Friday, February 27, 2009

Recession: Party of One - Leftovers, Curried

Loyal readers, I am introducing a new feature on the blog! It's called (hence the title) Recession, Party of One. You are all of course aware of the dismal state of the economy, but many of you may not be aware that Ross (my highly significant other) just moved to our nation's capital to embark on the next great stage of his career.

On my lazier nights, it was always nice to know that I had him to cook for - and he has developed quite a sophisticated palate, and really became a great judge.

Since it's just me now (well, actually, there is a new member of this little household, but we'll get to that later), I've been trying to formulate a game plan about how to handle cooking for one. Cooking for one person poses a few problems; first, it's impossible to find food packaged in single portions, second, leftovers are delicious, but you can only eat leftovers so many times before you start craving something else, and third, what you don't finish gets thrown out. Which leads me to the recession part of the game plan - how do I continue to cook satisfying food for just little ol' me without breaking the bank (oh, and, ahem, since I'm living alone now, my rent has doubled - yikes)?

Oh, and another thing - I don't have a TV! While I'm trying to convince myself that all this new "me time" will culminate in a personal creative Renaissance of sorts, I'll be honest - not having TV sucks! Thank God for Hulu...

All this has inspired this new feature. The first installment: Curried Leftover Porkchop over Jasmine Rice.

Ross and I had an amazing last-night-in-Chicago dinner at the Landmark Grill (which I highly recommend), and Ross got the pork chop. When the waiter brought it, I actually laughed out loud. It looked exactly like the dinosaur chop that Fred used to eat on The Flintstones - we're talking Mastodonian proportions, here. Even he could barely make a dent, so I was left with a mastodon thigh to finish off this week.

I've been reading up on different ways to make simple curries, and that's what inspired this meal. The most interesting thing about this dinner is that I didn't purchase one thing from the store - which is impressive, considering my fridge is by and large empty. But I somehow managed to find the components for this meal.

First, I'll tell you how I ACTUALLY made it, then I'll tell you how I'd adapt the recipe in the future for less Recession-mandated meals.


1/2 c. leftover pork chop, diced
1/2 white onion, sliced thinly
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
7-8 grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 c. frozen green beans
1/4 c. cashews
1/3 c. heavy cream***
1/3 c. milk
2 T. olive oil
1-2 T. "Moroccan" spice mix***
salt and pepper
Sriracha (or other) hot sauce to taste
1/2 c. dry jasmine rice

***The Moroccan spice mix is something I made myself awhile back - I think I mixed turmeric, cumin, curry powder, chili powder, salt and pepper in an old hummus container. I'd say just look around for a Mediterranean spice blend, or, better yet, get curry powder.

***You could also replace the cream and milk with plain yogurt.


Cook rice according to package directions. Set aside and keep warm.


Heat the the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Cook the carrots, onions, and tomatoes, seasoning with a little salt and pepper, until beginning to soften. Add about half the spice mix.


Add the pork to the mix and saute for a few minutes. Then add the other half of the spice mix. Turn heat down to medium and add the cream and milk. Taste, and add some more spice mix if need be. Season with salt and pepper and hot sauce to taste. Stir in cashews and green beans. Cook until the green beans are hot and the sauce has reduced enough to be creamy.


Serve over rice. Enjoy!

This dish wasn't half bad. The pork chop had a deep smokiness that was a little strong in the dish - in the future, I'd use chicken, tofu, or just veggies. I'd also use fresh green beans or bell peppers - maybe even some sweet potato or butternut squash, which I think would really bring out the sweetness in the cumin. I would also add fresh cilantro (when WOULD'NT I add fresh cilantro), and most likely use yogurt instead of cream (the cream in my fridge was scary-old, but it smelled and tasted fine. If I'm dead tomorrow, though, we'll all know why). This would also be delicious over a more biryani-style rice, with saffron and peas, or over fried rice...mmmm.

Hey, for a meal that had an incremental cost of $0.00, I'd say I did pretty well! Maybe when this darn recession is over, I'll start a feature all about really, really expensive foods! Ha - that'll be the day.

I hope you all enjoyed this first Recession: Party of One installment! As promised earlier, I'll wrap up by addressing my cryptic reference to a new apartment resident: she's Sascha, my new tortoiseshell cat! I adopted her this afternoon, and we are absolutely as in love as a human and cat can be. She's snuggling by me as I write this, in fact.

Thanks for reading! Check back soon for a Fearless Paella post!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Homemade Vodka Sauce

I had been wanting to make vodka sauce for forever, and finally the stars aligned to make it happen: we had some Smirnoff in the freezer, I had time to go to Trader Joe's (and more importantly, the inclination - thanks to a snow-free Sunday), and I was craving pasta.

I also finally used my immersion blender for the first time. It worked great - I can't wait to try my hand at making a silky butternut squash soup.

This'll be a quick post, but I wanted to share!




1 large can plum tomatoes with basil
1 regular can tomato sauce
1/2 c. vodka
1 small container heavy cream (8 oz.)
1 yellow (or other kind) bell pepper
1 carrot, peeled and very thinly sliced
1/2 white onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
salt, pepper, all-purpose seasoning, and/or Italian seasoning blend
red pepper flakes
1/4 c. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
3/4 package dry tagliatelle or other pasta
1 T. olive oil
salt, pepper, all-purpose seasoning, and/or Italian seasoning blend
1/4 c. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
grated parmesan reggiano (optional, for serving)


In a large pot, heat 2 T. olive oil and the butter over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, onions, carrots, and bell pepper. Season with salt, pepper, and other seasonings, including red pepper flakes. Cook for about 2 minutes.


Add the tomatoes and tomato sauce, then the vodka. Let the sauce reduce by about 1/4. The tomatoes will soften and begin to break down.


When the sauce has reduced a bit, turn the heat down and use an immersion blender to break down the whole plum tomatoes and make the sauce smooth. Return heat to medium-high and allow to reduce a little more, until sauce is at marinara-sauce consistency. Reduce heat to medium and stir in cream and broccoli. Taste and add seasoning as neccessary. Cook until broccoli is tender.


Heat 1 T. olive oil in a skillet. Cook chicken until no longer pink, seasoning with salt, pepper, and all-purpose seasoning. When done, add to sauce.


Boil pasta until al dente. Drain and return to cooking pot. Stir in plenty of sauce with broccoli and chicken. Serve, and top with freshly grated parmesan reggiano. Enjoy!

The vodka sauce was smooth, creamy, and delicious - I will definitely be making this sauce again.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Island Time

Island time [noun]:

1. A pervasive attitude typical of residents of beautiful tropical islands such as Puerto Rico, characterized by relaxed movements, slow speech, and an unhurried demeanor.

Ex:) "Don't expect the waitress to refill your beer anytime soon. Everyone here's on island time."

The above photo should strike jealousy deep in the heart of all you Chicagoans. Why? because I took it in Puerto Rico, where Ross and went for 5 days over Valentine's Day weekend to escape the cold.

Upon our return (sadly, too soon), I couldn't bear to start eating cold-weather food again right away. Hence, CASHEW-BREADED SHRIMP WITH BELL PEPPER JASMINE RICE.

I realized it was the perfect opportunity for a Fearless post when I asked Ross what he wanted for dinner and he replied, "Coconut fried shrimp." Not only had I never before cooked coconut fried shrimp, I have really never fried anything! Well, not in the traditional sense of the word.

There's a big difference between pan-frying a piece of fish, for instance, and DEEP-frying something like chicken or shrimp. The difference is really only about how much oil you use, but deep frying is a lot scarier, because the oil tends to pop out of the pan (I had a terrifying fried-chicken experience back in college, and it left me scarred - literally and figuratively).

Nonetheless, fried shrimp sounded like the perfect way to try and make our tropical getaway last just a little bit longer, so I sucked it up and faced the frying pan!

I went to Trader Joe's to pick up the ingredients, and to my dismay, they didn't have flaked coconut (dried pomelos, they had, but coconut - nowhere to be found). But I still wanted something to add a little magic to the shrimp. I thought that I could easily replace the coconut flake flavor with a coconut milk sauce, so I decided on cashews as the wildcard. They really took it to the next level. Read on!


1 lb. peeled and deveined shrimp (I got a bag of frozen and just let them thaw in the sink)
1 c. dry jasmine or other rice
1 red bell pepper
1 orange bell pepper
1/2 white onion
1/3 c. grape tomatoes, halved
1 T. olive oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. panko-style seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 c. flour, seasoned with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper
1 c. lightly salted cashews, crushed
salt and pepper
1/2 can light coconut milk
1/2 jar sweet Asian chile sauce (about 2/3 c.)
About 2 c. oil for frying (I used 1/2 olive oil and 1/2 canola oil)


Cook rice according to package directions, seasoning with a little salt. Set aside and keep warm.


Chop bell pepper and onion into large chunks. In a large skillet, heat 1 T. olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the peppers, onion, and halved tomatoes until tender, seasoning with a little salt and pepper. Mix into the rice and keep warm.


Thaw and rinse the shrimp and allow to drain thoroughly. Working on as much counter real estate as your kitchen will allow, set out four plates. In the first, place the seasoned flour. In the second, place the beaten egg (or keep it in a shallow bowl). In the third, mix together the crushed cashews and the breadcrumbs to make the coating. Use the fourth as the resting place for the coated shrimp.


To get the shrimp coated, dredge each one in flour, then coat in egg, then thoroughly dredge in the cashew-breadcrumbs. Set aside.


In a large pan with somewhat tall edges, heat the frying oil over medium-high heat until it begins to bubble (small bubbles, not a full-on boil). I tested the heat by placing a test shrimp in the oil. Adjust the heat so that the shrimp begin to cook immediately when placed in the oil. Don't overcrowd the pan - I did mine in three batches (about 6 shrimp per batch). Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, turning when they are brown and crispy. Cook on the other side until they are evenly brown and crispy on both sides. Remove from the oil and place on a plate covered in paper towels to drain.


To make the coconut sauce, simply combine the coconut milk and the sweet chile sauce, and whisk over medium heat until very hot. Place the shrimp over the rice and top with the sauce. Enjoy!


Ross: The cashews in the breading really give it a nice crunch. And I like how the coconut sauce isn't overly coconutty. I definitely didn't think I'd have better seafood when I got back from Puerto Rico than I did when I was IN Puerto Rico.

MY VOTE ON MY DISH: 9 stars. I have to say, I surprised myself. The shrimp were really delicious - not oversalted (they could've used a bit more seasoning, actually), perfectly crisp but not soggy or greasy, and the sauce was a nice sweet complement to their savoriness. Next time, I'd add some more chile sauce to add heat. The one thing I felt like the dish was missing - perhaps only aesthetically - was something green. Next time I'd add some fresh cilantro to the rice, and maybe some steamed bok choy or a spinach salad as a side dish. It was a delicious culinary trip back to the island!

Thanks for reading! Adios for now...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Steak Salad, Weiner's Circle, and Book Club

I may have mentioned before that I don't like salad. Don't look so shocked! I stand by my claim that cold, raw veggies piled on top of cold, raw veggies is no culinary triumph. And in the middle of winter? Fuggedaboutit.

However, top a salad with enough red meat and cheese, and I'll probably eat it. I'm also officially pioneering semi-cooked salad, where I add just an element or two of warm, cooked veggies to balance out the cold, crunchy ones.

Behold: Steak Salad with Baked Fries.


1 (1-lb.) sirloin steak, visible fat removed
steak rub
nonstick spray
olive oil
2 baking potatoes, sliced into steak fries
salt/pepper/cayenne pepper/all-purpose seasoning
1/2 large white onion
3/4 c. chopped mushrooms
1 bag lettuce mix
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1/2 c. grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 c. dried cranberries
1/2 small English cucumber, halved and sliced
bleu cheese dressing
bleu cheese crumbles***

***A PREEMPTIVE NOTE: I had no idea how bleu-cheesy my dressing was, and in retrospect, I'd leave out the crumbles. Just use your judgment based on how the dressing tastes.


Preheat the oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray. Toss the potato wedges in about a T. of olive oil, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and seasoning. Bake for about 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned.


Heat about 1 T. of olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Cook the mushrooms and onions with a little salt and pepper until beginning to caramelize. Set aside and keep warm.


In a large bowl, combine the lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and cranberries. Set aside.


Tenderize the steak by beating it with a meat mallet (isn't cooking fun?). Rub the steak generously with the steak rub, and also with a little olive oil. Heat up a grill pan or nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Cook for about 4 minutes on each side, or until it's reached the desired level of doneness. Slice thinly.


Place some salad on each plate along with some potato wedges. Top with the onions, mushrooms, and steak. Drizzle with dressing and add some bleu cheese crumbles.


You blog fans who live here in Chicago can attest that the Weiner's Circle is a landmark that has really earned its reputation. For those of you who are uninitiated, WC is a burger joint in Lincoln Park (just blocks from my apartment) that's famous for its cheddarburgers and infamous for its...ahem...colorful after-hours antics. The women who work there take no crap from enebriated yuppies looking to soak up the vodka crans.

On the particular night pictured below, I was privy to two college-age guys treating the workers to a "sexy butt contest" (there was really no clear winner). And if you want a special treat that's not on the menu, just ask for a chocolate milkshake. You're guaranteed to like what you get.


Jess and I started a book club recently, and I was the first designated host. The host's only real duties are to provide food, drink, and shelter to the club.

I was inspired by Ina Garten's advice about making party platters: always stick to large sections of the same thing.

For the inaugural book club, I did cold platters of olives, artichokes, grapes, strawberries, hummus & pita, and prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella. The only thing I technically cooked was roasted pears. Here's the recipe:


8 assorted pears, halved and seeds removed
3 T. butter
3 T. honey

Preheat the oven to 375. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the honey (I used the last of my aunt's pear honey). Drizzle over the pears and bake for about 40-45 minutes, until softened and beginning to brown.

We read and discussed the wonderful book What is the What? by Dave Eggers. I highly recommend it!

Thanks for reading! I'll be back to the Fearless posts soon.

And This Little Piggy Drank and Drank, All The Way Home

Since Obama won the election, there hasn't been much of interest in the way of news. Until now....

I got a new Crockpot! (Anderson Cooper should be pulling up to my doorstep any minute now...)

I had been using my mom's old orange Crockpot from the 70's, and it finally just gave out on me, so it went the way of wilted Christmas trees - out into the back alley dumpster. Goodbye, little Crockpot! You served me well!

I got a new one for only $21 at Best Buy (who knew they sold appliances?). I love it! It's a deep brick red, and the inside ceramic bowl is removable, so you don't have to risk electric shock every time you wash it.

My first meal with it was a lean pork loin cooked in about a half bottle of white wine. I threw in some sweet potatoes, carrots, and onions, and served it with broccoli and sourdough bread (to soak up all the wine and porkiness).

I'm really glad I went with the Crockpot as the pork cooking method, because it was a very lean cut of meat, and it would've been very tough if I hadn't cooked it for hours. I actually wish I had cooked it on low for 7-8 hours as opposed to on high for about 4. Nonetheless, it was tender and flavorful. It wasn't a fearless meal, per se, but I snapped a photo of it because I thought it was yummy enough to share.


1 two-pound lean pork roast, visible fat removed
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 large carrots, peeled and chunked
1/2 large white onion, sliced
1/3 bottle of dry white wine
salt, pepper, ground cayenne pepper, and all-purpose seasoning
drizzle of olive oil
2 T. dijon mustard

1 c. cooking liquid from Crockpot
2 T. fruit preserves
1 T. butter
1 T. balsamic vinegar

1 head broccoli
2 slices white American cheese
1/2 c. milk
salt and pepper

sourdough bread


Place the first set of ingredients into the Crockpot (through mustard). Set on low and cook for 7-8 hours, or cook on high for 4 hours.


When the pork is tender, remove from liquid and slice into thick pieces. Take 1 c. of the cooking liquid, preserves, butter, and vinegar, and cook over medium-high heat until reduced by half to make a sauce.


Cook broccoli in boiling water for 4-5 minutes. Drain. In the same pot, heat milk, cheese, and salt and pepper until smooth. Toss broccoli in cheese sauce. Serve with the pork, veggies, and bread & butter.

I admit, it might've been gilding the lily to do the cheese sauce with the broccoli, but I was craving broccoli and cheese. And - I'l just come out and admit it - I love American cheese. It's the lowliest of the cheeses, especially among the foodie set, but I defy you to find me a cheese that melts as well. I even used it the next day to make a leftover pork-and-cheese sandwich.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy!
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