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News

Cooking at Home

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From the mind (and kitchen) of our Food & Beverage Manager/Chef, Ken Page

We’re going to be spending a lot of time at home in the immediate future, and that can mean a lot more making our own meals, whether to save the cost for delivery or the wait for take-out times that are potentially backed up, since we’re basically all at home now and unable to patronize our favorite local spots by dining. Some amongst us might like the idea of cooking at home more, and find a bit of stress relief in it. Some of us may not be so familiar with making things at home, and that’s okay, but if you’d like to start getting your head around it, I’d like to offer a couple of my recipes that I think should work out for you pretty easily (and would be happy to provide more).

I should tell you now that there’s a lot of side-stepping info and a bit of sarcasm throughout this recipe, so if you prefer just the recipe without all the story time because you’ve got enough experience in the kitchen that you don’t feel like you need to pay attention to my babbling you can click on those separately.

We’ll start with an atypical salad, a Greek salad, but made with quinoa (keen-waa)

Why quinoa? Well, I happen to like it, but also, depending on how your grocery shopping has gone lately, you might have found the rice shelves empty, except for maybe a bit of arborio (more of a specialty rice for a risotto – we can get to that one another time) and the stuff we’re about to use – quinoa. Here, I had thought quinoa had become a big thing with the more recent fad diets and superfood movements, but here I was surprised with my visit to Meijer that quinoa was pretty much the only grain left, and there was plenty of it.

Anyway, cooking the quinoa is exactly as easy as cooking a basic rice pilaf (loosely just means a plain pile of rice).

Take 1 cup of quinoa for this recipe, and 2 cups of vegetable stock (from the soup aisle is fine, or simmer some water with trimmings from carrots, onion and celery from your other home cooking adventures, typically 2:1:1 ratio, respectively – or just water is fine), and some spices – for this recipe and this amount, let’s go with ½ tsp of salt, ½ tsp black pepper (fresh cracked if you’ve got it), a pinch of cayenne, two pinches of coriander, a dash of cumin, and 1 tsp of oregano (or thyme) - mix them into a small sauce pan. Bring the pan to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer (a few bubbles creating some surface activity), put a lid on it, and set a timer for 15-16 minutes (times will vary based on exactly how fast it’s simmering, but 15-16 is a good baseline to put some eyes on it before it’s overcooking).

Checking on it maybe once per minute at the timer, stick a spoon down to the bottom of the pan and just move the quinoa aside enough to see the bottom of the pan, when you don’t see any liquid filling the space you just created, you’re done cooking it. Immediately remove the quinoa from the pan and put it in a wide bowl to cool, fluffing it a bit with the spoon to help keep it from sticking to itself, and set aside while we prepare the rest.

I promise, that was the most technical part of the recipe.

I’ll stop using so many parentheses too.

Do you have a blender? Yes? Good, get it out.

No? Maybe a food processor?

No? Okay, just get a jar of some kind then, something with a good, tight lid that you can shake pretty hard, and get ready for a shakeweight-style workout.

Dressing

For the dressing, we’re gonna need some canola oil (vegetable oil is fine), red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar if you’ve got some of that fancy stuff lying around, more salt and pepper, a shallot, 3 cloves of garlic, maybe a touch more oregano and some Dijon mustard.

Let’s do ¼ cup of red wine vinegar, ¾ cup of the oil, ¼ tsp salt, same for pepper, ½ tsp of oregano, and 1 Tbsp of Dijon. If you’ve got a blender or food processor, just very roughly chop the garlic and shallot and the blender will do the rest of the work. If you don’t, you’ll need to chop these items down pretty fine. Maybe pass them through a garlic press. If all you’ve got is a knife, it might take a second (I promise the flavor is worth it), but you’ll just need to keep putting the knife to it until it’s pretty small, maybe find a chopping garlic or shallot video on youtube? We’ve got some time. Once those are nice and chopped up small since we’re not using an appliance, combine all of that into a jar and just shake the heck out of it. Top to bottom, flip it, pretend you’re a fancy bartender, go ham on it. You want the mustard in there (which, by the way, if you didn’t have Dijon, you can use some dry mustard like Coleman’s from the spice rack, go with like 1 tsp of dry to make up for 1 Tbsp of Dijon), it’s helping keep everything emulsified so that the oil and vinegar don’t separate from each other and all your other nice spices and flavorings.

Once you’ve either hit the button or tired your arms out, crack that thing open and just dip a spoon in to taste it (just the tip, this flavor might be pretty strong to you). You want to taste to see if everything is in balance (basically, does it taste good to you. Is the acidity from the vinegar balanced with the fattiness of the oil? Is there enough salt to bring out the flavor of the shallot and garlic? Is anything overpowering? You can easily add just a couple drops of oil, vinegar, a pinch more salt or pepper at this stage to bring it to the level of balance that you want – which is the most fundamental part of cooking, by the way. This is exactly what chefs are doing when you see them tasting and examining things during the cooking process. Every investment you make in the steps along the way contributes to the final product being better. If you’ve added anything, give it another pulse in the blender or another minute or two of shake-weighting, maybe taste again, and set that aside while we get the last of our prep done.

Slice & Dice

Our last step is just cutting some stuff up, so clean all that garlic and shallot off the blade (or do this step first, they can really be done in any order – but probably do them all individually and have each component ready before fully combining everything). A fairly classical combination of ingredients for my Greek salad will have some cucumber, red bell pepper, tomato, feta cheese, black olive, and red onion. If you’ve got something else in mind, I won’t object. In all, let’s have about ¼ cup of each ready, and quinoa is a pretty small grain, so you’re going to want to have what’s called a ‘fine dice’ on all of these ingredients. I could probably do an entire paragraph on each of these and how to get them the proper size and the need for a good sharp knife but I can only imagine that I’ve already got you rolling your eyes at some of what I’ve written so I’ll probably just point you over to youtube again.

Ok now that we’ve got our quinoa nice and cooled (and fluffed, right?), our dressing made, and our chopped stuff ready to go, let’s combine. Start with the vegetables and add as much as you like of each. I’d probably go with a half measure of the black olive, as those can be pretty strongly flavored, and then the full ¼ cup of everything else, but mix it until you like the proportion of things in there. Maybe you don’t add each of them, or all of it, or maybe you want more of some of it – nobody’s stopping you from chopping more or less here, this is your food. Once it looks good, pour in the dressing, a little at a time, and stir around with a spoon or spatula and make sure the dressing is saturating all of the quinoa. You don’t want there to be too much dressing, you won’t want it pooling in the bottom, so don’t feel like you have to use all of it, but definitely use enough to at least very lightly coat everything in our bowl. Now’s the time to taste again, take as big a bite as you like. Is there enough dressing? Do you want more? Is it wet enough with dressing but maybe could use a pinch of salt? Pepper? Oregano? Basil? Add it. Start with a little, you can always add more (but you can’t take out anything you add).

Once you’re happy with it, I’m happy with it. Now just put as much as you want in a bowl and chow down. You don’t have to eat all of it right now, either, this stuff will keep for 3-4 days easily, if properly covered and stored in the refrigerator. It’s a nice and easy thing to prep one day, and then you’ve got part of a lunch or a snack for days to come. This recipe scales up really easily, and all we used was a knife, board, one sauce pan, a bowl, and maybe a blender, so clean up shouldn’t be all too bad for as much enjoyment as I hope you get from this.

Roasted Potato Seasoning

One more quick recipe I’ll give you is my roasted potato seasoning. I use it on our roasted redskin potatoes here for our banquets. It’s pretty good.

To start, just mix these spices (got another jar lying around? I promise it’s not as bad as the previous shakeweight experience):

  • 2 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp white pepper
  • 1 Tbsp paprika
  • 3 Tbsp garlic powder (or granulated garlic)
  • 2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • ¼ tsp cumin
  • ½ Tbsp coriander
  • 1 Tbsp thyme, dry
  • 1 Tbsp oregano, dry

Combine all of these in your jar and just mix it around until it’s pretty uniform.

Take your potatoes and but them into pieces about the size of your thumb, however you do it is fine so long as they’re all fairly even sizes. If you had to clean your potatoes (Idaho’s definitely would need that step), make sure they’re dry first, and leave the skin on, that’s good stuff. Once you’ve got them cut, put them in a bowl, add about ¼ cup olive oil per 1 pound of potato and toss them around to coat everything evenly.

Now add about ½ to ¾ Tbsp salt and 1 Tbsp of that seasoning (again per pound of potato) and keep tossing until everything looks coated evenly. Arrange onto a baking sheet (maybe spray it with some non-stick, put some foil down if you want to make cleanup easier) so they’re spread out evenly and not piled up.

Throw those bad boys into an oven already pre-heated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (350 if you’ve got a fancy-shmancy convection setting on that oven) and set a timer for 20 minutes. They probably won’t be done at that 20 minutes, but ovens don’t cook terribly evenly so we want to rotate the tray 180 degrees. Maybe move it to a different rack, too, if you can. Stick a toothpick in one or two of them and see how soft they are and how far through they’re soft.

The two key things you want on your roasted potatoes are some good caramelization on the outside (hence the oil and the high-heat cooking) and a soft inside. Once you’ve got those two things, your potatoes are done and you should take them out and enjoy them. After they’ve cooled a bit though - if you burn your mouth on a potato I’m not responsible for the misery you’ll be in once you get to the mouthwash later that night.