Not Chicken Anymore

As I continue to try new things in the kitchen, I find myself facing many new firsts. There are still a great many things I’ve never tried before, such as making a soufflé, poaching eggs, or gutting a fish. (The first two will probably come up soon, but I’m in no hurry to try the third.) So I still have a lot of exploring to do.

One thing I hadn’t tried yet was cooking a whole chicken. I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know if I’d have to scoop out giblets by hand, or if I would over or under cook it. So I waited till Cathy was available for questions, since I had seen her cook a whole turkey before, inside a brown paper bag no less. I figured she had to know what she was doing. I also found several promising recipes to pick from and reviewed those with her as well. As it would turn out, we had one of what I would call beginner chickens. The giblets were neatly tucked into a wax paper bag and the chicken included a… I don’t know the technical term so I’ll call it a popper. You know, those pre-inserted thermometers that pop when the bird is done. Very handy, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

After emptying the bird and rinsing it out, I left it to dry in the fridge, propped up on it’s tail for a few hours. I chose a lemon and herb roast recipe, because I have had pretty consistent success with roasting in the past, and the recipe’s seasoning mix included mustard powder, which I happened to have on hand. The mixture was sprinkled inside and out, and then the lemon juice and olive oil blend was drizzled over the whole thing. Popped it into the oven, and started my basting timer. The recipe said to let it cook for an hour and a half, but I wasn’t sure if I should trust that or the popper. A quick call to the sis-in-law confirmed the popper’s idiot-proofness, so after the hour and a half was up, I switched to ten minute basting intervals. Right around the two and a quarter hour mark, I finally got a pop and out it came. After 20 minutes rest and a masterful carving job by the wife and we ate like kings.

I don’t know what I’ll tackle next (maybe cornish hens?), but I eagerly anticipate each new adventure. After all, I may not be an expert at cooking a whole chicken, but that doesn’t mean I have to be one anymore. I just have to trust in my ability to comprehend instructions, and I should take courage in knowing that so many have paved the way in the kitchen before me. Thanks to them the whole experience of cooking truly can be a joy. Enjoy!

It’s a kind of magic.

I had a particularly good shift at work last night. I made decent money despite the typical January slowdown, and I had fun with my tables. At one point I joked that I would open a restaurant called “Allen’s Hands” because I had them eating out of mine. I even won the contest for sales of the special surf and turf. Part of my prize was an order of the bone-in filet and horseradish crusted salmon, which I packed up to bring home.

This morning, I decided to take some of that meal and turn it into a delightful breakfast to get the day started properly. I diced up my side of asparagus and cut up the filet into bite-sized chunks. I added those to a batch of well-whisked eggs and made a tasty scramble. Still, the best was yet to come.

Over the years, I’ve eaten at many a restaurant offering classic ingredients and sauces that I’ve never attempted at home. One popular sauce that seemed almost magical was hollandaise. I always loved how it tasted, but I’d never made one. As I’ve been studying wine, I recently read how there are these restaurants in Alsace, France that open from April to June to only serve asparagus, often drizzled with hollandaise sauce. So, I decided I wanted to make a hollandaise sauce if I could to drizzle over the eggs.

Now, I’m quite certain hollandaise aficionados would be appalled at the thought of a version made in the microwave, but the recipe was quick and easy, and worked perfectly over the scramble, just as I’d hoped.

Sometimes, classics like a hollandaise sauce can take on an almost mythic quality until I’ve attempted to make it at home. Like any good magic trick, once you learn the secret, the trick is no less magical, but now I, too, can make the magic happen. For me, that’s what learning to cook is all about. Enjoy!

The Food Lab’s Complete Guide To Pan-Seared Steaks

The Food Lab’s Complete Guide To Pan-Seared Steaks | Serious Eats.

Another great article on cooking steak. I haven’t really tried cooking steaks much in the past, because the likelihood I would ruin an expensive cut of meat meant my risk/reward ratio was poor. Armed with this new information, I have confidence I could provide such lovely victuals for special occasions in the future. Enjoy!

Okay, that was a practically perfect meal!

We had the pleasure of hosting the O’Neills tonight at our place for dinner. I made the main entrée and dessert, and they brought a salad. We were pleasantly surprised to find the dishes complimented each other perfectly.

First, their salad was amazing. Mixed greens, red onions, carrots, goat cheese, grape tomatoes, almonds (or was it walnuts), mandarin orange wedges, and more I can’t remember, was topped with Kimmie’s homemade triple berry and watermelon vinaigrette. After tearing into our heaping mounds of salad, we moved on to the main course.

For dinner, I experimented even further with a recipe I’d already modified once before. This time, I made what I’m calling, “Meat and Potato Pancakes”. The original recipe, from AllRecipes, can be found here. Previously, I substituted leftover mashed potatoes for the shredded potatoes, using an exchange of 1/2 cup mashed for each potato. I also usually add a couple tablespoons milk to moisten the mashed, since they are usually a bit dried out from having been refrigerated in a less than airtight container. Tonight, because of the guests, I opted to try something else.

I upsized the recipe by half, making a third more, and then added about 3/4 pounds ground beef. The pancakes still held up well, with the beef adding a little more texture and flavor, as well as a nice protein source. The overall flavor is still mild enough to match up well with any toppings you might typically put on potato pancakes. We played with some greek yogurt and some of the goat cheese and both tasted great. The yield was twenty patties, comparable in size to quarter or third pound burger patties.

Dessert was a bookend to the salad, as we topped frozen mixed berries with warmed chocolate sauce. I found this at a booth last Saturday at Uncork Illinois, a local wine festival in Oak Park, Illinois. It truly is a great chocolate sauce!

This was the second time I hosted friends to cook for them. It was another resounding success. The O’Neills left happy, enthusiastically insisting we do this again soon. It was a memorable and educational evening, and it further strengthened my confidence in the kitchen. Feel free to give my version of the recipe and try and let me know what you think. Enjoy!

Electric Lingonberry Lemonade

I’m back with another new recipe. This time, it’s a delightful mixed drink that smacks of summer. The recipe is mine, measurements arrived at through a little trial and error, but credit for the idea has to go to my wife, who suggested the liquor in the first place.

Electric Lingonberry Lemonade
1/4 cup lingonberry cocktail
3/4 cup lemonade
1 shot vodka
Mix and serve over ice.

I get my lingonberry cocktail from IKEA. They sell a concentrate in their swedish market. I didn’t even know they sold it, as I had always gotten my lingonberry “soda” at the snack counter, premixed from the fountain. Once I found out it’s available to make at home, it made this idea much more viable for others to try on their own. This will taste great in summer, or when you need a taste of summer during those long winter months. Enjoy!

And remember… Please drink responsibly.

Another first!

Today, I was following a recipe and one of the ingredients was cajun seasoning. Guess who didn’t have any. So I thought maybe I could find out the key ingredients and approximate the flavor.

I found one better, a recipe for a simple version to make at home. For that I had all the ingredients. So I made some awesome burger patties for dinner
and my first ever homemade seasoning mix. Now I want to go find recipes that call for cajun seasoning just so I can use more of it.

The more I explore in the kitchen, the more resourceful I become. So here’s to many more chances to find solutions, and here’s to many more firsts in the kitchen and beyond. Enjoy!

Easy and Tasty…

… are two of my favorite words when I have to whip up dinner on the fly. So here’s a quick recipe for you to try out for yourselves. This from-scratch concoction went great over rotini pasta, but you could probably top just about anything with it.

1 lb ground beef
2 tablespoons salsa (dealer’s choice)
1 medium-sized onion, diced
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 clove minced garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup water
Salt and Pepper to taste
Grated parmesan (optional)

Puree the canned tomatoes and salsa in a blender. Any salsa will do, but I used a Safeway Select chipotle salsa I had on hand. Heat up the oil in a large sauté pan on medium-high heat and toss the onions and garlic in for a few minutes to get them started. Take the mixture out of the pan and brown the ground beef. Drain the beef and add the garlic/onions and puree.  Use the water to swish out the blender and pour it in with the rest. Cook on medium heat, stirring every couple minutes, to reduce the sauce, probably about 12-15 minutes. Let stand for 3-5 minutes and serve over your bed of choice. You can top this with the grated parmesan like I did, or maybe a nice shredded mozzarella. For a more southwestern kick, try shredded chihuahua or queso fresco and serve the sauce over rice.


I’m getting better at this.

Yesterday, I made the best chili mac I think I’ve ever had. Yes, the slow cooker chili was made from a recipe. That alone turned out great, but I expected as much. What I didn’t do was add the elbow macaroni noodles to the pot. Instead, I cooked the pasta separately. This allowed it to keep that perfect al dente bite. I then laid a helping of pasta in each bowl and spooned chili over the top.

The result was perfection, as the pasta had the texture and flavor that one only gets when pasta is cooked on it’s own. Blending that with the fresh chili and topping with shredded sharp cheddar was so delicious. Although, the awesomeness could also have been derived from my choice of salsa for the chili, a nice gourmet chipotle salsa. After all, the recipe wasn’t specific about which salsa to use, and I’ve been on a chipotle kick for a while now. Either way, I learned a valuable lesson about how I work with pasta. It kind of makes me feel silly for ever trusting my appetite to Hamburger Helper all those years. Enjoy!

What’s next?

I haven’t posted in a little while. Life has thrown me some major curves of late. The kind of curves that can radically alter the course of one’s life. As I rethink my priorities, I weigh the importance of this blog and wonder if it will matter to me in the next six months, the next year, and so on.

I did have fun cooking up a delicious balsamic mushroom chicken recipe I found online. I didn’t have the exact ingredients, and I was only making a half portion but the dish turned out great. The side dish I threw together on the fly was the real winner; a simple pasta and broccoli topped with an olive tapenade from a jar. This was our first time using this new buckwheat pasta we found at Dominick’s. It’s part of a new batch of house brand gluten free products with moderately reasonable prices. Cathy enjoyed it so much, I cooked her another batch, with peas this time, and bought her another package before she asked for one.

I’m looking forward to getting in the kitchen more this fall. The cooler weather means more chances to cook without dreading the heat in the kitchen. I’ll have to whip up some posole very soon. Plus, I really want to get a separate freezer so we can stock up on more frozen ingredients at home.

I’ll also take some time to make a decision about this blog going forward. Since I don’t go out to eat as often as I had, I might want to retire this and move on to other endeavors. I don’t feel like I have as much to offer as a culinary creator, since I’ve always seen myself as more a consumer. I sometimes forget that I was supposed to fill in the times between new outings with recollections of past outings, but all the distractions lately have me feeling less motivated to talk about food and more interested in spending time on other pursuits. Until then, I’ll keep posting when inspiration strikes. Enjoy!