am pretty happy about this month’s experience.  Have I mastered this essential?  Yeah, probably.

Now what does one do with the backbone of a chicken?

 

Wrestling a chicken

When I left work yesterday I turned to John (my Dad) and said “I’m off to roast a chicken.”

John’s response: “You’re off to wrestle a chicken?”  (he does need to get his hearing aides checked.)

Honestly – that’s kind of what it felt like last night.  My main goal with this challenge was to just figure out the mechanics of roasting a chicken, and have some cooked chicken to use for salads and other meals for the rest of the week.  Which, in the most basic form, I accomplished.

I was so excited to test out my super basic Jacques Pepin recipe for roast chicken . . . and it was super basic.  So I started to get a little nervous and did some more googling about how to roast a chicken?

Apparently, everyone on the internet has different ideas about how to do things.  I was asking myself all kinds of weird questions: how place the chickens in the pan? How do I season it?  Which way to place the legs? What about the wings? Do you truss it? Splay it? Spatchcock it? What does that even mean?  Do I have to cut off the neck? Where are the giblets? Did I accidentally leave the giblets in the cavity?  How come it makes that gross sound when you move the wings and legs . . . oh that’s the bone . . . ugh.

I’ve successfully had a hand in (haha) roasting two turkeys in my life.  And while a chicken is much smaller, I assumed the theory is the same.  What I understood is you want heat, you want flavor, you want it fully cooked, and you want moisture because there is nothing exciting about dry chicken.

So I read up a lot more on prepping things here.  And followed Jacques’ instructions.  Or tried.  I pre-heated the oven, got things salted and peppered (I am not a salt person, so anyone else who eats this chicken would probably think it’s super bland).


And then went about placing things in the pan.  The instructions say:  “fold the wings akimbo to position them closer to the body.  Place the chicken on its side . . . ”

This conversation ensued:



This is how I put it in the pan.

This recipe called for a higher heat, and a short-ish cooking time.  And a 3.5 lb chicken – which I could not find.  So I followed the times in the recipe, turning the chicken over after 20 minutes, spooning the juices onto the bird.

And when the final 10 minutes was done I checked – and it wasn’t cooked.  Now my chicken was still a little frozen on the inside, so I knew it might take a little longer.  I couldn’t find much about increasing the cooking times relative to the size of the chicken (and all recipes I found called for a 3.5lb chicken . . . ).  So in increments of 10 I kept it going . . . and going . . . and going.  I noticed that when I put a knife or thermometer in the chicken I could still see some pink – that was a great indicator of doneness (or lack thereof).

Until finally.  Complete.  And probably overcooked, to be honest.

It was late, so I carved it up, set aside the carcass (and did a poor job of getting the meat off the bone) and went to bed.  The piece I tried was good, not super flavorful (which might be my light hand on the salt and pepper).

It was still pretty moist, despite the high temperature, so that was positive.

But, I’m not sure why what I did was any better than anything else.  Roasting the chicken on its side and switching it stopped the breasts from being too exposed to the heat, I suppose.  The skin was still pretty intact until I tried carving it.  But somethings looked over done, almost dried out.

I also don’t know if I’ll really add roasting a chicken into my regular repertoire.  I did not enjoy carving the chicken (it’s greasy on my hands, I’m not sure I’m carving the right parts . . . the sounds . . . the bones.).

It’s a useful skill to have, but it seems quite a bit more difficult than just buying chicken breasts and roasting those.

Next time, I’m going to go for a more interesting recipe, and try this spatchcocking thing . . . because I get to say spatchcocking and that seems fun.

Week 52 – Your Favorites

It’s a little fitting that we’re posting this final blog post exactly 1 year after we entered the blogging world.

We debated back & forth how we would handle our ‘favorites.’  Would it be our favorite foods, or our favorite posts, or even favorite categories.  I went with favorite foods and chose my go-to comfort food: Macaroni & Cheese.

I went with Queen Martha (Stewart’s) recipe because I trust her recipes a bit more than the random things you can find on Pinterest or other blogs.  The receive was a bit labor intensive, and there were many bowls & pots dirtied during my endeavor, but I was pretty happy with the final results.  Unfortunately I got distracted with the cooking and so here are the two pictures I did like:

This is the kind of recipe I would love to perfect & tweak. I used some fancy cheese (Dublin cheddar and Gruyere) and the addition of nutmeg and cayenne to the roux.  I think I’d also add some paprika (or replace something with paprika) for a different flavor.

I can’t believe it’s over!

The idea of doing something every week for 52 weeks sounded so easy and simple when we planned this out last year.  To say it has been a challenge doesn’t quite describe the experience correctly.  Sometimes it was very hard to find the time to cook something new, and take pictures, and talk about it, but sometimes it was the easiest and most fun thing in the world.

At week 1 I was so enthusiastic.  And week 26 I was so tired (let’s not talk about that Bento Box or the Potato week, shall we?).  I loved having a pre-set menu item to cook every week.  I loved having the chance to write a little something about my experience.  I loved telling people about the blog and hearing their suggestions, and their awe that we were going to do this for 52 whole weeks.

Lisa and I have enjoyed reading each other’s posts, debating recipe choices over gchat, and laughing at the sometimes awful pictures and results.  We’ve loved having guest bloggers participate and show their own skills.

We’re so very thankful that so many people read the blog each week and commented.  We’re thankful that so many people allowed themselves to be subjected to our cooking week in and week out, and let us structuring events based on what we needed to cook.

The experience has been absolutely wonderful and I’m so very glad we did it.

I’d like to end this post the same way I’ve ended all my others.

Things I’ve learned:

  • Slow down, Janine
  • And for the love of Pete read the recipe all the way through
  • There’s a 90% you already own that spice, don’t buy more (except the saffron)
  • Don’t always trust Pinterest recipes
  • Pay attention to what the food is doing while you cook it, and trust yourself enough to keep going

We won’t be back next week, but we might be back in 2017!

 

 

 

 

Week 50 – Creative Techniques

I love sushi!

Oddly enough, I’m not a particularly big fan of seafood, but sushi, I adore.  I think it’s because in sushi every morsel of fish is also surrounded by rice, seaweed, avocado, cucumber, or whatever else goes in your roll.

(Let’s be honest, I’m not talking nigiri or sashimi . . . though I’ve never tried either. My sushi love runs towards the American vs. traditional Japanese).

We’ve been talking about doing sushi on the blog for awhile, so this week for apartment happy hour I stopped at the local seafood place (Coastal, which was super helpful) and we prepared to take on this ambitious, but delicious challenge.

We started with some appetizers, Liz marinated some chicken for chicken satay, and Chad popped them on the grill.

The marinade included coconut milk, fish sauce, red chili paste, brown sugar, cilantro, turmeric, salt, and black pepper.

She whipped up some homemade peanut sauce as well, which included peanut butter, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, garlic, sriracha, water.

The satay was perfect, the meat was really tender, and the peanut sauce was delicious!

Then we tried our hand at some spring rolls! Lisa made some in Week 43, but we tried a different recipe.

First we soaked the rice paper in warm water.

The added an assortment of veggies – carrots, cucumber, red cabbage, cilantro, avocado, and some lime.

Wrap it up!

Then sliced them in half and dipped them in peanut sauce!

Now, for the main event!  Before we met, Liz used her amazing rice cooker (featured in the always entertaining, Pan Sauces blog post) to make sushi rice.

Then we smooshed (that’s a technical term) the rice on the mat.

Crab, avocado, and cucumber for a California roll.

I tried my hand at rolling.  It’s tough to roll and lift the mat at the same time.


Roll it up.

Spicy Mayo! Which was sriracha & mayo (I didn’t get Japanese mayo, though that is recommended).

Dragon roll!  Shrimp tempura, avocado, and cucumber with spicy mayo on top.

Liz cut up some tuna, which we tossed with sriracha for a spicy tuna roll.

Chad added some cucumber for a little crunch, and rolled it up!

The sushi turned out to be so delicious.  Almost as good as at a restaurant!

For a lot of the sushi tips & prep I relied on Just One Cookbook.  It covers all kinds of Japanese food, but her sushi posts are so descriptive and full of easy-to-follow pictures.  There are even videos!

Also, a big, huge, gigantic thank you to Liz for being the mastermind behind a huge portion of today’s post:  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Things I would do differently:

  • We’d need more practice to get the roll as tight as possible.
  • There were a few ingredients that I forgot.

Come back next week for week 51 (omg!) with Lisa!

Week 48 – Reinvented Classics

We’ve covered a fair amount of classic food on the blog so far: pizza, lasagna, thanksgiving, etc.

There were all kinds of options that I thought of, macaroni & cheese, meat & potatoes, chicken, etc.  But there is probably little more quintessential; nothing that hearkens back to the classic time of childhood lunches in brown paper bags, sticky fingers, and cut-off crusts, more than peanut butter and jelly.

(Or PB&J if you’re cool like that).

So how do you re-invent PB&J?  You don’t. Cause it’s perfect.

I’m always partial to Skippy Peanut Butter, strawberry jam (not jelly), smooshed between two pieces of Wonderbread. Others, I found, would toast the bread, artfully spread the peanut butter to prevent jelly from spilling out, toss the combo on a waffle iron, add fruit, add butter . . . It goes on.

(Actually, the butter thing reminds me of this neighbor kid who would always ask for a “peanut butter and jelly sandwich with no butter, please”.)

Instead of variations-on-a-sandwich, I decided to look for another vehicle for my PB&J. Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins


Whisking my dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt).

Beating the fat (egg, sugar, vanilla, peanut butter, melted butter, milk, Greek yogurt).

Dry ingredients + everything else. That is some super dense, and thick batter.

Crumble crust (melted butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, salt, flour).

A little bit of jam, topped with the crust, and into the oven. I went with raspberry preserves.

The finished product.

They were pretty yummy, but nothing amazing.  I think if I’d tried one when they were a bit warmer, I would’ve liked them more.

Things I’d do differently:

  • Honestly, not much. These were super easy, and not bad tasting.
  • Though, maybe more peanut butter?
  • also, i might try to do more of a jam filling, and make a bigger indentation in the batter, to get the jam into the center of the muffin.
  • (Oh and halve the crumble/crust mixture).

Lisa will be back next week (for week 49 of 52) with Clean Eating!