Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Where to Eat Wednesday - Taps Fish House

Recently I have become obsessed with Taps Fish House and Brewery in Brea. It's not the most convenient place for us to go for dinner being that it is about 20 to 25 miles away. But surprisingly we've been out that way for other things lately and have stopped by Taps for apps and drinks. It's kinda a fancy place and we have yet to sit down at a table. We normally just post up at the lovely bar and order up some Taps beer. Try the Pumpkin Ale if it's in season. One of the best pumpkin beers I've had.

The clam chowder is to die for... it's in my top three of favorite clam chowders. The pizza appetizer Adam had was large, gooey, and delicious. If you are going there for dinner they have a great three course option. I have yet to try it, so let me know how it is. I think my favorite thing about Taps is that it's part brewery, part old time bar, part sports bar, part fine dining, and all around delicious.

Peace, love, clam chowder, and happiness!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving for Two - The Making Part 1

 I did it! I made a turkey! I was just gonna make a chicken, but I found a nice little midget turkey weighing in at 7.6 pounds and I decided to take the plunge. Plus, the man at the grocery store said "it's just like roasting a chicken." Thanks to the man at the grocery store for convincing me to try a turkey cause mine turned out damn good, despite it's little fall. More on that later. Let me start at the beginning...

{Finished Turkey - not the most photogenic sucker}

So I decided to tackle quite a lot for my first time cooking a full Thanksgiving meal. Luckily I was only cooking for two! I can't imagine making a huge meal for company. I'll need a few years to work my way up to that. To keep my sanity I turned to organization. I made an excel spreadsheet grocery list which was color coded by store and included columns for the three grocery stores I shop at listing their prices, which I found in their weekly flyers. I ended up going to two stores - Sprouts and Trader Joes. And to be honest I probably could have pulled it all off at Sprouts if I could have found stuffing. Although, Adam, much to his dislike, did have to make a run to Ralphs in the morning for condensed milk and lemons since both Sprouts and TJ's was out. So I guess technically I went to three grocery stores. Oh well. 

I set a timeline for my cooking and started on time (for once!) and cooked from 10am to 1pm. At 1:15pm the turkey went in and Adam, Penny, and I went for a 3 mile run. When we got back I checked on the turkey, basted it, and then showered and got to work on the finishing touches. That's when things went wrong. Turns out all the cooking and running made me tired and so I thought it would be a good idea to ROLL the turkey from the roasting rack into another pan that Adam was holding. The point of this, you might ask, was that I needed the drippings situated underneath the turkey for my gravy. In my haste to get the turkey into another pan and get it covered with foil, because I have an overwhelming fear of serving cold food, I didn't properly communicate to Adam my harebrained idea to roll the turkey. (Side note: turns out turkey doesn't get cold very fast, good to know.) This turned out badly. The turkey went rolling out of the pan, both pans were dropped, drippings went everywhere, I tried to catch the turkey - which turned in to me just flailing my arms and knocking over the pot of potatoes. From there ensued a scramble to get the turkey before the dog did, throwing of dish towels and cussing from me, soothing reassurance from Adam, and a rushed clean up. Luckily, I didn't loose all my drippings despite the fact that immediately after cleaning up from the Great Turkey Drop 2011, I then dropped the drippings pan AGAIN and lost about 60% more of the drippings, leaving me with a measly 1/4 cup to turn into gravy. I blame the flimsy Ikea roasting pan. 

I was upset for a good 10 minutes, but Adam kept reassuring me that I didn't ruin Thanksgiving. Which turned out to be true despite my protests that I did. Everything ended up coming together... well enough. Each dish had it's own minor flaws so my Thanksgiving meal didn't turn into the blogging recipe extravaganza that I had hoped to be able to share with you, but overall the meal was very tasty and I'm happy that I pulled it together by myself in my little kitchen.

The turkey was easier than I thought. Because I had such a small turkey, just under 8 pounds, I was able to brine it in my largest cooking pot. I put it in overnight and flipped it in the morning since the liquid didn't completely cover the turkey.

I've adjusted my recipe for amounts that will be sufficient for approximately a 15 pound bird.

Michelle's First Turkey Tips:

15 lb Turkey

2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 Tablespoon's whole black peppercorns
1 lemon rind

- Fill large pot or bucket with water - mix in brine ingredients. Remove giblets from turkey, rinse and pat dry. Place turkey in the brine. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
- When ready to season your turkey, remove from brine and rinse. Pat dry.
- Allow for your turkey to be out of the fridge for about an hour to reach room temperature before putting in the oven.

Under Skin Seasoning Rub:
1/2 onion (save other half)
5 -6 cloves garlic
2 Tbls butter
1/2 Tbls salt
1 Teaspoon fresh thyme or sage
splash of chicken broth
olive oil

- Blend ingredients in food processor adding olive oil to achieve a paste.
- Separate turkey skin from the breast. Rub the paste underneath the skin.
- Rub the whole turkey with olive oil. Season liberally with salt and fresh cracked pepper.
- Stuff turkey with onion, 1 whole lemon rind (or squeezed lemon), sprigs of thyme. 
- Slice the remaining half onion and place in bottom of roasting pan. Add chicken broth to bottom of pan.
- Place turkey in pan on roasting rack. 

- Cook turkey according to your turkey's weight instructions.

- I cooked my turkey at 350 degrees. The first hour I had the breast down. After the first hour I flipped the turkey to breast up and basted with the juices in pan and topped with pats of butter.
- When the breast skin started to look crispy I tented the bird with foil.
- Make sure you keep juices in the bottom of pan. Add chicken broth if it is looking dry.
- Baste often.

Onion Gravy:

- Drippings from pan
- 1/4 cup flour
- chicken broth
- 1/4 teaspoon corn starch
- pepper

- Place drippings with onions in sauce pan, pan, or you can use the roasting pan on your stovetop. 
- Add flour and whisk over medium heat.
- Add chicken broth to get desired amount. I used about 1 1/2 cups broth to 1/4 cup drippings.
- Season with fresh cracked pepper.
- Whisk over heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat.Whisk. Add corn starch for a thicker gravy.

Peace, love, turkey, and happiness!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Food From the Weekend - Thanksgiving

I hope everyone had a fabulous four day weekend! I know I did, and it was much needed. Thursday was spent mainly cooking. For the first time ever - thanks to my detailed excel spreadsheet shopping list and my by the hour cooking timeline - the kitchen was not a complete whirlwind of disaster... until the very end. My fear of letting food get cold seems to win over every time and I start rushing around like a mad woman and then things get dropped... like the turkey. And then there is yelling, and throwing of dish towels, and a dog desperate to get in the kitchen, and my dreams of a Thanksgiving without a complete cooking fail are dashed in less than 2 seconds. Sigh. 

But more on that tomorrow. Cliffhanger! For now, enjoy some photos of Food From the Weekend - Turkey Day Edition.

{Sweet Potatoes}

{Onions, Celery, Carrots}

{Stuffing Prep}

{Individual Roasted Sweet Potato Casserole}

{Creamy Roasted Garlic Mash Potatoes}

Peace, love, thanks, and happiness!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving for Two

For the very first time ever I'm doing my own Thanksgiving at home! But I'm not inviting family to witness the train wreck that is inevitably going to happen. It's going to be just Adam and I, finally taking a moment to relax after a hectic 2 months of traveling and working. Well relax, if your definition of relaxing is trying to tackle waaaayy too many things in a too small kitchen with an oven only capable of cooking one thing at a time since it only has one rack in it. 'Cause apparently that's my definition since that's what I'm attempting to do. Adam will most likely be on the couch the whole time claiming he's staying very productive by "watching the dog".

{photo from HWTM blog}

Here is what I have come up with for our two person Thanksgiving dinner.

Roast Chicken - I'm not even going to attempt a turkey. I was gonna do turkey breast, but I'm worried it will turn out dry. So I'm going to go with good ol' herb roasted chicken.

Pan Drippings Gravy - I put a bunch of sliced onions in the bottom of the pan and turn the drippings into a gravy with onions. Delicious.

Roasted Garlic Mash Potatoes - with plenty of butter and my secret ingredient (not so secret any more!)  - greek yogurt. I might also throw in some fresh spinach to make Roasted Garlic and Spinach Mash Potatoes (better than you think!) just so I get something green in Adam.

Mom's Stuffing, possibly with a few variations - My mom makes delicious stuffing. She made me a stuffing believer. I think I used to not like the stuff (har-de-har, I made a pun) but I can hardly remember since now I consume it feverishly every Thanksgiving. 

Candied Roasted Sweet Potato Casserole - This is my own little experiment and I'm hoping to make it tonight or tomorrow night.

I'm undecided if I'm going to do a vegetable. It would only be for my benefit. Adam will shun it in favor of everything else, which is why I'm going to put spinach in the mash potatoes. If I do decide to do a vegetable it will probably be brussels sprouts in either salad form or pan roasted.

AND of course... Pumpkin pie. I make it from the recipe off the can of Libby's pumpkin and I wouldn't have it any other way. But I would like to try my own crust. Here I go again, coming up with more ways to relax on Thanksgiving!

I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving! Wish me luck!

Peace, love, give thanks, and happiness!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Food From the Weekend

I had a short weekend since I had to work on Sunday, but still managed to do quite a bit Saturday including a trip to my old stomping grounds - the Old Towne Orange Circle. I went to school at Chapman, and let me tell you the circle wasn't as cool as it is now. Especially since The Bruery Provisions is now in there and is stocked with AWESOME beer.

We stopped by to pick our bottle of the famous Black Tuesday and enjoyed a sample of it as well. It's good, real good.

We also got to visit with Adam's family for his Grandpa's 80th birthday and enjoyed lots of yummy food.

I'll keep you guessing on what I made! Check back later.

I also got the new iphone 4s! By force, mine 3GS kept turning off in the middle of doing anything.

Peace, love, happy weekends, and happiness!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Crock Pot Cream Cheese Chicken

The crock pot is my nemesis. I wish it wasn't because it would make my life a lot easier... but the damn crock pot just refuses to call a truce. Everything I make it in turns out terrible! I know, I know you are probably shaking your head thinking you just throw stuff in there and turn it on whats so hard about that? Apparently everything. I just can't get the flavors right, the textures turn out murky, the cooking time baffles me, I feel I have no room to improv. I've tried various recipes and while some turned out decent enough to eat, which was an improvement since some turned out inedible, only one recipe has made a repeat performance. And that is (of course) the simplest, most basic recipe and most often one of the first recipes tried in a crock pot - cream cheese chicken.

*Disclaimer - crock pot cream cheese chicken does not make for pretty photos**

If you are a crock pot expert you have probably tried this so many times and moved on to the big league in crock pot cooking - the place where you cook amazing things every time, the place I may never get. But on the off chance that there is someone out there who hasn't tried it, here is my version. And it's mighty tasty.

I've made this twice - once with boneless skinless chicken breasts and once with skinless split breasts (bones in) cause that's what I had in my freezer. Both turned out great. The split breasts had the extra step of removing the bones, but I think that version might have been just a touch tastier.

Crock Pot Cream Cheese Chicken Recipe

serves 4

4 medium boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 envelope Italian Salad Dressing mix
1/4 cup water or chicken stock
1/2 to 1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 onion diced
1/2 an 8 oz package of cream cheese 
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup or condensed cream of chicken soup

- Place chicken in crock pot. Combine salad mix with water and pour over chicken. Add mushrooms and onions.
- cook on low for 3 hours. (I've cooked my chicken from frozen and cooked on low for 6 - 8 hours)
- 30 -45 min before serving stir in cream cheese and condensed soup. Cook for 30 -45 minutes longer.
- mix and shred chicken with tongs or forks and serve with noodles, rice, green beans, or my roasted vegetables.

My variations - When I used the split breasts with bones in I de-skinned the breasts. I used 2 breasts. Added them to the crock pot. Covered them in water and the packet of seasoning mix. I always feel like chicken goes dry in the slow cooker unless it is covered in liquid. After they were done cooking - about 3 hours on low- I took them out with tongs and shredded the meat off the bones. A surprisingly easy process. I then threw out the bones. Poured the cooking liquid out of the crock pot and into a jar under a strainer to keep the broth for future use - homemade chicken broth with a touch of italian seasoning! I added about 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of the liquid back into the crock pot with the shredded chicken and then added the soup and cream cheese. You could add the mushrooms at this point too. I did not add onions in this variation. Cook for 45 more minutes.

Peace, love, hopefully more crock pot success, and happiness!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Football Food: Stromboli

Its that time of the year, no not the holidays, football time! And with football comes football parties and with football parties comes party food. What do guys love to eat? Chicken wings, chips, cheesy dip, and pizza with pepperoni. Adam and I always struggle when we order pizza. He loves pepperoni and I hate it. I always win. But in honor of the football season I decided to let him win for once. I came across a recipe for Stromboli on the blog Liv Life and I decided I had to give it a try - for Adam - and the possibility of it being a great quick and easy party food.

So that is how I came to make something with pepperoni in it. I followed the recipe pretty much exactly. It calls for ham, pepperoni, cheese, and bread - a winning combo (except for the pepperoni). The thing I did differently was instead of using a frozen loaf of bread like the recipe suggests, I used a Pillsbury french loaf. I was unsure how it was going to work, but it turns out it was really easy to unroll the Pillsbury french loaf at the seam and lay it flat. So easy, and that way you don't have to worry about defrosting frozen dough.

It was so easy and came out beautifully. Adam loved it and it would be great party food. 

I even liked it, despite the pepperoni, in fact it was a good way to get me to consider liking pepperoni. But really, do I need to like pepperoni? I like almost everything else that is bad for you, I don't think I need to add another to the list.

I can't wait to try other combos. Next time I think I'm going to do turkey, roasted red peppers, and cheese. 

Recipe for Stromboli modified very slightly from Liv Life - check out her blog for step by step pictures.
*Using a Pillsbury French Loaf yields a smaller Stromboli than the original recipe, so I modified the amounts*

Serves 2 as a meal or 4-6 as an appetizer - depending on how big you make the slices

1 Pillsbury French Loaf
6-8 slices deli ham
appx 15 - 20 slices of pepperoni - I used Hormel low fat pepperoni and used about 1/3 of the bag
1/2 Teaspoon dried oregano and 1/2 Teaspoon dried basil OR 1 teaspoon pizza seasoning
1/4 Teaspoon garlic powder
6 slices provolone cheese
3/4 cup  mozzarella cheese 
1 Tablespoon butter

- Take the Pillsbury French Loaf out of the can set on baking sheet. Find the seam and carefully unroll into a flat sheet. 
- Layer ham leaving room at the ends to fold the dough over. Layer pepperoni. Sprinkle with seasonings. Layer cheese.
- Fold the long sides together to meet in the middle and press the seam together. Fold the ends over this seam. Flip so seams are facing down on baking sheet.
- Brush top of loaf with butter.
- Bake according to Pillsbury French Loaf instructions.
- Serve hot with warm marinara for dipping.

peace, love, pepperoni?, and happiness!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Where to Eat Wednesday - Sushi Studio

Leaving my favorite sushi restaurant in the world, the hole-in-a-strip-mall ORIGINAL Katsu-ya, was probably the hardest part of moving away from Studio City. So it took me a while to even try a sushi joint in Long Beach. I had to give myself time to mourn my loss, and to sneak over to Katsu-ya for after work dinners with my old roomie. Eventually I caved and found a sushi spot for Adam and I to frequent in our neighborhood. That would be Sushi Studio. And for the first time ever sushi has become actually affordable thanks to the monthly coupons in the mail. We always sit at the sushi bar and have never had to wait. They have a great happy hour but we usually opt to order what we want and use our coupon. Their motto is "It's Sushi... with a Thai kick" I'm not entirely sure why and the one thing that leaves me disappointed is that the spicy items aren't actually very spicy... so where's the kick? But otherwise I'm entirely happy every time I eat here. Especially since they have a Katsu-ya like dish -  the spicy tuna (needs to be spicier) on crispy rice.

They have so many rolls that I can never remember the ones I like. I'm gonna have to start making a list. But I do enjoy their sashimi sampler. 4 different types of sashimi, each with some adornment for a decent price.

Now I want sushi for dinner! 

Peace, love, sushi, and happiness!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Favorite Roast Vegetables

Roast potatoes - or rather Shake n Bake potatoes - were pretty common on the dinner table in my years growing up, and oh how I loved them. I thought that little blue box held all the secrets to cooking. As I opened my world to the wonders of roasting vegetables in my own home I marveled at the fact that I could roast almost anything and that I didn't actually need Shake n Bake!

This is my go-to for a quick side dish, something to bring to a girls night dinner party, and a way to sneak greens beans into my boyfriends diet. Think of these as a very adult version of Shake n Bake potatoes. 

This isn't really a recipe as it is more of a method. The key is the type of potato you use. I recommend a creamy potato, like fingerling or gold yukon.

You could really throw in any slightly sturdy green veggie you have on hand. Brussel Sprouts would work well. But I really love the green bean potato combo. Be heavy handed with the onion and garlic. 

The onion and garlic is really what gives it that Shake n Bake flavor... and my secret ingredient - Lawry's Seasoned Salt.

The second little trick to making these potatoes work is to roast the potatoes for 15- 20 minutes before adding the softer vegetables. You want the potatoes nice and crispy and you don't want your garlic, onion, and green beans burnt.

Recipe for Michelle's Favorite Roast Vegetables:

Serves 2 - 4 - measurements are estimates and lend themselves well to being altered

1 lb of baby yukon potatoes (I get mine from Trader Joe's)
1/2 bag Trader Joe's french green beans or a very large handful of green beans, french or otherwise
1 medium yellow or sweet onion, large dice
4 - 6 cloves of garlic minced with a knife *see note
2 Tablespoons olive oil
healthy sprinkling of fresh ground pepper
approx 1 teaspoon Lawry's Seasoned Salt
1/2 Teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt)
dash of cayenne pepper if desired

- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Cut baby yukon potatoes into fourths. Place in roasting pan and drizzle with half of the olive oil. Sprinkle with half of the seasonings. Toss well. Place in oven. Roast for 15 minutes.
- Dice onion to a large dice. Chop garlic. Cut green beans in half. Place in bowl and drizzle with remaining olive oil and seasonings. Toss to coat. 
- After the potatoes have their 15 -20 minutes pull them out of the oven and add the onions, garlic, and green beans. Put back in the oven. Cook for 30 - 35 more minutes. Flipping vegetables with a spatula halfway through.

**I like to mince my garlic with a knife for this recipe rather than using a garlic press or pre-minced garlic because both the latter will give you a dice too small or mushy which will burn easily. I've made this with Costco's pre-minced garlic and the dice is large enough that it turns out well. When using pre-minced garlic I like to add a little more since the flavor is a touch more subtle than fresh.

Peace, love, eat your veggies, and happiness!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Southern Fried Chicken

I wish I could eat this delicious-ness every single day (although I'm sure my waistline is glad I can't). This was the BEST fried chicken I've ever had, maybe even the best chicken in general. I wish this was a post sharing a recipe, cause damn I would like to eat some more of it.

But alas, I must wait until I return to Atlanta and head to DBA Barbecue for their Smoke n Fried Chicken Sunday Special. Served only on Sundays, you get a heaping plate of smoked THEN fried chicken, mash potatoes and gravy, the best garlic green beans of your life, and a roll. All for $15. The chicken was so tender and juicy, the coating so crispy, the mash potatoes so creamy, the green beans crunchy and garlicky. Love at first bite.

If I had a smoker, and some more experience frying chicken, I would attempt this. If anyone out there in the blogosphere does attempt this - I need to be the first to know.

Peace, love, fried chicken, and happiness!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Warm up with Goulash

Hello autumn! How chilly you are. Forcing me to bring out my extra comforter. Wear shoes. Turn on that weird vent heater thing that is in the living room floor of my beach cottage. Damn you. But then again you aren't all bad, your coming did force me to make this fabulous stew that I've had bookmarked all year.

It's called Goulash - and I had never heard of it until I came across it on Smitten Kitchen's site. Here is Wikipedia's definition: Goulash (plural: goulashes) is a soup or stew of meat, noodles and vegetables (especially potatoes), seasoned with paprika and other spices. Originating in Hungary, goulash is also a popular meal in AustriaCroatiaCzech RepublicRomaniaScandinaviaSerbiaSlovakiaSlovenia and the north-eastern Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia. It is one of Hungary's national dishes

I'm quite upset that I have not heard of this tasty concoction since I am a quarter Czech. Somebody should have clued me in sooner! 

It consists of beef, bell peppers, and lots of onions. And for some reason I was daunted when I first read the recipe and shoved it aside for future contemplation.

Turns out it is quite easy!

Recipe halved and modified slightly from Smitten Kitchen.

Makes about 8 cups, serving 6

3 slices bacon, chopped (I wouldn't be afraid to add more if your feeling frisky)
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds boneless chuck, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
2 medium onions chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika (preferably Hungarian sweet) - I found it at Ralphs
*There was once caraway seeds here - but I omitted them because I find them dreadful. (Unfortunately I remembered this after I bought them.) If you like them add 3/4 teaspoon.*
1/6 cup all-purpose flour (eyeball it)
1/8 cup red-wine vinegar (eyeball it - don't be afraid to go closer to 1/4 cup)
1/4 to 1/2 - 8 oz can of tomato paste (I used closer to 1/2 can)
2 1/2  to 3 cups beef broth
1 cup beer
1 teaspoon salt
2 bell peppers, chopped fine (I used one orange, one yellow - but feel free to use what you want)

- In an 8-quart heavy kettle cook bacon over moderate heat, stirring, until crisp and transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl. In the remaining fat brown chuck in over high heat, transferring it as browned with slotted spoon to bowl.
- Reduce heat to moderate and add oil. Add onions and cook, stirring, until golden - add garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Stir in paprika and flour and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Whisk in vinegar and tomato paste and cook, whisking, 1 minute. (Mixture will be thick.) Stir in broth, beer, salt, bell peppers, bacon, and chuck and bring to a boil, stirring. Simmer soup, covered, stirring occasionally, 60 to 75 minutes. Check consistency, add more beef broth or beer as needed.
- Season stew with salt and pepper. 
- Makes terrific left overs and is delicious served over whole wheat egg noodles.

peace, love, goulash, and happiness!

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