Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Kitchen Aromatheraphy



Sometimes it’s the little things…..

In my household, I’m responsible for cooking and cleaning.  While, I LOVE cooking, I dislike the clean-up (a lot).   And I tend to make a big mess.   

I recently decided to splurge and buy Caldrea.   I figured if I am doing the dishes, I might as well spoil myself with some nice, good smelling kitchen soap.  

I bought the hand soap, dish soap, and hand lotion.

I don’t know why I waited to so long.  It really does make a difference.  I kind of look forward to doing the dishes now because it smells so good.   I am officially saying goodbye to Dawn forever!    If you haven't already found some great smelling soap for the kitchen, I suggest you hint to your Valentine that you want some.    

What kind of dish soap do you use to wash the dishes?

PS - I really like the Ginger Pomelo scent.   


Monday, January 14, 2013

Crispy Potato Stacks



I was looking for a side dish to go with my Roasted Chicken Thighs with Lemon and Thyme and this variation on potatoes looked tasty and pretty; it was perfect.  

Original Recipe:

Mini Herbed Pommes Anna

The more carefully you arrange the potato slices, the prettier the results and the better the individual-size cakes will hold together.

12 servings    Recipe by: Molly Stevens; Bon Appétit; November 2012 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 12-24 small tender thyme sprigs plus 2 teaspoons coarsely chopped leaves
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 3/4 pounds small waxy potatoes (such as Yukon Gold or German Butterball), each slightly larger than a golf ball
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper 

 Special Equipment

  • A standard 12-cup muffin pan; a mandoline

Preparation

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Brush muffin cups all over with butter. Line bottoms with parchment-paper rounds. Arrange 1-2 small thyme sprigs in center of each round. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon butter into bottom of each cup.
  • Add chopped thyme and garlic to remaining butter in saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  • Using mandoline, slice potatoes crosswise into very thin rounds (less than 1/16-inch thick), placing them in a large bowl as you work. Pour herb butter over and season with salt and pepper; toss to coat well.
  • Divide potato slices among muffin cups, layering overlapping slices to create a circular pattern. Lightly press center of each to make compact. Drizzle any remaining butter and seasoning from bowl over.
  • Cover muffin pan tightly with foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake until potatoes can be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, about 35 minutes. Remove foil; invert a rimmed baking sheet over pan. Turn, lightly tapping on counter, releasing potatoes onto sheet. Rearrange any slices that may have fallen out. Using a metal spatula, carefully turn cakes, thyme sprigs facing down. Discard parchment. DO AHEAD Potatoes can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.
  • Increase heat to 425°. Uncover cakes if needed. Bake until bottoms and edges are golden and crispy, 25-30 minutes. Carefully turn cakes, thyme sprigs facing up.

My version: 
I only needed two servings (not twelve) so I cut the recipe down. 

I do not have a mandoline.  Actually, come to think of it, I do.  I got one as a gift.  But truthfully I’m afraid of it, especially after my latest finger slicing mishap.   Instead of using a mandoline, I just used a knife to cut the potatoes into thin slices, which works just as well.  However, it requires a sharp knife and some patience.   



I was in a bit of a hurry, so 75+ minutes that the recipe calls for did not work for me.  Instead, I tossed the sliced potatoes with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and then placed them individually on a cookie sheet to bake at 400° for about 12 minutes to cook the potatoes.  Laying the potatoes flat allowed them to cook much quicker than if they were in stacks.   


Then I put some of the herb butter mixture in the bottom of the muffin pan and then stacked the potatoes and then drizzled more of the butter on top.  I put it in the oven at 425° for about 12 minutes until the tops looked crispy.   I didn’t flip them because I ran out of time - the chicken was ready.  
Butter with garlic and thyme.


 
Verdict:  The potatoes were really good and I liked the presentation.   I will definitely make these again.   Next time I will just use a cookie sheet as I think the stacks will be fine and stay upright without the muffin tin.   That way more of the potatoes will get crispy on the edges rather than just the tops.  I will also flip the stack so that both sides get crispy.   Can you tell I liked the crispy pieces better?   This was the perfect side to go with the chicken
 


Cheers!

(2013 New Recipe #2)

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Lemon and Thyme




In the last couple of months I’ve had chicken thighs in a variety of dishes and they were delicious.  The only way I’ve made chicken thighs is BBQ’d on the grill.  The thigh has so much flavor that I think I need to deviate from the breast and move to the thigh more often.  Wow, that sounded kind of dirty.  Anyway… when reading through my recent issue of Bon Appétit, this recipe jumped out at me and I couldn’t wait to try it.    

Original Recipe:

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Lemon and Oregano


Want super-crisp chicken without having to add much fat? Start with a room-temperature pan: As the skillet becomes hot, the chicken skin will gradually render its fat, becoming browned and crackling.


4 servings

  • Active: 20 minutes
  • Total: 30 minutes

Recipe by: The Bon Appétit Test Kitchen; December 2012

Ingredients


  • 1 lemon
  • 4 large or 8 small skin-on, boneless chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 3 sprigs oregano
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1/2 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth 

Preparation


  • Preheat oven to 425°. Very thinly slice half of lemon; discard any seeds. Cut remaining lemon half into 2 wedges. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper.
  • Coat a large room-temperature skillet with 1 teaspoon oil. Add chicken, skin side down. Place skillet over medium heat and cook, letting skin render and brown, and pouring off excess fat to maintain a thin coating in pan, until chicken is cooked halfway through, about 10 minutes.
  • Scatter half of lemon slices over chicken and half on bottom of skillet (the slices on top of the chicken will soften; those in the skillet will caramelize). Transfer skillet to oven, leaving chicken skin side down. Roast until chicken is cooked through, skin is crisp, and lemon slices on bottom of skillet are caramelized, 6-8 minutes.
  • Transfer chicken pieces, skin side up, and caramelized lemon slices from bottom of skillet to a warm platter. (Leave softened lemon slices in the skillet.) Return skillet to medium heat. Add oregano sprigs, shallot, garlic, and red pepper flakes; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • Remove skillet from heat. Add wine; cook over medium heat until reduced by half, 1-2 minutes. Add broth; cook until thickened, about 3 minutes. Squeeze 1 lemon wedge over and season sauce with salt, pepper, and juice from remaining lemon wedge, if desired. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons oil. Return chicken to skillet, skin side up, to rewarm. Serve topped with caramelized lemon slices.

My version:  I actually followed the recipe exactly, except for one thing.  I did not have oregano so I used fresh thyme instead.  It was excellent and I would use thyme again. 





Look at that crispy, crispy skin.


Starting the sauce.




Verdict: This dish was delicious.  My husband agreed.  Here are some of the things he said when he sat down and throughout the meal. 

  • “Wow, this looks and smells amazing.”  
  • “Oh my gosh, this chicken is so tender and flavorful; you cooked it perfectly.”  
  • “If I was eating this at a restaurant, I would say that we definitely need to visit more often and  put it down as a favorite.”  
  • “Please don’t lose this recipe, and please make it again soon.” 
I guess he agreed with my verdict?  

Sides: The reason I used thyme is because I had it on hand from the side dish I made with the chicken: Mini Herbed Pommes Anna.  These potatoes deserve a post of their own and will follow this post.  SO GOOD!  I also made a pear, blue cheese, pecan, and arugula salad with balsamic vinaigrette.
 


Pairings:  I paired this with Huia Pinot Gris from New Zealand.  It was an excellent pairing.  The hint of lemon in the wine complimented the flavors of the dish really well.


It isn’t that often when a meal completely comes together but this was spot on.   Everything was fantastic.   You should make this soon.  

Cheers!

(2013 New Recipe #1)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Kitchen Safety Lessons



Life is all about living and learning.   Admittedly, I tend to learn things the hard way, but I do learn.  Last night, I found myself in the ER after nearly slicing off the tip of my pinky finger with my newly sharpened chef knife while slicing an apple in a hurry to get over to my friend’s house for an evening of wine & cheese.  

Here are some lessons from the experience…..

Lesson #1 – Keep your knives sharp.   While this may sound strange, a sharp knife is safer than a dull knife.  Fortunately this is something I know and I’ve been good about keeping my knives sharp lately.  

As my silly, old Asian ER doctor said: “You must have a very sharp knife; it is a very neat and clean cut, although very deep.”   Clean cuts heal better and the scarring is less noticeable than a jagged cut with a dull knife would be.   The same is true for food.  It is much easier to cut food with a sharp knife.  A sharp knife requires little force, so it's easier to control and cuts where intended.  You get neater and cleaner pieces and you don’t bruise the food.  With a dull knife you end up using more pressure and can end up smashing the food and losing the juices and getting sloppy looking pieces.  This can also cause you to lose control of the knife.

I have a stone to sharpen my knives but I have found it easier to drop them off every 4-6 weeks with a professional.   I take them to my favorite kitchen store that does them for $3.50/each.   My grocery store also sharpens knives for free and most butcher shops offer a knife sharpening service too.  If you don’t want to do it yourself (and learn the proper way to do it) then you should definitely get your knife professionally sharpened regularly.   And of course you already know that everyone should have at least one good chef knife in their kitchen.  Right? 

I should also mention that  it’s not just the sharpness of the knife, but also proper knife skills and handling; how to hold the knife, how to hold the food being cut, what motions to use, etc…..  And it is important that your cutting board doesn’t slip, make sure that your cutting board is secured.   I’m realizing that knives could be a whole blog post in and of itself, so I am going to stop now.   



Lesson #2 – Take your time and pay attention to what you are doing.   Slow down and don’t rush.   Try to avoid distractions and don’t multitask while you have a sharp object in your hand.  The same is true with hot surfaces; paying attention can prevent burns.   It is important to stay focused on your task; an accident can happen in a split second.

Lesson #3 – Try to keep your food flat.   I broke this rule.  I should’ve flipped the apple half over to the flat side instead of trying to cut it on the round side where it was kind of rocking back and forth and unstable.  I know this rule and for some reason I didn’t apply it last night.  (Must’ve been the visions of wine dancing through my head.)

Wrong Way!

Right Way!   Always put the flat side down on the cutting board for stability.

Lesson #4 – Keep your hands and the knife handle clean to prevent slipping.   I was almost done and my fingers and hands were a little slippery from the juicy apple.  I should’ve been wiping them off as I went along.  

Lesson #5 – If you do have an accident in the kitchen, try to remain calm.   Somehow I managed to grab a CLEAN paper towel right away and apply pressure to my finger.   I think it was basically to cover the sight of it, but it was a smart move.  Of course after I got it covered I started jumping around in pain and in shock.   I tried to tell myself that it was just a simple cut and not a big deal but the visual of all the blood, the big separation of my finger, and the feeling of the knife hitting the bone made me think better of it.   I thought about taking another look but there was too much blood and I decided instead to run/jump my way downstairs to alert my husband that I think I needed to go to the ER.    Amazingly, I didn’t throw up at the sight or pass out as I don’t like the sight of blood (especially my own).   I was woozy and light-headed, but I think I handled the situation pretty well.   Putting pressure on it helped to stop the bleeding and helped bring the finger back together.   Because of this I was able to avoid stitches and was able to get suture tape instead.  The doctor explained that if the bleeding wouldn’t stop then he would have to put stitches in but since the bleeding was under control, he could use suture tape instead which would have a neater scar and would heal just as well.   I was fortunate that the cut was towards the tip of my finger and I didn’t get any tendons or anything.  

My bandaged finger with my sympathetic dog in the background.

Hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes and avoid any accidents in your kitchen.  

Meanwhile, I will be fine.  I’m just cranky that it happened at all and that I missed an evening of wine and fun at my friend’s house.  


What lessons have you learned the hard way in the kitchen?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Semi-homemade Pizza




Let’s face it we’re all busy and sometimes we don’t have time to do it all.   It is okay.  (I keep repeating that to myself in hopes that it sinks in…. “It’s okay to not be able to do it ALL.”)

It is perfectly okay to take cooking shortcuts.   There are so many great products out there that make it easy to cut some time out of the process.   (I keep trying to remind myself of this too.)

Despite having a Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook, I have never made pizza dough from scratch.  Historically, I’ve always used the Boboli thin pizza crust that comes all ready to go.

Well, I was recently in Boston visiting my sister and she made a pizza using store-bought dough.   It looked pretty easy and turned out great.   I figured that maybe I should graduate to fresh dough myself; store bought – I’m not ready to make pizza dough from scratch (yet).  

I made a trip to Trader Joe’s (yes, I love that store) to buy the ingredients to make pizza for dinner.  Most stores carry all of these ingredients and some pizza shops even sell their dough.    


Ingredients

  • Fresh Pizza Dough
  • Pizza Sauce
  • Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • Sliced Mushrooms (I bought Baby Bellas)
  • Yellow Onion
  • Chicken Sausage (I bought Spicy Italian Vino & Formaggio Chicken Sausage)
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • Olive Oil

NOTE:  These are my favorite ingredients on pizza, but pick out whatever ingredients you like on your pizza.  For sauce you could use garlic and olive oil, Alf redo sauce, pesto, taco sauce, salsa, etc....  Toppings could be chicken, shrimp, zucchini, peppers, olives, peppers, olives, etc….  Pick your favorite cheese… The possibilities are endless.     

Directions

  1. Set all ingredients out to get to room temperature about 30-40 minutes before you get started.  
  2. Diced the onion and sauté with 2 tsp. olive oil for about 3-4 minutes until the onions start to get soft and caramelized.   Set aside.  (I find it best to partially cook the vegetables in advance as the pizza isn’t in the oven long enough to cook the vegetables all the way through.)
  3. Sauté mushrooms with 2 tsp. olive oil for about 3-4 minutes until the mushrooms start to get caramelized.   Set aside.
  4. Remove the sausage from the casing.   This is kind of gross, but easy; the sausage basically just squeezes out the end when you grab it and push it out.  
  5. Pre-cook the sausage by sautéing and set aside.  (It is important to fully cook all meat before adding it to the pizza.)
  6. Preheat the oven to 375.  
  7. Grab some flour and then grab the crust.   You will want to flour your hands and the dough because this stuff is sticky.   (It might be preferable to use cornmeal if you have any.)   Work with the dough.  I don’t really know how to explain this part other than to manhandle it.  Use your fist, throw it in the air, and play with it to try to stretch it out a bit.  This stuff is sticky and likes to go back to its original ball shape, so this is more work than you might think; I was surprised.  Once you think you have gotten the dough to relax a bit, sprinkle some flour on the bottom of the pan and then try to stretch the corners out to the ends.  Again, this is easier said than done.  I should’ve video taped my experience with this crust because I was quite the experience: Penelope vs. Pizza Dough - who will prevail?   I got out my rolling pin but it kept hitting the edges of the pan so I ended up using a soup can to try to roll out the dough.  I should mention that I prefer thin crust and was trying to get this puppy as thin as I could.  I finally gave up at a “good enough” point; it wasn’t perfectly round and it was thinner in some areas than others but it looked good enough.  I do not like doughy crust, so I popped the crust into the oven for three minutes figuring it would help to cook it a bit before adding the toppings.   The thing puffed up like a blowfish!   I took it out poked it a couple times with a knife and drizzled it with olive oil and salt and pepper and popped it back in for another three minutes.  Remove from oven and turn the temperature up to 400.   (Note to self and to you – use a fork or knife to put some holes in the crust before baking so it I doesn’t “rise” like bread.)
  8. Time to add the toppings.  Spread the sauce around on the crust.  I am picky with my pizza and don’t like too much sauce.   This is the beauty of making your own pizza – you control everything!   After I added the sauce I had to add a touch of my own spices, including minced garlic, red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning with oregano. 
  9. After the sauce add the sausage, onions, and mushrooms (or whatever toppings you choose).  
  10. Top with cheese.
  11. Pop the pizza in the oven for about 9-12 minutes.   Keep an eye on it; preferably you want the cheese to melt and start to brown. 
  12. Slice and enjoy!
Sautéing the Sausage


Sautéing the Mushrooms

My imperfect, but "cute" crust

My fat crust!  Make sure to poke some holes with a fork to keep it from rising.

After the addition of olive oil.

Sauce it up baby!

Addition of ingredients (hubby doesn't like mushrooms)

Seriously, how good does that look?
Verdict:
I loved the pizza!  The crust was really good, the sauce was great (and I’m picky about my red sauce) and I really liked the sausage.  I’d never had chicken sausage before and with all the flavor I could barely tell the difference between that and pork Italian sausage, and it is healthier.  I will definitely be making this pizza again.  It is so much better than any frozen pizza, which is a given, but I almost liked it better than one of my favorite pizza places.  

Tip:
I think a big difference in a crisp crust is the pan.   My sister had this pan with holes in it and I think it helps crisp the crust because of the air flow.   I went out and bought one at TJ Maxx for $10 before making the pizza.     

Sides:
I served the pizza with light Caesar salad.   For the dressing I used, 1 clove of garlic (minced), 1 tsp. of Champagne mustard, 1 egg yolk, ½ cup of olive oil, 1 tsp. lemon juice, 1 Tbsp. grated parmesan, salt and pepper.  You have to make sure to really mix the dressing for awhile until it gets somewhat thick and emulsified.   Toss with romaine lettuce, top with fresh grated pepper and shaved parmesan (just use a vegetable peeler to shave off ribbons from a chunk of parmesan cheese).  (FYI – I usually add minced anchovies to the dressing but didn’t have any.)   


Pairings:
Red wine or a cold beer.

Idea:
This could add a whole new meaning to a pizza party.  How fun could this be for a dinner party?  You could use the dough to make individual pizzas and have the toppings set out so that everyone can make their own.   You could also cheat and buy the Boboli pre-made individual crusts.  


Please let me know if you have any tips for working with pizza dough (okay, if you have a good pizza dough recipe you can send it to me).   AND please let me know any and all pizza tips you might have.  I’d love to hear your favorite toppings too!   Talk to me.  

Cheers!






Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year; New Recipe Challange


Happy New Year Everyone!

I was too sick to ring in the New Year but I plan to make up for it throughout 2013.   

One of the things I am most looking forward to is a challenge set forth by my friend Michelle: the 52 Recipe Challenge.  Basically, it is a resolution to cook 52 recipes in 52 weeks.    

I'm thinking with the way life goes, some weeks I might be able to try three new recipes and other weeks none.   But I am committed to trying 52 new recipes this year and I look forward to sharing them with you all.   You should join the challenge too - I want to hear your successes and your failures.    

Cheers to a delicious New Year full of tasty new recipes and fun in the kitchen.