Monday, May 21, 2012

Nothing Soup

Tonight, after getting home from Cashiers and feeling achy and tired and wanting to battle that tickling feeling in the back of my throat, I decided I could not give in! I wanted to get to work right away on a soup. It could be my last good meal of the week if I catch a cold. So I looked in the fridge, there was nothing, well almost nothing. I looked in the freezer, same. The pantry produced a few canned goods, but nothing to make a full and filling meal. I really needed to go to the grocery store. I did not want cereal for dinner; not this time. Plus milk and dairy products are not that good for mucous and colds. So I have read anyway. 

It was either going to be me going to the store or me putting on my thinking cap and putting effort into a decent meal from nearly nothing. I have done this many a night when we had to stretch our bills and make it just one or more days until payday. 

Tonight, it wasn't because of a lack of funds, it was a lack of strength to walk down those twenty-five stairs to the car, to the store, and back up the stairs with groceries.  Nuh uh! Not tonight! I was going to make something and it was going to be great! 

I set about pulling out a nearly empty bag of carrots, three potatoes, fresh parsley that would not be fresh in a couple of days, half a shallot, two tablespoons of butter, two cloves of garlic, a can of tomatoes (which had habaneros in it and made me think about my tickled throat and a possible cure), a lone Kaiser roll, small chunk of Romano Cheese, and my pot, cheese grater, potato peeler, prep bowls, chef's knife, and my flimsy chopping matt. 

I was going to make a "nothing soup." I have had great success with them in the past. Making soup, and a lot of it, from almost nothing and the bottom of my fridge. All those things that may go bad soon get put into the pot and in a way that is necessary to make it taste good. I have stopped using dried herbs and spices a long time ago and use fresh herbs, fresh garlic, and onion for every dish. It is fun and makes me feel like a kitchen goddess, all powerful over the fresh foods and ingredients, and all knowing of how good the foods will taste when chopped with precision and blended how they should be. 

So I don't really know exactly how things will turn out, and tonight was just one of those nights I had no control over. Goddess-of-kitchen-bubble bursted.

I melted butter in my pot and then added the minced garlic and shallot and sauteed them while hovering my face over the pot and taking deep breaths (you should try it! It relieves sinus pressure, tickled throat feeling, and opens the airway passages). I love garlic! 
So after sauteeing for about three minutes and breathing deeply and with great satisfaction I moved on to dumping in the chopped carrots, peeled and chopped potatoes, and chopped parsley. I rolled it around in the pot for two minutes before adding in the can of tomatoes and a water/chicken broth/chicken bouillon mixture.
I did not forget to add salt to this pot, like I am very notorious for doing with most all of the times I had made "nothing soup." I figured it needed to boil until the potatoes and carrots were soft. Which was about twenty minutes.

I decided to try a small sampling taste after I let it simmer for ten minutes. My lips tingled, my eyes watered, my nose ran, and my mouth said, "OOPS!" I should have used only half the can. Maybe adding some romano cheese and olive oil will help some. So I did. It smelled lovely and delectable and almost a masterpiece. 

I let it simmer some more and cut the roll in half and grated some of the cheese onto each half before placing it in the oven to broil. I had the table set and ready for dinner with another cringe and very little hope as to whether Nathan will like the flavors or not. I was confident of only one thing, Ok two. One, that it will be very spicy, and two, that the bread was going to be great dipped in the soup. Maybe I could manage...NOT to kill myself. I knew Nathan would survive. But would I?

The result:
 Nathan loved it and especially the Kaiser roll dipped in it, but I got that feeling like I wasn't going to survive one bowl! I was slurping one spoonful per six gulps of tea and a mouthful of bread all the while telling him, "it's too spicy,  I can't believe I did that! My mouth, OH! My mouth! QUICK, more tea! HAND ME THAT CHAPSTICK!"

After Nathan finished his second bowl, I decided to try eating big spoonfuls in quick succession and then eat bread and drink sweet tea after it was done. That theoretical plan did not go over well. That is when I really felt like I was going to die! And I did not get close to finishing one bowl. ALL of the leftovers are for Nathan's lunch tomorrow and for whomever wants to take a helping if he doesn't finish it. 

 I have learned a great lesson!
Romano-cheese-toasted Kaiser rolls are my new best friend and tomatoes with habaneros are NEVER a good idea for a soup for two!

Tomorrow I am going grocery shopping! This calls for a remake and it will be in the crock pot with no peppers. Ok, maybe one very ripened and skinned jalapeno for flavor only, and maybe I will leave it whole so I can remove it and not eat it and I will write down my exact ingredients and amounts of each for future reference. Nathan can make his own pot the spicy way if he wants a replica!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rice and Chicken with a side of Green Beans!

My mom is known for her "Chicken and Rice" dinners as we called it. When it was my turn to cook and Mom told me it was chicken and rice night, I knew I could use only the chicken, rice, and green beans. So I found ways to change it around and add a little something special to it. If only I had had Rachael Ray's recipe for chicken and leek with rice pilaf! I have perfected my southern green beans so I do not use Rachael's recipe (As you know I botched her recipe and threw out an entire pan of beans!)
Tonight I made a very tender chicken breast with leeks simmered in white wine with my green beans (from the can and cooked with salt, pepper, olive oil, and a pinch of sugar!) and a very delicious and moist rice pilaf.
This is the first time I have ever been able to get Nathan to eat a second helping of rice and want leftovers for lunch the next day! No joke!
He only came in twice to see how long it was going to take (forget that it is called 30 Minute Meals 2!), to which I told him, "not thirty minutes!" He left the room mumbling, "ok so forty-five" which still was not close to the real deal. It took an hour and twenty minutes, about forty-five minutes was spent on the prepping in my small kitchen. Did I mention I have a very small kitchen table, no island, and only one space between my stove and sink for prep?

(Can you see what is wrong with this picture? If you guessed $14.50, then you are correct! I have never spent that much on five chicken breasts ever! Last week I spent less than half that amount on the same brand and same amount)

I had so much fun feeling all chef-like and getting out the prep bowls, karate chopping the chicken breasts, even though Rachael does not say to do this, to make them flatter and of course to make them tender. It works better that way! I do not own a meat tenderizer. And yes, my hands do get sore and sometimes bruise, but it is so much fun!
So after pounding the living daylights out of the already dead chicken breasts, I sing and dance to music in my head (I should really invest in a docking station for my Zune player) while finally beginning on the three dishes. First the green beans, then to saute the shallot in olive oil for the rice and then simmer the chicken in the third pan. I cannot tell you how long it has been since I have had more than two dishes going at once. A LONG TIME!
I am not usually proud of my cooking at all, but tonight I was proud! I got all three dishes finished at the same time! WAHOO! Ok enough celebrating.

So I add the rice to the shallot and oil mixture and saute that while flipping the chicken. I add white wine to the rice and let it evaporate while I pull out the chicken and stir olive oil, pepper, salt, and a pinch of sugar into the bean pot.
Once I got the leeks sauteing, I added chicken broth, water, and thyme to the rice, boiled it and then covered it and set the timer for twenty minutes.
So that is the time Nathan comes in announcing I have been at this for an hour now and I wave him away and tell him it is almost done and that I would get him when it is.
The chicken was added back to the pan with the leeks. "Nestle the chicken in with the leeks" Rachael tells me. I am pretty sure I did it a lot less gracefully than she described it. I dropped them in and jumped away to prevent burning. Then added white wine and simmered.
My favorite part came next. When the timer rang, I added lemon zest from an entire lemon and chopped parsley to the rice. It was so fluffy, smelled like nothing I have had before, and not at all gummy or sticky! And I was using a Calphalon stainless steel pot! It did not stick to the pot.

My favorite line from tonight was when I scolded Nathan (oh yes I did!) for ruining the chicken when I found him adding red pepper flakes on top as I turned to the stove to serve myself. "I am not ruining it, I am enhancing the flavor!" I did finally convince him to try the leeks and he did enjoy them. He also added red pepper flakes to his rice and tried adding them to my chicken as well, "you have to try it!" My mouth was on fire and I spat incoherent phrases (don't worry, no cursing ever comes from my tongue) and downed my entire glass of lemonade before everything returned to normal. He got food and entertainment. I was pleasantly surprised and cannot wait for next Wednesday! I will not know what recipe until the day I cook it. I pick it randomly and while sitting in the grocery store parking lot searching for pen, paper, and recipe at the same time.
Until then, hope you enjoyed my adventure as much as I did.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Waterzooi de Poulet

So Rachael Ray has some really great recipes! I cannot stay away from her book. Tonight I had planned on making another one of her thirty minute meals. It never is thirty minutes. Not in my kitchen anyway!
Today I made Waterzooi de Poulet and Rachael's "Southern Green Beans." Waterzooi is basically a white stew or chicken stew made in Germany. It has leeks, potatoes, chicken, herb bouquet, heavy cream, chicken stock, and carrots. It is meant to be served with a baguette or dinner roll for dipping. I had some not too long ago at FATZ and had been excited to find out that Rachael had a recipe. This was my long and exciting journey to my new favorite stew!
As soon as my shoes came off, I began preparing the leeks just like she suggested and it was beautiful! After that I rinsed and patted them dry and set aside while I peeled and diced both the potatoes and the carrots. Easy!

Butter was melted in the pot, veggies added, and then things started to go awry! I realized how much two leeks, two carrots, and two potatoes made a lot in my pot. I still had 6 Cups of broth, four 8oz chicken breasts, and 1C of cream + egg yolk to be added. I stared at my pot hard and long and wondered how much my veggies would shrink down from sauteing. After the five allotted sauteing minutes I got angry and shouted,"I'm doomed! STUPID POT!" You must know that around here, when I say "stupid" I am really really upset and about something and it usually is when I am in the kitchen cooking and feeling like things are not going well for me.
The pot I was using is a very nice Calphalon stainless steel and the largest one I own since ruining my Calphalon stock pot/veggie steamer base pot last year. It is a 3.5 quart pot.

This just couldn't be happening! was all I kept thinking, all the while calling the pot stupid and letting out enraged moans/grunts and stirring the veggies some more before adding the chicken stock, which only proved my fears that my pot was too small. With the stock added, it could not simmer covered. It could simmer, just not covered.

I went to Nathan pouting and explained that my pot was too small and then headed back to the kitchen. He followed after me to see. "Dorry, it looks great! What is wrong?"
"I need to add another cup of cream later and all of that chicken has to go in the pot and then poach, covered for TEN MINUTES!" I was talking a little fast and in panicked tones.

Nathan stood there calm and cool and began to work. He took out a cup of broth after he added the whole chicken breasts and proclaimed, "you see how little one cup effects the level of this pot when I remove it? Adding a cup will not make much difference, we will just have to stir carefully." We?

I was still stuck on the fact that poor me did not own a bigger pot and I reminded him of this fact. I have tendency to see things in black and white and not read between lines or think of alternatives or see past the problem to the solution. While I was thinking through routes to get to Wal-Mart and buying a cheap larger pot to get me through this meal, Nathan was helping me come up with a solution that was already there in front of me.

While we let the chicken poach, carefully, in a full to the brim pot with the lid on, he helped me break off the stems of the 1 1/4 lb of green beans for the side dish.
He didn't stay for long and went to take a shower while I cooled down and heated up the beans in a pan with water, washed dishes, and cleared off the table for the next round of prep for the waterlooi. Nathan returned. Whether it was with hopes of it being done or to help, I'm not sure. I was not done and it was nearly 6:30.

"I'm sorry!" I whispered to him as he peered into the pot.
"Nathan, I really do not think a cup of cream will fit, do you see how high it is already! AND you have to stir it constantly and let it THICKEN, which means it will GROW! " The chicken looked done so he wanted to continue with the entree.
"It will work. You have to chop the chicken now don't you?" The chicken had indeed poached ten minutes by now.
I consulted the book for the umpteenth time to find him to be correct. And he hadn't read it at all at this point! I pulled out the chicken, again working myself into a frenzy, and started chopping while Nathan whisked the heavy cream with the egg yolk and added broth to the cream. He added that to the waterzooi while I continued chopping. "It says here to stirr the waterzooi constantly for two to three minutes, I think it has been two to three minutes."

I handed him the chicken all chopped and ready in a large bowl while I went back to the beans that Nathan so graciously strained for me. I added bacon and let it grease up before adding beans back into the pan and stirring.

The most memorable line from tonight was then, while I was washing a few dishes to make room for the last stretch of my marathon, when Nathan let out what he was thinking and obviously holding back,
"This looks all yellowed and there is green in the pot! I really do not think this is my thing, but I will try it!" I married a picky eater, but have forgiven him a long time ago! I told him it would be OK not to like it, "I have never made it before so it may taste awful, I don't know!" While I finished the beans Nathan set up the coffee table and put the rental movie in the BluRay

After saying a blessing, we ate and hit play. I loved the stew! It tasted fantastic! The kaiser roll was the best thing to dip in it and the leeks made it heavenly! Nathan got a second helping and brought in the green beans which I was sure still was crunchy and not at all finished, plus it smelled very much like the red wine vinegar had attacked it or something. I was right. It was crunchy and the vinegar was overwhelming it! It was TERRIBLE. I only had one bite, Nathan had one bean. We threw the pot out.

The movie was great, clean, and funny too! We watched The Big Year with Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Steve Martin. I have never seen Jack Black play in a comedy where he toned it down some and wasn't all over the place and acting like he had way too many cups of coffee, or something! It was by far the cleanest movie I had seen all three of them play actually.
The meal was distracting to me. I did not pay attention to the first five minutes of the movie for the delicious Waterzooi de Poulet.

The best parts of tonight? Nathan loved it! I look forward to my next experiment and wonder if I should try one more Rachael Ray or pull out my World's Best Recipes or Joy of Cooking. I hope to own a bigger pot and hang two shelves to make more room for prep work for next time!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Beef Bourguignon, Part Deux!

Rachael Ray claims that beef bourguignon is a 30-minutes meal! I beg to differ on that one!
When I first started out to search for all the wonderful ingredients I had an inkling it would take me at least and hour and half. I was right!
Not only did I get out all the ingredients and have them mostly prepped and ready to go, as much as is possible in a kitchen with very little space for prepping, but I also had all the proper tools and pots out and in their places. (My tea kettle is still sitting on top of a bowl in a mysterious looking way as a result of me having to use every single eye on the stove) With everything ready, I nervously heated my cast iron frying pan without anything in it and with a lid on, which goes against all the rules of stove top cooking for me! Ah well, if this was how Rachael Ray does it, then I was going to do it too!
What happened next was when and where my disaster started. You know how it is when you enter a roller coaster ride, how there is no going back and no stopping until you are at the end. I felt a bit like this as soon as I put the bacon into the empty frying pan. No matter how much prep work I had done and how ready I felt I was, I really had to keep moving like a roller coaster must in order to maintain momentum needed to finish the meal!
I also felt like I was in the middle of a battle. The beef would be sizzling and popping while the noodles were in a raging boil. I would stir the noodles one minute and find out I needed to add more ingredients to the beef. When I thought I was nearly done, I found myself gazing at the kitchen table and stack of dishes and wishing I were a bit like Matilda for just this once and be able to clean and clear off all surfaces telepathically. All my dishes were being used or messy and table was unable to be set.
Fortunately, Nathan came to my rescue or was following his nose and drained the pasta before stirring in the butter, parsley, and chives at my request. Maybe it was because of the foreignness or the lovely fragrance seeping from each pot and pan, or simply out of kindness of his hear, he then moved to the stove and opened the lid to the pan and stirred in some flour to thicken the sauce, then moved on to the next pan and stirred the beans. I have never been able to get him in the kitchen to help me with dinner until now.
"You are taking way too long, dear! Come sit and eat with me!"
I sat and after a blessing we dipped in to the beef and pasta. I was so nervous.
It was delicious! A very messy, deliciously, wonderful beef bourguignon! Surreal even! After nearly two years of meals that I merely threw together as fast as I could just to get out of the kitchen for whatever reason called me away, I have found I still have the touch!
Thanks Nathan for believing in me and enjoying my first times with random, foreign recipes and menus. It was fun!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Beef Bourguignon

So I have a problem. My problem is I have too many books, too many ambitions, which leads to more books on those ambitions, and no desire to stick to just one ambition or one talent.
This also involves my desire to find a cookbook with all the wonderful recipes that call for fresh foods and chef-like qualities to them.
Last week I found/remembered I had a beautiful and nearly new copy of Rachael Ray's "30 Minute Meals 2." There are very few pictures, but I am ok with that. That means more recipes to fit in all those pages.
I sat down and read through the recipes from cover to cover and marked all the pages that I knew Nathan would like. The best way to get great results and even greater applause in a house of two is to read off the list of each flagged recipes and their ingredients. Since Beef Bourguignon sounds great in just the title alone, it does say "beef," I somehow figured it would be a hit.

Nathan of course chose that above all the additional mouth watering titles. Either that or it was because it was the first one I read and his ADD didn't allow for any more to filter through.
Today I made a trip to the grocery store. Everything was so easy to locate. Over half the ingredients on my list involved fresh produce and meat. It was searching for the kitchen string that had me feeling very weary and aching in my legs and feet. I went down every aisle not only looking on each shelf, but also at every cluster of brightly packaged hanging "extras" down the aisles as well. With no success. "What is up with that?"I found myself saying this with great annoyance to my tone before realizing I had said it loud enough for other shoppers around me to hear. By that point I did not care! Nor also could I find packages of frozen pearl onions.
I walked by the deli section to pick up the meats and was greeted by the deli manager. A light bulb that I didn't know I had was going off.
"Do you know where I can get kitchen string like for tying up bouquets of fresh herbs?"
"I have some in the back," was her reply, "how long of a piece do you need?"
"Really just enough for a bouquet of fresh herbs."
She went into the back and I was beaming as she presented me with half a yard of kitchen string. She handed it over at no cost to me and I clutched it to myself like it was gold and thanked her over and over. My feet were glad too!
I gave up on the pearl onions and bought the only thing I could find. Frozen onions. The back of the bag's ingredient list: Onions. This was very helpful! They were very white, like pearls. Maybe that was what I needed.
Once I was home I found out that a google image search shows how wrong I was in my assumption. Pearl onions are tiny dollhouse sized onions. Pearl refers to their size more than their color. Oops. I will search again tomorrow in the next grocery store. We do have three Ingleses to choose from and a Bi-Lo. Maybe I will have better luck tomorrow at my search.
I am praying God gives me the grace and strength to endure another search and to come home energized enough to go through with my plans.