Thursday, November 13, 2014

My food porn crush

There's a kitchen in there somewhere.
We're back -- after an interstate move, retirement, a new grandchild and successfully navigating the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles!

And Because I Said So Kitchen is open for business -- again. Still haven't figured out where my Pyrex storage dishes are -- and few hundred other things -- but we're up and taking nourishment once again.

So I have to confess the object of my latest food porn crush -- Ina Garten, aka, The Barefoot Contessa. It all started this fall when, on almost on a daily basis, I would lose interest in unpacking our 18 zillion moving boxes around 4 p.m. every afternoon and collapse on the living room floor with a diet Coke (no furniture at this point so the floor it was), capable only of watching the Food Network.

And there was Ina (I can call you Ina, can't I?), gliding effortlessly through her wonderfully appointed kitchen in the Hamptons whipping up all kinds of tasty things for family and friends, punctuating her culinary efforts with the words "buttah" and "How easy is that?" This all looked pretty darn good to a person currently living out of a cooler on the patio until the new refrigerator was delivered.

And, so, to celebrate the resurrection of BISS Kitchen, I went out and picked up a couple of Barefoot Contessa cookbooks -- "How Easy Is That?" and "Make It Ahead." I cracked open "How Easy Is That?" first.

Now, the premise of this book, says Ina, "is all about saving you time and avoiding stress [with]. . . . tried-and-true Barefoot Contessa recipes that are easy enough to make but still have all that deep, delicious flavor that makes a meal so satisfying."

The key, she says, are easy ingredients that can be found in well-stocked grocery stores (take note, please), plus easy shortcuts, easy techniques, easy menus and easy recipes. As a chronically over-ambitious cook, I can totally dig this. SOMEBODY needs to keep me in check.

And so, after inviting The Mom Unit and some friends over for dinner Friday night, I ripped into The Barefoot Contessa's Rich Beef Barley Soup.

BISSKitchen Adventure of the Day: This recipe uses oxtails instead of stew meat (or whatever -- since this was my first run at beef barley soup, I wasn't quite sure what my options were), for extra richness, Ina says. I was game for this. I've seen oxtails in the meat section before.

Exx-cepptt-tttt for now. Four stores later, no oxtails.

Now Portland is no culinary backwater, so certainly someone, somewhere has oxtails. The meat guy at Safeway suggested Barbur World Foods, a bit of trek at rush hour, so I got home and let Google work its magic.

Eureka! I found oxtails in the most awesome meat department in the world at New Seasons Market (five minutes away!) and had them put two pounds aside for me. I only share this because sometimes "easy ingredients" aren't so easy. Be prepared to do some sleuthing or work with your favorite meat counter and pre-order.

Love you, New Seasons!
BISSKitchen Upshot: Probably one of the best soups I've ever made -- and I've made my share of soups. It's a perfect late fall-winter comfort food -- rich (thanks, oxtails!), a little peppery, delicious. It's quite simple to make -- perhaps a little labor intensive in the chopping (and shopping in the case of oxtails) department -- but a minor detail: Put on some jazz, pour yourself a glass of wine and get over it.

Chop, chop: Leeks, onions, carrots, celery.
And, puh-leeze, use the oxtails!

Caveat: I used fresh chopped garlic this time around but sometimes, if I'm in a hurry, I use this little Trader Joe's gem, which can conveniently reside in your freezer when not in use. Comes in basil too!

And, finally, the BISSKitchen rating -- on a scale of 1 (well, THAT was interesting) to 5 (I'll just keep the rest for myself, thank you), the Barefoot Contessa's Rich Beef Barley Soup gets 5 Bovine Bravos.

Just think of it as your secret weapon against winter this year. Why? Because I said so.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Ramping up radishes

Hoo boy. Where did May go?

I vaguely recall trips to Portland and Seattle -- and hurried sorties in and out of the kitchen when I was home. There was gardening to be done!

The Nine-One-Four, the perennial garden, and When Pigs Fly Farm, a shared community vegetable patch, are stern mistresses.

As a result, Because I Said So Kitchen has been sadly neglected. Not a good thing for a start-up food blog.

My vegetable gardening has taken off as usual -- poorly. I've planted, re-planted and re-replanted my lettuce, carrots and beets. That seems to de rigeur each year. But I do have radishes. Boy, do I.

I chose French breakfast radishes this year. And we are hooked. They're an addictive combination of peppery and sweet (and you know how I like my pepper), equally delicious eaten by themselves or tossed in a salad. Frenchies are rocking it out of the park at the Nine-One Four these days.

But woman can't live on salads alone (I probably should, but meh). Since the current food mag rage is roasted vegetables, I borrowed Roasted Radishes and Carrots from Food Network's "Ten Dollar Dinners" with Melissa d'Arabian.

BISSKitchen Up Shot: Folks, if you need a quick (25 minutes total! my kind of summer recipe), unique, flavorful seasonal vegetable side dish, this is the one for you. The roast draws out the inherent sweetness and earthiness of the carrots and radishes. They were delicious along side grilled steak -- I think they would kick it well with chicken, too. The jury's out on seafood; we'll give that a whirl over the next couple of weeks.

BISSKitchen Caveat: Next time I will use a bolder radish for more flavor -- the Frenchie was just a shade too subtle.

BISSKitchen Rating: On a scale of 1 (What WERE you thinking?) to 5 (The vegetable equivalent of crack cocaine), Roasted Radishes and Carrots gets a 4.5 -- just remember to get a shade bolder-flavored radish.

Now: Go eat your (roasted) vegetables!


Because I said so.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

TJ Confidential: Salt-and-Pepper Pistachio Nuts

TJ Confidential is an occasional expose of all that is good and delightful -- or weird and woeful -- at Trader Joe's. Like everything at Because I Said So Kitchen, TJC is completely unsponsored, unfiltered and uninterrupted.

I really didn't think it would be possible for Trader Joe's to out-sublime its crazy savory-spicy Thai Chili-Lime Mixed Nuts. I had to stop buying them -- for the sake of my waistline. . . and stomach lining.

But I think TJ's has come close with Salt-and-Pepper Pistachio Nuts.

The pistachio is a funny little nut. It's green for one thing. What's up with that? And a bit sweet and creamy -- almost as though it can't decide between being a nut or a confection.

TJ's Salt-and-Pepper Pistachios have changed things up for the pistachios of the world. These are roasted, crunchy and explosive with the mingled flavors of salt and pepper. A little bit goes a long way -- in part because pistachios can be a bitch to shell.

My finger tips are a testimonial to this.

They're a perfect little snack unto themselves, and I would bet the farm, even though I'm not much of beer drinker, they'd be killer with a brewsky. Along those lines, Salt-and-Pepper Pistachios also wouldn't be too shabby chopped up and sprinkled over a grilled steak either. Or heck, if you want to be all nutritionally perfect and whatnot -- why not in a salad for a little zing in your greens?

Don't have a Trader Joe's in your neighborhood? I'm sorry.

But, cheer up. OF COURSE you can order salt-and-pepper pistachios on Amazon. What CAN'T you order on Amazon? And Chef Google and I did a little checking: While we couldn't come up with a specific salt-and-pepper pistachio recipe, spiced-nuts-in-a-crockpot sounded intriguing.

Might have to give that one a whirl. You know me and crockpots.

So here's my tip for adding a little zip in your life: Trader Joe's Salt-and-Pepper Pistachios. Why?

Because I said so.

Friday, April 25, 2014

My big fat Greek dinner

I love the blog, "The World from My Window." And I particularly love Maddie Griggs' accounts of Corfu at Easter. (Read "My Family and Other Animals" if you want to learn more about the magic of Corfu and die laughing in the process.)

And, so it was, I decided to fix a big fat Greek dinner Saturday night. Fortunately, a few friends and family agreed to join us so we wouldn't be eating leftovers until the next food zombie apocalypse.

THIS is what a holiday in your mouth looks like.
I already had the cornerstone to the meal -- the Barefoot Contessa's pastitio recipe. Think FABULOUS meets your mom's shell pasta casserole: A ground beef-ground lamb tomato filling teased with a hint of cinnamon topped with a bechamel sauce amped up with cheese and a hint of more spice -- this time nutmeg. It's a holiday in your mouth.

BISSK Note: Could not, for the life of me, find Kasseri cheese so I used myzithra. We all survived.

BISSK Cut to the Chase: On a scale of 1 (BLECK!!) to 5 (Sigh. This is sublime.), Ina Garten's pastitio recipe gets 5 ouzo bottles right out of the gate.

The remainder of the meal came together with the help of Chef Google. And my sister-in-law who assembled a killer Greek salad.

We had a side of Greek-style green beans, courtesy of The Splendid Table. (Note to self: Wow, you are seriously late to the Table on this one. GREAT website.)

Folks, to be perfectly honest, I was a bit dubious about cooking green beans -- or any vegetable -- for 45 minutes, but the finished product was pretty dang close to some of the best green beans I've ever had -- those from this reedonkulous restaurant, The White House Grill, in a little freeway stop town about 30 minutes east of Bermtopia. (Not that we AREN'T a freeway stop. Hmmm. Home town paradigm shifts just a bit.)


Let me just say, You can't take White House Grill Greek-style green beans to work as left-overs. I've tried -- and nearly decimated my esteemed co-workers with left-over garlic gas. So,  I did cut back on the garlic -- knowing SOME people were going to church the next morning (I do have my filters) and we were fine.

BISSK Rating: On a scale of 1 clove of garlic to 5, it gets 4.5 garlic cloves. And, please, use more garlic if you're not worried about basic human relationships.

And, oh, I made my infallible artisan bread.

Dessert. Dessert. Dessert. I'm not a dessert gal, largely because I am baking-impaired. I can whip up a pretty mean gelato but that's about it. But I soldiered on and Chef Google led me here to The Ultimate Guide to Greek Food (no metric measurements - huzzah!). I made the Greek Easter cookies, which turned out to be the size of air-craft carriers. (I'm sure, with practice I could get them down to the size of a frigate -- I let you know next Easter.) They were served with a dollop of Greek yogurt, oozled with honey and sprinkled with chopped pistachios.

There were no cookies left -- including the four we set aside for our neighbors.

BISSK Rating: On a scale of 1 sesame seed to 5, the cookies -- and overall dessert -- gets a 5.

So, thanks Barefoot Contessa and Chef Google. It was a mighty Easter dinner. Why?

Because I said so.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gettin' goopy with Giada: Mustard Salmon with Cannellini Bean Ragu

My latest issue of "Food & Wine" arrived this week, and it's a dandy. Big news -- Giada's opening a restaurant in Vegas. You know Giada, right? I mean, aren't you on first-name basis with her like me?

You know. Giada de Laurentis of Food Network's "Giada at Home" and "Everyday Italian"? The woman with the waistline of a wasp, the complexion of an angel -- who cooks. without. an. apron? With her, um, decolletage showing? A LOT of decolletage. At least by the standards of this kitchen.

I keep wondering how the woman deals with hot bacon grease.
 Yes. THAT Giada!

I got over Giada's decolletage pretty quickly, but I am still confounded how she cooks without an apron without ultimately looking like an extra serving of that day's Blue Plate Special. (Unless, thanks to the miracles of video editing, we miss the two dozen trips to the dry cleaners. But I kinda doubt it.)

Let's just say, under the same circumstances, you could stuff me in an HazMat suit, turn me loose in a kitchen and I would still end up with sauce stains on my shirt and sleeves. And that's with me not even making a sauce.


Giada's joint restaurant, cleverly named G-I-A-D-A, is in a boutique hotel, The Cromwell, which is part of the Caesar's Palace complex. So now you know. (Does it not crack you up just a bit -- a hotel within a hotel within a hotel? Vegas -- YOU ROCK.)

She shared a few of her menu items in "Food & Wine," and Mustard Salmon with Cannellini Bean Ragu caught my eye: Total prep time -- 50 minutes.

Let's DO this!

Giada De Laurentis' Mustard Salmon with Cannellini Bean Ragu, courtesy of the May 2014 issue of "Food and Wine"

Goddamnit. The recipe calls for fresh chopped thyme. Twice.

Come out, come out -- wherever you are.
BISSK Note #1: Escarole and skinless salmon fillets. Bermtopia is not some hick, backwater cow town -- it's actually a mining/lumber town -- but I was nervous about tracking down escarole. But there it was  -- all two heads of it -- at the very, very far, most remote end of the produce section. Obviously, Bermtopia isn't a big on escarole. Yet.

I already knew fresh skinless salmon fillets was a lost cause. This wasn't my first fresh-skinless-salmon- fillet rodeo.

My fishmonger is the meat (operative word MEAT) counter at Ye Olde Neighborhood Grocery Store. I once asked them for a skinless salmon fillet and they accommodated. The finished product resembled lox. Without the love.

We DO have a most excellent true seafood shop here in town -- Williams Seafood. Problem is, purchasing fish there usually requires taking out a second mortgage on your house. Just saying. Fortunately Williams was closed on Sunday when I was shopping so our mortgage lives to fight another day.

As a result, I did what most self-respecting cooks do when faced with finding an elusive ingredient.

Trader Joe's.

TJ's did not disappoint. Skinless salmon fillets were in the frozen food section. Frozen not my first choice -- and they did look at little gnarly -- but I'm happy to report, once thawed, they did resemble salmon.

BISSK Note #2: Prep time. As noted in my inaugural post, this time of year, I have the need for speed. (Note: We are SO over pine needles. I am now on to clearing garden beds and feeding roses.)

Giada allows 50 minutes to pull this party together. I cheated and prepped most of the ragu Sunday night (31 minutes -- damn thyme) so all I would have to do is the prosciutto, escarole and mustard sauce Monday (20 minutes - damn thyme).

It was close. The salmon took about 7 minutes so, in all, if you prepped this all at once like a normal person, it's closer to an hour from pan to table.

BISSK Note #3: Taste test. I'm glad I tasted a little dab of the mustard sauce. It was very metallic-y. Let's blame the thyme, shall we?

A small dollop of honey -- and a titch more salt -- helped.

BISSK Wrap-up: Meh. In the end, it turned out to be a very strange mix of textures and flavors. Beans and salmon, just slightly discomfitting. The prosciutto was like that odd person at a high school reunion who no one could place -- or find in the yearbook. And I quickly learned that I'm not a big fan of pairing double doses of mustard with salmon.

I might try the ragu again as a side dish, but crisp the prosciutto and use it as a topping. Maybe.

BISSK Rating: On a scale of 1 (Get This Out of My Mouth, Please) to 5 (Let's Make It Again Tomorrow Night), Giada's Mustard Salmon with Cannellini Bean Ragu is awarded 2 heads of escarole out of 5. Perhaps because that's all they had the grocery store.

And why? Because I said so.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

One moment, please. A bit about this new blog.

 I don't know about you, but online reviews of recipes on celebrated sites like Food Network aren't always very satisfying. Helpful, mostly -- but satisfying, no.

Let's face it, the reviewers rarely get down into the trenches to tell what you really need to know -- about the 12 trips to grocery store to get missing elusive ingredients (even after you checked) and the actual five ZILLION different pieces of cooking equipment used (and must be washed accordingly). 

Because I Said So Kitchen doesn't roll that way. It's the truth, and nothing but the truth. It's all about bad decisions, dirty kitchens and a recreational cook who mostly occasionally bites off more than she can chew with a recipe. And I'll tell you that you should like it -- or run away screaming like it was the food zombie apocalypse. And, of course, my word is final. 

Because I said so.

So, in this inaugural post, we are cooking a 4-pound fresh turkey breast in a crock pot. Look up campylobacter if you want to know how badly this could go.

Turkey Pot Roast, courtesy of Food Network Magazine

Spring is Schizophrenia Season at my house, the Nine One Four. I approach gardening with the same haphazard enthusiasm as I do cooking. As I result, I am constantly conflicted -- do I spend three hours in the kitchen whipping up something supposedly fantastic or do I use the same three hours inflicting bodily pain on myself assuming any number of awkward garden yoga positions to remove pine needles from the flower beds?
I have issues, people.

That's why the headline "20 New Slow Cooker Recipes" on the cover of this month's issue of Food Network Magazine caught my eye in the check-out line a week or so ago. (Well, that and "Deviled Eggs!!! Dozens of fun ideas" Their exclamation points, btw -- and it's 50 ideas to be exact.)

Into the shopping cart the magazine went.

And so, as a result, I found myself trying to wedge a 4-pound turkey breast into a crock pot at 10 a.m. Sunday morning.

Here are the Because I Said So Kitchen take-aways:

BISSK Note #1: The recipe allows for 30 minutes' prep time. Unless you have the knife skills of a Galactic Ninja, this just ain't so. There's a bit of cutting. And a bit of mixing. And, oh, there WAS that one unanticipated trip to store for paprika.

And WHO, aside from a Hungarian Magyar, RUNS OUT OF PAPRIKA in their lifetime?

That would be me. 

BISSK Note #2: This is a bowl-intensive recipe in the prepping stage. It teetered on DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! on the BISSK Clean-Up-o-Meter.
Dorot crushed garlic -- the gold standard of garlics among cooks tired of dealing with thyme.
BISSK Note #3: Fresh thyme. Love the flavor, but, fresh, the herb bugs the crap out of me. Please tell me how TV chefs make it look so easy when they strip thyme leaves off their stems. After one or two spectacularly unsuccessful passes, I just chopped everything together -- stems, leaves AND probably a trace or two of whatever we had for dinner the night before.

Complaint Department is on the 7th floor.
Everybody into the pool -- a rawther crowded pool at that.
BISSK Note #4: Cook time is 7 hours with the crockpot at low. And, despite all camplyobacter alarms my raised eyebrows, sure enough, at about 6 hours, the turkey's internal temp was reading just fine on the good ole' meat thermometer -- well on its way to being done in 7 hours. Take THAT, campylobacter !

 But. The potatoes were raw. Only I could cook potatoes. in a crock pot. for 6 hours. and end up with raw potatoes. Really? I guess that's what the microwave is for.

BISSK Wrap-up: It was a damn fine meal once we dealt with the raw potato situation: Turkey breast, one of the tenderest, juiciest I've eaten (High 5 in the Left-over Department). . . gravy, delicious (the worcestershire sauce/tomato paste combo is a sneaky, inspired idea -- it plays well with the thyme). . . and vegetables, a perfect throw-back Mom's-Sunday-pot-roast days.

BISSK rating: On a scale of 1 (Food Zombie Apocalypse) to 5 (Seconds, Please), Turkey Pot Roast, courtesy of the Food Network Magazine, gets 4.5 Paprika Cans.

Because I said so.