Thursday, January 29, 2009

I've been a braising fool

For some reason I was feeling particularly German the other night. No reason that I can point out. Maybe it was my mood for beer and mustard. So I decided they should marry and be my dinner, in one combination or another. What happened? Chicken braised in beer with carrots and mustard roasted potatoes. How was it? OMG, so good! This is one of those things I just threw together, so I can't guarantee the recipe until I try it at least one more time...but in the meantime, here you go...

Beer Braised Chicken
4 Chicken Thighs-bone in/skin on
1/2 onion, diced
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 carrots cut into equal size sticks
1 cup beer
1/2 cup chicken broth
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 TB Olive Oil

1. Season the chicken with salt & pepper. Heat oven to 400.

2. Heat the oil over medium high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken, skin side down. Don't crowd the pot or the chicken will steam. Let the chicken cook and sear for about 5 minutes. Flip and cook for 3 minutes. Remove to a plate.

3. If the pan is full of fat (olive oil & rendered chicken fat), drain all but 1 TB out. You may not need to do this.

4. Add the onion and saute until translucent, season with a pinch of salt and grind of pepper. Add the garlic clove and stir. Pour in the beer. Bring to a simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken broth, thyme and bay leaf. Stir. Place the chicken back in the pot, skin side up. Pour in any accumulated juices from the chicken. Toss the carrots around the chicken. The chicken should be at least 1/2 covered with liquid--if not add additional broth, beer or water. Cover and place in the hot oven for 30 minutes.

5. If you wish to serve the chicken with the skin on (recommended!), place on a rimmed baking sheet and place under the broiler for about 5 minutes--the skin will crisp up in that time. Otherwise it will be soggy, flabby and unappetizing.

6. With the chicken out of the pot, remove the carrots to a bowl and keep warm. Place the pot and the braising liquid over high heat and boil until reduced by half for a lovely jus to serve with the chicken. Spoon the sauce over the chicken after it's plated.

The pot before it goes in the oven. You need to sear it first to start to get a crust on the skin, build a flavor base and to render out some of the chicken fat. The carrots will come out very tender. If you want them to have a firmer texture, add about 1/2 way through the braising process.

Serve the chicken, sauce and carrots with Mustard Roasted Potatoes for a lovely German/Bavarian-style dish.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sweet & Sour

Last night's dinner was another hit on the Sweet & Sour line. I planned for this to be Sweet & Sour Chicken, but I was thwarted by Giant. They had no boneless/skinless chicken breast. That's fine. I can adapt and adapt I did. Move a few steps down the case and find some lovely boneless pork chops. Just a little trim of excess fat, cut the chops into cubes and move one with the recipe.

After the pork cooked, give some bell peppers a quick saute over high heat. Toss in some ginger and add the sauce made from vinegar, pineapple juice and ketchup. The recipe calls for white vinegar, which I didn't have so I used 1/2 cider vinegar and 1/2 rice wine vinegar. Worked very well.

After the sauce simmers for a minute, add the pork back to the sauce. Stir to coat everything and serve.

Sweet & Sour Pork. The difference between the chicken and the pork? The pork is a bit more chewy, but otherwise it's very much the same thing.

Snow Day

Woot. Work was let out at 12:30 today for inclement weather. Yea haw!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Zinfandel will get you drunker, quicker.

Another bit of information from wine guru, Karen MacNeil:
Dear Karen: Why do zinfandels always seem to be high in alcohol? I often see zinfandel labels indicating an alcohol content of 15% or more.

Dear Reader: There are two reasons for zinfandel’s higher alcohol level. First is the current (and, in my opinion, unfortunate) trend across the board toward higher-alcohol wines. Wines with high alcohol have a full body and feel powerful in the mouth—traits that often win high scores.

The second reason, however, is perhaps even more important. Zinfandel has a genetic proclivity to ripen unevenly. On the same cluster, some grapes will be perfectly ripe, others will be underripe, and still others will be so ripe that they’re virtually raisins. If a winemaker picks clusters like this, there’s a chance the wine will taste discombobulated, both unripe (green) and overripe (pruny). To avoid this unevenness, most winemakers let zinfandel clusters hang on the vine until all the unripe grapes become perfectly ripe, at which point some of the perfectly ripe grapes have become raisins. During fermentation, yeasts convert this abundant sweetness into considerable amounts of alcohol. Thus many zinfandels can’t help their potency.

Previous tips from the Page-A-Day calendar by Karen: One, Two, Three, Four, Five


One of the dinners last week used some some more ingredients in the pantry and veggie drawer. Much like the Tomato and Roasted Pepper soup the night before, this was a chunky marinara sauce made with crushed tomatoes, finely diced onion and a green bell pepper. This was an unplanned Two From One dinner! Awesome!!!

I love that I can make a lovely, homemade tomato sauce in the time in takes to boil water and cook the pasta and for a fraction of the cost of store bought jar sauce!

Eggs for Dinner

We had eggs for dinner last night. Whipped up with salt, pepper and parsley. Perfection. We later gilded the lily by adding some chopped bacon and sauted onions.

I need to do some serious grocery shopping...we're out of everything!!!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oenophiles in the White House

The Sommeliatrix shared this article with me the other day. Enjoy!

I wonder if the author of the article is using her real name? Gevirtz? Sounds an awful lot like a German wine to me...

From Reuters.

Wine makers toast a new wine drinker in the White House
Tue Jan 20, 2009 6:23pm EST

By Leslie Gevirtz

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The wine world is raising a glass to President Barack Obama as he moves into the White House, hoping his enjoyment of U.S. wine will impact on American's drinking habits.

U.S. wine producers could hardly contain their glee at the news that the Obamas had bought a $1.65 million mansion in Chicago equipped with four fireplaces -- and a wine cellar that reportedly holds up to 1,000 bottles.

"I can't help but think that after eight years of no wine drinkers in the White House that (Obama) will have a felicitous effect on Americans' drinking habits," John Gillespie, head of the Wine Market Council, told the 2009 Wine Market Council Research Conference in New York.

Outgoing President George W. Bush is a teetotaler who gave up alcohol over 20 years ago.

The White House has no official wine cellar but wines are chosen by a small team for specific events, based on their affinity with the menu as well as politically correct pairing depending on the guests in attendance.

But all wines served at state dinners are American.

President Lyndon Johnson decreed only American wines should be served at White House state dinners and it has stayed the same ever since -- although President Richard Nixon reportedly had his beloved Chateau Margaux secretly poured.

The contents of Obama's own wine cellar remain unknown but Chicago area merchants have noted Obama's eclectic taste in wine.


One told the Chicago Tribune that her shop quickly sold out of a South African sparkling wine made by Graham Beck after the first couple reportedly poured it on election night.

The Duckhorn Vineyards and Goldeneye Winery have seen the same effect since it was revealed that Duckhorn's 2007 Sauvignon Blanc and Goldeneye's Pinot Noir would be served with the first two courses at the official Inauguration lunch in the Capitol.

"I definitely think that with all the buzz there's been an increase in sales," said Emily Gorton, a spokeswoman for the wineries.

La Finquita Winery in Napa Valley is hoping to join the party with a bottle of 2005 Merlot in a limited collector edition bottle with a handetched and gold painted picture of Obama.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Obama carried the vote in eight of the 10 top producing wine states that make more than 95 percent of the wines produced in the United States.

But that support is unsurprising given that wine drinkers as far back March 2008 seem to have preferred the candidate with a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll finding wine drinkers preferred Obama to Republican rival John McCain.

But McCain had the beer vote and the lion's share of campaign contributions from the beer, wine and liquor industry, netting $634,355 to Obama's $386,929, according to

Any Obama boost will be a good thing for the industry.

While the United States remains on track to become the world's largest wine-consuming country by 2010, it does so despite a dramatic slowdown in growth recorded by retailers and tracked by the Nielsen company in the last three months.

The slowdown has affected most of the industry from $10 bottles of Chardonnay to $1,000 bottles of Petrus. The Liv-ex 100 Fine wine index - the wine industry's leading index - recorded a 2.2 percent drop in December for the third straight month, finishing 2008 down 14.6 percent.

Lunch. It's Perfect

This is more a breakfast, but for a fast lunch yesterday, it was divine.
Whole wheat English muffin, toasted.
Chunky peanut butter.
Sliced banana.
All topped with Tupelo Honey.

Warm, gooey, sweet. And totally filling!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Perfect Soup for Dinner

Yesterday I decided not to go to the store for my regular run. I was tired and wanted to rest. I even snuck out of the office at lunch to get gas for the car so I wouldn't have to on the way home.

So as you can imagine, dinner was going to be easy and simple. But I wanted something satisfying and comforting. I had all I needed to make a hearty pot of tomato soup. It's on! But wait! There was a surprise ingredient in the fridge I had forgotten about. Let's kick it up a notch. At the last minute I decided to quickly roast a red pepper and add it to the mix. This was still tomato soup as the pepper only accounted for about 15-20% of the body of the soup, but its participation at the party was exciting nonetheless!

Tomato & Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup

I started by sauting one diced onion and two garlic cloves in about 2-3 TB of olive oil. I seasoned the onions with salt, pepper, dried oregano, one bay leaf, a small pinch of cayenne pepper and 4 sprigs of fresh thyme. Let cook until the onions are tender and starting to caramelize. Add one roasted red bell pepper cut into large slices. Add tomatoes. In this recipe I added one 28 oz can of pured tomatoes and one 8 oz can of tomato sauce. Allow to simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes.

Carefully add soup to a food processor or blender. And working in batches, puree until smooth. Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender OR, just carefully dice all your ingredients and have a chunky, hearty, "country-style" soup.

Return the soup to the pot, again, over low heat. Add a small amount of chicken broth to thin the soup slightly. For a slight tang, add about 1/2 a teaspoon of red wine vinegar. The final touch is optional, but highly recommended. Prior to serving, stir in 1/2-3/4 cup of heavy cream for a rich, velvety texture and mellowing of the various bright, acidic flavors.

You may ask, if you're mellowing the acidic flavors, why add vinegar? I like to elevate those bright flavors, almost to a point where I wouldn't want to have the soup, so when I add the cream, you are left with this soup that plays with all your taste buds. You're not left with a hotly acidic soup or a flabby, creamy, dull soup. You get it all! You have sweetness from the tomatoes. There are acidic tones from the pepper, vinegar and again, the tomatoes. The floral, grassy notes from the herbs. A warmth from the cayenne pepper and the lush, rich component of the cream.

And this is very easy! You cook a few things for a few minutes. Open some cans and simmer some things for a few minutes. Blend, then stir. I got away with this in 30 minutes. I think you can do it 15 if you are in a hurry. Basically once the onions are done, you just want to make sure everything is warm.

Of course, any form of tomato soup is only enhanced with a grilled cheese sandwich!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Two from One, Part 2

Here is installment two of our latest Two from One adventure. With this installment, our previous adventure was Pineapple Fried Rice with Five Spice Pork.

This time, to start, we had our side; ginger and soy glazed carrots.

Carrots simmering until tender, in water, with grated ginger. Next time I'm going to just slice the ginger. You'll see in the next photo, the grated ginger soaks up the soy sauce and you end up with little clumps of black soy sauce soaked ginger clinging to the carrots. It's kind of unappetizing. With the sliced ginger, I can scoop it out after it gives it's flavor to the carrots.

When the carrots are tender and the water has evaporated, I added one teaspoon of soy sauce and one teaspoon of honey. Keep warm until you are ready to serve.

I cooked pork chops, seasoned with Chinese Five Spice seasoning. They were thin cut chops, so they cooked quickly. When done, I added 2 finely diced shallots to the pan. Deglaze with some sherry, when evaporated add some chicken broth and simmer to reduce to a sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in one teaspoon of butter to enrich the pan sauce. Serve over the pork chops.

Dinner. Chinese Five Spice Pork Chops with Ginger Soy Glazed Carrots and Jasmine Rice. Very tasty. If you haven't used the Chinese Five Spice before, give it a shot. You have warm cinnamon and clove, plus hints of spicy peppers. It's a lovely spice blend and works well with pork!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Two from One, Part 1

Last week I did a Two from One post involving steak, peppers and onions: Steak Tacos and Quesadillas. Here is our second installment of Two from One, Part 1. This time's adventure involved thin-cut pork chops seasoned with Asian 5 Spice.

Let's begin...
Our main veg for the evening; diced carrots.

Add some onions and the 5 Spice Pork.

Viola, Pineapple Fried Rice with Asian 5 Spice Pork.

In short order we'll have the part 2 of this Two from One adventure.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Quick Cooking

Tonight's dinner: Cajun spiced tilapia
with sauted corn and boiled potatoes

I took tilapia filets and drizzled them with a touch of olive oil, salt, pepper and cajun seasoning.

The tilapia was placed under the broiler for 7 minutes.

All served together for a lovely, filling dinner. Fast, easy and good flavor.

These are my filets. They are frozen and from Giant. There were two filets in the pack, each individually sealed for easy use.


My profile photo (at the right) converted into an iconic image, like the one of Obama by Shepard Fairey.

have fun!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another Flavorful Braise

This dish is the cover recipe of the recent Fine Cooking magazine. Before I get to the recipe; Fine Cooking has undergone a make-over and I'm not loving it. Makes me a little sad, as it has been THE food magazine for me for ages, I credit it often in teaching me new recipes, techniques and tips. Most of the changes have been cosmetic, but I also felt a lack of recipes in this first re-designed issue. Just my opinion...

Anyway, braised chicken. I seriously have grown fond of braising chicken thighs for some serious flavor and beautifully tender meat, as well as the thighs are very affordable, and who doesn't like that! If you're not a fan of dark meat, give this method of cooking a chance, you may not turn back. Also, braising is easy, fairly forgiving and open to many different interpretations for flavor.

Using bone-in/skin-on chicken thighs, you need to sear the meat. I switched the recipe steps around and cooked the bacon first, then seared the chicken in some of the bacon fat.

When the chicken is done, you start to saute some fennel, carrots and shallots, add some fresh parsley and thyme.

Braising has one downfall, you can't have crispy skin on your chicken. Usually, I sear the chicken to render the fat and start to establish a flavor base for the cooking liquid, then I remove and discard the skin. This time, when the braising was complete, I put everything on a baking sheet and put it under the broiler. The skin crisped up perfectly. The veggies got a light touch of crispness as well.

The braising liquid (wine & chicken broth) is fairly light and needs to be reduced on the stove top to make a rich, lovely sauce. Let this boil for about 10-15 minutes, reducing to about one cup of liquid.

Plate up. Chicken, veggies, bacon, sauce. Delicious. The carrots kept a bit of crunch, the fennel and shallots were soft, the bacon chewy. Great textual contrast paired with wonderful flavor components. The fennel's anise flavors paired beautifully with the carrots and contrasted the rich sweetness of the bacon and shallots and complimented the moist chicken. Well done.

NOTE: The recipe will be forthcoming when I have it in front of me.

Same Ingredients, Part 2

The other day, I talked about buying ingredients with the plans to make two meals with the same ingredients. This is meal two. Sure, they are the exact same ingredients and virtually the same meal, but they are different enough to be two meals. Saturday we have Beef Tacos with sauteed peppers and onions. Last night we had Steak and Pepper Quesadillas.

The main reason I think this is a great deal is the shopping and cooking. I had to shop for these ingredients once and cook them once. Here we have the leftover steak. On Saturday, I had it sliced. For the quesadillas, I chopped it up into more manageable pieces. I don't like biting into my food, not grinding all the way through, then pulling away and having the filling flop out. The smaller pieces will prevent that.

The same goes for the peppers and onions. The previous meal, they were sliced. Here, chopped into bite size pieces.

Load your tortilla with some cheese and peppers. If you want, you can use a low-fat cheese of your choice. And since the peppers are sauted in a bit of olive oil, you could stop here and have a nice veggie friendly meal (if you didn't use the same pan as cooking the steak, like I did.) But still, just peppers, onions and cheese would make a lovely meal.

Add the chopped steak and follow that up with a little more cheese, which serves as the glue to bind this all together. I like to cook the quesadillas in a dry skillet. Some restaurants will use everything from butter, oil and cooking spray to speed the cooking and to facilitate more browning. Personally, I don't like to do that and I don't think it's necessary.

See, these have a little color. I will admit that I had bad tortillas, they weren't that good. They were very dry and fragile. Their flavor, what little there is in a store bought tortilla, as also very lacking! Regardless, cook the quesadillas over medium heat in a dry skillet until you have some color, crispness and the filling is warm and the cheese melted. Serve with sour cream, salsa and/or guacomole.

Stay Tuned, I'm going to have another Two from One at the end of this week when I use thin cut pork chops in two, uniquely different meals!

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Year, New Wine Resolutions

More great thoughts on wine from Karen MacNeil:
It’s the beginning of a new year! Let’s start the year with ten good resolutions that may just be some of the most fun and delicious things you do in 2008.

1. Experience different kinds of wine. There are more than 5,000 grape varieties: Why drink the same ones, week after week?

2. Begin a Wine Supper Club. Having friends over to cook and taste wine is a wonderful way to spend an evening.

3. Set aside a “wine discovery” budget. Each month, buy a new wine that you otherwise wouldn’t have experienced.

4. Upgrade your corkscrew. A good corkscrew makes opening wine a snap.

5. Buy better wineglasses. Wine tastes so much more vivid from the right glasses.
Previous tips from the Page-A-Day calendar by Karen: One, Two, Three, Four

Fresh Bread

So I made fresh bread. The aroma of warm bread filling your home is unmatched, maybe apple pie, for comfort and warmth. With just four ingredients, a few short steps and time to read, do chores, watch TV, there is no real reason to not give it a try. I'm so happy I did and I'll do it again! The price of the yeast, flour and salt plus my time is far more affordable than a loaf of store bought bread!

Easy French Bread

From How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

3 1/2 cups break or all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
2 tsp salt
1 tsp instant or rapid-rise yeast
Scant 1 1/2 cups water

1) Add the flour, salt and yeast to the bowl of your food processor. Pulse for 5 seconds. With the machine running, pour most of the water through the feed tube. Process for about 30 seconds. The dough should be in a defined but shaggy ball, still sticky; you would not want to knead it by hand.

2) Place the dough in a large bowl and loosely cover with a plastic bag, plastic wrap or a towel and let sit, draft free, for 2-3 hours at room temperature. If you would like to let the dough rise for a longer period of time, which will help develop the flavors, refrigerate for up to 12 hours, bring back to room temperature before continuing.

3) Sprinkle a small amount of flour on the counter and pull the dough out of the bowl and place in the middle of the flour. Gently knead the dough to redistribute the yeast and slowly form the dough into a ball, pinching the sides together on the underside of the dough ball, leaving a smooth surface on the top.

4) Line a colander with a clean kitchen towel and dust with flour. Place the dough ball in the colander, smooth side down. Loosely fold the towel over the dough ball and let rise from 2-6 hours.

5) 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. When you are ready to bake, gently turn the dough ball onto a peel or baking sheet. Slash the top several times with a knife or razor blade. Spray the inside of the oven several times with water to create steam. Then either put the baking sheet in the oven or slide the loaf onto a baking stone.

6) Spray two or three times during the first 10 minutes of baking. After 20 minutes, lower the heat to 350. Bake a total of 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown (internal temperature will be about 210.) Remove and spray with a little bit of water if you would like a shinier crust, and cool on a wire rack.

I used the boule shape because it's easy. Next time I might try doing a loaf, which will be nicer for sandwiches. We ate about one third of the loaf with dinner. The rest will be used for sandwiches.

While you are at the store, try to get some Kerrygold Butter it will make your bread experience much more satisfying! satisfying!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Perfect Lunch

A perfect lunch.

A grilled cheese sandwich, with a little sliced turkey and a bowl of tomato soup. OK, so sue me. The soup was from a can; we had to use it, it had expired 18 months ago! But the sandwich was pretty darn tasty!

Oh No I Didn't!

Oh Yes I Did!
Fresh homemade bread! So good.
And relatively easy, just a little time consuming (waiting mostly).

Stay tuned for the recipe and more photos.

Reserves running low

Houston! We have a problem.
Engines are running with only 8% fuel reserves.
We need to refill ASAP!

Nearly 10 Months Late

I spent about 4 hours today updating my Recipe Archives (link on right side-bar). It has been since March 2008 since the last time I did that. This time I went a few steps further and reorganized the recipes; as well as alphabetized the categories. I hope things make more sense and are more user-friendly. If you have suggestions to make the list easier to use, or categories you think I should add, let me know.

Thanks for your patience. I'm going to try to be more diligent in the future.

The reason this project took so long? I took all the links and dropped them into an Excel spreadsheet and categorized them by type, then alphabetized them by name. In addition I had ten months worth of links to add in. I love Excel and I love geeking out with it! Sure it was four hours, but it was a delightful four hours!

Oh, and most important...I added a new category that I'm hoping to add to in the future: Technique. I have organized links with posts on step-by-step processes like peeling tomatoes, segmenting oranges and so on. Woot!