Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Wonders of Stale Bread

Can you remember the last time you bought that baguette or loaf of bread and forgot to tie it up tight? Chances are air got to it and it became no longer bread, but more like a brick. My bet is that you pitched it into the trash as soon as you found this out as well. But what you really threw out was opportunity. Conserve what you have. It’s all about going “green” these days, but often only when convenient. People fail to realize their ability to stretch their ingredients further, even when they think they’ve surpassed their limit. Take stale bread for instance, as long as it’s not moldy, the crumbs offer a plethora of possibilities.
So don’t donate a potential dinner to the ducks! Find a use for it. Feeling a little discouraged with “crumby” ideas? Here’s a few to start you off:
8 Ideas For Stale Bread
  1. TOPPING: Make a crunchy topping for macaroni and cheese, potato casseroles, etc.
  2. SALAD: Toss with olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, tuna and fresh parsley for a light lunch salad. You can also try adding things like: red wine vinegar, some baked chicken, feta cheese, lime juice etc.
  3. FRYING BATTER: Crush the bread into fine powder, mix with garlic powder, salt and pepper and other spices to use for frying chicken or fish.
  4. MEATLOAVES/MEATBALLS: use stale bread crumbs as your starchy substitute for crackers, etc.
  5. CROUTONS: Use as croutons on salads or soups.
  6. STUFFING: Add chicken broth, celery, onions, seasonings to create a wet stuffing.
  7. BREAD PUDDING: *don’t want bread to be like a brick; somewhat soft inside
  8. FRENCH TOAST: *don’t want bread to be like a brick; somewhat soft inside
And here are two recipes that I tested and tried in the recent days:

Bread Crumb, Tomato, and Tuna Salad
½ tomato, chopped
1 c albacore tuna
½ t garlic, minced
Less than ¼ c fresh parsley
Squeeze of lime juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 c stale bread crumbs – try to make into cubes
¼ c olive oil
  1. Add all ingredients into a container that has a lid. Add the bread crumbs last, and then drizzle the olive oil over the bread crumbs.
  2. Put on lid, shake ingredients so that flavors distribute and mix.
  3. Refrigerate after – best when cold.
Makes about 2-3 cups. NOMS: 7.5
Crunchy Gouda Mac and Cheese
2 T butter
2 T flour
1 c milk
½ c Gouda cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 c macaroni pasta
1 T Herbs de Provence
2 c bread crumbs
2 t garlic powder
¼ c parsley
Salt and pepper
2 T butter, melted
** Or make your own Herbs de Provence: rosemary, thyme, tarragon, basil, oregano, savory, chervil [optional: mint and lavender]
  1. Make pasta according to directions on package, drain.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Over high heat, in a saucepan, make a roux: melt butter until nearly browned. Add in flour. Make paste.
  4. Lower heat to medium. Add in milk. Stir constantly until thickens.
  5. Add Gouda cheese, melt.
  6. Mix pasta with cheese, add Herbs de Provence in large ceramic baking dish.
  7. In mixing bowl, mix together bread crumbs, garlic powder, salt and pepper and parsley.
  8. Add the bread crumb mix on top of the macaroni and cheese.
  9. Pour melted butter over top.
  10. Bake for 25-30 min, until heated through and topping is browned and crunchy.
Makes 3-4 servings. NOMS: 9

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Epic Birthday

Another birthday come and gone, but I am still young and vivacious enough to regret that birthdays don’t happen more than once a year…especially because this year, I went all out. It was either go big or go home, and I’ll be honest, this classy feast extraordinaire nearly burst the budget, but hey, it’s my birthday!
Luckily, I only had a voice lesson to attend on Tuesday, so the rest of the day could be properly dedicated to meal preparation. Throughout day I got comments like, “Mmmm, whatcha making?”, “When are you eating?”, and my personal favorite: “So did you decide to drop out of classes and just cook?!” No, but that would be a dream come true.
Just to give you an outline of what was on the menu, here is what we were looking at:
Appetizer: Bruschetta with a Poached Egg, Wilted Arugula and Truffle Oil
Main Course: Blackened Beef Tenderloin Roast
Sides: Gratin Savoyard and Asparagus Wrapped in Prosciutto
Dessert: Chocolate Mousse with Orange Peel
10 AM Tuesday morning I was up and already whisking eggs and melting chocolate in my make-shift double boiler. The mousse needed time to set, so I had to start early. All the while, my mini fridge was bulging with ingredients: crisp asparagus, fresh parmesan cheese, beef tenderloin all staring me down, all teasing me before dinner. But I trudged on, determined to make this meal absolutely perfect.
*Side Note: Since there were so many recipes, I am going to just put two down now. If there is an interest for the others let me know!
The mousse was from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, although I did substitute and change a few things. The internet mousse recipes warned against using raw eggs, but I warn you against NOT using them. [Yet another reason to not trust the internet!] They would have you using unflavored gelatin and whipping cream, but both of these are unnecessary to create the most decadent, rich chocolate mousse I have ever tasted [others agreed, as well]. Granted, I was a little disappointed at the consistency. It wasn’t light and fluffy by any means, but rest assured, that didn’t keep me from licking my plate clean. When you make this recipe, dish out small portions, for a small portion packs a powerful chocolate punch. Dress with a dollop of whipped cream topping, an orange slice and curled peel.
What I gained from making this was how to make unsweetened chocolate semi-sweet, create a double boiler and the dire importance of having an electric beater. I substituted vanilla extract for the coffee, but only put in 2 T, not 4 T; also put in orange juice for the orange liqueur, but would recommend the liqueur if you want to be able to taste the orange flavor at all. I was unsure of what “instant sugar” was, so I just used regular sugar, which could have had something to do with the odd consistency. It might also have been that I assumed beating with a whisk was pretty comparable to an electric beater – haha.
Here is the original recipe:
Chocolate Mousse
4 egg yolks
¾ c instant sugar [very finely granulated]
¼ c orange liqueur
A pan of not-quite-simmering water
A basin [bowl, sink] of cold water
6 oz/ 6 squares semi-sweet baking chocolate
4 T strong coffee
6 oz/ 1-½ sticks of softened unsalted butter
4 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 T granulated sugar
1. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until mixture is thick, pale yellow, and falls back on itself forming a slowly dissolving ribbon.
2. Beat in orange liqueur.
3. Then set mixing bowl over the not-quite-simmering water and continue beating for 3-4 min until the mixture is foamy and too hot for your finger.
4. Then beat over cold water for 3-4 min until the mixture is cool and again forms the ribbon. It will have the consistency of mayonnaise.
5. Melt the chocolate with coffee over hot water in double boiler. *If you ever have to make baking chocolate sweeter just add 1 T sugar per every oz. or square of chocolate.
6. Remove from heat and beat in butter a bit at a time, make smooth cream.
7. Beat chocolate into egg yolks and sugar.
8. In separate bowl, beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.
9. Stir ¼ of egg whites into chocolate/egg mixture.
10. Fold in the rest. *A note on folding: do it slowly, the egg whites give the mousse volume. Add about ½ c at a time, use a spatula, cut down the middle of the bowl and scoop mixture from the bottom and fold over the top of the egg whites. Try not to break the egg whites up too much.
11. Chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
12. Then I added a dollop of whipped cream topping, a slice of orange and a curled orange peel just to dress things up!

Makes about 5 cups. NOMS: 10
This appetizer was adapted from a Food Network show. It was a perfectly light, yet filling appetizer. Since we got off to a late start for dinner that night, it was necessary to have something to occupy the stomach. This was just the thing! Poaching eggs is a very strange process. If you ask me, I would have called it “ghosting an egg” because as it sits in simmering water it takes on a ghost-like, wispy white sheet-looking appearance, as can be seen in the pictures. Liked a little child, I stood above it, poking and prodding it as it cooked, but beware – you can break it! Don’t be afraid of a runny yoke; that is what holds the excellent flavor in your egg. If it drips onto the plate, do not waste it! Just sop it up with your bread. Also, a note on truffle oil: it will be your newest culinary addiction. It makes all the difference to use truffle oil. But make sure when you are buying truffle oil you don’t buy oil just infused with truffle flavoring. Check the ingredients, ask a worker. Our guy had a little piece of floating mushroom in it as well, so we knew it was legit.
Bruschetta with a Poached Egg, Wilted Arugula and Truffle Oil
½ loaf of French Bread, i.e. Baguette
4 T olive oil
2-3 cups arugula
1 clove garlic, minced
4-5 eggs
1 t vinegar
1 c parsley, chopped
1 lemon to make 1 T lemon zest and 2 T lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
Truffle oil
Salt and pepper
1. Diagonally slice bread about ½ inch thick. Brush with olive oil [about 2 T]. Toast on frying pan or grill. Place slice on plate.
2. In skillet, heat olive oil. Add arugula, wilt for about 4 minutes. Take off heat. Arrange on bread.
3. In small bowl put chopped parsley and minced garlic. Add lemon zest and juice.
4. In large saucepan, heat about 1 quart of water. Add vinegar. Heat to simmering, but NOT boiling.
5. Break egg into small bowl. Dip bowl into water, allowing hot water to enter bowl. Then gently slide the egg into the simmering water. Let it simmer for about 5 min, until egg white is set and the yolk is encapsulated, and won’t run until bitten into. *This is the quick and dirty poaching process.
6. Remove egg with slotted spoon very gently, so not to break it.
7. Lay egg on bed of arugula and bread. Then add parsley mixture, drizzle truffle oil over the whole thing. Then light salt and pepper it.
8. So tasty!

Makes about 5 bruschettas. NOMS: 9.8
When the food was finally plated, it was nearly 9:30pm. Yes, this dinner was a bit time consuming, especially when sharing a kitchen, but the effort and the wait were worth it by dinnertime. My plate boasted two beautifully cooked, medium-rare pieces of meat, a heap of steaming gratin Savoyard [potatoes with Swiss cheese and beef broth] and a splash of green asparagus bundles wrapped in crispy prosciutto. It took epic proportions of strength and restraint to sit in front of this layout and take pictures before devouring it all. Be thankful for my sacrifice!

But when the hour came to eat, my taste buds blissfully welcomed an especially red bit of tenderloin into my mouth and rejoiced as it melted like butter on my tongue. Chewing was barely necessary, and seemed almost sacrilegious because the steak was so tender and juicy. A light layer of salt, pepper and cumin seasoning produced a full-on flavorful steak. The cheesy potatoes were a nice compliment to the steak, and the asparagus was regal enough of a vegetable to match the menu, and I was quite pleased with the harmonious turnout of tastes.
Oh man, talking about all this is making me hungry again! Let it suffice to say that this dinner left nothing to be desired, except that I want to have it at least once a month for the rest of my life. Haha, that should have been my birthday candle wish…

Monday, January 25, 2010

These Leftovers Are Still Good! From Leftover Meals to Rollover Ingredients

Leftovers are the thawed and refrozen, freezer burnt, stale scraps and bits of unwanted meals that narrowly escaped exile into the trash. They are the forgotten foods wrapped in Reynolds wrap, tossed into Tupperware, stored for a day that may never come. Welcome to food purgatory. So if it is the word “leftovers” that has a negative connotation, perhaps the solvency is in the definition.
Let’s, for a second, think of leftover meals more as rollover ingredients: rollover meaning extra and ingredients meaning basic foods. Rather than being stuck with a déjà vu meal, you now have endless possibilities! How to do this: do not dump meat, potatoes and peas all in one container because this basically limits you to a glorified frozen dinner. Instead, store your ingredients separately so that later you can individually employ them in various dishes.
For example, I did not want my rollovers from the Bacon Guacamole Burger I had the other night go die a slow leftover death, I started to get creative. I had refried beans, cheese and turkey in the fridge, an extra roll…hmmm, sandwich with a side of beans? No, better.
Southwest Turkey Sandwich
1 Kaiser roll
1 T olive oil
3-4 slices of deli cooked turkey
1 slice of Colby Jack cheese
½ c refried beans [from the burger dinner]
3 T rice cooked rice [saved from my lunch]
1. Brush buns with olive oil. Toast in frying pan.
2. Reheat refried beans. Mix with rice.
3. Layer bun, turkey, cheese, beans & rice, bun.

**Suggestions: make a sour cream spread: a pinch of cumin and chili powder mixed with 2 T sour cream; spread on sandwich.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Man Overboard! Over-seasoning Sinks Ships.

Cooking experiments gone wrong equals hungry disappointments for dinner. I attempted to make a Stewed Tomato, Chick Pea and Chicken Soup, but somewhere along the way the seasonings overpowered the dish. Saltiness battled sweetness, and what ensued was a flavor flop. Coming back from work I was ravenously hungry, and I wanted something that was going to hit the spot: however, this was not the day for it. The problem was that I salted the vegetables prior to adding my homemade chicken broth, which was highly concentrated and salty as well. Like any good captain, I was prepared to go down with the ship but not before trying to bail it out, even though it looked pretty hopeless. I added pepper, but it only masked the saltiness in a peppery heat. Then I added sugar, which just created a weird sweetness. It was a complete experiment, a throwing together of multiple things in a fridge, but I learned the basic lesson of over-seasoning. Salt and pepper seem to be mild and forgiving enough, but used in excess, even these can spoil a meal. So, sorry for the bust tonight; trust me, I am just as sad to see a meal gone to waste. In reality, not every dish is your best and you have to be prepared to live and learn. Perhaps I will revisit and revise this recipe in the future.

“Holy Guacamole! That’s One Bad-Ass Burger! It Might Even Be Takin’ the Bacon…”

Some may consider setting the bar too high too early on a disservice for things to come, but with cooking, it’s near impossible to eat your way to the very top with a single dish. There is always something else to make you salivate. Savor your culinary pinnacles. Involving nearly all of your senses, these food fantasies will be some of your most vivid memories.
You might be wondering how a burger could climb its way to becoming an ultimate belly bomb. Well, you could grill me with questions, or try it for yourself. Fact is that this was no ordinary burger. This burger was the creation of my favorite fellow chef-mate, and was a burger with the works. Stacked at least six inches high, this defined deliciously messy eating. With the first bite, you hear the clear crunch of crispy bacon and toasted bun. Second bite: globs of melted cheese encapsulate a juicy meaty burger, encrusted with a slightly salty exterior. Third bite: the smell of tart lime and ripe avocado greet your nose, while your tongue is refreshed with a cool guacamole sauce, all of which are accented by a bite of spicy pepper and a tasty fried onion ring. And those are just your first three bites; there are many more to follow.
My taste buds were torn between packing my cheeks with burger bliss and leisurely enjoying the mouthfuls of flavors that kept drizzling down my face. Paired with Refried Beans on the side, this southwestern-style burger meal was well worth the 30 minutes of cooking and cost of $10 per plate. However, this isn’t the kind of meal you want to eat on-the-go, nor is it a meal you want to enjoy alone. It’s a meal where you sit for a good while in silence; your conversation is only mutual smiles and "mmms". Afterward, you settle in for a post-dinner nap. No matter what you ate that day, it’s as if your stomach restarts and somehow you have room to eat and savor every bite of this burger.
Backyard burgers will never be the same.
Recommendations: seed the chilies/peppers to lessen the spiciness; make the guacamole prior to eating to allow the flavors to embolden; try other cheeses on the burger such as Pepper Jack; and if possible, grill burgers over charcoal or hickory chips.
Bacon Guacamole Cheeseburger
2 ripe avocados, chopped
½ red onion, diced
Juice from 2 limes
2 Serrano chilis or 1 jalapeno pepper, minced
Salt and pepper
¼ c fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
¼ c sour cream ***Part of guacamole sauce***
1. Peel and chop avocados, onion, and chilies/peppers. Put into bowl.
2. Slice limes in half, use fork to extract juice from limes. Do this over the bowl of veggies.
3. With potato masher or fork, mash the avocados.
4. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add cilantro. Continue to mash until desired consistency is reached.
5. Add chopped tomato. Mix. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Put in fridge.
6. Allow flavors to culminate in fridge for as long as desired.
7. Before serving, mix with ¼ cup of sour cream to create the sauce.

1 lb ground chuck [the higher fat content, the more tasty it becomes!]
1 t salt
1 t pepper
1/8 t cumin
¼ t chili powder
3 slices of Colby Jack Cheese
Onion, 1 slice – about 6 rings
2 T flour
6 strips of bacon
3 Kaiser rolls, sliced
4 leaves of Cilantro
1. Mix together first five ingredients in large size mixing bowl.
2. Work the meat in hands until conglomerates and becomes tenderized.
3. Form into 3 balls, press into patty shape with hands. Lightly salt the burgers.
4. In skillet, heat about 1 T olive oil.
5. Put flour in bowl. Coat onion rings in flour. Add to skillet, cook until tender with a crispy exterior. Remove from skillet.
6. Add bacon to skillet. Fry until nearly crispy, take off heat. ***the bacon will continue to cook even after you take it out of the pan, so by taking it out just a bit early helps you achieve the perfect crispiness!***
7. Drain off bacon grease, but SAVE at least 2 TABLESPOONS in skillet. Keep grease hot.
8. In another skillet/frying pan, throw a few pinches of salt onto the pan and then cook burgers. About 5 min per side.
9. Put rolls into bacon grease and fry them for about 2-3 min, until crispy.
10. Add cheese to burgers, let melt.
11. Plate. Bottom roll, burger, onion rings, guacamole sauce, bacon, cilantro. Put the top roll to the side until ready to be ravenously eaten.
Refried Beans
1 T olive oil
¼ c onion, chopped
½ clove garlic, diced
2 cans [15 oz.] black beans, DO NOT DRAIN
½ c cheese [Queso Fresca or cheddar]
1. Heat olive oil in saucepot. Sautee onions until translucent, about 5 min.
2. Throw in garlic, brown for about 1 min.
3. Add first can of black beans. Bring to a boil.
4. Once some of the liquid has boiled off, add the next can. Allow some of the liquid to boil off this as well.
5. Mash with potato masher, spoon, or my personal favorite, the can of beans itself until your mixture reaches desired consistency.
6. Add cheese to help thicken the mix. Continue to mash the beans.
7. Serve alongside your favorite Mexican meal.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait...Like Zucchini Quiche

Now, as I sit making notes about my dinner tonight before I devour it, I remember the worst part of baking: the wait. I decided to make a zucchini quiche, with feta cheese and, yes, more fried pepperonis. Sounds like an instant win, but ugh, the wait! Currently my belly lingers on the edge of starvation. While stove top and oven dishes alike can produce mouth-watering scents that hold you captive in the kitchen, there is no taste testing something that’s baking. With building anticipation, you try to pass the time by fumbling about with dishes in the sink, reading the paper or maybe even counting down the minutes on the timer. But basically, it’s torture for the cook. The other difficulty is that baking is less forgiving. You’ve got one shot before it starts on its journey, and you can’t help it along the way. The wait gives you enough time to start second guessing your cooking…I put in that last cup of sugar, right? What about the salt? It’s not out… It’s a fickle process, more of a science – reason #3 why I don’t like it; I’m more of an artsy type. Yet, it is still essential to holistic cooking, thus must be mastered, no matter how long it takes.
As it turned out the quiche was excellent – very light and fluffy, as well as surprisingly filling. I was curious to experiment with Feta cheese because most quiches call for Swiss, Mozzarella or Provolone. Feta provided that nice bite that mixed well with the Italian spices and the smokiness of the pepperoni. Quiches are great ways to use up or stretch ingredients when you start running low. The honey crisp apple that I paired with the quiche was a great compliment to the meal; I would also suggest biscuits or muffins as well. Overall, well worth the wait.
Zucchini Quiche with Feta Cheese and Crumbled Pepperoni
15 pepperonis (I used turkey pepperoni)
1 T olive oil
½ zucchini, shredded
½ onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 t dried basil
1 t dried oregano
Salt and pepper
2 eggs
1 c milk
2 T flour
4 oz feta cheese
1. In skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Add pepperonis when oil is hot; fry for about 3-5 min.
4. Shred and chop veggies; take out pepperoni, place on paper towel.
5. Add veggies to skillet, cook until tender, 5-7 min.
6. Sprinkle in basil, oregano, salt and pepper and pepperonis. Put in bottle of casserole dish. Do not pack down.
7. In separate bowl, beat eggs with whisk.
8. Add milk and flour slowly, whisk until well blended. [Not clumps of flour]
9. Pour over veggies, add cheese, mix.
10. Bake in oven for 35-45 min.
Makes about 2 c of quiche. NOMS: 8

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Afternoon Delight: Smoked Gouda Grits with Fried Turkey Pepperoni

Okay, so first day of classes wasn’t exactly stellar; being denied from classes on my wish list had me pretty bummed. Oh and my computer adapter decided not to give me the green light anymore and drained my laptop battery, which pushed my blog writing back a little. Flustered by lunchtime, and with two more classes in sight, I indulged in some traditional southern delight: grits. For those of you unfamiliar with grits, they are small, broken bits of corn. Think coarse-ground corn porridge similar to polenta or cornmeal, but white and a bit thinner once cooked. Grits originated with the Native Americans, was adopted by the Southerners and now has been adapted and enjoyed by all.
There are plain grits, butter grits, cheese grits and sugar grits, but today I was in the mood for a smokier flavor. The neglected pound of smoked Gouda chilling in my fridge finally was going to be put to use, but I was determined to go beyond just cheese grits. I wanted bacon. That crispy, salty meat would be a perfect addition to the grits! But a quick glance into the back of the fridge only produced some chicken, ground beef, sliced turkey lunch meat and some turkey pepperoni. Turkey pepperoni…was it limited only to snacks and pizza? Rushing to the stove, frying pan in one hand, olive oil in the other I set out to experiment once again.
As it turns out, fried turkey pepperoni is an excellent substitute for crumbled bacon. After quartering the pepperonis, they browned quite well when fried with olive oil. Happily dancing about the hall kitchen in celebration of my latest success, I moved onto the cheese sauce. This is a standard cheese sauce recipe, follow the first few steps, then add a cheese of your choosing – it works for nearly all of them. The measurements of the ingredients can be adjusted to your preferred consistency [thick or thin].
Cheese Sauce
2 T butter
2 T flour
½ - ¾ C milk
About 10 dice-sized cubes of cheese
1. Melt butter in saucepan over medium high heat.
2. Add flour, mix with butter until it bubbles and gets hot [more butter may be necessary]
3. Brown mixture for a about 2 min ---- ***at this point you are nearly making a roux***
4. Turn down heat to medium. Add milk to pan. Mix until roux has been incorporated into milk. Stir constantly while sauce thickens. [May need to add more milk]
5. Once it is at the desired thickness, add in cheese. Stir constantly until melted and mixed.
Makes about 1 C of cheese sauce.
At this point, with a delicious Gouda cheese sauce complete, I stirred in the crumbled turkey pepperoni. Then you follow the package instructions and prepare grits – today my eyes were much bigger than my stomach, but I was really eating for two: me and my bad mood. It’s amazing how quickly a day can turn itself around when good eating is incorporated.
I added only pepper to the grits, then I plopped a few large steamy scoops onto my plate and topped it with my cheesy, pepperoni sauce. It was the perfect comfort food. The color of the dish wasn’t anything to note, but the taste made my mood increase by at least five happy points with every bite. Overall, success!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Stripping Your Chick without Hurting the Breasts: A Deboning Story

You are about to conquer a whole chicken. Using only your bare hands and a sharp knife, you will pillage it from the inside out. There will be no waste, no survivors. This journey will get messy and there will be blood (from the chicken); so it is not for the faint of stomach. But the rewards of cost-efficiency, experience and raw ingredients for homemade meals cannot be matched.
Your first task is entering the dark, cold body cavity. Place your chicken in the sink and dump out the liquids. Next, you take the neck and the giblets hostage [heart, liver, kidney, etc.]. Confine them to a pot that can hold about one gallon of water. At this point you should rinse off your chicken, inside and out. I personally don’t like the wings, so I broke the bones at the elbow, cut them off and tossed them into the pot as well. Later on, all these will make up a quite tasty broth.
Next you must politely undress your chicken, i.e. take off the layer of skin and fat. On a cutting board, tenderly lay the chicken on its back, breasts up. Make a cut [about ½” deep] along the breast bone. Peel back the layers of fat and skin. While pulling the skin taut, use the knife only to glide along the surface, cutting loose fat or skin that can’t be pulled off. Take off all excess fat – from the neck to the drumsticks. However, the fat can be fried with onions or other vegetables or can be used to grease pans.
Now comes the tricky part, taking your meat off the bone. Grab a sharp knife – many recommend boning knives, but I used my new paring knife and it worked just fine. My best recommendation for removing the meat is to continually use your fingers to pull it away so that you have better visibility on what you are cutting. You won’t be sawing through bone, but rather using the bones and muscles as a map. The breasts are the easiest: just follow the contours of the breast plate in a down-and-out motion to slice off the breasts. The two lovely, boneless, white-meat breasts you get from the whole chicken can lead to endless cooking options. When I cut up the thigh and breast parts I snapped the bone at the hip, leaving a good portion of the leg left in the meat. These can be grilled, fried or baked – sometimes it’s nice to leave the bone, especially with dark meat.
Once I had my meat, I wrapped the pieces in plastic wrap, then tinfoil, labeled them and put half of them in the freezer. As for the leftover carcass, I threw that into the pot with the giblets and wings. This just adds more flavor to your eventual broth.
One of my mistakes during this ordeal was that I got too caught up with precision and made the process of cutting off the meat into more of a medical dissection than a cooking quest. I was lucky enough to be taught by a patient teacher my first time. You can attack the sections with one fell swoop, it just takes practice. After all, practice does make perfect.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Turning Brain-Fried into Pan-Fried (Rice)

It’s day one of cooking off the meal plan! Without even starting classes, I can already add one dish to my go-to meals list. The best part: it requires limited preparation and has a methodological and satisfyingly therapeutic cooking process. It’s the kind of meal that you know is going to pull through in the clutch. It’s going to be predictably delicious, forgiving if you want to dress it up with something new, and will have you reconsidering the true value of soy sauce.
After the many long nights of working or studying, we all feel we deserve a night off and some perhaps entertainment. Sadly, cooking often suffers the boot as we choose restaurants over our own free ranges. While not as thrilling or overpriced as the Japanese and Chinese restaurants that sell their fancy flame and knife work shows as well as their food, making chicken fried rice in the comfort of your own place may in fact be just as tasty and prove fairly simple. If they make a show out of dicing up vegetables and frying them in front of you, cut out the middle man: produce the show yourself.
Today’s grocery store gem was a whole chicken – an excellent buy, nearly 2 lbs of good meat to be saved for later, and the rest of my $6 chicken’s bones and giblets became broth that I will use for the next few weeks. After sectioning off the meat parts: breasts, thighs and legs, I was trying to decide what to do with the dark meat, i.e. thighs and legs, beyond deep frying them. Chicken fried rice fit the bill quite nicely. It was your typical throw-together meal; meaning I checked the pantry and fridge, found some staples willing to be sacrificed, and added my own personal touch, lemon juice, to create a great meal.
The recipe, while probably far different from the actual Chinese fried rice, serves as the necessary base on which you can expand upon and add to what you will with a plethora of options – substitute shrimp, red peppers, green onions, celery; use white wine or teriyaki; add Chinese rice noodles for a nice crunch, etc. Time to experiment!
Chicken Fried Rice
1 chicken thigh, cut into small pieces
1 chicken leg, cut into small pieces
1 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice
Salt and Pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
½ onion, chopped
¼ C frozen peas
1 egg
2 T soy sauce [to taste]
½ C hot rice, cooked
1. Debone and cut up chicken.
2. In sauce pan, cook ½ C rice and 1 C water 15-20 min.
3. In 10-in skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat.
4. Brown chicken pieces, lemon juice, s&p
5. Take out chicken, put on plate.
6. Add garlic, carrot, onions and peas to skillet. Cook 5 min, until tender.
7. Take out vegetables, put on plate with chicken.
8. Keeping the skillet hot, crack egg into skillet, scramble.
9. Add chicken and vegetables to egg. Put in about 1 T soy sauce. Fry for about 1 min.
10. Add hot rice, mix. Add more soy sauce if needed. Fry for 2-3 min.
Makes about 3-4 C of meal. NOMS: 6.5