Homemade Baked Beans – May 25, 2020

In addition to the potato salad, I also decided to make a batch of homemade baked beans. This was another two day process, but I think it was worth it.

I started with one pound of dry northern beans. I let those soak for about 8 hours, until they nearly doubled in size. I drained the water and then put them in a spaghetti pot (with strainer). I cooked them on medium high until they came to a boil, and then continued to let them boil for about one hour, stirring occasionally. I turned the heat down to a medium to medium-low, and let them continue to cook for another hour, until the beans were tender. I kept testing the beans, since I didn’t want them to get to a completely mushy stage. When the beans were done and cooled, I put them in a container and refrigerated them overnight. I saved and refrigerated the leftover water as well.

I cooked up 6 pieces of bacon at 350 for 12 minutes, and then let them cool. They were not completely cooked, but they were a little more than halfway done. Not crispy or crunchy at all. I let them completely cool and refrigerated those as well.

This morning, it was time to bake the beans. I preheated the oven to 325 degrees. I put the beans and 1 cup of the leftover water in a big bowl. I chopped up one onion, one shallot, and 3 cloves of garlic, and then added those to the bowl. I cut up the bacon into bite-sized pieces and added them. I mixed in 3 tablespoons of molasses, 3 tablespoons of mustard, 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 cup of ketchup, 1/2 teaspoon of liquid smoke, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper. I added some more of the water, to make sure the beans didn’t dry out too quickly.

I cooked the beans for about 4 hours total. I stirred it after the first hour, and then every 20-30 minutes thereafter. I didn’t want to have any clumps stuck to the bottom of the dish, so frequent stirring was key. I really liked the color that these had.

I really enjoyed the flavor of these baked beans. The texture of the beans was just right. Nice and soft, but not so soft that it turns to much when you put a fork in it. The bacon was really soft, but still had a nice, smoky flavor. The vinegar, liquid smoke, and molasses brought in an extra couple of layers of flavor that reminded me of childhood days. It may be a lot easier to open up a can of beans and heat them on the stove, but when you put in some good time and effort and the results are this good, it makes it an even more satisfying meal. Definitely a great way to continue to remain positive for the day.

Homemade Potato Salad – May 25, 2020

Since this is Memorial Day Weekend, I thought about the traditional meals – hamburgers and hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, and so on. I decided on making some potato salad. I made this on Sunday because I wanted to give time for the flavors to come together.

The first thing I did was cook up some bacon. I wanted it extra crispy, so I cooked it for 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven, flipped them over, and cooked them for another 10 minutes. Once they were cooled, they were easy to break apart.

The next step was boiling the potatoes. I decided to go for a potato medley, since I thought that would give some nice colors. I chopped them up into bite-sized pieces and boiled them until they were tender, about 20 minutes. It’s important to keep testing the texture, since they can go from not cooked enough to mush if you aren’t paying attention. My goal was to have these firm enough to bite through the exterior, but with an interior that was smooth and creamy.

I usually enjoy adding some celery to my potato salad, but I saw these carrots and thought they would fit in well with the potato medley.

I put a little bit of the bacon grease on the bottom of a pan, chopped up the carrots, and let them cook for a few minutes. Although raw carrots are fine, I wanted to add a little flavor and soften them up just a bit. I do the same thing when I am adding celery, so this was business as usual for me. After a few minutes, I added in about 1/4 cup of water and let that continue to cook for a couple of more minutes. The goal was to have the carrots slightly cooked and have them absorb some of the bacon flavor, but not be completely cooked and soft.

After all the veggies are done cooking, they have to get completely cool. I let them sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, then let them get to room temperature. I added in the chopped bacon and three hard boiled eggs.

Next, I added the dry ingredients and mixed them all in. 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon of onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon of celery seed, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper and 1/8 teaspoon of celery salt.

It was now time to add the wet ingredients. I added 1 tablespoon of honey mustard and approximately 1/4 cup of mayo. I didn’t want to completely overdo it with the mayo, but wanted to make sure everything held together well. I took a couple of bites and it tasted really good.

After letting it sit overnight, I finally had some more today. The flavors really did come together well. Some people might add in pickle relish, or maybe just pickle juice. I think the combination of the wet and dry ingredients pleased my palate enough that it didn’t need much else. I really enjoyed the small bites of carrots. This was a fun and colorful potato salad, and definitely kept me in a positive frame of mind on this Memorial Day.

Homemade Chocolate Chip Banana Bread – 05/25/20

When I bought some bananas last weekend, I bought them with the intention of making some banana bread this weekend. There was a book I received from one of my sisters for my birthday, and I thought I could use the modified recipe. The book is from Michael Ruhlman and is titled “Ratio”. The subtitle is “The Simple Codes behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking”. This goes into the ratios and breakdowns for recipes, which should make it easier to adapt for larger or smaller audiences.

The Basic Quick Bread/Muffin Batter ingredient breakdown is:

8 ounces flour

4 ounces sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

8 ounces milk

4 ounces eggs (2 large eggs)

4 ounces butter (1 stick), melted

If you add 1 cup of mashed banana, you should take away 2 ounces of the wet ingredients.

I started by setting the oven to 350 degrees. The next step should have been to brown the butter (the book recommends brown butter for banana bread). Since the butter is going to be hot, it will take more time to cool down before mixing with the eggs. You want banana bread, not banana and scrambled eggs bread.

Per the instructions, I combined the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients separately. I had to wait a bit while the butter cooled, since I started on that after combining the dry ingredients. I had one large banana, and I mixed that in with the wet ingredients. Since it was a week old, it was a little mushy, but not overly mushy. I only used 6 ounces of milk in this recipe, and it worked just fine. Once the wet and dry ingredients were mixed together, I added in 3/4 cup of chocolate chips.

I poured the batter into an 8″ loaf pan that I had coated with cooking spray. I made sure it was relatively even, and then baked it for about 50 minutes (I did it for 40 minutes at first, then kept an eye on it). Once a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, it’s good. Mine had melted chocolate chips, but no batter dough, so I knew it was done.

Those last 10 minutes were key. The top hadn’t browned after 40 minutes, but it was perfect with another 10 minutes. And when it was out of the pan, the sides had color as well.

Having a banana bread look good is one thing, but it also tasted really good. The bread had perfect consistency. The nice, light bite on the outside and the soft, moist bite on the inside. The melted chocolate chips were great as well. I think that if I make this again, I’ll use two medium bananas instead of one large banana. It had a mild banana flavor to it, but I think it would have been better with even more banana flavor. I also had been thinking about adding cinnamon, but I don’t think it needed it at all.

This was a great start to the day and an easy way to get things going in a positive way.

Shilla Bakery – Ellicott City, MD – 05/24/20

When I was out and about earlier today, I decided to stop by Shilla Bakery. It’s another place that I’ve passed more times than I can count, but never stopped in.

The display case had some really cute cakes. The bread based treats reminded me of a couple of other places that I’ve been to in the past. Although it took me some time to finally decide what to get, I was able to limit myself to two dessert-type treats.

They also had South Korean Iced Coffee on the menu, so I thought I would give it a try. I’m a frappe person, but I didn’t mind giving it a try. They told me it was very sweet, and they were right. I’m not sure if there was honey in there or simple syrup, but there was a nice sweetness to it. It also had a pretty bold coffee flavor. One of my sisters enjoys iced coffees, and I could see her liking this.

The first treat that I ate was a chocolate croissant twist. This was a nice snack. The bread was a little flaky, but really soft. There was a custardy mixture in there along with the chocolate chips. Eating this put a smile on my face.

The other treat that I bought was Shilla’s Whoopie Pie. The cake was more similar to a cakey brownie. A little dry, but nice chocolate flavor. The cream on the inside was nice and light, with the right amount of sweetness. The best part of this was the dipped chocolate. It was all around the the exterior of the whoopie pie. I think I would have loved it if it was completely surrounded in chocolate, but not everyone would enjoy that. This was still a nice treat.

I didn’t have any expectations going in, but I’m glad that I was able to try both of the treats as well as the iced coffee. I will be stopping in this place again in the not so distant future. It was another great experience!

Bonchon – Ellicott City, MD – 05/24/20

Today was a really nice day. The weather was good, it was slightly overcast, and was perfect for me to go driving around for a couple of hours with my radio playing and my windows slightly down to let me breathe in the fresh air. While I was at one of my stops, I was trying to decide what I would be eating for lunch. I saw that there was a Bonchon (Chicken) close by, and decided to go there. I have passed by a couple of these in Maryland in the past, but never stopped in.

Bonchon Chicken is a South Korean fried chicken restaurant franchise. I plan on having a hamburger tomorrow, so I wanted something other than a sandwich for lunch. This sounded like a perfect opportunity. Since there is social distancing and no sitting in the restaurants, I just browsed the menu briefly and picked the first thing that sounded really good to me. I decided to go with half and half chicken strips, and I chose to have soy garlic and sweet sticky. I chose to have Cole slaw as my side.

I started with the Cole slaw. This was really good. It had a nice kick to it. I enjoyed the fresh taste of the ingredients – they were still crispy and not soggy. This was a really good Cole slaw, so I was also looking forward to the chicken.

The chicken strips were bigger than I expected. You can’t tell by the picture, but eating half the order still filled me up. The sweet sticky were very sweet. There was a nice crispy exterior, and the chicken was cooked to perfection on the inside. The soy garlic had the same texture, but the flavor was much better. I could smell it in my car on the drive home, and the flavor did not disappoint. I think these would have been better if I had eaten them in restaurant instead of 25 minutes later, but they were still good. I was wishing that I had more of the soy garlic sauce, since it was really good.

I like the packaging for this as well. Although the ventilation meant that the heat would escape, it also meant that it would not be steaming in a sealed container. There were a few people who just sat next to their car eating, and I understand why they did it. I decided to look up their menu on-line, and they have a lot of good options. This is a place that I will be trying again, and I’m sure I will have another great food experience!

New Win Long – Eldersburg, MD – May 2020

Prior to the shutdown, I had been craving Chinese food. A lot of the stores temporarily closed down, so I had to wait as those cravings continued. I have been trying to keep an eye on a couple of local places that I’ve enjoyed visiting, so I was happy when I discovered that one of them had recently re-opened.

New Win Long is just a few miles from home. They aren’t delivering right now, so I waited until I was able to make my way over there, which happened to be this past Friday night after work.

I decided to order two items. I went with the Vegetable Spring Rolls and the Sesame Chicken. I ate both spring rolls and they were fantastic. There was a nice, crunchy exterior and a juicy shredded veggie interior. I added a little duck sauce and hot mustard, and my appetizer was gone before I knew it.

Next was the sesame chicken. The image above was only half the order. New Win Long offers very generous portions at a great price. The rice was sticky and moist, not dry at all. The chicken pieces were huge chunks, and very meaty. They had a slightly crisp exterior, but were nice and juicy on the inside. The flavor of the sauce was incredible. The broccoli absorbed the flavor of the sauce, which made it taste much better. The entire meal was great, and I’m glad they are back open and the quality of their food is still great. The leftovers were still delicious. It’s easy to start the weekend on a positive note when you have great food like this!

A Potato Filled Week

This past week, I decided to finish up a bag of potatoes in a few different ways. I was originally thinking about making scalloped potatoes, or mashed potatoes, or some breakfast potatoes. But I decided that I would just try to make baked potatoes and top them with different things. I had some homemade marinara sauce, and that was incorporated a few times.

The first potato I had was with a fried egg on top. It didn’t take a great picture, and it was missing a little something. I liked it, but thought it needed an extra kick. On my second attempt, I decided to make a basted egg. This worked better than I expected. This was probably the best basted egg I’ve ever made. The yolk was cooked to perfection (for my tastes). Slightly runny, warm, bright orange-yellow, and full of flavor. The bites that had the yolk and the potato together brought some real joy to my tastebuds. Adding a dash of spices gave it the extra kick it needed.

Next up was a chicken parmigiana potato. I had some frozen breaded chicken patties in my freezer, so this was a good way to use my marinara sauce. After the chicken patty and the potato were cooked, I put them together with the marinara sauce and cheese and popped them in the toaster oven for a few minutes. The flavors and the textures all came together really well. This was a delicious meal.

This picture is not pretty, but my next potato was mozzarella sticks (with marinara sauce). I baked the mozzarella sticks, so they were nice and crispy on the outside and very cheesy on the inside. This one tasted like there were two distinct components. The bites with the baked potato and the mozzarella sticks hit my tastebuds in different places. While it tasted good, and each component had good flavor, I didn’t think these worked well together.

Next came a pasta filled potato. I used a microwavable pouch of pasta, which had been sitting on the shelf for awhile. I was still able to use my marinara sauce, so that was a plus. This was another one that was better than I expected. The only drawback for me was that I used pasta that was too big. I think something smaller (mini shells or elbow macaroni, for example) might have worked better. But this was a pleasant dish. There is melted mozzarella cheese on this, but it’s underneath the pasta. This is a real carb heavy dish, and definitely not for everyone.

I finished up the week with an attempt at a potato burger. I had an idea of how I wanted this to work out, and I failed. But at least I tried. I baked the potato, and wanted to smash it down while it was still hot, with the hope of having it a little flatter and being able to use it in place of a bun. That did not work. I was able to smash it down, but when I did that, it broke apart into thirds. I used a frozen, uncooked hamburger patty, and that was a bit disappointing in terms of flavor as well. The best components of this were the thick shredded cheddar cheese and the barbecue sauce (which was needed on this). This was my least favorite of the bunch.

My favorite out of all of these was the chicken parmigiana. I really liked how all the flavors really ended up coming together and working in harmony. I would make that one again. My second favorite was the basted egg. There’s no guarantee that I can make the egg as good as this time, but the flavors still worked together well. The pasta was my third favorite, followed by the mozzarella sticks. The hamburger was last on the list.

I had fun trying the different toppings. I could have just gone with the traditional butter and sour cream, or even go with some steamed veggies, but I wanted to use some things that I had around the house and freezer, and also wanted to see how the different toppings might work. It’s always fun for me to try something new. I stayed within my comfort zone, but brought familiar flavors together in different ways. They didn’t all work, but trying is half the fun. Stay positive!

Staying Local – May 16, 2020

Today I decided to stay close to home when going out and about. We still have limited openings, and it was going to be a hot day (close to 80), so I didn’t want to wander too far from home.

I read some good news earlier in the week. One of my local favorites, The French Twist Cafe, re-opened on May 13th with limited hours. They were going to be open at 8AM this morning, so I wanted to get there as close to opening time as possible. I’m glad that I did. There were only three people in front of me when I got there, but there was a line that was starting to accumulate before I left.

Tempting as it might have been to get a crepe, I decided to go with an almond croissant and a Mocha Frappe. I missed this place, and they still have a great focus on quality. When I walked into the store, they had areas taped off for distancing as well as partitions. They wiped down the credit cards and all machines in between customer orders, so they were diligent with keeping with the current recommendations. The food is the main focus. Although I had been considering a crepe, the almond croissant looked too good to pass up. It was a really good croissant. The exterior was nice and crunchy, then you got some flakiness when biting through the croissant, and you ended up with the mild almond flavor. It was a very good almond croissant. The mocha frappe was delicious. I really enjoy their drinks, so I’m glad I was finally able to go back. The flavor and consistency were on point, as always, so they did not skip a beat in terms of quality.

Since it was still in the low to mid 70s in the morning, I decided to take a drive in the countryside and took a few moments to enjoy nature (from a relative distance). Sometimes we focus too much on what is behind us and what is directly in front of us, but we never consider to look a bit beyond and take an appreciation for what else is out there.

When it was time for lunch, I decided to stay close to home again and made my way back over to the Big Belly Deli.

I decided to go with the Italian Cold Cut sandwich. Bologna, ham, pepperoni, salami, lettuce, tomato, hots, red onions, Italian dressing and Provolone cheese on sourdough bread. This was a huge sandwich (it filled me up so much that I didn’t need to eat dinner. The combination of everything in this sandwich was just incredible. I especially like the hots, since they had a little bit of sweet heat to each bite. I didn’t just stop with the sandwich, though.

I also decided to go with a chocolate chip lava cake. If you think it looks good just like that, it was even better once I cut into it.

The liquid chocolate flowing out of this was truly a delight. The cake itself was really good, but having the liquid chocolate made those bites even better.

I was happy to stay local for breakfast and lunch (both within a mile from my house). I’m not sure if I’ll be venturing too far tomorrow, but today was definitely a good way to start the weekend and stay positive.

Creative Refresh – Bringing New Life to Leftover Food

Some people can eat the same meal over and over again, day after day, without wanting anything else. Some people don’t like leftovers and don’t like having the same meal twice in a row (or even twice in a week). They always want variety. I fall somewhere in between, but it really depends on the food. I could eat chocolate every day, but I would always want some sort of variety after awhile. When I make a big amount of food to eat during the week, I tend to eat the same thing over and over again. I think 7 meals (lunch and dinners) is usually about my breaking point for wanting variety. But that’s just me.

When you are running advertising, it’s always good to have a creative refresh. You don’t want to keep running the same ads over and over again, month after month, year after year. The viewers get tired of seeing the same old thing and their minds want something new. A creative refresh is a way to bring the same or similar content in a different way. I decided to bring that to this blog with leftover food. I had plenty of slow cooked pork leftover from last week. I made a huge portion of shells and cheese this week, and had plenty of leftovers from that as well (still do, but they’re almost finished). I thought I would share some of the different ways I used my leftovers.

First up is some modified chilaquiles. I heated up some of my leftover pork in a skillet and added in some of my leftover salsa verde. I had the bottom part of a bag of tortilla chips (all broken up into tiny pieces), so I added those as well. I wanted those to cook in the salsa verde for a while to get nice and soft. I then added in a couple of eggs and cheese, and it was ready in a few minutes. All the flavors came together really nicely. The tortilla chips were softened, but still had the nice flavor of a tortilla. The pork, salsa, and eggs all worked well together, providing a different flavor of some familiar ingredients.

Next was an old standard. Nothing too special about this. Took some of the pork, added some barbecue sauce and slopped it on a bun. Still good, though. It was a familiar way to have the leftover pork, but it did the job.

Since I had made shells and cheese, I was provided with an opportunity to add two different leftovers together. Again, it’s another old standard, but still really good. I added some barbecue sauce to this one, but not everyone is a fan of that. Even without the barbecue sauce, this was still good. The flavor of the meat works really well with the pasta. But that was the last of the pork, and I still had quite a bit of pasta leftover.

This may not look pretty, but it was easy to do and worked out really well. I had some lunch meat available, so I made myself a quick lunch. I heated up the shells and cheese, then I heated up the meat for about 10 seconds in the microwave (turkey and ham). Made an easy rollup and viola – fast lunch. I was not sure if this would taste good, but it surprisingly did. I thought the ham worked much better than the turkey. The saltiness gave it an extra bit of flavor that was really nice.

This one is probably my favorite. You probably can’t tell, but this is a fried shells and cheese “patty” with some Sweet Ginger Chili Sauce on a bun. It was not a perfectly fried patty, but I didn’t mind. I took out a chunk of the shells and cheese and tried to flatten it with my palms (unsuccessfully). I coated it in some flour, then in an egg wash (1 beaten egg with a smidgen of water), then in a mixture of crumbled up bacon flavored crispy-and-thin crackers. I fried that in a cast iron pan that had a small amount of oil. I flipped it once when it was smelling extra crispy (close to a burned smell). If I deep fried it, it might have looked better, but I care more about flavor than appearance. This tasted really good. I was surprised at how good the crunchy cracker exterior worked in terms of texture and flavor. It was a lot of food in each bite, but it was delicious. The sweet ginger chili sauce gave it a slight kick, but a lot of good flavor.

I don’t always get creative with my leftovers, but I’m glad I did. It can be fun trying to come up with new ways to enjoy leftovers, breaking the monotony. And when they taste good, it makes it even easier to stay positive (and to stay full)!

Homemade Shells and Cheese

I’m going to start tonight’s post with a disclaimer. This site has ads on it. There have been some recent ads that imply you can print this recipe. Those are just ads and not part of my site. I don’t want to mislead anyone who might click on something accidentally. Thank you.

Now, onto the food. I was planning on making some pasta and cheese sauce for a few weeks, but I got busy making and eating other foods, and didn’t buy the ingredients I needed until this past weekend.

I started by heating up some water over medium-high heat. I added a little butter and garlic powder to it, but that is optional. Once it was boiling, I added a box of pasta – my choice for today was shells. As soon as I put the pasta in the water, I knew I had between 8-10 minutes to make the cheese sauce.

I started by making a roux. With the burner on medium, I melted 1/4 cup of butter and then added 1/4 cup of flour (should be equal parts). As soon as the flower was incorporated and the bubbles started going, I was ready for the next step.

I added in 1 cup of heavy cream and 1 cup of milk. I constantly stirred this until the roux and the liquids were completely incorporated. It’s also important to frequently stir the pasta, to prevent any possible clumping.

I then added in 2 cups of shredded cheese. I used some extra sharp cheddar today, but there are days when I go with a milder cheese and there are days when I go with something with a little more tang. I turned the temperature to low and stirred in the cheese. It was right at this point that the pasta was done, so the timing couldn’t have been better.

I drained the pasta and then added it to the cheese sauce. I turned off the heat and mixed it in and it was ready to be served.

This was a lot of creamy, cheesy goodness. I only added a little pepper to it, but could easily have added more. This had a nice, smooth flavor. It was a bit mild, but still really good. This was a great way to get the week started with a positive frame of mind.