Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bag The Al Dente - Easy Trick for Pasta Salad

We love pasta salad but I hate to boil pasta salad. I've tried every microwave pasta cooker, too mushy, can't do it in a crockpot. I don't like dragging out the big pot waiting for the water to boil, how come the box says boil three minutes or some such and it takes ten and Al DENTE!! how do you know? Maybe it's just a quirk, but hey, I hate cooking pasta.

While perusing my a favorite haunt, the Puget Sound Consumer Coop Deli I was enjoying the varying array of salad with unusual ingredients, beets, quinoa, garbanzos, kale and tofu (not for me), sesame and other interesting vinegars, smoked Gouda and other cheeses. I've asked for the recipes (which they give) for numerous salads, several of which I continue to make - Turkish Garbanzo, and Protein Salad are two favorites.

This day another unusual ingredient caught my attention, Israeli Couscous. It's a round pasta the size of giant tapioca. Considering my dislike of boiling pasta, It occurred that I might be able to get away with cooking this unusual ingredient in my rice cooker, at least I was going to give it a try. If it worked I wouldn't have to wait for boiling water, watch it, drain it, etc. worked! 1 cup Couscous with 1 1/4 cup water, on with the rice cooker and perfectly done.
Now to try it as a pasta salad. I added 4 chopped scallions, 2 small sweet pickles, a couple tablespoons of chopped pecans, a small handful of dried cranberries, 3 chopped boiled eggs, a stalk of celery chopped, Best Foods Mayonnaise, cider vinegar and salt. I added extra cider vinegar as we like the tanginess and it works it's way into the ingredients to mellow out.

There is a slight taste to the Couscous you can detect if you eat it before it sits for a while. Later in the day and then the next morning this pasta salad was amazing. It may now be my go-to pasta for salad. No  more grumbling about boiling water and al dente etc.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

More On A Whole Chicken in a Crockpot

Foster Farms Whole chickens were on sale for under a dollar a pound. My new habit is to buy one whenever I see them on sale and cook it in my crockpot. (see earlier post)

Wash, season and cook it breast down on low for 6 hours. I just did one and have to say we've enjoyed it in several ways.

  • I had a dinner of a leg thigh section when it was done. 
  • For next morning's breakfast I made white bread and mayonnaise (Best Foods) sandwiches. 
  • I then made a chicken salad with scallions, dill pickles, sweet pickles, pineapple (I didn't have my favorite dried cranberries and like a bit of sweetness in chicken salad), walnuts and celery. 
  • I took the meaty bones and a 32oz box of chicken broth and cooked overnight on low in the crockpot. Deboning the next morning I added the meat, and 2 cups water. In my electric frying pan I fried until softening: 1 chopped onion, chopped carrots, chopped celery, 1 Russet potato, chopped, a teaspoon of chopped garlic and 2 big pinches of Thyme. I added the vegetables to the broth and added a  handful of pearled barley. Simmering on high for about an hour it was soooooo tasty.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Thoughts On Rice

When and where I was raised, in the 1950's American West, rice was rice. I only remember having it dessert-like, warm with milk, sugar and raisins (which I picked out). I've wondered why the cooks in my family never considered using rice in casseroles or in other savory ways. 

My first foray into thinking of rice diversity was the Basmati rice in Indian food (I can taste the difference now from plain white rice). The second was the Arborio, an ingredient in a now favorite, Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup, and suggested for the one risotto I ever made. A niece, who cooks a lot of rice, said that medium grain white rice can substitute for Arborio. 
I made .th soup once with medium grain white rice and it wasn't much different from using the Arborio. On hand, I currently have medium grain white rice, Arbor rice and Basmati rice. I'm going to make my cabbage rice soup today (delighted to find that Fred Meyer carries the required Savoy Cabbage).

Here is a post that offers a short tutorial on rice and its varied types for the rice-interested.
Rice Tutorial

I just subscribed to the site, It looks like it has interesting food-related content and I'm going to look it over.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fried Chicken And Mashed Potatoes

Ok, if you are from the Western United States reading this, admit it, you were nurtured from a very young age to love fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Sometime you just have to have some. But in these healthy cooking times you may not do much frying  Instead you're more likely to get your fix by surreptitiously snacking on a chicken thigh from behind the deli glass, and you buy those 14 oz, tubs of ready to eat mashed potatoes.

I haven't fried chicken in a while, mostly once or twice a summer and I do it outside with the electric frying pan seated securely on a towel on top of the dock box. Yes, the aroma of tantalizing fried chicken draws sniffs and comments from dock neighbors whose brains are momentarily stimulated back to the simplicity of grade school life and anticipation of noisy and lively family dinners. The kind where you put the black olives from the 'hors d oeuvre' plate on each finger.

Husband had an idea for a yummy side dish and fried chicken seemed the perfect accompaniment. We like dark meat so some Foster Farm legs looked good to me. I brined them for several hours in salted water. Then I dipped them in egg wash, flour/garlic powder, buttermilk and the flour mixture again. then let them set for 1/2 hour.

Fried in hot oil they came out crunchy and delicious. Husband had suggested fresh lemon to squeeze on them, a great idea.

His side dish brought the requisite mashed potatoes up a bit in sophistication.

Parmesan Asparagus and Potatoes

What's cool about it is you can easily keep the required ingreedients on hand for a quick fix for two really hungry people or four normal ones.
It requires a 9 1/2 by 7 1/2 pan with sides
1 14 oz. tub of ready-to-eat mashed potatoes
1  15 oz. can of extra long asparagus (in those tall skinny cans)
Grated Parmesan Cheese, not the fresh, use the dried that's used on spaghetti.

Smoosh the potatoes into the pan until the bottom is covered. Layer drained asparagus spears on top of the potatoes and dot the top with pieces of butter. Microwave them until heated through.

Shake a thick layer of Parmesan over the asparagus with a few more dots of butter and put it under the broiler until the cheese starts to lightly brown.

I know you're saying, "But all that butter" You know you love it and you don't eat like that all the time, go for it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Our Trip To Uwajimaya

Husband and I are munching on Gyoza (pot stickers). We wandered Uwajimaya, his favorite culinary hangout. They regularly carry high quality, unusual meats. It's where he's always gotten ox tails for his unparalleled Ox Tail Goulash. I checked out beef tongue as I haven't made the old family favorite, pickled tongue, in a long time. My mom and grandma would have gasped at the price and they weren't cheap, especially when it came to good food - $21.00! Well, I'm with you mom and grandma, darn. And, looking for a 'sale' on beef tongue might be a bit of a challenge, possibly even iffy. 

Anyway, passing on the tongue, I headed for the "deli" and bought a yummy shrimp croquette (basically a deep fried breaded shrimp patty). Yum City! I shared some bites with Husband and wished they had them frozen. Husband was gathering items for something he had in mind to make. Shitake mushrooms, fresh cilantro, bok choy, Bull-Dog brand Tonkatsu Sauce. We have some boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the freezer he'll use. I picked up some rice cookies that I like and the aforementioned Gyoza. 

Cooking away in the (new convection) oven is Hanks dish of three large boneless, skinless chicken thighs. He lightly marinated the meat in, and is now cooking it in, a mixture of Garlic Black Bean Sauce and Tonkatsu sauce, fresh cilantro leaves, and slices of Shitake mushrooms. Twenty minutes on one side at 400 degrees, turned with the sauce spooned over the meat, then another twenty minutes (check temp of chicken from your own oven). 

Hank's Tonkatsu/Garlic Black Bean Sauce Chicken 

Boneless skinless chicken thighs
Bull-Dog Brand Tonkatsu Sauce
Garlic Black Bean Sauce
Fresh Cilantro leaves
Shitake mushrooms

For how many chicken thighs you have, make enough of a 1/2-1/2 mixture of Tonkatsu Sauce and Garlic Black Bean Sauce to fairly well cover the chicken thighs. To that, add fresh cilantro leaves and slices of Shitake mushrooms - enough to your liking. Stir the meat in the marinade until it's well coated and marinate in a bowl or plastic bag for around an hour.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for twenty minutes, turn over spooning sauce over the meat again and bake for another 20 min (adjust for your oven to reach 165 degrees). Slice the chicken in 1/4 inch slices.

You could serve it over rice, but we surrounded it with more of the Gyoza on which we are still munching.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

My Favorite Breakfast With A Twist

I love potatoes, especially fried. I love bacon. The quintessential breakfast involves both. The 14 Carrot Restaurant down the street serves a plate of fried potatoes and onions served with cheddar cheese melted on top and sides of sour cream and a tangy, vinegary pico de gallo (a chop of jalapenos, onions and bell pepper). Add a side of their thick bacon and leisurely read the Sunday paper, what a treat. 

We keep Simply Potatoes Brand potatoes on hand and bacon in the freezer. This morning I fried up some bacon, added a bag of Diced Potatoes with Onion to the pan (yes into the bacon grease). I fried them about two thirds of the way, removed them to a plate. As I like a lot of onion in my fried potatoes, I chopped half of a sweet onion and fried it until soft. Adding the potatoes to the onions, I finished frying them. Hot on the plate I topped with cheddar cheese grated fine. Out of sour cream I used a Cilantro Chive Yogurt Dip (from Trader Joe's if your area has one). Wow, I have to say it was better than the sour cream. Adding a tasty cool creaminess to a bite of potatoes and cheese. If I could figure out how to keep their pico de gallo fresh on hand, it would have been over the top.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

My Grandma's Pineapple Ice Box Cake

In my growing up years there were certain dishes that were a part of the landscape of any special family gathering. There was one dessert, Pineapple Ice Box Cake, that was the fanciest delectable fashioned by the cooks around me. It's been around so long in my family, the name Ice Box Cake refers to a time before electric refrigerators when large blocks of ice were delivered weekly for an insulated box that served to keep food cold. My Grandma was once featured in our town's paper as having developed this recipe. Whether that was local lore or true, the dessert was certainly claimed by the family as "ours". It remains a beloved favorite in the memories, if not on the tables, of remaining family members. My Grandma Allen, my mom and my cousin Donna, who was raised like a sister with me, are all gone. They were the one's who made the dessert for so many family gatherings, wedding and baby showers and probably a Tupperware party or two. 

I hadn't made it in years as my husband and I rarely dine in a situation requiring a large dessert, and if I made it we would probably end up eating the whole thing ourselves. The idea sounds yummy but. alas, we may eat a bit higher fat food than many but that's over the top. Joining some friends for the Fourth, this year, for an informal meal, the time seemed right for sharing. And, the time is right for featuring the "famous" Pineapple Ice Box Cake here. 

It involves Vanilla Wafers, butter, powdered sugar, eggs, whip cream and pineapple.

I used my food processor, an kitchen accoutrement not available to the original makers of this dessert. It made construction of the layers very easy. No crushing the wafers with a rolling pin. The first layer is Vanilla Wafer crumbs. I split the crumbs equally, half into a bowl and half into a quart Ziploc bag (for more even spreading over the top at the end. Here is the bottom layer of crumbs in a 9X13 pan.

The trickier step, which I found fun is spreading the next layer, butter, powdered sugar and egg blended, on top of the crumbs. I drizzled the goo artistically all over the crumbs then very carefully "painted it" over any crumbs left showing. Below you see that layer with the beginning of the next layer.

On top of the sweet goo of butter, sugar and egg goes whipped whip cream infused with very well drained crushed pineapple. I whipped the cream in the food processor then folded in the pineapple. Below you see that layer nearly completed.

The final layer is the other half of the crumbs. The Ziploc bag allowed me to carefully shake them evenly over the top of the whip cream pineapple layer. See the partially topped dessert below.

Now, the trick with 'ice box' desserts, which are not cooked, is to leave them in the refrigerator over night to 'blend'. Tough to do as you'll want to take a bite. But I covered with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil and dutifully stored it over night. I'm afraid we did have some for breakfast and it was as good as I remember it tasting all those hundreds of time I had it growing up.

Grandma Allen’s Pineapple Icebox Cake

1 - 12oz. box vanilla wafers

½ cup butter (one cube)
2 cups powdered sugar
2 eggs (here I have a caveat, I used Egg Beaters as people today are wary of uncooked eggs, though in all of my growing up years no one ever got sick from the uncooked eggs in this dessert. I do have to admit that, at least in the early years, my Grandma had eggs delivered weekly by the local farmer.)

½ pint whipping cream
1 #2 can crushed pineapple very well drained

Process the wafers into crumbs. Divide in half. Spread half of the crumbs in a 9X13 pan.
Cream butter, sugar and eggs. Spread the mixture evenly over the crumbs (drizzling and then carefully spreading over any holes).
Whip the cream until stiff. Add well-drained pineapple to the whipped cream and spread over the butter/sugar/egg mixture. Top with the remaining crumbs. Let it stand for at least four hours.