Archive | Dinners RSS for this section

Cornish Hens, Elegant Yet Affordable

Small Chickens

Bred to appeal to foodies back in the 60’s, cornish hens make an affordable yet elegant dinner at $3.50 each.  They can easily be split in half to serve two.

Lay over a bed of wild rice blended with dried cranberries and pecan pieces and the level of elegance rises.

Add green beans, seared then braised in wine and you may just  find yourself placing candles and fine dinnerware on the table.

All for less than $8.00 a piece provided you have to buy everything at one time. But a good home chef always has items in their pantry to defray the costs.

Serving Two:
One Cornish Hen split in half after roasting/smoking $3.50 (Generally sold in packages of two, freeze one for later)
6 oz box Uncle Ben’s Original Wild Rice $1.99 (have several on hand)
1 lb generic bag of pecans $5.99 (have on hand)
6 oz bag cranberries $1.48 (have on hand)
1/2 lb of whole fresh green beans $1.50 (buy fresh or have frozen bags available)

Preparation:

Sprinkle Garlic Salt and Coarse Ground Black Pepper all over and inside the cavity of the cornish hen.

Smoke at 350° F for 20 minutes, then turn upside down, continue another 20 minutes. Continue this 20 minute process until the inside temperature taken in the thigh is 160°. Depending on the size of the hens, this could take at minimum of one to one and half hours. These shown above took 1:40 cooking time.

To roast in the oven, set the temperature at 350° F, and practice the same turning process as on a smoker.

Shrimp, Buy Frozen or Fresh?

Pasta and ShrimpYesterday I challenged myself not to run to the grocery store.  I try to go no more than twice a week because of the long drive back and forth and today was not that scheduled  second trip.

So…I went through my pantry, freezer and fridge and put together a very simple meal that only took 20 minutes.

I always have in my freezer, a package of cooked, de-veined, tail-on,  frozen shrimp.  I buy the 31-40 size bag because the shrimp are a perfect size, not too big and not too small.  The price is always reasonable so I usually purchase two packages just for times like this.

On a side note:  I buy frozen because of an incident that occurred one day while shopping the Farmer’s Market near Atlanta.  I went in for fresh shrimp, not really paying attention to the sign that said, “fresh frozen”.  They only had a few pieces and I asked for more, they pointed to the freezer across the way.  I said, “no, no, I want fresh”  this other person came up and explained that is where they pull shrimp from to place on the counter; from the freezer or the back when delivered.  So I walked to the freezer and pulled out a brand name of sorts package and held it up gesturing “this?” and the people behind the counter nodded, “yes”.

How gullible I was!  I thought it was flown in fresh every day.

Sometime later, during a cooking class, I asked Chef Steve Jou of Pyng Ho Restaurant if this incident at the market was accurate and he confirmed, the best time to buy really fresh is on Thursdays.   After that, I started buying frozen.

Now, 15 years later, I learn about the organic growers who purchase land in other countries to grow produce for the world and realistically, how can even that come in fresh? It’s harvested, trucked to a boat, floating in a refrigerator compartment deep in the bowels of a cargo ship (I hope) for a two week excursion to a dock in the states.  Then it is taken to a distribution center where it then is put on trucks and delivered to stores across the country.

Cynically thinking, fresh is out of my garden, onto my plate or the next best thing to fresh,  into a pot for blanching and preserved in a Ziplock or jar.  Which just happens to be what the big conglomerates do.

Watching the TV show, “Biography” one Sunday morning, I learned the Green Giant harvested produce and drove 1/4 mile to a FDA regulated building to can or freeze the same day. Those same vegetables are shipped to the distribution center and sent out across the country by day two.  I learned the same thing with my favorite canned tomato product, Muir Glen Organic.

Of course, I support the local farmers when they set up but I discovered this past summer, some of those vendors are not farmers but rather people who stop at the Farmers Market and set up a roadstand.  That’s ok, everyone needs to make a buck in this economy and I admit, I have bought from them.  Now,  I’m more careful to look over produce and try to find out where someone comes from to determine if in fact, they’re farmers.  Only because, I prefer to buy straight from the person who “played in the dirt”.  Once I have their names, I return to their stand each visit thereafter.  I’ve even been known to call a farmer ahead to see if they would be at the market the next day.  Yeah, I stalk like that.

I’m pretty much over the fresh thing and not so afraid of buying canned or frozen.  I still do though buy straight off the produce shelf in between the water sprays because there is nothing like holding something that appears fresh out of the garden, especially if it has dirt and sand all over it.

For two people

16 pieces of shrimp, thawed in bowl of water
two slices bacon, browned and chopped
one 14.5 oz can Muir Glen Organic Brand Fire Roasted Tomatoes
8 oz linguine
1/4 cup Marsala
One tbls butter

Begin boiling the pasta.  Fry bacon, drain the grease, de-glaze with Marsala and be sure to scrape the junk from the pan for flavoring.  Drop butter in to help thicken while de-glazing.  Add the shrimp to liquid.  Turn the shrimp for a nice flavorful coating.  Allow the liquid to cook down some then add a can of fire roasted tomatoes.   Add the pasta to marry the ingredients together.  Plate and top with chopped bacon bits.

Serve a nice mixed baby green lettuce salad topped with red onion and cherry tomatoes as a side dish and compliment with your favorite wine.

I Love Steak!

Sirloin Steak

This is Food Porn at it’s best.  Like the title says…I love steak!  Especially ladled with an oyster/mushroom sauce.

If I don’t have my weekly steak, I experience severe beef withdrawals.

My husband loves steak more than I do. He is the man behind this steak. Look at his plate.  Hardly what would pass the Iron Chef  “Plating” rules.   The first thing he does is ladle sauce all over everything and mix it up. Then he slices, scoops and inserts.  This is fine dining to him.  We could never go to a fine dining restaurant.  Anyone sitting at tables nearby or wait staff would stop dead in their tracks and gawk.  If food is to die for, table manners be damned.

Since I started photographing food, I have to take my own plate and style it and let him take his plate and start eating. Plating is not his thing.  He likes to look at food photos and loves the photos I take but to wait on me to style and photograph? Not gonna happen.  For this photo, I just happen to look over at his plate and said “freeze” and grabbed the camera, which is always within grabbing reach, and shot off six rounds.

I love to see people enjoy food.   I love to witness the beginning indulgences of a meal and hear the familiar sounds responding to fine cuisine… “mmm”, “mmm”, “m.m.m.m.mmmm.”   Eventually, a word emerges. “good!”   …then a few words, “this is great!”  …then an actual bonafide exclamation is made. “This is a really great steak!”  …and then a dialog begins, “…and, that sauce. Do I taste a hint of….?”   “Why, yes, you do taste…”  “What other ingredients are in this sauce?”

My husband grills the steak.  I can not provide instructions for gas grills since he only knows how to use a Big Green Egg.  His temperature is very high, around 600° and the steak is always at room temperature before placing on the grill. (all meat should be at room temperature before cooking)  He seasons with salt and pepper and then places on the grill searing each side for two minutes.  Then he closes off air passages on top and bottom and the steak continues to cook for three to four more minutes.  Depending on the thickness, it may take slightly longer.

Oyster/Mushroom Sauce:

Five or six medium size mushrooms, sliced
Olive oil for the pan
8 oz. beef stock
1 tbls. oyster sauce
1 tbls. soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbls. corn starch

On medium heat, sauté mushrooms until brown and tender then remove from pan and set aside.
Sauté garlic for 20 seconds then add all other ingredients. Allow to thicken.
Add cooked mushrooms back into sauce and warm.

Ladle the sauce over steak and listen to the sounds of savoring pleasures from your table.

We of course, use the same sauce for mashed potatoes as shown in the photo above.

Cooking on Wood Cook Stoves

Wood Cook Stove

My husband has always enjoyed cooking on a wood cook stove.  I on the other hand will stick to my gas stove top.

Biscuits or pie from the oven are quite a treat to indulge. There is that distinctness of country flavor conventional ovens and stoves can’t compete against.

I’m so happy when the house gets cold and he can finally light it up and send wonderful aromas throughout the house. Our kitchen is open rafters to the roof so the aromas go up into the loft and back down the stairwell with the help of a fan set on reverse.

A collection of iron ware is essential although as shown above you can use stainless steel off to the side away from extreme heat.  We haven’t been able to replace all the iron pieces we once had after our house burned down year’s ago… one of the downsides to using fireplaces and wood stoves.

Ironware

My husband’s specialty is fried chicken.  He has it down to a science.

Frying chicken

Frying chicken

Frying chicken does not have to be on a wood cook stove so for purposes here, I will say use the same methods on your own preferred stove top.

Ingredients

One whole fryer or cut up pieces of a whole chicken

Flour Mixture

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp chile powder
2 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp coarse ground pepper

Liquid Mixture

2 cups milk, skim to whole, no preference
2 eggs

Frying ingredients

1/2 cup canola or sunflower oil  (vegetable oil tends to burn)
1 stick unsalted butter

Utensils

A ten-inch or twelve-inch skillet

One shallow bowl for liquid and two shallow baking dishes for flour mixture and one platter for chicken

Preparation and Cooking

Cut up and clean the chicken pieces.

On medium heat place your skillet with 1/2 cup canola or sunflower oil with one stick of butter

With a fork, blend the liquid mixture together in a shallow bowl, like a salad bowl but big enough to fit a chicken breast in.

Mix together ingredients of flour mixture and pour half into one baking dish and the other half into the second baking dish. This is for double dipping.

Dip each piece into the flour mixture then the milk mixture then the second flour mixture. Lay each piece onto a platter.

To gauge the heat of the oil, it should be rippling across the top but… drop a bit of flour mixture stuck on your fingers into the skillet of oil. The oil should bubble.

You want the largest pieces of the chicken to go in the hot oil first. Place the breast in and allow to brown slightly on both sides. Add the thighs next turning as with the breast. The wings go in last. When all pieces have browned nicely on both sides, cover with a lid. Steam for eight minutes. Remove lid turn chicken pieces again until crisp on both sides.  It takes about 18 minutes to fry all the chicken.

Frying chicken is not easy the first time or second time around. It is something you have to acquire a flare for. Even I have not fried chicken because I could never improve over my husband’s chicken. There are some dishes I don’t waste valuable time learning.

Note:

Just a reminder, always clean thoroughly all utensils and counter space and sink.  Raw chicken is dangerous. Cleaning can be done while the chicken is frying.

Is it chili or chile?

…that depends.  Are you talking about a soupy mixture or a fruit of the capsicum group? Since neither spelling begins with a capital “C” then it isin’t about the country.

There have been strong debates as to where the best chile’s are grown and New Mexico takes pride in being the “chile” capital.  For this distinction, in 1983, the then governor of New Mexico declared the spelling end with the letter “e” and had a full legislative body to back him. The new spelling ending in “e” became a congressional act of New Mexico.

If you sit down at a table with a bowl of soup mixture, the word ends with the last letter being an ” i “.

Chili spelled with an "i"

…but if you go to the grocery to buy the fruit itself, the word ends with an ” e “.

Chile Pods

If you were to buy the pepper in powder form, look at the spelling.  If the word ends with the letter “i” there are more ingredients included than dried peppers.  If the powder is spelled with the last letter as an “e”, it is pure, dried, ground chile pepper.

chili and chile powder

Ingredients for chili above.

Two lbs. beef, pork or in this dish, venison, cubed
One large sweet onion
1/4 cup flour
Two cloves garlic, finely chopped
One small can tomato paste
One large can diced tomatoes
28oz. can beef broth
Four Tbls. New Mexico chile powder
One Tbls. ground cumin
One tsp oregano
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Two stalks celery including leaves, chopped
Two tsp salt
Three Tbls. apple cider vinegar
One bell pepper, seeded and chopped
One poblano chile, seeded and chopped

Preparation
Cut up or chop all ingredients above. In a dutch oven, brown the meat. Remove from the oven and drain on a paper towel lined platter. Sauté the onion, bell pepper, garlic and poblano chile. Add meat back into the dutch oven. Sprinkle the flour over this.

Now, add tomato ingredients along with beef broth. Add apple cider vinegar.
Allow to simmer for one hour.

Add all the dry ingredients (spices and herb) along with the celery and allow to simmer for 1/2 hour longer.

Home Chef’s note:  I find adding herbs and spices towards the end more flavorful.  They simmer long enough but not so long they lose flavor.

Comfort Food With a Dash of Fancy

Stewed Chicken

After all the holiday eating, I was looking for ole’, reliable, comfort food.

I thought about fried chicken, but that seemed too carby after the holidays.  With fried chicken comes mashed potatoes, then gravy, maybe biscuits, etc. etc. Nope, too soon.

We just had roast beef and my husband would be smoking  pork over the weekend.

I decided on stewed chicken thighs.

Add a mixed green salad with poached pears, a sprinkle of pecans and a drizzle of raspberry vinaigrette. Compliment that with a nice Chianti and you have comfort food with a dash of fancy.

Ingredients – Serves two

Six chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
Rubbed Sage
One sweet onion, chopped
One garlic clove, chopped
One green bell pepper, chopped
One large can Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes ( I use only Muir Glen Organic Brand)
One 10.75oz. can Puree
White Wine (optional)

Salt, Pepper and rub some sage on the chicken thighs.  Pan Sear them.

In a separate pan, sauté the onion, garlic clove and green bell pepper.

Back to the chicken thighs…

When they are nicely browned, add a 1/4 cup liquid (preferably white wine) and scrape the crud off the bottom of the pan. This is the good stuff. It’s the secret to flavoring.  Now add the onion, garlic and bell pepper from the other pan. You can deglaze that pan as well and add to the pan of chicken. Add a little bit more liquid and then add diced tomatoes and the can of puree.

Let simmer for about 20 minutes.

Bringing in the New Year on a Budget

pot roast dinner

Christmas Weekend was a house filled with the entire family.  If anyone has kids who love all food then you know, as parents you aim to please. What you budget for gifts and food can get out of hand.

Even though my husband and I start a Christmas budget every January, it never fails, we go over budget. I get caught up in the excitement of the holidays.  At least our Christmas is always paid for and dipping into the savings to cover the balance isin’t so bad.

Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to scale down.

I was watching a video on Cook’s Country on roasting with Top Sirloin.  Since I went over budget at Christmas, I really didn’t feel right spending $6 lb for 4 ½ pounds of meat.  So I opted for the inferior cut of beef, shoulder roast or commonly known as Pot Roast.  By saving 10 bucks, I was able to buy a bottle of Pinot Noir on sale marked down from $17.  That is if you have a Kroger Card.

I took the same recipe for the butter/herb mixture off Cook’s Country and essentially where I could butterfly the roast, I did and stuffed with the herb/butter mixture.  I did not roast mine in the oven but rather braised it in Wine.

I first cut off all fat from roast which then causes the meat to separate in pieces. I slice larger pieces open like a book. Salt and pepper both sides then spread the herb mixture. Fold back to a closed position and tie up.

stuffed pot roast

Sear the roast on all sides to a nice brown color.  Add liquid of choice for braising, cover and let simmer for at least an hour to 1 ½ hours.

pot roast being seared

Herb/Butter Mixture

4 Tbls (half stick) softened butter
2 Tbls olive oil
1 Tbls Dijon Mustard
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbls minced fresh thyme
1 shallot

Mix together the butter, oil and mustard. In a separate bowl mix together the parsley, thyme and shallot. Then blend together all the ingredients. Using half this mixture, spread inside cut meat. Save the mixture on the counter covered with plastic wrap for later.

After the roast has finished, place on a cutting board and spread leftover herb/butter mixture over the meat. Let rest for about 10 minutes.

Resting Pot Roast

Wishing everyone a productive New Year.