Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cooking in College, Year Two

It may have something to do with working on a food-themed thesis, but I've been cooking a lot since I got back to school. Well, let's call it making pretty, tasty meals, some of which involve cooking. Forgive me, it's hot, and the kitchen isn't air-conditioned. But I've been quite happy with what I've turned out so far: a steak salad with Parmesan peppercorn dressing and a spicy pasta bake with chorizo, for example. I distinctly remember the first few meals I cooked for myself last year, in my first kitchen during my first semester without a meal plan. They mostly failed, or were mediocre at best. Not this time around.

I'm making a concerted effort to use the myriad of food resources at my fingertips, and so yesterday I made a list of all the dishes I've read or heard about that I want to make this semester. It's a long list of hopefully blog-worthy food. And I can officially check this one off, quite tasty enough to be a keeper.

Tandoori chicken with red potato and green bean saute

Every once in a while I have a taste for Indian food, so when I was shopping around the Spice House website at the recommendation of my best friend's brother-in-law, I decided to try the Tandoori Seasoning. And I must say, with such a great flavor from such a simple marinade, I was happy and my hankering for Indian food was satisfied. The potato and green bean side, easy as well, rounded the meal out beautifully. Week one of cooking in college, year two: success.

Grilled Tandoori Chicken

1 chicken breast (I prefer boneless skinless, and since I'm only cooking for myself, I get to choose)
6 oz. plain yogurt (or a similarly small container; I use non-fat)
1 tbsp Tandoori seasoning

Mix the yogurt and Tandoori seasoning to create the marinade. Put the marinade and chicken breast into a zip-top bag, making sure the chicken gets coated in the marinade. Let the chicken marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Remove the marinated chicken from the bag and place on a grill (George Foreman is my pick, but that's all I have). Cook as long as you would a regular chicken breast, or 9 minutes on a George Foreman grill. Remove from the grill and serve.
Note: If you're not cooking for one, you can easily increase the recipe to serve as many as you want.

With such pretty, fresh ingredients, how can a girl go wrong?

Red Potato and Green Bean Saute
adapted from The Deen Bros. Y'all Come Eat

small red potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
fresh green beans, trimmed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced

Bring a pot of salted water to boil and add the potatoes. Cook until the potatoes are almost tender, about 15 minutes depending on their size. Add the beans and cook until they are tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, being careful not to let it burn. Add the potatoes, beans, salt, and pepper to taste and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes, stirring to coat evenly. Remove from the skillet and serve.
Note: Again, if you're not cooking for one, you can easily increase the recipe to serve as many as you want. I just don't want to be eating leftovers forever.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Summer's End

How does the end of summer always manage to sneak up on people? Tomorrow I move back down to school for what promises to be something of a culinary semester, at least if we're judging by the pile of cooking utensils waiting to be loaded into my car. It's been an eventful summer, full of swimming in lakes and a wedding. All kinds of good stuff. Nothing, however, compares to the family reunion of last weekend.

It's the Hungarian side of my family, and because neither you nor I have the time for me to recount all the craziness that has taken place at these reunions over the years, I'll give you two examples for your own consideration:
1) Every year at our stuffed-cabbage-featuring picnic, "the elders" (my grandmother and her brother) announce the winner of the Fetla Award. It goes to the person in the family who has done the stupidest or funniest thing in the course of the long weekend. The competition is fierce.
2) At our 2002 reunion in Indianapolis, the women all went to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding. We laughed doubly hard because, with a simple substitution of stuffed cabbage for stuffed grape leaves, that's our family.

I kid you not.

Look at the lovely colors of the Hungarian flag, all in a tasty summer salad!

Over the years we've all attributed the zaniness to our common ancestry for no better reason than we tend to end up surrounded by the colors of the Hungarian flag (also, most of the people who married into the family are normal). What better way to feature the red, white, and green than by commandeering the Italian Caprese salad? That's what I did, and let me tell you, it was a hit at the first (and last) annual birthday gala.

Magyar Salad
(formerly Caprese Salad)

fresh ripe red tomatoes
fresh mozzarella
fresh basil leaves
herb-infused olive oil

Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella in even-sized slices. To assemble the salad, repeat a pattern of sliced tomato, sliced mozzarella, and basil leaf until you run out of an ingredient. Drizzle the assembled salad with the olive oil and serve.
Note: Depending on your preferences, you can drizzle the salad with plain olive oil, olive oil and vinegar, Italian dressing, plain balsamic vinegar... please, just don't make it too complicated.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mom's Chili

As I get ready to go back to school next week, I'm filling up on all of my favorite foods from home. Tonight's dinner was my mom's homemade spaghetti, and later this week I'll have some fantastic grilled pork chops and my brother's homemade hamburgers. With all the chaos of getting my brother ready to go to college for the first time, though, it turns out there aren't enough dinnertimes remaining for all our favorites. Luckily for me, my mom will be making a huge batch of her chili, freezing it, and sending me back to school with a supply. Yum.

Once the meat is browned and the chili powder is mixed in, you can easily finish off this recipe in a slow cooker.

This recipe is an original; my mom created it by combining all the best aspects of her sister's recipe with the recipes from church chili suppers. It's been a family staple for years, even surviving my vegetarian phase (substitute the meat with BOCA ground crumbles or a similar product; my brother never even noticed). I like it with ditalini noodles and shredded cheddar on top. My brother likes it plain with saltines. It's tasty on a baked potato, and I'm planning to try some on a cornmeal-crust pizza sometime this fall. Go crazy.

Ditalini. Chili. Shredded cheddar. Mmm.

Mom's Chili

2 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef or turkey
4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp oregano
3/4 tsp salt
pepper to taste
1 beef bullion cube
2 6-ounce cans tomato juice
1 drop Tabasco
1 1-lb can red beans
1 1-lb can tomatoes

Brown the beef, onion, and garlic in the oil in a large stock pot. Drain excess fat. Stir in the chili powder and cook over low heat for 2 minutes. Add all of the remaining ingredients, stirring to blend. Cover and simmer the chili slowly for 2 to 3 hours, stirring often.
Note: You can also make this chili in a slow cooker. Brown the meat and add the chili powder on the stove, then transfer and add everything else to the slow cooker. Cook it on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours. This recipe is easily doubled or tripled.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Wisconsin Eating, Part Two

I'm back from my week-long vacation in Wisconsin, and what a fun and relaxing week it was. What with all the swimming, floating, pontooning, tubing, and attempted water skiing, it was a rather eventful week. And, thanks to the personalities who like cooking as much as I do, not devoid of good food.

Lake Kaubashine as the morning mist lifts

My Italian chicken sticks went off without a hitch, as did my grilled pizza (which required some degree of improvisation due to the time limits of the charcoal grill and the stickiness of Jiffy pizza dough without the hope of flour as a thickener). Really fantastic, though, were some of the other meals. Here's a rundown:

Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables
Herb and Ricotta Stuffed Chicken
Vegetarian Four Bean Chili
Gorgonzola, Fig, and Pecan Salad
Fajita Explosion Salad (chicken with all the fajita fixings)
Fried Wisconsin Cheese Curds

Yes, I know fried cheese curds do not a meal make. But it was Wisconsin. And the cheese shop with the best cheese curds was only two miles away from our cabin.

Unfortunately for this blog, the only food I took pictures of the week was s'mores, and not even s'mores in their melt-y, messy glory, just the marshmallows. Let me tell you, though, they were delicious. And the marshmallows (look for yourself!) were toasted to perfection.

Behold: The perfectly toasted marshmallow

Since it seems somewhat silly to give a recipe for a classic s'more (graham + chocolate + toasted marshmallow), I'll use my camp counselor knowledge to give you a recipe for a perfect marshmallow-toasting fire.

How to Build a Fire to Toast the Perfect Marshmallows

an even number of firewood logs (at least 4)
kindling (such as dried pine needles or strips of newspaper)
medium-sized sticks (no green anywhere on them)
matches or a lighter

In your fire pit (and you should have one if you want to be Smokey the Bear safe) use the firewood logs to assemble a log cabin structure, two logs to a level. On the bottom of the log cabin, spread the kindling so that when it catches fire it exposes the flames to both air and the logs. Place the sticks above the kindling and between layers of your log cabin. When you've finished building this structure, it should look as though the kindling will set the sticks, then the logs, aflame.
Carefully light the kindling on two sides of the log cabin using matches or a lighter. Depending on your fire-building skills and experience, you may need to provide some encouragement to the fire in the form of air. If the flames look weak at the beginning, blow downwards into the kindling (e.g. fanning the flames).
Now comes the part that separates the burnt marshmallows from the perfectly-toasted: let the flames die down, just like you would with a charcoal grill. Once the flames stop trying to kiss your marshmallows, the residual heat within the log cabin will be optimal for quick-toasting as many marshmallows as you, or the 12 others on vacation with you, can eat.