Friday, January 30, 2009

No Noodles for Me

I love rice noodle dishes. I had a favorite Thai restaurant in the city where I went to graduate school. My usual order was "Super Noodles" with chicken; wide rice noodles stir fried with Chinese broccoli and chicken in black bean sauce. I don't remember much of my studies but did those noodles ever make an impression!!!

I've tried cooking Pad Thai once or twice since with OK results, but yesterday I thought I'd try another rice noodle stir fry. I consulted with my hero Mark Bittman, channeling him through his book, How to Cook Everything. I read several internet recipes and blog posts for advice. I can do this, right?


I know this isn't a real wok. It's a NONSTICK wok. Why did this happen? Should Erin ever attempt this again? Will she? These are not questions that can easily be answered.

It's OK. We are inventive and self-sufficient in our household. We always have fallback plans.

Wild game alert: we will be having some venison posts coming up. Some good friends shot a deer just for us! Dan is going to butcher it tomorrow, and we are going to have some exciting vension recipes posted soon!!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chickeny Comfort in a Bowl

A few factors contributed to this dish: a glut of boneless chicken thighs in the freezer, a couple weeks in a row of colder-than-usual weather, and fewer veggies in the fridge than I like to admit. We have a great local butcher from whom we get freezer orders a few times a year. It's a great place - you can see the cows, pigs and lambs walking around in the field, umm, until you can see them being butchered behind the big windows!!

We often buy a case of boneless chicken breasts, which consists of 40 boneless chicken breast halves, frozen 2 to a package - perfect for a 2 person household. We probably blow through those 20 dinners in 2-3 months - we love chicken.

For a change, we decided to get a case of 40 boneless skinless chicken thighs last time. I requested they be wrapped 4 in a package, as they're so much smaller than breasts. So, we should have had 10 packages, right?

Dan went to pick up this freezer order (I was babysitting my precious niece, Hayden. Not much else could keep me away from my butcher!). He thought it seemed like a lot of chicken, but it all fit in the freezer, so why not?

Well, they did not give us 40 chicken thighs - they gave us 40 POUNDS of chicken thighs!!! So we have been eating lots of chicken thighs. Lots.

I used some shortcuts for this recipe, to suit what I had on hand, and in an effort to eat dinner before 10pm. The "real" recipes will tell you to start with a whole chicken, make stock, etc. I use Minor's Chicken Base often. (Please don't kick me out of the food blogging world). It just seems that every time I try to make chicken stock from scratch, it sucks. Believe me, I've researched this and tried everything, but I suck at stock. Can you tell I didn't go to culinary school? I would have failed out during Stock 101.

Chicken and Dumplings

8 cups chicken stock (canned, paper box, homemade, from base, whatever works for you)

8 boneless skinless chicken thighs

1 bay leaf

EV olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

6 medium carrots, sliced thick

4 celery ribs, sliced thick


1 chopped scallion or fresh herbs

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons butter

1 cup whole milk

Poach chicken thighs and bay leaf in some stock to cover. I used my pressure cooker for this and they were done in 10 minutes. Let cool and pull meat apart into bite-sized pieces. Saute mirepoix in oil until vegetables are translucent but not brown. Add chicken stock and simmer 10 minutes until vegetables are tender. Meanwhile, make dumpling batter: heat butter and milk in saucepan until hot. Add to dry ingredients and scallion/herbs, and mix until just combined. Form dough into balls or roll out and cut into noodle-like shapes and set aside.

When vegetables are tender, add chicken to pot and bring to a simmer. Not boiling, but it needs to be simmering for the dumplings to cook correctly. Place dumplings on top of simmering stew, cover pot and cook for 15 minutes.

This was surprisingly good leftover. I wish we had more!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Chili for our new President!!!

I intended to post this earlier, but we got busy with work this week after Inaguration Day. We took that day off and watched all the festivities on TV. I've never watched any of that stuff before, but I really wanted to witness it this time.

I considered making some Hawaiian food for the occasion, but when I looked into it, the ingredients appeared that they would be difficult if not impossible to obtain here in NJ. So, we agreed that we would go to Hawaii someday and eat it then!

I read that President Obama likes chili, and of course we love chili, so we decided to have some for the celebration. A dear Friend recently gave us a package of ground venison, so here is:

President Obama's Venison Chili

1.5 pounds ground venison

EV olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 Tablespoon chopped chipotle in adobo

1 pint tomatoes (I used home-canned, but store canned is just fine)

2 Tablespoons chili powder

1 Tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon hot paprika

1 teaspoon medium-hot crushed red peppers

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cans pink beans, drained (or any beans are fine)

2 cups beef broth

Mix spices together in small bowl. Preheat crockpot to high. Put beans, tomatoes, and chipotle in crockpot. Brown meat in oil over medium-high heat until well browned all over. Add about half of the spice mixture and cook for 2 minutes. Remove meat to crockpot. Add a bit more oil to pan if necessary, and cook onions until beginning to soften. Add peppers and cook for about 5 minutes until vegetables are soft and browning some. Add remainder of spice mixture and stir for 2 minutes. Put vegetables and all remaining ingredients in crockpot and stir until completely incorporated. Turn crockpot to low and cook for 6-8 hours. Add more broth if it gets too dry.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Homemade Bread, Mostly

Even though I've been cooking full meals without much fear since well before I was old enough to drive, I never felt comfortable trying to make bread. It's just a different concept - exact measuring, the element of surprise waiting for it to rise, kneading and shaping - eek. So several years ago, we decided that we'd get a bread machine. This did a lot to take away my fear of bread. It doesn't always work, but most of the time the machine turns out a good, reliable loaf of bread.

I have a great cookbook for bread machines. If any of you have one, you should have this cookbook. It's called The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger. Not only does it have recipes for baking bread in the machine, but it has probably hundreds of options for how to prepare the dough in the machine and bake it in the oven.

Above is a picture of Pain Au Levain, from page 228-229. So get this book and make some bread!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cocktail Hour

Lest you think that all we do is eat, I wanted to be honest and say that sometimes, we also drink. Here is our favorite drink. It's a great drink - so good that we even drink it when it's very cold out.

There's a soft drink made with lemonade and unsweetened iced tea which is named after a very famous retired professional golfer. We have named this cocktail consisting of vodka, lemonade and unsweetened iced tea after a current professional golfer, who is probably better known for his off-the-course exploits.

I make my tea using Trader Joe's Irish Breakfast Tea. It makes a good strong, cleanly flavored iced tea, which is my favorite. And, it's about $3 for 80 tea bags. I'm not here to hawk someone else's products, but if I use something that I think is a quality product that's priced right, I may mention it occasionally.

We make these in a pint glass, not to use more vodka, but to have the optimal amount of mixer. What good is a drink if it tastes too strong to drink it?

3 ounces Vodka (doesn't have to be super-premium, but don't use the real cheap crap)

5 ounces unsweetened iced tea

3 ounces lemonade (can be homemade of course, but I use Simply Lemonade)

Fill a pint glass with ice cubes. Add vodka, iced tea and lemonade. The above mix is my preferred proportion, Dan likes his with about 3 ounces tea and 5 ounces lemonade. Cheers!!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Perfect Chicken Parmesan and Pasta

I know, perfect is a strong word. But when you make a dish so often that you can't think of a way to improve it, isn't that a kind of perfection? Especially if you suffer from the affliction that causes us cook-types to always want to make NEW recipes instead of tried-and-true dishes.

Chicken parmesan is the exception to this - we both love it, and so it is a frequent dinner. The key is brining the chicken. It adds a lot of flavor (but doesn't make it salty), and keeps the chicken breasts moist and tender. I like to add the cheese to the chicken for baking, but I don't put the sauce on until serving so as to not make the breadcrumbs mushy. I use the basic sauce recipe from my previous post, some mozzarella cheese, and some whole wheat penne. It's not fancy, but this chicken parmesan has achieved kitchen perfection!!

4 boneless chicken breasts
4 cups hot, not boiling, water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon each: dried rosemary, dried marjoram, dried basil
6 ice cubes
3 eggs, beaten with 1 Tablespoon water
2 cups panko or regular breadcrumbs
olive oil for frying
1/2 pound mozzarella cheese
2 cups basic sauce

Stir salt, sugar, herbs and spices into hot water until dissolved. Put chicken breasts and ice cubes into brine, making sure chicken is submerged. Remove chicken and discard brine after 30 minutes. Slice chicken breasts in half horizontally to make 2 thinner cutlets from each breast. Preheat oven to 400, or low broil. Heat pan on medium high. Dip each chicken cutlet in egg and then panko or breadcrumbs. Add oil to pan, and fry cutlets in batches without crowding. Place chicken cutlets on baking sheet, and top with cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve with pasta and sauce, and a spoonful of sauce over the chicken.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Pizza Success

With a new year upon us, I thought it was time to attempt the homemade pizza again. Yes, takeout pizza is almost always good and takes less time. But the satisfaction of making one's own pizza (with no oven fires) is worth the wait. Even if the wait is almost a month.
I have tweaked a couple of pizza dough recipes to come up with one that works well for me. I prepare the dough either in the food processor or using the dough cycle of the bread machine. If you have a stand mixer such as the much coveted Kitchen Aid Mixer, by all means, use it. As soon as I get one, I'll be using it for everything because the Mixer and I are going to be very close friends.

Pizza Dough

1 1/2 cups water
2 Tablespoons EV olive oil
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons yeast

For bread machine: Put all ingredients in bread pan, program to dough cycle, press start.

For mixer or food processor: Use lukewarm water, mix with yeast to proof. Combine dry ingredients in bowl and mix until combined. Add olive oil to water/ yeast mixture. Slowly pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, with mixer on low or food processor running. Mixture will form a ball. Remove to oiled bowl for 1 hour to rise.

Easy and Quick Basic Tomato Sauce

2 Tablespoons EV olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 32 ounce cans crushed tomatoes

Heat oil over medium low heat, add garlic and cook just until fragrant. Add tomatoes, stir and cook for 10-30 minutes.

Now, an important note to avoid disaster: The pizza dough recipe makes enough for 2 pizzas!!! You must divide the dough in half before trying to make a pizza, or it will rise up so high in your very hot oven that your toppings will overflow all over the bottom of your very hot oven, possibly catching on fire. I don't recommend it.

The tomato sauce obviously has variation possibilities galore: add meat, add seafood, add vegetables, add spices, but this is a wonderful starting point for almost any recipe calling for tomato sauces of any kind (don't just think Italian!).

Now to construct the pizza:

Move your oven rack to the bottom slot, as close as possible to the heating element. Next, place your pizza stone on this rack. If you don't have one, no worries, neither do I. Instead, select a heavy-bottomed baking pan. You don't want to use one of those nice insulated cookie sheets because your pizza won't get crispy.

Preheat your oven to 550, or as hot as it will go. Turn on the exhaust fan and possibly dismantle the smoke detector.

Cut your pizza dough in half, and refrigerate or freeze the other half. Oil the pan lightly and spread your dough out on it. Put about 1/2 cup of sauce on top of the dough, and top with cheese of your choice - I used a hunk of fresh mozzarella. Either slide your pizza onto your pizza stone, or place it in the oven. Cook for 10-12 minutes total, rotating the pan halfway.

Good luck!!!

Friday, January 2, 2009


Happy New Year!!

We had a great, somewhat upscale dinner for New Year's Eve, helped by the $4.99 live lobsters at my regular grocery store! We bought 4 and promptly named them: Condoleezza, George, Dick and Karl. They did not go in the freezer for the optional numbing, either.

2 became lobster gratin for New Year's Eve dinner, and 2 were lobster salad with homemade rolls for lunch today, pictured above. Right after midnight, we had some hoppin' john soup for luck in 2009.

I made cheese fondue - what's more New Year's Eve-y than that? However, even though I read every fondue tip I could find, it ended up a lump of stringy cheese on the bottom with a nasty lake of dairy-infused wine on top. So sometime on 2009 we will be going to a fondue restaurant somewhere (Montreal would be great, but I'll take Philly anytime). And cheese fondue will remain in the same category as sushi, oysters on the half-shell, and 12-ounce prime filet mignon: too much trouble/money/special equipment to make at home when there are perfectly wonderful restaurants who serve it. In my defense, I will try almost anything at home, cooking-wise. But we all have to draw the line somewhere, right?
Happy New Year - let's all kick some ass in 2009!!!