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Monthly Archives: October 2012

[10/100] Baked Greek Stuff

The basis for this recipe is one from a cookbook I’d highly recommend:  9×13: The Pan That Can. Now, I won’t try to convince anybody that these are glorious culinary masterpieces, but they *are* relatively simple to throw together in 20-30 minutes, tend not to require exotic ingredients, and don’t use a lot of pots and pans in the making.  Those things count for a lot in my world.

Anyway.  I made enough changes to the published recipe that I think I can safely call this one mine, but I wanted to give credit where it’s due and make a recommendation for the resource.

The recipe pretty easily serves 8 hungry people, with leftovers for reheating.  I prepped ingredients over the course of a couple of hours and then got some help with putting it all together about 30 minutes before we wanted to eat.  You’ll need:

  • a 9×13 pan — measure that sucker (it doesn’t matter if it’s glass or non-stick metal)
  • 12 oz rotini pasta — another shape, like bowtie, might work fine
  • 1/2-cup balsamic vinegar
  • about 1 pound of Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped — that’ll be about 7 of those suckers
  • 15 oz (one can) of canellini beans — drain them for sure, but rinsing is optional
  • 12 oz crumbled Feta cheese — we used “reduced fat” and couldn’t really taste the difference
  • 1 jar of pitted Greek black (kalamata) olives — this will be about 10-12 ounces
  • 3/4-cup seasoned, fine bread crumbs — do *not* use the style that’s Italian-seasoned
  • 1 cup plain, low-fat yogurt
  • 3/4 cup milk — we used skim milk, but any sort of milk should be fine
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly grease your pan (we used a few spritzes of Pam), sprinkle about 1/4-cup of the bread crumbs into the bottom of the pan, and set it aside.  Then cook the pasta about a minute or so less than the package directions say, because it’ll bake later and you don’t want it to get over-cooked.  If you used a large pot for cooking the pasta, you can put it back in there after draining and use that as a mixing bowl (reducing the number of dirty dishes).  Stir the balsamic vinegar into the pasta; then add the tomatoes, beans, cheese, and olives.  Spoon the pasta mixture into your baking pan.

In a separate, medium-sized bowl, combine the yogurt, milk, Parmesan, and flour until smooth.  Pour over the pasta mixture.  Sprinkle the top evenly with the remaining bread crumbs.

Cover (with foil) and bake for 25 minutes.  Then uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes more, or until the top is lightly browned.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.  We put it on the table with some wedges of pita bread and hummus for dipping.

 

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Posted by on October 19, 2012 in Recipes

 

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[9/100] The Magic of Marinating the Meat

Technically, this recipe is for Lemon Skillet Chicken, but really…it’s all about the glories of marinating the meat.  Why marinate?  Because it lets you get away with doing almost nothing else to the meat.  Marinate for a few hours, grill it (or whatever), and you’re DONE.   And it’s so very effing good I can’t even.

What you need for a basic marinade is: equal parts of some sort of oil (like olive or safflower oil) and some sort of acid (like wine, vinegar, or even orange juice, plus whatever seasoning strikes your fancy (like maybe garlic, soy sauce, or a blend of dried herbs).  Blend it all evenly and pour over the meat (even frozen will do, as long as you’ll have time for it to thaw in the fridge before cooking).  Lock it into a baggie or put into a Tupperware or something.  That’s really just about it until you’re ready to cook.

For this recipe, which is scaled to serve eight, you’ll need:

  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice — I have an unreasonable preference for Italian Volcano lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup white wine (optional) — use apple juice if you need to go non-alcoholic
  • 6 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 6 cloves garlic — I use the diced garlic in a jar because I don’t like my fingers getting all sticky with garlic juice  (so sue me)
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary — no, really, the dried stuff seems to work better for marinades
  • 2 cups chicken broth — we’ve already talked about broth
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil (or less)

Blend the lemon juice, wine/juice, garlic, and herbs until smooth.  (If you don’t have a blender, just mix it all in a bowl.)  Put the chicken breasts into a Ziploc bag or a Tupperware or something that’s about the right size for it all to fit and be covered with the marinade.  Dividing it up into two containers is just fine.  It doesn’t have to marinate all day or overnight, but you should give it at least four hours.  You’ll want to scrumble it around periodically to make sure the meat really soaks it all up pretty evenly, but marinating isn’t exactly a *precision* science, so don’t fret too much.

A quick note about timing:  Once you take it outta the fridge for cooking, it’ll take about 20-30 minutes to be done, so figure out your side dishes accordingly.   We did something of a brown rice risotto, which didn’t turn out super, so I’m not including it here.  (Of course, the teenage boy only pointed out it was “a little bit al dente” as he was taking his third serving, so maybe it wasn’t all that bad.)

In your skillet — we’ve talked about having a good skillet, right? — heat up the oil over medium-high heat.  It’s important not to use *too much* oil, because meat that’s too wet when cooking won’t brown nicely.  You might want to start with LESS oil and see how it works.  Also: for most recipes involving marinade, you’ll discard the marinade when you start to cook the meat, but save this stuff, because we’re going to use it later.  (My Scottish husband loves that.)  Three or four pieces at a time, cook the chicken until brown on each side and no longer pink on the inside (probably 4-5 minutes on each side.) Try not to move it around too much when it’s cooking.

Remove the cooked chicken from the skillet and keep it warm in a covered dish.  Now add the leftover marinade, along with the cornstarch and the chicken broth.  Wait.  Let’s back up a second.  The cornstarch will go into the gravy easier if you mix it with a few tablespoons of broth until it’s smooth.  NOW we can add all those fluids and whisk them together over medium-high heat.  Bring it all to a boil, continuing to stir like a mad genius, until it boils.  Boil for about two minutes.  If your chicken is still pretty warm, then pour the gravy over it and serve.  If the chicken has cooled, then put it back in the skillet with the gravy and warm it through before serving.  YUM.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2012 in Recipes

 

[8/100] Guest Star: Biscuits & Gravy

This recipe is courtesy of my online buddy, Katrina.  (She’s welcome to comment here and provide a link to her own, significantly more stylish, WordPress blog, because I didn’t think ahead and get her permission.)

Biscuits & Gravy (but mostly gravy)

First the biscuits: buy a can of Pillsbury Grands. Wasn’t that easy?  Other than that, you’ll need:

  • breakfast sausage, seasoned (one roll)  — like, Jimmy Dean or Bob Evans
  • cooking oil or butter (about a tablespoon) — your choice
  • flour (maybe 1/4 cup or so) — the plain white stuff
  • milk (a cup or two) — your choice how high in fat the milk is
  • plenty of salt and pepper

Now the gravy. It is just a white sauce with a couple extra things thrown in. Knowing how to make a white sauce will serve you well–it’s the base for fettucine alfredo and macaroni & cheese, and substituting milk with broth gets you a veloute, which makes enchiladas saucy and all kinds of other wonderful things.

Put your large nonstick skillet to heat on high. Cut open your roll of breakfast sausage–this MUST be pre-seasoned. I like to use Bob Evans or Jimmy Dean because my momma used them. Peel the wrapper off the sausage and dump it in the skillet. Break up the sausage and turn it till it browns.*

Now. In the Good Old Days sausage was fatty enough that at this point, you’d have a goodly layer of grease in the pan. But they Don’t Make It Like They Used To, so at this point you’ve probably got barely a film. Add about a tablespoon of cooking oil or a nice pat of butter, and stir it up. White sauce needs fat as a base.

Get out one of your spoons (for Americans: soup spoons. For Brits: dessert spoons. For scientists: 10ml spoons) and get yourself a heaping, I mean HEAPING, spoonful of flour. Sprinkle it all over your buttered sausage bits and stir it up. The flour will more or less disappear.

Now get out your gallon of milk and begin pouring. You’re done when there are only a few little sausage bits poking up above the milk. Add a hefty pinch of salt. Get out your black pepper grinder and start grinding. Grind more. Grind more. When you’ve ground what seems like more pepper than could possibly be right, stop and stir the gravy. Then grind some more pepper into it.

As soon as the milk starts to bubble, turn the heat to medium-low and cover the pan until your biscuits are done or 3-5 minutes. When biscuits and gravy are both done, ladle the latter over the former and dig in. Best eaten at 7am on a January morning right before your four-hour organic chemistry lab.

*For optimum timing with Pillsbury Grands biscuits (14 minute bake time), you’ll have put the biscuits in the hot oven right after you put the sausage in the pan.

About gravy connoiseurs: in my opinion, this gravy is tastier than what 95% of restaurants serve, but people get combative about sausage gravy. Some people like to put herbs in theirs, especially thyme. In my opinion these people are using under-spiced sausage. Some people like to put chili powder in theirs, but this recipe has enough black pepper to be plenty spicy. Some people like Tabasco sauce in their gravy. I think it lends an unwelcome fruity-sweet note, so I put the bottle on the table and let people doctor to their tastes.

For an authentic Illinois treat, pile hash browns, sausage links, and a fried egg on the biscuits before ladling over the gravy. We call it a Haystack.

Enjoy!  (Thanks, Kat!)

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Recipes

 

[7/100] Queen Jennifer’s Cream Scones

Many thanks to Jennifer, who is our very first “guest star” with her scones recipe.  The kids refer to her as Queen Jennifer because there are a lot of Jennifers in their lives, but this one brought them for tea and cakes at the Queen’s Pantry (in Leavenworth, KS) and they’ve  never forgotten the experience.

According to Jennifer, if you put anything in your scones, they might still be yummy, but they are Not Scones Anymore.  So this recipe keeps it basic.  (For the record, neither of us has ever made this recipe without doubling it.)

Cream Scones

  • 1¼ cup flour — white flour, bleached or unbleached
  • 2½ t. baking powder — not to be confused with baking soda (I did that once, and the resulting FAIL is something of a family legend)
  • ¼ t. salt — tiny measurement; BIG difference
  • 3 T. butter — real butter, people (not softened)
  • 2 T. honey  — it works okay with less honey (if you’re trying to cut down on sugar)
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup whipping cream or Half and Half  — plain milk or even skim milk will do just fine, though it does change the “lift” of the finished product
  • For glaze: 1 egg white and some granulated sugar

Combine dry ingredients. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  (“Cutting in” is easy.  Here’s how:  http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/bakingdesserts/ss/pastrycut.htm)

Add honey, egg, and cream.  (I usually combine the ingredients with my hands, but I suppose a spoon would do the trick. Do not overwork this dough.)

Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead lightly into a round. Cut into six or eight wedges (like a pizza) and place on greased baking sheet. Brush with egg white and sprinkle with sugar. (They come out just fine if you forget this part.)  Bake at 350 F until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Best served warm.  Tea optional.

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2012 in Recipes

 

[6/100] Stinky Feet Chicken

The official name for this recipe is “Balsamic Chicken,” but the kids started calling it “Stinky Feet Chicken” because balsamic vinegar has a very particular scent when it starts cooking.  Totally worth it, in my opinion…but you might want to make sure the evening is pleasant enough to open some windows, is all I’m saying.

Let’s shake it up and start with a side dish, though.  Brown rice and broccoli is just about right for this dish.  Sometimes I’ll substitute sweet potato fries instead.  But if you’re going for the brown rice, then start it first, because it’ll take longer than the chicken.  (Use half-strength chicken broth for the liquid you cook the rice in, if you can.  It adds awesome flavor, and you’ll be using some broth for the chicken as well.)  I am very bad at making rice.  Go check out some Alton Brown or America’s Test Kitchen if you need rice-cooking tutorials, because I am totally not your girl.

The math of this recipe will serve 4 hungry family members, including a teenage boy who will want seconds.  Feel free to scale it down if you’re serving fewer people.  For the main dish, start with:

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts — pound these out a little bit, so they’ll be of mostly uniform thickness (that means they’ll all cook in about the same amount of time)
  • 3-5 tablespoons of flour — use white or unbleached flour (wheat flour will be too earthy for this recipe)
  • some salt and pepper
  • about 2 tablespoons of olive oil — just enough for the bottom of the skillet
  • about 1.5 cups balsamic vinegar — oh, baby
  • about 1.5 cups chicken broth — one cup each of vinegar and broth would probably do the trick, but our family likes to have some extra “schlorp” for the rice
  • a teaspoon or so of rosemary — this measurement is for dried rosemary; if you use fresh, use a sprig or two
  • a large skillet — after all, it needs to fit six chicken breasts without crowding (I’ll come back and add an image here later, to show you what I mean.)

This is not my skillet, but it looks a whole lot like mine.  Nice and wide, a few    inches deep.  Heavy stainless steel.  Comes with a lid (though you won’t need the lid for this recipe).  A very useful item.

 

A note on broth: Some folks go gonzo and *distill* their own broth with some kind of dark magic I’ve never tried before.  (They all say it’s easy, whoever “they” are.)  I’ve used broth from a can, bullion cubes, bullion granules, and Better Than Bullion.  I really, really like Better Than Bullion.  It’s a chicken base that comes in a little jar you’ll have to refigerate after opening; the broth is made by combining the chicken base with boiling water.  I like that it dissolves more smoothly than cubes or granules, and I can control the intensity of the broth easier than I could if it came out of a can.  Your choice.  I probably couldn’t taste the difference anyway.

After pounding out the chicken a little bit — wait.  Do you know about pounding?  It’s when you carefully cover the meat with a little bit of plastic wrap that’s going to slip anyway and then pound it a bit with something wide and flat.  We’re not trying to make it cry or anything…just making sure it’s of relatively equal thickness, because that way it’ll all be cooked through in about the same amount of time.  The plastic wrap *always* slips.  (And you don’t have to use a fancy meat pounding tool.  I used the bottom of a heavy ceramic mug for YEARS and everything came out fine.)  If you *do* use a meat-pounding tool (and I’m giggling just writing that term), do NOT use the side that has piercing points; just use the flat side.

So.  Where was I?  Yes.  I got ahead of myself.  Let’s back up to *before* you pound out the chicken.  Spread the flour on a big, flat plate (a dinnerplate will do fine, or maybe even a pie dish if you want to be fancy) and blend in as much salt and pepper as you think would be nice.  I tend to use about 1 tsp of salt and about a 1/2-tsp of pepper, but there’s lots of room for variation here.  Then, start the skillet heating to medium-high with only enough olive oil in the bottom so things won’t stick.  You don’t want the chicken to pan-fry or be “wet” in the pan.  A relatively dry searing is what we’re after here.

Once the pan is pretty much ready, dredge the chicken breasts in the flour.  You’ll want them to be covered thoroughly with flour but tap off any excess before laying them in the pan.  Brown the chicken on both sides — should be 2-3 minutes on each side, depending on the awesomeness of your burners.   Resist the temptation to turn the chicken over too soon or to move it around the pan.  The combo of a relatively dry pan and relatively high heat should give you a nice browning, but it’ll only happen if you mostly leave the chicken alone.  You’re not so much cooking the chicken here as sealing in the YUM.

After the chicken is browned, slowly pour in the vinegar.  Safety tip:  do NOT put your face over the pan while you’re adding the vinegar.  This is not one of those moments in cooking when you should lean in and breathe in deeply the essence of what you’re cooking.  Try to lean back from the steam or it’ll make your nostrils burn like you wouldn’t believe.  Let the mixture come to a boil.  Then, reduce the heat to somewhere between medium and low, and let it simmer for approximately 10 minutes.  Again, resist the temptation to move the chicken around the pan too much.  Do not cover anything.

While you’re waiting, prepare your chicken broth if you haven’t already.  This would also be a good time to start steaming your veggies and get out a serving dish for the chicken.  When the 10 minutes are up, add the chicken broth and continue to simmer.   (You might need to boost the heat for a minute to get a boil going on again before going back to a simmer).  Again with the not-covering.  With the addition of the broth, things will not smell so awful. There is no particular time we’re going for here, but what we’re trying to achieve is a REDUCTION of about one-half to two-thirds of the liquid volume.  This thickens the sauce and also turns the flavor up to 11.

After that, gently remove the chicken from the pan and place it in the serving dish you’ve already gotten out.  Cover it up to keep things warm.  Add your rosemary to the sauce still in the pan.  (If you’re using dried rosemary, sort of rub it between the palms of your hands to activate the oils and break up the needles a bit first.)  Continue to simmer and reduce for a few more minutes.  I never time this part…you’ll just reach a point where it seems done or you just can’t stand not to serve it.  Probably less than three minutes.  Pour the sauce over the chicken or into some sort of gravy-pouring thing, and serve.  With the brown rice and broccoli that are already done, because you’re brilliant.

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2012 in Recipes