Saturday, January 2, 2016

EAT YOUR VEGGIES!

Wanting to eat last night's leftover Wild Rice Stuffed Pork Chops I wanted to have some veggies with my porch chops this time.  I wanted green veggies. Didn't really have anything on hand - no broccoli, no spinach, no green beans.  I had some frozen Brussels sprouts but didn't think I'd like them much with the flavor of my dish.  I wished I had some Zucchini, and of course, I didn't.  But I did have some small cucumbers.  Not the smaller ones that are used to make pickles, but those little tiny perfectly shaped ones they call Mini Cukes.  I had them leftover from something I made a week ago. 

Have you ever had cooked cucumbers?   You will make them a regular part of your meals when you find wonderful ways to cook them!  You could use this same recipe and put it all in a blender for a lovely Cucumber bisque with a small dollop of sour cream on top!  Or try adding them to a pot of chili!  Sautee diced cucumber with the onions before you add all the other chili ingredients!

I used my mandoline with the thin cutting side to make long thin julienne cuts of the cucumbers.

I heated up my trusty cast iron skillet to medium hot and put in about 2 T of butter and 1 T of olive oil.  Tossed in the cucumbers and sautéed until they were tender, but not mushy.  This took about 4 or 5 minutes.  I then added a 1/2 t of dried dill, about 1 t of dried shallots and a little salt.  Stir, stir, stir.  Hmmm, looks good but I'd really like it they were a little creamy.  So in went 2 T of heavy cream and about 1 T of grated Pecorino cheese. 

Stir, stir stir, until the cheese melted and it's all creamy and beautiful!  So very good!

Friday, January 1, 2016

PORK FOR THE NEW YEAR

The custom of eating pork on New Year's is based on the idea that pigs symbolize progress. The animal pushes forward, rooting itself in the ground before moving. Roast suckling pig is served for New Year's in Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, and Austria—Austrians are also known to decorate the table with miniature pigs made of marzipan. Different pork dishes such as pig's feet are enjoyed in Sweden while Germans feast on roast pork and sausages. Pork is also consumed in Italy and the United States, where thanks to its rich fat content, it signifies wealth and prosperity.
 
Well I'm not into any particular tradition other than my Mom always made pork for New Years Day and my first and late mother-in-law always made the best Pork Sauerkraut and Dumplings for the occasion.  So I just make whatever comes to mind that is centered around pork. 
 
The dish I ended up with was something I would have not minded paying $25+ for in a restaurant.  It was way better than just OK.  It was spectacular!!
 
As it happened, I had two thick cut sirloin chops in the freezer.  So last night I thawed them knowing that I'd make them on New Year's Day.  At first I thought I'd put them into the small crock pot with a bottle of some craft beer that has been in the refrigerator too long and make some pulled pork.  But when I opened the package, I realized that the chops were just too nice to put them in a crock pot.  As soon as I picked them up out of the package, I thought these are so nice and thick they deserve to be stuffed with something.  So I started searching around for what I have
 
Lundburg Wild Rice - dried cranberries, dried prunes, lot of herbs and spices, sweet wine.   So I set to making Wild Rice Stuffed Pork Chops with Herbed Pan Sauce. There is no recipe - just kept adding things until I thought it was good.  Here is how I made it.
 
I cooked 1/2 c of the rice with just a little salt.  When the rice was finished I added a few chopped dried prunes and a handful of dried cranberries.  I stuffed that into the pockets I cut into the thick pork chops that I rubbed lightly with minced garlic and salted liberally.
 
The stuffed pork chops went into a hot cast iron skillet for about 5 minute to brown the bottom then into a 325 oven for about 15 minutes to finish cooking them.  Out of the oven they came and since they weren't quite brown enough on the bottom even though they were done, I turned on a burner on the top of the stove and  browned them a little more very quickly.  Maybe just two or three minutes.  Out they came onto a platter.
 
Into the hot skillet went about 3/4 c of pink Moscato.  I don't like to drink this wine as it's too sweet for me, but I had a bottle so thought I'd use it to deglaze the pan.  (good idea!).  I scraped the bottom of the pan of all the brown bits and let the wine reduce.  I added some dried thyme, dried shallots, dried garlic, a little liquid smoke, a little chicken base, and a big knob of butter at the end.  I let this all reduce until it was thickened a bit and then just spooned it over the chops. 
 
Wow.  I hope I can duplicate this.  And if pork is supposed to bring you good luck on New Year's Day, I'm hoping this one will work!!That was worthy of the time I spent cooking it!!! The sauce was to die for!
 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

CHICKEN CROQUETTES WITH CREAMED BRUSSELS SPROUTS

It's been a very long time since I've written a blog.  I've just been using Facebook to post foodie items.  I'll go ahead and admit that it is the lazy way to get something accomplished that I want to share.  But it's limiting when I feel like writing a lot about what's going on.

Ever since my last relationship ended I have found much solace in cooking and just messing around with food.  Having friends over for experimental dishes, cooking every night even if I don't want to eat.  Cooking is my therapy. 

Last Thursday night I put up a pot of chicken soup using legs and thighs.  I find them to be the most perfect pieces for making soup.  They have the most flavor and the meat left on the bones is best used in whatever manner you like! Chicken on the bone makes a very good for you broth full of mineral nutrients, not to mention the comfort of having a warm bowl of soup. Last time I made Chicken Salad with dried cranberries, celery and toasted pecans.  It was delicious!  That was chicken cooked in a very traditional chicken  soup with carrots, onions, celery, garlic, bay leaf, salt and pepper.  This night I was making a favorite chicken soup recipe, Chinese Chicken and Corn  Soup with Ginger and Egg drop.  The recipe can be found at  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/aarti-sequeira/sweet-corn-and-chicken-soup-recipe.html

Tonight, the chicken that I removed from the bones was puzzling me.  I was bored with the same old thing. What could I make from it this time?  I didn't want to put into the soup.  I wanted the soup to remain brothy.  So all of a sudden I had a thought of the old days when Chicken Croquettes used to be very popular.  They were typically served with creamed peas.  Well I didn't have any peas, but I had two bags of frozen  Brussels Sprouts.  So I made creamed Brussels Sprouts. 

The Chicken Croquettes:
about 2 cups of finely chopped cooked chicken
1 egg
1 T corn starch
1 T chives (or 2 t. finely chopped onions)
Salt-pepper to taste.

Mix this all up until it's nice and smooth and can be formed into croquettes.  Go through the normal breading procedure:  Roll in flour, roll in beaten egg, roll in bread crumbs. 

Add about 1  or two cups of oil to a small saucepan, enough to cover the croquettes when they are added to the hot oil.  Heat the oil to about 350 - 375 degrees.  Test the oil by dropping a few breadcrumbs into the oil.  If the immediately bubble up and foam, the oil is hot enough. 

Add three or four of the croquettes to hot oil and fry until a nice deep brown.  Remember the chicken is already cooked so the only goal here is to get these nice and brown and crispy.  Remove to a paper towel and cook the rest of them.

The cream sauce is a simple Béchamel Sauce.  a 3 - 3 - 3 ratio of fat to flour to liquid. 

3 T butter or oil
3T flour
3 C warm milk (non fat milk, whole milk, canned milk  or even add some cream)
1 tsp. salt

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the flour and let it cook for a few minutes.  You have to cook the flour to get the pasty taste out of it.

Once it is foamy and bubbly, add the warm liquid.  Cold liquid will end up causing a lumpy white sauce.  Keep stirring with a whisk until it is nice and smooth and creamy.  If it's too thick, add a little more milk.  Add the salt to taste.  Now is the time to add any other flavor you might want.  Add a little chicken base, some dry herbs if you like or just leave it alone.  Once the sauce is nice and smooth, add the Brussels sprouts and let them warm through in the sauce.

Serve them with a little sauce drizzled over the Chicken Croquettes.

I was really hungry, only my second, and last, meal of the day.  So I indulged in two croquettes!! They were delicious and very satisfying!

After nearly 5 months of dealing with a breakup, I've finally risen out of the depths of my cooking therapy, and now I'm cooking with joy again!  I've met a very nice man who is a flower farmer on the Eastern Shore.  Can you imagine!  I love flower gardening and I meet a flower farmer!  He has already given me some wonderful plants - 5 kinds of peonies that I have already planted and hope to see blooming in the spring!!  So we'll see if we can get to know each other a little better.  He has one particularly good quality - he loves to eat good food!!!



Wednesday, December 31, 2014

THERE IS MORE TO COOKING THAN PREPARING A MEAL

There is nothing so comforting to me than cooking.  And when I'm cooking for someone else, it's all the more satisfying.  It's New Year's Eve!  It's the first one I've spent alone in 10 years.  My sweetie is in Hawaii visiting his daughter over the Christmas break. How lucky is he, and how lucky is she!  This year it's me and my little man, Matrix.   He's kinda like - ok, mom, whatever.  But he's good company!  I mean -- how entertaining is that photo of him on my desk.  This is a fairly regular pose whenever I'm on my computer.  He needs to make an appearance.  He even feels the need to walk across the field of view whenever I'm on a Skype call.
--We are enjoying the fire I put in the wood stove tonight. It's going to be really cold tonight.  Down into the 20's I think.   I made myself a small shaker of Cosmopolitans to last through the evening while I cook and write my blog.
As many of you know, I haven't written a regular blog for a long time.  I've been posting shorter posts on FB  about what I've been cooking. But blogging allows me to
share a few more details.  Well, what it really does is allow to me tell you more than you really want to know about what I'm doing, cooking and thinking.  Who cares right?  It doesn't matter.  Blogs allow people to say whatever they want no matter what anyone thinks.  I guess we figure that if you don't like what we have to say, you won't read it, right?   But I hope I don't get to that point - where you don't want to read anymore. 
Tonight I'm starting dinner for tomorrow - New Year's Day!  I've invited a friend to come for an early dinner of a traditional European meal of Pork Roast with Sauerkraut and Dumplings.  Later we'll watch a movie that came in the mail from Netflix "The Hundred Foot Journey".    Big surprise- it's a foodie movie about restaurant owners! 
Unfortunately, since the grocery didn't have a proper pork roast in the in the refrigerated case, I had to improvise.  I had to get some country style ribs, and a few pork steaks.  You have to have some bones in the roast to get the flavor you need, so the ribs will add that flavor and they are very meaty.  Instead of roasting all this, I've put it in the crockpot.  Layered with sauerkraut, sautéed onions and sliced garlic, it should turn into a succulent dish with lots of flavor!   A light sprinkling of caraway seed will add that distinct flavor that only caraway seeds can give to this dish.
Of course this meal needs something else.  Just pork and sauerkraut does not a meal make.  So I'll make home made dumplings to toss with the drippings that the pork will render with the sauerkraut.  The recipe for the dumplings can be found at my post for Chicken Paprikash  at How to make Nokedli (Hungarian dumplings)
http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.reliefnurses.com.au/archive/images/nokedli.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.reliefnurses.com.au/archive/feast.html&usg=__tCGZtUIWXHbqeZbI1OVaCRBKQZw=&h=265&w=300&sz=24&hl=en&start=6&sig2=pB2g4NhKD-njI-jqPdPMmA&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=vMrNDEj1tqqOmM:&tbnh=102&tbnw=116&prev=/images%3Fq%3DNokedli%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26sa%3DG%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-US:official%26channel%3Ds%26tbs%3Disch:1&ei=TzP5S8CaEoOkNerUjIwF
Did you know that Pork is a traditional New Year's dinner because it is believed that because pigs root FORWARD as they search for food, it is symbolic of moving forward in life.  And because Pigs "used to be" so fatty, they also represented prosperity with all the fat and richness of the meal.  So serving a pork roast was to represent a year of prosperity to come to those who prepared and ate it! (The fact that I didn't use a big fat pork roast cuts way back on the fat that this roast  will render, but not on flavor!  Using ribs will give the kind of flavor that you can only get with cooking meat on the bone!It's also a good example of how you can improvise when what you really want isn't available.  I would have preferred a nice Pork Butt for this!)
 I also wanted to make something that would be a nice contrast to the Pork and sauerkraut, and although it too is cabbage, I chose to make sautéed red cabbage with apples and onions.  It is sweet and delicious!    This is a small head of red cabbage sliced as you would for slaw, sautéed with a sweet onion. 
Just sauté a large sweet white onion in a little olive oil, add the red cabbage and a grated sweet apple, salt pepper and voila!  A succulent healthy side dish! 

I'll post some more pictures of the completed meal tomorrow!

I wish you all a healthy and prosperous New Year!  I've learned that gratitude for what you have can open the doors for allowing more good fortune to enter your life.  Be grateful and prosper!
 
 
 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A MESS IN THE KITCHEN

I'm finding that some of my most satisfying times are when I'm in the kitchen cooking and the kitchen is turning into a big mess.  I usually clean up as I go, but sometimes I look up from what I'm doing and find that I've made a huge mess.   It's at these times I realize I don't have $1,000,000 to give to someone to take care of all the mess I've made.   But my reward for cleaning up after myself is the satisfying, savory, sometimes sweet concoction I've made to eat. 

Today, I had to clean out the garage.  Been putting it off way too long (try 4 years!!).  My former life left a giant pile of STUFF in there that I have no idea what to do with.  So, most of it is now trash.  After part of the morning and good part of the afternoon of sorting through junk and trash, I came inside with a sore back and was famished.  Fortunately, I took some chicken out of the freezer in the morning and  had intended to slow sauté in a cast iron skillet with a weight on it to make it crispy. 

I placed the bone-in, skin-on thighs in my preheated cast iron skillet after coating them with some salt that I blended with oregano and basil, and some finely chopped rosemary.    I then placed another cast iron skillet on top of them and turned the heat to low.  I let them cook slowly and get very brown, turning them at least three or four times.  The skin rendered all of its fat and got super crispy, and the chicken was tender and juicy. 

It took almost 45 minutes on low heat to get them this way.  But it was worth every minute.  Succulent, crispy chicken without having been breaded or coated in any way.  And all the brown bits left in the bottom of the skillet, I scraped up and put on paper towels to drain.  Crispy, salty, herby crunchy bits of heaven!!!


In the meantime I had posted a picture of the little harvest of vegetables I picked today.  Some tomatoes, green peppers and banana peppers.  My younger sister reminded me in a comment of dish that we loved as kids.  Leco (pronounced lecho).  A concoction of sautéed onions, green peppers, tomatoes and some kind of smoked sausage.  When we were kids, it was always polska kielbasa.  As I didn't have any on hand, I used what I had in the freezer. These days when I make it I use Smoked Turkey Sausage.   I had some Hot Links Smoked sausage. They are a bit spicier. As I love spicy food, I thought these would be fine. 

So while I'm browning the herbed chicken, the Leco is in the making.

Everything from the garden!!  What I thought were onions turned out to be shallots - from my garden!   So I chopped all I had and cooked them on medium heat with the sliced sausage while I chopped the banana peppers I picked, and the tomatoes I picked into chunky pieces.  Added everything to the pan and cooked for a minute or two before adding about 1/4 c. ketchup for that sweetness that ketchup gives, and about 2 tablespoons of tomato paste for richness.  I let this simmer for about 5 - 10 minutes. No salt or pepper was needed because the sausage was both spicy and salty. I added a palm full of fresh parsley, also from my garden. 

In the meantime, the chicken was done.  So I pulled one out and devoured it without any accompaniments.  So savory and crispy and succulent!  When the Leco was done I thought I would not want to taste it since I just ate a piece of chicken.  WRONG!  I thought I should taste it and it was soooooo good.  Even better than I remembered it as a kid.  Mom used to make it a lot!  We usually enjoyed it over rice if I remember correctly, but with some good bread would also be wonderful! 

It just occurred to me, this recipe needs to be in my cookbook!!

Monday, June 30, 2014

SIRLOIN KABOBS WITH PEACHES AND ZUCHINNI

Tonight's post had to be more than just a FB post.  It all started with a purchase on the weekend of a small basket of peaches from a local grower.  5 big fat juicy peaches for $4.00.  Maybe a little expensive, but supporting local growers is something I like to do. And as a bonus, I get perfect produce.  I never quibble over the price, and neither should you.  Growing  perfect local produce is an art and you won't get it in the grocery store most of the time.  So now I had these great peaches. 

Had one for breakfast this morning  and decided it was one of the best peaches I ever ate!  So juicy and sweet!  This evening on the way home from work I wanted to pick up a couple of seltzer waters, but naturally, browsed the store while I was there since I was in no hurry.  I found a package of just 8 small pieces of sirloin kabob cuts - under $3.00 for the package!!.   Well ....  just this afternoon I went to Marshall's to browse for a  minute or two at lunchtime and found a bottle of "A Cup of Coffee Steak Rub".  Coincidence?  Maybe. The kabob sirloin was only 8 small cubes.   Coffee Steak Rub, you found a grill pan to jump into tonight!  I already has some baby zucchini and a couple of those peaches from the local farm stand. 

The steak got coated with the Coffee Rub.  The sliced zucchini and quartered peaches got lightly salted and peppered with fresh ground pepper and a little olive oil and skewered onto long flat skewers  (flat skewers help to keep the food from spinning on the skewers).  You really need to use a touch of olive oil to make sure foods grill/broil nicely when   exposed to the flame.  Grilled to perfection! Well, no, maybe not.  I will confess - I over cooked the beef a little, I like it PINK!! But ---- my friends --  the peaches and zucchini and  the steak were delicious! Use the broiler or the outdoor grill! Cook it the way you like it!  The more rare, the more flavor!  But no judgments here on how you like your steak!  The coffee flavor stood out prominently on the beef and  was so distinctive and savory.  If you are a coffee lover, you will appreciate the tones of the coffee that are left behind as you enjoy the steak bits.  I had considered asking a friend to stop by and dine with me on his way home, but it was already late and didn't want to impose on his time.  But I WILL make this again for us!!  So delicious and fresh!

Don't be afraid to experiment with flavors!  The coffee rub was great on the steak, as it was meant to be. It will be equally good on chicken or pork tenderloin or some nice lean chops.  The peaches and zucchini were happy to be on my plate and will be just as good with other cuts of meat.





It would have benefited from a serving of rice with some smoky flavor.  But I enjoyed it naked - without any dressing or cover-up!  Low carbs, high protein, low cal.  I didn't want for anything when I  ate it.

As most of you who read my Blog posts know, I like to just create as I go.  Please!  DO that!  There is no better way to find out what flavors go together!  Creativity is the MOST valuable tool in the kitchen!  A fail now and then, leads to WIN WIN every now and then!

Monday, May 26, 2014

A HAPPY ACCIDENT

Happy Accidents really do happen.
After nearly a week off from work, I wanted to use up the leftover roasted chicken I made for munching during that week, and the chicken stock I had on hand after making that roasted chicken.  I roasted it with lots of herbs, lemons and salt and pepper.  It was really good in the Chicken Pasta Salad I ate all week, full of diced pears, dried cherries and lots of seasonings.    But there was still some chicken left, and that chicken  stock. 

So I pulled it all together in a soup pot and started raiding the vegetable drawer and the freezer.  A packet of frozen mashed cauliflower (it thickened my soup beautifully) a packet of frozen spaghetti squash, a few fresh carrots sliced up, a small zucchini diced up into smallish pieces, two spring onions from the garden, and 4 spears of asparagus picked this afternoon diced into small pieces.   Use up everything!

After I got it all into the pot and started stirring everything, I couldn't see the pieces of spaghetti squash.  ???  Where are they?  A minute or two of wondering what happened, I realized I had used a packet of coconut rice pudding I made about two or three months ago - not spaghetti squash!!  Well, the rice was certainly okay in the soup, but coconut and vanilla!!!  Ugh!  They were the same color and so sure of myself, I didn't label the packet they were in.  (Needless to say I was WRONG and I was NOT going to throw the whole thing out!

Coconut rice pudding in Chicken Soup! What a blunder!  But wait!  I know that Thai food uses a lot of coconut in its cuisine.  So I went in that direction.  I started adding lots of other ingredients.  Sesame oil, red pepper flakes, and I had some sheets of Nori - that stuff you use to wrap sushi rolls, and cut them up into small pieces and tossed into the pot as well.  Corn.  I found a packet of  corn cut from the cob that I froze last summer, so that went into the pot as well.  Sweet and savory!

So the whole point of today's blog is creativity!!  All I can say is that if you aren't afraid to experiment, disastrous mistakes can turn into very Happy Accidents~ ~