Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Not much to say here, except you can never go wrong with this one. If the chicken breasts are very thick, cut them in half length-wise or pound them to 1/2 - 1/4 inch thickness to speed up the cooking process. You can also use chicken tenderloins. I really recommend the cornflake crumbs here, but bread crumbs will work in a pinch. This takes, oh, about 20 minutes to make. Nothin' fancy, but boy it's good, quick, and easy.

Sweet and Sour Chicken
Serves 2

2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 cup cornflake crumbs
1 egg
1/3 - 1/2 jar sweet and sour sauce (we use La Choy)
2 TBS olive oil

1) Beat the egg in a shallow dish. Spread out cornflake crumbs on a separate plate.
2) Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until shimmery hot. Dip the chicken breasts first in the the egg, then coat with cornflake crumbs. Add chicken to pan. Cook for about 5 - 7 minutes per side until cooked through (the thinner the chicken, the faster this will cook, so keep your eye on it) and the breading is a crisp golden brown . Remove from pan and set aside.
3) Pour out any excess oil. Add sweet and sour sauce and maybe a TBS of water. Heat over low until bubbling. Add chicken back in and toss to coat. Serve with rice!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Beef Barley Soup

Let me just say up front, my favorite kinds of soups are more broth-y than creamy. To me there is no sadder soup than a chicken noodle that has the consistency of gravy.

So that would explain my love of a good Beef Barley soup. It's hearty and filling, but not too heavy, with a broth you can sip by itself. This soup was pretty good (I brought some to my sister when she had a cold and it cheered her right up) but could use some tasty additions.

I left out the 1/2 cup finely chopped mushrooms (perhaps unwisely) due to taste, but would recommend adding, perhaps, chunks of potato, peas, carrots, in addition to mushrooms (or whatever you like). I also think the beef could have benefited from searing first, to seal in the flavors--though I didn't use the recommended cut of beef, so that could have been the issue as well. Barley preparation was not nearly as daunting as I thought. Just give yourself the time. Oh, and if you have it, use real beef stock. I can only imagine how delicious it would taste (alas, I have no time for bone-boiling and used Emeril's beef broth).

Beef Barley Soup
from William-Sonoma Food Made Fast: Soup, with mods.
Serves 4

4 cups beef broth or stock
salt and pepper
1/4 cup pearl barley
2 TBS unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 lb eye of round beef cut into thin slices, then finely chopped (they recommend boneless beef sirloin, which may work better)

1) In a saucepan over medium heat, bring 3 cups of water to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the barley. Return to boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook the barley until just tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Drain and set aside.
2) While barley is cooking, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the stock and beef, reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes.
3) Add barley to the soup and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes, to blend flavors. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pad Thai

One of my favorite cookbooks that I own (though I don't use it nearly as much as I'd like) is The New Best Recipe by America's Test Kitchen. Not only does it run the gamut from salsa to pizza dough to soft-shell crab and cover basics, like fresh pasta, chicken stock, and chocolate chip cookies, it has a detailed explanation about the choice of ingredients, cooking times, substitutions, best brands to buy, etc. Each recipe is taken through a rigorous testing process, and it shows.

After making our Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup, we had left over rice noodles, so I decided to try Pad Thai. Oh. Wow. This Pad Thai recipe is seriously amazing. I made a full batch thinking I would take some for lunch, but we ate it all. Even the husband ate it and he didn't think he liked Pad Thai or most Thai food in general. Little did he know. It's got the right balance of sweet and tang, a little heat, the noodles tender, but not too mushy, and of course, the delicious nuttiness from the ground peanuts.

I used chicken instead of shrimp. I also used oyster sauce instead of fish sauce (so sue me, it's what we had!) and it tasted just fine. The store was out of bean sprouts, so alas, none of that, and I used the books recommended substitute for "tamarind paste" which, er, I didn't even know where to begin to look for in my not-always-well-stocked-but-painfully-convenient Shaws market. And I forgot to get scallions. So actually, I made a lot of changes. But it was still delicious!

Please make this and savor it. You'll thank me.

Pad Thai
adapted from The New Best Recipe
Serves 4 (or 2 very hungry people!)

1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup water
3 TBS fish (or oyster) sauce
1 TBS rice vinegar
3 TBS brown sugar
3/4 tsp red pepper flakes
4 TBS vegetable or peanut oil
8 oz dried rice stick noodles
2 large eggs
1 large chicken breast, halved lengthwise and cut into thin strips
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 small onion, diced (or 1 med. shallot)
6 TBS chopped unsalted, roasted peanuts
3 cups bean sprouts
5 medium scallions, green parts only, sliced thin on diagonal
lime wedges for serving

1) Cover rice sticks with hot tap water in a large bowl. Soak until softened and pliable, but not fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside.
2) Whisk together lime juice, water, oyster sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, red pepper, and 2 TBS of oil. Set aside.
3) Beat eggs and 1/8 tsp of salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
4) Heat 1 TBS of the oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat. Add the chicken with 1/8 tsp of salt. Sauté until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
5) Lower heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add garlic and onion. Cook, stirring constantly, until lightly browned, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add beaten egg to the pan and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon and scramble until barely moist. Add the rice noodles. Toss with tongs (or two wooden spoons) to combine.
6) Pour oyster sauce mixture over noodles and increase heat to high. Cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are evenly coated. Add 1/4 cup peanuts, bean sprouts, chicken, and all but 1/4 cup scallions. Continue to cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are tender (about 2 1/2 minutes). If not yet tender, at 2 TBS water to the pan and continue to cook until tender (I found I had to do this).
7) Transfer noodles to serving plates. Top with scallions, peanuts, and lime wedges to garnish.

Potato-Cheddar Soup

Soup is generally fairly new to me (enough qualifiers there?). The sum total of soups I have made include: wonton soup, chili, chicken and orzo soup, a rather tasty mexican pork & rice soup, and a not-so-terrible-but-not-completely-satisfying Greek egg-lemon soup (Marylanders… ever been to Ambrosia in Rockville? Their egg-lemon soup is the stuff I dream about. Mine is not yet up to snuff). So when I started flipping through our newly acquired soup book, so many of them sounded tasty, we just had to make them all.

First off, Potato-Cheddar. I like potato and cheddar and hearty soups in general. Plus, it was to be topped with bacon. Can’t go wrong there. I had never wrestled with leeks before, but was willing to give it a try (and was embarrassed not to be able to pick them out of a line up in the grocery store).

This soup could have benefited from: 1) me actually using my wand mixer more liberally (or using a food processor as recommended) because the texture was more gritty than creamy 2) some cream, more cheddar cheese, less leek, potentially some hefty chunks of potato, and more bacon/seasoning. Maybe I just had a different idea of what this should taste like versus what it did taste like. It’s a basic enough recipe and maybe that’s the problem—a little too basic. There’s plenty of room for changes next time (which I fully intend to try). Play around with it, let me know if you come up with anything a little more sure-fire.

Potato-Cheddar Soup
From William-Sonoma Food Made Fast: Soup
Serves 4
4/10 (could be better with some changes)

4 slices of bacon
1 leek, white part only, rinsed and thinly sliced (go easy on this… very strong flavor)
3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cups chicken broth
3 cups milk (I would replace at least part of this with half-n-half or cream)
salt and pepper (use liberally)
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated (I would double this)

1) In a large sauce pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp, about 5 min. Transfer bacon to paper towels and drain.
2) Discard all but 2 tbs of the bacon drippings from the pan and return to medium heat. Add the leek and saute until translucent, about 2 minutes.
3) Add the potatoes and broth and stir. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cook uncovered until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
4) Raise the heat to medium add the milk (or cream) and 1/2 tsp of pepper and bring just to a simmer. Ussing a food processor, blender or want mixer, process the soup to a smooth puree (really, this is very important otherwise the soup is unpleasantly gritty). If removed, return soup to sauce pan and reheat to serving temperature. Add the cheese and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper
5) Ladle soup into bowls, crumble bacon on top and serve.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Soup Week!

So this past week was Soup Week in the Cuisine Heart household. We made five soups from the William Sonoma Food Made Fast Soup cookbook: Potato-Cheddar, Beef Barley, Vietnamese Beef Noodle, Garlic, and Chicken Tortilla.

The favorite? The Chicken Tortilla soup. Easy, well-balanced flavors, and delicious with whole-wheat cheese quesadillas, it was the definite favorite. Following closely, for completely different reasons, was the Garlic Soup. I wisely chose to treat this as an appetizer and the husband agreed: very potent, but delicious in small quantities over toasted sourdough bread. The Beef Barley soup was good, but could have benefited from some additional veggies, such as chunks of potato, carrots, or peas. The Vietnamese Noodle Soup was also good, especially the rice noodles (first time we’d made that at home), but alas, the Potato-Cheddar soup fell short (though with a few modifications, I’m sure it could much better).

Recipes and photos to follow!

(I've been catching up a bit, so scroll back for some new recipes and photos as well).

Spinach and Artichoke Risotto

I love Spinach and Artichoke Dip and I love risotto, so what better combination? Really, that's all I have to say.

Spinach and Artichoke Risotto
Serves 2

2 - 3 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
1 TBS olive oil
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and chopped
1/2 cup frozen spinach, thawed and chopped
2 oz cream cheese (you can buy single servings)
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 TBS butter
1/4 tsp garlic salt (or more, to taste)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
black pepper to taste

1) Heat stock in a small sauce pan until hot, but not boiling. Keep warm.
2) Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until shimmering. Add onions and sauté over med-high heat until translucent. Lower the heat to med-low. Add the arborio rice and stir until it is coated with oil.
3) Add white wine. Stir until the liquid has been mostly absorbed and the rice begins to stick to the pot.
4) Add warm stock to the rice 1/2 – 1 cup at a time and continue to stir the risotto until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the rice begins to stick before adding the next cup. The rice will being to absorb the liquid much slower.
5) After about 15 minutes, the rice will have puffed up, but still be a bit al dente (read: crunchy). Add artichokes, spinach, garlic salt, red pepper flakes, and pepper.
6) Cook for 5 - 10 more minutes, adding stock as it is absorbed. Th risotto should take on a creamy texture and will almost hardly be absorbing any liquid at all. The rice should be tender but slightly chewy. Remove from heat.
6) Add the butter, cream cheese, and parmesan, blending until creamy. Serve with chips or toasted pita bread.