Monday, February 23, 2009

P’s Porridge Potluck Pronouncement

From The Chairman (we know him as Bill):

Congratulations to BobbyC and Matt for their entries in the P’s Porridge Potluck Challenge. Both completed the task within the prescribed parameters, each with an original recipe.

The entries were evaluated in two parts. Primary Points were awarded objectively for meeting the prescribed project parameters. 10 Primary points were allotted for each of the five stages. Premium points were awarded based on purely subjective observations. There was no set limit on premium point allocation.

Since both entries met all prescribed project parameters, the full 10 points were earned for all five stages, or 50 Primary Points each.

Premium Points were also categorized by the five stages of the task.


The project parameters required a minimum of 5 ingredients beginning with the letter ‘P’. One point each was awarded for each additional ‘P’ ingredient.

BobbyC augmented his primary pentad with potatoes, parsley and peanut-oil. But Matt took an early lead here with a plethora of prefatory P’s, and earned extra points with some peculiar and preposterous pronunciations, even resorting the Estonian ‘Pühvel’ to qualify his buffalo mozzarella.


BobbyC earned points for originality with his delicious sounding Plum-Porter sauce. In Matt’s case, I’m not sure if the can of “preserved Progresso pulses” amounted to alliterative aforethought, but I liked it just the same, so points to Matt for that.


BobbyC gets premium points for a very attractive presentation with nice colors and nary a stray pistachio. This dish would not look out of place in a nice restaurant. Matt’s earned points for his mouthwatering ‘hungry-man’ portion. Forget the napkins; you’ll need a whole roll of paper towels for this sandwich.


Although rules for the photography stage only required photos of the plated product, premium points for photography were awarded both for preparation photos and the final “product” shot.

Overall, BobbyC’s photography earned more points for aesthetics. The composition is clean, the lighting is simple, but not harsh and the result looks very appetizing. The main technical issue is the shallow focus, particularly evident in the fuzzy fork in the final photo. I think this is an ideal excuse for BobbyC to invest in more toys tools, such as a bigger flash (to allow a smaller aperture) or a perspective control lens with tilt to finesse the plane of focus.

Although not as refined in the aesthetics department, Matt earned points for plenty of illustrative, step-by-step preparation photos. Clear and instructive as they were, Matt’s photos could benefit from an off-camera flash, and some attention to details such as background clutter.


BobbyC scored points here for a particularly prompt posting. The speed at which he completed all phases of the challenge is even more impressive considering that he spent a good part of the challenge period in the car.
Matt also published his P’s Porridge post well before the Pluto Day deadline. But Matt appears to have taken a little extra time to round out his post with more preparation details and photos.

The Bottom Line

The final points tally is shown in the table below. This was a really good showing by both BobbyC and Matt. Both of these posts have made me very hungry. Any ideas for dinner?

(Click the image for an easier-to-read view)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Family Food Fight - Matt

pesto pepper pollo panini with portobello and pepper pico-pasta

What a challenge! As with BobbyC, we went in search of "P-foods" to come up with the "perfect permutation". It was too easy to get caught up in the challenge and get extravagant with the ingredients, but we decided to keep is simple, quick and cheap. The first "P" that came to mind was "pantry". We dove through the cupboards, fridge and freezer to find items we already had on hand. We kept it simple and quick by asking "What would we cook on a weeknight?"

pesto pepper pollo panini
(makes two sandwiches)

4 slices good Italian bread, sliced to fit your grilling device
1/2 lb. cooked chicken breast, shredded*
2 Tbsp. pesto (yup, I used prepared pesto... we'll have to plant a much larger basil crop this Spring)
1 large roasted red pepper, cut into slices (again, from a jar. Very good though!)
4-6 thick slices of fresh mozzarella (made from buffalo milk... hey, 'pühvel' is 'buffalo' in Estonian!)

* We saved some time and picked up a plain cooked rotisserie chicken from our local grocery store. There's enough meat for two meals, so half went into the freezer. The half we used for this recipe was kept warm in a small skillet with a dash of olive oil. I also added a wee bit of oregano and black pepper. I'm planning a series of 'what to do with a rotisserie chicken' posts, so stay tuned!

1. Fire up your panini press. No panini press? Okay, fire up your grill pan, or waffle iron or, in my case, my George Foreman grill (I knew there was a good use for this). Lube the plates up with a bit of cooking spray. If you are using a stovetop grill pan, heat up your cast iron skillet at the same time... you'll see why in a bit.

2. Lay out your bread slices, and spread the pesto evenly on one side of the bread.

3. Divide the chicken for two sandwiches, and layer on the mozzarella slices and roast pepper slices.

4. Cap each sandwich with the remaining slices, and press down slightly, so it fits in your grilling apparatus.

5. Once your grilling doo-hickey is ready, place one sandwich in it and close the lid. You'll want to weigh the top down a bit to compress the sandwich a bit, and to achieve those really cool grill marks. Most panini presses have lids that lock down, but I've found a few heavy cans work for George. If you're using a grill pan, place the sandwich in the middle of the pan, and place your hot cast iron skillet right on top. The heat and weight will achieve the same effect... okay, so the grill marks will only be on one side... so flip the sandwich over!

6. Grill your panini (I think at this point it can be referred to as "panini") for about 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown and delicious. Remove the panini to a cutting board and let it sit for 1 minute. This will give the cheese a chance to set up a bit, and keep your panini together. Serve and enjoy!

portobello and pepper pico-pasta

1-1/4 c. chicken broth
1 c. couscous, uncooked
1 med. portobello mushroom, diced
1/2 orange bell pepper, diced (red or yellow works as well... we had this leftover from salads a few night ago)
1 medium shallot, diced
1/2 c. fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. thyme
2 tsp. olive oil
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp. peccorino romano, shredded or cubed

1. In a medium sauce pan over low heat, sweat the shallot, pepper and mushroom in the olive oil with a dash of salt. Stir occasionally to keep from burning.
2. Once the veggies have cooked down a bit (5-10 minutes, or so), add the oregano, parsley, thyme, and season with black pepper. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.3. Stir in the couscous, clamp on the lid and remove from the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving. Top with Romano.

Oh, did I mention I also made dessert? I guess I'll save that "for another show."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Family Food Fight - Matt vs. BobbyC

P’s Porridge Potluck
An Alliterative Alimentary Adventure

P’s Porridge Potluck participants must promptly procure, prepare, plate, photograph and publish palatable and prepossessing pabulum pursuant to prescribed project parameters:
  • Procure posthaste, a pentad of provisions pronounced* with a prefatory ‘P’.
  • Prepare palatable pabulum produced primarily from the pentad of previously procured provisions.
  • Plate pleasingly plentiful portions**.
  • Photograph the plated product***.
  • Publish**** punctually*****.
* Preposterous puns and peculiar pronunciations permitted with plausible pretext.
** Portions must be photogenically presented.
*** Preferably prior to pig-out.
*****Postings must possess: prolegomenous paragraphs, preliminary planning, prerequisite paraphernalia, preparation procedures, photographs and pertinent prose******.
***** Postulants must post professionally prepared pages for publication prior to the primordial picoseconds of Pluto Day (2/18/2009).
****** Premium points for poetic pentameter.

Matt and BobbyC are the two primary contestants, but if you care to play along please post your entry on your own blog and send us a link. (time parameters do not apply to external contestants)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sausage Rolls

For as long as I can remember, Sausage Rolls on the menu meant that it was a special occasion. Birthdays, graduations, and other special days were often celebrated with Mom's special sausage rolls.

Preparation of these little pockets of goodness involved making dough, frying bacon - then draining and crumbling it, cooking sausage - then draining and crumbling that, too - and dicing up romano cheese. The advent of the microwave made the bacon preparation a bit easier, but these were still labor intensive little treats.

As I moved away from home and started cooking for one, I often had the hankering for these little treats - but soon realized that a whole batch was a lot of work, and made way more than one appetite could handle.

Then I started to use the freezer as my friend - I would cook a batch of bacon or sausage when it was on sale and tuck it, crumbled, into the freezer. The romano cheese, cubed up, froze nicely as well. And frozen dinner rolls were pre-portioned, allowing me to make just a few sausage rolls at a time when I had the hankering.

Now that I am cooking for the family, I still use the freezer - although I have chosen to get fresh dough (or homemade when I can get Matt to oblige) - and have opted for pre-crumbled bacon.

I portion out a bit of each of the bacon, sausage (Hot Italian is our preference - but you can use what you like) and cheese into prep bowls - as there is some cross contamination. I add more during the assembly process as needed, but try not to portion out too much, as it can't be put back (it usually gets nibbled in the preparation process, too).

The only things you need are some dough (this pre-packaged fresh from our grocery store is the equivalent of most single batch dough recipes), corn meal, sausage, bacon and romano cheese.

Prepare the pan by sprinkling liberally - very liberally -with corn meal. You don't want these little babies to stick. We prep them onto the pan and then move them to our pizza stone, but you can also bake them directly on a pan.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

You can make these any size you like, but I find that a "fingers" sized portion of dough allows for a good balance of dough and stuffings - too much bigger and your roll is mostly bread. Too much smaller and your stuffings threaten to poke out of the dough.

Stretch the dough out lightly and lay it on your hand. You don't want it to be too thinly stretched, as the bacon especially can easily poke holes through thin dough.

Add a pinch of bacon.

Then a pinch of sausage.

Then a few cubes of cheese. (You can add these in any order -whatever works for you - this just happened to be the order the bowls were in for me tonight.)

Pinch the sides of the dough together over the toppings, being sure to get everything enclosed. If you have cracks, the cheese will ooze out. If the dough is drying out a bit, you may have a tougher time getting the sides to stick together. Sometimes stretching and pulling it a bit over itself will help. Sometimes you might need to dab on another tiny piece of dough to patch it.

If you are "holding" your rolls on the pan and will use a pizza stone, then spacing on the pan is not a concern, but if you plan to bake these on the pan please be sure they are not too close together, as they will rise and expand.

Bake at 500 degrees for approximately 7 minutes (longer if you are making your rolls larger) - all the inner ingredients are pre-cooked, but you want your bread to bake and your cheese to get warm enough to melt.

Tonight we served these along with a good hearty salad (note the "leftover" romano chunks sprinkled on top of the salad - that's where the extra bacon crumbles ended up, too). These are tasty good on their own, or dipped into pasta sauce. They reheat fairly well and make a good "meatroll" for a bag lunch.

sausage rolls

sausage (Italian recommended)
cheese (romano recommended)
pizza dough

Cook and drain the bacon and sausage, allow to cool and crumble into small pieces.
Dice the romano cheese into approx 1/4" cubes.

Stretch out small portions of dough into a palm sized circle, filling the center with a pinch each of sausage, bacon and cheese. Pinch closed.

Liberally cover a baking sheet with corn meal and place assembled rolls onto sheet. Bake rolls at 500 degrees for approximately 7 minutes or until brown.

Eat cautiously - insides will be very hot.

Experiment with different fillings and different cheeses - just be sure everything is on the 'dry' side (if you use spinach, for example, wring it out well to get most of the moisture out before adding it to the middle) - otherwise your rolls will be soggy on the inside.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Snow Crabs

Hey folks, we have a special treat for you! We have a special guest blogger helping us out (you may have noticed a bit of a lull lately), Regina's brother, Bill. Bill is known for unique and VERY delicious creations, and is always willing to share his love of food and cooking.

The snow is piling up in the driveway, the kids have the bug that’s been going around at school and nobody feels like trekking to the supermarket to forage for food. What can we make with ingredients on hand? A peek in the refrigerator reveals some crabmeat leftover from last weekend’s ravioli. What do we have to go with that?

There is my stash of dried porcinis and some Basmati rice I bought last week at the Indian supermarket. We have the basics for a Béchamel ‘mother sauce’. A recipe starts to take shape. It looks like we will survive this storm.

snow crabs

1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms.
1 cup water
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
1 Tablespoon butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons flour
2 Tablespoons brandy
8 oz. cooked crabmeat

1 cup basmati rice
2 cups water
Salt to taste

I start at lunch-time by chopping up 1 oz of the dried porcinis and steeping them in a cup of hot water. The longer the better, so I let them steep for several hours.

About an hour and twenty minutes before dinner-time I start the sauce: Put the milk and cream in the microwave to heat. While it is warming, start the roux. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add the olive-oil. When the oil is hot, whisk in the flour and cook for 2-3 minutes stirring constantly. Next, whisk in the hot milk and cream. Bring it almost to a boil, stirring constantly. Drain the porcinis and add the fragrant brown ‘porcini tea’ to the sauce. Bring it almost to a boil again and season with salt, pepper and some freshly ground nutmeg. Lower the heat and let it simmer very gently uncovered for 1 hour stirring frequently to keep the texture smooth.

About a half-hour before dinner I start the rice: Put the rice and water and salt into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover tightly and lower the heat to simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for another 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.

The sauce is now thick and creamy and the house smells like basmati and porcinis. Stir in the brandy the porcinis and the crabmeat and cook it a few minutes more until it is warmed through. Spoon the sauce over the hot rice and serve.