Archive | January, 2013

Sausage Stuffed Shells or Vietnam Paddy Ambush?

25 Jan

I like to think back to the prior times, I remember fondly, and a smile spreads across my face. I was merely a girl back then, with a sunny disposition and her whole life ahead of her…

A chill was in the air. Frosted breath hung around me like a cold fog settling over a vast paddy. The early setting sun was long disappeared. The time: 6:00pm. The day: Friday. One thought had been circling my brain as I humped* through the workweek. I tried dismissing it, but its nagging claws kept sinking themselves deeper into my soul. Soon it surrounded me, it was a part of me, and I had no choice but to obey. My last thoughts before I fell headfirst into the aromatic abyss “I don’t know if making Stuffed Shells is the right thing to do, but god dammit I love my country”

I returned to my hootch*,  ready to answer the animalistic call of the Shell. But where to start? My initial instinct was to mix the ground up raw sausage with rich cheese and vegetables to stuff into the crunchy and unforgiving edges of uncooked pasta, then subject the filled monstrosity to the oven, everything cooking in the acidic and red tomato juices. My naiveté shone through me like a flare*, I knew I needed to double back and get more intel. And thank god I did.

Pouring over various recipes for what seemed like days (sidenote: it was about 8 minutes) I was armed with the knowledge of how to circumnavigate my enemy: poorly made stuffed shells. I almost fell into the trap, the trap of number ten* food made in a poor manner. It’s easy to fall victim of bad food here, a woman’s got to keep her wits about her. I began by plunging the shells into boiling NOUC*, and retrieving them only then they were just shy of al dente. In an effort to stretch my already-burowed time, I began to brown meat with the onions and mushrooms, finishing by wilting the spinach. I thought I was on course, I thought I knew the territory, but in the end, I was still just a newbie. This is where things began to turn…

As I began to prepare the filling, the shells had reached their desired boiled consistency. I needed to evacuate them into the colander. To my shock and horror the shells began to stick together the longer they remained exposed to the unforgiving air in my kitchen sink. I had to act fast. I finished the filling with hurried and shaky hands, each moment flying past my eyes in a blur.  I made a rash last minute decision to throw in some Trader Joe’s roasted red pepper spread, was it the right choice to make? We’ll never know.  It was time to light up* this dish. I thrust my hands into the ever-more-rapildy stuck together shells, plucking one at a time, and spooned healthy portions of the meat mixture into each cavernous piece. I was working at a sprinter’s pace, seeing moves that were 6, maybe even 7 shells away. I knew I was going to make it out on the other side, I was once again going to see the sun rise over those frosted downtown Ann Arbor buildings,  I just wasn’t sure if I had enough charge* to stuff all these shells. Soon my confidence left me like an abrupt exhale: the shells began fusing more stubbornly to one another. It was time to ramp up my attack.

SPLOOSH–a rush of cold water ran over the shells as I massaged each one off of it’s neighbor. I bought myself another minute, maybe 2? I couldn’t stop and linger on the thought too long, I had to complete my mission. 

I came to the end of my baking pan with ample shells and filling left unmarried. I had to act quick. A quick spin, cupboard open, and grab later, I was filling up a second, smaller Cherry*. As quickly as it began, the pans were in the hot, dry ovens, and I was prepared to wait 40 mikes*. I was ready for a dustoff*.

Disclaimer— I was re-reading “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien during the making of this meal. I had a very specific Vietnam-style of dialogue going on in my head while I was scrambling, so I tried to translate that to this. I took my inspiration from one of the best Simpsons quotes of all time:

“The year was 1968. We were on recon in a steaming Mekong delta. An overheated private removed his flack jacket, revealing a T-shirt with an ironed-on sporting the MAD slogan “Up with Mini-skirts!”. Well, we all had a good laugh, even though I didn’t quite understand it. But our momentary lapse of concentration allowed “Charlie” to get the drop on us. I spent the next three years in a POW camp, forced to subsist on a thin stew made of fish, vegetables, prawns, coconut milk, and four kinds of rice. I came close to madness trying to find it here in the States, but they just can’t get the spices right…”

  • Humped=to walk or go about
  • Hootch=house or living quarters
  • Dustoff=medical evacuation by helicopter
  • Flare=illumination projectile
  • Number ten=bad
  • Light Up=to fire on the enemy
  • NOUC=water
  • Charge=an amount of explosive, powder, etc required to perform a task
  • Mikes=minutes
  • Cherry=new troop replacement

Stuffed Shells - Now Entering Flavor Country

Stuffed Shells - Now Entering Flavor Country
Stuffed Shells - Now Entering Flavor Country
Stuffed Shells Now Entering Flavor Country

Here is the recipe, with juuuust a little less drama

  • 1 lb Jumbo Shells
  • 4-5 Sausages, casing removed (I used Jennie-O Hot Italian Sausage)
  • 1/2 Onion, diced
  • 1 C Mushrooms, diced
  • 1 C Spinach, chopped
  • 1 C Ricotta
  • 1.5 C Shredded Cheese
  • 3 Tbs Red Pepper Bruschetta
  • 1 Jar Pasta Sauce
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F
  2. Boil pasta until just under al dente (about 6 minutes), strain, and toss in cold water
  3. Meanwhile, saute onions until translucent (about 3 minutes), add sausage and cook for 3 minutes, breaking sausage into small pieces (feel free to use the “smash” technique). Add mushrooms and spinach and continue to cook until all the sausage is browned and the spinach is wilted. Drain off excess fat from the sausage mixture.
  4. In a large bowl combine ricotta cheese, 1 C of the shredded cheese, red pepper spread and sausage mixture.
  5. Spread 1/3 of the pasta sauce on the bottom of a shallow and wide oven-proof dish.
  6. One by one, grab the shells, fill with the mixture, and place open side up in the dish. Continue until mixture is used up.
  7. Top with remaining sauce (be sure to get in-between the individual shells), and then top with remaining shredded cheese.
  8. Cover with foil, and bake for 40 minutes. Take foil off, and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes.
Stuffed Shells Now Entering Flavor Country

We’re Not Breaking Any Space-Time New Ground Here: Quinoa and Broccoli Casserole

17 Jan

Now let me preface the following post with a statement: this dish is very good. I enjoyed it, and look forward to eating its leftovers tonight. However…it leaves the palate wanting. I’ll explain more, but first: to the beginning!

I have a delightful raw beet and quinoa recipe I snagged from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck which I planned to make this week. However, it was a dry and cold day, and I didn’t want fresh fiber-y vegetables, I wanted something that was slow cooked, with the possibility of a cheese addition. That was when I came across this:

Broccoli-Quinoa Casserole from Eating Well Living Thin (I swear I didn’t mean to make it to a dieting site, I found it on Pinterest)

Hey, I’m getting Quinoa for my other dish, so why not make 2 Quinoa dishes in one week. It’s so crazy…it may just work. For those of you who haven’t had Quinoa before: it’s like lighter Cous Cous, and it’s packed with protein. And it’s fun to say. So I stopped at the Food Co-Op on my way home from work because I like their bulk section, and grabbed some {organic} broccoli and Qunioa (among other items that I forgot at my Meijer trip earlier in the week). Well…apparently I didn’t see how much the {organic} broccoli cost per lb, and I must have grabbed, I don’t know, 15 lbs (or so it seemed), because when I left, I thought the bill was high, and upon further inspection, realized that I spent $7 on broccoli! (breathing into a paper bag)

I stopped dead in my tracks on the sidewalk and starred at my receipt. What is the protocol for returns? Store credit. Ahhh, tricky, since I usually lose those pieces of paper denoting my credit due. After what seemed like hours, I decided to just continue to my car, and try to convince myself that cooking at home is saving so much more than eating out at a restaurant, so the $7 was totally worth it–oh my god, $7 broccoli. I was able to sidestep with issue with the cauliflower…but not the scallops. IT’S THE SCALLOPS ALL OVER AGAIN!

I wish I even cared that it was organic. Hey, pump me full of pesticides in order to save $5, I welcome it. (sidenote: just bringing this up again is making all those standing-outside-of-the-food-co-op-on-the-sidewalk-looking-at-the-receipt feelings come back)

But we solider on. I was going to make the hell out of this (now expensive) Quinoa casserole!


Like how I gave it an authentic mustache? El Diablo. However I must admit that after I chopped it up, when I tried the pieces of stem they were much sweeter than other broccoli stem chunks I’ve had in the past. Not an extra $5 sweeter..but hey, small victories…


I boiled the chopped broccoli for about 5 minutes to soften it a bit, and then drained. I decided to add some chopped mushrooms to the mix since what’s not to like when it comes to mushrooms in casserole?


And now we add everything else to make a casserole: cream of {whatever} soup (I used celery for a reason I’m still not sure why, because, you know, celery has SO much flavor), cheese, splash of milk, some mayo (that was new for me), cooked quinoa, pinch of sugar, pinch of nutmeg, salt, pepper. Put it all in a casserole dish, top with parmesan cheese, bake. Go for run, come back, pull out of the oven.


Awwww yeahhh. Warm Quinoa-y goodness.


Now, back to what I was saying in the beginning. This is a tasty dish, but it one-dimensional. There is no layering of flavors, there is no sour/savory/sweet/bitter/anything contrast. The only spice in it is nutmeg, which doesn’t really come out all that much. Again, very tasty. I wish I was sick because I would enjoy the hell out of a big bowl of this. Looking back, perhaps some lemon, or seasoned chicken would be a nice addition. But in any case, swapping pasta or anything else that goes into a bake/casserole I would 100% recommend using Quinoa because it’s just a stand up grain.

I’ve always debated reprinting the recipe here, since ultimately I want people to go to the original site for instructions to give the proper author credit, but I’m going to throw caution to the wind:

Adapted from: Broccoli-Quinoa Casserole from Eating Well Living Thin

  • Expensive Organic Broccoli (2 small stems or 1 big one, yielding about 3 cups chopped)
  • Chopped Mushrooms (1 cup)
  • 1.5 C Cooked Quinoa (3/4 C dry, boil with 1.5 C water for about 18 min with lid on)
  • Can of Condensed ____ Soup
  • Splash’o Milk
  • 1 Cup Shredded Cheese
  • 2 Tbs Mayo
  • 1/2 tsp (pinch) Sugar
  • 1 tsp Nutmeg
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Parmesan
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. Chop broccoli. Boil 5 min or until more tender. Meanwhile cook Quinoa.
  3. Mix everything but the parmesan together and put in casserole dish. Top with Parmesan.
  4. Bake with lid on for 40 minutes.
  5. Take lid off, bake additional 10 minutes to get nice crispness.
  6. Take out of oven, start photo shoot (omgjk)
  7. Enjoy.

Soubise: Rice Cooked in Onion Juice

14 Jan

Onions have a bad rep, am I right? Yes they sting your eyes (unless you’re cunning like me and wear contacts), they’re quite…um…fragrant, and they can overpower most other ingredients. However, they’re sweet, give the right amount of tang to a dish, and have so many different qualities based on how long they’re cooked and the way in which they are prepared. They are a versatile root, complete with different varieties: green, sweet, yellow, spanish, others. Some people put salt on a culinary pedestal–and with good reason–for its ability to wake up the palate, and add that special extra “something” to take a dish from good to punch-yourself-in-the-face-great. I feel the same way about onions. The addition of thinly sliced raw onions to a sandwich adds a new complexity of flavors. Slow cooked or caramelized onions with any meat brings out a sweet and sultry duet of flavors. Oddly enough, I’m not a huge fan of fried onion rings. I mean, I’ll eat them of course, but they’re not my favorite.


Why all the talk of onions? Well they’re the highlight in today’s dish: Soubise. Soubise is a French casserole-like dish where the juice from cooked onions becomes the liquid to cook the rice. Did your head just explode? Explode with thoughts of being knee-deep in flavor country? Because mine did.

I’ve actually made this dish before, with the help of Stephanie Izzard’s Girl In The Kitchen. I found a similar recipe (read: it explains the dish, but is not the same) here, if you want to create your own. I have to stress again, buy this cookbook. If you make one dish out of it, you’ve already gotten your money’s worth.

Now there is a very simple method to this dish: cut onions, cut tomatoes, par-boil rice, strain rice, add all to dutch oven or lidded pot, add some butter/salt/pepper, bake, stir every so often, enjoy the hell out of.

Now Stephanie Izzard’s version utilizes tomatoes in the cooking process which gives it the perfect amount of acidity. I love tomatoes about as much as I love onions (I won’t go into a whole big tangent about it though, you’re welcome), so for these two flavors to marry in slow cooking is just…the tops.


But I wanted more in my meal. What to do. Poach an egg and serve it on top of garlic-sauteed spinach you say? I accept your ridiculous challenge.

It’s almost comical how much spinach cooks down. John picked up one of those big square plastic containers full of spinach, and the entire thing cooked down to about…maybe 3/4 Cup worth of mass. But hey, that’s a stacked 3/4 Cup full of iron.


SpinachPan(I liked both Spinach-shots, so I used them both. Which one is better? We may never know)

SoubiseNowEnteringFlavorCountry‘Twas the Dinner of Champions. Or at least of tasty delights (since technically we didn’t triumph over anything…not even adversary). Let’s take a closer look:


It’s topped with Cashews, did I mention that? Because that extra little crunch is just the tops (I haven’t used that term in a while, hence the using it twice in this post). My only complaint: there were no leftovers. I may double the recipe next time…but probably not since my dutch oven isn’t big enough (will “Dutch Oven” ever not be funny?)

Why Don’t You Write About, Like, A Sandwich?

8 Jan

Good point, title. And what’s not to like about sandwiches?

I’ve been on a quest for quite a while for a good Banh Mi, a vietnamese sandwich filled with fresh and pickled veggies, pork (or other meats, but I mean, pork is the king) and cilantro, all in a crispy and soft baguette. If you have not yet had one, I highly suggest you dedicate the next 7 days to finding one, and conquering it…and then thanking me. Well during a recent Bachelorette party, we happened to dine at Sava’s, a restaurant that has none other than (bum bum bum) Banh Mi on the menu! It was offered with either pork or tofu. One of my dining companions ordered the tofu, and I ordered the pork. It was delicious. However, this sparked the topic of tofu at the table (alliteration!). Each of us likes tofu, but have never been successful in preparing it at home.

So fast forward to this past weekend, when Max, my roommate, says the above words of the title, and I immediately accept my 2 way challenge: write about a sandwich, prepare tofu in a successful manner. Now, for future reference, I will always pick pork over tofu, but it’s a new year, and it’s time to prepare a sandwich!

I selected a Bahn Mi recipe from a trusted site:

Caramelized Pork Banh Mi – Food52

And swapped out the pork for…


And the best part? That block of tofu right there was only $1.25 at the People’s Food Co-Op!

Before we start a-marinating these beauties, I wanted to get the pickled veggies started, since the longer they sit, the more intense the flavor. I made sure to start these while I was NOT hungry, as to allow plenty of pickling time.

This specific recipe calls for you to combine all the ingredients (vinegar, water, salt, sugar) and then place veggies in, and let sit. Now, in my pickling experience, giving it a little heat in the beginning allows the ingredients of the pickling liquid to marry a bit more, and infuses the veggies right off the bat. However, it does cook them a bit, giving it less crunch. I threw caution to the wind and decided to put it over heat before placing it in the fridge. I also added some sliced red onion, and fresh cilantro.


Once they’re reactively cool, pop them in the fridge until you’re ready to pile them high. I let mine sit for about 2 hours.

Now, back to the tofu. When you’re about 30 minutes away from “I need a sandwich inside of me” slice up your protein source, and let it sit in the majesty that is the delicious marinade from this recipe (fish sauce and brown sugar, who knew?!)


While the tofu is marinating into something with a semblance of flavor (get it, tofu tastes like nothing), it’s time to make the condiment that will make grown men weep


Who knew it was spelled sRiracha? I always thought it was siracha. And there are no instructions for this: add sriracha to mayo until heat level desired it reached (or until color is to peak pretty tones).

Now since it’s been 30 minutes, place your tofu/mushroom mixture in your new christmas presented cast iron skillet to achieve some tasty caramelization


And if you can’t tell from the above picture, I broke the cardinal rule of browning: over crowding the pan. Not only that, I didn’t realize how much extra liquid there would be from the marinade, so needless to say, there was no browning, no sweet caramelization of tofu, but hey, it warmed up, and the mushrooms cooked.

Now to assemble:

  1. Bottom of baguette
  2. Sweet sweet sriracha mayo
  3. Tofu/mushroom slices
  4. Pickled veggies
  5. Sliced Jalapeños
  6. Fresh cilentro
  7. Big torn pieces of lettuce
  8. More sweet sweet sriracha mayo
  9. Top of baguette


Ohhhhh yeahhh. Do you see that? Have you ever seen anything so beautiful? And I’m not just talking about my new placemats I got at a steal of a deal from Anthropologie. You’re right, let’s take a closer look


I plowed through 2 of these in no time flat. Just delightful. And can I say, even without the proper browning the tofu was a success! It had a great texture, and the flavor is (to speak Guy Fieri-ese) Out of Bounds. The next day, with lots of everything leftover besides the bread, I made a “salad” version of this with lots more lettuce. It was tasty. But then again, how could it not be with sriracha mayo as the “dressing”

I Like My Stew with a Side of Pineapple

6 Jan

We, here in Michigan, are used to lots of snow during Winter. And the cold. Well, not exactly “used to”, more like “prepared for”, because I hear “aren’t you from Michigan?” way too often (meaning: I complain about the cold and snow, a lot). To them, I say go suck an egg. Just because I live here doesn’t mean I have to love winter. I’m no skisman, I’m more of a sledder myself. So last Winter we were a bit spoiled, getting a mere one snow storm (which actually happened when I was flying out to Israel, so I ended up being delayed in Chicago for 24 hours WITH NO WINTER COAT, which also led to me crying in the Tel Aviv airport due to my lack of arrival of luggage…but I digress). It is January 4, 2013, and we’ve already had more snow than all of last year combined. But you know what? I’m not too upset over it. I’m getting my lungs used to the cold outdoor running, I have a big long puffy coat that is amazingly warm (apparently duck down is the superior of the downs?), and heat in included in my rent, so we’re nice and toasty at home! Why all the talk of snow? I made the first real wintery dish of the season: Beef Stew.

But this is no ordinary Beef Stew. I used a recipe from the trustworthy Stephanie Izzard from her book Girl In The Kitchen for the Never Ending Chicago Winter Beef Stew. I’ve been eying this recipe every time the temperature drops, but I’ve never made the commitment. I had a long soul searching night, and decided I was ready to take the next step: the time had come for stew. As I started reading the recipe, I had to cartoon rub my eyes with fists and blink them back open like a fawn seeing for the first time: there’s a hell of a lot of fruit in this recipe. For Beef Stew. Fruit. Beef. Stew. Interesting. Now, according to Ms. Izzard (and my good friend Internet), pineapple actually helps to tenderize beef. Pineapple contains Bromelain, an enzyme that breaks down the muscle fiber and connective tissue of meat (bromelian can also be used as a homeopathic remedy for reducing inflammation and indigestion, for all you Echinasiea-heads out there). I’m sold. Now, for the apple and pear that’s also involved in this stew…

That pear has seen better days...

That pear has seen better days…

Notable ingredients that help make the “broth”: balsamic vinegar, fish sauce, and dijon mustard (in addition the classics, including my HOMEMADE chicken stock). Well this is just a hodge-podge of ingredients I would never think to put together (and that, my friends, is why I am not a Top Chef). Besides these aspects, it’s a straightforward stew: brown meat, sauté aromatics (onions/garlic), add everything else, simmer for 4 hours.

How to cut down on dish use: put browned meat in the lid of the pot you're using. Did I just blow your mind?

How to cut down on dish use: put browned meat in the lid of the pot you’re using. Did I just blow your mind?

I decided to throw caution to the wind and add some sliced carrots after about an hour’s worth of cooking, because carrots are delicious in stew. Looking back, I’m still happy with my decision.

Look at those chunks of potato....pineapple?!

Look at those chunks of potato….pineapple?!

This absolutely had a distinctive flavor, especially in comparison to a “by the book” beef stew, but it was really great. It had the prefect balance of sweet, salty, tangy, and meaty. I will definitely use this as a base for all of my upcoming beef stews (so for the 1 or so a year I make). And the meat was noticeably more tender thanks to the Bromelain. Thanks Bromelain!

On another topic, I’ve come across some local (Ann Arbor) blogs that are worth a read:

  • A2GastroBoy – Kibitzing about the art and science of good food in Ann Arbor and Beyond
  • All the Brews Fit to Pint – Beer news, views, and events from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and beyond, with your humble correspondent, David Bardallis
  • Damn Arbor – A blog about life, Ann Arbor, and life in Ann Arbor. We are grad students, townies, and derelicts

Food, Beer, and general Assing around. What’s not to like?

Don’t Let It Go To Your Head: Champagne Tasting

2 Jan

Over this past weekend, I hosted a bachelorette party for my good friend Kara who is getting married this summer (guess who’s the maid of honor, this guy). Using nothing but my raw ingenuity, dashing good looks, and culinary smarts, I planned an in-hotel Champagne tasting. Now this came after few different ideas. The first was getting a bartender in the room to help us create our own cocktails with infused spirits, but, alas, I don’t know any bartenders in Ann Arbor. The second was doing a beer tasting, but then I realized I would be the one having the most fun in that situation. So then I settled on Champagne because a) we were celebrating b) who doesn’t like Champagne?

Rather than having someone take us through each Champagne (we went with Veuve Clicquot and Cupcake Sparkling Prosecco), I decided to make a handy sheet that gave some information on why Champagne is called champagne, and why others aren’t (and a few other “fun facts”). I realize it’s a little hard to read online, but trust me, it’s pretty cool.

Dropping knowledge bombs, left and right

Dropping blurry and hard to read knowledge bombs

But what is Champagne without an appetizer platter?

Boom. Chakalaka.

Boom. Chakalaka.

Now let me go through all the items on this platter:

  • Ghirardelli Squares (25% off at Plum Market)
  • Godiva peppermint truffles (25% off at Plum Market)
  • Chocolate truffles, a Christmas gift (don’t worry, I got a box that mad about 200 of them in it, so I’ve got tons left)
  • The following items from Aldi (yes, Aldi): peanut brittle, yogurt covered raisins, wheat crackers, brie, smoked gouda, apricots. All for under $12!
  • Strawberries and grapes (from Trader Joe’s) $11!! But, in it’s defense, they were delicious.

I know. It’s a great spread.

My view of the festivities

My view of the festivities

The  “highlight” of the tasting came when my expert server skills saved my life. We had just finished the first bottle, and I was opening the second bottle. I had just removed the cage (see below)…

Picture-2…and had the bottle sitting on my knee, pointing up toward the bottom of my jaw, you know, the soft part. Well wouldn’t you know it, not 10 seconds go by, and the cork shoots out of the bottle. Thank god my thumb was securely over top of the cork, and nothing happened (moral of the story: when opening Champagne, or any sparkling wine, be sure something is ALWAYS on the top of the cork, such as a secured cage or your hand). We all had a good laugh, and I lost about 4 years of my life due to “ha ha I almost got seriously injured…”

Either way, a variety of wines (or any other beverage), some tasty bites, and a little knowledge adds a lot to any get together. It was a blast, and I’m trying to figure out excuses to have people over ay my house soon to have another type of tasting/hosting situation.

Oh, and my car died in the middle of the bachelorette party. It was…uh….totally planned.



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