The Occasional Recipe Review

I’m starting a new thing up on the blog here: a review of new recipes–or at least recipes that are new to me and my family.

Let me explain. You see, I’m easily bored of the same old routine, so I spend some time every week on a few cooking sites clipping recipes with the fabulous Evernote Web Clipper plug-in. Once the recipes are in Evernote, I’ll massage and edit them a bit, sort them into the proper category and tags, and hopefully not forget them.

But for the last several months, I’ve tried to make my cooking life easier and more varied by planning out the menu in two-week blocks. This serves two purposes: with everyone going different directions on different nights (Patrick working some nights of the week and not others, and Jenni and I having evening activities on a regular basis) this planning helps me make sure I can cook what people might like, and it makes the bi-weekly hunt-and-gather at Costco and Cub more efficient. But after doing this for a while and digging into the same pile of 20 or 30 standard recipes, I get bored and feel uninspired. And then I hate cooking.

And I don’t like hating to cook.

So I figured I could review these new recipes and give you all the links to find them out there on the world-wide interwebs.

First up (though not first up in the list of new recipes I’ve tried…I’ll have to come back to some of those later) is a two-fer: Honey garlic chicken and mini twice-baked potatoes.

I love bone-in chicken thighs. They’re rich, flavorful, much more properly sized than a chicken breast, and the bonus is that they can make the basis of a killer roasted chicken soup in the colder months. So part of the appeal of the honey garlic chicken recipe is that it’s really designed for chicken thighs and drumsticks, but the rest of the appeal is its simplicity.

I followed the recipe exactly, with two drumsticks and six thighs, but instead of cooking in the oven, I cooked them on a charcoal grill.

While initially, you might think that only 3 tablespoons of honey and one tablespoon of brown sugar won’t possibly overcome 4 mashed cloves of garlic and some mashed onion, I found that it’s just about the right amount, though I might make slightly more the next time for a better toss after pulling them off the grill–by the time they were done, there wasn’t much more than a thin film left in the bowl, though I did coat them twice while they were on the grill.

The sauce is pleasant–surprisingly not overly sweet, with only a minimal hint of the garlic–though I’d add just an extra pinch of salt over everything at the end, depending on how well you salted the meat before cooking. If you did a good job prior to cooking and let the salt soak in a bit, then you should be fine. But it’s tasty and different enough to not be mistaken for just salt and pepper seasoned roasted chicken.

I’ll be adding this to the rotation and trying it again sometime.

The second recipe is a slam dunk around here, where potatoes are strongly favored, and twice-baked potatoes are perhaps the pinnacle of the potato hierarchy. I do twice-baked potatoes on a regular basis here, and when I do them, it’s in quantity, so that there are leftovers that could be frozen, but they frequently don’t make it past a few days in the fridge before being devoured.

But these mini twice-baked potatoes appealed to me partially because they’re kind of cute and elegant, simply because of their size. And frankly, “cute” and “tiny” seemed to be the prevailing squeal of delight when the family saw them at dinner.

I loosely followed this recipe, replacing half of the sour cream with cream cheese, adding an egg, removing the herbs, and using a blend of cheddar and parmesan cheese in the mixture. And instead of mashing, I used my potato ricer, which I’ve found makes for a much better, fluffier, and lighter filling for twice-baked potatoes than a filling that has been mashed or mixed with a hand mixer.

The reviews were what I expected from a twice-baked potato: Zoe ate 4 of them plus the small cup of extra filling that didn’t fit into the potato shells (normally, she’ll have 2 full-sized twice-baked potatoes at a sitting), so that is quite the endorsement. The nice addition here over standard russets is the use of the yukon gold potatoes, which makes the filling that much richer and less starchy.

Obviously, I’ll also be using this recipe again.

In the picture above, you can see a honey garlic chicken thigh, one mini twice-baked potato, and some purple and golden beets that were cooked in a foil packet on the grill with salt, pepper and olive oil.


The Occasional Movie Review – Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers posterThere is nothing that makes you feel old like going to a movie clearly not aimed at your demographic. And, truth be told, I’m not a huge action movie fan–sure, they’re eye candy and are usually really easy to watch–but there is a certain enjoyment to sitting in a comfy seat for a couple of hours watching people blow stuff up.

So the whole family and I headed out for a Tuesday night bargain feature of the brand-spanking-new Avengers: Age of Ultron, the follow on film to…well, practically everything Marvel’s been doing for the last seven or eight years. I mean, Captain America, The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor…oh, and those other people who are supporting characters. Technically it’s a sequel to the first Avengers film, which, if nothing else, was Disney’s proof positive that they really, really know how to squeeze every cent they can out of the movie-going public.

I know…This sounds bad so far. Just read on. I promise it isn’t horrible.

The story is that of problems brought on by our heroes themselves, as Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) work to revive the Ultron project–an AI-based Earth peacekeeping system. Things go wrong, alien glowing crystals get mixed into the whole thing, Ultron becomes the bad guy, and suddenly a town in Russia is being obliterated, leaving the heroes to learn from their mistakes and interpersonal issues to be the team the planet can count on.

In a nutshell, that’s the story. And one of my two biggest problems with the movie derives from it: it shouldn’t have taken 2 hours and 21 minutes to tell. I know the reasoning: every twist or step on the path to fight the problem needed a fight scene. Fight scenes need a good 5-10 minutes to keep the fans happy. And when the movie starts with a 5 minute fight scene, you know it’s going to be a long one. But maybe that’s how the comic books were. And I didn’t read comic books as a kid.

Actually, I now recall that my dad always said that a good western was one that featured the first killing before the first word of dialogue. So in that case, this might be good…

The second problem I have with the film is that all of these movies now have shaky scenes that cut to quickly, so half the time, I’m sure I’m missing so much of what’s going on. It just gets irritating. Well, that and the fact that as I’m getting older and my hearing is getting worse, the loud sounds of the film tend to cover up the dialogue. But I’m assuming that the dialogue wasn’t important.

Beyond that, it was an entertaining film. The story, even being dragged out too long, kept moving, and there was plenty of action and eye candy to keep all of the fans happy. And when it comes right down to it, I can’t say I didn’t like it. I went in expecting an overly long, loud action movie, and that’s exactly what I got–a well done overly long, loud action movie.

So I really can’t complain. In fact, I’ll give it a higher rating than I gave the last Woody Allen movie I watched, which featured no explosions beyond the meltdown of its main character. Three out of Five Stars.