Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spice Blends and Adventures in Lemon Chicken

I've ordered lemon chicken, chicken piccata and variations thereof over the years, but I never actually made it until a few weeks ago. I started with this recipe from Cooking Light. It caught my eye because of the capers. I like capers a lot, and so does my sweetie. Let's deconstruct:

  • 4  (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  black pepper
  • 3  tablespoons  all-purpose flour--I usually do not measure out the flour I need for dredging, nor do I usually measure the amounts of salt and pepper I put on meat. for me it's pure eyeballing. Trust yourself.
  • 2  tablespoons  butter
  • 1/2  cup  fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4  cup  fresh lemon juice
  • 2  tablespoons  capers, drained
  • 3  tablespoons  minced flat-leaf parsley
 Next, we have some fun, with a little setup. Be careful not to scare your neighbors:

1. Place chicken between 2 sheets of plastic wrap; pound to an even thickness using a meat mallet or small heavy skillet. Sprinkle chicken evenly with salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow dish; dredge chicken in flour.

Tenderizing meat this way is pure fun. I bought a tenderizer for just the occasion, smooth on one side, rough on the other. It cost me about fifteen bucks and has some heft to it. It would also make a great murder weapon, but I digress (my other hobby is writing mystery novels, what can I say?)

2. Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; cook 3 minutes. Turn chicken over. Add broth, juice, and capers; reduce heat to medium, and simmer 3 minutes, basting chicken occasionally with sauce. Sprinkle with parsley; cook 1 minute. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm.

3. Bring sauce to a boil; cook 2 minutes or until thick. Serve over chicken.

The directions on this recipe are pretty straightforward, and I appreciated the chance to make a simple dish that's reasonably low in fat.

But the sauce never came together for me, I don't know what it was, but the sauce just tasted like lemon juice. No body, no depth to it.

So, I tried it again a few weeks, making two changes; I added a teaspoon of dried oregano (this didn't add anything, to my disappointment and adding a 1/4 cup of white wine (Snow Goose from the local McLaughlin vineyards. The wine gave the sauce a depth that was missing, but I still wasn't satisfied.

My sweetie and I moved last weekend, and I had our first grocery order delivered the day we hooked up the cable. I'd ordered some chicken, some fresh basil and I got to thinking.

The spices were upnacked (they were pretty easy to find, unlike our big Wusthof knife which is still missing) and I remembered a long time ago, a friend had a Pampered Chef catalog, and I'd ordered a lemon-basil rub, that was quite nice, and unlike a lot of spice blends, was not full of salt!

Even better, in the unpacking, some lemon-infused oil had turned up. I hadn't seen it for four months! I love flavored oils and vinegars.

I sprinkled the chicken generously with the rub on one side and heated the oil for a few minutes on medium with about a tablespoon of butter added for a little richness. When the butter was melted, I added the chicken, and then sprinkled more rub on.

I turned the chicken after about six minutes, then cooked on the other side for about seven to eight more (your mileage may vary. If you aren't sure your chicken is cooked, pierce it in the middle and see what juices come out. They should be clear and you should see no pink).

Once out of the pan, I topped with some fresh chopped basil. I served it atop a salad of mixed greens with some quinoa (one of my favorite grains by far).

Success! We had tartness, we had freshness, we had body and we had deliciousness.  Next time I think lemon chicken, this is what I'm thinking.

Meanwhile, I'll be looking for a good recipe involving capers. If you have one, won't you let me know?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Special Guest Post!

My sweetie and I are relocating to Stamford this weekend, so I won't be deconstructing anything this week. Instead, I have a special guest, my friend Deacon, who I met on Live Journal's Food Porn Community. Hope you enjoy:

Excuses para un amigo. Excuses for a friend.

The Setup
Today I read a blog entry that said there were some health benefits for drinking white wine.
Really white wine? For years we heard that alcohol was bad for you, even doubly so for pregnant women.
Then we heard that red wine was good for you and women can have a small amount a day. Then NOPE STILL BAD
take this pill instead, its like 300 glasses of wine rolled into one. Then I come across that white wine can be good for you too.
So ive drawn the conclusion that if I wait around long enough every vice and horrible thing I want to eat will be proven by at least one blogger
to be good for me somehow.
We all heard about eggs, and how they will kill you and are so high in cholesterol. But then you see the old videos and movies of boxers and fighters
drinking them raw and then hoping in the ring and "chopping the Russian down". Um, how can they NOT be good?
So when I heard that yes, eggs in moderation can be of some nutritional value and good source of protein, I took the chance to take advantage of a cheap
meat substitute for the weekly meal rotation.
I ended up thinking of all the ways I like eggs and breakfast kept popping up. More aptly, breakfast at the house on lazy Sunday mornings or out a nice spot closer to brunch time.
Then it hit me. Migas. that quintessential Mexican Grandmother treat in Texas. And what better excuse to eat a few plates of eggs and salsa than to help out a friend.
When Kate needed a little entry, I did my duty and gave an extra dozen eggs a place to stay, temporarily.

I live in Texas and in Texas about half the non chain restaurants serve migas for breakfast. Migas best translates to crumbles and is either for the crumbled tortillas strips or bread in some cases, along with the scrambled eggs in the dish.
Its a pretty good Tex Mex standard and is a great way to use up left over items for breakfast. I think its versatile enough to make you look like you know your way around a kitchen and have some culture.
Surprise the other person in your life by whipping some up one morning or evening for dinner. Amaze your buddies when they show up early....or late and you need a quick bite.

Now living in Texas I am used to everybody having a few things in their kitchen arsenal. A ratio for sweet tea, a bbq sauce recipe, a chili recipe, a brisket cooking method and something involving eggs salsa and tortillas in some way or another.
So when asking around and doing my own research I found no less than 20 recipes for migas. Some with turkey, some with chorizo, some swearing by salsa verde and others using freshly cut and fried tortillas.
At some restaurants asking about the recipe for the migas gets you the stank eye . But many are all to eager to let you in on their secret. Sadly many of those secrets come in a bottle.
Fear not, in an effort to truly understand this dish from the inside out and learn it form the ground up, and to suffer for the reader who may not think a foodie suffers, I used the newish method of Deconstruction. It was painful and torturous, but blogging for food is not for the faint of heart or the fearful of possible kitchen disasters.
Certain elements remain the same across all of the migas recipes. Eggs, cheese, veggies of some sort normally involving onions and tomatoes and peppers and tortillas in a crisp fashion.
With that in mind I decided that deconstructing it and placing it on the plate would indeed give insight to the dish and a good understanding of it.

without further bumping of my gums (or pecknig of my fingers) I present my Migas: Deconstruido para un amigo!

The Gear
serves 2
6 eggs
dried cumin
sea salt
pico de gallo or a thick THICK chunky salsa
tortilla chips
about 1/2 lb chicken tenders or turkey cut into cubes
chili powder
Daddy Hinkles dry maranade
cayenne pepper
corn oil
a mixed blend of shredded cheese, I used a blend of mozzarella, asiago, cotija and parm.
Several that were left in the fridge or you can get a blended bag mix.

Non Stick skillet or well seasoned cast iron if you are that advance.... i'm looking at you in envy now...

The Method, down dirty and full of fun.
I start by quickly marinading the chicken chunks.
IN a ziplock bag I added all of the chicken and a few shakes of
chili powder, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cumin, Daddy Hinkles and oregano.
I mix and move the chicken around until its coated all of the meat and set aside  to mix the eggs.
In a clean non stick skillet bring it up to heat and add some oil, about a dime sized amount and then add your chicken. We are going to get this to be somewhat blacked like in
some cajun recipes. This is gonna really make the smokiness of the cumin and cayenne come out. I let this chicken cook for abotu 5 minutes without touching it on one side,
then flip each piece and another 4 minutes on the other. This will have your kitchen smelling amazing and you may need to crack a window. The smoke gets out there but its ok.
It is only the cayenne and chili powder. I set this aside.

I warm up the skillet and add a drop of oil to come to temp. I crush my tortilla chips just a bit so I don't have huge whole chips, but not to a powder.
I add those to the skillet in one layer and sprinkle a little cumin and toss. I let this cook til barely browned on one side, about 3 minutes.
While that cooks I mix my eggs and a bit of powdered parm cheese, oregano and cumin and sea salt.
when the chips are down i move them to a plate
Into that skillet i turn off the heat and add my pico, or the salsa and let the heat cook out the extra water and warm it up. We dont want any
color on the veggies just heat them up and get them less watery.
Set this aside in a bowl after wards.

Finally we start the eggs.
In a clean nonstick skillet you will add a bit of oil or butter and get it melted. If using butter we will let it begin to foam  and brown before adding the eggs.
add about half of the egg mixture and swirl it to get the pan bottom covered. Then let it slowly cook. You are looking at the edges to see them being to so slight turn up. This is when its ready for the next step.
Much like an omelette we want it to "set". Now we add a good sprinkle of cheese. Now the fun part. I wanted to have a type of square for this so I use a spatula and lift up one edge of the eggs and fold it over to form
and edge. I do this 4 times making a square or diamond shape depending on how your skillet turns. By this time the eggs are pretty set up and you can flip the whole square. I let it cook on the other side for only a few seconds, 30-45 at most, This also
browns the cheese a bit and make sit look very nice.
I slide this to a plate and assmeble the migas ingredients in rows or strips

One row or strip of salsa/ pico, a rovw of cheese, row of crisp tortillas, cheese then chicken.
I take some salsa, usually salsa verde and make one line across and a squeeze of lime juice across the whole dish.

What we have are all of the main elements taken apart and placed back together in a way that  ties them all with the salsa on top and the cumin in each element.

Our real fun when eating was tasting them separate, then all together then finally a scene of dinner plate massacre as we jumble them all back together.

normally the migas recipe is faster and all combined in small steps ending up with a nice treat that's good for breakfast lunch or dinner.

Heating up the chips then adding in the cooked meat and getting a little color, adding pico or salsa then the eggs and cheese, scrambling until the eggs are almost done and then turning out onto a plate.

So in the end migas is still my favorite way for eggs in the morning and deconstructing it showed me that those ingredients in concert make beautiful music.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

the first of many four-ingredient salads from Kate's Kitchen

If you like specific measurements, today's episode is not for you. Today I'm going to tell you about a salad I threw together because I happened to have the ingredients in the house at the time. It went over so well, I've made it part of my repertoire.

Baby Spinach I strongly recommend buying triple-washed, because cleaning a fresh bunch or two of spinach is a pain in the kiester. If you don't own a salad spinner, it's even more of a pain to dry it all. Improperly washed spinach can be gritty and grainy and have you wondering how the hell Popeye ever got the stuff down. I like baby spinach because it's more tender. I usually buy it in a tub in the organic foods section of the store.

An obligatory nutritional note: according to Scientific American, spinach is more nutritious when it is cooked. I sometimes serve meals on a bed of baby spinach--it can add to presentation and it's a nice way to sneak veggies into a meal.

small red onion--adjust according to taste, but I suggest starting out with an onion about the size of a baseball. If you don't like sports metaphors, think of a small apple. Adjust to taste.

sun-dried tomatoes some grocery stores have olive bars that will include sun-dried tomatoes. I usually buy them jarred in the same aisle with the tomato sauce and pasta. They're typically packed in oil and are more moist. The oil also adds a nice flavor to the salad. Cut them into strips before throwing them in the salad, you want to spread out the sweetness of the tomato.

feta cheese--I buy it already crumbled, six or eight ounces. The fat-free works okay with salads,don't try to cook with it, it melts funny. Best place to buy feta cheese I've ever seen was a Greek deli in Nashville's farmer's market. If you have one near you, can get up early enough and find parking, go for it!

Assemble your salad: when I'm making a salad that is best tossed, I usually add a little bit of each ingredient, toss, lather, rinse, repeat. 

Exactly how much of what to use in this is completely up to you. In my experience, eyeballing for color balance is as helpful as tasting for flavor balance.

When your ingredients are assembled, toss in just a little olive oil--you've got oil on the tomatoes--and some basalmic vinegar.  

This will go with a variety of meats, and should complement other salads at a pot-luck or barbeque as we roll into summer season. It makes a nice change from the typical spinach and hard-cooked egg with hot bacon dressing, too!

Questions? Comments? Let's hear it!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Stir Crazy II, stovetop mac & cheese revisited

A while back I made my first of what will likely be many variations of macaroni and cheese. I really enjoyed the entry I wrote about, but didn't consider it perfect. Yet. So, I made a few adjustments, aiming for more cheesiness, and a little less grainyness.

The basic proportions did not change:

3 T unsalted butter
3 T flour
3 cups whole milk (the yogurt from last time just didn't cut it)
3 cups cheese  This time I went heavy on the smoked gouda, probably 2 cups, and a cup of English cheddar with caramelized onions.This was a pretty mellow cheddar, and I liked the sweet zing the onions gave it.

Nothing else. I depended on the cheese to provide any needed saltiness. No paprika, no white pepper. Some recipes call for sage, which I may try if I'm aiming for a more sophisticated taste, but not this time.

Technique did not change. I melted the butter, gradually stirred in the flour and toasted the resulting roux for a few minutes. I forget where I first heard the suggestion of toasting a roux--there are recipes for toasting flour for a dry roux, but for a dish I make once a month, I'll take the butter. Anyway, I slowly added the cheese, then added one more ingredient before I poured it over the pasta:

1/4 cup Guinness

I was inspired by a beer-cheese soup I had in an Irish pub that was made with Harp. Harp, I didn't have, but I usually have Guinness in the house, especially in winter when it's chili season. The  Guinness added a really nice flavor to the back of the cheese sauce. The cheese sauce itself was very smoky and much more creamy that the sauce I made with the yogurt. We had barely one serving of leftovers from a pound of pasta. I think this was much more successful than the last batch, though I really missed the punch of the cheddar in this one. While tasty  with apples as a snack, the English Cheddar was too mellow when it came up against the smoked gouda. The poor thing was overwhelmed.

I served this deliciousness with some andouille and a spinach salad. The salad provided a complementary crunchiness, while the sausage provided dental adventures for the carnivores in us. 

Who says mac & cheese is just for kids?

Next week--a salad suitable for all year round.

Questions? Comments? Got a recipe for me to try? Let's hear it!