The Newbie Cook
- 16,667 forkfuls since 16.Oct.10
Making everything for the first time
When I was a kid, I thought that “adding more color to your diet” meant buying a bag of skittles or m&m’s. Now I know that this is what it really means:
Ginataang kalabasa is a Filipino dish that has always been a favorite since childhood. There are different variations — my mom made it with yardlong beans and shrimp. For this recipe, I’m using 96% extra lean ground beef. Hubby is not a fan of lean ground beef because he said it lacked flavor. He likes the regular everyday 80% lean. Personally, the fat content scares me and I’m tired of draining the beef while cooking. With extra lean, I don’t have to drain it.
Since this dish is very flavorful, I don’t think my husband would be complaining about blandness.
There is one must-have ingredient in this dish: the glorious bagoong alamang. My mom’s province, Pangasinan, is famous for having some of the best tasting alamang on earth. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to that goodness so I resorted to second best: jarred bagoong. There are no close Asian stores with this so I bought it online from Amazon. The jarred version isn’t as pungent either, which is a good thing since I live with an American husband who was completely traumatized with the smell of danggit.
(Ugh, super dry skin. That’s what happens when I wash my hands every single step while cooking.)
Filipinos also love coconut milk aka gata in Tagalog. We have tons of food that start with “ginataang,” which means that whatever it is has been stewed in coconut milk. Like our lovely Jersey butternut squash.
Luckily for me, my husband likes Filipino food so I don’t have to argue about having variety in our daily menu.
I served this with white rice and sautéed spinach and garlic. See recipe after the jump.
This was inspired by Subway’s flatizza. Besides, someone has to use the pita bread that we have sitting in the fridge after I got over my fish taco phase.
My husband loves this dish. He asks me to make it often and I’m happy to oblige because it’s (1) easy, (2) quick, and (3) quite healthy even with the cheese. I do try to cut down on the cheese by putting much less on “my half” of the pizza. This has almost all of my favorite vegetables, which makes me very happy. 🙂
You can modify this recipe according to your preference — change the vegetables or add some meats like ham, pepperoni or crispy bacon bits.
I do need to mention the pizza stone. I bought this for baking bread but I also noticed that this pita pizza is a lot crispier and better if I use the stone over a regular pan. But the stone is not a must have, a regular pan is fine.
It’s fruit and vegetable season here in South Jersey. Juicy blueberries, succulent strawberries and ripe, red tomatoes are everywhere. Last weekend, I went to a local farmer’s market with my friends Tracy, Robin and Wayne. I stocked up on veggies that I didn’t grow in my garden.
There was so much good stuff everywhere and I was tempted to buy a little bit of everything. But, alas! There are only two people in my household and we can only eat so much. Although I did buy a dozen corn, which I shared with my in-laws.
One of the must-buys on my list were Jersey tomatoes. My husband grew up in an Italian household with a traditional Noni that made sauce from scratch. Every summer, she would buy large baskets of tomatoes, peel them, and cook gallons of spaghetti sauce. From dawn to dusk almost everyday, the sauce would be simmering on the stove. I can only imagine how good their house smelled like.
Unfortunately, Noni is no longer alive and Chris is not in possession of the family recipe because it was only passed to the girls. Therefore, I had to be creative and make my sauce recipes myself. Some of them are based on others’ recipes while some are made up by yours truly — like the one below.
This particular sauce is fresh, chunky, and light. It only takes around 4 hours to cook this. After all, I work all day and go to school so I don’t have the time Noni had.
Kaldereta-style beef stew. This is a native Filipino dish that is usually served on special occasions. Or on a nice day when Mom is feeling generous enough to cook a dish that takes hours to make.
My husband, C, joined a Filipino Food group on Facebook. He would look at pics and recipes and try to read the names. (He sounds so cute and funny but I love it because he’s determined to learn. Or at least learn the names of foods.) I am not well-versed when it comes to cooking my native country’s dishes. I know, it’s a disgrace and there is no excuse for it. 😛 It’s just that my Mom, Dad and all my friends cook Filipino food so well. My (now ex) roommate, Jaja, is the world champion on kaldereta. So I decided to concentrate on Italian food. Now I regret not being as keen on learning to cook pagkaing Pinoy (Filipino food).
It took me more than two stressful hours to make it.
Kaldereta should be rich, hearty, and comforting. The sauce should be creamy, the beef must be tender. And, most of all, kaldereta should be flavorful. Perfect for a cold, January night.
More comfort food!
My favorite Italian restaurant is Ciconte’s and they have this heavenly lentil and sausage soup. It isn’t served often and is in their soups-of the day list. I figured I may as well try making a version of this soup so I can have it any time I want. Of course, I don’t expect it to be as wondermous as Ciconte’s so I’m simply aiming for edible for my first attempt.
I used canned lentils in this recipe. I should have bought two cans instead of one since it doesn’t seem to have enough lentils. I also want to try using fresh lentils next time. They were out in Shop Rite and we didn’t feel like going anywhere else today.
I didn’t bother with a play-by-play since I’m sure you don’t need instructional photos for chopping vegetables. Although I do wish I took a snapshot of my husband shaping the sausages into tiny balls. He rarely helps out when I cook yet he had the gall to complain that I gave him the “dirty job.” Grr. Next time, he gets onion duty. Five large ones should be just right for him.
What’s the deal with the stuffed bear? I adopted a polar bear when I donated to WWF last month. I haven’t figured out what to do with it yet. Should I keep it and let it languish in a corner, gathering dust until it disappears into obscurity after a few years? Or should I give it to the pups and let Basti shred it and have the time of his life?
I felt like eating brunch for dinner. Yesterday was a m-f-ing cold fall day and I needed warm comfort food bad, plus I had to use the last of our garden’s produce. The yellow squash is a particular favorite of mine.
C and I don’t really care for capers so I modified the recipe a bit and substituted it with sliced mushrooms. As much as I love vegetables, I thought that adding little bits of turkey bacon would add to the flavor. When I eat eggs, I don’t think of basil so I took that out and used parsley instead. I also don’t have ramekins — I should have bought that set in Ross, grrr — so I used a single medium-sized glass baking dish to bake it in.
I tried as much as I could to have the eggs placed perfectly on each quarter of the dish. So imagine my annoyance when one of the yolks rolled to the side and would not budge no matter how hard I tried to coax it back to the center. Unfortunately, it broke under my less-than-gentle ministrations. 😦
I would say that this serves four if eaten as a snack or breakfast. But this was just enough for C and I. Besides, if there were four of us here at home, I don’t think the fourth person would appreciate having a broken yolk.
I have never made eggplant parmigiana before. But I suppose you already know that because *points up* of the name of this blog. My husband grew up with a grumpy Nonna that cooked consistently perfect Italian food.
So I am more than a little anxious.
Thank God there’s Mario Batali, Food Network, and a surplus of cherry tomatoes from the garden. And, last but not the least, Francesco Rinaldi Three Cheese pasta sauce because it is okay to take shortcuts if you’re dying of hunger and have less than an hour to cook. (*&^%#! I sound like a f*&%#@g ad.) For pre-made pasta sauce, FR is quite good but it will need some jazzing up. My recipe for red pasta sauce from scratch takes forever to simmer just to get the flavor right.
This is not exactly a super-traditional eggplant parmigiana. I may have based it on a famous chef’s recipe but I can’t resist butchering things up and adding stuff according to what I like. For instance, I used wheat flour instead of breadcrumbs. And then I baked the eggplants instead of frying them. (Batali recommended baking as well but the more common method is frying.) Plus I added a touch of ground beef. The latter is not required but I needed a little protein to put some meat in my husband’s bones and it did enhance the flavor of the sauce. If you want a vegetarian dish, just skip the meat entirely.
Here are my stacks before baking.
… and after.
I have a bad habit of forgetting to taste my cooking before serving so I handed Chris his plate before I filled mine. The first thing I heard was “Yum!” I suppose it is safe to say that I passed.
Personally, I do not think the photos of my stacks look as appetizing as they do in real life. But with regards to taste… it was ever so slightly crispy on the outside, very soft inside, and heartwarmingly savory as a whole. This is definitely comfort food and is best served with a side of spaghetti or linguine.
Chris gets annoyed when I don’t update my blogs for weeks at a time. He checks them regularly and I suppose it cheers him up to see my thoughts on virtual paper and that I’m writing instead of harassing him. 🙂 Or perhaps he just appreciates reading my posts.
A few weeks ago, I cooked yellow long-neck squash and asparagus stewed in Thai shrimp paste (that recipe will follow). I remember that Chris was pretty bummed because he picked the squash too late and the other half of it ballooned and turned into a deep yellow. We didn’t know then that we were supposed to pick it before it ripens — when the fruit is long and slim — so one can eat the whole creamy vegetable without having to take out the seeds. Of course, he cheered up when I put the stew in front of him.
This time around, the squash was picked at the perfect time.
My only complaint about this dish is that I could not replicate that perfectly smooth, whipped cream consistency for the ricotta blend as shown in the ABC site even when I whisked the cheese to an inch of its life. Maybe they used KitchenAid? Also remember not to overload on the sausage. I only added them to provide more taste and a little protein for my skinny husband.
We had to replace the car’s bumper this week because, er, let’s just say that I murdered a concrete trash can in a convenience store’s parking lot. So this month will be quite lean for us. But cheap does NOT mean bad food. It means enjoying healthy meals at home for less than 10 dollars instead of spending 20-40 outside. The only exceptions are Date Night Fridays and Chris’ Wing-and-Beer Wednesdays. Here is a breakdown of what this meal cost us:
1 lb dried pasta linguine – $1
2 Italian sausage patties from Botto’s – $1.5
1 cup fresh ricotta – $2
1/2 cup grated parmesan – $1
1 yellow long-neck squash – free from the garden
sprigs of fresh mint – free from the garden
That’s five dollars and fifty cents for four servings, a dollar and a half per person for a meal that could cost $10-12 in a restaurant! This is why Steffi McScrooge made the effort of learning how to cook, ladies and gentlemen.
For some reason, I thought I already posted a teriyaki salmon recipe. And then I remembered that I haven’t even made one yet. Doh, Steffi.
The recipe is really very simple. I remember a baby back ribs recipe I found online that made use of commercially-produced barbecue sauce. Although some criticized the cook’s decision to not use homemade sauce, the poster firmly stressed that if the barbecue sauce is well made, then there shouldn’t be any reason to not use it. Which is exactly why I used store-bought teriyaki marinade.
We swear by World Harbors Maui Mountain Teriyaki marinade. C and I have used this for a lot of other dishes and it is really good with salmon. As for the salmon itself, I cooked it the same way I cooked the trout: by braising. I tried simply searing salmon and baking it in the past. But braising locks in the moisture and you can check it often to see if it’s cooked. It also takes a lot less time than baking.
Instead of picking up the usual large bell peppers, I got a bag of cute little ones in ShopRite. I like it so much more than the big ones. There are no or very little seeds and you can stuff it with all sorts of filling. In this case, I used mozzarella cheese as the peppers would only serve as a side dish to the already sizeable salmon. Velveeta is also an excellent alternative.
Served with our favorite merlot of the moment — Vendange — the meal was absolutely perfect. At least according to my husband. He’s being really nice; it’s our half-year wedding anniversary after all. 🙂
This started because of Jersey sweet white corn. Yep, the trout was just an afterthought. It’s the first batch of corn this year in our area and Chris was really excited to make me try one of Jersey’s famous veggies. I’ve been trying to eat healthy lately (I feel like I’m 4 tons overweight!) so I figured that seared fresh fish is the way to go.
C husked the corn outdoors because he didn’t want to make a mess in the kitchen. Speaking of outdoors, our garden has been really useful. We now have a wealth of flowers — seriously, these things are fighting each other for space — including 4-inch wide roses like this yellow sunsprite I used as a centerpiece:
The herb garden made sure that I will never use dried herbs again. If you’re ever in the southwest New Jersey area, I recommend visiting Michael William Florist and Greenhouse. Their wide range of herbs and vegetables sell for 95 cents each and their lovely flowers are inexpensive, too.
Before I start rambling on about how much I enjoyed gardening for the first time, I better show you the recipe. 😀