Wednesday, September 21, 2011

You Didn't Ask, but I'll Post Anyway

I was surprised no one asked me for the cookie recipe.  I was wondering if folks are boycotting my blog.  Where is everyone?  Did I offend everyone with my Food Network and Pioneer Woman posts?
Okay.  I'm a big whiner.  I got it out of my system.  Now I'll give you the cookie recipe 3 weeks after I made them.
About 20 years ago my mother started acquring these fund-raising cookbooks by MADD.  One of the ones in the series was nothing but cookie recipes.  I discovered a pumpkin cookie recipe in that book that actually makes eating something as gross as pumpkin almost tolerable.  There was also a really delicious double chocolate chip cookie recipe.

The chocolate cookie recipe was like no other one I had seen before.  The base of the cookie was made with instant chocolate pudding mix.  This made for a very moist cookie and a very simple recipe.  I made these cookies constantly in the dorms in college because they didn't require too many ingredients or too much time.

There is a world of cookies to be made though and so many good recipes to try.  Eventually I dropped the pudding cookie recipe in favor or other cookie recipe made with more natural ingredients.  Still, when I left home for my own place years later, Mom sent all of her MADD cookbooks with me.  She never used them, but she knew I did.

Now it seems everything old is new again.  Pudding cookies seem to be all the rage in the blogsphere.  Everyone seemed to be making them.  Who knew that a recipe I made 20 years ago would become fashionable?  I pulled that MADD cookbook off the shelf and decided to resurrect them.

Once I made the decision to try making them again, I considered doing variatoins.  Instead of double chocolate,  I would try other flavors of pudding and other types of chips. 

I made two variations.  I made a chocolate chip cookie with vanilla pudding.  I wanted to make a butterscotch cookie with toffee chips, but I could only find fat-free/sugar-free pudding butterscotch in the store.  Instant pudding is scary enough without having to add more mysterious ingredients to make it fat free and sugar free.  I opted for banana pudding and peanut butter chips.

The cookies were pretty good.  I didn't think the vanilla ones tasted radically different from regular chocolate chip cookies..  The banana flavor could have been stronger in the banana cookies and the artificial flavor was defintely a bit artificial.  I am also starting to notice that peanut butter chips taste very strongly of the hydrogenated fats used to make peanut butter stay in sold chip form.  Just as I remembered, the pudding gives the cookies a wonderful texture!

I apologize for the lack of photos.  Just forgot to take any.

Pudding Cookies

  • 2 cups sifted all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 package vanilla instant pudding mix*
  • 2 sticks butter at room temp
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 12 oz. chocolate chips*
Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Sift together flour, pudding mix, and baking soda.

Beat butter in a large mixing bowl until creamy.  Beat in sugar until fluffy.  Then beat in eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.  Gradually beat in flour/pudding mixture.  Carefully stir in the chips.

Drop by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet.  Bake 10 minutes or until the begin to look dry.

*For Banana-PB cookies use banana pudding and peanut butter chips.

Here are some other things I have cooked, but haven't posted.

Here is a great veggie variation on Eggs Benedict.  I started with a roasted portobello mushroom cap.  I put down a slice of proscuitto (optional) and some spinach sauteed with garlic.  I topped it with a poached eggs and then finished the whole thing off with a sauce made of pureed roasted peppers, olive oil, basil, and a little white wine vinegar.  (Yes, I totally stole the idea from Cook Yourself Thin.)

Another egg dish:  This one is my take on Huevos Rancheros.  I fried a corn tortilla (as in stuck it in the Fry Daddy - it was gooooooood).  Then I added some homemade salsa made from farm market tomatoes that I mixed with black beans.  A fried egg and some avocado slices went on top.

Mid-Week Asian, a chicken and hot pepper stir fry.  Here I cut up some boneless, skinless chicken thighs and tossed them with  soy sauce, orange juice, a little orange zest, ginger, and garlic, onions, cashews and these gorgeous multicolored local peppers.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A New Take on Blueberries (Yay! I'm blogging)

I was so prolific a couple of weeks ago and then went back to dead silence.  I never even bothered to post my cookie recipe for the cookies I made Labor Day Weekend (twist my arm and I still might) or show the creative egg variations I made for breakfast and dinner the following week . There is no excuse for it either.  I used to say I wanted to publish at least one blog a week on my other blog to keep my writing fresh.  I haven't done that either even though I have 3 blogs I want to write.  Make that two.  One is already written and I'm too lazy to publish it!

I probably haven't stopped much by your blogs either, dear Muffins.  I'm sorry about that too.  I have swooped by some of the ones on my follow feed, but haven't visited many others.  I truly am a bit Disordered, no?

I have been suffering a bit from the Food Bloggers Curse.  No new recipes have crossed my path or my head.  It's hard to write a blog when you have nothing to blog about.  (What do you mean, "What about those cookies?")  I did finally hit some inspiration this week and now I can share with you the fruits (yes, I suppose there is a pun in there) of my labor.

I have had a glut of blueberries in the kitchen lately.  I keep wanting to buy them every time I'm at the farmer's market.  I feel like I have to keep buying and buying while they are still there and still fresh.  (I feel the same way about tomatoes and keep having marinara-making nights as well.)  I make a lot of breakfast smoothies, but it was time to figure out some other uses for them.

It's not unheard of to put blueberries in a savory dish, but it's not all that common.  While raspberries, cranberries, and blackberries often seem to make their way into many a savory recipe, the sweeter berries like strawberries and blueberries are often ignored.  That has been changing in recent years, but it's still not as common.

I decided to put my blueberries to use in a glaze for a roast chicken.  I would temper the sweetness with balsamic vinear (ever since the Pioneer Woman show debuted, I have this uncontrollable urge to say bal-SAM-ic) and add some rosemary then finish it off with butter and see what would happen. 
The free-range chickens in the store were rather small, so I decided to buy two.  I cut out the backbones (hee hee -spatchcock!) and prepared them the way I often prepared game hens.  I browned them in a pan before glazing and finishing in the oven.

I know the photo, despite the use of the light box, isn't really indicative of anything.  It looks like every other roast chicken I've ever made, but let me tell you, this recipe was fantastic.  The combination of blueberries and rosemary was just out of this world. 

Like the beans?  They're long beans that I saw at the farmer's market over the weekend and couldn't resist buying.  They had an interesting flavor, but I wasn't crazy about their toughness and starchy texture.  At the market they said to saute` them or braise them.  I braised them with some stock, a little red wine, and crushed clove of garlic.  I braised the heck out of them and they were still a bit tough.  I probably won't buy them again, but I will check out this one particular vendor again.  He had all sorts of intriguiging veggies that I think I should try.

Roast Chicken with Blueberry-Balsamic Glaze

  • 2 2-3 lb chickens
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 Tbl butter
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the backbones from the chickens by cutting up and down both sides of the spine with kitchen shears.  Press on breastbone to flatten.  Set aside.  (Don't forget to save your backbones for making chicken stock in the future.)

Puree` the blueberries.  Press them through a sieve into a bowl to remove the skins.  Place the puree` and the vinegar in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and add the rosemary.  Simmer until reduced and thick.  Stir in the butter.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan or saute` pan,  Sprinkle the chickens with salt and pepper and place them skin-side-down in the hot oil.  Brown well.  You should be able to lift the chicken off the bottom off the pan easily when it's ready.  Flip and brown the other side lightly.

Place the chickens on a large, rimmed cookie sheet.  Brush generously with blueberry sauce.  Roast for an additional 45 minutes.  Allow to sit 10 minutes before carving.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Chicken Newton?

There is a bit of a nip in the air in the evenings and that's starting to make me think of cooler weather dishes (even though its' still August, the days are still hot, and it's not even Labor Day yet).  Lately I've had a craving for big cuts or roasted meats flavored with sweet fruits.  I think of apple-stuffed pork loins or my favorite branded fruit sauces poured over just about anything.

In this household though, most of the time, those roasts are just going to be chicken breasts.  I can still stuff them with fruits, can't I? 

My brain really took a strange detour because I started thinking of dried fruits.  I don't know why.  I tend to prefer just about any fruit fresh to their dried versions (except for apricots).  Dried fruits are almost always too sickly-sweet for me.  Despite all of that, I found myself thinking of dried figs.

I came quite late to the fig party.  My experience with figs either came encased in a cookie or else seeing how much my grandmother enjoyed dried figs.  They never thrilled me.  I wasn't crazy about the taste or texture.  Three years ago I tried fresh figs for the first time and discovered how much I loved them.  Like grapes and plums, their edibility increased manifold when they were fresh. 

I can't explain to you why I decided it would be fun to stuff a chicken breast with dried figs.  I just couldn't get the idea out of my mind.  I specifically wanted to soak the dried figs in booze and mix them with pine nuts.  I was just compelled to make that a recipe.

I originally wanted to soak my figs in marsala, but learned at the last minute that I had none.  I decided to try bourbon instead.  I love cooking with bourbon even if I don't like drinking it.  I soaked my figs for about 30 minutes and ground them up in the food processor.

I mixed them with toasted pine nuts.  Then I flattened out some chicken breasts.  I laid two slices of prosciutto down (on my portion anyway), spread the fig-nut mixture on them, rolled them up, and stuck them in the oven. 

Halfway through the cooking, I poured the soaking liquid mixed with a little chicken broth over them.

I served them over a bed of zucchini and yellow squash cooked on the indoor grill and tossed in a dressing of orange juice, orange zest, garlic and scallions. 

The pan juices were AWESOME.  The chicken was a little dried out.  I will cook it less the next time.  I'm afraid the filling tasted a little flat.  I think it needed something else besides figs, nuts, booze, and salty pork product.  I find that unusual since I'm the one who preaches about simple flavors!  Maybe all it needed was a pinch of salt or two.  I'm not sure.

I call it chicken newton for obvious reasons.  I can't get the cookie connection out of my head.

Chicken Newton

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, tenders removed, pounded thin
15 dried figs
1/2 cup bourbon
6-12 slices prosciutto
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup chicken broth
Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Soak figs in bourbon about 30 minutes.  Reserve soaking liquid and grind the figs in a food processor.  Stir the pine nuts into the ground fig mixture.

Lay out the chicken pieces.  Place 1-2 slices of prosciutto over the top.  Spread about 2 Tbl of the fig/nut mixture onto the chicken.  Roll up and place in pan.

Sprinkle chicken rolls with salt and pepper and place in the oven.  Cook 15 minutes.  Mix together the bourbon and the chicken stock and pour into the pan.  Cook an additional 15 minutes.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

All TV Cooks Are Created Equal?

Everyone is now well aware of the "fight" that has been going on between Anthony Bourdain and Paula Deen.  Food lovers and TV lovers everywhere are sitting back and munching on the popcorn as this plays out.  Armchair warriors for Team Tony and Team Paula are weighing in across the internet.  I have been leaving comments on forums and blogs everywhere.  I decided it was time to to do a blog of my own.

Every successful TV food personality has some kind of schtick, a persona that they present to the viewer.  That persona may or may not be related to the person they really are.  They do have maintain this image if they want to hold on to their base audience. 

Rachael Ray is the clean-cut perky girl next door who wants everyone to know she's not perfect.  She has to do this to make people feel comfortable with their own ignorance or incompetence.

Guy Fieri is the manchild frat boy who never grew up.  He wants to be the guy who hosts the tailgate party at every game.

Sandra Lee is the obsessive-compulsive homemaker who is in love, totally in llllllllove with everything she cooks.  She has to push that love as much as she can because she really needs to convince people that this food is gawna be good.

Giada DeLaurentis is subtly sexy and generally understated.   She tends to let her looks due the talking.  Quite obviously loves speaking Italian.

Paula Deen is your eccentric aunt who acts like a nice southern lady until she comes out with some naughty joke.  She wants to feed you and feed you a lot.  There is something very familial about her.  She wants to remind y'all that she's from the south though. 

Tony Bourdain is the cool badass dude who wants to show the world that he is willing to eat anything and everything and has extraordinary contempt for the conventional and commonplace.  He is somewhat like Guy Fieri in some ways.  Fieri doesn't want to leave the frat house.  Bourdain still wants to be one of the cool kids who hangs in smoky bars, flirts with danger, and tries to prove how cool he is by showing you how much he doesn't care.  He never quite grew up either.

Yes, Bourdain has a schtick just like any other TV personality.  Maybe it's authentic, but he definitely works hard to push that image out there and maintain it.  He really wants you to know his contrarian opinion in the hip and correct one.

Here is a good example of image management.  Contrast for a moment Tony Bourdain with Rachael Ray on the topic of smoking.  Bourdain wanted to let you know that he smoked and didn't care if you didn't like it.  Smoking on camera made him that much cooler.   It was a reminder that he didn't care about public opinion.  Ray kept her smoking habit under wraps for years because it would ruin her image as the clean-cut girl next door..  Although now claiming to have quit, she denied ever doing it until that photo of her holding a cigarette in front of the Louvre (and a mention or two on Gawker) kind of outed her as a smoker.  Bourdain has let us know that he didn't want to quit.  He did it for his child and if it weren't for that baby, he'd be doing it till it killed him.  Cigarettes, or lack thereof, were a huge part of image and image management for both of them.

An acquaintance of mine defended Bourdain recently saying that he "walks the walk."  He has tons of experience in professional kitchens.  He has written cookbooks.  He travels everywhere and eats all of the food.  He is serious.  He means business.  He has been there and done that and has earned the right to act the way he does because he does things no one else will do. I say that's fair enough, but just because not everyone has walked his walk doesn't mean their experience isn't valid.

Paula Deen worked her way up from nothing, overcoming crippling agoraphobia to create an incredibly successful restaurant business.  One would think that Bourdain, and others like him who like to bash Deen would give her credit. If she's such a terrible cook, then she probably wouldn't have had much success with her restaurant, would she?  Bourdain once said the definition of a chef is someone who has cooked as the head of a professional kitchen.  By Bourdain's own definition Paula Deen is chef.  Imagine that.

Foodies love to dismiss the whole gang of Food Network cooks as one large gang of untalented amateuers and that Sandra Lee is the equivalent of Paula Deen who is the equialent of Giada DeLaurenits.  I'm not sure where this comparison comes from.

DeLaurentis studied at Le Cordon Bleu and worked at Spago before becoming a food stylist and eventually landing on the Food Network. 

Guy Fieri lacks culinary school training, but has worked in restaurants including managing and owning them most of his life.

Sandra Lee is a failed decorator with no real food background.

Rachael Ray worked front of the house in restaurants and in food retail, but was never trained in cooking.  She had no food business of her own and taught basic cooking classes. 

We're dealing with a mix of experiences and skill levels here.  Hardly any of these cooks are the same.  Paula Deen has some cred in my opinion, although it may not be the most nuanced or sophisticated.  Watch her earliest episodes of Paula's Home Cooking and you will see something a bit different from what you see now.

I have mixed feelings about Paula Deen these days because of what has happened to her show.  I have talked about this before.  I have seen her cook things from scratch.  I have seen her cook outside of the comfort zone of her own sphere of cuisine (such as Italian and French dishes).  I have seen her cook things with reasonable amounts of fat.  Buried under that Food-Network-generated image there is someone who is somewhat competent - more so than some of her colleagues, although less so than many others. Her food may not be your cup of tea, but I'm not so sure all of it needs to be demonized.

I also think it's quite hypocritical to criticize the high fat food of Paula Deen when she is hardly the first cook in the world to cook with copious amounts of fat. I have remarked on more than one occasion that folks rarely call out Ina Garten on the obscene amounts of butter and cream that sometimes go into her dishes.  I guess a tony Hamptons address does miracles for your food's image.  Did Julia Child back off the butter?  I don't think so.  Pork belly, foie gras, proscuitto and various other artery-cloggers are all hip and trendy ingreidents and high-end, seemingly more respectable chefs are loading onto their menus.  Is fried chicken a lowbrow and unhealthful food?   It is unless Thomas Keller makes it.  That goes the same for macaroni and cheese, which graces so many pricey menus these days.  Comfort food is all the rage as long as it isn't made by someone who cooks comfort food habitually.  The Les Halles cookbook is chock full of heart attacks on a plate.  It's one thing to serve Cheez Whiz, Cool Whip, and onion soup mix (I'm looking at you Sandra Lee), but if butter is your biggest sin, then look in the mirror before criticizing anyone else.

I'm not saying that Bourdain doesn't have a point.  I think I have said enough times how much I can't stand Rachael Ray. I have been unable to find a single Sanrda Lee recipe that I would ever want to cook (and I've tried).  I hate the fact that cooking good decent homemade food is something that is now seen as complicated and elitist.  I wish that both the Food Network and the people who watch it would understand that there really is a middle ground between CIA-style cooking and throwing together a box of this and a can of that with a chicken breast.  You can create healthful food with a handful of  fresh ingredients and just a few basic techniques.  It's not as hard as the Food Network wants you to believe.  I also agree with Bourdain that we can't be pushing organics as the only food worth living when half the population can't afford such a lifestyle.  I agree with him on more topics than you would guess.  I just can't stand his presentation or his incredible judgmentalism.  It doesn't really add to his argument.

Paula - Go back to cooking the way you did ten years ago.  Make satisfying southern cuisine from scratch and throw a few surprises our way now and then.  Stop the cackling.  Cook food that you would be proud to serve in your restaurant.  I mean it about cutting back on the cackling.  Stop shilling for Smithfield.

Tony - Stop acting superior to everyone who doesn't cook or think like you.  I've never heard anyone say anything complimentary about Les Halles, so what does that say about your culinary talent?  (What?  You're not affiliated with Les Halles anymore? Then you really need to shut up.  You're not in the business yourself anymore it seems, so from what angle do you speak?)  Travel the world and show us international cuisines for our entertainment.  Just don't assume it makes you better than the rest of us.

Now please just go to your rooms and don't come out again until you learn to make nice.