Monday, January 30, 2006

A hasty menu for the week

We're trying to quickly repaint the basement before our new carpets are installed, so it's still a busy week! Fortunately, there are some quick recipes that can keep us in good shape.

Tonight we had a gourmet dinner with a 15 minute cooking time: venison tenderloin medallions encrusted with coarse salt and pan-seared, baked potatoes, and asparagus with homemade hollandaise sauce.

Here's the hollandaise recipe:

3 egg yolks
1 T lemon juice
1 T water
1/4 tsp salt
a pinch white pepper
1 T cold butter
2 sticks (1 C) melted butter

Hollandaise is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it, but the first couple of times can be difficult. The trick is to use as little heat as possible. A double boiler is mandatory, though if you're skilled you can make do with a pan of water and a smaller pot that you hold just at the surface of the hot water. I've used this technique over a camping stove and it actually works!

First, in the top of a double boiler, beat the 3 egg yolks a little bit with a wire whisk. Preheat a bit of water in the bottom of the double boiler over medium heat and start melting the 2 sticks of butter in a separate pan while you beat in the lemon juice, water, salt, and white pepper with the egg yolks.

Add the lump of cold butter to the top of the double boiler, and put the double boiler together so that your sauce with the lump of butter is heating over the water. At this point, you need to stir the mixture continuously until the lump of cold butter melts into the sauce and the sauce begins to thicken. This usually takes a few minutes. If you notice that the egg is starting to cook to the sides of the pan, remove the double boiler from the heat and continue stirring - the heat of the water will do the job on its own. You should remove the top part of the double boiler from the bottom as soon as it's possible to see your whisk strokes leaving tracks on the bottom of the pan and the sauce is nicely thickened.

At this point, you're going to start adding the melted butter. Add about a teaspoon at a time and stir the sauce vigorously to make sure that it blends in completely. As you go along, you'll find that you can gradually add more and more butter at a time. Stir the sauce for an extra minute once all the butter is blended in. Voila! This sauce is also wonderful over steamed or pan-fried salmon, or with artichoke leaves.

Sam gets home late, so it's another pizza night!

Wednesday night I'm going to have a lot of homework to do, so it's going to be posole from the freezer and maybe a little leftover chili in a burrito.

Thursday night I should finally have some time to really cook, so I'm planning to make Cornish game hens with brown and wild rice stuffing, green beans, and a salad.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


As if you couldn't tell, I've been swamped this week and haven't managed to make it back to keep the menus up to date! Between school starting in earnest and installing tile in the basement, I've been having trouble finding time to sleep, let alone keep the blog up to date. However, my crystal ball says that there may be clearing ahead, with a small chance of free time on the weekend.

Of course, with so little time, I haven't been able to do much cooking. Leftovers from the freezer have been the order of the day, though I did manage to sneak in a batch of chile con carne a couple of days ago. Fortunately, that's a recipe that doesn't require a lot of constant attention and so I was able to cook it in between steps while grouting the hallway.

I'll be back with updates soon!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A menu for the third week of January, 2006

This week is my first week of graduate school! Since I now have a major tiling project to do in our basement as well, this week is going to focus on quick, easy to prepare meals.


This meal if an old Italian family recipe, taught to me by my mother. It features thin cuts of beef (or, in my case, venison) first pan-fried with a light coat of flour and then cooked in the tomato sauce that I use for my pizza. When served with mashed potatoes and peas, it becomes a lovely comfort-food meal.

Lean beef or venison, cut into large, 1/4" thick slices. For this purpose I will frequently use a couple of cuts off of a rump roast (be sure to cut across the grain) or London Broil or the like. If you have a hard time cutting the meat thinly, you can also use cube steak, though it is a bit more expensive.
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil

1 large can crushed tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic, cut into chunks
Olive Oil
~2 tsp oregano, to taste.

Before you start cooking the meat, first make the sauce. This is the same as my pizza sauce, and is very simple. Cook the garlic cloves in a splash of oil until they are golden brown, then add the crushed tomatoes and oregano and simmer, covered, while you cook the meat.

For the meat, I will ususally use the round roast or blade roast of venison, because it is a large lean cut that makes it easy to cut thin steaks from. I cut the steaks about 1/4" thick, across the grain, and then tenderize them a bit on the cutting board by pounding them with a mallet. Put a bit of flour on a plate and generously sprinkle it with salt and pepper - this will be used to coat the meat, so you don't need very much, just enough for however much meat you're planning to cook.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Dredge your tenderized steaks through the flour and fry them in the pan until you just see the blood start to break through the floured surface, then turn them and fry on the other side for 30-60 seconds. You want to make sure that the oil wets all the flour to allow it to brown, so add more olive oil if needed. Be sure not to overcook the steaks - they will be just browned and the breading will be slightly bumpy on the surface. As soon as the steaks are cooked, transfer them into the pan of sauce and allow them to simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Roast Chicken! This meal has some stories behind it, but you'll have to buy our book to read them, if and when it comes out! This meal is simplicity in itself, but has flavor that reaches above and beyond its humble ingredients.

1 whole chicken, about 4 lbs.
3-4 cloves garlic, cut into 1/4" chunks.
Olive Oil
3-4 potatoes.

Skin and quarter the potatoes lengthwise to make spears and use these to line a baking pan (Pyrex works well). Your chicken will be roasted atop the potatoes so that all of the drippings soak in and make the potatoes utterly delicious.

To prepare the chicken, simply wash it inside and out, then put the chunks of garlic along with about a teaspoon of rosemary into the body cavity. Generously sprinkle salt and pepper to coat the inside of the body cavity. Sprinkle salt, pepper, rosemary, and olive oil over the entire skin of the bird and use your hands to work the oil into the skin a little and make sure that the bird is fully coated. Place the prepared bird, breast-side down, on the bed of potato spears and roast at 350 for 1 hour and 15 minutes. If your oven tends to cook hot, start with an hour and use a knife to check the thighs to see if they are done (the thighs tend to cook most slowly).

Serve with a green salad, and enjoy! Beware: this dish has been known to have aphrodisiac properties!

Linguine with Clam Sauce

... recipe to come ...

Szechuan Shrimp

... recipe to come ...

Polenta with mixed meat ragu sauce. (NOT the brand, the style!)

... recipe to come ...

Poached salmon with homemade hollandaise sauce and asparagus

... recipe to come ...

Chile rojo shredded pork burrito with homemade tortillas, refried beans, and lettuce.

... recipe to come ...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A fine quick curry

The recipe for this meal is in this post.

We ended up getting home relatively late, and Samantha had to go out to the store for the coconut milk (which was mysteriously missing from the cupboard,) but while she was gone I prepared the rest of the curry and it just took a few minutes to be ready to serve once she returned. I ended up using about double the specified amount of chili powder that was specified, and could have added more or else added a few red pepper flakes to ratchet up the zing a bit. I think that the paprika probably needs to be replaced with something else, as well - maybe garam masala - because I think that the paprika muddies the flavor of the turmeric.

We served the curry over short-grain white rice with a side of sliced cucumber (which should have really been coated with plain yoghurt, but we were out) and a bowl of mixed rasins and peanuts, which provided a nice contrast to the curry.

Overall, I'd give this curry a B-. It's flavors are fairly pedestrian, but the simplicity and short cooking time make it a decent time crunch meal.

I had been meaning to post the stuffed pork chop recipe tonight, but it's already quite late and the bed is calling!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A change of plans

Well, Sam and I both had exhausting workdays today, so we decided to take it easy and leave the tempura for another night; instead, we had our old standby: linguine with pesto. We always make sure to have some pesto in the freezer for just such emergencies. We tend to grow a large amount of basil in our garden during the summer, and when it's ready to harvest we make enough pesto to last the whole year. It freezes well, and all you need to do to use it is take it from the freezer, scrape a little off the top with a spoon, and add it to the hot pasta and dinner is ready.

If you don't have space or time for a garden, Asian markets are often the best place to buy fresh basil in large quantities at reasonable prices. The amount that they charge you to buy a couple of sprigs at the grocery store is ridiculous.

Here's our pesto recipe:

3/4 C fresh basil leaves
4 - 5 cloves garlic
3 T pine nuts
1/2 tsp salt
5 T olive oil
1/2 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 T freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Put all the ingredients except for the cheeses into a food processor and spin until smooth. Pour into a bowl, mix in the cheeses and a bit of freshly ground black pepper, put it into a tupperware container and freeze. We often will make double- or quadruple- batches of this recipe since it's always good frozen. It's also excellent as a replacement for red sauce on pizza!

To make our simple dinner a little nicer, Sam blanched a few stalks of frozen asparagus to go alongside the pasta.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Tuesday's Results

Dinner was exceptional. The steaks were done to pink perfection, with the centers rare and tender throughout. The only problem was that I let the pan get a little bit too hot, and so even with the short cooking time there was a little charring on the surface. I think that in the past I haven't encountered this because I was using beef tenderloin, which is slightly larger in diameter than the venison loin I used this time, so there wasn't as much surface area to absorb the heat from the pan. Next time I think I'll have the burner just a touch below the maximum setting when using these small cuts.

The potatoes ended up taking a little longer to cook than expected, so we ended up eating the steaks first and the potatoes later. I cooked three steaks for the two of us, so the third will be meat for a gourmet sandwich for lunch later in the week!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A menu for the second week of January, 2006

We all live busy lives, and thus, while the ideal is to make fresh food as frequently as possible, it is not always practical. However, the modern miracle of refrigeration makes it frequently a good idea to make a larger quantity of food than is to be eaten at a given meal and to freeze the rest.

In our basement, we have a large upright freezer, well stocked with venison, chicken, pork, turkeys, produce from the garden, and pre-prepared meals. Some of the menu this week will draw from the freezer, but when this happens I'll make sure to post the recipies that were originally used.

Monday night we will be home late, so a quick meal is necessary: Pizza! From the freezer we will take our homemade pizza rounds (made over the weekend from surplus bread dough) and the pizza sauce, and we'll add pepperoni, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and grated mozzarella for a quick and tasty meal. Pop a slice in the toaster oven at 400° for about 10 minutes, and the meal is made!

Pizza Sauce:
This very simple pizza sauce is a snap to cook. Ingredients:
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced into chunks
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (about 2 1/2 cups of tomatoes from my garden or whole canned tomatoes, coarsely chopped in the food processor)
  • 2 tsp oregano
In a pan, heat the olive oil and sautee the garlic until golden brown. Add the crushed tomatoes and oregano, and simmer until the sauce is of the desired thickness!

Another quick meal tonight, though a gourmet one! Pan-seared venison loin medallions (you can substitute fine cuts of beef) with salt-encrusted baked potatoes and a simple salad of mixed greens with tomato and onion.

To cook the venison:
You'll need one 6-8 ounce slice of loin for each person; beef tenderloin can be used, or any tender boneless cut, but being a hunter has its advantages! The steaks should be about 1 1/2" - 2" thick and trimmed of all fat.

First, heat your oven to 500°. At the same time, put a cast iron or stainless steel skillet on the stove, and heat over high heat with no oil in the pan. We are going to quickly sear the meat, so you want the pan to be hot as a branding iron. Pat the meat dry with a paper towel, then sprinkle liberally on both sides with coarse salt. Don't use any oil in the pan - it must be dry, and pepper will burn at the temperatures we're using so don't put anything but salt on the meat. Drop the steaks into the searing-hot pan, and let them sit there for 90 seconds without touching them. Be not afraid - you won't ruin the meat if you follow these directions exactly. After 90 seconds, use tongs to quickly turn the steaks to the other side and let sit for 60 seconds. Remove the pan from the stovetop and put into the preheated oven for 3 1/2 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place the steaks on a warmed plate, and cover with a tent of foil for a couple of minutes before serving.

As an experiment, I used a pressure cooker to precook the potatoes to reduce the overall cooking time. I used 2 cups of water and the steaming rack, and cooked the potatoes for 12 minutes after full pressure was achieved. Another 10 minutes at 400° in the toaster oven and they were ready!

Shrimp and asparagus tempura and bok choy over brown and wild rice. This is a new recipe for us. You can also use green bell pepper, broccoli, green beans, onion rings, or whatever other vegetables you like. Tempura jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese add some spice!

Before you start cooking everything else, put the rice on and set up your steamer for the bok choy. A tip about cooking rice: any amount of rice can be successfully cooked to perfection by adding one pinky-fingernail's depth of water above the surface of the rice, bringing the pot to a boil, then immediately covering the pot and turning the temperature to low. If you have an electric stove, transfer the pot to a different burner preheated to low, because the temperature of the coils or cooking surface drops too slowly.

Dipping sauce for tempura:

1/2 C rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C honey or brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp red pepper flakes

Simmer the vinegar, sugar, and honey in a saucepan over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat; then mash together the garlic and salt and add to the liquid along with the pepper flakes. Cool before serving.

Ingredients for breading:
1 C all-purpose flour
1/3 C corn starch
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
cayenne pepper to taste
1 1/4 C club soda

While heating a pan of oil, mix the dry ingredients, then stir in the club soda with a fork to make a lumpy batter. When the oil reaches 375°, dredge the vegetables in the batter and fry in the oil until golden brown (1-2 minutes), then remove with a slotted spoon and drain. Do the same with the shrimp.

This Burmese chicken curry comes from an excellent but obscure cookbook, Under the Golden Pagoda: The Best of Burmese Cooking by Aung Aung Taik. This is also the source of a shredded crispy chicken recipe that is a favorite of mine.


2 chicken breasts
1/2 tsp salt
1/4-1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp ground red chili powder
1/2 C water
1 can coconut milk

Cut up the chicken breasts into 3/4" chunks and mix in a bowl with the salt and turmeric. Mix thoroughly with your hands and let stand for 10 minutes.

Heat a bit of oil in a pan over medium heat; add the onions and garlic and sautee until soft, then add the chicken, paprika, and chili powder. Cook, stirring, until the chicken is cooked through, then add the water and coconut milk and simmer, covered but with the lid ajar, for 30 minutes.

The leftovers of this dish don't seem to freeze very well (nothing using coconut milk really does,) so it's good to plan to use them for a lunch some time later in the week.

Leftovers! By this time of the week, there are usually a couple of things in the fridge that need eating, though we may also thaw something frozen. This week it looks like it's going to be stuff from the freezer, perhaps pizzaiola and bean soup. I'll post these recipes when I get a chance later on.

I haven't decided quite yet what to make for Saturday! There's an excellent stuffed pork chop recipe in an Italian cookbook of mine that I'd like to repeat, and since it takes a bit more time to prepare it might be a good Saturday meal. As I recall, this recipe makes a lot of the stuffing, so I might pull a pork loin from the freezer and prepare a number of the stuffed chops, and freeze uncooked all but the ones we plan to have for dinner. This will give me another couple of quick meals for those nights when we won't be home until late in the evening.

Taste the world.

Behold, a blog is born!

remdja is a word in the lojban language that literally means "food for humans." Food is central to the human existence, yet in the modern world feeding ourselves is relegated to what amounts to a mundane maintenance task! Food is prepackaged, made bland to the point of being inedible, and robbed of nutrition by the processing to which we subject it.

I say, enough is enough. Food is the most fundamental source of life, health, of great pleasure if made carefully, attentively, and by hand.

I've found that it's not so much that people don't want to cook; it's just that they don't understand how to integrate cooking well into their daily lives. The most difficult thing I find about keeping up the quality of my eating is that, in order to cook, you must plan. You need know what you're cooking ahead of time to have the proper ingredients on hand, and making decisions about what to cook is tough! That's where this blog comes in. My goal is to prepare weekly menus, complete with recipes, so that those who so are inclined can follow along to whatever degree they like and have a plan for their eating so that they aren't left unprepared, and without an idea of what to eat on any given night. The recipes that I prepare are generally healthy and the meals balanced, though I occasionally splurge a bit. Expect to see a fair bit of spicy food as well!

One thing that you'll notice is that I make EXTENSIVE use of the freezer. Almost all of the meals that Samantha and I prepare generate some quantity of leftovers, and I'm a great fan of having a fair number of homemade meals pre-prepared and frozen, ready to be pulled out to thaw in the morning so that I don't have to cook more than three or four nights a week. Having a dedicated freezer (mine is a 21 cubic foot upright) also makes it possible to take great advantage of special sales on meat or frozen vegetables, or buying in bulk from Costco or Sam's Club. I'm also a hunter, so we have a steady supply of venison and basically never buy beef.

If you plan to follow along, then welcome! I'll try to answer any questions that you post as comments.