Monday, March 29, 2010

Pan Piper (Pan-Seared Tuna Steaks w/ginger asparagus)

I promised you quick – tonight, I’m going to give you quick.
(So quick that I don’t have pictures to share, but I think you’ll get the idea…)
Asparagus is coming in this time of year, so I’ll make any excuse to grab it. After a weekend glued to the couch watching hoop, a healthy meal was in order. So…
For Tuna

  • Get a couple of good tuna steaks.
  • Marinate them for around 20 minutes or so in soy-ginger salad dressing of some kind in the fridge.
  • Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over high heat.
  • When pan is hot, drop in the steaks. Sear for 3 minutes on a side. (Longer if you like it less rare.) Transfer to cutting board.
  • Slice thinly into pieces. Top with salt and pepper.
For Asparagus
  • Cut the very bottom of the stalks, then slice the rest on a 45 degree angle, making pieces about an inch and a half long.
  • Take about a 1/2 tbsp. crystallized ginger and chop the pieces as best you can.
  • Melt about a tablespoon of butter and a little olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add a couple of cloves of minced garlic. Sauté asparagus pieces and ginger until asparagus pieces are crisp-tender.
  • Top with salt and pepper.
Serve with a dollop of wasabi horseradish on the side for dipping. We had this with a sauvignon blanc and it worked well.
Easy, easy, easy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thump, Grouper, and Scratch (Grilled Grouper with roasted mushroom & tomato salad)

Something very simple tonight. Both the Sweet Partner in Crime and I had had some draining circumstances and we just wanted something easy. So, not surprisingly, we fired up the grill.

Grilled Grouper w/roasted Tomato & Mushroom Salad
We had grouper filets to work with this evening. They were cut pretty thin (we wondered if people were using them for Lenten fish fries…eek!) but they had some substance. Simply drizzled them with olive oil and sprinkled them with a little Kroger “Peppercorn Spice Rub” that we had, then put the filets in a grill basket.
Meanwhile, oven was heated to 425. We took some pine nuts and put them in a baking pan. In another baking pan, we put some halved grape tomatoes and thinly sliced mushrooms, salt, pepper, olive oil, and basil. Both went in the oven. The nuts came out in 10 minutes, the vegetables in 20.

I took the basket outside and put it on the grill over medium-high heat. Cooked it for 3 minutes on a side and checked for doneness. I think these might have still been frozen in the middle since the cooking was a little uneven, so I cut the heat down a little bit and gave them a couple more minutes. Once the filets flaked easily, I brought them in.

Meanwhile, the SPinC whipped up a dressing out of the juice of a lemon, some white wine, olive oil, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, and a bunch of garlic. She made a bed of torn Boston lettuce, put the roasted veggies on top, poured a little of the vinaigrette over that, then topped it with feta crumbles and the pine nuts.

It turned out wonderfully. Here it is:
Start to finish: half an hour

Monday, March 22, 2010

Pho Your Life (Mike's Faux Pho)

Hello all. I'm back from my jaunt to New Orleans to see some of my far flung friends, to overdose on basketball, and, of course, to get some good meals. The highlights? K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, the flagship of Paul Prudhomme's restaurants (beef tenders in debris. Zowie!); breakfast at Mother's, “home of the world’s best baked ham," where the homemade spicy smoked sausage will knock your socks off; and the chicken friand & raspberry-filled croissant I had at Croissant d'Or. As another dear friend of mine would say, "gismic." I could go on about the Central Grocery muffulleta, or the happy hour at Lüke with the 25 cent oysters, but we have other things to get to. The lowlight? Some kind of virus that smacked 2/3 of our little group on Saturday that left many of us taking inventory of some of that food for a second time. (Not food poisoning, we decided...the timing would have been wrong for that many of us to get sick.)
In any case, I returned home and the Sweet Partner had to head out to help her dad after successful cataract surgery. I needed to put some food together for myself, and I decided -- both since my stomach was still a little iffy and because our weather got chilly again, that I wanted something soupy. For some reason, pho sounded good.
If you're not familiar, pho is a Vietnamese soup which originated as a breakfast meal. It's basically a beef stock with whatever's handy thrown in. I fell in love with the stuff at Cilantro, this fantastic little lunch counter near the University of Cincinnati where I work. Making it "authentically," however, requires boiling up stock, a lot of straining, and a lot of time. Pho paste
I made a trip to Lansing, Michigan several months ago to visit a pal, and I brought a wonderful discovery back from an Asian grocery -- pho paste. It's not quite as good as the homemade stock, but I still think it's pretty daggone workable. I've since discovered that most Asian groceries have a jar or two of this, so you should be able to find it or get it ordered to a good grocery of some kind without too much trouble.
So, for this evening's work (measurements approximate -- aren't you proud, Sweetie?):

  • 10  c. water
  • 2 heaping tbsp. pho paste
  • 6 oz. noodles (rice vermicelli is traditional, but I used udon since that's what we had)
  • 6 oz filet mignon (hey, why not use the good stuff?)
  • Bean sprouts
  • 2-3 sliced mushrooms
  • 2 yellow tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • Green onions
  • 3 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 3 tbsp. lime juice
  • Fresh cilantro/basil -- fresh, about ¼ each. (I had some Thai basil frozen from the summer.)
IMG_0687Get a soup pot and heat a little olive oil over medium-high heat. Sear the filet until brown all over. Remove from pot. Add the water and bring to a boil.
Slice the filet thinly. Add noodles to boiling water. Cook until about five minutes are remaining in the noodle-making process. Add everything else but the herbs and tomatoes. Simmer until noodles are done. (That's if you simmer the noodles. If you are boiling them, take it down to about 2 minutes, reduce the heat, and simmer until done.) Stir in the tomatoes and herbs. Bowl it up. Grab some chopsticks. Chow down.
Pho also usually has hot pepper -- ordinarily, I'd have diced a jalapeno and added that, but I eliminated it for a couple of reasons. First, my tummy's still a little iffy, so I didn't want to overdo the heat. Also, sriracha (the now-ubiquitous chili sauce) can be used to control the heat level, and I prefer that flavor.
Some "traditionalists" might also note that the usual serving method is to put the noodles, etc. into the bowls and ladle the broth over. Others may offer that there are no tomatoes or mushrooms in pho. To those folks, I offer a heartfelt "bite me."
Here's what I ended up with:
Start to finish: half an hour

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Return to Hot Chicken (Chicken with artichokes and basil pearled couscous)

I'm not the only one who cooks in the household, contrary to popular belief. In addition to being a world-famous criminologist, the Sweet Partner in Crime is pretty handy around the kitchen. After all she did get me interested in many things culinary and introduced me to the notion that a house without wine is like a house without a heat source. Sure, you could live there, but why would you want to?

We do have an understanding that maintains peace in the valley. Over the years, we've learned that our cooking styles do not exactly mesh. In fact, unless the two of us come to an agreement on the division of labor, we try (for the most part) to avoid being in the kitchen together. I tend to be a the number of utensils, pots, pans, and other such implements of destruction I'll use in the course of meal preparation. If we try cooking together, I'll go to pick up the spoon I've been stirring a sauce with, only to find that she's put it in the dishwasher while my back was turned. She's a more efficient cook.

Also, she's a much better "throw together" cook than I am. Most of what I know about "non-recipe" cooking's come from her. Give my sweetie a pantry full of random ingredients, some veggies, and a spice or two, and you've got a simple dinner. To wit...if you want to follow what she ended up doing with this amalgamation, here's what we had:

• Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
• Frozen artichoke quarters
• A lemon, sliced thinly
• A plum tomato, chopped
• 2 tsp capers
• Basil, oregano, garlic to taste
• 1/3 c. white wine, 1/3 c. chicken broth
• Box of Near East "basil pearled couscous" mix

Thaw everything. Preheat oven to 400. Pour some olive oil (which I leave off ingredient lists all the's a staple like salt and pepper) over the chicken and sprinkle with spices. Put in a roasting pan and add the white wine & chicken broth to the pan. Lay the lemon slices across the top. Top with the capers, artichokes, and tomato. Salt and pepper the lot. Roast for around 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken.

Meanwhile, make the couscous. The SPinC discovered that this particular type of couscous is much more labor intensive than the "boil water, dump in couscous, stir, remove from heat, let sit" normal method, so plan accordingly. When chicken is done, add pan juices to couscous. Mix.

Plate it up. Pour some fruity, easy drinking white wine. Chow down.

Start to finish: Under an hour

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"...which is also a town." (Roasted eggplant and mushroom salad with pine nuts)

The Sweet Partner in Crime didn't teach me that a salad by itself could be a full meal.

I used to do this all the time back in the day. Stop by Kroger on the way back to my Lexington bachelor pad, snag a bag of greens, some tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, usually some deli meat and whatever else struck my fancy. Bring it home, chop up everything, throw it in with the lettuce, add some Italian dressing, mix well. Take bowl in front of television. Mindlessly eat.

You know, general bachelor cooking.

No, what the SPinC taught me was a salad by itself could be a really good meal.

We had gorgeous weather yesterday. The day before was nice, but it felt like a warm day in the middle of a cold snap. Yesterday felt like spring. I saw things popping out of the ground, a few crocuses blooming -- good stuff. I needed to cook something outside. I just didn't want anything heavy. I found an old Gourmet magazine (I only read it for the pictures, really!) while I going through a stack of magazines, and it happened to be an issue with an article on grilling. I found this fascinating sounding salad -- spinach salad with grilled eggplant and pine nuts. Lemon-oil dressing with lots of marjoram. Why not?

Headed to the store, picked up the requisite makings, and got the grill going and  got the pine nuts to toasting. I found a few mushrooms when I was going through the fridge, so I threw them on a skewer. Made the dressing and brushed the eggplant (sliced 1" thick) with it. Grilled up the eggplant and mushrooms. Chopped them, tossed them in the salad. Topped with some feta and plated the whole thing up. The final result? See for yourself:

It was light but substantial, fresh but filling. Very, very tasty. If you want to see the original recipe before I messed with it a bit, click here.

This is a rough wine pairing, though. Citrus and bitter from the greens and smoky eggplant. Oh, and nuts, those wonderful toasted pine nuts. (I'll have those in just about anything.) We tried a couple of wines -- the last of that Lurton pinot from a couple of nights ago, and a Penfold's Aussie shiraz/cab blend I'd picked up on a whim. We also had a little sauvignon blanc. I thought the Penfold's worked the best, because the wine needed some fruit and force to able to hang with all of the different flavors we had going on there.

A guilt-free food evening. Gotta love it.

start to finish: under half an hour.
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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Crepuscule with Monkfish & Chorizo (Monkfish and Chorizo Kabobs)

I've stumped the fish folk at Kroger twice with monkfish.

Both times, I've seen filets that looked pretty good, and the Krogerman handing it to me has said, "I've never known what to do with that." The answer? Grill it. There are any number of ways you can make it, and I've tried several. I remain a fan of the fire.

You'll sometimes see monkfish called "poor man's lobster." (It's also known as "goosefish.") The flavor and consistency is indeed akin. At under $10 a pound, it's worth thinking about for that kind of flavor -- especially when that flavor is paired with that wonderful Latin-esque sausage, chorizo.

Monkfish and chorizo. Like chocolate and peanut butter. Two great tastes that taste great together. There;s something about the richness of the fish with the spice and fat of the chorizo that just works well together. They're great together in things like paella. but grilling them is best, in my opinion. Since we're still in a surprisingly good patch of weather for early March, we fired up the grill again. My favorite way to pair these two has always been kebabs with some good veggies.

We got the grill fired up and got some yellow rice going. This particular kebab iteration required me to pre-cook a few links of chorizo. Put three links in a skillet with ½ cup of water. Cooked them for 12 minutes, turning once, then cooking uncovered, turning as necessary (brown 'em!) for 3-4 minutes. Set the links aside to cool. Cut up the veggies (tomatoes, peppers, & mushrooms in this case, but you can use whatever you like) and monkfish into good sized chunks:

Skewer the veggies, chorizo, and monkfish pieces. It might look something like this:

The grill should be hot by now, so put the kebabs over fire. Medium to high heat, 5-7 minutes on a side. I like using a grill basket, simply for neatness and ease of use. If you do use one of those, cook more towards the longer time. Then plate up a bed of rice, take the chunks off the skewers and arrange. Top the lot with salt and pepper.

We did a side by side of an inexpensive pinot noir (Lurton, a French pinot noir table wine) and Black Box Sauvignon Blanc.

Both wines worked fine. I liked the pinot, the Sweet Partner in Crime enjoyed the white. Either way, a very easy to cobble together, nice looking dinner, if you don't mind doing a little chopping.

Total time start to finish: just under an hour.

The night was young once we finished, so we decided to enjoy the good weather and the patio-friendly temperatures while we could. We started a fire and got rid of the last of the holiday greenery. Poured some more wine and had some chocolate. A nice way to end a fairly crazy day...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Welcome to the Fold (Marinated Flank Steak w/gingered asparagus & Joel's Gonga-Getti)

Greetings! I'm Mike. If you've made your way here, you like flavor.

Some of you have found your way over from The Naked Vine, my wine review site. Some of you have stumbled here from a lucky google. Regardless, welcome -- pull up a chair and grab a fork.

If you want to skip ahead to the food, scroll down to the stars...

Like most guys, my first experience cooking was when I left college and entered bachelorhood. My cooking was uncomplicated. I was just trying to feed myself, so I went the "quick and easy" route first. I was a fifth-degree black belt in tuna mac. That gets old quickly, so I branched out a bit. Anything with "quick" or "one dish" in the title drew my attention. I would make huge tubs full of Joel's Gonga-Getti (see the bottom of this post); square yards of my "semi-sagna"; and a beef stew that would knock anyone's socks off. Best of all? Leftovers. Lots of leftovers. I didn't need to buy lunch at work which, as you know, saves a ton of cash and left me more beer money.

Enter Pam, my now-wifey. Pam was a basketball fan, which made her significant-otherable immediately. We officially started dating on a cold December day in 2001 after watching Jay Williams light up Rashaad Carruth. As we got to know each other, I quickly discovered that I was completely out of my culinary league. So between my ardor and Pam's own level of culture, I taught myself to cook.

Then we mutually discovered wine.

Aside from the general yumminess of The Grape, we were fascinated by the way wine paired with food. As a couple of former potential chem majors, we wanted to understand why things worked as food and wine meshed. We plowed through Kevin Zraly's Wines of the World book and embraced the whole "so, what will go best this wine?" thing.

So, along came The Naked Vine -- which still moves forth if you're looking for some easy to understand wine info. I'd done it for going on four years, and I was starting to feel a little burned out. Both Pam and friend of the Vine David L. noted that the Vine, over the years, was focusing more on wine pairings than on wine alone. Along came the crystallizing moment. Our friend Jeff's birthday present to his wife, the Rev. Christine -- 12 meals, 12 wine pairings. The first of which is documented here in all its glory. Jeff inspired me. I decided to start this food blog.

Trouble is, both Pam and I lead pretty busy lives. We both work full time, and when we get home at the end of the day, we're spent. Two hours slaving over a hot stove -- not gonna happen. But neither of us wants to simply peel back the foil over the apple crisp on a couple of Hungry Man TV dinners and call it chow time.

Really good cooking doesn't need to take a lot of time. Dinners don't necessarily require extensive food prep. For example, I recently saw a recipe for a normally-simple tamale pie that had a 34-item ingredient list and required grinding a spice mélange. I can get it down to half that and taste as good to anyone who's going to be following along here.

We're constantly on the lookout for flavorful, wine pair-able recipes that won't take all night to throw together. We've done a pretty damned good job in the search, if I say so myself.

I'd like you to join us on our tour through the world of lazy gourmet cooking. The main characters in this little narrative will be myself, the aforementioned Man Who Cooks, and Pam, henceforth known as the Sweet Partner in Crime.

Life's too short to eat bland food, so let's get it started...


The Sweet Partner in Crime walked into Kroger and got inspired by the first good-looking asparagus we'd seen in awhile. She snagged a bunch, and thought flank steak would make a good entrée.

[Remember -- there's no need to start with an entrée. If there's a side you want to try, it's easy enough to cobble together a menu around that instead. Takes the pressure off a bit.]

So, we ended up with this hunk of meat. Flank steak is meat made for marinating. We had some sesame-ginger vinaigrette in the fridge. I don't buy a lot of bottled dressing. I'd much rather simply throw some good olive oil together with vinegar and some spices. Store bought dressings tend to be average on salads at best, but if they're vinaigrettes, they make good marinades.

So, into a Ziploc bag went the meat, the vinaigrette, the juice of half a lime, and a bunch of minced garlic. Rather then the recommended couple of hours, the meat went into the fridge when we left for work. So, by the time we took it out of the fridge, we'd made meat ceviche.

We got home and I got the grill ready for the first time this season. Once it got up to high heat, I threw the extremely tender slab of meat on the grill after wiping off the marinade. Don't skip this step...your grill will flare something awful. I judged doneness by using a "poke test." If it doesn't spring back, give it more time -- when it does, get it off there! It cooked very quickly. Probably 6 minutes total, and I would have cooked it a tad less if I'd had it to do over again. Brought in the slab, covered it in foil, and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, the SPinC cut the asparagus into 2-inch or so pieces, slicing each piece on a 45 degree angle. She melted a little butter in a little olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and sautéed some more minced garlic, then added the asparagus. She sautéed the asparagus until it was almost tender, then added a teaspoon of chopped up crystallized ginger, salt, pepper, and a little bit of white wine.

I did my best to slice the flank steak against the grain at a perfect 45 degree angle. It sort of worked. Our little tenderizing project worked too well...the pieces would rip apart easily. But hey, small price to pay to make a tasty meal out of an inexpensive cut of beef. The meat ended up a little more done than I would have liked, but the soy-ginger flavor permeated the meat. Tasty stuff. The asparagus rocked. And the wine -- well...properly done California Cabernet. You tell me...

We served this with Dark Horse 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark Horse was one of the first wines we fell in love with on our first trip to Sonoma years ago. A delicious pairing to end a long work week.

Start to finish: half an hour.

And in case you were curious:

Joel's Gonga-Getti

1 tsp. Olive oil
1 lb. Lean ground beef
1 can tomato paste
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp. Onion powder
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
Dried basil, parsley, and oregano
1 jar Newman's Own spaghetti sauce-- your choice.
Salt & pepper
1 lb pasta -- I like using penne
Shredded parmesan

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Remove plastic wrap from ground beef. Plop mass of ground beef into skillet. Add garlic, onion powder, pepper, and an appropriate level of spices. Your call. Brown beef. Once browned, add spaghetti sauce. Reduce heat and simmer.

Cook pasta in a big pot of salted water. Drain pasta.

Taste sauce. Add salt, pepper, and spice as necessary. Return pasta to pot. Add sauce. Stir to mix. Bowl up and top with shredded parmesan.