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Category Archives: Chicken Recipes

Which Came First: The Chicken or the Eggs?

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Last night I played with fire for dinner, and it was so good that I did it again today. I served boneless, skinless chicken breasts and rice with black beans and corn, topped generously with a more picante version of the Roasted Chile Verde Sauce from Isabel Cruz’s first cookbook, Isabel’s Cantina. The sauce is labor-intensive, but absolutely fabulous in terms of flavor, flexibility and healthiness. I made it blow-your-head-off hot, but the original recipe calls for the removal of most of the chiles’ seeds, so it could actually be quite a bit milder. I also had to use winter-pallid plum tomatoes, but I think this will be even better in the summer when I get fresh, locally grown produce.

There was sauce left over, so for lunch today I scrambled eggs with white Mexican cheese and poured the remaining Chile Verde over the top. Honestly, it was so damned good that for a minute I genuinely believed that I could whip up some mole, make some tortillas from scratch, and challenge Rick Bayless to a throw-down.

Restored to my senses, I offer you the recipe for the Chile Verde sauce. As Cruz notes in her book, it would also be good with pork, or simply served with tortilla chips. I’d also like it over burritos, I think. If you are serving it with chicken, try it over grilled or sauteed breasts, or even roast chicken parts. If eggs are your pleasure, try this over a creamy plate of scrambled specimens or atop two fried or over-easy on a heated tortilla.

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Roasted Chile Verde Sauce

(Adapted from Isabels’ Cantina by Isabel Cruz)

Ingredients

  1. 3 tablespoons olive oil
  2. 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  3. 5 garlic cloves, minced ( I used big garlic cloves; if you end up with the tiny ones I’d use 6 or 7)
  4. 4 Anaheim chiles, roasted and chopped
  5. 2 Poblano chiles, roasted and chopped
  6. 1 pound tomatillos, roasted and pureed
  7. 3 plum tomatoes, diced
  8. Kosher salt

Preparation

  1. To roast chiles and tomatillos: cook over the flame of a gas grill or other fire source until skin turns black and begins to blister and peel. Place in a brown paper bag and leave for 15-20 minutes. Remove chiles and tomatillos from bag and remove skin with the bag or a paper towel or kitchen towel.
  2. To prepare chiles: Cut off stem ends and split in half lengthwise. (WEAR GLOVES and if you don’t wash hands very thoroughly before touching your eyes or other tender parts of your body). The heat is in the seeds, and Cruz’s original recipe calls for “removing and discarding the seeds,” easily done with a knife blade. If you remove the seeds, the sauce will be flavorful but quite mild. I left all of them in, which made the sauce extremely hot. You could also remove any other percentage of seeds and adjust the heat to your liking. Once you have removed the desired amount of seedage, roughly chop the chiles.
  3. Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook onions and garlic for about 3 minutes. Add the chiles, tomatillo puree and tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Add 1/2 cup cold water and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes or until thickened, and season with salt. (Note: the original recipe calls for adding 1 cup of water, but I found that at the end of 30 minutes the sauce was still very watery and had to be cooked over higher heat to evaporate some of the excess liquid. In future, I’ll start with the half cup, watch the sauce and add a little more water if it seems to be too chunky).
  5. Serve hot; sauce will keep in the refrigerator for three days.

“As You Like It” Curry

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Last Friday night, I invented a curry-like dish. The plan had been for some sort of Italianate meal involving risotto, chicken, mushrooms and white wine, but since I had used up the mushrooms and white wine the night before, and had several packets of new and intriguing spices that had been waiting patiently since Christmas, I decided to see what I could come up with. Disclaimer: This is not how to make authentic Indian Curry and if that is what you are looking for, there are literally hundreds of other blogs that can give you great recipes. I would hate to think of some trusting type making a batch of this to serve yo prospective in-laws from Delhi. This is to curry as Egg Foo Young is to real Chinese food (I think) but it still tastes complex and rich and wonderful and can be adjusted to suit your family’s tastes and the contents of your kitchen. It also includes protein, starch and a vegetable, and if you add another fruit or vegetable you have a balanced meal. We had ours with sliced citrus on the side, which was a refreshing counterpoint to the heat (literal and figurative) of the curry.

“As You Like It” Curry
(Serves 4)

Ingredients

  1. 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I think you could also easily use firm tofu, shrimp, pork, or even portobello mushrooms)
  2. 4 shallots or 1 yellow onion, dices
  3. 4 cloves garlic, smashed or diced
  4. Garam Masala (or curry powder, although it will taste different)
  5. Red Pepper Flakes or Cayenne (optional)
  6. Salt
  7. Sugar
  8. 2-3 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
  9. About 1 cup frozen peas
  10. 1 cup chicken broth
  11. Milk or cream (optional)
  12. 1/4 cup flour
  13. 2 cups Basmati rice
  14. Water

Preparation

  1. Start rice by placing 2 cups Basmati and 3 cups water in a pot that has a lid.
  2. Heat oil in large frying pan over medium heat and add onions or shallots. Cook for about 4 minutes
  3. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently. If there’s any sign of browning garlic, reduce heat immediately.
  4. When rice comes to a boil, reduce heat and cover; set timer for 17 minutes.
  5. Add to pan about 2 tablespoons Garam Masala, 1 teaspoon salt, a pinch of hot pepper and a pinch of sugar, heat and stir for about 1 minute until you smell the spices
  6. Raise heat to medium-high and add chicken breasts.Cook, uncovered for 15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes.
  7. (If rice timer goes off during the making of the curry, simply turn it off and leave it covered. It won’t be long).
  8. Check largest breast at thickest point to be sure juices run clear and chicken is done. If it is, remove to cutting board. If not, turn and cook another 5 minutes and check again.
  9. When chicken is cooked through and removed to cutting board, add flour to pan and stir into pan juices, scraping up anything from the bottom of the pan. Cook at least 1-2 minutes to “toast” flour.
  10. Add chicken broth and continue to stir until mixture thickens. Taste and adjust flavorings; if you want more heat, add more red pepper, if you want deeper flavor add more Garam Masala and if its too sharp or bitter add a little more sugar. This is a very personal thing.
  11. When the flavor is “as you like it” add more water or cream or milk (I used milk to get a creamier sauce) until the sauce is thick and coats the back of a spoon, but is not gelatinous or like a dip. Reduce heat to medium low and stir in peas.
  12. As the peas cook, slice chicken into strips about 1/4 inch wide. This will be messy since they will be coated with juice and spices, but try to retain as much of that as you can; its where the flavor is.
  13. Add chicken to curry and stir in. Check a pea for doneness, correct seasonings again if needed, and serve over Basmati.

Random Dinner Snapshot: Life Happens

I had planned this interesting, vegetarian, Carribean black bean and rice dish for dinner, but I kept seeing the brave faces of my guys who, two nights ago ate Penne with Vodka Sauce that still tasted a little like vodka (according to the wise claudia, I could have cooked it off over high heat, but I swear that the recipe never indicated that the temperature should be above a “simmer” once the alcohol was added), and last night ate a Moroccan chicken dish with prunes in it and a side of Brussel sprouts. So they have had an inappropriately alcoholic dinner and a fiberama. They need a down-market, anti-haute break.

As if in response to my thoughts, I received an e-mail as part of a recipe exchange in which I’m participating. It required ingredients I had in the house (although I did go out and buy an avocado), cooked in the crock pot in exactly the amount of time I had before dinner, and seemed to be a good combination of tasty and un-exotic. Here it is:

  1. 4-5 boneless chicken breasts
  2. 1(15 1/2 ounce) can black beans
  3. 1 (15 ounce) can corn
  4. 1 (15 ounce) jar salsa, any kind
  5. 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese (I used reduced fat)

Take 4-5 frozen, yes, frozen, boneless chicken breasts and put into crock pot.
add 1 can of black beans, drained, 1 jar of salsa, 1 can of corn drained.
Keep in crock pot on high for about 4-5 hours or until chicken is cooked.
Add 1 package of cream cheese (just throw it on top!) and let sit for about 1/2 hour.
Shred the chicken with two forks, while still in the crockpot.
Serve in tortillas or dip chips in it. Or, you can just eat it by itself.
Serves 4.

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I chose to serve it with grated cheese and avocado with chips as a bed or a dipping utensil. It was a little runnier than I had expected, and somewhat soup-like; if this is not to your liking, you can remove the lid and cook longer on high heat to reduce some of the liquid. It was also a bit bland for us in its original incarnation, and I added a great deal of hot sauce.

Random Dinner Snapshot: Chicken Paprikas, Buttered Egg Noodles and Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Cauliflower

I am getting close to the halfway point of NaBloPoMo, and so far I’ve only had one day when I really, really didn’t want to write and had to force myself. On the plus side, I’ve plumbed my depths for ideas about food from cookbook selection to memories; on the negative side I have written some lower quality entries than I would in an ordinary month.

I have designated Tuesdays, during this marathon of blogging, as Random Dinner Snapshot days. Today’s dinner was from my brand new BonAppetit Cookbook which I won in a raffle. I made Chicken Paprikas, buttered noodles with poppy seeds, and Roasted brussel sprouts and cauliflower with orange.

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The paprikas is a dish with which I am well familiar, having come from a long line of Hungarian cooks. Although the recipe notes (and it is true that) the traditional recipe calls for sour cream and bacon fat, the dish has always been sour cream -free in my family, most likely because the Hungarians of my ancestry were Jewish, and would not have mixed dairy and meat in the same dish. This version is similar to what my grandmother and mother made, although it involves more peppers than I remember. (It still, by virtue of all of the tomato and pepper tastes more Italian than Hungarian to me, but its yummy). Both the paprikas and the roasted vegetables are healthy recipes, and I tossed the egg noodles with Smart Balance and poppy seeds, so this meal is a good choice for anyone watching fat grams and calories.

Chicken Paprikas

(from The Bon Appetit Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild)

  1. 4 large skinless boneless chicken breast halves (about a 2/3 pound)
  2. All purpose flour
  3. 3 tablespoons olive oil
  4. 2 red, yellow or green bell peppers, cut into strips
  5. 1/2 medium onion sliced
  6. 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  7. 5 teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika
  8. 1/4 teaspoon Hungarian hot paprika
  9. 1 1/4 cups low-salt chicken broth
  10. 1 cup chopped, drained Italian plum tomatoes
  11. 1 tablespoon tomato paste

Sprinkle chicken with salt ad pepper. Coat with flour, shaking off excess. Heat oil in large, heavy skillet over high heat. Add chicken and sautee until brown and crisp, about 4 minutes per side. transfer chicken to plate. Add bell pepers, onion and garlic to skillet; saute 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Add both paprikas and stir 2 minutes. Mix in broth, tomatoes and tomato paste. Return chicken to skillet. Brink liquids to simmer. Cover skillet and simmer gently until chicken is just coked through, about 8 minutes.

Transfer chicken to platter; tent with aluminum foil to keep warm. Increase heat to high and boil until sauce coats spoon thickly, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce over chicken.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Cauliflower with Orange

  1. 1 large head of cauliflower (about 2 pounds) cut into 1-inch florets
  2. 1 pound fresh brussel sprouts, or frozen thawed and patted dry (I used fresh)
  3. 1/4 cup olive oil
  4. 1/4 cup minced shallot (about 1 large)
  5. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  6. 1 tablespoon grated orange peel (I started my prep work only to discover that someone had eaten the orange I purchased to make this dish, so I subbed lime zest. I guess my version is “with citrus” rather than “with orange”)
  7. 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  8. 1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley
  9. Orange slices for garnish (again, not so much in my version)
  10. Additional chopped fresh Italian parsley for garnish

Combine first 6 ingredients in large bowl; toss to coat. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

P reheat oven to 450 degrees. Spread vegetables on large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until lightly browned and almost tender, stirring once, about 12 minutes. Pour orange juice over. Roast until vegetables are tender and juices evaporate, about 8 minutes longer. Stir in 1/2 cup parsley. transfer to sering dish. Garnish with orange slices and additional parsley and serve.

Brunswick Stew

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Last week I discovered a recipe for Brunswick Stew in the most recent issue of “Cooking Light.” My mother made a version of the dish when I was a child, and my father particularly loves it. It is a tomato-based stew with meat and vegetables that may include beef, chicken, rabbit, squirrel, corn, okra and some sort of bean in the lima/butterbean category. With Brunswick Stew, as with Burgoo, there is fierce arguments over where the dish originated, and what are the “correct” ingredients. I will not take a stand in the Georgia v. Virginia debate, but this recipe, being made with chicken, definitely leans towards the Virginian.

Since I wanted to share a meal with my parents, cook something healthy and serve something in a bread bowl (because Sam loves a bread bowl) I prepared the stew and bought small, round “Paesano” loaves to hollow out and use as bowls. I served the stew in the oven-warmed bowls, with the “innards” and tops of the loaves on the side to serve as butter-able bread to eat with soup. I did not use low sodium products because that is not as much of a concern for us as is reducing calories. I also quadrupled the hot pepper sauce, but that made for a pretty spicy stew – I’d start with the recommended 1/2 teaspoon and increase until your taste-buds say “yes.”

Brunswick Stew

(Adapted from the October 2007 “Cooking Light”)

 

  1. Cooking Spray
  2. 3/4 cup chopped yellow onion
  3. 1/2 cup chopped celery
  4. 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  5. 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  6. 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  7. 2 cups chicken broth (recipe calls for fat-free, low-sodium broth)
  8. 2 tablespoons tomato paste (recipe calls for reduced-sodium)
  9. 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  10. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  11. 2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce (recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon)
  12. 1 10 ounce package frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
  13. 1 10 ounce package frozen baby lima beans, thawed
  14. 6 1 ounce slices Italian bread, toasted or 1 small, round loaf of bread for each diner
  15. 2 garlic cloves, halved (only necessary if you are serving stew with Italian bread rather than bread bowls).

1. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add bell pepper, onion and celery to pan cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add oil to pan. Combine flour and chicken in a medium bowl (or plastic bag), tossing to coat. Add chicken to pan cook 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Gradually stir in broth; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until slightly thick, stirring constantly. Add tomato paste and next 5 ingredients (through lima beans) to pan. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.

 

2. Hollow small round bread loaves, ladle in soup and serve with bowl “top” on the side or rub Italian bread slices with cut sides of garlic; discard garlic and serve bread with stew.

Planned-Overs: The Transformers of the Kitchen

“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.”
-Calvin Trillin

Mine is not a family of happy leftover-eaters. While I would gladly eat the same thing twice in one week (provided, of course, that it was good the first time around), neither my husband nor my son is best pleased by the reappearance of anything unless it was a spectacular hit. In that case, they ate it already.

For reasons both budgetary and moral, I hate to waste perfectly good food. This waste-hatred dovetails neatly with the fact that I am entering the time of year when everything seems to move faster, and it is a blessing to have at least part of dinner prepped in advance. Enter the Planned Over. In a cosmic coincidence, as I was planning this entry, I happened to see Lidia Bastianich on “Lidia’s Italian Table” making a braised Pork Shoulder with a Salsa Genovese. She demonstrated the traditional pattern of saving the small, incidental chunks of pork broken up during the removal of the bone and carving, and adding them to the Salsa left over after serving the pork shoulder. The next day, Sunday dinner consists of pasta topped with the pork-enriched Salsa thinned with a bit of hot pasta water. Planned Overs.

The Planned Over is basically intentional recycling of food from one form to another, rendering it barely recognizable to other family members. If you re-heat a casserole and serve it two nights later with a different vegetable: leftover. If you serve pork tenderloin and rice one night and fried rice two nights later: Planned Over. It does require some thought, but I find it to be a brilliant way to save time and money while keeping dinner interesting. Here are some suggestions:

1. Meatloaf – Spaghetti with Meat Sauce or Baked Spaghetti

I tend to make meatloaf that is very much like a large, firm meatball: 2 pounds ground beef, 1 egg, 1 onion finely diced, 2 cloves garlic finely diced and about 1/2 cup of Italian bread crumbs or my own bread crumbs with some Italian spices (rosemary, oregano, parsley) added separately. I mix this with my hands, shape into a loaf and cook at 350 for an hour.

I cut leftover meatloaf into small cubes, about 1-inch in diameter (about the size of a meatball) and either refrigerate or freeze, depending on when I plan to reuse them. They freeze beautifully. When I’m ready, I boil a pound of pasta, and heat purchased or homemade tomato sauce with the meatloaf “meatballs” in it, and serve. Sometimes I mix the cooked, drained spaghetti with the meaty sauce, place into a 9×13 inch pan, cover with fresh, shredded mozzarella or Provolone cheese, and bake at 350 degrees until the cheese is melted.

2. Pork Tenderloin – Pork Fried Rice

To accomplish this feat of transformation, I buy a large or two small pork tenderloins. I cook all of the pork at once – on the grill if its warm enough, and in a slow oven if its cold out. If the pork is going to be grilled, I marinate the half for the first dinner, but leave the other half unadulterated. If I’m cooking the pork indoors, I brown it with some onions and garlic, put it in a Dutch oven with some carrots and celery and a bay leaf, cover the pot and cook slowly (275 or 300 degrees) until the meat is tender.

For dinner one, I make twice as much rice as we will actually eat (which is quite a lot) and serve the pork with rice, a salad and another vegetable or some pan-fried apples. After dinner, I cut the remaining pork into small pieces and either freeze or put in the refrigerator.

For the second dinner, I make a westernized fried rice. In a large bowl, I put my cold, leftover rice, my chopped pork, a bag or box of frozen peas, chopped green onions and/or cooking onions (I use both), two eggs, and a couple of dashes of good soy sauce. I heat a large pan or wok with about 3 tablespoons of peanut oil while mixing up the contents of the bowl, then add the mixture to the hot pan and cook, stirring constantly, until it is heated through and the egg is cooked. I then shake on a few drops of sesame oil and serve. this is a complete meal if you add a salad, and I often add other vegetables including carrots, broccoli and green beans to the rice.

Roast Chicken – Chicken Noodle Casserole

Although I used to roast chicken using Nigella Lawson’s recipe, I am still happier with Mark Bittman’s method. When small roasting chickens are on sale, I often buy and cook two; one to eat with potatoes and a vegetable, and one to refrigerate for soup, enchiladas, or a casserole later in the week.

This casserole from “Cook’s Country” (a homier version of “Cook’s Illustrated”) is not only loved by my family, but is my standard dish to take to a family suffering a loss, enduring an illness, or (busy) celebrating a new baby or a move. It is also popular at “bring a dish” occasions, particularly with picky child eaters.

I leave the mushrooms out when I know I am preparing the dish for people who hate them (including my own child), and compensate by increasing the egg noodles from 12 to 16 ounces and using 4 1/2 -5 cups of chicken instead of the 4 called for by the original recipe or I use about 2 cups of either chopped broccoli or green pepper.

Chicken Noodle Casserole

(developed by Judy Wilson and published in the February/March 2006 issue of “Cook’s Country”)

Topping

  1. 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  2. 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  3. 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  4. 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh parsley

Filling

  1. Salt
  2. 12 ounces egg noodles
  3. 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  4. 1/2 small onion, chopped fine
  5. 1 pound white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thin
  6. Pepper
  7. 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  8. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  9. 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  10. 3 tablespoons dry sherry (If you are cooking for someone who prefers not to consume alcohol, just substitute 3 more tablespoons of broth)
  11. 2 cups sour cream (I use “light” for us, full fat for others)
  12. 4 cups cubed leftover chicken
  13. 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  14. 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  15. 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1. For the topping: Mix melted butter, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, and parsley together in bowl.

2. For the filling: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in Dutch oven. Add 1 tablespoon salt and noodles and cook until nearly tender. Drain and set aside in colander.

3. Melt 2 tablespoon of butter in now-empty Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook until mushrooms begin to brown, about 7 minutes.

4. Stir in remaining 4 tablespoons butter until melted. Add flour and stir until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Gradually whisk in broth, sherry, and sour cream and cook, not letting mixture boil, until thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in chicken, noodles, parsley, thyme, and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.

5. Transfer mixture to 3 quart baking dish. Top with bread-crumb mixture and bake until browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Serve.

Tips:

  1. I always deliver food in disposable containers so that the family that is bereaved, exhausted or sleepless due to a new baby doesn’t have to worry about washing your pan and returning it.
  2. If you suspect that you are delivering this meal to a family that has several other offerings waiting to be eaten, stop after transferring the mixture into a baking dish and topping with crumbs, write out the baking temperature and directions (I just use a Sharpie on the lid of the container) so that it can be cooked fresh when the family is ready to eat it.

 

 

Dumpster Soup

My friend Isabel (with whom I bonded in 2d grade) sent me an e-mail from San Diego the other day saying that one of her sons had begun referring to her vegetable soup as “Mom’s Dumpster Soup” instead of “Mom’s Veggie Glop.” Inspired by Avery’s concept, I decided that I did not feel like making Cumin Panko Chicken, Confetti Rice, and Sauteed Spinach tonight; I wanted soup and biscuits. I wanted comfort. I wanted to clear out the fridge preparatory to tomorrow’s grocery shopping.

So, I assembled everything that needed using up, and made this soup. The only thing I found that didn’t add was the unused spinach, which I felt would decrease the chance of the soup being appealing to the boys. I will try to use it in some meaningful way (which means it will lie in the vegetable crisper until I realize that its limp and repulsive, at which time I will throw it out or give it to my dad for compost).

You, too, can make Dumpster Soup – I’d always start with a base of some onion, carrot, and celery if you have them, and remember that you don’t want to add any quick-cooking things (like pasta or pre-cooked veggies) until the end of cooking time lest you should cause them to dissolve totally.

You may also add already-cooked things like leftover meat, noodles, rice, boiled or roasted potatoes, or cooked pasta at the very end, although I’d avoid things with heavy marinades, sauces or butter. On the other hand, if you have one spectacular leftover with some flavor to it, say cooked pasta with a light tomato sauce, why not use that as a spring board and make a tomato-y soup with some Italian spices? Even I, however, would probably not throw in both the cooked pasta in tomato sauce and the leftover, dilled new potatoes. I don’t think.

If I’d had them, though, I would happily have added canned beans of any variety, canned tomatoes, or bits and bobs of frozen vegetables. You can also play with seasonings – I went pretty neutral, but you could use some lemongrass and cilantro for Thai-ish, or some cumin seeds and cilantro for Mex-ish, or whatever takes your fancy.

Finally, this would probably be even better the next day, and after a night in the fridge it would be easy to remove the solidified fat from the top before adding water and broth and re-heating.

Dumpster Soup: The General Outline

  1. Limp, old carrots )I did not peel them, but trimmed them)
  2. Limp, mangy celery with leaves
  3. The last two onions in the bin, peeled
  4. 2 cloves garlic
  5. 2-3 Tablespoons cooking oil
  6. 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (this is a lot, but it was their “due date,” and I wasn’t going to do anything else with them)
  7. Vegetable or chicken broth – at least 6 cups canned, homemade or made with good quality boullion cubes (I mixed all three types).
  8. Ancient, raw broccoli
  9. Leftover cooked carrots
  10. A bit of leftover Alphabet pasta
  11. 1/2 box uncooked Vermicelli, broken into smaller pieces
  12. 2 bay leaves
  13. 1 Parmaggiano-Reggiano rind (optional)(I keep these in the freezer)
  14. Salt and pepper to taste
  15. Water
  16. Grated Parmesan (optional)
  17. Hot Sauce (Optional)

In food processor or by hand, finely chop celery, carrots, onions and garlic. In a large, heavy soup pot heat cooking oil over medium and add chopped carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Cook until tender, 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently and reducing heat if there is any sign of burning.

Trim fat from chicken and cut into cubes about 1 inch in size, smaller if you prefer. Stir into sauteed vegetables, add bay leaves, cover with 6 cups broth and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for at least two hours.

When chicken is tender, skim fat from the top of the soup, and taste. If its too strong/salty, add plain water. At this point, you may continue to simmer the soup covered, over low heat until about 30 minutes before serving time; if you are adding a cheese rind for flavor, this is a good time to add it to the soup.

30 minutes before serving, add any frozen vegetables that you wish to use. 20 minutes before serving add any raw vegetables, cut into small pieces. 10 minutes before serving raise heat to high, and add pasta, if you choose. (If the soup is very thick at this point, add more water or broth and bring to a boil before adding pasta). When pasta is cooked tender, reduce heat to low, add any previously cooked or canned vegetables, or cooked rice or noodles and stir to heat through. Taste and correct seasonings, remove bay leaves and serve with grated Parmesan or hot sauce.

Not a Total Crock

If you are busy with work, a family, or both, you probably own (or have been very tempted by) a slow cooker. The promise is that no matter how frantic your day, your family will be greeted at the end with a home-y whiff of pot roast or stew, and that your cares will be forgotten as you sit around the table together enjoying a hearty repast that was thrown together by mom in minutes between removing her Whitestrips and finding Suzy’s poster outlining The Life of the Mayans.

If you are an astute observer of modern culinary culture, you will notice that you find slow cooker recipes in womens’ “home” magazines, and in cookbooks dedicated either to the slow cooker or to recipes for harried families. You will rarely, if ever, see a slow cooker recipe in “Gourmet,” “Bon Appetit,” “Food & Wine,” or “Saveur.” You are equally unlikely to see Christopher Kimball, Ina Garten or Tyler Florence using the slow cooker to cook on TV. It is possible that you might see Sandra Lee using one. That isn’t (just) because of elitism or snobbery; its because in most cases food is better prepared using any of a myriad of other methods.

My “case,” and I do have one, is that a slow cooker can save you time, and help you to make healthy and delicious meals with less hands-on time than other methods, but there are many things that should not be prepared by slow cooking. The problem is that many sources encourage us to believe that everything can be cooked in a slow cooker either by using special recipes or by making adjustments to “regular” recipes. I have no doubt that it is possible, physically to cook anything in a crock pot, but sometimes its just the wrong thing to do. Here are some reasons:

1. With the exception of some foods (about which more later) that benefit from really long, slow cooking, most dishes are really, thoroughly cooked in a slow cooker in 4-6 hours. That’s great if you are at home during the day and can put dinner together at 12:00 or 2:00 to be ready for dinner at 6:00, but if you work all day outside the home, that’s impractical. In order for the slow cooker to be a true convenience if you are busy during the day, you must put food in the cooker at 8:00 or 9:00 or some time before you head out for the day; the meal then remains either on “low” or “warm” for as many as 10 hours until dinner time. Noodles turn back into flour paste, vegetables turn limp and mushy, and many cuts of meat (boneless, skinless chicken breasts, for example) break down so much that they resemble a meat paste.

2. About those vegetables: the process of slow cooking causes loss of vitamins and other nutrients , so they are not only visually unappealing but less healthy than if they were served raw, blanched, roasted, grilled or steamed.

3. In many cases, even if you use one of those clever plastic liners, your dish will develop a layer of slightly to massively burnt crust around the bottom and outer edges where the pot gets hottest. Its obviously best if you can catch dinner before the crust forms, but the whole idea of using the slow cooker is that while you are at a meeting, or picking up from soccer practice and flute lessons, dinner will be taking care of itself without any intervention on your part.
4. Although there are recipes for all sorts of “normal” dinner options that can be prepared in the slow cooker, many of them are so substantially different in appearance and texture that you may have an uphill battle getting your family to accept them. I have made meat loaf, lasagne, enchilada casserole and scalloped potatoes with ham in the slow cooker. All of these things tasted okay, but the lasagne noodles and tortillas basically disintegrated into mush, and the meat in all cases became something so soft and lacking in distinct flavor that it more closely resembled baby food meat. For me, part of the beauty of a dish like lasagne or enchiladas is the contrast of flavors and textures. I like the ham in my scalloped potatoes to be firmer and chewier than the potatoes.

All of that being said, I have learned to use my slow cooker to do some very good and useful things. Since I gave you four “negatives,” I’ll give you four good ideas for using your slow cooker:

Poaching chicken is a fabulous thing to do in a slow cooker. Here’s how:

  1. Spray the crock with non-stick spray
  2. In the bottom of the cooker place several stalks of celery (this is a great use for gnarly, bendy old celery), a few carrots, and an onion cut in half. No need to peel carrots or celery.
  3. Atop the vegetables, place 4-6 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. Turn cooker on “Low.”
  4. Check back starting in about 4 hours. Chicken should be tender but not mushy, and juices should run completely clear. If you’re unsure, give it another hour but don’t take the lid off sooner than that as every removal of the lid causes heat loss and dramatically slows cooking.
  5. When chicken is thoroughly cooked, fill a bowl of water or one side of your sink with cold water and ice. Place the chicken pieces in a plastic bag and cool in icy water before refrigerating. (This will keep the hot chicken from raising the temperature in your refrigerator while allowing it to begin cooling).
  6. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, skin it, remove bones, and store. You now have flavorful, tender cooked chicken for casseroles, enchiladas, soups, or salads. This chicken can be frozen; I freeze it in one-cup portions as recipes tend to call for (___ cups cubed, cooked chicken).
  7. Bonus: at the bottom of the slow cooker, under the vegetables, you will find liquid. This is a delicious essence of chicken-y, vegetable-y goodness. First strain the contents of the crockpot through a sieve to separate the liquid from the vegetables and miscellaneous bone and skin pieces that have fallen off during cooking. Place “juice” in a container overnight. The following day, use a spoon to remove the layer of fat and other flotsam that will have formed on the top of what will look like tan jelly. That jelly (which is kind of like consomme but not really), heated and mixed with some water to taste, will make a delicious chicken broth for use in soup, risotto or other dishes. And its free!!!!

Large, tough cuts of meat benefit greatly from long, slow, moist cooking. There are lots of recipes out there for slow cooker pot roast, but my method is simply to brown the meat on all sides with some onion, make a “bed” of peeled potatoes and carrots in the crock, place the meat and onion on top of the vegetables, add about 1 cup water or beef stock and cook on “slow” for at least 8 hours. You can make gravy out of the liquid in the bottom if you like, and mash the potatoes which should be quite soft by the end of the day. You can also make great pulled, barbecue beef or pork to serve in sandwiches.

Bean soups, baked beans stews and chilis are all natural choices for the slow cooker. I always make my pea soup in the slow cooker, and I usually cook baked beans in it, as well. Chili or stew made with tough little chunks of meat will come out tender and flavorful (although I add carrots to mt stew half way through to avoid mushiness) and a soup, stew or chili made with fatty meat can be prepared the day before, refrigerated, skimmed of fat and reheated in its crock. I often make pea soup a day ahead, as well, and then put the crock right back on “low” the next day; I find that the flavor and texture improve dramatically during a night in the refrigerator.

Applesauce made in the slow cooker will be delicious and make your house smell heavenly. Apples are coming into season now; buy a bunch, then peel, seed, core and cut into chunks. (Note: if you buy transparent apples, you may not need to peel them. I often leave the skins on anyway, because that’s where all the fiber is).

Spray the slow cooker with cooking spray, fill the crock with apples and add about 1/2 cup of water – remember that apples contain a great deal of water, and the slow cooker does not allow evaporation, so the apples will contribute a fair amount of liquid. Cook on “low” for about 4 hours (longer if necessary; nothing bad will happen) and then stir, add liquid if necessary, and taste. At this point, if you like, add some sugar but no spices, yet. In 2-4 hours check again, stir if needed, and add water if necessary. When the sauce is done to your liking, add cinnamon and (if you like) a grate or two of nutmeg.

Menu Planning Week 7

Three things are on my mind as I plan menus for the coming week:

  1. We’re having a heat wave (which is not nearly as much fun as the song would suggest)
  2. Monday is my husband’s birthday, and
  3. Tomatoes are good right now.

Taking all of the above into account, here’s what we’re eating on Forest Street next week:
Sunday

Gazpacho and Panini.

The Gazpacho recipe is Mark Bittman’s from How to Cook Everything, and I’ll pass it on if we love it. I’ll pick up all of the ingredients (except the bread) at the Farmer’s Market, and turn them into cold, healthy, delicious soup. The paninini will probably be my standard good bread-smoked provolone-sliced turkey with a little mustard for kick.

Monday

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce, Thai Red Curry, Sticky Rice and The Carrot Cake

Monday is Rob’s birthday, and he has asked me to make a beef curry he often eats at our favorite Thai Restaurant. The curry is called “Penang Neau” on the menu, and has beef and carrots in a very hot curry. We’ll have the curry with sticky rice and Mark Bittman’s chicken satay as an appetizer (with Melissa’s Peanut Sauce), with The Carrot Cake making one of its three annual appearances in its capacity as birthday cake.

None of the recipes I found for the curry looked quite right, but I’m going to use this one, substituting Carrots and onions for the mushrooms and spinach. If anyone out there is reading this (Jaden?!) and has a recipe for Penang Neau with carrots in it, could you share? Edited to add: I have since actually made this dish, and photographs and notes about the changes that I made to the recipe are found here.

Thai Red Beef Curry Recipe

(from epicurean.com)

Ingredients:
500g lean beef strips
1 tbsp Thai red curry paste
1 tbsp fish sauce
300ml canned coconut milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp Brown sugar
1 tsp crushed garlic
1/2 red capsicum (large mild pepper)
80g button mushrooms
80g spinach
4 tbsp chopped basil

Directions:
Mix the beef strips with oil and garlic. Heat wok on high. Stir-fry the beef strips in batches 1 minute, removing each batch when cooked.

Before returning beef strips to wok, add capsicum (sliced) and sliced mushrooms with a sprinkling of water. Stir for 2 minutes.
Return beef strips. Add curry paste, fish sauce, coconut milk, brown sugar, chopped spinach and chopped basil. Toss to heat through. Then serve with boiled rice and fresh basil leaves.
Serves 4.

Tuesday

Grilled, Marinated Chicken Breasts; Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Salad; Rice; Blueberry Peach Crisp

Tuesday, we are supposed to be having some of our undergraduate friends to dinner, although I’ll have to cancel if the gaping ceiling hole and plastic covered floor persist in the living room (especially since most of the furniture that had to be removed from the living room is shoved haphazardly into the dining room where one might, ideally, wish to feed guests). Dinner will be the same either way; I’ll just turn up the volume if we’re having guests. The chicken will be prepared this way, the rice will be prepared this way, and here are recipes for the salad and the dessert:

Blueberry (and/0r other fruit) Crisp

This is a very versatile dessert that shows off the fruits of summer, but also moves beautifully into fall made with apples, pears or both. My favorite way eat it is for breakfast the next morning, cold.

  1. 1 cup flour
  2. 3/4 cup sugar
  3. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  4. 3/4 teaspoon salt
  5. 1 egg
  6. 6 cups blueberries or cherries (pitted), sliced and peeled peaches, nectarines or apples, or any combination
  7. 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  8. 1/3 cup melted butter
  9. 1 Teaspoon cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 375 and grease a 9 x 13 baking dish. Fill dish with the fruit(s) of your choice.

In a medium bowl, with combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and egg with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse sand with some pebbles in it. Scatter this mixture, as evenly as possible, over the fruit. Pour melted butter over the top, followed by brown sugar and cinnamon sugar. Bake for 3o minutes, and serve with ice cream.

Tomato, Mozzarella, Basil Salad

  1. 4 big, ripe, red tomatoes
  2. 8 ounces Buffalo Mozzarella
  3. Fresh Basil
  4. Olive Oil
  5. Balsamic Vinegar
  6. Kosher Salt

Although many restaurants (and home cooks) make lovely fans out of their tomatoes and cheese, I go for the rustic chunks. I cut the tomatoes into bite-sized chunks, cut the cheese into bite-sized chunks and mix them in a bowl with some olive oil, Balsamic vinegar and salt. Then I cut the basil into pretty strips by rolling several leaves together and slicing through the roll ( a “chiffonade”) and sprinkle the cut basil over the tomatoes and mozzarella.

Wednesday

Pasta with Raw Tomato Sauce; Fruit Salad

The pasta is another Mark Bittman recipe from How to Cook Everything, and one of my favorite ways to eat tomatoes – tossed with hot pasta. I’ve made it before, but I think I’ll wait and give you a “real” recipe after I try it out so that I know I gave proper measurements.

Thursday

Thai Peanut Chicken Stir Fry; Rice and Canteloupe

Sam said he wanted to help me make a stir-fry, and this one look good:

Thai Peanut Chicken

(from allrecipes.com)

INGREDIENTS

* 2 cups uncooked white rice
* 4 cups water
* 3 tablespoons soy sauce
* 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
* 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
* 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* 3 tablespoons olive oil
* 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – cut into thin strips
* 3 tablespoons chopped garlic
* 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger root
* 3/4 cup chopped green onions
* 2 1/2 cups broccoli florets
* 1/3 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts

DIRECTIONS

1. Combine the rice and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until rice is tender. In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, peanut butter, vinegar, and cayenne pepper. Set aside.
2. Heat oil in a skillet or wok over high heat. Add chicken, garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring constantly, until chicken is golden on the outside, about 5 minutes.
3. Reduce heat to medium, and add green onion, broccoli, peanuts, and the peanut butter mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until broccoli is tender, and chicken is cooked through. Serve over rice.

Edited to add: we didn’t really love this dish when I actually made it. In our collective opinion, there wasn’t enough sauce, it wasn’t spicy enough, the flavor wasn’t very complex, and the chicken got tough with that amount of cooking.

Friday

Out to Dinner

Saturday

Out to Dinner

Roasted Chicken, Potatoes and Green Bean Salad

Tonight we had Mark Bittman’s roast chicken, roasted potatoes and Tyler Florence’s Green Bean Salad with Black Olive and Creme Fraiche Dressing. The chicken is a departure from my devotion to Nigella Lawson’s chicken roasting method, but I have been reading Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, and been dying to try one of his recipes, so I made the chicken and potatoes his way, about which more, later.

The Green Bean Salad is from Florence’s book Tyler’s Ultimate, from which I am cooking all week before I have to return the book to the library. I used fresh green beans and dill from the market, but could not find creme fraiche anywhere. I had fully intended to make a substitute using half sour cream and half whipping cream, but I completely forgot to buy the whipping cream until it was too late. So I used sour cream, instead. Then I tasted it, and it tasted sour (by which I do not mean “tangy,” which is intriguing, but plain old “sour”). This sour thing was not improved by the fact that the recipe also involves both lemon juice and dill. So I actually went and bought whipping cream and mixed it into the completed recipe. Do I know better? Probably. Was I desperate to save my salad? You bet. Did I save it? YES! It was really good, although I suspect it would have been even better made with the creme fraiche.

Green Bean Salad with Black Olive and Creme Fraiche Dressing

(from Tyler’s Ultimate by Tyler Florence)

  1. Kosher Salt
  2. 1 pound green beans, trimmed
  3. 1 cup creme fraiche
  4. Juice of 1 lemon
  5. 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  6. Freshly ground black pepper
  7. 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
  8. Fresh dill sprigs, for garnish

Bting a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water and add salt to it until it tastes lightly salty. When the water comes to a boil, add the beans and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain, then refresh in warer bath to keep the bright green color, and drain well again. Put the beans in a bowl.

In a blender, combine the creme fraiche, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste and blend until smooth. Pour over the green beans. Add the olives and toss. Garnish with dill sprigs.

As for the chicken, I was immediately captivated by Mark Bittmans’ insistence that roasting should be done at a really high temperature for best results. Although I have always roasted chicken at around 400 degrees, his recipe calls for an initial oven temperature of 500 without potatoes, and 450 degrees with. His recipe also calls for basting, which I have generally dismissed as ridiculous, although it is basting with olive oil and herbs – how can that be bad? This came out looking and tasting quite splendid, although I think the potatoes might have gotten crispier if I had drained most of the fat away from them during the cooking, or transferred them to separate pan to finish. Next time….

Mark Bittman’s Roast Chicken and New Potatoes

(from How to Cook Everything)

  1. 6 tablespoons olive oil
  2. 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, rosemary, marjoram, oregano or sage leaves or 2 teaspoons, dried (I used rosemary)
  3. Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  4. 1 whole (3-4 pound chicken) trimmed of excess fat, then rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
  5. 1 1/2 to 2 pounds waxy red or white potatoes, the smaller the better, skins on and scrubbed (I sliced up Yukon Golds, instead)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Mix together the olive oil, herb, salt and pepper. Place the chicken, breast side down, on a rack in a roasting pan (I use my cookie cooling rack over a 9 x 13 pan). Toss half of the herb mixture with the potatoes and scatter them in the pan. Begin roasting.

After the chicken has roasted about 20 minutes, spoon some of the olive oil mixture over it and the potatoes, then turn the bird breast side up. Shake the pan so the potatoes turn and cook evenly.

Shake the pan and baste the chicken again after 7 or 8 minutes; at this point the breast should be beginning to brown (if is isn’t, roast a few more minutes). Turn the heat down to 325, baste again with the remaining olive mixture, and roast until an instant-read thermometer insterted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 160 to 165. Total roasting time will be 50 to 70 minutes.

Remove the chicken and taste a potato; if it isn’t quite done, raise the heat to 425 and roast while you rest and carve the chicken; it won’t be long. Serve the chicken, garnished with herbs, with the potatoes scattered around it.

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