Friday, January 8, 2016

Favorite Kitchen Tools: Batter Dispenser

My house smells like chicken stock right now.  Scratch that...  My house smells like ridiculously awesome chicken stock right now.  Perhaps my very favorite miracle of cooking is homemade stock.  I am a woman who buys more than her fair share of bulk-store rotisserie chicken. (It's juicy, perfectly cooked, and $5/bird every time.  I can't justify the time or money to buy a chicken and then do what it takes to make it that delicious when having it done for me is $5...)  This means that, at least a couple times each month, I have some lovely chicken carcasses with which to make stock.  I pull the meat off a couple carcasses, vacuum-seal breasts in one bag and dark meat in another (either to freeze or to re-therm later via sous vide).  Everything else goes in the pot.  A bundle of carrots. A bundle of celery. A red and a white onion. Bay leaves and parsley. Large handful of black peppercorns.  Fill a 20-quart stockpot with all of that and then cold water to reach 1" below the rim, simmer for 24-36 hours, and everything you make that calls for chicken stock suddenly has depth of flavor.  (It's kind of like the difference between sautéing in schmaltz vs. in oil.  If you know what I'm talking about, then... yeah.)

It was Michael Ruhlman who first made me realize how important this is (and I've mentioned it here before).  To quote, "I cannot say this strongly or loudly enough: DO NOT use canned stock/broth.  Use WATER instead.  I repeat.  You DO NOT NEED to buy that crappy can of Swanson’s low sodium chicken broth!  It will HURT your food.  Use water instead.  When that recipe says 1 cup of fresh chicken stock (or good quality canned broth), please know that your food, 90 percent of the time, will taste better if you use tap water instead of that "good quality" canned broth.  Water is a miracle."   

I suppose the secret hero of this post is actually the Pressure Canner (and, by non-trivial extension, my mother, who operates the pressure canner for me 99 times out of 100), which allows me to store my crazy-awesome homemade stock without a sacrifice of freezer space... But the hero I would like to acknowledge is the lowly Batter Dispenser. I originally owned one so that my boyfriend could make me pancakes, but it turns out it's actually the world's greatest fat separator...  The clean stock pours out the bottom, and you release the handle before the fat flows through.  Add more stock, the fat moves back to the top...  

What I've come to really love about homemade stock is all the ways it enriches things.  Buying the chickens gives me time off in the kitchen (since delicious protein ready to be flavored as you wish and used in any number of dishes makes for lots of easy meals).  It gives me 5-10 quarts (depending on how concentrated I make it) of kick-ass chicken stock to cook with.  It also, amazingly, makes dog food.  (It turns out the meat left on the carcasses (once picked) combines with the overcooked veggies from the stock, fresh rice, and some homemade chicken stock to give my toothless dog the greatest mealtime experience ever...)

This is the type of thing I like to think about these days.  I try (successfully or not) to minimize talk of my physical limitations when I write things here, but those limitations are typically the most screamingly relevant factor in every moment of my life.  It's been great to think about things I can do for (essentially) free and in less than 10 minutes of hands-on time that can also make every meal I cook taste just a little more nuanced and give my food that je ne sais quoi feeling that the person who cooked it for you loves you.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Feeling inspired on this snowy day.  Planning to post again soon...

Friday, May 22, 2015

One-Pot Roasted Chicken with Potatoes and Sun-dried Tomato Cream

I saw this recipe at Damn Delicious and recognized right away that it sounded like "our flavors." After a few tweaks based on ingredients lying around my kitchen (and on my unwillingness to measure ingredients), this simple dish wowed us and entered the ranks of household staples... 

Extra-Meaty Ragú Napoletano

Every now and then, we get a craving for some old-school, rustic, meaty tomato sauce with pasta.  I've tried my hand at a couple different versions of bolognese, but there was always something missing. This meat sauce, on the other hand, is basically perfection, and I'm psyched to have 3 quarts more of it waiting for me in the freezer to satisfy our next craving...

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Everyday Yumminess: "Holy Crap" Shrimp & Grits

Mothers' Day was this past weekend, and we thought making my mom brunch at home made a lot more sense than waiting in super-long lines at any of our favorite brunch spots in town.  Shrimp & Grits came to mind right away, which led us on a recipe search when we realized we had no idea how we'd made this dish last time.  I found a recipe at (of all places) that (with a couple minor changes) turned out to be pretty darned spectacular, and when all was said and done we found ourselves sitting down to one of the most awesomely delicious meals we've cooked in recent memory, leading me to exclaim several times during brunch "Holy crap!  This is AMAZING!"

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Everyday Yumminess: Double-Cut Pork Chops with Rustic Polenta and Chanterelle Cream

One of my deep-seated (and largely irrational) kitchen fears is cooking bone-in meat for guests.  I trust myself when I'm cooking for just me, and I'm starting to get there cooking for me and Devin, but I hate over-cooked meat as much as I dread seeing a guest cut into their pork or chicken only to find it under-cooked at the bone.  I realized the other day that this is pretty much the entire reason I got in the habit of cooking pork tenderloin rather and boneless chops rather than bone-in pork chops (and it is an irrelevant fear now because sous vide allows me to cheat on final internal temperature).  After cooking this meal, I see that it's a crying shame I left this ingredient out of my repertoire for so many years.  The inspiration was a couple gorgeous double-cut Carlton Farms pork chops that found their way home with us from Laurelhurst Market.  The result was one of the best simple meals we've sat down to in a long time...

Random Pet Post: A New Member of the Household

Ever since deciding to try my hand at posting here again, I've been struggling to actually sit down and do it.  I could blame any number of things, but the most adorable excuse I have is that it's hard to type with this little sweetheart lounging on my lap...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Don't Call it a Comeback...

Hello there.  Long time no write.  I've realized lately how much I miss posting here, so I'm going to try again and see how it goes...

One of the hardest things for me to face as my chronic pain has increased is how difficult it is for me to plan.  I freaking LOVE schedules and charts and lists and spreadsheets, but the best, most detailed meal-planning in the world is useless if all this perishable shit is sitting in my fridge and I'm in too much pain to cook with it.  I've had to make a lot of changes to pretty much all areas of my life, but changes in the kitchen have been the hardest to get used to. My new approach centers on being able to make recipes in several small flurries of activities - sometimes spread over days (or, with freezing, spread over weeks) rather than in a single long slog.  I always loved those kitchen-days of the long slog, but I can't handle the resulting pain anymore, so I'm learning to adapt.

One of the most important (and most mentally challenging) changes was to stop shunning all prepared foods.  When I first met Devin, I announced "There will NEVER be store-bought tater tots in my freezer!" I make tater tots from scratch!  From scratch is better! But... yeah.  Is it worth the time in the kitchen when store-bought tots are quite good and very cheap? Probably not, (I suppose)... 

When we first made Devin's Famous Dirty Rice, I was a little freaked out about using the box of Zatarain's Dirty Rice Mix.  "Can't we make it from scratch?" I kept asking...  That was over a year ago, during which time I've bookmarked several from-scratch recipes for Dirty Rice, and during which time we have never strayed from that Zatarain's mix.  We use lots of amazing meats from our local butcher, and the seasoning in the mix is so dang delicious that I can't be bothered to grind up a bunch of chicken livers to make it from scratch.  If it ain't broke, etc...  (And those are easy from-scratch insanely buttery biscuits on the side...) 

Similarly, we saw this crazy recipe on Serious Eats for a Pizzadilla.  I like to make everything from scratch, but we went ahead with store-bought pizza sauce and store-bought tortillas, which made the difference between having to wait until my pain levels let me spend time making sauce and tortillas versus being able to throw the dish together on a whim when we had a hankering.  The latter is definitely preferable.  (And, honestly... It's a freaking Pizzadilla... Why am I trying to make something so silly, simple, and genius into something complicated and from-scratch?)   

I've also always avoided slow cookers, but after making slow-cooked grits on a stovetop, stirring super-frequently for what seemed like an eternity, making perfect grits in a slow cooker strikes me as being pretty brilliant.

All of us who love food  also know about how fresh is "best," but fresh is not always an option.  Even when I lived in Boston, I ordered individually quick-frozen dry-packed scallops from a great purveyor, knowing that I may not have the pain reserves to drive 20 miles to the place that sometimes has "fresh" diver scallops on the day I want to cook with them.  I've taken that concept further now.  For time-consuming recipes like the Pepperoni Lasagna from Maximum Flavor, I made the pepperoni red sauce one day (then vacuum-sealed and froze), made the homemade ricotta to blend with basil on another day a couple weeks later (then vacuum-sealed and froze).  When the day came to make the lasagna itself, it was just a matter of layering pre-existing ingredients... and it was the best lasagna I've ever had in my life.

Being sous vide people definitely makes using the freezer easier, too.  I'll do a quick 20 minutes getting chicken breasts and thighs into assorted marinades, then I vacuum-seal and marinate overnight before throwing them on the grill the next day. From there the meat is broken down and vacuum-sealed into 2-serving packs to go into the freezer.  When we have a brilliant idea like making scallion waffles to go with our Korean-marinated chicken (instead of the usual scallion pancakes), the chicken is ready to just toss in a water bath and re-therm, so the only work is a quick batch of waffles and a bit of herb-chopping. 

Finally, I am trying to embrace the simple.  It's hard to argue with pan-roasted chicken thighs on a bed of roasted veg...  

And why have I always avoided ground beef as a protein to use in anything other than burgers? It marinates up amazingly and is a quick, easy topping for a bowl of rice or noodles (like I Am A Food Blog's Loco MocoMazemen, below)... 

So, that's what I've been working on while I've been away:  Small flurries of activity rather than full days in the kitchen.  Making components ahead when you can.  Learning not to fear the freezer or the slow cooker.  Embracing (some) prepared foods.  Remembering how amazing simple dishes can taste.  It all seems pretty obvious... but somehow it took me over a year to get my brain into the right place to accept it. 

I've realized that this kind of cooking is handy not just for people in pain, but for anyone with a busy life who doesn't have long stretches of time to spend in the kitchen. (I've always found the concept of a 30-Minute Meal kind of obnoxious, but I love the idea of spending 10 minutes in the kitchen prepping a skirt steak, throwing it in to sous vide for 48 hours, then spending 10 minutes finishing it off into an amazing "fancy" meal. That's more my style of "quick" cooking.) Most things I post will be some variation of the above, with a heavy dose of sous vide (which remains a time-pressed cook's best friend) and my smoker... plus whatever else finds its way into my recipe queue.  Hopefully it will be fun and delicious...  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Long-term Hiatus

This probably won't come as a shock, given how seldom I have been posting lately, but I'm "officially" going to take a hiatus from this blog for a somewhere between a few months and forever.  

I still get excited about cooking new foods, and I develop these grand plans... and then reality come crashing back in, reminding me that it's completely unrealistic to try to carry out those plans with my current pain levels (and with how much my time in the kitchen increases my pain).  And then, of course, I get frustrated with my limitations and this thing I love to do (cooking, experimenting in the kitchen) becomes more of a burden than a joy...

As I sign off for a while, here my all-time favorite post about the Pain Scale from Hyperbole and a Half...  If you have pain issues, you'll understand.  =)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Big Box of Produce

Now that I'm not the sole member of my household, I decided to give the Big Box of Produce a try again.  I always love the inspiration these boxes provide - so much beautiful, local, farm-direct goodness - but even the "Bin for One" is more than I can go through on my own in 2 weeks... Turns out the "Bin for One" is the perfect size for two... The first delivery was full of fun veggies I hadn't cooked with in a long time: