Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Cleaning your grill

If you're like me, and faced with a seriously funky grill grate at the start of the summer cookout season, you may think your options are limited. You can scour until your arms fall off, with that tiny wire brush, or perhaps you can blast the bejesus out of the thing with oven cleaner. Believe it or not, there is an easier way to get last year's crap off your grill, and it's only going to take newspaper, dish soap, and a garden hose.

Yes. You read that correctly. A few sections of your local newspaper, ordinary dish soap, the kind that is sitting by your sink right now, and the garden hose. (Or a bucket of water)

Go somewhere where there is 1) enough room, 2)nothing that will get messed up by water/newsprint. Lay down a few sections of your newspaper. On top of this, put your grill rack, and squirt the whole shebang down with the dish soap. Pretend you're Jackson Pollack. Make the mark of Zorro! Now, hit it with the hose. Do you have a lot of water on there? Good. Now slap another few sections of newspaper on top, and blast THEM with the hose too. (So you've created a Newspaper & Grill sandwich- the paper's the bread, the soap and grill rack are the fixins.) Let the whole thing sit, unmolested, for about a half hour, forty-five minutes.

When the time is up, go out, and use some more wadded up newspaper, or your trusty scrub brush to get the last of the gunk off, and rinse it really well with the hose. I don't know WHY this works, but it does. When I started out yesterday, there was so much shit on our grill, I didn't even want to use it with tinfoil over the grate, but by the time I was done (with no scrubbing with the wire thing, I might add)the thing looked AWESOME.

Give it a shot. You'll be surprised.

Turtle Brownies

Now with 100% more turtle!

Warning: do not serve to friends with loose fillings!

1 brownie mix (the kind to go in a 9x13 pan) OR the basic baker's one bowl brownies (just go easier on the mix ins)
Whatever ingredients your brownie mix requires (egg, oil, water)

1 cup (or so) chocolate bits
10-12 Brachs Caramels
about 1 cup pecans or pecan pieces

First, cut up your caramels into itty-bitty pieces (like into thirds, then cut those thirds into 3-4 pieces each- you want them small). You can use a regular paring-type knife for this. It helps to squirt the knife periodically with cooking spray, and/or run it under hot water to de-caramelize the blade. (You can use more caramels if you like.) Add the caramels and the chocolate bits to the DRY portion of the mix/recipe. Toss with the mix/flour till the bits are coated. This will keep them from sinking like stones to the bottom of the pan. Prepare the rest of the mix/recipe as directed.

Pour the batter into your prepared pan, smooth out, and top with your pecans. (You can use walnuts, in a pinch.) Bake as directed (until a toothpick inserted 1" from the edge comes out reasonably clean). Cool slightly, cut, and watch out for your fillings.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Desperate Dinners

You know what I'm talking about. Everyone has at least one dish in their family that was the "I've got kids to feed, and nothing in the cupboards, and no cash till payday" dish. Of course, you didn't know that at the time, but that's what it was. Still have 'em, too. I just made one of them tonight, not because I'm on the verge of starvation, but because I had a Fiendish craving for some biscuits, and had no beef stew to put over them.

Mom's Old Fashioned Tuna Barf

Don't let the name put you off, or even the appearance of the finished product. It's really pretty good. Also, it's strangely comforting.

You will need:

1 can cheddar cheese soup
1 can tuna
1 small can peas (but leftovers from last night are just as fine, Frozen's best if you have 'em, but not authentic.)
1/2 soup can of milk

Empty the soup into a saucepan, mix with the 1/2 can milk. Now, if you're not resorting to desperate measures, throw in some hot sauce, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, dried mustard, and/or black pepper to make the soup "zippy" enough for you. (A few years ago, Campbells changed the formula for their cheese soup, and it's not like it was when I was a kid, but varying amounts of the aforementioned additives, specifically the R.W. vinegar, help)

When the soup's warmed up, add the tuna and peas, and heat through. If times are really desperate, serve over saltines. If you've got bread, spoon this over toast. If you're livin' high on the hog, make yourself some bisquick biscuits, split 'em, and put this over 'em.

I can't make this stuff too often, because I have the king of all carnivores (I swear, if he could have meat buns to put his hamburgers on, he'd be the happiest man alive) to cook for. Dad gets pissy if he doesn't get meat at least once a day. However, when I lived in Florida, I used to make this a lot.

Mmm. Rice.

You'll need

Chicken Broth
Rice. A short grain, like Valencia.
The amount of rice you'll use is dependent on how much chicken broth you have, and how many people you're feeding. About half as much rice as you have broth, when in doubt, err on the side of having more liquid than rice (feel free to fill in the gaps with water)
A dab of butter if you have it.

Put your rice in a saucepan with a lid, and add the chicken broth all at once. Cook until the rice is tender, but you still have a bit of soupy liquid (you may need to add more chicken broth or water to make sure it's sorta soup-ish)

If you're feeling especially sassy, you can sautee up a mess of spinach in some olive oil and garlic and put it on top of the rice. YUM.

Note: If you have a large Cuban or Caribbean population in your town, you'll have an easier time finding valencia rice. Sure, you could use Arborio, but I'm way too cheap to spend 4.50 on a jar of rice, when I can get a bag of valencia for around a dollar.

Of course, I can't FIND valencia rice here, because I'm in the land of the Amish. If you happen to have Valencia rice in your neighborhood grocery store, PLEASE email me at aurolyn AT gmail DOT com, and I will buy it from you.

Here's to not so desperate times, and eating well even when there's nothin' doin' in the cupboard.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

If you're into that sort of thing

You can make a pretty decent Frappuccino knockoff at home, if you are so inclined.

Milk. Skim, Whole, Cow, Goat, Soy, whatever.
1 spoonful of instant coffee (quantity depends on your masochism level)
1 healthy squirt of Hershey's syrup (I always was partial to the mocha fraps)

Sweetener of some sort. Splenda, real sugar, Whatever.

Mix the whole shebang together (or if you're feeling sassy, throw it in a shaker). I will warn you, the instant coffee tends to take a bit to dissolve in the milk, but it will, eventually.

Of course, now I won't be able to sleep.

And because I can't remember if I have posted this before or not, it's worth repeating-

The Best Mac & Cheese, EVER.

Oh, thank you, thank you Alton Brown. I want to have your babies. We shall feed them Meat loaf and mac and cheese, and teach them the ways of food geekery.

If you're feeling fat/guilty/whatever, this works out just as well with skim milk, margarine, and 2% cheese. You can also use less cheese and more mustard/hot sauce.

8 ounces (1/2 package) macaroni. Elbows or shells, or corkscrews if you're feeling sassy.
Around 10 ounces of cheese. Give or take. Often I'll just use up whatever's floating around in the fridge, a little more, a little less, no big whoop. More on this in a minute-
3 tablespoons butter
3-4 tablespoons flour
2 cups or so of milk
a healthy teaspoon or two of dry mustard
a healthy shake (or 6) of hot sauce
Salt & Pepper to taste.

Cook your macaroni according to package directions. While that's going on, think about what cheese you want. I'm partial to sharp cheddar when I have it. However, I've used various combinations including portions of:
Cottage Cheese (just a few spoonsful)
String Cheese
Italian Blend
Cheese Whiz
Colby Jack
Pepper Jack
Sandwich cheese
Taco Flavored cheese

I've yet to turn out a crappy batch of Mac and Cheese. The trick is the dry mustard & hot sauce. If you've got a really bland cheese mix going on, kick up the mustard and hot sauce quotient, to help out. The hot sauce really doesn't add much heat, you've got too much dairy goin' on for that. Anyway... the sauce.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in your flour and cook for a minute or two. Slowly, add your milk, whisking constantly until it's lump-free. Add the mustard and hot sauce and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly (or near to it) until the mixture is thick, and reminds you of sauce (just as it comes to a boil, usually). Take the sauce off the heat, and stir in your cheese(s) a bit at a time, melting the previous addition thoroughly before adding the next. Once your cheese is incorporated, taste the sauce to see if you need to tweak the seasonings, then mix with the cooked, drained macaroni.

Pop the whole shebang into a lubed-up casserole dish, top with breadcrumbs, cornflakes, or just some parsley, and whip it into a 350 degree oven until the sauce sets up a bit and the top is a bit brown.


Also: if your sauce won't get thick enough, it may be because there wasn't enough flour in the original roux. No big deal, you can tweak the quantities next time. In the meantime, you can fake it with a little cornstarch, and some extra cheese (parmesan's a good thickener). After it's in the oven, it thickens up a bit more too, so chances are, nobody will notice. Besides, even when Mac and Cheese is bad, it's damned good.

Oo! Oo! A threefer!

To make amends for not posting in what, a month? I have three recipes for today. Well, two and a half.

Today we've got Wicked Good Twice Baked Taters, which can be made from leftovers of Crock Pot Ham'n'Green Beans, followed with Spam-Fry. Which is actually tastier than it sounds, as I hate spam, but love this.

First up, the Crock Pot Ham'n'Green Beans

You will need:

1 Crock Pot
1 Big whonkin' bag of frozen (whole) green beans
. (Or 2 boxes, or a smaller bag & a half)
1 medium potato, peeled & diced
1 cryo-pack of diced ham (if you're lazy, like I was) or a ham steak, cubed, or leftover ham. About a cup or two.
1 can chicken broth
Celery seed, pepper, onion flakes (or the real thing), and the teensiest bit of salt to taste, if you are so inclined.

Spray your crock pot with cooking spray, or, if you're really lazy, use one of those plastic oven bags to line it. Then, layer in about half your beans, the potato, half the ham cubes, another layer of green beans, and the remaining ham. (or just dump it all together, it'll get stirred eventually. I like having the potatoes in the middle though, because I'm weird.) Add your seasonings, and pour on the can of chicken broth. Cook it on low until you get home from work, or high for 2-3 hours (till the beans are unfrozen, the potatoes are cooked, and the whole thing tastes swell) stirring occasionally, if you can.

Serve with baked potatoes (yes, I know, potato overload. But if you don't how can you make fun things out of the leftovers?)

Wicked Good Twiced Baked 'Taters

The quantity depends on how many leftover potatoes you have. Do this for however many taters you've got, or mouths to feed. If you only have one tater and two people, cut the tater in half, and each of you gets half.

Cut the top off your tater so it looks like a canoe, hollow it out carefully with a spoon- set the canoe aside, you'll get to it in a minute. In a bowl, mash up the scooped out (and cut off) tater bits with a fork. Dice up a few of the ham cubes, add a few green beans (if they're nice and mushy) and a little of the broth, and add a bit of cheese (swiss, cheddar, whiz- whatever's in the fridge). Mix that all together and nuke the mix in the microwave for about one minute.

Scoop the whole shebang (and yes, it will be more than you think the potato can handle. Fear not, the potato is sturdy) into the potato, packing it tightly, and mounding it up like a little 'tater Rushmore. Toss the potato canoe (gently, ever so gently) into your handy toaster oven for a few minutes (just till your potato canoe is warm, and the top gets a bit crusty-ish). If you don't have a toaster oven, just nuke it for another few seconds.


AND... Spam-Fry

This is one of those accidental recipes. I just kind of threw together what we had in the house, and it didn't turn out half bad. (And if you have a Costco membership, those frozen Kirkland stir fry vegetables are fucking AWESOME.)

1 can Spam (preferably the one with the Spamalot can, just because.)
4 cups frozen stir fry veggies
1-2 packages of ramen noodles
, whatever flavor floats your boat. I've done it with chicken, and Roast Beef flavors.
Soy Sauce to taste
a little less than 1/4 cup cornstarch, and about a cup, cup and a third of water. (or whatever you use to make your stir fry sauce with)

Open the Spam (spam spam spam) (as it tastes like ass when it's still in the can) and slice the log-o-meat into about 6 thickish slices. Cook these in a frying pan (or your wok, if you're fancy-schmancy) until they're nice and crusty on both sides. (Not crusty like a longshoreman, but crusty like the caramelized yumminess.) Remove the Spam from the pan, and cut it into strips or chunks.

While the Spam (spam spam spam spam spam) is cooking, you can start the veggies- I put them in a pyrex measuring cup, cover it with saran-wrap, and nuke them for about 3-4 minutes, so that they don't take forever to cook in the pan. You can also be boiling the water for your ramen noodles. Hang onto the sauce packet(s) It/they will be handy in a few minutes.

Once the veggies are partially cooked, toss them in the pan you cooked the Spam (spam spam spam) in, get them goin' and slide that Spam (spam spam spam) back on into the pan. Heat them through, and put together your "sauce". Add the contents of the Ramen packet, a few good shots of soy sauce (lite, for the love of Elvis- or you're going to need a gallon of water to drink with this), and corn starch to the water (or vice versa). Stir vigorously, and pour onto the goodies in the pan. When the cornstarch mixture thickens, and looks clear(er), it's done.

Serve over the cooked Ramen noodles. Sure, it's totally trashy, but it's pretty damned tasty.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Best Damn Artichoke Dip Ever

Even Tom Arnold would eat it. The recipe was originally found on the Etiquette Grrl's site, however, they've been otherwise occupied of late. I have since added a few of my own twists to it to make it uniquely my own.

Note, it also looks really good for a halloween party if you put it in an appropriate container and call it "Zombie Brain Dip".

1 box frozen chopped spinach, thawed & drained
1 can artichoke hearts, drained (not the marinated kind)
1 cup or so (eyeball it) of Mayo (the world will not end if you use Light mayo, but don't use Miracle Whip.)
1 cup or so of Sour Cream (I use the light kind)
1 cup or so of italian blend grated cheese (or more, if you like)
a good pinch of red pepper flakes or hot sauce
a good healthy addition of dried onion flakes
a dash of garlic powder

Put your Spinach in a bowl (make sure it's squeezed out so it's dry), and with your fingers, break up the artichoke hearts as you add them to the bowl (just squish 'em up- chunky is good). Add the rest of the other ingredients and mix well. You can add some grated parmesan cheese too, if you like.

Now, if it's hot out, and you like, you can stop here. It's a pretty good cold dip, but if you're the oven-owning type, I recommend putting the dip in an ovenproof container, baking at about 350 till it's hot and bubbly, and (if you put a little extra cheese on top) it gets nice and brown. You will be rewarded.

Serve it with wheaty crackers (triscuits?) celery sticks, cucumber slices, or whatever else floats your boat. Leftovers are good schmeared on a tortilla, and wrapped up, then sliced like little pinwheels. Yum.