Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What came first, the chicken or the teriyaki?

Dinner last night was pretty simple, yet delicious. I asked hubby to take out some chicken in the morning, although I had no idea what I was going to do with it. I realized I had some leftover brown rice that I’d cooked, so I was thinking stir fry. However, it was hot yesterday, and I didn’t feel like cooking inside. So, I decided to bbq teriyaki chicken.

One problem – no teriyaki sauce.

Don’t you hate it when you think of something to cook, and you can practically taste it, and then you find out you don’t have the ingredients? I hate that! I think that’s one of the reasons I tend to overshop; growing up my mom had a huge pantry (I’m so jealous of it now) and she always had a few of everything in there. She was always prepared.

Anyway, being the resourceful gourmet chef that I am (no really, don’t laugh), I turned to my faithful friend Google and started searching for sauce recipes. Turns out it’s not that hard to make teriyaki sauce. Cool!

There are lots of ways to make teriyaki sauce. I chose a simple version of soy sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, ginger, and garlic. Remembering as always that I don’t measure, here is what I did (just taste as you go along, and you’ll be fine (unless it’s baking…then you have to measure)).

After gathering my ingredients, I poured approximately 2 cups or so of soy sauce in a bowl. I mixed in a couple squirts of lime juice, a lot of brown sugar (probably 4-6 big teaspoons…taste as you go, you can always add more soy sauce if you overdo it), a few teaspoons of ground ginger (I didn’t have fresh; actually I ran out of ground, too, so I may have added more if I’d had it), and then a few cloves of garlic. Since this was a marinade I didn’t bother to mince my garlic, but just cut it into big chunks.


I love, love, LOVE fresh garlic, and I’ve spent years looking for the perfect garlic press. I’m currently still impressed with the Pampered Chef garlic press, but I have yet to buy it. Why? Because I have a simple method for peeling garlic, and then I usually just chop it up (or I use roasted garlic…I’m planning on roasting some this week, so I’ll take pictures). Here’s how I peel fresh garlic.

Step 1: Pull a few cloves of garlic out of the head. Don’t worry about trying to get any of the paper-thin skin off.


Step 2: Take your nice, heavy salt or pepper shaker. On a cutting board (or other surface where you won’t crack a tile), give the garlic a good whack with the shaker.




Step 3: Ta-da! Easily peel that clove out of it’s skin.


I know, so simple.

Anyway, here is the chicken after marinating for just about an hour, if that.


Now, onto the grill (I love our new grill! I finally talked hubby into a gas grill…he loved his charcoal one, but I’m apparently lame and couldn’t ever light it).



Ah, bbq’d chicken – isn’t it beautiful? It was tasty, too. I can cook in the kitchen, but I’m not yet a master of the bbq. Good thing hubby is, and knows how to perfectly grill chicken (I think he gets extra points for the nice grill marks).



Delicious!

On a related note, even though it was hot last night, I did some other cooking in the kitchen (sorry, no pictures). I bought a bag of yellow onions at Costco, because they were just so cheap. I was sure I could do something with all those onions!

I decided to make French Onion Soup, for two reasons. One, I love it, and I’ve never made it before, and two, I use canned French onion soup when I make roasts, and that stuff costs at least $1.75 a can. Ridiculous! By making my own, I have a little I can eat now, and then I’ll freeze the rest so it’ll be ready when I make a roast. (You can find the best roast recipe ever here. And an addition to the best roast recipe ever here.) I also like the idea of making my own soup so that I know what’s in it; no preservatives, no junk, just onions and broth (okay, and butter and a little cheese).

I’ve started making my own stock, but I haven’t made beef stock yet, so I had to use canned broth this time (I know, there goes my hope of no preservatives…oh well). I don’t have pictures, but here’s what I did (and I measured this time!!).

French Onion Soup (adapted from the recipe for Mimi’s French Onion)

2-3 large yellow onions, sliced fairly thin (about ½” slices)
4 15-oz cans beef broth
1 can beef consommé
½ stick (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter
Grated or shredded Romano or Parmesan cheese (okay, this one I didn’t measure; start with a ½ cup, taste, then add more; I think I used 1 cup)
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté your slice onions in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (I have a Le Crueset 5.5 quart Dutch oven, and it was perfect for this recipe). The onions will need to cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and golden. Add the beef broth and undiluted beef consommé. Let the broths heat, then add the cheese, salt and pepper. Let cook over low to medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes.

I stopped at this point. If you are making soup to eat, rather than reserving it for cooking, you can put the soup in individual oven-proof crocks, add a slice of baguette and some Gruyere or Mozzarella cheese, then bake or broil your soup. Even without the topping, the soup is absolutely delicious (and your kitchen will smell so good!).

Monday, July 27, 2009

Waste Not, Want Not…Make a Cobbler!

I’m ashamed to say I used to waste a lot of food. I’d go to the grocery store and buy with the best intentions of making lunches and dinners every day of the week. Then, I’d eat lunch out, or be too tired to cook, and all my food would go bad. I’d go to the store the next week, again with the best of intentions, and when I got home I’d have to throw out all my spoiled food to make room for the new food. The ugly cycle would continue.

Lately, I’ve been trying my best to be less wasteful, in many areas of my life. I use canvas bags at the grocery store, a reusable lunch bag at work, and I even take my lunch in Tupperware containers, instead of ziplock bags. When it comes to food, if I haven’t used something and I know I’m not going to use it before it spoils, I’ll try to freeze it, like with fresh blueberries, make it into a soup like with chicken or rice, or find some other creative way to use whatever might go bad.

Last night, I noticed I had almost an entire bag of nectarines that didn’t get eaten this week. I planned poorly and overbought this week, purchasing raspberries, blueberries, and carrots at Costco, then purchasing nectarines at the grocery store. I like nectarines to be really firm, and these, while still good, were very ripe, soft and juicy.

I didn’t know what to do with them, but I didn’t want them to go to waste. I was searching around online for a recipe, and I came across a recipe for a peach/nectarine cobbler. With a little tweaking of my own, I made a very delicious nectarine cobbler!! (I should note it was also my first cobbler ever – I never really understood cobbler before, but now that I like fruit, it sounded tasty.)

I got this recipe from the Food Network website, but I did a little tweaking of it as well (I do love to tweak things).

Here is the standard, un-tweaked recipe from the Food Network Website.

Filling:
4 c. sliced nectarines
½ c. cold water
1/3 c. unpacked light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Topping:
1 c. all-purpose flour
½ c. sugar
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ c. milk
½ stick (4 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened.

Garnish:
Cinnamon Sugar

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To prepare topping: In medium bowl, stir flour, sugar, baking powder. Add milk and butter and beat until smooth.

To prepare filling: In large saucepan, combine all ingredients. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is thick and bubbly, about 5-10 minutes.

Pour filling mixture into 13x9 glass baking dish. Spoon topping over filling and spread carefully and evenly with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake 30-40 minutes until topping is golden brown and knife inserted into cobbler comes out clean.

So, now for my changes.

First of all, I don’t measure. I measure when baking, so my dry ingredients for the topping were measured. However, for the filling, I just cut up all the nectarines I had, added a ½ cup or so of water, and then spooned in a bunch of brown sugar, a little cornstarch, and some butter (in case you’re wondering the filling turned out beautifully).

In the topping, I added a splash of vanilla to the batter once it was mixed. I think this really added to it, and next time I’ll add a little more than a splash.

Here it is, step by step (although I may have forgotten to take pictures of a few steps, as I’m prone to do).

To begin, I took the skin off all of my nectarines with a knife, which was easy to do considering they were so ripe (and incredibly messy, since they were so juicy; yet another reason I like nectarines when they're firm).



Then I placed all of my nectarines in a saucepan (again, the recipe calls for four cups...I put in what I had left, which was about 6-7 nectarines). I put 1/2 cup of water over the nectarines, then added brown sugar, cornstarch, and unsalted butter.



After it had simmered over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, it looked all thick and yummy, like this.



While the filling was cooking, I made the topping. I put the flour, sugar, and baking powder in the super cute pink KitchenAid mixer, then I added the milk and butter. I also added a splash of vanilla, which I think added tremendously to the dish.



In a small bowl, I mixed the cinnamon and sugar, to sprinkle on top of the cobbler before it went in the oven. Then, I poured the filling into an ungreased 13x9 pan (it says to use a glass pan, but I used my favorite white porcelain pan...it bakes better than anything I've ever seen).





The recipe then says to drop the topping onto the filling and spread evenly and carefully with a spatula.

That was impossible.

Maybe I did it wrong, but my topping was rather sticky, and my filling still very hot, so the topping did not "spread evenly over the filling." Instead, I just mixed it all up, making sure there was some topping dough fairly evenly throughout the pan (I actually like the way this turned out, too, when the cobbler was done baking).



I sprinkled some cinnamon/sugar on top and put it in the oven. After just about 40 minutes, it looked like this.



I wish I could describe to you how good this smelled...it was absolutely amazing. Here it is on a plate - you should really make this, it was so good!



Just for fun, here's my baking center. This is the section of my kitchen where I keep all my baking supplies, and on the counter is my mixer. In the drawers below (that you can't see) I have cake decorating supplies, and all the mixer attachments, plus parchment paper and that sort of thing.





I've found that I do a lot more baking having everything in one place in my kitchen. And, I never used my mom's KitchenAid mixer when I was little, because I had to take it out from under the counter, use it, then put it away when I was done. Having it sitting on the counter makes me use it more often, and it's next to the fridge, so it doesn't take up much space, and it's hidden from view most of the time (not that I don't want to look at it, I just don't like having a lot of things out on my counter).

And finally, Bruiser. He was all worn out after a day in the kitchen!





Now for my next dilemma - what to do with my summer squash?

Concerts in the Sticks

I’ve never really been a fan of concerts. Sure, I’ll go to them, but there’s so much work involved: you have to get there early, pay for parking, struggle through the crowds to your seat, then sit through one or two bands (and their set changes) you may never have heard of until you finally get to the main event. Then there’s expensive food and drinks, $40 T-shirts and $60 sweatshirts, if you so desire.

There have been a couple of concerts I’ve really wanted to go to, and enjoyed, but usually, I’m not one to spend my money on tickets. However, months ago, a friend asked if I wanted to see the No Doubt concert that was coming to town. I said sure – I’d never been to the venue, and it was with a group of people that I knew I’d have fun with. I’m not actually a fan of No Doubt, but I thought, What the heck.

I love No Doubt.

I’ve never, EVER been to a better concert. On the radio, I really don’t like No Doubt much; I’ve never been a fan of Gwen Stefani, either. But Friday night, I was truly, thoroughly impressed. The first two bands were okay – I’d never heard of the first band, and although their singing was terrible, the music was pretty good. The second band, Paramore, wasn’t bad either.

Then, No Doubt came out. The stage was amazing, and the band truly looked like they were having a great time. Gwen Stefani was fabulous – she never, ever stopped moving and dancing, even when she wasn’t singing. And her voice – wow! Usually, a singer sounds worse in concert than they do on the radio, but she was the opposite. I found myself enthralled throughout the entire time they played (almost two hours). Her voice live is wonderful. Plus, she really seemed to enjoy the crowd, more than just to say “I love you guys” like most singers do.

Really, I’ve never enjoyed myself more at a concert. If you have the chance to see No Doubt live, you need to go.

But here’s the fun part…I didn’t have my camera, but I did have my phone. And while I was waiting for the first two bands to finish, and waiting during their half hour to 45 minute set changes, I watched the crowd. You should know, the venue where we saw the concert is out in the sticks, and the people you see out there are, well…interesting. I now present to you my photojournalist essay of the concert, or at least, the concert audience. Enjoy!!

***Editor's note - I LOVE people watching. Love, love, love it. And, I'm sorry, but I'm judgemental right from the get-go. I figure people are judging me right away, so I don't feel too bad judging them. If any of my comments below are harsh, it's just my first impression of people (and if you were there, I'm sure you'd agree with me). And sorry they're not the best quality pictures - they were taken on my phone.

So, I was wearing capri jeans and a cute polka-dot t-shirt...nothing fancy. At a concert you can see anything from shorts, to this. These ladies were a little dressy.



Then there was this gal - the total opposite end of the spectrum. She was having a GREAT time, dancing around...maybe too great a time.



Here's another one. She looked fairly normal - until I looked down and saw her socks. I'm not really sure how they contributed to her outfit.



This group was truly disturbing (and although we were surrounded by people getting higher than a kite, this group wasn't...which makes it all the more disturbing). The girl who is showing the camera to her friend sitting down was taking pictures - of herself. Now, I take pictures of myself too. My face. This girl was sticking the camera UP HER DRESS and taking pictures, then showing the pictures to her friend. I kid you not. Her friend sitting on the ground then stuck the camera down her own shirt and took pictures. The guy with them stuck the camera down his pants and took pictures.

Yes, these were really people sitting near me.



I don't really think you need much of an explanation for this one.



These are just to show you how many people were there...apparently it was the first time the venue had been sold out in seven years.





The aftermath...look at all the trash.





All in all, a great concert. Sorry I don't actually have any pictures of the band!