Thursday, April 29, 2010

A new twist on "Fried" chicken cutlets

Last night's dinner was on the fly. I was running home after working a little late, picking some things up quickly at the grocery, picking up DancerinDC at the metro, the swinging by the community center to pick up fresh eggs, first strawberries of the season and probably the last of this season's asparagus. What was I to do???

I got chicken in my mind and thought about doing a fried cutlet kind of them. But I wasn't totally in the mood. Well, I went that route and thought it through on the way home. Instead of frying the cutlets, I'll bread them and then grill them! It worked!

Chicken cutlets coated with flour, dipped in egg, then coated in seasoned bread crumbs. Great texture and good flavor.

Since the grill pan was out, I decided to grill the asparagus we just picked up. Tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper and dropped on the pan. Leave them on one side until you can start to smell them cooking, then flip them over and give them another few quick minutes until tender.

Meanwhile, I wanted to revisit the Hollandaise Sauce fail from a few weeks ago. I learned from my mistakes and got it right this time. But I also went a step further and turned my Hollandaise into a Bearnaise Sauce. This may not be completely authentic, since I didn't have tarragon, but it was good. Prior to mixing the eggs and butter, I sauted some finely diced shallots in a little butter until they were almost tender, I turned the heat up and added some white wine, salt, pepper and a pinch of dried oregano to replace the tarragon. Simmer until the wine is reduced to about 2 TB and thickened. Halfway through whisking the melted butter into the Hollandaise, I stirred in the shallots and wine. I continued with the rest of the butter. So good!

The cutlets and asparagus would have been nice like this. Perhaps a wedge of lemon to brighten things up. But really...

...why not gild the lily and spoon over plenty of Bearnaise Sauce for the ultimate indulgence. The three items perfectly complemented each other. The sauce held and did what it was supposed to. The asparagus was perfectly cook, just a smidge before being tender and the chicken was crispy, crunchy and not fried or oily. All in all a good dinner. Also complemented with a bottle of white bordeaux.

Trial and Error...

A few weeks ago we went to a taco hut down the road affectionately called Obama Taco--due to the large mural of President Obama outside. The food was amazing. Soft, pliable corn tortillas. Amazing carnitas. Avocado sauce. Spicy pico. Just amazing. Well, amazing always leads to cravings on my part. So, I had to try my hand at making corn tortillas. First batch, m'eh. Second batch, much better. The difference...FAT!

Before we begin:

Tacos 5 De Mayo
7201 Annapolis Rd
Landover, MD
(301) 306-2074

GO. Try! Enjoy...

Ok, back to tortillas.

The basic recipe is corn meal/masa flour, water and salt. That was ok. Needed something extra though. So I spiced it up with some chipotle chile powder, a little extra salt and some pepper. Better. But the tortillas were dry and nearly crumbled. For a standard size batch (16 tortillas), I added 1 tablespoon of vegetable shortening. I also substituted in 1/2 a cup of regular white flour, to replace a 1/2 cup of corn meal. Next time, I might add a squige more shortening, regardless but the changes made a huge difference. The tortillas were pliable, had a little nice chew and weren't completely dry. To make them, mix everything together until combined and slightly tacky. Divide the dough into equal sized balls and press flat. I did buy a tortilla press, so that makes nice super easy. Toss in a dry pan or griddle on medium/medium-high for one minute per side. Keep warm and covered with a barely damp towel until ready to serve.

This is the first batch. Not too bad. The one on the bottom left...I was trying to make a pupusa with chicken and cheese...very messy.

I served my tortillas with grilled chicken thighs I marinated in orange juice, lime juice, salt, pepper, Ancho chili powder and cilantro for about an hour. A longer marinade time for next time, but still tasty.

The Chipotle chile powder adds a hint of redness to the tortillas. Two very hungry boys ate 8 tortillas before being stuffed to the gills.

And my favorite part of the night. Putting it together. On the tortilla, I spread on some mashed avocado and lime juice. Then some diced tomato, chunks of the grilled chicken, cilantro and the fun part...totally unexpected, but it worked...was diced green apple! I wanted some jicama for crunch, but my store hasn't been selling any, so I thought I would sub in a tart, crisp apple. The sweetness of the apple was awesome against the smoky chicken and Chipotle chile in the tortilla and the texture was a nice treat with the creamy avocado and chewy tortilla.

Very Happy!

I will do this again, many times over the coming summer I know...but I'm still going back to Obama Taco!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Life is insane...

The past few weeks have been OUT OF CONTROL. I will probably get some semblance of a normal life back next week...if I'm lucky. In the meantime, we need to eat!

Last night I threw together a pot of Chili-mac. My home version of a Hamburger Helper meal. Ground beef, onion, plenty of spices, canned tomatoes, pasta and done. One pot. Dinner in about 25 minutes. Easy.

1) Brown ground beef, drain fat.
2) Add onion, cook for a few short minutes to soften.
3) Add spices (Chili seasoning, cumin, cinnamon, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, garlic, etc.) Use what you like.
4) Add a can of diced tomatoes and 2-3 handfuls of macaroni. You can add additional vegetables if you like. Corn. Bell peppers...other?
5) Stir to incorporate. Add 1 can of water--use the tomato can.
6) Cover and simmer until pasta is cooked.
7) Serve hot and garnish with cheese & sour cream if you like.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Broken Dreams

There was a kitchen FAIL on Sunday. Hollandaise Sauce and Eggs Benedict. Sad...

First the sauce. It's awesome. Three eggs yolks, dribble of lemon juice, water, salt, pepper and TWO STICKS OF BUTTER! Ha ha!!! It's a super easy sauce to make. These eggs came directly from the farm. What a glorious color!

We also got our asparagus directly from the farm as well. Set in the steamer and ready to go.

I tried something different with poaching the eggs. I lined small dishes with plastic wrap, gave it a light spritz of non-stick cooking spray, gathered the sides together and tied them off. Egg pouches. No more floaty poached eggs.

The final sauce, all perfect and smooth, buttery and tangy.

Eggs Benedict with steamed asparagus.

Where's the FAIL?

In a matter of seconds from when I put together the above plate and when I moved to the next one...

1) The asparagus was over-cooked and mushy. There was no saving it. It was vibrant green and tender to dull, brownish-green and mushy. No texture at all. So what went wrong. Too long on the steamer. I was juggling too many things at once and should have pulled the asparagus a minute sooner, but I thought I could move faster.

2) The eggs. This technique worked well. Really it did. The problem was timing again. I cooked them low and slow. Too slow. Then at the end, in order to speed things up, I brought the temperature up. Which finished the eggs and again, in a matter of seconds, they went from tender whites and runny yolks to almost a chewy white and grainy, hard-cooked yolk. Blah.

3) The sauce. My mistake here was leaving the finished sauce over the lowest heat I could get on my stove. Once the sauce was done, that was still too much heat and the sauce broke. It went from velvety smooth to curdled and nasty. I tried for several minutes to fix the sauce. Add a little more butter, a dribble of water, etc. heat, no heat.

After I finally gave up and cried on my over-poached eggs, I dug into my Julia Child library to see what I should have done.

1) I can't fix the over-cooked asparagus or over-poached eggs. If you are concerned, start over.

2) For the sauce, it can be salvaged. Remove a small bit of the sauce and pour into a bowl. Add a dribble of lemon juice and whisk. Add a dribble of melted butter, bit by bit, while whisking until the sauce starts to come together. Start spooning the broken sauce, bit by bit, whisking the whole time. Eventually, the sauce will come back together. You want the sauce to be warm, about body temperature warm. Not hot. That's what broke the sauce in the first place. So a little patience and extra butter and lemon juice will get you back to where you need to be...

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Easter Dinner

Easter Dinner was awesome this year. I loved it and would totally make it again in a heart beat and eat twice as much, until I explode!

I made a big ol' pork roast. It was about a 4 lb pork roast (bone-in) that I seasoned with salt & pepper and Krakow Night's Seasoning from Penzey's. I seared the roast for about 5 minutes per side to give it a nice brown crust. Then I set it aside for a minute and drained out some of the fat and sauted one diced shallot and 1/2 a teaspoon of caraway seeds. I deglazed the pan with 1 cup of Riesling. I added 1/4 cup of apple cider. For a little richness, I added 1/2 of a beef bouillon cube. Let that simmer for a minute. Let the roast settle into the pan. Add 1 pound of sauerkraut. Drop in 4 allspice berries and 1 bay leaf. Cover and braise in the oven for 4-5 hours until it's fall apart tender.

To accompany the pork and sauerkraut, I made potato pancakes. Serve with sour cream and apple sauce.

When the roast is done, break it apart into large pieces and remove any excessively large pieces of remaining fat, tendons and the bone.

The sauerkraut was awesome. It mixed in and soaked up all the pork fat, wine and apple cider flavors. Nothing bitter or sour about it. It was a great, juicy pairing with the tender pork. This is hearby my favorite sauerkraut, period!

Plate up and enjoy!

And of course, for desser I made that bad-ass cheesecake!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Easter Cheesecake!

I made a cheesecake! This is only the second time I've made a cheesecake from scratch. I LOVE IT. It's actually pretty darn easy and this recipe works! All you need is some time, the proper amount of time for prepping (not much time at all!), baking (an hour), cooling (another hour or two) and then an overnight rest in the fridge.

You know I love Fine Cooking magazine and I really love the recipe builder they provided for cheesecake. They give you the step by step to make a basic cheesecake, then the instructions needed to mix it up a bit and create new flavors. The magazine gave something like 18-20 different versions. I kept drooling over the Cannoli Cheesecake. I had to have it! So, I made it. It was a little less Cannoli Cheesecake and a little more Cheesecake with orange and chocolate chips. Regardless, it worked!

Cannoli Cheesecake

Cheesecake w/orange & chocolate chips

I placed a cheese of parchment on the bottom of my springform pan. IF I wanted to transfer the cake to a serving plate, this would be necessary to help move the cake without it breaking. It will also help with sticking, should that be a problem.

The crust. The Cannoli recipe called for a crust made with Vanilla Wafers. My vanilla wafers were stale. I managed to dig a few out that were a little crunchy, so I used those, graham crackers and some ginger snaps. What the heck, a little fun doesn't hurt anyone. Grind them up in the food processor, add some sugar and butter.

Make sure the pan is put together properly and add the crumbs into the pan and press into the bottom and sides. I used a flat bottom measuring cup to help make the bottom and sides smooth. Very helpful tip. Bake for about 12 minutes, then cool.

Mix up the filling. 3 blocks of cream cheese, 1 cup of ricotta cheese, sugar, vanilla, orange zest (I think I used too much, which made the orange flavor much more dominate than I intended), chocolate chips and eggs. Make sure all the ingredients are whipped up nice and smooth before adding the eggs. If the eggs get whipped too much, there will be too much rising in the oven and extra cracking on the top of the cake. That's not a bad thing; it's asethetics. And a little texture; too much air and the cake will feel airy, I prefer cheesecake that is dense and creamy. Bake for about an hour until jiggly.

Fresh out of the oven. I got some crackage, but not bad. Not like the last cheesecake I made. Allow the cheesecake to rest on the counter for about 2 hours, so it can cool completely. Make sure it won't be moved around and otherwise disstressed while resting. Once cool, cover and place in the fridge for at least 8 hours. Overnight is best.

When you are ready to serve, carefully unmold. Make sure the crust doesn't stick to the pan anywhere. To slice. Use a large chef's knife that has been run under warm water. Slice, whip the knife clean, dip in warm water or whip with a hot, wet cloth and continue. A clean knife will give you nice clean slices. This cake can serve 10-12 people.

I garnished the cheesecake with some orange segments. The orange and chocolate played really well together. And with the creamy cheese flavors as well. Another topping suggestion might be a chocolate ganache, but that will certainly give you a rich cake. I think this was just about perfect; the right texture, flavor, sweetness. One slice filled me up and didn't make me feel gross and nasty afterwards. I'm very happy!

Cannoli Cheesecake
From Fine Cooking, April/May 2010, No. 104
Cheesecake; Variations on a
Serves 10-12

Step 1:

If going with a non-Cannoli variation...

Choose Your Ingredients and read thru the recipe completely before starting.
CLICK here for ideas.

Step 2:

Make the Crust

8 oz (2 cups) cookie crumbs (I used a combo of graham, vanilla wafers and ginger snaps)
3 TB granulated sugar
3 1/2 oz (7 TB) unsalted butter, melted

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375F.

In a medium bowl, stir the cookie crumbs and sugar. Mix in the melted butter until the crumbs are evenly moist and clump together slightly. Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch springform pan and press evenly onto the bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of the pan (to press, use your fingers or a flat-bottomed measuring cup). Bake until the crust is fragrant and slightly darkened (this will be more obvious with lighter crumbs, but even even the ginger and chocolate crumbs will darken a bit), 9 to 12 minutes. Let the pan cool on a rack. Lower the oven temperature to 300F.

Step 3:

Make the Filling

3 8-oz packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup of ricotta cheese
2 TB all-purpose flour
Pinch of table salt
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
1 TB pure vanilla extract
1 TB orange zest
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips
4 large eggs, at room temperature

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and ricotta, flour and salt on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle frequently, until very smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Make sure the cheese has no lumps. Add the sugar and continue beating until well blended and smooth. Add the vanilla, orange zest and chocolate chips, and beat until blended, about 30 seconds. Add the eggs one at a time, beating just until blended. (Don’t overbeat once the eggs have been added or the cheesecake will puff too much and crack as it cools.) Pour the filling into the cooled crust and smooth the top.

Step 4:

Bake the cake

Bake at 300F until the center jiggles like Jell-O when nudged, 55-65 minutes. The cake will be slightly puffed around the edges, and the center will still look moist. Set on a rack and cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

Step 5:


If you like, you can garnish the cheesecake with orange segments, powdered sugar or a chocolate ganache.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Trade Winds

One of the great things I've experienced while learning to cook is how inter-connected our global cultures are. Last night's dinner is a great example of the tangled web we humans create. The island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, the southernmost islands in the Caribbean Sea and just off the coast of Venezuela, has a cuisine indicative of the local region and a global influence. With roots as far reaching as the Indian sub-continent, Africa, Europe and as local as the Caribbean Sea and the Latin nations of Central and South America, these flavors are sure to awaken your palate and liven your senses. So as summer approaches the northern hemisphere, dim the lights, light the torches and turn on some steel drum and Calypso music and enjoy.

Trinidadian Chicken Curry

To start, you need time to marinade the chicken. A couple hours minimum, overnight is nice. Onions, tomato, garlic, jalapeno and I forgot the cilantro. A spoon of mustard and a little drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Basically a salsa/pico de gallo.

When you're ready to cook, get the spices ready. I used a standard brand of curry and added a teaspoon of Jerk Seasoning to bring some Caribbean flavors to the party. Plus some tumeric, which has good health benefits. And great dying ability. Tumeric can and will stain things. Including wooden spoons and some plastic utensils. Mix these spices with water to make a slurry.

The first step in cooking is to get some oil hot. Use regular vegetable oil if you like. Or do as I did and use some olive oil and butter. That's how I roll. Butter is a good thing. To the fat you will add the slurry and cook until it becomes a thick paste.

After the slurry has become a paste, add some sliced onions and cook until soft.

To the onions, add the marinated chicken. Shake off the excess marinade, but don't worry if a few bits and pieces stick around. They will cook up in a minute. Cook chicken for a few minutes on one side, then turn. I like using boneless/skinless chicken thighs best. Great flavor! But chicken breasts will work as well.

The recipe I tried also suggested the addition of potatoes. So, I sliced up some leftover fingerling potatoes I had and tossed them in. Add potatoes will require a little bit longer of cooking time to give time for the potatoes to become tender. The dish also screamed out for some tomato to me. So I added 1/2 cup of diced tomatoes.

Top off the ingredients with broth and water as needed. Bring to a boil, drop the temp to keep at a low simmer. Cover, leaving partially open to let the steam escape and the sauce to eventually reduce some. At this point, if you added some warm spices (cinnamon/allspice) and some golden raisins, you basically have a Moroccan-style Tagine.

Having cooked for about 25 minutes. We're ready to go.

Along the Tagine lines, I served the chicken curry with couscous (from a box, with flavors, didn't like it. won't try it again). Traditionally, it would be served with white rice. If you don't keep forgetting the cilantro, you can toss some on as a garnish. Add some roti or flatbread for a wonderful meal! Spicy, rich, tender, amazing flavor.

Trinidadian Chicken Curry

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks
Click over for great photos.

For 2

4 boneless/skinless chicken thighs
1 tsp salt
Fresh black pepper
1 tsp yellow mustard
1 whole medium onion, halved
1 whole tomato, quartered
1/2 jalpeno pepper
8 cloves garlic
8 sprigs cilantro
1 TB curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp Jerk seasoning
1 TB olive oil
1 TB butter
1/2 cup diced tomato
1 cup chicken broth + 1 cup water (if needed)

Place chicken in a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and add mustard.

In a food processor, chop half the onion, tomato, cilantro, garlic, and black pepper and/or jalapeno.

Add mixture to the bowl. Stir the whole mixture together so that the chicken is totally coated in the seasoning ingredients. Allow chicken to marinate for at least two hours, or overnight.

After chicken has marinated, make the curry slurry: Add curry powder and turmeric to a bowl. Pour in 1/3 cup water and stir until dissolved.

In a large skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium-low heat. Pour in the curry slurry and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Curry slurry will deepen in color. If the mixture becomes too dry during cooking, add a little water.

When the curry slurry has become a thick paste, Slice the other half of the onion and add it in. Allow the onions to soften, then add in the chicken. Stir to coat the chicken, then cook, half covered, for five minutes. Turn the chicken, then add in the broth and water if needed to nearly cover the chicken. Shake the pan to let the broth distribute. Add the diced tomatoes. Allow the chicken to cook until done, stirring every five minutes. Cook for about 20 to 15 minutes.

At the end, be sure to taste and adjust salt and pepper. Serve chicken over rice; spoon sauce over the top.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

any good salmon steak recipes?

I'm not fond of salmon myself, but what I might consider doing if I were to make it is to marinate the salmon in a soy/ginger/honey mixture, maybe a pinch of red pepper flakes to counter the sweet, then broil it, spooning some extra marinade over halfway through cooking, to make a glaze. Serve with rice and steamed broccoli. Hope that helps.

Ask me anything