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There's something almost hypnotic about steak. Perhaps that's just my testosterone talking, but there is really nothing like a big, juicy ribeye every now and then, as pictured (mine's from The Meat House). But alas, this isn't the time or place for me to muse about the wonders of a perfect steak. I don't need to explain to you why a steak is delicious, or why any steak prepared medium-or-higher is a sad waste of delicious meat. i don't eat steak often, and 4 out of 5 times I do, it's in the form of a delicious burrito from Anna's (ask for "The Charlz"--rice, black beans, steak, salsa, hot sauce, and double guacamole. It's not called that yet, but I'm really hoping it'll catch on!!!). Uhh.. Where was I?

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Ribeye, Seared Cauliflower, Mushrooms
I cooked that gorgeous steak the same way I cooked that pork chop a little while ago. I put my cast iron pan in a cold oven, set it to 500˚, pulled it out, threw my salted, peppered, and lightly oiled steak into it, put it on high heat, flipped it after a couple minutes, then popped it in said 500˚ oven until it was cooked perfectly. I then put it on a towel-lined plate and tented it with aluminum foil. In that same delicious pan, I put 2 thick slices of cauliflower and seared them off until cooked through, about 3 or 4 minutes, flipping halfway through.

The mushrooms on top are so simple. So very simple. Everyone seems to get their panties in a bunch over mushrooms and thyme together. Sure, that's good and all, but a bit unoriginal at best. I prefer oregano. So I cooked ~8oz sliced button mushrooms with S+P and ~1T of chopped fresh oregano in about 2T of butter.

A note about mushrooms: any mushroom that is Agaricus Bisporus, which includes button mushrooms, crimini/baby bella, and portabella, will give off a bit of ammonia as the cell structure breaks down. This is especially prevalent in older mushrooms. It's not a big deal at all because the numbers are so small, but it is a good idea to leave your mushrooms uncovered during cooking so the shrooms can breathe.

 
 
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yeah so i guess this is food
...Seriously, what? Are you eyeing that beautiful, perfectly cooked, thick, center-cut pork chop? yeah, I mean, pork chops are great and all, sure, and the brown rice upon which it sits is good too, but OH MY JESUS GOD, IS THAT SOME BROCCOLI RABE I SEE?!?!

Yes it is.

Broccoli Rabe is the most convincing argument I've heard for proof of the existence of God (although that banana guy made the close second). Broccoli Rabe stirred up a lot of controversy in the Muslim world because everyone thought it was the prophet Mohammed. Broccoli Rabe is the love child of Buddha, Bulbasaur, and Jim Morrison.

"But Charles," I can hear you saying: "I want to learn how to cook a pork chop that beautiful and moist! The pork chops I had as a child were always so dry and unpleasant!" Well, reader, that's because up until the '70s (are my readers all that old?), pork products were always cooked to an infernal 180˚F, for fear of trichinosis. But for the past ~40 years, pigs have been raised to just not carry the particular worm that causes that disease. Some pigs are just raised in a cleaner and more controlled environment -- romping through one's own shit is an easy way to pick up a bug or two -- and others (read: most) are raised with so many damn antibiotics pumped through them that no one needs to bother cleaning up all that pig shit (it can also be contracted if the pig happens to eat meat, such as dead mice accidentally mixed in with their slop). So: cook pork a little more liberally than your grandmother would have. This here's medium rare.

I brined my chops (I had 2) overnight in this: 1qt water with 1/2C kosher salt dissolved in it, ~1t black pepper, 1/4C brown sugar, 1/4t ground allspice, and 1 sprig fresh rosemary (honestly, you could skip the herbs and spices. They don't lend that much, all things considered). When it came time to cook, I rinsed and dried them off and let them come up to room temperature while I put my cast iron skillet in a cold oven which I set to 500˚ (I do this because it just takes less time for the oven to heat up with the pan than it does for the oven to get back up to temp with a cold pan in it). When the little light on my oven went off, I knew that my oven and pan were at 500,˚ so I pulled it out, put a teeny bit of oil on my pork, and put them chops in that screamin' hot pan. 2 minutes on each side, then into the 500˚ oven (right in the pan) for another 3 or 4. I then pulled them out and took pictures of one of them while the other developed self-esteem issues (don't worry, it worked them out when I ate it a few days later).

OH GOD THAT DAMN BROCCOLI RABE. If you require an explanation as to why Broccoli Rabe (or Rapini, to be pedantically correct) is so damn magnificent, then call me. I'll give you hours of lectures, but I don't think everyone else would want to read all that, and it would obscure the point. What I did to this mouth-watering cousin of mustard is as follows:
-Sauté 1/2 an onion (small dice) and 2 cloves of garlic, minced, in olive oil until the whole world smells like garlic.
-Turn down the heat to mid-low and add 1 bunch of Broccoli Rabe, thicker stems removed and discarded (don't use them for stock, they're too bitter for that particular application) and 1/2C chicken stock (if you're vegetarian, don't be afraid to use vegetable stock, mushroom stock, or water).
-Cook your Rabe low until the liquid is almost entirely gone from the pan. Then add ~2T of red wine vinegar, S+P to taste.
-When the vinegar has almost completely evaporated, you're done.
-Enjoy (as if you have a choice).

 
 
*Sigh.*

Tofu Shirataki noodles are not good. There's no other way to say it. They are noodles made from tofu, water, yam flour, and calcium hyrdoxide, also known as slaked lime (this additive isn't evil, trust me). Traditional (read: real) Shirataki are thin, translucent noodles made from Konjac (affectionately referred to as Devil's Tongue), a root found in Eastern Asia and Japan. I've cooked them on three occasions, and I simply give up. Normally, I'm much more persistent. Normally, I love anything to do with tofu. Normally, I try things over and over again until I create something that I could serve to another human being without accompanying it with a suicide note. But not this time. I have prepared these squiggly turds in three different ways. The first attempt, I cooked them exactly as the package indicated, by parboiling and then finishing them in the pan in a sauce. On the second attempt, I tried using them as if they were real Shirataki, in a one-pot soup. Gently afloat in dashi, I really had high hopes for this one, but they were for naught. This time around, I strained them right out of the package and into a hot stir-fry.

The problem was the same in all three instances. These little worms are just damn gummy. They are chewy and unpleasant. On top of that, they don't look or taste particularly good. In fairness, I've been using House Foods brand, If you know a better maker, please let me know. I'll try anything four times.
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Yeah, okay, so I put some toasted sesame oil in a screaming hot pan. Then, I guess I added one tablespoon of minced garlic and one of ginger. I suppose you could say that when that stuff became aromatic, I added 1/2 an onion (julienned) and 2 carrots (peeled and julienned). After a minute of tossing that around, I added some sliced shiitake caps, but it's like whatever. I think I added, like, 2t of soy sauce, 1T of lime juice, 1t of Sriracha, 1/4t of turmeric, 1/4t of cumin, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper, but you know. I mean, fine. I pushed everything out of the way, leaving a crater in the middle of the pan so the liquid could reduce quickly, then I tossed it all together and served it over some delicious brown jasmine rice. Ugh.

 
 
Help me. I can't stop roasting vegetables. There is just no better way to cook most of them, as far as I'm concerned. Here are three stupidly delicious recipes for some roasted vegetables.
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Anyone who claims that they don't like cooked carrots (both of my brothers included) clearly hasn't had them this way. Those people are thinking of wet-cooked carrots, and that's just wrong. I mean, carrots in a stew is one thing, but the steamed baby carrots I was fed a child had a slimy mouthfeel and a mushy, mealy texture. These, however, are a different experience entirely. The recipe is simple, as it should be for such a sweet root vegetable. Peel a pound of carrots, and cut them into ~2'x3/4'x3/4' sticks (precision knife work would take away some of the rustic appeal of this dish, so don't bother getting out the ruler). In a bowl or whatever, toss the carrot sticks with ~2T melted butter, ~1T salt, and ~2t black pepper. On a tinfoil-lined baking sheet, roast at 400˚ for ~45 minutes, or until deeply brown and even black in places. The pieces should be more than fork-tender, although a bit of crispness is welcome in the blackened spots, which will inexorably occur if your oven, like mine, has hot spots.

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This is one of the best and most reliable recipes I know. Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Grapes. I can't speak highly enough of it. In fact, as I write this, I have just chosen to reheat some of these little monsters over the multitude of brownies that I have in my fridge.This recipe, like the previous, defies the skeptics. When I offer this dish to someone, the conversation is always the same:
"Oh, no thanks, I don't like Brussels sprouts."
"Well, try these, they will literally astound you with astonishment."
"Phenomenal, Charles. I, President Barack Obama, as your close personal friend, officially name you the Secretary of GREAT (food)!" (Get it? That was the best joke.)
To make these stupefying treasures, simply cut the butt ends off of a pound of washed sprouts (for they are woody and unpleasant) and cut all sprouts in half. some of the outer leaves will fall off in this process, but that's okay. Include them, don't throw them away and certainly don't use any part of a sprout in stock. Put your sprouts in a big ziploc bag and pour in about ~3/4C balsamic vinegar, ~3/4C olive oil, ~1T of salt, and ~1t pepper. Seal the bag and massage it like it was your imaginary girlfriend (it is, after all, Valentine's Day). Do this a bit ahead of time and let the bag sit at room temperature for a bit, so the fluids can invade the caverns within the sprouts. After this has been done, spread the sprouts out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Wash about 1.5C of good seedless grapes, and disperse them throughout the pan with the sprouts. Roast at 400˚ for ~45 minutes (noticing a theme here?).

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Roasted potatoes need no introduction. They are straightforward, delicious, and as easy as a Charlie Sheen punchline. My recipe calls for 2# of baby red potatoes, 2T salt, 1T pepper, 1t thyme, 1t paprika... actually, never mind. There are so many damn herbs and spices in here, none of which I actually measured. So here are my rules of thumb.
1) Potatoes always need more salt than you think they do.
2) Since we are, of course, roasting these at 400˚ for ~45 minutes, don't use olive oil. It will burn and turn bitter (we weren't worried about that with the Brussels sprouts because most of that oil was physically kept up inside of the sprouts).
3) Wash your potatoes well. Scrub the heck out of them. Nothing is worse than a gritty potato, except gritty coffee. Notice the theme with all of the worst things ever is that they are gritty. That is not a coincidence. Wash your spuds.
4) Play around! Potatoes and spices are cheap, so make a different recipe every time, and see what you like best.

Well, there you have three blank slates with which you can do whatever you please. Tweak, play, and change whatever you please, but just promise me that you will never ever ever boil a Brussels sprout, even at threat of death. These recipes were more than good enough to accompany me this Valentine's Day, I hope you like them as much as I do.
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You're going to have to trust me. This dish is weird. But it is among the best I have made in a long, long time. In fact, I'm eating some of the leftovers this recipe afforded for lunch right now.

Start by getting 10oz of dry lentils in some water, boiling away. Then begin rendering 4oz of diced pancetta in a big ol' pan. When that secretes enough liquid fat to do so, add 8oz of ground pork, and cook until golden brown and sexy. You'll want the pork to be broken up into little tiny bits. This is, after all, a lentil dish, not a pork dish, so we don't want the pork to lend much besides flavor. Now, add 2 chopped bananas (yes, that's right. What did you think the title meant?), 1tsp fennel seeds and a pinch of salt and pepper. The bananas won't really hold their shape as they cook, so it's no big deal how big or small or in what shape you cut them. While that's happening, purée 3 Roma tomatoes with 3 cloves of garlic, peeled of course, and add to your pan. Around this time, your lentils should be about 87% cooked, so strain those out and add them to your pan as well. Granted, you want your lentils to be a little bit al dente, so don't go crazy, but keep your giant pan on the heat until that raw garlic taste cooks off, which shouldn't take long, since the piquancy in raw garlic comes of allyl methyl sulfide gas, which will be released more easily if the garlic is puréed. Adjust for seasoning, and serve on fluffy white rice. Here, I garnished it with a few thin slices of banana and some curled tarragon leaves.

 
 
Alas, the perils of living in a MADD-maddened Massachusetts (well, MADD has its paranoid-schizophrenic stronghold on every state, I just couldn't resist the alliteration). Don't get me wrong, the simple pasta throw-together pictured below is good, palatable no less, and the the average Applebees-addled American (woo, I'm on fire!), it's probably downright gourmet. But by my standards, it's about a 1 out of 5. What it is is a mediocre mushroom ragout. The connection between MADD-maddened Massachusetts and my mediocre mushroom melange is that I can't rightfully imagine a proper mushroom ragout that doesn't involve wine, and I couldn't seem to get my hands on any of that, given that I am not of the proper age to do so in a timely fashion. Don't get me wrong, I very much appreciate the basic sentiment of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Impaired driving is totally uncool, and is a bit more than a pet peeve of mine, but I certainly don't see why this country can't even have a rational conversation about lowering the drinking age without Laura Dean-Mooney, the president of MADD, wagging her self-righteous finger at everyone for "forgetting" the terrible tragedies that have befallen innocent victims such as Candace Lightner, the founder of the company who resigned, saying "It has become far more neo-prohibitionist that I had ever envisioned. I didn't start MADD to deal with alcohol, I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving." And she left in 1985, and MADD has only gotten worse. She is also famously quoted as saying "If you want to drink, that's your business. But as soon as you drink and get behind the wheel, it becomes my business."

So what the hell, Laura Dean-Mooney? More importantly, what the hell, Federal Government? Let me be clear, for those who don't know. Every state can lower or even abolish it's drinking age. But if it does, ever since 1984 (the year, not the book, but the the former practically alludes to the latter), the Feds will cut road and highway funding by millions. Urgh, MADD makes me so... oh, what's the word?
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As I said, I'm not particularly proud of this pasta. Here's how I did it:
-I caramelized about 3C of mirepoix. Yes, I cooked it all until the onions were caramelized. At the end of that, the carrots and celery were like candy, too. In butter, of course.
-I added 16oz of mushrooms, quartered, and ~1C of chopped broccoli stems (let's talk about broccoli stems. Peel them well, or you'll be picking vegetable splinters out of your teeth for the next few hours. Broccoli stems are a tender and delicious. They have all the pleasant pepperiness of the florets, without the fickleness), and 4 canned plum/Roma tomatoes, which I crushed with the back of a wooden spoon immediately, about 1/2C of the juice in the can, and 1/4C red wine vinegar, and 1T of soy sauce (just to really nail the umami point home). I cooked that over super-low heat for something like 30 minutes, after which time I added my mostly-cooked pasta, and finished cooking. Oops, I seem to have abandoned my half-assed bullet point recipe system halfway through there...

 
 
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My facebook friends might remember my late basil plant, Audrey II, whom I had to butcher in December because of my extended vacation. Well, rather than just freeze a whole mess of basil, which loses its vibrant color when frozen whole, I figured I might as well make a whole bunch of pesto, since the loss of color wouldn't really be such a big deal in that context. So I steeped the flavorful stems in olive oil, discarded the used stems, and grated something like 4 or 5oz of Parm-Reg. I put those things in the food processor with my 2ish tighly packed cups of basil leaves and about 1/2C of curly parsley. Now, we all know rule #1 of cooking (everything needs salt), but that department is covered in the cheese. This made about a pint of pesto, which lasts a good while in your freezer, although airtight containment is crucial, as it's mostly fat, and fat can pick up some unwanted flavors in the freezer. Granted, if you keep your freezer clean (which you do, right?), this shouldn't be much of an issue either way.

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Papaya juice makes a great partner for this dish.
Well, if there's a combination more intuitive than pesto, pasta, chicken, and broccoli, I don't know what it is. So that's what I cooked. Uninspired, yes, but delicious and affordable. I simply partially steamed 4 small heads' worth of broccoli florets,, then sweated 3 minced cloves of garlic until it was tender in olive oil, added the chicken, cooked that through, and then added one bag of mostly-cooked pasta, your prepared broccoli, and about a cup of the aforementioned pesto, which is paste-thick when refrigerated, but quickly thins out to a penne-coating consistency. Finish cooking everything. Easy, cheap, and damn tasty.

 
banigan bharta 01/18/2011
 
Eggplant Curry. A delicious utilization of such a meaty berry if I ever saw one. Also known as the Aubergine or the Melongene, The problem with the eggplant is that its pulpy flesh has almost nothing in it but water.. It doesn't have a whole lot to contribute in the flavor or the nutrition departments.
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It is a simple dish. Start with a super-hot pan with some toasted sesame oil in it. Add 2T of minced garlic and minced ginger, as well as a finely chopped onion. Sauté that for a few minutes, then add one medium-diced eggplant, turn the heat down to medium-high, add salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 minutes (no, the eggplant won't quite be fully cooked yet). Now, add 2t salt, 1t pepper, 1t each of black and white sesame seeds, 2t curry powder (store-bought is okay, but real men make their own. If you're using store-bought, use 1t of it, and add 1/2t toasted ground cumin and 1/2t ground coriander. Brand name curry powder tends to be mostly turmeric and onion powder, and is a bit mild for this application), 1/2C plain yogurt, and 2 crushed dried Arbol chilies, excluding the seeds. Turn the heat down to low, and finish cooking just until the eggplant is tender. Serve over a healthy scoop of basmati rice and enjoy. This dish is well-complimented by ginger beer, might I add.

 
 
Whole Foods was solely the inspiration for this particular dish. More specifically, the Newton Centre Whole Foods having a special on beautiful fresh wild haddock- $9.99/# isn't bad for fish of this quality. Also, I stumbled upon a delicious looking chunk of raw milk Crater Lake blue cheese from Rogue Creamery in Oregon. Naturally, I bought both. Here's what I did with them.
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I put a few slices of salame on the plate.. Just because I had it lying around.

For a piece of high-quality white-fleshed fish like haddock, there is no question in my mind of how to cook it: steam. Steamed products don't get all of their flavor leached out by the surrounding water in the way that poached ones so often do. And as much as I love a nice piece of fried or seared fish (such as fried catfish or Sole Meuniére), steamed fish does not lend any inevitable by-product flavors, which, though fascinating and delicious, are not what I was looking for in this dish. The potato was baked, but not conventionally. I had to get a little clever, but I did something quite interesting...

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Yup.
I start with half a stick of butter in an enameled iron pot over medium-low heat. Yes, it's a lot of butter, but most of it will get drained off later. To that I add 4 sliced onions and 8oz of washed young portabella mushrooms (which are actually the same species as white or button mushrooms [all three are Agaricus Bisporus], not much differs between these except color and potentially price), around a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 a teaspoon of black pepper and ground coriander. I cook that for about 15 minutes, when I notice that the onions are a translucent brown and my whole apartment smells like good dreams. I then add about 1/2 a cup of vegetable broth. Then, I plop the fillets, after having seasoned them with the same quantities of the same seasonings as before right on top of the whole mess, as pictured. I put the lid on my pot and let is cook for only about 5 minutes: nothing is worse than overcooked fish.

Now, before I started any of this haddock shenaniganage, I had started my potatoes. Days before, in fact. I had mad some roasted garlic, by which I mean i had poached some garlic in olive oil. I then forced that softened, sweetened garlic through a sieve to make a sort of garlic paste that I keep in my fridge. It's good on about anything. Back to the present, however. So I cut the potatoes in half, salted them, and spread the garlic paste on them. Then, I smoosh the halves back together and wrap them tightly in aluminum foil and bake a 375˚ for as long as it takes. When they're sufficiently cooked, I pulled the halves back apart, put a healthy chunk of blue cheese on each half, and baked for another 10 minutes at 400˚.

Before service, strain the onions and mushrooms over which the haddock was cooked, and serve. Damn good.