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.