Happy New Year!!

6 01 2013

2013As I was reading a popular food oriented web site the other day, I was inspired to challenge myself to something kind of fun, and yet rather practical too.   The article mentioned that today’s home chef should be able to put out four creditable desserts:  Creme Brulee,

creme-brulee-wikipedia

Chocolate Lava Cake,

chocolate-lava-cake

Meyer Lemon Souffle,

MeyerLemonSouffle-sunkist

and Pear and Almond Tart.

pear-almond-tart-dorie-greenspan

I don’t exactly have a dessert repertoire.   I can do a couple things relatively well, more jazz than substance, so I get away with it.  It’s time to fix that.  That’s the plan, anyway!  Over the next few months (too hot for any dessert except fruit and ice cream in the May-September months!) and maybe finishing off in the fall, I’d like to master these desserts.  I’ve made a creme brulee, but it wasn’t traditional.  I’ve made souffles too, just not the dessert variety.  It can’t be that much different, can it? That leaves the tart as the big intimidator…but…this really doesn’t look all that tough.  So…what’s stopping me?  I don’t know, but desserts intimidate me!  LOL!  Oh, this is going to be fun!

Advertisements




Cook the Books and Food ‘n’ Flix: Home Cooking either way~

25 08 2012

Cook the Books meets Food ‘n’ Flix in the arena of “Home Cooking” here at Can’t Believe We Ate…  The character Minny, from the movie The Help, our movie selection of the month, has quite the reputation in town as a cook.  One of her specialties is fried chicken.  Interestingly enough, Laurie Colwin gives us her recipe and method for frying chicken in her book, our current Cook the Books selection, Home Cooking.  We’ll end up having a little comparison here before we’re finished.  Aside from cooking, this book and movie couldn’t be farther apart!

Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking is a collection of short food essays full of reminiscences.  Ms. Colwin delights her readers with her real-life recollections of various foods along with recipes or techniques.  I was actually inspired to make roast beef when I first read the book in March, yet fried chicken called out to me when I re-read the book in August.   My family is particularly fond of my fried chicken, however, I’m usually willing to try a new technique.  I didn’t think there would be all that much difference.

I’m sorry that Minny didn’t share any of her recipes with us.  We do get some left-handed cooking lessons from her as she “teaches” her mistress, Celia Foote, how to cook.  Personally, I’d love to have the recipe for Minny’s Caramel Cake.  That has me puzzled and intrigued…there are so many ways one could go about creating such a decadence.  But we’re frying chicken…so let’s get back to it.

Ms. Colwin and I agree that chicken benefits from a buttermilk bath.  She recommends soaking the chicken in plain buttermilk, and that’s where we start to differ.  I almost always brine my chicken because most chicken has no flavor.  Add some salt, garlic and onion powder to the buttermilk and soak away.  Soak or marinate the chicken for at least 45 minutes.  If you created a buttermilk “brine” 45 minutes will probably be enough.  However, gently salting the buttermilk and seasonings will make a great overnight bath for the chicken.

Breading the chicken is next.  So far, Ms. Colwin and I are right on track… Season your flour the way you want your chicken to taste when it’s done.  Taste the flour to get it right.  It will taste a little, well…floury, but it’s the balance of salt and other flavorings that you want to work on.  I use salt, garlic powder-granules, onion powder, and freshly ground pepper for my base.  It’s kind of my universal seasoning.  Sometimes, especially for chicken, I add paprika…or smoked paprika…Yummmm!   When the flour is the way you think you’ll like it, put it either in a bag (for shaking) or a shallow dish.  Ms. Colwin and I will depart a bit here… Ms. Colwin breads her chicken straight from the buttermilk.  Shaking off the excess milk, she drops the wet chicken pieces into a bag and flours them generously.  Knock off the excess flour, and set aside for a moment until you have enough prepared pieces to fill your pan without crowding it.  What kind of pan?  A chicken fryer…  There really is such a beastie.  It’s a good sized (12 inch or so) straight sided frying pan with a lid.  The best pan, bar none, and Ms. Colwin and I are in lock-step on this one, is a cast iron chicken fryer with a heavy lid.  I inherited mine from my mother, who prepared chicken precisely by Ms. Colwin’s method, religiously…until I brought boys home from church for Sunday dinner.  Out of nowhere, she served up a platter of the crispiest, crunchiest lightly crusted chicken I’d ever seen.  I was amazed and delighted!!  She never fixed chicken that way just for us…I brought the guys home for dinner a lot after that!

I do things a little differently…  I dry my chicken pieces a bit so they aren’t wet and sprinkle them with a light dusting of the flour mixture, just enough to make my take the breading I’m about to add…it’s kind of a double breading.  I dip the lightly floured chicken in a fresh buttermilk bath, and flour it in the same manner as above.  The difference is that the chicken actually gets a really decent crust going.  It still can’t sit around long before frying…it will get soggy and that doesn’t crisp up quite right.  I can drop my pieces right into the hot oil, because I don’t cover my fryer.  I keep the heat just a little lower, still “deep frying” but on the lower end of the temperature range.  More like 350° rather than closer to 375°.  I liked Ms. Colwin’s tip about cutting the breast halves down even farther, so they cook more quickly.  What a concept!!  Why didn’t I think of that?? *Ü*

Ms. Colwin prefers a steam-frying method for cooking her chicken…she has you place a tight lid on the chicken and turn the chicken twice before removing the lid to finish the cooking.  I followed the technique, but found I over-cooked my chicken that way.  From the first pan on, I open-fried the chicken, as in the picture below.

I think this was the last pan full of chicken I cooked…using the single breading method.  I had a rather large package of boneless, skinless chicken half-breasts that needed to be cooked.  Having a plate of fried chicken got me past a lot of obstacles this week, and I was glad for it!

One distinct difference I noticed between Ms. Colwin’s method and mine, is that she’s right…the crust on her chicken gets soft once it’s refrigerated.  Mine, however, doesn’t.  We still have crunchy chicken the following day, and if I let it cool really well before packing it into the fridge, it’s crunchy for a couple of days.  We enjoyed this batch of fried chicken with potato salad.   I’m not saying mine is better than hers…I’m saying it’s two different methods with two different outcomes, and one should expect two different results.

So far, I’ve mainly chattered on about Ms. Colwin’s chicken, so now it’s time to give The Help a chance in the spotlight!  I’m the hostess at Food ‘n’ Flix this month, and I chose this movie.  Next month we’ll be watching a different movie…check my sidebar for “Coming in September” to see what’s next.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, with all it’s side stories and surreptitious meetings, spilling the secrets of the society ladies…  It’s hard for today’s youth to imagine the segregation and disparate treatment of anyone with a non-white skin.  Prejudice wasn’t known as such…it was more an accepted way of life…then.   While the storyline pretty much sticks to the lighter side of life around the southern plantations of the Sixties, it touches reality deeply in places.   I love Skeeter’s independence and verve.  I loved the depth of caring and empathy exhibited by Abileen…and I couldn’t possibly dislike Miss Hilly any more!  Southern cooking screams fried chicken to me…well, and a few dozen other things too, but chicken gets there first.  What I’d give to have a cook like Minny around!  Not to work for me!! Heavens no!  I’d want to learn about her magical kitchen tricks!

Speaking of tricks…there is one tiny detail I left out…when I mix up flour for chicken…I add a teaspoon of baking powder to it. It reacts with the buttermilk (actually, any liquid) and leavens the coating just a little bit…and that may have something to do with the lighter crispness of my chicken…but now you’re sworn to secrecy!





Eat to beat the Heat: Chicken Salad with Melon ~

17 06 2012

The weather in Northern California can be downright HOT sometimes.  Arizona hot, but with more humidity.  Once the thermometer passes the 100° mark just about all Californians can agree on one thing…it’s just hot!  Eating starts sliding down the priority list.  Barbecues reign as kings because no one wants to heat their kitchen!  Cool foods are incredibly soothing, with salads being high on the list of preferences during these heat waves.  This recipe came from such a heat wave.

There’s something incredibly enchanting about the salty-sweet combination of chicken salad in a cantaloupe bowl…  I’m not quite sure how the concept came about, other than I had a garden fresh cantaloupe, and cold, left over chicken.  In my mind it had a great texture and was cool all the way down.  The texture, however, is dependent on the quality of the chicken being used.  The salad used in this picture came from a store-bought rotisserie chicken (and it truly reminded me why I don’t buy these!!), so it’s overcooked and became much like tuna salad made from canned tuna…  Keep that in mind!  LOL!!

Chicken Salad in a Cantaloupe Bowl

1/2 cup coarsely chopped, cooked chicken (we prefer breast meat we’ve marinated in mesquite and grilled)
2 Tbsp. finely chopped celery
Shallot or green onion to taste, minced
Mayonnaise enough to bind the salad together
Mesquite seasoning (one of the only mixes I love and can’t live without…Grill Mates Mesquite Marinade by McCormick…)
1/2 cantaloupe

Mix the ingredients together and allow flavors to blend at least 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, cut a cantaloupe through the equator so you have 2 deep halves.  Remove the seeds from the cavity.  If you like, slice a tiny sliver off the stem and blossom ends so the “bowl” will sit level and not rock.   Fill the seed cavity with the chicken salad and serve…

Serves 1; increase ingredients in equal amounts for additional portions.

This is our Summer standby recipe…  The spicy mesquite is cooled by the soothing sweetness of the cold melon…  The  temperature of the salad doesn’t matter too much.  I’ve used cold chicken as well as hot off the grill for the salad.  Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, it’s cool enough to proceed and serve.   I used the Mesquite Marinade straight from the package for this salad (store chicken) to season the salad.  If you marinate and grill, you probably won’t need any additional seasonings.  But…LIVE!!  Have fun with this and go your own direction!!

Thanks for stopping by this hot summer’s eve!  It was 102° here today…now it’s a toss up between this salad and an ice cream sundae for supper!  LOL!





Cinco de Mayo and Appreciating Teachers…

8 05 2011

Some holidays are so convenient!  The first week of May is often that way…as it was this year.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Mexican food and make and consume it regularly…so Cinco de Mayo is not merely an excuse to indulge, but it’s also a time when a lot of extra goodies become available for a limited time.  This week was full of Carne Asada tacos, cheese enchiladas for the teachers, and a Pastel de Tres Leches…that’s right…Cake of three milks.

Awhile back I mentioned that I was testing granulated chilies for Marx Foods…This was a great week to use chilies!  I picked up a package of round steak cut for carne asada, and created a marinade with my own two hands.  I expected it to be tasty, but…oh wow!!

Chipotle Carne Asada Marinade

Juice of 1/2 to 1 orange
Juice of 2 limes
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 Tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 Tablespoon Marx Granulated Dried Chipotle Chilies

Combine the ingredients in a large zip-locking plastic bag, and add up to 2 pounds of beef (I used round steak) slice for carne asada.  Marinate at least 3 hours, but 48 hours is the best minimum for round steak.
At cooking time, wipe most of the marinade from the meat before throwing the meat on a hot grill or comal.  Cook until well seared on each side, slice across the grain at a slight diagonal slant into thin strips.  Serve with pico de gallo at the table with hot tortillas of your choice.  I prefer the small taquito size…but anything up to 5 inches or so is a nice hand size.

I found that although I was marinating 2 pounds of meat, we used about 2-3 slices of meat for dinner for two people.   Dressed with lettuce and cilantro, draped in pico de gallo, you have most of a meal in hand…Antojitos.  Little bites.  Meals for the “on-the-go”…Mexican fast-food.  We didn’t “invent” fast food at all!

On Cinco de Mayo, I made the above Carne Asada for our tacos…it made for a quick, complete supper for us so I could get back to the kitchen and start work on the Teachers’ Appreciation Luncheon for the next day.  I had volunteered to make cheese enchiladas and a Pastel de Tres Leches, better known as a Tres Leches Cake…or as my dear friend Alton Brown calls it…Tres Leche Cake.  Since I used his recipe…should I correct his titling…absolutely.  We mustn’t promulgate mistakes.

This quiet, unassuming little cake begins as a simple butter cake.  No big deal.  Click on the link, and follow ALL the instructions.  Especially the part about waiting overnight.  Especially that part.  And I do know how hard it is to wait.  Really I do.  By the time I got my cake out of the oven it was easily 10 p.m. and I was ready…ever so ready…to go to bed.  I cooled my cake far less than suggested, maybe a total of 30 minutes…the 15 minutes I could force myself to sit still and the few minutes it took to mix the ingredients for the glaze…I did make one teeny tiny change, quite by mistake.  I didn’t see that the recipe called for 1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla, and only put 1 teaspoon in the cake batter.  I “fixed” this by adding the missing 1/2 teaspoon to the glaze.  I seriously doubt that made for any drastic change in the outcome.  Since I knew my cake was going to have to wait after being frosted, I didn’t push frosting it before it chilled.  I was leery of frosting it while it was still really warm.  I wasn’t worrying about the glaze, but the frosting…yes!

Let me tell you…this whipped cream frosting mixes up in one big hurry!  I ran out to the extra fridge to get the cake and the frosting was ready when I got back…and I didn’t fool around!  Since I’d made the cake in a 9 x 13 inch pan, there was more than enough frosting.  There was even enough to drop a dollop onto “good morning!” coffee!

A friend described the taste as… “Like when you let your ice cream melt into your cake,” and that about says it.  Incredibly moist without being soggy.  I think I stumbled on the trick to this…whip the butter until very light…whip it more with the eggs and sugar.  When you add the flour mixture, use the lowest setting that will mix the flour into the creamy mixture.  Stop just before the last addition of flour is totally incorporated in the batter.  You can finish the mixing by hand as you move the batter to the prepared pan.  After baking, I used a broken piece of bucatini pasta to poke the holes in the pasta…it worked great!  I used every drop of the liquid and rotated my pan around so the glaze got to every side of the cake.  As hard as it was…I didn’t taste this until it was serving time for the luncheon.  By that time, all the ingredients had had time to become one…oh and what a wonderful oneness!

It’s kind of nice to get almost empty pans back… *Ü*





Birthday Creativity…

14 03 2011

It always gets a little interesting when a foodie of any level has a birthday in the family.  I think we all get a little thrill deciding what to prepare…how can we do something a little new and different with a favorite stand-by?  This year it was definitely my turn for that.  Hubby asked for a steak and lobster dinner, with a sunflower nut pie for dessert.   So I picked up some raw beast, a big ol’ crawdad (ok…cousin of crawdad…) and put a potato in the oven.  Oh…and made a pie.

I picked up a pair of rib-eye steaks, a pair of small (the largest available!) lobsters, and the sunflower nuts for the pie.  I’m ultimately very disappointed in the quality of the meat.  I need to remember that a couple local markets only put questionable beef on sale.  The beef was well seasoned with the rub I usually use, moistened with balsamic vinegar.  It had a great flavor…it just wasn’t as easy to eat as one might imagine.

I studied a bit on sous vide cooking, and methods of cooking lobster, and came up with the idea that cooking the lobster sous vide might yield a very moist, not overcooked dish.  I cut the shells and separated the meat from the shell as much as I could.  I placed about a Tablespoon of butter inside the shell of each lobster (each lobster weighed about 6 oz. each), and topped each with a translucent slice of lemon.  I cleaned one of the trays well so I could use it to keep the spines of the lobster from puncturing the bag.  Next time, I’ll wrap the spines with a bit of foil.  I arranged a few lemon slices on the bottom of the styro tray, set the lobsters on the tray, put the whole thing into a Food Saver bag and sealed it.  I had a pot of water at about 130° F waiting for the lobster to make the plunge.  I stirred the pot from time to time to keep the water circulated and used a heavy pot to keep the package submerged.  Remember when I said I used styrofoam?  Good idea, but way too buoyant for this application.   It also made it difficult to completely surround the lobster with the heated water.  Still…the result was near what I anticipated.

The lobster was almost poached in butter and its own juices mixed with a bit of lemon.  I added no other seasonings to the bag before I sealed it.  There was plenty of salt…almost too much at the head end of the tail. You could taste the difference from the meat being frozen in salt water after cleaning.  That meat was a bit salty…inside the tail though…there was a lovely lobster and butter flavor.  Neither of us really tasted the lemon at all.

Put it all together and add a baked potato…and you’ve got way too much food to be able to enjoy dessert!  LOL!  Yes… I made the sunflower nut pie…this time with the addition of chocolate.  I can hardly wait to taste it!

Oh…my.  That’s not good.  That’s wonderful!!!  I wish I could send you a bite…  This is as close as I can get…

That’s not a bad way to celebrate….Pi Day!!





Resolutions, goals or challenges?

9 01 2011

Photo courtesty FreeFoto.com

It’s the time of year when a lot of folks like to make resolutions…  I’m not one of them.  Other folks set new goals for themselves….I’m going to read “X” number of books this year!  I’m not one of them either.  I accept challenges.  I usually accept challenges as they smack me between the eyes, and preferably as they come by me.  I love cooking challenges.  I love learning challenges.  When those two get together it’s a lot of fun!

Life throws me enough of its kind of challenges that I don’t need to try to commit to filling my plate with extra servings of sports club work-outs…there’s plenty of work to be done around here that doesn’t require spending extra money for them to tell me when I can be there and what they’d like me to do.  Have you ever hauled brush or shoveled anything wet?  Let well enough alone.  I don’t need time on a treadmill…I can trudge through the mud in my own backyard and get plenty of resistance training, thanks though!  Pilates?  I pull a lot of hay and carry it.  Does that count?  Then there’s the garden…

The garden may appear to be sleeping right this minute, but it’s already 8 weeks until our last frost!!  There are garlic plants up already, coriander is up, the strawberries are spreading like a blanket…spring bulbs are up and about, the first narcissus is already in bloom!!  The challenge there is to keep the bodkin healthy enough to stand up to the general aches and pains of creeping antiquity, each searing ache a memory of its own.  Would I trade?  Not for the most part!  I’m hoping to be canning pickles and tomatoes this year, and I strive to be self sufficient in the culinary herb department.  It’s much easier to nip out to the garden and snip a few fronds than pay $2.99 to the grocer for whatever they might have in whatever condition it might be in.  The same $2.99 will just about pay for a full packet of seeds or a 4 inch plant.  My rosemary is now 4 years old, and my thyme is wintering it’s second winter…we must be doing something right!

The biggest challenge of all is never losing sight of remembering that Life is to be shared and enjoyed.  Taking on too much, for too long isn’t a good thing.  Peaks and valleys are ok, but try to keep things in moderation for the most part.  Make sure that your investments of energy go to things you love.  Then, no matter the sacrifice, it will all have been worth it in the end.  That having been said…get out there and do something you love!





Thanksgiving 2010~

28 11 2010

Let me start out by saying my Gratitude List is long, but this is the short version! Without my Faith I wouldn’t get through…then my Family and my Friends…so very, very wonderful and precious!  Willow is my joy…Jasmine my bed-buddy…and the kitties are a constant source of entertainment!  For each and all, I am very grateful!  Now…on to the Feast!

We generally had fun… I started cooking the day before…I finally killed a saucepan.  %!@#*%!!  I was cooking cranberries down, and they were taking the longest time to boil…oops.  They boiled all right…to the point of hard gel!   Incredibly intense flavor…one ruined pan.  Oi.  Oh well…it’s making the most incredible cranberry aioli now…  You win some, you lose some, and you make something out of the leftovers…  The pan, however…will never quite be the same.  It’s pretty intensely burned.  We’ll see…replacement coming.

Here was some of our fun…  This was battle yam..

I had never noticed “asian” yams at the market before, and they were definitely marked “Asian Yam” with the darker red skin.  The color comparison made me wonder if that wasn’t what I usually bought…so I got them, even though the ones I usually buy were equally clearly marked.  As I put them into the oven, I noticed the pale flesh showing through the skin…not what I wanted.  I ran to the closest market and grabbed a couple “Garnet Yams” for dinner.  Whew!  Not wanting to waste anything, I threw them all in the oven to see what the differences might be.

Ok…fresh out of the oven with no additives of any kind, just as Mother Nature made them… The Garnet Yam on the left is a rich orange color and very moist, almost unctuous on the tongue.   However, it’s almost tasteless…only mildly sweet without a lot of flavor of any kind, but with that really great mouth-feel.  Now…the Asian Yam is almost white, and relatively dry yet this one has a really sweet flavor and lots of texture.  Hmmm!  So…we decided we wanted the texture of the Garnet yam…but…what would they be like mashed together??  Another time, perhaps.  The Asian Yam has excellent body for ravioli, excellent body for pie…and flavor!

I also had fun with bread.  While all of you are having fun with baking throughout the year, I’m paying attention and stocking up so when I can play, I CAN play!!

I think this is my first official loaf from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  What a recipe…what a keeper!  I forgot how much I love bread!  Not only making it…but working it, feeling it, feeling when it’s right, listening to it…and of course…eating it!  I mixed this up for Thanksgiving and pushed a pan of rolls out for dinner, then let this dough sit overnight and made a boulé out of it the next day.  Oh happy bread!  It’s been treated with an egg wash and dusted with amaranth seeds.

Yes, we had all the rest of the traditional stuff too…but how many pretty turkeys can you look at in a year?  We had the turkey, brined about 16-18 hours and roasted, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy that came out far too well…I basted the turkey with broth this year.  Rather than using any butter, I oiled the bird.  Alton Brown suggested not using butter because the milk solids would burn…so I took that into consideration.  I basted with the broth because it was handy on the stove and I may have seen AB do so…  It made for some absolutely fabulous pan drippings for gravy later…OH MY!!  It was like turkey demi-glace.  It was so wonderful to have later when we made gravy and soup!!  Yummm!

I apologize for the photo…the flash caught the fat on the top of the soup and turned it into stardust!  This was soup the first night past Thanksgiving…turkey noodle soup.  Kind of a tradition with us. *Ü*  I always bone the turkey before we go to bed the day it’s cooked.  This one simmered ever so low all night long, and that was fabulous.  The broth is rich and gels like Jello!  LOL!  Last night we opted for creamy turkey rice soup.  Lunch was an open faced roast turkey dinner sandwich…toasted bread spread with cranberry aioli layered with dark turkey meat, topped with hot turkey dressing, layered with turkey breast, and topped with turkey gravy…  It was pretty wonderful!  *Ü*

You know…we did have dessert…  I wish I’d thought to take a picture of it.  We had a Sunflower Seed pie…think Pecan pie, only using sunflower seeds instead of pecans.  It was tasty.  It didn’t last because it was tasty.

So…tell me about your dinner?  Did you burn anything?