Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Savory chicken with mushroom sweet pepper sauce

I walked into the grocery store and right off the bat found red peppers on less than half price. I already knew we were having chicken so I thought "mushroom sweet pepper white wine cream sauce, yum." So I bought a red pepper, some mushrooms and finished my shopping.

Carrots, broccoli and potatoes again, but all fresh and crisp.  I put a tablespoon of flour in a plastic bag and added salt, pepper, garlic powder, savory and paprika.  In went two breasts, shake to coat and put into a hot pan to sear.  Turn them over and pop them in a 375 º oven for 25-30 minutes.

In a sauce pan put a tablespoon of oil and a diced onion.  Fry the onions  to golden.  I burned them a bit so I decided to turf them but use the seasoned pan to impart flavor. Next I fried the sliced mushrooms and when they were done I added half a red pepper finely chopped. When that was sweated I added a teaspoon of flour and cooked the taste of it off.  Next I added an ounce or two of white wine and a bit of chicken stock. A little salt, pepper and cayenne to season and half an ounce of cream.  I added a couple of drops of white balsamic vinegar to give it a little zing.  Absolutely delicious. This was the first time my partner wanted more sauce on his plate.

Beef Stew

I wanted to stew up the remains of that last roast beef.  I picked up a turnip, celeriac (celery root), green pepper and mushrooms to add to potatoes, carrots, celery and onion I already had.  (I should have picked up a baguette too but completely forgot.)  I diced up the onion and fried it golden on medium heat.  The meat I sliced thinly then cut each slice into thin strips then added it to the onions.  Once the meat was browned a bit I added the celery, carrots, turnips, celeriac and green pepper.  I sprinkled flour over the sweating vegetables, mixed it in and cooked it a bit.

When the vegetables had softened I added about 2 cups of beef stock.  I sliced up the mushrooms and added them with some frozen peas to the pot.  I added a little salt and no spices as I wanted to see how much the beef spiced the dish.  Not enough as it turned out so next time I'll add some paprika and cayenne to bring out the flavors that have been developed.  Overall it was a delicious stew and I am just heating up  a bit for lunch.

Corn Breaded Rosemary Thyme Garlic Pork Chop

A package of thick pork chops was marked down half price to clear but looked perfectly fine so I picked it up.  I had tried corn meal breading before with good results so I put some corn flour in one bag and corn meal with salt, pepper, garlic powder and finely chopped fresh rosemary and thyme in another. In a bowl I thoroughly whisked an egg. Last time I made this with egg whites left over from hollandase.

I put my 12" frying pan on the Induction burner (love it), added plenty of oil and shook the pork chops in the flour.  Then I dipped the chops in the egg and shook them in the corn meal mix then put them directly into the hot pan. They were thick so I cooked them at medium heat so they wouldn't scorch. It probably took about 8 minutes per side but it really depends on the thickness of your pork chop.  If you press in the middle and it gives a lot it's still raw.  If it is firm and no pink liquid comes out it is done. Experience is the best teacher here.

When the chops were done I plated them with mashed potatoes, carrots, broccoli and a spoon  of apple sauce on the chop. Absolutely delicious and there was an extra chop I had for lunch next day and it was even more delicious, not sure why.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Beef and Chorizo spaghetti

It seems that everyone likes spaghetti the way their mother made it. I think this is part of expectations.  When you say Spaghetti for dinner it sets off a specific expectation for pasta the way Mom made it. Anything else will be a disappointment. Fortunately to get from my Mom's to my partner's I only need to add a can of Aylmer tomato soup(only Aylmer, nothing else will do). Of course I know lot's of Mom's can't cook well so their sauce probably won't be anyone's favorite. Maybe we can change that.

Chorizo sausage was on special and I had just seen it used on Iron Chef so I actually knew what it was when I was offered it.   I tasted it and liked it.  It was half price so I bought it not sure what to do with it.  I decided on Spaghetti, Chorizo is a lightly spicy pork sausage from Spain.

I diced an onion and fried it golden then browned the Angus ground beef.  When that was done I put in the sausage cut into small pieces. In with celery, carrot and green pepper.  When the vegetables were sweated I added a can of Hunt's tomato sauce and one of Aylmer tomato soup.  When that was bubbling I added sliced mushrooms and let the whole thing simmer for over an hour, stirring occasionally.

I boiled up some Barilla pasta, it's the best I've tasted so far but it's not sold here so I usually have to use Catelli instead.  It's almost as good.  We only have 4 supermarkets and none of them carry Barilla, I can get it one ferry trip south or west. Unico tends to be sticky and turn into a lump, but it is cheaper if you're on a budget.

We both liked the sauce but prefer ground pork. So my experiment was successful but didn't lead to adoption of a new ingredient.  I will use Chorizo again in something but not spaghetti sauce.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Oatmeal cinnamon raisin chocolate chip cookies

Dinner was cajun snapper with lemon butter white wine sauce. Nothing new there but I did make a batch of cookies this afternoon.  I wanted something high fiber so I decided on oatmeal. My Joy of Cooking has great recipes to use as a starting point so I looked up Oatmeal Cookies.  I've used the recipe before and it's good but boring.

I looked through the options, raisins yes, chocolate chips ok.  The batter is a bit one dimensional so I'll add a teaspoon of cinnamon to it. I wasn't sure how the chocolate and cinnamon would play together so I was eager to try one.  While still warm the chocolate was liquid and the cookie not crisp and the cinnamon didn't go with the gooey chocolate chips. I let them cool and tasted again.  When they are cool and crisp the chocolate plays well with the cinnamon and the cookies are no longer bland. Yeah!

Here's the whole recipe in case you don't have Joy of Cooking.

Preheat oven to 350º.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp milk
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp double-acting baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Cream the butter then cream the brown sugar and white sugar.  Beat in the egg then milk and vanilla.  Add the cup of flour and you can switch to a dough hook now if the batter is getting too thick.  Add remaining dry ingredients then the raisins and chocolate chips. Drop onto cookie sheets and bake 10-12 minutes.  I use parchment paper under cookies because I use a ceramic cookie sheet and a pizza stone instead of metal sheets.  The paper prevents flavors transferring between ceramic and cookie and prevents them from sticking. They take longer to bake on ceramic but you'll love the results.  Makes about 2 dozen.

I just had another cookie and I think the chocolate chips should be left out next time.

I made a batch with dates and they were wonderful! Great source of fibre too.

A batch with chopped apricots and no cinnamon were delicious.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cleaning out the fridge

I found that I had some pineapple chunks and half a can of coconut milk sitting in the fridge.  I had boneless chicken breasts for dinner so what to make with it all?  My partner doesn't like sweet things for dinner so sweet and sour was out. Curry is always nice, so is ginger.  Can I combine curry with ginger? Let's find out.

I'll use the pineapple, coconut milk and ginger to make a sauce and season the chicken with curry powder.    I put some rice on to cook and put a teaspoon of curry powder in small bowl.  I added a pinch of cayenne and some salt then seasoned the breasts with the curry mixture. Next I seared them on both sides then popped them in a 375º oven for 25-30 minutes.

For the sauce I made a bit of roux in a pan and thinned it with chicken stock. I tipped in the coconut milk and chopped up the pineapple chunks and put them in.  I probably put only a teaspoon of pineapple juice as it has lots of sugar, but I wanted the flavor.  I put a bit of ground ginger in with a bit of salt and a dash of rice wine vinegar.  I gave it a taste and thought "it's not bad but it could be better."  I wondered if a little garlic powder would help so put a pinch in. It didn't help but didn't ruin it. Better leave it alone and hope the curry on the chicken pops the delicious out.

I put a bit of sauce on the plate into which I sat the breast and added a little more sauce over top.   Rice and broccoli with carrots rounded out the meal. The sauce brought what the curry needed and the curry brought what the sauce needed so together they tasted good. Not great but it was a successful experiment. I had two components that together tasted better than either one alone. I think next time fresh ginger might make it a little smoother.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Venison Roast

Our hunter friend hinted it was time to have him over for dinner of a roast venison he provided from his latest kill. It was my first dinner party since taking cooking seriously so I didn't want to experiment, it had to be good.  I decided to just use my roast beef rub and slow cook the venison at 250ºF.

It was delicious!  Tender, not gamy, the heat of the rub complemented the delicate flavor.  I served it with mashed potatoes, carrots, peas and corn.  The peas and corn were frozen but it is February and this is Canada! This meal I concentrated on having everything ready at the same time so nothing was mushy or cold.  It all came together well and I managed to get all four plates out with hot food properly cooked. I did the best I could with the plating but it still looks a bit cafeteria.

Some chopped chives might have been nice.  A nice wine reduction would have enhanced the dish as well.  Next time I will do a reduction and remember to garnish.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Beef and Pork Goulash

This week I made both a roast beef and then a roast pork.  The pork roast was a bit larger so I made the stir fry with half of it which left me with just the right amount for a stew with the beef. That's 3 dinners for 2 out of one $7 roast pork. That is keeping my food costs down! I also added onions, carrots, celery, celeriac, white turnip, potatoes, green pepper, mushrooms, beef or chicken stock, red wine, bay leaves, paprika, salt, pepper, fresh rosemary, oregano and chives.  I bought the white turnip because they didn't have any small yellow ones.  I definitely prefer the yellow ones so next time I'll buy yellow and cut it in half. The herbs are all from my sun room. Those 3 are what will grow in mid February at 50ºN on the west coast.

A goulash or stew isn't necessarily a dish you would find at a restaurant but if it's really good you just might. So I don't discriminate against a dish because of it's simplicity or peasant origins.  By restaurant quality I mean primarily taste.  Appearance and texture are also important but it is flavor that will win the diners gratitude. I also try to keep my food costs as low as possible.  When I initially started cooking with purpose I never gave a second thought to food costs. I used to spend about $5 per person per meal for protein and I thought that was pretty good.  Now I spend more on the order of $1 per person and food taste and quality has risen dramatically. It's amazing what a little effort can do!

Back to the goulash, dice up the onion. Cut the meat into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes and put in a plastic bag with a tablespoon or two of flour.  Slice off the outer skin of the celeriac and cube it up into meat sized pieces.  Peel the carrots and turnip and  dice them up along with the  celery.  In a large pot put a tablespoon or more of oil and turn the heat to a bit more than medium. You want to fry the onions to golden brown but not burnt and papery so your experience will tell you what is the best setting for your stove and pot.

Once you have golden onions shake the meat in the bag and take it out by handfuls.  Don't empty the meat bag into the pan because it will have too much flour. The flour coating the meat will quickly soak up the oil in the pan so you have to drizzle more while it's browning. When the meat is browned at least on two sides add the celeriac, turnip, carrot and celery. You want to sweat the vegetables which means cook them till water starts to come out the cut ends or onions to turn translucent, but ours are already brown so just get everything cooking.

When the vegetables are sweating add a cup of beef or chicken stock.  How much stock to use depends on your pot size and the amount of meat you have. Water will continue coming off the vegetables as they cook but you'll also loose some to evaporation. Add an ounce or two of red wine and stir.  You want everything uniformly coated in a thick sauce, if it's soupy leave the lid off to release some moisture. Turn the burner down to medium low so it will gently simmer.

While that is simmering away dice the green pepper and slice the mushrooms, add them to the pot.  Add a tablespoon of paprika and salt and pepper to taste.  I also had some chili sauce in the fridge so I put a bit of that in, anything to add a little heat will work. Give it a stir occasionally so it doesn't burn to the pot bottom.  During the last half hour of cooking add the fresh herbs. Their flavor cooks off quickly so don't put them in too early. Butter a baguette or whatever bread you have and put it in a paper bag in  the oven or toaster oven to warm. Serve on a plate or in a bowl with the warm bread.  Delicious!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Leftover Pork Teriyaki Stir Fry

Yesterday I had some leftover pork so I picked up a red pepper, some bean sprouts and mushrooms.   I thinly sliced 200 to 300 grams of cooked pork (about half a pound), put the slices in a plastic bag with a tablespoon of flour and shake to coat.  Wash the beans sprouts and let them drain while you finely dice half an onion.  The other half cut into larger chunks up to 1 inch square. Chop a stick of celery into 3/4 inch slices cut on the bias. Chop the red pepper into smaller 1/2 inch pieces and slice up the mushrooms.

Put rice on to cook and put a 12" frying pan (or your biggest) with 2 or 3 tablespoons of oil and turn the heat to a bit less than medium high, add a few drops of sesame oil if you have it. Add the diced onions and fry till golden, keep tossing so they don't burn.  When the diced onion is golden add more oil if necessary and add the pork.  Brown the pork on both sides.

Pour an ounce or two of chicken stock into the pan and stir it around.  You want the flour on the pork to mix with the stock to make a little sauce so add more stock till you get there.  Then add the rest of the onions, the celery, red pepper, mushrooms and bean sprouts.  Add a tablespoon of soy sauce or more to taste.  When the vegetables are almost cooked add a tablespoon of molasses and mix it in.  When the vegetables are done plate the rice and the stir fry over or beside the rice.  Enjoy.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Garlic chicken ho hum

In my journey to better food I found that there are many more uses for egg yolks than egg whites. I have been saving egg whites as I use the yolks and I needed to find a use for some of them. I defrosted a few whites and whipped them up, seasoned them with garlic  and onion powder.  I seasoned some flour and coated the chicken breasts then dipped them in the egg whites.  They coated nicely but when I put them in the pan the coating fell off when I tried to turn them.  The taste was one dimensional garlic so it wasn't much of a success.

This highlights a consistent problem I've noticed.  Any coating beyond seasoned flour won't stick to the meat but will stick to the pan.  These coatings seem to require deep frying or roasting. Pan frying just doesn't work with a thicker coating.  No doubt there are exceptions to the rule and I'll write about them as I find them but for the time being, I'll stick to flour coating unless I want to deep fry.

For a failure though, this was much better than the unappetizing slop I produced in the past. It tasted good, just not as good as it could have been. I have to go shopping for dinner tonight, hopefully I'll find something really scrumptious.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bacon wrapped pork tenderloin with mushroom wine sauce

I'm on a roll this week!  I walked into the grocery store and the daily special was pork medallions wrapped in bacon.  I picked up a pack of 4 little medallions and thought, that's a piddly little amount even for $6. I can do better than that.

Pork tenderloin was on special and I had some bacon already so I got about twice as much pork for $5.50
I picked up some mushrooms and headed home.  I cut medallions of pork and wrapped them in bacon fastened with a toothpick.  Mashed potatoes, broccoli and carrots to round it out.

I seared the medallions all round in a frying pan and put the pan in a 375º oven for 25 minutes.  While everything was cooking I fried up half a diced onion to golden and 5 sliced mushroom with a little butter.  When the pork was ready I took meat out of the pan and set it aside to rest.  I put a teaspoon of flour in the frying pan and mixed and cooked it into the pan drippings.  I added just enough water to thin out the mix then added 1/2 an ounce of white wine and about the same of whipping cream (sour cream will work too but use less wine because it's already acidic).  Add in the mushrooms and onions and serve over the pork medallions. Delicious!

Yet another Cajun chicken variation

Tonight I started out by boning some chicken breasts and putting the bones on for stock, then going downstairs and forgetting about it.  It boiled dry, filled the house with smoke and nearly ruined an allclad pot. I still had to cook dinner.

So I quickly peeled potatoes and put them on.  Seasoned the chicken with Cajun rub and got the broccoli cut up and a couple of carrots with that.  Once I seared the chicken and put it in the oven, the potatoes were on and I just had to push start on the vegetables. I have time to make a sauce.  Lots of flavor on the meat already so just plain butter and lemon should do.

I took the small pan I fried the chicken skins in for the dogs and used the remain fat.  I add a teaspoon of flour and a pad of butter.  Once the flour was cooked I added water then the juice of half a lemon.  Add water if you need to thin it out. I added a pinch of salt and tasted it.  Sour but it should temper the heat in the Cajun spice.

I sliced the breasts and poured the sauce over the chicken and the broccoli. It was delicious.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sole Almondine

This was a completely unscripted success.  I went shopping with fish high on the probability list and the only thing on special was sole.  I bought 300 grams, about 3/4 of a pound which turned out to be about 100 gm too much.  I had 1/4 cup of sliced almonds in the cupboard and asparagus was on special for $1.99 which is hard to beat in February. Carrots and mashed potatoes will round out the plate. We'll need a lemon too.

When I got home I looked up sole almondine and basically it is brown the almonds in the pan with some butter then put them aside.  Season some flour in a plastic bag and coat the fish shake'n bake style. Whisk an egg with a tablespoon of milk and some chopped parsley in a bowl .  Dip floured sole in milk/egg mixture and put in medium high oiled frying pan. Fry first side 4 minutes then turn and cook 1 minute.  Take fish out of pan and put a teaspoon of flour in.  Add oil if needed to make a smooth thin paste of the flour.  After a minute pour in some chicken or vegetable stock and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Whisk it smooth, put the almonds in and a pinch of salt. Add more salt or lemon juice if needed.  Plate the potatoes and vegetables then pour the almond sauce over the fish. A few drops of lemon juice over the fish and veggies and serve.  Delicious!

Plating, I know mine is terrible

I have started photographing dishes for posts and one thing is clear, my plating is pathetic. My partner said the chicken on onions dish looked like a plate from the 1950's.  I have to agree and I'm not sure what to do about it.  I mentioned plating to our favorite chef and he agreed that it's pretty hard to put a new spin on two vegetables, starch and protein.

I'm still concentrating on flavor in and around the protein.  My partner doesn't like his protein plopped on top of his starch so that limits the possibilities a lot. We usually go out for dinner on buffet night so I'm not seeing professional plating as much as I need to. For the time being I am concentrating on protein flavor, next I'll work on vegetables and then I'll concentrate on plating.  Looks will draw people to the table but taste will keep them there.