Monday, August 18, 2008

Food & Cooking: Denver

I was too tired by the time we got settled into the room in Denver to even think about cooking anything. So I made CKL take me out for an indifferent dinner at a local Perkins. This was sad many times over:
  • It took us well over an hour to find the names of nearby restaurants, pick one, drive to it, get seated, order, and get served our dinner
  • The food wasn't very good
  • I had two (probably more) ready-to-go meals in the pantry
  • We paid at least five times as much for our dinner as we would have paid for either of the pantry meals.
The point of this story? Write down your quick pantry meals. This way, when you're tired and brain-dead like I was, you can just look at the list and be done with dinner.

On the plus side, we had one of the meals (Tomato-Tortellini Soup with Mushrooms) for lunch the next day. I saved the other one for our first night in Las Vegas*.

While we were in Denver for more than a week, most of our time was dedicated to WorldCon. There wasn't really much time for dinner in the room. So we only have three recipes.

Tomato-Tortellini Soup with Mushrooms: This one is a variation on the last Tomato-Tortellini soup we had in Madison. After all, there was half a bag of leftover tortellini that needed using up after the previous soup. This was more basic and even easier:
  • 14-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2 broth packets (or 2c broth)
  • 3c water (or 1c water, if using broth)
  • 1c dried tortellini (if using fresh, use 1c less water)
  • 1 package pasta sauce with mushrooms
Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil.

Simmer about 9-11 minutes, or until the tortellini are done. Taste. Add salt & pepper, if needed, then serve.

Thai-Style Peanut Noodles with Fish: I love peanutty noodles with fish. I don't usually make fish in peanut sauce because I really don't care for big hunks of flesh. They're just not that interesting.

Cover that hunk of flesh with peanut sauce, however, and it's not boring at all. Besides, I was going through peanut sauce withdrawal.

The plan: buy rice noodles, red bell pepper, carrots, green onions, peanut butter, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, chili paste, ginger, garlic, sesame oil...

Oy. We'd use up the noodles and vegetables, but there'd be leftovers for everything else. My tiny little pantry can't hold all those leftover staples.

Time for Plan B: pre-packaged rice noodle and peanut sauce kits instead of all the sauce ingredients, then add some extra ginger root and garlic**. The finished dish was a bit sticky (in other words, it wasn't oily enough), but I can live with that. It tasted great.
  • 2 packets Thai Noodles & Sauce (we bought Simply Asia, because that's what they had at Safeway in Denver)
  • 1 Tbs olive oil (or any vegetable cooking oil, really)
  • 4 pinches red pepper flake (I used four, of course)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2" ginger root, peeled and minced
  • 1c carrots, chopped (or shredded)
  • 1 medium red pepper, chopped (or sliced, if using shredded carrots)
  • 8oz Tilapia filets (or whatever white-fleshed fin fish you like. Tilapia was cheap.)
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced
Prepare the noodles in accordance with the package directions, then set aside. (If lazy like me, "prepare" means: put noodles in bowl; cover with boiling water; set time for five minutes; drain when timer goes off; rinse and put in and out of the way spot.)

Add oil, garlic, ginger, carrots, and red pepper to pan and cooked until fragrant and hot but not at all cooked. (About 2-3 minutes over high heat using an electric burner.)

Add the sauce packets and 1/2c water to the pan (or however much water the sauce instructions say to add). Bring to a boil.

Put fish on top of vegetables and sauce in pan. Cover pan and cook for a few minutes. (I did 3 minutes again. It was plenty for thin little filets).

Check to see if the fish flakes apart when you wiggle a fork around in the thickest bit. If no, cover and cook for another minute and repeat the test until it does flake.

If yes, remove the fish from the pan and put it on a plate. (I know; this step makes for an extra dirty dish and just complicates the recipe, but this is really the only way to keep the fish in one piece. A big piece of fish is much more satisfying than a bunch of fish fragments.)

Add the noodles and green onions (save a few onions to decorate the top, if you want) to the sauce. Stir thoroughly to mix the sauce, vegetables, and noodles.

Serve the noodles in a bowl with a piece of fish on top. Sprinkle with green onions(if you saved some.)

Fish Chowder: I had originally planned to make a rice-and-vegetable medley and serve it with fish, but it was raining in Denver that day. I got soaked going from the car to the door of the hotel. With an umbrella. Soup just seems like a better meal plan when you're wet. So I ditched the rice and turned the remaining ingredients into a chowder.

Since I always feel like a chowder needs some sort of potato, I added dried mashed potato flake. I highly recommend that you use actual potatoes, but this didn't taste bad at all. As I've mentioned before, I frequently cheat with the easiest thing I can find.
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp olive oil (or thereabouts; I just wanted enough to add a little flavor when cooking the onions)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 broth packets (or 2c broth; I used chicken)
  • 3 c water (omit 2c water, if using broth)
  • 16-oz bag of frozen mixed vegetables (you know what you like in chowder better than I do; I used corn, carrots and asparagus)
  • 8oz white fish, cut into ~2" chunks (I used Tilapia left over from our Thai-style noodles)
  • 1c mashed potato flakes
  • Mashed potato seasoning packet (if it came with the potato flakes you bought. If not, no worries; use seasoned salt--start with half a teaspoon, and add more until it tastes right. If you don't have seasoned salt, use regular salt.)
  • Black pepper (or white pepper, if you want to stick with a mostly-white theme for your soup.)
Add oil and onion to a soup pan. Cook over medium heat until the onions start to get a little translucent.

Add garlic. Cook until it smells good.

Add broth, water, vegetables, and fish. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.

Cook until the vegetables are done to your liking***. For me, this took about five minutes after the boil.

Stir in the potato flake and seasonings. Wait a minute or two for the chowder to thicken somewhat.

Taste. If it's good, it's done. If not, add more salt and pepper until it does taste good. Serve.



* Of course, by the time we finally got to Las Vegas, we were too tired to eat. We went to bed right after unpacking the car and settling in the cats. The verdict on a 12-hour drive: entirely too long.

** The total cost for the garlic and ginger? A whopping 27 cents. Some kind soul had already broken apart a bulb of garlic and a ginger root for me. All I had to do was select the small pieces I wanted.


*** The little fish chunks will be more than done, and will probably crumble up a lot, depending on how much you stir. This is a good thing; chowder is one case when a bunch of fish fragments are better than a big hunk.

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