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Dinner

An Everyday Sort of Meal

We haven't posted much recently, because we haven't been cooking much recently. We just got married, Hillary got promoted, we've been busy. So we've been ordering pizza and going out to eat more often than not. And when we have cooked, it hasn't been the type of cooking that I think of as worthy of a blog post. Posts should be about interesting things. An experiment, a holiday, a giant meal.

"We only make Buffalo wings once a year, that's worth writing about."

Weeknight meals are also more difficult to photograph, since I'm usually just trying to get them over with. I read an article a while ago: Cooking isn't fun, but you should do it anyway. You should read it, but the gist is that cooking is really only fun when you're doing the things I described as "blog worthy" just now. Day to day cooking can be a grind.

I agree, but it can be made a little better by building up your stable of simple, easy recipes. Once you've got some, making dinner on a weeknight isn't so bad. You just need to make yourself do it, instead of visiting your favorite taco truck, even though tacos are easier.

Here's a meal we made for dinner the other night - Penne with squash, goat cheese and balsamic vinegar. Very straightforward. The combination of these three (and/or zucchini) is pretty versatile and can be used in many other contexts. We've used it as a pizza topping before with great success.

 

Yes, this is pretty much everything you need, besides a kitchen. Start boiling some water for you pasta, and chop your squash up into half moons. (As an aside, can you tell where we do our shopping?)

Once chopped, throw them in a frying pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper - cooking until soft, but watch out, as it's easy to overcook squash and it's gross when soggy. Some browning is a good thing here.

I find a tasty beer enhances the joy of cooking.

We've made variations of this meal many times (for real, lots), but I was severely out of practice, so I forgot you should really wait for your water to be boiling before you start cooking your veggies. If you don't, and you don't want soggy squash, you're going to end up waiting while your pasta boils. Slowly.

Hillary helps me wait.

Once your pasta is cooked through, top with the squash, a bit of olive oil, and your balsamic and goat cheese. Now you're ready to eat and watch Jeopardy.

 

While this meal was tasty (and pretty healthy, I must say) it was lacking a little something. Next time some greens might be a nice addition, or possibly some spice. Which spice, I'm not sure, but something.

 

Penne with Squash, Balsamic Vinegar and Goat Cheese

 

One large squash

Goat Cheese

Balsamic Vinegar

Penne

Boil your pasta. While waiting for the pasta to boil, chop squash into half moon pieces and fry in a pan with olive oil, salt and pepper until cooked through but not soggy. Serve squash over pasta, garnished with goat cheese and balsamic.

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Baked Buffalo Wings

So we're living in Buffalo now, and the Superbowl recently happened. We had some people over. Do you see where I'm going with this?

No? Ok, whatever. This post is about making Buffalo Wings, one of two things that our new hometown is well known for. Specifically the one that is not cold. 

Wings aren't a new thing for us. I love wings, but Hillary isn't wild about things with bones in them, so I've taken the Superbowl as a yearly opportunity to try and make them since college. As for the baking part, I have nothing against deep frying (I'm decidedly pro frying), but the choice to bake has always been a convenience decision. When you have a bunch of people over and you're trying to watch football, it isn't very fun to be standing in the kitchen carefully watching a pot of dangerously hot oil (chances are you're a few beers in at this point too). Baking let's you walk away without fear.

The downside of baking wings is that baked wings are not as good as fried wings.

But wait!

That isn't really true. I've tried many different techniques over the years to make baked wings as good as their fried brethren, with varying degrees of success. Probably two years ago, I stumbled upon the technique that I currently use, courtesy of one of my favorite amatuer food scientists, Kenji Lopez of Serious Eats.

It involves some prep ahead of time, but the results are almost identical to fried wings.

First, the night before you intend on eating, grab a couple baking sheets. The original recipe calls for lining them with aluminum foil and putting oven safe cooling racks into them. I'm still looking for reasonably priced oven safe cooling racks, so I just ended up using disposable aluminum baking sheets. Easier cleanup too.

Next, separate four pounds of wings. This isn't super fun, but think of it as an opportunity to improve your knife skills and your understanding of chicken anatomy. Spread the drumstick and the wing section out like a "V" and just cut straight down. If you do this correctly, you should encounter very little resistance, as you're just cutting through cartilage. Then, doing the V trick again with the wing and hangy thing. Chop the the weird hangy bit off and toss it. This one is a bit harder - I don't really have a good technique, and often end up chopping through some bone. These can be used for making stock too, if you're into that.

Anyways, as you're cutting them up, place them onto paper towels. About half way through the wings, pat them down, getting them as dry as you can and then toss with a tablespoon of salt and a tablespoon of baking powder until well coated. A large bowl will work, but I've had better luck with a container with a lid you can snap on. Once you're done cutting and tossing, put everything into your fridge overnight. The cool air of your fridge further dries out the wings, making them that much more crispy when baked. You can see we're stocked up on other essentials as well here.

The next day, preheat your oven to 450°. Throw your wings in, and bake for 15 minutes, then take them out, flip and rotate. Let them go another 20 to 25 minutes. I've found the second amount of time varies a bit depending on the size of the wings and your oven. Basically, whenever they look crispy enough.

While the wings are baking, you'll want to prepare your sauce. Wing sauce is just hot sauce and butter. Grab your favorite hot sauce (Frank's) and add it to melted butter in a ratio one stick to one cup. I only ended up using about one cup of sauce, but I made a lot. You can adjust the ratio if you like your sauce hotter or milder.

At this point your wings are probably done baking. If you're trying to write a blog post about them, you might want to take a picture. Instead I took this picture of Fritz "helping".

Anyway, remember that container with a lid that you used to toss the wings last night? You should grab it again and use it to toss your wings in your sauce now. A bowl also works in a pinch. When you're finished, they should look a little something like this.

Then we eat. Just beware that a four pound package of wings will probably feed quite a few people, especially if they've been eating a ton of other football food all day. We had a lot of leftovers from two packages. Also, don't forgot the blue cheese dressing and celery. Possibly a beer or two.

 

Baked Buffalo Wings

4 lbs chicken wings

baking powder

salt

Frank's hot sauce

butter

celery

blue cheese dressing

 

The night before, separate wings and dry thoroughly. Toss about half with 1 tbsp baking powder and 1 tbsp salt. Do the same with second half. Place on disposable aluminum baking sheets or baking sheets lined with aluminum foil and leave overnight in fridge. Preheat oven to 450° and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate wings and bake for another 20-25 minutes until crispy. While baking, melt butter into hot sauce in a ratio of one stick to one cup hot sauce. Then toss wings in sauce and service with blue cheese and celery.

 

 

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Mac and Cheese with greens

Hey! You're back! And by you, I mean we. We're back.

It's been a while since we wrote a new post, about nine months by my count. Coincidentally, we've been quite busy for nine months, because nine months ago was when we decided to move from Brooklyn to Buffalo. The reasons for the move are a bit complicated, but we now have a whole house to ourselves and are very happy with the decision.

That being said, our time has been full of house shopping, job searching, and various other logistics, so there hasn't been much time for cooking, let alone writing about cooking (and editing, and photographing...). We're also working on mastering our new stove, which Hillary loves because it fits perfectly with the rest of the house. However, adjusting to electric burners has been a learning experience.

Writing this blog is something we enjoy doing, so we'll continue, now with some added advantages. We now own a grill! And a garage where we can store equipment for deep frying turkeys, and a basement where we can ferment beer. So not only will we still write, but we have lots of new things to write about.

Anyways, on to today's recipe. Please forgive the photos - they were taken with my phone because the camera wasn't charged, and I felt like we needed to get back on the wagon to work up some momentum.

Macaroni and cheese is an awesome meal for someone learning about cooking. Though dead simple and delicious, it also incorporates some snooty cooking techniques without being intimidating. Did you know that mac and cheese involves both a Roux and a Béchamel sauce? If you knew that, like myself, you may be a nerd, but it doesn't matter either way.

Silly French sauce names aside, mac and cheese is great for experimenting, because most things taste great smothered in cheesy sauce. You can't really fail too hard. For today's recipe, we chose a few random cheeses and mixed in arugula and baby spinach to add a healthy element. The ratios for the base sauce are adapted from this gnocchi mac and cheese recipe, which I assure you is delicious. 

The first thing you need to do is boil some water for pasta and preheat your oven to 375°. We used about half box of shells. While you wait on that, chop up three cloves of garlic.

Next, the cheese. We chose Fontina, a strong charp cheddar, and a jack cheese with habanero peppers in it. The total amount of cheese here is roughly a cup, with a smaller amount of the habanero cheese, because that stuff is rather strong. I learned an important lesson about that last time we made enchiladas. Cheese choice is only limited by what you like.

At this point, your pasta is probably done or close to done. Before putting the arugula and spinach in, you'll want to wilt it. A handy shortcut for this is putting the greens into your strainer before dumping the pasta and water in. Instant wilted greens, just stir!

Now that the pasta and greens are all set, we can get to the sauce part. What you'll need is two tablespoons of butter, a tablespoon of flour, 3/4 cup of milk, your chopped garlic, a teaspoon of dijon mustard and your cheese.

We don't have any pictures of the next bit because everything happens quite quickly, but melt your butter in a pan on medium high. Next, drop in the flour and whisk it together with the butter quickly until smoothed out, then add your garlic. Let this go for a minute or less, continually stirring with the whisk so that nothing burns until combined. While continuing to stir, add the milk and mustard. Keep stirring for a minute until the milk has thickened up. Then, one handful at a time drop your cheese in and let it melt into the sauce. Once the cheese is incorporated, remove the pan from the heat and salt and pepper it to your taste.

Next, mix this sauce with your pasta in a baking dish. Since I never measure pasta out, I put the sauce into the dish first, then add the pasta bit by bit and mix it in. If you run out of sauce to evenly coat the pasta, stop adding pasta.

We also like to add a breadcrumb topping, which consists of about two tablespoons of melted butter mixed with breadcrumbs until it forms a consistent, spreadable mix which you then put on the top.

Throw this in the oven for 25 minutes or until browned and bubbling.

Mac & Cheese with greens

Half a box of shell pasta

A few handfulls of baby spinach and arugula mixed

1/2 c grated fontina cheese

1/2 c grated sharp cheddar

1/4 c habanero jack cheese

3/4 c whole milk

4 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tbsp all purpose flour

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 tsp of dijon mustard

breadcrumbs

 

Preheat oven to 375°.

Boil the pasta in salted water and drain over the greens to wilt them. Set aside.

In a pan, melt 2 tbsp of butter and whisk together with flour until combined. Whisking constantly, add milk, garlic, and mustard, cooking until thickened. Still stirring, melt the cheese into the sauce one handful at a time. Remove from heat and salt and pepper to taste. Mix with the cooked pasta in a baking dish.

Melt the remaining butter in a bowl and add breadcrumbs until you have a sandy consistency. Top the pasta and sauce mixture with this.

Bake 25 minutes or until browned and bubbling.

 

 

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