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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Chicken and green chili casserole

Jordan brought me a recipe the other day she thought sounded wonderful. No wonder! It had all her favorite things—chicken, cream cheese, sour cream, and green chilies. But it had no proportions—to get the recipe with amount of each ingredient you had to download a program that I didn’t think I wanted on my computer (my computer guru son-in-law always scolds me for the junk on my computer). So I started a search.

Came up with a recipe I thought sounded good—until I started to make it. It called for skinless, boneless breast that you pour the sauce over. To me, it sounded better to use the two large bone-in, skin-on breast I had in the freezer—cook them first and dice.

A word here about poaching chicken breasts: thanks to the New York Times cooking column, I’ve learned a new way to poach chicken pieces. I always thought boiling them made the meat tough (I’m not a terrific fan of chicken!). What I now do is put a large pot of water on to boil and season it with some chopped green onions and black peppercorns. Be sure the pot has a tight-fitting lid. When the water comes to a full, rolling boil, turn off the heat, slide the chicken pieces in, and clamp that lid on tight. Let it sit at least two hours—I prefer three. When you do fish the chicken out, cut to the bone in a test piece. If it’s still pink, put it back and simmer for another twenty minutes. Soft, tender meat.

Back to my recipe: I realized it had cream cheese but nothing to liquefy the sauce. So I added sour cream. Then, when I got it all together, I thought it needed a topping or something to finish it off. You can use your imagination here. Corn chips would have been good, but I didn’t have any. French’s fried onions would also have worked. I used Ritz crackers because I had them.

So here’s what I ended up with.

Two large chicken breasts, skin on, bone in, cooked and diced—about three cups (Yes, you could use rotisserie chicken)

1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese

½ c. sour cream

1 4 oz. can green chilies

1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated

½ tsp. garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

For the topping:

½ c. cracker crumbs

2 Tbsp. butter, melted

            Mix casserole ingredients together in a 4x9 baking pan. Top with crumbs or whatever. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until bubbly and hot. What could be easier?

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Pizza with a flair

            Say “Pizza” to me and visions of greasy hamburger and pepperoni pop into my head, and I say, “Ah, no thanks.” I overdosed on traditional pizza in high school when we stayed up too late at pizza parties and then had cold pizza for breakfast. My family still orders it by the bunch, but they kindly scramble to find a salad or something for me.

Pizza may go back to the tenth century (first recorded mention of it), but in the last twenty years or so, we’ve been deluged with so-called designer pizzas, the most popular of which is probably the margherita pizza which flies the colors of the Italian flag—red (tomato sauce), green (basil), and white (mozzarella). It’s simple, fast and good. You can buy prepared crust, make a tomato sauce by whirring together canned tomatoes, a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Dot it with chunks of mozzarella and basil leaves, and you’re good to go.

We had a restaurant locally years ago that served individual pizzas, using tortillas as the crust—only in Texas! I thought it was a great idea, good for entertaining.

And I’m a pushover for anything with smoked salmon, so I put the two ideas together, cobbled some directions from a printed recipe, and came up with a showy and sophisticated smoked salmon pizza for a guest who likes showy and sophisticated. I liked the quick and easy part, though I admit this is not good if you’re on a tight budget.


2 flour tortillas

1 c. crème fraiche

¼ c. chopped chives, fresh (dried have no taste, and it’s easy to grow your own! No chives? lice and dice some green onion tops)

½ cup black caviar (I warned you it’s hard on the budget, but a tiny jar of cheap caviar isn’t too expensive)

Lightly grease a baking sheet (I have a small one that just fits my toaster oven). Lay tortillas flat on it. Bake tortillas in moderate oven only until they are lightly browned and crisp but not stiff.

Spread crème fraiche on surface of tortillas; sprinkle with chives; carefully separate salmon slices and lay on top. Place a spoonful of caviar in the center of each “pizza.” Garnish with remaining chives and serve with a green salad.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Lessons learned

Cooking is an ongoing learning lesson for me. Even when I cook old, familiar recipes, I discover something new, some trick to improve the process or the end result. So it was yesterday when I fixed chicken pot pie to welcome Jordan home from a business trip. Jacob loves chicken pot pie—I once watched him use fresh strawberries to scoop up the remaining sauce on his plate. Yesterday, I decided to try a new cooking technique for the chicken and an idea I’d found elsewhere for topping.
First the chicken. You know how when you cook chicken in seasoned water, the meat turns tough if you let the liquid boil? Thanks to Sam Sifton of the New York Times for this suggestion in another context. Bring a generous pot of water to a rolling boil in a deep Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid; season it as you would for cooking chicken—perhaps some onion, celery, carrot, peppercorns. Whatever.
When the water boils, turn off the heat and slide the chicken in; cover and ignore for at least two hours—I let three boneless, skin-on breasts sit three hours and the liquid was still warm when I removed them. Cut to the bone in a thick part to be sure there’s no pink—if there is, turn the burner on to simmer and let the chicken cook a bit more, like twenty minutes, on that low heat.
I started out with plenty of time to make the dish, even put the cream cheese out to soften first thing in the morning. But I then I got behind and ended up putting all the ingredient together all at once, without first defrosting the peas and corn (I may be the only person in the world who puts corn in chicken pot pie, but my local family loves corn and peas not so much, so I mix them—if anyone objected I was prepared to say the peas are needed for color; my mom taught me that food is half eaten with the eye; alas, no one objected—I’ll save that  line for later.).
But when the frozen peas were stirred in with the nicely softened cream cheese, the cheese got cold and hardened up again so that it was difficult to stir in. In a flash of what I thought was inspiration, I pre-cooked the entire casserole in the toaster oven, just got it warm enough that I could stir it easily. Then I cooled and refrigerated it—this was in the morning. As usual, I was cooking way ahead of myself.
My topping experiment was a success too. I saw a recipe for individual turkey pot pies with bread dressing as a topping. In that recipe, you made the dressing from scratch, but I cheated and used herb-flavored Stove Top™. I had made a double batch of the chicken filling, and one box of Stove Top covered it nicely and gave it a delicious, crunchy top. Instead of water, I used chicken broth to reconstitute the dry stuffing mix.
Jacob ate two large helpings, so I guess I was a success.

Here’s the recipe for the pie filling to feed two or maybe three:
1 cup cooked chicken, diced, or a bit more
½ cup frozen petite peas
½ cup frozen corn kernels
½ can cream of chicken soup
4 oz. cream cheese
½ c. cheddar cheese
Mix all together and put in greased 8x8 dish.
I must learn to take pictures of my creations! Sorry about that. No picture this time. The little bit of leftovers are now stuffed into refrigerator dishes and, while still tasty, not at all picturesque.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Those embarrasing corrections

Corrections in Gourmet on a Hot Plate are beginning to crop up. I found one myself today when I made a batch of Carol Roark's spaghetti. It calls for ground meat--Carol uses 1/2 lb. ground turkey; I use a pound of lean ground beef. But nowhere in the directions does it tell you to brown and add the meat. I figure, though, if you don't know to brown the meat before you add the saucy stuff--tomato paste, etc.--you ought not to be cooking. I like to saute the onions and garlic with the spices, then add and brown the meat.
And I'm the one who keeps preaching to add a pinch of sugar to tomato-based recipes. But nowhere in this one does it say it. Please add that pinch of sugar anyway.
Janet Henderson wrote from Santa Fe to say the index shows scallops in lemon sauce on p. 45, but the recipe is nowhere to be found. Actually it is--on p. 40, without a title. If you read this blog last week, you'll know I'm no longer crazy about that recipe
But as I write, Carols spaghetti is bubbling away on the stove. Here it is, though it can also be found on p. 63 of Gourmet on a Hot Plate:

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 tsp. each dried rosemary, basil, majoram, savory, sage, oregano, and thyme.
1/2 lb. ground turkey or 1 lb. hamburger
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14.5 oz. can tomato puree
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion and garlic briefly in olive oil; add spices and continue cooking until very fragrant. Add the ground meat and brown. Stir in tomato paste, puree, and diced tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Let is all simmer for three hours.

Makes a bunch, and it is so good. Thanks, Carol.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Cooking scallops

Scallops are shellfish—just like oysters or clams. I think some cooks are afraid to try them though, for several reasons. They are pricey, and you probably wouldn’t want to serve them to a dinner party of twelve. But cooking for one or two, they provide a simple and elegant meal and plenty of protein. Be aware of two things: they are easily overcooked which turns them tough when they should be soft and velvety, and they can trigger the same allergic reaction as other shellfish in sensitive people. Ask before you serve them to a guest.
A friend of mine swears that what we get in the market today is not a scallop but a muscle from the belly of a shark. I’d rather not believe that—there is muscle involved but no shark. Still, it’s best to buy scallops from a fishmonger if you can. At the fish market in my local high-end grocery, scallops come in three sizes: ocean scallops are either large or medium, and priced accordingly; bay scallops are relatively tiny. Three large scallops make a huge meal for me.
Recipes for scallops are plentiful on the web. Coquilles St. Jacques is a classic French preparation and probably the most complicated dish I’ve ever served to guests—it was a huge hit, but I’ll probably never do it again. In that dish, scallops are cooked with mushrooms, bathed in a rich creamy sauce, and topped with grated Gruyere before being popped in the oven. This is traditionally served in a dish designed to look like a scallop shell with mashed potatoes piped around the edges. Properly executed, it stands up against any chef-driven dish in the world and is absolutely delicious. But a lot of trouble. Ina Garten claims a quick and easy version, which I mean to try.
Recently I tried a recipe I’d found that called for brining the scallops in salt water, rinsing, drying, cooking with wine, lemon, butter, capers. I tried it and found the brining did nothing for the
scallops except to toughen them a bit and cause them to fall apart. The rest of the recipe was just plain work, and I decided to revert to my usual cooking method. (A flattering note: my youngest daughter won’t order scallops in a restaurant; she only eats them when I’ve cooked them because she knows they’ll be soft and tender—gives me a standard to live up to!)
Scallops have a delicate, slightly sweet flavor that is easily lost in a lot of sauces and spices. I’ve seen a recipe for wrapping them with bacon, but I think the bacon would overwhelm the scallop flavor. My method for cooking large or medium is to heat a mixture of butter and olive oil in a skillet; when it sizzles, carefully place the scallops, leaving enough room for you to get a spatula under them and flip. When you first place them, use the spatula to press down, so that the entire surface of the scallop contacts the skillet. Then DON’T TOUCH for about three minutes. The underside should have a nice golden crust. Turn them and brown the other side—have you noticed that the first side of anything always gets a better crust, no matter what you’re cooking? Even true with hamburgers. But I digress. Do not let them cook too long while seeking that second golden crust or they’ll overcook.
Sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.
Pretty hard to do that with tiny bay scallops though, and yet you shouldn’t overlook them. Here’s a recipe for Scallops Provencal for two:
1 Tbsp. mixture of olive oil and butter, more if needed
Bay scallops, about 2/3 lb. per person
1 small shallot diced
3 green onions, sliced (Include some of the green tops)
1 Roma tomato, diced
Black pepper
White wine
Parsley, chopped
Sauté the scallops briefly. Add vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently. Splash with white wine—enough to make a sauce but not enough to make soup (?). Sprinkle with pepper and parsley and serve immediately.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Eating your way to good luck

Growing up in Chicago I don’t think I ever heard of a black-eyed pea let alone ate one. And we had ham but not on New Year’s Day. I remember my folks had oyster stew on New Year’s Eve. It was their own romantic tradition, and I was grateful to be allowed to decline gracefully. (Today I love oysters, raw, fried or baked, but not in stew, thank you.)

Of course, in Texas, I was confronted with the ham and black-eyed pea tradition, although it was several years before I succumbed. And then I was sort of tentative about it—unable to envision a pot of peas, I made Hoppin’ John, that mix of black-eyed peas, ham, tomatoes, onion, rice, and whatever else you throw in the pot. Because of my brother, the kids call it Hoppin’ Uncle John to this day.

But I moved on, until these days I insist on ham and a pot of peas. Christian suggested one of the small hams groceries carry, but I held out for—and bought—a bone in, butt half ham. We debated about the peas, and I would have been perfectly happy with canned. Christian grew up on Trappey’s canned peas, but the stores were out this year. So he came home with four cans of Bush’s beans, which he announced we could season, and a lb. of dried peas, which I had earlier volunteered to cook. Neither one of us cared which we used, but friend Sue solved it by saying, “Give me a can. We’re having northerners as guests tomorrow.” I laughed—Sue the Canadian speaking about northerners as if they were foreigners!

So, I spent New Year’s morning cooking peas which as you know is more work than you think. I parboiled them; them I had to dice up the salt pork (next time, a ham hock, please) and slice the onion, peel the garlic, and brown the whole thing. Finally put the peas in, added some pepper, thyme, and bay leaves, made six cups of chicken broth from concentrate, and sent the whole thing in for Christian to simmer while I napped. (He had to add more broth.) The peas were delicious, and guests were still talking about them two days later. I think the broth made a difference, and though I had doubts about thyme and bay leaves, you couldn’t taste them and yet I think they added to the flavor.

We served six adults and two teens with the ham and of course have a whole lot left over. So what do you do with leftover ham? I made scalloped potatoes and ham—a hit, even with Jacob. Here’s my quickie method (remember that I’m the one who scorns prepared foods—you may laugh at me now).

Scalloped potatoes and ham for four

1 can cream of mushroom soup

½ cup milk

5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thin

1-1/2 cups diced ham

1 medium onion, chopped (I didn’t have an onion and used four scallions—three would have been plenty)

1 tsp. pepper

1 cup grated cheddar (optional)

                Stir together the soup and milk. In a greased dish, layer potatoes, ham. Sprinkle pepper lightly over each layer (you should get two layers). Pour half the soup mixture over first layer; repeat.

Bake in toaster oven at 325 for 90 minutes or until potatoes are soft. This gets a nice, browned crust on top. I added the cheddar for the last 15 minutes, but it really wasn’t necessary. In fact, it kind of melted into that good crust and got lost.

I think the big thing about this recipe is using the cream of mushroom soup. I’ve made scalloped potatoes over the years—one of my boys loved them—but I never got them quite right. The sauce was too runny, the potatoes underdone. This came out just right.

So have you ever heard of eating lettuce on New Year’s to bring lots of money—the green stuff, I  presume—your way?