Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Fate of "Best of the School Lunch Week"

We, the Conquistadors, have made a number of questionable decisions in the past... as many of you well know. For those who don't know, watch the video on the Chicken Crab Valentine post.

Among our iffy choices, I would like to rank our most recent idea, "Best of the School Lunch Week". When we came up with the idea, we were excited. After all, there were certain items from a school lunch menu that every child, at least in our generation, should recall savoring. What we also have realized after our first entry is why our nation's school children are probably so obese.

Our proposed entries would have gone something like this:

1. Meatball subs - Meatballs, marinara sauce, and cheese in a bun
2. Walking tacos - Ground beef, cheese and lettuce in a bag of Doritos
3. Pizza - I think you know what this is. We actually made it too - gruyere, blue, cheddar, and mozzarella cheese, chicken and pepperoni pizza to be exact
4. Italian dunkers - Breadsticks covered in cheese, dipped in marinara sauce
5. Footlong hot dogs - Hot dogs that are roughly a foot long.

As we analyzed this list we realized that it may be delicious, but certainly wouldn't do much to help us establish a sightly waistline. Meat of questionable fortitude? Check. Lots of carbohydrates? Check. Artery numbing cheese? Definitely.

We called off "Operation: School Lunch" in the best interest of healthy eating after a bit of deliberation, but thought it appropriate to at least give you an idea where we were going with it. I understand that school lunches have changed a bit since my grade school days, or so Matty tells me. When I was in middle and high school, $.50 pop cans and $.75 pop bottles were plentiful, the lunches were tasty but fattening, and things were a bit more lax than they are now. Sound like it happened a while back? Not really... I graduated from high school only five years ago. I'm sure that today's nutritious metamorphosis enveloping schools is for the best, but I am a product of the days when no one seemed to care much about healthy lunches.. and their neglect was delicious.


In other news, speaking of Operation: School Lunch, Operation: Iraqi Freedom is over. I'm watching MSNBC right now and just witnessed the last U.S. convoy of combat troops cross out of Iraq into Kuwait. I'm sure a lot of people are breathing a sigh of relief and others are concerned about how things will look without our soldiers... however you look at it,  it's a historic moment.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Best of the School Lunch Menu, Part I: MEATBALLS! MEATBALLS!! MEATBALLS!!!

Around the time of our triumphant return to Ohio, Luke and I stumbled upon a rather glorious idea; an idea too exciting, heartwarming, and tasty-sounding to pass up.  We also realize that due to our prolonged absence, we managed to miss the anniversary of this fine blog's formation.  We are therefore retroactively declaring a prolonged Conquista-holiday!! And with it, a prolonged theme for the next few entries, similar to our Soup Month! (except we're not sure how long we can milk this thing, so we're not calling it a "month," per se.)

The theme, as you have probably divined from this post's title, is "The Best of the School Lunch Menu."  Surely you remember it*: there you are, sitting in class about to break for lunch. You lean across the desk to your friend and ask if he remembers what's for lunch today. "Uhh, I think it's walking tacos." And just like that, DING! Your day is suddenly that much brighter!
*Note: If you don't remember it, just trust us. It's good stuff.

The first item to be tackled (lovingly) was the humble meatball sub.  In true Conquistador fashion, we happened to find a bag full of precooked meatballs in the freezer, so we got some nice big Italian steak rolls on our next grocery visit.  Most houses usually have some tomato sauce of some kind sitting around (we used an 8oz can); apart from seasoning for your sauce, these three components are really all you need.  I regret that we did not make the meatballs ourselves.  It wouldn't have been difficult, but like I said, we used what we had.

The only part of this creation that really required any "cooking" was the sauce, so that is where we urge you to incorporate your own unique style and choice of seasoning.  It just so happens that our style usually involves Buffalo sauce. With a few pinches of sugar, several shakes of grated parmesan cheese, some ground black pepper and some Italian seasoning, our sauce turned out quite zesty indeed. 

Assembly of this meal probably doesn't need to be explained, but I will do so anyway.  Place some provolone slices in your buns and lightly toast them. (We used a toaster oven on the "keep warm" function.)  Once your sauce has been seasoned and heated, plop a few meatballs in your sauce pot and roll them around until they are nice and coated.  Place the meatballs in your sub(s); our steak rolls held four meatballs each.  Finally, spoon out the sauce that remains onto the meatballs, drenching them in zesty saucy goodness.  Here is a brief overview of our course of action:

1. Heat meatballs.
2. Mix and heat spices and sauce in saucepan.
3. Add a slice of provolone to each sub and lightly toast.
4. Combine.
5. Consume.

As you can see by the expression of sheer euphoria, the subs were quite a success.  We made them in the space of about 20 minutes, and the ingredients were not difficult to come by at all.  I would highly recommend this to anyone to make at any time; it's an exceedingly simple and supremely satisfying meal, and there is even some room for experimentation in the seasoning of the sauce.

Be prepared for the next exciting installment!  Seeing as we are bound by the unbreakable Conquistador Code of Secrecy, we cannot reveal what we're planning for our next venture.  Fortunately, the Code mentions nothing about leaving big obvious hints:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer Surf and Turf

Well, now that summer is essentially over, I guess it would be just about time for me to finally get something up on this site here!

I apologize in advance for the lack of organization of my post; I very rarely use anything that resembles a recipe and also generally fail to write down anything I do as I go along, so bear with me here. I also apologize for the formatting here. Luke's going to have to help me clean this up at some point.

Anyways, over the last few weeks, I had been having crazy person cravings for surf and turf. Yes, ladies and gentleman, surf and turf, that meal that does everything in its power to exude an air of decadence and gluttony and proves that we as American's have conquered both the wild plains and the deep blue seas. With our stomachs.

Anyways, the first thing you'll need to do with this meal is pick out your meats. I went with a pair of rib eye steaks from the local market. For those that are still learning meat cuts, rib eye (also know as Scotch fillets) are beef steaks cut from the rib section of the cow. Because of this, they are fattier and more tender (marbled) than other cuts (seen here, already marinated). They can be a bit pricey too. You'll also want to pick up some shrimp. I recommend going with a bag of small or medium shrimp to make preparation a bit easier. Large shrimp have to be deveined since their digestive tract may contain grit. In smaller shrimp this can be done for cosmetic reasons, but isn't mission critical. I also picked up some grilling mushrooms.

When you get set up, make sure to throw your shrimp skewers in a pan of water for about an hour so you don't wind up with shrimp torches. Next, I marinated the steaks in a large zip lock bag with some extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, Worcestershire, and crushed garlic in the fridge, while I skewered the shrimp and set up the grill. If you buy your shrimp frozen, you can thaw them in a bag placed in cold water.

When the grill is ready, go ahead and throw your steaks on over indirect heat for a few minutes. You'll want to have a jump on them before you add the shrimp, since the shrimp will cook crazy fast. When the steaks are moving along, throw on the shrimp skewers with whatever herbs you like (thyme and rosemary for me). The shrimp need to be turned often, so keep your eye on them. I also shook a little adobo on the shrimp as they were cooking.

For the mushrooms, brush lightly with oil, add some salt and pepper and grill on tin foil over indirect heat. Don't over cook them. Burnt mushrooms are SAD SAD things.

Once everything is finished, plate it up and serve. If everything went well, you should have pretty nice meal laid out here.

As far as pairings for this meal go, I'd say you're pretty safe with a darker amber lager or another heavy red meat beer. For wine, I picked a syrah by Francis Coppola. It was a little peppery with definite hints of blackberry and earth, but it went pretty well with the steaks. You can pick it up at any local grocer with a decent wine selection.

Well, that's all I have for now! Have fun with attempting this meal. The great thing about shrimp and beef is that you can do just about anything with them. Peace out, Conquistadors.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Something Clever About Stuffed Peppers and Red Hot Lovin'

I never used to be a fan of stuffed peppers. I would come across them once a year or so, stare distastefully at the green blobs simmering in their own juices, and would do my best to avoid seconds. My Subway orders often included the words, "...and everything EXCEPT the green peppers".

We weren't friends.

As one grows older and (at least in my case) generally more adventurous, foods which were once shunned find their way into a diet. A great example: Brussels sprouts with bite.

When I learned that Erin would be coming to visit me for a few days back in late May, I was inspired to give stuffed peppers another shot. In searching for a recipe that we could make together (and in true Conquistador fashion, basing most of my decision off what I had in the refrigerator at the time), I consulted my Epicurious iPhone app. Bunch of zucchini? Check. Sweet Italian sausage that I best use up before leaving home for a couple of months? You know it. A red onion the size of my sister's head? Oddly, yes. Get some rosemary sprigs, a few big peppers, and we're in business. Done.

I'll go on a tangent for a moment - Epicurious, whether accessed via said iPhone app or, is a great place to look up recipes when you have a general idea what you might like to try... or at least what main ingredients you have. I suggest checking out their site, some of our CulinaryFTW Twitter friends, or the other sites we have listed in the right-hand sidebar of the blog if you ever need suggestions.

While there are a lot of stuffed pepper recipes out there, the one that we made can be found here and originated in the May of 1999 Bon Appetit magazine issue as far as I can tell.

I'll leave the cooking instructions to the recipe author this time and focus more on our experience. While we didn't struggle with creating this dish, I will highlight one part of the instructions to which I wish we'd paid more attention... the stuffing can be PREPARED A DAY AHEAD! The required mincing, grating, and sausage skinning may not seem like much, but with a cook time of around an hour, you may not want to spend all of that time cooking at once.

The construction of the dish is not difficult once the stuffing is prepared - you basically mush everything up, stick it in a halved pepper, and bake it. Once out of the oven you can transfer everything to a plate and stick a few rosemary sprigs in for decoration... the result of which was Caesar Pepper once we were finished. A few roses for matching color, a bottle of Rieseling, and you have a romantic dinner.

The peppers were, in our opinion, delicious. We made two peppers (that is four halves, for those of you counting on your fingers), and it was more than enough... We could only eat three halves in one sitting. Presentation-wise, I thought they looked great as well - not the bubbling muck I remembered from my childhood. The idea of using red peppers instead of green was a new one for me, but worked. I have to wonder if one could use green, red, orange and yellow side by side for a neat presentation. Let us know if any of you do as I am curious now!

In the end, this was an all-around success. We may not have come up with the recipe ourselves this time, but if we made them without a struggle, you can too! The way I look at it, discussing culinary arts is as much about sharing good experiences with tasty recipes as it is about disseminating original ideas. We found the dish delicious; let us know your thoughts as well.

Sweet Red Peppers on FoodistaSweet Red Peppers

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Some updates

Greetings, all -

We are FINALLY back from Maine! I realize that I probably stated that we'd be back in Ohio "soon" in a past entry, but things have been a bit... crazy lately. Between almost everyone getting an eye or ear infection during vacation and some extreme fluidity in travel plans, we arrived home not on July 15th, but on July 30th. Close, right?

Anyhow, while in Maine, to explain a bit about why so little action was evident here on the blog, we have a very small kitchen with very ancient cookware. Meals generally are collaborations with relatives and grocery stores are either quite far away or literally have two aisles, one of which is exclusively spam and Vienna sausages. It may seem that we've been our usual neglectful selves... but to be honest, there wasn't much in the way of gourmet cooking to write about.

Now for the good news. First of all, we're home and have a familiar kitchen and know exactly where to go for quality ingredients. Essentially, we can cook again. As far as availability, I still haven't been able to peg down a job yet, Matty still has a little while before school starts up for him again, and Deering ought to be in town soon. Regarding motivation, the rest of our family is headed off to visit our brother in Australia (where he is studying abroad) at the end of the week, meaning that if we DON'T cook, we don't eat. The future looks bright.

Another update to tell you about is that we've had some professional advice regarding the blog and how it ought to be operated lately. You can expect shorter, more reader-friendly posts (with links to our recipes so as not to clutter pages), more frequent posting, higher Twitter usage and more multimedia usage. We are hoping to do a few video / audio posts and are considering looking into starting a podcast... though that last part has not yet been determined.

If anyone has any input or advice of their own, don't hesitate to let us know either here or by Twitter, email, etc. We'll be back in touch soon!