Sunday, January 29, 2012

Peace in Greece Pasta

We had pasta in the pantry. But, we have also had a lot of Italian meals of late. I skimmed my cookery books, searched the internet, and went through my somewhat but not quite orderly files, and not a one said "You must make me just like this." However a bunch of recipes said, "Oh look! Why don't you use this or that from this idea?" Others said "well, I'd be much better if you only added these things and took out that thing." They were starting to cause quite a ruckus and I was not about to allow the violence to escalate. So, I decided it was time, once more, to Declare World Peace with Pasta. I let all of the nice recipes contribute a little something, added some ideas of my own, and ended up with Peace in Greece, a not at all authentic Greek recipe - but a delicious one.

a mountain of yumminess
Peace in Greece Pasta

This peace filled recipe is dedicated to a fellow Peace Blogger that passed away today (January 29, 2012): Sarge Charlie was a retired Army man that understood the importance of peace.

Ingredients mindfully chosen and applied with great thought and gentleness:

1 pound whole wheat pasta

4 T olive oil

about 1 1/2 pints of cherry tomatoes, rinse and slice them in half - you can use more if you like, but this amount worked well. When you put them in the bowl, make sure that you include every bit of liquid.

garlic - usually I use fresh, but this time I had a jar of chopped garlic in the pantry so I used it. Because the jarred garlic is not as strong as fresh, I put in three very large scoops using a teaspoon (the eating kind, not the measuring kind and I do mean mounded scoops). I would suspect that an equivalent amount of fresh garlic would be four large crushed cloves - at a minimum, but then our family adores garlic.

a goodly splash of white wine - about 1/3 cup. Please use a decent wine, you can then serve it with the meal.

1 t Greek or Mediterranean Oregano - or 2 t of fresh.

1/2 - 1 t crushed red pepper, to your tastes. If you are not a heat person, do still add about 1/4 t of it anyway, trust me.

a number of twists (I think I counted to 8 or 10) of fresh cracked black pepper.

about 1/4 t of nutmeg

1 cup fresh rinsed and torn basil - I wondered afterward if more would have been good, and will let you know the next time I make it.

6 oz crumbled Feta, plus more at the table. I bought a 12 oz container, used half and we probably added 2/3 of the rest at the table.

with olives, why I will never know, but they liked it.
Now, the husband and son added black Greek olives to their portions. No accounting for taste, but I am sure there are a few of you odd olive eating people out there so I did want to let you know that you could do that. They loved it. To the left is a pic of what their plates looked like. Notice how it does not look quite as attractive as my plate did. No, I did not go out of my way to take an unattractive pic, it's the olives.

How I put together a Pasta Worthy of World Peace:

I filled my great large pasta pot with water and a little salt and heated it to a boil - do please use cold water and never hot from the faucet. The reason for this is that there are things like rust and unspeakable sediments that accumulate in water heaters. These particles are delivered to your cookery pot mixed with the hot water after the heater agitates itself to do your bidding. You do not want to add rust or the other things to your dinner, and can avoid it by using cold water.

I cooked the pasta to a nice al dente and drained it in the colander where it would sit waiting patiently and peacefully while I made the sauce.

Then I added the olive oil to the same pot - no rinsing or anything, I just added the oil and returned it to the burner now set on medium high. I sauteed the garlic in that for about a minute. You just want to release the garlic's lovely aroma and not burn or over cook it. Then I poured in the tomatoes and their juices - it may look like not enough liquid, but it is. Stir a bit.

After this began to boil, I added the white wine and all seasonings except the basil. It boiled happily for only a couple minutes. Then I added the drained pasta to the pot and began to stir. I had to use a spoon and my pasta grabber to do this - needed both to plate it too. Once this was done, I added the basil and stirred it up again. Finally, I added the feta and stirred... all the while the pot was over that medium high heat.

By now the pasta had reheated nicely and the sauce was thickened a bit from the melty feta. This is a good time to give it a taste and make any adjustments you need to make it yours. Remember, that a recipe is just a template. You need to bring your own views and opinions to the structure.

As you can see, I don't add salt (except for the water), as the Feta has a sufficiently salty presence. You may be used to salt though and will want a bit. Please take the dish to this point and taste first - never ever just add salt because you always do, ok? Much more peaceful to learn to love the flavors of food without all the salt that only leads to high blood pressure and then to arguments and then to war.

It is with great mindfulness, that I Declare World Peace with this offering of Peace in Greece Pasta. Enjoy.

Recipe also posted at The Peaceful Palate.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fish Jerky

One thing you will rarely see on this blog is a reference to fish as I find it nauseating, quite literally so. However, I know a good mindful recipe when I see one even if I will never in this life taste it. Many of you would, for some strange reason, quite like it.

My friend Rabbit used to live in New Orleans. He evacuated to our home one weekend as was usual when a hurricane threatened. This time he lost almost everything he owned thanks to Katrina. One thing he lost was the fishing reel he used to catch many large fishes. He ate them in just about every way a fish lover could. Among his friends in New Orleans, he became famous for his Fish Jerky. Yes. Fish Jerky. If I could bring myself to do it, this is the one fish I might taste...but not really. Rabbit explains the process quite well, so I'm going to let him take it from here:

Fish Jerky

Rabbit's Penn 505
My favorite reel was the Penn 505 of which I had 2.  I lost them both in Katrina and they are no longer made…

Fish Jerky requires a lot of fish usually several pounds. When I made it I sent packages (vacuum packed) to friends all over the country.  The rest was usually consumed when my daughters and their friends swooped in and ate the rest (while also drinking the rest of my "good" beer…)

The marinade was really pretty simple with equal parts of Italian salad dressing, usually wishbone, but sometimes others, garlic flavored red wine vinegar and red wine.  The red wine is the kind you drink, to paraphrase Justin Wilson, if it isn't good enough to drink, it isn't good enough to eat either.  The other main ingredient is soy sauce, which is about half of the other three combined.  this is all done by eyeball, so it varies.  Use good quality Louisiana hot sauce to taste (Crystal is my favorite) and some liquid smoke.

Any kind of saltwater fish will work, but large oily fish do best.  I've used Blackfin Tuna, King Mackerel, and Bluefish most.  Shark is also good, it gets a really jerky texture.

I freeze the fish and then put it in the fridge till it's just starting to thaw then cut it into 1/8 inch thick slices.  It's much easier to cut when semi-frozen.  

I put it in the marinade at least over night in the refrigerator, Sometimes I leave it a couple of days, this doesn't hurt because the marinate sort of chemically cooks it.

I started out with a Mr. Coffee dehydrator, then I added a second dehydrator. Then the demand outpaced my capacity to dry and I wound up getting one of those big stainless steel multi rack jobs from a hunting supply store.  I still never got to eat much after everybody else was through.

As I put the slices on the rack I covered them liberally with a sort of medium ground fresh black pepper.  I would stay home all day and rotate it through till the fish was all dry.

Now what did I tell you? That was as mindful a recipe as could be. If you eat those things, enjoy it - quickly or all your friends will finish it first.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Panko Chicken

Ok, I have just about had it with the stupid super lean chicken breasts in the store. Do yours squeak when cooked? Mine did. When they "look" done, they are over done. When they ARE done, they look unattractively underdone. I've tried braising, pan sauteing, oven baking, roasting, etc. But when I cook a boneless skinless chicken breast, I keep hearing that obnoxious squeak when I cut it that means it's over cooked and dried out. Bleh.

It's easy to cook up a moist and lovely chicken thigh or a whole bird...or even a bone in skin on chicken breast. But the weekday speedy boneless skinless breast was really beginning to annoy me.

So, I tried a bunch of stuff. Really I did. I ruined many a batch o' chicken breasts. Then one day, I tried again. The first thing my son said after sampling this experiment was "Wow. I can even cut this with a fork." Then he said "This is awesome, I'd pay $30 for that in a restaurant." 22 year old men are odd things.

I guess I finally figured it out. Here's what I did. Now remember,  my non chicken ingredients are at this point rather estimated because I only made it once and am not much of a measurer anyway. The recipe was repeated with success by a friend though so I think it's pretty dratted close. I'll edit it later if I find that I am off in an important area.

Panko Buttermilk Chicken Breasts

The main ingredients with notes as to flexibility and variations on a chicken breast theme:

3 large organical chicken breasts of the uneven size and proportion (don't worry, we'll fix that)

Enough Buttermilk to cover the chicken breasts (I did not measure and really, most of it will be poured down the drain later so don't worry about the calories, ok?)

Several shakes of Tabasco sauce (optional, but I thought it made a wonderful flavor enhancement and besides I love my food spicy, although this did not make the chicken spicy, there was just a hint of something extra). My friend Gabi, the BrokeAss Gourmet likes to use a couple tablespoons of Sriracha Sauce instead of Tabasco. Give it a try, it's tasty.

1 1/2 cups Panko Japanese Style Bread Crumbs (I used the Italian seasoned ones this time, but it's not important cuz you add whatever seasonings you want and I meant to grab the plain when I was at the store and I just didn't. So this is what I had to work with)

1 cup freshly grated Parmigianno Reggiano (or your favorite hard Italian cheese all grated up. Do make sure it's fresh grated. Never buy grated cheese in a bag or plastic container unless you don't like the people coming over for dinner.

More Seasonings I used probably 3 t or even more of garlic, oh say 2 t dried parsley, about a 1 of oregano, and a number of turns of the black pepper mill. You use the seasonings that you like. You might not be a major garlicaholic like me so you would NEVER additional garlic if you got the Italian seasoned Panko. BTW, you don't have to make this Italian. Use whatever your favorite herbs and seasonings are. You may love white pepper tarragon chicken or you may be a big Herbs de Provencal person. If so, then make it so.

How the thing is put together and baked to glorious tenderness and juiciness:

Get out one of those big zip lock bags and your meat mallet. Put one chicken breast inside the ziplock bag. Do not seal it, but lightly flatten the open end with one hand because you are about to whack the whathaveyou out of your chicken with the flat side of the mallet and you don't want the chicken squirting out. Don't use the bumpy side of the mallet, ok? Whack away. Whack until the breast is about even thickness throughout. You'll probably find it between 1/2 an inch to 3/4 of an inch thick depending on how big the breasts were in the first place. Repeat with the other two breasts.

One thing you will notice is that your three breasts are now incredibly huge. Didn't look like so much meat before. Now you know that only 1/2 of one is going to be just fine for dinner. Put the flattened breasts in a bowl or other container with a lid. Cover with buttermilk. Lift each breast to make sure the buttermilk gets all around them. Stir in some Tabasco while you are doing the lifting part. Cover and return to the fridge for about 1/2 an hour to an hour or whatever amount of time you find you have. Bring out of the fridge and sit for 1/2 an hour to bring to room temperature before cookery.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Yes. 500, not 350, not 375, not 425. 500 degrees in Fahrenheit.

While the oven is heating up, mix up all the other non-chicken ingredients in a wide bowl. Inhale the aroma and adjust the seasonings until the dry mix smells awesome. This is my most favorite of mindfulness cookery techniques. Use your nose, eyes, and memory in addition to a recipe.

Line a large baking pan with foil and give it a spritz of non stick spray.

Pull out one of the chicken breasts and coat well with the Panko mix on both sides. Place in the pan. Repeat. Repeat.

Now, the best thing is if your chicken breasts do not touch so use a large enough pan. If they have to touch you may need to add five minutes to the cookery time.

When the oven preheating dinger goes off and you know your oven is really hot, put the pan in and let it bake for about 20 minutes. Yes. 20 minutes. If you think your chickens were more on the 3/4 inch size you may need five more minutes. I will let you cut one or use your meat thermometer to make sure. Then remove from the oven and let them sit in the pan for five minutes to seal in the juiciness and flavors.

As you can see, the chicken was not only perfectly cooked but the Panko gave it a nice brownness - which helped me mentally because a non-browned chicken shrieks underdone to me and I am immediately prejudiced against it. Give it a try. If you use different seasonings, let me know what you did and how it turned out.

Don't forget to enjoy your chicken mindfully. :D

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Soup With an Asian Flair

I am not Asian. I have a good friend that is Thai, though. She cooks for me a lot, for which I am perpetually grateful. She's been busy lately and so I decided to make her Yum Nua for dinner. Now, when she makes me a meal, there is usually a soup starter and rice served on the side. I am lazy and decided to combine the first course of soup with the rice, with a bunch of ideas from other recipes, and food memories to create...

Jasmine Ginger Soup

Ingredients of an estimated nature cuz sometimes I just poured from the bottle. This is ok anyway because soups are always personal and to taste, so taste at many points along the way:

1 chunk of ginger cut off a root, peel removed - about the size of a quarter
2 scallions rough cut and smooshed a bit with the side of your cleaver
4 cups no salt veggie stock (or chicken if you prefer)
1/4 cup Sherry - please get drinkable sherry and not "cooking" sherry. It doesn't have to be the expensive kind.
2 t low sodium soy sauce
1 cup carrots thin sliced on the diagonal - soup eating sized
1/4 cup Jasmine rice, uncooked
a couple dried Shitake mushrooms, reconstituted and chopped small (more if you love mushroom)
1/2 cup Sugar Snap peas or Snow Peas if you like them best, rinsed, ends trimmed and cut with diagonal lines into thirds
2-3 scallions chopped for garnish

How I made it:

In a large pot (with a lid), I combined the ginger, smooshed scallion, stock, sherry, soy sauce, and carrots. Bring to a simmer, cover, and after oh 15 minutes or so, remove the scallion and ginger with a slotted spoon. They are just there to provide lovely flavors to the stock.

Add the rice and simmer covered until the rice is done, about 30 minutes. The amount of rice here makes this a perfect first course soup. Mine sat in the fridge a couple hours before dinner and the rice grew to the point where it was a most filling soup. I may consider cutting it a bit, but not too much depending on what the other dishes are going to be.

About 10-15 minutes before serving, add the mushrooms. It will smell wondrous right now. Inhale deeply. Return to a simmer. About five minutes before serving, add the peas. Because you cannot help yourself, taste the soup stock and adjust the flavors.

Check the flavors:

You may want to add the water the mushrooms were reconstituted in (I did not because my son does not care for mushrooms and I only hoped he would not notice the bits floating about), fresh cracked black pepper, more soy sauce, some ground hot Thai chilis, or any other flavor you think it needs. Remember, there is salt in the soy sauce, so refrain from salting if you can. If you need to, add tiny twists one at a time til it is perfect.

Serve immediately and top with the chopped scallions. I'm making this ahead of time so all I have to do is reheat tonight. I'll post a pic of the soup then!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sloppy Portobello

I wanted a sandwich. A hot sandwich, mindfully considered and able to satisfy my hunger. After all the holiday eatery, the last thing I wanted was another hunk of meat, no matter how tasty. Eating a grilled cheese did not seem particularly mindful on a day where I wanted to watch fats and calories. 

Actually, what I wanted was a Sloppy Jose'. But, that means ground beef. So, I thought about it a bit and decided that it would be most mindful indeed to allow the meaty portobello mushroom to star in the show as it has been understudying the role for some time now.

If you are interested in nutrition facts, you will be very much pleased with how they work out for this dish.

Ingredients with a few substitutions and such but no apologies for rinsing the mushrooms:

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 small red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced
1  thinly sliced yellow onion
1 pound Portobello Mushrooms, rinsed (yes, rinsed*), dried, and thin sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. oregano
½ t dry mustard
1 T chili powder
1 T brown sugar
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
fresh cracked black pepper to taste
1 tomato, chopped - include all the juices
2 tbsp. tomato paste

A few things to consider using in addition or instead:

powdered garlic instead of fresh chopped, parsley or cilantro, prepared mustard instead of dry, cayenne instead of red pepper flakes, other veggies like zucchini, etc.

How I did it and how you can too:

Because it is a mindful way to cook, I prepped all the veggies and seasonings before beginning the actual cookery and place everything in little bowls all ready to go.

*I do not trust that you and your mushroom brush will remove all potential crud; so rinse them under running cold water, pat dry with paper towels checking all the while for stuck crud, trim the stems a bit because they do tend to get a bit hard where they were broken off from their nice pile of moist soil, and thin slice to your preference of length. I used mini bellas this time because that is what I had and I love them. I cut then in half and then sliced. Next time I may use full grown portobellos and leave them in long strips like I did the onion and sweet red pepper.

Set all the prepared ingredients within their little bowls, sitting sharply at attention, in a precise row in order of use. I like to do that because that way I don't lose track of any one part of the recipe - which I have done a few times only to discover afterward that I had added a great deal of onion powder to a dish that should have had a great deal of garlic powder...or that I left out some key ingredient and ended up with a big ole fail.

Go ahead and put all the seasonings except the fresh garlic in a single little bowl - inhale well, it's the only way to learn to cook with your nose. If you are using dried powdered garlic, that's fine - just measure the equivalent dose and put it in the seasoning bowl with the rest.

That said, you do need to keep the spices and such set out so that when you taste it you can edit the flavors to suit you. I do not add salt very often, only when there is a distinct reason to do so. If you are used to it you may find that this needs salt. I will strenuously object because you are submitting to a food craving supplied by manufacturers of food products that have retrained the world's taste buds to expect salt (and sugar). But as long as I am not the one eating it, I guess it's ok. You may want to cut back a tad on the other seasoning if you *shudders* add salt though. Because I do not salt (maybe I should put that in all caps), I ramp up the other seasonings and in particular, ramp up the heat as that does for me what salt does for you.

Actual cookery instructions now that I am done with all the stuff you have to know about how to do this:

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a non-stick skillet. Then add the sweet red pepper and onion strips. Saute stirring only every now and then so the veggies have plenty of opportunity to connect with the pan which results in some lovely brown bits. You don't have to caramelize them now. They will finish caramelizing with the mushrooms. When the onion is quite soft, add the mushrooms and continue as you have begun. 

When the mushrooms are soft and have beautiful brown areas, add the garlic and saute another minute or three. Then dump in the contents of the seasoning bowl and stir for not quite a minute (make sure to take a whiff as the seasonings begin to meld with the veggies - sublime).

Finally, add the brown sugar, tomato bits, and tomato paste** and stir well. Allow to simmer a few minutes while the whole wheat bun is toasting.

**I like to use a tomato paste from Italy that comes in handy dandy little tubes so you can just squish out exactly what you need. It's only made from Roma tomatoes which makes it very mindful.

When the bun is toasty, your Sloppy Portobello is ready to be assembled. Enjoy mindfully and slowly.