Saturday, March 29, 2008

Chicken Enchiladas, Potatoes Anna, Chicken and Dumplings, What I'm Eating vs. What I'm Reading, and The Most Expensive Thing I'll Ever Buy

Warning: it is entirely possible that this blog will transform from a food blog into a house blog VERY quickly. The husband and I are the proud new owners of an adorable 1946 bungalow on the south east side of town. This whole process has mostly taken over my life for the last few weeks. I'll spare you the details, but lets just say our future residence has a lot of potential and a LOT of radon.

I am just now beginning to learn about things like the Friends of Historic Preservation Salvage Barn

More on all that to come, but rest assured that this blog will likely become an outlet for house-related victories/complaints.

For now, lets turn to the few things I've documented recently.

My mother was kind enough to give us a collection of family recipes for Chirstmas two years ago. Some of the recipes aren't my style, but there are plenty that I make over and over again. This is one of those. This recipe comes from my mother herself. I added my own touch by throwing in green chilis and lime juice.

Chicken Enchiladas

3 chicken breasts, trimmed and sliced thinly
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced

4-6 tortillas
3/4 stick of butter
1/4 c. flour
1 c. chicken stock
juice of one lime
2 cans green chilis
16 oz. sour cream

In a sauce pan, brown the chicken breasts in oil and the butter. Once browned on all sides, remove and reserve on a plate covered with paper towels. In the same pan, add a little butter and brown the onion and peppers. Cook on medium heat until almost liquified, 10-15 minutes. Add the chicken. Remove this mix from the pan. Fill each burrito, roll, and add to baking dish.

Once you've removed the chicken veggie mix, add the add the flour. Cook for 1 minute to cook off the flour taste. Add 1 c. of chicken stock to start your sauce.

Add the sour cream and lime juice. Cover each burrito with shedded cheese, green oniln, and the sauce you've made. Bake until the top is brown and everything is bubbling.

The acidity of the lime juice really perks up the otherwise too creamy sauce. This is aboslutely delicious. I have been working on making meals ahead and freezing them to save time and money. You could easily double this recipe. I would make up the enchiladas, cover and freeze them, thaw them the day before, and make the sauce right before I throw them into the oven.

One great resource I've found for cooking ahead is this community, OMAC.

A discussion of chicken breasts and fats.

1) I buy free range chicken breasts. They are expensive. According to the container they come in, they are vegetarian fed. While this is very important to me, I have learned it is not quite enough to assure that they are not fed meat. It is also important to be sure that they're grass-fed. Last week on Splendid Table, Lynne had a brief converstaion with the author of this book, Susan Allport.

In her book, The Queen of Fats: Why Omega-3s Were Removed from the Western Diet and What We Can Do to Replace Them , Allport explains that these healthy fats come from plants like grass. When we eat animals that have eaten these plants, we take in the healthy fats from the plants. Unfortunately, many animals are fed grain rather than grass. As a result, their flesh lacks the omega 3s that are present in plants. She cites the example of omega 3 enriched eggs that you can find in stores. (Here, we get those from Sparboe Farms.) She explains that all eggs were omega 3 enriched until we started feeding chickens grains.

I'd like to read this book and explore which meat choices are best for my family. There is access to be had in my community, but I need to dig a bit deeper to decide where to put my money. I also need to center my meals around vegetables rather than meat, but that's a work in progress. :)

2) Oil.
Buying a house has made our budget a primary concern. I have always made healthy cooking a priority over cheap cooking, but our use of oilve oil has put a serious pinch on our budget. Taking a closer look at the labels, we discovered that canola (or "rapeseed") oil is a better oil to use in cooking than olive oil. Olive oil does have significant health benefits, but these usually aren't considered side-by-side with those of canola oil. Consider the following chart from Farrinton Oils of the UK.

Olive oil has a delicate flavor that is destroyed at high cooking temperatures. We have started cooking with canola oil and only using olive oil in situations where no cooking is used. I think this is a healthful and budget-consicious substituation.

Moving on to Potatoes Anna. This is a very basic French recipe involving only potatoes, butter, and salt & pepper.

To make this dish is simple. Slice potatoes very thin. Grease a cast-iron pan with butter. Layer thinly sliced potatoes with butter and salt & papper.

While making it is simple, getting it out of the pan is another story entirely. As for my attempt, well.... judge for yourself. Once everying is baked, let it cook with a pie pan on top. Pile this pie pan full of heavy cans to compress the cake of potatoes beneath.

Once you flip it over, it could look great. Or it could look like this.

No matter how it looks, it tastes fantastic. How can you go wrong with potatoes, butter, and salt and pepper? By the way, be sure to use a waxy potato like a Yukon Gold, and not a baking potato like Russets. The waxy potatoes brown much better.

The last little recipe we did was another attempt to cook ahead and freeze. The enchiladas are gone, but I still have three large containers of this Chicken Soup left. It's still quite chilly here, so we're eating it all week.
It begins exactly like my chicken pot pie.

Once you've got chicken soup, separate and freeze any that you don't plan to use right away. Then, mix up these dumplings.

2 Cups All-purpose flour
1/2 Teaspoon Baking soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3 Tablespoons Shortening or butter
3/4 Cup Buttermilk
2 green onions, thinly sliced

Plunk these in large spoonfuls on top of the soup. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, then uncover and cook another 10 minutes.


Finally, What I'm Eating vs. What I'm Reading.
I had pizza for dinner (doesn't fresh garlic count for SOMETHING?)

This is in stark contrast to the beautiful food I was reading about at the time.

This book is full of dishes that are complex in preparation but simple in flavor. Calvin Klein simple. It focuses on gourmet vegetables in a way that no veggie cookbook or gourmet cookbook I've read has. Charlie Trotter is a well known Chicago chef with two restaurants.

I knew none of this when I picked up his book, but once I cracked it open, I realized the talent and vision he has. It's full of beautiful photographs of fresh veggies and large stunning photos of the recipes.

This crude photo is of the Yellow Squash and Jicama Soup with Jalapeno, Red Chiles, and Squash Blossoms. Yeah, that's taragon oil. This book also makes use of tomato water. Yum. We'll see if I have the guts to make something from this book some day soon. The best part is that it's divided into monthly sections, focusing on in-season produce.

FINALLY. The house. It's so cute. We'll be there at the end of May. I'm going to miss the big yellow house, but we're ready for the next phase.
Just a few photos to give you an idea. The house was built in 1946, and still has a very 50's look to it.

The new kitchen-

We may be converting into gas soon. I'm not sure how long I can stand cooking on an electric stovetop. I'd like to keep the electric stove around to have an extra oven every once in a while, and electric ovens are better for baking.

The dining room is sunny. This makes me happy. Soon enough we will knock down the wall between the kitchen and dining room.

Finally, the basement. We will spend a lot of time down here. These built-ins will replace our crappy cheap bookshelves that are currently bowing under the weight of our massive (growing) book collection.

That's all for now folks! Stay tuned. May brings the farmers market, and more and more produce is starting to show up every day. Spring is here!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wontons, Lentils, and maybe a house?

There was a time, not so long ago, that the only pictures on my camera were of food. I've become better at getting it out for different occasions, including having my two-year-old nephew overnight last weekend. Most of the day looked like this-

Tim defending himself while Buddy whirls around in a dervish. The house always feels more empty after he leaves. Empty, but clean.

I have done a bit of cooking. Usually I run solo in the kitchen. (Tim is very good at observing and discussing food, but he shows little to no interest in actually cooking anything.)
This, however, is about to change. Tim has developed a revolutionary two-spooned approach to preparing the filling for one of our favorite eats: won tons. The filling is interchangeable with that of my potstickers.

This formula is easily modified based on what you have around. We didn't have any yellow onion, so I added some minced carrots and stirred in some green onions after I'd removed the meat mixture from the heat.
The process is exactly the same, but rather than fry the bottoms and steam the rest, I simply steamed them in the dutch oven. We didn't manage pictures of the final product, but Tim was especially proud of the look of the filling, so here's a photo.

The important thing is having the filling really well chopped up so that there aren't any chunks of carrots or meat in the dumplings.

Delicious served with the sweet and sour from the potstickers recipe, or with soysauce with sesame oil stirred in.


I also whipped up some lentils this week. I always keep lentils on hand. They're cheap and really good for you. This recipe comes from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa at Home, a cookbook I've used a lot since I got it.

These lentils are hearty and satisfying, and vegan, too! They're great as a side for dinner, or for dinner along with a simple salad.
Ina purees her tomatoes, but I'd rather not clean my food processor bowl, so I skip that step. It gives a chunkier product. If you'd prefer a smoother one, by all means give it a whirl.

You'll need to check the lentils periodically to check for doneness and liquid levels. I had to add a little extra stock about 30 minutes in, so be diligent or they will burn.
I used yellow curry paste. I added a little more than called for and could have liked more, but we like things spicy. :)

Stewed Lentils & Tomatoes
Barefoot Contessa at Home

2 teaspoons good olive oil
2 cups large-diced yellow onions (2 onions)
2 cups large-diced carrots (3 to 4 carrots)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 gloves)
1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes
1 cup French green lentils (7 ounces)
2 cups chicken (or veggie) stock
2 teaspoons mild curry powder
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon good red wine vinegar

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and the carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more.

Meanwhile, place the canned plum tomatoes, including the juice, in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse several times until the tomatoes are coarsely chopped. Rinse and pick over the lentils to make sure there are no stones in the package.

Add the tomatoes, lentils, chicken broth, curry powder, thyme, salt and pepper to the pan. Raise the heat to bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer covered for about 40 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Check occasionally to be sure the liquid is still simmering. Remove from the heat and allow the lentils to sit covered for another 10 minutes. Add the vinegar, season to taste and serve hot.

I've always found it interesting that Ina instructs that you use a wooden spoon. I almost always am anyway, but.....why, Ina? Let the masses choose their stirring instruments as they please.

Finally, I am probably really jinxing it here, but I'm too excited. We've been house hunting for what feels like ages, and we just might make an offer tomorrow. I'm totally in love with it and have said it out loud, which practically guarantees that we won't get it, but I can't help it.
Here's a little peek-

Soon to follow will be how it went, or the crushing story of our defeat. We'll take any good house vibes you can send our way!
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