Monday, August 31, 2009

Devilled Eggs

When I was growing up, devilled eggs were a treat we got at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. When I moved out for college, I didn't make devilled eggs because they were too much trouble for just one person. But I missed them; boy did I miss them.

So when some friends asked me to cook dinner for 10, I jumped at the chance. I got to make my devilled eggs. Unfortunately, I didn't have a copy of my mother's recipe, so I needed to develop one of my own. Time to play with the spices!!!

Devilled Eggs
2 dozen eggs, hard boiled
2 teaspoons dried bmustard
1-1/3 cups mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon powdered garlic
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
1/4 teaspoon tabasco
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons 2% milk
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
1/4 teaspoon paprika

Cut the eggs in half and remove yolks. Reserve egg whites.

Mash egg yolks and spices (except tabasco) together. Add milk, mayo, and tabasco and blend well. The mixture should be fairly smooth.

Fill egg whites with yolk mixture. There will be more filling than the yolk spaces will hold, so they will be mounded and puffy.

Garnish with paprika, capers, parsley, etc. Keep the garnish simple.

My mother used a yellow commercial preparation of mustard, but I think it makes the eggs too vinegary and wet. I really like the sharpness of the dried mustard. The yolk mixture turns out very creamy, yet a little firm.

I like to put the yolk mixture in a plastic bag and snip a corner off in the shape of a W. This gives me a pretty yolk filling without creating a lot of mess. When I'm done, I can just toss the messy bag; I've had too many pastry bags make a mess all over my hands.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Not quite a stir-fry

Late August is a favorite time of year of mine. Nearly all the vegetables I love are in season so I can go to town with them. Sometimes I grill them, sometimes I steam them, and yet other times I stir-fry them. Today I didn't quite do any of those.

Not Quite Stir-fry
2 boneless chicken breast halves
2 small to medium zucchini
1/2 large onion
6-8 crimini mushrooms
2-4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1/4 cup of water
15 oz rice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
3 tsbp canola oil
1 tsp cornstarch

Slice the onions into slivers. Cut the zucchini into 2-3 inch strips that are a 1/4 inch thick. Cut each mushroom in half and slice. Slice the chicken into 2-3 inch strips 1/4 thick.

Start rice cooking. I will admit that I tend to use a rice cooker; it's more reliable for me than any other method I've tried.

Put the chicken in 2 tsbp of the soy sauce and stir until all is coated. Let marinade until the zucchini is nearly done sauteing.

Add oil to hot skillet. Saute the onions, mushrooms, and zucchini one at a time. Saute the onions until translucent, the mushrooms until they start to brown, and the zucchini until it softens and slightly browns. While sauteing the zucchini, add the salt to the pan to help the moisture rise to the surface.

While the vegetables saute, mix the soy sauce, garlic, and ginger in a food processor until the mixture is smooth. Add two tablespoons of water to mixture.

Once the onions and mushrooms are done, pull the chicken out of the soy sauce and place on a paper towel to drain. Once all the vegetables are done, lay the chicken in a single layer in the skillet. Brown each side. Once all the chicken is browned, remove all the chicken, and deglaze with the remaining water. Add the soy sauce mixture then reintroduce the chicken and vegetables. Simmer for a few minutes, until the zucchini and chicken are cooked.

Mix a tablespoon or so of water with the cornstarch and add. Simmer mixture until sauce has thickened. Serve over the rice.

Ginger and zucchini work really well together as a flavor combination. I was really happy with the way it turned out. It wasn't a stir-fry, per se, as I didn't cook it all the time on high and keep the food moving. I don't care -- it was yummy!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Soup starting

That last couple of weeks have been a little challenging. First I was on vacation and got sick, sick, sick. As in sounding like I was hacking up a lung sick -- and I was camping!

Second, I got home and was still sick. Then my partner got home and she got what I had. So chicken noodle soup was the special of the day for this weekend.

Anytime I roast a chicken or debone chicken for another recipe, I immediately make stock. Just chicken and a little salt -- no veggies, no other spices. This way, the chicken stock will be ready to be used anyway I see fit. I can always add the other stuff later.

As I was saying, the chicken broth came in really handy this weekend. I put the frozen broth, a 16 oz bag of frozen peas, a pound of carrots, four celery stalks, a large onion, three bulbs of garlic (keep cloves whole), four bay leaves, a couple of teaspoons of thyme, a teaspoon of black pepper, and a pound of mushrooms in a very large pan. I added five thighs and drumsticks to the mix and covered with water. Then I let it simmer for a couple of hours. After an hour, I pulled the meat, removed the bones, and replaced the meat. I also pulled the top two cups of fluid and set it in the fridge to separate. About half an hour before we wanted to eat, I added the defatted broth and thick country noodles.

The soup was really, really rich with a wonderful, silky mouth-feel. The soup was not really garlicky, probably because I left the cloves whole. I put so much stuff in it that the soup was somewhat stewy (but without a really thick gravy), so it was incredibly filling.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Product Review: Calphalon Everyday Pan

Disclaimer: Calphalon has not asked me to review this product; I am not receiving any compensation for this review. I am doing this because I enjoy using it and hope that you will too.

A little over a year ago, I found an amazing sale on Amazon. They had several Calphalon pans on sale for over 60% off! I bought two pans: a griddle and an everyday pan. Amazon listed their normal price as over $200 combined and I got them for under $60 (including shipping).

The everyday pan is everything the ad suggested it would be. I would use it everyday if I could. I can't because I don't cook everyday and because, well, it doesn't boil pasta very well. But it does everything quite nicely. I've braised meat in it, cooked seafood, made my favorite pinto, etc.

I like to use it in place of a skillet. The pan has a broad, flat bottom with sloping sides, so there's a lot of heated surface to place the food on (especially if I can manage to keep it on my ceramic stove-top burners, but that's another story). The pan heats quite evenly, so food around the outside cooks nearly as quickly as the food near the center.

The everyday pan's two-"helper" handle design is wonderful. With two small "helper" handles on the sides, like a five-quart pot, turning food out of the pan is a snap -- no awkward wrist contortions to get to the food. In addition, there are no long handles to get in the way of my other burners; I can use them all!

If I had one complaint about the pan, it's that I can't put it in the dishwasher without voiding the lifetime warranty. Fortunately, the anodized surface is easy to clean, nearly as easy as Teflon (eww, ick). That's all to the good as I really don't have much elbow grease anymore.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Blending Spices

The last few recipes have used a spice blend called powder douce. Powder douce is a medieval sweet spice blend that can contain up to 15 spices, including salt and sugar. Another medieval spice blend is powder fort, a blend of strongly flavored spices, also including salt and sugar. In fact, these two spice blends have many spices in common: sugar, salt, cinnamon, and ginger to name a few.

Modernly we use spice blends all the time. Who hasn't used curry powder or poultry seasoning? Years ago, I looked at what was in poultry seasoning and decided I could do better on my own. I didn't like how muddled the flavors of the spices in premade mixes were, and they only got worse as they sat on my shelf.

I've had several friends who ask me how I decide what spices to use and how much to use when I create my blends. I'm always left puzzling out how to answer this and still make sense. To start with, I try to figure out what I want the blend to taste like. For instance, when I developed my curry blend (below), I had the flavors at a favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh, Sree's, to model on. I knew I needed coriander, cumin, tumeric, garlic, cinnamon (cassia not ceylon), cayenne pepper, black pepper, and some other spices to be named later.

I start by smelling the spices. I waft one bottle in front of me, then rapidly follow it with a second and third bottle so the scents mingle. I believe that if the spices smell good together, they will taste good together.

Once I've found a base of scents I like, I add them to the bowl, one teaspoon at a time. As I select a spice, I waft it past the bowl to see how I like the mixed scent. Spices I know I want to be less strong, I start with 1/4 teaspoon or the 1/2 teaspoon. If I want to increase the spice's flavor, I increase it by a 1/4 teaspoon at a time. Once I get the scent I like in the bowl, I stop.

And this is what I got.

Sue's Curry Powder

8 teaspoons cumin
8 teaspoons coriander
4 teaspoons tumeric
2 teaspoons powdered ginger
2 teaspoons garlic
2 teaspoons black pepper (not white, green, or pink)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon cloves

Mix well together. I prefer to use a small food processor since the mustard isn't powdered. This powder is a mild curry; for more heat, increase the cayenne pepper. For anyone who doesn't like any heat, remove it and increase the cloves and ginger by 1/4 teaspoon to maintain the curry's sharpness.

Not only have I used this blend in curries, I also like to add it to cheese sauces and meat marinades.