Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Light Cheese Sauce for Pasta

So it's been a while, but I promise I haven't been a deadbeat blogger, I've just been using a lot of recipes lately instead of making stuff up. (I can't recommend the America's Test Kitchen Cookbook highly enough.) Last night I wanted to throw together a quick dinner so I pulled a pack of spinach ravioli out of the freezer and made a white sauce that is lighter than alfredo but still cheesy and yummy.

12oz chicken breast, cut into 1/2" cubes
8oz asparagus, cut into 1" sections
2TB butter
2TB flour
1.5c milk
4oz hard cheese (parmesan, romano, asiago, dubliner, etc), shredded or cut into small pieces
1TB oil

1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan while you prep the chicken and asparagus.
2. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken. When the sizzling has died down some (a minute or two), stir in the asparagus and cover. Let sit for 5 minutes without removing the lid so that the asparagus steams, then give it a stir and cover again every couple minutes until the asparagus is the desired doneness, probably around 10 minutes total.
3. Dump the contents of the saucepan into a bowl and stash it in the microwave to stay warm. Put the saucepan back on the stove at medium-low heat and add the butter.
4. When the butter has completely melted sprinkle in the flour and stir until the mixture is smooth. Keep stirring for another minute or two, but if it starts browning at all, immediately remove from heat and move on to the next step. (You just made a roux!)
5. Stir 1c of milk into the butter/flour mixture. Stir until the mixture is mostly smooth again. Turn the stove up to medium, stir for a minute or two, then stir in the rest of the milk. Stir another couple minutes. (You just made a b├ęchamel!)
6. Add half the cheese and stir until it has melted and the sauce is completely smooth. Repeat with the rest of the cheese. Remove from the heat.
7. Stir in 1/4tsp salt and a few fine grinds of pepper. Add the chicken and asparagus, but not the juice in the bottom of the bowl. Stir everything together, then add reserved juice until you have the desired consistency.

My rating: 8/10
Potential rating: 9/10

Notes:  I wouldn't suggest using a softer cheese because you need the sharpness and acidity of a hard cheese to mask the floury taste of a roux-based sauce. The chicken and asparagus really mate well with a white sauce, though you could easily omit them entirely or choose a different vegetable. Petite broccoli florets would probably work well, just reduce the cooking time in step 2. The only improvement I can think of would be fine-tuning the types of cheese used to get the perfect flavor, I suspect a combo of parmesan and asiago would be delicious.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fried Oysters

Nothing beats finding some new treasure at Costco. Last week it was oysters, $14 for a pound container of shucked and cleaned oysters. The real surprise was when I opened the container, the things were huge! These were three bite oysters, you would choke if you tried to take a whole one in a single slurp. Time to get frying...

1/2 pound oysters
1 1/2 cups flour
1 egg
1 1/2 cups fine bread crumbs
vegetable oil

1. Put about 1 inch of oil in a dutch oven and put over medium-high heat. Put a clip-on thermometer onto the pot to monitor the temperature, we are shooting for 365 F. (If deep fryers are permitted in your home, they have been banned from mine, feel free to use one. I would recommend using a thermometer to verify the temperature.)
2. While it heats, rinse the oysters really well in cold water, then lay out on a paper towel and pat dry. Lightly salt and pepper them.
3. Put the flour in a small bowl for dredging, beat the egg with 1 TB oil in another small bowl, and put the bread crumbs in a third bowl. Put a small spoon in each dry bowl and a fork in the wet one.
4. Decide how many oysters you can fit in your frying vessel so they have plenty of space. I went with 4 in my dutch oven, I would think 3 is the max if you are using an electric fryer.
5. Bread a batch of oysters. First drop an oyster in the flour and mix around until there are no more moist surfaces. Then pick it up, shake off any excess flour, then drop it in the egg/oil mixture. Gently mix it in so that every surface is moistened. Lift the oyster with the fork, let any excess egg drip off, then drop into the bread crumbs. Mix around again until there are no moist spots, then place on a plate and bread the other oysters in the batch.
6. Gently slip the oysters into the hot oil, making sure they are well-spaced. Agitate the pot or basket so that no hot or cold areas develop in the oil, and also so that the oil is washing over the top of the oysters. If the tops of the oysters are not browning as fast as the sides, you may have to flip them after a minute or so. Cook the oysters until they have turned a deep golden brown, it should only take a couple minutes.
7. Remove the oysters from the oil and drain on paper towels. Make any adjustments necessary to get the oil temperature back where it needs to be, then go back to step 5 to cook another batch until you are done. If you have a lot of batches, keep the finished oysters in a warm oven until you are ready to serve.

My rating: 7/10
Potential rating: 10/10

Notes:  People either like oysters or they don't. This recipe will not change that, you can definitely taste the oysters, though adjusting the temperature will affect this somewhat. Going up to 375F will cause the breading to brown faster, leaving the oyster slightly raw and even more oystery tasting, while 355F will cook it a little more thoroughly for those not into raw oysters. The breading I used on these is pulled from a schnitzel recipe and is just perfect for oysters IMO. Not too thick, crisps up just right, and turns a very nice brown. Seasoning is where this could really become exceptional. I got lazy and used store-bought bread crumbs, but making your own by throwing lightly toasted bread in the food processor is much more flavorful. I also think a strip or two of crispy bacon thrown into the food processor with the bread crumbs would add a great salty smokiness that could really add a lot. Time to go back to Costco for more oysters.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Chinese Takeout Yellow Chicken Curry

I was craving curry but didn't feel like going through the hassle of making curry paste in the food processor, so I thought I would try to replicate the yellow chicken curry you can find at many Chinese restaurants. Authentic? No, but it scratched my itch for south Asian with minimal fuss. I have always seen it made with chicken, onions, and peas, but I don't like peas and I wanted to add some extra color and veggies, so I cut the peas and added carrots and snow pea pods. And yes, I forgot to take a picture. edit: Hurray for leftovers. Picture added.

2 large chicken breasts
3 small onions (or 2 medium-large)
3 carrots
8oz bag frozen snow peas
1t minced garlic (2 cloves)
1t minced ginger
1-2T good curry powder (get it from an Asian market and make sure it has no MSG)
3T vegetable oil

1. Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat.
2. While it heats, cut onions in half end-to-end, then lay halves face down and cut end-to-end into 1/2" slices. Julienne the carrots into 1/4"x1/4"x2" pieces (if you are lazy, just go with 1/4" slices, but it really does affect how it tastes). Cut the chicken breasts into halves or thirds along their length, then into thin slices, so you end up with approximately 1"x1"x1/4" pieces.
3. When oil just starts to smoke, add the garlic and ginger. Let them saute about 30 seconds.
4. Add the chicken, onion, and carrots. Keep stirring constantly and turn up the heat if necessary to keep things sizzling a bit.
5. Once the chicken and veggies have released enough moisture that they are no longer sticking to the bottom,  sprinkle in the curry powder and stir in thoroughly. 1T will give a relative mild curry flavor, 1.5T will up the heat to medium, and 2T is for curry junkies. I did 1.5T and might do a little less next time.
6. Reduce heat to medium. Keep stirring until you are sure there is enough moisture to keep things from sticking (just a couple minutes) then cover the pot.
7. Stir every few minutes until the chicken is cooked through, about 5-10 minutes.
8. Remove from heat and stir in the snow peas until the are evenly incorporated and coated in curry. Cover the pot and let stand for 5-10 minutes. Give a final stir then serve over rice.

My rating: 6/10
Potential rating: 7/10

Notes:  I was really happy with how close this was to Hunan Manor's yellow chicken curry I was trying to replicate. There was just enough moisture from the veggies and chicken to combine with the curry powder to make a little sauce in the bottom of the pot and all the veggies came out cooked just right, still firm but not crispy or raw tasting (as opposed to the undercooked onions at most Chinese restaurants). My only complaint was that the curry powder tasted a bit caustic, but that might be fixed by using less or finding a different curry powder. The rating of 6 I gave this is not a slam, it is above average but it was obvious it was just curry powder instead of fresh curry paste.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


It just occurred to me that I should be taking pictures of the finished product for each recipe. I will try and update past recipes and be good about keeping up with future ones.

Sweet Potato and Squash Soup

I made a potato and leak soup from a recipe last year that was terrific and gave me a working knowledge of how to make a creamy potato soup. A cold, rainy October day when I had sweet potatoes and acorn squash on-hand provided the motivation to give this a try.

3 large sweet potatoes
1 large acorn squash
1 large onion
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (one 49.5oz can)
3T butter
1/4t kosher salt (or 1/8t table salt)
1/8t fresh ground pepper

1. Heat butter in a dutch oven over medium-low heat. If you don't have a dutch oven, use a 6qt pot.
2. While it heats, dice onion into 1/2" pieces. Cut squash in half, clean out middle, than cut into 3/4" slices. Then you can cut the rind off of each slice and cut into 3/4" cubes.
3. Stir onions into the butter. Stir occasionally for 10-15 minutes until onions have softened and have a mild onion flavor. (This is called sweating. It softens the flavor of the onion without letting them caramelize which would give them a sweet flavor.)
4. While sweating the onions peel the potatoes and cut into 3/4" cubes (tougher than it sounds, sweet potatoes are much harder than regular potatoes).
5. Dump potatoes and squash into pot. Pour the stock over them and bring to a boil over high heat.
6. Bring to a hard boil then turn down heat slightly so that the boil continues without getting out of control. Boil for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes and squash are soft enough to easily cut with a spoon. Add the salt and pepper and remove from the hot burner for a couple minutes.
7. Using a plunge blender, puree the soup. You will need to start about an inch deep then push down to the bottom, doing this all over the pot. Once you have gotten most of the chunks, blending around the pot about 1.5 inches below the surface should get the remaining chunks. Stir the soup with a spoon to find any remaining chunks and blend them in too.
8. The soup should be quite thick, if not put the pot over medium-low heat and stir constantly for a few minutes, then remove from the heat again (if you don't stir you will have a major mess on your hands). If it is too thick add some milk or stock then blend a bit more to thin it.

My rating: 9/10
Potential rating: 9/10

Notes:  This soup is easy, delicious, and pretty tough to mess up. Only have 2 sweet potatoes and 2 acorn squash? No problem, just use them. Only have a spaghetti squash? Nobody will know the difference. Have some extra pumpkin meat after baking that pie? Yum. No squash at all? You'll lose some flavor but it will still taste good with just sweet potato. The toughest part is going to be getting the amount of liquid correct. I found that after adding the stock, a couple shakes of the pot let the vegetables settle just below the surface. If you aren't close to that, adjust your liquid before it start boiling.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Quick and easy marinara sauce

I whipped this marinara sauce up in about 15 minutes to refresh some leftover pasta that was a little dried out. It turned out to be a pretty good basic marinara, like what you would get as a dip for mozzarella sticks or over spaghetti as a side at Italian restaurants. This recipe should also scale quite well. As stated it would be good for about 1/2 pound of pasta, but doubling for a full pound should work fine.

1 14oz can plain diced tomatoes
1T butter
1/4 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1t sugar
1/4t kosher salt (or 1/8t table salt)

1. Heat butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
2. While it heats, drain excess water from tomatoes and put in food processor. Process until tomato is finely minced, but not completely pureed, about five 1-second pulses.
3. Once butter has melted and foaming subsides, stir in diced onion and turn down heat slightly.
4. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion has softened.
5. Stir in garlic, cook about 30 seconds until fragrant.
6. Stir in tomatoes, sugar, and salt. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat, then continue simmering uncovered over medium heat until excess water has evaporated off, about 10 minutes.

My rating: 8/10
Potential rating: 8/10

Notes:  Like I said, nothing fancy, but it fulfills its intended purpose quite well. I don't think I would change a thing. If you are looking for a heartier sauce that would be the centerpiece of a meal, I wouldn't attempt to use this as a base.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Caramelized Onion Goodness - Take 2

Switched to using a chuck roast this time like I suggested. I can't really recommend it, either. Looks like ribeye is probably the way to go. I also pretty much doubled the recipe this time.

3 lbs chuck roast cut in 1" cubes
4 medium to large yellow onions (white or red onions to make it more savory)
1 lb broccoli florets
2T butter (life is too short for margarine)
1/2c red wine (or beef or chicken stock)

1. Heat a dutch oven or large skillet over medium-high heat. While pan heats season the beef with salt and pepper. Cut the onions into quarters then 1/4" slices.
2. Add half of the beef cubes to the pan, spaced apart from each other. Let them sear for a few minutes without moving them. Once browned, turn them over and brown the opposite side.
3. Remove the first half of the beef cubes and reserve in a bowl. Pour off the rendered fat, but try and keep any beefy bits. Sear the rest of the meat, and reserve it in the bowl. Pour off the rendered fat again.
4. Add the butter and wine to the pan. Once melted add the onions. Stir for a few minutes until the onions start to turn clear, then stir in the beef. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer for 80-100 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the beef is tender.
5. Dump the broccoli on top. Cover and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes, until broccoli is tender.
6. Stir the broccoli in and serve alone or over egg noodles.

My rating: 4/10
Potential rating: 10/10

Notes: Using the chuck instead of sirloin this time did solve the dry beef problem, but the increased cooking time required to make the chuck tender completely liquified the onions. The onions lost their caramelized sweetness and it just became more of a stew. Not bad, but after having the first version, losing that sweetness is not an option. Next time I will use the original recipe but substitute ribeye for the sirloin, I think that will solve both issues. Keep in mind the fattiness of the ribeye will probably requiring pouring off the fat and eliminating the oil like in this version.