Tag: home cooking (page 2 of 14)

Do You Ever Just Want To Eat Pasta Salad? My Favorite Version.

Do you ever just want to eat pasta salad? I’m having a lot of deep questions this week:

  • Do you ever just want to drink Lambrusco? You know, the good stuff, like they serve at Olive Garden.
  • Do you ever just want to buy those frozen potato disc puffs shaped like happy faces?
  • Do you ever just want to wear something Bedazzled?
  • Do you ever just want to eat a corn dog?

I didn’t end up caving for Lambrusco, potato happy faces, Bedazzled clothing or a corn dog, but I did make pasta salad.

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Why You Should Steam Your Own Crab Legs At Home

You could pay $30 at a restaurant for a steam pot meal that includes a cluster of snow crab legs and lots of other things that aren’t snow crab legs, or enjoy them at home for far less.

This month, Jake requested crab legs for his birthday. The thought of preparing crab legs at home had always intimidated me, so I never attempted it, even though friends claimed it was really easy. Over the years, I’ve asked people how to prepare crab legs at home. Some suggested steaming. Another friend her mom bakes them in the oven. After reading through this blog post by the Cooking Fishmonger listing six ways to cook crab legs at home, I felt brave enough to just go for it. I love how the post ends with the advice: “Some common sense will help in cooking your snow crab.”

Ordering crab at restaurants is a pricey treat. Sometimes the crab hasn’t tasted so fresh and other times the shells are really soggy. Plus, the amount of crab you actually receive is small. The seafood we’ve bought from our local fishmonger Bob’s has always tasted fresh. All they sell is seafood, so I figure they take extra care to store it and ensure its freshness. Plus, their employees are happy to answer questions about cooking the seafood or storing it in one’s fridge and pack everyone’s order on a big bag of ice with a fresh lemon. I bought two bags (a little over two pounds total) of frozen, pre-cooked snow crab legs for $12 per pound. Frozen crab legs are usually available at most grocery stores and bulk stores like Costco. I see advertisements for crab leg sales from time to time.

At home, I let the frozen crab sit in my refrigerator until dinner time. Then, I cooked (or reheated) the legs by throwing them into a pot semi-filled with boiling water until warmed through. I gave each cluster a gentle shake to eliminate excess water and tossed them with lots of Old Bay seasoning. It was that simple.
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For $26, we both enjoyed a snow crab leg feast with more clusters than we’d ever been served at a restaurant. I found inexpensive crab crackers and pick sets at my local Asian market. Next time I will take my friend Tracy’s suggestion to steam crab legs with beer and fresh lemon. “Why didn’t I try this before?” I wondered.

Have you ever steamed crab legs at home? I’d love to hear about the most recent, new food you tried preparing at home. 

Roasting My First Turkey: Dry Brining & Starting Upside-Down

Last week I cooked a turkey all by myself. It was fun and kind of freaky.

Our parents love to cook for us. They prepare beautiful meals when we return to Minnesota and pull out all of the stops on holidays. Last week, we stayed in St. Louis over Thanksgiving. This was our first holiday away from home and so we prepared the meal together.

One of my favorite, local grocery stores Straub’s made it easy to reserve a fresh (not frozen) turkey the week before Thanksgiving. I visited the meat counter to pick up my bird the day before. When the butcher appeared from the backroom with a large box that he insisted on carrying to the register, my eyes widened in surprise. The small turkey I had ordered turned out to weigh 15 pounds. With our small fridge, wet brining was out of the question, so I followed Kim Severson’s dry brine method instead.

First Dry Brining Attempt
Removing the raw, fleshy turkey from its packaging and transferring it to a storage bag proved to be slippery and challenging. After I poured out the excess liquid from inside the carcass, I dried the outside of the bird with paper towels and rubbed it with kosher salt. Then, I wrapped it in two plastic bags and let it sit overnight in the fridge. This process involved a change of clothing.

The next day, I set the bird on my counter for a couple of hours to get closer to room temperature and blotted it dry again with paper towels. I rubbed it with butter and stuffed the inside with apple and onion. To make sure the white meat stayed moist, I also rubbed butter between the breast and skin. Finding a large enough baking dish was tricky. I smashed the turkey into an old, crinkled disposable baking pan and hoped for the best. It literally took up my entire oven. If the turkey had been any bigger, it wouldn’t have fit. Phew.

Roasting Upside-Down First
To roast my turkey in our convection oven, I followed these instructions from the Purcell Murray blog, except that I started roasting the bird upside-down. Somewhere on the internet, I remembered reading suggestions to roast the turkey upside down for the first part of the cooking time and flipping it during the second (until the temperature reaches 160 degrees F). The skin covering the turkey breast is so thin. This method seemed to prevent the white meat from becoming tough and dry. In fact, the combination of dry brining and roasting upside down seemed to work well as a whole. I only basted the bird with butter once between flips. Our finished turkey was perfectly seasoned. The meat was moist and tender and the skin was crisp. “Don’t tell our parents, but this is the best turkey I’ve ever had,” said Jake.

I did goof up, though. When I was breaking down the cooked turkey for freezing, I pulled out a paper bag filled with the gizzards. I had been wondering where they were!

What I learned
Our turkey tasted notably seasoned, but just shy of being too salty. If you do try the dry brining method, my word of caution is to thoroughly dry the bird before rubbing it with butter and roasting it. For one thing, the salt and butter won’t adhere to a wet surface. Most dry brining recipes don’t instruct cooks to rinse the bird before baking. To avoid an overly salty turkey, don’t go overboard and crust it with salt when dry brining. I didn’t even sprinkle any salt inside the bird. Finally, make sure you really blot off the excess moisture afterwards. The pan juices after roasting are delicious, but they concentrate and become salty. Keep this in mind if you plan to add them to your gravy.

My favorite part about cooking my own turkey was making sure that the special bits like crunchy wing tips and oysters didn’t go to waste. We remember a couple of turkey dinners where the host/hostess served only white meat and cast aside the skin and legs. I think they assumed that nobody wanted to eat them.

What are your tried and true tips for roasting turkey? Do you have any favorite recipes that utilize leftover turkey? 

Stuffing Is For Any Time: My Favorite Version

There are several foods that fall into the “Even bad ___ is good ___.” My small list includes pizza, french fries, nachos, gyros, and stuffing!

Boxed Stove Top Stuffing, corn bread stuffing, and homemade stuffing are all delicious. Fortunately, this stuffing is very good and is not just a Thanksgiving food; it’s an anytime dish. At least, it should be. My Godmother makes one of my favorite versions. She seasons stuffing with sage, thyme, and flavorful pieces of kielbasa. This is my take on her recipe.

Growing-up, I remember watching my grandma bake stuffing inside the bird. It tasted delicious and we never got ill. Baking stuffing in its own pan, though, is really easy and results in a delightfully crisp top. This version combines white bread and leftover corn bread that I thawed and toasted in the oven. Homemade stuffing is the perfect opportunity to use up any stale bread or crust ends, in addition to any bread hanging out in your freezer. Of course, you can use whatever bread you enjoy.

Serve it with your next holiday meal, or heat up a small bowl for lunch. There’s really no wrong time to eat stuffing.

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Savory Bread Stuffing With Kielbasa
Serves four. Measurements are an approximate guide. Add more or less of what you like. As long as you taste the stuffing before baking, all should be well. 

Ingredients:
5 cups toasted bread. I used a mixture of homemade cornbread (crumbled) and white bread.
Butter and/or olive oil (about 2/3 stick)
1/2 cup finely chopped celery (can use more or less).
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon + pinch of dried thyme
Stock (chicken or vegetable)
A few scallions, finely sliced.
Black pepper (I like a lot).
Sweet Hungarian paprika, a good sprinkle
Salt, to taste. Start with a little if your stock is already salty.
1 – 1 1/2 cups of kielbasa, cut into small pieces. If your sausage has thick skin, can remove.

Instructions:

  1. To toast bread: Heat oven to 350 °F. Crumble cornbread into small pieces and toast until dry and crispy. Tear white bread into small pieces and toast until crisp. Set a timer so it doesn’t burn.
  2. Heat butter in pan. Saute celery and onions until tender, adding a touch of salt and some black pepper. Set aside to cool briefly.
  3. In a large bowl, toss crumbled bread, celery and onion mixture, herbs, scallions, and a good sprinkle of paprika.
  4. Moisten the bread mixture with stock. Pour a little bit in at a time and stir. Stop adding stock when you like the texture of the stuffing.
  5. Taste the uncooked stuffing. Add more salt, pepper, and seasoning as desired.
  6. Spread stuffing in a small, greased pan. Cover with foil and bake for 20-30 minutes until heated through and the flavors meld.
  7. Uncover pan and finish baking until the top of the stuffing is crispy and golden brown.

Steaming Your Own Mussel Feast: A Guide For The Squeamish

Steamed mussels are the perfect meal to prepare if you want to feel like you’re feasting like royalty on a dime.

While bowls of mussels cost anywhere from $12.99-$25 at restaurants, they literally cost less than $5 a pound at the nicest seafood shops around the Midwest. Making your own mussels also means that you can ensure that they’re stored properly and cleaned well.

Before I even tried my first mussel, I remember reading about them in Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential. He writes:

I don’t eat mussels in restaurants unless I know the chef, or have seen, with my own eyes, how they store and hold their mussels for service. I love mussels. But, in my experience, most cooks are less than scrupulous in their handling of them.

I purchase seafood the same day I cook it and prefer to visit seafood-only stores like Coastal Seafood in the Twin Cities or Bob’s Seafood in St. Louis. It puts my mind at ease. You know that the fish mongers are experts because seafood’s all they sell! Plus, you might be surprised to find the prices are better, too.

If you examine older recipes for steamed mussels, they might instruct you to soak your mussels in a solution of water and flour to encourage them to purge any grit. Everything I’ve read recently says today’s farmed mussels are mostly grit-free. The Prince Edward Island mussels I bought at Bob’s Seafood were cleaned and de-bearded. This makes the cooking process even more simple.

The fishmonger at Bob’s instructed me to remove the bag of ice from my package of mussels when I got home and store them in the fridge for the few hours before dinner. They do release some liquid, so I recommend storing them in a contraption that allows the liquid to drain away from the seafood. I rigged old take-out containers by poking holes in the lids and placing them upside down inside the container. Then, I placed the mussels on top of the lids and stored them in the fridge for a few hours. Most articles recommend also covering the mussels with a damp cloth or paper towel.

When you are ready to clean your mussels for cooking, your goal is to essentially to remove any debris clinging to the shells and toss any damaged or dead mussels. Details follow in the recipe below. Don’t be surprised if you hear little suction noises as they open and close. I’m squeamish and found this alarming. My advice is to simply press forward. You can do this! You’re so close to a big pot of delicious mussels. 

We’ve ordered mussels everywhere. Our favorite version of all time is served at Meritage in St. Paul, MN. The shellfish are served in the most savory, winey sauce flavored with tomatoes, garlic and pancetta with plenty of charred bread. No one’s got them beat in terms of broth. We’re too far away from Meritage to visit for an occasional fix of moules frites so here’s my best impression:

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Cooks’s Notes: Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe for Mussels in White Wine. Inspired by the moules frites at Meritage in St. Paul, MN. If you want a chunkier sauce, use diced tomatoes or squeeze whole ones. I used a cheap bottle of pinot grigio and all was well. You could always use a nicer one. Just don’t use something sweet like a moscato or reisling. Ina Garten uses shallots. I thought diced onion tasted just fine. Fresh herbs are always ideal and dry work fine in a pinch, too. 

Ingredients:
3 lb. mussels (Serves two people very generously or three with no leftovers).
Thick cut bacon, about five strips
Butter, four tablespoons
Olive oil, about two tablespoons
1/2 onion, small dice
5 cloves garlic, minced
White wine (I used a $5.99 bottle of Beringer Pinot Grigio)
2/3 cup tomato sauce
Black Pepper
Salt
(Optional) Red pepper flakes
Honey
Thyme
Basil

1. Rinse & inspect mussels. Gently brush them with a cloth or brush under cold running water to eliminate any grit. De-beard if necessary. Discard mussels that are damaged or open. Mussels will open and close slightly. Check an open mussel by tapping on the outside or squeezing it closed. If it remains open, toss. If a mussel that was closed when you were washing it opens a little bit, it’s alive. Don’t be alarmed if you hear little suction noises as they open and close. If you’re squeamish like me, this is kind of freaky. Do your best to forge ahead.

2. In a large stock pot, cook chopped bacon with a little bit of olive oil. When it’s crispy, remove and set aside. Remove bacon grease from the pan leaving the residue for flavor. This can be saved for cooking later. If there’s a lot of debris, strain through cheesecloth.

3. Return stock pot to burner. Saute onions in about two tablespoons of butter and a drizzle of olive oil until softened. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, herbs (if using dried basil and thyme, start with a good pinch of each), black pepper, and a good pinch of salt. Stir until fragrant.

4. De-glaze the pan with one cup of white wine. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to incorporate the brown bits into the sauce. Simmer for a few minutes until slightly reduced.

5. Add the tomato sauce, a good splash of water or low-sodium stock and stir. You want plenty of flavorful broth because dipping bread into the mussel sauce is the most fun part of eating mussels! Simmer until the sauce tastes mellow and doesn’t have an alcohol bite. This will take a few minutes. Add another dab of butter, touch of honey (or sugar) and salt and pepper as needed.

6. Turn up the heat a little bit so that the sauce is boiling and add the mussels. Give them a quick stir and cover. Reduce heat back to medium-low. Steam until the mussels open, shaking the pot every so often so that the mussels on the bottom don’t burn. This should take between 5-8 minutes. Some of the mussels just won’t open, so don’t wait until every single one opens. Turn off the heat and remove the pan when most of the mussels are open. Toss the mussels that won’t open. If they’re cracked open pretty well, we still eat them.

7. Serve immediately with plenty of crusty bread for dipping. If you need to wait a little bit before serving the mussels, place them somewhere off the burner with the lid removed. They’ll be OK for a little bit. Overcooked mussels develop a firm, mealy texture. You want them to remain silky and delicate.

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