Taste and see …

Comfort food at its best August 29, 2011

Filed under: Dinner — F. Penner @ 6:41 PM
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After a weekend of wondering whether the tornado was going to take me away, or if I was going to lose my power, or if the rain was just going to wash us all away, and not really eating anything that constitutes ‘real food’ in anyone’s book (baked veggie sticks, cookie dough, tortilla chips… although there may have been a few fruits & veggies in there) I wanted something real.  Something comforting & delicious (obviously!), but I wanted to eat an actual meal.  Thankfully, I hadn’t lost power, so I didn’t have to throw anything out – I went looking in my freezer & fridge, and found some chicken drumsticks and some potatoes.  I then raided my cupboards and found some canned green beans that were ‘best by’ last Monday.  I double-checked online to make sure they were safe to eat, and voilà!  I had my homemade, comforting, delicious ‘real’ meal – oven-fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans.  Total American comfort food.

As I was getting the chicken ready, I remembered that a while back I had roasted a whole chicken, and saved every last bit of that bird that I could.  I’d already made stock from the bones, but I still had a whole container full of the drippings – which meant I could make gravy to go with my mashed potatoes!!  Sweet!  I’ve really only ever made gravy when I make shepherd’s pie (and I think I may have attempted it for the 2 times I’ve ever made roast beef) but I know the general idea.  So after getting the chicken, potatoes & green beans underway, I threw 2 tablespoons of the chicken drippings and 2 tablespoons of flour in a pan, let that warm up and mix up so I had a nice roux, then added 3/4 of a cup of water from the potatoes (right before I drained them) and 1 1/4 cups of chicken stock.  Then I let that cook ’til it thickened, seasoning it with salt & pepper, and then (for any Bridget Jones fans) – I sieved it, but not because it was lumpy… Since I had used the chicken drippings, there were bits of chicken in the gravy that I didn’t really want.

Gravy before sieving...

... and after - ready to go on my potatoes! 🙂

I didn’t use any kind of recipe for the chicken or potatoes – never have.  I think this meal was probably one of the first meals I ever cooked back in high school – my mom was getting her master’s degree, so she’d leave me directions for dinner when she had class.  I dredged the chicken pieces in a mixture of flour, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and added a little bit of olive oil drizzled on the bottom of the pan and over the chicken, then cooked it at 375° until it got golden brown (although I do have a thermometer that I probably should have used…).  As for the potatoes, I like mine with salt, pepper, butter, milk, and cream cheese (or sour cream).  Soo good!!!

the end result - yum!!


 

Pita bread & lentils April 18, 2011

Filed under: Breads,Dinner — F. Penner @ 11:19 PM
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I’ve been trying for like, 2 years, to get the spices for this one meal I had at my best friend’s house one time, and I finally remembered to ask her a) when I was visiting and b) when I had a pen & paper handy!  I decided that I was going to make it as soon as possible when I got back from vacation, because I remember it just being really really good (I don’t think she’s ever served me anything that wasn’t…).  This is going to be kind of a ‘lazy’ entry, because I didn’t measure any of the spices, I just threw them all in, then added more of whatever I wanted more of!  It’s basically chicken, lentil soup, and a whole bunch of spices.  Since I’m just one person, I made a smaller amount, so just mess around with the amount of chicken & soup, etc., for however many you’re cooking for.  I probably made enough for 3-4 servings…

Chicken with lentil soup

  • 1-2 (depending on size) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks
  • olive oil
  • 1 can Progresso Lentil Soup (or your lentil soup of preference)
  • cinnamon
  • cumin
  • coriander
  • oregano
  • garlic powder
  • paprika
  • thyme

Cook the chicken pieces until just cooked with a little bit of salt & pepper (and I added some garlic powder too), drain the juices if you want, then add the can of soup and the spices to your taste.  I ended up adding in more cinnamon and coriander because I couldn’t taste them – the garlic and cumin kind of overpowered everything else.  I let this mixture simmer at low heat, covered, while I baked up the pita bread.  You can also serve this over rice, with or without the pita.  The pita just sops up the soup so nicely, though!  And again – since this is a ‘lazy’ entry, I’m just posting the link for the pita bread.

Pita bread from Tasty Kitchen

I was right – this was really tasty, and quite filling (and made me feel all healthy and stuff!).  I realize the picture of the chicken and lentils really doesn’t look appetizing, but it really is yummy…  You can always just buy the pita bread, but I wanted to try making it cuz I’m odd like that (I also really like baking bread – and I don’t have a bread machine, so I get to knead it all myself!  It’s wicked fun – seriously.).

Enjoy!

 

Tears… and yumminess April 14, 2011

Filed under: Dinner — F. Penner @ 6:34 PM
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I have absolutely no idea how long it’s been since my last post – I could go back and check, but that would just remind me that I’m a slacker. 🙂 I know I missed Christmas, which is a shame, because I took pictures of my Christmas cookies, fully intending to post about them – and that so didn’t happen!  Anywho… I was going through the stack of recipes on my living room floor, trying to figure out how I should organize, but then got sidetracked by all of the recipes I wanted to make.  I came across a Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Swedish Meatballs, and while I know I’ve had them at least once in my life, I’ve never made them (or any other kind of meatball) so I added it to my menu for this week.  They turned out all right, I think – having nothing to compare them to makes it easier for me to say I thought they tasted just fine!

Meatballs

  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 large slice high-quality white sandwich bread, crusts removed and bread torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 8 oz. ground pork
  • 1 small onion, grated on large holes of box grater (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 8 oz. 85% lean ground beef
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil

Whisk egg and cream together in medium bowl.  Stir in bread and set aside.  Meanwhile, in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat pork, onion, nutmeg, allspice, pepper, brown sugar, salt, and baking powder on high speed until smooth and pale, about 2 minutes, scraping bowl as necessary.  Using fork, mash bread mixture until no large dry bread chunks remain; add mixture to mixer bowl and beat on high speed until smooth and homogeneous, about 1 minute, scraping bowl as necessary.  Add beef and mix on medium-low speed until just incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping bowl as necessary.  Using moistened hands, form generous tablespoons of meat mixture into 1-inch round meatballs until you have 25-30 meatballs.

Heat oil in 10-inch straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat until edge of meatball dipped in oil sizzles (oil should register 350 degrees on instant-read thermometer), 3-5 minutes.  Add meatballs in single layer and fry, flipping once halfway through cooking, until lightly browned all over and cooked through, 7-10 minutes. (Adjust heat as needed to keep oil sizzling but not smoking.)  Using slotted spoon, transfer browned meatballs to paper-towel lined plate.  (As you can tell from the picture, the first batch got more than ‘lightly browned’ – oops!)

Sauce

  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter (I used salted because that’s what I had in my fridge)
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tsp. juice from 1 lemon
  • Salt & pepper

Pour off and discard oil in pan, leaving any fond (browned bits) behind.  Return pan to medium-high heat and add butter.  When foaming subsides, add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until flour is light brown, about 30 seconds.  Slowly whisk in broth, scraping pan bottom to loosen browned bits.  Add brown sugar and bring to simmer.  Reduce heat to medium and cook until sauce is reduced to about 1 cup, about 5 minutes.  Stir in cream and return to simmer.

Add meatballs to sauce and simmer, turning occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes.   Stir in lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Like I said, yumminess.  I had no idea what constituted a ‘large’ slice of bread, so I just went with Trader Joe’s Canadian White (which, btw, is really good for sandwiches!) – I guess it was fine.  I have to say, though, I have honestly never cried so much when cooking with onions as I did with this recipe!  Must have been the grating… I wonder if it would turn out just fine if I finely chopped the onions next time… grating it was just a little too much.  I served my meatballs over egg noodles, although I really want to try them over mashed potatoes too.  I’m not sure the sauce is supposed to be that brown, but it tasted okay to me – must have been all the ‘fond’ left (there was quite a bit).

Cook’s Illustrated has a few notes that I thought I’d add also.  Firstly, the traditional Swedish accompaniments are lingonberry preserves (or cranberry if you can’t find lingonberry) and Swedish Pickled Cucumbers.  I had neither of these, so maybe the whole dish would have tasted even better if I had – I’ll just have to head to Ikea at some point and try theirs.  Also, if you don’t want this to be quite so sweet (and for a meat dish, it is a little sweet), you can omit the brown sugar in the meat mixture, and reduce the brown sugar in the sauce to 2 tsp.  If I had actually paid attention to all the writing in the beginning of the article, I might have made them this way, but now I guess I’ll just have to make them again!

 

Tomato soup November 20, 2010

Filed under: Dinner,Soup — F. Penner @ 12:47 PM
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It’s been getting cooler here, and at times it’s actually been cold enough for soup.  I had been looking through my thoroughly unorganized collection of recipes for ideas, and found a recipe for ‘Fresh tomato soup’ that I had pulled out of an old Paula Deen magazine.  I’m not generally a fan of the canned version – I think maybe it’s too sweet for me? but I thought I’d give home-made tomato soup a try.  I think I added too much onion (I decided I didn’t actually need to measure out the 3/4 cup, but threw an entire medium onion in instead…), but otherwise it was pretty good – especially with a grilled cheese sandwich!

Fresh tomato soup

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup minced onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 cups finely chopped tomatoes
  • 3 Tbsp. flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 cup half and half

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic; cook 5 minutes, or until tender.  Add tomatoes; cook 3 minutes.  Stir in flour, and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Stir in chicken broth, salt, and pepper, and cook 4 to 6 minutes, or until thickened.

Pour soup into an electric blender or food processor (I imagine an emulsion blender would also be just fine :)).  Puree until desired consistency is reached.  Return soup to saucepan; stir in half and half.  Cook over low heat 5 to 6 minutes, or until thoroughly heated.

 

Chicken & pasta with… white wine August 16, 2010

Filed under: Dinner,Pasta — F. Penner @ 7:30 PM
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That’s right.

I cooked with wine for the first time ever in my life a few days ago.  And I didn’t even buy the wine – it was given to me because it was given to one of my friends and she didn’t want it.  So yay! for free wine!! 🙂  I decided to make this recipe because I saw the ‘mac and cheese’ part of the title and immediately wanted to try it.  Unfortunately, the sauce doesn’t actually have any cheese in it, so unless you sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top of the pasta when it’s all done (which I recommend) it’s not so much mac and cheese.  It’s still good.  It’s a little involved, with all the chopping and julienning, but it’s worth it.  Oh, and it calls for a pound of pasta, but I’m pretty sure I only used half a pound, or whatever half a box of mini fusilli pasta is, and it was plenty!!  I think if I had made the entire box, there wouldn’t have been enough sauce to go around.

  • 2 whole Shallots, Finely Chopped
  • 5 cloves Garlic, Finely Chopped
  • 1 whole Zucchini, Julienned
  • 1 whole Medium Carrot, Julienned
  • 2 whole Chicken Breasts, Trimmed
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • ¾ cups Dry White Wine
  • ¾ cups Chicken Stock
  • 1-¼ cup Cream
  • ⅓ cups Pasta Water Reserved
  • 1 pound Pasta (fusilli Is Great, But Spaghetti Or Angel Hair Are A Fun Twist Too)

Finely chop the shallots and garlic, then set aside.  Cut the zucchini into 1/4-inch medallions, then into 1/4 inch strips and set them aside.  Peel the carrot and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces.  Halve each piece lengthwise, then slice them into 1/4 inch matchsticks and set aside.

Trim the chicken breasts and separate the fillet.  Season both sides of all 4 pieces with salt and pepper.

Fill a large pot of water and set it on the stovetop to boil.  Heat a large skillet to high heat.  (The recipe recommended stainless steel for a better fond, which I happened to have, so I used that instead of my non-stick pan.) Add 1 Tbsp. olive oil and let that heat up.  Place the chicken in, “show side” down.  Make sure the pieces have a bit of oil on them to help caramelize, and then leave them alone for 2-4 minutes.  When they’ve got a nice brown crust, turn them over and brown the other side for 2-3 minutes.

Note: The pan will probably be very hot. Watch carefully so that you don’t burn the chicken and turn it down to medium-high heat.

Remove the chicken to a clean cutting board to rest.  It’s not cooked yet, but it will finish cooking when it gets mixed back into the sauce.  Cooking it in the two stages keeps it from drying out.

Add the pasta to the water, and give it a stir.  Cook the pasta until 1-2 minutes before al dente (according to the instructions for the pasta).  It’s going to continue to cook when it’s added to the sauce.  Drain and set aside.  Don’t forget to reserve 1/3 of a cup of the pasta water!

Put the skillet back on the stove at medium-high heat.  Add another tablespoon of olive oil.  Drop in the garlic and shallots.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir regularly until golden brown.  Add ¾ cup white wine and deglaze the pan.  Make sure to scrape up all the fond.  Continue to let the sauce simmer and when the liquid has reduced to about a third or a half of what it originally was, add in the chicken stock.  Reduce the liquid again to about a third or a half.

While reducing the sauce, use tongs and a sharp knife to slice the chicken into strips, and then into bite-sized pieces.

Add 1 ¼ cups cream to the sauce, and stir.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the carrots and the chicken.  Stir and bring to a boil.  This is important to finish cooking the chicken.  Keep it boiling and stir occasionally over the next two minutes to make sure that the chicken is cooked through.  Stir in half the pasta water you set aside.  Add the pasta, and mix it all together.  Throw the zucchini pieces in and give everything a final stir.

The next couple of minutes are crucial – the pasta will still be cooking and absorbing liquid and this is when the overall creaminess of your dish will be determined.  If it is too thick, add remaining pasta water or wine or stock.  If it is too thin, let it reduce.  If its not rich enough, add more cream and reduce.  You be the judge.  Just be patient, the pasta will absorb liquid.  Check every 30 seconds, give it a mix to see if it’s the way you like it. Taste and adjust seasonings.  Serve it with some Parmesan sprinkled over the top.