Monday, February 28, 2011

An Experiment - Meatless Monday

One thing I really miss about having Dave here is that he cleans up after me when I cook. He somehow manages to get my mess into the dishwasher.  When he's not here, the kitchen looks like it was attacked by a pack of rabid weasels covered in tomato sauce and cilantro stems.

Since I was on my own for dinner, I made an experiment.  Part of the reason I started this blog was to inspire myself to create my own recipes instead of always relying on cookbooks and things I find online. I like to make vegetarian meals a few times a week.  I made a "chili" out of the can of red kidney beans I've had in the pantry for a while.  My first instinct was to use ALL the spices!  Chili powder! Paprika (all 3 kinds)! Oregano!  Cardamom! About fashion accessories, Coco Chanel said "before you walk out the door, take one thing off."   I decided to keep it simpler.  I made enough for one very generous serving, and I didn’t measure things.  But, I’m writing this down as a 2 serving recipe for ease of use.

 I expected the result of my experiment to be edible enough that I wouldn't have to toss it and send out for Chinese.  I was shocked that it was actively good!  In addition to kidney beans, I added a chopped jalapeno and a few forkfuls of pimentos from a jar.  The pimentos are a little sweet, which went nicely with the chili powder and paprika.   I think I got the spice blend right, but in the future I would use a little less chili powder.  It was the right amount of spice until I was about 3/4 done with my bowl, and then it started being a little too much for me. It's not "real" chili, but it's a hearty soup that doesn't take very long to make. 


Murgh Makhani, otherwise known as just "Murgh!" (the exclamation point is required) in my house.  I've been making this dish for years, and it was the first Indian recipe I tried.  I've always loved murgh makhani; the best I've ever had was at an Indian restaurant in England.  I got the original recipe for my version from a friend at work.  Over the years, I've changed the spice mixture and the amount of sauce I make. Further, I cook it at a lower temperature at the end since I use nonfat yogurt mixed with the heavy cream.  I learned the hard way that if I heat nonfat yogurt too much, it looks fine for about a minute, and then instantly turns into a nasty looking mixture of curdled yogurt bits and clear liquid.  This dish is very flavorful and smells wonderful.  The lemon juice adds a nice tang to it, and the spice blend works really well if you like paprika.  I always end up adding more after I taste it.  Especially hot paprika.  If you like sauce, this is the meal for you!  I serve it over rice made in a rice cooker.  I make 1.5 cups because my husband loves rice.  You could definitely get away with less rice. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

15 minute lunch: Harissa Squid and Shredded Carrot Salad

On weekends, I don't like to cook lunch.  I don't like sandwiches very much, and there aren't a lot of "lunchy" things that take very little time that I enjoy eating.  Most of the time, Dave and I end up going out.  But, he's not here today and I can't justify going to Baja Fresh when I have stuff in the fridge that I can make.  I bought some random squid tubes at the grocery store yesterday because I wanted to see what I could do with them.  I made this lunch in about 15 minutes from start to finish, not including clean up time!

I made the shredded carrot salad because I had two lonely carrots leftover from last week.  It's loosely based on a Moroccan salad I saw in The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.  The squid is something I came up with on my own.  It turned out really well!  The harissa had just enough kick to it, without overpowering the squid.  The lemon juice added a nice tang.  I would definitely make this again because it was so quick.  Plus, it's healthy!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Baked Falafel and Tabbouleh

I love falafel!  I've always wanted to try making it.  But, I want to avoid frying my food.  Especially with something as addictive as falafel.  A while back, I posted a picture of baked falafel on my Facebook page.  It was my first attempt at making it, and it tasted great despite looking a little rough.  Last night, I made it a second time and it looked much better!  Just for fun, I put the older photo at the bottom of this post for comparison.  Both times I served it with a basic tabbouleh recipe I got from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, with extra lemon of course.  The small dish of sauce is something I made up.  There's a Lebanese restaurant near my house that serves falafel with a lemony, garlicky tahini sauce.  I attempted to approximate it, and it turned out to be really well!  I'm proud of myself for being able to figure out what the main ingredients were in the sauce and play with the ratios to get something I liked. 

Since the falafel is baked, it's not crunchy on the outside as if it were fried.  It still tastes like falafel however.  The tabbouleh is a very basic recipe, but it's fine just the way it is, except for a little extra lemon.  :) I made a half recipe this time, a full recipe is more than enough to feed 2 people as a side dish.  It kept well in the fridge overnight, I ate the rest for a snack. The tahini sauce is tart and tangy, with a little bit of a salty garlic taste to it.  It's awesome, but I don't know what it would go well with except for falafel.  I didn't measure anything when I made it, but I did my best to approximate it in my recipe below.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Man Can Cook - Spaghetti and Meatballs

It's still winter in DC, blech!  It's cold and gross out, which means it's time to make comfort food!  I have an awesome husband, David, who can fend for himself in the kitchen.  He even makes his own tomato sauce from scratch! This dish is one of the main comfort food meals we eat.  Dave normally makes a ton of sauce (way more than one serving each) and then we garnish it with pasta.  :)

The recipe for this sauce has evolved over the years that Dave and I have been together.  I think it's finally perfect, now that we switched from plain diced tomatoes to San Marzano tomatoes. Back in law school, when I still considered adding a packet of soy sauce to my ramen noodles to be "cooking," Dave and I decided we wanted to make spaghetti sauce.  We found a random recipe that involved adding some kind of dried soup mix to several cans of tomato sauce.  We made that a few times and it was meh.  Dave eventually found a basic recipe in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook.  It called for more tomato sauce than we had.  So, we used what sauce we had and substituted a can of petite diced tomatoes and a can of tomato paste.

Later on, we started toying with the spices.  At first, we used separate basil, oregano, *and* Italian seasoning.  But we eventually decided that a ton of Italian season worked the best.  In the summer, we grow basil, parsley, and oregano.  Fresh herbs are the best, but Italian seasoning works perfectly fine if they're unavailable.  Even when we use fresh herbs, a little Italian seasoning makes in into the sauce.

For a long time, the sauce was nice and thick on top of the pasta and watery on the plate, which was annoying.  We mostly solved this by draining the tomatoes really well.   When we finally made the switch from petite diced tomatoes to San Marzano tomatoes, we got rid of the watery issue entirely.  I handsquish (it's a technical term!) the tomatoes to get the juices out and then strain them really well.  This keeps the sauce from being watery. When handsquishing, make sure to do it with your hand down in your sink.  The first time I did it, I neglected to do so and splorted tomato seeds and juice all over my shirt, the counter, and floor.

The meatballs, I confess, are not home made.  Dave's mom makes AWESOME meatballs, and whenever they come visit, we demand politely request that she bring some frozen ones out for us. I've included her recipe in this post.  It's for a huge amount of meatballs, but they keep very well in the freezer.  I normally eat 4 and Dave eats 5.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Grilled Tuna with Tomato Caper Sauce, Leek Salad, and Dolmas

Since the point of this blog is for me to document my learning experiences, I promised myself that I would post the dishes that weren't completely successful as well as the ones that were fabulous.  :)  The tuna tasted great, so did the sauce.  It just looked...unattractive.  The sauce didn't have any extra water added, but the tomatoes released their juices and the end result was a watery sauce.  The leeks were supposed to just be on the plate next to the tuna.  Amusingly, I saw a picture of this dish on a different blog later, and the author smartly photographed it from the side instead of from the top.  The sauce was intended to be a fancy version of the traditional Middle Eastern lemon and oil sauce.  There was a lot of oil in it, and I don't know if adding corn starch (my cheat to thicken sauce if I don't have a ton of time to reduce it) would have been appropriate.  The leek salad was quite good.  It's from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.  The recipe noted that leeks are very popular in Egypt, something I didn't know.  It was very easy to make and required very little active time. The dolmas are from Wegmans.  ;)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chicken with Pistachio and Sumac Breadcrumbs

This chicken recipe is from Turquoise: A Chef's Travels in Turkey by Greg and Lucy Malouf. This is a beautiful book, part cookbook and part photographic journey through Turkey.  I use it frequently, and everything from it has been amazing.  That said, I've gotten hooked on a group of core recipes and I really need to explore the book more. I had no idea that the Maloufs wrote similar books about other countries.  There's Saraban: A Chef's Journey Through Persia, and Saha: A Chef's Journey Through Lebanon and Syria.  I've been interested in Middle Eastern food for a while.  It started with the Mediterranean ingredients in Lebanese food and spread from there.  I didn't know anything about the differences between Lebanese, Persian, Egyptian, Moroccan, and Turkish flavors until I started buying cookbooks.  I love the idea of breaded chicken, and this Turkish recipe caught my eye because although it starts in a frying pan, it's finished in the oven, which is healthier than frying it the whole time.  The salad dressing is something I made up to complement the chicken and to use my lemon and harissa mustard. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mushroom Marsala Pasta with Artichokes

Sometimes, I just want to make pasta and smother it with cheesy cream sauce.  I *love* mushrooms, which I know qualifies me as a total freak in the eyes of some people.  My husband originally hated them, but has been actively trying to get over his aversion for a while.  He actively likes mushrooms if they're thinly sliced or finely chopped.  It's the "mushrooms as meat substitute" (i.e. portobello) that grosses him out.  So, when I saw this recipe for Mushroom Marsala on Smitten Kitchen, I knew I had to try it. 

This was a good, hearty meal.  As usual, I did the pasta math and saw that 1/2 lb pasta was supposed to be enough for two servings.  But as I always do, I looked in the pot and thought, "that's not nearly enough pasta!" and I added more.  So, I ended up with way more pasta than I needed.  I don't think I'll ever learn. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Chicken Pad Thai

Pad Thai is the dish that got me hooked on Thai food.  A few months ago, I made pork pad Thai from Martin Yan's Feast, and it was definitely good.  But, this version from Quick and Easy Thai was better!  I think that to make it the best pad Thai ever, I'd add a little sliced red Thai chili and a tiny bit of Sriracha sauce.  The Quick and Easy recipe had more lime in it and the noodles spent more time in the wok, both of which I think improved the taste.  Since this was the second batch of pad Thai I've made, I think I was more comfortable with the idea of putting noodles in the wok and not having them dry out. 


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Chicken with Chestnuts, Rice Pilaf (from a box *hides*) and Orange Olive Salad

I love chestnuts!  I love them even more when they come already roasted in a jar and I don't have to do any work to eat them.  They're a rare find at the grocery store so I always stock up when I see them.  Chestnuts are a great food to eat when it's $&*@$ freezing outside.  This is pretty simple dish, there aren't a lot of ingredients, but the onions cook for a while, then the chicken cooks for a while, then the sauce cooks for a while.  So, this isn't really a work night meal unless you don't mind returning to the kitchen at various intervals to prod the contents of the pan.  Since the main dish requires a bit of attention, I decided to make rice pilaf from a box as a side dish.  The salad, which I didn't get a good picture of, is fabulous if, like me, you love sour things.  It's heavily adapted from a recipe from a Moroccan recipe in the New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden.  The chicken is slightly adapted from the Moroccan section of Arabesque, by the same author.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Turkish Chicken with Tomato Rice Pilaf

This is a dish that I make a lot.  It's simple, easy, and tastes amazing!  The original recipe is from the first Middle Eastern/ North African cookbooks I bought, Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon, by Claudia Roden.  Every recipe I've tried from this book has been delicious.  I've adapted this dish since the first time I made it, when I followed the recipe to the letter.  This picture is of the dish as I make it now.

Originally, the recipe did not call for the chicken to be spiced with sumac, zatar, and paprika.  Even though zatar contains sumac, I really like the tartness and so I add extra.  The spicing could work just fine without a separate layer of sumac, though.  The rice pilaf is interesting because instead of cooking the rice with water, peeled, liquefied tomatoes are used.  So a blender or food processor is necessary to make this dish.  Peeling tomatoes can be a pain in the butt.  I have an electric kettle, so I just cut an X in the bottom of each tomatoes, boil some water in the kettle, and then pour it over the tomatoes.  Alternatively, water can be boiled on the stove and the tomatoes can be dropped in for 30 seconds or so.  The pilaf as presented in Arabesque is quite tasty, but I love lemons, and so I added lemon juice to the pilaf to blend well with the lemon juice on the chicken. 

Normally, I intend to make salad with most meals, but last night I worked out and was feeling lazy.  The red peppers are something I make when I want a vegetable, but don't feel like cooking a side dish or making salad.  I'm sure that the idea of them is not completely original, but I didn't consult a cookbook to make these.  They're "pickled" in white wine vinegar and seasoned with Aleppo pepper, a Turkish spice (which strikes me odd since Aleppo is in Syria) that looks like regular crushed red pepper but is more mild and flavorful.  It packs a little heat, but won't overpower a dish like crushed red pepper.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

BBQ Beef Brisket with Grilled Salt and Vinegar Potatoes

I figure I'll start off with a tried and true recipe that, while I don't make very often, is always very tasty.  When my husband and I got married, his family put together a box filled with recipes from their family and friends.  This brisket was one of them. Unless I'm experimenting on friends, I usually cook for two.  So, I scale a lot of recipes to avoid waste; leftovers tend to sit in the fridge until they achieve consciousness.  This recipe is unusual, in that it makes good leftovers that I actually ate.  I brought them to work for lunch.  The original recipe called for 4 lbs of beef for 8 people, so I wanted 1 lb for the two of us.  The smallest piece Wegman's had was 5 lbs, but they cut it in half for us.  I love sauce, so I went ahead and made the full recipe instead of scaling it for two. 

The home made BBQ sauce is the focus of this dish.  I've tweaked the sauce a little because I feel like 1 tsp of chili powder is never enough.  Celery seeds are a very important part of this sauce's flavor.  The sauce freezes well for future use.  Aside from needing to cook for 3+ hours, this recipe doesn't involve a lot of work.  The sauce is very easy to make. I decided to top my sandwich with some caramelized onion.  This was the first time I've done this, and it worked really well!

I paired the brisket with some grilled salt and vinegar potatoes.  For most of my life, I thought potatoes were the Devil's Tuber, but more recently I've been trying to eat them more.  I like potatoes when they are seasoned well or have some kind of extra flavor added to them.  I still can't eat them plain or even worse, mashed (yuck!).  This recipe caught my eye because it looked like a healthier alternative to my favorite type of potato chip: salt and vinegar.  While they smelled good, these were a bit of a disappointment.   They were quite limp despite the extra time they spent in the grill pan.  Perhaps it's because I used my grill pan instead of my real grill.  Maybe they needed significantly more time because they were larger potatoes.  Regardless, they didn't cook for long enough or the pan didn't do as good of a job as a real grill.  I suspect that 1/4 inch is too thick.  Next time I attempt these, I'll set my mandoline to 1/8 and see if that improves the texture, or use smaller potatoes if I can find them.  I'll definitely try them again because I love vinegar and grilling is a healthier alternative to frying or eating potato chips.

Monday, February 14, 2011


A few weeks ago, I took a poll on Facebook to see if anyone would read a cooking blog if I made one.  I like posting my food pictures on Facebook, but the caption area doesn't really allow me to explain what I did, post recipe changes, or write in depth about my food.  So, meet my blog, The Kitchen Frog! 

No one sat me down and taught me how to cook.  I think I owe my ability to 80% teaching myself via trial and error, 15% advice from friends and family, and 5% YouTube videos.  I find that when I make a dish well, it's really good.  But when it goes wrong, it's a spectacular failure.  I'll post both my successes and failures here, since I try to learn from my mistakes.  Plus, I think it's funny when the smoke detector plays an integral part in my meal preparation. 

My cooking philosophy is simple: if it looks tasty, I'll make it!  I love international cuisine and go through periods of focus on different areas of the world.  Right now, I'm enjoying my three Middle Eastern cookbooks.  I love learning about different countries through their food.  It's important to me to eat healthy most of the time.  I try to make at least one vegetarian meal a week, and I avoid overly processed foods whenever I can. But, occasionally I have the urge to make a giant pile of pasta, cover it with creamy cheese sauce, and garnish it with sausage.  I can't bake my way out of a paper bag because so much precision is required and I can't cover up my mistakes with garlic.  So, if you see a "dessert" here, it's probably very simple and requires little or no baking. 

Growing up, I always had homecooked meals of (mostly) healthy food.  That said, one of my parents is an extremely picky eater so there wasn't a great deal of variation.  So, when I first started getting serious about cooking, I had the attention span of a goldfish.  I never made the same thing twice!  I wanted to go on a culinary journey around the world every week.  This drove my husband a little nuts because when he liked a dish, he wanted to eat it again at some point in the future.  But, goldfish brain could not be stopped, and before I knew it, I had acquired an army of international cookbooks.  After I calmed down a little, I established a repertoire of tried and true recipes that always work.  Now, each week, I usually make 4 or 5 dishes that I've made before, and 2 or 3 experiments. 

I'm also not yet skilled enough to create my own recipes that taste awesome.  I'm still at the point where I stick to the recipe or tweak one that I am familiar with.  I have three culinary goals.  First, to create original recipes that I can proudly feed to company.  Second, work on my presentation.  Third, develop some meals that can be made quickly on work nights. 

Welcome to my blog!  I promise to keep the profanity to a minimum.  ;)


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