Sunday, September 28, 2008

Renée's Roasted Chicken and Potatoes

Whole chicken was on sale and I was sick so I decided to make a roasted chicken and then turn the leftovers into chicken soup. This is the roasted chicken part of the plan. Unfortunately, my camera battery was dead from the French Toast Experiment so there are not too many pictures for you here. I will narrate to the best of my storytelling abilities.

First you unwrap your lovely lady (the chicken, not your girlfriend) and give her a lukewarm shower in the sink (make sure your sink is clean on the bottom). Rinse out all cavities and crevices, also remove the bag that has the gibblies in it and put it in the fridge for later use in chicken soup making. (I call them gibblies, you got a problem with that?)

Now this part is a little bit hard but you can do it. Put your girl on a cutting board and get a small, sharp knife. Starting by the neck end, you are going to pull the skin up in one solid piece, cutting underneath at the stringy parts that make it stick to the chicken until you have a big skin flap that you can see the whole naked lady under (if you are really good you should be able to get the legs uncovered too, but that takes practice and if you can't do it the first time, its ok). Do not cut it completely free of the chicken! it should still be attached at the opposite side.

Now wash your hands. If you are smart you have made your spice rub ahead of time and can just start applying, but I always forget and have to make it after the de-skinning step. I just mix whatever I feel like in a little bowl. This time I used about a tablespoon of each of the following: sea salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, rosemary and sage. Mix them together well.

If you want at this step you can use your meat tenderizer or a fork to poke some holes in your chicken. I recommend NOT going through the skin, but hold it up instead and work underneath it.

Now the fun part. You are going to give your lovely chicky a nice rub down. Get some of that yummy spice rub and rub it under the skin of the chicken. Make a nice coating under there. Now you are going to stretch the skin back in place (don't worry it will stay). If you have left over spice rub, put it on the outside of the skin.

I baked my chicken in a clay baker (with lid on!) at 350° for 20 min/lb. You will be tempted to take the lid off and look - DON'T! Just let it bake and all the juices and steam will collect on the bottom. After its done you can take the lid off for a few minutes and let the skin get crispy if you want to. You want to keep that juice and bones and leftover meat for the chicken soup.

On to potatoes!

This part is super easy. Wash and quarter about 2lbs of baby potatoes (I prefer red, but white is good too, this time I used both). Put them in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle on some dried rosemary. Enough so that every potato will get some. Add about 1/4c of Olive Oil and toss until evenly coated. Then turn out onto a baking sheet.
Make sure that one of the cut sides is facing down. Bake at 400° for about 35-45 min. (If you want you can bake them with the chicken at 350°, but they will take around an hour or so)

Sorry for the bad plate picture but the lighting was bad and the flash reflected off the plate and then the camera died and I was hungry and didn't want to wait until it charged to eat. Yum! Perfect moist chicken and yummy crisp but tender potatoes. Don't mind the icky pile of green stuff. That was our adventure in frozen artichoke hearts. All I can say is, 'DON'T.'

Breakfast Monte Cristo - Cheesecake Factory Style

A few weeks ago Chris and I were headed out for the day and decided to go to the Cheesecake Factory for lunch. I wanted breakfast but since it was Sunday we were in luck because Cheesecake has an awesome brunch, only on Sundays. I decided to get the Breakfast Style Monte Cristo, which was scrambled eggs, bacon, Canadian bacon and Swiss cheese on French Toast. Let me tell you that it was so friggin' good. Their French Toast had corn flakes masterfully integrated onto the outside, forming a delicious crunchy crust on the French Toast. Upon seeing and tasting this, Chris immediately said 'I have to try and make that at home'. Fast forward a few weeks and here were are:

We decided to skip the two kinds of bacon and go for ham instead. Since the Jewish Holiday of Rosh Hashahna was coming up, we were able to get some beautiful, fresh Challah bread at our local supermarket. Along with your regular French Toast Fixins (a technical term) of vanilla, cinnamon, eggs and milk, we had our new additions of corn flakes, Swiss and ham. Don't forget your favorite tea!
We did the usual method of scrambling some eggs with a little milk, vanilla and lots of cinnamon, dipping in the bread and letting each side soak for a little bit (around 20-25 seconds since our bread was sliced pretty thick). Then it was a quick dip in the crushed up corn flakes and into a buttered, hot pan. We found that crushing up the corn flakes cooked more evenly and gave us a golden brown finish. See below:


It came out so good! Not exactly like the Cheesecake Factory but very close. Molto Bene! Note the finish of powdered sugar that Chris put on. It was VERY filling. I only ate one slice of the bread and most of the stuffing parts and I was absolutely stuffed. I cut up the rest and spread it around my plate so it would look like I ate more than I did. Shh! Don't tell Mom!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Renée's Football Sunday Chili

Sunday Football in our house is a big deal, especially when the NY Giants are playing. This past Sunday it was kind of a cooler NY September day, not like the extended summer we have been having. The perfect day to watch some football, hang out with our friends and make some spicy chili. I did not use a recipe for this, I made it up, but I will tell you how I made it. It came out perfect.

In your crock pot (I think mine is 6 or 7 qts) combine, 2 large cans of crushed tomatoes, 1 chopped red bell pepper, 2 lbs of cooked ground beef, 1 lb of cooked Italian sausage, 1 can of corn, and 1 bunch of scallions chopped, green and light green parts only. Add 1 cup of water and mix it all together. Then I added the spices: chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, garlic, onion powder, paprika, oregano, thyme, sea salt, black pepper, Cayenne pepper. For everything except the salt and Cayenne pepper, I used the "cover the top" method of seasoning. This is how my Great-Grandmother taught my Mom how to add spices. She doesn't measure, she just coats the top of whatever it is she is putting spices in until you can't see what's underneath. It's definitely not an exact science so I would suggest tasting often to see if you want to add more of something. For the salt I added two big pinches and for the Cayenne pepper I just sort of sprinkled it on top. Cayenne is very hot and can easily overpower the rest of the spices, so use a light hand with it, you can always add a little more.

NOTE: I used onion powder because our friend Anthony does not like onions. If he sees them in his food he will typically not eat whatever it is. He told me that he wasn't a big chili fan and I didn't want to push my luck by adding big onion chunks. Feel free to skip the powder and add real onions. I may try grating the onions next time. I would use 1 medium Spanish onion for this dish.

I added four rounded tablespoons of sugar at this point. The sugar helps balance the acidity of the tomatoes.

I had the crock pot on high for two hours and then turned it to low until we were ready to eat. Since the meat is already cooked, you are really just waiting for it to heat up and let all of the flavors come together.

You can top yours with whatever you'd like. I prefer shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream.

Things you might like to add to your chili: black beans, kidney beans, different peppers, salsa, veggies that hold up well when cooked for a long time such as eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms, chicken.

Next time I make this I am going to try removing the casings from the sausages or buying crumbled sausage. The sausages were delicious and I wanted to have more sausage flavor in each bite instead of once or twice in a bowl (I had 8 sausages which I cut into quarters before I cooked them).

P.S. The Giants won :)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Haifang's Creamy Figs

Another hit at our East Meets West Labor Day BBQ was Haifang's creamy figs!

She cut the top off the figs and then cut them into halves.

after that she put a dollop of creamy goat cheese on top of each one. (It tasted a lot like cream cheese.)

That blur is Haifang putting a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar on top by putting her thumb over the opening from the bottle.

Viola! Haifang's Creamy Figs! When we asked, she said she made it up with a friend. The final taste is sweet from the figs, creamy from the cheese and a little tart from the vinegar. Very tasty!

Make Your Own Sushi Rolls

We went to a friend's house for Labor Day. We had a BBQ that was half hot dogs and hamburgers and half roll your own sushi!

Koichi, the host, picked up all the ingredients that morning:

Rice for sushi is mixed with a special type of vinegar to give it flavor and help it stick together. That's the bottle in the back on the left.

Here we have tuna, imitation crab, and some other fish.

This is mint leaves and (since we're in California) avocado.

This is a special fermented soy bean mix. Knowing Koichi, it's probably something amazing that you can't buy because he just whipped it up.

And don't forget, Wasabi. Koichi told us once that this style of powered wasabi (mixed with water), is pretty much horseradish. And the actual wasabi in Japan has a different flavor because it's made from a different plant.

Notice that we've completely wrapped the bamboo roll in plastic wrap because we're about to make a California roll, which has the rice on the outside (not the seaweed). This keeps the rice from sticking to the bamboo

And Now, Koichi shows us how to make a california roll! (note, no sound on this one.)

Things to note:

  • see how Koichi pretty much folds the bamboo roll in half and makes the two ends of the bamboo roll touch, then he shapes the sushi inside the bamboo. That is a key element to rolling the sushi correctly.
  • It's not in the video, but to get that thin strip of seaweed, you *don't* tear it off the bigger sheet. Instead, you just fold the seaweed and it snaps cleanly.
And now, an easy mistake to make when rolling (and how to recover) (note: this one *does* have sound).

Now go back and watch Koichi again and you'll see how he folded it in half and pulled on the top to roll the sushi inside the bamboo (rather than just wrapping the bamboo around the sushi).

Next, Koichi shows us how to make Hand Rolled Sushi. (again, this has sound)

Note how he rolls it in a cone shape so the filling doesn't fall out of the bottom.

Later, we asked Koichi: "So does every Japanese kid learn how to roll sushi?" Koichi says, "No, not the kind with the bamboo. They know the Hand Rolled kind, because Mom's not going to roll it for everyone. You have to fend for yourself."

Here's a final look at the damage after our East meets West Labor Day BBQ!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Renée & Chris Try Danny's Diner Style Cinnamon French Toast

Today, Chris and I tried to make Danny's Diner Style Cinnamon French Toast. It was pretty easy and came out really good. Chris likes his a little darker than Danny suggests so that's why the plate on the left is different than the plate on the right (mine).

All of our ingredients:

Soaking our bread for 15 seconds:

In the pan with some butter:

All stacked up:

We found another brand of sparkling lemonade at the store last night. It's by Simply Enjoy. I'm not sure but I think it may be the store's new quality-type brand (generic but fancy). It was in our regular supermarket, Stop & Shop, and says that it is also from France, just like the other brand we tried, Lorina. This one was really good, just not quite as good as the Lorina, however it is half the price of the Lorina brand. I would definately buy it again.

Experiment: Herb Oil

I had some left over fresh Thyme and Basil so I decided to make use of the cool sparkling lemonade bottles we have to make some herb oil. It's basically fresh herbs and olive oil sealed in a bottle. The book that I bought this spring to help me with my herb garden, Your Backyard Herb Garden by Miranda Smith, has a section on using herbs in oil, how to store them properly and how to minimize bacteria growth. Since I just made the oil this morning, I am going to let it steep a bit before I use it. I'll let you know how it comes out.