Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category


December 8, 2008

Recipe: Back to Basics: Elegant Marinara

Author: Chris PerrinDecember 8, 2008

Okay, so my friend Denise asked if I knew any recipes for a good marinara sauce she could use at an upcoming dinner party.  Of course I do and here it is…

Me and Marinara

The funny thing about me and spaghetti sauce is that I did not grow up in an Italian household.  If I had to point at one nationality for our home, I would said “Kansan” which is a lot like Missourian, but we have better college teams.  Still, despite the lack of an Italian grandmother who could pass on her famous meatballs the she brought over from the old country, in my house we ate A LOT of Italian food: lasagna, spaghetti, linguine, meatballs, and so on…

Still, despite all that, we do not have a tradition of the slow cooked Sunday gravy that made me drool during so many Sopranos episodes.  This is why, as I have come into my culinary own, I have had to strive to figure out to make slow cooked spaghetti sauce like the one to the right.  It took a while (and a few wasted cans of tomatoes) before I finally got it right.

San Marzano Plum Tomatoes

I thank Mario Batali for helping me get to the promised land on this one.  I have watched enough Molto Mario that I now know when it comes time to make marinara, there’s only one place to turn: San Marzano whole tomatoes.  There is nothing wrong with Hunt’s if you cannot find San Marzano, but these premium plum tomatoes that come from Italy have a richer taste and seem to be juicier, which is perfect when making marinara sauce.

Like I said, if you cannot find them (I could not for years until Whole Foods started carrying them and I was not going to pay Dean and Deluca prices for them) go with whole Hunts tomatoes.  I find they are the best non-San Marzano brand.

Okay, anyway, recipe time…

Recipe: Elegant Marinara

You will need: (meat ingredients written in orange)

  • 2 pounds ground chuck or 2 packages faux hamburger
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 4-6 strips of bacon, cut into rough pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (you will need 4 if cooking with meat)
  • 1 large white onion, finely diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flake
  • 1 teaspoon salt + more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper + more to taste
  • 2 28 oz cans whole plum tomatoes
  • 3-4 leaves fresh sage, chopped or 1 tablespoon dried
  • 6-8 leaves fresh basil, chopped or 2 tablespoons dried
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsely*

* Please use English (not flat leaf) parsely.  The parsely is only there to make the sauce look pretty.  That’s why I use dried parsely…it brings no flava to the party!  Look at the picture above.  See the green?  That’s parsely…

If you want to make this with meat, preheat a skillet over medium heat.   Add the hamburger, break up with a wooden spoon and add the oregano.  Cook over medium heat, stirring every few minutes until the meat is thoroughly browned.  Wash with water and drain the fat if you are watching your weight.

If you are using faux meat, cook with oregano.

In a good size skillet or pot, heat the olive oil over high heat.  Add the bacon and cook until the fat has run out, usually 4-5 minutes.  Remove the bacon and discard.

Add two tablespoons of olive oil, even if you are cooking with meat.  When the oil is hot, add the onions, garlic, red pepper flake, salt, and pepper.  Cook for 4-5 minutes until the onions start to turn clear.

Add the plum tomatoes and their juice.  Now, you may notice they are still basically perfect little balls.  I highly advise against cooking them that way.  They might explode into little red balls of hot liquid, which means you need to burst them before the heat can.  You can either prick them with a fork or a knife or you can do the Mario Batali (and Chris Perrin) method of reaching in and squeezing them with your hand.  Just beware organic shrapnel!

Once the tomatoes are no longer spheres, bring them and their juice to a boil.  This may take up to 10 minutes.  Cover partially, leaving a hole for steam to escape (see the picture to the left).  Reduce the heat to medium and boil for 15 minutes.

Add the sage, basil and parsely and continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes or until the sauce has reached the required thickness.

If you are cooking with meat, add the hamburger back in and stir until warm.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

Notes:

  1. The resulting sauce is going to be pretty chunky.  There are a couple of ways around this.  First, you can use a potato masher or an immersion blender or a regular blender to break up the tomatoes.  The choice is yours.  Me, I keep things chunky.
  2. If you are a compulsive stirrer like myself (you know, you can’t let the pot sit on the stove without giving it a stir) this is your recipe!  You basically cannot overstir the sauce and frequently stirring will keep the tomatoes and onions from burning on the bottom.
  3. I intentionally kept this sauce a little bland.  It’s a template.  Do with it what you want!  It’s yours now.  Me, I’ll add 2 tablespoons of garlic powder, another 2 teaspoons of red pepper flake, 2 teaspoons of black pepper, and a healthy pinch of salt.

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September 22, 2008

Recipe: Friends and Googles

Author: CommonDialogSeptember 22, 2008

First, of all, I wanted to give credit where credit is due.  My friend Daniel posted this recipe for Pasta with Rosemary Cream Sauce complete with step-by-step pictures.  I think his recipe looks absolutely fantastic and his blog style puts mine to shame.

I wanted to blog about his recipe earlier, but I had one slight obstacle: I don’t have a good vegan heavy cream substitute.  When we make homemade vegan ice cream, we use soy coffee creamer which is sweetened and tends to work well.  For a savory dish like pasta, I just do not have a good replacement.

Over the weekend, I wanted to try my friend Heidi’s recipe for vegan cashew cream, but I did not get a chance.  So, hats off to Daniel for his recipe and if you want to make vegan heavy cream, consider blending cashew pieces with a water a little at a time unti lit reaches the desired consistency.

——–

Also, my complements to Google.  In the targeted ads over there to the left, they’re actually advertising vegan products.  I appreciate that.

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March 27, 2008

Recipe: Using Salt

Author: CommonDialogMarch 27, 2008

Using salt is one of the three most important skills in cooking, the other two being good knife skills and the proper use of heat.  For many, hearing that salt is a basic cooking skill will come as a surprise.  Given the linkage been salt and high blood pressure and other heart diseases, many home cooks have started to limit the amount of salt in their food.  These same cooks wonder why food at restaurants tastes better.

 

Salt does a number of very important things in cooking and baking.  First, salt helps to draw the juices out of meat and vegetables.  For proteins, this promotes crust formation when they are and it is why so many recipes state that meat should be liberally sprinkled with salt several minutes before cooking.

 

For vegetables, drawing out the juice does several things.  First, in sautés, it causes them to cook faster and more completely.  When adding them to a sauce, the salt will cause the vegetables to release their juice and add it to the surrounding liquid.  This will make the resulting food have a richer flavor.

 

In baking, salt has a number of useful functions.  It provides structure to baked goods by strengthening gluten (wheat proteins) and it helps to brown crusts.  Salt also prevents staleness by inhibiting or killing yeasts that are present in the finished product.

 

While all of this is crucial to preparing good food, the most important thing that salt does is fire the taste buds.  The tongue has different sets of taste buds, each of which are specifically designed for one type of taste: sweet, bitter, umami (savory), sour, and salty.  Without salt, one entire category of taste bud is underutilized or not utilized at all.

 

The common saying is that salt makes things taste more like themselves.  In a roundabout way, this is accurate.  Because the salt causes an additional set of taste buds to fire, the taste signals to the brain will be both clearer and stronger.

  

It bears repeating that the primary skills of a home cook are the use of heat, good knife skills, and the [i]proper[/i] use of salt.  Seasoning food is a balancing act.  The cook should strive to find enough salt so that the food tastes good without it tasting salty.  There is not a great margin of error when using salt in food: a little too much tastes as bad as far too much.  Still, in most cases, food can take more salt than the cook might think.

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March 19, 2008

Recipe: Test

Author: CommonDialogMarch 19, 2008
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January 8, 2008

Recipe: Keeping the Resolution: Mexican Lasagna

Author: CommonDialogJanuary 8, 2008

This is something I cooked up last night as I stood before my pantry trying furiously to figure out what to serve the boy and I.  At some level, I hate to even list it as a healthy recipe since it uses so many canned goods (high in sodium) but at the same time, it was pretty easy to throw together.  

On thing to note, as printed this recipe uses Fantastic ground beef replacement (technically I used the sloppy joe mix) which tastes amazing.  Even before I became vegetarian, I would use their taco meat instead of ground beef because I got the same flavor with far less fat and calories.  It has a place in even the most die-hard meat and potatoes family as long as it is used in Mexican foods, sloppy joes, and lasagnas where the texture of the meat is not 100% important because the texture is just a bit off.  If you do not have Fantastic or another meat substitute, feel free to use lean ground beef that you have washed before putting into the lasagna.

You will need:

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil 
  • pinch (1/8 teaspoon) of red pepper flake
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced (red would work well, too)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1 box of lasagna noodles
  • 2 cans of dice tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, sage mix)
  • 1 box of vegetarian ground beef replacement, prepared per package instructions
  • 1 can of low-fat or vegetarian refried beans
  • 1 can of black beans, drained
  • 1 can of chili beans, drained
  • 1 bag of low-fat Mexican cheese blend
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. 
  2. Put a pan on medium flame and add the olive oil.  When the oil is hot, add the red pepper flake and the garlic.  Wait 15 seconds and add the peppers, onions, and pepper. 
  3. While the vegetables are getting soft, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Add the lasagna noodles and prepare according to the instructions.
  4. When the vegetables are soft, add the tomatoes, a healthy pinch of salt, and the Italian seasoning.  Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce heat so that it bubbles, but it is not at a full roiling boil.
  5. Now is a good time to make sure the meat substitute is cooking.
  6. When the noodles are ready, construct the lasagna by first putting a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish.  Then add a layer of noodles. 
  7. Mix the Fantastic meat replacement and the refried beans and spoon them onto the lasagna.  Add another layer of noodles.
  8. Mix the black and chili beans, then spoon them onto the lasagna and spread them out.  Add the final layer of noodles.
  9. Top with a good layer of the tomato sauce and the bag of shredded cheese.
  10. Bake in the oven until the cheese melts, usually 10-15 minutes.
  11. Serve on a plate with a good ladel of tomato sauce.

Enjoy!

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November 8, 2007

Recipe: Spice Week: Herbs de’Provence

Author: CommonDialogNovember 8, 2007

Welcome back to another (slightly later than I would have liked) edition of Spice Week.  In celebration of the Spice Girls reuniting, this week is all about how to use spices in your cooking.

And yes, I realize that herbs de’Provence are herbs and not spices, but bear with me here.  They’re a handy little thing to have for cooking.

Firstly, what are herbs de’ Provence?  Well, they’re herbs…from…Provence, France…

Actually, herbs de’ Provence are a mixture of dried herbs all of which are typically found in abundance in the Provence region of southeastern France and typically contain rosemary, marjoram, basil, bay and thyme.  Sometimes sage or lavendar are added as well.  They are an earthy mix of herbs that are used to add a natural, woodsy flavor to cooked foods.

Use herbs de’ Provence with either very robust flavors like beef or lamb or when you want the herbs to be the star of the show like in herbed chicken or in brown butter sauce poured over cheese ravoli.  Why then?  Well, the herbs in question, especially thyme and rosemary, are very strong and can easily drown out mild flavors like most vegetables or seafood.

Here’s something I am considering doing with some of my herbs de’ Provence.

You will need:

  • One tube of soft goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup of flower
  • 1/4 cup herbs de’ Provence
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • cooking spray (yes cooking spray…)
  1. Make sure the goat cheese is fresh out of the refrigerator when you prepare this recipe.
  2. Cut the goat cheese into medallions about 1/3 inch thick.  If the cheese is very soft, spin the cheese and press the outer edge of the circle inwards to firm it up almost like folding the edge of a pizza crust.
  3. Mix the flour, herbs, black pepper, and salt together in a plate or wide bowl.
  4. Place the goat cheese medallions on the flour/herb/spice mixture and coat both sides liberally.  As you coat the medallion, press down gently to really get the herbs and flour to stick.
  5. Let the medallions rest in the refrigerator for 5 minutes while the skillet preheats over medium heat.
  6. Coat the skillet and saute two to four medallions over medium heat until the cheese/flour is golden.  This should take about 2-3 minutes per side.

Enjoy as is or tune in tomorrow for my advice on how to top the goat cheese.

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November 5, 2007

Recipe: The Next Iron Chef 5

Author: CommonDialogNovember 5, 2007

*** SPOILER ALERT ***  In this post I say who gets kicked off the show.

This week’s episode of the Next Iron Chef was decent episode.  The task was to make a three course meal for 20 people using roughly $2,500 in ingredients (they got 2,000 Euros.)  They were then paired up with a sous chef whom they had never met before to help them with their cooking.

As has often been the case with the show, the complications in the task fall flat.  Whether this was just a case of poor editing or having a strange sous chef really made no difference, I cannot say.  They did spend the majority of time on the chefs shopping which was, I will admit, rather interesting.

One thing that would have been more interesting to me would have been to give them a Dinner: Impossible-style challenge where they would have had to prepare food for a large number people using a team of sous chefs they had never met.

That’s good television.

In the end, the rough around the edges, never able to string together three good dishes (the judges’ words, not mine) Chef Chris Costentino was informed that he was not going to be heading on to the finale.  This judgement came as no surprise as he did not fit the Food Network image and appeared unable to cook with cameras in his face (something that never happens in Iron Chef America…)

The last episode is going to be interesting.  When the show started, I assumed Chef Michael Simon would be gone by the episode 3 and Chef John Besh an easy champion.  I underestimated Simon, there’s fight him.  Probably because he is born to cook.

Anyway, the dishes on this episode were to be remakes of American classics.  They were an interesting mix with Chef Costentino presenting a lobster roll, philly cheese steak, and grappa infused fruit.  Chef Simon did a lobster hot dog, veal meat loaf with truffled potateoes, and a root beer float.  Chef Besh did fried seafood, chicken and dumplings and strawberry shortcake.

If you have $2,500 and need to feed 20 people to win your shot at culinary fame, what American classics would you redo?

For my money, I am going with kobe beef/bleu cheese sliders and home made potato chips, chicken fried steak breaded in panko with a marsala wine/herb cream reduction, and individualized apple pies with vanilla bean ice cream.

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October 31, 2007

Recipe: The Flu

Author: CommonDialogOctober 31, 2007

So I’ve been sidelined with the flu the past two days, hence my quiet over the past few days.  Thinking about food is torture right now, though I can now throw together an entire cocktail party based on the BRAT diet.

I’ll try to catch up later this week.

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October 23, 2007

Recipe: Procedural Stuff and Recipe Exchange

Author: CommonDialogOctober 23, 2007

Hi everyone,

I have added an “Editorial Calendar” to the site which shows what you can expect each day from the site.  If there is anything that you do not see or if you have any feedback, please email me.

I am also announcing Theme Weeks.  Every other week, I will be presenting four different recipes centered around one theme or ingredient.  If you have a theme, please shoot it my way.  I’d love to hear it.

Lastly, I want to start a recipe exchange amongst my readers and other food bloggers.  If you would like to guest post on Blog Well Done, if you have a recipe you would like me to try and then review online, or if you need a guest poster, please contact me.  I would love to have other passionate foodies post their recipes, secrets, and food tips.  In particulary, both vegetarian and vegan cuisine are underrepresented on the blog, so if anyone knows a good veg*n recipe, I’d love to hear about it.

Also, I am a food writer who never gets tired about writing about the latest dish, so I would develop a new recipe for your blog using guidelines you give me!

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September 28, 2007

Recipe: Bloggers Unite!

Author: CommonDialogSeptember 28, 2007

September 27, 2007 is Blog Against Abuse day where thousands of Bloggers sit down and write a post against abuse.  I do not plan to use this blog as a political forum because it is about food, a wonderful artform that transcends nationality, race, creed, and religion.  Still, I feel like every endeavor needs a certain amount of social responsibility.

So I decided to do a post.  All day, I pondered what type of abuse really concerned me.  Ever since my son was born, the topic of child abuse has hit closer to home, but I was stuck trying to figure out a way to tie child abuse into the mission of my blog.  Then I saw this article.  I looked into that little girl’s eyes and I knew she was pain.  Right now, if she is lucky, she is being tortured for someone’s sick pleasure.  If she is not, the man in the film may end her young life.

If you are religious, pray.  If you are not, hope. Either way, if you have kids or a young cousin or niece/nephew, give them a hug.  Call them if they live in a different state or country.  And tonight, tomorrow, next week, as you sit down to a good meal with your family and friends, take a moment to be thankful.  There are a lot of people in the world who cannot enjoy even that simple pleasure with their children anymore.

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