Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Weeknight pizza

This turned out really nice.

I used the other half of the dough I made over the weekend and rolled it out really thin to make the crust nice and crispy. Canadian bacon, Genoa salami, onion, black and green olives, fresh mozzarella and aged provolone cheeses...yum!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Kung Pao Chicken

It is another bitter cold day here in Minnesota. I’m not sure if we made it out of the single digits today. Time for another meal to help warm me up!

I made my version of Kung Pao chicken this evening. There is absolutely nothing authentic about it. Basically, it is a sweet and spicy chicken stir-fry with some of the elements of Kung Pao, so that is what I call it!

The sauces required to make this dish might sound exotic, but they can be found in the Asian food section of virtually any decent grocery store.

I add a lot of different vegetables to my stir-fries, because I love the various colors and textures. Sometimes I use different combinations, but this is what I used today. Feel free to play with other veggies. Or meats, for that matter. This dish will work equally as well with beef, pork, or even shrimp.

In essence, this is simply a comforting, spicy stir-fry that is perfect for a winter day. Nothing fancy, just tasty. It takes a little time to prep all of the ingredients, but the end result is worth the effort. And it will warm you up on a cold day!

My Kung Pao Chicken

The Chicken
-1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced thin
-1 T. light soy sauce
-1 t. sesame oil

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before cooking.

The Sauce
-1 cup water
-2 T. light soy sauce
-2 T. black bean & garlic sauce
-2 T. hoisin sauce
-1 T. chili garlic sauce
-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
-2 T. fresh ginger, grated
-1 T. rice wine vinegar
-1 T. sugar
-1 1/2 T. cornstarch

Combine all ingredients and set aside until ready to use. This can be made ahead of time and refrigerated.

The Veggies
-2 carrots, sliced
-1 red bell pepper, cut into chunks
-1 small can bamboo shoots, drained and rinsed
-1 handful fresh snow peas
-1 small yellow onion, sliced thin
-1 8 oz container crimini mushrooms, sliced thin
-1/2 cup unsalted peanuts

For Cooking and Serving
-Peanut/canola oil for cooking
-A few small dried chili peppers
-Steamed rice for serving.

Heat a wok over high heat. Add about a tablespoon of oil and toss in the dried chili peppers. Stir quickly until the chilies are fragrant. Add the chicken and cook until no longer pink, stirring quickly. Set aside.

Add a little more oil if needed and stir-fry the veggies. Cook them for just a couple minutes, again stirring quickly (you want them to remain somewhat crisp). Return the chicken to the wok and add the sauce mixture. Stir everything together and heat until cooked through and the sauce is thickened slightly. Stir in the peanuts at the last second. Serve over steamed rice.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Pizza on a chilly night

It is a bitter cold night here, with the wind chill well below zero. What better to warm me up than a nice homemade pizza!

As per usual, I used Alton Brown's pizza dough recipe, but with 75% unbleached all-purpose flour and 25% whole wheat. I topped it with my homemade pizza sauce, Genoa salami, pepperoni, mushrooms, black olives, and a combination of aged provolone, fresh mozzarella, and a little bit of Jarlsberg cheeses. Baked for 8 minutes at 550 F on the pizza stone, and dinner was served.

Delightful! And it did indeed warm me up nicely.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

My Hamburger Noodle Hot Dish

Sunday during the football games, I didn't feel like spending a lot of time in the kitchen, so I threw this together. Based on a quick dish that Mom and Dad always used to make for a quick weeknight meal, it doesn't really have a name. We always colloquially referred to it as "gruel." But in essence, it is simply variation of a hamburger-noodle hot dish (or "casserole," if you are from anywhere outside of the Midwest!).

There is really no set recipe, and you can vary the amounts how you see fit. If you don't have a roma tomato, red onion, or "shoepeg" corn on hand, don't sweat it. It is intended to be a pantry dish, so use the things you have on hand. Any small, tubular pasta such as elbow macaroni, penne, rigatoni, rotini, or in this case, tubini, will work here because it gives the meat and vegetables something to cling to.

While less than exotic, this is a dish that I love. It tastes and smells great with the combination of ketchup and BBQ sauce, and I enjoy the leftovers for my lunches at work. Plus, you can make it in no time, allowing you to miss very little of the game!

My Hamburger-Noodle Hot Dish
-1 lb. ground chuck
-4 cloves of garlic, minced
-1/2 cup red onion, diced
-Seasoned salt
-Black pepper
-1 roma tomato, seeded and diced
-1 cup frozen peas
-1 small can shoepeg corn, drained
-8 oz. small pasta (cooked just shy of al dente, drained, reserve some cooking water)
-1/2 cup ketchup
-1/2 cup BBQ sauce

Brown the ground beef with the garlic and onion. Season with the seasoned salt and black pepper. Drain the fat. Add the tomato, peas, and corn. Cook for a couple of minutes until heated through. Add the pasta, and stir in the ketchup and BBQ sauce. If the mixture is really thick, add a little bit of reserved pasta cooking water to help thin it out a little bit. Cook until the pasta is heated through, and serve immediately.

For some added flavor, I've also been known to grate a little bit of Swiss or Jarlsberg cheese over the top of the finished dish. Yum!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Road Food Pursuit - Barker's Bar & Grill

Looking for something to do today, I decided to take a Sunday drive on a Saturday and made a run for the border; the Wisconsin border, that is!

I found myself in the city of Hudson, WI, an old river town on the St. Croix. After a little bit of shopping at a local market, I sought out a place to dine at in the old part of downtown.

Barker’s Bar & Grill
413 2nd St.
Hudson, WI

I stumbled over to Barker’s Bar & Grill, a charming little pub located on the west side of Highway 35. It is a narrow and cozy building that is filled with pictures from Hudson’s past. The restaurant was very clean and classy, the people friendly, there are dozens of beers to choose from, and there is a popcorn machine going all the time. Looks like Barker’s would be a fun hangout in the evenings.

The menu was quite large. Lots of burgers and sandwiches to choose from, but this seemed to be a step up from your traditional bar fare. Barker’s prides itself on using locally produced or purchased ingredients. The bread is baked in town, and the meat comes from a local butcher.

As per usual, I gravitated towards the burger section of the menu and ordered up the “Tyson Burger.” Clearly, the name is a play on a boxing reference because the burger is “black and blue.” It is seasoned with blackened seasonings and topped with Amish blue and Monterey Jack cheeses. The meal came with chips, but I upgraded to the fries, and also had a diet Pepsi to drink.

The “Tyson Burger” at Barker’s Bar & Grill

The burger was beautifully grilled, with a nicely charred exterior and a slightly pink interior. Very juicy! The blackened seasonings added a subtle spicy flavor that was tempered by the mound of blue cheese tucked under a slice of Monterey Jack. Add some nice tomato, red onion, pickles, lettuce, and a bakery fresh bun, and we have ourselves a winner. This was one of the finest burgers I have tasted.

And the fries were REAL! No such thing as frozen, food service fries here. These were the real deal. Since starting my pursuits of the great local establishments, I have encountered very few places that do this. Hand-cut, fresh, and fried to a golden brown. They were absolutely outstanding. I ate every last one of them on my plate. Awesome!

The total came to $12.03 before tip. Now, I know in the past I have expressed some displeasure when a burger and fries meal cost over $10. However, in this case I did not mind. It is clear they are using quality ingredients, and for a burger that tasty, and because they make their own fries, I will gladly shell out an extra couple of bucks.

Hudson is a pretty little town. If you are in the area, it would be worth stopping to see the sights, or to simply dine at Barker’s Bar & Grill.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Buffalo burgers

One of the more unique gifts I got for Christmas from my brother and sister-in-law was an assortment of meats from Blackwing Quality Meats.

Last night I made one of their buffalo burgers, made from free range bison. Delicious! Not only is it an incredibly flavorful meat with the texture of a really good burger, but it also has the added benefit of being lower in fat, calories, and cholesterol than skinless chicken or turkey (one 4 oz. patty was only 200 calories!).

Here I have one doctored up with bacon, cheese, pickles, ketchup, and a sweet-spicy mustard, served on a toasted 12-grain bread. Awesome! Any burger lover should give buffalo a try.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Chips ahoy!

I have been telling my friends all about my love for the Old Dutch Restaurante Style Guacamole Strips. They are these awesome, guacamole-flavored tortilla chips that have become my "go-to" chip for salsa.

Today for the first time, I tried their other flavored version of this product, the Roasted Chipotle & Lime Strips. They too are fantastic, with a great smoky flavor and a nice citrus bite to them. Great stuff! I will be using these in place of crackers in my bowl of homemade chili this evening.

Happy New Year!