Wednesday, December 29, 2010

3 down - 50 to go and misadventure #1

My cooking adventures continue....

Boy-o came home from work (he has a part-time job during the school year at a local library - what a cool job!) famished and dove into the from scratch Red Beans and Rice. He gave it a 4 1/2 out of 5 once he added lots of hot sauce. Strangely enough, the large onion, 6 cloves of garlic, 3 tablespoons of chili powder and 1 tablespoon of cumin weren't enough. I tasted it and had to agree. It was a little bland. Once he spiced it to his satisfaction, he enjoyed it and said it was a "make again" recipe. Yeah. He said the TVP was pretty neutral. It didn't add anything to the taste but didn't ruin it either. Since it is high in protein (important for vegetarians), I think it is a "keeper" as well.

Inspired by my successes on Monday, I decided to try another new recipe. Boy-o has suddenly decided that he wants a hot breakfast every morning before school. He loves oatmeal (yucky in my opinion) so I decided to try a breakfast oatmeal recipe in the crockp pot. I tried one before Christmas and the results were only OK. The oatmeal was a very strange consistency. It was slimy. I checked with my sister and she suggested a new type of oatmeal (steel cut oats) and assured me that it would be better. I also picked out a new recipe with more spice. I assembled the ingredients and decided to try out a new gadget that I had received in my stocking from Santa. I had read in a cookbook that you can put your crock pot on a timer delay to have it start later. The whole food safety thing was a concern but when I looked at the ingredients (oatmeal, water, spice, nuts, dried fruit), I decided to give it a try. I read the instructions (in about size 2 font) and figured out how to make it work. I programed it to turn on and happily went to bed. I woke up a few times during the night and enjoyed the smell of spice. I got up the next morning and ran down the stairs to check on my masterpiece. As I approached the crock pot, I noticed that it still looked the same as it had the night before. I touched the side and it was stone cold. I grabbed the timer gadget and looked it over. It looked like it should be working. Hmmmm. After some muttering to myself about unreliable equipment, I happened to look down at the crock pot to notice the on and off button still firmly in the off position. Ahh. Not equipment error - operator error and misadventure #1. I ended up putting the crock pot into the frig and whipping up scrambled eggs for Boy-o. Last night, I reprogrammed the timer gadget, checked, double-checked and triple-checked, the on and off button and woke up this morning to cooking oatmeal. Boy-o said it was good and gave it a 4 out of 5. He did say that the consistency was improved over my first attempt with another recipe. A little work the evening before will result in an easier morning for me.

The first 3 new recipes have all been for the benefit of my son. Last night, I did use an existing recipe and roasted my hubby and I a chicken in the crock pot. The leftover chicken will go into a chicken noodle soup for tomorrow night. I love the two for one meals!

Monday, December 27, 2010

I am still alive and 2 down, 51 to go!

Why, hello there! Yes, I am still alive. I have been suffering from bloggers' block. I thought about blogging, occasionally started to log in but couldn't think of a darn thing to say. Nada inspiration. Zilch. Zero.

However, with the new year just around the corner, I have decided to make a renewed commitment to blogging and.... drum roll please.... I have come up with a new idea. Yessir, the bloggers' block is in remission.

I mentioned that last year my New Year's resolutions was to use my crock pot at least once a week. It was a very successful resolution. Not only did I use it almost every week, on many weeks I used a crock pot (slow cooker), two or three times a week. Confession time. I have never been much of a cook. Don't get me wrong, I have never given anyone food poisoning but we tend to eat easy to prepare meals. Even planning ahead to use my crock pot on a regular basis was something that just didn't happen. My son's favorite food as a young child was chicken nuggets and that was just fine with me. I know, I know, that was why I never got the Mother of the Year Award. Anyway, my commitment to the slow cooker resulted in a new interest in cooking because I started planning my meals for the week. It also helped to know that Friday night was a guaranteed no cooking night! We started going to the local farmers market and buying fresh vegetables. I also discovered tempeh as a meat substitute for Boy-o. That was a big turning point as I started making him "from scratch" meals. Not only did he not complain, he thanked me on a regular basis! In October, one of my facebook friends mentioned her new Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer and what fun she was having with it. With my newfound confidence, I decided that a buttercup yellow stand mixer would be a great addition to my kitchen. I started using that every week to whip up pizza dough, dip for holiday gatherings, meatloaf and cookies. On Thanksgiving, I tried many new recipes and the vast majority were resounding successes. I can't say I am a great cook but my cooking abilities are much more developed than they were in 2009.

Inspired by my recent cooking success and by a newspaper article about trying new recipes (written by one of my oh-so-talented cousins), I have decided that I am going to commit to trying 53 new recipes between now and 2012. I will blog about my adventures - and misadventures - in the kitchen on a regular basis. I will also blog about my adventures - and misadventures - in life. I hope you will come along for the ride.

Since today was a "snow day" for me due to the bad traveling conditions, I was able to try two new recipes today.

The first recipe was for Boy-o. It was ravioli stuffed with fake pepperoni and fake cheese. I searched online for a ravioli recipe and found one that sounded interesting on My husband/sous chef and I combined all of the ingredients in the trust stand mixer and plopped the dough onto my new silicon mat. Hmmm. Question. It says to add more water if too dry and add more flour if too wet but it doesn't say what the dough is supposed to look like. I grabbed a handful of dough and squished it together. It looked just like the dough Bobby Flay used in the last "Throwdown" I watched. Never mind that he was making a Mexican dish and this was an Italian dish, if it is good enough for Bobby, it is good enough for me! After waiting 20 minutes for the dough to rest (why is it tired when I did all of the work?), we attempted to roll it out using a brand spanking new pasta roller. Hmmmm. Perhaps buying the cheap $20 model really wasn't that great of an idea. Oh no, the directions for the pasta make say no salt and my recipe had salt in it. Many false starts and a pause to watch a couple of Youtube videos on how it is done (they make it look very easy. I am considering a complaint to the FCC for false adverising - just sayin'), we finally got our first sheet rolled out. Out came the brand spanking new ravioli press (where did those darn directions end up?) and voila, we had raviolis! These steps were repeated until all of the ravioli stuffing mix was gone. We made the remaining dough into angel hair pasta. For lunch, Boy-o tried the ravioli (served with homemade sauce made in my crockpot earlier this weekend and homemade grilled french bread). He gave the pasta a 4 1/2 out of 5 stars. Not bad. The extra raviolis were frozen flat on a cookie sheet and are now stored in a ziploc bag for future meals. The angel hair pasta is in the frig for hubby and me to try. One down, 52 recipes to go.

Before I started the pasta dough this snowy morn, I started 2 cups of red kidney beans soaking to make one of Boy-o's favorite dishes, red beans and rice. We have always used a mix to make it but I decided to try to make it from scratch. When buying a special pasta flour someone recommended, I noticed a bag of TVP and picked that up. What is TVP you ask? It is a textured vegetable protein that one of my facebook friends recommended. On the back of this package, there was a recipe for red beans and rice and I decided to give it a whirl. After soaking the beans all day, I went to the next step. Hmmmm. What is it with recipes today? Another somewhat confusing direction. It said to cook the beans with a large onion, 6 cloves of garlic and 2 quarts of boiling water. I decided to boil the water in the pan and then add the other ingredients. Oh no. I just realized that after we remodeled our kitchen a few years ago and put in the smooth top stove, we never replaced our dutch oven pan. I use the largest pan we have in the cupboard and add in all of the ingredients. It is full to the brim. It says to cook for 45 minutes (boil? simmer?). It also says later in the directions that the beans and TVP (which is added later) will soak up most of the liquid. I have my fingers crossed as my pan wouldn't take one more item. I let it cook for 20 minutes and decide that it simply isn't going to soak up enough water to add the remaining ingredients. Time for plan B. We don't have a dutch oven but we do have a lobster pot*. I transfer the contents into that. A few spills but all in all, a successful transfer. After the 45 minutes, I add 2 cups of the dried TVP, 3 tablespoons of chili powder and 1 tablespoon of cumin. I cooked it for another 40 minutes and - lo and behold - most of the liquid really is gone! In the meantime, I started rice in Boy-o's new rice cooker. Everything will be ready for him when he gets home from work.I have my fingers crossed that he will like this one too.

So that is it for today. I am off to read a cookbook or two to pick out some new recipes. I also welcome your favorite recipes. Check back in and I will let you know how many stars the red beans and rice got! Happy New Year!

*Even though we are both Maine natives, my husband and I do not like lobster. Our lobster pot has actually never been used for lobster but that was the name on it when we bought it. We use it for chili and for hot chocolate for parties, etc.