Archive for September 2009


Grillinnovations

September 30th, 2009 — 9:57am

gasgrill

Next to Will, the two cats, and the parakeet my favorite member of the household is my gas grill.  We spend a lot of time together.  Admittedly our conversations are a bit one sided.  But it talks about as much as my last therapist and it takes a lot less money per visit.

The grill was a Christmas present from Will a couple of years ago.  At first I was a bit leery of such a large commercial behemoth.  In a matter of a few weeks we became best friends and have been on good terms ever since.  While the dutch oven may be the mistress of the kitchen, the gas grill is the king of outdoor cooking.

We are fortunate here in North Texas, I can grill pretty much throughout the entire year.  And if  you want to keep your kitchen cool in the summer you will need to use a grill of some sort.

Of course with grills also come accessories.  My favorite of these is the rotisserie attachment.  And with the rotisserie attachment comes super moist, flavorful chicken. Candidly it one of those dishes that I remark on every time I have it.  How did we live without rotisserie chicken, and of course the leftovers.

My recipe for rotisserie chicken is here. A good resource for grill accessories or replacement parts is here.

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Quick Fixes

September 29th, 2009 — 10:08am
Pesto Pasta With Chicken

Pesto Pasta With Chicken

The best laid plans often turn to nothing, especially if you forget to make them in the first place.  Many is the night when you return from work and someone has forgotten to make plans for dinner.  As this is part of my household job description (or at least Will thinks so) it falls to me to somehow resolve this situation.

I am a big fan of having a full pantry.  Which allows me to combine ingredients to make something that looks like maybe some modicum of thought actually went into it.  In fact many times I have actually concocted a new recipe using a combination of ingredients I never would have combined otherwise. Last night I was not feeling inspired, so a couple of grilled chicken breasts in the refrigerator and some basil pesto in the freezer became Pesto Pasta with Chicken. Sounds fancy.  But it took less than 30 minutes to prepare.  Just enough time to sip on a cocktail, talk to the cats, and dream of a new kitchen where counter space doubled in size.

You can find the recipe here.

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Dutch Ovens

September 25th, 2009 — 8:54am

dutchovenFor many years I lived without one of the most essential cooking tools in my kitchen; a Dutch Oven.  I knew I could not live without a cutting board and a chef’s knife.  But until I actually acquired a Dutch Oven I never knew what I was missing.

I use my Dutch Oven for every use for which you would usually use a pot or pan.  One big exception is mashed potatoes.  The potato masher would scratch the enamel.  Otherwise this baby is used for making sauces, and soups, for braising, and for pan roasting.  Because it can go into an oven up to about 400 degrees in temperature it allows braising at very low temperatures over a long period of time.  It makes a great pot roast.

Dutch Ovens come in a few varieties. I highly recommend cast iron with enamel.  The king of this type of Dutch Oven is made by Le Creuset.  This is a heavy duty cooking tool, with emphasis on the heavy.  You definitely need two hands to put this on the stove.  The cost is certainly an obstacle and prevented me from even buying one for many years.  Not because I did not have the money but because I did not want to have a $200 pot sitting in my cabinet.  Mine is in use constantly.  It is well worth the investment.

My Dutch Oven is a 4 1/2 quart.  Most people opt for the larger 5 1/2 quart.  I find the smaller one is just fine for feeding 2 to 4 people.  And it is just a bit lighter and more maneuverable than the 5 1/2 quart.  The only drawback for this type of pot is that it cannot go in the dishwasher.  You should also only use wooden or plastic utensils to preserve the enamel.

You can check out the Le Creuset web site here.

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Who’s Got The Sausage

September 22nd, 2009 — 9:45am

sausageI am definitely a lazy creature of habit. When it comes to sausage I usually go for the red tomato sauce with some pasta.  Yawn.  If I am feeling daring I may even add some olives or capers to the red sauce.  But Will is on some “we have to lower our carb intake” kick so I had to find some other way of preparing the sausage.

I actually went on-line to see how other people might prepare these tubes of pork and pork fat.  What astonished me was not the originality of the recipes (there was none of that), but the variation in cooking times for the sausage.  Some reputable chefs out there obviously share my mother’s fear of trichinosis and suggested grilling for 45 minutes.  (They probably like extra crispy bacon as well.) Others suggested steaming for about ten minutes.  Who is a busy cook supposed to believe?

Well I cranked up the gas grill, put some totally refrigerated, store-bought sausages directly on the unheated grill surface and I found out that 20 to 25 minutes is probably the correct time.  A preheated grill I am guessing would take about 15 minutes.  Unless of course your sausages are the size of a baseball bat.  Which would probably mean that 45 minutes on the grill would be required.

Which still did not solve my problem of what to serve with these bad boys.  Of all the boring ideas I found on-line the one that caught my eye was to serve them with lentils.  Which of course did not occur to me because this is not exactly winter time in Texas. (Did I not just say I was a lazy creature of habit?) So I dusted off the lentil container and threw together a recipe for lentils and Italian sausage.  It did take me out of my comfort zone.  But it turned out pretty good and not quite so boring as pasta and red sauce, again.  You can find the recipe here.

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Restaurants

September 21st, 2009 — 11:41am

openI travel throughout the United States for work.  This includes backwaters and megalopolises.  When I have the time I try to check out restaurant recommendations from the locals.  Theses recommendations span a wide assortment of venues offering food; diners, bars, bowling alleys, and restaurants.  If you keep an open mind you can enjoy a variety of menus remembering that you are not likely to be served pate at the bowling alley, or a hamburger and fries at the local french restaurant.  I am also a big believer in judging food based on the quality received for the money spent.  A plate of Texas Torpedoes (breaded and deep fried jalapenos filled with string cheese) and a glass of beer costing $8 can be rated higher than a filet mignon and a glass of red wine for $50 if the value received is higher than what you paid.  I recently tried the filet mignon and glass of wine combination for $50 and was so disappointed I would never go back to that place again.

There are two restaurants I would like to start with.  One I have visited over and over again, and one that I have visited only once but it sticks in my memory like a first kiss.  Ca’ Bianca in Santa Rosa, California is one that I have visited repeatedly.  There is nothing terribly remarkable about its menu.  I think I am drawn to the ambiance of the restaurant, the relative simplicity of the food, and the variety on the wine list.  The quality of the food is consistently good.  I guess you could call this old reliable.  I have more on Ca’ Bianca here.

My favorite one-night-stand with a restaurant occurred in Portland, Oregon at a gem called Veritable Quandary.  As improbable as the name sounds this is one of those places that you need to keep on your radar.  It includes a menu which is thoughtfully prepared daily, a friendly and understated ambiance, and a very good wine list including many local wines that are hard to come by in other parts of the country.  I have unfortunately not had a chance to return to Portland.  But when I do I will eat there again.  You can find more about Veritable Quandary here.

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Basa Nova

September 18th, 2009 — 9:47am
Basa in Lemon Butter Sauce

Basa in Lemon Butter Sauce

When I am in a hurry to get something on the table for dinner there really is no easier solution than a fish fillet in a lemon butter sauce.  It usually takes about 15 minutes to prepare and who can refuse lemon and butter to enhance the flavor.

We recently started seeing a new fish from countries in Southeast Asia marketed as Basa Swai.  In one of those rash decisions we found it on sale in the store so we bought some just to try it out.  It turned out to be a great choice.  It has the very light flavor of Tilapia but it holds together nicely while cooking, like catfish.  A speedy cooks dream.

I wanted to find out more about the fish so I did the Google thing and it turns out that the fish is actually called Basa.  It is a type of catfish found in Southeast Asia.  It is generally farmed and not fished in the wild.  And I even found out where my market procures its fish.  The internet is truly an amazing thing.  I also found a nice resource called Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium that gives you the low down on what types of fish are most sustainably procured.  And any better alternatives out there when choosing your fish.  Thankfully Basa is considered a good choice so we can keep eating this fish without feeling guilty.

My favorite way to prepare the Basa includes a quick lemon, butter, and white wine sauce.  I usually add capers.  This is literally a 15 minute meal.  And a delicious one at that.  You can find the recipe here.

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Old Standbys

September 16th, 2009 — 2:50pm

pouletalagrecque

Fast, last-minute cooking usually requires that you have a few regular items in the freezer and pantry.  This does not mean that you have to compromise and make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner when what you really want is something more substantial.  Our freezer usually includes a lot of chicken in various forms.  And I never seem to run out of canned tomatoes.  There is much you can do with combining both.

The other night I pulled together something that fit my need for being substantial but also had to require no more than 30 minutes prep time.  I do not usually worry about cooking time as it allows me to enjoy a cocktail while you discuss the day.  It is called Poulet a la Grecque, Chicken in the Greek Style.  It’s heritage and ultimate naming make an interesting story.

The idea for the recipe came from a Greek restaurant in New York City I can no longer remember.  The restaurant served braised rabbit in a tomato sauce with olives, and rosemary.  It was delicious. Unfortunately it is hard to find rabbit in Texas and I have found that most people are squeamish about eating it.  I replaced the rabbit with chicken thighs, added a few twists of my own, and the braised rabbit became braised chicken thighs with rosemary, olives, and capers.

The actual name came from a dinner party with about eight guests. Two of the guests were from the French-speaking part of Belgium.  I served the braised chicken on a large serving platter with a gigantic mound of mashed potatoes in the middle, the braised chicken around the mashed potatoes, and a green bean, tomato, and feta salad around the edge of the platter.  The two Belgians rose to their feet and began applauding when they saw the platter.  In their honor the dish took on a French name, Poulet a la Grecque. You can find the recipe here.

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Inventing A New Chili

September 15th, 2009 — 12:12pm
Chicken Curried Chili

Chicken Curried Chili

Necessity is the mother of invention. Two nights ago I needed to invent something quickly and make it satisfying as well. We arrived home late from work and I had neglected to plan on anything for dinner. It was, as one of my sisters used to say, “accidentally on purpose.” I was hoping

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somebody else might volunteer to cook. No such luck.

I had some previously roasted chicken breasts in the refrigerator. The usual suspects in the pantry and not much time to get it on the table. Usually I would whip up a white chili using Great Northern beans and the chicken. But two of the main ingredients were not around, cumin and cilantro. So I improvised, substituting curry powder for the cumin and cilantro. It actually turned out better than the usual chili. And it was on the table within 45 minutes. The recipe is here.

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Basil Season

September 11th, 2009 — 11:22am
Genovese Basil

Genovese Basil

At our house we divide the year into two segments; basil seaon and non-basil season. Basil season lasts from early April until about mid-October. Although the pickings are slim both early and late in the season, I tend to find a way to incorporate basil into our daily diet as much as possible. We have basil pesto in some form at least once per week. And the basil leaves tend to find there way into a multitude of dishes.

We store pesto in the freezer for use during non-basil season. These valuable packages are lovingly reconstituted with fresh parmigiano-reggiano cheese in the middle of winter in order to lift our spirits, allowing us to dream that basil season cannot be far into the future. Yes, I obsess about basil. But what other herb can bring so much happiness into a hungry stomach. You can find my pesto recipe here.

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Eggplant – Again!

September 10th, 2009 — 9:14am
Eggplant Parmigiana

Eggplant Parmigiana

We had such an abundance of eggplant this year that a few were left laying around for a couple of days.  Heirloom varieties of eggplants can get pretty flaccid very quickly and ours were no exception.  The question becomes what to do with a slightly mushy eggplant.  The answer of course is eggplant parmigiana.  I was actually able to prepare this whole recipe using the gas grill.  I know this sounds extreme but it was 95 degrees in the shade and the eggplants had to be used quickly.  I used the burner on the grill to brown the eggplant.  And the grill itself, using indirect heating, makes a pretty darn good oven.  Please do not try this method for pastries or bread.  I do not think it would work.  You can find my recipe made in a conventional kitchen here.

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