The Lazy Cook – In the Beginning

So I guess I should start a little farther back than when Tummy started acting up.  In my early years, we were very poor.  The exposure to the different kinds of foods was limited.  Let’s face it, kids don’t want to eat weird things unless they are sweet.  Most things you would find around my house were inexpensive to purchase and easy to make.  My mother was single and had three kids to feed.

The two things I learned to make as a child was baked chicken and spaghetti.

Chicken was the meat served most nights which pretty much meant that I didn’t eat most nights because all I was ever served was the wing and let’s be honest here, there is no meat on a wing.  The chicken was no big deal, salt/pepper and some pats of butter on the top and into the oven it went for an hour.  And yes, I know, that is way too long.  Many times the chicken came out so dry, you needed a gallon of the dry milk my mother would make just to get the stuff down.  But then again, maybe it was just my piece that was so dry (wings dry out fast).

Another staple that was prepared a lot was spaghetti with homemade sauce.  This was a little more involved as it took onions, mushrooms, tomato paste and sauce, some herbs, and a lot of time.  The sauce usually came out pretty good over some noodles and quickly became one of my favorite things to make, even into adulthood, much to my children’s dissatisfaction.  To this day, I still get heckled over the constant preparation of chicken or spaghetti for dinner as they were growing up.  I think my spaghetti sauce evolved over the years into something different but I can’t say that it was ever great.

Going into adulthood, I made a lot of things that I had recipes for and actually prided myself for being able to make anything you want, as long as I had a recipe.  I thought this was cooking.  You get some things together, you follow the directions and viola’, dinner!  Not only did this seem incredibly tiring (it takes a lot to follow someone else’s instructions), but I also found that I really didn’t want to drag out the cookbooks every time I needed to cook dinner.  The task was really daunting for me.  Because of this, I found myself falling into the black hole of processed foods to feed my family.  Fried chicken, check.  Macaroni and cheese, double check.  Before I knew it, there was not a single identifiable piece of actual food in my house.  The kids were eating hot lunches at school, breakfast consisted of cold cereal of their choosing, and dinner was either McDonalds or their favorite frozen food.  My cookbooks were sitting on a shelf getting dusty and I was becoming even less domestically inclined than I was before.

At some point, I knew it had to stop.  I look at my kids eating habits now (they are both adults) and I see them repeating the same nasty cooking habits that they grew up with.  And now they are lazy cooks too.  ALL MY FAULT.

Hopefully, I will do better with the grandkids…umm, yeah.

 

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The Spice of Life

Ever wonder how certain dishes have an undeniable flavor of a certain region that you just know it is that type of food?  Between the flavor trinities of beginning flavors to the spices that complete the dish, its all what you put in it.

Here are the typical spices that are commonly used when creating these types of dishes.

Cajun & Creole Spices

Allspice, basil, bay leaves, black pepper, caraway seeds, cardamom, cayenne, celery seed, chives, chile peppers, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, dill seed, dill weed, garlic, gumbo filé, lemon, mace, marjoram, nutmeg, onion, oregano (Mediterranean), paprika, parsley, saffron, savory, tarragon, thyme, white pepper and yellow mustard .

Caribbean Spices

Allspice, achiote seeds (annatto seeds), black pepper, chile peppers, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, ginger, lime, mace, nutmeg, onion,  and thyme .

Chinese Spices

Cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, ginger, hot mustard, lemongrass, Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, Tien Tsin chiles, turmeric and white pepper .

Indian Spices

Anise seed, ajwain, asafoetida, bay leaf, black cardamom, black cumin, black mustard seed, black pepper, black salt, brown mustard seed, chile peppers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cubeb berries, cumin, dried mango, fennel seed, fenugreek leaves , fenugreek seeds, garlic, ginger, green cardamom, lemon, lime, long pepper, mace, mint, nigella, nutmeg, onion, poppy seeds, saffron, sesame seed, star anise, turmeric and white pepper .

Italian Spices

Basil, garlic, onion, oregano (Mediterranean), marjoram and parsley .

Mediterranean Spices

Basil, bay leaves, black caraway, black pepper, cardamom, chervil, chile peppers, chives, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel seed, fenugreek seeds, garlic, ginger, juniper, mace, marjoram, mint, nutmeg, onion, oregano (Mediterranean), paprika, parsley, rosemary, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme, turmeric and white pepper .

Mexican Spices

Allspice, achiote seeds (annatto seeds), basil, Mexican cinnamon, cayenne, chile peppers, cilantro, coriander, cumin, epazote, mint, nutmug, oregano (Mexican), sage and thyme .

Middle Eastern Spices

Aleppo pepper, anise seed, caraway, cardamom, cumin, maras pepper, nutmeg, sumac and turmeric

North African Spices

Birds eye chiles, cilantro, cinnamon, cubeb berries, cumin, garlic, ginger, grains of paradise, long pepper, mint, onion and saffron .

Spanish Spices

Basil, bay leaf, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, mint, nutmeg, oregano (Mediterranean), paprika (Smoked Sweet), parsley, rosemary, saffron, sage, tarragon, thyme and vanilla .

Thai Spices

Basil, black pepper, cardamom, chile peppers, cilantro, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, lime, mace, mint, nutmeg, shallots, turmeric and white pepper .

 

List courtesy of Spices Inc.

“The Lazy Cook” continued

Learning to cook has got to be one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.  Not because it has a lot of ways something can be done but simply put…its a chemistry exam on food.  Each different thing that you can do to prepare something has its own reason for doing it.  Do you know about the Maillard Reaction?  What the hell is that?

Well, apparently, when sugars in the proteins we eat come into contact with high heat, it creates a reaction on the surface of the protein that actually enhances the flavor while it is cooking.  Really?  Now I know how tasty meat can be when it is cooked to a golden brown but I never thought that that was an actual method of preparation, so to speak.

Now this brings up a very important thought that needed to be discussed.  If people have been around for thousands of years, what did people do with proteins to prepare them for eating before the creation of fire?  I watched a show one time that was based on the four forms of preparing food: water, fire, earth, and air.  I have already brought two forms of preparing foods: fire and earth.  Fire is self explanatory but earth is a little more confusing.  I thought the concept was intriguing and I had to watch.

Preparing food with water is simply boiling your food until it is cooked. No surprise there.  We have been doing this for a very long time.  But did you know that preparing food with fire needs to happen first before anyone can cook in water?  Once we learned how to make fire, it open up a whole new way of appreciating food. Cooking with fire is what introduced the Maillard Reaction.  The transformation of amino acids in the proteins to these awesome brown bits of bliss.  What could be better than that?

Cooking by earth is a little more complicated.  The refers to fermentation and the natural transformation that occurs when you allow microbes to have free access to your foods.  This form of preparation is very important to keep tummy in check and keep your gut flora from causing havoc.  Examples of fermentation are yogurts, kimchi, sauerkraut, and sourdough bread.  The world discovered fermentation when a bowl of wet flour was accidentally left out and it began to bubble.

The last form of preparation is cooking by air.  Heat in the air can cook foods as well.  Just as we begin to learn to cook with fire, we learn to cook with air.  It is as easy as putting the bun in the oven.  Today ovens can cook almost anything with air.  The confection oven can do it even better.  If only I could remember if it was the temperature or the time that needs to be decreased when cooking with convection…and this I still haven’t figured out.  And all i have to do is look it up (again with the Lazy Cook).

With all of these things to remember, no wonder I never learned to cook…its like taking up a second language.

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San Marzano! Oh My!

Its the time of year when I get overwhelmed by my garden.  San MarzanoIts time to harvest the tomatoes.  And they aren’t just tomatoes, they’re San Marzano tomatoes.  Flavor so sweet, you can’t make an awesome homemade italian sauce without ’em!

I was going to take a couple dozen to work and let everyone take some but, of course, I forgot them.  I just can’t let ingredients like these go to waste.  ingredientsIt just wouldn’t be right.

So today I decided to let the tomatoes show me what they are made of, and boy did they not disappoint.

After harvesting about 30 tomatoes, I decided that was probably enough to make a good amount of sauce.  I put them in a pot of cold water to start rinsing off.  There are only a few ingredients needed to make an awesome sauce so I stuck to the basics here.  Onions, garlic, tomatoes, dried italian seasoning (I know…Lazy Cook), white wine, salt pepper, and some oil/butter.

As always, you want to get all of your ingredients mise en place so they are ready to go when you start cooking.  With that, I first reached for the gigantic walla Onionwalla onion.  So sweet, you could almost eat it whole.  I quickly chopped the whole thing into medium pieces, peeled and minced a clove of jumbo garlic, and put it all in a bowl.  I guess it would be best if you chopped these two things before the tomatoes since there will be a lot more juice in those babies.

When you get to the tomatoes, there is one of two ways you can do this…you can cut a cross with a paring knife on the bottom of the tomatoes and blanch them, or you can just cut the stem side off and chop these into chunks the same size as the onion and cook them with the skin on.  This will require you to skim off the skins during cooking but you are already tending your pot anyway so its not that bad (again, a Lazy Cook).

I personally chose to do the skimming, of course.  When you are done chopping the tomatoes, whether you blanched or not, put these in a bowl with a nice pinch of salt and stir them, coating scantily with the salt so they can caramelize nicely when we get to that part.

Next, it wouldn’t be a great sauce without some meat.  SausageI wished I had some hot italian sausage to go with these tomatoes, but all I found in the fridge was some basil chicken sausages.  I know…what am I thinking with the processed foods again…but I was starving and it was going in.  First dry the sausages with some paper towel.  If there is any moisture on them when you put them in, they will steam instead of sear.  Chopped of course the same size as the rest and put in a bowl.

Get together the seasonings, an open bottle of white wine, some vegetable broth, and the veggies you just chopped and let’s get ready to cook.

Mise en Place

One of the first things I learned was that you should preheat the pan or pot you will be using.  Just a minute or so should work.  A couple tablespoons of olive oil goes in next.  Heat until the oil starts to shimmer then add the sausage and a pinch of kosher salt.  In case you were wondering, salt helps food release their natural sugar which when you sear them, you get a nice golden color.  Stir the sausage every once in a while until they are nicely seared. Put them in a bowl for later.  Now what are left with in the pot is what is called fond.  Those awesome little bits of the protein that stick to the bottom of the pan.  Add a bit of olive oil, if its necessary, and reheat the oil.

Add the onion, garlic, and a pinch of red pepper flakes.  These you’ll want to caramelize so they have that extra punch of flavor in the sauce.  To help them achieve that nice golden color, sprinkle a nice pinch of kosher salt into them and stir occasionally until they start to brown on the edges.  At this point, you’ll want to add 1/2 cup of the dry white wine.  Let this reduce down until almost gone then add the tomatoes, keeping enough aside to add at the end…you decide how chunky you want it.  Caramelize the tomatoes slightly, then add a cup of vegetable broth (or any other broth you have) and sausages, then bring to a boil.  You should start to smell that savory sweetness of the tomatoes wafting through the air.  Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and let it start to simmer uncovered.  Stir the sauce occasionally so that the tomatoes can start to break down and begin to become sauce like.  After about 1/2 hour, you have something that resembles this:

Sauce

Now, its still not quite ready but if you are in a hurry, I wouldn’t complain if I were served this sauce.  Just add the fresh tomatoes and let them get hot, then you can serve this over any pasta.

I, on the other hand, want to see what happens as the sauce continues to reduce down.  Remember, you don’t want to let it reduce any longer than it takes to get to the texture you like.  An hour is usually a good checking point.

I let my sauce simmer for over an hour, skimming the skins off the top while I was waiting, until my sauce could stick to the back of my spoon.   Grabbed the fresh tomatoes that were put aside and threw them in letting them simmer some until the fresh tomatoes were hot.  Oh my, oh my.  The taste was so good.  The caramelized vegetables really added that extra layer of savoriness to a sauce that was already well balanced, with just the right touch of heat from the red pepper flakes.  The freshness from the tomatoes added the right amount of acidity right at the end of the taste.  Just fabulous.

Well, in my humble opinion anyway.

Try this sauce yourself and let me know how it turned out in the comments.

“The Lazy Cook”

A lazy cook!!!  I can’t believe he just said that!  After everything that I have learned about cooking over the last few years, he says that I’m a lazy cook.  But wait, I guess I should start at the beginning.

About three years ago, I started dealing with a tummy problem that would just not quit.  Now, I’m not pointing fingers but…  Anyways, I started looking into what would help this tummy feel better.  So in doing my research, I learned that there is a balanced flora in your tummy that when it is out of balance, you could feel sick…um, yeah.

So, how exactly do you find out how to balance this out?  According to the almighty internet (you can find out about anything there), probiotics.  Now I cannot see anyone taking a bunch of pills to help balance out your system so naturally, I did more research and started my downward spiral into fermentation?  Yay! Kimchi!Kimchi

But it didn’t stop there, I also dabled in kombucha (couldn’t get tummy to try it), pickles, and much anything else that could be fermented, including homemade sourdough bread; yeah, that one never made it to the oven.  But anyway, you get my point.  Not one thing did tummy want to try.  So, I guess I will have to settle for yogurt to combat that.  I am even learning about wine, which is a different story altogether.

Next I focused my attention to processed foods.  Really, have you ever read the ingredients on these things?  And they wonder why  people get cancer, blood disorders, and the such.  Absolutely gross just thinking about all those preservatives and additives scoping out our venous system!  What are we really eating here anyway?Garden Beds

So, I built a garden in our yard…and I was going to tell you about it and show you how it was growing but I got sidetracked.  Now all we have are the plants that are ready to harvest.  So I will have to try that again next spring.

And that’s where we begin.  The all inspired urge to FINALLY learn to cook.

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Summer Skirt Steak and Grilled Vegetables

Summer Skirt Steak and Grilled VegetablesSummer Steak

Tried this recipe last night and it was delicious.  I have been on the Whole30 program since 8/1/16 and have done pretty well but it was nice to find a recipe that I could actually eat.  The steak was so tender and vegetables had so much flavor, I ate part of my husband’s plate too.

I did use flat iron steak instead of skirt steak, I marinated it for 4 hours in the fridge then an hour on the counter before I tenderized it, marinade and all, with a meat mallet.  So, check it out and let me know what you think of the recipe.

Summer Skirt Steak and Grilled Vegetables

Recipe courtesy of Fine Cooking.com

For the steak
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3 4-inch sprigs fresh rosemary, bruised with the dull side of a knife
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme, bruised with the dull side of a knife
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-1/2 lb. skirt steak, trimmed of excess surface fat
For the vegetables
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh basil
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded and quartered
  • 2 small yellow summer squash, sliced on a sharp diagonal 1/2 inch thick
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced on a sharp diagonal 1/2 inch thick
  • 2 ears of corn, husked
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, preferably a mix of colors, halved
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
  • Flaky sea salt (optional)
Marinate the steak

Combine the oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper in a baking dish or zip-top bag large enough to hold the steak. Add the steak and marinate for at least 1 hour at room temperature or up to 6 hours in the refrigerator.

Grill the vegetables and steak

Prepare a medium-high (400°F to 475°F) gas or charcoal grill fire. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine 2 Tbs. of the basil and 1 Tbs. of the oil with the vinegar, parsley, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Brush the peppers, squash, zucchini, and corn with 1 Tbs. oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Grill, turning occasionally, until tender with nice grill marks, 10 to 15 minutes. Arrange all but the corn on a large platter and drizzle with the vinaigrette.

Remove the steak from the marinade, cut into manageable pieces for grilling, if you like, season generously with salt and pepper, and grill, flipping once, until grill marks form on both sides and cooked to your liking, about 3 minutes per side for medium rare (135°F). Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.

Cut the corn from the cob and transfer to a medium bowl. Add the tomatoes and the remaining 1 Tbs. oil and 1 Tbs. basil. Season with salt and gently toss. Spoon half of the corn and tomato mixture over the other vegetables. Slice the steak with the grain into 4- to 5-inch pieces, then slice thinly against the grain and arrange over the vegetables. Scatter the remaining corn and tomatoes over the steak. Sprinkle with the scallions and sea salt, if using, and serve.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 520, Fat (kcal): 32, Fat Calories (g): 280, Saturated Fat (g): 7, Protein (g): 42, Monounsaturated Fat (g): 18, Carbohydrates (mg): 20, Polyunsaturated Fat (mg): 3, Sodium (g): 370, Cholesterol (g): 115, Fiber (g): 4,

A Taste for Tea

“A Taste for Tea”tazo

 

After several years of sugar laden teas and other drinks, it is such a breath of fresh air to find an iced tea that tastes so good right off the leaf.  This is one of the best teas that I have had and works great when you are watching what you eat.