Week One—A Year of Dinners*
Grab your apron, hot pads, chef and paring knives, prongs and tongs, spices, butter tubs and favorite rubs, cutting board and slicing sword, and occupy your kitchen. Away we go.
*Any of the recipes are available upon request, here, or on my web site: keithfrohreich.com.
New York Steaks with a pesto/butter sauce
Beer-battered deep-fried broccoli
Potato Cakes with zucchini and onion
My bride’s cocktail: Blueberry Daiquiri
You will see as I move forward, I will use broccoli, a lot. The Potato Cake recipe is a family favorite. It is from Cuisine At Home Magazine. I also do a zucchini and onion version. The pesto/butter sauce is my concoction. Sometimes I add deep-fried shallots.
Corn Chowder with bacon
This is a Mark Bittman recipe called Basic Corn Chowder.
To make this a one-dish meal, I added bacon, and for more color and vegetables, diced red bell pepper. I have been finding more ways lately to use red bell pepper. To be true to the chowder legacy, I left in a diced Russet.
Today, I also made some fresh pesto which I make every week. I also bought USDA Choice Sirloin and ground it, enough for four pounds, now stored by the pound in the freezer in individual Ziplocs. We use glass containers for leftovers stored in the refrigerator. I still use plastic in the freezer, except for stocks, soups or sauces, like blueberry sauce, also used on ice cream.
I had the night off. I met a book club friend for tapas and wine. My wife and son pooh-poohed leftovers and ate at The Habit Burger Grill, a higher-end hamburger joint. For those who do not know, Habit, based in Irvine, CA, is a fast-growing chain, with at least 250 locations as I write this. This month, Yum Brands, owner of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silver and A & W—can you spell juggernaut?—bought the Habit, which soon will be coming to a neighborhood near you.
My book club friend and I did not go to the wine bar, which was closed on Monday nights. Nearby, we opted for the Umami Burger. Umami means savory. Umami Burger is also an upscale burger restaurant with table service and full bar, now with over 25 locations. The basic six-ounce patty is mostly made of Wagyu beef, ground in-house. Wagyu is a type of cattle, like Black Angus, but is raised in the Kobe region of Japan. The legend has it that Wagyu cattle get sake massages, and are fed beer to increase hunger, which then turns into more fat/marble. Believe it or don’t. But, all Kobe and Wagyu beef cost a monthly mortgage payment. Or, it just seems that way. The meat Umami Burger meat is seasoned with Umami Sauce — which contains soy sauce — and Umami Dust, which includes ground-up dried porcini mushroom and dried fish heads. Just this past Sunday, I got a burr in my butt and sourced the ingredients for Umami Dust. Some unknown Food Network Kitchen chef labeled it Copycat Umami Seasoning in a recipe for Umami Mushroom Risotto. I ground up a batch (sans dried fish heads) and stored it in a jar in my cupboard. Since I already expressed my love for risotto, you can count on this recipe showing up soon.
I will occasionally break the pattern and say something about breakfast. Consistent with my usual breakfast of leftovers, this morning I had the leftover portion of Sunday night’s Corn Chowder. To add some protein, I sizzled two ounces of pancetta. For those unfamiliar, pancetta is Italian bacon. Trader Joes sells a four-ounce package. Do not ask me why it is Italian, it just is, like french fries. Some things are not worth ruminating over.
Creamy Burrito Casserole
I do not know where I got the Creamy Burrito recipe. It might have been a Facebook friend’s posting. The Watermelon Salad recipe is from Cuisine At Home:
1 pound ground beef
½ onion, chopped
1 package taco seasoning
6 large flour tortillas
1 can refried beans
2–3 cups shredded taco cheese or cheddar cheese
1 can of mushroom soup
4 oz. sour cream
This is a layered dish. The soup and sour cream are mixed together. The tortillas are torn into pieces.
To reduce calories and carbs, I used three tortillas, and half a can of refried beans. I have a refried bean recipe and I do that occasionally. In my A Year of Dinners intro blog, I spoke about making Mushroom Soup from scratch. I measured out ten ounces of this homemade version. To thicken it (so the casserole is not too liquidy), I made a roux and mixed it in. It came out perfect. I used a mild and reduced-salt taco-seasoning package. The ground beef had been ground earlier from sirloin and was thawed overnight. The cheese is a store-bought Mexican blend of Monterey Jack, mild cheddar, Asadero and queso quesadilla. I diced up a red bell pepper and sautéed it with the onion to add more vegetable and color. The dish is then layered: soup and sour cream mix, tortillas, ground beef mixed with the sautéed vegetables, refried beans and seasoning, and finally the cheese mix. Rinse, repeat. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. I usually top the dish with diced avocado after it comes out of the oven.
This is a family favorite.
The Watermelon salad is with arugula and cucumbers, topped with feta. Arugula is currently not available at my supermarket, Vons. Trader Joes carries it but the current packaged version has too many yellow leaves and brown spots. Message to food stores — do not put packages that look like that on your shelves. It challenges your credibility. (On my last shopping outing, those packages were gone.) So, I used a spring mix. I left out the feta because it is my least favorite cheese. The moisture is two tablespoons of balsamic. Salt and pepper gets added.
Hearty Sirloin Chili
The starting point is a Food Network Kitchen recipe with no chef’s name mentioned.
Lots of ingredients to this hearty soup, but its core components are bite-size chunks of sirloin, red and green bell peppers, beef stock, beer, crushed tomatoes, black beans and kidney beans and Mexican cheese blend. I halved most of the ingredients and still had enough for at least 4–5 people. I used two packages of the beans I had earlier soaked overnight and froze. While I mentioned earlier that I did not make beef stock from scratch, this Swanson product was labeled “unsalted”. The nutrition labeling still lists 75 mg of salt per cup. So, unsalted simply means no salt was added — I think.
Being a veteran of the food service industry I can attest to the destain most food companies feel for detailed food labeling — just more meddling by government. As a cook, who cares what I and my family consume, count me as grateful for meddling by the government and government food regulations.
I decided this winter season to do more soups, stews and one-dish meals. The earlier Corn Chowder is part of this mission, as was this Hearty Sirloin Chili. You will see more down the road.
This is one time when I was caught off guard by my freezer package labeling or lack thereof. I defrosted what I thought was a pound of sirloin tips. Halfway through the defrosting, I realized it was gizzard and hearts leftover from my Turkey Gravy recipe from Christmas Day. If I feel certain I will know what it is, I don’t bother labeling. Wrong! I ran to the supermarket and brought home four pounds of choice sirloin. I was going to portion at least three pounds of sirloin “bites,” while using one tonight. Vons scammed me with one of the packages. I should have been more diligent. One of the packages once opened and turned over was full of gristle. I was only able to salvage half the package. Had I the time, I would have returned to Vons and confronted the meat department. So I was only left with about 2.5 pounds of sirloin bites. Again — message to food stores — stop this. This is one of the reasons I rarely buy beef from Vons anymore. This time I was caught in a time bind, and I ended up getting caught in one of their cheats. Buyer beware.
Thursday nights are choir nights for my wife. Dinner must be served no later than 6 PM. Therefore I don’t get too creative on Thursdays and tend to stick with tried and true recipes.
Chicken and Broccoli Stir-fry
Red, White and Blueberry Coleslaw
Both recipes originate from the Food Network Kitchen.
The Chicken and Broccoli Stir-fry is basically a pound of chicken breasts cubed, seasoned and stir-fried. I do most of my weekly shopping on Fridays, so Thursdays can find me short of supplies. I only had a small head of broccoli, but I also had a small head of cauliflower. I combined them into a Chicken, Broccoli and Cauliflower Stir-fry.
This salad dish is my patriotic side dish, first prepared for the 4th of July. It was so good that I now make it at least once a month. The original recipe calls for chopped white cabbage and red onion. I change out the red onion for red cabbage. The blue is dried blueberries. Most of the time I used fresh blueberries, but tonight, being supply-challenged, I used dried blueberries. I normally do not like to use them because they have a lot of sugar. My addition to the coleslaw is chopped sweet pecans, a Trader Joes product, yes, kind of sugary, but what the hell — small pleasures. So, with the pecans, we also have one of those magical food sensations — crunch.
Tomorrow night we eat out; a combined birthday celebration.
The Los Angeles Times creates a top 101-restaurant list each year, a list initiated by their beloved, Jonathan Gold, who died suddenly of pancreatic cancer in July of 2018. Gold revolutionized the restaurant review process (no stars) and the LA restaurant scene, and though I cannot prove it, home to more types of ethnic restaurants than any other city. Gold gave them all attention and support. Why 101? I have no idea.
The Los Angeles Times, a shell of its former self, no longer has the staff to reach out into surrounding counties and find the nuggets like Gold searched for, including small foot-print restaurants in mini-malls. So, the list of 101 only includes four Orange County restaurants. Tonight, my wife and I are going to one of them: CHAAK. Here is what the Los Angeles Times wrote about them:
“At her sleek Old Town Tustin restaurant, chef Gabbi Patrick pays homage to her family’s Yucatecan heritage with time-sensitive interpretations of the region’s revered dishes. Banana-leaf-wrapped cochinita pibil, smoked over red oak for eleven hours, is intensely succulent. Her pavo en recado negro — braised turkey rubbed in a blackened chile paste — celebrates the dish’s natural earthiness and pungency. A take on tamal colado, masa strained into a pudding-like cake, is dessert-like in its decadence. Smaller plates also shine. Corm empanadas are hot, crisp goblets of stretchy Oaxacan cheese; the traditional pumpkin seed dip call sikil p’ak is a delicate pastiche of fruity, earthy notes. Seekers of flavor at full throttle will want to sample the restaurant’s charred habanero salsa, a dense, ink-black, devastatingly spice substance that may haunt your palate for days. You can recover at the bar, where mescal cocktails and Mexican wines by the glass are the order of the day.”
Now you know why I am not a professional food writer, and why my new blog direction seems like junior high writing and my cooking seems like a step above TV dinners.
Pavo en Recado Negro
- Braised turkey, blackened chimole, salpicon (minced meat).
Enchidada en Cazuela
- Gruyere swiss, red chile sauce, avocado, cream.
- Cherrywood smoked Muscovy duck, salpicon, mokcajete (ground) habanero, duck chicharron (usually pork-related).
- Fried chayote (in the squash family), avocado aioli.
We both enjoyed a nice, bold Mexican red wine by the glass.
I tried spell-checking the Spanish words, but there is probably a mistake somewhere.
We will go back to CHAAK.