Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Roast Chicken... so much easier than you think.

At least that was my impression the first time I pulled it off, I was all "It will be dry or still bleeding or have no flavor..." I was just plain intimidated by making a perfect roasted chicken. Little did I know it's as easy as the buttons on a good thermometer.

roast chicken ingredientsThe Cast: A good baking dish, I really like using this pyrex 9x13 baking dish, it's substantial feeling in my hands and super easy to clean, for our family of 5 to get 2 dinners out of it I use about a 5lb young chicken, I really like to catch them on sale for 99 cents a pound or less, kosher salt, fresh pepper, yup a whole stick of butter or margarine, you really can't tell at the end what was used so the cheap stuff it is, and the most important, a good thermometer with a probe and the option to beep when temperature is reached.

washing the chickenFirst step: Not only wash your hands, cause we will be handling the bird, but clean out all the guts they pack into the cavity, throw them out, keep them for gravy whichever you like, they go straight into the garbage around here cause organs just creep me out. Next rinse the bird good with cold water inside and out, most come packaged in a saline solution to keep germs in check but it's not particularly appetizing. I use paper towels to not only dry my hands, wet bird = slippery but to go ahead and dry the bird off too. Butter just does not cooperate with water.

butter under the skin of the chickenSince our tripod has absconded to the garage somewhere and I didn't want chicken goo on the camera I enlisted Dad's help in taking these shots. After tucking the wings under (your preference) pull the skin away from the breast meat, don't remove it just loosen it with your fingers.

butter under the skin of the chickenNow for the butter, I'm originally from the south, we call it all butter. Just use your hands and break off about a 1/5 of the stick or 2 tablespoons, yup gotta use your hands, they will get messing and gooey before this is all over best to get it over with now. Place the butter between the chicken breast and it's skin and use your fingers to just smooth it out, you want a nice coating but it does not have to be perfect just well covered. Repeat this for the other side of the breast as well.

butter under the skin of the chickenThis is what you get. Disclaimer: NO this is not the healthiest way to eat chicken, but mmmmm it sure does taste good. Here is also where my camera decided to eat the picures I would take, so of course I had to wait until the next time I made chicken to finish.

butter coated chickenThe rest of the butter! Yup the truly gooey part, spread the rest of the stick of butter or about 4 tablespoons, all over the bird, try to catch all the surfaces so the skin is well coated. Now go wash your hands and use all the soap you want to! Oh and preheat the oven to 350.

salt and pepper and butter coated chickenSalt and pepper, I don't measure but just sprinkle heavily all over, somewhere in the neighborhood of a tablespoon and a half if I had to say of salt, and a good teaspoon of pepper. Remember all that butter we slathered on? This is what it's for, to hold the salt and pepper in place so sprinkle away.

where to place the thermometer in a chickenThe important part, at least in making the chicken edible and not a biohazard is the thermometer. This isn't some fancy $50 one either, I picked it up at Target for around $15, but it has all the functions I need, a probe, a standard timer, and a temperature timer.

I try to put the probe into the thigh meat by going through the leg, on bigger birds say the Thanksgiving turkey, the dark meat needs to reach about 10 degrees higher than the white meat to be done, I've found these smaller chickens don't have that problem.

I set the temperature timer to go off when it reaches 175 degrees, it needs to get to 180, but will do that sitting on the counter waiting to be sliced. Place the chicken in the oven just like it is now, I've found that to fit the thing in the oven the rack has to be down far enough that the skin browns quite nicely but the bird is small enough it isn't in there long enough to burn.

Notice how I don't list any times for cooking? Well that's because I really have no idea how long it might take, I've had them take anywhere between 1 and a 1/2 to 3 hours to cook and can't really explain the difference. But I can tell you I never start this dish before 5 with plans to eat somewhere after 6, also when using a thermometer to cook you notice it takes forever to get going then it's done, so I usually estimate I've got 30-45 minutes to get my sides done when the temp. reads 145-150.

roasted chickenTA DA! The roasted chicken is done. The meat is tender and juicy, the skin is crispy and not for anyone watching any kind of healthy diet, and see all that glorious chicken flavored butter in the dish? Don't ever throw it away. I have more than one use for that which will be another post.

Let it sit here in the dish until the temp reads 180, should be all of 5-10 minutes after you pull it out of the oven, and just long enough to finish the sides and fight with the kids to wash up and get ready.

roasted chickenHere we go ready to slice and serve, nope no pics of that, cause really I just cannot cut a chicken without it looking hacked into. Plus by the time I've cut out servings for everyone, Dad has eaten all the crispy skin, he says it's the best part.

So there you have it, really pretty simple but man does it make an impact.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Happy Birthday!

birthday cake
So my baby turned 8 this past Sunday. We usually do a big party with a store bought cake decorated with her current favorite character. This year since we called off the big party I figured I'd make the cake since really Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker taste just as good as the grocery store bakery cakes.

This also shows what happens when you use buttercream frosting in 75 degree weather, felt really nice to us but was a bit warm for the frosting which I could have poured out of the jar and kept up a steady slide down the sides of the cake. But you know what? It was a lot easier to get a smooth finish with my lacking decorating skills and it tasted just fine.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Schnitzel

I'd heard of schnitzel before but never had it to my knowledge, maybe because it is often served with cabbage or sauerkraut neither of which I am a fan.

Even though reading the recipe it seems to have no flavor, the lemon is a surprisingly big factor.

What we need: boneless pork chops, preferably about 1/2 inch thick, panko bread crumbs, a couple eggs and a few tablspoons flour. We'll also need some vegetable oil for the pan and a couple lemons.

Using some parchment paper to keep the flinging bits of pork to a minimum, pound out the chops til 1/4 inch thick or so.

Dredge in the flour.

Next the egg.

Finally the panko crumbs.

Heat a skillet on medium with about 4 tbsp of vegetable oil and fry the pork chops for about 4 minutes per side. Check the first batch and make sure this is long enough, it depends on how thick they are.

Drain on a paper towel. Squeeze a little lemon juice of the top of the schnitzel and serve with a slice of lemon and some oven roasted potatoes.

Recipe:
4 boneless pork chops
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
lemon
vegetable oil for frying

Pound the pork chops to a even thickness, dredge in flour, egg then crumbs. Fry approx. 4 minutes per side on medium. Drain on paper towels. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the top and serve with lemon slices.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Easy Macaroni Salad

So my faithfulness to glomming Tastespotting in my reader led me to this post here, BLT Macaroni Salad. It looked really good and I had all the ingredients on hand. But of course I had to change it up a bit.

macaroni bacon tomato and green onionCooked elbow macaroni, chopped tomato, cooked bacon pieces and fresh from our garden green onions.

Since there is only the 5 of us I used a half pound of pasta, two smallish tomatoes, half a pound of bacon and about 6 green onions.

mayo red wine vinegar salt and pepperHere's where I made a big change to the original recipe: mayo (1/2 cup), red wine vinegar (a good tbsp.) salt and pepper.

I have a thing for red wine vinegar and it just has more flavor to me than plain white.

macaroni salad ingredientsMix your dressing up in a large bowl and add the other stuff, you can save some onions to make it look pretty or try to hide them in the sauce to get the kids to eat them without the "what's the green things" whine that I listen to.

blt macaroni saladStir it all together and you're done.

This makes a great macaroni salad for people who don't like a lot of weird and or unidentifiable ingredients in theirs. We've had it with panko coated baken chicken and ribs and it was great with both.

Recipe:
For 5 with a bit leftover
1/2 lb cooked elbow macaroni
1/2 lb cooked and crumbled bacon
2 smallish or 1 medium tomato
1/2 bunch green onions
1/2 cup real mayo
1 to 1 1/2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything together and serve or chill until ready to serve.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Classic Banana Bread

Several years ago I found a really easy looking banana bread recipe in a magazine. Eventually I ended up making changes to the recipe usually due to not having enough of an ingredient or figuring more can't hurt.

Here's what it's become today.

individual banana bread loavesIt's also a great recipe for splitting into smaller loaves, I either break it into half or quarters, these are really perfect for giving to teachers as gifts. You just need to drop the cooking time down to between 35 and 45 minutes.

banana bread sliceThis is a really adaptable recipe, you can add just about anything you like to the batter and it'll come out great each time. Chocolate chips and many varieties of nuts would be good.

3 bananas
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tea baking soda
dash of salt
1/4 cup butter melted, I put it in a bowl and set it on the stove as it's preheating

Preheat oven to 325.

In a large bowl smash bananas (as much or as little as you like), add sugar and egg.

Combine dry ingredients then add to wet.

Add melted butter until just combined.

Pour into greased loaf pan and bake 70 minutes. Or for individual loaves, pour into greased mini pans and bake 35 to 45 minutes.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Custard Pie and one with Coconut

My mom loves coconut custard pie, or really any dessert with coconut. For Easter this year I figured a egg custard pie was appropriate and this recipe is easily adaptable to add coconut.

custard pie ingredients
To be able to make my mom her coconut and the rest of us plain custard pies I used: a package of 6 pot pie pans with lids (easier storage, I don't have to fight the plastic wrap), 2 9 inch premade pie crusts because I haven't figured out how to make a good one from scratch yet, 4 eggs, sugar, milk, whipping cream, vanilla extract, salt and sweetened flake coconut. And of course I forgot the ground nutmeg when taking the photo, and it is optional or you can add cinnamon.
individual pie crusts
I probably could have gotten the pie crust into the sixth pan but the filling wouldn't have stretched that far.
cold milk mixture
In a medium pot, add 1 cup milk, 1 and 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream and about a 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Bring just to a boil and remember to watch it carefully, milk hates to be boiled and shows it's revenge the minute you turn your back on it. Just try it and see the mess you'll have to clean up.
egg and sugar mix
You can use a hand mixer but not when trying to take photos. Blend 3 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk (save that white!), 3/4 cup granulated white sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.
tempering the eggs
When the milk is just to boiling turn it off and stir it around a bit, with a small cup, carefully (it's still hot) and slowly, with the mixer on low, add some of the milk to the eggs. Wait a minute or two and add another cup. Repeat this process until all the milk is added to the eggs.

uncooked custard
If you did it slowly and carefully, this is what you get, no scrambled eggs and no 2nd degree burns.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Remember that egg white we saved? Use it to brush the insides and edges of the crusts with.

I added just about a 1/2 cup of the shredded coconut to the center pie crust for mom, then ladled (with a measuring spoon) the custard evenly between the pans.

custard pies ready for baking
I tried to get them as even as I could, and carefully put the pan in the oven.

I baked for 30 minutes then checked the crust for browning, mine was fine but if yours is getting too brown, very very carefully cover the edges with aluminum foil.

Turn the oven down to 250 degrees and bake for another 25 minutes.

finished custard pies
Ta Da!! After pulling the from the oven go ahead and get them off that hot pan and onto a cooling rack, let cool for 2 hours and you can serve warm or use the nifty lids that came with the pans and stick in the fridge overnight and eat cool the next day.

Mom preferred the coconut, but well I knew she would and since I won't eat processed coconut I can't compare but my plain custard was pretty tasty.

Ingredients

6 inch pot pies pans
2 9 inch pie crusts
3 eggs, 1 separated
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Method

Preheat oven to 400°F

Roll out the pie crusts and shape into pans.

In a saucepan, combine the nutmeg, milk and heavy cream. Heat until just starting to boil - Carefully! You have to watch it.

In a mixer or large bowl with a hand mixer, blend the one egg yolk, the three whole eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla.

Slowly... add in the hot milk mixture using a ladle or small cup, with the mixer on low, continuing to beat so the egg mixture already in the bowl does not scramble.

Place the pie pans on a cookie sheet. Brush the insides with the egg white.

Add 1/2 cup of coconut to each crust.

Carefully pour the custard mixture into the pie crust.

Bake for 30 minutes then check for crust browning, if needed, very very carefully add aluminum foil strips to cover the edges.

Reduce the oven temp to 250°, and bake for about another 25 minutes. It's done when still slightly jiggly but not liquidy.

Remove from oven and cool on rack. Serve at room temperature or chill overnight and serve cold.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Part 3: Tzatziki Sauce and Squash Side Dish

Here is the conclusion to our Greek/Med Dinner from a couple weeks ago.

Tzatziki is part of an appetizer in Greek or Turkish dishes, it's served as a dip with pita bread.

Here in the US you'll see it listed as Cucumber Sauce a lot of times.

What you need: yogurt (we'll get into specifics in a minute), olive oil, red wine vinegar, a cucumber, fresh mint, garlic and salt and pepper.

yogurt drainingThe yogurt, if you are lucky enough to live in a area that has a store that carries plain Greek yogurt, buy that, you'll get to skip a step. If you're like me and have never seen plain Greek yogurt in the store, just get whichever brand you like or is cheapest. Important point here, vanilla yogurt is not plain, it's vanilla so read the label carefully, vanilla would just be ick. You'll need 16 oz, usually 2 containers.

Now to get the yogurt ready, we've gotta get all that extra water out, I could be mistaken but I believe this is about half the process of making yogurt into cheese, but anyway, I use coffee filters and a mesh strainer and a bowl to drain the yogurt. (It works better with the basket filters we used to use but the #4 shaped filters are fine for 1 container of yogurt.) This needs to be done preferably the night before you want to mix the sauce, just fill the filters with the yogurt, put those into the strainer and set the strainer over a bowl, you can cover with a paper towel or plastic wrap then stick in the fridge.

This is what ends up in the bowl the next day, and the yogurt has a much firmer texture.

minced garlicYou need about a tablespoon of minced garlic, this is 3 little cloves, minced as fine as I could get without mincing my fingertips. I have no real knife skills but I get by.

peeled and seeded cucumberI'd call this a good sized cucumber, about 8 inches, peeled and seeded. Then chop into small pieces, not minced but not big chunks either.

chopped cucumberNow we have to get rid of as much water in the cucumber as we can. Cukes are mostly water, but really like to keep it so after chopping lay the pieces out onto a kitchen towel and roll them up, now you might need some help but grab each end and twist with everything you've got, preferably over the sink. You don't want to dry the cucumber or give your hands towel burn but you want to get a lot of the water out, more room to put flavor in now.

This part can be a little tricky due to how big your cucumber is but add 1 tablespoons oilve oil, 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, a healthy pinch of kosher salt and a few turns of fresh pepper, throw in the minced garlic and give a good stir. The cucumber should be nicely coated with everything but not have a puddle in the bottom. If it's not enough liquid to coat everything add another 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and another teaspoon of vinegar.

Finely mince the mint, about 3 leaves and add to the mix, I use my really good Henkels kitchen shears for the mint.

tzatziki sauceDump in the drained yogurt and give it a good stir. You can serve it right now but the flavors will intensify after about an hour so I usually cover it with plastic and then cook dinner. Check the seasoning and add and needed salt or pepper.

Serve with pita for dipping or just about any type of meat, beef, lamb, chicken and pork I know all taste good with it, fish I haven't tried.

Ingredients:
16 oz plain yogurt
1 medium cucumber
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tea red wine vinegar
3 fresh mint leaves
kosher salt and fresh pepper to taste

Drain yogurt over night, peel and seed cucumber the chop into small pieces, squeeze to drain excess water. Add cucumber, olive oil, red wine vinegar salt, pepper, mint and garlic. Stir to combine and add yogurt. Let rest for an hour or so and serve.

And onto the easy peesy Squash side dish. Seriously easy.

sliced yellow squash and zucchiniWe've got a yellow crookneck squash and a zucchini here, Mom used a mandolin to slice these, I'm too scared of slicing me to really use it. A teaspoon or so of minced garlic.

Remember the onions that had been marinated with the pork for the Souvlaki? Grab some of those too.

Throw all of it into a skillet with a tablespoon or so of olive oil and let it just hang out on medium heat. Go ahead and stir it occasionally.

About 10 minutes later, here's what you've got. My mom loves this stuff, I have no clue because I won't eat squash. She did say it went good with the meal and gave the kids a veggie to eat but me and my Dad passed on it.

So that's the conclusion of the Greek Med dinner. If anyone tries it please let me know how it turns out.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Souvlaki - Greek Kabobs

Part 2 of our Greek/Med dinner I started posting last week.

From Wikipedia:
Souvlaki or souvlakia is a popular Greek fast food consisting of small pieces of meat and sometimes vegetables grilled on a skewer. It may be served on the skewer for eating out of hand, in a pita sandwich with garnishes and sauces, or on a dinner plate ready for insertion, often with fried potatoes or pilaf. The meat is traditionally pork in Greece and Cyprus, or in modern times increasingly chicken. In other countries and for tourists, souvlaki may be made with other meats such as beef, lamb and sometimes fish (especially swordfish).
The terminology of souvlaki and its variants is confusing and inconsistent. Depending on the context, the term 'souvlaki' by itself may refer to any of the variants. In some regions and some restaurants, the name shish kebab is used to denote a particular variant of souvlaki (e.g. with vegetables on the skewer), but it is essentially a synonym.
The word souvlaki is a diminuative of souvla (skewer), itself ultimately derived from the Latin subula (awl).


To make our souvlaki I used a pork tenderloin, parsley, mint, onion, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, red wine vinegar and olive oil. You'll also need some form of skewers and an indoor grill pan or outdoor grill.



The recipe called for marinating in a bowl for 2 hours to overnight, I like using Alton Brown's method of a plastic baggie holding the marinade then set into a bowl just in case, the baggie is thrown away afterward and hopefully I have one less bowl to wash.

Instead of really measuring, I pulled a handful of parsley and gave it a rough chop, I stacked about 8 mint leaves and chopped them a little, and a good heavy sprinkling of dried oregano (I couldn't find fresh in the grocey) all went into the gallon sized baggie.

Then a quartered onion and a couple smashed and peeled garlic cloves joined the herbs.



I poured in about a half cup of olive oil and roughly a 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar.



This is the pork tenderloin I bought, I only used one of the pieces, it comes sliced in about half, so close to one pound of meat to serve 3 adults and 2 kidlets.

Cubed Pork Tenderloin

I cut the tenderloin into slices more than 1 inch cubes, something like a 2 bite size.



Toss the meat into the baggie with a healthy pinch of salt and a 1/2 tsp or so of fresh pepper and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours, or let go overnight. I did all this part the morning of the day we were going to eat.



These are the skewers I have, I don't like using the wooden skewers because you have to soak them to keep them from catching on fire. I really do like those spiral skewers but have yet to find someplace that doesn't charge $20 for 4 skewers. These are metal and $2 at your nearest Wallyworld, mine get used mostly for roasting marshmallows on the gas cooktop but whatever.

Skwered marinated pork tenderloin

I started the box o' pilaf we were having with this dinner and had the pita and tzatziki made so now it was time to cook the pork. I pulled the marinated meat out of the fridge and skewered it, I used the large pieces of onion to help keep the meat on the skewer and the rest went into the squash (recipe next week). The grill was heated to medium, about 350 degrees.



The skewers were placed across the and cooked for 5-6 minutes per side, tongs came in very handy here. I let one set cook for a couple minutes longer per side, Mom has an abject fear of moist pork.

pork souvlaki

After they were cooked I put the pita on the grill to reheat it. The pork came out very tasty with a slight flavor of the herbs and being tenderloin was very tender.

Next week I'll post the final part of this dinner, the squash side dish and the tzatziki sauce that's really good for just about anything.

Ingredients:
1 lb pork tenderloin, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, smashed with a can and peeled
1 medium onion, quartered
1 tbsp oregano, fresh or dried
2 tbsp fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 tbsp fresh mint, roughly chopped
salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients and marinate 2 hours to overnight. Skewer the meat (remember to soak wooden skewers) and grill 5-6 minutes per side.