Sunday, November 27, 2011

And I really have tried new things!!!!!!!!

Wow!!! Where does the time go? I have tried several new, untried before recipes lately but have been a little busy and just have not taken the time to sit and write about them. I would offer a boatload of excuses but everyone knows what Thanksgiving weekend means right? For most people it means a weekend of reflection and Thanksgiving accompanied by some family time and possibly the beginning of the Christmas season. This year TheHub and I had a very different Thanksgiving weekend. Son3 was in New York and Philly with his high school band, which left TheHub and I unencumbered and free spirits. We had decided to go to the beach and have a very non traditional Thanksgiving week. Unfortunately TheHub had to work through Wednesday and then go in early Friday morning until about lunch. We were going to have to be home by midnight Friday anyway and there was no point in driving to Florida for just one measly day so we decided to stay home.

We did have options for celebrating Thanksgiving, but decided we really wanted to stay home and clean out the basement closet. We have been piling junk in it for over 3 years and have taken nothing out of it. We were Thankful for a day to purge. And trust me when I say it took most of the day to clear it out. This week I should make Goodwill very happy. We talked about going out to eat but neither wanted to quit and get gussied up for lunch so we ultimately chose to cook a light Thanksgiving lunch ( There is no "we" in cooking however. The " we" in kitchen "we" is always me. Well, other than the eating part and then we both do it.)

For Thanksgiving I cooked Rachel Ray's Herb Roasted Turkey and Pan Gravy. I had seen it on the Food Channel and searched for it online.

Eureka! I found it.

1 small (golf-ball sized) onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 lemon, scrubbed clean
12 fresh sage leaves
Large handful fresh flat-leaf parsley (about 1/2 cup, from 12 stems)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling pan
1 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
6 fresh bay leaves
4 tablespoons butter
2 boneless turkey breast halves, skin on (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds each)
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup apple or regular brandy (recommended: Calvados)
2 to 3 cups apple cider
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Oil a roasting pan and set it aside.

Put the onion into the bowl of a mini food processor. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the zest from the lemon in thin strips, being careful not to cut into the bitter white pith. Add the lemon zest to the food processor and reserve the whole lemon for another use. Chop the onion and lemon zest until fine. Add the sage, parsley, olive oil, and 1 teaspoon salt and pulse until it forms a coarse paste.

Put 2 of the bay leaves and the butter into a small pan and heat over medium-low heat until the butter is bubbling. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Put the turkey breasts on a work surface. Carefully run your fingers between the skin and the flesh from 1 end, being careful not to pull it completely off, creating a pocket. Season the turkey breasts generously with salt and pepper. Stuff half of the herb paste under the skin of each breast, and spread it evenly under the skin. Transfer the breasts to the roasting pan, and slide 2 bay leaves underneath each one. (The heat of the pan will release the bay leaf oils and flavor the breast.) Using a pastry brush, baste the breasts with half of the bay butter. Place the turkey in the oven and immediately decrease the temperature to 400 degrees F. After 20 minutes, baste the turkey breasts with the remaining butter, and roast for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until cooked through, and a thermometer placed in the thickest part of the breast registers 170 degrees F.

Remove from the oven, transfer to a platter, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes before carving while you make the gravy.

Put the roasting pan over the burner on medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the pan juices, and cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Add the apple brandy, and scrape the pan to lift the bits that are stuck to the bottom. Cook for a minute to burn off the alcohol, then, while stirring, pour in the apple cider. Bring to a simmer, and stir until thickened. Season with salt and pepper.

Slice the turkey breast on the diagonal, and serve with warm gravy.

I cooked this more or less as the recipes suggested, but altered the seasonings a little. Since I had a turkey breast in the fridge but had no fresh parsley or fresh bay leaves I used dried. I also used a little dried savory and thyme in the herb blend to shove under the birds skin. I did not use butter at all but infused olive oil with the bay leaves and it worked quite well for basting the breast.

Instead of just using the bay leaves to flavor the underside of the bird I put 2 stalks of dried lemon grass, bay leaves and 1 chopped up Granny Smith apple in the breast cavity and just roasted it, basting with the bay leaf infused olive oil.

It was without a doubt the best turkey I have ever cooked. Moist and flavorful! I will do this again and again. As for the gravy part, we I punted on that. I had a jar of turkey gravy in the pantry and convenience trumped flavor!. Hey! it was just a topping for mashed potatoes and it was only for the two of us. It was perfectly fine and was not worth my time worrying about making real gravy. I might do it next year, but then again I might use jarred gravy as well!

Since there were just the two of us for dessert also I tried a new take on an old favorite. This year I made pecan pie in canning jars. Using clean ( supposedly sterile, but I washed mine in the dishwasher) jars, put a large walnut size ball of pastry dough ( Your favorite recipe. Mine is Pillsbury prepared pie dough ) in each of 8 jars. With fingers or a dough tamper ( I only thought to get the dough tamper out of the drawer after the 4th jar and wow, did it ever make things go faster) press the dough to cover the bottom and 3/4 up the inside of the jar. Prepare the following filling.

1/2 cup real butter, melted,
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup dark corn syrup
2 eggs, a pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup of toasted pecans.

Mix all but the pecans until thoroughly blended then add the pecans. Stir well to incorporate and then fill the 8 mason jars equally. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is set. I would give you a specific time but I think you just have to watch and keep checking. The recipe I used called for 30-45 minutes in a 350 degree oven. My stove took about 40 minutes.

TheHub suggested I wait a day before freezing and I found out why. For 2 days he would sneak in the kitchen and come out with a little jar of pie. Now it is Sunday and we are down to one pie left. This is probably the best idea I have ever seen and the next time I make them I am going to freeze most before I tell anyone ( TheHub) I even have any. I think I am going to make some apple pies and pumpkin pies this week and have them sitting in the freezer waiting for a quick thaw and rewarm. I think it will be a good thing to have on hand for any impromptu Holiday meals.

The 3rd and final recipe I tried during the long weekend is from the cookbook that started my love of cooking. I do not ever remember not loving to be in the kitchen, in fact my parents have a picture of me at 2 stirring a pot in the kitchen. When I was in the 3rd or 4th grade my Beloved Sister and I got a cookbook as a together Christmas gift: Betty Crocker's Cookbook for Boy's and Girls. I would look at the recipes and salivate wanting to try them, and we really did try a good many of them. Especially the Jolly Breakfast Ring, which became a favorite. As I got older I cooked from my mom's adult cookbooks and then my own, My Beloved Sister took possession of the Betty Crocker book and I had not really thought of it until Son3 was in about the 4th grade. My childhood cookbook was reissued in it's original form, so of course i bought it for him ( At least I pretended it was for him) I still love reading it and seeing the things I used to make and getting to try some of those I never tried before. All my childhood I wanted to try this recipe but my mother would never let me ( Probably because it did not sound good to her), So finally for the first time umpteen years later I go to try ( Drumroll Please!!!!!)

Toasted Cheese-Bacon Sandwiches

4 slices toasted bread
8 slices cooked bacon
1 egg slightly beaten
3/4 cup grated cheese
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Mix the egg, cheese, paprika, and worcestershire sauce in a small bowl. Spread on the top of each slice of toasted bread and broil until the cheese is completely melted. Top each with 2 bacon slices and run under the broiler for about 1/2 minute. Serve hot and toasty.

Ok truthfully this sounded much better when I was a kid than it tasted. The worcestershire competed with the cheese flavor and changed the color a little. I thought the paprika neither added to nor subtracted from it. I will try this again but will make the following adjustments: Each sandwich needs 1/2 cup of cheese. The egg needs to be beaten until it is very fluffy and then mixed with the cheese. It would taste better to have a couple cheeses instead of just one type. Cheddar and Assiago maybe? Also when I make these again I will use some of the really delicious thick cut applewood smoked bacon ( like Nueske's).

I will omit the worcestershire and the paprika but will sprinkle some minced jalapeno before the cheese is broiled.
I had a picture of this but my phone auto-updated and I lost the image. Just imagine if you will cheese toast with 2 slices of bacon on it. That is pretty much what it looked like.

Since I am in a rush to finish out the remaining recipes I am going to be in a new recipe cooking flurry. Fortunately there are several things I want to try that can be prepared as small lunch portions. Whew! I thought I was going to have to cook supper every night this month!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chicken again???

Son3 was going to be late tonight and The Hub was planning on getting home around 6ish but wanted to have a little time for a light workout before dinner. I had taken some chicken out of the freezer earlier in the day, so I was bound to chicken but wanted something that we had never had before. I realized how far behind the challenge I am and I also knew I might not make it unless I really knuckle down and start actually cooking every day. ( I do foresee a day in December when I try 10 new and different cookie recipes just to try and finish this quest.) Tonight was a simple task though. I looked through google doing one of my more refined searches like "chicken breast recipes". As luck would have it, the first click took me to an interesting enough looking picture, and it only required a couple of ingredients I didn't have on hand. I planned on making a quick trip to The Pig because it is a smaller store and is usually very quick to hit and run. Except for tonight! Today is the start of The Pig tent sale. To get into the store you have to wander through a maze of "deals". 45 minutes and 60 dollars later I came out of the store with the pesto, mushrooms and about 5 other bags of groceries So much for the run in and out thing!

I didn't get home until about 6:30. In fact The Hub was at the end of his workout by the time I unloaded everything, so I was very happy I had decided to have a quick cooking meal. As I was putting the food away I started a pot of water for pasta, then started pounding the chicken. Does anyone really use the 2 sheets of plastic or do you do like I do and stick a chicken breast in a freezer bag to pound? By the time I had the chicken flat and the mushrooms sliced, the water was boiling so I tossed the noodles in the water. While they cooked I got the chicken started, tore some lettuce and sliced a tomato. A few stirs and a very brief simmer and dinner was done in about 12 minutes.

Chicken in Pesto Cream
4 to 6 Chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons prepared pesto
1/2 cup heavy cream

Wash chicken and pat dry. Put the chicken breasts between sheets of plastic wrap and gently pound to about 1/4 inch thickness. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and dredge lightly with the flour. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Saute chicken and mushrooms for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring mushrooms and turning chicken about halfway through the cooking time. until browned. Combine cream and pesto; cover and continue cooking over low heat for 10 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Serve with hot cooked rice or pasta.
Serves 4 to 6.

This was one of the easiest dishes I have done in a long time. I am grateful to companies who make pesto for people like me to buy. I have a basil plant that is nearly as high as my waist and still has a good many leaves. If I had planned a little better I would have made my own. ( Oh, who am I kidding?)

I did not flour the breasts prior to cooking because I didn't want the taste of fried flour on mine. Instead I warmed the pan and then put the olive oil in it. I brought it to a fairly high temp and just browned the naked chicken breasts in it, salting and peppering when I turned them over to brown on the other side. Other than that I followed the recipe as given.

We each had 1 breast half, noodles and the simple salad. It was a very nice meal that was not too heavy in spite of all the cream. I only served the sauce that was on the chicken and did not spoon the remaining sauce over the noodles, just to save a little fat and calories.

The verdict was that it was good and something I will do again, but not too often. I thought the basil flavor was not as developed as it should have been. I should have sprinkled minced fresh basil over the top of the dish for eye appeal and for taste. Next time I will.

Tomorrow Son3 has a jazz concert and we will have a late dinner again. I think I need to look through the crock pot cookbook and see If I can become inspired. Or we can always do take out!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pinterest You Win Again

Now that November is here and I realize I am not even halfway to my goal of trying new recipes, I figure I have to be doing some serious cooking. Except serious cooking requires planning and shopping and actually thinking about what you are going to cook more than 20 minutes before supper time. It is a trait I do not possess, so now I am going to have to force myself to think in advance. ( Since most of our meals are on the fly we tend to have very simple fare most of the time. I am not one of those cooks who worries about the number of ingredients, but I do like things that use few pots and utensils. I guess that is why I am so reluctant to think ahead. I can throw something on the grill, toss a salad and heat up some bread and everyone is satisfied and clean up is minimal. Measuring and mixing and blending and all the steps most recipes require means extra washing and added mess. I am not a fan.) I guess I have to get over the K.I.S.S. attitude and get with the program or surrender.

Tonight I tried a recipe which uses a recipe found on Pinterest. The original recipe I pinned is Cafe Rio Dressing. I am unsure exactly what Cafe Rio is ( assuming it is some sort of Tex/Mex joint in Utah) but it has a large and vocal fan base. I thought the dressing sounded tasty so I made it and The Hub and I used it on a couple of those tossed salads I mentioned earlier. It is a delicious take on the basic ranch dressing.

Cafe Rio Dressing

2 cups prepared ranch dressing, bottled or homemade ( I cheated and did the semi homemade Hidden Valley buttermilk dry mix)
1 small bunch cilantro, large stems removed (about 1/2 cup chopped cilantro)
2 large or 4 small tomatillos
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
2 T fresh lime juice
1 tsp. Green Tabasco sauce or 1 diced jalapeno pepper

Prepare Ranch dressing according to directions on the package or recipe you're following and set aside.

Remove large cilantro stems, then wash leaves and spin dry or dry with paper towels. Add cilantro to food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until finely chopped. (If you don't have a food processor, I'd chop all ingredients well by hand and then blend dressing in a blender.) I used the blender and it worked well. The dressing is just a creamy smooth concoction of good eating!

Add tomatillos, garlic, lime juice, and Green Tabasco or chopped jalapeno to the food processor and pulse until ingredients are finely pureed. Add the 2 cups of prepared dressing and pulse just a few times, until ingredients are well combined. Chill dressing for an hour or two and serve.

I followed this recipe to the letter, using 4 small tomatillos and the diced jalapeno. After it sat overnight, we had some on a very basic salad of lettuce, cukes and tomatoes. It was delicious. The tomatillo and lime add a nice acid kick to the ranch. It brightens up the flavor to a whole new level. I admit to being a cilantro lover, so, for me the flavor was perfect and including the jalapeno added just enough heat that Son3 who does not like things hot pronounced it delicious with a kick. If he were not eating with us, I would probably add a half pepper more.

The link to the webpage with the dressing recipe also had something called Cafe Rio Chicken and Cafe Rio Rice, both of which combine with the dressing on a plate to create one of the house dished at Cafe Ri

Cafe Rio Chicken

1 small bottle Kraft Zesty Italian Dressing
1 T chili powder
1 T cumin
3 cloves garlic—minced
5 lbs chicken breast

Cook all together in a crock pot for 4 hours, shred meat and cook 1 additional hour.

Ok I admit I did not look at this in time to serve it as suggested. In fact I had my usual 20-30 minutes from start to finish to get this on the table, so it was punt time. I poured a little of the Italian dressing ( for the record I never ever use Kraft but did have some Ken's on hand) In an enamel Dutch oven ( high heat) and plopped 4 chicken breasts in it. While the bottom was searing I sprinkled the chili powder, cumin, minced garlic and 2 teaspoons of ground dried cilantro on the chicken. When the bottom was browned I turned the breasts over and let them sear more on the other side, then added the remainder of the dressing ( about 1/2 bottle for the 4 breasts). Put the lid on and turned the heat down to med/low. It popped and sizzled for about 20 minutes. (Until the rice was ready) Since it did not have the advantage of slow cooking, we ate it as a whole piece of chicken.

The taste was very good and the chicken was surprisingly moist. I will do it again and soon, but will make sure to put it in the crock pot for that super long cook time.

Café Rio Rice

This recipe is for the entire 5 lbs. of chicken breasts. I used considerably less for the 4 we had for supper

3 c water
4 t chicken bouillon
4 t garlic –minced
½ bunch cilantro
1 can green chiles—or equivalent fresh
¾ t salt
1 T butter
½ onion
3 c MInute Rice ( I used brown Minute Rice

Blend cilantro, green chiles and onion together in food processor. Bring water to a boil and add all ingredients, simmer covered 30 minutes.
Call me a slacker if you must, but the only thing I did to the rice was to cook it in 3 cups of chicken broth rather than water. Why? Though I had everything sitting out on the counter, I forgot to add them. Even if had remembered I was not going to blend them all together. I planned to just mince it finely. What can I say? We ate rice cooked in chicken broth. It tasted like chickeny rice.

To form the dish you should have a toasted tortilla per person. I had tortillas but I did not want to open the pack for just 3 tortillas so we left that off. Put the tortilla on a plate and put the rice overlapping 1/3 of the tortilla. Top the rice with 1/2 cup of black beans. ( Punt again- no black beans so kidney were substituted.) Place the chicken on the next third and finish the tortilla circle with chopped lettuce. Drizzle the Cafe Rio Dressing over each component and serve immediately.

Son3 pronounced it one of the best chicken meals he has had in a long time and we all agreed this dish will become a standard in our meal rotation. Like I said earlier I will cook it a long time so the flavors can meld, but it was delicious as it was. I can only imagine the flavors slow cooking will bring. I look forward to it.

I guess I also look forward to the mega cooking I am going to do, but I don't know when I can start. Son2 is coming to town tomorrow for a whirlwind football game visit (Roll Tide!) so we will be eating out this weekend and next week we leave for a trip to NYC. I should download some cookbooks to the Kindle and read them on the plane. I might be inspired!

p.s. Anyone have suggestions for a delicious NYC meal?