Monday, October 13, 2014

Italian Chicken Stew

Happy Fall everybody!  This is by far my favorite time of year. Cold enough to make soups and stews, chilis and casseroles, but still nice enough to open the windows and let a breeze blow through the kitchen while you're slaving over the stove.

Now, I know I've titled this post Italian chicken stew... but please please please do not mistake this for someone's Nonna's recipe.  This is one of those situations where the ingredients in my refrigerator drove the recipe and what came out looked and tasted "Italian" to me.  I almost called it "Tuscan Chicken Stew" but then I realized that this Irish American Ginger knows as much about traditional Tuscan cuisine as he does about interior design.  That is, he may have seen a couple of people do it on TV, but he has absolutely zero practical experience with the concept.

Now that I've got that off my chest, let's talk about this crazy tasty and filling stew I made for lunch today.

Last night before I went to bed, I pulled a couple of boneless and skinless chicken thighs out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator.  The plan was simple... I've been staring at a jar of capers on my refrigerator door for the past few weeks and I had some fresh thyme sitting in my vegetable drawer.  That's what I had in my head as I was falling asleep.
I did my normal internet reconnaissance for "chicken and capers" and paged through a half dozen braises and sautes. None of the individual recipes held my attention for long, but a general concept began to form as I started to apply my pantry to the different methods presented therein.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Roasted Chicken and Vegetables with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

So here I was, enjoying a beautiful day off, watching the Food Network and working on a chicken breast recipe that I've been mulling over for the past couple of weeks. I had my tweaks and ideas written down and decided to run downstairs to the kitchen to make sure I had all of the ingredients I needed.  Well, I popped open the fridge... and realized that I had cooked my chicken breasts the other day and instead I had chicken thighs defrosting in there. Bah!

Oh well, at least I had something defrosting to make for dinner. I hopped on here to see what I could whip up with chicken thighs that wouldn't take much work. (By this point, I was a tad hangry. Having my cooking plans thwarted so makes me both hungry and angry.)

To my surprise, I realized that I had never posted this recipe. I've made this dish several times a month since Christmas, as it is yet another dish inspired by something I found in Joe's Cookbook. In his version, he uses whole chicken legs, sunchokes and a fancy preserved lemon gremolata. At this point, about the only thing my recipe has in common with his is the fact that it roasts in a 450 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Parmesan-Herb Bread Pudding

I was flipping through the channels the other day and caught the opening sequence of Anne Burrell's Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. In it, she described what she'd be making that day and her herbed bread pudding caught my eye. 

You see, I have been a bread pudding fan for many many years. Sweet or savory, I love 'em. Reading the recipe online brought to mind the sinfully delicious cheese souffle that my friend Paul makes from time to time.  I freaking love that souffle.

So, without further ado, here's my version of this rich deliciousness.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pantry Fish Cakes

Working in a grocery store has given me ample opportunity to muse on various food items, recipes and general merriment in the kitchen. In fact, a good 80% of my work day consists of me daydreaming about what I can make when I get home, my next day off, and/or when I wake up the next day. (I currently work overnights stocking the grocery shelves at the local Wal-Mart. Trust me, my brain is not at all required for anything more than making sure I don't eviscerate myself with a box cutter.)

This daydreaming, however, can get downright weird.

Case in point, recently I have asked myself, on multiple occasions, what WOULD one do with a can of salmon? I ask myself this for two reasons. One, I LOOOOOVE salmon. Two... I absolutely cannot afford salmon. Remember, I bought a meat package. Splurging on more protein at over twice the price just isn't fiscally wise. In fact, it's just dumb. So I daydream about salmon... cheap salmon.

Now, it was immediately apparent that my go-to "sear-on-stove, finish-in-oven" preparation for fresh salmon was inadequate for this particular variant of my favorite seafood. I'd need to think of something new.

In my multiple hours of musing on this particular topic (yeah... I get bored) I had a brief epiphany when I remembered this recipe that I bookmarked months ago when I was daydreaming about a future wherein I COULD afford fresh salmon.

Upon further reflection, I decided that the salmon in the can probably has a decidedly different texture from that of fresh salmon. I imagined the salmon in the can to be more like tuna in a can (as they are both canned fish, I believe this constitutes a wild intuitive leap). I still thought I could make something tasty, even though I'd be straying far from what most people would call a "burger".

And here we are, after several days of mentally writing and re-writing a recipe in my head, I hit on one final dilemma.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Country Style Pork Ribs Pastoral

First off, I want to apologize. I have been cooking quite a bit for the past month, but have neglected to post a thing. This is partially because I have been going back through and revisiting old recipes. This is primarily due to the fact that I have been too lazy to bother taking pictures. Sometimes video games leech all semblance of ambition from my soul.

Fortunately, my ambition was recently bolstered by the Friends & Family Market here in Ellsworth. This fantastic store is a combination gas station, corner store, produce market, deli and butcher. The butcher offers meat packages at a discount. For $30, I completely stocked my freezer with this...
I told my sister that it felt like Christmas in April, unwrapping all of these delightful packages.  Her response... "It's Meatmas."

Meatmas indeed.

In the lower left of the above picture there is 2.5 lbs sweet italian sausage. Along with that came:
3 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 lbs. boneless pork country spareribs
2 lbs. chuck stew beef
Some other options for this meat package were:
  • 2 lbs. london broil steak
  • 2 lbs. bottom round roast
  • 2 lbs. beef cube steak
  • 3 lbs. pork sirloin cutlets
  • 2 lbs. italian meatballs
  • 2 lbs. slab bacon
  • 5 lbs chicken thighs
And many many more. At various price points, you can pick 4 - 18 different selections from the list. As you can imagine, I'm already planning my next package... though I won't need one for another two months at least.

In homage to my mother, I separated and re-wrapped individual portions of everything to make "freezer shopping" all that much easier.
Of all of my selections, the only one I had never cooked before were the pork spareribs. Unfortunately, the internet falls woefully short on imaginative recipes for this particular cut of meat.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Faux French Apple Tart

I bought an apple at the grocery store today with the express intent of making this. It's loosely based on Ina Garten's French Apple Tart that I saw her make on television this afternoon.

Instead of making my own dough in my imaginary food processor (I'll admit that I get a little bit peeved at Ina for using hers for practically every recipe,) I used my good old dessert standby: Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry.
The great thing about frozen puff pastry is that you can pull a sheet out of the freezer, let it thaw, cut off how much you want, and then re-freeze the rest. For this one person dessert, I cut off a piece just slightly larger than a 3x5 index card.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Quinoa-Black Olive Cakes

I may have mentioned a big bag of white quinoa that we have sitting in the kitchen.
Well, I finally found a recipe that I wanted to try.

It's delicious. Now, I usually cut recipes down when I'm making them for myself. In the future, I will probably do so with this one too...
Our mixing bowl situation in this house is, shall we say, sparse. So I mixed up the "batter" in this baking dish and realized that (thank goodness) I did not have to cook up all of these at once. I can actually pop the remainder in a tupperware and have the makings for quick, filling, vegetarian superfood cakes any time.
Did I mention that these were delicious?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Nana's Stuffed Peppers (Ham only, without rice).

I'm an idiot.

Sometimes I get an idea in my head and it swirls and gurgles and sits like a stagnant pond. This particular idea wouldn't go away, because it occurred to me every time I went grocery shopping.

It goes something like this:
Sausage is delicious.
Sausage is expensive.
I should buy a meat grinder.

Yeah, a fuckin' meat grinder.

Now, normally I can hold these spastic musings at bay. But then I got my tax return. My silly idiot mind started saying things like, "let's just see what Wal-Mart has in the way of small meat grinders," and, "maybe Amazon has something cheap but effective."

And the most insane one of them all, "Think of all the things I could make!"
Like I said, I'm an idiot.

Idiot like a FOX.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bonus Post - The Poor Man's Latte

From time to time, I'll wander through our kitchen and notice leftover coffee sitting in the coffee pot. It's cold and probably stronger than anyone wants it to be. I hate, hate, hate pouring this coffee down the sink. I'm also not a huge fan of pouring this coffee down my gullet, either.

This is how I reconcile the situation.

Take a big coffee mug. Pour in 1/4 cup of milk and however much sugar you normally put into a cup of coffee. (Black coffee drinkers, pour the damn coffee down the sink and make a new pot.)

If all you have is skim or 1% milk, add a healthy splash of half & half or heavy cream. Microwave the mug on high for 1 minute and 30 seconds (or until the milk heats up enough that some of the fat floats to the surface in the form of foam, but not so long that it boils over and makes a mess of the microwave.)

Fill the mug the rest of the way with the old, cold coffee.

Stir and Enjoy.

Sear-Roasted Chicken Breast

When I was grocery shopping two weeks ago, I came across a large package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts that were only $1.99/lb. This was cheaper than my beloved chicken thighs. I hemmed and hawed, having avoided these pale, flavorless pieces of white meat for years and years. Then I said, screw it, they're freaking cheap.

I'm glad that I did. After two weeks, I've realized why everyone loves this culinary chameleon. I've put it on salads, of course. I've eaten these on sandwiches, in tacos, over rice, on pizza and straight out of the refrigerator. And the best part, I've cooked them almost exactly the same way every freaking time. It's so easy!
Ce n'est pas un blanc de poulet.
This is not a chicken breast. This is part of a chicken breast. Cheap-o grocery store chicken breasts are generally gigantic. Also, they tend to be lopsided, being crazy thick at one end and skinny at the other. When I got mine home, I sliced each one diagonally so each one was turned into a round, fat hunk of chicken and a thinner, flatter tail piece (shown above). If you're using these instructions to cook a fatter piece, just leave it in the oven an extra 2-4 minutes and check the center of it before gobbling it up.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Skillet Macaroni and Cheese

While grocery shopping last week I did what I often do, I followed my cravings. Namely, I had been thinking about a grilled chicken sandwich with bleu cheese dressing all day long. When I make a sandwich like that, I like a lot of lettuce on it. I like the cool, crisp crunch and it makes me feel healthy even on top of the bleu cheese dressing. So, without thinking things through, I grabbed a package of leaf lettuce from the produce section.

Even the small bags have a LOT of lettuce.

For days afterward, I've been eating salads...
Lots and lots of salads...
And after about 4 salads in as many days... I was feeling GREAT!
With that in mind, I decided to finally get off my butt and find ways to use the big bag of quinoa that an ex-roommate left sitting on top of our refrigerator.

(Update: I did end up finding one.)

My first step was to go to the website where my sister found our absolute favorite quinoa salad recipe. This recipe makes a TON of salad and involves a ridiculous amount of chopping. I'm not kidding, I've given myself blisters when making this over at Casey's house.

It's worth it. I could eat this stuff all day long.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Basic Frittata with Leeks and Bacon

I have a very specific memory from my mom's kitchen.  (Okay, okay, I have HUNDREDS of specific memories from my mom's kitchen... this is one of them.)  I was in my late teens or early twenties, raiding my parent's refrigerator.  It must have been just after Christmas because there was leftover shrimp from our annual Christmas shrimp cocktail. I was enamored with the idea of omelettes at the time. My mother was sitting at the kitchen table paying bills while I whipped up an omelette heavy with dill and chopped shrimp. Mom hated it when we made a mess in the kitchen, but she was also inordinately proud that all of her children were able and willing cooks..

I remember thinking that maybe, when I was rich, I would settle down and open up a little breakfast joint that served only omelettes. (Did I say "enamored"? More like "obsessed".) The problem with this little fantasy is that omelettes are kind of a pain in the ass.

Now, more than a decade later, I find myself slightly less intrigued, but still very much "in like" with the idea of the frittata. Not surprisingly, it took a recipe from Joe's cookbook to show me how freaking easy they can be. As long as you have an oven-proof skillet, that is.

Everything you've ever loved in an omelette can be produced in frittata form. Case in point, I recently succumbed to a teensy bout of nostalgia and made one with shrimp and dill.
It was quite nice.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Puffy Oven Pancake

I love breakfast. Any time of day or night, I will be overjoyed to be eating some form of breakfast foodstuffs.

(This does not include Grape Nuts. If I wanted a bowl full of rocks, I'd go get a... wait a minute. I simply do not ever want to eat a bowl full of rocks... period.)

One other breakfast item that I have some trouble with is pancakes. I love them, I really do, but I always feel like a friggin' heifer whenever I finish a plate full of the doughy gut bombs. Sure, I've tried making silver dollar pancakes. Unfortunately, as my food gets smaller and cuter, my willpower drops exponentially.

It should come as no surprise that when I saw Ina Garten on tv making these fluffy alternatives, I just had to try them out. (Literally, when the episode was over I went straight to the kitchen and made one for myself.)

But before I jump right into this, there is one small thing I'd like to share. I keep, in my refrigerator, a zesting lemon.
This is why I almost never use any other citrus zest in a recipe if I can get away with it. Once I have suitably used up the majority of the zest on this bad boy, I'll most likely scour the internet for an easy lemon pudding or something.

Also, I do not currently have a microplane (shame, shame shame.) Any time anything needs to be grated, I just mince the hell out of it. What I do have, luckily, is a really nice old-school vegetable peeler.
This is why I almost never measure the amount of zest that I use. One strip generally suits my needs just fine.

Lastly, television cooking personalities always say to just use the zest (in this case, the yellow) and not the pith (the white). Well, lookie here...
And I wasn't even trying. My vegetable peeler zested the hell out of that lemon. I could have done it with my friggin' eyes closed.

And so ends of my "crap-I-don't-have-a-microplane-screw-it-I'm-not-running-to-the-store-for-that" zesting tutorial for the day.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Shrimp Paella


I know, I know... it's been a while. But I'm back, baby.

So, I had an excellent Christmas this year. And today, I'm going to talk about my favorite presents.

First off, my sister bought me a cookbook. True to my generation, I have never owned a cookbook. (Not including the family cookbook my sister created.) I almost exclusively use the internet and television for my inspiration in the kitchen.

This is ridiculous.

As a preteen, I used to spend hours reading my mother's cookbooks like novels. It only makes sense that my collection of cookbooks SHOULD rival my collection of sci-fi/fantasy novels. The truly amazing thing about this gift is the fact that Casey didn't even read through the cookbook before purchasing it, wrapping it, and putting it under the tree.
Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking For One - by Joe Yonan

This book is a wonder. As you can see, Casey's decision was kind of a no-brainer. It is the perfect complement to my single-yet-food-centric lifestyle. Let's just say, quite a few future posts of this blog will come with the disclaimer, "this recipe was inspired by Joe's cookbook."