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Paella!

Paella is a traditional Spanish dish. There are hundreds of variations on it, since it appears to be one of those catch-all foods that just employs whatever leftover bits of meat you have on hand. My father loves it, and I grew up referring to it as "stinky clam rice" because, well, it smelled strongly of seafood and mussels when we'd get it. I don't recall my mom making the dish herself very often, since apparently it tasted best coming from one particular restaurant. I thought I'd give it a shot, since at the very worst we'd wind up with a Spanish-influenced fried rice sort of meal. Paella often involves more seafood (especially mussels), but I did not want to experiment with cooking a new creature just yet. Also, mollusks kind of squick me. This is a very easy recipe, all things told -- Start the rice and while it cooks, put together the rest of the ingredients. The meats all cook quickly, and if you pre-chop (or purchase pre-chopped) the vegetables and herbs, it's only a few minutes to soften them.

Ingredients
  • 2 cups rice
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 lb chicken tenders, cut into small pieces
  • 1 lb raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, thawed
  • 1 lb chorizo sausage, sliced diagonally
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 white onion, finely diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (about 4 tablespoons, if pre-minced)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon saffron
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (use 2 teaspoons if fresh)
  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped

    Directions
    Sautee 2 tablespoons of the garlic in about two tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and add rice, stir until translucent and very lightly toasted. Add the saffron threads and the broth. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, for approx. 20-30 minutes, depending on the pan.
    Toss chicken with salt and pepper. Cook in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil until browned, set aside.
    Brown the chorizo in any remaining olive oil until bits of it get crispy and brown. Chorizo gets kind of greasy, so it will probably release a lot of reddish oil into the pan. When it is browned, set aside with the chicken.
    Toss the shrimp with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Cook in olive oil on high heat, searing to form a delicious crust, then turn off the heat and flip the shrimp. Set aside with the chicken and sausage.
    In the remaining olive oil (add more as necessary), sautee the onion, bell pepper, and garlic until softened. Add the tomatoes (do not drain), peas, paprika, parsley, oregano, and green onions. Season liberally with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and stir until heated through and the tomatoes have reduced slightly. Stir in the rice and meats until everything is piping hot.
    Garnish with fresh parsley and lemon wedges. This recipe makes enough for at least six people or so, depending on how hungry they are.



    Twists
    A vegetarian paella with pan-seared asparagus, zucchini, and eggplant would be very tasty. I'd recommend adding a pinch more of the spices here and there to up the flavors.
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    Summer Shrimp Stir-Fry Spectacular

    My mother called this "the best thing [I've] ever cooked". The shrimp was purchased frozen raw, peeled, and deveined with the tails on, and cooked according to a technique out of Cooks Illustrated (a wonderful magazine, by the way). The cooking time may vary depending on the size of the shrimp you purchase -- for this recipe I used 31-40 size shrimp, which means there are 31-40 shrimp per pound.
    I served this with spaghetti squash and the requisite white rice, and the entire meal was devoured. The best dinners often have the least leftovers.
    I know there is a lot of text here, but I promise it's not very complicated at ALL.

    Ingredients
  • 1 lb peeled, deveined raw shrimp, thawed if from frozen
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 1/2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half (and cored, if the core/stem area is big enough to bother you)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Sugar
  • Parsley (I used dried, but finely chopped fresh would also work) -- about 2 tablespoons dried, 4 tablespoons if fresh.
  • Juice of 1 lemon, divided
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic (about two cloves' worth)
  • 1/4 cup butter (4 tablespoons, or about 1/2 a stick)

    Directions
    Asparagus is easy to trim -- if you bend the stalks, they will snap at the point where they stop being tender and delicious and start being tough and woody. If your asparagus is rubbery and does not break, it is old and yucky. Trim it, then cut into small pieces using diagonal cuts (if this confuses you, see the photo). Toss in a large bowl with 1/2 the lemon juice, a tablespoon or two of olive oil salt, and pepper until thoroughly coated.
    Heat a large skillet or pan to medium/medium-high (I used a large nonstick electric skillet -- if your skillet isn't nonstick, go ahead and add a little oil to it) and toss in the asparagus. It should sizzle when it hits the pan. Spread it out into a single layer and let it sit for 30 seconds to a minute. Stir, let cook for another 30 seconds or so. Place back in the bowl and set aside.
    Drizzle a tablespoon or so of oil around the skillet, and place the tomatoes cut-side down onto the hot surface. Let sit for 45 seconds to a minute, or until they have seared and blackened somewhat. Remove from the skillet, place in the bowl with the asparagus.
    Season shrimp with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Toss until mixed thoroughly. Drizzle yet more olive oil on the skillet. It should be hot enough to start to smoke a little. Put the shrimp in the skillet in a single layer and cook for about a minute or until they are mostly pink and the side against the pan has formed a delicious golden-brown crust. They will probably curl up a bit as they cook. Turn the heat off and flip the shrimp, letting the residual heat cook the shrimp through, about another 30 seconds to a minute. Place the cooked shrimp in the bowl with the veggies (aren't you glad you listened to me and got a large bowl?).
    In the skillet, you will see some oil and some brown bits from the veggies and shrimp. This is good. Turn down the heat to medium-low and melt the butter in the skillet. Cook the butter until the water evaporates and it browns slightly -- this will give it a delicious nutty flavor. Add the minced/chopped garlic and cook for a minute or so until it softens and darkens slightly. Be careful not to burn the garlic! Once burnt, garlic cannot be rescued, and it tastes nasty. Add the shrimp and veggies back to the browned butter and garlic. Season with salt, pepper, and add the parsley, then toss to coat thoroughly.
    Serve over rice, pasta, spaghetti squash, or just eat straight. This best feeds four to five people, depending on how hungry they are.

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    Delicious Grilled Potatoes

    Having tasted these, I would happily never eat potatoes any other way. This recipe works best on a panini press like our Griddler, but could easily be adjusted for a flat grill. Just flip the potatoes after a few minutes, once grill marks have formed on one side. The seasonings can be adjusted based on your personal preferences, as noted at the bottom.

    Ingredients
  • White baking potatoes, almost any quantity
  • Seasoned Salt
  • Garlic Powder (avoid using minced garlic, as it burns easily and tastes nasty once it has done so)
  • Pepper (I use a seasoned pepper blend in all my cooking, and I love it)
  • Dried parsley (curiously enough, I have had little luck using fresh -- the dried version sticks to the potatoes better)
  • Lemons (or bottled lemon juice, but fresh is always better)
  • Olive Oil

    Directions
    Wash and slice the potatoes -- try to keep the thickness reasonably even (a mandoline is wonderful for this sort of thing). 1/4" thick is good. Place in a large bowl. Season liberally with the seasoned salt, garlic powder, pepper, and dried parsley. Squeeze the juice of roughly one half a lemon for every four potatoes. Drizzle with olive oil, toss with your hands until everything is coated. The potatoes should have a slight visible sheen and be covered with flecks of seasonings. Careful not to use too much olive oil or lemon juice, as excess liquid will make the spices slide right off.
    Place on a hot grill, and if using a panini press, lower the lid. Cook for about eight minutes (or five minutes, then flip, and another five minutes). Cooking time will vary depending on your machine/grill, and how thick you made your potato slices. If they are too thick, they will not cook all the way through.
    Serve plain, or with your choice of sauce (my family prefers catsup or ranch dressing).

    Twists
  • Lemon and Dill -- replace seasoned salt with regular salt (or a lemon pepper salt mix, if you have it), omit garlic powder. Add dried dill to the spice mixture.
  • Southwestern -- omit dried parsley, add cumin and chili powder to the spice mixture. Replace the lemon with lime, and once cooked, sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro.
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    Zucchini Potato Gratin

    I've made this twice, now, and both times Nicole has made many happy sounds. My father also likes it, so I think it is a keeper. It takes a while to cook, but the actual prep/assembly time is only about ten minutes, and you can cook the rest of the meal while it's baking. It is very rich, and could make a decent vegetarian entree.

    Ingredients
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 1 medium to large baking potato
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup fresh Parmesan cheese (come at me with a green can and I will cut you), shredded
  • 1 cup Gruyere or other swiss cheese, shredded
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Parsley (fresh if you have it, dried is fine)

    Directions
    Preheat the oven to 350°F
    Slice the zucchini and potato into very, very thin rounds. I leave the skin on the potatoes, since it has all the nutrients and looks all nice and rustic. Slice the shallots into thin strips, or dice finely. Shallots are a lot more delicate than onion, and will blend into the sauce if finely diced. In a baking dish (I like a deep 8 or 9-inch round one), drizzle a little olive oil on the bottom. Cover the bottom with slices of potato, then of zucchini. Sprinkle with about a third of the sliced shallots, and season liberally with salt, pepper, and parsley. Sprinkle with a third of the Parmesan and Gruyere.
    Repeat the layering until you run out of vegetable slices. In the dish I use, this is usually three layers (hence the instruction to use a third of the cheese and shallots). Use your judgement after the first layer to determine how to distribute your ingredients. On the last layer, sprinkle the parsley on top of the cheese, as it looks pretty. Pour the cream as evenly as possible over the dish. It will not come up to the top, but that is okay.
    Bake for one hour, or until the top has formed a golden brown and delicious crust. Let set for a few minutes before serving. It becomes even more melty and delicious when reheated the next day.

    Making it Slightly Less Unhealthy
    If you prefer, the Gruyere can be omitted entirely. The dish will be slightly less rich and cheesy, but the Parmesan still imparts a lot of flavor. The ratio of zucchini to potato can be increased, though I would recommend keeping some potato in the dish to aid in keeping the structure stable (zucchini tend to soften and almost dissolve when cooked this way). Unfortunately, light cream does terrible things to this recipe -- it separates and looks gross. Heavy cream is the way to go.
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    Product Review: The Griddler.

    See this?
    It is... THE GRIDDLER.

    What It Is
    The Griddler is a panini press with plates that can be swapped out for flat griddle surfaces. It can open to provide a larger cooking area. The lid is designed to accommodate thick items while remaining level, and is weighted enough that it flattens softer items on its own. There is a 'spout' on the corner for fat drainage, and it comes with two cups to catch the runoff. The two primary settings are "Griddle" (which allows you to choose a cooking temperature) and "Panini" (which offers heat selections of Low, Middle, High, and Sear). A little light on the knobs indicates when the machine is on and when it has reached the desired temperature.

    Pros
  • Heavy. Not so much that it's difficult to move, but enough that something bumping against it won't knock it off the counter.
  • The plates detach for fairly easy cleaning (and are dishwasher-safe). A scraper is included to help clean the grill pan.
  • Nonstick surface makes lower-fat cooking much simpler.
  • Opens up to provide double the grill space.
  • Floating hinge on the lid means the entire grill space is evenly heated.
  • Heats quickly.

    Cons
  • No separate plate heating capabilities -- if you only want to use one grill plate, there is no way to avoid heating the top plate as well.
  • Grease does have a tendency to splatter a little bit (a fine mist, usually) around the edges, especially when using it as an open grill.
  • Cleaning the rest of the machine (aside from the removable grill plates) can be a hassle.
  • That little scraper is easy to lose (we lost ours in about two days), and the plates can be hard to clean without it -- especially after cooking something like hamburgers. Because you have to wait for it to cool before washing (to prevent warping), the burnt bits of meat and grease are often quite stubborn. We usually solve this by soaking the plates for a while before scrubbing them with a soft nylon brush originally intended for cleaning mushrooms.

    Personal Opinion/Experiences
    This is probably the most awesome kitchen appliance I have ever used. We use ours pretty much every single day, often cooking the entire meal on it (except, of course, dad's required rice). Our family has eaten more vegetables since getting this thing than we have in the past 20 years, and cleanup is often much simpler (no more washing five different pots and pans each night). One of the little 'feet' on the back of ours did break off when I tried to open the lid to lay flat and it wasn't at the right angle. That was months ago, and as far as we can tell it has not affected the machine's stability in the slightest. I cook for about six people every night, and it has handled the workload beautifully.
    We absolutely love this thing, and Nicole really wants to get one, as she will be living in a house instead of the dorm this year. I do not blame her, and when I live on my own, it will be the first kitchen appliance I purchase, also. In all seriousness, I would probably rather have this than an oven.

    Rating
    *****
    Five Stars
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    Chicken with Rosemary Mushroom Gravy

    This is a delicious, one-pot meal. I found the recipe online somewhere, and it is itself an adaptation of something off the Food Network.
    I usually get boneless skinless chicken breasts, because they're healthier and I don't have to mess with yucky chicken bits. Jenni no likey the yucky chicken bits. I love cooking this in our electric skillet, but if you have an oven-safe skillet or pan, that also works. If it has an oven-safe lid, even better (if not, you can just cover it in foil).

    Ingredients
  • Boneless skinless chicken breasts, one per person for however many people you're planning on feeding.
  • Mushrooms. Depending on how much you like mushrooms, one or two of the pre-sliced packages are awesome (if you're making a ton of chicken, increase the mushroom level). If you have a selection of different types of mushrooms at your disposal, go for some variation, but almost every grocery store will at least have the white button shrooms. Remember that mushrooms cook down a LOT, so don't worry if it looks like you've got way too many.
  • Shallots. These look like itty-bitty offspring of garlic cloves and red onions. They've got a milder taste than onion or garlic. If you can't find them, some minced garlic and finely diced onion will work. If you like garlic (and I do), you may choose to add some to the recipe even if you do have the shallots.
  • Rosemary. Fresh herbs are some of the most delicious things known to mankind. You could use dried rosemary, but it's just not the same. You'll want about a sprig of it for every two or three chicken breasts. Some people hate rosemary, some think it's like a delicious little fir tree. I'm in the second camp, so I tend to add a lot of it.
  • 1 Lemon.
  • Flour.
  • Chicken or vegetable broth. I use veggie broth for everything.
  • Olive Oil.
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste.

    Directions
    Preheat the oven to 350° F
    Salt and pepper the chicken breasts on both sides.
    Heat a little olive oil in your skillet or pan. When it is crazy hot, add the chicken. Cook on each side until browned.
    Add the shallots (or onion and garlic), mushrooms, and rosemary. Cover the pan with an oven-safe lid, or foil. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, at which point the chicken should be cooked through.
    Remove from oven, remove the lid (careful of the steam). You will notice the mushrooms have shrunk significantly. This is good.
    Take the chicken out and put them on a dinner plate, then cover with foil to keep them warm. They'll only get in the way otherwise.
    Place the pan on the stove, turn it to medium-low. Add a bit more olive oil to the mushrooms and shallots. Squeeze out the lemon juice over them, and sprinkle with flour. Continue to cook until the flour is absorbed by the oil, juice, and whatever liquid the mushrooms and chicken released.
    Add the broth, slowly - a little at a time, allowing it to cook a bit after adding until you reach the desired thickness for the sauce.
    Remove the rosemary. Some of the leaves may have fallen off - that's okay. Just make sure to get the twigs out of there. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can return the chicken to the pan, or just plate and serve.
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    Pumpkin Spice Flax Muffins

    These are so delicious, they're more like icing-free cupcakes than muffins. My family devours them, and I cackle evilly because they are consuming fiber and they totally don't care.
    The trick of using pumpkin is an old Weight Watchers recipe, I believe, which I've seen floating about the internets for a while now. You can use this with chocolate cake mix and the pumpkin flavor vanishes - try different mixes to find one you like best (or the one that's lowest in calories, if that's your concern). Depending on the cake mix, these could easily be vegan.

    Ingredients
  • 1 box spice cake mix, any brand.
  • 1 can pumpkin
  • 1 cup ground flax seeds
  • Turbinado sugar, or any type of big, pretty sugar crystals (optional)

    Directions
    Combine the cake mix, pumpkin, and flax. It will be extremely dense. Spoon into greased mini-muffin tins (I always use nonstick spray, works perfectly). These will rise when they bake, but not very much, so go ahead and fill the tins. Sprinkle with sugar, if desired.

    Bake according to the directions on the cake mix (usually about 18-20 minutes).

    Yeilds about 30-36 (depending on how much you fill the tins) delicious, fiberriffic mini-muffins. They will be dense and moist and delicious, and everyone will want to know what the hell you put in them to make them so tasty. I usually double the recipe when I make them, since they go really fast. Two of these babies (or one with some cream cheese) with some fruit makes a lovely breakfast.
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    Jenni's Philly Cheesesteak Soup

    Okay, confession time - this is not based on 'authentic' Philly cheesesteaks. It is based on a sandwich I had long ago, that was delicious. It had sauteed peppers and onion, a tiny bit of mayo, provolone cheese, and of course, thinly sliced beef. I don't even like beef most of the time, and I thought it was amazing.
    I'm beginning to suspect that I am anemic, since I've been craving red meat like no one's business. However, bread = not my friend. So how to best consume this sandwich?
    Add some stock and make soup, that's how.

    Ingredients
  • 2 lbs extra-lean ground beef. Yes, 2 lbs. I told you I was craving fleshmeats. I also found meat that was 96% lean. Sweet.
  • 1 large white onion. Or more, if you really, really like onion, I guess.
  • 4 small green bell peppers. Or 3 large ones. The only ones I could find were kind of puny, so that's what I used.
  • 2 cups diced celery. I add this stuff to everything. EVERYTHING.
  • 24 oz mushrooms. This is equal to three of those blue foam containers of sliced mushrooms. It looks like a lot, but pick 'em up - they weigh almost nothing. Mushrooms reduce like no one's business when they're cooked.
  • 1/3 cup flour.
  • 4 cups chicken broth.
  • Juice of 1/4 large lemon. I found HUGE lemons. MONSTER LEMON. Now I smell citrusy.
  • 1 T minced garlic. You can add more, but this worked for me.
  • Olive oil.
  • Crushed red pepper flakes.
  • Steak seasoning, to taste.
  • Salt and pepper. I like seasoned salt for stuff like this.
  • Provolone cheese, to top.

    Directions
    Wash the veggies. Slice the onion and peppers into very thin strips, and dice the celery finely. If you bought pre-sliced mushrooms, great. If not, clean and slice those babies.
    Brown the beef, seasoning with salt, pepper, steak seasoning (if you're using it) and crushed red pepper flakes. Leave any fat in the pan, and set the meat aside.
    Add the olive oil to the pan. Sautee the garlic, onion, peppers, mushrooms, and celery until cooked through, and add the lemon juice. Wait to add salt until the mushrooms have shrunk and browned - otherwise they tend to turn rubbery. Then add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with flour and stir until it's combined.
    Add the beef back to the veggies. Mix. Breathe deep the delicious aroma. Begin to salivate.
    Add the chicken stock. Serve, topped with provolone cheese.
    DEVOUR.
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    Delicious Doctored Spaghetti Sauce

    Okay, so. You want to make spaghetti for dinner. But plain 'ol sauce from a jar is boring, and homemade is too time-consuming (or you just don't know how and don't want to risk a kitchen experiment at the moment).
    Here is the World's Tastiest Spaghetti Sauce. Swear to god. As a bonus, because the veggies are diced very small, the majority of veggie haters won't even notice them.

    Jenni's "Haha, you just ate vegetables!" sauce
    Ingredients
  • 1 med. onion
  • 1 med. to large zucchini
  • 1 8 oz package mushrooms
  • 1 lb ground turkey breast
  • olive oil
  • garlic (to taste)
  • 2 jars spaghetti sauce (I recently found Ragu Chopped Tomato, Garlic, and Olive Oil, and it was wonderful)

    Directions
    Wash the veggies. Cut them up into medium-sized chunks that your food processor can handle, and pulse a few times until they are in tiny bits. Don't let 'em get liquidy and pureed. Tiny bits are key.
    Sautee the veggies in a bit of olive oil, with some garlic. I loves me some garlic. If you do not love it so much, you can omit this, particularly if the sauce you're using has some in it already.
    Add the ground turkey to the veggies, mix 'em well, and cook.
    Add sauce. Simmer a bit to heat through, and devour like starving beasts.

    No extra seasoning is needed, since most commercial sauces are seasoned plenty already. I particularly love this sauce on top of spinach pie. Mmmm.
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    Spaghetti Squash

    Spaghetti Squash is possibly the tastiest, healthiest, and most natural substitute for pasta you'll find. It's found in most supermarkets year-round (that I've noticed, at least), and is delightfully simple to prepare.
    Look for a squash that's an even, pale yellow, with no soft spots. It should seem heavy for its size.

    My favorite method of cooking is baking it - mostly because while it's in the oven, I can do whatever else needs to be done for the rest of the meal.

    To Bake Spaghetti Squash
  • Obtain Spaghetti Squash. Duh.
  • Preheat your oven to 375°F
  • Now, take a skewer or a long knife, and go psycho on that unsuspecting gourd. Stab it well, so that steam doesn't build up in the hollow inner cavity and make it go 'splodey after getting too hot.
  • Place the squash in some sort of baking dish large enough to hold it. Any type that can withstand 375° will do.
  • Roast for one hour, a bit longer if your squash is huuuge. If you leave it in too long, the outside of the squash may start to brown and blacken. This will do virtually nothing to the inside. Perfect for forgetful chefs. :D
  • When the hour is up, remove the squash from the oven. At this point you can place it on a baking sheet, a cutting board, the counter, whatever - just know that it'll take a lot longer to cool if you leave it in that hot baking dish it's been cooking in. And you do want it entirely cooled before you start attempting to get at the sweet, sweet innards. Trust me.
  • WHEN THE SQUASH IS COOL (I cannot stress this enough, because you are handling it for more than a few seconds at a time, an over-warm squash will bring the hurt), chop it in half lengthwise. If it's fully cooked, this should be no problem, as it will be a bit soft.
  • Take a spoon and scoop out the darker orange stringy-bits and seeds. They should come out rather easily.
  • Now, take a fork and drag the tines along the inner squashmeats. It will come away in little strings. This is your delicious golden bounty. Collect them in whatever you choose - into a dish or directly onto your plate.
  • Now comes seasoning! Spaghetti Squash generally has a mild, sweet, nutty flavor to it. It is delicious with just some olive oil, salt, and garlic, or you can go all fancy with herbs if you like. If you are using it in place of pasta in a dish, remember that it is a bit sweet, and you might want to tweak the sugar content of your sauces accordingly.
  • Devour.

    According to FitDay, one cup will run you about 40 calories, 0.4 g fat, 10 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, and 1 g protein. Much healthier than pasta, and with more flavor. Not too shabby.