Steam Powered Vegetables

I told you in a recent post that I was devouring a new cookbook I received for Christmas, insert foodie joke here, and I am so excited to share this recipe with you. It is a total game changer! Not only that, but you will save a ton of time too! Look out kids, we are talking about vegetables! Now, insert your most haunting music here as well. A few claps of thunder and a gusty wind would be a nice touch as well. However, I digress.

What if you had a way to cook perfect green beans, broccoli, celery, corn, and so many others every time without a single pot or pan?? It is true. You can have perfect vegetables and you already have everything you need in your house.  I was astounded when I read this recipe from “The Food Lab” by Kenji Lopez-Alt. Again, I am receiving no compensation for talking about his cookbook and this is his recipe, however, this is such a great guide for all things food. I am learning so much valuable information that I’m trying to apply in my day to day cooking. You can easily find this in your favorite online book store in whatever format suits you the best. In fact, my brother, refers to this book as, “The cooking bible.”

The great part of this recipe is that is so simple and quick. Oh, maybe now is a good time to mention that you are using your microwave to cook these vegetables. As crazy as the idea sounds it is a perfect tool for the job. You are just using the high heat of the microwave to take the vegetables out of their state of rawness and into a state of cooked perfection. It is that simple. Ready? Here we go!!

Micro-Steamed Vegetables
Recipe is from “The Food Lab” by Kenji Lopez Alt and adapted by me.
8 ounces Asparagus, tough bottoms trimmed off, stalks peeled if desired
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Place the asparagus in an even layer on a large microwave-save plate and season with salt and pepper.

Lay a triple layer of damp paper towels on a top of the asparagus, completely covering them, or cover them with a clean damp kitchen towel.

Microwave on high power until the asparagus is a bright green and tender but still crisp, 2 1/2 to 6 minutes, depending on the power of your microwave.

Remove the asparagus and arrange.

That simple. Boom!
For any other vegetable you just repeat the same process! You won’t spend more than 6 minutes making veg again! Well, unless you are feeding a small army then it may take a little more time. To tell if they are done just pierce them with a fork. If you get little resistance then you are ready to go. If not, taste them to make sure you are happy with their doneness level.
I have done broccoli, asparagus, and green beans this way with much success!! On a couple of occasions I have had asparagus where the stalks are the width of those little decorative pipe cleaners, Those tend to cook in about 90 seconds or so in my experience where the slightly larger ones can take up to just over 2 minutes.
If you aren’t serving them as soon as they come out of the microwave, then leave them covered until you are ready to serve. The paper towels will help hold heat and keep your veggies warm. Also, if you want to add a little more flavor you can add a little butter or olive oil before serving the veggies. Heck, a little red pepper flake or a dusting of garlic powder could be solid choices as well.
In order to save on dishes and work, I use the same plate that I just steamed the veg on as my dinner plate. It makes life so much nicer. Just try it!  The dishwasher in your house will appreciate it.
Let me know what you think of this recipe by sending me an email or commenting on the post. Can’t wait to read your experiences! Enjoy!
Blogging: The First Year

Hard to believe that this little blog of mine has been around almost a year. I think I’m shocked, amazed, grateful, and lucky at the same time that I’ve had success blogging. I had done some research before I started and read that it can take a long time for the blog to build momentum. It is true that the blogging game is one that takes a ton of patience. If you want a candid look into my first year blogging, then stay tuned.

When I started I wasn’t really sure what my format was going to be, but it quickly became clear. I wanted to make cooking at home approachable. I wanted to be able to share some thoughts, ideas, insights, and humor into food that anyone could make. Whether you were a kitchen veteran, a capable home cook or you were just finding your culinary wings, the food needed to be accessible. I made sure that I found ingredients and recipes that pretty much anyone could make. You didn’t need a specialty food market or commercial grade kitchen appliances to make these dishes. Also, you didn’t have to have any professional experience to put good food on the table.

I had spent time browsing through cookbooks where even though the recipes were amazing, the process took the enjoyment out of cooking. All the techniques, tools, and applications required way more time and energy than someone cooking at home should have to spend. I found myself always asking, “Does it have to be so complicated?” In addition, I would evaluate the recipe thinking why couldn’t we do something else that would produce the same results. When I would cook at home I couldn’t shake the fact that some of these things I read weren’t needed. I had plenty of rhetorical conversations with myself about my grievances with these cookbooks.

A number of my friends and family had suggested the idea of me starting a blog, but honestly, I was terrified. I knew there were a million food blogs floating out in the universe and how the heck would mine stand against all the others? Those closest to me told me that I needed to write the blog for myself and not worry about the rest. If there was interest in my content, and people started to follow, that it would happen in due time. If nothing else, it was a opportunity for me to share my thoughts and try to be creative. You know what? It was true. I needed to write and post for me and let the rest fall into place. Like everyone else, I had these grandiose ideas of success and popularity with my blog. Honestly, I still want those things. I think it is healthy to strive and push for more and never lose sight of your own aspirations.

Even before the blog was live I had had a million things running through my head. Could I demonstrate the techniques effectively? Could I make sure my voice came through my writing? Would people be able to overlook the fact that I’m not a professional chef or a writer? Would anyone be interested in more? There was no way to answer any of these questions other than to follow my gut and make it happen. With that, Patrick’s Table was born.

I remember thinking about what the first recipe I wanted to make. It was Easter weekend and I had planned on making short ribs already. This was a recipe that I had made a number of times and felt it was a great way to kick off the blog. I thought about what would I want people to know about the process as I made it. “Season your meat aggressively.” “Take your time with the dish.” “Make sure to do the little things.” “Keep it simple.” “Make it your own.” Those were all things that were important to me when I made the dish so it made sense that I should follow my own advice. Granted, the short ribs do take a little time to make, but the payoff is huge! In fact, while getting fitted for some clothing the other day the salesman asked, “How did you know what to write about?” I replied that I wanted something that had some wow factor. Also, I wanted it to be something that I got excited about making because that energy would carry forward. Lastly, the dish needed to reflect my personality and things I enjoyed.  Taking photos wasn’t a problem since I was regularly taking pictures of my food already. However, making sure that I had photos that showed what I wanted people to see was tricky. I found that every photo I took for a post was same shot I had taken. The only difference was my hand or the plate had moved a few inches. Silly, right? Well, maybe not because that can change the vision of the post. I got some amazing feedback about my first post and I was on my way.

I couldn’t contain my excitement about having a platform to share my thoughts about all things food. I even posted that I would post later about food. I typically did that on the train ride to or from the office. I tried to throw some different recipes out early to show that I could be diverse and that it wasn’t going to be just steak and potatoes. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but that wasn’t going to be what worked for me. It was important to make sure I could provide things that would work for anyone whether it was breakfast, lunch, vegetarian, meat-centric, dinner or just a different way to think about food. I posted often in the beginning and shared some of my go to, fool proof recipes. I quickly learned that staging my ingredients and setting them up really made a big difference. In addition, the action shots of fish sizzling away in a pan, for example, were so important. Since I wasn’t a food stylist, I wanted to make sure that my food looked real. Almost as if you could imagine me making the dish in real time.

A few months in, I ran into my first big hurdle, I needed new material. My quick list of recipes and tricks were dwindling and I needed to expand my horizons. I started making things I wanted to explore, but didn’t have much experience with them myself. I will let you in on a little secret, recipe testing as a home cook sucks! It is true! Recipe testing isn’t always puppies and rainbows. Very different than what most people experience watching all kinds of food related content during the course of our day. In fact, the Food Network runs on my TV in the background a good portion of the day. While testing some roasted red pepper sauce, I stuck a batch in the fridge to cool because it was the best of the varieties I had made thus far. The craziest thing happened when I went to taste the sauce the next day. The sauce wasn’t anything like what I tasted the day before!! I was dumbfounded, pissed, and totally confused. How was it that a sauce I hadn’t touched in over 12 hours seemed more like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde than a simple pasta sauce?? The worse part was I never really figured out exactly what happened, but I had to move forward. This one was of many times I fantasized about being a professional chef. Darn you, Gordon Ramsay!! I felt like these were serious first world problems. I was so bummed, no doubt about it. My foodie armor was chinking in front of my own eyes. This would be the first of many troubling recipe tests and failures to keep this blog moving.

I was able to figure out how to turn some mistakes into positives though. I tried to remind myself, like the great Julia Child would talk about, you can’t really make mistakes in the kitchen. As much as I hated the mistakes, they were important to make. That way you always knew you could still succeed and sometimes you found a better way to be creative. The truth is I am not very good about making mistakes because I tend to get frustrated, irritated, and in the case of the blog, it made me think of quitting. Believe it or not, there were a number of times that this blog was on the block, so to speak. Screw it I thought. I don’t need the blog and who cares!? Turned out that I never could let it go and I always found a way to get back in the saddle. The blog had taken on a life of its own and the fire needed to be feed.

The other big enemy I had was time. I won’t get into details, but the last 5 months have been very difficult in my house. The blog suddenly wasn’t priority and my energy, what little I had, needed to be directed towards other things. I had gone from posting every 3 days to just trying to post once a month. I had lost a lot of passion for the blog. I had started to lose my passion for cooking as well. I used to fret about what I would talk about next. How could I keep up any kind of momentum? I used to check my blog stats and hope that even though my page views were a big fat zero that there was light at the end of the tunnel. The questions loomed heavy of what was the purpose of the this blog? Would I be able to weather the storm? Would I be able to rekindle the drive and passion? These were the questions that could only be answered through time strangely enough. The other day, I asked a good blogging friend how she weathered the first year storm. What she said spoke to me. She wrote, “I just kept working hard and sharing my passion.” Passion, I thought. That’s what this was all about, passion. I suppose you could say she was the inspiration for this particular post.

I have learned so much since I started this blog. I have learned new skills that I never thought I would learn. I have had to push myself and explore those cooking possibilities. I have grown as a home cook even in that time. I have interacted with so many of and you have shared your passion with me too. I know I have a lot more to discover and improve upon, but unless you start something you can’t ever reach higher than before. I’m grateful to all my readers, the friendships, support, encouragement, feedback, but most importantly, being part of this journey with me.

Here’s to more from Patrick’s Table!!!!

Kitchen Essentials

So, here I am at local coffee shop in southeast Portland. I am jamming to tunes, drinking a latte, and I was suddenly inspired to talk about something which I find so important. Proper kitchen equipment. Granted this is a super wide topic, but I’m focusing on two fundamental things that are a must have for successful cooking.

I will admit my kitchen is anything but my dream kitchen. The counters are spray on, the dishwasher has seen better days, and dont even get me started on the fluorescent lighting. Ugh.  So, what do you to change what you can’t change? Make it work for you. Do the little things.

A month ago or so I was making dinner and had a number of things going. I was working on a protein, was prepping something for the oven, and had a dish on the stovetop working. When I was done and dinner had been consumed, I realized I had two problems. First, I kept misplacing a single key ingredient. Second, I was playing culinary roulette and was counting on my brain to not mess me up. Salt.

I realized my salt container had been travelling all over my kitchen and even into my living room. Yeah, small apartment too. Anyway, so I’m trying to season all these various dishes and couldn’t find the salt. So, I dediced to add a second salt container. Brilliant, right? Wrong! The only viable container I had was the exact same container I used for sugar. See where this is going?  Luckily, I didn’t mistake the salt for the sugar. However, I tasted salt daily to make sure I wasn’t punking myself.

I hadn’t realized how important the placement of salt actually was. So, after procuring an easily identifiable salt container, I set up two stations in my kitchen. Both with containers filled with kosher salt, but it didn’t stop there.

On a seemingly unrelated note, have I mentioned how much I despise pepper shakers and those little tins of ground pepper that have been in your cupboard for generations? It may work for some, not for me. The taste, satisfaction, and joy of fresh ground pepper is really unique.  In a pinch, with no other choice, the pre-ground stuff is fine. But freshly ground is the only way to fly above all. I think this began when I learned to cook in my teen years. My house only had pepper grinders and nothing else. In fact, when I moved out that was one of the first things my mom purchased for me.

While I resolved the salt situation, it made sense I needed a second pepper grinder. I could have two stations that would contain two of the most used ingredients in my kitchen. That is exactly what I did. Two salt containers and two pepper grinders at the ready anytime I needed. This isn’t related to I like things  in pairs, no. This was something that made my kitchen feel like a workable space. My space.

Although this post is long winded, there are three big points I want to make. First, salt and pepper are must! Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper would be ideal. I stress seasoning in my blog because it is that important. Next, make the kitchen  what you need it to be. If you need two of everything to make the space useable. Do it!!! It can make the experience so much more enjoyable and limits the chance of salt in your sugar.

These are kitchen essentials!!