Monday, October 14, 2013

Steamy New Orleans Prawns

You will have to be enthralled by my brilliant narrative because, once again, I forgot to take pictures. I was so caught up in the process and then even more focused on eating the result, that the plate was empty before I remembered I should have had a camera out.

In a "celebration" of past Daring Cooks and Daring Bakers challenges, Lisa challenged all of us to search through the Daring Kitchen archives and pick any one we'd like! The REAL challenge was picking which delicious recipe(s) to try! I chose a challenge from July 2012 - Cooking "En Papillote" from Sarah of All Our Fingers in the Pie. The challenge was to cook in parchment and learn a new process.

I've missed most of the challenges lately, due to some health issues, but I really enjoyed this one. We regularly have Cajun prawns I prepare in a cast-iron skillet on the cooktop, so the flavors were similar but the process was new. The prawns marinated for 30 minutes in a spicy blend of Worcestershire, lemon, melted butter, rosemary, thyme, red pepper, black pepper, Tabasco, and garlic. I, of course, upped the pepper and Tabasco because we like it hot.

After marinating, the prawns and marinade are enclosed in parchment, which is supposed to be pleated to close. I was not adept at this at all and the liquid was soaking the parchment and leaking out. When the pleats failed, I resorted to stapling the parchment closed. Not pretty - but effective.

The prawns cooked for 20 minutes in a 425 degree oven. It was disconcerting not to be able to assess the process to decide if the prawns needed less time, but there is really no way to do that. The parchment is full of steam and if you breach the wrap somehow, you also destroy the cooking vehicle. I probably would shorten the cooking time a bit - maybe 5 minutes - if I did this again.

The outcome, however, was quite tasty and spicy. I let the prawns rest for a few minutes to release the steam and then opened the packages and plated the prawns and marinade. We had a celery, date, almond salad with a lemony dressing and shaved Parmesan cheese. The cooler celery was a nice offset to the spicy prawns.

I'm looking forward to the next challenge, which I guarantee will have photos!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

It's a Wrap!

I'm returning to Daring Cooks after quite a hiatus. 2011 and 2012 were full of time-consuming diversions, some welcome, some not so much. A move after 30+ years in the same house, surgery, my daughter's wedding, the loss of my mother - life happens.

All is fine now and I'm looking forward to cooking adventures.  

Our lovely Monkey Queen of Don’t Make Me Call My Flying Monkeys, was our May Daring Cooks’ hostess and she challenged us to dive into the world of en Croute! We were encouraged to make Beef Wellington, Stuffed Mushroom en Croute and to bring our kids into the challenge by encouraging them to create their own en Croute recipes!

I decided to be a bit creative and go in my own direction for this challenge. It's halibut season in the Pacific Northwest and the halibut is outstanding. To take advantage of fresh fish, I decided to wrap filets in egg roll wrappers. I'm not sure egg roll wrappers are exactly a pastry, but I think the general goal of enclosing the food in a crust of some kind is met.

The ingredients assembled.

I sauteed some mushrooms, gathered some dill sprigs and seasoned the halibut lightly. Mushrooms first, then dill, then halibut.

Getting ready to seal the egg roll wrappers.

I used water to seal the wrappers. I lightly moistened each side of the bottom wrapper and then topped it off.

Sealing and folding the wrappers.

After the top wrapper was on, I folded the edges over to create a kind of envelope for the halibut. I then seared both sides of the wrapped halibut in a hot cast iron skillet with a little peanut oil. When each side was a golden brown, I put the halibut in the oven for about 5-7 minutes, until an instant read thermometer registered about 125 degrees.

The final product!
When done, the halibut was moist and beautifully flavored. To add some color to the plate, I served it with avocado and tomatoes - good complements to the mild-flavored halibut.

I think this process would also work as an appetizer-sized dish. Smaller cuts of halibut that would fit in one egg roll would be great with a dipping sauce. Still a quick process, with even shorter cooking times - maybe something to try.

Thanks for the challenge!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Feeding the Texans

I haven't posted for quite a while, since we were caught up in selling a house, buying a house, moving and getting settled. Throw in a few personal issues and adjusting to a new location, and time passed.

Now, however, I'm more settled and I realized I want to preserve some memories again.

This week, Nick (currently in the Army in El Paso repaying them for financing his dental school education) came home with two Texas friends, Jason and Joseph. They are spending the week skiing at the various resorts in the area and are staying with us. Each evening, they come home, fully exercised and hungry and I've been feeding them. Preparing meals for three young men is a bit different from preparing dinner for Bob and me - more food and a motherly interest in making sure they get something balanced and nourishing.

Monday - We had steak sandwiches and cole slaw. Only one of the guys was here, but I brought sandwiches to the airport to feed the others when they arrived later in the evening. Pretty simple meal - rib eye, caramelized onions, peppers on sandwich rolls.

Tuesday - Nick had requested spicy pork tenderloin, so I obliged. The pork is seasoned with chipotle, maple syrup and mustard; grilled until just done - still a little pink inside; served with an incredible roast carrot and avocado salad. I used multi-colored carrots, roasted them with a chili-cumin paste, tossed the avocado and lettuce with a citrus-honey dressing with the carrots included. Sprinkle with some sunflower seeds, and you have a veggie salad that is incredible. It totally disappeared!

Wednesday - Another Nick request was jerk chicken. I use a recipe I've used for years, marinating the bone-in chicken overnight in a habanero-laced sauce with lots of spices and lots of heat. We grilled it and served with a pineapple-papaya salsa and rice. A lot of chicken was consumed since Elisabeth and Sean joined us. Everything gone again!

Thursday - I did bourbon-brown sugar flank steak, with smashed baby potatoes, and a snow-pea-radish braise. There was leftover flank steak, which the guys can make into sandwiches tomorrow to take along on their trip to Mt. Baker.

Friday - The plan is roast chicken with glazed carrots and farro-wild rice with mushrooms and almonds.

Saturday - I think we will skip the meat on Saturday and just have mac and cheese with a couple salads - maybe waldorf and a green garden salad. And Sunday - well, that's up in the air. I don't usually cook on Sundays since there is always food around earlier in the week. I'm thinking it might be good to order some pizza! Not everything has to be healthful all the time.

It has been fun and reminds me of the days when Nick's friends dropped by the house regularly to join us for dinner or just prowl the kitchen for snacks. These guys have been doing their own breakfasts (and doing an excellent job of cleaning up) and eating lunch on the mountain, but they have been ready for dinner each night!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Moo Shuing the Pork

The October Daring Cooks' Challenge was hosted by Shelley of C Mom Cook and her sister, Ruth, of The Crafts of Mommyhood. They challenged us to bring
a taste of the East into our home kitchens by making our own Moo Shu, including thin pancakes, stir fry and sauce.

I make moo shu pork regularly because I really like the flavors in the stir fry along with the hoisin sauce. I usually buy wontons rather than make them myself, but decided to get with the spirit of the challenge and roll out my own pancakes.

The dough is pretty straightforward: flour and boiling water plus a little oil. After the dough rests for a while, it is rolled out into pancakes about 6-8" which are cooked in a frying pan until brown spots appear.

Dough while it rests.

After 30 minutes of resting, the dough is kneaded until smooth and then divided and rolled into sausage shapes. The "sausage" is cut into equal pieces, which are rolled into a ball and then flattened and rolled into 6-8" thin circles.

The pancakes are fried until brown spots appear and then set aside and kept covered until needed.

Kneaded dough, ready for shaping.    
Cut and ready to roll!

The stir fry is pork (I used tenderloin), shredded Napa cabbage, scallions, mushrooms (I used fresh because I found some lovely chanterelles in the market to mix with the other fresh mushrooms), egg and bamboo shoots, mixed with soy, a little sesame oil and rice wine. I left the bamboo shoots out - not a fan - but used the other ingredients. The stir fry takes only minutes, which is why it is important to do the more labor-intensive pancakes first.
Stirring the fry
Pancakes, sauce and stir-fry pork and veggies

The one part of this challenge I was not able to complete was the hoisin sauce. Bob cannot eat peanuts, so the peanut butter base was out. I had no black bean paste, so I used the hoisin I had in the pantry. It looks as if, with the proper ingredients, the sauce would be pretty easy to pull together. Maybe next time.

We finished nearly everything and, of course, the stir fry can be eaten alone or thrown into an omelet or on top of rice, so leftovers are welcome. This was a pretty tasty challenge!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stock Tales and a Cheesy Ending

Peta, of the blog Peta Eats, was our lovely hostess for the Daring Cook's September 2011 challenge, "Stock to Soup to Consomme'." We were taught the meaning among the three dishes, how make a crystal clear consomme' if we so chose to do so, and encouraged to share our own delicious soup recipes!

I was challenged - by time, by decisions about what to make, by not understanding what was required by the challenge (despite repeated readings), and by ending up missing a requirement. Other than that, everything went really well.

Making chicken stock is something I do regularly, although not often enough. I love the rich chicken flavor from homemade stock, something that simply is not available from commercial products. I do use boxed chicken stock sometimes because I don't always have homemade - I make a lot of soup! I find the brands which limit the ingredients to real food rather than a myriad of chemicals taste okay. Not as good as homemade, but still usable, especially if the soup has lots of other flavors.

I have used a variety of techniques in making stock: buying wings, backs, necks and using those; using the bones from roasted chicken if I have enough; using a whole chicken, removing the meat when it is done and returning the bones to the pot. They take varying amounts of time, but they all work. It can be a long process if you really want to reduce the stock to intensify the flavor. The stock I used for this challenge was one made from a whole bird.

Chicken stock made from whole chicken. 

The soup I chose was a cheese soup. Many cheese soups are very thick and I sometimes feel as if I'm eating fondue with a spoon - not that there is anything wrong with that! Normally, however, I want a soup that has texture but is not so thick it is almost hard to get out of the bowl. This soup is perfect in that respect. It is rich, but has a thinner soup texture.
The basic ingredients
All the veggies diced. The potatoes were cut in larger pieces.

The ingredients are pretty straightforward: mirepoix, russet potato, cheese, chicken stock, milk, Tabasco, and Worcestershire. The carrots, onion and celery are sauteed in unsalted butter. Flour is added and cooked for a couple minutes before adding the stock one cup at a time. The potato is added - I keep the pieces a bit big so the potato doesn't dissolve in the soup - and then the soup is simmered until the potato has softened. At this stage, you can puree the soup for a smooth texture; however, I never do because I prefer having the veggies identifiable and a little crunchy. At the end, when the potatoes are done, the milk, grated white cheddar, and seasonings are added and stirred until the cheese is melted - it doesn't take long. If I had been organized, I would have supplemented the soup with some kind of crusty bread or rolls, but life sometimes gets in the way.

The finished product!
And then there was this little distraction, as if my wandering mind wasn't enough.

The sunset while I was preparing the soup.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Time for a Rant

No pictures, no challenge - just me berating myself for making a mistake I should know not to make.

There are blogs galore with original recipes or at least, recipes that have been tweaked in some way so the blogger can claim they are original. Some of these are tremendous and I have had a lot of success with many. Usually, if the author is someone with some credibility - a lot of experience, some time in the public eye, maybe restaurant experience or a cookbook under her/his belt - you can assume that the recipes have been checked, double-checked and tested thoroughly. Sites like Food52 are an excellent example of this.

HOWEVER, there are also some sites where people contribute their "original" recipes and fail to read what they have written or modified to see if it makes sense. I once reviewed a cookbook written by a small restaurant owner which was really a lesson in how not to write a cookbook. Instructions which made no sense, ingredients listed in apparently random order, rather than in the order in which they are used, references to optional steps which don't show up until well past the "optional" time... . It goes on and on.

Tonight I made a version of General Tso's chicken. Now, I have lots of Asian cookbooks, so why I relied on an amateur recipe, I don't know. The picture looked good and the ingredients looked appropriate. It was only as I really started preparing it that I realized all the things that were missing.

For example: "Prep your chicken" - That's it. Prep it how? Cut it in a specific way or to a specific size? Not mentioned. So I assumed (which you should never have to do) that it meant cutting the boneless, skinless pieces into even bite-sized portions.

"Stir together until a thick slurry forms. It will look gummy but smooth." I do not think trying to make a thick slurry with over 1/4 cup corn starch and 1 tablespoon soy and 1 tsp sesame oil and an egg white would ever work. I ended up with something more like a ball of clay than a slurry (maybe our definition of slurry isn't the same?). I added about another tablespoon of liquid and then I had a slurry with which I could coat my chicken.

"Heat oil until it shimmers." I hate this! What is the optimal temp? Why not use a thermometer to monitor when the correct heat is reached? Oh, and don't use canola oil for high temp cooking - it tastes funky. Peanut oil is excellent and corn oil works.

"Cook chicken for 4 minutes." Well, if we knew what size the chicken pieces were supposed to be and what temp the oil was supposed to be, perhaps this would be helpful.

"Transfer chicken to paper towel lined plate." One plate? So we are putting just cooked chicken on top of earlier batches once the plate is full? Really?

"Stir into sauce." I forgot to mention the sauce. This is General Tso's chicken, right? Hot and spicy? So why would you add only 1 teaspoon of chili-garlic sauce, the only source of heat, to a mixture of over a cup of liquid? That will not register with anyone's taste buds. I know not everyone wants tons of heat (I do), but why not write a range - 1 tsp for mildly spicy and upwards for more? I added probably at least a tablespoon.

Now - having said all this, Bob still liked the chicken but he pretty much likes anything with lots of heat. And the chicken was fine, although it was totally flavorless until the sauce was added. I think it should have been salted and peppered before "slurried" to be sure there was some flavor.

Will I make this again? Maybe some variation of it. It made a mess, of course, with the frying (even using a spatter guard) and the cornstarch (which always ends up all over the place. Lots of bowls and utensils which could have probably been streamlined.

So once again, I promise myself to do the recipe analysis BEFORE I start cooking and figure out if correcting the errors is worth the effort.

Stay tuned for this month's Daring Cook, to be posted on September 14, assuming I get it done!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Return to Daring Cooks with Appam and Prawn Curry

I'm finally cooking again after a several month hiatus. We put our house on the market the end of February and I had to limit what I did in the kitchen so when the prospective buyers wanted to see the house with 15 minutes notice (it happened!), I wasn't in the middle of a project. So I suspended my Daring Cook efforts and, of course, missed out on lots of yummy projects.

Fortunately, the house sold in a couple months (yea!) and we found a new house right away. Still couldn't cook because we had to pack and organize closing dates and loans and all the rest. And then we moved in and I had to unpack and organize and bring some order to chaos (movers have very unusual ideas about what to pack together). That took much longer than expected, but now, just over 2 months after we walked through the door, I'm ready to cook again.

Mary, who write the delicious bog, Mary Mary Culinary, was our August Daring Cooks' host. Mary chose to show us how delicious South Indian cuisine is! She challenged us to make Appam and another South Indian/Sri Lankan dish to go with the warm flat bread.

The required recipe was for appam, a rice-based flat bread. Appam is quite a process - not difficult (although I did not have perfect results) but quite time-consuming. First the rice soaks for 3 hours. Then the rice is drained and put in a blender with proofed yeast and a small amount of cooked rice. This is blended until it is a batter and placed in a bowl, covered, and left to rise and ferment for 8-12 hours. Finally, coconut milk is added to the batter and it is fried in a crepe-like manner. Other than the coconut milk, there is not a lot of flavor in these flat breads, which makes them ideal for sopping up the curry sauce from the main course.

The appam batter
There were problems. The time involved in allowing everything to soak and proof for the allotted time meant the project had to be spread over a few days. I'm not sure if the refrigerator time affected the outcome, but it could have. I also think I didn't adequately blend the rice - it looked as if it had been thoroughly pulverized but when I actually made the flat bread, it seemed kind of crunchy and textured. The batter should probably have been thinned periodically as I used it, because the batter at the bottom of the bowl was way too thick and I had to add some water to thin it out.

Mise en place for prawn curry

Making the curry
The prawn curry, on the other hand, was really good. I couldn't use the recipe provided because I couldn't find curry leaves in any form - fresh, frozen or dried. Curry leaves are not the same flavor as curry powders and I could have used an alternative such as kaffir lime leaves, but I ended up creating my own curry base using onions, garlic, ginger, madras curry powder, black pepper and red pepper flakes, plus coconut milk. It turned out really tasty - probably in no way authentic, but quite good to eat.
Prawns cooking in curry sauce

The appam served their purpose in scooping up the sauce and the prawns were succulent and not overcooked. The recipe which was provided suggested cooking the prawns until they were done and then adding more coconut milk and bringing it to a boil. It makes no sense to me to cook a protein to "doneness" and then boil it 5 more minutes, so I added the final coconut milk before the prawns were done. That worked splendidly.

A plate full of goodness!
 It was great to stretch myself a bit. Everything was supposed to be served "immediately" but no way that could happen, so I made the curry, kept it warm and then served it along with a couple appam to Bob while I went back and made more for myself. It wasn't immediate, but it was still a good temperature and Bob lets everything cool to room temperature anyway. (Note: This is a pet peeve of mine - I want hot food hot and cold food cold. Watching someone let good, hot food cool off makes me NUTS!!)

Now I can't wait to see what September brings!