Category Archives: lunch

Mini Buffalo Burgers on Whole Wheat Pita

One of the foods that Andrew regularly subsists on is ground buffalo. While I enjoy buffalo, its beefy flavor with less saturated fat, I don’t like it necessarily for burgers. I’m more down on turkey burgers than buffalo burgers. I prefer ground chuck for my burgers: moist, flavorful, and a nice greasy touch. However, we had ground buffalo in the fridge and I decided that if there were going to be buffalo burgers made this week I was going to make them.

There are three differences between the way Andrew and I cook burgers: 1. I use worcestsire sauce and paprika while Andrew mostly uses a mixture of dried garlic, salt and pepper; 2. I  use a well oiled cast iron skillet and Andrew uses a non-stick skillet. The non-stick skillet means less grease, but you don’t get the nice crust around the meat that you get with the cast iron skillet. Plus cast iron is badass. 3. I cook mine to medium-well with a touch of pink in the middle and Andrew does his well. We will talk more about this issue later.

By the way, I am not saying my burgers are better than Andrew’s; they are two different beasts that cannot be compared. We just tackle our meat differently.

I served this cute little burgers on mini whole wheat pitas with spinach and feta cheese.

Whole Wheat Pita Bread

I used the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I can’t express enough how much I enjoy Mr. Minimalist’s books. You can find this recipe on pg. 719 of that book if you would like more conventional directions.

1. Mix together 1 1/2 cups each of all-purpose white flour and whole wheat flour with 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.

If you don’t like the taste of wheat baked goods you can make these entirely with all-purpose flour. You do not want to make these entirely from whole wheat flour. Baked goods made entirely with whole wheat flour are heavy and dense something that you do not want for pita.

2. Proof your yeastie beasts. You want to two teaspoons of yeast or one packet of active dry yeast. To proof yeast drop them into about half a cup of 110 degree water with a pinch of sugar (they need to feed) until they are foamy and yeasty smelling (about five minutes). Then add to the flour mixture along with another half cup of water.

3. Mix with a rubber spatular until combined into a slightly sticky ball. If it is dry add water one tablespoon at a time until it is a nice ball. Knead for a few seconds on a well floured surface then put back into the bowl and cover with a dish towel or plastic wrap.

4. From here I put my dough outside in the sun to rise because it is actually “room temperature” outside my house not inside. You can also put it in the fridge if you can wait approximately seven hours. At room temperature wait 1-2 hours. I waited about two and a half hours and it had more than doubled in size.

5. When your dough has doubled in size, pull small balls off of it. You can make these balls as big or as small as you like. I wanted to make mini burgers so I made mini pita. This recipe ended up making about twelve mini pita. Once you tear off your little dough balls put them on a floured baking sheet, cover with a dish towel or plastic wrap, and let rise for another twenty minutes.

6. Roll each ball out to about a 1/4 of an inch on a well floured surface. After rolling out each ball into a disc cover again and sit for another twenty minutes while you prepare your cooking device.

There are multiple ways that you can do this. I opted for the cast iron skillet on the stove top method because the other two methods are as such: do it in the oven on a pizza stone (don’t own a pizza stone) or do it in the oven on a baking sheet (umm..boring!). I chose the most badass, time consuming way of cooking these bad boys: on the stove top with a dry cast iron skillet. You can also do these with a griddle (like the kind you would use for pancakes) on your stove top.

If you are going the route of cast iron badassery (how many times can I use that term in one blog post?), heat the skillet to medium-high with no lubricant. No butter, no oil, nada. You want dry heat here. Don’t worry if your skillet is seasoned correctly nothing will stick. Once the twenty minute resting period has elapsed and the skillet is thoroughly heated toss one pita on the skillet. Let it sit. Don’t touch it. It will start to bubble and it will be beautiful. After about four to five minutes (this depends on the size of your pita) flip over and cook another two to three minutes then put aside and start over again with the next one. Continue until all pita are cooked.

Now you have pita!

Mini Buffalo Burgers

This is purely my own recipe, no measurements here. I’ve learned what I enjoy in a burger and what works for me. What works for you will be different. I get tired of people saying they make the best of something or you have to do it one way for it to be a real whatever. Food is about personal taste.

I mixed a pound of ground buffalo with worcestshire sauce, salt, pepper, paprika, dried minced shallot, and a dash of Frank’s Red Hot sauce. The worcestshire is incredibly important. It is incredibly flavorful and adds a much needed dose of moisture to the buffalo which tends to get dry and crumbly when introduced to high heat.

I heated up the same cast iron skillet I used earlier for the pita bread with a nice coating of olive oil (here one of those places where Andrew and I differ) on medium high heat. Once heated through, I patted a little fistful of my meat mixture into a small burger patty and tossed two to three of them into my skillet. Heat for about five minutes on one side until browned then flip over. Do not squish with your spatula, do not fuck around with your burger. Let it get that nice caramelized meat crust. After about three minutes your burger should be done depending on how well done you like it.

Here is where I will note Andrew’s misinformed opinion about how long to cook ground meat. Ground meat does not need to be cooked so long that it turns into a gray lifeless mass. It is okay to eat it medium or medium well. Hell if you got your meat from a reputable source you can eat it raw if you like. Andrew cut open his burger and sniffed pooh-pooh at it because there was the tiniest tinge of pink in the middle and said “Ground meat needs to be cooked completely.”. All he needed was a stern, “No, medium well is perfectly fine”, from me and he realized that he was incorrect or was just placating me. He inhaled four of these burgers.

I served them on top of the whole wheat pita with spinach and feta cheese.  You could make little mini burger buns and serve them as sliders.

From Butcher to Burger

Yesterday I took my afternoon client out for some CBI (community based instruction). After going to the bank, we went to the grocery store where we worked on pushing around the grocery cart and putting items on the conveyer belt at checkout. It was a great trip and he did so great with following directions when pushing the cart around. I was able to get all my grocery shopping done for my brownie, burger, and lemon bar experiments that are coming up in the next couple weeks in preparation for the Underground Market.

The most important thing that I wanted to try was grinding my own meat and how successful it would go. When I was at Whole Foods in Santa Cruz, I asked them how they make their ground meat. They told me that they take the trimmings from the other cuts and then grind it. Since this was not what I was looking for, I bought a two pound cut of chuck roast, which I ground up today.

You start with your cut of meat. You can grind beef, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, etc. Any kind of meat. With chicken you want to add the skin to give some fat to the mixture. You want to use pork and lamb shoulders because those cuts have enough fat without requiring any extra. For turkey use the legs which are fatty, dark meat. After choosing your cut of meat, cut it into chucks about a 1/2 inch to one inch pieces.

After cutting the meat, put it in the freezer for about fifteen minutes. This was a nice amount of time for me to get a load of laundry in and start making one of my condiments: a braised garlic and balsamic vinegar spread. You want your meat to be quite cold but not freezing yet. This was will make it easier to grind in a food processor. I have yet to purchase the meat grinding attachment for my kitchen aid mixer.

I pulsed mine for about forty-five seconds to a minute. I left mine fairly course with some chunks so I could have a burger that I could still form together but was loose. I didn’t want a tightly packed hockey puck of meat to bite into. I had to my two pounds in four separate batches due to the size of my 2 cup food processor.

A beautiful mound of ground meat. I took about six ounces of this for my burger then I put the rest in a tupperware container and into the freezer. I plan on making another kind of burger tomorrow. But on to today’s burger. I mixed about six ounces, freshly ground pepper and salt, chili powder, and worcestshire sauce. I heated up a cast iron skillet on medium-high and let it heat for three to four minutes. Then I put the patty down and let it cook for about four minutes until flipping it. After flipping I added a chunk of brie and let it melt on top while the bottom cooked for another two minutes. I toasted a francese bun, spread the garlic and balsamic mixture and added a couple slices of granny smith apples.

I braised garlic with olive oil and 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar for about forty-five minutes until the balsamic vinegar had reduced a thicker texture. I then blended this in the food processor to spread onto the burger. The creamy rich tang of the brie mixed nicely with the pungent sweetness of the balsamic vinegar and the granny smith provided a sour, sweet crunch. Overall an excellent combination.

Offensive Dairy Post

I wanted to call this post Macaroni and Cheese or Rigatoni and Cheese, but I’ve read somewhere that blog entries will get more readers if their entries have more interesting titles. Macaroni and Cheese would also be false advertisement because this is not macaroni and cheese, it is rigatoni and cheese.

I titled it offensive dairy post because  Andrew, my boyfriend, finds dairy offensive.  He was grossed out by the smell of butter melting on the stove top yesterday and the strong smell of some delicious, strong cheeses. He said there was so much offensive dairy going into my lunch that he might have to take a walk. He was just joking about the last part, but the guy has some serious issues with dairy.

I hardly ever cook with dairy because of his aversion, but yesterday I was really craving pasta with cheese sauce, not necessarily macaroni and cheese, but some sort of pasta with cheese. I always hesitate to call something macaroni and cheese because mac and cheese conjures up images of neon orange powder mixed with little dried macaroni that we used to make into necklaces in pre-school. I loved that stuff.

The first step for making a cheese sauce is to make a roux. A roux is a mixture of melted butter and flour cooked on the stove top.

Melt about a tablespoon of butter

Add flour and cook on the stove top.

Add milk, whisk and cook until thickened. Add whatever spices you like. I used black pepper and salt.

Add sauce to cooked rigatoni. Enjoy!


 

What is SooFoo?

I have not been cooking lately. I’ve been busy with my credential classes and my job. I’m currently taking three courses at San Jose State University towards my moderate-severe special education credential. This is less than the four classes I was taking last semester, but the courses still require a lot of work in addition to the two jobs I work. For example, Monday was a fourteen hour day for for me. Seven hours at my main job (full-inclusion specialist at a middle school), an hour drive to my second job in Santa Cruz, two hours with my respite client at the occupational therapist, and then babysitting with my client from last year. It was a long day. Some days I go straight from work, to my second job, and then back to school and I don’t get home until ten o’clock at night. Oh and I also rock climb up to four times a week:

Me at the top of the high wall at Planet Granite in Sunnyvale

I don’t have much time to cook. I usually just grab a sandwich at the deli downstairs from my classes. Or  if I’m feeling really special or have a couple extra minutes I get a burrito from La Victoria across the street from the university, though I haven’t been super impressed by their burritos.

Last night I did take the time to cook myself a lunch for today. Andrew and I went to Whole Foods in Cupertino on Stelling and Steven’s Creek, which is where we do most of our grocery shopping. I do like Whole Foods, though it it not my favorite grocery store, but they have a wide variety of organic produce, plus they are the only place on this side of the hill that sells Straus Family Creamery cream-top milk, which is the only milk that I like to drink.  I will do some shopping at Safeway on Lawrence and Steven’s Creek or the 99 Ranch on Homestead and Wolfe, but Whole Foods is definitely where we do most of our regular shopping. It also has this amazing product:

It takes me about two hours to drink one of these, but it’s oh-so delicious

So one thing I do really like about Whole Foods are there packaged vegetables. The newest one that I’ve seen and had to try out was there Green Beans with Shallots and Lemon Butter. It turned out absolutely delicious. I know it’s probably cheating on the homemade scale, but it’s definitely better than frozen or canned green beans, plus it saved me a lot of time. I cooked them on the stove top, added some sliced lemon and ate them with a big serving of SooFoo.

Green beans, shallots, and garlic in a pan on medium.

Add the lemon garlic butter

I got a lemon from the backyard and put it in with my green beans.

Let me explain what SooFoo is. SooFoo is short for super-food. I first tried it as a sample at Whole Foods and yes, I was sucked in. They caught me hook, line and sinker. I suppose it might be cheaper to buy all the ingredients and separately and make the mixture on my own, but it’s just oh-so convenient to buy it all in one bag. It is a mixture of nine grains and legumes: barley, black lentils, brown lentils, buckwheat, green lentils, long grain brown rice, oats, rye berries, and wheat berries. It’s a really pretty mixture before you cook it. When cooked it is sort of brown and mucky looking, but still delicious.

SooFoo Before You Cook It

What my lunch ended up looking like

 

A Different Take on Kielbasa Stew

I have posted on kielbasa stew/soup before. I have stated before that it is a staple around our house. I have never been able to grasp the delicious richness, the depth of flavor that I achieved the first time I made it. I still did not achieve that today, but I got closer and somewhere different today. Part of that is getting our kielbasa from Shopper’s Corner (http://www.shopperscorner.com/).

The Sausage

I’m not sure what bargain Shopper’s Corner made with the Devil, but they have the most amazing steaks, tri-tips, and sausages. According to their website they are:

Shopper’s is one of the last old-time meat markets around, staffed with highly-skilled and entertaining butchers.

We get fresh local fish 7 days-a-week, sell only ultra-fresh USDA Choice and Prime-grade beef, and boast a large selection of sausages, pre-soaked meats for BBQs, and specialty cuts.

Their kielbasa packs a spiced up, fatty punch very different from the rubbery, Vienna sausage on steroid crap you get from Hillshire Farms or the watered down, mealy kielbasa that Wholefoods shills out. I’m not sure if this is how they make it in Poland, but it is one of my favorite sausages. And just to let you know, Shopper’s Corner is located in Santa Cruz so you can enjoy the redwoods, beaches, and delicious MEAT in one place.

Dice the kielbasa up and put it in the soup as the last ingredient along with the kale.

The Vegetables

This time around I left out the parsnips because they were incredibly water and of terrible quality the last time I made this soup. We picked up some lovely pre-historic looking and appropriately named Dino kale at Shopper’s Corner. If you’re not familiar with kale, it is

Kale or borecole is a form of cabbage (Brassica oleraceaAcephala Group), green or purple, in which the central leaves do not form a head. It is considered to be closer to wild cabbage than most domesticated forms. The species Brassica oleracea contains a wide array of vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, and brussels sprouts. The cultivar group Acephala also includes spring greens and collard greens, which are extremely similar genetically.

It can be used in soups, salads, or anywhere you have cooked greens. I was surprised that I like it because I usually hate cooked greens. I find them slimy and mushy, but these were tender and decidedly not mucous like.

The kale was joined by chopped baby carrots, baby new potatoes, half a yellow onion, and a head of garlic. Chop the onions and garlic up first and cook in olive oil first. Then chop the baby carrots and potatoes and add to the onion/garlic mixture. After letting these cook for about twenty minutes, add the chopped kale and kielbasa.

The Liquid

I was lacking stock today. I usually have some stock floating around in the back of my pantry, vegetable, chicken, beef, sometimes fish, but today I was out. And it made a difference. There was a lack of depth in the flavor of the soup that I think can only be gained from using stock.

I tried to make up for it by using some Italian imported white wine that we won’t ever drink. Andrew and I don’t drink wine, but my friend Amy gave me some for my birthday: a bottle of white and a bottle of red. When friends Peter and Susannah came over last weekend they went through the bottle of red and three-quarters of the white, which I decided to use for this soup. It added a nice sweetness and acidity to the soup that was very nice.

The Grain

I wasn’t going to add a grain this time around, but Andrew insists on maximum carbohydrates in a soup. Usually I do barley or a mixture of barley and rice, but this time I did just plain white rice, which I have about twenty pounds of in my pantry. Eventually, the rice soaked up the wine, the kielbasa, the vegetables and became creamy as I left the soup onto boil. I love the versatility of grains.

The Result

It is so pretty! Much prettier than the last stew I made. I am very proud of the aesthetics of this dish.

 

Orzo and Spinach Salad

Tonight we are going to celebrate the new year with our friends Peter and Susannah again. This means there will be tons of BBQ (if there’s no rain) and not a lot of vegetables that I will enjoy eating. Andrew asked me to make a side dish for the night and the only thing he specified was that it have vegetables in it. I decided that I wanted to make a spinach and orzo salad. I love spinach and I’ve just started liking orzo.

Sweet Butternut Squash Potstickers and Butternut Squash Ravioli

Today I decided to make butternut squash ravioli and sweet butternut squash potstickers. I bought potsticker wrappers and a butternut squash from Scotts Valley Market. I peeled and chopped the squash (next time I would buy the prepared kind from Whole Foods) into small pieces. I put one half on a baking sheet and mixed it with spray oil and salt. The other half I put on another baking sheet and mixed it with spray oil, salt, pumpkin pie spices, and brown sugar. Iput these in a 400 degree oven for fifteen minutes. I took them out and stirred the squash then put them into the oven for another ten minutes.

I made the ravioli first by putting the squash into the food processor with a little bit of almond milk, black pepper (too much accidently), and Italian seasoning (I’m not sure what it all amounted to but it was what was in the cupboard). I blended these until it was mostly smooth but there was still some texture. I put about a tablespoon onto a wrapper, spread egg wash around the edges and then placed another wrapper on top of that one. Once all the ravioli were made they went into boiling water four at a time until they were done. I ended up with about fourteen of them.

For the sweet potstickers, I put the butternut squash that was made with brown sugar into the food processor with some almond milk and brown sugar. I processed it until it was completely smooth. I put small spoonfuls onto each wrapper. Then I put egg wash around the edges and folded the wrapper over the filling and smooshed it down to make half-moons.

I heated up some spray oil in a non-stick skillet and added the potstickers six at a time. They cooked up in less than five minutes for each batch. They tasted alright but I think they would be better with a butter and brown sugar sauce or some powdered sugar on top. The ravioli tasted better but they aren’t as pretty.

Israeli Couscous “Risotto”

I was reading through cookbooks last weekend and came across something that I had never heard of before: cooking pasta like risotto. Now, reading this terrified and excited me. I could foresee pasta burning and sticking to the pan, coming up undercooked and gummy at the same time. I was also excited by the possibility of saving water and the time it takes to boil the water. This has been in the back of my mind the past couple days.

I was driving home from class today over hwy 17 and got really hungry. I’ve been getting very hungry all of a sudden lately. I was daydreaming of burritos, chinese food, and all sorts of take-out. Then I thought of my bank account, the feta cheese, roasted garlic, dried cranberries, salad greens, and array of carboyhydrate options I keep in my cupboard. I knew I could come up with something delicious, easy, satisfying, and quick.

I figured that Israeli couscous would be the perfect sized pasta to try out risotto style. I like making risotto and have never found it to be a challenge. I’ve always found cooking a pot of rice to be more of a challenge. I also like Israeli couscous. I like it much better than those tiny wimpy regular couscous.

Out came the Israeli Couscous “Risotto”. Creamy, tangy, savory, sweet. Nutty, hearty, and simple. A great lunch for when you have time to cook. Or it could be a great dinner. A wonderful way to use leftovers and experiment.

Israeli Couscous “Risotto” with Dried Cranberries, Feta, and Roasted Garlic

  • 1 1/3 cup Israeli couscous
  • 1 3/4 cup water (you could also use stock or a combination of stock and water)
  • salt, pepper, and chili pepper flakes (my holy trinity of spices)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • a handful of dried cranberries
  • a couple cloves of roasted garlic
  • a handful of herb and garlic feta
  • a handful of salad greens

1. To toast your couscous add the olive oil and couscous to the pan and heat to medium. I use a heavy bottomed aluminum pan because I have some sort of disease that prevents me from ever wanting to use non-stick. Add salt, pepper, and chili pepper flakes.  Heat for about five minutes until they little balls turn a golden color and they smell nutty (or in my case almost burning).

2. Gradually add your water and stir. You want to add the water in small increments. The way I gauged it was add a little water, stir, stir, stir, and then when the little balls started to stick I added more water before they could adhere themselves permanently to the pan. This process took about fifteen minutes.

3. Add roasted garlic cloves and smash them up into the couscous. Let them heat through for about a minute or so. Then remove the pan from the heat. Add cranberries and feta.

4. In a bowl mix together couscous mixture and salad greens. Enjoy.

Coconut Toasted Rice with BBQ Black Eyed Peas

Most of the time food around my kitchen is not fancy. The fancy stuff I cook is for when people come over for dinner or when I really want to try a complicated recipe. For the most part, I’m happy with beans and rice, a poached egg, ramen, or oatmeal. Today wasn’t much different. I have a twenty something pound bag of white rice in cupboard that I’m trying to make use of. I don’t really like white rice. I find it bland, boring, and not very nutritious. However, I have it, it was free, and it doesn’t take long to cook. I also had a can of black eyed peas in my cupboard. So I came up with the idea of cooking black eyed peas with white rice.

White rice. Boring. I decided to vamp up my white rice by cooking it in some light coconut milk. Yes, coconut milk is high in saturated fat, but it’s a good saturated fat and I’m eating the light kind. What came out was incredibly fragrant, a little toasted, and much tastier than plain white rice.

Toasted Coconut Rice

  • 1 cup white rice
  • 1 1/2 cups light coconut milk (you can use full fat)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

1. Bring coconut milk, salt, and rice to boil. Once the mixture is boiling, stir a bit, lower the temperature to low, and cover. Cook for about fifteen to twenty minutes. Rice should be fluffy with some sticking to the bottom of the pan to get crunchy and toasted (this was a complete accident on my part).

BBQ Black Eyed Peas

  • 1 15 oz. can black eyed peas
  • 2 tbsps. BBQ sauce (homemade or prepared)
  • black pepper
  • red chili pepper flakes

1. Rinse black eyed peas before adding to skillet. Do not rinse completely. The bean juice from the can will make a nice sauce. Add black pepper, red pepper flakes, and BBQ sauce . Stir and cook until heated.

Do not add salt when cooking the black eyed peas. Most canned bean products already contain a considerable amount of salt as does BBQ sauce.

Crepe Day

This is another restaurant review. I haven’t been cooking much exciting lately since I’ve been broke, in the middle of moving, working, and taking four hour long classes. I’ve been mostly subsisting off of oatmeal, bagels, and take out.  Today I met with my friend Cindy for lunch at Sweet Pea’s Cafe in Los Gatos. Los Gatos is an affluent suburb of San Jose, located right at the foot of the Santa Cruz mountains. There is another Sweet Pea’s Cafe located in Capitola (a beach town near Santa Cruz).

This place was packed when I arrived at quarter to one. My friend hadn’t arrived yet so I decided to order an iced coffee. The girl at the register took about five minutes to acknowledge that I was there and then when I asked for an iced coffee she told me that even though it was on the chalk board they did not have iced coffee. I got a hot coffee instead even though it was about eighty degrees out.  The coffee was good and hot.

When Cindy got there we lined up to get our order. Cindy got the chicken salad sandwich which she seemed to enjoy. I ordered the mushroom, spinach, and feta on an original crepe (they give you a choice of wheat or original). In retrospect I should have ordered wheat. The mushroom, spinach, and feta crepe is the only vegetarian savory crepe available. There are many sweet vegetarian options and one or two vegetarian breakfast crepes. There is one vegetarian sandwich, daily soup options, and a couple salads.

I got my crepe without the mushrooms because I’m not a mushroom fan. The crepe was great tasting, but the  filling was a little bland. The mushroom sauce was incredibly bland. It just tasted like cream. There was no salt, pepper, or mushroom taste. The spinach in the filling was not seasoned. The feta was nice and salty so when the two mixed together it was much better.

The location is great and I would definitely go to Sweet Pea’s Cafe in Los Gatos again and try the one in Capitola. I think I would get the breakfast crepe without the meat next time.