Monday, June 28, 2010

Yes, I Really Made This

I have to admit I have a fascination with Sandra Lee that goes a bit beyond the fact that she's great to snark on. There is a part of me that has always wondered just what her recipes taste like. Some of them you just know are going to be nasty (like this one or this one) but some are just typical back-of-the-box recipes that all of us have probably eaten in our parents' kitchens at one time or another. The internet may be full of Sandra Lee detractors, but she does appear to have some kind of "Semi-Homemaker" fan base.

The things about processed food is that it can taste - well - good. No foodie will ever admit it out loud, but we all know that if it comes in a box, chances are it has been carefully crafted with the right amounts of fat, sugar, and salt to assure the best taste and texture. Processed food is a scientic marvel of maximum paltatability.

I would believe that almost everyone has a guilty pleasure of a processed food he or she loves. Case in point: Cool Whip. Do you know someone who loves Cool Whip? I would bet you know several. I have a coworker who loves to cook, but still waxes poetic with other colleagues on how much she loves Cool Whip. I was once discussing trifle recipes on an internt forum and was shocked at how many of the posters said Cool Whip was part of the recipe. I protested. "Why can't you just whip some real cream? It tastes so much better and isn't that much more difficult?" I was attacked instead of supported. "How can you say that? I love Cool Whip." I must have heard ten variations on that. Maybe Sandra Lee is on to something after all.

I had this idea that I wanted to cook a Sandra Lee recipe at some point. I thought I might cook a few. I just wanted to see how bad these recipes were. I wanted to see if I could admit it if I discovered that the recipe wasn't bad at all.

I went through the Food Network website and tried to find an appropriate recipe. Most of them were either covered in cheese or were recipes for meats that the husband won't eat. If they didn't, then they required a slllllllllllow cooker, which I don't have. (I wouldn't mind having one, but Sir Pickypants says he doesn't feel comfortable having an appliance turned on all day when we're out of the house.) My grand scheme failed. I suppose it was all for the best.

So if I want to make a trashy recipe, where do I go?

I had an inspiration from TV, but not from the Food Network.

I sometimes find myself watching "X Kids and Counting" in that car wreck sort of way. I'm not a huge fan of the Duggars. I'm sure they're nice people and all, but their lifestyle bugs me. I don't like the way the older kids are parenting the younger ones. I don't like the way they kids are raised in their tight little enclave without really experiencing any other way of living, and thus never really choosing the life they're given. They're like automatons. *

*I'm sure there are plenty of fans reading this blog. I'm cool if you're a fan. However, please refrain from leaving argumentative comments. There are plenty of forums out there for arguing those points. This isn't one of them. It's just my blog and this blog doesn't tolerate off-topic arguments.

The one thing that fascinates me is their recipes. They are the ultimate back-of-the-box recipes. The most famous one: Tater Tot Casserole! The more I heard about it, the more I felt I needed to try it. Something about Tater Tot Casserole suggests comfort food to me and yet I've never eaten anything like it.

While gathering ingredients to make a Tater Tot Casserole, I had a small crisis of conscience. The recipe consists of frozen processed potatoes, cans of soup, and no vegetables. Could I really do something like this?

"This is the experiment," said my head. "You're supposed to be seeing how a totally processed meal would taste."

My conscience argued, "This is about the recipe and not the ingredients. Cans of soup are so against everything you attempt to stand for."

My head argued, "Just this once can't hurt. Where is your sense of adventure?"

At this point that sense of adventure almost won out. Sandra Lee makes 70% store-bought ingredients and I should too. That's why I wanted to make this.

Then conscience made one more plea. "Sir Pickypants needs a low-sodium diet. Think of all that sodium in those cans of soup."

So that decided it. I was going to make a Tater Tot Casserole that would be as homemade as possible. My version would incorporate homemade stock and mushrooms in a homemade white sauce. Flavors wouldn't just be salty soup. There would be aromatics and wine.

I started by cooking mushrooms in lots of garlic.

I softened an onion and then browned some ground turkey really well. I added white wine and sage and cooked until it all evaporated.

Then I made a white sauce flavored traditionally with nutmeg and white pepper. The mushrooms and chicken stock were then mixed in with this.

Turkey went down into the bottom of the pan.

Next a layer of frozen broccoli cuts. This eased the vegetable guilt.

Mushroom sauce on the top.

Cover the whole thing with Tater Tots and bake for an hour.

This isn't your standard Tater Tot Casserole. I'm giving this a new name. It's Napoleon Dynamite Casserole, named for the character in the (awesome) eponymous cult film who loves his Tater Tots so much he hoards them in his pockets.

How did it taste? Pretty good. In short, this recipe is just Farmer Pie for people too lazy to slice or mash their own potatoes or make their own gravy. My version had plenty of great flavor, but I would bet the orginal version is a bit creamier given the amount of liquid and the lack of vegetables.

I learned that potato starch makes a less grainy sauce than rice flour.

Napoleon Dynamite Casserole

1 pound ground turkey
1 large onion, finely diced
1/2 cup white wine
2 tsp chopped fresh sage
10 oz mushrooms, sliced
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
Oil for sauteeing
3 pinches salt
2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl flour or potato starch
1 cup milk
1 cup light cream
1 cup chicken stock (low sodium - canned or boxed is fine)
1 pinch nutmeg
1 pinch white pepper
1 package frozen broccoli cuts, thawed
1 large package Tater Tots (or generic potato rounds)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Soften onions in a little oil. Add turkey and cook until well cooked through. Add wine and sage and cook until all liquid is evaporated. Season with first pinch of salt. Set aside.

Warm garlic in a little more oil. Toss in mushrooms and cook until they are well browned. Add second pinch of salt. Remove from pan.

Melt butter in the pan and add flour. Cook until you start to smell the flour toasting a bit. Whisk in milk and cream until smooth and continue whisking until it starts to thicken. Stir in chicken stock and cook another minute to thicken sauce up again. Add white pepper, nutmeg, and third pinch of salt. Stir in mushrooms.

In a 9x13" pan lay down the turkey mixture. Cover with frozen broccoli. Now pour the mushroom sauce over the top.

Cover the entire top of the pan with potatoes. Cook in the oven for 1 hour, or until potatoes are toasted and golden.

Then go vote for Pedro!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

One of the Strangest Things I Ever Cooked

Last week I bought these really good chutneys at the farmer's market.

I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them. The tomato one tasted pretty good cooked into a turkey burger and I sitll had half a jar left.

I learned a long time ago that hard boiled eggs are great in curry sauce as an alternate protein. I thought about doing a cheat and cooking some eggs and serving them with the chutney over rice with a vegetable. It would be a nice simple meal for a Friday night.

I roasted some cauliflower and boiled up some eggs. I was good to go.

Then I realized I had no rice.

I had polenta and I had barley. Those were the only starches in the house. I wasn't up to going out and buying more rice on a Friday night. I asked Sir Pickypants which he would prefer.

Polenta was cooked in chicken broth with a hint of tumeric. Dumped slices of egg along with the cauliflower on top of it along with the tomato chutney.

Husband loved it, so I must have done something right. It's amazing how good strange combinations could be.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Solstice Supper: NO MORE CHICKEN

When the day is going to be as long as it's going to be for the rest of year, you definitely want to be out as much as possible. The official beginning of summer deserves some kind of observance.

Let me state that I'M SICK OF CHICKEN.

It's not that I'm sick of eating chicken. I'm just sick of chicken recipes. I looked at my last few posts here and saw that 3 out of the last 4 posts I made have been chicken. The only one that wasn't chicken was dessert. This needs to be remedied.

I bought some very nice pork chops at the farmer's market this weekend. I bought some shrimp for SPP. It's time for a change.

I wanted to do something summery and fun. I wanted to make something that would taste wonderful on the grill - if I had a grill. I opted for a sweet and spicy mango sauce. I wanted to enjoy the longest day of the year by eating al fresco. I accomplished this by serving dinner on my balcony.

So for dinner I cooked pork chops on a grill pan and topped them with a sauce of mango, lime, and chipolte. On the side was just some grilled zucchini strips in lemon and olive oil tossed with grilled garlic scapes.

It's very hard to get a good photo on your dark balcony at close range. Sorry.

SPP got the sauce on roasted shrimp with the same side.

We washed it down with lots of wine as we sat on our balcony and watched the sun go down.* It was nice being out on the balcony with just the two of us. Often when Kevin comes home, he's frazzled and we end up sitting in front of the TV with whatever is in our Netflix queue, barely interacting with each other. Last night we drank wine and just talked. We had real dinner conversation. We talked about our upcoming July vacation. We mulled over the memories of our last trip. He even asked me about how I made my mango sauce.

*Okay. We didn't watch it go down. We face the opposite direction from the sunset. It did sound nice and poetic, didn't it?

So now I'm going to share that mango sauce recipe. Pour it on grilled chops. Toss it with roast shrimp. I suspect it would even be good on *erp* chicken.

Mango Sauce

1 Tbl olive oil
1 garlic scape, cut into small pieces*
4 mangoes, diced
1 Tbl apple cider vinegar
1 Tbl agave syrup**
Juice of 1 lime
2 tsp chipotle powder***
1/4 cup water (or chicken broth or juice)if needed
2 Tbl chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)

Cook garlic scape pieces in olive oil until fragrant. Add the mango chunks and cook until they begin to soften.

Stir in lime, agave, and vinegar. Continue cooking until mango starts to fall apart and it takes on a sauce-like consistency.

Stir in water/juice/broth if you feel you want a thinner consistency. Mix in cilantro and season with salt to taste.

Serve over your favorite proteins.

*Scallions would do nicely too
**You can also use brown sugar or honey. Just sweeten the sauce to taste.
***I would also think a choppped jalapeno or other hot pepper chopped up and sauteed with the garlic/scallion would also give the sauce a nice kick. It just would lack the smokiness.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A New Fried Chicken

My love of fried chicken is well-documented on this blog. A crisp crunchy coating turns a meat as ordinary as chicken into something extraordinary.

Fried chicken has always been a challenge for me. I always fear undercooking it or burning it. I’m afraid if I leave the heat under the oil on at the same leave, it will become too hot and burn my chicken before it’s cooked. If I turn the heat down, my chicken won’t cook properly and be all raw and greasy. I’ve had the latter happen to me. It wasn’t good. Despite the setback or two, I continue to try to make my own fried chicken because I want to be able to have fried chicken whenever I want it.

Now I have a new challenge. As we plug along in the Great Gluten-Free Experiment, it means I need alternatives for many commonplace foods. Fried chicken is traditionally coated in flour. How would one of my alternative flours taste? The time has come to find out. I decided to mix rice flour with some coarse cornmeal for flavor.

Fried chicken is one of those foods that is going upscale like bacon and strawberry shortcake and pickles. Hotty Totty chefs are now creating complex fried chicken recipes that requires things like brining. Personally, I think fried chicken is just as good the old-fashioned way. Marinate it in buttermilk mixed with plenty of hot sauce.

I gave my chicken a double dip back into the buttermilk and crumbs. Then it was into the hot oil.

Next I browned the chicken in the oil and then opted to finish cooking it in the oven. Is that cheating? Well, Martha Stewart does it that way. So does The Pioneer Woman. So does Ina Garten. If they can do it that way, so can I. It takes a lot of anxiety about oil temps and cooking times away. If you don’t like it, then my birthday is in a month and you can buy me a Fry Daddy!

You likey? I sure did. Unfortunately the coating on the first few pieces did burn a little. It was still wonderfully crispy. The cornmeal gave a different texture and flavor. The spices and the marinade made the meat beautifully tender with hints of spice. Although the coating was a bit black in some spots I had no issues with undercooking or overcooking the meat. This one was a keeper.

I was tempted to employ my new waffle iron and make chicken and waffles, but I have a beach vacation coming up in 6 weeks. I can’t afford the calories!

Gluten-Free Fried Chicken

1 chicken cut into 8 pieces*
3 cups buttermilk
Enough sriracha (or Frank’s) to turn the milk nice and pink
1 cup rice flour
1 cup coarse cornmeal
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
Oil for frying (I like peanut oil)

Place 2 cups of buttermilk in a bowl and mix in hot sauce. Submerge chicken pieces and refrigerate at least 8 hours.

Remove chicken from marinade and drain off excess buttermilk. Pat dry with paper towel.

Mix together flour, cornmeal, and spices in a shallow bowl. Place the third cup of buttermilk in another bowl.

Dip chicken pieces in flour mixture. Then dip them back into the buttermilk and then into the flour again. Let rest for 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour oil in large pan with deep sides such as a cast iron skillet (ideal) or sauté pan. Heat to 350 degrees. To test if it’s hot enough, toss in a shake of flour. It should sizzle and turn brown.

Cook chicken pieces in the oil and cook for 3-5 minutes per side until the coating is crispy ajnd browned. Don’t fry them all at once. Go in batches so the pan doesn’t become crowded.

Place chicken on a cookie sheet and place in the oven for an additional 15-20 minutes.

Remove from oven and try not to devour it all at once.

*I will not judge you if you buy a pre-cut chicken.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

It's All Emily's Fault

So after I posted my blog about my new Jackson Hole cookbook, Emily made the comment, "Hey! How about hazelnut crusted chicken with cherry sauce?" Well, that was like issuing me a challenge. I had a big bug in my ear that I absolutely MUST come up with a hazelnut-crusted chicken with cherry sacue recipe.

The first thing I had to think about was what I wanted for my sauce. I still had a bottle of port left over from my last fancy chicken dish, so I decided to use that. I wanted some shallots in there too, but I couldn't find shallots at the farmer's market. All I found were these young onions.

I used some thin chicken cutlets because they cook quickly. I did a very standard breading on these. I dredged them in rice flour, dipped them in egg, and coated them with a mixture of ground hazelnuts and gluten-free breadcrumbs. Then I fried them up.

Time to make the sauce. I sauteed the onion, added the cherries, and deglazed the pan with the port and some homemade chicken stock. I needed just a little something more.

I raided the spice cabinet and squeezed my brains. I did a little mad-scientist-style spice mixing until I came up with the perfect flavoring for my sauce: coriander, allspice, cinnamon, and cardamon along with just a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Well, thanks for the inspiration Emily, because this was a really good dish. I think it made up for the disappointing cherry sauce I had at Trio in Jackson. I really want to make this one again.

On the side was sauteed lambs quarter. I saw it in the farmer's market and was curious. I wasn't terribly impressed with it. It's greens.

Hazelnut-Crusted Chicken with Cherry Sauce

1 pound chicken cutlets
Flour for dredging
1 egg, beaten with a small splash of milk
3/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted and finely ground
1/4 cup bread crumbs
3 young onions, diced (or use 3 large shallots)
2 cups pitted cherries
1 cup port
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground coriander
Pinch salt and pepper
1 Tbl butter
Olive oil for sauteeing

In 3 separate dishes place your flour, egg, and crumbs mixed with the nuts. You can season the flour with a little salt and pepper if you like.

Dip each chicken piece in the flour, the egg, and then the crumb/nut mixture.

Fry in olive oil about 5 minutes per side. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Add onions and cook until softened. Add cherries and cook until soft and are giving off their juice.

Stir in port and chicken stock, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add spices. Simmer until reduced by about half.

Stir in the butter and cook another minute until nice and thick.

Serve sauce over chicken.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Strawberry Shortcake Cream on Top!

I remember eating strawberry shortcake when I was a child. When we had strawberry shortcake, it was a big deal. It wasn't something we had every day. My grandfather would make sweet biscuits out of Bisquick. The strawberries were usually thawed frozen ones. The cakes were topped with Redi-Whip. I loved them. Maybe real foodies would scoff at the lack of home-made-ness about them, but they embodied what strawberry shortcake should be to me.

It took a few years before I learned some people had other ideas about what strawberry shortcake was (ice cream bars excluded from the discussion of course). I remember a friend telling me about going to a family birthday party and having strawberry shortcake for dessert as the birthday cake. Wait a minute! How can you have a strawberry shortcake birthday cake? Do you just lay the biscuits on a tray all together and put a candle in each one? My friend was perplexed. What did I mean? It was a cake, a regular plain cake, filled with strawberries and whipped cream. I went to a few parties myself where "strawberry shortcake" was just plain white cake with cream and berries in the layers. The closest thing I ever saw to my childhood treat were those little angel food cake cups they sell next to the strawberries in the supermarket.

The current foodie movement seems to be reviving these old dessert trends. A year or two ago a friend of mine was talking about the great strawberry shortcake he had in a restaurant. "It was made with a biscuit," he said, as if it were some newfangled creation he had never heard of.

"Don't you get it?" I wanted to yell. "That's the way you're supposed to make strawberry shortcake. ARRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!! Blogs and cooking shows and cookbooks are showing more traditional shortcakes. In fact I was at the farmer's market this morning and one of the vendors who sold both baked goods and produce had among its baked goods sweet shortcake biscuits.

I didn't buy any biscuits from that vendor, but I did buy a ridiculous number of strawberries. I bought two quarts. Hey, the season ends before you know it. I want my fresh berries while I get still get 'em.

Shortcake was indeed the order of the day. My husband does love it dearly. I have always made it for him with biscuits. He does love his biscuits. I often made them with Bisquick, but at least I use fresh whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

Bisquick was out of the question since it contains gluten. It was time to trot out my new flours and see what I could come up with.

I made a biscuit dough of rice flour and almond flour and sweetened it with sugar. I also continued to play with the almond idea and added a little extract to the dough. I made them extra decadent by adding cream instead of buttermilk to the dough. I knew that rolled biscuits would look neater, but there is something so homey about drop biscuits (plus they're so much easier). Some sliced almonds would look good on top of them.

Well, the biscuits didn't come out very biscuit like. They were more like cake-like cookies. They spread and became very delicate. When I was processing the butter and flour, they never took on that coarse texture that you want when you make biscuits or pie crusts. They texture was very fine.

I'm wondering if there really is a way to make biscuits gluten-free so that they are really like biscuits. I would gueess gluten is part of what gives biscuits their texture. The commercially-made gluten-free breads and pizza crusts I have purchased recently have had a very sandy texture with no chewiness at all. I may have to simply suck it up that my shortcakes will always be like this.

You know what? It hardly matters. They tasted delicious. Maybe shortcakes weren't meant to be on cookies, but a big, soft, cake-like almond cookie is not a bad thing to be layered under whipped cream and strawberries.

I also macerated the berries in a touch of Grand Marnier. What can I say? Cathy's post on alcohol in foods gave me liquor on the brain. I was convinced a touch of liquer would simply bring out the flavor of the berries more. I put a splash of amaretto in the cream too.

I know you want some.

Sweet Almond Drop Biscuits/Mini Cakes (Gluten Free)
1 cup rice flour (You can also use 2 cups AP flour)
1/2 cup almond flour
1 Tbl baking powder
Pinch salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, cold and cut in pieces
1 1/4 cup chilled cream
2 tsp almond extract
Optional sliced almonds

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix together cream and extract. Set aside.

In a food processor, mix together the flours, salt, sugar, baking powder and sugar.

Add butter and pulse until butter is worked in well. If you are doing this gluten-free, the crumbs will be fine. They will be coarser if you are using all-puropse flour. Stir in the cream until just mixed in.

Drop big spoonfuls (you want them to be big enough to hold all of that strawberry cream goodness) on a cookie sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden.

To Make My Shortcakes...

Whip 1 cup of heavy cream with 1 Tbl sugar and 1 Tbl amaretto. Chill the bowl and the beaters beforehand for faster whipping.

Toss 1-2 cups sliced strawberries with 1 Tbl grand marnier

Top cakes with cream and berries and enjoy.