Thursday, September 27, 2007

Chicken fried rice (attempt #1)

Tonight was an attempt, and while it was easy, and did taste good, it was also really mild. We like things a little more spicy, so there will be an attempt #2.

I made about 6 cups of long grain brown rice (after cooking) in the rice steamer; it takes a bit longer, but I'm guaranteed to have good rice. In addition, I cooked the rice in homemade chicken broth - just to add a bit of flavour.

After the rice had cooled, I finely diced a teaspoon of garlic, two teaspoon of ginger, and 1/2 a very small onion (yes, we have no scallions). Then I gathered the soy sauce and the egg-replacement together around a hot pan with a bit of oil in the bottom. I already had 2 cups of diced Easy Asian Chicken leftovers, 1 cup of peas, and 1 cup of corn; both freshly thawed.

With the oil hot, I added the ginger, garlic and onion to the pan. I stirred the ingredients until the onions were just starting to become opaque and the garlic was fragrant. Then I took the rice and carefully dribbled it into the pan, a bit at a time; being careful to break up clumps as they occurred. Once all in and well mixed with the ginger, garlic and onion, I mounded the rice up and made a dent in the middle. Into this I poured two lightly-beaten eggs. I then stirred the rice to get the eggs to mix well as they cooked.

I added the chicken, peas and corn, and finely two tablespoons of soy sauce. I mixed again until the rice changed color, and served it hot.

It was a bit bland. I don't want to add more soy sauce (as I'm trying to watch my salt intake), so next time I'll try the Weight Watcher's version of this recipe.

Original recipe by Mark Bittman.

Fried rice with egg (modification - Chicken fried rice with Peas and Corn)
Taken from How To Cook Everything, p212. Lightly modified.
3 tablespoonspeanut (preferred) or other oil
1 teaspoongarlic, minced
1 teaspoonginger, fresh peeled & minced
2 tablespoonsscallions, chopped
3-4 cupsrice, cooked
2eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoonssoy sauce

salt and ground pepper, to taste
  1. Place the oil in a large skillet, and turn the heat to high
  2. Once hot (about a minute later), add the garlic, ginger and scallion and cook, stiring constantly, for a minute
  3. Turn the heat down and add the rice,a bit at a time, elimanting lumps
  4. Stir frequently for about 3 minutes to mix well
  5. Mound the rice and make a hole in the mound.
  6. Pour the eggs into the hole.
  7. Stir slowly to scramble the eggs and mix them into the rice
    Add the soy sauce, chicken, and thawed vegetables.
  8. Stir to mix.
  9. Serve hot.

Easy asian chicken parts

This recipe is a real crowd-pleaser; and so easy it's a story unto itself. I served it last night to a bunch of hungry friends, and while I do have leftovers - it was not for want of trying to finish it all.

I usually serve this dish with a loaf of fresh multi-grain bread and a big bowl of romaine or mixed salad with a simple vinaigrette.

Admittedly, this dish tastes best if marinated overnight, but even a one-hour bath in the marinade will give the chicken the flavor it deserves. Using some of the marinade as a basting liquid will help crisp your chicken and provide additional flavor. I originally found this recipe on RecipeZaar. Posted by Kittencal, I really haven't modified it much as I've found it to be very tasty and the amount of marinade is good for a lot more than 10 drumsticks (but you'll need a really big bag or pan, and you'll want to rotate things soaking in the marinade regularly; about once every 2-3 hours). For an even darker color on the chicken skin you can use dark soy sauce; but that just adds a lot of salty flavor along with the coloration.

Leftover marinade keeps well in the fridge for about a week. If you add it to sour-cream you get a really interesting-flavored dip that tastes good with vegetables.

I've never tried baking this dish as I prefer the light charring you get when you cook chicken on the barbecue.

1/2 cupsoy sauce, light or low sodium if desired
2/3 cuplemon juice, fresh squeezed
1/2 cuphoney
1/2 cupsesame oil, light
4 tablespoonsgarlic, crushed & finely diced
42 tablespoonsginger, crushed & finely diced
4 teaspoonschili flakes, additional to taste

black pepper, to taste
4green onions, chopped
10chicken drumsticks or thighs

  1. In a bowl whisk together the first 8 ingredients.
  2. Add the green onions to the mix.
  3. Place the chicken drumsticks in a large resealable bag.
  4. Pour a little over half the marinade on top and seal bag; remove as much air as possible from the bag.
  5. Turn and shake the bag to coat the chicken evenly with marinade.
  6. Refrigerate for up to 8 hours, turning occasionally.
  7. Cover the remaining marinade and keep in the fridge.
  8. Set grill to medium heat.
  9. Remove the chicken and discard the marinade.
  10. Place the chicken on the grill (if using a barbecue) or on a baking sheet (the oven must be preheated to 375 degrees C).
  11. Grill, turning chicken until crispy and golden brown and the chicken is thoroughly cooked. (In the oven, cook for 10 minutes, then turn. Parts are done when the meat registers 160 degrees C - about 20 minutes).
  12. If grilling, baste the chicken with the remaining marinade several times during the cooking. This will make the skin more crisp and provide a lot more flavour.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A sour dinner story (with a happy ending)

It was late. I got home and fell asleep on the couch, but when I woke up - I still had to make dinner and do the dishes. I was feeling pretty sour and it showed.

The chicken was completely thawed and downright weepy in its own wrapping. I didn't care and rinsed it throughly under cold water. It was pretty slimy, but still fresh. I slammed it onto a clean plate, where my attentions seemed to just make it weep a bit more. I ignored it.

Leeks and I just don't know each other well; and maybe this was not the best way to introduce ourselves. They were cold and hard from the fridge. I got rid of their tough green leaves, leaving the whites to chill on the chopping block. Once quartered and rinsed, they were starting to open up, despite my sour mood.

I could still tell there was some dirt yet undiscovered amongst their many layers. Another rinse or two made sure I had the whole story.

I quartered the quarters and then began the laborious process of dicing them as finely as my chef's knife would allow. As the cutting board got full, I put the remains of my work into a small bowl to one side. As I went the leaks began to weep a bit, making them clingy. They clung to the knife, so I scraped them off. When they clung to my hands - I used the knife to scrape them off again. They sat in the bowl, resentful. I worked over all chunks, bringing them down to size. By the time I was done, my arms were tired.

With them set aside, I took out the butter and cut two portions of roughly 2 tablespoons each from the block. The butter was soft and willing. I threw one portion casually into a hot pan, and it danced with joy. I added the leaks once the butter was exhausted, and stired them both briskly around the pan until the butter and the leaks merged into one.

I let them sit in the hot pan for 5 minutes or so while I did dishes.

My chicken broth was so uptight it had gelled, so I was unable to measure it exactly - but ended up dumping a cup into the leaks, rather than the 1/2 cup that the recipe called for. The heat made it relax, and it began to mix with the leaks without my forcing the issue. To that I added a big pinch of thyme, some freshly ground pepper and some salt. The herbs mixed with the broth made a heavenly scent that almost covered the strong oniony smell of the leaks.

To this I added a few shots of lemon juice, just to sour the mood. The chicken went in atop the bed of wilted leaks, and sat proudly there, no longer weeping. I dumped their water into the pan and closed the lid.

Ten minutes later the chicken were truely steamed. I took them out and set them on a clean plate beside the stove to cool down. I then pulled all the sauce out of the pan and beat it into submission. The smooth pale yellow sauce that resulted definitely showed the presence of lemon, but it smelled of thyme, pepper and leak.

The sauce (and a good helping of white wine) went back into the pan, and the chicken were carefully covered. The heat went up and I covered the pan once more to bring everyone back up to temperature.

I served it with steamed peas (microwaved with a bit of water), and brown rice. The rice was bland in comparison, but the sauce was delicious. So much so, I'm having this version of lemony chicken for lunch.

Lemony chicken
Recipe by Mark Bittman.
4 tablespoons butter
2 leeks, washed and well diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon thyme
4 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and black pepper, to taste
parsley, minced fresh (garnish)

  1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, until softened (about 5 minutes).
  3. Add the stock and thyme.
  4. Bring the dish to a boil and allow it to bubble for a minute, or two.
  5. Ad the chicken.
  6. Turn the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the meat is just cooked through (about 5 to 6 minutes).
  7. Remove the chicken and keep warm.
  8. Turn the heat to high and cook the sauce, stirring occasionally, until 3/4 of a cup remains (about 10 minutes).
  9. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the lemon juice.
  10. Add the remaining butter slowly, stirring all the while.
  11. Season with salt and pepper and return the chicken to the sauce to heat through.
  12. Serve over rice.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Weekly menu (Sept 22/07)

An odd week, it already started out with me changing my menu to better fit my moon on the weekend. I didn't want to cook - not at all. So, while the dinners were still tasty, they weren't very healthy.
SaturdayHamburgers and romaine salad
SundayFried chicken, bbq wings, and french fries
MondayChicken in lemon sauce, steamed green beans and polenta
TuesdaySteak sandwiches with mixed green salad
WednesdayEasy Asian Chicken legs & thighs. Mixed salad.
ThursdayMaranara sauce on bean & corn pancakes with mixed green salad.
FridayPea soup (from frozen) and baked biscuits

I know Thursday's meal sounds fancy, but really it's leftovers. I had the bean & corn pancakes last week and the maranara sauce was made (and frozen) some time ago.

Reusable bags

Whenever we go shopping, we try to bring all our cloth bags and avoid using the plastic ones as much as possible. Even when we have enough cloth bags - we still run into the same problem.

* If it's got lots of little pieces (nuts, grapes, lettuce that will shred if you look at it funny, etc)
* Frozen goods (that aren't really frozen any longer)
* Roast chicken (that's just waiting to spill its goodness into the trunk when we take that hard left onto the highway.

How are we supposed to gather and organize this stuff so that it will come home safe and sound?

I buy nuts by the pound. I'd have to bring a container and make sure the store doesn't mind weighing an identical container and resetting their scale. Either that or I'm paying for my container every time. If I brought a container, wouldn't the store be worried about some kind of cross-contamination from my container to the bins, or worse - I get sick and try to sue them?

Vegetables and fruits. With some (cellery, broccoli, cauliflower, and the like) I can forgo the plastic bag. Even things I use to group in bags to make check-out easier - I can manage without the bag. But what about grapes, cherries, or fragile fruit? Lettuce, burried in my cart, just leaves a mess. And smaller stuff (garlic, ginger, kiwi, ...) runs the risk of actually falling out of the cart because the item is smaller than the cart's mesh.

Frozen goods and roast chicken are just messy. We have some (very large) recycled bags that are more plastic than cloth. We can use these to contain messy foods - but it seems such a waste as the item is typically dwarfed by the bag designed to hold 4 2L pop bottles and 2 bags of sandwhich bread.

Some stores are offering a 5 cent discount when you bring your own bags. Honestly I don't think about it. Using, washing, and remembering to bring these bags is a habit me and mine want to foster for reasons other than the cash discount. And if stores were serious about it - they'd charge for their plastic bags and make the cloth bags more readibly available.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Making Meatloaf

Friends were coming for six and it was already 4 o'clock. The house was a disaster, and dinner called. So I pulled out Marc Bittman's How to Cook Everything. I have my own recipe for meatloaf, but this one looked interesting. One thing's for sure - I really need a food chopper; doing this by hand took a lot more time than I had.

1 cup plain bread crumbs
1 cup milk
2 pound lean ground beef
2 pound lean ground pork
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup Parmesan cheese, fresh grated
1/2 cup parsley, fresh and minced
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced
1 small carrot, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons sage, fresh ground
salt and black pepper, to taste
6 slices bacon

Makes 3 loaves.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Or, if like mine - your oven is slow, preheat to 425 F.
  2. Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk until the milk is absorbed; about 5 minutes.
  3. Mix all the ingredients (except the bacon) together in a large dish. I use my hands; it doesn't feel very pleasant, but it does guarantee a good mix.
  4. Shape roughly into a loaf. Place atop a rack and place the rack in a roasting pan. This allows the rendered juices to gather below the loaf, making for a slightly dryer meatloaf that doesn't need to be toweled down before it can be served.
  5. Lay 2 slices of bacon atop each loaf.
  6. Bake for 45-60 minutes (or longer), basting occasionally with rendered pan juices.
  7. When done, an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a loaf reads 160 F.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A dinner tale gone terribly wrong.

I got home and I was exhausted. Traffic was bad on the main routes I typically take. The bus ride is pleasant enough (especially with a good book), but I've developped walking the 30 minutes from the transfer station to home. The walk, especially Thursday in the surprisingly pleasant but warm weather, did me in.

I barely noticed the masses of people walking in the opposite direction, all with a mildly annoyed and purplexed look. The route is typically not croweded at all; yet yesterday I had to dodge people. Half the road is closed to traffic as they finish resurfacing it, and even that looked busy with foot traffic.

It took some time to figure it out. It was no-car day and the train was free - so many people took the train to work. Unfortunately the train broke down and its passengers were given two options: wait for the next train (about 45 minutes), or walk to the subway (about 30 minutes). It was a clear, sunny and warm day - so many walked.

Many of the confused people I passed were saying this like "if I just keep going west, they said I'd see the metro" and "It's just a few blocks more." The walk, according to Google maps, is just under 3KM. While it's not a long walk, it is not easy on those of us unuse to such exhersion. And with road work all along that strip, catching a cab as they walked west was not going to be busy. Every bus that passed me was packed so full the driver had to open the back doors to
let people out.

So I got home with a pleasant tale to tell, but no urge at all to actually cook. We raided the piggy-bank and ordered pizza from Nico's along the back river. It's pretty plain - medium thick fresh pizza dough, spicy and pleasant tomato sauce, good pepperoni and a slathering of mozarella cheese over the top and baked to perfection. There's no dough balls (like there use to be) to keep the top from touching the cheese, but the edge crust is plenty thick and chewy
without being bland.

I didn't make it - so there was neither drama, nor action, in its arrival (other than the rush to the door when the bell rang, and the scampering for change); but it was a welcome treat regardless.

Tonight it's meatloaf - so back to the trials and tribulation of home cooking. :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Menu of the Week (Sept 14/07)

After a weekend out, and an empty fridge - I am shopping late this week.
SaturdayDinner out.
MondayRigatoni & Marinara sauce, romaine and red pepper salad with red wine vinaigrette.
TuesdayMontreal butcher's block steak, steamed corn and pilaf-style barley.
WednesdayHerb-roasted chicken cutlets, steamed green beans & bean & corn pancakes.
ThursdayChicken in lemon sauce, steamed green beans & polenta.
FridayBasic meatloaf, steamed vegetables (from frozen).

I was out of the house on Saturday and returned late on Sunday night; so that's my excuse for buying take-out and eating it at home. Even though there's lots to choose from in regards to restaurants, sometimes the big chains are the most convenient (if not the most healthy).

Monday's dinner is super-simple, mostly because I make homemade marinara sauce and then freeze it. So it's just a matter of under-cooking the pasta, thawing the sauce, and making the salad for a nice meal that's really quick.

Admittedly, Tuesday's meal is no more difficult. Montreal steak is, in its barest essence, a steak with several tablespoons of Montreal steak spice rubbed into it. I add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce and then throw it on the barbecue. The vegetables go onto the barbecue too - in their own little foil packet on the cold side of the barbecue to steam beside the meat. They are both done at about the same time.

The other three recipes (and the pilaf-style barley from Tuesday) are all new to me. I'm slowly trying out recipes from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. So far I've greatly enjoyed not only his prose, but his recipes too. I'll let you know how the recipes fair their taste tests this week. :)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Something simple for five.

Another dinner-time story.

Tonight was a game night; which meant four friends plus my SO and myself for dinner. Typically I "say" I only spend about $5 a head for such a meal. The ground rules are simple. Bring food to supplement the meal, or give me $5 to cover the cost of your portion. I gave up costing out these meals when I realized that I wanted to cook elegant food.

But tonight I opted for something simple: Monterey Jack cheese with JalapeƱos and steak sandwiches with homemade tomato & bell pepper soup.

First, the bread.
She was tired from being fresh yesterday, and didn't really react until I cut and tore her wide open. Only then did the reminder of her tantalizing fresh smell fill the air. She was crusty to begin with, but now the crust was thickening and she was hard to cut. I tried to sweeten her up with a light coat of grainy mustard; the yellow and brown seeds glowed on her pearly-white insides.

Then I covered half of her with a luscious white blanket of sliced Monterey Jack Cheese. This was, however, a sultry blanket that had pockets of JalapeƱo in it. I could tell it was a good match at once as the blanket completely hid her smell and the bread seemed to snuggle-down under its weight.

The steak was read with envy. Cut thin, I knew it was going to shrink on me. In fact, I was depending on it. I threw the steak into a hot grill pan, flavored slightly with a thin spray of olive oil, and proceeded to ignore it as the steak hissed and spat at me. When the spitting got too much I put a cover on it and waited until the steak started to weep before finally giving it my attention.

I turned it and the weeping continued. When it was evenly gray in color, and the pans high points had given a pleasant set of stripes to its hide, I introduced it to the cheese. They immediately bonded and stuck together throughout the meal.

The bread and the steak didn't get along quite so well. I popped the whole sandwich into a hot oven for 10 minutes and left the ingredients to get better acquainted.

On another burner there was a pot filled with a soup I'd beaten into submission some time ago. It was cold, clumping together, and sluggish. But I knew where it had come from and what it was made of. The heat slowly warmed it to a fragrance that was familiar and subtle. Tomatoes, fresh from the season, pared with sweet red bell peppers and red onion, melded together into a thick soup.

By the time the soup was boiling, dinner was ready.
The only regret was that I had not made more.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A dinner time story (No-loaf Meatloaf)

This recipe originated from Sandi Richard's Cooking for the Rushed recipe of the same name. My version's different - less sweet, more sassy. Her site has more information about her books, and a few of her recipes can be found on the Food Newtork website.

By the time I got home the ground beef was still giving me the cold shoulder. I took it out of the frige and slammed it on the counter. I can't help reacting to its temperment that way - but I knew it wouldn't help.

I dug out my roasting pan and set my oven to 400 F; it's a little slow and the dial's going - but the oven is an old friend, so I adjust the heat up just to cover it's failures. I lined the bottom of the roasting pan with tin foil for easy cleanup, then used some extra virgin olive oil in an atomizer to spray the grill so things wouldn't stick. I suppose non-stick spray would be better, but olive oil and I go way back, and we work well together - so why change now?

I carefully lined up the other ingredients and equipment for tonight's dish: corn flakes, homemade salsa, Worchestershire sauce, 2 cloves of garlic (peeled), egg whites, the pepper grinder, a good knife, and a spatula.

Ignoring the temperment of the ground beef, I took it out of its wrap and threw it into my big pirex bowl. Homemade, the salsa is a bit biting, but I'm use to her sass. 1/2 a cup covered the ground beef nicely.

The recipe calls for garlic powder, but I grabbed fresh and slammed it into submission before dicing it fine and throwing it into the bowl with the beef. I added a tablespoon of Worchestershire sauce for the class he always brings to a dish, then jammed my fingers into the still chilly beef and began working everything together. Spoons and spatulas are fine, but there's nothing like a massage to make ingredients relax and start mixing. That, an egg white, and about 1/2 a cup of a ground up corn flakes will bind any unreasonable mess into a whole.

Once everyone was well mixed, I divided them up into four. Using my hands (still) I rolled the mix into four (roughly) equal-sized balls. Then, one at a time, I flattened the balls into rough loaf-shapes.

The loaf-shapes went onto the roasting pan's grill.

Back to my bowl I added another 1/2 cup of salsa, 1 tablespoon of worcestershire sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon of cayanne pepper. I mixed this together with the spatula, careful to scrape the sides and get everything together. Then layered it like a blanket over the loaves. Then the roasting pan went into the hot oven.

Feeling lazy, I dumped 2 cups of frozen green beens into a casserole dish and added 1/2 cup of water. I covered it and set it in the microwave. Then I set the alarm to scream at me in 45 minutes. When it screamed - I came in and turned the microwave on high, and set the time again for 5 minutes. Then I walked away so I wouldn't hear the green beans cry.

When the timer screamed again, dinner was ready. The meatloaf was a bit too hot for me (next time I'll cut back on the cayanne pepper - she's just too much for me to handle), but good none-the less.

Made a nice dinner for 2 with enough leftovers for two meatloaf sandwiches (upon which I loaded some sultry Montaray jack cheese with jalapenos).

1 pound ground beef, lean
1 cup corn flakes, ground
1 cup salsa, divided
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, divided
1 egg white
fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 clove garlic, smashed and diced
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, to taste)
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 F.
  2. Line the bottom of a roasting pan with foil and spray its grill with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Mix together the beef, ground corn flakes, 1/2 cup salsa, 1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce, egg white, pepper and garlic.
  4. Shape into 4 loaves and place them on the grill.
  5. In the same bowl, mix the last of the salsa, Worchestershire sauce and the cayenne pepper together.
  6. Spread the mixture over top of the loaves.
  7. Bake the loaves for 50 minutes or until the internal temperature is over 160 F.
Serve with steamed green beans, a nob of butter, and some more ground black pepper.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Menu of the Week (Sept 8/07)

I make my menus during the week and shop on Saturday mornings. This puts me out of sync with Menu Plan Monday from Organization Junkie; but I get by. My main method of cooking during the summer months is the barbecue. The links in the menu below lead to recipes on Snacksby.
SaturdayFeta & homemade pesto stuffed chicken breasts with steamed vegetables from frozen.
SundayFresh lemon-pepper barbecued rainbow trout fillet with new potatoes and steamed vegetables from frozen.
MondaySouthwestern steak, corn and black bean wraps.
TuesdayLean No-Loaf Meatloaf and mixed romaine salad.
WednesdayGrilled steak & cheese sandwich on multi grain bread with homemade tomato and bell pepper soup.
ThursdayChicken breast dijon and steamed vegetables from frozen.
FridayDinner out.