Archive for October 2010

One Pan Roasting

October 30th, 2010 — 8:00am

Oven Roasted Chicken Thighs and Vegetables

I have been doing a lot of experimenting with roasting meats and vegetables in the same pan. Ever since I figured out the recipe for chicken in mustard sauce I have been using the combined roasting technique on pork as well. It of course simplifies clean up and infuses the vegetables with flavor from the pan juices. The only difficulty is cutting the vegetables in small enough pieces to match the cooking time of the meat. I usually have to cook the vegetable about 10 minutes more to get the vegetables to the correct fork-tender doneness.

For this recipe using chicken thighs I wanted to get a bit of mustard flavor on the chicken without having to make a separate sauce, and another pan to clean up. Ok, so I am a bit lazy. As if you want to clean another pan after a long day at work. In this case I used a marinade with mustard and honey for the chicken. To add a bit of kick to the vegetables I tossed them in a bit of olive oil and lemon, and added some olives and one hot chili.

The result was very nice. I was able to get the mustard flavor I wanted and the vegetables soaked up all the juices from the chicken along with the lemony flavor from the lemon juice. And except for rinsing out a couple of mixing bowls and placing them in the dishwasher, clean up

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was very easy. If you are as lazy as me you may want to try the oven roasted chicken thighs with roasted vegetables.

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Upside-Down Apples

October 28th, 2010 — 9:18am

Apple Upside-Down Cake

You can always tell when the weather is getting cooler; Will is usually in the kitchen baking something. You will get no complaints from me on that subject. While I am not a big dessert eater a piece of cake or pie is always a welcome surprise around here. Like bears getting ready for hibernation the fall months cause us to add a few extra pounds.

We thought about adding this recipe during our recent Apple Week of recipes. I think we were both a bit worn out from eating apple something-or-other every day. This cake was a nice surprise waiting for me when I returned home from a trip.

The recipe uses apple cider for the liquid which gives the whole cake a decidedly moist apple taste. I will not go so far as to say the recipe is easy. I have to muster all my baking talent to make an apple crisp. I think this is doable even for the novice pastry chef. So here is Will’s version of the Apple Upside-Down Cake.

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Bracket Creep

October 25th, 2010 — 10:21am

A Glass of "Youth is Uncouth"

While I was reading the November issue of Food & Wine magazine I came across an article about 40 people under 40 who had had an influence on the way we eat and drink in America. These “40 under 40” lists are all very interesting until you realize that not only are you on the wrong side of 40 you would not even qualify for a “50 under 50” list. Those of us over 40 but under the retirement age are just an older version of the “tween;” not old enough to get a discount on Senior Citizens Day and not young enough to get noticed for doing big things. When you are over 40 I guess everything you are supposed to do is a big thing.

I feel a little bit bad about the whole thing as I could have easily made a “40 under 40” list. Surely the year I frenetically traveled around the world for work accumulating 250,000 air miles should qualify me for some sort of list. Before the age of the internet such things were considered “cool.” In our current age of instant gratification it would only elicit a yawn.

It is funny though, when I turned 40 I decided that all the running around I did in my 20’s and 30’s really only made my life more stressful. I have to admit that I have been coasting a bit lately. I am too mature to worry about what people think of me and too young to chuck it all in and move to a deserted island. The one thing that makes me really mad about these lists is that I am stuck between two tyrannies; the tyranny of youth when what you do and who you hang out with really matters, and the tyranny of old age when you wish you had enough energy to do anything or hang out with anybody. Sometimes I feel that the only people who care about me are all pitching viagra or retirement investments.

When the going gets tough it is time to invent a new cocktail; or in this case more a digestif. I developed the cocktail for the mature “tween” generation. I had a hard time coming up with a really cool name like “Bahama Mama,” “Singapore Sling,” or “Rusty Nail.” I call mine “Youth is Uncouth.” It is very simple

Youth is Uncouth

4 ice cubes
1 lime wedge
4 oz club soda
2 oz Ouzo or Pernod

The ice cubes go in a small glass, a rocks glass or small snifter will work. You squeeze the lime juice over the ice and cavalierly throw in the wedge. Pour in the club soda, followed by the liquor. The club soda will turn a milky white. Stir gently. And sip slowly.

I find that after two of these I feel like I am 39 again. And when served to someone under 40, after two of these, they feel like they are 60. Sounds like the perfect outcome to me.

I feel that there is still time for me to make some sort of list. Although if it’s “80 over 80” I would probably fall asleep before reading the whole list.

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Cooking Angst

October 23rd, 2010 — 8:00am

Eggplant Parmesan Surprise!

There comes a point in a person’s life when all your foibles come screaming at you exposing themselves, making sure that every tick, compulsion, and neurosis is laid bare so that you can stew over them for awhile. It is like they all decide to hang out with you one day, like some childhood friend that would never leave your house, hanging around for another set of tennis or game of whiffle ball. You get to chew the fat with them. Discuss the ins and outs of all the dumb things you do. You do not really laugh about them. There is a certain amount of ennui in the process. And then it is time to make dinner.

So what the heck. Your are all beaten up from serving The Man, catering to the animals, tending the garden and listening to the other man all day. You decide to relish your compulsive behavior. Worrying about all the eggplant you are throwing away you decide to make eggplant again to avoid being sent to prison for clogging the composter with decaying eggplant. You plan to grill them of course. Not because they will taste any better but because you cannot be bothered cleaning up the cooktop today. You are running low on olive oil, mostly because on the rare occasion you make a shopping list you leave it on the kitchen counter or in the car, and buying things not on the list is always more fun anyway. So today the eggplant will get oil on one side only. No complaints eggplant! Your are lucky you didn’t end up as compost.

The grilling is done, and with no idea yet of what you will do with the grilled disks, you trudge into the house to see what sort of prepackaged trouble you can get into. A red sauce would be nice. But the shopping list, you leave on the kitchen counter anyway, never includes pre-made anything. There is a can of diced tomatoes which you could cook, but cleaning the cooktop afterward is still out of the question. So you puree the tomatoes in the food processor with a couple of handfuls of basil making it look like you cooked the sauce.

At this point you turn on the oven as the momentum for the dish starts to lean in the direction of eggplant parmesan. You wisely compromised years ago and added packaged, shredded cheese to the shopping list you left in the car. You find that there is about 1/3 of a bag of three kinds of cheeses leftover from when you did not want to overdo it with the fat content of some dish; like one more ounce of cheese is going to send you to have your stomach stapled. And staring you in the face a lovely package of genoa salami, pre-sliced, from the time you were making grilled pizzas and you thought spending $5 for three slices of salami would make it taste better. The salami will add the “surprise factor” to your dish that you are so famous for. The habit you developed when you were sauteeing some carrots when you were young and you surreptitiously added some white wine from the bottle in the refrigerator that had probably been opened for six months. You were so pleased with yourself you thought for sure Fannie Farmer would want to talk to you about it. Surprise! Salami in the eggplant parmesan!

You really cannot face another layered casserole. To steel your nerves you mix a cocktail and get to work. Little bit of sauce, little bit of eggplant, little bit of cheese…repeat. You smile a little as you layer in the surprise factor not knowing or caring if salami will taste good with the eggplant. “It couldn’t hurt,” you mutter. It gets a nice aluminum cover and off it goes into the oven. 40 minutes covered, 15 minutes uncovered, you know the dreary routine. It rests for 15 minutes. It is plated. (You take a picture to maybe put it in some “Food House of Horrors” publication) A toast is offered to Bacchus, Persephone or Kubla Kahn, I am not quite sure. It is time to eat.

Warily you take a bite of your dish. The sauce is perfectly cooked. The eggplant is soft but not mushy. The grill marks give it a nice smoky flavor. The cheese is just enough to hold it all together without clogging up the works. The salami (surprise!) tastes like it had always belonged among the other ingredients. You sit back and decide that foibles or not you can really whip up some good grub. So you offer up another toast to Bacchus, Persephone or Kubla Kahn, I am not sure which, relishing all your quirks.

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Curry in a Hurry

October 21st, 2010 — 2:10pm

Chicken and Pepper Curry

I have been working on a very large project recently. I wish it involved food. I am not that lucky. So I have been neglecting my cooking duties, and blogging duties. I know, excuses, excuses.

I decided to look for some quick dinner recipes so that Will would not toss me out of the house. Most of them required bottled this and packaged that, quarts of mayonnaise or cream of something soup, and the ubiquitous jarred salsa. While I use all of these things from time to time I did not want to make an entire meal out of them.

I found an interesting recipe for something called chicken jalfrezi, which is some sort of spicy Indian dish. The picture looked good. The ingredient list was short. The cooking time was very short. Unfortunately when I read the instructions it called for a lot more ingredients that were not in the ingredient list. Not knowing how much of each ingredient to use I decided to just go with a curry base and whip up my own recipe.

It actually turned out quite nice. I was able to use one of the hot peppers we have been producing in the back yard. The dish was spicy but not hot. And served with a bit of rice it made a nice, quick, satisfying meal. I guess we will call it a chicken and pepper curry.

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The Age of Aquarius

October 18th, 2010 — 8:00am

“When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars”

We have been having some really beautiful weather as of late. Daytimes in the low 80’s nighttimes in the 50’s. The sky has been unusually clear with the typical mix of smog and dust flying off to points unknown. The evening sky has been particularly clear.

We spend some time each evening watching the planets Jupiter and Mars, with Jupiter rising in the early evening in the East while Mars is descending in the Western sky. At that time of day it is not easy to see much else as there is still a bit of color from the setting Sun. The other night Mars was a quite vivid red color and seemed to be pulsing. I liked to think we were observing the rotation of the planet. More than likely it was just the light passing through the Western dust so common this time of the year.

Last night the moon was vivid in the Southern sky and the song “Age of Aquarius” popped into my head. Although a misremembering of the lyrics made it do so. I thought the lyrics were “When the moon is in the Southern sky/And Jupiter aligns with Mars.” No matter really a quick look at the lyrics makes them more meaningful as the moon is in the Seventh House, the House of Libra. And with Jupiter aligning with Mars in the early evening all has been peaceful.

Tiger Lilies

With us experiencing fall weather this year the plants all seem to be especially happy. The peppers have gone on a binge of fruiting after the heat of the summer. We are pleased that the St. Nick peppers which we planted from borrowed seed are finally bearing fruit. They grew to a shrubby height of 3 feet this summer and then did nothing. We’ll make sure to enjoy them even more as we wait for them to turn red. The eggplants will not stop fruiting. At some point you want to go talk to them and say “enough already.” More of them end up in the recycling bin than in our stomachs. (If you live in Dallas come and get some, PLEASE.) Our fall-blooming crocuses, for which I long ago lost the name tag, are quite happy this year. They are a cousin to the fall-blooming saffron crocus. If only we could sell them for hundreds of dollars per ounce like the real thing. The tiger lilies just gave up their burst of flowering only to produce new leaves to muddle through the winter and go dormant in the summer months.

Fall-Blooming Crocus

The hummingbirds have long gone back to a much warmer and more festive climate. We have also seen the migration of the Baltimore Oriole for the first time. Apparently like old retirees they head south to the tropics for the winter. The monarch migration is under way, although the numbers are significantly less than previous years. And, very thankfully the bees have come back with a vengeance, gorging themselves on the flowers of the herbs and the lavender. We saw very few of them in the spring and summer months.

So, technically, until October 23, when the House moves to Pisces, we are temporarily in the Age of Aquarius. Where peace seems to be guiding our little house. And while love may not be steering any stars, it must be doing something to the eggplant.

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The End of Apple Week

October 16th, 2010 — 8:00am

Polenta Apple Cake

Over the past week I have been featuring some apple recipes that were more on the savory side of the food equation. We started off with a safe apple salsa over a grilled chicken breast, veered to the wild side with a shrimp and apple stir fry, and landed safely with the ever wonderful mulligatawny soup. A good time was had by all, unless of course you do not like apples.

I was a bit embarrassed that the only apple recipe in the dessert category listed on the blog is an apple crisp. I have to admit it is one of my favorite desserts to make because even though it is a good idea to measure the ingredients, if you slip up a bit no one will be the wiser. I asked Will to see if he could come up with something so that the recipe list was not so dessert deficient.

He has been mumbling about polenta cakes for a while. I have no idea where that inspiration came from. We also saw them making an apple upside-down cake on America’s Test Kitchen last weekend. This jazzed him up about making something similar. So I decided to do some research about polenta cakes and apples and see where that would lead. I came up with a few possibilities that included more butter than we consume in an entire month. I challenged Will to see what he could do to produce a cake based on the recipes at hand, and also see if he could do away with some of the butter.

The result is a polenta apple cake which substitutes apple cider for 4 tablespoons of butter. The cake had a bit of firmness to it which I guess is the whole idea about polenta cakes. And the butter was certainly not missed. The cake was plenty rich without it. So as we wave goodbye to Apple Week you can try out this sweet polenta and apple cake.

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Mulligatawny What?

October 14th, 2010 — 8:00am

Mulligatawny Soup

In my second job after finishing business school (my first job lasted a year and six months and was ended with me banishing myself from the Island of Manhattan due to exhaustion and penury) I moved to the coast of New Hampshire to recoup and get on with whatever you were supposed to do as a young businessman. The job was in one of the most unusual corporate headquarters, a bit like Disney meets corporate America and the 18th Century. The headquarters was designed in the style of an 18th Century georgian mansion and was outfitted like a museum. Every office had at least one valuable piece of art and at least one authentic piece of antique furniture. The antiques were mostly chairs and everyone knew not so sit in them. Which of course made it hard to hold meetings in your office with more than one other person.

The headquarters also had a full production kitchen which was set up to feed the 50 employees who worked there. Some clever person in the tax department figured out that if the company made us pay at least something for lunch and breakfast the company could deduct the full cost of the meal. So in the mornings you could get a delicious muffin for $0.25 and a full lunch for $1.00. All of the food was extraordinary.

My boss, who suffered from a wife who could not cook (she poisoned me on at least two occasions) and who clearly had way to much time on his hands, would begin our day not with the heady news of the business world but a rendition of what would be served for lunch from soup to dessert. One day he came into my office a bit breathless and said, “They are serving mulligatawny soup. We better eat lunch early today. They may run out.” I replied, “Mulligatawny what?” He smiled a knowing smile and left my office.

Up until that time the most exotic soup I had tasted was clam chowder. Most of these samplings came from a can of condensed chowder that was supplemented with a half a can of milk (a whole can if you were trying to stretch the meal), and topped with some oyster crackers. On the rare occasion that I had eaten clam chowder in a restaurant it tasted mostly of cream and butter and vaguely of some briny clams. This was not exactly haute cuisine.

My boss and I were first in line for the mulligatawny soup. While I was waiting on the soup I smelled some interesting spice aromas and creamy sweetness coming from somewhere in the kitchen. The soup looked a bit like chowder. The taste though was really wonderful. Curry wafted up with the steam of the soup. The sweetness of the coconut milk filled each spoonful. And most surprising of all there were apples among all the other goodies which seemed a bit outre for a soup at the time. So for our next apple recipe I am bowing to this old memory and providing a recipe for mulligatawny soup. This one adds some other seasonal flavors from butternut squash as well as apples. I think you will enjoy it.

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Apple Stir Fry?

October 12th, 2010 — 8:00am

Shrimp and Apple Stir Fry with Noodles

Our next apple recipe took a bit of a leap of faith; basically a shrimp stir-fry with apples. It has all the usual stir-fry suspects with some sweet apples thrown in. I thought the Washington Apple Board was taking a walk on the wild side with this one. If you think about it though some stir-fries include plum sauce and other gelatinous sweet condiments. So what not apples?

As for me the sweet stir-fries never quite hit the spot. To make this one more interesting the original recipe called for adding rice wine or cider vinegar. It was meant to be sweet and sour. It still was not really working for me. So I added some hot sauce, kicked up the volume with some fresh ginger, and doubled the amount of soy sauce. The result was actually quite pleasing.

I know I have only made two savory apple recipes so far. A quick observation is this; a bit of spice with the apples really bring out their flavors. I suppose this is why cinnamon is added along with sugar to give most apple recipes a nice kick. I think an apple curry might be nice. Or some sauteed apples with ginger and scallions might make a nice side dish. If I ever get up the courage to try either I will let you know.

In the mean time you can enjoy the stir-fried shrimp and apples. The sweet apples really do add a nice dimension to an otherwise spicy dish. If you want to add pork or chicken instead of the shrimp I think that would work just as well.

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An Apple A Day…

October 10th, 2010 — 8:59am

Grilled Chicken with Apple Salsa

I love apples, especially when they are fresh in the autumn season. Usually we think of apples as a dessert whenever we are thinking of preparing a dish. Who does not like apple pie, apple crisp, apple turnovers, or any other mixture of apples cinnamon and sugar? It seems like the three ingredients were meant to go together.

Not being the baker in the family usually leaves me with the apple crisp as my one and only apple dish. It is simple to the point of being embarassing. And if you do not measure quite right, who is going to know the difference? My kind of baking.

I thought I would look into apples this week to see how they could be used in a main dish and in more savory combinations. It is surprisingly hard to find such recipes. So I went to the Washington State Apple Board to see what I could find. I grabbed several concepts that we will be trying. The first of which is a grilled chicken breast served with an apple salsa.

The breasts are of course marinated in apple cider. The salsa is a very simple combination of apples, a mildly spicy pepper, onion, cilantro and some chopped red onion marinated in lime juice. The original recipe did not call for the cilantro or the spicy pepper, but when I think of salsa I do think of a bit of heat and the peppery, lemony flavor of the cilantro. I am not sure the chicken marinade is a whole lot different than a bit of lemon, olive oil, and honey. The cider burns off during the cooking. The breast is still tasty; just not a whole lot of apple flavor. The salsa was wonderful. The bit of heat from the pepper and the peppery flavor of the cilantro contrasts well with the sweetness of the apple. I even think a bit more heat would work wonders. I’ll leave that up to you. So for a fast, simple apple dish, without the sugar and cinnamon I would give the grilled chicken breast with apple salsa a try.

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