Thursday, June 2, 2016

Chicken Spaghetti and Clean Nice Quiet

I'd never heard of chicken spaghetti until I started visiting Matt's family in Arkansas. Depending on how long you're there, and how many functions take place at a church, you will be served it a minimum of once. This last week-long trip it was on offer 3 times, 3 different recipes but all clearly from the same general conceit. It isn't just red sauce spaghetti with chicken in it, that much is for certain.  It is a creamy (usually Velveeta and Cream of Mushroom/Chicken soup based) spaghetti with some mixture of tomatoes and or peppers, maybe mushrooms. Usually it's a casserole with cheese melted on top, good for freezing or taking to a church potluck. Definitely a throwback to the height of convenience foods, which are not exactly in vogue anymore. And I love some convenience foods and think people can be obnoxious in their opposition them and that's not usually based on the taste but rather on pure classism. Velveeta, while mild in taste, melts beautifully and makes things creamy af and has its place. I happened to be watching Guy's Grocery Games as I write this and the whole show revolves around chefs cooking weird shit in a grocery store and when someone went to use the cheese from a Kraft mac and cheese mix one of the judges goes "oh no that neon cheese!" It's dye. Cheddar is dyed orange, too. All cheese is "processed;" it's a man made product.  Get over it.

But I'll be honest, I am no fan of condensed soups, or really canned soup of any kind. Something about the way they are thickened up and take the shape of the can squicks me out and that is only more evident in a condensed soups. But they are so vital in the classic recipes for chicken spaghetti that it would kind of be sacrilege not to include them. And I had presumably eaten chicken spaghettis made with Cream of ____ soups but I was choosing not to think about it too much. So I decided to make a "classic" one and a version without any soups.  I did use Velveeta in both but instead of condensed soup, I found a recipe that used cream cheese. I also decided to use fresh vegetables (tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, and mushrooms) in the soupless option as opposed to the the canned Rotel tomatoes and chilis in the traditional version. Also, the classic version I used just chicken breast but for the soupless I used a mix of dark and white meat chicken.

Our lovely friends Dan and Julie just had a baby and chicken spaghetti is a classic "freezes well" casserole that people bring new parents so it was a perfect opportunity to introduce them to the dish (they also had never heard of it) and for us to meet their adorable new addition. While all of us were fine with both, the consensus was that the "soupless" version was better. But that wasn't really a huge surprise; it had more of a spicy kick from the jalapeno, the vegetables lacked the canned taste of Rotel, and the secret snob inside me still blames the condensed soups. Velveeta and cream cheese kept things plenty creamy; fuck those soups!

We didn't listen to one record this time but rather a bunch of stuff that Matt was thinking about featuring on his podcast, Clean Nice Quiet. One artist Matt's been playing a lot is Dan Mason. The genre is "vaporwave" which sounds absurd but it's like re-imagined Miami Vice incidental music and it's actually very groovy. Another standout song was a catchy bubblegum ditty "Mercy" by Ohio Express. It's weird that I didn't get more into bubblegum pop in the heyday of my deep Monkees fandom but I was so protective of the Monkees as a "real" band that I couldn't just embrace the sugary pop. For example, I've always resented the fact that they were offered the song "Sugar, Sugar" before the Archies recorded it. How DARE they be considered in the same league as a cartoon band?! But of course, who cares? It's a catchy song! Luckily, Matt introduced me to more bubblegum, the finest example of the genre being Goody Goody Gumdrops by The 1910 Fruitgum Company. Watch the video below if you dare; be forewarned, you will probably find yourself on the rooftops yelling "goody goody gumdrops". Also check the host's sideburns! And the tambourine guy's dance moves!

"Classic" Chicken Spaghetti
(Inspired by a bunch of different recipes, this one, this one, an array of All Recipes options)

Olive oil for sauteing (enough to saute the onions, who really measures that?)
1 onion, chopped
2 cups Chicken broth
1 can Cream of Mushroom
1 can Cream of Chicken
1 can Rotel
8 oz spaghetti
4 oz Velveeta
3 cooked, cubed chicken breasts (I salt and peppered them and cooked them in the oven)
2 cups shredded cheddar

Prepare spaghetti as usual.

Saute onions in olive oil. Add chicken broth, bring to a boil. Add the soups (try not to be too disgusted by their appearance) and Rotel, let simmer for 15 minutes. Add chicken, spaghetti and Velveeta and stir until cheese melts. Spoon it into a casserole dish, top with shredded cheese. Bake on 350 for 30-40 mins.

No "Cream of " Soups Chicken Spaghetti

1 onion, sliced into chunks
1 cup of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 cup of sliced mushrooms
2 jalapenos, split (remove some/all seeds depending on spice desires)
8 oz Velveeta
8 oz cream cheese
2 cups chicken broth
8 oz spaghetti
2 cups shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar and this "habanero jack" I happened to have)
2 cups of chicken (in this case a pre-seasoned half chicken from Whole Foods cooked in the oven.)

Prepare spaghetti as usual.

Spread veggies out on a baking sheet and cook them in a 350 degree oven until they start getting soft (also would be good under the broiler but our broiler is messed up.) Chop them all together.

Bring chicken broth to a boil and add Velveeta and cream cheese, turn down heat and stir while it melts. Add chicken, veggies, and spaghetti. Stir until well mixed, transfer to baking dish, top with shredded cheese, bake on 350 for 30-40 minutes.

Both recipes can be prepared ahead of time (just don't bake it yet) and refrigerated or frozen and then heated up at the time of casserole need.

A bonus Arkansas food item new to me was "hot water cornbread." Someone had picked up food from a local homecooking place and there was a giant container of these delicious looking fried blobs and I was like "what are those?" and someone said "hot water cornbread." And no one offered any further detail, people just kept repeating "hot water cornbread" like those words mean something together! And apparently they do, according to the Internet. It's literally just cornmeal and salt, mixed with hot water, and quickly fried. I only had white cornmeal, for some reason, so they didn't get as browned but they did taste quite good!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Beef Stroganoff and James Newton Howard

Sorry loyal readers, we've been busy and R&R has suffered. But we decided that I would write this and then we could get back on track. So...beef stroganoff! It's something we both like but have only ever made from Hamburger Helper type kits. We used this recipe which appealed to me because it was very straight forward and claimed to be "authentic." Authenticity isn't our goal necessarily but in looking at recipes this one seemed focused on simplicity and seemed rooted in the writer's Russian heritage and that sounded nice. It was also new to me that it's traditionally served with mashed potatoes so we also made those from scratch (embarrassingly, I usually make instant potatoes!)  

First off, the recipe is not explicit about what kind of steak to use and so I looked around online and thought I found a recommendation but I think by the time I made it to the store, I'd gotten mixed up and whatever I bought (I can't remember!) was pretty tough. I also didn't cook it quite right- I know I didn't have the temp high enough and I crowded the pan. Lesson learned!

The rest of the recipe is easy but the sauce does come out really thin and ours was just not especially flavorful. Perhaps a different meat cooked better would have lent more flavor to the sauce but it really just tasted like vaguely meaty mushroom milk. Not a bad taste but nothing I'd want to recreate. The mashed potatoes were good though! I just boiled 'em up, mashed them with 2 forks, put in butter and cream until they felt right. I left the skin on because who's got the time to also peel potatoes? My dad always says potato skins are good for you but I'm pretty sure that's been disproved.

We listened to a record Matt picked up based on the unusual cover and the sticker labeling it as "weird rock" by James Newton Howard, who we had never heard of. Once again, this artist's lack of fame makes sense once you listen to their music. Or rather, his solo music, which was the dullest, least rocking shit you've ever heard. All instrumental, the worst being a 12 minutes song called "Margaret, I'm Home." But the guy went on to score like every movie you've ever seen (Waterworld, Space Jam, The Dark Knight, Hunger Games, etc.) So that was interesting to discover but we will never be jamming out to it again. We also listened to a record by German band Kuken which was very basic, albeit pleasant garage punk rock which was very welcome after the boring-bordering-on-unpleasant James Newton Howard.

Beef Stroganoff - C
Edward James Newton - F
Kuken - B-

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Potato Gratin and Son Volt

After the Great Paella Failure of 2016, I wanted to do something that was pretty hard to fuck up. Potatoes and cheese are a pretty safe bet so instead of our usual main course recipe, Matt grilled steaks (just salt and pepper and those individually packed ribeyes from Trader Joe's) and we used a recipe for our side dish. In my hunt for a cheesey potato recipe took me to the embarrassingly-named Delushious site, the domain of famous-person-I'm-only-vaguely-aware of Chrissy Teigan. I think her deal is that she's a very babely swimsuit model but also likes to eat bacon, or something. And while I think everyone should do whatever makes them happy, I am suspicious of this trope of super hot women who are like "I can slam a cheeseburger nbd; I don't count calories and eat salads!" I don't want to go on a feminist rant but let's just say I think that sets up some unrealistic expectations and kind of pits women against each other. BUT I did see the below video of her balancing a plate of chicken wings on her butt and then booty bouncing it away from her husband (John Legend, apparently, who is bland but also handsome) and I was a little charmed. 

Her recipes overall look pretty good and there is a more realistic balance of super fatty food and less decadent options than I expected. Her writing makes me roll my eyes (more 'I'm just a regular gal like you' posturing, again she is a very successful swimsuit model married to a very successful musician and I'm just not buying it) but I must admit that these potatoes were actually quite delicious...or dare I say deLUSHious? It's no shocker that a bunch of cream and cheese and carbs are going to taste pretty good but I really gotta give it to her; the mix of sweet potato and regular potato was a really tasty change. If it had been just sweet potatoes, it would have been too sweet and gotten too mushy but if it had just been all regular potatoes, it would have been pretty dull.  Aside from slicing up a bunch of potatoes and some garlic, it isn't too labor intensive. You could easily not deal with the 3 different fresh herbs (I never can use them all up before they go bad) and just go with the thyme because that's the only one I could distinctly taste anyway. It actually came out of the oven looking just like the picture from the recipe which is always exciting (especially when it doesn't just look good but actually tastes good, too!)

Our record was Son Volt's first album Trace. This is perhaps my favorite album of all time and one of the few true "perfect albums" I've ever heard. Every song belongs, every song is perfect. I could go on - go on about how much I love each of these songs, go on about how I still can't really appreciate Wilco because I feel like I have to be true to Jay Farrar in their Uncle Tupelo beef (no Uncle Tupelo album is perfect because approx. 50% of them are by Jeff Tweedy with his whiney voice.)  Supposedly, Jeff Tweedy was always drunkenly crying to women to make them pity him (and subsequently sex him) and this was generally annoying and pathetic to Jay but it reached the breaking point when he tried to pull this routine on Jay's long-time girlfriend. There's that hot, 20 year old T for you. While I enjoy all other Son Volt albums, they do start to bring diminishing returns after Trace, not much can live up to it. Below you can hear them perform Loose String from the album but I'll warn you: he is one of the least charismatic performers I've ever seen. Son Volt has come to town many times but I can't quite bring myself to go see them because according to live videos (the video below is no exception) he really does not put on much of show. But will forgive him his lack of charisma because his voice is super hot (even if he has that butt-cut hair-do...he STILL has that haircut!)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Paella and Doctor Nod

We've had such a good run I guess it was inevitable that we would cook something that was just terrible. I love Spanish flavors and I own a paella could we make the world's most flavorless paella? And we have SO MUCH OF IT. Usually I'm excited about leftovers (them carnitas served me well for many days) but heaps and heaps of bland rice doesn't really beg to be re-heated and re-eaten repeatedly. I did use a dumbed down recipe but increased the seasoning, added saffron, added red bell peppers, even added some Clamato and still a total flavor dud. I looked at some other recipes (more "authentic" ones) didn't seem all that different so I'm still a little baffled.

But it looks beautiful, doesn't it? But there is darkness lurking down below. Apparently, there is a learning curve on using a paella pan on a stove burner. Did you know that the middle will just get hot as fuck and burn the fuck up? I added the shrimp at the end of cooking and realized that I needed to move the pan around the burner to get all the shrimp cooked which is what I should have been doing all along. I smelled burning but erroneously took this to be the smell of the storied crunchy socarrat forming on the underside of the rice. But alas, that was just regular ol' burning flavorless rice smell.

We still had frozen shrimp leftover from the shrimp cocktail we made a few weeks ago so at least that was convenient but I do think that the paella somehow leached out all the usual flavor you would find in shrimp. Same with the usually-perfectly-fine-tasting Trader Joe's sausage we used. You might ask "Why does such an epic paella ruiner even own a paella pan?" Well, 4ish years ago when we got married, I got carried away registering for all manner of things we didn't actually need (including this puppy; it barks when the hot dogs are done!) or know how to use (I had to watch multiple how-to videos to use this can opener, Matt still can't use it!) A paella pan sounded like a perfectly reasonable thing to register for and it only took us 4 years to use it. My Great Aunt Pat bought it for us which is notable because she passed away not too long after we got married and our wedding was the last time she was is good health and having a good time. So it's bittersweet- I'm glad we finally used it because it reminds me of her but also sad that I used it so ineffectively!

We luckily had much better luck on the music choice. It is also the return of Cassettes and Recipes because this is actually a tape - Top Tips by Doctor Nod out of Fayetteville, Arkansas. And this is not just any tape; it is the first release on Matt's brand new cassette label Clean Nice Quiet! I could be biased because we have a box of tapes to move but actually, it's really fucking good. Not usually my kind of music; not because I dislike psych-y garagey-y stuff like this but because so much of it is either derivative to the point of being pointless or just dull/repetitive/noodle-y. I'm impatient, as I've expressed before, and believe most songs are 30 seconds too long.  But this album does not suffer from any of those pitfalls. It sounds legit groovy but has enough melody and variety that it still sounds modern. What if the recipe AND the music had been bad? I think we'd just have to call the thing off. But luckily, the day was saved by Doctor Nod! While we were listening to it I kept having to ask Matt "is this still that tape?" because I was fully convinced he switched it over to some band that is already well-known and beloved. So listen to it! And if you're really feeling the fantasy, you can buy the tape April 1st!

I mentioned previously that until Matt bought a cassette adapter thing that our only tape listening aparatus was my old Cricket doll. Here's a video of her playing my old Dolly Parton "Straight Talk" soundtrack tape. Yeah, those are her eyes creepily going back and forth. And no, those are not the standard issue Cricket duds. My grandmother made her a dress which is really nice but it also kind of makes the doll look like a child bride. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Carnitas Nachos and Total Abuse

I was taking a gamble when I decided to try out this untested recipe for carnitas since there's only so many hours in a weeknight and if the meat didn't cook in the listed time, we'd have no meat for our nachos! We actually have nachos for dinner pretty often but for R&R we were going to try making them like they do at Mexican restaurants where someone takes the time to put the beans/meat/cheese on each individual chip instead of just piling everything on there like we usually do. BUT luck would have it that we had enough ingredients to make both so we could have a side-by-side comparison. First came the meat which is billed as "beer braised carnitas" in the recipe but would not qualify as authentic carnitas which I believe are usually cooked in a shit ton of lard. Authenticity wasn't my goal so much as tatiness. These were braised with beer, garlic, some dried chilies, for about an hour and then once the liquid has cooked up, the meat starts to brown as you shred it, giving it a very carnitas-esque texture and flavor. The pork shoulder did have lots of fat so it wasn't like this became some kind of diet dish or anything.

We also made a somewhat sloppy version of refried beans, using canned black beans cooked with onions and garlic and some pork fat. My attempts to smash them int he pan with a meat tenderizer was not great but ultimately, they tasted great. We also grated some Tillamook Colby Jack instead of the usual bagged, grated cheese which, yeah, I gotta admit melts a little better. Not so much so that  I'm never going to buy pre-shredded cheese sometimes because I'm still lazy the other 6 days out of the week.

Pile nachos are clearly less time consuming to make and I do think maybe I tasted the meat more since, as is the nature of pile-style nachos, you get disparate amounts of toppings in different bites so some bites were meatier than others. But other than that, the uneven distribution of toppings is a negative and the chips don't stay crisp in the middle and while they are totally fine, they are not great. The individual nachos are a perfect little bite of everything and the chips get delightfully crisp. If ever we live our dream of opening up a bar/music venue/restaurant/fro yo establishment (the concept changes daily) we will definitely put individual nachos on the menu. "Carnitas" recipe: A, Pile nachos: B, Individual nachos: A+

We listened to this album Matt ordered by Total Abuse called "Excluded." We listened to the first song on the wrong speed somehow and I was like "okay, this is going to be kind of drone-y and boring, nbd" but on the right speed, it's pretty brutal punk that I enjoyed right off the bat. The guy sounds fucked up, especially in the standout track The New Man. It stood out because the line "I know that sex/I know that sex is worse than death" really makes you go "hmmmm what happened to do this dude?" I read a little about the lead guy, Rusty Kelly (which is an awesome name) had some serious issues with drugs and their previous music was even more self-loathing which is accomplishment because this album is already very much on that tip. As I've stated, I like punk music where I can understand the lyrics but I also am here for the guttural scream at the beginning of the track, too. B

I mean, the lyrics printed on the record label pretty much sum up the vibe of this album. I've had those, too, Rusty, you aren't alone! But nachos can help.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mexican Shrimp Cocktail and Clifford Brown and Max Roach

I asked Matt to choose a record that wouldn't necessarily be "my shit" just because everything we've listened to so far has been firmly planted in my wheelhouse. So he picked an instrumental jazz album, "Jordu" by Clifford Brown and Max Roach. He didn't have the cover so that's why it's just a picture of the record itself. Definitely the farthest from "my shit" as possible. And while we were listening to it I did my usual whining that it's boring and why is no one singing? From some very cursory research, it appears this is "hard bop" but to me it sounds neither particularly "hard" nor like Ice Cube's Bop Gun which I would have much preferred. If some jazz bro wants to mansplain to me that this album is not technically "hard bop" but rather "semi-rigid borp," save your breath. In my limited jazz vocabulary, I can only describe this as "jazzy." At the time of cooking, I was relieved that the record was skipping really badly and I got a reprieve. But upon re-listen just a moment ago, I really did start to groove on that horn and developed a mild appreciation for it. It didn't get me hyped to cook but it makes for good writing music. But let's be real, I'm listening to Bop Gun now and gettin' down just for the funk of it. C+

For our recipe, we chose Mexican-style shrimp cocktail. It is kind of a summery meal but since the weather where we live totally skipped winter this year, it started feeling summery in late February. I was originally going to follow yet another Serious Eats recipe but then I started looking at other recipes for comparison's sake and was inspired to do some mixing and matching. Instead of just using the tomato puree and ketchup, I incorporated some Clamato. I've always thought Clamato sounded repulsive but I was willing to give it a go since adding some more seafood flavor couldn't hurt. I also added cucumber which was such a nice fresh taste that I couldn't imagine it without. I totally failed in my grocery shopping and somehow didn't have an onion so Matt kindly ran to the store to grab one while I prepped the remaining stuff. I made the shrimp by doing the ol' dry brine again and attempted to poach the shrimp. The instructions in the Serious Eats recipe involved checking the internal temp of the shrimp and that just seemed fussy to me so followed some other instructions to boil 'em until they are pink and look appropriately curled up which seemed to work fine.
We halved the recipe so we wouldn't have leftovers as we were going out of town the next day but we still used 3 avocados and really, we could have used even more because I love avocados. When I bought them they were not quite ripe enough so I put them in a paper bag full of flour overnight and it really did ripen them up. Serving suggestions in all the recipes usually include tortilla chips and/or saltines so I tried both (I'd always ignored that saltines when I had this at a restaurant and ate it with broken off tostada shards or nothing at all) and the saltines were the winner by a long shot. It's also possible I just really love saltines and never have them around the house because I would just mindlessly inhale them by the sleeve-ful. If you have more self-control than me (most people do) and can buy a box of saltines, I am brand loyal to Zesta for some reason although I've never done a side by side comparison. According to this Real Simple piece, Back to Nature makes the best saltine but I'll be the judge of that...eventually, I have a lot of Zestas to eat.  A+

Monday, March 7, 2016

Chicken Tikka Masala and Bummers Eve, Broken Prayer, Sleater-Kinney, and Andrew Thomson

I got this recipe from Epicurious and it turned out really great! What IS Chicken Tikka Masala? Its history is foggy. There's a legend that it was invented in Scotland and involved Campbell's Tomato Soup. Or it evolved from Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken). Either way, it was created in the UK but has Indian origins, in so far as the spices involved. All I know is I wanted to make something like the CTM I've had at Indian restaurants in the U.S. and this definitely fit the bill. I have had supposedly "English-style" CTM at a British restaurant and it was gross but I can't speak to what it's actually like in London.

I hope the cardamom added a lot of flavor because not only did I have trouble finding it at the store, I don't have a mortar and pestle for crushing them so I just did my best using the back of a knife. I'm not used to working that hard for such tiny little seeds!  All the other spices were easy to find and I'm sure I'll use them again. Oh and I used ghee for the first time; what took me so long? Something that will make everything buttery without burning up in the pan? Sign me up! Also, fatty style, I think the creamier the CTM, the better so we putt he full amount of cream while some of the recipe reviews cut the cream in half. No thanks! With all the cream it came out the perfect shade of orange I desired! A+

We went in hard this week; it was a two day affair and we were able to listen to a lot of music over the course of making our CTM. The first day we made the marinade for the chicken and listened to the Bummers Eve. Before I even heard the music, I was pretty much on board because their name and album art are great. The music itself is upbeat, fun and a silly which is also up my alley. The vibe reminds me of Tweens (previously featured in the Shrimp and Grits post) and it turns out they are both from Cincinnati so I guess there's a cool scene going on there. I've always dismissed Cincinnati for the very dumb reason that they are known for chili and I have an irrational need as a Texan to hold our chili above all others. I'm an idiot! B+            

The second day of Records and Recipes was actually Tapes and Recipes because we have finally broken down and started buying cassettes. Tapes are making a comeback because they are cheap to make a novel to the youth who did not grow up having to deal with them. We didn't have a tape player but I recently found my old Cricket doll and she has a a tape player built into her back; the sound is not great and her eyes very creepily go back and forth while she plays. So Matt bought a cheapie cassette adapter to save the music to his computer.

Sleater-Kinney is one of my all-time favorite bands and they released a cassette with 2 live tracks on one side and 2 songs that I thought were unreleased but it appears they were bonus tracks on the No Cities to Love vinyl (which I have but I honestly only listened to it once and then went back to Spotify and hadn't realized I was missing out on two songs!) "Heavy When I Need It" is a really cool song; doesn't sound like a traditional S-K song to me because it's all Carrie vocals but it's groovy all the same."The Fog and the Filthy Air" is a little more classic S-K both structurally and more Corin-focused. A

Making his second appearance on R&R, the other tape we heard was "Honesty is a Confidence Problem" by Drew Thomson (the guy from Single Mothers I gushed about before in the Meatloaf post.) It was released in 2013 but only recently discovered by me. It's 4 acoustic songs, all of which feature that lyrical specificity I love about his music. It sounds to me that Bad Catholics is about an abortion (or maybe a miscarriage) and could really give Ben Folds' Brick a run for its money for "pretty songs by guys about not having a baby." All 4 songs are great - "Bus Pass" gives me that very Canadian geography I love, "Wrong Girls" gives me that asshole vibe he has perfected with Single Mothers, and "Shore" delivers on the thing where he's always using his own name in songs: "Drew, It's time to sober up, man, or we're all gonna leave." A

We also listened to a record Matt had ordered by Broken Prayer. I liked it a lot; very angry punk but with synths and the guy's voice is excellent in its desperate-sounding-ness. Also, personally, I like punk with lyrics that a)I can hear/understand b)are thoughtful or funny. Broken Prayer seems to be going for thoughtful and I dig it. Also, the songs are short with only one clocking in at 3 minutes. Beautiful. Also, they are from Chicago, much like Mystique Summers Madison from RuPaul's Drag Race; pictured below, in her most famous scene.  A