Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dried beef and gravy

On a cold winter's night, I can think of nothing better to eat than dried beef and gravy.
Correction. Anytime, anyplace, I can think of nothing better to eat than dried beef and gravy.
My mom and I have been having a disagreement about the stuff. She says that it was always a dinner dish, and I say it was always breakfast. I have been known to have a bad memory when it comes to certain things from my childhood (i.e. my grandma's van was black, not navy as I thought for years), but of this I am certain. She made this for me for breakfast.
Nonetheless, it's one of the best foods I have ever eaten. And yes, I am aware that it is a full-fledged hick entree. Oh well.

Dried beef and Gravy with Biscuits
1/2 package of dried beef
1/2 can carnation condensed milk
3/4 c. milk
3 tbs. butter
1 tbs. flour

Tear dried beef into small, bite-sized pieces. Put in skillet with butter over medium heat. Once butter melts, add tbs. (or more) flour and form a paste. Then add condensed milk and regular milk and cook over low-med. heat until thick.

That's it! Pour over biscuits and eat.

Incidentally, the best biscuits to use are always the cheapest ones.

Friday, December 5, 2008

In lieu of cooking...

I have been very sick this week, and since this is a food blog I don't even want to tell you the exact details of my illness, just that...it was gross.
Since I have been basically out for the count since Tuesday, I will just have to write about something I didn't cook, but I did experience.
There's this burger at Scotty's Brewhouse. Scotty's is an Indiana college bar/pub/restaurant. They've got really good dill chips, apparently - I hate all pickles, so I wouldn't know. Also, they've got a decent (but not Heorot-sized) beer selection.
Usually, I go to Scotty's and I get the same thing. That's how I am. I find something good at a place and I stick with it. Because usually I find that if I try other things, they taste like shit. Take for example, when I decided to deviate from my usual order at Thai Smile and go for the spicy noodles. They tasted like wet dog.
But, I decided to take a risk and change my regular order of Mo'Fo Buffalo Chicken Wrap with a side of Macaroni and Cheese (seriously), and get a burger.
I know. Burger? Is that really a big risk?
Well, it is with this burger. Apparently, Scotty's has a competition in which you make up a burger, and if it's good, they put it on the menu. And somebody had the urge to submit a burger with peanut butter and jalapenos.
No, I'm not pregnant. But I decided it sounded intruiging. And honestly? I loved it. I wished it the meat were more cooked, but that can be easily fixed. I found myself just wanting more peanut butter on the burger, because I couldn't taste it enough. And the jalapenos were okay, but the kicker was the peanut butter.
The burger was huge. And weird. And I couldn't finish my mac and cheese for the first time in a very long time, but it was an enjoyable (if not completely weird) gastronomic experience.
If you're in Muncie, and you are feeling adventurous...go ahead and try it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A cross-cultural Thanksgiving

Usually, I stay in Indiana where it's cold. This time, I went to Florida to visit my dad and my stepmother (Yaz from now on, for the sake of typing ease).
Yaz's family is Lebanese. I have had Thanksgiving with them before, but not in Florida. This time, there were about 30-40 people crammed into a house outside of Tampa. Several conversations I overheard were going on in either English, French or Arabic, or some combination of the three. I'm used to listening to a combination of English/Arabic (Araglish?) because of Yaz's mom (known as Sitto). I will talk more about Sitto in a minute, but for now I will just say that she likes to switch languages in the middle of sentences, and according to some actual arabic-speakers, she makes up a lot of the words she says (anyone know what "yarab" means? We're pretty sure it isn't a word).
The French is a new thing for me. Only recently have I heard it spoken within Yaz's family, because some distant North African relatives have started to be more present at family functions - at least the ones I go to, now that I'm in Florida more often. Some of them speak French better than English. It appears I decided to learn the wrong romance language after all.
But anyway, onto the food.
Lebanese cuisine is definitely one of my favorite types of food. I don't know how to spell any of it, but maybe if I describe it, you can all follow along.
Until recently, it never occured to me that having Ruz lahmeh snubar right next to the turkey and dressing was a little bit weird.
Ruz lahmeh snubar: Rice, finely ground beef, cinnamon, pine nuts. It's lovely, but cinnamon and turkey? Surprisingly, it's really good together.
And oh, the fattoush. Fattoush, of course, is arabic salad with toasted bits of pita bread, but Oh. You have never had fattoush (or salad, for that matter) until you've had fattoush made by Sulwa (I also don't know how to spell names). She makes it with very nice, fresh vegetables, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt and spices, but she adds pomegranate oil. Yum.
I think those were the only Arabic dishes present for the actual meal, but of course for appetizers and dessert we had hummus and fig tarts alongside other classic non-Arabic yet Hakim/Yazback family traditions: Taco dip and pudding pie - both of which deserve their own post.
There's no recipe. So what's the point of this post? To emphasize that open-mindedness is just as important when applied to non-american food on strictly American holidays.
If I approached my mom's side of the family with anything resembling food that is not American in origin on Thanksgiving, it would NOT go over well. Apple pie, pumpkin pie and brownies. And that is all that is allowed. Brownies are pushing it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Requiem for a TV show

One of my favorites, Pushing Daisies, has just been cancelled. Or infinitely postponed. Or whatever they called it.
Someone has postulated that it's possible that ABC just wants the loyal viewers to send hundreds of free pies to its offices. I will not be sending them any pies. Maybe some exploding packages, or other revengeful items.
I loved this show. The first season was lovely and whimsical, and now we will never get to see the aunts reunited with their Charlotte, and Ned will never be able to find a loophole so he can touch Chuck. And Emerson will never find his lil' gumshoe!! And last but certainly not least, the guy who makes the beautiful pies for that show will be out of a job.

How ridiculous! This show was so cute and lighthearted, but alas, I guess it was just too different for mainstream TV. Although how shows like Prison Break and Ghost Whisperer stay on the air and Pushing Daisies gets cut is a complete mystery to me.

But, in tribute to Pushing Daisies' demise, I will post my pies that I made for Thanksgiving. I didn't realize they would be a tribute to this show, or I would have made them prettier.

1. Pumpkin Pie
Honestly, I can't stand pumpkin pie. I won't take more than a bite of it to make sure it's not poisoned. But as far as being able to tell if the pie is exactly perfect, I honestly wouldn't know. I couldn't tell you what a pumpkin pie is supposed to be like.
But I have heard from most of my family yesterday that the pie was something fabulous. I blame the recipe, not the cook. This will be the first of many postings of my grandma's recipes that I inherited.


4 - 5 eggs
1 large can pumpkin
1½ c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ginger
1 tsp. nutmeg
3½ c. milk
1 can milk (carnation)

Mix well in a bowl, bake at 425 for 15 min., 350 for 25-35 min.

Simple, yet (apparently) wonderful. I hate squash of all varieties.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Maybe just "peace between the U.S. and Canada" cookies

Note to self: Don't mess with World Peace.

I found a cookie recipe on the smitten kitchen. I made it. Supposedly, these cookies were supposed to cure humanity's giant animosity problem if everyone in the world had one per day. Deb was skeptical, and so was I, but for different reasons.
Whereas she thought she would not be prompted to feel peaceful, she would be more inclined to steal others' cookies, I thought they could actually be improved upon. Silly me.
I am not a big fan of sandy, grainy cookies, and these certainly were. Maybe it's because I have deficient taste buds, but I value the texture of something almost more than the taste. More often than not, when I say I don't like something, it's because I don't like the texture. Tapioca pudding? Pudding is supposed to be smooth. Chunky applesauce? Applesauce is not supposed to have chunks. Fruit on the bottom yogurt? I'd rather not have any fruit in my yogurt at all - just the fruit flavor. Fruitcake? Looks like bread, isn't bread, and has odd bits of crystallized fruit and nuts. Blech.
But, these cookies were very good, just a little too grainy for me. Also, I couldn't really get my mind around the fact that the recipe called for unsalted butter, and then a teaspoon of sea salt. The sea salt made it salty in certain places but not at all in others. Weird.
So I resolved to improve upon the Cookies of World Peace.
Big mistake. When world leaders are "pretty close" to a Middle-east peace accord, do they scrap the whole thing because Saudi Arabia won't give women the right to drive? I should hope not. Because while unequal rights is bad, irrational blowing up of each other is much worse, and a step to stop the blowings-up is a step in the right direction. People can work on the rights (soon) after.
In the same way, I should not mess with the world peace cookies just because they are too grainy and salty in weird places. They were still the best cookies I've ever made. Duh.
So, I changed them. I changed them yesterday morning because my boyfriend was having a bad day, and I thought, what better way to overcome a bad day than Better Than World Peace cookies?
We ended up going to a bar instead.
They weren't inedible, but I did deem the last 1/3 of the dough to be not worth the baking. I added 2 eggs and only used one stick of regular butter, and no salt.
They were oddly more like brownies than cookies. Small, round, oddly-shaped brownies. But my roommate liked them. So much so that she ate a good 8 of them between 3 and 6:30 p.m.
I don't know. They were okay. But they sure won't cure any world peace. They sure didn't create any peace between myself and my baking skills.

Here is the original recipe, with my notes:

World Peace/Korova Cookies (via Smitten Kitchen)
Paris Sweets, Dorie Greenspan

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature (1 stick regular butter)
2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (nope)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips
Plus 2 eggs

Makes about 36 cookies

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

GETTING READY TO BAKE: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.


I didn't do the log thing with the second batch, it wasn't necessary. Honestly i found even the first time around that I don't have knives sharp enough to cut good cookie log pieces.

Anyway, let this be a lesson to all. Don't mess with the world peace.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The best macaroni and cheese EVAR

Yeah, the best. I made it. In fact, I invented it on the fly. Last night.
I needed to make dinner for my blind-as-a-bat boyfriend, who lost his glasses and enlisted me as his personal taxi service for the evening.
I was happy to be the chauffeur, because I didn't want him to wreck my car and die. And I like doing nice things for him. Which is how this dish came about.

I had an indeterminate amount of time to kill between dropping him off and picking him up again later, so I decided to use that time to make him some dinner.
I had input from a couple of friends, which explains why I used an entire box of shell noodles. I had a lot of various cheeses in my fridge from dinners that had gone before.
To be honest, the idea for this dinner came to me in a dream about a year ago. I was craving macaroni and cheese so badly that I dreamed some chef made some for me, with some ridiculous blend of cheeses and either sake or red wine. And it was fabulous. So, I decided to make the fictional macaroni and cheese that my unconscious brain made up.
So, I boiled a whole box of pasta. I melted about half a brick of velveeta, and probably half a cup of the remaining feta, and 3 tablespoons of butter, and a little bit of olive oil in with the cooked shells. I also used about 3/4 of a can of Carnation while the cheese was melting.
Then, I dumped the noodles and melted cheese mix into my largest pie pan, as the actual deep casserole dish is being used somewhere.
Then, I decided to fry some onions in a bit of cheap Pinot Noir we had laying around the kitchen. Stuck those on top of the cheesy noodle pie. Then, I refrigerated it for about 20 minutes to go and get the boyfriend.
When I came back, I put yet more feta, yet more Velveeta, and some grated parmesan on top, along with some bread crumbs. And I baked it at 350 for about 20 minutes.


The onions were a little fruity by themselves, but with the cheese, they taste absolutely magnificent. And they're a lovely purple color that contrasts nicely with the yellow. And the Carnation makes the whole thing delightfully creamy and sticky.

Pictures will be added when I stop being a lazy ass and download them from my camera.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In which I discover that feta and mayonnaise is a good combination.

As previously discussed, a week ago I bought a giant container of fresh feta cheese for only $4. This leaves me continually searching for things to do with it. Occasionally I use a recipe finder, and sometimes I just make things up off the top of my head.
Like this wrap that I'm about to describe to you.
There is a Pita Pit in my college town. If you haven't been to Pita Pit, they make the world's most fabulous wraps, including things like meat, vegetables, sauce and cheese all magically wrapped up in a fresh, real pita. According to one taster, my wrap was better than anything pita pit could come up with. I disagree, but it's ok. I'll take the compliment.

Basically, I had some large burrito shells. And on top of one, I put some chicken breast lunch meat, some chopped onions, some arugula leaves, a few wedges of avocado, three tomato slices, and some mayonnaise and some crumbled up feta cheese. And it is amazing. So simple, yet so great.

Why though? Doesn't it seem that the combination of feta and mayonnaise would be utterly disgusting? Maybe the avocado was balancing everything out. Not so. A few days later I ran out of avocado but made one anyway, and it was still just as good.
The arugula somehow took on a somewhat smoky flavor when paired with the mayo and tomato, and the chicken was barely even noticeable. It could have been mistaken for actual, good-quality deli meat, or it could have not been there at all. But it certainly didn't taste like the crappy chicken I bought.
My only beef with this wrap was that my burrito shells were of the not-too-bendable variety, making a neat little wrap shape almost impossible. Maybe if I had thrown them in the microwave for 5 seconds, I would have had less trouble, but then I would have been eating a crunchy tortilla within minutes. I would suggest getting actual tortillas made for wraps, or if you can find them, actual large-size pita pockets.
The problem is, I won't eat large-size pitas unless they actually come from the Yasmeen Bakery in Dearborn, Michigan.
Sidenote: If you get the chance to go there, GO THERE. They have fresh pitas. They have shwarma. They have spinach fatiyah that is second only to my Sitto's. They have large vats of fresh mediterranean olives for sale. They have some pastries, but for real baklawa, you should go to the huge shrine to pastries that is Shatila down the road. Everyone knows that.
Domed ceilings, christmas lights, the whole bit. The pastry counters line the walls. I mean it when I say shrine. It's just not an extremely good picture.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Crazy chicken marinade and fabulous, sticky risotto

Food blogs. I love them. Smitten Kitchen, the French Revolution, Bread and Honey. I want to be them. I want to be able to cook like them.
I don't know if I cook enough to write about food. I have been trying, because I hear that letting your boyfriend pay for dinner at a restaurant every night is bad on several levels. Also, I've always wanted to learn to cook.
So, I collect recipes. I buy ingredients. I try not to forget the baking powder. But it doesn't always work out. If it doesn't, I'll still blog about it. You know why? Because some of us are kind of crappy in the kitchen sometimes, whether it's due to human error, or a lack of expensive kitchen items such as...nonstick saucepans.
I'm in college. I'm poor. Sometimes I can't afford basic stuff. One day I will get my revenge.
So, this Saturday. Saturdays usually end up being my cooking days, because my boyfriend decides to be an overachiever and work on his lesson plans for the week. And I decide to give myself the day off, and cook instead.

This Saturday, I kind of outdid myself as far as making an entire meal as opposed to just one (usually dessert) item. I can't resist the desserts.
I ended up making tomato and arugula salad, grilled chicken marinated in a crazy mix of liquids and herbs that I made up (which was really good) and onion and feta risotto. Earlier in the day, I made something called World Peace Cookies that I found on Smitten Kitchen.
I'm only going to talk about the chicken and risotto, because the other two dishes are things that I plan to make again and improve upon.
(Side note: I know that it's approaching the sacrilegious to propose making changes to the recipe for World Peace Cookies. Just hear me out in my blog post after I make it. I promise to think up a new name for them.)

So first, for the chicken.
I defrosted 2 chicken breasts that I had in my freezer.
Last week, I bought a bag of like 15 frozen chicken breasts for $5.99 at Meijer, and being a college student, this is like buying a bag of gold for $5.99. I digress.
To defrost the chicken, I filled my sink with hot water and stuck the chicken breasts in the sink in a medium-sized but sturdy ziplog bag. I then stuck a large mixing bowl on top of it to keep it submerged. That lasted for about 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, I took the bag out of the water, and looked around my kitchen to see what I could make into a marinade.
I decided on this:
(Just so we're clear, this was very haphazard so there were no precise measurements. I just filled the bag enough to mostly cover the chicken breasts.)

Katie's insane chicken marinade:
Lots of lemon juice
A medium amount of olive oil (about 4 "glugs" of the bottle)
Equal (or more) amount warm water as olive oil
A spoonful of salt
4 large drops of vanilla (as my mom said, "Ew!" But you really couldn't taste it)
Too much dried rosemary
Teaspoon (I guess) of coriander
Few shakes of dried cilantro shaker
Few shakes of cayenne pepper (My definition of "few" is probably larger than yours, when it comes to cayenne)
6 tiny pieces of minced garlic
8 grinds of black pepper grinder

The chicken was very good on my trusty world's tiniest George Foreman grill. If I were to make it again, I'd take out the vanilla, half the rosemary, and all the cilantro. I'd use more coriander and more garlic and add basil, I suppose. But again, that's just a guess.

Now the risotto was a much more precise recipe, because I found it online. (Cooking Light, via MyRecipes.com) My notes are in blue.

Vidalia Onion Risotto with Feta Cheese

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil (Olive.)
  • 2 cups chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion (Couldn't find any vidalia, used red onion instead. It was fine.)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio or other short-grain rice (I just used plain old white rice.)
  • 2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese, divided
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I used curly parsley, because it's what I have.)
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese
  • Freshly ground pepper

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Add onion and garlic; sauté 1 minute. (I did this for way longer than 1 minute, but no longer than 5. I resisted the impulse to saute them in beer.)
Stir in rice.
Add 1/2 cup broth; cook until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Add remaining broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is nearly absorbed before adding the next portion of broth. (As usual, I ignored this "gradual" part and just added all the liquid at once.)

Remove from heat; stir in 1/4 cup feta cheese, parsley, and Parmesan cheese. Spoon rice mixture into a serving bowl; top with 1/4 cup feta cheese and pepper.


I used chicken broth instead of vegetable, because I didn't have any vegetable. It seemed to taste better with the crazy grilled chicken anyway. Also, I only used 1 can of broth because I only had one can of broth. I used 1 can of water instead, and added extra salt to compensate. At the end, the rice wasn't cooked (probably due to my ignoring of the directions) and I had to add probably another cup and a half of water, and half a cup of whole milk to the mixture. The milk was an impulse that struck me at the last second, but it didn't seem to do any harm, if it did anything at all.
I also added probably more feta than was necessary, and way more parmesan than was necessary. The parmesan wasn't my idea - I forgot to tell my boyfriend to stop grating the cheese at a certain point and so our risotto was extra cheesy. Oh well - the more cheese, the better, I say. Except in the case of a certain stromboli from Sbarro. Yuck.

I've got to tell you, this feta I bought was the best $4 I've spent in a long time. I got a whole pound of fresh feta from the Meijer deli for only $4. Yum.

Anyway, the risotto turned out to be quite excellent, and a great accompaniment to the crazy chicken. It wasn't bad as leftovers either. My only regret is that I didn't make more of it. And that I don't have a teflon-lined saucepan, because everything sticks to the bottom of my glass ones. Including a lot of my precious risotto.