Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's a two'fer Jamie Oliver week at our house.

Have I mentioned how much I love my Jamie At Home cookbook? Or how much I love Jamie Oliver? He's awesome, right? I fell in love with him back when he had the show on Food Network by the same name. I would even get up at 7:30 a.m. on Saturdays to watch it. Now that's sayin' somethin.

Anyway, the cookbook is organized by season and by featured ingredient. Any cookbook organized by season gets a gold star in my book.

I revisited the "Tomatoes" section last night with Crispy and Sticky Chicken Thighs. I made these last year, too, and I've found them to not be crispy or sticky, but just really good.

I did it a little different this time around, and I think I got better results. Here's how I made it.

Crispy and Sticky Chicken Thighs adapted from Jamie At Home

1 3/4 lbs new potatoes, scrubbed
2 free-range chicken thighs
2 free-range chicken legs
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and pepper
8 oz. cherry tomatoes
balsalmic vinegar
red wine
pinch of dried oregano

Put potatoes in a pot and boil until tender. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. In a dutch oven, heat about 3 Tbs olive oil on medium heat. Rinse chicken, pat it dry with paper towels (this ensures the skin gets a little crunch to it) and season with salt and pepper. Place chicken in the dutch oven skin-side down and let sear for a few minutes. Turn pieces with tongs until pieces are golden brown on all sides (about 12 mintues).

After potatoes are done, remove from pot with a slotted spoon and let cool. Prick tomatoes with a sharp knife and drop them into the boiling water for about 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl with ice water for a minute or two. When cool, remove skins from tomatoes.

Add potatoes to the dutch oven and smash slightly (I used a meat tenderizer). Add tomatoes. Pour a little more olive oil into the dutch oven (about 1 turn of the pot with the bottle), pour about 1/4 cup of red wine and a good splash of the balsalmic vinegar into the dutch oven. Add salt and pepper (as desired) and a few shakes of dried oregano. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes.

When finished baking, allow chicken/tomato/potato pieces to cool for a few minutes and transfer to a platter or serving dish. Add about 1/4 cup more red wine to the dutch oven to deglaze on the stove top. Turn heat to high and stir constantly until juices are a bit darker brown and begin to thicken (about 3 minutes). Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 mintues. Pour over chicken/tomato/potato pieces.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The "Mothership."

That's right. The Mothership called to us last night about 9 pm.

And, in the words of the hubs, "This is pretty f**kin' good."

That pretty much sums up the Mothership. The Mothership Tomato Salad, that is. What better time to make a salad that features as many kinds of tomatoes as you can find than high tomato season?

Doesn't it look spectacular? The recipe is from Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life, which I LOVE.

The Mothership Tomato Salad (variation from Foodnetwork website)

2 1/4 pounds tomatoes, in different colors and varieties (I used a stripey, mortgage lifter, and two red ones--     I'm not sure what variety)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
A good pinch of dried oregano
Red wine or balsalmic vinegar (I used balsalmic glaze)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled and grated (I used 1 Tb mined garlic)
1 fresh red chili, seeded and chopped fine (I used red pepper flakes)
8 oz. fresh mozzarella

Depending on the size of your tomatoes, slice some in half, some in quarters, and some in uneven chunks. Put the tomatoes in a colander and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt. Toss tomatoes well. Leave in colander to drain 15 minutes. The salt will extract any excess liquid, concentrating the flavors. Tear mozzarella into bite-size chunks and arrange on a platter. Arrange tomatoes on the platter and sprinkle with oregano. Give the tomatoes and cheese a good drizzle of oil and balsalmic vinegar. Sprinkle with chopped pepper and garlic.

We had the salad with some fresh green beans I bought at the Capitol Market on Sunday. Mmm. *Sigh* I love this time of year...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Some surprisng and seriously good eatin'.

I'll just say it.

I love to eat. I mean, I LOVE to eat. I'm definitely an eater.

And, I love to try new foods, new places to eat, new ways of preparing foods. The hubs and I enjoy an informal "date night" of sorts about once a week. Sometimes less frequently. Usually by Friday at 4:30, I don't feel like coming home and spending an hour on dinner, and there's a sort of "the work week is finally over, let's go to happy hour" mentality. So Friday is usually the night we go out to eat. Sometimes it's to a nicer place (and by nicer, I mean Outback Steakhouse), but we're more bar-food-kinda people.

And, we when go on vacation, we put the tiniest attention to detail in where we eat. I research places, read reviews, and look for the best-kept secrets, locals hangout, restaurant that embodies what ever region we're visiting. We are so excited to go to Vegas later this year, because we've already got three nights' dinners planned. (In case you're wondering, it's The Buffett at the Bellagio, Gallagher's Steakhouse, and Wayne's Sushi.) Damn, I'm getting really hungry, and I just ate.

Anyway, I was eating dinner by myself last night, because Jeremy was helping a coworker get some firewood. I was thinking, "You know, this chowder is better than any I've had in a restaurant before." I mean, I was eating something that I made from scratch that was better than anything like it that someone who does this for a living makes.

Don't get me wrong, I whole-heartedly buy into the theory that something "made with love" or "grown with love" just tastes better. There's a satisfaction in eating something that you made by yourself or grew yourself that often adds to the quality of food.

Because of the Penny Pinching Pantry Raid I just finished up, we have been eating almost exclusively at home. I defitinely did miss those "date nights." But, despite the Penny Pinching Pantry Raid, we sure did eat pretty darn good in July. The pizzas I made come to mind. One evening was deep dish with sausage, onions and chard; and the next evening was a thin-crust margherita pizza. We had some killer steaks for our anniversary dinner, too, that we made on the grill.

And this chowder I was eating right then, that I made from scratch, was right up there with the best I've ever had. Then, I realized that the recipe I used for the Seafood Chowder was from the Junior League of Boston's cookbook. I'm guessin' that they know a thing or two about how to make good chowder. It never hurts to use quality ingredients, too, though.

Here's the recipe how I made it. I cut it in half and modified it a little bit.

Seafood Chowder (makes 4 servings)

1 large red skinned potato, diced (a little more than a cup)
1/2 cup of chopped onion
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbs unsalted butter
1 tsp minced garlic
3 Tbs flour
2 cups of half and half
1 cup of skim milk (more or less)
1 cup of shrimp stock
6 Key West Pink Shrimp, uncooked and chopped
1-6 oz. can of crab meat
1-6 oz. can of chopped clams
salt and pepper
2 tsp of hot sauce
a pinch of cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp of paprika
2 tsp of dried oregano

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook potatoes until tender. Drain and set aside. Heat a large pot on medium heat, and add olive oil, butter, onion and garlic. Cook until onions are beginning to get tender (about 8 minutes) but stir frequently and make sure butter or garlic doesn't burn. Add the flour. Cook about 2 minutes longer, stiring frequently. Add half and half, stock, potatoes and seafood, and bring to a slight boil. Add milk until the desired consistency is reached. Add seasonings. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring often to keep milk from scalding.

According to my Lose It! app on my iPhone, 1 serving has 429 calories.

A word on seafood:

You've heard the hype about how we should all be eating more fish for our health, but at the same time, about the rising levels of mercury found it our seafood supply. Ever heard of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch? It has an iPhone app to tell you which types of seafood to avoid and why. If you don't have an iPhone, there's a downloadable guide, and the website itself is very helpful. It tells you not only which types to avoid because the species tends to have high levels of mercury, but also which to avoid because of overfishing and other environmental concerns.

I've had this app for a while and find it to be very helpful at a restaurant or at the grocery store seafood counter, cause I can't remember all the ones to avoid off the top of my head. For example, I was at the grocery store Sunday buying shrimp for this recipe. I reached for my usual Kroger-brand 51-60 count unpeeled uncooked shrimp that I buy. Sweet! It is on sale for $4.99 a pound. But for some reason, I thought to check the list, even though this is usual kind of shrimp I buy.

Well, I'm a little embarrassed that the shrimp I've bought all along is labeled "Avoid." Why? The app says because of "pollution and habitat loss." How do I distinguish? Well, turn the package over. The Seafood Watch list is divided up by country of origin. Seafood is required to have the country of origin on the label. This shrimp is a farm-raised product of Thailand. Any shrimp that is imported farmed should be avoided. Actually, according to the Seafood Watch, all shrimp should be avoided UNLESS it's wild-caught from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (thanks, BP...), South Atlantic, North Atlantic or from Canada. U.S. regulations ensure that shrimp trawlers are designed to allow most other marine life to escape, thereby reducing bycatch, which can be as high as 75% of the total catch without the special design. I should point out that shrimp from Oregon are certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, and are the best choice, but also hard to find at grocery stores around here.

I panicked for a minute, until I saw the package of Key West Pink Shrimp in the freezer, with a large "Wild Caught Product of the USA" seal on the label. It was $3 more a pound, but worth it to me. This another way to "vote with my fork!"

Monday, August 2, 2010

Penny Pinching Pantry Raid: the final wrap up

Saturday, July 31st (the LAST day)
Breakfast: coffee and cream
Lunch: We split the leftover fajitas from dinner the night before and a package of "Buffalo Bites" I had in the freezer.
Dinner: We attended one of my coworker's wedding. Hands down, best wedding food I can remember in a long time. The couple and their families made it all themselves. Smoked beef brisket, rolls, pork BBQ, potato salad, the best caprese I've had this summer, grilled vegetables and a pickle bar. A PICKLE BAR!!! It was pretty awesome.

So, here's where I ended: $29.93 over budget. Yeah, yeah. I didn't make the cut, but that's a hell of a lot better than I did last year. I'm pretty pleased with it.

Too bad I went to the store last night and dropped $140.

Penny Pinching Pantry Raid: The home stretch

Friday, July 23
Breakfast: Special K Red Berries, milk and coffee/cream. Jeremy didn't eat breakfast.
Lunch: I cleaned out the fridge. I had a little bit of leftover pasta from Thursday night, a little piece of leftover squash casserole and some salad. Jeremy played golf Friday, and got lunch somewhere along the way, paid for with his money.
Dinner: We went to a family cookout for Jeremy's uncle's 60th birthday. The food was delicious--hamburgers, baked beans, potato salad, pasta salad, cake and ice cream. And lots of corn hole and horse shoes.
Snacks: I had a hard-boiled egg and 2 fresh peaches.

Saturday, July 24
Breakfast: I had some cereal and milk with coffee and cream. I made Jeremy two eggs, frozen biscuits and he had coffee/cream.
Lunch: I had some tortilla chips, guacamole, salsa and some pepper dip I made with 4 oz. of cream cheese I had in the fridge and about 1/2 a cup of hot pepper butter. I made the guacamole and pepper dip Thursday evening to take to the cookout, but I forgot it at home. The ingredients for the guacamole were orginally going to be for Jeremy's birthday cookout, but I had to work so much, I didn't get time to make the guacamole for that. Jeremy had the same. We both had water to drink.
Dinner: We finished cleaning out the fridge and made a grill pouch with potatoes, squash, onions, hot peppers, garlic, olive oil and a little splash of white wine. We also had a salad.
Snacks: more tortilla chips and dips. Also, we drank a bottle of red wine that my dad bought us for our anniversary.

Sunday, July 25th through Thursday, July 29th
Sunday morning, we left for Louisville, where I was attending a conference for work. Going into the Penny Pinching Pantry Raid, I knew this trip would pose a problem, as saving money on food is almost 100% dependent on eating most of your meals at home. Luckily, I receive a travel per diem AND I had signed Jeremy up as my adult guest for the conference. Having him designated as an "official adult guest" meant he could have access to everything that I had access to, including the continental breakfast and the social events in the evenings, which included two buffet dinners. With the free food, plus my per diem, I was sure we could both get by under budget on the rest of the meals that weren't provided. So, how I approached it was that as long as I stayed under my per diem amount, I wouldn't add the cost of the food we bought to the Penny Pinching Pantry Raid budget. If I went over my per diem, I would add the amount over my per diem to the budget. I don't have the exact number in front of me, but yesterday I added up all the reciepts from food throughout the week. And the result is ... about $20 under my per diem for the entire 4 days! We gauged it pretty much right on target.

Friday, July 30th
Breakfast: I had oatmeal with sugar, cinnamon and milk and coffee/cream. Jeremy just had coffee/cream.
Lunch: Yay! Vendors from the farmer's market set up at the capitol complex on Wednesday and Friday. I bought a fruit salad with my own money. Jeremy bought lunch, too with his own money.
Dinner: we went out for dinner (booo!) but there wasn't much in the pantry to make a dinner with. We dropped $29 on Mexican for the both of us, and brought home enough in a doggie bag for lunch tomorrow.
Snacks: a hard-boiled egg and an apple.

One day left, and I'm definitely feeling the "pinch." I had oatmeal for breakfast because my milk is a little "blinky." And the fridge is pretty much bare. It would have really been a stretch to find something for us to bring in our lunches today, although I do have 2 pieces of bread left. I suppose that would have made a good sandwich. I'm definitely looking forward to going to the store Sunday after the raid is over. But the Pantry Raid has been a success--and in perfect timing. We had two road trips this month and a birthday and anniversary. The money we saved doing the Pantry Raid was put to good use otherwise this month.