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Thursday, August 27, 2020

Boiling eggs, poaching chicken, and simplifying enchiladas

If you look for advice on hard-boiling eggs online, you’ll find at least two dozen methods. A confusing mix. I’ve done it various way, the latest being to bring them to a boil, immediately remove from the heat, and let them cool until I can handle them. Sometimes they peel easily, sometimes not; sometimes they burst in boiling, and I have to make egg salad instead of deviled eggs. I think now I’ve found the solution, but it takes careful attention.
Start the eggs in cold water. Add a splash of vinegar so that the whites won’t spread if they do crack. The minute the water reaches a slow boil (you just begin to see bubbles on the surface), turn down the heat. I’ve finally learned to do that on my hot plate (thank you, daughter Megan) and can now keep it just above boiling. Leave the eggs at this slow boil for ten minutes (time it carefully); at the end of the ten minutes, immediately drain the hot water and run cold water over the eggs. Since cold water in a Texas summer is not really cold, I put a couple cups of ice cubes in the water and let the eggs sit until they are cool enough to handle. Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours. Peel under cold running water (I was astounded that son Jamie didn’t know to do this.) Perfect eggs for devilling, neither over- nor under-cooked.
If I’ve been unhappy with my hard-boiled eggs, I’ve been really frustrated trying to poach chicken. I dutifully put in celery tops, onion, peppercorns, etc. but a friend and I agreed the chicken is always tough. I coped by buying rotisserie chicken but that’s more expensive, and I hated the boning chore. (Daughter Jordan recently taught me that if you bone them while still warm from the store, the meat slides off the bone; I’d been sticking them in the fridge and boning when I needed them.)
The other day I decided to try poaching again. The Bon Appetit method calls for putting 2 lbs. chicken in 4 cups of water and adding 3-1/2 tsp. salt. Yes, that’s a lot of salt but it will make the meat moist but not salty. Then bring the water to the same slow boil you use for eggs but flip breasts immediately and remove from heat when the surface begins to roll and bubble. Let sit ten minutes. I did that and had chicken that was raw in the middle. So I put it back on that low boil. I think I kept three chicken half-breasts at a low boil for another ten minutes and then removed them to a cutting board to rest, cool, and collect themselves. Not only was it moist and flavorful, it shredded easily for my chicken enchilada recipe.

Chicken enchiladas made easy
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 pkg. taco seasoning (or make your own—recipe in Gourmet on a Hot Plate)
2 4 oz. cans green chilies (divided use)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can Rotel (I prefer the mild with lime)
2 cups sour cream (divided use)
Corn tortillas
Cheddar cheese
Poach chicken and cool. Shred and place in mixing bowl. Sprinkle with taco seasoning and stir well. Separately mix 1 can chilies, mushroom soup, Rotel, and 1 cup sour cream. Add to chicken mix and stir well.
Grease a flat, rectangular casserole dish—preferably the standard glass one. Cover bottom with flat tortillas (no, I didn’t fry them first). Add half the chicken mixture. Cover with more tortillas. Add remaining chicken mixture. One more layer of tortillas.
Mix remaining green chilies and sour cream. Cover top of casserole. Then cover it with grated sharp cheddar. Bake at 350o until heated through. Serve immediately.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Down and dirty, quick and easy

Thanks to mystery author Debra Goldstein for a recipe that caught my imagination, although I must say not in a good way. Making a guest appearance on the blog, Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen (August 16), she shared her recipe for Jell-O in a Can. Now Debra will tell you she does not cook, and she’s created a main character, Sarah Blair (even has her own series) who’s afraid to be in the kitchen. So here’s what you need for Jell-O in a Can:
1 20 oz. can sliced pineapple
1 3 oz. package Jell-O gelatin, flavor of your choice
1 cup boiling water
Open pineapple and drain but leave slices in the can. Separately mix gelatin into boiling water. Let is cool a bit and then pour into the can. Chill until set. To get it out in one piece (a good trick), run a knife around the inside and coax it onto a platter, like you would a can of jellied cranberry sauce (another thing on my never-never list). Slice between pineapple rings and arrange attractively on the platter. The beauty of it is, of course, that it’s quick and easy.
And sometimes you need quick and easy, no matter how much  you like to cook. Here are a couple of my favorites:
            Chili-cheese dip: Mix one 15-oz. can Wolf chili without beans with 16 oz. of Velveeta, cubed. Throw it in the crockpot until the cheese melts. Stir. Serve warm with tortilla chips.
Want to get fancy? Turn it into what I call Colin’s queso after one of my sons. Brown a lb. each of ground beef and pork sausage, crumbling it as it browns. Put in the crockpot and stir in one can cream of mushroom soup, one 16 oz. jar Pace Picante sauce and that cubed lb. of Velveeta. Stir when cheese melts and serve warm with tortilla chips. I used to put chips in a bowl, pour the queso over it, and tell my kids it was supper.
Onion soup-sour cream dip: is there anyone in the world who doesn’t know how to do this? But maybe you’ve forgotten about it because it’s so retro. Simply mix one pack onion soup dip with one pint sour cream (do not use low-fat—that’s a disaster). I swear one night I watched a friend gobble this down and turn to his wife to ask, “Can you get the recipe for this?” She smiled and said she thought she could figure it out.
Cream cheese-crab spread: Arrange a block of cream cheese on lettuce; splurge and open a can of flaked crab meat; douse it all with bottled cocktail sauce. Serve with crackers. Messy but good.
And here are a couple ideas I cribbed from responses to Debra’s column:
Tortilla snacks: Lay out tortilla chips on a cookie sheet; top each with a small slice of cheddar and then a slice of pickled jalapeno. Broil about three minutes.
In the spirit of “Not everything is an appetizer”:
Fruit cocktail pudding: Drain a 15 oz. can of fruit cocktail (yes, it’s still on the market) and a can of mandarin oranges; Mix in bowl and stir in one dry packet of instant vanilla pudding. Chill and serve. (The retro cookbook From Calf Fries to Caviar has several fruit salad recipes that use Jell-O instant pudding mix that way.)
Pumpkin dessert dip: Mix one 15 oz. can pumpkin puree with one 8 oz. container of creamy Cool Whip. Serve with apple slices and gingersnaps for dipping. Want to get fancy? Put a bit of cinnamon in it.
Want more retro quick-and-easy recipes? Read Debra’s favorite cookbook, Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book (check out her Lazy Day Beef Stew among other goodies). Or read one of Poppy Cannon’s books like The New Can Opener Cookbook  or Poppy Cannon’s all-time, no-time, any-time cookbook.
Want to relax and read while the crockpot cooks supper? Check out the Sarah Blair series: One Taste Too Many, Two Bites Too Many, and the new one, Three Treats Too Many.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

When was the last time you had a Big Mac?

Big Macs don’t seem as popular today as they were twenty or thirty years ago. I guess it’s the calories … and the snob appeal of saying you don’t eat fast food. I know I’ve fallen into both traps. And when I asked a friend if she used to like a Big Mac, she declared emphatically she’d eaten too many of them during her harried days holding down a job and going to school. “Never gain,” she said with emphasis.
But when I asked Christian if he used to like them, he said, “I still do.” And that’s how we had a Big Mac salad for supper one night. It’s a salad entrĂ©e and offers you everything but the bun.
The recipe calls for Thousand Island dressing. Not all of us keep it on hand. Sure, you could buy a bottle, but why buy a bottle when you only need 2 Tbsp. per person. Then that bottle might sit in the fridge until you finally question its shelf life and throw it away. It’s easy to make your own.
Big Mac Salad (single serving)
¼ lb. lean ground beef
¼ cup shredded sharp cheddar
2-1/2 cups shredded lettuce (use iceberg for a good, crisp crunch)
¼ cup diced tomatoes
2 dill pick spears, chopped
2 Tbsp. Thousand Island dressing
Salt and pepper
            Mix together and serve immediately.
Thousand Island dressing
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup yellow onion, minced
2 Tbsp. ketchup
2 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish
1 tsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. sweet paprika
¼ tsp. salt
Mix ingredients well. If possible, refrigerate 24 hours before serving. This will dress at least four servings of the salad. Leftovers will keep in the fridge about a week.
One more response to my plea for chicken recipes, this from Ann Kane, who reminds us that there was a time when any new recipe carried the million-dollar moniker: Million $ cookies, cake, dip, and salad. This recipe first appeared on the back of Lipton's onion soup mix. It is, according to Ann, not something you’d want to eat every night but a pleasant change.
Million Dollar Chicken
6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 c. mayo
½ c. mango chutney          
¼ c. peach jam
1 Tbsp. yellow mustard
½ c. water
1 pkg. onion soup mix
Preheat oven 375 degrees. Place chicken in a baking dish. Mix remaining ingredients together and pour over the chicken. Bake for 60 minutes. Serve the chicken with sauce over top.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Chicken salad and potato salad

You, dear reader—yes, you!—are a big disappointment to me. After my call last week to share chicken recipes, I got exactly one recipe. Thanks to Mary Kay Hughes for sending along her version of chicken salad:

Mary Kay’s chicken salad

Meat from one rotisserie chicken, finely chopped
One cup finely chopped celery
One minced clove of garlic
Dash of salt and onion powder
Duke’s mayonnaise (adjust to desired creaminess) Spoonful of sour cream
Blend well and serve as a sandwich or as a dollop on a plate surrounded by sliced tomatoes.
So let’s move right along to potato salad. I consider myself a connoisseur of potato salad. I once was married to a man who ordered cheesecake every time he saw it on the menu, because he was looking for the perfect cheesecake. He never found it, of course, because he compared everything to New York deli cheesecake. I’m the same way about potato salad. I order it everywhere and am disappointed at least half the time.
My mom learned to make potato salad from a hospital cook who advised pouring vinaigrette over still-warm potatoes, then adding onion, celery, yellow mustard, and mayonnaise. I’ve grown up and do it differently these days, but my youngest daughter still craves what she calls, “mustard potato salad.”
I do not like mashed potato salad, especially what we generally get in too many barbecue joints (Heims in Fort Worth is an exception), and I do not like yellow or salad mustard. I have tried making a non-mayonnaise salad, with a strictly vinaigrette dressing—like German potato salad only served chilled instead of warm. It’s good for a change, and it meets the requirements of my older daughter who dislikes all the white things—mayo, sour cream, cream cheese, goat cheese. A favorite we like is a lemon potato salad, the recipe from a friend—it, too, is without mayonnaise. I think I shared it here not long ago.
What I like best is a mixture of mayo and sour cream, but the absolute best recipe to my mind is County Line potato salad, from the barbecue restaurant by that name in Austin, but it makes enough for Coxie’s Army. I have halved it, and it’s still a lot. You can find the recipe all over the internet.
This weekend when my oldest, Colin, and his family were here, daughter-in-law Lisa brought potato salad that was much like County line but didn’t make so much. Colin says it’s his favorite, and Lisa says she’s always going to make it that way from now on.
Here’s the recipe:
Lisa’s potato salad
3 lbs. potatoes, cooked and cubed
½ c. sweet onion, diced
4 hard-boiled eggs
2 Tbsp. dill pickle juice.
½ c. dill pickles, chopped (or use dill relish)
½ c. mayo (I might use ¼ c. each of mayo and sour cream)
¼ c. mustard
¼ tsp. pepper
2-1/2 tsp. kosher salt (sounds like a lot of salt—you might start small and taste)
Pinch of paprika
            Pair that with Mary Kay’s chicken salad and you have a great, light summer meal.