January 25, 2009

Pan-roasted Chicken Breasts with Orange-Brandy Sauce

The interesting part of this recipe is that you brine the chicken with an orange juice brine.

This recipe requires you to juice about 8 medium oranges. If you don't have the proper tools, this can be a pain and take way too long! Fortunately for me, Jay shopped for brandy and an orange juicer while the chicken was in the brine. So the second part of the recipe requiring juice was much easier! I will be ready next time.

Fine cooking does such a great job of teaching you about the various ingredients and how to select them and prep them. I love it because I need the help. This was my first time deboning chicken breasts. I did okay. Perhaps the proper knife would have helped? It is just perfect how right in the ingredients list, fine cooking points you to another part of the magazine to help you with how to prep or select items if the ideal isn't available.

A lesson learned upon re-reading the recipe for this post: When a recipe tells you to add something to taste, make sure you do a taste before adding any of it. The dish seemed just a touch too salty. Yes it was sitting in a brine for awhile, but I also added regular chicken broth when it called for low-salt. I also seasoned to taste with a bit more salt before even checking the sauce for how it tasted at that point!

The orange-brandy sauce is a reduction, and my history with reductions has been spotty. This time I bravely reduced and added things and stirred and estimated doneness and I think it turned out great! That was a ++ to my confidence level in making reductions.

Because this was a brine, the chicken was nice and juicy, even the smallest chicken breast wasn't overcooked while waiting on the biggest chicken breast to finish.

This also made fantastic leftovers.

  • Pan-roasted Chicken Breasts with Orange-Brandy Sauce (Fine Cooking 97 Feb/March 2009, p. 45)

January 23, 2009

Five-Treasure Fried Rice

How often have I had to compost outdated baby carrots, half a red pepper or some leftover broccoli? This recipe is just the solution to use up your veggie bits before they go bad! While typically fried rice is not the healthiest option, this recipe uses brown rice and lots of veggies.

I decided that the best way to try the recipe was exactly as it was described. Then if I liked it, I could try it with whatever veggies were around. I used fresh corn, and cut the kernels using an angel food cake pan to hold up the cob. It worked great. I did I still end up with some kernels on the floor, though.

A warning on this recipe: You need to use "very cold" cooked brown rice. So I'd advise making the rice a day ahead or in the morning, as hot rice does not cool quickly.

For me, the part that may not have worked right was getting the fresh ginger freshly grated. Does ginger actually grate? Or does it just turn into paste? I figured the paste was good enough, and mixed it in. Another issue I ran into was the rice sticking into chunks. As I stirred everything together, a big part of my task was breaking up the rice chunks. Not sure if there's an easy way to avoid that or not, but when it was all cooked, I didn't see any remaining chunks of rice.

I really really need to get a big pan. All the ones I have are medium sized. I realized pretty quickly that I was running out of room and ended up filling two pans. It was easy enough to do. Right before adding the rice, I put half the veggies in one side, and added only half the rice, bacon, oil and eggs to each pan.

This recipe was great! To me, it didn't have an overly "healthy" taste or texture. Brown rice works pretty decently in fried rice, and I think the edamame was a better choice than something like peas. Easy and yummy as leftovers as well.

  • Five-Treasure Fried Rice (Fine Cooking 97 Feb/March 2009, p. 33)

January 13, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup with Apple & Bacon

Christmas dinner was held at my house. I've never hosted a large dinner at home before, and we were going to have 14 people!! I went to the trusted source, finecooking.com for menu ideas. Right on the front page were ideas for holiday dinner main dishes, side dishes, drinks, desserts. There were a number of menus to try, so I picked one and started planning. I wanted to have a great soup, and decided to make the Butternut Squash Soup with Apple and Bacon.

Because we were having 14, I decided to make two batches of soup. Unfortunately, I had to make the batches serially instead of all at the same time. Some day I will have all the right sized cookware!

There was lots of butternut squash chopping, which is what seemed to take the most time. I did make a mistake by not adding enough broth. I realized this during the second batch when I still had a can or two extra which didn't make sense. So I added the missing broth to the second batch and when batches one and two were combined, the consistency was perfect.

This soup was absolutely delicious! Something I would make over and over again. This recipe is freely available on finecooking.com.

April 24, 2008

Sauteed Chicken with Sherry & Olive Pan Sauce & Toasted Almonds

This recipe looked good, had familiar ingredients and it was in the quick & delicious section, so II planned on making this for dinner. While everyone at the table said it was good, I didn't think it really lived up to what it could have been. There were two problems that I can see that could be improved.

I had a hard time finding plain green olives at Whole Foods. So many people love olives stuffed or in exciting liquids rather than plain boring green olives. While I did find some at the olive bar, they had their pits in them and I didn't want to deal with figuring out how to get the pits out. I finally found a can of plain green olives and just bought those. When I opened the can, some of them had really dark black spots that just weren't very appealing. I skipped those olives or cut around them. This only required a half cup of olives, so it wasn't a large amount. I tried one of the olives, and it just didn't have a very strong or yummy flavor at all. I briefly considered using some garlic stuffed olives and taking out the garlic for this dish, but then decided against it. Looking back, I should have used those olives. I've only had one case where a not too exciting ingredient worked well in a dish, and that's because it was a tomato that absorbed a lot of flavorful juices. This is not something that's going to happen with an olive.

The other thing that I did was was not chop the onions fine enough. It just says "finely chopped", but when I compared my finished product with the magazine photo, my onion pieces seemed huge in comparision. In this case, I think smaller would have been better. Here's a nice little guide on chopping onions. Mine should have been more like the minced instead of looking more like chopped. I also think I used too much onion. "small onion" is just not a precise enough measurement for me. How small is small?

Also what is a chicken breast cutlet? I just bought chicken breasts by weight and then sliced them in half to get 8 thin pieces. It seemed to work for cooking, although the four chicken breasts sure varied in thickness to begin with.

Buying bulk pre-slivered almonds is surely the way to go!!! This worked out great.

I think this recipe has potential to be good, but I think in the future, I'd rather just make the Grilled chicken breasts with Green-Olive Relish. It has far more olives in it, and when you use the right ones, oh it's soooo tasty!! (Plus a chicken breast is a good meal size. Half a chicken breast means going back for seconds which somewhat interrupts dinner.)

  • Sauteed Chicken with Sherry & Olive Pan Sauce & Toasted Almonds (Fine Cooking 92, p. 90a)
  • Garden salad

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

My sister, husband and niece are part of the way through a move across the country where they will now be my neighbors!! It's very exciting and a little surreal. However with five hungry mouths, I am definitely more motivated to cook rather than allow us all to eat out so often. Nice healthy options are usually expensive, and cheaper fast food consists of awful options for kids. It's a little more challenging making sure my choice of meal is something everyone wants to eat. Also, my brother in law is fairly lactose intolerant now, so a whole lot of options are not options for him. He does say that usually he cooks dinner for the ladies of the family and then makes a separate meal for himself. So at least not every meal will have to be dairy-free. However, I bet a lot of kosher meals will come in handy for this situation! My brother in law hasn't moved in yet, so the next month's worth of meals won't need that consideration.

I flipped through the latest Fine Cooking and thought the Spaghetti alla Carbonara sounded easy, delicious and kid-friendly. Pancetta was a new ingredient to me, so I looked it up online to get an idea of what it looked like. At Whole Foods, I asked a butcher where the pancetta was. He had to ask me to repeat what I was looking for, which nearly confirmed that I was probably pronouncing it wrong. The recipe in Fine Cooking serves two, so I wanted to double it. The fine Cooks suggested that when doubling, I just cook everything in the big pot instead of using a separate 10 inch skillet. This worked nicely because a pound of spaghetti is a lot of volume! Hannah really wanted to help out a lot and see what was going on in the pot. In general I had her help with the salads. It was much easier having her place vegetables in bowls than navigate her arms and hands and fingers over and around hot items.

This recipe was well received by all, and I even ate a meal of it as leftovers the next day. Still excellent!

As I have gotten more and more serious about good photography, I am more picky about my photos. The photos of the spaghetti were pretty much what you'd expect it to look like... spaghetti that looks a little shiny and greasy with bits of what might be bacon-something. Not very exciting. The magazine photo really minimized the amount of shine off the pasta, so I will have to ask my more professional photographer friends how that is done. In the meantime, I thought it would be more fun to post a photo of my niece enjoying the spaghetti!

Lessons learned:

  • Because I'm using the same pot for everything, the pasta was sitting in the strainer for awhile. When I went to put it back in the pot, it was a gigantic flying spaghetti monster, all stuck together. My sister suggested I run hot water over it in the strainer to loosen it up. Worked like a charm!
  • This tasted a slight bit too peppery. Maybe it was because the pepper came out of the grinder in larger than usual pieces, or maybe it was just too much pepper overall.
  • Two days later, I was at Whole Foods again and decided to pick up some spaghetti just to have available for a quick dinner. I noticed the spaghetti I had picked up was actually quite expensive! Oops. There were a lot of whole wheat, organic options, and I probably picked the most expensive choice without realizing it. I picked the less expensive option the second time around.
  • I just looked it up now. I thought pancetta might be like bruschetta. I was right! It is pronounced "pan-chet-uh". Now I know!

  • Spaghetti alla Carbonara (Fine Cooking 92, p. 56)
  • Garden salad

February 10, 2008

Double Chocolate Crackles

My last crackle cookies were so delicious, I was eager to make more. I was invited to two Superbowl parties, so I made a batch of cookies to split between the parties. I'm not a big chocolate fan myself, but these were pretty good cookies! I definitely liked the double ginger crackles the best. (The longest lasting cookies in the batch tasted fantastic!! But remember, I'm not a huge chocolate fan....) The neat part of these cookies is that there are melted chocolate chunks in them along with the chocolate and cocoa in the cookie itself. The orange zest in the cookies really added to the flavor of the cookies.

This was the first time I finally used my bigger Kitchen Aid, so it was fun to figure it out. (I got chocolate batter all over it!) I bought two silicone tray liners and those made it very easy to slip the silicone off the tray and onto the cooling racks. The cookie dough seemed a little greasy when trying to roll it into balls. Rolling just the top of the ball in sugar made it go faster than the last time I made crackle cookies, where I just rolled the whole ball in sugar.

(Although these cookies were really good, personally I'd rather have a brownie!)

  • Double Chocolate Crackles (Fine Cooking 89, p. 71)

January 28, 2008

Balsamic Blueberries and Peaches

I was looking for a vegan dessert recipe, and Google wasn't so helpful. I'm pretty sure I went to fine cooking, but didn't find anything exciting or workable. So I went to epicurious and held my breath as I typed in "vegan dessert". Hundreds of recipes came back and glancing over them, it did look like they were desserts and vegan recipes. Nice feature!!!

This was a 4 out of 4 forks, and so many people would make it again. Plus it looked easy! I took the advice written in one of the reviews to put it over peach sorbet. It didn't take much peach sorbet, and I thought it tasted much better than just the pure fruit and sauce. I do think the yield of 4 is pretty low, especially adding in the sorbet. Either that, or my bowl was a nice small size. A half serving felt like plenty enough for me. (I ended up having the whole serving, anyway. Dessert is a rare treat at our house!)

December 28, 2007

Double Ginger Crackles

Amy recommended these to me. We almost made them on our trip to Twinland, but we couldn't find crystallized ginger locally and we ran out of time. I decided to make them while visiting friends in Memphis over Christmas. During a trip to Wild Oats (which is now owned by Whole Foods), we looked for the ginger in the bulk food section, but they were out! I ended up finding bags of it elsewhere. I actually found organic crystallized ginger in two different places, but the price difference was astounding! Finding ground ginger was even more difficult because they were out of it in their popular spice brand bottle and in their spice bulk section. Eventually I found a bottle of it. I guess ginger is popular around the holidays!

We cooked these late on Christmas Day. The only odd thing about this recipe was that it said you could use a 1 Tbs cookie scoop to make the balls, a small ice cream scoop, or two tablespoons. Your tool of choice for this matter definitely impacts the yield! It said about 4 dozen cookies and we got 23. These cookies turned out perfect!

We cooked a lot over the visit. While staying there nearly a week, we only went out to eat once, and that was to Tejas de Brazil. Yum yum yum! I made multigrain pancakes and the apple topping, and the braised chicken with anchovies. I also purchased a finecooking.com account (and already had a cooksillustrated.com one) so now I don't have to have any of my magazines with me when wanting to cook something special.

One of the great things about visiting my friend in Memphis was learning some tips from her on food. She buys a lot of her food at Wild Oats from the bulk section and stores it in big containers in her pantry. Instead of pure cane sugar, she usually uses raw sugar, but she has containers for both. She made lots of cookies and fudge and separated them into colorful tissue papered tins to hand out to neighbors and friends. She also asked me for rosemary from my garden so she could grow her own. I'm glad I brought a lot of rosemary because we used it quite a bit in our cooking! Looking online, I learned that there are better ways to get a cutting to grow roots, and I also learned some tips for keeping rosemary healthy.

  • Double Ginger Crackles (Fine Cooking, issue 75, p.45)

December 5, 2007

Grilled Rosemary Chicken Thighs with Sweet & Sour Orange Dipping Sauce

This is the best use for orange marmalade I've ever seen. Wow is recipe good. Even the chicken without the sauce was good on its own. This is definitely eligible for the quick and delicious section as it didn't take much time at all! I'd like to try making chicken kebabs, too. There are a number of grilled chicken thigh recipes in this issue, and I'm determined to try them all.

  • Grilled Rosemary Chicken Thighs with Sweet & Sour Orange Dipping Sauce (Fine Cooking, August/September 2007, p.32)
  • Steamed Asparagus
  • Brown Rice

October 15, 2007

Recycling your dinner

You surely don't eat 100% of the food that enters your home. What happens to the last few strawberries no one is willing to eat, the spinach that went bad waiting for you to eat it, or those chicken bones from the roasted chicken last night?

For most people, the foods' destiny is the garbage can. It will sit in the garbage until the can is put out to the curb and magically taken away by your local sanitation engineer. This is where my excess food always went until April of this year.

My husband discovered a composter called the green cone, passed the idea along to me, and then ordered one. You can buy a green cone for $160. (Save $40 if you can find a friend to get one with you.) I picked out a spot that would get enough sun during the day and yet still be far enough from the house to not attract bugs. Because you have to dig a hole 24-28 inches deep, the laws in Texas required a call before you dig (whenever you dig 16 inches or more). Then you have to wait two days before starting to dig.

Finally, I was all cleared to dig, so I did. It took a couple of days for the hole to be big enough, but could surely be done in a day by someone ambitious. I did probably 80% of the digging and then let Jay finish up the rest, because I lacked the motivation to continue digging. We installed the green cone and put the dirt back around it. We got right to putting our food scraps into the cone. So exciting!

Good-bye food scraps! (More photos of our green cone.)

From the green cone manual, the green cone "takes your cooked and uncooked kitchen food waste, including: meat, fish, bones, dairy products, vegetables, fruit, peelings, etc. The only exceptions are bulk amounts of food related materials that require a very long time to breakdown, namely: cooking oil/fat and the hard shells of nuts and seafood, such as oysters and crabs."

We've been using our green cone for half a year now, and I just love it!! As I'm chopping unwanted parts off veggies or eating down to the core of a piece of fruit, the food goes right into a little green bucket that is kept in our kitchen. Then, every couple of days, we dump the bucket into the cone. Just as a person who likes to live in a nice home environment, I've seen two huge improvements. First, the kitchen trash can rarely smells anymore. It only smells if someone has forgotten about the bucket and dumped some food waste into the trash can. Previously, I knew I'd have to take the trash out right away if I was cooking chicken or other meat with trimmings that get tossed. Now, it's just a quick trip to the cone, no hassle with a new trash bag or a smelling trash can out front. The second huge improvement is that the outside trash can rarely stinks anymore! In the hot Texas sun, it can get pretty nasty. With the green cone, it's no longer an issue at all. (Not only does the trash not stink, but I've never noticed the cone itself being stinky.)

The biggest plus with this composter is that after installation, it's pretty much maintenance-free. You don't need to empty it out, as the broken down nutrients go directly back into the earth. It's recommended that you place the green cone in your garden, so it can reap the greatest benefit from the nutrient-filled soil. After 6 months, I can attest that the soil has improved. We have a few "weeds" growing right next to the cone. They are little trees and growing so fast! Someday I hope to plant a small garden nearby.

There are only a couple of negative aspects. Once in awhile, especially if we've kept some food in the kitchen bucket too long, we'll see a fruit fly or two. When the cone is really active, especially after adding meat, there seem to be some uh... "icky" bugs wiggling around in the cone. It can be a little disturbing opening up the cone during these times. Those small things are just a reminder of how useful our thrown away food pieces are. They are doing a lot more good for the environment inside that cone than surrounded by plastic and chemicals and compacted many feet below the ground in a big garbage dump.

It's important to know that you can do composting in many other ways which don't require nearly as much of an upfront investment. Lots of information is available online. My inspiration for this post was to contribute to Blog Action Day.

January 2009

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