Thursday, December 30, 2010

On Holidays, Treats, and Beyond!

Life has been busy taking over again, and I have not made time lately to sit down and write.  But I suspect that may change to some degree in the near future.

Santa was very generous this year, and graced me with many cool kitchen gadgets and tools.  You'd think people know I like to cook. ;-)

I've also been struggling with a cold, so the inclination to spend time in the kitchen outside of heating up some soup has been lacking.

I made a fair stack of treats this year, however, and I'll post recipes and pictures soon.  These included a traditional Mexican cookie called a Biscochito, a French pastry cookie called a Palmito, two types of fudge (as mentioned in my previous post), A pecan coconut chocolate dipped candy called a Martha Washington, and fresh ginger molasses cookies.

So lots of future cooking and baking on the agenda after the holidays.  I'll be back with more. :-)

May you and yours have a safe and happy new year!

Monday, December 6, 2010

On following directions - Times when creativity or lack of patience will not serve your cooking

A lot of the best cooking in the world comes about when you combine some established ideas of dishes with a creative flair.  An experimentation of ingredients or preparation that opens up a whole new world of flavors and textures.

Occasionally, however, there are cooking processes that you need to stick to if you want some of the basic expected results to occur.   Maintaining the proper ratio of leavening ingredients in order to get an expected rise.  Accounting for wet and dry ingredients (and ingredients that affect "wetness") in order to achieve the correct mix and texture.  Not following these, while may produce something new, may also not produce what you expect.

I was reminded of this lesson while making candy this weekend.  One of the things I realized somewhat recently was the fact that when cooking the sugar/butter/milk fudge base, if you don't bring it up to the soft ball stage, your fudge will be grainy and crumble.  Many recipes just account for a heat setting and a time to cook it from the boil point, but for each stove and heat setting, it is a little different.  If you want consistent results, you really need to break out the candy thermometer.

Doing that the first batch, I got the mixture up to temp, and then completed the fudge mix (including marshmallow creme!) and got a nice solid, but creamy fudge.  The second batch, I got impatient waiting for it to rise to temperature, and coupled with the fact that I probably didn't set the temp high enough for it to properly bring it up to soft ball stage in an appropriate amount of time, I ended up with fudge that was not only not the right texture, but it was so brittle that it would shatter when I cut it.  It tastes wonderful, but only if you don't look at it. :-)

Ah well.  Better patience next time.  Luck isn't a factor if you follow the directions. :-D

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

It's Not Easy Eating Greens

Having grown up by and large on canned vegetables, greens of any kind were not something I learned to appreciate.  My mom seemed to have a love of canned spinach, but I just couldn't develop an appreciation for something that was limp, olive green, and salty.

Somewhere along the line, and I don't recall when, I got reintroduced to proper greens.  Then again, now that I think about it, it might have even started as spinach in a focaccia panino sandwich.  I remember being really shocked at the difference and impressed at the flavor and texture difference.  I've been a big fan of fresh spinach ever since.  Aside from steaming it, I often enjoy it raw in salads or sandwiches, and will often use it in place of where I would otherwise use lettuce.

Another recent addition was a green that gets proverbially tossed around a lot with its association to Southern Cooking or soul food.  That of course would be Collard Greens.  These large flat slightly bitter leaves cook up nicely in a variety of ways.  My favorite thus far is to strip the leaf from its stalk and center vein, and then roll up the strips and slice them into thin strips.  I then toss a minced clove or two of garlic into a hot pan with about a tablespoon or so of olive oil and let it sizzle for a few moments.  Then I toss in the big pile of greens and stir and toss regularly until the strips turn a bright green and just begin to wilt.   I season with a little salt and pepper, and it is also very common to add a dash of your favorite hot sauce.  I often use collard greens to otherwise dress up a dinner of boxed beans and rice or jambalaya.  In addition to tasting good, they are high in Vitamin C, folate, and soluble fiber.  Good stuffs!

I'm still learning to appreciate others.  Kale and I still haven't come to any agreements, but I truly think it comes down to texture.  These firm and tart leaves have a lot of cooking possibilities, but I haven't yet found an appreciation.  I hear really good things about mustard greens and even greens from things like radishes and other root vegetables.  I'll be investigating others over time.

Regardless, I've come a long way from canned, and I really enjoy the opportunities to rediscover fresh versions of things I only experienced preserved in such a way that it would feed the roaches at the end of the world.  :-P

Monday, November 1, 2010

Beef Stroganoff

I had the pleasure of sharing a favorite dinner recipe with my sweeties this weekend.  I learned to make a version of Beef Stroganoff over 10 years ago.  It is generally a very simple and comforting dish, and since I cheat a little, it's that much easier.

The recipe has evolved a little bit since I've learned to make it.  Traditionally in the UK and American incarnation, it is basically beef, wine, onions, mushrooms, made into a gravy mixed with sour cream, and served over rice or noodles.  My cheat is that instead of making the roux and gravy, I use Cream of Mushroom soup.  When I was seeing someone who was allergic to mushrooms, I traded it for Cream of Potato soup, and it turned out just as good.  After realizing I really enjoyed the potato in with it, I decided later to use both soups.

I start by slicing up Top Round, or Bottom Round, or another similar cut of meat into bite-sized pieces.  I then dice up a medium onion.  With about 2 tablespoons of butter heating up in the bottom of a dutch oven, I begin browning the meat.  As it begins to release its juices and brown, I toss in the onion  and chopped mushrooms and stir regularly until the onion is translucent.  Then I deglaze with about a cup of white wine (you can use red if you prefer, but it will turn the final sauce pink!).  Then I pour in a can of condensed Cream of Mushroom soup, and a can of condensed Cream of Potato soup and whisk it together and lower the heat to a simmer.

While it's simmering, I get the egg noodles boiling and then drained.

Once the sauce is heated through and thickened up, I take it off the heat and whisk in a pint of sour cream, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Then I plate up some noodles, and pour a ladle or two of sauce over the noodles, and that's it!

I have also been known to make it with plain white rice, and I imagine it would be good with brown rice as well.

Simple ingredients, but really good food.

If you want to make it more authentic, instead of using the condensed soups, take out the meat after it browns, make a flour roux with the fat and juices from the meat, let it toast up a little bit,  and then add the wine.  Then add milk to round out the gravy and season with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Avgolemono and Tzatziki

My apologies for any of you that follow regularly.  I've been up to my armpits helping put on a rock musical with dear friends, and not spending a lot of time in the kitchen.   But now that the majority of the show is behind me, and being deep in Fall and Winter looming, the kitchen is calling again.

A semi-regular tradition for me over the last several years for my birthday is to enjoy dinner at a really wonderful little Greek restaurant close to home called Tantalus.  Love pretty much everything I've tried, and I've never regretted a meal there.

One of the things we always seem to have as an appetizer with our dinners is Avgolemono.  Translated as "egg-lemon", it is a lemon rice soup.  It is thick, tart, and delicious.  And from the moment I had it, I always wanted to try my hand at it if just to see how difficult it was.

Turns out, in general, this is a pretty easy soup to make.

Start with 8 cups of chicken stock put on the stove to boil with a cup of regular long grain rice (not the instant stuff).  When it comes to a boil, turn down to simmer.

Just as the rice starts to soften, but before it is ready, separate 4 eggs, and beat the whites until you get soft peaks.  Beat in the yolks and the juice from 3 lemons.  Pull out about 2 cups of broth from the pot and sit in a bowl and let it cool a little.  Then while beating the egg mixture vigorously, pour the separated broth little at a time until it incorporates without cooking the egg.

Take the rest of the soup off the heat when the rice is ready.  Season as you like with salt and pepper.  Then pour the egg mixture into the rest of the soup while whisking briskly.  If it tempered correctly, it should mix without curdling.

Serve immediately with fresh ground pepper.

Really a snap.

Something else I decided to learn to make which goes along with the Greek theme is fresh Tzatziki sauce.

There is a pizza place in Issaquah called Amante's, and they offer a pizza called Sparticus which is basically gyro meat, red onion, feta, mozzarella cheese, and a pesto sauce.  They serve it with a small container of tzatziki.  But it is never enough.  I even ask for extras, but it's like pulling teeth.  So one night, I opted to learn to make my own!

One cup of Greek yogurt (or regular yogurt suspended over a bowl in cheesecloth or a strainer in the fridge to drain some of the whey and thicken it up), one cup of sour cream, whisked together.  Two cloves of garlic, minced.  Half a tsp of salt.  A good several turns of fresh black pepper (or white pepper if you have it).  One cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded, and then shredded or finely diced (it is recommended in the recipe I have that you can sit this, too, in the fridge for a couple hours in a strainer or cheesecloth over a bowl to drain off the extra liquid once its shredded).  Three tablespoons of olive oil.  One tablespoon of vinegar (I like using lemon juice instead).  And about a quarter/half teaspoon of fresh chopped dill (dry works, but you may have to use more).

In a small bowl, mix the oil, salt, garlic, pepper and lemon juice.  Mix well.  In a larger bowl, whisk together the yogurt and the sour cream.  Then add the oil mixture to the yogurt mixture and whisk together.  Add in the cucumber and the dill.  Mix well.  And thats it!

Tzatziki tends to improve with time in the fridge, so if you can make it ahead, or put off eating it for at least 24 hours, you will be rewarded.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Brilliant Breakfast

Back home in New Mexico, breakfast burritos are a dime a dozen.  They are good, filling, spicy, and tasty. That may be why I don't make them as often for myself.  I used to eat them all the time.

But after having sampled some recently from a local guy whom is almost famous for them, I couldn't resist whipping up a batch of my own.

Really, breakfast burritos can contain anything and everything.  They are great for cleaning out the fridge of veggies, meats, and sauces.

I opted for the basics.  Eggs, potato, veggies, and meats.  I cheated a little on a few things, but first thing in the morning, you don't always want to spend time prepping.

I had whole wheat tortilla wraps that I heated up.

I tossed about two tablespoons of olive oil into a hot cast iron skillet and tossed in a small handful of frozen tater tots.  Any kind of potato would do, and you can even season up and fry some diced potato if you like, but since they take a while to cook, I like to use frozen options.  Once those soften up and break up a little, I add diced green pepper, diced onion, and a heaping teaspoon of canned diced green chiles (fresh are better, but those are hard to find out this way.)  I kept stirring them until they just started to soften.  I then added the meats (in this case shredded ham and turkey cold-cuts) and let them brown a bit.

Meanwhile, I beat 3 large eggs, and when the meat and veg are ready, I pour it into the skillet together and stir it around.  I shake a bit of Johnny's over it and then keep it turning and cooking.

Once it's nearly done, I like to toss on some shredded cheese to taste.  I like a lot, but you can put it as much or as little as you like.

Once its ready, I spoon it all onto a heated wrap and toss in a spoonful or two of black beans.  Then I tuck the ends, and roll it up.

For me, I wanted them to be even more zingy, so I opened a can of green chile enchillada sauce which I poured over the burrito and then garnished with finely chopped scallions.  I also added a little sour cream to mine, but again, go with what you like.

It's true of any of the ingredients.  You could include diced tomatoes, bacon, cilantro, diced steak or leftover tenderloin, Spanish rice, black olives, other types of beans, corn, or any other interesting combination of things you might enjoy.   Your imagination is the limit, but your inventiveness will be rewarded!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Hot Mess

Back when I was a bit of a younger lad, I worked retail, like so many of us do, and at the mall which housed my department store (Mervyn's!), there was a food court.  And in that food court was a small vendor which made hot sandwiches.  Philly Cheesesteaks were the draw for most.  But I liked their hot club sandwich.  Ham, turkey, mushrooms, onions, and peppers, with cheese melted on top, served on a mayo'd hoagie roll.  A little piece of marvelous heaven.

And it wasn't just necessarily the food that was good, but watching the owner and his grill antics, and how he'd slice and dice things on the hot griddle and bring it all together.

Somewhere down the line, long after I moved out of the area and up here, I decided that I should figure out how to make those, because.. YUMMMM!!

Turns out, it is very easy to put them together, and realistically, you can incorporate anything you really want into these.

But to keep with the spirit of the original, I use Black Forest ham, smoked turkey, and either provolone or swiss depending on my mood.

I Julienne a green pepper and a medium onion to start.  Then coarsely chop a good 3-4 white mushrooms per sandwich.   Also, depending on size and thickness of the slices, and how stuffed I want my sandwich,  I set aside 2-3 slices of ham and turkey both per sandwich, and 1 or two slices of cheese.

I also open up my hoagie rolls and get them prepped with mayo.  Once you start going, there won't be time to do much prep on the fly.   Things burn rather quickly.

Starting with a hot skillet or griddle (I prefer cast iron because it wears better and handles high heat well), I pour in about a teaspoon or two of EVOO, and then throw a good handful total of the veggies on (maybe a little less than a quarter cup of each give or take).  Just enough oil to get the veggies softening up.  Toss them around until they just start to change color, but not yet soft.

Then I bring on the meats.  If I'm feeling nostalgic, I'll put on the slices whole, and use a pair of metal flippers to chop up the meats on the griddle like they did it at my favorite shop.  Otherwise, I just shred them up in my fingers as I toss them on, and then continue to toss the whole lot for a few more minutes.

Just as the vegetables soften and the meats heat through, I  group everything into a hoagie-shaped row in the middle of the griddle and toss on the slices of cheese right on top.

Once the cheese starts melting, I open up the hoagie roll and cover up my little pile right on the griddle, press it down a little bit,  and let it sit for a moment longer.

The next part takes a little practice: slide the flipper under the pile and while holding the bun on top, turn the whole mess over onto a plate.  You probably won't get everything, but you can always scrape it up and put it on top of the sandwich.

Scrape off any burned up bits, and start the process over for the next sandwich.

Serve immediately.  And enjoy the hot melty goodness!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

BBA: Potato Rosemary Bread

So what do you do when a planned meeting turns into dinner?  Bake bread from my favorite bread-baking book, of course!

While I've really been going out of order on the recipes lately, the fun has been the fact that I'll find a craving for a certain type of bread and then check to see if Reinhardt covered it.  Inevitably, he has, and I get the fun of going through it and learning it.

So far, I think this is the first recipe I've tried that requires a biga pre-ferment.  You may remember me mentioning a different sort of pre-ferment called a poolish which generally takes on the consistency of pancake batter.  A biga on the other hand forms a firm dough that you cut up and add to your main ingredients.

Pulling the dough together was pretty easy.  I have an ongoing love affair with my Kitchen Aid mixer that would surely make my partners jealous.  Bread-making is so easy with it.  I remember hearing tales of how much work it was to make bread, and as I work my way through Reinhardt's book, I continue to shake my head at this notion.  Being that I flirt with carpel-tunnel syndrome in both wrists, kneading by hand is not the preferable way to go for me, but I've done it as needed (hee!).  But putting on the dough-hook and letting the mixer pound on the dough for a while makes it so much more pleasurable.  :-)

The only thing I noticed, and this in hindsight was probably related to moisture content of the mashed potatoes, is that it took a good deal more flour during the kneading stage to get a smooth and not sticky dough.  Once it came together, the kneading was easier and it came to pass the window-pane test.

First rise was quick and good.  At that point, I carefully separated the dough out into 2oz balls with the intent of making dinner rolls instead of a loaf.   I formed the mini-boules quickly and with as little compression as I could, though I noticed the dough was really susceptible to deflating and I think this affected things later.

I let them proof for about another hour or two until they perked up.  I then spritzed them with water, and pressed in a rosemary leaf cluster to try and decorate the rolls.

Then in the oven for 10 minutes, rotated 180, and another 10.  This resulted in a nice brown crust.  Unfortunately, I needed to have buried my rosemary decoration a little deeper in the dough.  Almost without fail every single decoration desiccated in the oven to the point where not only did they fall off the roll, but they crumbled into powder when I picked them up.  And people wonder why Christmas Trees are so flammable. :-)

The results were a nice crumb and a firm and chewy crust.  Good flavor in spite of forgetting to add the garlic.  I will remember next time.

My only complaint was that the rolls ended up a little flatter than I had wanted.   When they proofed, they didn't really rise up so much as poof out.  I'm guessing this is due to poor gluten production and I guess I'll have to either try different flour, or knead for even longer.  Not sure, but it's a work in progress.

Didn't seem to deter our hosts from devouring them though. :-)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

BBA: Bagels!

I finally got around to getting into the bagel recipe!

The hardest ingredient to find, of course, is the barley malt syrup.  None of the regular grocery stores have it, but I found a jar at our local PCC.

Putting the dough together was really easy.  The sponge was a snap, and the rest came together pretty quickly.  I did part of the kneading in machine, and part by hand when the machine started chugging as the dough got thicker.  Window pane test passed, I formed my roll form, and let them rest.

The forming of the ring felt really natural.  I used method one in the book, which is basically piercing it with your thumbs and using them to create the hole.  Worked really well.  Float test worked on the first try, and in the fridge they went.

Next morning, I got my water boiling and my oven pre-heated, and got to making them.  I went for the 60 second per side boil, and I got a lightly chewy bagel.

Flavor was good.  I imagine these are more authentic than store-bought.  The barley malt syrup gave them a flavor that was unusual to me.  Not bad, per se, just unusual and unexpected.

I left them plain this time, and may experiment with toppings, though I really think I want to make raisin or blueberry bagels next.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

BBA:Whole Wheat Bread

It's interesting how a craving can totally derail your plans in the kitchen.

This BBA Challenge bread is one of those as well for me.

I decided to skip around because I decided I was really craving whole wheat bread, and I'm looking for something to replace buying sandwich bread.

I did a few things differently, but in hindsight, more realistically from the persepctive of someone that would make bread regularly on a small scale.

I made a batch of Greek Celebration bread to go with Easter brunch this year, and accordingly, I had a little bit of poolish leftover.  Having decided I'd find a use for it, I let it sit a day in the fridge until I found a recipe I wanted to try that used a poolish.  That's when I decided to go with the whole wheat loaves.  So I thought I'd try refreshing my poolish in much the same way as you would a barm: equal parts by weight flour and water, and in this case, I converted it to mostly whole wheat with the refresh.
Having let that ferment a little at room temperature, I fridged it and got my soaker together.  For that, I used 8-Grain cereal from the bulk bins at the store.  It amounts to coarse grain cereal that fits the bill perfectly.  What surprised me was that overnight, the liquid was entirely absorbed.  Having worked with the Anadama bread, my soaker for that was still rather mushy, so I was kinda surprised at first that I ended up with a big sticky lump.
The recipe for the bread doesn't really add any additional liquid to the dough (I did use the honey and egg), and that surprised me as well, but mixing it turned out perfectly.

I added about another 3/4 cup of flour through the kneading process to keep the dough from being too sticky.  When it was done, it was tacky feeling (just a little bit sticky), but passing the window pane test, so I was happy.

The initial rise went without hitch in the allotted 2 hours.  Shaping wasn't too bad, though as usual, I didn't quite get the cut even between the two loaves, so one was slightly larger than the other.

My only regret was that I didn't give them enough proofing time.  They rose, but I am willing to bet I could have gotten a little more out of them if I had had time.

Flavor is really good.  There is still something about homemade bread I haven't figured out.  There is a flavor component that I don't really appreciate, and I haven't really taken time to think about how it is and what it really tastes like, but I know that any time I've attempted homemade bread, I taste this flavor that I don't like.  Something to keep plugging away at.

But yeah.  Sliced and toasted this morning, it is very good, and when I get more supplies and time, I'm looking forward to trying the proof again.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Blackened Chicken Alfredo

So I've been in the frame of mind to try new and interesting things lately, and one of the things I decided I wanted to do was find a recipe something similar to Charlie's Blackened Chicken Fettuccine.

What I found isn't quite the same, but turned out tasty nevertheless.

And this arrangement serves 4 conservative portions.  The sauce may run dry, so you might bolster it a little if you like your servings more saucy. :-)

First, I brought water to a boil and began to cook a pound of whole-wheat penne pasta.

Then I pounded out two chicken breasts flat (I like putting them between two sheets of plastic wrap, and giving them a good wallop with the bottom of my marble mortar.  No fuss, no muss.

After that, I liberally coated one side of the breast in Emeril's Essence (though any good blend of good rubs and seasonings would work as long as they will toast well).  Pop it in the hot cast iron pan with a 1/2 tblsp pat of butter, and let it cook for a good 3-4 minutes until the surface chars.  Coat the other side, top with another pat of butter, and flip.

For the sauce, I sautéed a cup of green pepper (recipe called for red, which I think would have tasted better, but I forgot to grab it), a cup of scallions (green onions), and a cup of mushrooms, all 3 diced up, in about two tablespoons of olive oil.

Once they softened up a bit, I added in a whole pint of heavy cream, 2 tablespoons of butter, and let it come up to just the other side of a simmer.  Then I added a good fist full of Parmesan, and stirred to incorporate.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Plate some pasta, sauce over the pasta,  chicken breast sliced, and then placed on top of the pasta with a little drizzled of sauce over top.


Portion-wise, we found that with good sized breasts, as is often the case ;-), one split between us was good to go with about a quarter of the pound of pasta, give or take.

While this wasn't faithful to what Charlie's makes, it was very good on its own.  I hope to tweak this to make it something more like the recipe I love, but I would definitely make this again, and may even see about mixing things up between the two for the sauce when the time comes.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Look At My Pinwheel and See What I've Found

Pinwheels are an appetizer that I make periodically for parties and gatherings.

There is a story behind them.

I remember being at a convention where they served these mini wraps that were cream cheese and thin slices of ham rolled up.  I enjoyed them, but I felt I could pump them up a notch.

The first iteration ended up being bacon and cream cheese, and fresh roasted green chile.  The added flavor and heat of the chile did wonderful things, but it still needed something else...

Deciding to experiment, my partner at the time tossed in a little garlic powder, and that ended up being the factor that pushed them over the edge!

These days living 1600 miles from my chile source, and lacking freezer space, I tend to make them without, but that also makes them really easy.

I pick up two blocks of cream cheese and a pack of burrito sized flour tortillas.  I soften the cream cheese in the microwave for about 30 seconds.  Soft enough to mix and spread, but not too soft.  To that I add about a teaspoon of garlic powder.  Then I mix in about 3 slices of bacon crisped up and chopped fine.

Once that all comes together, I lay out a tortilla on the cutting board, and I slice off a little bit squaring off the side edges.  I do that to minimize the waste later.  When you roll them up, the edges end up loose and really not worth presentation, and if you square up the tortilla ahead of time, those end pieces aren't as big.  With the edge pieces, I save them and throw them in with soups and such.

Once I spread an even layer on the entire  surface of the tortilla, I roll it up fairly tightly and set it aside on a plate.  Then I continue with each tortilla until I've used up all the filling.  At that point, I take all of them and put them in the freezer for about half an hour to let everything firm up.  It makes it easier to slice them when they are cold.

Then I slice them into half inch rounds give or take, and stack them on the presentation plate in a little circular pyramid.

If its going to be a little bit between when I finish them up and when they are devoured, I stuff them back into the freezer to keep them chilled and together.

Pretty easy, and typically well received.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Thanks for the memories

One of the things I've found that directly influences my choices and inspiration of food is my own history with it.  And part of that history includes all manner of comfort foods and guilty pleasures.  I'm sure we all have various things we grew up eating or enjoying that we realized were not good for us, and yet from time to time, we crave them.

Mine included Vienna sausages.  I remember eating them with cheddar cheese slices and Saltines.  Perfect kid lunch. :-)

And in my house, that also included the lovely Potted Meat, and typically the Libby's and not the "higher quality" Hormel.  

I realize too that a lot of it had to do with economics at the time.  We grew up on the lower end of middle class, and beyond that, my parents even later in life when things were better still clung to a pretty rigid means of money saving.  I remember eating a lot of bologna and hot dogs.  And around our way, we didn't get hot dog buns.  We would use a knife to score the hot dogs down the middle so they would split open in half, and then we'd put two flattened out between two pieces of bread.  

I also remember odd things like scrambled eggs with fried bologna.  And lets not forget Spam.  I remember eating that stuff straight out of the can and also fried.  

My father was a big fan of frying things, and any time Mom was away, we knew it was either Pizza for dinner or some manner of fried foods including things like Spam, potatoes, and such.

Something else I remember was that we ate a lot of canned vegetables.  Spinach, corn, mixed vegetable, asparagus.  I never realized why I disliked vegetables so much until I started eating them fresh or even frozen.  I remember the mental disconnect the first time I tried something fresh and noticed they weren't olive green and salty.  :-)

But I have lots of good memories of things too.  I still almost cough every time I think of eating Nestle's Quik straight from the can with a spoon, and accidentally inhaling a little in the process.  I remember the taste of semi-sweet Tollhouse morsels, and how Mom would get mad when she needed them to find that the bag was half empty. :-)  And I remember the tart taste of baking cherries right off the tree in the side yard and the taste of the pies later.  

Another odd little food memory was that we'd go out to a breakfast buffet at a hotel near the airport with family friends, and I remember how I could never understand why the eggs tasted so much better there than they did at home.  And learning later, of course, that the eggs at the hotel were cooked in clarified butter. :-)

I also remember the taste of the real original Coca-Cola as it came in the 32oz screw-top glass bottles.  My Dad would go through bunches of those, and I was privileged from time to time to enjoy a little bit here and there.

Heh.  I also remember coffee at an early age.  My parents drank Nescafe (*twitch*), and my Dad had a habit of trying to get ready and drink his coffee, and it didn't typically work, so he'd end up having some left over as he's walking out the door, and somewhere along the line, he took to tipping his mug into my morning milk glass.  So from time to time, I started the day with coffee flavored milk. :-)

Lots of little things like that color my current perspectives on food and flavor both in positive and negative light.  But it's neat to look back and see where some of it comes from.

What are your fondest food memories as a kid?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Game of Squash

One of the wonderful things about fall and winter are the abundance of squash varieties.  Baking a good acorn or butternut is a wonderful way to enjoy the late bounty.

Having taken an interest in Pinch My Salt for her plan to bake through the Bread Baker's Apprentice, I stumbled on a recipe she posted for making Spaghetti Squash Gratin.

Given all things, I was very intrigued.  And I had heard of spaghetti squash, but I had yet to appreciate it.  

So off I set to pull the materials together.  And I thought it would make a really nice side dish to some baked salmon.  I had just gotten a deal on a nice Sockeye fillet, and portioned it out.

I cleaned and then microwaved the squash for about 12 minutes which softened things up.  I was then able to use a fork to pull it apart into threads.  It's so cool how it ends up resembling pasta (and a lower cal alternative if you really have to have your spaghetti mouth-feel).

Threw the rest together, popped it into a new casserole baking dish I received for Christmas (yay family that knows I love to cook!)   

Tossed it in the oven at 450 for about 20 mins, and it came out wonderfully.

Along with the Salmon, I realized that while it was good together, it wasn't my favorite way to go and I think I will pair it with something else.  It did turn out pretty light and flavorful, and I enjoyed it unto itself quite a bit.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Chicken Casino-Name-In-Vegas

So as much as I enjoy cooking, I of course love to eat out as well.  Whether it's a burger at the greasy spoon, or something a little more classy, I enjoy eating and getting ideas for my own cooking.

One dish I always appreciate when I go out is called Chicken Bellagio from Cheesecake Factory.  It is a breaded chicken breast pan fried, placed on top of angel hair pasta and a garlic basil pesto sauce, and then topped in strips of prosciutto and the whole thing covered in fresh arugula.
The chicken melts in your mouth, and the basil pesto is amazing.

So naturally, I need to make it at home from time to time. :-)  It's a pretty quick fix.

A pair of chicken breasts, bread crumbs, an egg (scrambled), flour, angel hair pasta for two, a cup of heavy cream, about a quarter cup of basil pesto, half a cup of shredded parmigiana, prosciutto, and washed arugula. Salt and pepper for the sauce, and oregano and parsley for the breading.

Pound out the chicken breasts one at a time in between two pieces of plastic wrap until flattened out evenly.  Coat the breast in flour (cover all the wet spots), and then dip in the egg, and then into the bread crumbs mixed with the herbs.  Press the crumbs in evenly.  Fry on each side until golden brown.

To prepare the sauce, I decided to go with an garlic basil pesto alfredo sauce.  It's a little thicker, but I find that its less greasy and more yummy.  I've talked about making this sauce before.  Basically bring the cream to a low boil, stirring constantly and incorporate the basil pesto (which you premade while it was fresh in season, and then froze, yes?).  Salt and pepper to taste, and as it begins to thicken, add the parm and stir vigorously to incorporate it.  Continue to stir until it thickens more, and then remove from the heat.

Pile a small nest of the cooked aldente angel hair pasta on the plate, pour a bit of the sauce over it, place the breast directly on top of it, top with a little more sauce, tear up a slice of prosciutto and layer over the chicken, and then top the whole thing with a small handful of arugula.  

Yum.  :-)