Cooking: Last Minute Easy Thanksgiving Sides

Thanksgiving’s centerpiece is the turkey.  However, the star needs some sides to go with it.  Here are a couple of sides that can be made quickly that other people enjoy:

Green Bean Casserole:  This is one of the dishes that I make that I hate.  However, every time I make it people enjoy it and we rarely have seconds.  The amount of ingredients is based on the size of your dish.  Add enough green beans to  fill the dish about three-quarters to the top. Add enough cream of mushroom soup to completely mix with the green beans.  Add some cajun seasoning and Worcestershire sauce (I’m very liberal with both).  Add some milk for extra crispiness if you desire.  Cover with pre-fried onion rings and add another seasoning of cajun seasoning.  Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.  And in my case, watch other people enjoy.

Artichoke Au Gratin: Again, used enough canned artichokes to fill the dish you cooking with.  However, I would chop them before you put them in the dish. Combine the artichokes with evaporated milk (one 5 oz can for every can of artichokes you use), parmesan cheese to your liking and cover with crushed croutons, of which I usually choose garlic croutons. You can add some more parmesan here as well. Cook for 15 minutes at 50 degrees or until it bubbles up.

Dauphinoise Potatoes:  Slice some potatoes about 1/8 inch round.  Briefly boil them, about 10 minutes.  Drain the water and add some heavy cream or evaporated milk (about 5 oz for 2 people so multiply from there. Bring this to a boil and cook for 5 more minutes. Add parmesan to taste.  Transfer to baking dish and top with plenty of parmesan.  Cook for 15 minutes or until the parmesan browns somewhat.  These are just easy sides that don’t that much time and have ingredients that are usually on hand.

These are just easy sides that don’t that much time and have ingredients that are usually on hand. However, using real parmesan will improve the quality of the last two dishes.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Nola Nerd Couple!

Cooking: Still In Love With The Big Green Egg

I tend to get bored easy and move on from most obsessions.  I went through a tea phase where I became obsessed then quickly drop it. Mrs. Nola Nerd Couple was afraid that I was going to do that with a smoker so she was hesitant to get me the Big Green Egg..

I’m glad to say I’ve proved her wrong.

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Cooking: Home Chef After a Few Months

A few months back, I wrote about our experiences with Home Chef, a weekly meal delivery service. It’s time for a fuller review.

One of the things that I think make anyone a better cook is technique.  If someone gives both Eric Ripert and myself the same ingredients and kitchen, his food will always be superior because his technique would be superior.  Home Chef does a good job with its picture recipes.   Thankfully, there are also videos on their website, if you search for them, on how to do things.

We have had a few incidents with packaging.  Sometimes stuff is not completely tightened causing leaks.  One week we got our meal delivered on Thursday. One Saturday, I went to cook steak sandwiches that had cheese.  The cheese was moldy, so we took a picture and sent it to them.  Even though the response was “I’m sorry to hear that the cheese you received arrived less than fresh in your delivery this week” which seemed like odd wording, they did issue us a $10 dollar refund.  There customer service did respond within 72 hours.  I would have liked that to be a little quicker, but it’s not horrible.

My biggest issue with Home Chef is also the thing I like the most about it. What drew us to Home Chef was that each ingredient was pre-portioned.  This is brilliant because I don’t need a huge bottle of truffle oil or a whole pack of hamburger buns. However, a lot of the packaging comes in small plastic containers, some much larger than what is inside causing more waste then is necessary.  Yet, it is way more cost effective for me to order this than to waste both packaging and food.

One website we read before we ordered said that each recipe card had wine and beer suggestions.  I didn’t go through all of them, but I looked at two just now and didn’t see that at all.

So, is home chef worth it?  Yes, but it might also allow  you to ween your self from it. The recipes are mostly easy to follow.  If they don’t have special ingredients that are waste of money to buy from stores in large amounts, then they can easily be recreated in your kitchen.  For instance, I made an artichoke au gratin this weekend to go with some ribs I smoked on the Big Green Egg.  In fact, when it comes to most sides, I’ve recreated quite a few of them because it was just as cost effective to do it at home. Again, when it comes to recipes that require bread, demi-glace, specialty oils, it makes sense to do Home Chef. Those items in any quantity more than what can be used in one meal is normally thrown away.  Being a family of two, I’m not sure we have ever finished a loaf of bread or pack of hamburger buns before they would go bad.  And the aforementioned Big Green Egg compels me to buy meats to smoke when cheap filling up my freezer so that isn’t an option either.

Some of our favorite meals so far:

  • Nashville Hot Fried Chicken:  spicy buttermilk chicken…simple but fantastic.
  • Brown Sugar and Pecan Crusted Pork Tenderloin Medallions: Mrs. Nola Nerd Couple made this recipe while I was on a business trip.  Since she rarely cooks (her chicken cacciatore proves she can cook), this was a good test of how easy it was to follow a Home Chef recipe.  It was delicious.
  •  Huli Huli Chicken Thighs:  great sauce put this meal over the top.
  • Coffee Rubbed Steak and Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes:  I never actually tried coffee rubbed steaks before, preferring just salt and pepper.  I will be having them again.
  • Fettuccine Alfredo: pine nuts and crushed croutons gave his pasta dish some much welcomed crunch
  • BBQ Chicken with Fried Pickles:  I don’t like fried pickles, but Mrs. Nola Nerd Couple does.  However, cooking them was easier than I expected.
  • Double-Double Crispy Ranch Chicken Sandwich:  ranch is a flavor that I never really warm up to until I tried it as a seasoning on chicken.  It’s excellent. \
  • Bone-In Pork Chop with Honey Mustard Cream:  Actually all pork chop with a sauce recipes have been stellar.  Pork chops can be dry and boring, but having the sauce elevates it.
  • Fig-Glazed Pork Tenderloin:  Pork tenderloins are going to be a huge part of cooking from now on.

We have had a few smoothies and they have all been delicious.  We haven’t tried the breakfasts yet, but there is a buttery chicken and waffles coming up soon so we might order that one.

Home Chef has made our lives easier and healthier.  We eat out less often because we do have something to cook.  The meals are pre-portioned so we have also lost about 10 lbs just from this change to our diet.  We might not get our whole week from Home Chef but I foresee us getting at least three meals a week from them for a long time.

Cooking: An Early Look at Home Chef

Home Chef is a food delivery service.  You pick the number of meals you want from a variety of choices each week and they are delivered to your front doorstep.  Cristina’s sister, and Nola Nerd Couple guest blogger Cara, has been doing it for awhile now and loves it.  Each meal comes out to about $9.99 per person. This really isn’t that bad. In fact, on a recent road trip, I paid the same price for a crappy hamburger, fries, and coke.  This is much better than fast food.


I consider myself a fairly competent cook. I can take a recipe and follow it. Home Chef makes this easy especially since they send a binder with recipe cards that are very easy to read and contain plenty of pictures.  Some people will find value in that, but I find the value in the food delivery service.

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The Juicy Lucy from Home Chef with some WowWee sauce.  Came out delicious!

Now, yes I can go purchase most of these things at the store and save some money. So why do it?  Because when you cook for two, quite a bit goes to waste.  The first meal we cooked was “Juicy Lucy” stuffed hamburgers.  We rarely eat hamburgers, because we would only eat one.  That means we would have six other buns in a pack.  Now some people would say freeze it.  However, we have limited freezer space especially since we got the Big Green Egg.  I’m always looking for cheap meats to slow and low. So my only other option is to eat things on buns for at least four meals before they go bad. This means they usually go bad.

Another example of why I like this menu is that we did a meal called Grains of Paradise Crusted Sirloin Steaks.  This came with a sauce which was tasty and made the steaks different from how I usually cook them.  These are the ingredients I wouldn’t normally have on hand and would not pay for me to have for regular cooking: two green onions (I would probably have to buy more), sherry, veal demi-glace. Do I need those ingredients for this dish? Not really, but it is nice to have it and to have it only the amount I will use.

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Berbere Chicken Thighs with apricot-almond couscous and green beens.

This isn’t a service for everyone.  Larger families, it would probably make more sense to do the shopping themselves.  For a family of two it is perfect. We get to try new meals without throwing away unused portions of ingredients.

If you want to try it out, please use our link right here to get a $30 credit. You could easily get one meal for under that price just to try it out.

Cooking: Big Green Egg Resources

Ok, I have only had my Big Green Egg for two and half months and this is my third post on it (here and here). I am a little obsessed.  When I’m not cooking on it, I’m thinking about cooking on it.  What is great about the Big Green Egg, and barbecue in general, is that there is no “right” way to do it.  Now, of course, there is a difference between grilling and barbecuing. Of course, the Big Green Egg is not perfect.  It is not as good as an offset pit that allows for true indirect cooking.   However, considering my lack of a backyard, it is perfect for my needs.  Adding a plate setter allows to cheat the structure of the Egg to do some indirect cooking.   That and the fact that I can control the temperature of my cooks allows me to do what every type of cook I want (barbecue, grilling, cookout, and even baking) on the same instrument.

What makes the Big Green Egg so enjoyable is the number of resources available. Here is a few of my favorites:

Big Green Egg: Plenty of good recipes and videos to help you get started.

EggHead Forum: I admit, I am a lurker on these forums.  I often look at threads for different advice.  I have noticed that for every situation there are 10 solutions and all are correct.  Barbecue is a science, but it is not an exact one.

Amazing Ribs: Not a Big Green Egg site, but a general slow and low site.  Good, solid advice that also helps explain the science behind slow and low cooks.

Big Green Craig: A guy who love to cook on his Big Green Egg and Komodo cooking in general.  He keeps up a blog with pictures that will make your mouth water.

Bouillie: One of the best, if not the best, blogs about Louisiana cooking and food.  While not a blog dedicated to the Big Green Egg, if you look to the right side you will see a tag cloud with Big Green Egg toward the top.  Click it and you will find some interesting ways to use the Big Green Egg.

Again, these are just a few resources.  I really could make this blog several pages long with all the resources available.  And no, we don’t receive anything from Big Green Egg to talk about it.  We just really love our BGE and for people like us with limited space and a small family, the Mini Max is a brilliant purchase for people who love to cook outdoors.

Cooking: Relaxing with my MiniMax Big Green Egg

For Mardi Gras week, we skipped most parades except for my hometown parade.  We took it easy and just relaxed at home.  This meant I cooked almost exclusively on the Big Green Egg.  For all my cooks I used Big Green Egg Lump charcoal. Here is a run down:

Chicken Wings for the Big Green Egg Mini Max

Chicken Wings for the Big Green Egg Mini Max

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Cooking: Slow and Low Ribs on the Big Green Egg

From the moment that I learned of the Big Green Egg, I’ve wanted one.  A ceramic cooker that can smoke, grill, and roast sounds like heaven.  However, for one reason or another, we kept putting off getting it.

Then, Cristina surprised me with a MiniMax for Christmas.

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The MiniMax Big Green Egg Box

After a few cooks of chicken breasts, I did my first slow and low cook.  My local grocer had some St. Louis ribs for a good price.  I bought some rub instead of making my own. I bought the only BBQ rub the store had that day, which wasn’t bad.  I can’t wait to try Dizzy Pig rubs as well as make my own. Around noon I split the rack in half so it could fit on the minimax.  I coated one with olive oil and applied the rub while I coated the other with mustard and did the same.  I placed the ribs back in the fridge.  Around 1:30 I lit the Big Green Egg using Big Green Egg brand Lump Charcoal.  I also added some apple wood chunks.  Once I got the grill to 250, I put the plate setter and grill on and then the ribs.  I also put on two potatoes to slow cook at the same time.  I monitored the egg until it reached 250 again.  Once it got there, I adjusted the vents so the tempature stabilized.

The big green egg held the temperature for the next 3 hours making the ribs look like this:

ribs

I then wrapped the  ribs in foil with butter, honey, rub, and apple juice.  I put them back on for another 45 minutes. Here are some pictures of the final result.

 

The final result was a little drier than I wanted them to be, but they were very tasty.  I think the last 45 minutes might have been too long or I didn’t add enough juice. I didn’t use a drip pan either.  The flavoring was fantastic, however.  If I want to be a pit master, I’ll have to make some adjustments. While I don’t ever plan on competing, I do want to take cooking on the big green egg seriously enough that my cooks can compete.  Any advice is welcomed!