Catching up on life and cooking…

Seattle summer happened a few months ago and it was beautiful – green, sunny, not too hot. Little humidity! I guess I got so caught up in it that I forgot to post on my blog! We also spent the summer house-hunting and now we are home owners! I guess I can blame that search for taking up a lot of our time. As usual though, I have done plenty of cooking and eating since the last time. Here’s a quick taste of just some of the things I’ve been cooking. (If you follow me on Instagram, however, you can keep up with my cooking and life a little more regularly – @erinthecooker)

Summer Berry Buckle (NYT), Blueberry and Peach Crisp, Black Bean Salad, and homemade Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Jam filling for a former co-worker.

Here’s a photo of our beautiful living room in our new house! (Don’t mind the Zappos box that I forgot to remove when taking the photo.) Don’t you love the orange front door?!

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I also made a Snickers pie (no Snickers actually in it, but rather a pie trying to imitate a giant Snickers!) It was rich, but it was a hit! I improvised the recipe off a Pinterest one I had saved months ago. The cake below is a chocolate stout cake.

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Having a house also means we now have a backyard and our very our own grill! We got to work right away grilling zucchini, chicken, and sausage. The photo on the right was a delicious Vietnamese-style noodle salad with grilled chicken. In the end, the recipe tasted very similar to one of our favorite Boston food trucks, Bon Me! Thanks again NYT Cooking!

Now that fall is upon us I’m looking forward to making some apple pie, pumpkin bread, and other cozy treats. Hopefully the next time you hear from me will be sooner rather than later!

Happy cooking!

Post 116 – Jacques Pépin’s Chicken Ragout

I had the chance to meet Jacques Pépin once. You know, the French chef who was good friends with Julia Child? Boston University was hosting a Jacques Pépin themed evening where local chefs made interpretations of dishes from Pépin’s cookbook, which every participant got to take home. Pépin was to be in attendance that night, but unfortunately his health kept him from coming so instead he made a video message to share with his fans at the event. Continue reading

Post 111 – 3 Secrets of Roasting Meat

IMG_0672IMG_0673I wish I could say that this beautiful golden chicken pictured above is one that I cooked. Alas, it is not. Above is a photo of the cookbook recipe I was trying to make. The chicken I made tasted delicious, but it was not the stuff of magazine photo spreads (see below – I started to carve into hence the big slit)

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In continuation of my Cookbook Challenge, I made a roasted pork tenderloin and a whole roasted chicken. Without really noticing, the two dishes had most of the same seasoning and flavors, but then again they both came from Williams-Sonoma cookbooks (I failed to notice that until just now). I made them both anyway and they were delicious. I followed the recipes as instructed, but found that there were a few things I wish the recipes had mentioned. I knew better from previous cooking experience, but decided to follow the recipes nonetheless. Below I will share with you three secrets I use for roasting meat.

1. Start with a hot pan. Whether you are searing the meat for color and flavor or simply jump-starting the cooking process, a hot pan definitely improves the flavor of the dish and can reduce time spent on the dish. The recipe I used for the roasted chicken called for preheating the (oven-safe) pan on the stove on high heat before placing the chicken in the pan and immediately transferring it to the oven. (If you are using a pyrex dish or something not designed for the stove-top, preheat in the oven for 5 minutes.) The pork recipe did not call for preheating, though I have made pork tenderloin much faster and better before by first pan-searing the pork on all sides and finishing it in the oven.

2. Don’t be afraid to use a little fat. Some cuts of meat are leaner than others, but to get a good sear on anything you are going to need at least some fat. Even if the meat has some fat in it, you’ll want to use a little because it won’t release that fat right away. If you’re searing a pork tenderloin start with a quick swirl of oil (1 Tablespoon) in the pan as it’s heating up. Similarly with the chicken, make sure to lightly oil your pan before dropping the chicken in. The chicken will give off some fat later in the cooking process, but once that dry chicken hits a dry pan, it’s a lot more likely to stick and result in the bare, skinless look that I got on top (the chicken was breast side down in the pan to start).

3. Give time and space to brown. When cooking multiple pieces of meat in the same pan (or even vegetables, you have to give them some space in order for them to really caramelize (i.e. brown). If the pieces are too close together, they will create steam instead, which will cook the meat, but not give it the depth of flavor that caramelization brings. You also want to give your meat time. If you put it in the pan and after a minute pick it up to check on it, you won’t see much. Browning takes time. A hot pan, fat, and space will help of course, but without allowing the meat to sit in the hot pan enough, you risk it either sticking (time will help to release it) or not developing that beautiful golden-brown color.

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Tasty pork tenderloin, but without much color to it other than the spice rub. By the way the cover photo is of another dish.

IMG_1383Both of these meats including a delicious spice rub that can either be rubbed on in advance or right before cooking. I hope you’ll put these helpful tips to use. Roasting meat is not that hard and is delicious when hot and fresh from the oven. Give these recipes a try! Bon appetit!

 

Roasted Herb-rubbed Chicken

adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s Entertaining

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 T. fresh chopped rosemary

1 T. fennel seeds

grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tsp. Kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

3.5-4 lb. chicken

With a spice grinder or mini food processor, pulse the spices together into a coarse paste. Rub all over a whole chicken that has been patted dry and any inner parts removed. Refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days.

Remove the chicken from the fridge one hour before roasting. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Heat a heavy cast iron skillet on the stove over high until hot. Put a splash of oil in to keep the chicken from sticking. Turn off the heat. Place the chicken breast side up in the pan and immediately put in the oven. Cook for an hour or until chicken is 170 degrees at the thickest part of the thigh. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest 15 minutes before carving. Add 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth to the hot skillet and heat over medium low heat, scraping the drippings from the chicken to incorporate. Cook until reduced by half and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. Taste and adjust as needed. Serve on top or alongside the chicken.

Roasted Herb-rubbed Pork Tenderloin

1 lemon

1.5 T. fennel seeds

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

3 cloves garlic, minced

1.5 T. olive oil

1 lb. pork tenderloin

Grate 1.5 tsp. of zest and juice 1 T. of the lemon, being careful to avoid the seeds. Lightly crush or chop the fennel seeds. Mix together the lemon juice, zest, and all of the other ingredients except the pork (including the olive oil). Rub all over the pork and let sit 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425. In an oven-safe skillet heat a splash of olive over medium to med-high heat. After a few minutes, add the pork and allow to sear for a good 3 to 5 minutes. Using tongs carefully flip the pork to sear the other side and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes. You can sear the skinnier sides too if desired, though this is not necessary. Turn off the heat and transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking the pork. Cook for another 12-15 minutes or until the thickest part registers 145-150. Transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest 10 minutes before cutting. (Here’s a tip: Put a hot mitt on the handle of the pan you used to cook the pork so that you remember that it is hot from the oven!) Slice on the diagonal into 1/2 slices and serve.

 

 

 

Post 110 – You are what you cook?

To get the results you want, it all depends what you’re aiming for. The best recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies. The all organic recipe. The natural foods recipe. The healthy recipe. The sustainable recipe. The list goes on and on. There are so many times when choosing a recipe that these are the types of question I face. Do I want my ingredients to convey how “good this cookie is or do I want the taste of my cookie to speak for itself?

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At any one point in time we are trying to define ourselves: a neat freak, a runner, a healthy eater, a minimalist. We do all the research to find out how to be that person, what to buy and what not to buy and how to show ourselves to the world. We convince ourselves that it’s a goal worth pursuing, that it’s the right thing to do, and why haven’t we been doing it all along? A week later, a month later, it’s a different story. Things fall apart, we get out of the habit and it’s back to the self we were before (which isn’t necessarily a bad one). The next week it’s something new that we’ve discovered and we’re off again pursuing the new version of me. That’s how it is for me anyway, especially when it comes to food.

Once-baked biscotti (which means twice-cooked)

Once-baked biscotti (a cookie whose name means twice-cooked)

This month I began the Cookbook Challenge – a self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from every cookbook that I own. I didn’t start off with a lot of written rules, other than stating that the majority of my recipes should come from cookbooks and not the Internet. I also told myself that I had to follow the recipes as closely as possible, only substituting or changing ingredients if I thought it would greatly affect the dish or if I did not have that ingredient on hand. I started this challenge wanting every recipe to be a stunning, new fan favorite, but also to reflect something positive about me as a cook. My cooking persona has taken on the personality of whatever cookbook I choose that day. Sometimes it’s telling me to indulge in coffee-flavored cookies for breakfast and other times it’s telling me that love is its own special ingredient.

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In the past few days I have baked Whole Wheat Bread from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (delicious fresh from the oven and slathered with butter); “Chicken Limon” from Seasoned with Love (another community cookbook from my aunt in Georgia – the recipe was fairly bland and unlikely to be repeated); and Cranberry Breakfast Biscotti from Maxwell House Coffee Drinks and Desserts Cookbook (crunchy Italian cookies with a slight coffee flavor. Sam enjoyed them, though I wasn’t a big fan, so he took them to work to share).

IMG_1356Unfortunately none of these recipes felt very much like me. But then again who am I?

Since writing this blog, I have oscillated between gourmande and ascetic, baking elaborate desserts just for the joy of making them and giving up whole categories of food just to feel better. I have spent so much time trying to define who I am and trying to show you who I am through my food and yet I still go back and forth in deciding what kind of cook I want to be and the food I want to make.

I love food. I love the tactile feel of it beneath my fingers and the magic of transformation on the stove and in the oven. I love connection. I love sharing a good meal with someone, sharing the experience of eating that first delicious bite, or seeing someone enjoy food that I’ve made. But how do I translate this love for food and love for feeding people into something real? Into something that reflects me? I want to taste all of the flavors, try all the recipes that seduce me with their perfected photographs, and in the end still feel vibrant and healthy and fulfilled. Is that so much to ask?

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In the end, perhaps it is better not to define ourselves by the food that we eat or cook. Anyway, who says we can only be one type of person? More and more lately I have realized the importance of being yourself and accepting yourself as you are (as cliche and unexciting as it sounds). Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project puts it nicely in this article. In it she says that ultimately we must acknowledge who we are, the very essence that makes me Erin, the you-ness that makes you you, and in recognizing ourselves we must also recognize the things that are not us. Maybe I’m not the health guru I want to be or the gourmet baker, but that is okay. I am more than the food that I cook or the food that I eat.

When we try new things (recipes, hobbies, habits) we discover other possibilities for ourselves (or rule them out) and there is no one perfect answer for anyone. It takes time to figure ourselves out and to answer the many questions in our lives. If nothing else, we are asking the questions.

More recipes to come (hopefully ones worth sharing!)

Post 109 – Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage

Following a few days of eating that mac and cheese, which was delicious, I opted for a lighter recipe. This one comes from Nigella Lawson and her seductive book Nigella Bites.

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IMG_1338Though Nigella called for standard cabbage in her recipe, I opted for Napa cabbage as it is lighter in flavor and less densely packed per head. I find that even when I buy the smallest head of cabbage I can find, it balloons into this giant overflowing bowl once I cut it up. That amount of cabbage I will never eat by myself (and Sam hardly helps). With the Napa cabbage it hardly seems to be as big of a problem, or maybe it just depends on the recipe you turn it into.

IMG_1342Nigella also calls for fresh mint though I used cilantro instead. I prefer the flavor of the cilantro and I could not find mint at the store. Along with a few other slight variations, I followed the general flavors of her dish including the lime juice, fish sauce, and rice wine vinegar.

This salad is delicious with or without the chicken and would be particularly good in the summer. Served with the chicken, it makes for a delicious light lunch. Leave the chicken out and it would pair nicely with a hearty meat dish.

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A pepper mustache

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Vietnamese Chicken and Cabbage Salad

adapted from Nigella Bites

There are so many delicious recipes I could make from this cookbook – Chocolate Cloud Cake, Sticky Toffee pudding, pigs in blankets, and Deep-fried Candy Bars with Pineapple, but when choosing recipes I want to eat I have to keep some kind of balance and while sweets are delicious, I cannot live on them alone.

1 head napa cabbage

1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded

1/2 a bell pepper, chopped

chopped cilantro (to your tastes)

1 garlic clove, minced

1 T. sugar

1.5 tsp. rice vinegar or rice wine (Mirin)

1.5 T. lime juice

1.5 T. fish sauce

1.5 T. vegetable oil

1 cooked chicken breast, shredded or chopped

Rinse and remove the outer leaves from the cabbage. Shred with a sharp knife or a food processor and transfer to a large bowl. Mix in carrots, bell pepper, and cilantro. In a separate small bowl mix garlic, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and vegetable oil. Stir to dissolve the sugar and toss with cabbage mixture. Toss in cilantro. Mix in chicken or store separately and serve with the coleslaw.

IMG_1348Another cookbook done!

Post 98 – Homemade Chicken Pot Pie

Happy New Year! It’s 2015!

We’re supposed to be eating more chocolate and doing fewer jumping jacks and packing on the pounds for hibernation, right? No? Since when did winter mean resolutions – green smoothies, early work-outs and cutting back on holiday sweets? If we can’t eat all the delicious foods that help us gain that extra fat as we hunker down for the cold weather, than I’d rather just sleep. That’s what winter should be all about – hibernation! Well, at least we can pretend on snow days… that is if we get any.

If your goal is fat and happy hibernation food, then here’s a good recipe for you. Or if you’ve made a resolution to do more cooking, here is something you can try: Chicken Pot Pie. Now don’t be scared – it’s not as hard as it sounds (or if it is as hard as it sounds see below where I’ve given you some simplified options while still maintaining the “homemade” feel.) You start with a pie crust (one of my favorite things to make because I get to use my favorite kitchen tool – the pastry blender (pictured below).

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The best kind involve flour, butter and/or shortening, salt, and ice water. It’s as simple as that. This extra flakey recipe also adds a little egg and vinegar. Don’t ask me why the vinegar, but trust me. It’s good. You want the fat to be cold and the water to be cold because the chunks of fat in the flour is what gives you your flakey pie crust. You can also use your hands (equally fun) to break the fat up into the flour. You’ll want it to look like this (this one I did by hand).

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Now I know you’re probably nervous because the chunks are uneven and large and ugly, but this is what will make the most delicious pie crust ever. Add your liquid ingredients and gently mold it together. Don’t knead, don’t overwork, just bring it together so it holds in one piece and embrace the shaggy dough that you’ve made. Wrap, refrigerate, and wait.

IMG_1124Now for your pie filling. Cook some chicken – poached to keep it simple and mostly hands off.

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Saute some vegetables – the usual trio of onions, celery, and carrots (or leave out the onions if you’re like me and they seem to bug you).

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Add some flour to thicken it and slowly ladle in chicken broth to make your sauce. Add your shredded, cooked chicken and some peas and ta-da! Was that so hard? (Ok, ok different strokes for different folks.) I will break it down for you below.

IMG_1132Roll out your chilled dough. Cut some slits for breathing. (You see those giant butter chunks in there? That’s okay! It’ll be great!)

IMG_1133Pour your filling into a dish. Tuck your crust in and put in the oven. Everything is cooked but the crust so this is really about getting a good golden-y crust. Egg wash will help you with that one.

IMG_1137See that flakey crust? Yum!

IMG_1139Chicken Pot Pie. Hibernation. Ready, set, GO!

Chicken Pot Pie

adapted from Ree Drummond’s recipe

For the crust: (double the recipe if you want a bottom crust)

1.5 cups all purpose flour (I did 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour in mine)

1/4 tsp. salt

6 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

6 T. cold shortening, cut into 6 pieces

1 egg, beaten

2 T. ice cold water

1.5 tsp. white vinegar

In a medium bowl (or food processor if you must) mix flour and salt briefly to blend. Add in butter and shortening and toss briefly to coat in flour. Blend with a pastry blender, your hands, or two knives to break up the fat into smaller pieces. Drizzle the ice water, vinegar, and HALF of the beaten egg over the mixture and gently mix to combine. If necessary use your hands to bring the dough together. Save the remaining beaten egg, cover, and refrigerate. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or up to a day. When ready to bake, remove the crust from the fridge 10 minutes before to making it easier to roll.

For the filling:

3-4 chicken breasts (about 1.5-2 lb.)

6 cups chicken broth

3 T. unsalted butter

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

3 stalks celery, diced

1/4 cup flour

frozen peas, add to your liking

In a large saucepan lay your raw chicken breasts, without overlapping if possible. Add enough cold water or chicken broth to cover by a few inches (for me that was 6 cups) and put the lid on. Bring to a light boil, lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile start your veggies. After 10 minutes, use a digital thermometer to check your chicken breasts. They should all be at least 165 degrees. When done, remove and set aside to cool. Reserve chicken broth! If you used water to poach the chicken broth, measure out your remaining water and add enough bouillon to flavor it (I use Better than Bouillon). OR heat up 4 cups of chicken broth in a separate saucepan until warm.

In a large skillet melt the butter. When it begins to foam add your chopped veggies (an onion too if you like) and saute for 5 minutes or so until they begin to soften. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the flour over the veggies and stir. Cook for a few minutes to incorporate the flour. This will help thicken your sauce. Now gradually add your chicken stock, one ladle at a time, stirring carefully as you add. You will notice the sauce will thicken immediately. Add the stock to your liking. I find 3-4 cups seems the right amount for me. The filling will thicken a little more as it cools so you don’t want it to be too thick.

Chop or shred your cooled chicken and add to the filling along with peas if desired. Stir and taste. If it’s bland, add some salt. If it’s too salt, add a little water. Then remove from heat and pour into a deep dish pie pan.

On a floured surface roll out your dough to the size of your pie plate. Cut slits in a few places to let the pie breathe. Place on top of your filling, tucking in carefully to avoid burning your fingers. Crimp the edge if you like. Brush with the remaining beaten egg you saved (you may not need all of it). Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Let cool and enjoy!

Shortcuts

Buy Rotisserie chicken instead of poaching the chicken – you’ll want 2-3 cups worth of meat

Buy chicken stock (notice I didn’t give you a recipe to make your own!)

Buy pre-made pie crust (It’s okay – I forgive you)

Buy frozen carrots – if you do this, use an onion to develop some flavor and then add the carrots in at the end with the peas.

And if you’re looking for more winter delicious-ness…

Make this delicious sweet potato dish!

Yum!

Yum!

Post 77 – Coconut Curry Chicken

I love going out to eat. I love the wonderful flavors and new dishes you can find when leaving your home and I love not having to clean up afterward. Nonetheless sometimes a Saturday night in with take-out can be just as nice after a long (or short) week. Get comfy, wear what you like, and just relax on the couch when you’re done (and hope someone else will clean the kitchen – 😀 ).

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This Coconut Curry Chicken tastes like it came from your favorite Thai restaurant, yet it takes so little time and effort to prepare at home. I love Thai and Indian food, but too often when I see recipes that call for curry powder, I rule it out because I don’t have it in my spice cabinet. Turns out actually I do. I stumbled upon a recipe explaining that curry is simply a term for many variations of a spice blend, one that you can easily make at home if you already have all of the spices. The coconut milk adds a wonderful richness and its own unique flavor and the spice blend takes care of the rest. Then you just toss in your protein (chicken, shrimp or tofu would all be equally delicious) and whatever veggies you want and let it simmer away until everything is cooked. This recipe also happens to be gluten free and can easily be made vegan by switching to tofu. Delicious, easy, and adaptable always make for a great recipe.

Don’t be intimidated by what seems like a long list of ingredients. If you’re really lazy you can just buy “curry powder” and add it to your liking, or follow this recipe to make your own.

Serve over rice to soak up all that yummy sauce!

Coconut Curry Chicken

adapted from Simply Recipes

1 can coconut milk, light or regular depending on preference

3/4 lb. chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces

Mixed vegetables – I used the following:

1 potato, washed and diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 cups chopped kale

fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced

(could also try with peppers, onions, snow peas, mushrooms)

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. coriander

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

dash of allspice

1/2 tsp. turmeric

3/4 tsp. salt

a few grinds of black pepper

1 cup (low-sodium) chicken or vegetable broth

cilantro, for garnish

 

Start by prepping all of your ingredients, though you can also easily do this in the process of the cooking. Chop your chicken, carrots, potato, ginger, and kale. The main thing is to cut the potatoes and carrots the same size so they cook at the same rate, and not too big so that they don’t take too long to cook. Measure your spices into a small bowl and mix.

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Get out your favorite skillet – I used my new cast iron one – and heat over medium. At this point you can basically throw everything in and bring it to a very slight boil, before turning it down to simmer and letting it cook for about 20 minutes or until your chicken is cooked through and your potatoes and carrots are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary, adding more broth if you want to thin it out or even water if the flavors are too strong for you.

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Serve over hot rice and garnish with cilantro. Enjoy!