Not Getting Chopped

Ever since getting the Food Network, Chopped has been one of my favorite shows to watch. Four contestants have three rounds (appetizer, entrée, dessert) of mystery boxes where they must use all the ingredients in their box in a timely, tasty and creative manner. One contestant gets “chopped” after each round until the final two battle it out over the dessert box. I loved finding out what was in the boxes. What are the mystery ingredients?? And once those came out Skywalker and I would start calling out ideas of how we’d put our respective dishes together. Sometimes one of the contestants would have a similar idea so it was neat to watch how they execute it. Other times we’d be blown away by the way they deconstructed and reconstructed the ingredients. Still other times we’d chuckle at how some contestants fumbled their dish up….or laugh at how we would mess it up if we were there.

The mystery ingredients concept really is how I put meals together. I don’t plan a weekly menu and then buy all the ingredients ahead of time. I buy what is on special for the week as well as whatever “food staples” I can foresee myself using…and then the day before or even the day of, I grab whatever my fridge/cupboards will yield and I put something together. With leftovers, I try to make it into something new so we’re not eating the same thing over again. Watching Chopped really inspires me to try new combinations or transformations with food. Inspiration’s especially needed by the end of the week when I have fewer ingredients and fewer ideas to work with.

But for example, say after rummaging through the fridge and cupboard, I have:

  • Pork chops
  • Peanut butter
  • Corn
  • Egg noodle

I’d marinate the chops in soy sauce, garlic and honey…then pan fry them before cutting into strips. The corn gets steamed, the niblets cut off the ear, and pan-fried in the same pan the pork was cooked in so the flavorful drippings get soaked into the corn. Egg noodle is cooked the normal way. And peanut butter is added to miso paste to make the soup base. And then everything gets assembled into one yummy bowl of pork noodle soup.

Or say I have these leftover from yesterday’s dinner:

  • grilled back ribs
  • grilled veggies

I’ll de-bone all the ribs and chop up the tender rib meat. I’ll also chop the grilled veggies up. Then find some tomatoes, tomato paste, onions and a few shakes of Tabasco to meld all together into a hearty stew or meat sauce to spoon over pasta or rice.

We don’t have any kids to be the food critic…(they’d still have to finish their dinner regardless!)…so for now, I watch how Skywalker reacts to my experiments. Most times it’s turned out well. =) Sometimes I’ll get a “hmm…interesting” followed by some suggestions. But he always finishes what I make. Thanks Hun! Many more years of experimenting to come!

My food blog tastytogether.blogspot.com will showcase the different meals that have been thrown together of late. Hopefully it’ll give you some ideas too. Definitely feel free to suggest more ideas as well!
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So Tasty Together

I’ve started a new blog!! It’s called “So Tasty Together” and it’s just on food…specifically “flavors that taste good together.”

Something I don’t do well is following recipes. I just don’t do recipes…at least not following them to the teaspoon and milliliter. Recipes are more for inspiration than anything…for finding out what tastes good together.

I love experimenting different flavors. This probably sprung out of a childhood where my Dad would make me buttered toast with condensed milk and pork floss. Or where peanut butter sandwiches with pear slices was enjoyed. In my adult years, the challenge turned into how I could turn boring leftovers into something new. And all with mostly common ingredients (really, anything that I can find in my kitchen on any given day). Hopefully this will inspire anyone to whip together something new in their kitchen that isn’t same old same old.  Suggestions are always welcome!

So, that’s what you can find out there: What Tasty Together (and what isn’t).

Hope you’ll enjoy it!

Mozzarella!

After a successful attempt at making pasta from scratch, we wanted to try making mozzarella from scratch because it also looked pretty simple on TV and also only has a few ingredients: whole milk, citric acid, rennet, salt (optional)

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Here’s a gallon of whole milk slowly warming on the stove. The wirey thing on the left is a digital thermometer….you totally need to watch the temperature with this.

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After adding citric acid (which makes the milk start to curdle) and rennet (which makes the curds coagulate)…it starts looking like this.

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Then once the curds have finished setting…we cut it up in the pot, turn the heat back up again…and watch the curds solidify some more. The added heat makes the whey come out of the curds.

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And then you strain the curds from the whey. Here we’ve got a big pot of whey in the front and the curds are draining from the hanging white cheese cloth bag in the background. Yes, one gallon of milk only makes about a bowl of curds.

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Mozza curds!! From here we add a teaspoon of salt and then instructions call for some heating up in the microwave to melt and soften the curds. (What we’ve seen in restaurants is curds being tempered and melted in hot water…we’re going to try that next time.)

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Here’s Skywalker starting to knead the melting curds. It’ll get smoother and shinier….

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Ta-da! Once it’s shiny you know it’s done. We had a small taste and the flavor is AMAZING compared to the store-bought, pre-packaged and preserved stuff. (This site has more thorough instructions…there are a lot of different variations for making mozza so you can experiment what works for you.)

Interestingly, the huge leftover pot of whey can now be used to make ricotta…which we did. Its process isn’t very interesting so I didn’t record it. Basically you just heat the whey to near boiling, let it cool, strain the fine curds out and you’re done! (The leftover whey from this ricotta step can be used to fertilize plants or be used in soup or be fed to pets for extra nutrients. So many uses!)

Next time we might just look for cheese curds to turn into mozzarella instead of making the curds ourselves…just to cut down on the work and from having to deal with all the leftover whey. Either way, it feels great to make something from scratch and have it taste as good as you hoped. =D

From Scratch

We saw on the Food Network once, someone who made pasta from scratch…and amazingly noted they only used three ingredients! Wow! That seems so easy…we have to try it!

So we did that today. =)

Two cups of flour (we had leftover spelt flour so mixed it with all-purpose flour), three eggs, pinch of salt. Stir together slowly then start to knead with your hand.

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Knead for about 10 min to get it elasticky. (We skipped the part where you wrap it and let the dough rest in the fridge for 20min.)

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Roll it through the pasta roller…from setting 1 to 7. Sprinkle flour between rollings to keep dough from sticking. Cut to manageable lengths if it’s getting too long.

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Fold the well-floured sheets into eighths and then cut into 1cm strips with a sharp knife.

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Loosen the cut pasta and toss with more flour to prevent sticking. (We also skipped the part where you hang the pasta to dry before storing or cooking.)

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Cook in salted and oiled boiling water for 1-2 min max. Drain.

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Then toss in your pasta sauce and enjoy! (The whole process took an hour to make it on our plates.)

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I tossed it in sliced button mushrooms, enoki mushrooms and shredded leftover rack of lamb. Am missing fresh greens like basil and arugula. Pretty tasty anyways. =)

There are so many variations using different flours, number of eggs, yolks only versions, different herbs to season with, and different purees to add for color and flavor. We’re totally going to try this again!