Sunday, May 4, 2008

Tarragon-Buttermilk Baked Chicken

File this one under "delicious." It's crispy, flavorful and everything you've come to know as decadent and not-so-healthy—only it's not! Skinless chicken is marinated in light buttermilk, which, at 120 calories and 4 grams of fat per serving, is healthier than many people think. And breadcrumbs, not deep frying, gives it a crispy exterior. Tarragon, both in the coating and in the marinade, gives it a fresh flavor and a squeeze of lemon upon serving brightens the flavors even more. This recipe requires some forethought, as the chicken should marinate overnight, but the total active time is very minimal. While the chicken roasts, you can prep the rest of your dinner or, do as I did, and roast vegetables (like potatoes and asparagus) in the oven alongside the chicken.

Tarragon-Buttermilk Baked Chicken
(Serves 4)

1 qt. light buttermilk
1 chicken, skin-removed and cut in 8 pieces (or equivalent amount of skinless, bone-in chicken)
1 bunch fresh tarragon (leave half on stem, finely chop the remainder)
2 cups panko (or other unseasoned breadcrumbs)
salt and pepper
1 lemon, cut in wedges

1. The evening before serving, place chicken in a single layer in a dish. Take half the tarragon, leave on the stem, but rub between your hands to bruise the leaves and release their scent. Place this in the dish around the chicken along with pepper as desired. Add buttermilk to cover and ensure that all sides of the chicken are exposed to the buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 450°F and prepare the breading. In a clean dish or plastic bag, combine the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper and the chopped tarragon.
3. Before coating chicken, wipe off excess marinade with a paper towel, leaving just enough for coating to adhere to. Either press into mixture or shake in the bag with the coating. Place pieces in a baking dish in a single layer, leaving space between them for air to circulate. If you want, place a rack in the baking dish first so that the bottoms of the pieces crisp during cooking.
4. Roast the chicken at 450°F for 10 to 15 minutes to brown the coating. Then turn the oven down to 375°F for the remainder of the cooking time (about 20-30 minutes more).
5. Serve with the lemon wedges.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

PETA wants what?!?

I've always joked that PETA stands for People Eating Tasty Animals. Granted, I didn't make it up, but I'm not really offended by it, that's for sure. Well, it turns out that I wasn't exactly that far off. Only, in the case of the recent news, the Animals part of my preferred acronym derivation should really be "Animals".

PETA is offering a $1 million prize to the first company to produce lab-grown meat that is similar in taste and texture to the real deal and can be sold in at least 10 states at a cost comparable to the real McCoy. Now, since when is PETA trying to promote eating meat?

The part that really irks me, though, it the fact that the organization is promoting Frankenfood. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, given the number of vegetarians and vegans who eat things like tofurkey, soy cheese and just about any other look-alike (but definitely NOT taste-alike) "food" products made from doctored soy, but I really can't stand fake foods that are processed beyond the point of recognition. I've even written about it before.

Here's a novel idea: If we learn to eat normal amounts of meat and from small producers as opposed to the large commercial producers, we'll be healthier and PETA won't have as much animal cruelty to complain about. Just a thought...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Eggs in a Bag (Couldn't resist...)

I'm not going to add much, but thought this was definitely wrong enough to call out. Yes, I was beat to the punch, so I must give Gizmodo credit. Oh, and read the comments, too. They're the best part.

Hard Boiled Eggs in a Bag ... If You Dare

My thoughts:

Why 9 to 10 eggs? Why not go with an exact number of a specific size egg?

Agreed.. That HAS to smell like ass!

Oh, and to the person who pointed out that the "bagged egg" market couldn't possibly be big enough to require special marketing to the hippie sector: great observation. Frankly, I'm shocked. The hippie, locavore, organic, ethical foodies are the LAST I'd expect to go for this concept...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lemon Tea Soda

Now, I'm not a big fan of super sugary sodas. I can't stomach anything non-diet from Coca-Cola or Pepsi. In fact, about the only mass-produced sodas I drink are Diet Coke and Fresca (also a Coke product), but I've seriously cut back on even that in the last couple years. Sometimes I'll try something new (I think I have an addiction to trying new things...), and most recently I tried GUS, which is short for Grown Up Soda—how cute! My favorite thing about it is that it manages to be sweet, but not too sweet. It's also natural, caffeine free and comes in a variety of interesting flavors. But enough about that. I actually like making my own "soda."

For now, I have to settle for adding seltzer water or unflavored soda water to my flavors, but eventually (read: When I have a bigger kitchen) I hope to carbonate my own water with the Soda Club so that I can just use tap water and some refillable bottles. Today, after having an orange-ginger iced tea with my lunch at Hampton Chutney, I was inspired. That iced tea would have been great with a little carbonation, I thought. So, with the lemons languishing in my crisper drawer, I whipped up an original recipe.

Lemon Tea Soda
(makes approximately 1.5 liter)

2 lemons (zest removed and juice reserved)
1/2 cup sugar (superfine will dissolve easiest)
2 cups water
3 Lemon Zinger tea bags
1 liter seltzer water or club soda

1. In a saucepan, heat the water, lemon zest and tea bags to a boil. Turn off heat and allow to steep for a few minutes. Remove zest and tea bags then add sugar and stir to dissolve. If you use a coarse or unrefined sugar, you may need to heat it further to dissolve everything.

2. Combine the heated mixture and lemon juice in a pitcher. Add the seltzer to top off the container or to taste. If you prefer a more subtly flavored drink, but your container is full, simply treat the mixture as a concentrate and add more seltzer or ice water when serving.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Engagement Chicken?

The idea of "engagement chicken" apparently came from a Glamour magazine editor 26 years ago. She had given the recipe to her assistant, who cooked it for her boyfriend. A few weeks later he proposed. As the story goes, this happened two more times to girls who tried the recipe. The thing I find funniest about all this? It's a simple roasted chicken with a couple lemons stuffed inside. Big freakin' deal!

(Photo borrowed from Glamour's Web site)

Roasted chicken is so easy that it's my go-to meal when I'm feeling too lazy to properly entertain friends. I throw it in the oven along with some new potatoes and let everything roast while I relax with a magazine and await my guests. They think it's a great meal and I'm not stressed from cooking some elaborate meal. (There's also fewer pots and pans to wash when that times comes.)

I'm thinking engagement chicken could only work on guys who haven't eaten much other than fast food, take out and suburban chain restaurant fare since leaving home for college. Maybe I'm wrong, but I just don't see anything that special and magical about roasted chicken.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Pancakes in a can?!?!

I'm hijacking a post from A Hunger Artist because it had me uncontrollably laughing out loud. You can read his entire post and the humorous comments at his site, but I'll post the YouTube video here for your convenience.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Culinary To-do List

This list was inspired by one I saw by The Wednesday Chef, another (much more widely-known) food blogger. Now, I took a few from her list to get me started, but they would have made my list eventually anyway. This list is by no means complete and finished. I'm sure I'll triple it in size in the next year alone, but the point isn't to cross off everything, it's to keep reaching for new goals and accomplishments. Here's the first draft of my list, but I'm interested in what everyone else would include in theirs.

• Spend a month in Tuscany working on an olive plantation
• Write (and publish) a cookbook
• Get published in Gourmet magazine
• Get published in Food & Wine magazine
• Teach cooking classes
• Host Thanksgiving or Christmas for my family (cousins and all)
• Go to Darjeeling to harvest tea
• Hunt (and safely eat) wild mushrooms
• Grown all of my vegetables for a year
• Brew my own beer
• Make and sell something at a farmer’s market
• Join a CSA (subscription-based produce delivery from a local farm)
• Visit a “grass farm” like Polyface, Inc. a la Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma
• Prepare a complete, seasonal meal solely from foods that I’ve personally grown, foraged and/or hunted (again, like Pollan did in The Omnivore’s Dilemma)
• Make turducken (or perhaps something smaller using game birds)
• Make bread using wild yeast collected from the air
• Go clam digging (and cook them right there on the beach)
• Make cheese (other than paneer, which I've already done) from scratch
• Eat at The French Laundry (Thomas Keller)
• Eat at Chez Panisse (Alice Waters)
• Eat at Babbo (Mario Batali)
• Eat at minibar (José Andrés)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Alton Brown's Roasted Broccoli

Lately I haven't been watching much Food Network beyond Iron Chef America, but since the prospect of doing some work on a future prime-time show on the network has been dangled in front of me like a carrot, I thought I'd bone up on their offerings. In particular was the show that seems like it might be the closest in nature to the project I mentioned—Good Eats with Alton Brown. (Don't get too excited, I'll let you know more about it if the network picks up the pilot.)

So anyway, I happened to catch Alton's episode on broccoli, which happens to be one of my favorite veggies. Did you know that microwaving broccoli renders up to 90% of its nutrients more-or-less worthless? Yeah... So I'm going to have to stop nuking it instead of blanching it like I was taught to do in culinary school. (You know you'd take that shortcut too if you were cooking for just yourself...)

I like Alton's recipe for Oven Roasted Broccoli because it doesn't require a lot of prep time aside from cutting the broccoli into florets and it's a hell of a lot more interesting than steamed broccoli, which is the other way Alton suggests cooking broccoli. When he roasts it, he tosses in some toasted breadcrumbs and garlic along with the ubiquitous roasting trio of olive oil, salt and pepper. After it's out of the oven, he adds some cheese. I forgot the garlic since I made this from memory a couple days after watching the episode and went with Parmesan instead of sharp cheddar. It was still delicious, though! The breadcrumbs add some textural interest and the roasting really changed the broccoli's flavor, making it almost nutty-tasting.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Stepping back in time

OK, maybe it just seems that way, but lately I've been feeling a strong urge to move back to Mid-Missouri, buy a house (so cheap compared to ANYTHING in the NYC vicinity) and spend my days taking care of a huge vegetable garden, cooking as much from scratch as possible and "simplifying" by relearning how to find joy in the simple things.

I say it's "stepping back in time" because it reminds me of how my maternal grandparents used to live. They would spend a good amount of time tending to their vegetable garden. They also grew grapes and had an apple tree—both of which would find their way into homemade "wine" that I found repulsive. (Unfortunately their supply of basement-fermented alcohol ran dry before I was old enough to be able to appreciate—or not—their efforts.

I remember climbing their apple tree and not wanting to eat the ugly, blemished apples, but not minding the applesauce or dehydrated apple slices. One thing's for sure, there was never a shortage of apples and there always seemed to be baskets of them stashed away in the dark, cool corners of the unfinished side of their basement. I also used to derive such satisfaction from (don't laugh...) "painting" their brick sidewalk with water and an old toothbrush. Now that's simple!

It seems like I'm not the only one that's been yearning for a step away from the excess and back toward the garden. In her article for the New York Times: Cows Grazing in the Rumpus Room, Allison Areiff, points out the many ways that people are making time and space for gardening whether they live in the suburbs or in high-rises. Since the article focused on the design aspects of this topic, I wasn't surprised to see mention of the movement for people to replace their front lawns with either vegetable gardens or less thirsty greenery in an effort to reduce water use. Here a fact she mentions that, if true, is quite disturbing: homeowners apparently use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops.

Great... Even if I choose to follow natural, organic methods in my future yard and garden, I'll still have to deal with my neighbor's runoff. Lovely... So, on my future-home wish list next to "large backyard with privacy fence," I'm going to add "yard at higher elevation than neighbors' to prevent contamination."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bum popcorn bag...

Right now I'm in recovery mode after a long week at work, so I'm not doing much of anything aside from catching up on TV shows I recorded and cleaning up the accumulating clutter. Long hours at work also mean no recent trips to the grocery store, but luckily I had some popcorn stashed on my shelf of our tiny shared kitchen cabinet. And yes, you read that right, "my shelf," not "my cabinet." The tiny shared kitchen is FAR from my ideal, especially if I want to cook more intricate things. (What I give for enough counter space to roll out pizza or pie dough....)

Burnt popcorn isn't my favorite smell so I stuck around to make sure I stopped the microwave at just the right moment. But before the popcorn was even halfway there, I heard a new sound: kernels bouncing around the microwave. Sure enough, the bag was spewing them at is spun on the turntable. By the time I stopped the action, the hole was big enough for a small hand and the microwave was a mess of popped and unpopped kernels, but what managed to stay in the bag was as normal (and boring) as ever.