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.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Italian Rainbow Salad

This recipe was inspired by my old roommate Chelle Leskovistch. Her version had cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, pepperoni, pasta and Italian Dressing. I kept all those elements and added a couple extra veggies, but it's close enough that it definitely reminds me of the lazy days we used to spend lounging around in Riverside Park.

Italian Rainbow Salad

Note: My version is a bit of a non-recipe, so just toss in whatever veggies are fresh and available. You scale it up or down, but it holds up fairly well in the fridge for a couple days and also makes a great dish for a picnic or party. Add more pasta to stretch it for a crowd if cost is a concern. I'm not providing amounts since everything can be adjusted to suit your personal taste.

Pasta (Fusilli's spiral shape holds onto the dressing well)

Cherry tomatoes (halved)

Bell peppers: yellow, orange or red (julienned)

Green beans (cut into inch-long pieces)

Red onion (thinly sliced)

Mozzarella (diced)

Pepperoni (slices cut into pieces)

Italian salad dressing

1. Set a pot of water to boil while you slice and dice.

2. Add salt when the water comes to a boil and drop in the green beans when it returns to a boil. When done, move them to an ice bath with a slotted spoon to stop the cooking. (Taste one to test doneness before removing the rest.)

3. In the same pot of boiling water, cook the pasta. Drain it and let it cool a bit before adding to the rest of the ingredients so that you don't melt the mozzarella.

4. Add dressing to taste and toss everything together.

Monday, March 3, 2008

"Legless" Meat and Other Atrocities

First, I stumbled upon this from a recent issue of Wired magazine (which I wouldn't get if MediaBistro didn't send it to me for free...). If you haven't already clicked on the link, it's an illustration of the yet-to-be-invented Ronco Meat-O-Matic, which allows you to grow "meat" from tissue cultures in a vat of nutrient-fortified liquid. The scary thing is that I wouldn't put it past today's feed-lot-crowding, corn-feeding, antibiotic pushing meat producers as a way to further scale up production. And who can blame them when the vast majority of meat-eating Americans are stuffing themselves silly with the cheapest meat they can find. (Why do you think McDonald's has sold billions? It's not the quality of service that keeps people coming back...)

So today, while reading Mouthing Off, one of Food & Wine magazine's blogs, I stumbled upon Rethinking the Meat Guzzler, by regular New York Times contributor Mark Bittman. It's a well-written essay on how harmful the current meat production industry is to the environment and our collective health among other things. In it, Bittman also alludes to the prospect of "legless meat." To quote from the article:
"Longer term, it no longer seems lunacy to believe in the possibility of “meat without feet” — meat produced in vitro, by growing animal cells in a super-rich nutrient environment before being further manipulated into burgers and steaks."

And then there's this gem, an Op-Ed by a farmer who was fined for daring to grow fruit and vegetables on land earmarked for corn. "How dare he!" I say with the utmost level of sarcasm. It's ludicrous that a farmer, who is trying to grow more watermelons to satisfy demand for local, organic produce, is told that he's breaking some law by doing this on land set aside for corn.

This all makes we wonder how I can best work to roll back the "progress" we've made in terms of agriculture. The more I learn about the Farm Bill and its subsidies to the largest corn, soybean, rice, cotton and wheat growers (at the expense of the very small farms those subsidies were originally intended to aid and those farmers wishing to grow the fruits and vegetables that we're supposed to be eating more of) the more I'm disgusted. I just want some antibiotic-free, grass-fed beef (three or four ounces is enough) to go with my local, organic, seasonal vegetables that rest on top of my brown rice pilaf that I made with homemade chicken stock. Is that so much to ask?

Friday, February 29, 2008

Ditto What Ruhlman Said!

Writer and occasional Iron Chef judge, Michael Ruhlman, recently blogged about why Americans are so fat and I have to agree with him wholeheartedly. In short, he says that processed foods (not fat or salt in naturally prepared foods) are to blame for our obesity epidemic. Now, I'll admit that I used to fall into the trap that processed "low fat" and "light" presented, but I've since seen the light and cook with cream, salt and fat (especially olive oil) with abandon. Here's his well-put rant.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Polenta with Creamed Sausage and Mushrooms

This recipe definitely doesn't fit any definition of the word light, but that wasn't the point. Between the sausage and cream, it didn't matter that I was piling it on top of corn laced with extra corn. (Corn's been on my mind lately since I've started reading Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma." The book's first section is about how processed foods are basically built from different corn-derived ingredients.)

I like to store any leftover polenta separate from the sausage and mushroom mixture in case I feel like topping it with something different the next day. Also, this recipe might seem daunting at first because it calls for sauteeing the mushrooms and sausage while constantly stirring the polenta. With good planning and what chef's call mise en place, this is manageable, but if you wish to prepare the two parts in sequence rather than simultaneously, do the sausage and mushroom portion first and keep it warm over low heat while preparing the polenta, which will thicken as it stands.

Polenta with Creamed Sausage and Mushrooms
(Serves 2-3)

For polenta:
1/2 cup polenta
2+ cups milk (I used skim and added extra because I like my polenta loose)
1 cup corn nibblets
2 Tbsp. butter

For creamed sausage and mushrooms:
2 links sweet Italian sausage (casing removed and sausage crumbled)
4 cups trimmed and sliced mushrooms (I used shitake and oyster)
Extra Light Olive Oil for sauteeing
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 fresh sage leaves (minced)
salt and pepper

1. Bring the milk to a boil over medium heat, stirring occassionally to prevent burning. While this is coming up to temperature, gather and prep all other ingredients, because you will need to stir the polenta constantly once it is added to the milk.

2. Saute the sausage in a pan with a small amount of olive oil. When browned, add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt.

3. When the milk reaches a boil, slowly stream in the polenta while whisking constantly. Once incorporated, turn down the heat to avoid burning the milk. At first, it will seem like there is too much milk for the polenta, but after 6-8 minutes the mixture will begin to resemble hot cereal.

4. Once the mushrooms have cooked down to about a third of their original volume, add the sage. A minute later add the cream and cook down over medium-high heat to reduce.

5. When polenta is thickened but still loose, add in the loose corn pieces and butter. Continue stirring. If the mixture is too dense, add a touch more milk or any leftover cream to reach the desired consistency, which is simply a matter of preference.

6. Adjust the seasoning for both dishes and immediately serve the sausage and mushroom mixture on top of the polenta. Ganish with extra sage leaves and parmesan shavings if desired.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Quinoa Salad (two ways)

This is a super-healthy grain salad that I recycled for breakfast the next morning by baking it in a ramekin topped a couple eggs at 375°F for 15 minutes. But you need the the base recipe, which could be served as a side dish or a one-dish vegetarian meal, before you can do that.

Quinoa Salad
(Serves 4-8 depending on serving size)

1.5 cups raw quinoa (I used half traditional and half red)
6 cups water
1 packet Italian salad dressing seasoning mix
1 bell pepper (any color but green, chopped)
1 zucchini (chopped)
2 shallots (minced)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
2 lemons (juice from one, zest from both)
1 block feta cheese
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley (leaves only, rough chopped)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or to taste)
salt and pepper

1. Rinse the quinoa several times in a fine-mesh strainer. Change the water at least three times and agitate the grains with your hand to remove as much of the outer coating as posisble. Raw quinoa is coated with saponin; if the final product tastes at all bitter or unpleasant, you'll know you didn't wash it throughly enough before cooking.

2. Add the washed quinoa, seasoning packet and water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 10-15 minutes until the water is absorbed and the quinoa has turned translucent and released the spiraled germ.

3. While the quinoa is cooking, wash chop the vegetables, crumble the feta cheese, and zest and juice the lemons. This can all be combined and set aside.

4. Ater cooking the quinoa, spread it out in a large metal bowl and stir occassionally to release most of the heat.

5. When the quinoa is cool enough that it won't melt the feta, add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Adjust the seasoning and add olive oil if desired. Serve at room temp for the most flavor. Store leftovers in the fridge.

Some notes:
- Quinoa is a unique grain because it contains a lot of protein. And not only that, but it is an unusually complete protein, making it perfect for vegetarian meals. If you can't find it in your regular grocery store, try a health-food store for this very reason.

- Parsley is more than a garnish in this dish because it prevents water-retention and has a lot of vitamin C. Oh, and it tastes good too... Ever had tabbouleh? Just be aware that large amounts aren't reccommended during pregnancy because it "stimulates the womb."

- Omit the olive oil at the end for a lighter version. The dish doesn't need it for flavor, but for a one-dish meal, I like to include it because it's a healthy fat (monounsaturated) that makes the meal more satisfying. You can also adjust the amount of feta for similar reasons, but its fat (saturated) isn't near as healthy.

- Raw garlic... Garlic has a plethora of nutritive properties—it's anti-microbial and anti-bacterial, prevents cancer, lowers blood sugar and cholesterol, and does several other great things for the body. The catch? You have to eat it raw and some people can't stand its harsh taste. So adjust the amount if you must, but try to acclimate yourself to its taste because it's a simple way to keep your body healthy. Onions have a lot of the same properties too, particularly shallots and red and yellow onions.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Fruity French Toast

OK, I know, I know... It's been a ridiculously long time since I've posted and I'm not going to even try to make up an excuse. Instead, here's a pretty picture of a brunch I didn't have to pay $15 for:

The beauty of this meal was that I was able to use up leftovers and create something decadent without much work. The bread? Slices from a loaf of Challah that would have otherwise been too stale for PB&J. The orange? It was tossed in the bag with my last "Chinese" delivery order. The blueberries were on sale and I always prefer to swap out at least some of the syrup for fresh fruit. The dipping batter? Well, I only had one egg left (not enough for an omelette) and I had some stray milk (but no cereal to pour it over). If there's one thing culinary school has been good for, it's the greater ease I have in using up stray ingredients to create something that doesn't resemble leftovers.

The "recipe" is simple. In a shallow soup bowl I combined the egg, about a half cup of milk, some orange zest and a splash of orange juice, a healthy sprinkle of cinnamon, a palmful of sugar and a quick grate of nutmeg. I "whisked" it together with a fork and was ready to go. I used my largest frying pan (so I could do all three slices at once) and melted some butter over medium heat so it wouldn't burn. The bread went into the batter and then straight into the pan after a quick drip. The butter browned for some added flavor depth and the healthy amount sugar I added to the batter gave the finished product a crunchy, caramelly goodness. The blueberries and orange slices were tasty garnishes and I did add some real maple syrup (not that chain grocery stuff that's mostly corn syrup and flavoring agents) since I was going for decadence and not diet food.

Bonus: I was eating about 10 minutes after I first decided to make the french toast and that's only because I was trying to keep from waking my roommate.