Friday, October 31, 2008
And, oh yah, I'm really bummed. My favorite part of Halloween is handing out candy to the lil' trick-or-treaters. Not. A. Single. One. Not one. Seriously, parents. Do your damn job and take your kids out on Halloween!
Monday, October 27, 2008
"exactly when do you plan your meals? do you plan a week's worth the weekend before? or do you plan for two weeks? I'm curious because I'm looking for more efficient strategies/ routines for planning my meals. It's been especially hard lately because I've been busy this semester plus my dorm this year (and thus the kitchen) is not nearly as big as the one I had last year..."
Well, I typically spend 30 minutes to an hour on a Saturday or Sunday deciding what it is I want to make for the upcoming week. My final choice is a function of what we have in the 'fridge, what I'm craving, what the weather is like, whether I feel fat or not (don't laugh...this actually does play a part), what I think I can find at the local markets, which cookbook I've been reading, what I've recently seen on TV, what friends have suggested...etc. I'll generally have two index cards with shopping lists. There's usually one ingredient which might be hard to find so, if I can't find that ingredient, I have another shopping list for a different dish. Kind of anal but it's saved me on many an occasion.
I do almost all of my cooking on weekends because I have next to no time on weekday nights. I get off work around 6, grab a bus home and get back around 7. I go running most weeknights so there's another 40 minutes. I really don't have the time to go grocery shopping and cook. I need cooked meals already in the fridge.
Let's talk about how I planned for this week's meals: On Saturday, I purchased some apples at the farmers' market. I decided to cook something with those apples. I'm awful at dessert so I needed something simple...so, voila, apple crumble. That part was easy.
For the savory component of the upcoming week's meals, I peeked in the fridge. We had somewhere around 40 eggs, all nearing expiration, so I decided that I needed to do something with eggs. A frittata popped into my mind. My usual frittata recipe involves onions, potatoes and cheese. Eggs=breakfast=sausage so I decided to toss in some pork sausages. I used a combination of breakfast links and mild Italian sausage.
Frittata, even a 14 egg frittata is only going to get me through 6 meals (breakfast and dinner Monday-Wednesday...I eat lunch in the office cafeteria). I knew I needed four more meals so I kept that in mind while on my grocery shopping trip. While at the butcher, I saw some good looking steak on sale. In addition, it was still in the vacuum bag so it would last longer than an unwrapped steak. I talked to the butcher and he said that the steak would be fine until Wednesday night. Great, so I can finish the frittata on Wednesday night, cook the steak, and be set for Thursday and Friday. I need something to eat with steak so I grabbed some salad greens/lettuce. I get a little bored of rice so I grabbed some whole wheat lavash. A ha. An idea...sliced, grilled steak, lettuce...I'll make steak wraps for Thursday and Friday. Done. So, I've got dessert for the week, frittata for the first three days and steak wraps for the last two. Not a bad plan.
I find that stews, soups, braises etc. also work really well for this kind of schedule. Not only are they super convenient (just pair them with the starch of your choice), they actually taste better the longer they sit (up to a certain point...don't be an idiot about it). I guess this is why I make so many chicken curries...they're affordable, go great with rice and work well on my schedule. Also, hearty soup, bread and side salad is a fine meal although I don't do that as often.
Thinking ahead and going grocery shopping with a general plan is absolutely key. I'm definitely not one of those people who goes to the store with an open mind. Nope. If I see a great sale or an ingredient which looks especially good, I'll find a way to fit it in but I generally know exactly what I'm cooking before I go shopping. Just think about your schedule and what you can do with it. Hope this helps.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Super duper basic chicken stir fry. This recipe uses very few odd ingredients. I'm writing on a weeknight so no time for an introduction--I'll get straight to the recipe.
This recipe is from "The Breath of a Wok" by Grace Young and Alan Richardson. If you're interested in how to cook in a wok, this is the book for you. Stir-frying, steaming, smoking, this book shows you how to use your wok in a multitude of ways. Although I've mostly only cooked the stir-fry recipes, they've all been dependable and delicious. Recommended, although the scope of this book is rather narrow. Definitely an enthusiast level cookbook but, if you're into the subject matter, it's fantastic. Does that make sense? I hope so.
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thigh cut into bite sized pieces
1 tablespoon of soy sauce plus an extra dash
1 teaspoon of Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
.5 teaspoon sugar
.5 teasoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon fermented black beans, rinsed
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 small whole shallots, peeled (about 1/2 cup) (I used large pieces of diced onion)
1/3 cup chicken broth (or veggie broth, I used water and it was fine)
1 green onion, chopped
Combine the chicken, tablespoon of soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt and white pepper in a bowl. Mix to combine. Add the corn starch and mix. The mixture should be slightly sticky.
In a small bowl, combine the black beans, garlic, ginger and dash of soy sauce. Mash with a fork.
Heat up a wok over high heat. Toss in a few tablespoons of oil. Add the chicken mixture and spread flat. Allow the chicken to brown. Depending on your heat source, temperature of the chicken, how long you allowed the wok to heat up etc., this might take a few minutes. When brown, stir fry for a few minutes, just so the chicken changes color on all sides.
Toss in the black bean mixture and onion (or shallot). Stir-fry for a few minutes. Toss in the broth and bring to a boil. You'll see it thicken and give the rest of the dish a glossy sheen. Toss in the green onion, give it a quick stir and you're done!
Cost-3 bucks for the chicken, 1 dollar for the rest. Will serve 2 as a single course stir-fry dinner or more depending on how many other dishes you serve.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Did you know that my original chicken, tofu and black bean post is the most widely read page on this blog? Even if you take into account that that post has been up the longest, it still kills every subsequent entry. Given that I think the original chicken/black bean post sucks (not the recipe, just the post), I decided to do another chicken and black bean stir fry. Is this redundant? I don't think it is because the flavors are very, very different. Also, it involves an interesting technique. Chinese food aficionados already know that the Chinese LOVE to cook things multiple times. There are countless examples of this in Chinese cookery and, in this recipe, the chicken is twice cooked in hot oil and then stir-fried.
This recipe is from "Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook" by Fuchsia Dunlop. I absolutely love Dunlop's cookbooks because they focus on under-represented regions and cuisines. Her masterpiece on Sichuanese cooking is considered one of the all-time English language Chinese cookbook classics. While her volume on Hunanese cuisine doesn't quite scale those literary heights, it is still an excellent addition to any Chinese cooking enthusiasts' library and comes highly recommended.
1 lb. boneless (and skinless, if you like) chicken thighs
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled, larger cloves cut in half
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
4 scallions, green parts only, cut into 1.5 inch segments
4 tablespoons of fermented black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon of Shaoxing rice wine or other Chinese rice wine
3 teaspoons of dried chili flakes (I used Korean chili flakes...they provide an outrageous amount of color to the final dish but you can use whatever you have on hand even if it's leftover chili flakes from pizza)
2 teaspoons unseasoned, rice vinegar ( I actually used more because I like a bit of vinegar tang)
1 teaspoon sesame oil (I omitted the sesame oil from my version because I was out)
2 cups of oil
Cut chicken into bite sized pieces. Add to a bowl and season with salt and the soy sauce. Mix well.
Organize all of the other ingredients, other than the oil, into little ramekins or bowls. The cooking process goes quickly so you want to be prepared.
Heat up the oil in a wok. Wait until it is good and hot or, if you have an oil thermometer, until it's 350-400 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the chicken and cook until the color has changed. Remove the chicken. Allow the oil to heat up to 350-400 degrees and add the chicken. This time, cook the chicken until it's golden-brown. When done, set the chicken aside.
Pour off all of the oil except for a couple of tablespoons.
Put your pan on medium heat, toss in the garlic and ginger. Stir-fry until the garlic is soft. Toss in the black beans and rice wine. Stir fry for 30 seconds. Toss in the chili flakes and stir-fry until they've colored the oil.
Add the fried chicken to the pot along with the vinegar. Stir fry. Add salt to taste. At this point, the chicken should be mostly cooked but grab a piece and check. Toss in the green onions and stir-fry for 30 seconds. The onions should be slightly wilted, not cooked through.
Turn off the heat, add the sesame oil and serve with plenty of rice.
Time- 15 minutes. Fast enough for a weeknight dinner.
Chicken- 3 bucks.
Incidentals- 2 dollars
5 bucks total, will serve 3-4 people as part of a multi-dish stir-fry dinner. Or two people as a single-dish dinner.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Monday, October 6, 2008
I had a craving for something homey and delicious so I decided to make a few roasted chickens. This first one features a sweet, sour and spicy glaze. The next, which I won't discuss today, is brined in a Mexican flavored brine. I'll discuss the chemistry behind brining in a future post. Anyhow, for this chicken, I asked the butcher to spatchcock it but they just butterflied it. The distinction, AFAIK, is that a spatchcocked bird has the backbone and sternum removed and a butterflied bird is just cut in half. Anyhow, the reason to do either one is so that it cooks more evenly.
The glaze recipe is from John Ash Cooking One-On-One: Kitchen Secrets From A Master Teacher by John Ash. I don't really have an opinion on this book. It's organized in chapters which deal with specific techniques and then specific ingredients. As always, please try to use a naturally raised bird.
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup honey
1.5 tablespoons of Ancho or Guajillo chile powder
.5 teaspoon of ground coriander
.5 teaspoon of ground cumin
.5 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 4-5 pound chicken, cleaned
Salt and peppr
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Liberally season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. Place the bird, skin side up on a baking sheet or roasting pan.
Whisk together the ingredients for the glaze. I found that microwaving the honey to melt it and then whisking in the other ingredients made for an easier mixing process.
Toss the bird into the oven. Let it cook for, say, 1/2 an hour. I'm sorta improvising the cooking times. The recipe says to start brushing the bird with the glaze after 20 minutes but I disagree because the bird still has 30 minutes before the thighs are cooked through and the glaze has a tendency to burn if left on the bird for that long. After the initial glaze, keep brushing more on every 10 minutes. Don't let the glaze puddle on the skin. Just paint the bird with the brush...it's actually pretty cathartic.
After 50 or so minutes of total cooking time (poke the thighs and see if the juices run clear), remove the chicken and let it rest for 10 mintues. Cut it up and serve. If you want, keep a little extra glaze on the side to use as a dipping sauce.
Time- About an hour.
Price- REALLY depends on the price of the bird. My naturally raised chicken was $3.99/lb. So, about 20 bucks for my monster roaster. The rest of the ingredients are cheap.
Serves 5 comfortably.