Thursday, September 25, 2008

Salmon Fish Cakes

I got this wonderfully comforting recipe from Nigella Bites, and it is a delicious way to use up leftover mashed potatoes. She suggests using canned salmon instead of fresh, so I bought a can of the stuff for the first time tonight.

Man, it was a great deal! 14.5 ounces of wild salmon for $1.50. I'm not suggesting that it's an adequate substitute for a freshly grilled salmon filet, but if you need some cheap protein and a quick hit of omega-3 fatty acids I don't know if it can be beat for the price.

Nigella uses matzo meal in place of bread crumbs to fry these fish cakes, but I used panko instead since I had it in my cabinet.

For the fish cakes:
1.5 to 2 cups cold mashed potatoes
14.5 ounces canned salmon, drained
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled (optional--only use if the mashed potato hasn't got any butter in it)
1 pinch cayenne pepper
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 egg
Salt and pepper (season cautiously--remember that the canned salmon will be salty and the potatoes have already been seasoned!)

For coating and frying:
2 eggs
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs or medium grain matzo meal
scant 1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a large bowl, mix together all of the fish cake ingredients with clean hands.

Cover a baking sheet with plastic wrap. Form palm sized patties of the mixture, and place on the baking sheet. I got 7 cakes out of my mixture, but I think it will vary on how much potato you have. Set the baking sheet in the refrigerator and leave the cakes to firm up for however long you can wait--at least 20 minutes. To save time in the evening, you can mix up the patties first thing in the morning and leave them to sit in the fridge all day until dinner time.

Even with this time in the fridge, you will have to handle the fish cakes very delicately during the dipping and frying process. I had one fall apart on me!

Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl and spread out the breadcrumbs on a plate. Dip each fish cake into the egg and then into the breadcrumbs, coating evenly. Warm the butter and oil in a large pan over medium high heat. When the butter is melted and starts to fizzle, fry the fish cakes on each side until golden brown and the centers are warmed through.

Rating: This is awesome

Leftovers rule! Even though the fish cake mixture smelled like cat food before I cooked it, it tasted fantastic once it was done: crunchy exterior, mild and soft interior. It wasn't overly fishy or potato-y; everything melded together nicely.

My Omnivore’s Hundred

Yes, I know that I'm very late to the party on this. No, I don't expect this to be of interest to anyone but me.

For the uninitiated, the rules are:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (I did a wine tasting at Florida Orange Groves and Winery in St. Petersburg during my senior year spring break. I forget what all I tried, but it was tasty!)
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries (We had a blackberry bush behind my house in Maryland when I was growing up.)
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (I think the heat would make me insane in the membrane. I am such a wimp with spicy food.)
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (I don't see this happening. Not for any particular reason; I just don't see it happening)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal (Again, the spiciness and I don't mix)
44. Goat's milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu (No food is worth dying for, especially since I've read that fugu doesn't even taste very good)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal (Not out of snobbiness; I just hate their special sauce!)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini (I'd rather have a dry vodka martini, thank you very much)
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S'mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (Maybe if I were starving?)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs' legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict (I hate hollandaise sauce)
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant (I wish. I did eat lunch at one though.)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

49 out of 100. Ohhh, I've got a lot of livin' to do...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Chicken Quesadilla

Me and quesadillas, we go way back. I'm not sure when I started making them for after-school snacks, but it was pretty early on. Back then, I would slap salsa and cheese together in a tortilla and microwave it without further adornment. I was just interested in the melted cheese! Then I decided that I wanted the outside of the tortillas to be crispy, so I started browning them under the broiler. This led to many burned quesadillas, but I still loved them. It wasn't until I saw one of my roommates in DC making hers by letting them sit in a dry frying pan over medium-high heat until lightly browned on each side that I realized her method was the way to go. What can I say, I'm slow sometimes!

They are also my favorite thing to order in bars or other low-to-mid priced restaurants. The woman who worked the grill at the deli across the street from my last job did a damn tasty quesadilla; it was pretty much the only thing I would get when I had lunch out. The best quesadillas I have ever had were from an unlikely source: the student cafe at Sweet Briar College in Virginia. I worked on a campaign out there for a short time in 2002, and our office was about a mile away from SBC. I ate lunch at the Bistro as much as possible. Greatest 5 weeks of my life? Possibly. I wish I knew what their secret was.

I won't insult your intelligence with a recipe for quesadillas! These were pretty basic: just salsa, co-jack cheese, and shredded leftover roast chicken. Sometimes I'll saute some onion slices, pepper strips, and chopped garlic to include in the filling. Adding fresh cilantro is always a good idea.

Rating: This is awesome

Frugal Thoughts

Frugality is on everyone's minds these days. With our crazy economic situation and the government's current band-aid-on-a-gaping-wound response to it, it seems like we'll all be standing in the bread line sooner or later! Am I the only one who is totally ready for the new TV season and end-of-the-year glut of movie releases? I need some good escapism right about now.

I've been re-evaluating my lifestyle quite a bit over the past several months to try to cut corners. The most-repeated frugality tip out there is to cook your own food; eating out tends to be the biggest portion of the average person's discretionary spending. I consider myself pretty lucky that I know how to cook AND I enjoy doing it. Since I already know the basics, I've been thinking of ways to challenge myself to cut the grocery bill even further.

I set a goal for this week: make a Sunday Night Dinner and use up the leftovers in other dinners before next Sunday. I bought a 6 pound chicken to roast, since chickens were on sale, and made it with mashed potatoes and roasted broccoli. I even made gravy from the pan drippings, which I hardly ever bother to do! After dinner I discarded the chicken skin (it does NOT reheat well) , pulled the uneaten chicken into strips for later use, and boxed up the rest of the stuff in separate containers.

My plan for tonight is to make chicken quesdillas. That will use up the chicken. If there's anything left after tonight, it should be easy enough to throw it into a stir-fry or curry or something later in the week. Tomorrow night I'm going to make salmon fishcakes with the mashed potatoes, using budget-friendly canned salmon. I'll probably serve the leftover broccoli as a side with this. So that just leaves the gravy. I have no clue what to do with it! Any ideas? I could always just freeze it and use it the next time I roast a chicken, but that seems like less fun than coming up with a way to recycle it now!

Since we're on the topic, here are a few of my favorite frugal links:

That last one scares me a bit, but it's nice to know that it can be done, right?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Nom Nom Nom

I spent the past week at Ocean Isle Beach in North Carolina with my extended family. We rented a beach house and packed in 18 people. Oldest age: 79. Youngest age: 3. It was good times!
I know this blog is supposed to be about dinners, but I really want to share this picture that Wei snapped of my lunch the day we ate at the Giggling Mackerel:

A succulent yet crispy, utterly delicious soft shell crab sandwich. Perfection on a bun. I removed the pickle and onion, but I ate pretty much everything else on the plate. Ahhhhh, vacation.

In other news, someone came to my blog today by googling: Mike wants to make meatloaf. His recipe uses a total of 5 pounds of meat. If he uses a 3 to 1 ratio of beef to pork, how much pork will he use? I was the first result; I have no idea why.

Leave the answer in the comments and I will send you a super special prize! Math isn't my strong suit, and my brain doesn't want to work out the answer right now. I am more interested in the finding out who this Mike guy is and discovering why he is making a FIVE POUND meatloaf. Also, does Mike accept dinner guests?

Stay in school, kids.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Stir-fried Pork with Green Onions and Noodles

Last weekend, Wei and I drove up to the Baltimore/DC area for his brother's wedding. We had an excellent time celebrating and hanging out with his family! While we were over at his parents' house one day, my mother-in-law gave me a copy of Chinese Cuisine by Huang Su-Huei.

If you're interested in learning authentic Chinese cooking from a beginner's standpoint, this book is a great resource. It has a lengthy "how-to" section with tons of pictures depicting different cooking techniques and ingredients. Most of the recipes don't seem terribly difficult, and each page has a large picture of the finished dish to point you in the right direction. The author also notes in which region the dish is found. I'm really looking forward to cooking my way through it!

Last night I chose to make this simple stir fry from Beijing. Since I didn't feel like making rice, I boiled up some spaghetti noodles and tossed them into the wok at the end. You could leave the noodles out and serve this over rice instead.

1 pork tenderloin, trimmed of excess fat and silverskin
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 really fat green onions, or 6 normal sized green onions, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Soy sauce
Rice wine or sherry
Corn or peanut oil
6 to 8 ounces spaghetti noodles, cooked
Ginger oil (or other flavored oil), optional
Sesame oil, optional
White pepper, optional

Cut the pork into 2/3-inch slices. Cover the meat slices with a piece of plastic wrap and bash them around a bit with a meat mallet to tenderize. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the garlic, cornstarch, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, and 1/2 tablespoon each of rice wine or sherry, water, and sugar. Toss the pork slices in the soy sauce mixture and stir to coat the meat well.

Heat up a few tablespoons of oil in a wok over high heat. Add the pork and stir-fry until both sides are golden brown. Move the meat to one side of the wok and toss the green onions into the middle; stir fry until the onions are fragrant. Add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1/2 tablespoon of sugar to the contents of the wok. Stir in the noodles and keep stirring until everything is mixed together. Finish off with a couple of dashes each of ginger oil, sesame oil, and white pepper. Remove and serve.

Rating: This is awesome

Though very simple, this dish was a satisfying dinner. I loved how it came together so quickly, and having all of my different bottles on the counter next to the wok made me feel like a witch concocting a potion!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Turkey-Zucchini Burgers

These burgers are based on this recipe that I found on RealSimple.Com. I was pretty skeptical about using grated zucchini in burgers; how could that be good? I was afraid they would turn out like Eddie Murphy's momma's welfare green pepper burgers. However, I decided to go for it, since the recipe had good reviews and I had a zucchini that needed to be eaten. Also, I was strangely attracted to the idea of having all of my meal elements--meat, vegetable, and carb--in one hand-held package.

The burgers turned out to be very tasty--juicy, light, and earthy. Definitely better than the McDonnnnalds!

1 pound ground turkey (I used an 85/15 mix)
1 medium zucchini, grated
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 green onions, minced
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 and 1/2 teaspoons grill seasoning
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Wrap the grated zucchini in the middle of a clean dish towel, and wring out the excess water over the sink.

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix lightly but thoroughly with clean hands. Form the mixture into 4 equal patties. You can cook these in a large skillet, grill pan, or over an outdoor grill; being an apartment dweller, I chose the grill pan. I spritzed it with a little nonstick cooking spray and let it warm up for a couple of minutes over high heat. When the pan was sizzling hot, I placed the burgers on the pan's ridges and cooked them for about 6 minutes per side. If you're crazy like me, you can cut one open to make sure they are no longer pink and fully cooked through before eating.

Toast a bun (whole wheat is my preference) and serve the burger clamped inside with whatever burger toppings you choose. I have condiment phobia, so I ate mine plain ; it was very good regardless!

Rating: This is awesome

I found that Pringles Select Honey Chipotle Sweet Potato Chips were the perfect accompaniment to this simple summertime dinner.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Slow Cooker Pork Spare Ribs

Or, another in a series of cooking cheap meat that was on sale at Publix!

Having never made spare ribs at home before, I needed some guidance. I found this recipe on Allrecipes.Com. I was a little wary of using canned soup in the slow cooker; it reminded me of something a certain semi-ho would do. However, I decided to go for it because (a) it wasn't cream of crap soup, (b) the recipe had a lot of good reviews., and (c) I had everything else I needed in my pantry. I tweaked it a little bit, but not much.

I was worried that the sauce would be too greasy. To remedy this, I decided to cook the ribs overnight and chill them in the fridge during the day. I scooped off all of the day-glo orange hardened grease that was floating on top of the sauce when I got home from work tonight and re-heated everything in the slow-cooker for an hour while I went for a run. It worked very well! The sauce was savory and sweet, not fatty.

1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed tomato soup
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Tabasco sauce (as much or as little as you want, or none at all)
1 teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds pork spare ribs

Bring copious amounts of water to boil in a pot large enough to hold the ribs. Drop the ribs in and let them cook for 15 minutes. Mix together the rest of the ingredients in a bowl, and remove the ribs from the water. Lay the ribs in the slow cooker and pour the sauce over top. Flip the ribs over a couple of times to coat them with the sauce. Cook on low for 6-7 hours or overnight.

Take the ceramic insert out of the slow cooker and place it in the refrigerator for several hours. When it's totally chilled, use a spoon to scoop off the hardened grease puddles floating on top of the sauce. Place the ceramic insert back in the slow cooker and heat on low for an hour. Shred the meat off the bones and serve with rice, plenty of sauce and, if you feel like it, a little chopped cilantro on top.

Rating: This is awesome

It took some planning and time but hardly any effort. Just the kind of trade-off I like :-)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Aussie Meat Pies, Made Quick

This afternoon found me scanning the Publix weekly ads online, trying to think of stuff to make for the week. Ground chuck was on sale, so I decided to pick some up, even though I usually shy away from fatty ground beef. I found this recipe for faux Aussie Meat Pies after a quick flip through Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats and decided it was worth a try for two reasons: (a) I could cook the beef and drain off the fat before commencing with the rest of the recipe, and (b) it uses luscious, delicious puff pastry for the pie component.

Since I've never been to Australia, I have no idea if this bears much similarity to a real Australian meat pie; considering that it is courtesy of Rachael Ray, probably not :-) There actually is a place called Australian Bakery Cafe in East Atlanta that specializes in meat pies. I need to check it out sometime!

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 and 1/3 pounds ground chuck
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 cup beef broth
1 tablespoon grill seasoning
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, or whatever your package of puff pastry calls for.

Lay out the sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured cutting board. Cut it into 6 roughly equal sized rectangles and arrange on a cookie sheet. Season the pastry pieces with a little salt and pepper, and bake according to package directions or until golden brown all over, about 12 minutes. Cool on a cookie rack for 5 minutes.

Warm up a deep-sided pan over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add the beef and break it up well as it browns. When the beef is no longer pink, drain it in a colander suspended over a bowl to catch the grease. You can dispose of the grease in your trash can when it has cooled down a little. Place the drained beef back in the pan and add the onion and garlic. Saute over medium-high heat until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and let cook for a couple of minutes. In a small bowl, combine the Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, and brown sugar, then whisk in the beef broth. Pour the broth mixture into the pan and stir to incorporate. Sprinkle the grill seasoning over the beef and turn down the heat to low. Let the contents of the pan simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

To serve, gently pull apart one of the puff pastry pieces in half, like a hamburger bun. Place the bottom piece of the pastry in a shallow bowl. Spoon over roughly 1/6th of the meat mixture and crown with the bronzed, puffy peaked top piece of the pastry. Dig in!

Rating: This is awesome

This was a true 30 Minute Meal (I usually find that RR's concoctions may take 30 minutes in theory, but not practice), and it was very satisfying. She wrote that it tastes like "a ritzy version of a sloppy joe." I can't put it any better than that!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Moroccan Chicken Stew

This recipe is both an "-ish" and a MacGuyver. I don't claim that it's actually Moroccan; I simply rummaged through the spice cabinet and added anything that seemed vaguely north African. I don't know how authentic the other ingredients are either. I was just using up some random stuff I had laying around. That being said, it turned into a very tasty and fast meal!

The pictures that I took of the finished product came out horribly, so I won't post any.

1 medium onion, finely sliced into half moons
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium potato, unpeeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons raisins
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Warm up the olive oil in a deep sided pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions to the pan and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle in the coriander, cumin, turmeric, and a few healthy shakes of salt and pepper and stir to coat the onions with the spices. Toss in the potatoes, garlic, and raisins. Pour the chicken broth over everything and crank the heat to bring it up to a boil. Add the cardamom pods and bay leaf then cover the pan with a lid. Bring the heat down to low and let simmer for ten minutes.

Season the chicken breast chunks well with salt and pepper. After the pan has simmered for ten minutes, add the chicken and stir. Place the lid back on the pan and let it simmer for another ten minutes. When the time is up, taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Fish out the cardamom pods and bay leaf. Dissolve the cornstarch in an equal amount of water to make a slurry. Pour into the pan to thicken the sauce and let it bubble away for another minute.

Serve the stew over freshly made couscous or white rice.

Rating: This is awesome

I never post without pictures, but I still wanted to write up this one so I wouldn't forget it. It was that good!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Char Siu Fried Rice

When Wei and I first started dating, he made me fried rice. Hah, those were the days when he cooked for me. The fried rice was great, but I asked him where was the roast pork. "You know, the little red pieces of pork that Chinese restaurants put in fried rice." "Oh," he said. "You buy that at the Asian grocery store."


Well now, years later, I've found a way to make a pretty close approximation of char siu at home. The recipe comes from the Low-Fat chapter of How to Eat; it uses lean pork tenderloin instead of the traditional, but more fatty, pork shoulder. Nigella says that it "is not quite char siu, it's just char siu-ish." I agree; the flavor is almost perfect. It was a great addition to the fried rice. Speaking of, the rice can take more vegetables besides those that I've listed here; this is just my basic list. Some of my favorites are frozen peas and shiitake mushrooms, but you can really use whatever suits your tastes.

For the char siu:

One pork tenderloin, trimmed of silverskin and excess fat
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons sherry
2 tablespoons honey
2 scant tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Thai chili sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

For the fried rice:

2 eggs, beaten lightly with a little bit of salt
1 onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into thin coins
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups of cooked rice, at least a day old
Soy sauce
Chicken broth
Peanut oil
White pepper (optional)

Cut the pork tenderloin in half lengthwise. Whisk together all of the marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Place the tenderloin pieces in a large plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Squish everything around to coat the pork. Leave in the fridge for 24 hours or overnight.

To cook the pork, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Take the pork out of the marinade, reserving the marinade. Line a baking dish with tin foil and place the pork in it. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 325 degrees F. Take the pork out and brush over some of the reserved marinade. Bake for another 15 minutes, brushing more of the marinade over the pork at 5 minute intervals. Remove from the oven and let the pork cool before cutting it into bite sized pieces for the fried rice.

Warm up a tablespoon of peanut oil in a large wok over high heat. Pour in the beaten eggs and leave them to cook for about a minute--do not touch them! The idea is to make a rough omelette, not scrambled eggs. Flip the egg over to cook the wet side for another minute. When the egg is fully cooked, remove it to a plate.

Warm up another tablespoon of peanut oil over high heat and toss in the onion. Cook until soft, a few minutes. Add the carrot and garlic to the wok and stir fry until the carrot loses its bite, 4 or 5 minutes. Break up the rice into small clumps and put it into the wok. Add a couple of splashes of chicken broth and a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce. Cover contents of the wok with your largest lid and let the rice steam for a couple of minutes. Uncover and stir to combine everything. Add the chopped pork and cooked egg and stir to combine again, breaking up the egg as you do so. Taste and add a bit more soy sauce if you think it needs it. Sprinkle over some white pepper to finish.

Rating: this is awesome

I am really excited about the char siu-ish recipe! It would be great in soup or a noodle dish. I'll definitely be making it again.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Lemon and Parmesan Breaded Chicken Cutlet with Roast Potatoes and Nutmeg'd Spinach

My apologies for the wordy title! I swear I'm not putting on airs.

If I was pressed to name one, I would say that this is currently my favorite dinner. The spinach takes about 3 minutes to cook, while the chicken and potatoes involve very little heavy kitchen labor. The final creation is almost effortlessly satisfying and tasty. It's not haute cuisine, but I love it on a Monday night.

The chicken is a basic breaded chicken cutlet, jazzed up a bit with lemon zest and Parmesan cheese. The roast potatoes are how I make them when I have no fresh herbs on hand--very rushed weeknight, dahhhling. I got the preparation for the spinach from the vegetable chapter of Delia Smith's How to Cook. If you've never seen it, she lists almost every vegetable that you can buy in the grocery store and gives a couple of ideas for simple ways to prepare them. It's a great resource for the days when you don't care how, you just want to get a vegetable on the table.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half lengthwise
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
Zest of one lemon
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg

3 medium russet potatoes, unpeeled and cut in 1/2 - 3/4 inch dice
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 10-ounce bag of washed and trimmed spinach leaves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Olive oil
Salt and pepper

You should start the potatoes first, since they take the longest to cook. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Put the cut-up potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle some olive oil over them--anywhere from 1 to 2 tablespoons. Season well with salt and pepper and sprinkle the dried thyme on top, making sure to rub it between your finger tips while doing so to release its herb-i-ness. Using clean hands, toss the potatoes with the oil and seasonings, making sure all pieces are coated. Bake for 20 minutes, then take the baking sheet out. Using a sturdy spatula, toss the potatoes around so they brown evenly. Bake for another 20 minutes.

You will need two dinner plates and a pie plate (or cake pan) for coating the chicken cutlets. Place the flour on one plate and sprinkle in about 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Toss with a fork to distribute the seasonings. On the other plate, spread out the breadcrumbs. Using your finger tips, toss the lemon zest and Parmesan through the breadcrumbs. Crack open the egg in the pie plate. Add about a tablespoon of water to the egg and whisk lightly but thoroughly.

Cover the chicken breast pieces with a piece of plastic wrap and pound to a uniform thickness. (Note: the world will not end if you skip this step--it just helps the chicken to cook evenly) Take off the plastic wrap. In a large skillet, warm up 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. One at a time, dip the chicken pieces first in the flour, shaking off excess. Coat with the egg, and then press the chicken into the breadcrumbs, using your fingers to help them adhere to the egg. Lay the chicken in the skillet and let cook for about 4 or 5 minutes on the first side, 3 minutes on the other side. Times will vary based on the thickness of the chicken and the heat of your pan. The chicken is cooked when it feels unyielding to the touch. Set the chicken pieces on a paper towel-lined plate to blot off the excess oil.

For the spinach, heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a soup pot over high heat. Throw in the spinach leaves, season with salt, and cover the pot. After one minute, uncover the pot and stir the spinach around, getting the unwilted pieces on top to the bottom. Cover and let cook for another minute. When all of the spinach is totally wilted, remove it to a colander. Press down on the spinach with a wooden spoon to drain the excess water out of it. Put the spinach back in the pot and season with a little more salt, some pepper, and the nutmeg. Stir to distribute the seasonings and let the spinach sit in the warm pot for a minute or so.

Plate and serve! It's nice with a bit of fresh lemon juice squeezed on the chicken and spinach, but it's not mandatory.

Rating: This is awesome

You know how I feel--this is an excellent basic, hunger-killing dinner.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Rosemary Roast Chicken and Potatoes

I love having roast chicken with potatoes for a weeknight dinner that feels like a feast. As long as you're not too ravenous to wait out the cooking time, it's very easy to put together and low stress. You can't help feeling like royalty when you have a bronzed bird like this to carve up:
I decided to flavor this one with some of the leftover rosemary I had from Monday night's cacciatore. I always make a baking sheet full of potatoes when I roast a chicken, too. I didn't bother with a "real" vegetable this time, but sometimes I'll olive-oil-and-salt a panful of cut up broccoli and stick it in the oven to cook while the chicken is having its post-roast rest. It only needs 10 to 15 minutes.

1 whole chicken, giblets removed, weighing around 4 pounds (preferably at room temperature, but this isn't always possible on a week night)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (I place it on my counter before I leave for work in the morning to soften it)
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped and divided
1 teaspoon celery salt
2 whole sprigs of fresh rosemary
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1.5 - 2 pounds russet potatoes, unpeeled, cut into roughly 1/2" dice

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees F and place your chicken breast-side up in a roasting pan. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. In a small bowl, mix together the butter, 1 tablespoon of rosemary, the celery salt, and a drop of olive oil. Carefully massage the butter mixture under the skin of the bird's breasts and thigh joints. You can see in the picture above where the butter ended up on my chicken--it's the darker brown patches of skin.

Drizzle a small amount of olive oil oven the chicken to help the skin crisp in the oven. Season the entire bird liberally with salt and pepper. Place the whole sprigs of rosemary in the chicken's cavity. Roast for 70 minutes, or 15 minutes per pound, plus 10 minutes overall. This is Nigella's method from How to Eat, and it hasn't failed me yet!

Once the chicken is in the oven, commense with chopping the potatoes. Spread them out in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet (aka, cookie sheet), and drizzle with a few glugs of olive oil. Sprinkle over the rest of the chopped rosemary and a couple of teaspoons of salt. With clean hands toss the potatoes to evenly coat with the oil and seasonings. Place the pan of potatoes in the oven when the chicken has about 50 minutes left. About halfway through their cooking time, toss the potatoes with a sturdy plastic spatula to ensure that you don't end up with any burned pieces.

When the cooking time is finished, remove the chicken from the oven. Check for doneness with a meat thermometer, or pierce one of the thighs with a knife tip to make sure the juices run clear. Remove the rosemary sprigs and leave the bird to sit for about 15 minutes. While annoying, this step is necessary for the meat to re-absorb its juices before you cut into it. Take out the potatoes and place in a covered bowl to keep warm while the chicken rests.

I'm not a very good carver; when it's just Wei and I eating, I will cut the chicken into quarters only, since he'll eat the dark meat and I'll eat the white. This is my method: place the chicken on a large cutting board. Bring your knife down cleanly through the thigh joint, releasing the leg quarter. For the white meat, slide your knife vertically along the breast bone. Cut the breast meat into 5 or 6 widthwise "chunks" once it's off of the carcass. Eating the crunchy, salty skin from the breast is a must for me, so I try to keep it attached while I'm carving. Pile up your plate with the meat of your choice and some of the potatoes. For a cook's treat, don't forget to flip the bird over and pluck out the chicken oysters from the back for yourself!

Rating: This is awesome

I like to pull any leftover meat off the carcass into strips and stash it in the fridge to use for some other delicious preparation later in the week. I'm partial to chicken quesadillas, but the possibilities are endless. I also break up the chicken bones and leave them in the freezer to make stock once I have 3 carcasses saved up.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Pollo alla Cacciatora

Nigella Lawson came into my life when I needed her very much. I was studying abroad in London in the Fall of 2000, but living in a town in the northern suburbs called Harrow. The majority of the kids from my school in my program were living in flats in the city--I had been duped into volunteering for a new home-stay arrangement that the study abroad office at my college wanted to try out. At the time I agreed to it, I thought that I would be living in the city also, so I was very disappointed that summer when I got a letter from the home-stay agency and realized that it was not to be. I pushed myself to be social and go out every night possible, but the truth was that most weeknights I ended up back home before the tube stopped running. Luckily, the family with whom I stayed was really cool, and I had a room all to myself with my very own TV. I spent many an evening curled up on my cozy bed, studying, drinking tea, and exploring British television.

Nigella Bites had just started that autumn, and she was getting a lot of press attention. My house mother had a copy of How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Foodsitting on the huge sideboard in the kitchen. The first time I caught her show on Channel 4, it was like taking a pleasant, mild sedative. I was stressed out with work, school, friend drama, and missing my boyfriend back in the States. I loved my temporary home, but I felt little peace there. It was wonderful to watch Nigella moving around on the TV screen, bringing elegance and order to her kitchen and family. I was soothed, knowing that in at least one corner of London, someone was leading a calm, beautiful life, or so it seemed!

Suffice it to say, I was very excited when Food Network started carrying her shows in 2006. I love her books, but watching her is the true Nigella experience. I think that her new series, Nigella Express, has been good, but not great. Her persona and presenting style are a little over the top now! I'm sure it's a purely marketing-related decision, but I miss the more subdued and witty Nigella of the Bites days. In the episode I caught this weekend she made an "express" version of chicken cacciatore that looked very tasty. Having most of the ingredients on hand, I decided to give it a shot tonight. I deviated from her notes a little bit, so here's my version!

1 tablespoon olive oil
5 strips of bacon, cut or snipped with kitchen shears into bite-size pieces
6 green onions, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat and cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 cup chicken stock or broth
1-14 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper

Put the oil in a dutch oven or soup pot and warm over high heat. Put the bacon, green onions, garlic, and rosemary into the pot and fry for a couple of minutes. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and add to the pot, stirring well. Sprinkle in the celery salt. Cook for a few minutes until the chicken starts to brown a little.

Pour in the chicken stock and bring up to a bubble. Stir in the tomatoes, bay leaves, and sugar. Put the lid on the pot and let the contents simmer for 20 minutes. When the time is up, taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Remove the bay leaves and serve over rice.

Rating: This is awesome

It was a quick, comforting dish, just the thing for a chilly Monday night!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Szechuan-Style Pork & Bell Pepper

I got this recipe from a book that I found in the bargain section of the bookstore a couple of weeks ago, Perfect Chinese. It turned out really well; the rice vinegar gave the sauce a tangy note that complimented the spice of the crushed red pepper flakes. I loved that it had 4 different kinds of vegetables in it! It makes me feel better about the ice cream I'm going to have for dessert in a little bit ;-)

1 pork tenderloin, trimmed of excess fat and silverskin
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons soy sauce, plus 1 tablespoon for marinade
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chicken broth
Peanut oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
1 zucchini, cut into long matchsticks
1 carrot, peeled and cut into long matchsticks
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (use more if you want it spicier!)
White pepper

Slice the tenderlion against the grain into roughly 1/4-inch thick slices. Cut each slice into 2 or 3 strips. Place the pork in a bowl and pour in 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and sprinkle over the crushed red pepper flakes. Stir to coat and let the meat marinade while you chop the vegetables.

Combine the rest of the soy sauce, cornstarch, rice vinegar, chicken broth, and garlic in a small bowl. Whisk to dissolve the cornstarch, then set aside. Warm up one tablespoon of oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. When the oil is smoking, add the pork and marinade mixture and stir-fry until the pork is no longer pink, 3 or 4 minutes. Remove the pork to a plate with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Warm up another tablespoon of oil in the wok or skillet over high heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook until they soften, 3 or 4 minutes. Throw in the zucchini and carrot and continue to stir-fy until the carrot loses its bite, about another 4 minutes. Add the pork and any accumulated juices back to the pan and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Bring it up to a boil and let it bubble and thicken for a minute. Give everything a final sprinkle of white pepper. Serve over freshly made rice.

Rating: This is awesome

It was very easy to make: a lot of chopping, but I'm coming to love my spacing-out-while-chopping time every evening. It was a very tasty result for not a lot of work!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Soy Braised Chicken Thighs

In an effort to cut down our grocery bill, I bought a big package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, rather than our usual, more expensive, big package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Like most female, white Americans of a certain age, I have an unfounded fear of dark poultry meat. I'm not sure why, but the gobs of fat and reddish, fibrous meat on thighs are spooky to me. I've read enough to know that all chefs prefer the flavor of dark meat to the non-flavor of white meat, and I have to agree with them there. I still don't love prepping thighs (breast portions are so much easier), but I'm determined to get more comfortable with them and make dark meat the rule, with white meat becoming the occasional exception.

One way to learn to love the dark (meat) is to cook it in ways with which white meat simply would not work. Braising is one such technique; the lengthy cooking in liquid would turn white meat dessicated and rubbery. Dark meat stays flavorful and moist, and its natural juiciness turns the braising liquid into a tasty, savory sauce at the end. After much googling last night, I came across this recipe for an Asian-inspired chicken braise. The flavor of the salty-sour cooking liquid is enhanced by whole star anise, a cinnamon stick, and strips of orange peel.

The star anise and cinnamon are best bought at your local Asian grocery store. Such "exotic" ingredients are marked up at chain groceries, while at an Asian store, you can buy big bags of the stuff for under $2 each.

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup chicken broth or stock
1- 1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
Peanut oil
3 green onions, white and green parts separated, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon of minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
5 short strips of orange peel, removed with a vegetable peeler
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, vinegar, fish sauce, honey, and chicken broth. Set aside for later.

In a dutch oven, warm up a tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. When the oil is hot, add the chicken to the pot in an even layer to brown. You will probably have to do this in 2 batches, unless you have a very big pot! Let the chicken cook for about 5 minutes on each side, until golden and seared. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

Pour off all but about one tablespoon of fat from the pot. Return it to medium heat, and throw in the white part of the green onions, garlic, ginger, and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir around for about half a minute, until you can smell the garlic and ginger. Pour in the reserved soy mixture. Top off with more chicken broth and soy sauce if needed to reach a depth of about 1/4 inch of liquid. Stir to combine, and add the orange peel, cinnamon, and star anise.

Add the chicken thighs back to the pot, adding any accumulated juices from the plate. Cover with a lid and place in the lower third of the oven. After 15 minutes, turn the chicken pieces over with tongs and top off with more chicken broth if needed to maintain the 1/4 inch of liquid. Replace the lid and let cook in the oven for another 15 minutes, or until fork tender.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a serving platter and cover with tin foil to keep warm. Remove the orange peel, cinnamon, and star anise from the pot, place over a medium high heat, and bring the liquid up to a simmer. Skim off any surface fat if desired. Stir in the green part of the green onions.

Make a slurry out of the cornstarch and a tablespoon of either chicken broth or water. Pour into the pot and stir to thicken. Let it bubble up for a minute and taste for seasoning. If it's too salty, add a bit of vinegar. If it's too sour, add a bit more soy sauce. Take the foil off the chicken, and carefully pour in any juices from the platter.

Spoon the sauce over the chicken. Serve with rice or egg noodles.

Rating: This is awesome

I tried to refrain myself from slurping the sauce out of my bowl when the chicken and rice were gone. No such luck.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sausage and Mushroom Pizza

Hmm, let's see if I can remember how to do this :-)

I can't make homemade pizza and not think about my father. He was very proud of his pizza, and he used to make it almost every week when I was growing up. He would always make it on a Saturday, starting during the afternoon, which made me think that it was labor-intensive. In truth, this was a really easy weeknight dinner! I used this recipe for a make-ahead dough. With the help of my stand mixer, it came together in under 5 minutes this morning. Even if you don't have a mixer, I think you could still make it in 10 minutes.

I let the dough rise for an hour while I got ready for work and punched it down just before heading out the door. It sat all day in the fridge. When I got home this evening, all I had to do was saute the sausage and mushrooms, roll out the dough, assemble the pizza, and bake it off. Less than 45 minutes after I came in the front door, I had a hot, fresh pizza to chow down!

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 envelope (1/4 ounce) dry active yeast
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for coating bowl

1 pound hot Italian turkey sausage
8 ounces button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup tomato sauce, homemade or jarred
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
Olive oil for drizzling
Sea or kosher salt

Stir the yeast into 3/4 cup of warm water (105 degrees F - 115 degrees F) and let stand until the yeast dissolves, about 5 minutes. Put the rest of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and pour over the water-yeast mixture. Stir together until the dough is a shaggy mass. Sprinkle a work surface with flour and knead the dough until smooth and springy, about 1 minute. Alternatively, use the paddle attachment on your stand mixer to do the initial mixing, and switch to the dough hook for the kneading.

Lightly coat a medium sized bowl with olive oil and place the dough in it. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for an hour. Punch the dough down and transfer it to an airtight container. Leave in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

When you're ready to make the pizza, take the dough out of the fridge. Punch it down again and let it sit while you get everything else ready. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Take the casings off the sausage and place in a large skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, breaking the sausage up into bite sized pieces, until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Place the sausage on a plate and set aside. Warm up a tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet and saute the mushrooms until they release their liquid and turn brown.

Dust a work surface with flour and roll out your pizza dough until it will fit your pan. Drizzle olive oil over the rolled out dough and brush or smooth with your hands over the surface of the dough. Gently place the dough in your pan, oiled side down. You could also spread the olive oil out in your pan first and then flop the dough into it (I can't do this because my pan has holes in the bottom to keep the crust crisp!). Press the dough into the sides of your pan to form a crust.

Spread tomato sauce over the dough with the back side of a spoon and sprinkle with sea salt. Evenly place the sausage, mushrooms, and garlic over the pizza. Top with the mozzarella cheese and basil and scatter over the parmesan cheese for the final touch. Bake for 15 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes after taking it out of the oven. Cut into wedges and serve!

Rating: This is awesome

The great thing about pizza is that you can change it up to totally meet your tastes and what you have in the fridge. The dough is your canvas!