Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Get Thee to a Crockery!

Actually, get yourself a crockpot, or slow cooker--same thing.

I've always been interested in this particular appliance. We never had one in our house growing up, and I didn't know many people who actually used one.

Yet in the past few years I've been hearing increasingly more about the joys of owning a crockpot. At first I was skeptical--wait, you just put your food in there and press a button and it cooks by itself? You don't have to stir? You can leave the house all day without fearing a fire?! And it's ready when you get home?

Dude, between that and the roomba, it's like having sister wives.

I was so intrigued, in fact, that when, in a moment of weakness, I found myself in front of a crockpot on sale (40% off at Bed, Bath & Beyond), I ended up bringing it home with me. Plus, I had a coupon for another 20% off, so it was super cheap.

PapaPhat laughed at me and insisted I'd use it twice and it would collect dust.
Au contraire, mon frere.

It's become a semi-permanent fixture in our household. I've made quite a few meals in the crockpot, simplifying my life in the process. I feel so Mormon.

Isn't she cute?

Recently someone mentioned one could make lasagna in there. (I know, right?!)
So I collected a few different recipes I found for crockpot lasagna and added my own tweaks.

This is the first time I'm attempting this...we'll see how it works out.

Lazy Man's Crockpot Lasagna

First I browned about a pound of ground beef, sprinkled with salt and pepper. Drain.

Grab a jar of pasta sauce.

Dump it into the browned meat.

Mix it all up and heat. I also like to throw in some herbs like fresh oregano and basil.

Spread a bit of sauce onto the bottom of your crock pot.
Grab some lasagna noodles and ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.

Put 2 layers of noodles in your crockpot. You'll have to break the noodles to get them to fit.

Top those with a layer of the meat sauce.

Now plop some ricotta cheese on top of that. Plop plop plop. And smear.

Sprinkle a layer of parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.

Add another layer or two of noodles.

Repeat until you a) reach the thickness you want, or b) run out of something.

Once all the layers are down, pour about 1/4 cup water over the whole thing. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours. When done, sprinkle top with some more mozzarelle cheese.

Throw it in a 350 degree oven for about half an hour.

Let it sit for 10 minutes before cutting into it. You can also transfer it to a serving dish.

Mmmm...doesn't that look yummy?

I think I may have done something wrong here because it came out dryer than lasagna should be. I cooked it on high, so maybe it would have turned out better on low. I was able to revive it by adding some stock while reheatin the next day.

Final Verdict: Definitely a keeper. Not as fabulous as regular lasagna, but who has the time for that? I'd rather set it and forget it!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Perfect End of Summer BBQ

There are certain things to be said about the group of people one chooses to surround themselves with. Given PapaPhat's profession, it's only a given that many of our close friends are also chefs.

This, of course, makes for some very interesting get-togethers, particularly when a PhatKid is concerned.

Among our closest friends are Rupert and Adriana. Rupert is PapaPhat's old boss, and Adriana is his wife. They are awesome. He's an old-school, sometimes-crabby chef (as most old-school chefs are) and she's a cute, feisty little Columbian-American who keeps him in check. They live in Jersey. They share my love of drink and our love of food.

And I have to admit, the trip to Jersey (and subjecting oneself to the horrible driving conditions and poor air quality of the "Garden State") is definitely worth it for the Bacchanalian revelry that goes on at Rupert and Adriana's parties. Actually, any time we get together, it ends up being an obscene orgy of food and drink (get your mind out of the gutter, people, really, all we do is eat and drink).

With the summer coming to a close, Rupert and Adriana decided to host a massive get-together this past weekend. Although it rained on and off, the festivities were still great. There was a plethora of yumtastic dishes served, but given the crowded and hectic conditions there, I managed to come away with only three recipes.

But what great recipes they are.

Let's start with a cocktail, shall we?

Because, well, everything's better when you're buzzed.

PapaPhat doesn't drink, and I'm not one for the hard liquor, but my oh my this interesting take on a martini was amazing. I even had 3 glasses of it! I don't know what it's called, so let's just call it...

Summerific Tropical Martini

1/2 cup of coconut rum

1/2 cup of pineapple rum (or vodka if you're feeling feisty)

1 1/2 cups pineapple juice

Chunks of pineapple (I think you can also add some mango pieces, if you really want to kick it up a notch)

Mix that all up in a large pitcher or serving jar, let it chill.

When it's ready, go get yourself some coconut sorbet.

(See, it's even low fat. Good looking out, huh?)

Put a small scoop of the coconut sorbet in a martini glass

(We used plastic glasses because, well, we're not the most agile when we drink)

Pour the alcohol/pineapple mixture over it.

Drink up!

Creamy, tasty deliciousness.

Onto the main course.

The centerpiece of dinner was a roasted pig.

He went to the market, but never made it back.

Now, I don't eat pork, but I felt that it deserved to be spotlighted for you, dear readers. Rupert was very proud of his little piggie. And he should be, as I'm told it was fabulous, from the first piece of chicharrones to the last piece of meat on the bone.

Now, because of the next few pictures you're going to see, I think you should all know something about Rupert, or Rupee as I like to call him. He came to the US from Austria several decades ago, and has primarily worked in the New York area, and lives in Jersey. So imagine a man with a pseudo Austrian/German accent twinged with a Jersey accent, with the enthusiasm of a die-hard Jets fan.

Here's Rupert with his Babe.

This Little Piggy

To tackle this venture, you'll need:

About 20 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup of olive oil

1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 suckling pic, about 35 lbs. This particular piggie came from
Moloney's Market in Jersey City.

Mix everything but the pig together, and rub the concoction on the pig.
Rub it like ya love it, baby

Let it marinate in the rub for 24 hrs.

When done, take the pig out and rub it again with olive oil, like an old luvah.

Wrap the ears with some tin foil (or they'll fall off). Throw that piggie in the oven, preheated at 350 degrees, and roast uncovered for 6 hours, or until the internal temp is 165.

If you did it right, it should look like this:

Now, cut through the skin, which will have pulled apart from the meat a bit. It'll crackle. And chances are, a mass of fiends will swiftly appear to claim the skin, or chicharrones. And, if you're into scaring little children, chop that sucka's head off a la Lord of the Flies.

Obviously, Rupert likes decapitation and scaring little children.

Dive into it. I was told it was fantastic.

And now, for dessert.

Now that's what I'm talking about.

There were a variety of cakes and pies, but this dish I'm about to show you takes the cake (pun fully intended).

Grilled Peaches in a Pan

Okay, go get yourself:

3 pounds peaches, pitted and sliced
1 pound plums, pitted and sliced
1 cup sugar
2 vanilla beans, cut half lengthwise
2 sticks of butter, soft
1/2 cup Grand Marnier

Mix all of that together in an aluminum pan. Throw it on a grill (medium heat).

Put the lid down, if you can.

Go get yourself another cocktail or two. Sit down and renew your post-dinner buzz.

After 40 minutes, check on the peaches. Mix it all around to get it nice and blended.

When they're semi-soft and somewhat browned, they're ready to eat.

You can pour this over cake or ice cream.

And if you have some left over, you can puree it and pour it over pancakes or waffles the next morning. That should be good for your hangover.

Your welcome.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Holy Moly Guacamole!

Okay, so we love Mexican food. We love avocados. And Guacamole is, like, sublime in our house. So any time we cook Mexican, I try to make guacamole. PapaPhat was the one who showed me how to make this delish guacamole. Anyone who tries it loves it.

And the best part?
It's quick and easy.

What You'll Need:
2 ripe avocados
1/2 finely diced red onion
1/2 to 1 whole finely diced jalapeno pepper (depending on how spicy you like it)
1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
handful of chopped cilantro (adjust to taste)
juice of one lime
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1-2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt (adjust to taste)
1-2 teaspoons fresh ground white pepper (adjust to taste)

What You'll Do:

Put everything except the avocados in a bowl. Cut the avocados in half, remove pit by hacking into it with a chef's knife and twisting (don't cut yourself). And take off the little stem thingy on top, too.

Squeeze the contents of each avocado half right into the bowl with the rest of the stuff.

Don't worry, the harder you squeeze, the easier it'll be to mix and crush.

Got every last bit? Good.

Now, mix it all up and crush avocado as you're mixing. Adjust seasonings to taste, if necessary. Chill a bit, and enjoy.

Oh, and if you have any leftover for some unknown reason, make sure you put it in the fridge, tightly sealed. If it browns--actually, even if it doesn't--just squeeze a little bit of lime into it and mix it up to revive it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Etli Belis (or Sevgi's Meat Pie)

When it comes to Turkish Food, borek holds a special place. It usually entails a filling consisting of either meat, cheese or vegetables, surrounded by some sort of pastry. It can be eaten as a breakfast, lunch or dinner. It can serve as a snack or an entire meal.

Everyone has a borek specialty. For instance, BigMamaPhat (my mother) is good with doughy boreks. I'm good at working with phyllo dough. My second cousin Sevgi Abla brought the borek featured here to a recent family gathering.

The borek's name, according to her, is "Etli Belis" [pron. Et-lee Bell-ish] Literally translated, this would mean "for free with meat."

Or I think I need to brush up on my Turkish. At any rate, let's call this Sevgi's Meat Pie.

Oh my, was it delicious. Yes, oh yes, it was yumtastic. So I cornered her at the party and snagged the recipe from her. She had a hard time explaining how to make it to me, so I decided to take her directions verbatim. Here it goes:

Sevgi's Meat Pie (Etli Belis)

As told by Sevgi

Take 2 eggs, about 3/4 cup of milk and 3.5 sticks of Imperial brand margarine. It has to be Imperial brand. Do NOT use any other type of margarine, or it won't come out the same. I don't know why exactly, but it must be Imperial.

Mix all that together.

Now slowly sprinkle 1.5 cups of flour into that mixture. As you're doing that, mush the mixture up with your fingers until the dough becomes soft. You'll know the dough is done if it feels like your earlobe.

Heat up some oil in a pan and sautee 2 large onions, diced. Add 1 ½ pounds of ground beef and cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Now, take 1-2 servings of vermicelli rice noodles—you know, they're the really skinny noodles that come in single-serve packs), boil them for about 2-3 minutes (it shouldn’t cook all the way.) Drain noodles and chop them up.

Add the noodles to the onion/ground beef mixture and then let it cool.

Next, cut the flour you made in half. Roll out half the dough with a rolling pin until it’s about ¼-inch thick, give or take. Sprinkle the top with flour, and flip it over into the pan (I think it’s better with a round pan, but square one would work too.) The dough will be larger than the pan and overlap the lip, but don’t worry about it.

**TIP: roll out the dough on a large cutting board, and which will make the flip/transfer to the pan easier.

Roll out the second half of the dough and place it on top of the pie. Crimp the edges and pierce the surface with a fork.

Chop up two tablespoons of margarine and mix it with 1-2 handfuls of flour to make the crumble topping.

Bake in a 350 degree oven until the top is golden brown, about 45-60 minutes.

YUM. TAS. TIC., I say!!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Breakfast Pizza

No, not pizza for breakfast.

This is genuine breakfast pizza. (Though I'm sure you could probably eat it for lunch or dinner.)

I concocted this meal after I discovered Baby Phat really, really likes feta cheese. He also likes eggs. So I figured, why not put the two together?

The result? A yummy breakfast that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike.

What you'll need:
**Note: this recipe doesn't give perfect measurements. I just kind of eyeball it. You can adjust the quantity of any ingredient to match your tastes.
Feta Cheese
Diced Tomato (I usually do 1)
Chopped Parsley
Pocketless Pita Breads (the kind they use for gyros)

What you'll do:

Set oven to 375 degrees. Toast one side of the pita bread a little in the oven (color shouldn't change but it should get a little firmer/harder.)

While that's going on, mix all the other ingredients in a bowl. Remember to use just a tiny pinch of salt since feta is usually salty on its own. **Note: you can also add spinach, or use egg whites instead of whole eggs.

Make sure it's well blended.

Line a baking pan with foil. (I do this because, well, I hate scrubbing pans.)

Put your pita(s) on it, making sure the toastier side is face-down. Spoon mixture onto pita and spread out, but leave a little bit of pita exposed around the edge.

Bake, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, or until the mixture sets in the middle. (Don't worry if some of the mixture leaks out as it's baking.

Mmm, mmm good breakfast.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Summertime, and the Grillin's Easy...

In the summer, we grill everything. If it can fit on the grill without falling through, it will generally end up in the barbeque. And ever since I heard of it a year or so ago, I've been on a mission to make grilled pizza. I came across the opportunity to do so this weekend, so I figured I'd give it a whirl.

First, I made sure the fire extinguisher was closeby (I don't trust myself--I'm a bit of a spazz)

We had a lot of vegetables, so I decided to just go ahead and grill them off before they went bad. Here, I have red, yellow and orange bell peppers, japanese eggplants, an onion and zucchini.

Slice up the veggies, lie them down on a baking sheet , brush or drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt (we use kosher salt) abd fresh cracked black pepper. Flip them over, brush with oil, salt and pepper again.

Now, put the veggies on the grill until marked and cooked to a somewhat soft texture.

Do the same for the bell peppers:

Once the pepper cools down, peel off the charred skin (it comes off very easily) and then slice the bell peppers. Set aside with other veggies.

You need to find yourself a package of pizza dough. Most grocery stores have it.

Cut the dough in half (one package should get you two 6- inch- to 8-inch pizzas, depending on how thin/thick you want the crust). Flour your work area and knead/roll out the dough to about 6-8 inches.

Brush one side with olive oil.

Throw it on the grill on medium heat, oil side down. Once it's on the grill, brush the top of the dough with olive oil.

As the bottom starts to brown, you'll notice a bunch of bubbles come up on the surface of the dough.

Once the bottom is nice and toasty, you can flip the dough over and start building your pizza.

You can add whatever toppings you want. I started with marinara sauce (in a jar, the horror!)

Then add your toppings. Here, I put a bit of shredded mozzarella cheese. I preferred goat cheese but for some reason it's disappeared from our fridge. I think PapaPhat had something to do with its disappearance.

Then I topped that of with some chicken breast and grilled vegetables. I added another sprinkle of mozzarella cheese and some parmesan cheese.

I cook it all on the grill until the bottom is niced and crispy, and the cheese has melted. I usually put the cover on the grill down for a few minutes to get the cheese melty.

Total time for this meal, no counting the time it took to grill the vegetables and chicken, about 15-20 minutes.

Will you just look at that beautiful pizza? It is yummy yummy yummy in my tummy. Plus: it feeds two!