Accidental Culinary Adventures

This is how I cook: I open up the refrigerator or pantry and say, “What’s here?” If there are enough building blocks to create a meal along the lines of something I’ve cooked before and enjoyed, problem solved.

This approach leads to occasional accidental delights (but mostly just decent supper food). Here are two that happened in my kitchen in the past month. See if you’re similarly inspired to experiment. 😉

Chicken Orzo-tore

I’ve been making chicken cacciatore since I started cooking (a few days after I got married), but I learned the recipe by watching my dad make it countless times for supper. It was easy, relatively quick, and cheap – all qualities that my dad prized in his culinary endeavors

Recipe: Dad’s Chicken Cacciatore

But the other day, as I eyed a small bag of orzo pasta I’d picked up at Trader Joe’s, I had an epiphany: What If I swapped out the rice I usually serve alongside cacciatore, and used the orzo instead?

The verdict: Delicious! I cooked the orzo pasta on the side and then throw the cooked orzo into the pot of cacciatore once it came out of the oven. However, I’m wondering if I should have cooked the orzo straight into the cacciatore so it would pick up more of those flavors. Dunno. May try that next time.

Post Pork-Roast Beef Stew

So last month, I made the most incredible pork roast thanks to this recipe from an Upstate cook:

Balsamic Beer-Braised Pork Roast, from She Wears Many Hats

Photo by She Wears Many Hats, where I found the recipe. Just LOOK at that pork!
Photo by She Wears Many Hats, where I found the recipe. Just LOOK at that pork!

It’s an amazing recipe. So easy; so incredibly flavorful.

I make two changes from her recipe. The first, I use rendered bacon fat (cook a couple pieces, pull out the bacon, use it for something else) to sear the pork roast in the first step. The additional smokiness of a high quality bacon adds incomparable depth of flavor. Goes without saying that you need to be using a good bacon here; I keep Trader Joe’s applewood smoked bacon in the frig at all times.

Second, once the pork roast had been seared but before adding the cooking liquid (beer et al), I deglaze the pan with some bourbon or sherry. Sometimes a little of both, in succession. Scrape up the brown bits and let the meat soak up some of the alcohol before continuing. Again, it’s a layer of flavor that makes a difference in the end.

When you’re done (follow the recipe), you have pork that just falls apart and shreds with no effort at all. It’s incredible as pulled pork sandwiches; you need no additional BBQ sauce.

But then…. there’s more magic to be had in the pot! You’ll need your favorite beef stew recipe – look it up on the Internet and pick up some cheap “stew beef” at the store on your next grocery run, along with carrots, potatoes, onion, celery, a box of beef broth, and either rice or big noodles or barley or whatever.

Let the drippings cool until the fat congeals on top. Stop being squeamish; this is part of life when cooking with meat. Scrape off and discard as much of the solid fat as you can, leaving behind the beer-broth and bits of pork from the earlier recipe.

Heat what’s left on medium in your Dutch oven till it’s going pretty hard and throw in all your chopped vegetables. If you did too good a job of removing fat, you might need to add a wee bit of olive oil or butter here.  Meanwhile, brown your beef chunks in a skillet on the side and throw them in with the vegetables once they get brown on all sides. (The extra work is worth it – I promise.)  Add your broth and seasonings, and throw the whole pot into the oven for an hour or more, till the potatoes are completely done and the beef is tender.

If you’re going to add rice or noodles it might be easier to cook those on the stovetop and then add them at the end.

The result: Your beef stew will have this magical depth of flavor, a savory-ness that I can’t ever get when I just “make beef stew,” no matter what seasonings I add. The leftovers from the pork bring so many good flavors to the party, but nothing clashes with the traditional beef stew vibe.

I’m committed now to always making the pork recipe before I make a regular beef stew. I’m not sure I can go back to the old way…. 😉

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