Monday, March 5, 2012

From the Kitchen & the Bar

Spaghetti squash, prepped and ready to bake

While I'm sidelined with my stress fracture I have committed to a couple of different endeavors. First is a 42 day challenge during my layoff to work on core/strength and the second is to work on my chef skills. Hopefully, this will help keep me in some sort of shape so that when April rolls around I won't be a total slug. My revised race schedule has me bypassing the Bentonville Half (but I will volunteer) and the Ouachita Trail 50 while I recover. So my next race will be the Joplin Memorial Half and then the Hobbs 50. I should end up having 6 full weeks of training for Joplin and 8 for Hobbs. And what a brutal time, emotionally, to be out with an injury given the great weather and weekends full of race opportunities. I digress...

The chef part of the equation involves two approaches. First, at least once a week I will attempt to prepare a meal featuring an ingredient that is new to us. Or at least an ingredient prepared in a way that we have never tried before. This is what I told the family: tell me something you want to try that you have never had before or something you tried but didn't like and I will find another way to make it. Simple, right? The other thing this will allow is a chance to try some recipes out for the Inca Runners Training Camp (Grand Teton) in August where I will be the resident cook. 

It really does shred up like pasta

So the first week found me staring at a spaghetti squash. And I decided to simply bake it and make like it was a big plate of pasta. I have never worked with this before. The recipe was easy. Cut it in half, season it, bake it and then shred it with a fork. Top it with a sauce and Presto! I even included Philip in on this one. He got a chance to shred up one half of the squash. I rounded the meal out with some grilled chicken, green beans, a salad and some fruit bowls. Carolyn chose to skip the sauce and topped hers with yeast flakes, salt and pepper. I tried that too but added a little Udo's Oil on top and it was good. There was quite a bit left as one good sized squash proved too much food for the four of us. Carolyn seasoned the leftovers with salt and pepper and used it the next morning in an omelet. 

Mini me in full chef mode

The next episode had me making a creamy carrot soup. I had eaten some once at a restaurant and it was the best bowl of soup I have ever tasted. Again, easy t make if a little labor intensive. In a dutch oven I sauteed some onions in butter, added some stock, a sliced potato and the carrots with some seasoning. Cook away until tender. Then it is into the processor, puree, and back into the pot with some heavy cream and a few more spices until re-heated. I didn't want this one too sweet but more savory. It turned out somewhere in between but not enough of either. The good thing is that way each person can season it as desired. Carolyn threw some Sriracha sauce on hers and poured it over her rice. Sassy. 

Carrot soup, stage 1

Finally I had a go at making sweet potato casserole (Ruth's Chris style). Yes, I have had this before as my mom makes a mean version, bit I had never made it myself. Previously I have made sweet potatoes for my family that didn't go over so well. We have tried them plain (bad idea) and I made some enchiladas with them once (not much better). Pretty straightforward really, bake the taturs till tender, puree them, add some mojo (butter, salt, sugar, vanilla and such), into the baking dish, sprinkle with goodness (for that sweet pecan crust) and then bake it until toasty. This one was a big hit with everyone, except my wife. Apparently she hates sweet potatoes. You would think after 20 years together I would have known this fact. I knew about the green peas but not this. Oh well, the kids and I enjoyed it. 

I enjoy the challenge of working with new ingredients and learning more about how different things cook, how to season and trying to find new ways to be more efficient in the kitchen. This week I'm at a bit of a loss. Any suggestions on something to try out? What's your favorite non-traditional dish or ingredient?

I can't get out of a conversation on food without including some beverage options can I? Here are a couple of recent selections and my thoughts...

Point Cascade Pale Ale out of Wisconsin. Nothing fancy here, just a good, drinkable beer with a little citrus and grassy taste, mild sweetness. Nice orange patina. Pretty smooth and an inexpensive option. 

Undercover Investigation Shut Down Ale from Lagunitas. Big hop aroma, nice head, rich copper color. Can taste the hops and alcohol, some bitterness and some sweetness, complex taste, creamy feel. 

A couple of fruity choices from Samuel Smith, Organic Cherry and Raspberry. I almost always find fruit beers to be very smooth and quite drinkable. These do not disappoint. The Cherry has a nice tartness to it. The Raspberry maybe had some chocolate tones to it? Couldn't quite figure this one out. Not bad by any means, different for sure. My preference was the Cherry with the twang it offered. 

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