Category Archives: Cooking

My Shepherd’s Pie from Scratch


c-10-530
My shepherd’s pie. The kids love it. They even eat the peas!

Well, my kids finally returned from Japan this past Monday; they had been gone for over three weeks.  Believe me, I didn’t like it ONE bit.  Worst part of it was my ex prevented me from emailing with them for longer than the last two weeks of their stay.  What kind of parent would do that, I ask?  There are some other irritating things about this trip – like her postponing applying for the Little Cake Boss’ passport until the last minute.  They finally picked it up from the Federal Building in Westwood two working days before their departure in late July.  No kidding.

But they are back albeit badly jet lagged; they went back to their mom’s today after a groggy week with me.  I had asked them what they would like to eat their second night back now that they are home and Jack immediately, said, “Shepherd’s Pie!”  So Shepherd’s Pie it was.

As a couple of my friends have asked me to provide them with the recipe, I thought I’d take a break from writing about my Leyte pilgrimage.  The pilgrimage was emotionally draining; it still is weighing on my heart, especially when I write about it for my family’s sake.

c-10-363
On Leyte, July 2015.

________________________________________

The recipe is quite easy.  I use Rachael Ray’s recipe for this one instead of my standby cooking bible, Cook’s Illustrated.  Besides, she’s as cute as a button.  (Did you know some “pro” chefs on TV don’t think she should be showing people how to cook?)

The ingredients are:

2 pounds potatoes, such as russet, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the pan
1 3/4 pounds ground beef (lean preferred for me)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup beef stock or broth
2 teaspoons Worcestershire, eyeball it
1/2 cup frozen peas, a couple of handfuls
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
For the potatoes, I use russets, about four of the potatoes found in your typical supermarket’s bulk bag.  While I wash the skin, I leave the skin on and drop them into cold water with about an inch to cover.  The reason I start with cold water is that I believe (ha) that the potatoes will cook more uniformly.  I feel that dropping them into boiling water will cook them unevenly, from the outside-in.
__________________________________________
Boil potatoes and remove when done.

Combine sour cream, egg yolk and cream.  Add the cream mixture into slightly mashed potatoes then mash until potatoes are almost smooth.

While potatoes boil, preheat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add oil to hot pan with beef or lamb. Season meat with salt and pepper.  Brown and crumble meat for 3 or 4 minutes.  Add chopped carrot and onion to the meat. Cook veggies with meat 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

In a second small skillet over medium heat cook butter and flour together two minutes. Whisk in broth and Worcestershire sauce. Thicken gravy one minute.  Add gravy to meat and vegetables. Stir in peas.

Preheat broiler to high. Fill a small rectangular casserole with meat and vegetable mixture. Spoon potatoes over meat evenly. Top potatoes with paprika and broil 6 to 8 inches from the heat until potatoes are evenly browned. Top casserole dish with chopped parsley and serve.
_________________________________________

As a side note, I do cook the carrots a bit first, then add the ground beef and onions to brown.  If still frozen, I throw the peas in for a minute before I add the gravy mixture.
Lastly, you’re not going to see the paprika and chopped parsley leaves in the picture above because… I forgot.  Old age sucks.
Enjoy!

Italian Sausage Pasta with Spinach


c-10-271
My Italian Sausage Pasta with spinach.

So a number of months ago, my kids asked of me the unthinkable – again: “Papa, can you make something different?”

Jiminy Crickets.  How can 12 and 13 year old kids want something different, especially when one likes cheese only pizza and the other only pepperoni?  Trying to make something BOTH will like?  Why couldn’t they be satisfied with my culinary masterpieces (LOL) like:

  • Fettucine Alfredo with Prosciutto
  • Shepherd’s Pie
  • Spaghetti al Limone
  • Gyoza (potstickers)
  • Ma-bo Dofu (Szechuan Tofu)
  • Ham with Homemade Honey Glaze and Scalloped Potatoes
  • Enchiladas
  • CPK’s Pesto Creme Penne Pasta
  • Croquettes (コロッケ)
  • Chicken Katsu
  • Beef Teriyaki with Homemade Teriyaki Sauce
  • Spaghetti and Homemade Meatballs
  • Wilted Spinach Salad
  • Grilled Chicken with Lemon and Chive Pan Sauce
  • Burritos
  • Etc?

Let’s not even address breakfast, like my buttermilk pancakes or waffles from scratch even on school days.  Well, I didn’t milk the cow nor grew the wheat that makes the (King Arthur) flour.  I need to be honest about that.

_________________________________________

So I went to my trusted source.  No, not Cook’s Illustrated.  This time, my oldest daughter Robyn, who’s become quite an accomplished cook herself (She got that from me.).

a prime rib
My oldest daughter’s prime rib. Yum!

I forgot from which site the recipe came from, but as soon as I said to my kids, “Robyn has a new recipe for pasta,” they said OK!

That’s the magic word, you know.  “Robyn”.  It’s never my saying I’ll make something new.

But this recipe (with a couple of modifications) is ideal for a dutch oven… and it’s easy!

  • 3/4 pound pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound mild or spicy Italian sausage
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can Swanson chicken broth
  • Fresh basil chiffonade (to your liking but I use about two stalks of fresh leaves)
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 bag fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese

Cooking:

  1. Heat a skillet (or Dutch oven)
  2. Add olive oil
  3. Brown onion until transparent
  4. Add Italian sausage.  Crumble and cook until pink is almost gone
  5. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds
  6. Add broth, basil and tomatoes with liquid
  7. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes to slightly reduce. Add chopped spinach and fresh basil
  8. Cover skillet and simmer on reduced heat until spinach is tender.

In meantime, aggressively boil your pasta (I like to use Penne or Ziti) until al dente.  Drain.

Add pasta to skillet and mix together. Sprinkle with cheese and serve immediately.

Done!

And you know what?  The kids liked it…because it was Robyn’s recipe.

Homemade Meatballs and Spaghetti Sauce


c-10-182
I wanted to take a better picture but this was all the spaghetti that was left after we ate.

You must all be wondering.

What is a third generation Japanese-American doing trying to make Italian meatballs?

It’s as if you saw John Wayne behind the sushi counter asking if you want yellow tail or halibut.

________________________________

Well, the schedule has my kids staying this week for Spring Break…and they are bored.  They are so bored, they again asked, “What are we having for dinner tonight?  The same stuff, Papa?”

Egads.

Made them my killer (but now boring) Fettucine Alfredo with prosciutto and green peas Monday night and beef stroganoff yesterday night (with Jack removing every last mushroom from his plate).

From scratch.  None of this sauce out of a bottle or Hamburger Helper stuff.

So….  My son Jack seems to like meatballs for some reason.  He gets it at Subway and at this Italian restaurant in Belmont Shores.  The last time he did, I told him I’d make it.

So I did.

___________________________

c-10-184
Just wanted to throw in a random photo… but that pot does have the basil I keep growing for cooking use. When it’s growing good, I use it as a backdrop for my macro pics. BTW, its a picture of a picture of a picture…of chalk. 🙂

I had heard many horror stories about making meatballs.

They were hard like golf balls.

They were just round hamburgers.

So I went to my trusted cooking bible: Cook’s Illustrated.

Their recipes are the Triple T’s: tasty, tried and true and only (old) male buffoons like me can mess them up.  I’ve proven that.

But it turns out their secret ingredient was… buttermilk.  Crazy.  But it worked out wonderfully.  And you used only the egg yolk; using the whole egg does something to the texture, Cook’s Illustrated said.

The ingredients for the meatballs were:

  • 3/4 pound ground chuck (85/15 ground beef can be substituted)
  • 1/4 pound ground pork
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • Two slices white bread (with the crusts cut off) cut into small cubes
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano (my preference)
  • One minced garlic clove
  • Two tbsp minced parsley (I used the broad leaf Italian parsley to make up for my being Japanese-American)
  • One egg yolk
  • 3/4 tsp table salt
  • Pepper to taste

The ingredients for the spaghetti sauce were:

  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • One minced garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, pepper
  • 2 tbsp minced basil
c-10-183
My rolled meatballs. In hindsight, they should have been a bit bigger… and if you’re wondering what the cardboard egg carton is for, it’s a great (disposable) way to drain your fried foods.

For the meatballs:

  1. Soak the bread in the buttermilk for 10 minutes, crushing the bread occasionally to break it down.  Do not drain.
  2. Combine all the meatball ingredients in large bowl.  (I slice through the mixture using a fork to bring it all together rather than using my hand to mix it.  Keeps the mixture loose.)
  3. Form meatballs (without compressing) about 1-1/2 inches in diameter, rolling mixture in hands.  Set aside.  Complete for remaining mixture.
  4. Heat 1/4″ vegetable oil in 10″ skillet.  (I don’t recommend non-stick.)
  5. Carefully drop meatballs one by one into oil; they should sizzle.  If your skillet is big enough, you may be able to do them in one batch.
  6. Adjusting the flame, keep them sizzling while making sure ALL sides are browned.  Perhaps ten minutes. (I made the mistake of having the heat too high and the meatballs too small.)
  7. Drain.

For the spaghetti sauce:

  1. Drain the oil from the skillet.  Return to range.  Pat away most of the oil BUT leave all the yummy crusty stuff on the bottom.
  2. Heat then pour in about a couple tablespoons olive oil and garlic.  Scrape up all the crusties on the bottom as best you can. Do not burn garlic; no more than 30 seconds.
  3. Carefully pour in the crushed tomatoes.  Continue to scrape up remaining crusties then bring to boil.
  4. Turn down heat then simmer for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add basil and meatballs then simmer for five more minutes.
  6. Adjust seasoning.

They suggested reserving a 1/4 cup of the pasta water.  After draining the al dente spaghetti¹ and returning it to the pot, add back the pasta water and a couple of ladles of the sauce.

Coat then portion out your spaghetti from the still warm pot onto dishes.  Pour a bit more sauce onto pasta, top with three meatballs.  Your kiddies can add Parmesan Reggiano to their liking.

Bon Appetit!

(No, I am not Julia Child.  You are sadly mistaken.)

Note 1: Use ample water; I use more than a gallon for a pound of pasta.  Also add one tablespoon salt immediately before adding pasta.  Stir to make sure they don’t stick together then cover to bring back to boil as soon as you can.  Uncover then rigorously boil for recommended time for al dente.

My (Somewhat Edible) Apple Pie


c-10-113
I wanted to take a better shot but the kids were pushing me. “Papa! You always take pictures! Haven’t you taken enough?!”

 

Well, throwing together my (somewhat edible) apple pie from scratch has become a piece of cake.  Or is it pie?

While my culinary and photographic skills pale in comparison to many others – like madlyinlovewithlife, for example – I’ve been asked about my recipe so here goes.

BTW, most of this is from Cook’s Illustrated and Cathy Thomas Cooks.

The Crust

Yes, I shuddered myself to death the first time I tried it.  When I baked my first one, it ended up looking more like marshmallows lined with the Pillsbury dough boy’s inflated life jacket but it, well, tasted OK.

But since then, I’ve lost my fear of it and since my counter-top skills are marginal, I cheat.

While there is a recipe for a two-crust pie, my Cuisinart food processor gets overloaded with the amount of the ingredients needed.  If you think California shakes during an earthquake, you haven’t experienced standing in my kitchen when the food processor chokes trying to work the ingredients which are (for each crust):

3/4 cup unbleached flour (I used Arthur’s) plus
1/2 cup held for a second add
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp table salt
6 tbsp of COLD unsalted butter sliced into six pieces
1/4 COLD Crisco all-vegetable shortening in 2 – 3 clumps
2 tbsp COLD vodka
2 tbsp COLD water

Add 3/4 cup flour, sugar and salt to food processor; pulse for a second or two to combine.  Add the still cold butter and shortening, working quickly so as to keep them from softening:

16691430755_719cdac34a_kProcess for up to ten seconds; I like to do it in several pulses.  It should look like cottage cheese curds with no uncoated flour.  Scrape sides and bottom with spatula.  Add remaining 1/2 cup flour and pulse up to six times.  Empty into large mixing bowl.

Sprinkle in about 1/2 of the cold water/vodka, spreading it evenly.  Fold over the dough mixture a bit then add remaining liquid.  Keep folding mixture over until it pretty much forms a ball.  It should be pretty tacky.  Wrap up in plastic wrap and form it quickly into a disc about 4+” wide.  Refrigerate.

Repeat for second batch.  Chill for about an hour.

16504035970_1850700315_k
Wrapped up dough for crusts.

Pie Filling

For the pie filling, I use my friend and bona-fide chef Cathy Thomas Cooks tried and true recipe but with a tablespoon of lemon juice thrown in:

1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tbsp (or to your liking) lemon juice
Pinch salt
Pinch of ground nutmeg

As in her recipe, I use five of those luscious, good-sized Granny Smiths you can buy at Costco.  If you buy them at a supermarket, you may have to use a bit more than six.

BUT!

Since I feel more at home with a screwdriver instead of a knife (and because I cherish having ten fingers), I take the man’s way out of peeling.  Voila!:

Frankly, if you make more than a few apple pies a year, you’d be crazy not to have one. LOL

Anyways, after peeling, core then cut into quarters lengthwise; then, cut into 1/4″ thick slices.  Place into LARGE, deep mixing bowl.  After doing all five, pour in lemon juice and filling mix, using spatula to coat.  (Note: per Cook’s Illustrated, the browning of the cut apple slices is harmless for this short period.)  Set aside and quickly before your own Little Cake Boss sticks a finger into the bowl to steal a lick.

16071517943_9875fa2fea_k

If you’re real good at peeling and cutting, you can do this after you roll out the dough and while it is being refrigerated.

I’m not. 🙂

Rolling the Dough

The fun part – and where I get to cheat!  I got the idea from Cook’s Illustrated and modified it a bit.

If the dough has been in the refer a while, you may need to let it rest for a bit; you’ll never be able to roll it out.  But don’t wait too long.  It needs to be cold.

Now the cheating.  Instead of your bare counter top, lay out a sheet of parchment paper, about 15″ long.  Dust liberally with flour.  Place one disc on center, again dusting the top generously, then cover with a similar length of plastic wrap.

16069136274_5c2d1564dd_kTake your aggressions out – nicely.  Evenly pound the disc a bit with your roller to get it started:

16665510286_ef0633a268_k
Evenly pound disc to get it started.

While it may take a little practice, quickly roll the dough out to a little more than 12″ in diameter (Hint: the plastic wrap is just a 1/8″ shy of 12″).  I do like the tapered maple wood roller recommended by Cook’s Illustrated.  The dough should look like this.. Well, yours will likely look better:

16690421422_d0806f3e9e_k

Place on flat baking sheet and put in refrigerator.  Repeat for other crust.

Now turn on your oven to at least 450F (My Breville only goes up to 450F).  Put in a baking sheet to preheat it.  It helps brown the bottom of the crust in the Pyrex pie dish.

Also, whisk up one egg white for a wash.

Putting the Pie Together

You gotta work fast but this is the fun part.

The fruit of your labor.  I know.  Bad pun.

I use the parchment paper/plastic wrap approach as I can never flip the dough onto my roller with the scraper without it falling apart and needing dough surgery…  So…  I use the plastic wrap to flip the dough onto my roller like so:

16484182007_f143cd7350_o
Dough flipped onto the roller. Easy!

Then just lay it onto your Pyrex pie dish.  Gently press down on the dough onto the pie dish (especially the corners and sides) while supporting the outside portion of the dough with your other hand.  REFRIGERATE once again for at least ten minutes to keep the dough chilled.  Otherwise, it becomes a tacky mess.

After chilling, remove the dish from the fridge then pour in the apple slices.  You will need to use your fingers to move the slices around to make a nice mound.

16069152964_f151c4125d_kRemove the other refrigerated dough from the fridge and do the same thing to lay it across the roller…but laying it onto the filling is an adventure each time.

Working quickly, trim the excess dough off the pie, leaving maybe 3/4″ all around.  Roll the edges under each other while pressing down against the lip of the pie dish.  Continue around the circumference.

I’m definitely not good at it either but with your right thumb and index finger forming a V, press the dough with your left index finger into the V to “flute” it.  I think that’s what you call it.

You’re almost done!  Brush on the egg white onto the top and the edges.  Dust with sugar if you like then make four slits radiating out from the center.

16665527126_56cce91891_k

Put the pie in on top of the preheated cookie sheet then turn down the temp to 425F.  Turn the pie after 35 minutes then lower the temp down to 375F.  Important!

Bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes or until browned. Set onto cooling rack.

Can you hear it a-sizzlin’?  From one of my earlier pies:

Cool for at least several hours and enjoy!

She’s Killing Me #4


c-10-95
Taken in 2009

Well, I got in the last word tonight.

Kinda.

After we came back from her dance class tonight, I began to clean up the mess in the kitchen from making dinner. I was taking a pan off the range.

Little Cake Boss: “Papa, the stove top needs to get cleaned.”

Me: ………Silence… while I raise my eyebrows and stare at her… You know, the YOU clean it stare.

Little Cake Boss: She turns around and quickly prances away, doing some kind of ballet thingy.

Me: PricelessI thought to myself. I got the last word in for once

until I realized she left, leaving me to clean the stove top.

Darn that girl.  She got the last word in again.

CPK’s Pesto Creme Penne Pasta


penne
Waited too long to take a picture – the kids were hungry.

For many months now, my two littlest ones have been asking me “to make” California Pizza Kitchen’s (CPK) Pesto Creme Penne Pasta.

Although I’ve seen my Little Cake Boss eat it a couple of times, I never really looked at it; besides, the dimly lit interior rivals that of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland.  So the first time I made it, it was not what they expected; it was just plain ol’ pesto…but they ate it.  They always eat what I make…when they like it.

For my Little Cake Boss’ 12th birthday earlier this month, I took her friends to CPK.  This time, I looked at it real good and had a sample.  Well, let me tell you – “Pesto” should not have been the first word in this dish’s culinary description. 🙂

IMG_9875 copy
The redness fades quickly… but why the city requires mulch for cactus and succulents is beyond reason. My back and knees wondered why, too.

Red Spike Succulent

Well, in between the birthday and the pasta, there was:

  1. Changing out my green lawn to a drought-tolerant yard (above),
  2. Trying to write a novel while investigating new facts about my Uncle Suetaro’s death in the Philippines in 1945,
  3. A paranoid aunt freaking out (big time) about a new cell phone she asked for,
  4. Big Bear Lake, and,
  5. A really messed up oil change at Walmart (which they promptly took care of),

but I dared to try this dish again.

I did start out with my pesto but for this attempt, I just cut down the amounts and used my Cuisinart Mini Coffee Grinder to process it.

The base was a variant of my Alfredo sauce:

  • Some olive oil
  • One garlic clove, pressed
  • Maybe a 1/4 to a 1/3 stick butter
  • About 2/3rds cup heavy cream

And

  • Maybe two BIG tablespoons of the pesto
  • Maybe a third to a half cup (?) of sun dried tomatoes
  • Half cup of shredded Parmesan Reggiano
  • Salt, pepper
  • Penne, al dente

Heated small sauce pan, dribbled in some olive oil then quickly warmed through the pressed garlic.  After maybe ten seconds (don’t want to burn the garlic), tossed in the butter until it melted, then added the cream.  Brought it up to good simmer (don’t boil), stirring often.  Lowered heat and continued on low simmer for ten minutes, stirring frequently.

Threw in the sun dried tomatoes and after a couple of minutes, added the pesto, Parmesan cheese, salt/pepper to taste, then poured it over the penne in a stainless steel bowl.  Mixed it up then sprinkled the plated pasta with more Parmesan.

Did the kids eat it?

Yes.

Did they think it was like CPK’s?

Nope.  They thought it was better.

Well, actually, as their provider of food, shelter and flu shots, I encouraged them to think that.