that's forking good

adventures in a culinary neophyte's kitchen

Archive for August, 2011

sunshine and picnics

Posted by culinaryneophyte on August 30, 2011

So I survived the hurripocalypse with little incident. I know there was some widespread damage farther down the East Coast, and my heart goes out to those affected, but in New Jersey, Irene was severely overestimated. Shouldn’t complain, though; I had a lot of food in my fridge and freezer I would have been pretty upset about losing. But seriously, I hope everyone is safe, and that those affected this weekend are getting back to routine.

I don’t have a good segue for this recipe other than it reminds me of picnics and sunshine, and that’s what we’re left with in the wake of Hurricane Irene. I give you: pesto and sun-dried tomato tuna salad (adapted from one of my favs, The Curvy Carrot)!

Like Shanon, I’ve always been a plain tuna salad kind of girl — canned tuna, little bit of mayo and some chopped celery — but I was feeling a little adventurous one afternoon, and ended up with a heavenly little lunch.

The one minor hitch in the plan was the cost. I wished I had a basil plant at home. I didn’t have pine nuts in the house either, but knew I couldn’t make a pesto without them. For the record, pine nuts are expensive. And for the record, they are not easily located in a supermarket. I spent literally 15 minutes walking up and down aisles before finally breaking down and asking a ShopRite employee. Looked in canned vegetables, olives, olive oil, International foods… Nothing. You know where they were? In the baking aisle. Sigh. By the time I got there, I was too proud to not buy a jar, despite them being $6 for a 1.75 ounces. Eesh.

Still, it’s worth it, and it’ll motivate you to make pesto more often! Helpful hint: Keep pine nuts stored in the fridge or freezer; otherwise, the high oil content quickly makes them turn rancid. (And at $6/jar, you want these babies to last.)

1/2 c. basil
1 clove of garlic
2 tbl. pine nuts
1/4 c. olive oil
1/8 c. Parmesan cheese

In a food processor (I used Magic Bullet), combine basil, garlic and pine nuts. Add olive oil, scraping down mixture from sides as necessary. Once done processing, add Parmesan cheese.

♦1 can tuna, in water
4 ounces sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 c. basil pesto
2 tbs. mayo
salt & pepper to taste

Combine drained tuna, sun-dried tomatoes and mayo in a small bowl. Add basil pesto, salt and pepper. Serve on croissant or bread of your choice. Makes two sandwiches.

Total time? 15 minutes.
Cost? $6 pine nuts (enough for many more pestos), $2 sun-dried tomatoes from the farmer’s market, $2.50 bunch of basil, $1 can of tuna, $1 for two croissants.
Overall success relative to expectations? 10 out 10. The flavor in this tuna salad blew me away. Somehow, every delicious bite seemed new, which is pretty hard to achieve. The croissant is a must, in my opinion, but if you have some tuna salad left over, it’d be great on some crackers. Every time I think of this sandwich, I want to go on a picnic. Don’t let the cost of the ingredients deter you — this is a must-make!


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come on, Irene

Posted by culinaryneophyte on August 26, 2011

Hurricane Irene is on her way, and people in New Jersey have straight up lost their minds. I have never seen a store’s bakery rampaged quite like I did tonight. The flashlight section? A barren wasteland. The candle stock? Only the ones that smelled like feet remained. People were pushing multiple carts, each filled with 17 cases of bottled water and three gallons of milk. I understand we’re probably going to spend the next two days inside, but it’s not the zombie apocalypse, people — it’s just some rain.

Nevertheless, most people aren’t going to want to leave their houses while this storm sweeps through, and sometimes cooking with just the things in your house just isn’t that fun. Lucky for all of us, I stumbled across’s version of KFC’s mashed potato bowl, and you should have close to — if not everything — you need on hand to make it.

I highly recommend a deep fryer for this one. During my friends’ annual ‘Thieving Elves’ Christmas party, I became the proud owner of a Presto deep fryer, but for much longer than I’d like to admit, I had been using the appliance only to crisp up frozen french fries. What a waste! Thank goodness I discovered that thing’s awesome popcorn chicken-making abilities. (And with Food Network Magazine’s “Fry Guide” in its latest issue, I’m going to need to steal someone’s arteries at the next Thieving Elves party.)

The double-dipping is key here. I made a similar recipe a few months back, but battered the chicken only once, and the end product was really lacking. This dry mix has a really good spice, and tastes close enough to KFC’s that I don’t really care whether or not Col. Sanders’ survivors ever release that secret recipe.

mmm, golden perfection

♦1 lb. boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
2 c. flour
2-1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. pepper
3/4 tsp. Lawry’s salt
1/8 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1 egg, beaten
1 c. milk

Bring oil in deep fryer to 375 degrees. While that’s heating up, combine egg and milk. In a separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients (flour, spices, etc.). Dip chicken chunks into egg mix, then coat, back into egg mix and back into coating. (I did this in batches of five so I didn’t lose any of the little guys in the bowls.) Fry in batches of 10-12 until chicken is golden and fully cooked. Mine took about 10 minutes each.

♦Mashed potatoes (either instant or homemade — potatoes, butter, milk, salt)
♦Corn (frozen or canned)
♦Gravy, canned
♦Shredded cheese 

Prepare mashed potatoes, whether instant or homemade. Fortunately, I’ve got a guy who makes some incredible mashed taters, because otherwise, I would have been in the kitchen for hours. Place a helping of potatoes in bowl, cover with cooked corn, add chicken bites, then cheese and drizzle with gravy.

Total time? 45 minutes, maybe more if you’re doing it alone.
Cost? $3 chicken tenderloins, $1.50 potatoes, $1.25 gravy, $1.88 cheese, $1 corn.
Overall success relative to expectations? 10 out 10. I figured this would be tasty enough, but the finished product was better than KFC’s. Not kidding. Make this while you’re stuck in the house. It beats the hell out of driving to get fast food, and it’s probably a lot more satisfying than the egg and cheese sandwiches all those loonies at the store are going to be eating all weekend in their fallout shelters.

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welcome home float

Posted by culinaryneophyte on August 24, 2011

I was saving this dessert post for a special occasion, and it feels appropriate share now that the circumstances are aligned with the circumstances under which it was first attempted.

Less circuitously, I made these root beer float cupcakes when my best friend came home from Europe on winter break earlier this year, and she’s just returned to the States for the foreseeable future. I figured I’d give her a little ‘welcome home’ nod, especially because when she left, she said, “Don’t make anything awesome while I’m away,” and — as I’m told — I didn’t listen.

I had Laura and her friends from school, Jessie and Marie, over that winter night. They supplied dinner in the form of meats and cheeses from Marie’s German homeland, and I agreed to make dessert — an ambitious one, as it turned out.

When I started, I struggled with which root beer avenue to take. I had bought a bottle of RB extract from a local candy store for $3, but I also had half a bottle of A&W that was going to go to waste anyway sitting on the counter, so I opted to simmer that down into syrup instead.

Then, embarrassingly enough, I couldn’t get the bottle open. I literally scraped up my palms attempting to get the cap unscrewed, so I went back to the extract.

Then, I took a good look at the recipe and realized that measly bottle (only 1 teaspoon!) wasn’t even close to what I needed, so I went back to the bottle. I took out a pair of scissors and started haphazardly gnawing at the cap and bottle with them. That didn’t work.

Refusing to be defeated by a bottle of root beer, I drew a large knife and started slashing at the bottle until I finally punctured it enough to get to that elusive liquid. Unfortunately, making soda into syrup takes a long time (like, an hour+), and when I tasted it, it was a little more vanilla and sugar than root beer, so I ended up using the RB extract, too.

The biggest challenge of these cupcakes is getting the root beer flavor to power through. I used Baking Bites’ recipe as a guide and strayed a bit, but I’d recommend following what she has here. It might also be a good idea to use the Sonoma Syrup Co’s Root Beer Syrup she suggests — not that I’ve tried it, but it has to be at least as good or better than whatever concoction I came up with. I’d also highly recommend reserving ample amounts of root beer syrup for glazing; it really takes the root beer flavor to the next level.

For cupcakes
♦1-1/3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 tbs. butter
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 c. root beer syrup
1/3 c. milk
Vanilla ice cream

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar, then beat in egg and vanilla extract. Add 1/3 of flour mixture, then root beer syrup, another third of flour, then milk and the rest of the mix. Bake at 350 degrees for 16-18 minutes. (I cut out small cones from the middle of each cake, and poured a little bit of reserved syrup into them; the cake soaks up the liquid and gives it even more RB flavor.) When completely cool and ready to serve, top each cupcake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

For glaze
♦1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tbs. root beer syrup
1 tbs. water

Whisk together ingredients until smooth. Add more water if glaze is too thick. Drizzle over ice cream-topped cupcakes.

Total time? 2 hours if you can’t open a bottle of root beer and need to make syrup; 30-ish minutes otherwise.
Cost? Root beer extract $3 (not enough for entire recipe) and/or $1.50 bottle of root beer, $2.50 vanilla ice cream.
Overall success relative to expectations? 7 out 10. With all the trouble I went through to get that root beer flavor in there, I was a little disappointed it wasn’t that strong in the actual cake. On other hand, the root beer glaze was fantastic, and topping the cupcakes with vanilla ice cream brought home the root beer float feel.  Unfortunately, Marie wasn’t open to root beer floats (they don’t have those in Germany??), so I didn’t win over her vote, but they were hit among the others.

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not falling flat

Posted by culinaryneophyte on August 23, 2011

Up until this summer, I had never worked at a full-time job closer than 45 miles away. I was either planning ‘leftoverable’ meals for dinner so I’d have lunch for the following day, or I’d drop at least $5 a day to get a somewhat satisfying midday meal. Having a job is awesome, but having a job where you can come home on your lunch break is even better. Now that I’m home during lunch, though, I’m faced with a new challenge: What can I make, eat and enjoy in 40 minutes?

My favorite answer so far: mini pizzas, more specifically buffalo chicken flatbread and “loxish” flatbread. These personal-sized pizzas are filling enough for lunch or dinner, but you can get a week’s worth of them for what you’d spend on one meal out.

Buffalo chicken flatbread
♦1 slice flatbread or pocketless pita
1 chicken tenderloin, cooked and shredded
4 tbs. hot sauce
Squirt of lemon juice (official measurement)
1 tsp. oregano (or more, if you’d like)
1/2 c. mozzarella cheese (fresh is best, but shredded works, too)
Olive oil

Combine shredded chicken, hot sauce 1/2 tsp. oregano and lemon juice in bowl. Let sit while oven preheats to 350. Drizzle flatbread with olive oil. Add 1/4 c. mozzarella, then entire contents of bowl (chicken + sauce), additional oregano and top with remaining cheese. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until crust is golden.

“Loxish” flatbread
♦1 slice of flatbread (or pocketless pita)
4 oz. neufchatel (fewer calories than cream cheese)
2 oz. smoked salmon/lox 1 tbs. green onions, thinly sliced
1/3 c. cheddar cheese
Sprinkle of garlic powder 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Warm neufchatel in microwave for 5-10 seconds. Mash green onions into neufchatel, and spead mixture on flatbread. Top with smoked salmon, cheddar and garlic powder. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Total time? 15 for each.
Cost? (To make a work week’s worth) For buffalo chicken: $2.50 package of six flatbreads, $3.50 fresh mozzarella, $3 chicken tenderloins, $1.25 hot sauce. For “loxish”: $2.50 package of six flatbreads, $3 smoked salmon, $1.88 cheddar cheese, $1 green onions, $1 cream cheese.
Overall success relative to expectations? 9 out 10. If you’re a thin crust hater, these aren’t for you; otherwise, give them a try. I could eat these every day. So easy. So fast. So good.

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small packages

Posted by culinaryneophyte on August 20, 2011

You know what they say about small packages, and when it comes to dessert, I belong to the ‘best things come in small packages’ school of thought. I don’t want a giant slab of seven-layer cake or a “Man V. Food” kitchen sink full of ice cream sundae. Impressive as they may be, they’re not stimulating my salivatory glands quite like a bite-sized bit of awesome.

That was the logic behind my obsession with cakeballs, and hopefully by now you’ve noticed the new page on the menu bar and taken a look at my new venture. Please check back often for new updates and flavors, and any feedback and/or suggestions are appreciated!

Okay, okay… Less shameless self-promotion and more recipe sharing. In the same bite-sized-desserts-are-awesome vein, I am recommending you try one of the most popular desserts I’ve ever made that just so happens to be one of the easiest, as well: Oreo cheesecake pretzel bites (slightly adapted from my fav, Picky Palate).

I made these for a social gathering at my house, and they were gone before I even finished tidying up the kitchen. A few simple, cheap ingredients and very little effort, and you’ve got some happy party guests.

♦48 Snyder’s Butter Snaps pretzels
3 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
15 Oreos
8 oz. chocolate almond bark (melted chocolate chips work, too)
Sprinkles for decorating 

Pulverize Oreos in food processor (or with a rolling pin), and combine crumbs with cream cheese. Melt almond bark in a pot over low heat until smooth; make sure you don’t add any moisture to mixture, or it’ll get clumpy. (You can also melt almond bark or chocolate chips in the microwave until smooth, but I’m not a fan.) While the chocolate is heating up, form Oreo mixture into tablespoon-sized balls, press between two Butter Snap pretzels and set on a tray covered in wax paper. Pour desired amount of chocolate on top of each pretzel sandwich, and decorate immediately because chocolate will set quickly. Serve and enjoy! Makes 24.

Total time? 15 minutes.
Cost? $2.50 pretzels, $3 almond bark (won’t use even close to whole package), $2.79 Oreos (again, won’t use whole package), $1 cream cheese (not even half) + sprinkle costs.
Overall success relative to expectations? 9 out 10. I figured these would be good, but my friends were raving, and that’s always a satisfying feeling, especially when you’ve done relatively no baking. Make these for the kids and/or fun get togethers. Bonus points for aesthetics, because things in small packages are not only awesome, but generally adorable.

the finished product

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we jammin’

Posted by culinaryneophyte on August 9, 2011

The day my Food Network Magazine arrives in the mailbox is quickly becoming my favorite day of the month, and one of my favorite parts is the “50” ideas inserts they include. Last issue was all about potato salads. This month? BACON. It’s a heart attack handbook, but I’m dying to start cooking through the list.

This sandwich isn’t on there, but I thought it’d be fun to pay homage to bacon in my own way with this bacon & jam panini, courtesy of my fridge. I had some bacon leftover from breakfast, plus some blueberry-pomegranate jam from a gift basket, so I thought I’d experiment. The end result was a pleasant surprise. If you’re a fan of salty and sweet — and cheap dishes that take under 10 minutes — give this a try.

♦Sandwich roll or crusty bread
2 slices of cheese (I used American, but feel free to get creative)
2 slices of bacon, cooked
2 tbl. jam (I used blueberry-pomegranate, but any jam should do)

Spread jam on both insides of the sandwich. Place bacon and cheese on sandwich. Spread a little bit of butter on the outsides and grill, either on the stove or in your trusty Foreman Grill until melty and crispy.

Total time? 10 minutes, shorter if you have bacon already cooked.
Cost? $2 jam, $2.50 bacon, $2 half-pound cheese can make 10 sandwiches, 65¢ roll x 10.
Overall success relative to expectations? 8 out 10. Easy. Cheap. Good. It doesn’t take much more to impress me (unless you had healthy in there, too, but that’s not a deal breaker). I ate this sandwich three days in a row for lunch. The only downside is having to have/make bacon for it, because making bacon is time consuming and terrifying to cook. (What? I’m afraid of the grease splatters!) You could use that already-made bacon, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Also, I doubt you’re going to have blueberry pomegranate jam sitting around, so experiment with different flavors. I think a raspberry or strawberry would be pretty good, too.

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