Sunday, September 21, 2008

9/21/08 -- "Party Chicken" and Broccoli w/ Cheese

Tried out the main dish from this recipe.

  • The recipe says it makes enough for four, but I think it's more like six. It might be four if a couple of people want seconds.
  • It took a bit longer to cook than the recipe indicated. I'm guessing that this is because our oven isn't terribly accurate. I used the fancy electronic cooking thermometer my wife got for Christmas to determine done-ness. It worked really well, although the display kept switching back and forth between Fahrenheit and Celsius, for some reason.
  • This recipe is filed under "Homestyle," and it's easy to see why. The sauce is a can of condensed cream-of-chicken soup and a half-cup of light mayonnaise. This gives making the recipe a sort of 1950's feel, at least to me (granted, I'm way too young to remember the 50's, but I know that this was the introduction of using a lot of pre-made ingredients).
  • One of the ingredients is panko, or Japanese-style breadcrumbs. Something I've never worked with before, but neat stuff. They give the topping a nice crunchy texture, while still keeping things light.
  • I did make a minor mistake: my butter was frozen to start with. We don't use a lot of butter unless we're baking, so we typically keep it in the freezer. I sliced it up into very thin slices, put them in a bowl, and then set the bowl on top of the oven while I prepped the chicken. It worked to some extent, but I think the topping would have mixed up a little better if the butter were a bit softer. I gave up on mixing the panko in to the butter with a wooden spoon, and just kneaded it all together with my hands. Messy, but fun!
  • My wife is concerned that that texture will be lost on re-heating. it does seem likely, but the flavors will be retained, so it should still be good. We have four servings left over, so we'll have plenty of opportunity to find out!
  • The broccoli was pretty simple: I bought fresh broccoli, chopped the brussels off, and steamed them. Then I dumped them in a bowl, sprinkled some shredded cheddar over the top, and covered the bowl with a plate. The whole thing went onto the top of the oven while I waited for the chicken to finish cooking. I thought the cheese (which was also in the topping for the chicken) tied everything together nicely.
  • The whole process took about an hour, start to finish. I might be able to shave off about fifteen minutes with practice, and if I had a good oven thermometer, so I could heat my oven properly.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

9/14/08 -- Beef Stroganoff

I used this recipe, from Publix. I really like these recipes, in general, because they have very easy-to-follow directions. This is critical for a beginner like me. In fact, having this set of recipes available to me was a factor in my decision to undertake this project. I like having a set of "safety" recipes to start out with. It came out pretty well, although I think a little more pepper, or spice of some sort, is in order. My wife suggests mixing in some vegetables, as well. For our veggie tonight, we just microwaved some frozen broccoli. Not too exciting, but when mixed in with the stroganoff, it did add some color.

Another nice thing about this recipe: it makes enough that we can toss acouple of meals' worth in the fridge, giving us easy heat-up meals for the rest of the week. Given the complexity of our schedules (I work days, and she is a full-time student and works two nights a week), this is useful, to put it mildly.

9/14/08 -- Chicken Broth

My wife is making broth from the remains of a chicken she cooked last week. These are my notes on the process:
  • In a stock pot, boil up some water with a few bay leaves in it.
  • While that is heating up, chop up some vegetables. This time, she used carrots, onion, and bell pepper. Apparently celery would have been included as well, had we had any. A food processor is ideal for this.
  • Once the water starts to boil, put in the veggies, the chicken carcass, and some herbs. My wife is fond of her home-grown herbs, and this particular broth includes fresh-cut rosemary and basil. When I asked her to remind me what she put in so I could make these notes, she remembered that she had some sage, which soon found itself swimming with the rest of the stock.
  • The whole concoction is brought to a rolling boil, and then reduced to a simmer (we consulted this page on the matter). I got left to keep an eye on it, while she went upstairs for a shower (this is all happening on Saturday night, after she got home from work).
  • The simmering continues for a couple of hours or so, and then all the solid bits are either removed or strained out. The broth is cooled by sitting in a bowl nested inside another bowl containing ice water, then boxed up into plastic boxes (Yea, Chinese take-out soup!), and placed in the freezer.
  • While this last process is going on, my wife cleans the last of the meat off the bones. Tomorrow (later today, technically), this will become her famous chicken soup!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

9/13/08 -- Burger and Fries

I had half a potato leftover from this morning's Spanish Omelette, and my wife tells me we need to use up the bag of onions in our kitchen, so I got some ground beef, and made myself a burger and some fries.

Let me start with the fries. I took my half-potato and sliced it into strips. Then I heated up a little bit of olive oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat (I tried high heat this morning, and got smoke -- lesson learned), and essentially stir-fried the strips of potato. This is still a bit of a wonder to me. I always associate fries with vats of oil and a huge mess, but this was remarkably easy. The fries came out nice and soft on the inside, but could have been a little crispier on the outside. Next time, I'll turn the heat up just a notch, and hope I don't get smoke again. Still, they tasted good.

So, on to the burger. I started with somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of a pound of lean ground beef, and added a few things: half a slice of chopped onion (not much progress on the bag, but it's just me tonight, so I did what I can), a small clove of finely chopped garlic, and some Gorgonzola cheese crumbles that I found in the fridge. The resulting patty got place in my new Foreman grill* at 350 degrees for 7 minutes. This proved to be a bit too much time, as the burger ended up a bit dry. The Gorgonzola flavor remained, though, and was quite good.

No real veggies in this meal, for which I will no doubt be taken to task, but nevertheless, pretty satisfying. I'll definitely try these again, making a few tweaks in the process.

*Story about the grill: Recently both our old grill and our roommate's grill had some issues. We had a big grill, which developed a dead spot on the top cooking plate. He had a small one, on which the top plate died completely. Both were several years old (his much older than ours), and were well-used. They were also a pain in the elbow to clean, because they had to be done by hand, and, of course, couldn't be immersed. Shortly after the little grill died, Target had a sale on the newest generation of Foreman grills. So we donated ours to Goodwill, tossed the roommate's in the trash, and got a new grill. Two advantages: First, we gained a little bit of much-needed shelf-space, and second, the new grill has cooking plates that can be removed and put in the dishwasher!

Getting Started

I hate half-knowing how to do things.

I don't mind being terrible at something. For instance, I am a notoriously bad dancer, and I have no desire whatsoever to change that. Doesn't bother me.

But if I'm going to be able to do something, I want to be able to do it well. I want depth and breadth of knowledge, I want background, I want a certain level of expertise. I want to be able to have an intelligent conversation on the subject, and I hate being reduced to smiling and nodding because I just don't get it.

So, I'm learning to cook.

I learned a while ago that one of the best ways to really learn something is to experiment, and then to reflect on that experience. This blog is a little bit of that. I'm planning to use this space as a sort of diary of my cooking. Hopefully, the process of writing things down will help me remember what worked, and what didn't. I'm also hoping for a bit of advice from you, the reader. Please feel free to leave comments on any post that strikes your fancy. Be gentle with me, for I am truly a novice in the kitchen, but any and all constructive criticisms are more than welcome.