Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ceci con Tonno -- Chick Peas and Tuna

Before summer comes to an end, there are more opportunities for salad-centered suppers. Ceci (garbanzos) con tonno is my favorite variation on fagioli (cannellini beans) con tonno. Both are very simple and flexible dishes.

A purist would start with dried beans but it's much faster to start with a can of beans. Try different brands of canned beans until you find your favorite. Each brand is quite different. For this recipe, I prefer Bush's Garbanzos because they are crunchier and drier than other brands but you might prefer another brand.

  • 1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can tuna, drained
  • Chopped celery, onions, bell pepper, sweet pepper or other vegetable to taste
  • Italian dressing
  1. Toss the ingredients and and serve or let sit for the beans to soak up a bit of the dressing.
Easy peasy. Use whatever kind of tuna you prefer. Use any beans you like. Vary the veggies. Vary the dressing. This is an extremely easy main dish salad.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Word About Rosemary

Growing up, the ancient jar of dried rosemary came out once a year to flavor the creamed onions for Thanksgiving. Oh, we loved the flavor of those dry, prickly little pine needle pieces! Of course, we had no idea that fresh rosemary was so much better or so easy to have at hand. Fresh rosemary is actually soft! Not at all like eating pine needles!

This, I learned from my dear friend, Jaylyn. Jaylyn, a great cook who serves dinner for 12 at the drop of a hat, has had a rosemary shrub-let growing in her Boston kitchen window for years. This way she can grab a fresh spring whenever she needs one. Here in South Carolina, I have my pot of rosemary out on the front steps year-round.

It's as easy to grow as a cheap shrub. Give it occasional water and its happy. If you live far enough south to leave it outside, you may not even need to water it. Nothing beats being able to pop outside and grab fresh rosemary whenever I want it.

Now, if only dill and basil were that easy ...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Slow Cooked Salmon for a Busy Weeknight

During the semester, I teach online several times a week at dinner time. Bill works a more normal schedule. He can't wait until I'm done to eat or he's up too late. This makes it difficult to cycle enough fish into weekday meals. I'm always on the hunt for ways to have fish ready for him and waiting for me. So, with a bit of hunting on the web, I found the solution: bake frozen salmon slowly!

  • Frozen salmon fillets for two, partially thawed if they need to be cut to fit the baking dish
  • 1 large Vidalia (sweet) onion, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 sprigs rosemary
  • 1/4 cup fig balsamic sauce*
  • oil to grease the baking dish
  • salt and pepper
*You might substitute for the fig balsamic sauce:
  • cranberry sauce cut with some balsamic vinegar
  • a flavored mustard
  • pesto
  • red pepper coulis
  • olive tapenade
  • or anything else that strikes your fancy
  1. Oil the inside of a covered baking dish
  2. Line the dish with half the sliced onion
  3. Lay the salmon on top of the onion
  4. Salt and pepper the fish
  5. Lay the rosemary on the fish
  6. Cover with the rest of the onion and the sauce. To more heavily flavor the salmon, put the sauce directly on the salmon and the onion on the very top.
  7. Cover and bake in a 225°F oven for about 1 hour.
The salmon is well done but still moist. I wouldn't cook fresh salmon this way but it's a great way to cook frozen salmon that doesn't need watching at all while it cooks.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Honey Lemon Chicken with Yogurt and Cucumber Salad

This is a vaguely Eastern Mediterranean meal and a fine way to use some pre-cooked chicken. It has three parts: lemon zest rice, lemon-honey chicken, and yogurt-cucumber salad. The rice is aromatic, the chicken is sweet, and the salad has a kick from raw garlic.

Ingredients for two servings:
  • 8 oz. pre-cooked chicken
  • 1/2-2/3 cup rice
  • Juice and zest a lemon
  • 2-3 Tbl. honey
  • 1-2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 cucumber, seeds removed and sliced
  • 1 small container plain yogurt (fat free okay)
  • 1 Tbl. fresh dill, chopped fine
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • salt & white pepper
  • water or chicken broth to cook the rice
  1. Rinse the rice in a colander with running water and set aside, covered with water to soak for 10 minutes
  2. Zest the lemon and set aside
  3. Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl big enough to hold the chicken.
  4. Add honey and cumin to the lemon juice and stir.
  5. Adjust the lemon juice : honey : cumin proportions to balance the flavors.
  6. Toss the chicken in the mixture and set aside
  7. Pare, seed and slice the cucumber
  8. Toss the cucumber with the yogurt, minced garlic, dill, salt and white pepper. Set aside to meld the flavors.
  9. Rinse the rice one more time, drain and cover with water or chicken broth so that the liquid is about 1/4 inch above the rice.
  10. Cover and bring the rice to a boil and then reduce to low and let simmer about 10 minutes, until the liquid disappears.
  11. Turn off the heat but keep covered and let steam until the rice is done, about 10 minutes.
  12. Warm the sauced chicken in the microwave.
  13. To serve, pile rice in center of plate, spread chicken over the rice, and spoon the cucumber salad around it.

Tzatziki on Foodista

Monday, August 17, 2009

Caesar salad with Crisp Shredded Pork

This is something different to do with shredded pork, something that doesn't involve any barbecue sauce. Imagine that!

This has three basic ingredients:
  1. Shredded pork
  2. Romaine lettuce
  3. Caesar salad dressing
  • Fry the shredded pork in a dry fry pan. Add a little olive oil if you must but the object is to make the pork a bit crispy. Watch it carefully so it doesn't burn and stop before it is all crisp; leave some soft and juicy.
  • Cut the romaine leaves into crosswise strips
  • Toss the hot pork, romaine, and dressing.
That's it. Now, if you, like me, don't happen to have Caesar dressing in your fridge, you can create a reasonable substitute by cutting mayonnaise with bottled Italian dressing and adding some good grated cheese. Tonight's salad dressing included:
  • Mayonnaise
  • Bottled red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing
  • Some jarred basil pesto
  • Freshly grated Asiago cheese
Easy & yummy!

Caesar Salad on Foodista

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chicken Leg Quarters: True or False Economy?

If 10 pounds of chicken leg quarters yields 3 pounds of meat (skin, bones & fat removed), is it as economical as it seems?

The 10 pounds of chicken was 59¢ a pound or $5.90 for the bag of leg quarters. So that means the resulting 3 pounds of chicken meat was actually $1.97 a pound cooked.

Now, let's see how that compares to the cost of boneless white meat chicken. Boneless skinless chicken breasts lose 1/4 to 1/3 their weight depending on how they are cooked. So, pound for pound, they would need to be somewhere between $1.32 and $1.48 a pound to equal 59¢ a pound leg quarters.

But is this comparing apples and oranges? Probably. White meat is healthier for you. Dark meat makes tastier salads and soups. Some recipes only work with one or the other so I will always be buying both. Still in all, I feel better about the time and mess of skinning and boning all those leg quarters if they really are cheaper per pound than boneless skinless breasts would be.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pulled Pork & Pulled Chicken at the Same Time

Another semester of teaching at supper time is fast upon us so it's very fortuitous that lots of meat sales are going on. I had already bought a fresh roasting chicken at one store yesterday but today found both pork shoulder (Boston butt) and 10 pound bags of chicken legs on sale well less than a dollar a pound. In an attempt to save time and energy, both mine and the power company's, I decided to research slow-roasted chicken to see if I could cook it with the pork. Low and behold, 4 1/2 to 5 hours at 275°F works for both the pork and the chicken.
Ingredients for many meals worth of meat:
  • 1 roasting chicken
  • 1 pork shoulder roast (Boston butt)
  • 1 cup of rubbing mix (made following your own whims)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup cider vinegar, white wine, or other suitable acid
  • 1 cup beef or chicken broth
  1. Preheat the oven to 275°F
  2. Wash the chicken and remove whatever is in the cavity
  3. Rub both the pork butt and the chicken all over with the rubbing mix. Throw some rubbing mix inside the chicken.
  4. Put the pork butt in a Dutch oven and cover
  5. Put the chicken breast side up in a roasting pan
  6. Roast the chicken and the pork for one hour
  7. Remove chicken and pork from the oven, flip the chicken and pour the vinegar and water around the pork
  8. Cover the pork and put them both in the oven for another hour
  9. Every hour, take them out and flip both the pork and the chicken over. Baste the chicken inside and out with the pan fat.
  10. At about 4 1/2 hours check the chicken to see if it is done. You don't want it to get too dry.
  11. Sometime between 4 1/2 and 5 hours, remove both the chicken and the pork from the oven and let cool.
  12. When cool enough to handle but not cold, shred the chicken and the pork and discard fat, bones, skin, etc. It is easier to separate the meat and the fat while they are still quite warm.
  13. Divide into meal size amounts and freeze.
So, this afternoon, while I was on the computer, 10 meals worth of meat got cooked! And for less than $1 meal for two.

Although famous barbecue experts live and die by their secret formulas for the spices they rub on their meats, exactitude is less important when you are not smoking things and especially when you are essentially braising the pork.

To make a rubbing mix, in the bowl of a food processor, dump
  • brown sugar
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • paprika (smoked if you have it)
  • salt
  • pepper (of whichever type you prefer)
  • dry mustard
  • cumin
  • and whatever else strikes your fancy
Whir the mixture to thoroughly mix it and break up any lumps. Rub.

This time I "leaned heavy" on the brown sugar and added some lemon pepper that is too lemony to use straight. It added a sweet brightness to the meat this time. Another time I might go more toward aromatics like cloves and coriander.

You can purchase pre-mixed rubbing spices but you can be more liberal in your application with homemade because you can amass larger quantities of some of the less expensive spices like garlic powder and onion powder. Also, your home mix is likely to be less salty.

Enjoy! Now, let's think of something interesting to do with that 10 lb. bag of leg quarters!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pecan "Crusted" Haddock Nuggets

These might better be called pecan "mushted" haddock. Tasty but not as intended. So, to save you all from trying this method:
  1. Preheat oven to 400°
  2. Optionally, toss quartered mushrooms in a bit of salad dressing and start them to roasting while the oven preheats and you prepare the fish.
  3. Cut still frozen haddock loins into chunks.
  4. Dip the haddock into salad dressing that has had oil added to it.
  5. Roll the dipped haddock pieces in pecans, cornmeal, salt and pepper that have been whirred in the food processor.
  6. Put them in the pan next to the mushrooms and roast 16 minutes.
  7. While the fish is cooking, make a green salad lightly dressed with the same dressing.
  8. Arrange it all nicely on a plate and sigh because the fish, though done and tasty, is not the least bit crusty.
  9. Go back to the drawing board.
This tasted fine but was just too mushy. I gathered information from the web before trying this like a good doobee but it just didn't work as intended.

I read an exposé once that said many cookbooks are published without anyone ever really testing the recipes. I believe it. Many's the time I've tried something that did not work at all. Sometimes, of course, it's a lack of skill on my end but oftentimes it's that the temperatures and times given just do not work. So, if you try something and it fails miserably, sometimes it is the recipe because you, not the recipe's author, may be the first one to actually try it! Don't despair.

And if you like mushy pecan coating on haddock, this is the recipe for you!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Easy Hamburgers & Sweet Potato Oven Fries Redux

This time with pictures & just salt & pepper on the "fries." We served them with sweet gherkins and some tasty honey-dill mustard.

Preheat an iron grill pan in a 400°F oven.

Peel the sweet potatoes & cut into french fry size.

Toss the potato pieces in 2 Tbl. olive oil and season as desired. Lay in a single layer on a roasting pan. Roast in the oven for 10-12 minutes.

Flip the potatoes and return to oven.

Put the hamburgers on the grill pan, only oiling the pan if you are using very low fat burgers. Roast in the over for 8-10 minutes.

Flip the burgers and roast another 6-8 minutes and check for doneness. Continue to cook until they reach the desired doneness.

The USDA recommends 160°F for ground beef but remove the burgers from the oven at a slightly lower temperature because the temperature will continue to rise.

When the burgers are done, the potatoes will be done, too.

The previous post on hamburgers and sweet potato fries is here.
Ground Beef on Foodista
Sweet Potatoes on Foodista

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Fig Balsamic Sauce

My next door neighbor, the one who keeps me supplied with basil, offered me some fresh figs from the tree at her family farm. They were fresh and ripe and ready to be made into a sauce. Figs with balsamic vinegar is an italian classic. This sauce starts with that idea and some inspiration from, among others.
The aim is small containers of sauce that can be stored in the freezer and taken out to perk up a chicken breast or pork chop with some fruity goodness. It will be a good sauce for fruits, vegetables and salads, too. Drizzle some over chunks of good parmesan for a sumptuous appetizer or as part of a cheese course.
I imagine you could do this with dried figs, rehydrated with hot water, if fresh figs are not at hand. How about a sliced strawberry with a little stream of this and a tiny glass of champagne as an amuse-bouche? Over a lychee? Cauliflower! I'm salivating here!

  • 1 cup fresh figs, stemmed and quartered
  • 1 sweet onion, roughly chopped
  • needles from 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 6-8 whole cloves
  • 2 Tbl. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • In a non-reactive saucepan, sweat the onion, rosemary and cloves in the olive oil over low heat until the onions are soft but not colored.
  • Add the figs, vinegar and honey and bring to a simmer.
  • Let simmer on medium low for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Turn off the heat and let the mixture steep for 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Whir briefly with an immersion blender or in the food processor and strain through a screen to remove the biggest pieces of skin, rosemary and cloves.
    Using a rubber spatula, stir the sauce against the screen until only the dry parts are left behind.
    I used a turkey baster to squirt the resulting sauce into 2 oz. containers I picked up at a party store, filling 12 containers with enough sauce left over for the cook, me, to have over some fruit before I tackle cleaning up.

    Thursday, August 6, 2009

    Chicken and Rice with Carrots, Mushrooms, and Dill Yogurt Sauce

    This is a great follow-up meal to the Dilly Chicken and Potato Salad we had the other night because it uses up the extra cooked chicken and the leftover dill and yogurt. It takes its inspiration from recipes for Turkish rice and for a Turkish carrot, dill and yogurt salad.
    Ingredients (amounts can be adjusted easily):
    • 1 pre-cooked white meat chicken fillet, cut in bite-sized pieces
    • 1 finely minced shallot
    • 8-12 sliced mushrooms
    • 3-4 carrots, sliced
    • 1 cup white rice
    • 1 to 1 1/4 cup chicken broth
    • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
    • several sprigs fresh dill, finely minced
    • 2 cloves garlic
    • 2 Tbl. olive oil
    • salt and white pepper
    1. Put the rice in a colander and rinse with cold water. Then put the colander in a deep bowl and fill with hot tap water to cover the rice. Let this soak while you cut the mushrooms and shallots.
    2. In a pan with a lid, heat the olive oil and sauté the shallots and mushrooms for a few minutes.
    3. While the shallots and mushrooms are cooking, slice the carrots and cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
    4. Rinse the rice once more with cold water.
    5. Add the chicken, carrots, rice and chicken broth to the pan and stir.
    6. Cover and as soon as it comes to a boil, turn it down to simmer. The rice will take less time than usual to cook because it has already soaked up a lot of water, perhaps a little as 10 minutes. Keep an eye on it.
    7. While the mixture is cooking, finely mince the dill and the garlic.
    8. Stir the dill, garlic, salt and white pepper into the yogurt.
    When the rice is done, move the pan off the heat and let the steam continue to fluff the rice for about 5 minutes. Serve the rice mixture with a dollop of yogurt sauce on top.

    Play with the proportions to fit your druthers. Next time I'll probably use less rice and more yogurt. We really liked the yogurt sauce!
    Rice Pilaf on Foodista

    Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    10 Pounds of Chicken Legs @ 59¢/lb.!

    Every once in awhile the Piggly Wiggly (don't you love that name for a grocery store chain!) has ridiculous sales in the meat department! This week it was big bags of fresh chicken leg quarters. You can get lots of meals and lots of variety from such a haul!

    To cook that amount of chicken takes several roasting or lasagna pans. When I wash the chicken parts I do try to remove the biggest globs of fat so I can just set the chicken quarters on the floor of the pans. Don't crowd the leg quarters.

    Washed, trimmed of fat, with salt and pepper on them, the quarters bake up tasty and moist at 400°F for 45-60 minutes. Check the internal temperature of the thighs to assure the chicken is fully cooked. The USDA recommends cooking chicken until it reaches 165°F.

    When the chicken is cool enough to handle, it's time to "disassemble" it. I sort it into three piles:
    • bones headed to the stock pot,
    • skin & fat headed to the trash, and
    • meat headed to the freezer in meal-sized zipper bags.
    Chicken dark meat is too strong for some folks when eaten plain but it holds up well in soup and as pulled chicken in barbecue sauce. And it makes a great base for chicken salad sandwiches.

    Chicken Leg on Foodista

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009

    Oven Grilled Bone-In Pork Chops

    I'm becoming more and more enamored of my enameled cast iron grill pan. It's great for quickly cooking chops and as described in a previous post, hamburgers. A lightly oiled, pre-heated grill pan allows you to cook meat without much preparation work.

    To oven grill bone-in pork chops:
    • Preheat a grill pan in a 450°F oven.
    • Wash the chop to remove any "bone saw dust" and pat dry.
    • Season the pork chops on both sides. Simply salt & freshly ground pepper work wonders.
    • Lightly brush the hot pan with olive oil.
    • Put the chops on the hot grill pan and return to the oven for 5-8 minutes.
    • Turn the chops over and return for another 5-8 minutes.
    At 5 minutes per side the pork may not be fully cooked near the bone. At 8 minutes a side, it may be ever-so-slightly over cooked. The thickness of the chops affects the time needed. Testing the chop with an instant read thermometer can help you decide how long to cook the chops.

    The National Pork Board tells us that trichinosis is not the problem it was when my mother learned to cook pork. Trichina is killed at 137°F. Both they and the USDA recommend cooking pork chops to an internal temperature of 160°F to kill the other nasties that might be lurking. On the other hand, the FDA's HACCP (Hazard Assessment Critical Control Point) for pork is 145°F for 10 seconds.

    This is where individual choice comes in. The lower temperature is juicier, the higher temperature is safer. Only you can determine your "RBCP" (risk-benefit comfort point).

    Pork Chop on Foodista

    Dilly Chicken & Potato Salad the Easy Way

    What cooking method will keep boneless chicken breast from getting too dry and "boiled" potato from getting too mushy? Steaming!

    We don't steam things much anymore and often use the microwave instead but microwaving boneless chicken breast often results in something raw in the middle and leathery on the ends. Microwaving a potato removes a good deal of its structural integrity.

    For this meal, I steamed both chicken and potato in the same pot for the same amount of time, let them cool, and made a dill-laced main dish salad with moist, not chewy, chicken and potatoes that held together when I stirred in the dressing. Bill said, "You should do this one again!"

    Ingredients for two meal-sized servings:
    • 1 boneless chicken breast fillet
    • 1 large new potato
    • 1 cucumber
    • 2 Tbl. chopped fresh dill (or one tsp. dry dill)
    • 3 Tbl. honey mustard dressing
    • 3 Tbl. plain yogurt
    • salt & pepper to taste
    1. Cube the potato.
    2. Optionally, cut the chicken fillet in half or thirds to fit better in the steamer.
    3. Place the chicken and potato pieces in a steamer over water.
    4. Bring the water to a boil and then simmer until the chicken has lost all signs of pink or has reached an internal temperature of 165°F and the potatoes yield to a fork but are not yet mushy.
    5. Remove the potatoes & chicken from the pan and cool in the refrigerator.
    6. Peel, scoop out the seeds, and cut the cucumber into bite sized pieces.
    7. Finely chop the fresh dill.
    8. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and chill.
    How long it takes to steam the chicken and potatoes will vary with the size of the pieces. I used fairly large chicken breasts cut in thirds and largish pieces of potato and cooked them for 20 minutes. After the first ten minutes I checked the temperature of the chicken and made sure there was enough water not to worry. You don't want your steamer to boil dry. You may ruin your pot as well as your meal!

    Scooping the seeds out of the cucumber serves two purposes. It prevents the cuke from watering down the dressing and it lessens the after dinner eructations (although the latter may just be wishful thinking). Alternatively, use a "burpless" cucumber.

    I threw an extra chicken fillet in the steamer so I now have the chicken pre-cooked for another meal. I sense chicken pasta salad in our not-so-distant future!

    Chicken Salad on FoodistaPotato Salad on Foodista

    Imprecise & Inexpensive

    Two themes predominate in my approach to cooking. 1. Daily cooking of flavorful food need not be a precise art. 2. You can be an adventurous cook on a budget. Cooking and eating should be fun for both cookers and eaters.