Monday, February 23, 2009

Hubby's Gourmet Mac and 5 Cheese

My hubby and I ate at our nearby TGI Friday's recently and decided to try the Gourmet Mac n' Five Cheese, which was winner of the Food Network's Ultimate Recipe Showdown for comfort food. It contains blue cheese, which Hubby does not care for, but I told him he probably would not notice it as a separate flavor, so he trusted me and ordered it. It was served with sliced grilled chicken breast, and we absolutely loved the dish.

Over the weekend, he downloaded the recipe from Food Network and prepared it using the cheese we had on hand - fontina, gruyere, parmesan, provolone, and smoked gouda - and penne in place of macaroni (just like Friday's). He painstakingly followed the recipe and while the casserole was baking, he grilled the chicken.

It was excellent! We thought the cheese sauce needed that extra boost that the blue cheese and white cheddar would have provided, so next time we will add those to our shopping list. We also had to add an extra sprinkle of salt.

I managed to capture three photos before we gorged ourselves.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Peanut Butter

With all the recent concern about peanuts, I thought it was a good time to learn to make my own peanut butter. I chose Oklahoma grown raw Spanish peanuts from Lasley Family Farm and roasted them for about 30 minutes in a 350 oven. I will purchase roasted peanuts next time, as removing the skin from the peanuts was not fun.

Following Alton Brown's recipe for homemade peanut butter, I used my food processor to grind peanuts, oil, salt and honey to velvety goodness. When I took the lid off the processor, the heady roasted aroma made me weak.

Storing in the refrigerator preserves homemade peanut butter for up to two months, if it lasts that long.

A recent post on Shelby's blog inspired me to try My Peanut Butter in her Asian-inspired recipe. I adapted the ingredients to what I had on hand, including substituting dry sherry for the rice vinegar and omitting the ketchup and Hoisin sauce. I think the ingredients can be adjusted according to one's taste and sense of adventure. Here is my version:

Sesame Peanut Spaghetti
8 oz dry spaghetti
2 small uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Cook spaghetti in boiling water to desired doneness. Drain and set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, mix and warm peanut butter, sherry, brown sugar and soy sauce, gradually adding water until smooth. Set aside.

Heat vegetable oil in wok, add garlic and onion, saute until softened. Push to the side and add diced chicken. Saute until lightly browned and no longer pink. Push to the side and add sesame oil, heating briefly before adding spaghetti. Toss spaghetti with other wok ingredients. Add peanut butter sauce and mix thoroughly. Serve.

This was one of those meals that we could not stop eating. The savory peanut butter sauce coated and soaked into the spaghetti strands to produce rich, toothsome, very satisfying fare.

I did not photograph the finished product, because I had already sampled it and could not wait any longer to eat it. I did, however, take a lovely photo of what was left in the wok after dinner, right before I ate the last bites.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

My Seed Problem

This was the scene on Wednesday: a bone-chilling 10 degrees outside, a layer of ice and snow covering the ground, and my thoughts turned to...seeds! In the middle of a cold, windy Oklahoma winter I love to wrap up in my blanket and read seed catalogs, enticed by visions of rainbow hued tomatoes ripening in the July heat.

My problem, of course, is that I buy way too many seeds. My eyes are bigger than my garden.

When we lived near the Texas Gulf coast, I became enamored with old, open-pollinated varieties of tomatoes called heirloom tomatoes. Not only is the idea of heirloom seeds attractive to me, but their designations are so evocative and enticing that I buy some just for their names--Rose De Berne, Aunt Ginny's Purple, Black from Tula, Jaune Flamme, Yellow Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Caro Rich.

In one of my favorite gardening books, Dr. Carolyn Male's 100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden, each page contains a photo of an heirloom tomato with taste descriptions rivaling that of a wine review. One of my fantasies is to have the space, the time, and the resources to grow every variety of tomato in that book!

My favorite cherry tomato is Sungold, the only hybrid tomato I grow, and it is most aromatic tomato ever, both in foliage and fruit. And thanks to organic gardening practices, I can pop those beauties right into my mouth straight from the vine. I not only ordered Sungold seeds this year but also heirlooms Beefsteak, Japanese Black Trifele, Moonglow, Yellow Plum, Babywine, Black, Black Pear, Ananas Noire, Ruby Pearl, and Chianti Rose.

In order to get a headstart on the Oklahoma heat, tomato plants should be in the ground by mid-March, and this means the seeds must be started this month. Where to plant all those tomatoes will be a real challenge with my small, raised beds.

These are some of the tomatoes produced by my attempt at organic gardening (a monumental challenge battling stinkbugs) in Texas in 2005:

And here is a mix of Farmer's Market and my own garden tomatoes in Oklahoma in 2007:

I hope my greed for seed pays off in bushels of juicy tomatoes this summer. Then I can blog about my salt problem.