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Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

Cooking things up (figuratively and literally)

Well, I finished my outline for the new Star Trek novel today and turned it in.  I sought out the opinions of a couple of my colleagues, since I’m undertaking something new and I wanted to make sure it worked, and they seem to think it works pretty well.  Hopefully I’ll get to talk about it soon, though with the way things work these days, the news is likely to break when some online catalog gets updated.

What I can talk about is what I did afterward.  Recently, I’ve begun buying fresh green bell peppers from the store instead of settling for the diced frozen ones in bags (although I still do freeze most of each new pepper for later use, since I’m only one person).  And now that I’ve gotten used to buying whole peppers, I became oddly possessed with the  desire to take the next step and stuff one of the things.  To my surprise, though, none of my (three, count ’em) cookbooks had a recipe for stuffed bell peppers, even though at least two of them are supposed to be about essential guidelines for cooking anything.  So I searched online, and found a surprising lack of consistency in the available recipes.  By the time I sorted out enough of the essential principles to formulate a plan (yesterday), the pepper I had in the fridge had been sitting too long, so I chopped it up and froze most of it, and then went grocery shopping with the intent to buy another one (along with other groceries).  But the local supermarket didn’t have any decently fresh ones (or a couple of other things I was looking for), and since I found that out at the start of my shopping, I decided to drive to a more distant supermarket to do my shopping.

So this afternoon, after turning in my outline, I went to work, making sure I had plenty of time to prepare the meal.  I scooped out the pepper, I parboiled it for 5 minutes, I sauteed some onions, garlic, and veggie crumble, I poured in some diced tomatoes and instant rice, then I stuffed that mix and some grated cheddar inside the pepper and put it in a baking dish (meat loaf pan, actually — all I have) with spaghetti sauce coating the bottom and more poured over the pepper (I guess to moisten it so it didn’t burn?), then covered the pan in aluminum foil and baked at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.  I had some trouble figuring out how to get the pepper out of the boiling water and splashed some on my hand, though it didn’t hurt as much or do as much damage as I would’ve thought (Leidenfrost effect, maybe?).  Otherwise it went pretty smoothly, except the pepper I got was a bit lopsided on the bottom and I had to prop it up along an edge of the pan so stuff wouldn’t spill.  And then when I took it out and put it on the plate, it tipped over and split open anyway.  Although it was all still on the plate, so it was just a messy presentation.  I had a knife and fork ready to eat it with per online instructions, but when I saw how it looked, I got a soup spoon and ended up eating it with that.  The pepper was tender enough that the spoon cut it easily.

So how was it?  Pretty good, I guess.  Interesting, though not hugely different from the kind of stuff I occasionally make using roughly the same ingredients but with the pepper diced up and mixed in.  It was a nice experiment and a reasonably satisfying meal, but I derived more satisfaction from having cooked it than I did from eating it.  Ultimately I don’t think it was worth all the trouble I went to in order to make it — plus all the dishes I have to wash later.  I don’t think I’ve ever expended so much time and so many cooking vessels and utensils for just a single food item.  I’m not sure it would be worth repeating the experiment, at least not until I move to a place with a dishwasher.  But at least now I can say I’ve done it.

Another farmer’s market (barely)

Recently I got a flier in the mail for a local farmer’s market that would be held today within walking distance of my apartment, so I went over there this morning to check it out.  I was expecting something big and well-attended like Findlay Market or the one in Hyde Park on Sundays, but it was just two people operating two tables next to a hospital building.  I walked right by them at first, thinking they must be some peripheral operation and I’d find the real place a block further along, but then I realized I could see the end of the street and there was nothing else there.  And the two tables had a limited selection, so I couldn’t find a head of Romaine lettuce or a garlic bulb like I wanted.

I did pick up a tomato, though, plus I decided to indulge a whim and buy an ear of corn.  I don’t think I’ve held an unshucked ear of corn since I was a kid visiting my relatives in Detroit.  So I had to ask for cooking advice on Facebook.  But it turned out very nicely, very fresh and sweet and flavorful.

Plus I got a nice long walk out of it — long enough that I was thoroughly winded (though not as badly as when I climbed the steps of Mt. Seleya to get home from Findlay Market that time).  But that’s good, because I need the exercise.

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Change of pace: My favorite recipe

I’m not a great cook, but living on my own as I do, I’ve had to develop a modest degree of culinary skill so I’d have an alternative to frozen dinners and sandwiches.  This is a quick, fairly easy recipe I concocted a while back, enjoyed quite a bit, and have refined as I went.  Today I made it again (I’m eating it as I write this) and I decided that, instead of just eyeballing the proportions as I usually do, I’d measure more carefully so I could get it into a form resembling an actual recipe I could pass on to others.

I don’t have a name for the thing, but it’s a chicken-and-rice dish, basically.  The ingredients are:

  • 1 cup (or so) cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup diced precooked chicken
  • 2/3 cup frozen peas
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil (I prefer pure)
  • 1 medium to large clove garlic
  • Black pepper
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Preparation is simple enough.  Cook whatever kind of rice you prefer (I’ve done it with every kind of rice from the regular kind that takes half an hour to cook to the 10-minute boil-in-bag kind to the 90-second microwave pouches, depending on what kind and how much time I’ve had available), just so long as the cooked volume is 1 cup or so.  Meanwhile, steam the peas for a few minutes (not sure this step is necessary, but it saves time in the combining stage).  Steaming is better than boiling since you don’t drain the nutrients away with the boil water.  If the chicken is frozen, thaw it.  Mince the garlic clove finely — remember to smash it first to release the flavor.

Once the rice is cooked, put it in a medium saucepan (if it isn’t there already) and stir in the peas, chicken, olive oil, and garlic (not necessarily in that order) and grind black pepper over it to taste.  Simmer over medium heat until it’s uniformly heated; I forgot to time this stage, but I think it took me about 8 minutes this time.  Once plated, top with the grated parmesan.  (I’ve tried mixing in the parmesan with the rest, but it sticks more to the pan and the storage containers.)  It makes about three servings, or two if you have a big appetite.

I think it’s a pretty healthy meal.  You’ve got whole grain, lean meat, a green vegetable, garlic (whose health benefits are often exaggerated but still present), and plenty of ultra-nutritious olive oil.  The oil has a fair amount of fat, but it’s the good kind of fat, the kind that reduces cholesterol.  And the grated parmesan is pretty low in fat, according to the label on the little green can.  If you like, you could ease off on the olive oil, but I love the stuff so I like to pour it on.  (Funny, I don’t like olives much, but I love the oil.  Though the extra virgin kind is a bit too intense for me.)  And in addition to being healthy, it’s easy to make, uses simple ingredients, and tastes good.  I like to have it with a side dish of applesauce.

Leftovers can keep for, I guess, a few days in the fridge.  I wouldn’t know, since I usually finish them off pretty quickly.  If you’re cooking for one like me, a good trick is to have two storage containers ready beside your plate and spoon equal amounts into all three.  That way you’ve got your portions measured handily, and having the hot leftovers in two smaller containers helps them cool off faster so you can get them into the fridge sooner (not a good idea to put hot containers right into the fridge, since it heats up the whole thing).  Plus you can just take out one of the containers and pop it right in the microwave.

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