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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Roast Chicken IV

MWR had suggested that I try the Chez Panisse and Simply French roast chicken recipes, and since he was going to be passing through on Sunday, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. So, Chez Panisse it was. It's quite a simple recipe, involving rubbing the chicken inside and out with a spicy rub, shoving a handful of fresh thyme in the cavity, and roasting it until it's done, in a pan with no rack, no turning, no basting. In other words, no funny stuff.
Spice-Rubbed Roast Chicken

1 t fennel seed
1/4 t red pepper flakes
1 1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
bunch fresh thyme
4 lb roasting chicken, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine first four ingredients in mortar and pestle and grind to crack fennel seeds. Remove giblets and excess fat from chicken cavity, and rub chicken inside and out with salt mixture. Stuff thyme inside cavity. Put chicken in roasting pan and roast for about an hour, or until thigh temp is 165 and breast no more than 170. Remove from oven and let rest 10-15 minutes before carving.

Here it is before popping it in the oven (note: this is not a four-pound chicken! It was the last one in the coop that day, so it's a 5.25-pounder).

Sous-chef/dinner guest MWR brandishing the chicken as we flip it onto its tummy to rest.

Resting chicken before I tented it with foil.

The flavor, with the fennel and red pepper, was really lovely. We overcooked it a tad, so the breast meat wasn't as moist as I like, but the flavorings were worth doing again for sure.

We had ganache-filled and cream-cheese-frostinged mini cupcakes for dessert, and once again I forgot to photograph them with their pretty pink frosting on. Here's what it looked like after we had consumed a dozen.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Jumble, aka Cholesterol in a Pan

A really odd thing happened yesterday--it snowed! Latest snow ever recorded at the Portland airport. It's been unseasonably cold this week, but not cold enough for it to stick. You can sort of tell it's snowing from this picture, though:

Yesterday for dinner I made split pea soup, again, only this time with yellow split peas. I used a sweet potato again like I did last week, and it turned out fantastically delicious, as always. Served it with crusty warm take-home-and-bake pugliese, and a simple spinach salad with hard-boiled eggs (yes, I'm still using up those darned Easter eggs! See more below) and grape tomatoes.

The other day I was at a bit of a loss as to what to make for dinner. I knew I had some cauliflower, and some hard-boiled eggs, and some cream, so I thought I might make a kind of cauliflower mimosa gratin, and serve it with buffalo burgers. When I went downstairs, however, I discovered that we had only one hamburger patty in the freezer. So the cauliflower mimosa gratin got expanded, and some ham and scallions tossed in, too. I think I was also partly inspired by Angry Chicken's crustless quiche. Just about anything can be turned into dinner if you bake it in a custard. So here's how I made Thursday's dinner:
Cauliflower Jumble

1 medium head cauliflower, broken into small florets and steamed until just tender
2 scallions, chopped
few ounces ham, diced
four hard-boiled eggs, diced (I used my egg slicer to cut them three ways, which was effective if slightly tricky)
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 eggs
1 C heavy cream (I had some left over; half and half would also work great, or maybe even whole milk)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread half of cauliflower in 8x8 baking dish, then top with half of ham, half of scallions, half of hard-boiled eggs, and half of cheese. Repeat until all ingredients are nicely layered in pan. Whisk eggs and cream with a little salt and pepper (and maybe some fresh thyme leaves? it's good with everything) in a small bowl, then pour over cauliflower-ham layers. Bake until slightly puffed and starting to brown, about 45 minutes. Note: testing by jiggling (as with a quiche) does not work. If you take the casserole out, scoop out the first serving, and the hole you made fills with creamy liquid, put it back in the oven for more baking!

It was pretty tasty. I served it with a little buttered whole-wheat toast, and a simple fruit dish of canned pears and fresh sliced kiwis.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Happy Easter!

Newton, the Wizard (Whizzer?) and Cindy Lou. The reasons for calling the bigger guy Newton I think are pretty obvious. Plus our street used to be called Newton Street before the big renaming/numbering going on 100 years ago. The little guy's name needs a little more explanation. One of his favorite things is to "talk 'bout wedders." He'll say each letter of the alphabet and then one to several words starting with that letter. The first time he said, "Ell, wizard," it kind of threw me for a minute. The boys' shirts and the baby's sweater were all purchased at resale. Yay for reuse!

We hosted Easter dinner with J&J and fam, plus a couple of other friends. I made the classic ham (because it's easy!) and scalloped potatoes, J brought broccoli, and for some reason I thought we needed three desserts: ganache-filled cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, chocolate pots, and spritz cookies. Often when I am overambitious like this one or more gets tossed by the wayside, but this time I finished all three without feeling like a stress case. Helps that they were all really easy.

The chocolate pots were a recipe from Real Simple from a while back, basically just a scratch chocolate pudding. I put them in adorable Easter egg-shaped ramekins I got from the Crate & Barrel outlet a few years ago.
Chocolate Pots

2/3 C sugar
2 T cornstarch
1/8 t kosher salt
3 C whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 t vanilla
6 oz bittersweet chocolate
cocoa powder for garnish (optional)

Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt in medium saucepan. Add 1/3 C of the milk, whisking until smooth, then add remainder of milk and egg yolks. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly (or nearly so) until thickened, about 180 degrees. Do not boil. Remove from heat and add vanilla and chocolate, stirring until chocolate is melted. Pour into ramekins and chill 2-48 hours. Sprinkle with cocoa powder before serving if desired.

The recipe calls for 8 4-oz ramekins, but as you can see in the picture, I used 11. I don't know if the recipe testers just filled them fuller, or if my ramekins are slightly smaller than 4 oz.

The cupcakes were a redo from a while back, only this time I decided to frost them with cream cheese frosting, tinted pink. I'm sad I didn't get a picture of the finished product--I actually went to the effort of piping the frosting, and then they were topped with these cute Easter sprinkles I've had hanging around in the cupboard for just such an opportunity (along with the Easter-egg printed wrappers hidden by the tin). I'm not sure whether I like them better with the frosting or the ganache. Certainly the frosting is more seasonally adaptable.

The spritz cookies are from a basic recipe I got from my mom. It's not the one in the Betty Crocker Cookie Book--that one has never worked right for me. The color (from violet gel food coloring) turned out a little odd--I wonder if it would have been nicer if I had used bleached flour? Not that I generally would use bleached flour for anything (although the cupcake recipe calls for cake flour, which is usually bleached).

The scalloped potatoes came from Cook's Illustrated, only doubled and some of the potatoes substituted with garnet sweet potatoes. Here's how I made it:
Scalloped Orange-and-White Potatoes
makes a 10x14 inch Pyrex pan's worth

I used the food processor for the onion, potatoes and sweet potatoes, and cheese, scraping but not rinsing in between. Very efficient.

2 T unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 medium cloves garlic, pressed
1 t fresh thyme leaves
2 1/2 t salt
1/2 t ground black pepper (accidentally omitted)
3-3.5 lb russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
2 lb garnet "yams," peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
2 C chicken broth (from about 1/2 C homemade concentrated stock)
2 C heavy cream
2 bay leaves (again, accidentally omitted)
8 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Melt butter in large Dutch oven (my favorite 6-qt one was a bit small to hold everything and still allow for stirring) over medium-high heat until foaming subsides. Sauté onion until soft and beginning to brown, then add garlic, thyme, and salt and pepper and cook for another 30 seconds or so. Add potatoes, sweet potatoes, liquid and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover, and cook until potatoes are not quite done (barely pokable but still on the stiff side). Transfer mixture to baking dish (removing bay leaves), sprinkle with cheese, and bake until slightly browned and bubbly, about 15 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

They turned out a bit runnier than I would have liked--next time I think I'll reduce the chicken broth. They also got a bit overcooked because the oven (from which we had just pulled the ham) wasn't quite ready when they were, so they cooked on the stove a bit longer. The sweet potatoes were fabulous in there, though--next time I think I'll try an even larger percentage substitution.

One item from dinner that didn't make it into the photo was my family's traditional Ham Sauce, made from sweetened whipped cream, a little mayonnaise, dry mustard (for kick), and yellow mustard (for color). Nothing like fat and sugar to make everything taste better, right?

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Saffron-Yogurt Chicken Curry

So, I copied Adriana and made that Chicken Curry from FoodBuzz. Because it was a complicated recipe, I did a mise en place with most of the ingredients, and naturally missed adding a couple of things (the sugar and the tomato puree (I used tomato paste from a tube)) at the right time. It still turned out fantastically tasty.

The yogurt-saffron mixture (I used whole milk yogurt, and some of that Spanish saffron):

The spices to be bloomed in hot oil:

The onion/garlic/ginger paste, with the spices due to be added with it:

I decided to brown my chicken before starting anything else, for more flavor. Next time I'll cut the chicken into smaller pieces.

After the sauté, starting to stew (next time I'll add the cauliflower half-way through, and resist the impulse to add just a little extra water):

The finished curry, after stirring in the yogurt/saffron and simmering a bit longer (when I first added it, the yogurt seemed to curdle, but after a little while simmering, it seemed to un-curdle; white bits visible in the finished dish are from the overcooked cauliflower):

Served over long-grain brown rice, with frozen naan from Trader Joe's (remarkably tasty):

Finally, a picture of Cindy Lou with Mavis (he's usually the one behind the camera). I wanted a picture of her in one of my favorite outfits for her before she outgrows it:

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008


A while back, I mentioned something about our eco-roof, and Birrd asked for more info. Here it is, finally.

The eco-roof is not on the house, it's on the garage. We live on a very steep street, and our garage is right next to the sidewalk at the downhill side of our lot, dug in so that the back and uphill side are completely buried and the roof's more-or-less flat surface is basically at grade. Though the houseward corner of the garage is quite near the garageward corner of the house, the garage floor is several feet lower than the basement floor, and they connect via a sloping, curving tunnel with a reinforced concrete roof.

The previous roof was that black rubbery/tarry stuff, and though it's hard to know for certain, we are fairly sure that there was a leak at the houseward corner. Certainly there was quite a bit of rot in that area, and consequent sagging. We had done some stopgap repair of that corner when we bought our house eight years ago, but knew we would eventually be replacing the garage roof. We were doing a lot of other exterior projects last spring/summer, including repainting all the house trim and the front of the garage, so it seemed like a good time to undertake the project.

I suppose if we had replaced the garage roof at the time we bought the house, instead of just repairing it, we would have done something different than we ended up doing. However, in the intervening years eco-roofs have been getting increasing amounts of press locally, and I knew there were people who would help me do it and do it right. When I initially talked to Greg Haynes at Ecoroofs Everywhere, a couple of years ago, they were really only working with non-profits or people who wanted to recruit a volunteer force for planting etc. Fortunately, by the time I was ready to undertake my project, Greg was working as a consultant with people who were willing to pay market rates. He hooked me up with a structural engineer who could assess what structural changes needed to made to support the weight of soil and plants and a contractor he had worked with in the past, and the project started just about a year ago.

The contractor dismantled the old roof, beefed up the existing support structure, then created the structural foundation for the eco-roof. They were able to re-use a lot of the existing materials, just took out the rotted sections, and fixed the slope of the roof at that corner to better drain water. The roof now consists of doubled-up 2x10 support beams, a plywood underlayer, a waterproof membrane, a layer of padding (basically like a wool rug pad), a few inches of a soil mix containing a high percentage of pumice, sedums and sempervivums, and a top layer of burlap mesh. The plants will eventually completely grow through and cover the mesh.

I'm pretty happy with the results overall, though I was dismayed to discover that the reconstruction had not resolved the water issues near the tunnel. As it turns out, a bigger problem than any leak that may have existed was the issue of water wicking from the concrete tunnel roof (concrete is porous) into the wood structure. This necessitated, last fall, the removal of the material filling the gap between the concrete and the wood. Right now the crack is covered with roofing felt (detritus left by the metalworkers who put a new copper roof on our bay window) held down by brick pavers, but some time in the next six months we will have to figure out a way to permanently close the gap and still keep water out of the garage structure. If we can succeed in keeping it dry, the eco-roof can last upwards of 30 years. It cost more than a conventional roof would have, but will last longer and will reduce the amount of runoff heading into the river.

Besides the eco-roof, I'm always looking for other, smaller ways to green up my life. It was a big epiphany for me, a while back, when I realized that the three members of the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" trinity are not co-equals. No, dear readers, it's a hierarchy. Recycling is good, but reusing is better, and reducing is the best of all. So here are my recent small triumphs:

Reduce: I finally figured out that my cotton balls (which I use twice daily to apply toner to my face) were too big. Now I gently pull each one into two pieces and use a half, and it works just great. Yay! I've reduced my consumption by 50%, just like that. Cotton is biodegradable, sure, but the growing and manufacturing process couldn't be much less eco-friendly. So for my next bag I'll be purchasing organic cotton balls.

Reuse: Please tell me I'm not the only one who saves rubber bands and paper bags and ribbons from presents? Anyway, I had a big rubber band collection (8 years of regularly getting them with the mail and newspaper). I sorted them by width and made rubber band balls, then happened to catch my mailman one day, and he was thrilled to take them off my hands. More yay!

Recycle: For the last few years, I've been participating in Plastics Roundups run by the Master Recyclers. They will take just about anything plastic that is not recyclable curbside. The recycler who processes the plastics they collect recently expanded its film processing capability. No, not photographic film, any thin flexible plastic, including plastic bags, cereal and cracker liners, shrink wrap, etc. etc. etc. This is awesome. Even without plastic shopping bags (we mostly use cloth bags, and any plastic shopping bags that come our way end up being used for garbage bags), I've filled a large paper shopping bag three times just since the end of January. Our non-diaper garbage has dwindled to almost nothing. Yay!

Now, don't ask me when I'm switching to cloth diapers. That's still something I agonize over.

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Nap Gravity

Cindy Lou awoke from yesterday's afternoon nap with a most impressive mohawk:

And no, there's no sound on the clip--I took it off because I repeatedly said her real name. D'oh!


Monday, March 17, 2008

Reverend Spooner Jr.

A lot of the odd pronunciations favored by Number Two/Mr. Middle/Whatchamacallim are because he can't say certain sounds, like S-combinations or Ls. Others are Spoonerisms, where sounds are swapped between words or syllables. Hence, chicken when he means kitchen, effawint when he means elephant, etc. My all-time favorite (so far), though: he spotted Mavis in the study taking off a pair of headphones, and said, "Daddy done with phode-hens." Awesome.

We had Split-Pea Soup for dinner last night, and it was fantastically delicious, as usual. I added a leftover sweet potato, diced, with the russet, and it made it even better--more colorful and more flavorful. We ate the last of the honeyless half-whole-wheat crusty bread, and I continue to be absolutely thrilled with the ease of that recipe and the quality of the results. For tonight's dinner of split-pea leftovers, though, I'll be making some other kind of bready item, maybe biscuits. I'll mix up the next batch of bread dough, but I won't bake it today, to give it more time to work its magic in the fridge.

Update: Thanks to Lindsey, we had Irish Soda Bread. It was tasty (love the flavor buttermilk imparts), but a bit dense, like, I'm not sure it rose at all. Maybe this will be a future set of recipe trials.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Mmmm, Chowdah

For tonight's dinner I tried another recipe from that free trial issue of Cook's Country. It was quick and tasty. I made about 2/3 of the recipe, and we ate about 2/3 of it or a little less. Next time I'll have proportionally a tad more chicken (tonight's package had just under a pound). Here's more or less how I made it (using the magazine's original proportions):
Chicken/Sweet Potato/Corn Chowder
serves 8-10

3 C whole milk
1 cup Jiffy corn muffin mix
2 T butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t dried oregano (I'll use fresh when I have it)
2 qts low-sodium chicken broth (I used turkey broth from last Thanksgiving--it needed to be used up or risk languishing in the freezer forever)
1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 sweet potatoes (about 1.5 lbs), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I always use garnet "yams")
1 C shredded Monterey Jack cheese (I used cheddar, because the Monterey Jack I had had on hand got used up before I got around to making this recipe)
3 C frozen corn kernels (not thawed)
1/2 C chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix milk and muffin mix in large glass measuring cup (if you have to measure the milk anyway, why dirty another bowl?). Heat butter in dutch oven over medium heat until foaming. Sauté onion until softened and starting to brown. Add chicken and continue sautéing until chicken has lost most of its pink parts and the fond is building up on the bottom of the pan. Stir in garlic, cumin, oregano and about 1 t kosher salt until onions and chicken are coated and spices are fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth and sweet potatoes, bring to a boil and then simmer until potatoes are just forkable, 5-6 minutes.

2. Stir in milk/muffin mix mixture and simmer another 10 minutes, until soup thickens. Remove pan from heat and stir in corn and parsley. Adjust seasonings, then ladle into bowls and topped with grated cheese to serve.

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Five Months Old

The bebe, or Cindy Lou, which I might start calling her, is now five months old. Such a big girl, and still just practically perfect in every way. Her hair on the sides has really been falling out--when she stirs in her sleep she turns her head back and forth, and there is a collection of fine brown hairs in her bed at the head end--so she has kind of a mohawk, with extra wispies over the ears. Not a style I'd necessarily pick for her, but I'm curious to see how it plays out. Yesterday I took advantage of the light streaming into my bedroom (on the west side of the house) to take these natural-light shots. The light varies some from clouds passing in front of the sun.

I managed to get Mr. Middle (how's that for a blog name? I'm still thinking of possibilities, and neither Odin nor The Hammer seem to fit him all that well) to pose with her a bit, but he was being extra squirrelly and kept having to be cajoled back to the pillow:


Simple Crusty Bread v1.2

This time I tried with about half whole-wheat flour (Bob's Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour), and I baked it in the cast iron dutch oven without parchment, just carefully picking up the risen loaf and putting it as gently as possible into the hot pot. It didn't stick and the crust didn't have a funny flavor on the bottom, so that's good. The crust was also really nice. However, the bread itself was a little cardboard-y. Then I remembered that a lot of bread recipes I've seen say to add some honey if you replace any of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat. Aha. So next time I think I will add 2 T honey to the warm water/yeast/salt mixture before adding flour.

[Edited to add] Today's (Friday's) loaf (second of three from this batch of dough) turned out even better. I think the whole wheat flour benefits even more from the long, long refrigerated rise/rest than the white flour does.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Never again! Stop me if you sense me heading that direction.

About every three years, I see an intriguing recipe and decide that it would be a good idea to pan-sear salmon. And then somehow I magically forget how messy it is, and how the smell lingers in the downdraft vent until it gets thoroughly degreased. I guess it's like childbirth that way, except that the end product (NPI) is more temporal.

So Saturday night I decided to try a pan-seared salmon recipe from Cook's Country (to which I subscribed for a year, until I decided my recipe inflow was insanely excessive; this recipe came from a recent free issue they sent me trying to get me to resubscribe). The thing was, I was in a hurry to get the salmon into the pan because the oil was smoking, and I splattered grease on my face and right hand. I don't recommend doing this. I managed to finish preparing dinner while spending as much time as possible holding my hand under cool running water (it blistered anyway) and pressing a cool wet dishtowel to my face (it didn't blister, but I am looking considerably more blotchy than is usual). I hope you'll understand why I didn't manage to take any pictures. I'm just glad I was wearing glasses, as a couple of big blobs hit smack in the middle of the lenses. I shudder to think.

Anyway, the pan-seared salmon was good, as usual, but not really worth the extra trouble, as usual, not to mention the injuries. The glaze was pretty tasty, though, and I'll probably make it to go with salmon prepared another way.
Balsamic Glaze

1/4 C balsamic vinegar
1/4 C orange juice (I used the juice of half of a large navel)
2 T honey
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 T cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
salt and pepper to taste

Mix vinegar, juice and honey to dissolve honey, then put in a small skillet with rosemary. Simmer and reduce until it's syrupy and only a couple of tablespoons remain. Turn off heat, leaving pan on warm burner, and stir in butter. Season with salt and pepper and serve over salmon.

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Bread and Chicken, Chicken and Bread

Friday was the third and last roast chicken trial. This is the method I used most in the past, taken from The Cook's Bible by Christopher Kimball.

Slow-Roast Chicken

3.5-lb chicken
little bit of butter
kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove giblets from chicken cavity and pat dry with paper towels. Poke chicken all over with small skewer (I used a bamboo cake tester) (this is borrowed from the crispy-skin method, in part to make the skin crispier and in part because the pok-pok noise when you pierce the skin is so satisfying). Put chicken in V-rack in roasting pan, breast side up. Put a little softened butter on your hands (a teaspoon or so) and rub the chicken all over. Then sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. (I suppose now is where you could put the whole assemblage into the fridge overnight to dry out the skin, in which case you shouldn't have the oven on yet.)

Put chicken in oven and roast for 30-35 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 200 degrees and roast for an hour. Then raise oven temperature to 400 degrees for a further 15-30 minutes, until temperature is 165 in the thigh and 170 in the breast (or thereabouts).

As you can see from the pictures, I also tried this time to stick veggies in the bottom of the roasting pan: a garnet yam, peeled and cut into chunks, the rest of the Russian Banana fingerling potatoes, a few carrots, peeled and cut into sections, and two leeks, quartered. I drizzled with a tiny bit of olive oil (since the chicken would be dripping its own fat on them, too), sprinkled with some salt and pepper and tossed to coat. The leeks didn't fare so well--if I do them again, I'll leave them whole (the ones I've been getting don't have much if any dirt down in them), or switch to whole shallots.

This chicken was delicious, and just about as easy as the French pot-roast method. I think in the future I'll use the French method if I want to make gravy, or just for a change, but I'll go back to this method as my default.

I also baked up the last of the Simple Crusty Bread, this time borrowing from another no-knead bread recipe, in Cook's Illustrated. They suggest letting the dough rest/rise in a parchment-lined skillet, and then transferring dough and parchment to a preheated cast-iron dutch oven in the oven. The oven and pot are preheated to 500 degrees, and then the temperature is lowered to 425 for the remainder of baking, the first half-hour with lid in place, and second half-hour uncovered.

This method definitely works better than throwing water in the broiler pan underneath the baking stone for developing a crisp, shiny crust. However, it seemed to me that the parchment imparted a slightly off flavor to the bottom crust of the bread. I've never had that issue with baking on parchment before, but then it's never had direct contact with a preheated-to-500 degrees hunk of cast iron before, either. I seem to recall one of the other no-knead recipes I've seen also called for baking in a dutch oven, but without parchment. I'll see if I can track that one down and try it.

And finally, the bebe, hanging out with Grandma.

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Six-Word Memoir

Adriana tagged me on the six-word memoir. The blog version of this idea originated with Bookbabie and was inspired by Not Quite What I Was Planning, a compilation of six-word memoirs edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith.

Here's how this one works:

1. Write your own six-word memoir
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like
3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere
4. Tag five more blogs with links (I did six--so sue me)
5. And don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play! (I'll only do this if I think they might not read my blog regularly)

Here's mine:

Back where I began, with baggage.

I'm tagging Swizzies, MWR, Birrd (congrats on your new little one!), Jana, Jana and Jana (my sister, who doesn't have a blog yet--though she should--can leave hers in the comments).


Monday, March 3, 2008

"The Perfect Dinner"

Or so Number One said, per Mavis (I didn't hear it when he said it, and true to form he wouldn't repeat it). I don't know if I liked it better than the previous night's chicken (and the prep was a bit more complicated), but it was delicious and worth making again.

Crunchy Baked Pork Chops, Apple Slaw, steamed broccoli, roast Russian Banana fingerling potatoes.

Crunchy Baked Pork Chops
adapted from Cook's Illustrated Jan/Feb 2008

4 boneless center-cut pork chops, 6-8 oz each, 3/4 to 1 inch thick, trimmed of excess fat (I had some random tenderloin ends instead, about the size of chops, so I just cut off the silver skin and went for it; I'll probably use chops next time)
4 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into one-inch pieces (I had a random collection of crusts in the freezer leftover from some other recipe. I had originally thought yesterday's homemade bread would have enough left over for this recipe, I didn't feel like buying a whole new loaf, and this stuff was at least white)
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 T)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed (about 1 T)
2 T vegetable oil
ground black pepper
2 T grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 t minced fresh thyme leaves
2 T minced fresh parsley leaves
1/2 C unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
2 large egg whites
2 T dijon mustard (Cook's calls for 3 eggs whites and 3 T mustard, and a little bit more flour, which I think would be possibly too much and wasteful; in any case I had plenty)

Preheat oven to 350. (Cook's calls for brining the meat, which I never do. If you want to--and if you are using injected/seasoned supermarket pork you unequivocally SHOULD NOT--they recommend 1/4 C table salt in 1 qt water in gallon zipper-lock bag. Squeeze air out of bag before sealing and refrigerate 30 minutes. Then rinse under cold water and dry thoroughly with paper towels.)

Pulse bread in food processor until coarsely ground, making about 3 1/2 C crumbs. Put crumbs on rimmed baking sheet with shallot, garlic, oil, 1/4 t salt, and 1/4 t pepper. Toss with your hands until oil coats crumbs and other ingredients are evenly distributed. Bake until browned and dried, about 15 minutes, stirring every five minutes. Remove baking sheet, but do not turn off oven. Let crumbs cool to room temperature, and toss with Parmesan, thyme and parsley.

Put 1/4 C flour in one shallow dish. In another, whisk egg whites with mustard until smooth, then mix in 1/4 C flour until fairly well blended but not entirely smooth.

Increase oven temperature to 425. Cook's calls for using a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet, but I only have the one rimmed baking sheet and no rack to fit it, so I used a nice broiler pan (with pointed ridges and therefore less contact with the meat). Season chops with pepper (oops, forgot that). Dredge each chop in flour, then use tongs to coat with egg white/mustard mixture, letting excess drip off. Coat all sides of chops with bread crumb mixture, pressing gently to help adhere, then transfer to broiler pan.

Bake until center temp of chops is 150, 17-25 minutes (20 was just right for mine). Let rest 4 minutes before serving. (Cook's serves with lemon wedges, obviously because they didn't have the following Apple Slaw recipe.)

Apple Slaw
from Real Simple, who knows how long ago

I think if I were serving this as a condiment, this recipe would make too much. That was my initial thought. But if you take it as a salad (and it works quite well as one), this is just the right amount. I think any firm and tart apple would work about as well as the Granny Smiths--this fall I hope to use the winesaps from my own tree.

2 Granny Smith apples, cut into matchsticks (I started out using a knife and quickly switched to the julienne blade on my mandoline)
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 T fresh lemon juice
1/4 C sour cream
1/4 C chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 t salt
1/8 t pepper
1/3 C toasted pine nuts

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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Clawing My Way Out of That Rut

We were all getting sick of the winter rut (Mavis actually told me after I last served it that he was pretty much done with pearl couscous with sausage and butternut squash), so I am now entering what I sort of hope will be a significant period of experimentation and adding new things to our regular repertoire. I say "sort of" because as much as I love cooking and putting together wonderful meals for my family, trying new recipes takes more time than throwing together familiar ones, and I get even more behind in my other projects and responsibilities. So we'll see how long I am able to keep it up before the burgeoning chaos (read: piles of random stuff) completely swamps the computer.

I have read in several places lately (okay, probably over the last year or so) several different versions of no- or low-knead bread. Tonight I tried the first of these collected recipes. As with the chicken, this one seems so easy that I may never get to all the others (although watch this space for the third and last roast chicken trial, coming in about a week). I got this from the Oregonian FOODay, but I can't find the recipe online.
Simple Crusty Bread
makes 4 loaves

1 1/2 T yeast (regular, not instant or rapid-rise)
1 1/2 T kosher salt
6 1/2 C unbleached all-purpose, plus more for dusting dough
3 C water
cornmeal for dusting pizza peel

In a large bowl or plastic container, mix yeast and salt into 3 C lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose [not really]. Cover, but not with an airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature 2 hours (or up to 5 hours [what I did]).

Here is the dough after mixing and before rising (after five hours it was up to the rim of the bowl; actually, it was there after 2, but didn't get any bigger after that):

Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks. When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough and cut off a grapefruit-size piece [or, since this is supposed to make four loaves, 1/4 of the dough] with a serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating a mounded top and a lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it, loosely covered.

Here is the shaped loaf, sitting on the pizza peel to rest.

Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes.

Dust dough with flour, slash top with serrated or very sharp knife three times. Slide onto stone. Pour 1 C hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.

Tonight's other trial came from the latest Cook's Illustrated. It seemed like something we would all like, and I already had some of the ingredients. The original recipe called for using 4 8-oz chicken breasts cut into 8 cutlets to serve 4 people. Heavens, that's a lot of meat. I halved it (or close to it--the two breasts I bought were just over a pound total) for the four of us, and it was perfect. Here's how I made it:
Chicken Saltimbocca

1/4 C unbleached all-purpose flour
freshly ground black pepper
2 chicken breasts
1 1/2 t minced fresh sage leaves, plus 4 whole large leaves
thinly-sliced prosciutto to cover one side of each cutlet (for me, 2 slices of Prosciutto di Parma were enough)
2 T olive oil
5 oz dry vermouth
1 t freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 T cold unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
1 1/2 t minced fresh parsley
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 200. Combine flour and 1/2 t pepper in shallow dish. Trim chicken, removing tender from underside, and carefully cut parallel to cutting board into 1/4 to 1/2-inch-thick cutlets.

If chicken seems wet (mine didn't), pat dry with paper towels, then dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Sprinkle one side of cutlets evenly with chopped sage, then top with prosciutto, trimmed to fit (Cook's says to press lightly to adhere, but when I did this it only made it stick to my hand).

With familiar recipes I'm cooking from memory, I don't usually do a mise en place, but it's a really good idea when you're trying something new to have everything ready to go before beginning, especially if it's a pretty fast-moving recipe and/or you're trying to prepare (as I was tonight) other parts of dinner at the same time.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add sage leaves and cook until leaves are uniform in color, 30 seconds maximum. Carefully lift out with tongs and put on paper towels. Carefully put half the cutlets in the pan, prosciutto side down (tricky because it doesn't really stick to the chicken), and cook until light golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Flip carefully (I used tongs) and cook on the second side until also golden, another 2 minutes or so. Transfer to warm plate in the oven, and repeat with the second batch.

Pour off excess fat from skillet, and pour vermouth into the pan, scraping up brown bits if necessary (I found that the pan was hot enough that the boiling action of the vermouth lifted it all up without any scraping on my part). Simmer until reduced to just a few tablespoons, 5 minutes or so. Stir in lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and stir in butter, one lump at a time. Remove from heat and stir in parsley and season with a little salt and pepper.

The finished sauce:

Remove chicken from oven, pour sauce over it, and top each cutlet with a sage leaf.

I served it with the bread (just a tad dense; I'll make more/deeper slashes for the next loaf) and cheesy polenta with zucchini. Argh! I just realized I forgot the fruit dish I had planned to serve, incorporating some of those beautiful canned pears I put up last fall! Oh well.

This meal was a big hit with everyone except Number Two, who was too tired to be overtly enthusiastic about anything other than the bread, but who nevertheless ate almost all of what we served him.

Speaking of Number Two, I've decided to come up with better blog names for my kids. Suggestions are welcome.

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