New Blender and Food Spam (Pic Heavy!)

Last month I was shocked/thrilled/ecstatic to learn I was the winner of Cooking Classy’s giveaway for the Blendtec Designer 725 blender and Twister Jar. This is, by far, the best prize I’ve ever had the pleasure of winning. The Blender alone retails for $650 and the Twister Jar accessory costs another $110, so this is an amazing, amazing prize.

Not counting major appliances like fridges or stoves/ovens, this is the first big money, “high end” appliance I’ve ever owned. Honestly, I’ve made do all these years with cheapo, under $50 blenders and hand mixers. I’m equal parts excited and afraid to use the Blendtec because I don’t want to break it even though I know, for the money, it’s probably designed to be able to take a beating. 

As of right now, I’ve only unboxed the blender. I want to read the instructions thoroughly before I take a crack at it but first impressions so far is that the base is quite heavy. Like really heavy. And it’s kind of cool how there are no knobs or buttons, just a touch screen which is a first for me when it comes to blenders. The two things I’m most excited to try are the hot soup setting. You can supposedly drop all of your soup ingredients into the blender jar, choose the hot soup setting, and get piping hot soup within 3 minutes. Sounds pretty cool. And I’m excited to try making my own hummus and nut butters with it.

In honor of my new cooking tool, I decided to do a food spam post. These aren’t all the foods and dishes that I ate this month, just some of the more interesting and/or photogenic ones that I wanted to share. Enjoy!

I made this pork and veggie soup earlier this month adapted from Cook’s Country’s recipe for New Mexican Pork Stew (Posole). The original recipe calls for ancho chiles and the first time I made this recipe I added them. However, I don’t know if it’s because I got a bad batch or what at the Latin market but I didn’t think they added much (or any) flavor to the soup except a hint of a raisin-like taste; all it really did was darken the color of the soup, so now whenever I make this soup I leave the ancho out. It was a bit hard to get my hands on the anchos anyway.

My own additions are chopped carrot and kale to bump up the nutrition because otherwise it would mostly be a meat soup with some hominy. I had trouble finding hominy at my usual supermarket but Dollar Tree, of all places, sells huge, jumbo cans of the stuff. So in case you’ve been hunting for hominy, check there.

This next concoction was created out of desperation. The food in my fridge was nearly depleted and I hadn’t had a chance to go to the market that week. All I had was a stale quarter loaf of French bread, an onion, a cucumber, two sprigs of wilted basil and a potato. I was inspired to make a panzanella-esque salad. No tomatoes in the house, so I decided to swap those out for some cooked, cubed potatoes instead. I don’t really care for tomatoes in my salads anyway. I thinly sliced the onions (and soaked them in water for 30 minutes to get rid of the sharpness) and cucumbers, shredded the basil, cubed and toasted the bread and then mixed everything together in a big bowl with some Italian dressing and salt & pepper to taste. I let that sit for an hour in the fridge so the liquids from the cucumber, onions and dressing could really soak into the bread before chowing down. I have to say it came out really, really tasty and I’ll make this salad again even when I’m not starved and desperate.

I always cook so I have enough leftovers to last me for a few days, so here’s that soup again. This time I paired it with that farro salad that’s become a staple in my kitchen as well as a couple slices of garlic bread. Highly recommend the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for garlic bread. They recommend partially cooking the garlic before adding it to the butter mixture and it helps mellow the garlic out and reduces that intense, garlic stink that a lot of garlic breads have.

At least once a month I make Chinese scallion pancakes. My recipe’s really simple. For one serving/one pancake: mix 1 cup of flour, half a tsp of table salt, and half a cup of boiling water together in a bowl. Most recipes call for an additional 1/4 cup of ice cold water but my dough’s always wet enough without it that I never feel the need for it, so I leave it out. Knead until you get a smooth ball of dough and let it rest, covered, for an hour. You may have to add extra flour if the dough’s too wet.

Next, roll the dough out as thinly as possible. Spread 1 Tablespoon of oil over the surface and sprinkle with 1-2 stalks of thinly sliced scallion. Roll the dough up tightly like a cigar, and then in a coil like a snail shape (or one of those old fashioned rainbow lollipops). This helps create lots of flaky layers in the pancake. Then flatten and roll the dough out into a thin, round pancake (approximately 8 inches in diameter). Pan fry the dough in a generous amount of oil. The more oil you use, the crispier and crunchier the pancake will be. I add about 2-3 Tablespoons of vegetable oil to the skillet. Just make sure the pan and oil are well heated before you add the dough or else the pancake will suck up a lot of excess oil. When both sides are golden brown, drain well on paper towels and serve.

I made some “Asian-style” potato salad. It’s a bit sweeter than traditional potato salad and always has chopped carrots, thinly sliced cucumbers and corn (ham is optional). I occasionally purchase potato salad sandwiches from the Chinese bakery but it’s been a long time since I’ve had one and I suddenly had a craving for it.

I used Cooking with Dog’s potato salad recipe but added in finely diced jalapeno peppers for some heat and served the salad on lightly toasted rounds of thinly sliced French bread. Yum!

I also tried my hand at making falafel. I used a combo of this recipe, this recipe and this recipe. I know I’m supposed to use dried, soaked chick peas but all I had was the canned stuff so I used that. I love the taste of cilantro but raw, not cooked, so I swapped that out and substituted chopped spinach to maintain the green color. I still used coriander seeds and cumin but also added some cinnamon (from the Cook’s Illustrated recipe), so the falafels weren’t lacking in flavor. I had to add 3 Tablespoons of flour because, as I suspected, the canned beans resulted in a very soft, wet mixture. The flour gave the mixture some stability so I could shape and handle them.

I’m deathly afraid of deep frying so, instead of making falafel balls and dropping them in hot oil, mine were more like falafel patties shallow fried in a pan. The taste came out great though. I’ve only made falafels once before years ago and without the addition of cinnamon and I have to say I really like the flavor the cinnamon gives. The cumin and coriander on their own are really aggressive to me but the cinnamon mellows them out and rounds out the flavor. I served the falafel in pitas with tomato, lettuce and cucumber and a smear of Trader Joe’s Mediterranean hummus.

In case you’re wondering, the Trader Joe’s hummus is really tasty: tangy and creamy with a strong taste of cumin. Delicious and I’m not usually a big fan of cumin! I’ve been putting the hummus on my sandwiches in place of mayonnaise, adding a spoonful of it to my salad dressings for a kick, and using it on its own as a dip. It’s so versatile.

Another big salad day. Here I have a simple green salad of romaine lettuce and cilantro with Italian dressing and I deep fried (shocking!) some pieces of chicken. I rolled the chicken in a mix of salt, pepper, garlic powder and tapioca starch (that’s what’s giving the chicken that crunchy, bumpy texture on the surface). OMG, so crunchy! Highly recommend tapioca starch if you want super crunchy fried chicken bites. I also had a couple of slices of sliced, toasted Italian bread with butter just to make the meal more filling.

Another soup, this time a beef and vegetable one with carrots, onions and celery which I served alongside some grilled cheddar cheese sandwiches. Simple and yummy.

Here’s another oldie but goodie: open-faced tomato and cheese sandwiches. The recipe comes from a ratty, old Family Circle cookbook that I purchased from a library book sale years ago. Simply toast both sides of sliced, hearty sandwich bread (i.e. not something soft and flimsy like Wonder bread) in the oven until their surfaces are no longer moist/soft to the touch or until just golden. Then brush the surfaces lightly with some Italian salad dressing. Return to the oven and toast until the surfaces dry out again, then top with slices of tomato brushed lightly with another layer of Italian dressing, finely shredded herbs (I used basil) and shredded cheese (I used mozzarella). Bake until the cheese is melted and serve. I like to sprinkle a bit of hot red pepper flakes and parmesan on top when I pull them from the oven. This is really tasty and easy recipe. Done right the toast is crunchy but not hard, the tomatoes are juicy and softened but not complete mush, and the cheese is nice and oozy.

Next is this cold Vietnamese Curry Chicken & Rice Noodle Salad Bowl recipe that showed up on my newsfeed a couple of months ago. If you make anything from this blog post, make this! It’s so good! The only thing I did differently was use a can of coconut milk instead of the coconut flavored almond milk that was used in the original recipe.

If you’ve ever had chicken satay, this is basically what this noodle dish tastes like. The recipe is a lot simpler than it seems. It’s the prep work (chopping the vegetables for the salad) that takes the most time and effort. For the chicken, all you need to do is toss it in a hot pan with the spices and can of coconut milk and let the whole thing reduce until it’s thick and concentrated in flavor. Then add some to the salad and toss well with the accompanying dressing. It probably doesn’t look all that appetizing but, trust me, it is!

I’ve also continued to hone my recipe for pan-fried Chinese garlic chive and shrimp dumplings. I always get a plate of it at the dim sum restaurant but I want to be able to make my own whenever I want. My attempts have gotten better over time but I still can’t get the dough quite right; it’s not as translucent as the ones I get at dim sum. You should be able to see the chives through the dough more when it’s cooked but at least they taste good. I always eat mine with a bit of sriracha!

When I finally figure the dough out, I’ll be sure to share the recipe. Until then, I’ll keep experimenting.