Peanut Sauce for reddit

I put out an offer on reddit last week to create a blog post based on any requests that redditors had to offer. The first response was  from user nicksterluv:

What about a (cheap) peanut sauce? My favorite thing to order at the local Thai restaurant is a vegetable curry with peanut sauce, but I don’t get to eat it as often as I’d like since it’s expensive

Well, nicksterluv, your wish is my command.

Unfortunately, I had never before cooked anything even remotely Thai, so my next few days were spent in frantic searches for online recipes to get a general idea of what the hell goes into peanut sauce. Since the first order of business for this sauce was inexpensive, I was forced to immediately discard almost all of the websites I glanced at. (So much coconut milk!) In the end, I pretty much had to completely invent a recipe from scratch based on the two or three times in my life I have ever had peanut sauce. On the plus side, it gave me an excuse to go to a delightful little Thai hole-in-the-wall in the Village.

Ultimately, I tried to use only things that I had in my pantry. The full ingredient list ended up reading as follows:

  • peanut butter
  • ginger powder
  • cumin
  • garlic powder
  • cinnamon
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil 
  • white wine vinegar

As it turned out, I had to buy the first three ingredients on that list, but, thanks to Shop Rite, I only spent about $8 on the whole lot and now have enough ginger and cumin to last me a good while.

To make the sauce, I created a double boiler set-up with two pots. (For those to whom that meant nothing: If you nest your ingredients pot inside a pot of just simmering water, you can heat the ingredients more evenly and keep the peanut butter from burning. This is also useful whenever a recipe calls for melted chocolate, which burns like a California wildlife preserve.)

Melt two hefty scoops of peanut butter in the upper pot and add just enough oil so that it could be considered whisk-able and then about two to three shots of vinegar (it was the only measure I had handy…). Then, tasting after each addition, drop in some cumin, garlic, ginger, pepper, salt and the slightest bit of cinnamon. How much of each you add will depend strongly on your personal preference and, honestly, I tweaked the amounts so much during the adding of them, that I have no idea how much of each I ended up putting in.

When it is seasoned to your satisfaction, pour immediately into a bowl and serve hot. I sauteed some chicken breasts and shrimp and set out some pita and humus.

So…if you are reading this from reddit, or even not from reddit, shoot me an email, pm, text, comment, reply or smoke signal about what you want me to cook next!

Spaghetti with Mussels Arrabiata

My find of the day the other day was that the Kings near me sells a pound of mussels for three dollars. Naturally I had to make something fantastic with them.
The biggest challenge with mussels is that you need to clean them. If you don’t, you will get sand and barnacles and fish poop in your sauce.  First you must sort them into living and dead. Any of them that are at all opened are dead and will begin to rot. You should throw them out. If any of them open in the cleaning, toss them too.
Place all of the remaining (live) mussels in a pot of cold water and grab a (disposable) toothbrush and scrub each of the mussels . I usually put them into a nearby bowl as I work. Throw out the water and repeat two more times. You probably won’t get much the third time but that’s how my Great-aunt Mildred always did it, so that’s how I do it too.
Not visible: the pile of sand at the bottom of that pot.

Next (or while your boyfriend is cleaning the mussels), begin preparing an arrabiata sauce.

Combine in a pot one small can of tomato paste, two small cans of chunked tomatoes, one small (tomato paste sized) can of water, a small. diced onion, salt, pepper, garlic, red pepper and a couple splashes of tobasco sauce (I would have used sriracha, but I couldn’t find any at my supermarket), and bring it to a boil for twenty minutes, then lower it to a simmer.

Warning, this is spicy
Once the sauce is simmering put on a pot of water to boil. When the water is boiling, put the mussels in the sauce and the spaghetti in the water.  The mussels are done when they are all opened (if one refuses to open three minutes after his brothers, just toss him) and the pasta is done when it sticks to the ceiling. (Don’t test that last one.) Lay the mussels and sauce over the pasta
Savory and spicy 

Italian Sausage with Peppers and Onions

This past weekend was Hoboken’s Feast of the Madonna Dei Martiri, the biggest Italian Festival in a very Italian-American town. This three day party is full of cannoli (including the one from Carlos’ Bakery of Cake Boss fame, which I diligently avoided), zeppole and fried oreos, pizzas, ices and, my personal favorite, sausage and peppers. 
How could you not love this?
Every time a festival comes to town, I cannot resist buying zeppole, and Will needs to get his fried Oreo fix, but we never buy sausage and peppers, because, frankly, I make them better. Here’s how:
Take a package of five sweet Italian sausages and put them in a hot, dry pan.
Sausages even look good raw.

While your sausages are cooking, cut a green pepper into centimeter wide strips and chop up an onion into chunks. Once the sausages are singed on the outside, remove them from the pan and cut them into quarters. Throw them back into the pan along with the vegetables, some olive oil, salt, pepper and a huge amount of garlic powder (or, if you are a vampire, no garlic). Cover it and let it cook on medium high, stirring occationally, until the onions are translucent, the peppers are soft and the sausage is cooked through.

As a non-vampire, I can never have too much garlic.

Take a small sub roll (or a hoagie roll if you are a heathen) and cut it open and in half and rip out the delicious doughy insides. If you can resist eating that now, you can dry it for some great bread crumbs. Place the mixture into the roll and eat it now or wrap in tinfoil and take it to go, Italian style.

I’m salivating with the memory

Back to Basics Beef Sauce

Hey all! Long time no see! Before the complaints begin rolling in, I am aware that I have completely failed in my daily posting.  Sadly the summer is over, which means I no longer have vast swaths of free time to shop, cook, take pictures and blog every single day.  So, I will do my best to post something new and exciting once a week for your culinary pleasure.

Anyway, updates! Since my last post, I finished my thirty meals in thirty days. If you want the recipes for my stab a chili, toppings-in burgers, hearty veggie sandwiches, pizza rolls, chicken cacciatorre or cold orzo salad, please let me know and I would be happy to oblige.

In other news, I finally made the hajj to Mario Batali’s Eatily. Let me just say, I am very lucky that I went with my boyfriend because I would have spent all of my money on gourmet cheese and pasta. As it was, I managed to pick up the most beautiful cremini mushrooms and the best looking onion I have been able to find in weeks. (One of the most heart wrenching trade-offs about the end of summer is that I lose my tomatoes but gain squashes and zucchini.)

With these gorgeous vegetables, I planned out a beef sauce.

Warning: This may be the best thing I have ever made

I supplemented my findings with two pounds of chuck meat, a small jar of tomato puree and some fettuccine from Shop Rite.

I decided that I was going to make this sauce while actually using the proper cooking methods for each individual step. Which, in this particular case, means lots and lots of butter.

Like, seriously, a lot.

I hate the idea of using butter in cooking, but you can’t argue with the results.  While a touch more finicky than oil, (it has a tendency to burn) the lower boiling point of butter means that foods cook more evenly.

I caramelized the onions and browned the mushrooms at the same time in two different pans.

To caramelize onions: This is a time consuming process but simple enough to do. In a pot, melt about three tablespoons of butter (on medium heat, it will burn!). Mix in salt, pepper, a crushed clove of garlic and a touch of basil. Pour into the pot a largish onion sliced in quarters and then across the grain so that you have strips of onion about 10 cm in length by 1 cm width. Keep it on medium or low heat, stirring occasionally. You want them to turn clear, and then wilt, and then turn a light brown.

To brown mushrooms: Slice the onions into 1 mm pieces and place in one sparse layer in a dry pan. Turn on the pan to medium low heat and let the mushrooms “sweat” out their moisture. Stir occasionally but try to keep them in one layer.  A common mistake when preparing mushrooms in this style is to “crowd” the mushrooms in the pan. The trick is to give them plenty of room between each mushroom, due to the minuscule size of my pan, I ended up doing them in three batches. After the final batch was completed, I put all of them back in the pan with a small pat of butter on high heat to sear in the flavor. When they are finished, throw them in the pan with the onions.

When you are finished, your onion pot should look something like this:

I’ll give you a second to roll your tongue back into your mouth
Let that keep cooking on medium while the mushroom pan (with all of the lovely mushroom juice) is busy cooking a slab of chuck meat, cut into 3 cm cubes. I specifically used chuck meat because a) it is cheap and b) the high fat content lends an increased flavor to the overall sauce. But mostly because it’s cheap. Cook it on high heat to sear the meat and brown it quickly. Toss the beef into the ever softening onion/mushroom mix and add in your can of tomato puree and one can’s worth of water.
Suddenly, sauce!
Bring that to a boil and let it reduce while you put a pot on for the pasta.  Season well with more salt, pepper, basil and some parsley. By the time the pasta is finished cooking, your sauce should have thickened nicely. Place a healthy dollop of your concoction over your pasta and enjoy!