Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sweet Potato Hash

When a lot of people think sweet potato, they think of a mash with brown sugar and marshmallows on top at Thanksgiving. I've tried that, and while I might enjoy a bite or two, I really never wanted any more than that.

Then at a restaurant I forget the name of, I was served sweet potato chips as a side item. I tasted one and my taste buds jumped up and said, "I gotta get me more of these!"

At my current favorite diner, which is the Bedford Street Diner, I typically get sweet potato fries as a side. Yes, I know, fried foods are not that great for you, but I hope the general goodness that's in a sweet potato somehow makes up for it.

I'm not skinny, and occasionally research diet programs online. A friend of mine is having a lot of success on the Paleo Diet, and I thought I'd investigate. I've done variations of low-carb and dairy to some success before, but I find it really hard to maintain. I love bread, I love cheese and these are big no-nos on a paleo diet.

Sweet potatoes are a bone of contention. On this food list, they are on the do not eat list. Yet on another site I found this recipe.

Something fried may seem contraindicated on a diet, but if you've done any reading about diets, you've probably seen several articles like this one that talk about the differences between good fats and bad fats.

Anyway, just a couple ingredients in this recipe. I made one for me with just potato and onions, and one for my sweetie with the added green peppers.
  • 1 medium sweet potato or yam, diced into small cubes I bought sweet potatoes, which are distinct from  yams
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped bell peppers (optional) 
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • fresh ground pepper
The biggest amount of time was spent peeling cubing the sweet potatoes. The recipe is really pretty easy, but it was not easy to manage two pans at a time that needed constant stirring. 
Add the onions and saute for 2-3 minutes.
  1. Add the sweet potatoes and bell peppers, and 1 Tbsp of water.
  2. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
  3. So to not burn, turn and toss frequently.
  4. Serve, sprinkling with fresh ground pepper 
What's interesting here is the pan on the left is non-stick and the pan on the right is not. The onions caramelized much more quickly in the left-hand pan.   
I ended up adding an additional teaspoon of oil to each pan because I didn't want anything to burn.
While these were cooking, I had pork chops in the over and veggies in the microwave. 

Both versions were delicious. I liked it better without the green peppers, Ken preferred it with.

Next week salad days!
Have a recipe you'd like me to try? Let's hear it!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Oh *&^%$#@! I'm out of. . .

It happens to just about everyone. You're halfway through making a recipe and you realize, "Oh, expletive, I'm out of x!" You have a few choices at this point.
  • Stop what you're doing and go get the ingredients in question. This usually isn't too practical, as most recipes call for certain amounts of multitasking. You may also be too close to the end of the recipe to stop.
  • Ask a household member to go acquire the ingredient. This may get you some grumbles and resentment, especially if the game is on, or they're about to finally conquer the planet Traal.
  • Find a substitute and move on.
In this week's recipe, when I started, I was quite sure I had everything in the house. This will teach me to physically verify everything before starting, no matter how well I feel I know my kitchen.

Sautee'd chicken breasts in creamy chive sauce:

  •     4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, (about 1 pound), trimmed of fat
  •     1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  •     1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
  •     3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  •     2 large shallots, finely chopped
  •     1/2 cup dry white wine I could have sworn we had some white wine in the house, but as it turns out, we did not. I could have used more chicken broth, I considered using more chicken broth with a touch of lemon juice. Instead, I decided on beer. The beer in question was LandShark lager.
  •     1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  •     1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream
  •     1 tablespoon Dijon mustard Another thing I could have sworn I had in the fridge. We have stone-ground mustard, and we have a Polish mustard. I think Austin has the dijon. We also have hot Chinese mustard powder, but that wasn't appropriate here. I went with the Polish, which would go well with the beer. I wasn't sorry at all.
  •     1/2 cup chopped chives, (about 1 bunch) 

 1.  Place chicken between sheets of plastic wrap and pound with a meat mallet or heavy skillet until flattened to an even thickness, about 1/2 inch. Season both sides of the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place 1/4 cup flour in a shallow glass baking dish and dredge the chicken in it. Discard the excess flour.

I love my meat mallet. Be warned, you may scare other members of your household if you cackle madly while pounding your chicken.

   2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate, cover and keep warm.

I'm never sure what they mean by "keep warm" in recipes. With precious little fat and liquid, keeping it in the oven at even 200 would dry it out. I covered it with aluminum foil.

   3. Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon oil in the pan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring constantly and scraping up any browned bits, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon flour; stir to coat. Add wine, broth and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil, stirring often.

If you end up using beer like I did, it'll start out a little foamy. It will resolve itself.

   4. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until heated through and no longer pink in the center, about 6 minutes. Stir in sour cream and mustard until smooth; turn the chicken to coat with the sauce. Stir in chives and serve immediately.

This came out delicious, a very velvety sauce, with fresh chives. I plan to try it with the wine and the dijon, so look for that later this summer! This was served with roasted cauliflower, which I'll write about in a future entry!

Next week, I explore one of the controversial foods on the popular Paleo diet and make sweet potato hash!

Questions? Comments? Have a recipe you want me to try? Let's hear it!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

In which Kate's boyfriend goes off on a tangent. Or Essential Cheap Cooking Equipment

Hi everyone. If you recall, my sweetie (and frequent guinea pig) Ken, was the one who named this blog Knives, Fire and Fun. Last week, I mentioned oven thermometers, and he thought he'd do a guest blog discussing the importance of them. Ten bucks can make all the difference in the world: 

Importance of Oven Thermometers

Why can't appliance manufacturers build ovens with decent temperature controls? In making my baked custards, I've used many, many ovens, both gas-fired and electric, ranging from cheap ones that I might find in low-end apartments, to ones labelled "professional", costing many thousands of dollars.

I've found the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook  provides a really good starting point for custards. However, it is very sensitive to the oven temperature. It has been my experience that the oven thermostat is extremely inconsistent, and a given oven will drift from day to day.

My journals, before I bought my first oven thermometer (the most expensive one the local grocery store carried, probably less than $10 at the time), read something like this:

  1. 350°, 75 mins
  2. 400°, 80 mins ???
  3. 450°, 45 mins, burnt
  4. 425°, 75 mins ???
  5. 400°, 45 mins, really, really good.

At first, I thought I mistimed the custard times, but when I started finding that much inconsistency, I knew I had to do something. On a whim, I purchased the most expensive oven thermometer I could find in my local grocery store, by less than $2. This is, after all, a grocery store.

Immediately, I could see the reason. Not only was the oven not calibrated correctly, but it seemed not calibrated at all. The thermometer showed 100° fluctuations for the same setting. This simple, inexpensive change has made my life a lot easier when trying to perfect my recipe, and has made it more portable -- all I needed to do was to bring my trusty little thermometer.

Monday, June 7, 2010

In Which Kate Puts the Calories back in a recipe

Thank you for your patience this week. Over the weekend, the sweetie and I joined a couple of friends at Newport's Annual Chowder Cookoff. For several hours, we sampled about twenty kinds of chowder (clam, seafood and "creative"), and I also indulged in a couple of clam cakes and some strawberry shortcake. I also had lobster for dinner--grilled, which was a delicious experience.

I was going to cook dinner when we came home on Sunday, but after all the chowder and a brunch that ended with key lime pie, I decided not to cook. I could have put up an entry, but I really wanted to try this week's recipe a second time before I blogged about it.

I like pasta a lot, in all shapes and sizes, though not all grains. I would have to be dying to eat whole-wheat pasta, for example, but I like Barilla's multigrain line. Anyway  I've always considered it more of a main dish than a side. Woe to my hips, but anyway. I looked at the recipe, and saw that it made four servings, I figured this had to be a side dish. I thought I could simply make it as is and it would work for two main dish meals. Let's look at the ingredients:

    *   8  ounces  uncooked cavatappi pasta The first time I made the recipe, I only had Angel Hair in the house. The second time, I bought some celetani, because I could not find cavatappi.

    * 1  pound  asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1 1/2-inch pieces
    * 1  teaspoon  minced garlic 
    * 3  tablespoons  pine nuts I reduced this to 2 Tbsp the second time. 1 tbsp pine nuts per person seems to work as a rule of thumb. My thumb, anyhow.
    * 2  ounces  diced pancetta I know Cooking Light is about saving calories, but this little meat for a dish meant for four people? I'd be embarassed to serve something that basically has a "tease" of a meat taste. 
    * 2  tablespoons  fresh lemon juice I ran a little short the first time. The freshness it adds is fabulous and really made the dish something special the second time.
    * 2  teaspoons  extra-virgin olive oil
    * 1/2  teaspoon  kosher salt
    * 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
    * 1/4  cup   (1 ounce) crumbled Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese I cut this in half for round two

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; add asparagus to pan during last 3 minutes of cooking. Drain. Sprinkle pasta mixture with garlic; return to pan, and toss well.

This is a question of style where I disagree. Instead, I started the pasta while the pancetta was in the oven (below). It's not that difficult to multitask one dish in an oven and one on the stove.

3. Arrange pine nuts in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan. Bake at 400° for 3 minutes or until golden and fragrant, stirring occasionally. Place in a small bowl.

I find it takes a little longer than three minutes, your mileage and oven may vary.

4. Increase oven temperature to 475°.

5. Arrange pancetta on jelly-roll pan. Bake at 475° for 6 minutes or until crisp.

This took a little longer than stated as well. If you don't have an oven thermometer, its a good gadget to have.  

6. Combine lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle over pasta mixture; toss well to coat. Sprinkle with pine nuts, pancetta, and cheese.

The second time I made the recipe was miles more successful than the first, though it completely killed the whole "light" concept. The meat was definitely in attendance at the party, not just a wallflower cowering in the corner. Also, the pasta held up against the asparagus. As much as I like my angel hair, the asparagus totally overwhelmed it in the first time I tried the dish.

If you have to omit any ingredients for whatever reason, don't make it the lemon juice in this one. My audience (this would be Ken the sweetie) thought the first incarnation a little blah, but really enjoyed the second one.

Questions? Comments? Have a recipe for me to try? I'd love to hear from you!