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Archive for the ‘Main Courses’ Category

Anybody can cook. I’ll say it again because it’s the truth, and it needs to be emphasized.

I have a coworker who by all accounts (his own included) can’t cook.  He recently mentioned that he has never made spaghetti. (To clarify, he has never boiled pasta in water-ridiculous)  Our office has been providing him various easy recipes to try, with little success on his part. Not due to his enthusiasm, as he has plenty, but rather he makes critical mistakes only one with no experience cooking could possibly make, often ending in hilarity. Kevin, another coworker who is also pretty talented in the kitchen,  recently gave him a recipe “he couldn’t mess up” – taco pie – a baked concoction of pre-made croissant dough, taco meat, seasonings, and the usual accompaniments of sour cream, lettuce and tomato.  He painstakingly wrote a step by step instruction guide. I thought he’d botch the croissant dough, but apparently that wasn’t his downfall. No, our fearless coworker followed the directions almost perfectly, but made the fatal mistake of adding the lettuce and tomato, THEN BAKING the dish. Baked lettuce. You read that right.

After the countless jokes made in his honor eventually subsided over the days, many of us took it as a challenge of sorts to get him up and running in the kitchen. Some even doomed him as  hopeless unless he received in-person instruction. Some of us weren’t ready to give up on him.  We created an office wager where different employees would provide the employee with a recipe.  Whatever recipe he successful completes and thinks tastes best, provider of said wins free lunch from other employees.

There had to be something he could pull off, apart from top ramen, that would be easy and delicious. I was tempted to recommend prepackaged shake-n-bake, but I wanted to take it a little farther and have get a little more down and dirty. Soup seemed like the best route.  So I crafted out one of my favorites that my mom and I make every once in a while, and modified it slightly to make it easier on him.

After walking through the grocery list at the end of the day at work, and answering several random questions about the process, I nervously sent him on his way.

I received a few phone calls over the evening as he first shopped, then prepared the meal.

6:17pm: “Would garbanzo beans work in place of pinto beans?”

6:26pm: I attempt to encourage him via text message with an inspirational fake quote.  “Confidence is key – Bobby Flay”

6:29pm: Coworker responds via text with “Good advice but who’s Bobby Flay?” FAIL.

8:27pm: Frantic phone call received.  “I’m screwed. I don’t have a pot big enough for soup and I haven’t even started yet.” (He had no pots at his house. That dilemma was solved when we discovered he had 4qt sauté pan he could use for the task)

9:19pm: Picture text message received from coworker showing cut chicken and ingredients stove side, with caption “Ready to go!”

I didn’t hear from him for the next hour, and finally got nervous enough where I had to call and see how it went.

“How did it go?”

“Just sitting down and taking my first bite, but it turned out really good.” You could here the excitement, and dare I say, pride, in his voice. He continued. “You should see how I presented it. I did  little cuts of avocado on top, then dollop of sour cream in the bowl. I took pictures”

Now I was pleasantly surprised and smiling a bit. Not only had he made something he was proud of, he also took pictures of it to share. Good lord. He’s moving quick into the food nerd category. Apparently it turned out pretty good. Now granted, what I told him would take thirty minutes ended up taking two hours, ten minutes, but hey, it’s a start.

So that’s my story for the evening. Anybody can cook. Give yourself some time, build up that courage, and try something new. The recipe is below. I have kept most of the original text I gave him in terms of instructions, which is dumbed down, as he had absolutely no cooking experience when attempting this. That being said,  I’m super proud of him.

Easy White Bean Chicken Chili

Ingredients

2 skinless/boneless chicken breasts, unfrozen, cut into ¾” cubes (If you can find cooked chicken that is cut into pieces for you, that’s fine)

1 large onion, chopped (cut into pieces size of thumbnail)

2 cloves garlic, finely diced (cut into half a grain of rice size)

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1 teaspoon ground cumin

32oz of chicken broth

¼ teaspoon red pepper sauce (Tabasco, or your favorite hot sauce)

2 cans (15 to 16 oz each) white kidney beans, drained, rinsed

1 can (11 oz) white corn, drained (yellow canned or frozen corn would work fine too)

1 lime, cut in half. (You are going to squeezed all the juice into the soup )

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground pepper

¼ cup instant mashed potato flakes (optional)

1 avocado (sliced)

Sour cream

Crushed tortilla chips

Making the Soup

Put pot on stove on medium heat. Put two tablespoons of oil (canola, olive or butter) into pan and put all the onions in as well. Stir the onions every minute, for 5 minutes. DON’T BROWN THEM. If they start to brown, remove pan from heat and turn heat down. After 5 minutes add your garlic, chicken, cumin and oregano. Cook and stir constantly until the chicken is done (Cut a chicken cube in half, and if there is no pink, it’s done).

Add chicken broth, hot sauce, beans, corn and lime juice. Bring to boil for 3 minutes, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

While soup is boiling, clean your cilantro. To do this, fill a large bowl with cold water, and dunk the cilantro into the water aggressively multiple times. What you are doing here is cleaning the cilantro – there is lots of dirt of the little leaves you want to get off. After you’ve dunked them a bunch, dry them in paper towels. Cut only the bushy part of the cilantro, and try to avoid the stems. The stems have no flavor, the leaves do.

Add cilantro, salt and pepper to chili mixture and simmer for another 10 minutes.

(Optional) After 10 minutes, if the chili looks a little thin for your preference, whisk in the mashed potato flakes into the chili, and simmer for another 5 minutes. This will thicken it.

Presentation

Serve soup in bowls. Place several wedges of avocado on top of chili, along with a dollop of sour cream and some crushed tortilla chips.

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In what is looking to become a recurring theme, it appears I have several ingredients in my fridge that are long overdue for use (see: about to go bad), including a significant portion of red bell peppers I have been using for salads, pastas, and coulis.

It’s a Friday, my work week is over, and I’m thrilled to be in the kitchen after a week long break- not by choice, I simply haven’t had the after work energy. My good friend Ficken is on the way over to hang/help, so I start on my kitchen playlist. For me, and I don’t know if it’s this way for any one else, but music and the creation of food go hand in hand. Like hot sourdough bread and butter. Like milk and cookies. Like Hall and Oates. Something special happens when I’m in the kitchen and the music is playing – I can’t quite put words to it yet. More thoughts on this later. I begin to compile my playlist instinctually, without thought- a little Sufjan Stevens, a little Panda Bear, some Fleet Foxes. It appears I am a folk mood. Let’s balance it out a little. Lil Wayne makes the cut, a little Athlete, some Saturday Knights, and I call it good. Time to get down to business.

This recipe wasn’t that difficult or too time consuming- roasting the peppers was a little challenging, but other than that, a walk in the park. As I was roasting these bad boys under the grill, the smell quickly took over the whole house, and it was fantastic. I I can’t get the smell out of my head, or my clothes, for that matter. But that’s not entirely a bad thing.

Bisque
2 lbs red peppers
1 yellow onion, diced
1 T butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 quart chicken stock
3-4 T heavy cream
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Prawns
.5 lbs prawns, deveined and shells removed
2 T olive oil
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp parikia
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

In a large soup pot (4.5 quart or larger), add onions and butter and sweat the onions till almost translucent, but still firm, about 6-7 minutes. (Sweating an onion is the act of cooking the onion over low heat in butter or oil, taking care not to brown the onions. The onions will begin to give off a lot of moisture, hence the term sweat.) Add crushed garlic and cook for two more minutes. Remove from heat.

While the onions are sweating, place whole peppers underneath a broiler on high. Try to get the peppers about 3 inches away from the heating element. As soon as the skin of the pepper is completely black, rotate the pepper under the broiler to black the next side. Repeat until all sides are black. When finished, put the peppers in a brown bag or in a bowl under a cloth for a few minutes, until cool enough to handle. (This will steam the peppers making it easier to remove the skin.) After the peppers have cooled for a few minutes, remove the skins, pull out the core and cut into four pieces. Take care to remove all the seeds. (I did this by scraping a knife against each pepper. If you miss a few, not a huge deal, we’ll strain them out later.)

Place the roasted pepper pieces into the pot with the onions. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil- cook the peppers for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Using a blender or food processor, blend the soup for a minute or two, until very smooth. Using a fine strainer, pour the mixture through the strainer back into the pot, the goal being to remove any seeds, skin or chunks you missed. Add cream, spices, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 3-4 minutes. Pull from heat.

Prawns
Put all ingredients in a ziplock bag and mix thoroughly. Place prawns on a cookie sheet and bake at 425 for about 2 minutes, until tops of prawns are pink. Remove from oven, flip the prawns, and cook another minutes into mostly pink and barely translucent.

Plating and Presentation

Serve bisque in bowls. Arrange prawns on outside edge of bowl. Using a tablespoon or squeeze bottle, float a few drops of cream on the top of the soup for garnish.

Enjoy!

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When I dine out, my choice of entree is often dictated by dishes I’ve never made at home. I find inspiration in examining ingredients other chefs are combining to create unique, vibrant dishes. A great example of this is a recipe I came across this afternoon: Cucumber, salmon, lemon and cream on pasta. Cucumbers in pasta? My first reaction was “bizarre” but then I started mulling it. Cucumbers go well in cream. Cucumbers go well with salmon. Cream and salmon go well with lemon. Pasta seems like a natural extension. Recipes like this really get me pumped up to try new concepts and pairings. I’ll try this one later and let you know how it goes.

Anyways, this weekend I was inspired by a dish I had at Fratelli in Portland. The seafood special was Oregon Albacore in a red bell pepper coulis, with potato puree and some sort of a kalamata tapenade on top. Instantly intrigued by the waiter’s description of the ingredients used, I knew I had to give it a whirl. It was incredible. However, I was surprised by the coulis as it had a sweet and sour finish to it. I asked our waiter if he wouldn’t mind sharing how that was accomplished. He scurried off to the kitchen and came back and told me the chef used vinegar and honey. With that new found knowledge of how to accomplish sweet and sour, I felt confident I could recreate this dish no problem. Taking inventory of my fridge today, I realized I didn’t have any kalamata olives so I thought I’d go with tomatoes instead.

Grilled Ahi with Sweet Sour Red Pepper Coulis, Garlic Potatoes and Tomatoes

Sweet & Sour Red Pepper Coulis
(Coulis recipe adapted from Rover’s)

2 large red bell peppers
2 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 t cayenne
2 T vegetable stock
3 T olive oil
2 T rice wine vinegar
2 T honey
1 t salt
1 t pepper

Remove stem and seeds from bell pepper and cut into 1 inch squares. Heat skillet to medium and add 1 T olive oil. Add bell pepper and garlic- cook 1-2 minutes until aromatic. Add vegetable stock and cook 6-8 minutes, until bell peppers are soft and tender. Take care not to brown them. If the skillet starts to look dry, add another tablespoon of stock. Transfer bell peppers to blender and puree for 2 minutes until smooth, while adding remaining olive oil. Transfer to small sauce pan, add honey, vinegar, salt and pepper and simmer for 2 minutes.

Garlic Potatoes
1.5 lbs red potatoes
4 T butter
2 T warm milk
Salt & pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Quarter the potatoes and boil them till cooked through. (Done when you can stick a fork easily through them) Strain the potatoes and add the butter. Using a hand mixer, blend the potatoes and slowly add the milk. Beat them till their fluffy and smooth. Don’t be afraid to add a little more milk if the potatoes are dry.

Sauteed Tomatoes
2 c cherry tomatoes, cut in halves
1 clove garlic
1 T butter
Saute tomatoes on medium heat in garlic and butter until soft, about 5 minutes.

Ahi
Grill the ahi on a hot grill for about 4 min on each side. You want to sear the ahi, so that it is still undercooked in the middle.

Presentation and Assembly
Place a pool of pepper coulis on the bottom of the plate. Place a large scoop of mashed potato on top of the coulis. Arrange the ahi as you like on top of the potatoes, then top with tomato mixture.

 

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Easy Greek Chicken

Hello.

And welcome to my little blog. Until a little while ago, I would never imagine myself writing those words. I also find it humorous that my first post contain the word “easy” because I don’t want to establish any sort of expectations or precedents. I love to cook, but the truth is, I am completely unpredictable. I’m bipolar in the kitchen. There are days when I want to do nothing but spend hours in the kitchen, and there are days where I have absolutely no desire to make anything. It’s the same way with the techniques I use and genres I explore. While I tend to lean more towards Italian, I love Greek, Americana, Mexican, etc. Likewise, you’ll find me microwaving in one recipe, and reducing/deglazing in the next.

While I’ll discuss all things food in this blog, in specific regards to my efforts in the kitchen, I hope to document both the easy and terrifying, the plain and the elaborate, the beautiful and the “presentation lacking but it tastes too good to matter,” my great successes, and of course, my great failures. The genres and techniques will vary, as well as the time required per recipe, but in this my hope is to broaden my horizons and yours too.

In addition to sharing my original recipes and documenting attempts at others, I also hope to share with you my favorite places to grab a bite, the cookbooks I’m enjoying, and moments of inspiration from Iron Chef battles on Food Network that I find inspiring. I might mention my crush on Giada every once in a while too.

That being said….

Tonight is a Tuesday , and the “let’s do something daring like a souffle” inspiration is lacking. Maybe I’m exhausted, maybe I’m lazy (realistically, a bit of both) so tonight the adjective “easy” is all too appropriate. My fridge is empty, I have no motivation to go shopping at Trader Joe’s, and typical for me, I have several ingredients that will go bad if I don’t utilize them quickly. A quick inventory of the fridge reveals sheepsmilk feta, lemons, fresh rosemary, and some frozen chicken breasts. If that doesn’t scream Greek, I don’t know what does.

Baked Greek Chicken

3 large chicken breasts, thawed
Juice of 1 medium lemon
1/4 -1/2 c crumbled sheepsmilk feta, to taste
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tsp oregano
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 T flour
2 T olive oil
2 T butter
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium sized baking dish, place chicken flat and drizzle with olive oil. Add garlic, rosemary, oregano, lemon juice. Distribute butter evenly over chicken. Salt and pepper appropriately. Bake 350. AFter first five minutes, add flour to the juices and oils in the bottom of the pan and mix well. (By doing this I’m hoping to get a thicker consistency.) Baste chicken as needed until juice runs clear. Keep a close eye- nothing is worse than overcooked chicken. Add feta immediately and serve.

Serve this with a starch. To go authentic, salted potatoes is a must. Rice would also work.

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