Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Complete 15-Minute Gourmet: Book Review

Yesterday evening I found myself with 3+ hours to kill while my 6 year-old was at the dress rehearsal for her dance recital; too much time to wait in the car and too little time to travel very far away from the theater or go home. But I was just down the street from The Gateway, a beautifully designed, 2-story outdoor mall in Salt Lake City.

My toddler and I visited the amazing and exciting central water feature, ate outrageously over-priced ice cream at the Ben & Jerry's store, shopped at Sur la Table (sigh...happy day...), and went to Barnes and Noble. The book store is always a good place to burn some time, even for a toddler, and I wanted to pick up a copy of The Complete 15-Minute Gourmet, by Paulette Mitchell. I first heard about Paulettte's book on a blog called Amanda's Cookin'. She made the recipe for Grilled Chicken Salad with Herbed Tomato Vinaigrette and had rave things to say about the recipe and the book. And the picture she posted was gorgeous!

I am very, very picky about the cookbooks I buy. I'm always amazed at people who have huge cookbook collections because I don't find many I want to buy. I want lots of pictures, and I want recipes that have real, fresh ingredients, and aren't intimidating for average folks.

Encouraged by Amanda's success with the book, I thumbed through the pages while my toddler sat in her stroller enjoying her book about summer (what better book for a 2 year-old than one with pictures of kids eating ice cream and watermelon, swinging, and swimming with fish and their dog?) I knew within moments I would be making a purchase (the cookbook and the summer book).

With the recipes in The Complete 15-Minute Gourmet, Paulette proves what I've believed for a long time: good, fresh food doesn't have to be hard to make or take a long time to make. Paulette uses real, fresh ingredients that you just can't go wrong with. I haven't tried anything yet, and since I've got 2 days and a wake-up until moving day, it will be Subway and Wendy's for a while. But I've got a list of recipes to try....things like:
  • Warm Chicken Salad with Peaches and Blueberries
  • Pesto Chicken Salad with Red Grapes
  • Curried Winter Squash Soup
  • Seared Scallops with Lemon Pepper Fettuccine
  • Salmon and Noodles with Pesto Cream Sauce
  • Pork Sausage Frittata

I can't possibly list them all here because it would take forever. Let's just say I won't be without new, great recipes to try for a long time. Thanks Paulette, and thanks Amanda for blogging about her great book!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

I'm a little embarrassed to admit I was almost 30 before I discovered I liked sweet potatoes. In my defense, until then I'd only been presented with the typical Thanksgiving dinner variety: sweet potatoes from a can smoothered in brown sugar, butter, and marshmallows. Nasty. Then one day as I was getting ready to roast some red potatoes I wondered what sweet potatoes would be like cooked the same way.

In the produce section of my grocery store I was faced with two options. They both looked sweet-potato'ish to me, but one was labeled "sweet potato" and one was labeled "yam". Which one was the one I wanted? I didn't want to doom my first try before I even left the store, so I went with the one that said "sweet potato".

I came to learn later that they were both sweet potatoes. Zoe, from, has an awesome article on her website about Yam vs. Sweet Potato. You should go read it. The Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University also has some good, if more academic, information here.

I took my sweet potatoes home, peeled and diced them, tossed them with a little olive oil, Kosher salt, and fresh black pepper, and roasted them in a super hot oven. The smell was heavenly. The heat from the oven evaporated most of the sweet potatoe's moisture, shrinking the pieces (a lot) and concentrating the natural sugars. The sweet-salty flavor, combined with the slight charring on the edges--I was in love after my first bite. The little jewels were like sweet-potato candy. I must have eaten half the pan standing right there in front of the stove.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

about 3 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (I do just under 1/2-inch cubes)
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse (Kosher) salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Heat your oven to 425. Line a 15 1/2 x 10 1/2-inch rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with non-stick spray.

2. Combine all of the ingredients in a gallon size zip-top bag. Seal the bag with the air still in it, and shake and turn it until the potato pieces are evenly coated with the oil and seasoning. Pour the potatoes onto the prepared pan and spread them into an even layer. Throw the bag away (one of the best parts).

3. Roast the potatoes for 40-45 minutes or until they are very tender and nicely browned. Stir the potatoes several times during cooking, more frequently toward the end of cooking to prevent them from burning on the bottom.

Makes 4 side servings

**I've found 3 lbs. is about all this size baking sheet can handle. If you crowd the pan the potatoes will steam instead of roast. They will still cook, but they won't get the lovely browning and charring that makes them go from yummy to OMG, THESE ARE SO **GOOD**...

**Because I use so little oil, you need to spray the foil with non-stick spray. Otherwise the potato pieces stick to the foil and you leave all the good parts behind.

**I pick sweet potatoes that are as close to russet-potato shape as I can get; it makes them easier to peel and easier to cut into more-or-less even cubes.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Foodie Fights #4 results

The results are in and my Grilled Pork and Cantaloupe with Spicy Balsamic Glaze came in second behind Danger Kitten Bakes' Smart Minds Watermelon Sorbet with Spicy Chocolate Wafers. It was super close, though: D-Kitten with 384, and me with 352. Foodie Fights said this was the closest fight yet! To read all of the judges comments click here.

I've never made sorbet, but after D-Kitten's watermelon sorbet and Cre8tive Kitchen's Honey Cantaloupe Sorbet with Dark Chocolate Pepper Ganache, I need to remedy that. The two of them together in the same bowl (maybe even with a Honeydew sorbet) would be beautiful!

Participating in Foodie Fights was tons of fun, and I encourage all food bloggers out there to submit your name for the next fight, and say, "Bring. It. On."

Now, on to more great Flunkie Food!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

New red paint = very happy me

Happy Day!

Even though the KWAL sales rep thought the color difference was within the allowable range (again, why bother with the paint cards if the color you pick isn't the color you get), he said he wanted me to be happy, so KWAL is going to reimburse my painter for labor and materials so he can repaint my red walls with the correct color. And to make sure I get the correct color, they are going to custom mix the paint to match the paint card. Of course, why it should take custom mixing to get the same color as the color on the card is something I still don't understand.

The re-paint is happening tomorrow, and I tell ya, if I still don't like it, I'm stuck with it! :)

The problem of the Red Paint

If you've been following my blog you know I'm in the middle of moving to a new house. If you're new to the blog, I'm moving to a new house. We are supposed to start moving stuff next week (that would be the week of June 8) and everything has been on track until the Red Paint.

My kitchen in our townhouse is red and I love it. In fact, I love everything about our townhouse, except the size of the kitchen (small) and the size of the yard (non-existent). Because I love all of my colors, etc., I tried to exactly replicate everything in the new house. Enter the Red Paint.

Red Paint is a funny thing. You wouldn't think there could be so many different colors of red, but there are many, many, many. Lucky for me, I knew exactly what color red I wanted, because it's the color I have now, right? My painter even used the same brand of paint, KWAL, so getting the exact same color should be a no-brainer, right? is where the problem comes in.

On Friday I stopped by the house to see how the paint was coming along. I walk in the front door and the two red walls in the front room. I look down the hallway and there is a red wall in the kitchen.


I could be wrong...maybe the lighting isn't quite right...maybe it's late and my eyes are tired.

I walk down to the kitchen.


This is not the right color red....THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT COLOR!

Now, in a different color, say the light beige I had the majority of the house painted in, it might not be a big deal if the color wasn't exactly what I'd wanted. But this was Red Paint. With red paint it's either a good color, or it's a gaudy color. To be fair, the walls aren't horrific, but they aren't good, either.

The next day was Saturday, and I went back to the house with the paint card so I could campare the two. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was remembering the color differently. When I held the paint card up to the wall there was no denying it. This was not the right color. So I called my painter, who, to his extreme credit, drove over to the house while I waited.

We stood in front of the Red Paint. Hummm...sometimes with a different sheen the color can be darker or lighter, he tells me. OK, this isn't just lighter or darker, this is a different color. He agreed (which was nice).

So this is what he says he'll do for me. He dipped his finger in the can of paint and put a dab on the paint card so he could show the paint store how they are not the same color. Then he said he'd take the paint can to the store to make sure the formula was right, blah, blah, blah... That's all great, but what's the bottom line? How are we going to get the color I wanted?

I mean, what's the point of paint cards if you don't get the color you agonized over? The color you carried around with you, matching to tile and carpet and everything else?

Fast forward to Monday (yesterday). My painter calls and says the store gave him the same story about an "acceptable amount of variance in the actual paint color compared to the paint card." Apparently, the store thought the different between my walls and the paint card was acceptable. Grrrr. Well, my painter, bless him, knew I wouldn't be happy with that answer. So today, at 3:00 p.m., the sales rep for the store is going to meet me and my painter at the house so we can all stand in front of my red walls and compare the color to the color on the paint card.

I guess you can get used to anything. I guess after a while you stop seeing the things you don't like. But come on. I've done plenty of painting in my time (I hate painting, which is one of the huge reasons why I hired someone to paint this house for me), and every time, I could hold the paint card up to the dry, newly painted wall, and the paint card would almost disappear--*poof!*

Stay tuned. I'll let you all know how it goes this afternoon. I would really like to leave our little get-together a happy customer who is going to get the right color.

Sales Rep from KWAL, I hope you are going to have some good news for me.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Grilled Pork and Cantaloupe with Spicy Balsamic Glaze

I love to grill. I even grill in the middle of winter (which, here in the Salt Lake Valley, means snow), and my husband is more than happy to shovel me a path to the BBQ if it means dinner will be something that has char marks on it.

After I opened my Foodie Fights invitation email I went to the site to see what ingredients I had to work with. Melon and red pepper flakes. My first thoughts were, "Ooo! I love red pepper flakes!" and, "Whatever I make has to be grilled!" But do people grill melon? I did a quick Google search and was amazed by how many recipes came up for grilled melon. OK, you can grill it, but is it any good? It was time for some testing.

My first idea was an appetizer. Grilled kabobs of cantaloupe and prosciutto with a spicy balsamic vinegar glaze. I tried them a couple times and thought they were pretty good. But a second idea was lingering in my mind. I decided to go ahead and make it (even though I was sure I'd use the kabobs) because I'd just tested the kabobs again and had already made a mess, and I had the meat in the fridge. This almost-didn't-happen idea was grilled pork chops, with the same spicy balsamic glaze as the kabobs, and grilled cantaloupe wedges.

I love it when almost-didn't-happen recipes turn out awesome!

Grilled Pork and Cantaloupe with Spicy Balsamic Glaze

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for serving, if desired
1 3-3 1/2 lb. cantaloupe
6 pork chops, honestly the poundage can vary, depending on what you buy
1 lb strawberries, hulled, washed, and halved
mint sprigs for garnish, if desired

1. Make the balsamic glaze: In a very small saucepan (I used a heavy 1 1/2-cup metal measuring cup) or very small not non-stick frying pan, combine the balsamic vinegar, sugar, and red pepper flakes; bring it all to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently until the glaze is reduce by half, about 15 minutes (it will take less time to reduce if you're using a frying pan). Remove the pan from the heat and let the glaze cool. NOTE: the longer you let it cool the thicker it will be. So if you are really good about planning ahead, make the glaze about an hour or so before you want to use it so it's nice and thick.

2. Scrape your grill grate with a wire brush and start the heat on high. You want the grill to be smoking hot so you get nice grill marks on the meat and the cantaloupe. It's especially important for the cantaloupe because the melon's stay on the grill needs to be brief so it doesn't get too soft. "Smoking hot" to me means between 475 and 500 on my gas grill's thermometer. Grills are all different, so you'll have to go by how you know your grill.

3. To prepare the pork chops, trim any extra fat off each chop (unless you're a fat lover, then leave it on). To prepare the cantaloupe, cut the melon in half, starting at the stem end; remove all the seeds and stringy stuff with a large spoon. Lay the melon halves, cut-side down, on a cutting board and cut each half into 8 wedges. Then remove the rind from each wedge.

4. When you're grill has reached the smoking-hot point, use long tongs and several folded paper towels to liberally oil the grill grate. This will keep the meat and the cantaloupe from sticking. The oil will evaporate fast at this temperature, so immediately put your pork chops on the grate. You want the surface of the chops to be dry so they get the best char marks possible, so don't use the glaze yet. Once the chops are on the grill, brush the exposed tops and sides with the glaze (only one side needs to look super fabulous). How long you cook them on each side depends on how hot your grill is and how thick your chops are. I cooked my almost-1/2-inch chops for about 3 minutes on each side. (The USDA says to cook pork to an internal temperature of 160, but 145 is enough to kill the parasites that cause trichinosis. Sarah Caron has a great article on Fit Fare about this. Read it and then you decide.) When you've got some good marks on the first side, flip the chops over and brush the now exposed top with the balsamic glaze. Cook the chops for about 3 more minutes. At this point, I flipped them over one more time to let the glaze on the first side caramelize a little (but don't leave them too long). Take the chops off the grill and keep them warm under a loose tent of foil.

NOTE: If your grill is big enough, you can grill the melon at the same time as the pork chops. If not, do the melon after the meat because it goes fast. (In this case, make sure you scrape the grill grate really well and let it get really hot again before putting the cantaloupe on.)

5. To grill the cantaloupe, put the wedges on the smoking-hot, freshly-oiled grill grate. Once it's there don't move it, or you'll pull the pieces apart (even though you've oiled the grate, the melon needs time to develop a crust at the contact points that will release easily). After about 2 minutes, gently slide the wedges up and down (tiny movements) to get them to come off the grill. If you try to pick them straight up you'll leave some of the melon on the grill, and the part that stays will be the lovely charred parts. This is where knowing your grill is really important. I was using my sister's grill, which is uber-hot at the back, and I turned several pieces of cantaloupe into charcoal. Watch your wedges; if they are burning without first getting good char marks, turn down the heat. (Looking back, when I make this again, I will probably turn the heat down a little after getting the grill to the smoking-hot level.) Depending on how warm you want your melon, you can cook them on both sides or just one side. If you do both sides (I did), leave them on the second side for only a minute or less.

6. To serve, brush the pork chops with more glaze and plate with the grilled cantaloupe and halved strawberries. Drizzle the plate with some extra glaze so there is something to dip the fruit in (it doesn't look pretty to drizzle the glaze on the fruit). Sprinkle everything with extra red pepper flakes and garnish with fresh mint sprigs.


This is what happens when your 2 year-old helps when you have your back turned.

"You were done with the glaze, right, Mom?"

Darnit! That was a brand new bottle of red pepper flakes!
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