Sunday, February 27, 2011

Crumb Chicken

Again with the breadcrumbs. This is a lot like Shake 'n' Bake, but a whole lot cheaper. My mom used to make crumb-coated chicken, and it was always simply good. No complicated egg-wash baths, just chicken and seasoned breadcrumbs.

1 chicken, cut-up, skin-on
1-1/2 C breadcrumbs
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp parsley flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Place dry ingredients in a shallow pan, like a pie plate. Stir until combined.

2. Moisten each piece of chicken with water. Dredge in breadcrumbs, coating all exposed surfaces. Arrange chicken in large roasting pan. Try to keep the pieces from touching.

3. Bake until thermometer reaches 160º in thickest piece. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 4-6

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mint Sauce

I was getting a bit tired of having mint jelly with my lamb chops, and decided to make a fresh mint sauce. It was astonishingly easy, so now I need more to write about to make this a worthwhile post.

First of all, isn't that the cutest saucepan you've ever seen? It holds One Cup! I assume its primary purpose is for melting butter and making sauces.

Mint is a great herb to have growing at home, if for no other reason than it is nearly impossible to kill. And I can kill anything botanical. Plants die when they see me coming, just to save time. I let my mint plant dry out and die on purpose when I went on vacation. When I got back, I cut off all the dead branches, loosened up the soil, and watered it very well. A week later, I had sprouts coming up. One of the cruelest things you could do to a gardener is to plant mint in the ground. Keep it in a pot.

The sauce has a simple-syrup base, but the vinegar gives it a strong, tangy kick. It doesn't taste as sweet as you would expect. And it's low-cal and fat free!

1/4 C water
1/4 C sugar
1/2 C finely chopped fresh mint
1/2 C vinegar (distilled, white wine, red wine... your favorite accent)

1. In a saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to a low boil until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.

2. Stir in mint leaves and vinegar. Allow to cool to room temperature. Chill until ready to serve.

Makes approximately 1 cup

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cranberry Brisket

I found a 3 lb brisket near the bottom of the freezer and had a can of cranberry sauce getting near its expiration date. I've never made a brisket, but I'm cooking off stuff anyway, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

There are as many brisket recipes out there as there are cooks. The ingredients differ, but the basic method is the same. Most recipes use onion soup mix, which is mostly dried onions and salt. I used a real onion and onion salt to achieve the same effect.

Wrapping the brisket in foil serves two purposes. Primarily, it seals in the liquids so the meat can self-baste. The bake-in-the-bag wraps you can get work just as well. The other purpose is to make cleanup easier. If you can get a good seal, you almost don't have to wash the pan.

Brisket is a tough cut of meat. The only decent way to make it edible is by slow-roasting in a moisture-rich environment. Even if you cut it into stewing chunks, you're looking at two hours minimum. And it must be sliced against the grain, or you're never going to be able to chew it. Done right, a brisket falls apart with tenderness and every bite is loaded with flavor. Leftovers will always be at least as good as the first day. Often, they're better.

*1 2-3 lb brisket
*1 can whole cranberry sauce
*1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 Tb onion salt
1 Tb whole peppercorns
*1 tsp whole coriander seeds
1/2 C red wine

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Line roasting pan with a double layer of foil. Lay brisket, fat side up, in pan.

2. In a bowl, combine cranberry sauce, onion, onion salt, peppercorns, garlic, and coriander. Add 1 cup of water and combine. Pour sauce over meat and seal with a third piece of foil. If the pan has a lid, use that as well. Place in oven and roast for 2 hours.

3. Remove brisket from oven and remove foil. Allow to cool slightly, about 20 minutes. Remove meat from pan, leaving juices behind. Slice against the grain into 1/2" cuts. Return cuts to pan and add red wine. Add a little more water if the sauce is dry. Cover; roast an additional hour at 300º. Serve hot, with sauce drizzled over the slices.

Serves 8

Difficulty rating  :)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Baba Gannouj

I already have a recipe for this in the post called "mushrooms", but it was just a quickie one that didn't give exact amounts.

Baba gannouj is a middle-eastern dip that's basically the same thing as hummus, except you use roasted eggplant instead of garbanzo beans. Recipes vary as to how much tahini to use. I like the taste of eggplant, so I go easy on it. If you want more of a nutty, sesame taste, use more.

1 1-lb eggplant
1/2 C tahini paste
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 Tb lemon juice
salt to taste
*olive oil as needed

1. Preheat oven to 400º. Poke washed eggplant in several places and place in roasting pan. Bake until it starts to implode, about 1-1/2 hours. Let rest until it's cool enough to handle, about half an hour.

2. Scoop out insides of eggplant into food processor. Pulse until the biggest pieces are broken up. Add tahini, garlic, and lemon juice and pulse until evenly distributed and desired consistency is reached. (I go for a guacamole-like texture.) It will firm up a lot in the fridge, so don't worry if it's a little runny.

3. Taste and add salt or more garlic as needed. If too thick, thin with olive oil. Chill until ready to use.

Serves 4 as a side, 8 as a party dip

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, February 18, 2011

Braided Peach Strudel

This recipe really does not belong in the healthy eating category. Even if you were to substitute sliced fresh peaches, it doesn't. This is more of a Pantry Project item, but I'm not switching chapters just to do a couple of recipes.

I got this off the Pepperidge Farm website promoting their puff pastry dough. They have some fantastic-looking recipes, and I still have one sheet of puff dough. We'll have fun another day. I made two minor adjustments. I added nutmeg for a little accent and substituted walnuts because I have at least three pounds of it to go. I wish their recipe had included the suggestion of baking this on parchment paper, or at least greasing the pan. For future reference, whenever you put an egg wash on something, line the pan. Not only does it make cleaning easier, there's less of a chance of damaging the product as you pry it off the baking sheet.

You'll notice I put this under both breakfast and dessert. I can see serving a brunch with the strudel as the pastry.

1 egg
1 Tb water
*1 lb frozen peach slices, thawed and drained
1/3 C brown sugar
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tb flour
*1/4 C walnuts, chopped
1/2 package puff pastry dough (1 sheet), thawed
2 Tb coarse sugar (granulated is OK, but doesn't look as pretty)

1. Beat together egg and water. Set aside.

2. Combine peaches, brown sugar, nutmeg, vanilla, flour, and walnuts. Set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 400º. Unfold puff pastry sheet. On lightly floured surface, roll sheet to 14" x 12". Lay peach mixture down the middle of the 14" side.

4. Cut sides into 1" strips, stopping 1/2" from peach mixture. Fold strips across peaches, alternating sides, to make a braid. Carefully transfer pastry to a large baking sheet. Brush thoroughly with egg wash. Sprinkle top with coarse sugar. Bake for 25 minutes, or until evenly browned. Cool on baking sheet for at least 20 minutes before trying to transfer to a serving platter.

Serves 6

Difficulty rating  :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Baked Butternut Squash

So, I had the seed-half of the squash left over from making the chili. That was just enough for two servings of baked butternut.

This isn't as healthy as I had hoped, because it needed butter and brown sugar. Still, it's not as fat-filled as a baked potato with sour cream, and you get more fiber. It tastes more like sweet potato.

1 lb butternut squash
white pepper
butter and brown sugar for garnish.

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Cut squash open lengthwise and scoop out seeds.

2. Place halves, cut side up, in baking dish. Sprinkle lightly with salt, white pepper, and nutmeg. Bake for 1 hour, or until fork-tender.

3. Serve with butter and brown sugar.

Serves 2

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, February 14, 2011

My New Favorite Toy Store

Part of moving to a new city is getting familiar with the area. You have to figure out what stores are where and what they carry. For example, there are no Henry's in L.A. It's all Sprouts. They carry the same inventory at the same price, so it doesn't matter.

I needed to find a new restaurant supply store, for all those odd little things you didn't realize you needed. After an extensive internet search, I decided to try the one I knew I could find.


Surfas is one of the most fun cooking supply stores I have ever been in. In addition to stocking professional items at decent prices, they carry items that make adventurous home cooks drool. There's this 2" ceramic soufflé cup perched over a tealight, like a mini fondue. It's for holding melted butter! Springform pans in every conceivable size. A display about 4' x 6' of bottles of drink syrups (Peppermint in your hot chocolate? A dash of cherry syrup for your soda?) Half an aisle of flavored oils. Opposite that, one filled with various salts and peppers. An aisle of cookie cutters and molds. Pots, pans, utensils, accessories, gourmet ingredients... even a deluxe cheese bar. They have their own café, and host events on a regular basis. And most of the customers there did not look like food service professionals, just home cooks. You don't have to pay a membership fee, like with many large restaurant supply stores.

I need to stay out of there, at least until my car is paid off. ;)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Freezer Burn

It didn't take nearly as long to sort the freezer food as I expected. Unfortunately, that was because I threw out about half of it.

Chest freezers are great if you're throwing a party and need to store large cases. They're not so good with small containers. There were several packages I labeled UFO (Unidentified Frozen Object). I'm pretty sure two are Honeybaked Ham slices. Not sure from when. There's some kind of rib rack wrapped in foil. I don't know if it's cooked, marinated, or what. If you're going to use a FoodSaver, remember to label the pouch with the product name and the date it was frozen! We get to have some surprises for dinner. :)

The oldest thing I found was dated 1996. Granted, frozen food can be kept much longer than its expiration date. I put a 5-year limit this time primarily because of the freezer burn issue.

What is freezer burn and what causes it? Usually, trying to freeze food that has not been chilled in the fridge first will bring on the condition. Water is drawn out of it and freezes into crystals. This water never reenters the product, which turns dry, hard, and dessicated. No matter how much water or sauce you try to steam into it, the food will never be itself again. Another cause is an imperfect seal on the bag, allowing air in. Air carries moisture, which brings us back to the primary cause. Then there's bags which were sealed with air in them in the first place. The last cause I can think of is food which was defrosted and refrozen. Sure, sometimes the power goes out and you don't have a choice. I recommend moving the food to the fridge and eating it within a week to avoid this cause.

Is it safe to eat? Yes. Freezer burn does not automatically mean a food is unsafe. I did throw out all the shellfish that had freezer burn, but that was being extra cautious. I tried to eat some pre-cooked sausage with only a little ice on it, then threw it out. It was just way too hard. I made up some pre-cooked pasta shells with cheese. We really tried to enjoy them. As soon as they started to cool, the pasta turned to leather.

How do I avoid freezer burn in the future? Time increases the odds of a product succumbing to freezer burn. Rotate foods. Don't buy more than you can eat in about three months. (Girl Scout cookies being the exception. An unopened box of Thin Mints will be good for several years in the freezer.) Keep your freezer clean and ice-free. Yes, defrosting is annoying, but that ice will melt whenever the freezer goes into its own defrost cycle, and potentially get into containers. Make certain your freezer is in good working condition, and it will keep a more constant temperature.

Food waste is expensive and unnecessary. All it takes is a little self-control at the market, and you can avoid having to do a yearly purge of damaged frozen food.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Kick-Ass Rolls

First of all, I apologize to anyone who is offended by the name. The Bible calls them Old-Fashioned Rolls. I call them kick-ass because they're really, really good.

These are your basic, buttery dinner rolls. I still put butter on the table, but there's a lot in them and on top. The egg also enriches the dough, but it doesn't taste eggy.

I usually cut the recipe in half, because 2 dozen is a lot of dinner rolls. The nice thing about bread products is that they freeze very well. The rolls will be exactly as fresh coming out of the freezer as they were going in. Just get all the air out of the bag and don't freeze until they have cooled completely.

1/3 C sugar
1 C milk
1/4 C butter
2 packages (5 tsp) yeast
4-5 C flour
1-1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
melted butter for brushing

1. Warm sugar, milk, and butter to 100º. Butter does not need to melt. Stir in yeast and let proof, about 5 min.

2. In mixer, combine 2 C flour and the salt. Add milk mixture and beat until a thick batter forms, 2 minutes. Beat in another cup of flour and the eggs, 2 minutes. Beat in enough flour (up to 1 C) to make a soft dough.

3. Turn out dough onto a board and knead until smooth, adding as little flour as possible. This will take 5-10 minutes. Because of the eggs, this dough will always be a little sticky. Do not add too much flour!

4. Grease a bowl with a few drops of oil. Set dough in bowl and turn over to grease all sides. Proof in warm place for 1 hour, until doubled. Punch down dough and let rest 15 minutes.

5. Divide dough in half, then each half into 12 equal pieces. Or, you can get out a food scale and make 1- or 2-ounce pieces of dough, depending on your preference. I find that easier. Roll each piece into a ball and place on greased cookie sheets. Let rise 30 minutes.

6. Preheat oven to 375º. Brush rolls with melted butter and bake for 10 minutes, or until golden. Remove to wire rack to cool.

makes 2 dozen

Difficulty rating  :)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash

This recipe from the February issue of Bon Appetit caught my eye for several reasons. I like both black beans and butternut squash, which was the biggie. It also uses bulgur, of which I have quite a bit left from the tabouli, and chili powder, coriander, and oregano. Have you seen the photo of the spice cabinet??!

My problem with chili is my capsaicin allergy. I have to be careful not to eat anything labeled "3-alarm" and above. The stuff out of a can is mild, but all the flavor comes from salt. To increase the spice a bit, I didn't put in all of the onion at the beginning. I hoped that adding it closer to the end would leave a little bite in it by serving time.

A word about butternut squash. Really, peeled butternut? It's easy to scoop out baked or boiled squash, but peeling a raw one? I ended up slicing it into 1/2" rounds, then cutting the rind off each round before cutting into cubes. Kind of like peeling a melon. If anyone knows a faster, easier way to do it, please share!

If you decide to substitute canned black beans for dry, try to rinse off the salt. Cook the onions and garlic, then add all ingredients at once, instead of waiting two hours to add the squash and bulgur. And only add one cup of water. I don't recommend this, because you lose the slow-cooked flavor. Chili is not a fast dish.

This is very close to a half recipe of the one in the magazine, minus anything spicy. I put in as much chili powder as I thought I could handle. You may want to use more. For garnish, I used fat-free Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. Technically, we're still in healthy mode. The chili is vegan without the yogurt, vegetarian with, low fat, and high in fiber. For carnivores, half a pound of ground turkey would taste great in it.

1 Tb olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tb chili powder
1-1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 14.5 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 C dried black beans, rinsed
1 tsp dried oregano
1 lb butternut squash, peeled, 1/2" cubes (almost 2 cups)
1/2 C fine to medium bulgur
Garnishes of choice: sour cream, plain yogurt, cilantro, onion, shredded cheese, etc.

1. Heat oil in heavy, large pot over medium-high heat. Add half of the onion and cook until soft and beginning to brown, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Sprinkle chili powder and coriander over, stir 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes with juice, beans, and oregano. Add 4 C water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover with lid slightly ajar, and simmer until beans are tender, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours.

2. Stir in squash, remaining onion, and bulgur. Simmer over medium-low heat until squash is tender and bulgur has absorbed most of the excess water, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot with garnishes of choice.

Serves 6

Difficulty rating :-0

Saturday, February 5, 2011

100th Post

I've been cooking a lot, haven't I?

Actually, one of the more frustrating parts of moving has been eating out for three days straight. When Papa Smurf offered to make spaghetti and meatballs, I rushed back from cleaning the apartment, just to eat something that didn't come from a drive-thru. I plan to start cooking again this afternoon. There will be decent recipe posts soon.

A big thank you to everyone who has stuck with me through some of my more unusual recipe posts. There will be more. ;)

And thank you to my unofficial followers. You know who you are. Someone keeps making the apple coffee cake. I'm curious how yours turns out, or if you've made any changes to the recipe that work better. I hope my international visitors aren't finding my non-metric measurements hard to follow. I'd love to hear from some of you in comments, or even as official followers.

Eventually, I'm going to figure out how to do a poll. Then you can vote for the kinds of recipes you want to see.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Papa Smurf's Special Sauce

This is what we used as a dipping sauce for meat whenever we had fondue. Somewhere between thousand island and shrimp cocktail sauce, it was mild enough not to overpower the meat.

I found the original recipe, which only makes about three tablespoons. For a dipping sauce, that does serve about four. The phrasing, however, is hysterical:

Mayonnaise - 2 TBS
Catsup - to color
Horseradish - 1/4 glop
Soy Sauce - a few drops

Let's see if I can be a little more precise, and get closer to a quarter cup. That assumes 1 tablespoon per person:

2 Tb mayonnaise
1 Tb ketchup
2 tsp horseradish
1/8 tsp soy sauce

1. Stir together ingredients until combined. Serve chilled as a sauce for beef or lamb

Difficulty rating  π